The Most Zed Story About a Knife

A microcosm story that more completely explains who I am than anything else you'll read.

By Zed A. Shaw

The Most Zed Story About a Knife

This is a story of stupidity, murder, art, genius, resurrection, guitars, and a palette knife. It completely and concisely explains my personality in a single moment of pure idiotic brilliance that all begins with receiving an email a few weeks ago titled:

Titanium palette knife 🦁

At first I didn't recognize who it was, and then I remembered, Ray Oak Hyder? Oh yeah, I ordered a special custom titanium knife from that guy like 4 years ago. Wow I totally forgot about that. Oh man I actually gave him a bunch of money for that knife too. Why the hell did I forget about it?

I open the email to see this image of my dream knife in pure titanium. It's beautiful and shiny and even has my signature hole punched into the blade and a lion chop on the pommel of the knife. I love this knife. I must have it.

Why did I order a titanium palette knife with a lion on it? If you don't know what a palette knife is allow me to explain. When you paint with oil paints you can use a brush, like most people do, but I'm an odd guy, so I seem to gravitate toward using the palette knife. It's a metal knife that's usually very flexible and you can put oil paint on it, and then wipe or cut onto the canvas to put down a flat clean piece of color. A brush is soft and mixes, leaving very few marks, but a knife requires a delicate hand to control it's aggressive brutality. It cuts, scrapes, mashes, and slides color on. The edges it leaves are exact and surgical, but you can just scrape the paint and obliterate them like a shotgun to the face. Don't like it? Take the knife and scrape it off. The knife is justice. Retribution. Correction.

Thank You Arthur Stern

I got into palette knife style painting by reading the accurately named book How to See Color and Paint It by Arthur Stern. The book is beautiful on its own, but the way it teaches painting is exactly like the title says. It show you how to see color...and then paint it...with a knife. The knife is a genius choice because you don't need solvents to clean a knife. If you're teaching a bunch of clumsy young kids to paint then solvents are bad. Very bad. Someone will die if you give anyone under 19 a can of solvents, but if you give them a bunch of knives? Totally safe. Trust me.

As I studied art I found myself constantly coming back to the knife. I'd do a painting outside with a brush and think, "Yep, looks like my grandma painted that. Sigh." Then the knife looks up at me and says, "Hey buddy. Wanna cause some trouble?" I'd grab my knives--because I have 20 of them--and "fix" that painting. I cut, scrape, mix, slice, slap, shift, scar, and when I'm done I'm seeing a piece of vibrant energetic art where once stood a very nice tea cozy of a painting.

The knife is energy and destruction, and I love it. I use a brush, but I love the knife. So, four years ago I'd become competent enough at art that I wanted a unique palette knife to celebrate who I am. A finely polished piece of titanium. Not magnetic so it has no attachments. A hole in the blade for checking colors I'm mixing. A lion's head chop on the pommel. A chop is a stamp traditionally used in ink painting throughout Asia. It acts as a signature for an artist, and for various personal reasons I decided mine would be a lion's head. The purpose of the lion chop is to sign my paintings with the chop instead of a brush because I only have knives.

What's the hole for? It's my special trick I use to be able to measure the color of what I'm seeing compared to what I've mixed. I can mix paint on my palette, get it on the blade around the hole, then I point the hole at the color I'm trying to mix, and if the hole disappears, then I got it right. The hole is genius. It's stupid genius. It's just a hole, but it radically changed my ability to paint in a very short time. The hole is science. It measures the color. It's a diff for the color.

I finished my order with Ray...and then forgot about it, which is also totally me. I have random subscriptions to random things. I buy books and don't read them. I buy cables and then can't find them so I go buy more cables and then I go to put those cables away so I won't lose them and that's why I find the other cables I couldn't find that made me buy new cables. Yep. I have ADHD and it's an expensive neurological condition that combines lowered inhibition that makes me buy an expensive custom palette with an inability to remember that I paid a ton of money for an expensive custom palette knife.

Lucky for me, Ray has a little less ADHD than I do (or none at all, I don't know) and he remembered, worked on the knife, and finally sent it to me. It arrived today and I was ecstatic! It was perfect. The weight is such that if you hold it in the center you can move it around with your pinky using the weight on the ball end. But, if you hold it close to the ball end it becomes a finely balanced longer painting device. The hole is perfectly placed. I love it immediately.


The Story Takes a Turn

The way Ray made the chop is he created a second piece that he can engrave using his jewelry engraving tools, and then he screwed it on to the end of the blade-shaft. This makes two pieces and most likely they aren't intended to be taken apart. That means obviously the first thing I do is take that piece off to see how it works. Yep.

Dear reader, I have to warn you. If you are a mechanic, metal smith, or really know anything about tools, you should stop reading right now. I'm not going to field any angry emails from people who think I failed to warn them about the triggering next paragraph, so close your browser now if you can't handle disasters in metal work.

Good, on with the story.

Once I got the pommel off my brain had something to say about this "easily" removed piece.

Yes, I had to fix this perfectly fine functioning and not loose at all screw. Yes, you are correct brain.

Like an excited ADHD zombie I carry my glazed eyes over to the toolbox that's just randomly sitting on the floor of my studio and find the Locktite. Threadlocker level Red. High strength. Never going to come out again. Shut up! I told you to close this browser if you're not cool with this. My brain said I have to fix this, and Locktite Red is going to fix it.

It didn't. I pull the screw out of both parts and then I must have accidentally got the screw backwards, or didn't put the pommel on fast enough because when I assemble it the pommel is just a little tiny, insignificant amount, uneven with the main handle. Well shit, now, I have to fix that before the locktite dries. I quickly unscrew the handle, and then I try to unscrew the pommel and...dammit! The locktite is locked. Now I can't fix it!

My brain:

"Zed, all you have to do is get your high power blow torch that you use for melting wires and heat this up and the locktite will melt and then you can get that screw off."

Genius! I will say that if you need to get locktite off something the only way that works is heating it to very high temperatures until the loctite burns down and then you can take it off. I had a tripod head that kept coming off and I used locktite on that, but later had to get it off and heating the aluminum component actually did get the locktite burned out.

Can You Feel The Burn

I go and get my blow torch, and then I think, "How am I going to hold the pommel and the screw after I head this up?" I know, I'll put duct tape on the pommel so I don't scratch it, and then I can use two pairs of pliers to hold them and unscrew them while they're hot.

I heat the screw up, not the pommel, it gets hot enough, I grab the screw with the pliers, duct tape protecting the beautifully polished clean and perfect titanium, and I twist. I twiiissssssstttttt. HARD! The duct tape heats up, slide off and nothing comes apart. I try heating it again, more tape, more pliers, and again can't get it apart. I am officially stuck with this quantum particle size "unevenness" in the pommel attaching to the handle. I'm not kidding about it. It's so small I should have just left it.

So I just leave it. I put the screw back in, finish doing up the locktite on both sides so now it's permanent, and it's not bad. I'm cool with it. I go to the bathroom to wash off the duct tape where I was holding it with pliers.

You know. That soft heated duct tape that is supposed to protect the soft titanium metal? Can you guess what happened? Yes, the pliers bit through the duct tape and scored large marks into the beautiful ball of the pommel.

I am a fucking dumbass. I knew this would happen? What was I thinking? Now this expensive perfect piece of functional art is ruined. All because I thought it'd come apart on a plane. All because I couldn't handle an insignificant bit of unevenness that isn't even actually there. I put the knife down, shrug, and I guess I'll use it at least. I guess I own it now.

I go to play some Torchlight II for a bit to relax, and that's when my brain steps in again.

"Zed, it's a soft metal. Go on youtube and learn how to polish titanium."

Fuck you brain I'm killing Varkolyns in Vyrax Tower.

"Stop being a baby. You fix everything. You build guitars. You can polish out a few cuts in a small piece of metal."

There Are Lessons to Learn

Fine! I beat Vyrax Tower and go to YouTube. I watch a couple videos of people polishing titanium. Holy shit they just use sandpaper? Not many special tools just sanding with different grits of sand paper and then polishing it. I can do this!

I go back into my toolbox of junk and find 220, 320, 400, 600, and 1500 sandpaper. I put ductape on the handle to protect it from scratches, and then I use progressive levels of sandpaper to remove the marks. Starting with 220 I scrape off enough material to return the pommel to it's smooth surface, then 320, 400, 600 to get it down to smoother and finally 1500 to clear out most of the remaining scratches.

I then run to ACE Hardware to get 00 and 000 steel wool and a bottle of metal polish. Using the 00 I smooth it more, and then 000 gets it totally smooth but not to a mirror finish yet. I try the metal polish but that doesn't really get it to a mirror finish either. I realize I need some kind of special cloth that will do the final polish, and I probably don't....holy shit! I do have something like that!

There's this thing called a Gorgomyte Cloth that's used to polish guitar frets. It's a polishing cloth with a leather like surface and a small amount of very light abrasive fluid, but so light that it doesn't harm wood. I run to get this cloth, and it's kind of dried out, but I take it and put the cloth on a piece of foam. I then take the pommel and vigorously polish it against the cloth+foam on the floor and it works! After about 30 minutes I get the pommel back to the exact same shine as the handle and remove all of the marks without further damaging it.

This is the genius part of the story. Sure, I'm an idiot for thinking any of the above things would work, but I'm a genius for making the obscure connection between polishing this palette knife, and a polishing cloth that is used on guitar frets. That cloth was so old it was mostly dried up, but it worked perfectly. Without this random connection between metal polishing ideas I most likely would have spent weeks researching how you do a final polish on metal and purchased even more junk to polish this knife.

It is now fixed. I love the knife even more because now it has a story. And it doesn't look like crap because I was an idiot.

This is me. The idiot genius.


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