Making my own Swiss Army Knife
As I’ve gotten older, despite my best efforts, apparently it’s inevitable that I’m going to turn into my parents. My Dad has always been into old movies, and history, and as time’s gone on, I’ve found myself more and more into learning about the history of things, and being drawn to anything with tradition and heritage.
A couple of weeks ago, I was spending a day out and about at press days, and whilst at Modus PR, I spotted their Victorinox display, with a bunch of pieces and tools in the corner. Turns out, they were giving the opportunity to make your very own Swiss Army Knife! Unfortunately for me, the guy was on his lunch break, but they offered to take my details, and rearrange for me to visit their flagship store on New Bond Street to not only make my own, but also to have it personalised. How could I say no?
The flag ship Victorinox store on New Bond Street is a shrine to the product that had made the company what it is today. Although there are many displays of the various other products on offer, from watches to luggage, it’s the Swiss Army Knife range that takes centre stage. With that in mind, there’s a strong element of heritage around the store, with imagery and displays showing the evolution and history of both the product and brand.
As I entered the store, I was greeted by Alex, who was going to be my Swiss Army Knife guide. We descended down stairs, where I was shown all the equipment and given some history about the company, the product evolution, and the tools we’d be using. I was amazed by his breadth of knowledge.
The New Bond Street store is the first Victorinox flagship outside Switzerland, and offers this service to anyone who’s interested. They also do repairs and have people bring their Swiss Army Knives from all over the world to be maintained. The tools and pieces are all exactly the same as those used in Switzerland.
As a kid, I had a Swiss Army Knife of some description, and I can remember looking at the edges of it to work out how it fit together, so to think that after all this time I was going to learn the answer was pretty cool!
Originally, there were two variants of the Swiss Army Knife, the soldiers knife, and the officers knife. The main difference between the two was the corkscrew on the officers knife, obviously. I was going to be making the officers knife, as the tooling and pieces were all calibrated for that specifically. Plus, you never know when you might need to open a bottle of wine right?
Named after a combination of Victoria, the founder, Karl Elsener’s mother, and Inox, an abbreviation of the French for Stainless Steel, Victorinox have been making Swiss Army Knives since 1891, although only under the existing name since 1909. The stainless steel pieces are assembled in a stack over brass rivets that are held in place on the large tooling bench. There is a spring mechanism that enables the tools of the knife to fold out and snap shut. It was interesting to learn how the various levers and pedals of the equipment are used to fit the pieces together.
After layering up all the pieces in the correct order, with spacers in between, it was then a case of trimming and hammering down the rivets. There’s a slight flange on the outer edge of the rivets that give a tight compression fit when the plastic outers are squeezed on using the very large and very old vice that’s bolted firmly to the bench. I also had to add a drop of oil into each of the hinge points.
After I finished assembly, Alex then gave me a thorough quality check. He looked over to make sure there were no gaps, and that each and every tool folded out and snapped shut with the right action and force. I got the thumbs up, so all was good! If there was anything wrong at that point, it would have meant starting again, so that was a relief!
So that was that, my very own Victorinox Spartan Swiss Army Knife was complete, and had the seal of approval from Alex the master! All that was left was to really make it my own by having personalised.
I opted for my name rather than a slogan or saying. I can never think of anything overly profound or meaningful when it comes to sayings.
Alex positioned my knife in the machine and then programmed in the computer, before he set it off doing its thing. I loved watching my name being revealed in the plastic as it moved up my knife.
Once it was finished and Alex was happy with the depth of the engraving, he added the colour. All that was left was to slide in the toothpick and tweezers, and pop it in the box with a set of instructions.
When I was initially offered this opportunity, I assumed that I’d just be watching someone make a Swiss Army Knife. I had no idea that I would be making it myself, and I loved every moment of it! Seeing how things are made is something I find fascinating. The way the spring mechanism works is really clever, and I’m amazed at both the complexity and simplicity of the product.
There’s something special about things that are made by human hands, and when those hands are your own, that makes them worth even more. Maybe not to you, but definitely to me!