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There’s a point to this collector’s passion

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Michael Craddock, 21st Space Wing operational security coordinator, has a collection of knives and swords numbering more than 350 pieces. His collection includes traditional folding blades, exotic fixed-blade models and several unusual blades from multiple countries. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Michael Craddock, 21st Space Wing operational security coordinator, has a collection of knives and swords numbering more than 350 pieces. His collection includes traditional folding blades, exotic fixed-blade models and several unusual blades from multiple countries. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Michael Craddock, 21st Space Wing operational security coordinator, holds two buck knives from his collection of more than 350 at his home March 14, 2017. Craddock holds two of his most prized folding knives with his favorite being a custom made blade with a ram’s horn handle (top). (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Michael Craddock, 21st Space Wing operational security coordinator, holds two buck knives from his collection of more than 350 at his home March 14, 2017. Craddock holds two of his most prized folding knives with his favorite being a custom made blade with a ram’s horn handle (top). (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It started nearly two decades ago with $11, a visit to a big-box retailer and a classic Old Timer pocket knife.

According to a popular knife collecting newsletter, the day a youngster obtains their first knife is an important rite of passage. Browsing the sales case, perusing rows of shiny blades of all lengths and wood handles ranging from plain to exotic, a young man is transported to a place where others like him join with famous hunters, trappers and Wild West scouts in a ritual that must be experienced to be understood. For some, it is an experience not soon forgotten, nor given up.

Today, Staff Sgt. Michael Craddock, 21st Space Wing operational security coordinator, has a collection of knives and swords numbering more than 350 pieces, including traditional folding blades, exotic fixed-blade models and several unusual blades as well.

“I can carry one every day and never carry the same one twice in a year,” Craddock said.

Craddock is not impressed by flashy angles, blades with crazy curves, nor knives that don’t make sense outside of a fantasy video game. Instead, what catches his eye is the utilitarian functionality of a well-crafted piece of cutlery.

“Of course there is always the ‘cool factor,’ but I like the flowing lines,” he said. “I like the very straight line designs, not very abrupt and not very modern.”

It is not unusual to find knife collections mounted and displayed for admirers to view, but that does not suit him. He said it is the usefulness of a blade that he enjoys most, using the blades in his collection for the purposes they were created to fulfill.

“They are essentially man’s oldest tool,” said Craddock. “You can cut food, you can open a box or you can cut string.”

What he appreciates in a good knife isn’t complicated either. Reliability is what Craddock looks for most when considering an addition to his collection. He said people could go buy a cheap knife from a plastic bucket at a swap meet, but it would be of low quality and could even break.

Since that fateful day at the big-box store when he was only 15 years old, the quality and value of the knives he acquires continues to appreciate. Slowly, he said, each one progresses to the higher-end of the value spectrum.

Among the hundreds of knives there is a variety that demonstrates his love of all types of knives. His favorite fixed-blade knife is a Hell’s Belle, a 17-inch long bowie-style knife, while his favorite folder is a custom knife with ram’s horn handle. The biggest in the bunch is a three and a half foot long Filipino Bali Sword butterfly knife sword; the smallest is a three-bladed stockman pocket knife.

“The weirdest one I have is a Swedish, multi-blade knife that looks like a butterfly knife from around the mid-1940s,” Craddock said. “I don’t flip that one though.”

He said the most interesting knife in the collection is a custom-made Japanese Tanto crafted by Steven Isbell, a knife maker well regarded in the collector’s community. The knife was one of the last large fighting knives Isbell made.

To date, there are knives representing the unique styles of eight different countries in Craddock’s catalog of cutlery. They are created in locations from all across the globe including China/Taiwan, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

Building his collection is an ongoing endeavor, he said, and there is no plan for stopping or cutting back anytime soon.

“It’s my passion,” Craddock said. “I think everybody needs to have a passion. Everybody needs something in life to make them happy.”

Editor’s note: Before bringing any type of knife, or other weapon, onto Peterson Air Force Base, please refer to the 21st Space Wing Integrated Defense Plan.

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