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July 10, 2007

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Why Yesterday's Doo-Doo Is Today's Objet D'art

One of the reasons I've been a knife nut as well as a gun nut for all these years is the ingenuity and artistry that craftsmen put into such a simple thing as a knife. The late Buster Warenski, who was an incomparable artist, was once commissioned to re-create a dagger that had been found in King Tut's tomb. In order to do so, he had to reinvent a gold-casting technique that had been lost for 5,000 years. The dagger, should its owner ever put it up for sale, will sell for over $1 million.

Now I find on one of my favorite websites, knifeart.com, a folder with mosaic Damascus blade and handle scales made of coprolite. This is what's known as an art knife (as opposed to a using knife) and carries a price of $3,600. The fellow who made it is one John Gustaffson. Now if you've gotten your head around all that, your next question should be, what is coprolite?


I thought you'd never ask. Coprolite is the scientific term for a fossilized turd. That's right. Doo-doo. Ca-ca. Poo-poo. Something that, had you lived 10,000 years ago, you would have been glad not to step in. Coprolites are terrific sources of information on what ancient critters, including man, ate, and DNA can even be gotten out of them.

And now, highly polished, one is an integral part of a work of art. In the future, we may have to say, "Excuse me, I have to go take a knife handle."


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Steve C

No doubt that pertified vomit or crystalized pee is just around the corner.

I can imagine the looks on his friends faces when he cuts a slice of apple or something and offers it to them.

Mike Diehl

Hmmm. Coprolites of the form that one might step in, even those that are 10,000 years old, can't be polished. (Don't ask me why I know this.)

Probably what the knife maker has carved then is a *petrified* coprolite -- in which the original specimen has had its organic components replaced with minerals after the fashion of "petrified wood." So that would mean the knife has probably been made with very rare and special poo, possibly even dinosaur poo.

I imagine a Tyrranosaurus rex would (if it could be explained to one) be pleased to have its fossilized poo fashioned into a knife.

Ralph the Rifleman

Nice knife...Poo handle and all!

Bernie Kuntz

I hadn't known of Buster Warenski's passing. In about 1982, when I was near death from a bout of strep, Buster called me about an order for a drop-point hunter. Price--$500. This was double what most makers charged at the time, so I declined. Wish I hadn't now.

I also read your treatise about the late George Herron. I have four or five knives made by him. He was one of the best.

I am recuperating from hip surgery. So wouldn't you know it that after 21 years of applying, I drew a bull moose permit here in Montana?!

Bernie Kuntz

Trae B.

so if someone said you had a shitty knife would that be a compliment


I've had a lot of knives that were pieces of shit too, but I was never gullible enough to pay $3600.00 for them.

Artsey-Fartsey takes on a whole new meaning. I'll take a knife that is ugly and functional over any "purty" one that ain't worth a shit. (Damn there I go again.)


I cannot remember his name, but some "gun writer" about 25 or 30 years ago wrote something like this: "Knife makers are selling custom knives for $300 - $500, and these are no better than the mass-produced Bucks and Gerbers. Who's kidding whom?" Well, he was dropped from that magazine like a hot rock. Now, I do really like "purty" knives, and I can appreciate them as an art form. I do think that some custom knives are horribly overpriced. A knife costing $3,600? It should be able to stalk and kill and skin out a deer all on its own!

Michael Morrissey

Mr. Petzal,

I was flipping back through the last issue and looking through your cartridge guide. Two thoughts came to mind.

I think that you missed a class of cartridge types. What about those cartridges that are intended for use in fast-handling rifles at modest ranges? Is your suggestion to get a pump, lever, or semi auto in one of your purpose calibers, or is this a true class of its own? If it is, what are your top picks? Is the ability to get your sight picture back and follow up just the thing, making the 30-30 top choice? Or under quick shooting the conditions, would something like the .358 Winchester really be best, as you might stand a little more chance at a good killing shot if your placement is not exactly perfect?

Second, the most interesting part of the article wasn't so much what you considered best. We all know that a .223 will do just about all you need for pests, and that we won't go wrong using any type of .338 Magnum for big things. What interested me is the largely out-of-favour cartridges (i.e. the .257 Roberts and the 6.5x55 SE) that you gave high standing. These are the interesting observations. Surely there are lots of other cartridges that we don't use often but that we would benefit from considering more seriously. Even if they don't make to top three, a lot of aspiring gun nuts out here might be interested in hearing about them.


Big Ed

Dear Dave,

Ten thousand years? (1X104) I have some doubts about the lithification process that would generate a sufficiently resistant coprolite, to be used in a knife handle, in such a short period of time. I suspect, just based on probability, that the coprolite is older, probably in the range of less than 67 m.y.a. (million years) (1X106). These Cenozoic coprolites seem to be fairly common based on purchase availability. Mesozoic coprolites are also available and these date back to the era of T. Rex. However, I need to point out that it is difficult to date a coprolite, after it has been found. Unlike” CSI”, without stratigraphic correlation, there is no guaranteed method of dating the “specimen” (unless a Triceratops tooth passed through the GI tract).
Also, the environment of preservation is critical. Then, as now, critters that die (or poop) on hill tops are not likely to leave any evidence. Critters that die (or poop) in near sea-level environments have a shot at preservation. These latter critters tend not to be dominant carnivores or herbivores, but rather crocodilian type carnivores and small herbivores (muskrat equivalent). The bottom line is that preserved poop from these critters also tends to be small. It is not likely that a 3-foot diameter piece of a fossilized “pasture patty” will be preserved. More likely, the “pile” will be on the order of a few inches in displacement. The particular piece, as seen in the photo, shows evidence of small circular features that suggest that a cross-section has been made of a solid by-product emitted from a sphincter of less than 1”± in diameter.
So Dave, when you are lamenting about the tolerance of feet per second of a particular load, you might consider the tolerance of an estimated sphincter diameter plus or minus a paleo-hemorrhoid or two.

Dr. Ralph

Big Ed you're having just a little too much fun with this.

Old Gunslinget

Bernie Kuntz: I've had both hips replaced over the past 5 yrs, and I've hunted every year since. However, I don;t walk miles in the Rockies as I once did, now I mostly find a good trail and wait. Just enjoy the scenery and look whats available to mankind. Maybe old Big Horn will come your way.. I Hunt Montana yearly and have seen many Moose. Never applied for a Tag as i prefer the Elk/Mulies. However have seen many Moose in the Bitterrots. Find you a Guide/outfitter whom will take you out and let him be your birdog and run a Moose your way. I go into the Mtns from the Idaho side, thru the national forrest into Montana and many signs of Moose. good Luck and hopefully you can fill your tag. I;, 72 yrs old, and agree that I now must hunt different than I did 30 yrs ago. Its sit and wait mostly now, but l;m still out ther enjoying the beauty. Now On Knives to all: I cannot afford a 3600.00 knife but do have many Marbles. I have one that is 64 yrs old, that my Uncle gave me for Birthday. I hate stainless steel blades, and this Marbles is carbon steel. In past few years have bought many more Marbles and kinda figure its a good investment.A marbles, when sharp will stay sharp much longer than a SS. Knives like firearms. All depends on your taste. If could afford them. would own one of each firearm and knife made that I like. At todays rates in the banks, I figure a investment in the firearms and Knives a better return on your money. Granted many of both are junk. Those I do not want, just the better quality ones. However, I continue to use the tried and proven firearms and knives that worked for me in the past 50 odd years. I love my 30-06 700 and my 25-06 700(Custon shop built) Both have a job to do, and each does it well, it I do my part. I pratice a lot and once the gun is zeroed in at 200 yds it remains there. I use Leupold steel rings and bases, dual dove tails. With the 0 set, the scope don;t move.Plus I want my firearms to weigh about 9-10 lbs, with extra wt in the butt end. With the wt there I am able to hold the forearm end of the rifle more steady, and at my age it's necessary for that wt to be on the shoulder. I also use Sims recoil pads, makes the firearm shoot like a 22 to me. But again, to each his on, What works best for you, is what you should use, thats what I do. A 30-06 will kill anything I hunt and then some. The 25-06 will take the w-tail on down to smaller varmits. Never understood why the 25-06 has never been a top seller, to me its better than the 257. With the 2 weapons listed above I killed 2 animals in Montana and WY last year in excess of 300 yds with one shot, each animal dropped in it's tracts./ Again pratice pays off. Good hunting guys, thanks for listing to a old , has been hunter, who wishes a couple more Western Adventures.PS; One last thing> I don;t think these new short.fat , stubby bullets(WSM's & WSSM's) will last long. I much prefer the long action ammo.

Big Ed

Thanks Dr. Ralph, but everybodies got to have their area of specialty. When I was a younger version, I shoveled s**t and hauled it in 10-ton increments. Repeatedly.
I should point out that I have never found a coprolite, excluding numerous invertebrate pellets, but they were very small (<1mm). When discussing sphincter diameters, my reference point tends to be on the inch-scale excluding certain individuals that have suffered a voluntary cranio-rectal insertion.


History sucks and sh*& is worth what it is worth and big ed, don't complain about your old job.


I can just imagine a car ramming itself through a huge block of

Dr. Ralph

Big Ed you're not alone. When I was a kid we had horses. Lots of horses. My Saturdays always started with a pitchfork and a Ford 8N pulling a manure spreader. I'm wondering now if they ever developed one that doesn't spread it all over the person driving the tractor.

Big Ed

Dr. Ralph,

You're yanking on my memory chain here! As I recall, members of the fairer sex could never understand that the fact that if one's breath smelled like manure, it did not mean that one had actually consumed said substance. The trick then as always was to spread into the wind.

Big Ed

P.S. I recall hearing a story about Pres. Harry Truman that went something like this: One day HST addressed Bess's garden group on the virtues of natural fertilizer. After the meeting, one of the women came up to Bess and said, "The president gave a wonderful speech, but is there some way for you to prevent him from using that dreadful word "manure". Bess's reply was, "I wish there was, but it has taken me 30 years to teach him to use that word." If anybody knows the source of this quote, I'd like to hear.

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