The “Vorpal” series of knives began in 1982 with a custom order for a combat knife designed by Bob Angell of New York. (serial numbers 146-147) Bob’s design featured a pull-the-dot snap body screwed in the handle of the knife which matched a stud mounted in the break-front leather sheath which Bob made which carried the blade point upwards.
Development of the Kydex knife sheath
At the time, I had a young fellow named Doug McGowan working in the shop with me learning about making knives. Bob Angell’s carry concept was very interesting, but the leather was bulky and difficult to make, and the snap mounted in the knife handle seemed inelegant.Doug and I were sitting around one day brainstorming about other materials that could be used to make sheaths. Doug mentioned that he’d had experience in theater making stage armor and had used a material called Kydex (a proprietary name for a brand of PVC/Acrylic alloy) to form-fit armor directly onto a human torso (using a sweater to avoid burns from the 350 degree thermoplastic).
The concept of thermoforming a sheath directly onto a knife-blade was quick to follow… and a few experiments later we had a hard plastic scabbard that could carry the knife upside down as in Bob Angell’s concept, but which would be much slimmer and and utilize the shape of the knife itself to hold the blade securely.
The name “Vorpal” is of course based on the famous poem by Lewis Carroll called “The Jabberwocky” in which the “The Vorpal blade went ‘snickersnack’”. Bob was happy about my interest in further developing his concept, and I refined the original knife design and first showed the Vorpals with Kydex sheaths at the 1982 New York Custom Knife show. While Kydex had been used some years earlier by knifemaker Jerry Price in flat pieces, I feel confident in the claim that these were the first thermoformed Kydex knife sheaths ever made and offered to the public.
Fellow knifemaker Bob Terzoula was just down the row from me at the show, and was very impressed by the way the sheaths looked and worked and asked how it was done. I was happy to share the technique with a colleague. He started using it, and showed a couple people, and I showed a couple more, and before long the process had spread far and wide. Many makers are now made using Kydex sheaths, though few know the story of how the technique originated.
Further Development of the Vorpal Line
From the original Vorpal design there eventually grew a line of knives that became a staple for Maringer Custom Cutlery. Here’s the front cover of my 1989 showing me (yes, it’s been a while!) drawing a V-1A from the rig from under a suit-jacket. The movement is very fast and it’s difficult to show in still photos exactly how it works.
Here is another page from the broachure with a three-photo montage which perhaps gives a better idea of how the knife is punched from the sheath.Further devlopment of the line included the Vorpal Sword, the Vorpal Bowie, and a number of custom variants of different models.
A factory-made version of the Maringer-Blackjack Vorpal Sword was briefly put into production by Blackjack Knives shortly before they went bankrupt. In 1995 I stopped making Vorpals, and the line was taken over by Bobby Branton of South Carolina, who made a small number of Vorpals up until 2006 when the specialized tooling was returned to the Maringer shop in Arkansas.