Ripoff of Don Nguyen's designs?

Discussion in 'The Off Topic Room' started by Zwiefel, Jan 12, 2016.

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  1. Jan 14, 2016 #61

    Asteger

    Asteger

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    Great response above from DM. I think when the topic's arisen before my impression is that non-J makers have sort of circled the wagons, so this was an interesting read coming from a US maker. (DM said 'US' makers too, but I'm assuming that he meant non-J makers generally, even if most he encounters are from the US. Geography teaches us there are other countries, and other non-J makers exist too :dazed:) Especially interesting admission on the non-US never doing a truly great job, as well of course on 'those everything but the kitchen sink handles' which I'd agree with.

    I also like the comments about how e-marketing is an advantage non-US makers use. In Jpn makers generally market themselves very little if at all. Indeed, many just do their knifemaking and that's it. Tough to imagine some of those octogenarians fussing on new websites, for eg, and the ones I've met have definitely been the down-to-earth craftsmen sort, and perhaps not the type to think in terms of international promotion or be interested in such a thing. Local reputations still seem to play a big part and loyalty too (suppose that's not always a good thing) while I have no doubt knives sell country-wide a lot more now than the old days due to e-sellers and the odd big shops that promote different makers. (Shigefusa, for eg, seems to do well.)

    Personally, I don't like being marketed at, and so with knives I like the idea of makers being good due to their work and performance, and the idea of craftsmen doing what they do best without self-promo and bling-erising their knives is comfortable to me. I'd be suspicious of a maker that seemed to be putting in lots of effort into sales and image and snazzy web promotion. Of course, this idea doesn't depend on country of origin and seems there are several non-J makers that would be like this too.

    Another warning sign to me would be 'those everything but the kitchen sink handles' because I'd wonder how much time/effort is spent here vs getting the actual blade correct, which is something you can't see over the internet and which has to be where experience - probably best guaranteed through the Japanese apprenticeship customs - would play a part. (To be fair, though, I imagine that non-J custom makers might do handles like this and deluxe finishes because customers that go for non-J customs just tend to request these more than other knife buyers might; the maker himself might not always care for the designs but will still end up doing it for this type of customer.)

    Tying things back to original/earlier topics, I'd think that some new makers are attracted to knifemaking because they're into design and creating cool-looking stuff, maybe like the fellow who did the Nguyenesque handle, and maybe this is what they're best at. Or they have a knack for a bit of sales and self-promo, like the $450-selling fake 'apprentice'. However, I'd sort of worry they'd be less interested in the hours and years of practice and work that you'd expect are necessary to become a fully-fledged, consistently great maker.
     
  2. Jan 15, 2016 #62

    CrisAnderson27

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    While I would agree with most, if not all of what Dave said, I think you and I have some pretty serious differences in our understanding of it. The first being that he said that 'no US makers are doing a truly great job'. I'd like some clarification on that from Dave, because my understanding was that he said 'many' US makers never reach the point of doing a truly great job. Do you understand how many US makers there are? In my town alone there are probably close to 50 or more...and that's just how many I know of. Go south 150 miles to Tucson and you'll get another easy 50 makers. Now multiply that by all the semi major cities in the US. I'd say 'many' is pretty handily covered there. Now break it down to the better known makers. Guys like Devin Thomas, Marko, Dave himself, Will C, Andy Billip, and others (believe me, I could keep going). You going to tell me none of those guys get it right?

    As for marketing...again, I don't think you're getting it. Japanese 'makers' don't do the marketing. The people that resell them do by having an established reputation. Most US makers don't have the luxury of being production shops with one guy making blades, one guy making handles, one guy fitting the two, etc. They are sole ownership places and the only employee is themselves. If they don't market themselves in order to build a solid customer base...they won't be in business long. In addition, they don't have an established network to purchase their work in bulk, so they have to build it. Again...if they don't do so, they won't be in business. Places like Facebook and Instagram are quick, easy, FREE tools with which to do so. They would be idiots not to take advantage of them. The next step up is webpages and forums like this one. Again, taking advantage of those is the next smart move...and so on and so forth. You have to do SOMETHING to differentiate yourself from the other 49 makers in your city alone.

    On to handles. Let me ask you a question? We will take a $1200 Mizuno for example. These come with a stock handle, out of a box...and the only thing that makes it better than a ho-wood handle on a $200 Ikazuchi is the wood itself. The epoxy used to affix the blade to the predrilled handle is some weird rubber urethane epoxy, in a random color of grey, pinkish tan, or an off white (these are the colors I've seen). As you've said, the handle is nothing special at all, and neither is the fit up. The blade on the one I most recently handled was nothing special either. It was obviously purchased as stainless damascus clad blue steel bar stock, and was batch hammered into shape with dozens of other knives before being passed on to someone else to grind it, then someone else to fit it up to the afore mentioned handle out of a box..etc etc. Can you tell me what precisely makes this blade worth $1200? I'm genuinely curious. Is it the exceptional heat treat out of a forge? Or maybe it's the production grind (which again, can obviously have the same issues as anyone else making a knife)? The knife worked well enough, but again...it was NOTHING exceptional. Decent for sure...better than many of the lower tier US makers for sure as well...but nothing amazing. Now, tell me why you wouldn't want a blade from one of the above mentioned western makers that was custom made, custom ground, custom fit to the custom handle (designed specifically to your tastes), with no pre-drilled hole and mystery rubber epoxy. Why can't a maker take pride in his ENTIRE knife...without it ringing some danger bell in your head?

    Also, why on earth would you think that just because a handle is nice..it would require that the blade not be? Is there a time limit? Does a maker only have time to do one or the other? For $1200 and up...you damn betcha he'd better be getting BOTH right. There's no reason not to and the only person to blame if you let that slide is yourself.

    Now, as a disclaimer...I have NOTHING against Japanese knives, and I agree with Dave completely in that your average run of the mill US maker doesn't make a superior kitchen knife. Those makers aren't who the membership of this forum are being exposed to. You're being exposed to guys like I mentioned above. And while some of the other western makers on these forums aren't to the level of those guys...enough of them are that making generalizations based on them is going to be flawed from the start.

    Finally, I want to touch on the last point you made:

    New makers in the US and outside of Japan are attracted to bladesmithing for dozens of reasons. Most of the time they end up quickly finding a true passion for it...or they don't continue. There's a REASON there's so damn many of them lol. I can promise you that being a designer or a marketing genius are far, far down the list. Those guys make more money elsewhere doing other things. I'm also curious what would make you think that it requires hours and years of practice to become a fully fledged, consistently great maker? I know one established bladesmith that made a katana for his fourth ever blade. In his sensei's hands it outperforms said sensei's prized Japanese katana easily. This was his FOURTH blade. Japanese makers REQUIRE years to reach that level of skill...but trust me, years are NOT an actual requirement in the world outside of Japan. What is a requirement is a dedication to learning and perfecting yourself...and I'm sorry, this kind of character trait is NOT exclusive to Japan.

    I truly hope this is coming across as intended lol. Again, I hold no animosity towards Japan or Japanese makers. What I'm addressing here is the tendency of a number of members on this site to lump people into huge, broad categories based on whether they're Japanese or not Japanese...without any thought or true experience in the things that might actually change their mind.
     
  3. Jan 15, 2016 #63

    malexthekid

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    Asteger, I think part of the issue is also that people are romanticising a dying art (my understanding is Japanese culture is going through in its younger generations where all these things you talk about are disappearing) and that you are drawn to the romance of a J knife as opposed to a western maker.

    And the other is a factor of economics/industry history. Knife/sword making in Japan is dying out so you don't see the new kids coming i wanting to do it. All you get are the serious guys (think Cris, Dave and Mert etc.) That want to do it and do it properly so they apprentice. Where as in the "Western World" it is taking off, thanks to cooking fads and hipsters and hunting/EDC makers seeing it as a better stream, so you get the copiers coming in you want to make a quick buck (which were weeded out of the japan market along time ago when it was in its infancy).

    Plus add to this the different ways these makers run. In japan typical you have a smith, a sharpener a handle maker. So each is very special and geared to "mass producing" their wares. Whereas the western guys are a one stop shop who have to master everything. And as for the handles i think the "prettier" handles are just a function of the market. There are japanese makers that do this (Takeshi Saji, Mr Itou etc.) As there is a market for it. The key is realising the price points to get a quality product.
     
  4. Jan 15, 2016 #64

    chinacats

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    I get a lawyer when going to court...a doctor when needed. I don't really see the argument against one guy doing the steel (and being a specialist) and someone else knocking on a cheap handle, in fact I feel that is one of the biggest differentiating factors. I still don't understand how Tanaka can make those totally badass knives that retail for $150...even if they didn't come with a handle at all and some would be better without:O. As for having to do a bit of work (choil, spine, etc) I'm down with that...about a half an hours work with a file and some sandpaper. That said, I also don't mind paying someone to make me a handle if I'm bothered by it.

    In the end I just want a badass cutter, really doesn't matter who makes it.:knife:
     
  5. Jan 15, 2016 #65

    malexthekid

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    China i wasn't saying it was a bad thing but just one of the differentiators. They become super specialised so can increase production numbers and reduce cost.
     
  6. Jan 15, 2016 #66

    chinacats

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    Sorry, what I meant was actually to add to what you were saying...as much as it helps with productivity, it also helps with perfecting a skillset.

    Cheers
     
  7. Jan 15, 2016 #67

    CrisAnderson27

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    Very insightful!

    One thing though. You're 100% right that western makers have to master everything, whereas Japanese makers are task oriented (and often traded around from task to task throughout their apprenticeships I would assume?). The thing is, western makers aren't bound by a traditional education. No 'wax on/wax off' to learn how to block a punch if you will. The only limit to their learning is themselves. I promise you...it is entirely possible to become an established, recognized maker who puts out a quality product with no tool for education but the internet. What might surprise you even more about it is just how quickly it can be done. Look at Gregorz (I think his name here is BathonUK). Perfect example of a guy with some determination doing cool stuff. He makes knives with a 2 by freaking 72 grinder...IN HIS BATHROOM. They aren't junk either.


    Man I'm jealous of this guy's camera lol.

    Again...the only limit is you.
     
  8. Jan 15, 2016 #68

    Asteger

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    Malex - sure, you're mostly right. I'm interested in some bits of Japanese culture and customs, etc, I've lived there too, and the knives and stones thing can be part of that - or more like visa versa because I'm most interested in the knives and stones actually, so in my case not much incentive to look to makers abroad. If we're talking about US makers, I also don't live there and am not from there so not much incentive again. Straightforward, not 'romantic'.

    About Sakai-style production with the smith/sharpener/handlemaker, I'd agree with Chinacats that there's nothing wrong with such specialisms, and also with the idea that you might get better quality for the price this way - for eg, this guy's best with that steel, this one's best at yanagiba, etc.

    About the flashy handles, like the Itou, I have no doubt these are made for the foreign market in cooperation with the seller.

    Cris - DM's words were 'many US knifemakers never do a truly great job regardless of experience' which means that some might on the other hand, while I paraphrased it as 'never' which is quite different. I'd be fired if I were a journalist. Mea culpa in this case. DM's comment isn't quite as strong perhaps as it first sounded.

    However, about marketing you wrote, 'I don't think you're getting it. Japanese 'makers' don't do the marketing. The people that resell them do by having an established reputation.' Please look back at what I said about 'e-sellers and the odd big shops that promote different makers' which is in line with what you've just written. Still, I'll also say what I said before, that 'local reputations still seem to play a big part and loyalty too' because I've seen it at work, people contacting a local maker with an order because that's where they've got their stuff from before, that's one of the local makers they know, and that maker's not known elsewhere in another region. Again, nothing romantic, just the way it works, even if that's changing, etc, as Malex was saying.

    Of course, in a place like the US if a maker sets up he has to promote himself some way. It's unlikely he'd be taking over the hamono business from his father or teacher, for eg. What I wrote before was 'I'd be suspicious of a maker that seemed to be putting in lots of effort into sales and image'. I said I don't like being marketed at, and so of course my point involves the idea of style over substance.

    About this particular Mizuno knife (you'd mentioned before, Cris), sounds like a bad example. Makes me think of avoiding Mizuno in the future, but not sure why the comments are directed at me. Your handle-related question - 'Why can't a maker take pride in his ENTIRE knife...without it ringing some danger bell in your head?' doesn't follow at all. Pride and well-made handles are good things, who'd possibly disagree, but good handles don't have to be flash (and some of us would prefer them not to). The 'everything but the kitchen sink' type may catch some people's attention, but there shouldn't be an assumption that the attached blade is great too. In my case, I'd worry that too much effort's going into eye-catching handle bling and not the blade, whose quality you couldn't really judge in photos.

    My words again were 'I'd think that some new makers are attracted to knifemaking because they're into design and creating cool-looking stuff' which does not exclude that there are other reasons at play, naturally. I mentioned the 'hours and years of practice and work that you'd expect are necessary to become a fully-fledged, consistently great maker' which doesn't mean it's a requirement, just something 'you'd expect' and which is logical and reasonable and assuring to most customers. As for 'dedication to learning and perfecting yourself' not being exclusively Japanese, I never said or implied anything of the sort. Lots of your comments are directed at me, but I'm not sure how carefully you read mine and, sometimes, if I was the one you were actually writing to.

    I understand about trying to address tendencies for people to think too much in generalisations and to lump others into huge, broad categories. However, I feel you've just put quite a few words into my mouth and done exactly that to me, portraying lots of what I said in ways that aren't true, maybe imagining I think or said things I don't or didn't. It's great you're staking out a claim and getting out the message that there are great makers not just in Japan and I know you're trying to dispell some perceived myths, but your message might work better with more careful knifemaker-style attention to detail.
     
  9. Jan 15, 2016 #69

    CrisAnderson27

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    I'm currently out to a late dinner with my little ones and so will have to wait for a more detailed reply...but one thing I wanted to make sure of was that my tone was coming across properly. This is definitely a subject I feel passionate about lol...so I may be coming across overly strongly. If that's the case please realize that the way I actually should be being taken is as though we were two friends having this discussion face to face over a meal somewhere :).

    More later!
     
  10. Jan 15, 2016 #70

    Asteger

    Asteger

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    Okay, but you're buying!
     
  11. Jan 15, 2016 #71

    MontezumaBoy

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    I will personally 'buy for the both of you' ... just too watch and listen since I would prefer to be the proverbial 'fly on the wall' as you both have my utmost respect having seen your posts, thoughts and comments (& certainly for Chris - his work). Just go ahead and name the place / time but realize it will have to be in San Diego since I am the one buying :groucho: my home is always open and (last I checked) I can figure out something to serve ... even for the little ones should they choose to join ... my big kitties (Maine Coons) love the little people ...

    Looking forward to the continued "discussion" - a healthy and interesting one at that!

    Tom
     
  12. Jan 15, 2016 #72

    Asteger

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    Thanks very much, MB. As Cris hasn't responded yet I've already gone ahead and ordered the lobster and a rather delightful Krug Clos d’Ambonnay* on his behalf - all but done now - and I've informed him via a Facebook message just in case. Forgot to remind him to bring his credit card, but if things don't work out maybe he can just forge a honyaki for the chef. :whistling:

    Don't want to lose track of the fact, though, that the thread relates to design copying (Nguyen) and an example of a posing new knifemaker who did a shotgun 'apprenticeship' that has helped him sell pricey knives, and I wasn't meaning to steer things to a knife-themed re-enactment of Japan vs the Allies in WWII.

    I'm hoping the dinner's over soon and someone else steps in because these posts are too long and I'll get typer's cramp. Plus, dessert's on the way. Cris is full of good points and I wish there were more makers writing often like he does here, as he really fills in some blanks in discussions. I'm sure he & I agree on almost all stuff, although maybe he was reacting before to past discussions, comments or general perceived ideas outside of this thread rather than what was actually said, that's what I think. Hence the lobster.

    (*Had no idea what this was and just looked it up for the occasion. Expensive, but a real treat. Cheers)
     
  13. Jan 15, 2016 #73

    CrisAnderson27

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    Of course!!

    Now on to the entree lol:

    I'm not sure I agree with this entire statement, though I don't necessarily disagree. It's possible you 'might' get better quality, if each person in each position wasn't treating it like an assembly line. In the videos I've seen, these guys are pretty much banging them out. This is not to say they're doing so 'poorly' at all...just that it's not going to get the attention to detail that a knife that takes 40hrs out of a single man's life gets. Again...not saying custom knives are 'better'. Just...different. Your comment about the price being the qualifier can absolutely hold true here.


    Absolutely! But you must understand...this set the tone for the way the rest of your comments were perceived. It's entirely possible for a white sheet of paper to take on all sorts of colors, depending on the color of light cast on it.


    Yes, that does fit in exactly with what I said. It leaves the maker able to keep a completely clean nose...which is a NICE luxury lol. Some makers I know like the interaction with their customers as much as the bladesmithing, lol...so maybe for them it balances out ;). I would also agree about the 'local maker' thing in general...but for most of us, the kitchen knife community/market is spread pretty far and wide. Unless I'm misunderstanding what you wrote. If a bladesmith tried to live on local sales.....even in a city as food service rich as here in Phoenix...he would starve.

    Again though, perhaps I'm mistaking your meaning.

    Oh, also...I tend to hate the 'overmarketing' thing too, or being marketed to directly. It seems somehow insulting. But tastefully presented pictures and discussions of a western maker's work is definitely something I feel would be mandatory. I think we are more in agreement there than disagreement...it just came across differently in our initial posts.


    What I meant by 'good handles' is well done, properly fit (without a gaping hole full of rubber epoxy visible...some gap is to be expected), and cleanly executed handles. The number of spacers or the materials aren't relevant to me as those would seem to be tailored to each customer's preference on a case by case basis. Some people prefer a tasteful walnut with one to three thin metal spacers, others want bog oak and mammoth tooth. Either way the handle shouldn't be pulled out of a box and slapped on to a $1200 knife in my opinion...because again...for $1200 I would expect every aspect of a knife to be nailed to the wall or damn close. Fit, finish, grind, performance, ergonomics, sharpness. The more 'bling'...the more the knife will cost...but the rest of the previously mentioned aspects of a good/great knife shouldn't suffer for the 'kitchen sink' handle that some guy paid an extra $1000 for, lol.

    On the Mizuno itself...this knife wasn't a fluke, and other than the overgrind it wasn't a 'bad' knife. It just wasn't a $1200 knife. I spoke to a friend who told me that if someone handed him the bar stock steel and a handle, he could produce that knife in less than a day for $400-$500 or so. That's forging, grinding, normalizing, heat treating, finish grinding, polishing, and fitting to that handle...and at $400 it STILL adds up to $50/hr. In addition, I've handled a number of moderately high end Japanese knives over the last few years, and they were all 'good' knives. The western handled versions (I prefer wa handles myself btw) seem to have an overall better level of fit and finish for some reason. The wa handled units are just disappointing. That $1200 Mizuno has the SAME handle as knives costing 1/3 or less the price...with the same level of fit and finish. Also keep in mind I'm only bringing up this specific knife because it's the most recent and fresh in my mind. It's certainly not an anomaly, at least not in my experience.


    I can understand where you're coming from here...but I have to say something and I don't want you to take it wrong. When your opening statement is that you will be avoiding non-Japanese knives because Japanese knives are a 'safer' bet...and then you continue to defend that point with broad statements that are lacking qualifiers (even if you thought the qualifiers would be obvious)...your following comments are probably going to be taken pretty literally. I don't think it's any fault of yours...just the way communication via text works. I have and had been taking your comments as follow up comments supporting your claim that Japanese knives are a safer bet than Western/US knives. Again, in that light...the things I've been saying make sense...and the assumptions as to your meaning aren't huge leaps. Even the examples you mentioned above....when given in conjunction with touting Japanese makers as superior...will be taken (as I said) in support of that position. Japanese makers DO spend years learning their craft. My point in support of other makers outside of Japan...is that it's their culture that makes it necessary, not the difficulty of the work. This back and forth is again a dynamic of online communication. I have to take your points as I read them (remember, there weren't any qualifiers on them...so my understanding is going to be based directly on things you've previously said...and vice versa)...and that can very often lead to great misunderstanding between two people who've taken a vastly differing stance on a subject.

    Also, I've been addressing my responses to you, and basing them on the things you've said...because you're the one I'm talking to here for the most part ;).

    I don't think I'm doing anything new in supporting makers outside of Japan. No maker anywhere is going to keep selling $1k plus knives if they don't work at a level that at least shines...if not completely outshines other lower cost makers. He will run out of 'bling groupies' to buy them eventually, lol. I agree that in a dollar for dollar scenario it's hard to beat Japanese knives. But I would like to think that at least some US makers are putting out knives that are far enough above other knives in performance that 2 or 3x the price seems a bargain.
     
  14. Jan 15, 2016 #74

    Asteger

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    Definitely, because if it all becomes monotony people could start to care less or least get bored and distracted (handle, handle, handle, handle, handle...) and so you'd worry about this. I wonder with that Mizuno flop. I haven't followed Mizuno, but they seem a little too anonymous to me. I had a recent disappointing experience with Konosuke who I think also have a larger operation, too. I've seen their busy warehouse/office, which was different from other makers who I think are smaller-scale, and there has to be a different feeling.

    Definitely, although with me I'm anti-bling too. Knife bling's very visual, and maybe when the bling element occurs - kaleidoschope handles and impossible finishes - it could be a sign of attention-seeking rather than great knifemaking. Well done pictures and presentations could be more prevalent in Japan, too.

    'Tasteful walnut' sounds good. Spacers, added layers, caps, those rhinestone things, extinct animal parts, diamonds, ivory carvings, imbedded microchips, usb jacks - these all seem unnecessary. Wondering what a maker does when a customer requests a puke-awful handle design? Are some designs ever refused? ('Sorry, but I just don't want my name connected with this thing...')

    Definitely, and that's the opposite end of the spectrum.

    I mentioned the 'safe shores of Japan' or something similar. I wasn't expecting such attention, but if I had sure I'd qualify it more because in my case I wouldn't be the sort to go for that $1200 Mizuno. Tonight's champagne (thanks again) cost 2-3 honyaki and also wouldn't be something I'd pay for myself. In a KKF context, I'm probably normal if you think of wanting a gyuto and aiming for the $200-$500 bracket, which might be seen as a default, and where above there already seems to be consensus that you should go Japanese; your tale of the $450 apprentice helped illustrate this.

    I would extend this to non-J makers all over the place, not just the US, who work in this high-end bracket and who are probably influenced through Japan. In my case, I've not owned a knife above around $600 and so I can't comment on the $1200 kind, while the idea that a knife for double the price of my $600 would have triple the performance sounds good if improbable. For the time being, therefore, I'll stick with the safe shores.

    Thanks for the explanations and dinner. Maybe Zwiefel should pay for starting this thread.
     
  15. Jan 15, 2016 #75

    MAS4T0

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    Completely off topic, but I like the idea of having an inbuilt encrypted USB drive!

    It would give me a reasonable excuse to carry the knife around with me and have it on my desk when I'm working. :knife:
     
  16. Jan 15, 2016 #76

    Zwiefel

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    This is one of the very few places on the internet that a thread started about a small business having their concepts....uhhhh....flattered...turns into a substantive dialogue about the nature of the industry, various business models, etc. Good job guys.

    Also...let me know about this San Diego thing...I mean, I did start this discussion and all <ahem>
     
  17. Jan 15, 2016 #77

    Asteger

    Asteger

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    Danny O's dodging the bullet
     

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