Dave, thanks for the visual aid!
Basicaly "navaja" is an old word that now has several different meanings. I recently sent off for a copy of "La Navaja Hispanola Antigua" from Spain, and the bookseller I was in contact with informed me that "these navajas aren't at all like the Swiss knives". There are also "navajitos". So this word gets used for modern folders that aren't really navajas in the classic sense, thus it can cause some confusion in terms.
As you probably know, I am translating a 19th century text, "Manual del Baratero", that deals with navajas. Actauly, I'm done with the translation, just cleaning it up and making sure my translation is accurate. Then I'm going to digitaly enhance the pictures and either get it published or put it on the web. Anyway, I reckon what it has to say on the matter of selecting a navaja would be of intrest;
"In Spain there are various villages notable for the good charachter and temper that they give to the blades of their navajas, admirable for their keen edge and finish and such that they don't break or bend after having pierced two coins or a two inch thick board. Albacete, Santa Cruz de Mudela, Guadij, Solana, Mora Bonilla, Valencia, Sevilla, Jaen and many other places have masters of the forge, whose skilled hands can produce for the stranger, and are reccomended for the admirer.
Nevertheless, the figure of the navaja is not always adequate for the use that the owners will give them in the course of our specialty, that is to say that the blade must have to it a measure of one palm of length, and be perfectly secure between the handle scales and spring.
The figure of the blade is of great intrest, because without proper qualities the diestro* risks bending it at every strike. So, because, those of much belly reduce the accuteness of the point, look for 3 to 4 finger's breadth of width or it's of no curve, and with the point somewhat prolonged, for giving the thrusts; all should show the present figure."
Okay, that last part makes more sense in Spanish then English; basicaly it says you want a blade that's three or four fingers wide so that you can have some belly without sacrificing a good point, or without much belly and a prolonged point for thrusting ability. Good advice.
The biggest failing of most of the repro's is that they have poor locks. It's not inherent to the design,as you can tell from the text, and my Grandfather's was quite strong, but the new ones are mostly made as display pieces.
Things to look for in a good one;
Most any that were made for use as a weapon will incorporate some sort of gaurd on the bolster or blade. My Grabdfather's was made in the 19th century, had a substantial gaurd, and incorporated a Spanish notch for trapping.
If the lock release is stamped from sheet metal and hasn't been polished, the side of it will have these little sliver that will slice up your thumb or fingers when you release the blade. So you want to be sure that the release lever is smooth on the sides. For that matter, check the spring too.
You also want to make sure that teeth on the base of the blade engage the lock well, they should stick up a ways through it. Well designed examples will have the teeth angled in such a manner that they force the spring down into the teeth the more force you apply. Likewise, the notch will have radioused corners so it doesn't break out under pressure.
I prefer the classic dimensions, because the navaja is all about giving you a large knife that conceals well. The little 4 or 5 inched blades are kinda silly.
I'll take a good navaja over a "tactical folder" because the are a larger and stronger, hence more formidable, weapon. They conceal well even in jeans because their shape conforms to the contours of you pocket and leg. Though you can tell something's in the pocket, people won't think it's a knife. They'll just think you're happy to see them.
You can do an inertial opening by raising the release lever with your thumb, you can also open them silently this way.
As to strength, you should be able to stab trees without breaking the blade or lock, and you should be able to do some hefty chopping too.
The navaja in the above picture is more of a utility than fighting navaja, as you can see there isn't much between your finger and the blade. However, my people have used fighting navajas for centuries and they have proven to be very effective streetfighting weapons.
Oh, one thing you may miss about these things, they're designed to be held with your thumb against the spine. Not only will thins help keep your fingers from slipping onto the blade and give you more control, you can also aply downward force against the lock with the ball of your thumb to help keep it closed. A navaja inherently passes the "white knuckle" test.
I'm unfamiliar with the maker of your knife, but if it was more of a "village bladesmith" purchase than a production knife, you should be in good shape. These things still get used in parts of Spain and Mexico, and among the Romani.
Also, they tend to be lighter than you'd expect. This is because their liners don't tend to be porportionately as thick as on smaller knives, and there are a number now being made with chromed aluminum liners.
Oh yeah, "diestro" means "skillful fencer" more or less. I don't have a good synonym for this, or for "tirador" or "baratero" either.
As to my intrest, it's mostly a practicality/heritage thing. I am intrested in the history as well, but my main focus is on use and performance/construction.
I'm hoping to open a shop and start making these things next year.
P.S. I hear there's a book coming out on Spanish bladework called "Sevillian Steel". Has anybody heard anything about this? Publisher, author, where I could pick up a copy?
[This message has been edited by Snickersnee (edited 31 July 1999).]