RYP DESIGN HONORS A LIFE BEHIND THE LINES WITH THE DEMO KNIFE
Two legends in the outdoors industry, Robert Young Pelton and William W. Harsey, came together to create a knife to honor a hero, Army Special Forces and CIA paramilitary legend Billy Waugh.
Robert once asked Billy, “Which knives did you use [during your service], and what did you wish you had?”
The answer was an Army-issued, stainless steel folding pocketknife called the DEMO. Thus, it seemed only fitting that the Pelton-Harsey knife collaboration would feature a knife by the same name.
RYP Design is a newer venture for which Robert Young Pelton partners up with designers and legends to create products that are unique, ranging from books to graphic novels, and knives to survival designs. Robert recruited another Special Forces legend, William W. Harsey, to honor a hero and legend of Billy’s caliber.
William is no stranger to collaborating with and honoring the Special Forces and is credited with many legendary combat-knife designs. To name a few, he collaborated with Colonel Rex Applegate to design Gerber’s Applegate-Fairbairn line, and he worked with Chief James Watson to create Gerber’s Watson/Harsey Silver Trident. William also worked with Chris Reeve and Matt Larsen to develop the LHR Combat Knife. He designed the Neil Roberts Warrior Knife dedicated to the memory of Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts, who was killed in action in Afghanistan, and the Pacific/First Group Knife, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Army Special Forces in Asia.
The Yarborough Knife, named after Lt. Gen. William P. Yarborough, the “father of modern Special Forces,” was presented to each United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course graduate. This may well be the most significant William W. Harsey design. The history of William’s collaborations, combined with Billy Waugh’s extensive knowledge and experience, make the production of an epic knife like the DEMO possible. This sort of coalescence of experience is what RYP Design is all about.
If I understood the story right, Billy carried a locally made Parang while deployed, and Robert carried one in Borneo. The idea for the DPx gear CHOP (Heft 12) was Robert wanting something between a machete and a rugged survival knife. The beastly chopper was supposed to have Billy’s name on it, but Billy said, “Why the hell would anyone want my name on their knife?”
The DPx CHOP was the knife I chose to take into the jungle several years ago on a trip to the Philippines. I was doing a jungle survival class where I had to use a long blade to make everything. This meant swamp-bed shelters, cutting firewood, making traps, cooking using bamboo, scraping tinder shavings from bamboo and hammering stakes into the ground for tarps. This 12-inch Parang-like blade made of D2 steel performed flawlessly on bamboo and hardwood yet had the finesse to do the delicate tasks. Billy may have dodged slapping his name on the CHOP, but he wouldn’t get so lucky the second time around.
This is not a small, dainty EDC knife; it’s a step up. The Billy Waugh DEMO is a medium-large, full-sized handful of thunder and lightning. The overall length is a hair over 9 inches open and features Böhler M390 steel, with a stonewashed matte-black PVD (physical vapor deposition) coating.
The blade is hardened to 60 on the Rockwell Hardness scale, all 3.78 inches of it. The handle is made of a unique diamond-patterned 3D titanium and is hefty at that. The Billy Waugh DEMO features an IKBS (Ikoma Korth Bearing System), which allows for ultra-smooth blade deployment. It basically features an indentation containing multiple free-rolling/floating ball bearings on which the knife blade sits.
It will enable the knife to roll out of the handle with barely any effort. IKBS pivot system knives are distinguished by their light, fluid blade movements and secure blade position, which is why Billy’s knife features this system.
The butt/pommel is equipped with a removable tungsten carbide glass breaker. The pocket clip is significantly sized and easy to grip. The deep-pocket combat clip carries the knife in a tip-up orientation and is engraved with Billy Waugh’s signature.
OK, it’s a marlin spike/awl that appears to be more of a narwhal. One thing is for sure: This isn’t a typical Swiss Army Knife awl with a sharpened portion; this one is rounded and smooth. I would say it is more of a gouger than a driller.
The spike/awl is made from 440 stainless steel. This thing is beastly and resembles a sharp talon, in my opinion. It splices rope and helps undo knots better than a Swiss Army Knife awl because it gradually gets more expansive and lacks the sharpened part. It essentially wedges the cordage and doesn’t cut or fray it.
It locks in place and stays solid through all tasks. The thumb nick is wide and easy to feel and use. It floats open and closed on bronze washers and delivers a powerhouse puncture.
As said before, the IKBS allows for ultra-smooth blade deployment, and there are a few ways to deploy the blade. There isn’t a thumb stud to aid in opening the blade, but there is a recess that smoothly transitions into a fuller. In fact, this blade area looks like the DPx CHOP, only smaller and is on a folder. I didn’t have much luck using this thumb cutout; however, it does allow for a slow roll, pinch opening.
Flicking it with the forefinger or middle finger may be the fastest way to deploy the blade, but it takes some practice. I prefer the flipper. Not the dolphin from the 1964 TV show who’s faster than lightning. However, this flipper is as fast and fluid.
A simple wrist movement while pushing down on the protruding flipper will quickly convince people it is an automatic, James Dean-like switchblade. The weight of the blade does the work for you.
In reverse mode (tip up), a finger flick with the middle finger combined with a wrist snap will also deploy the blade quickly. The cutout works well to deploy the blade if you pinch-grip it (forefinger and thumb) and give a quick, simple downward wrist flick using the handle’s weight to open the knife.
For those times when you aren’t in any rush at all, holding the knife with one hand while the other uses the cutout like a large nail nick to open it, as you would a classic folding knife, works well. Either of these techniques will get you there.
If you can imagine all the things you may need to do behind enemy lines to get back to familiar soil, then you are ahead of the game—I can’t. The Billy Waugh DEMO gets you more than halfway there.
I put the Billy Waugh DEMO through a gauntlet of chores unsuitable for most folding knives. Not actual abuse, but riding that fine line. The first test for me and any cutting tool is to see how well it will shave hair off my arm straight out of the box. It was a razor blade with a handle for the shaving-hair test. Using a chest-lever grip, I cut a rubber hose by bending it first and then slicing through the material. The rubber hose was thick yet no match for the DEMO. Eventually, I sliced the hose on a cutting board using the belly of the knife, which glided through like…rubber.
Eager to puncture something, I was ready for talon time. Thanks to the bronze washers and good craftsmanship, the tool floats out flawlessly, and the nail nick doesn’t leave you searching. It is deep and easy to feel, just in case you need to deploy it in low-level light as a self-defense tool.
Using the DEMO as a puncturing tool is best in a fist or icepick grip. It plunged into an empty metal MotoMix canister and penetrated rather than just buckling or denting the canister. The next puncture test was on another canister, wherein the DEMO penetrated halfway into the canister before the tool stopped. The last test for the spike was using it on a rubber tire. Again, no issues in comfort or penetration. The sharp spike proved to be a formidable tool and a useful feature of the DEMO knife. I’ll still call it a talon.
Back to the blade portion of the tests, it was time for slashing, stabbing and slicing. In the same way the talon was tested, now the blade would have a chance to puncture through the light metal canisters. Held in an icepick grip and while I wore leather gloves, the DEMO was stabbed through the MotoMix canister repeatedly and levered back and forth for good measure. The lock was solid, and the blade was sharp. It punctured easily with the tip and the blade’s edge sheared through like butter. Canister number two received the same results as the MotoMix.
Time to slice heavy nylon tow strapping. After the metal canisters, the Böhler M390-steel blade was still sharp on the thick, heavy-duty material. This task definitely required a sawing motion to sever the webbing. It was a tough job; however, the handle stayed comfortable, and the lock was still spot on. I made fatwood shavings using the blade at a 90-degree angle, scraping vigorously. This will dull knives. The shavings were small, thin and curly, which would easily take a spark. I first stabbed a rubber tire before making a feather stick to see if the edge was still sharp enough to pull it off. The DEMO had no problem making a couple of feather sticks before the last real challenge.
Tomato slicing is the ultimate test of any edge. After days of use and surviving the gauntlet, the DEMO successfully sliced and diced a tomato—literally. The lock remained strong. There was zero blade play, and the edge kept on going. The DEMO knife proved a real fighter, much like its inspiration and namesake, Billy Waugh! KI
BILLY WAUGH CHEATSHEET
» Billy tried to sign up for World War II and join the Marines at the age of 15 in 1945.
» Billy signed up for the U.S. Army and quickly chose the most dangerous tasks our nation demanded by joining the Army Special Forces.
» In 1955, Billy joined the 10th Special Forces Group.
» Billy trained to parachute into Russia with a nuke.
» In 1965, Billy led a raid against 4,000 North Vietnamese in Bong Son.
» In 2001, the CIA sent Billy to Afghanistan.
» Billy continued his Special Forces career by dedicating another 20 years to the CIA post-retirement.
» At 71 years old, Billy became the oldest CIA paramilitary in history. During his career, he was shot eight times and left for dead, but he wasn’t dead—he was Billy Waugh!
A version of this article first appeared in the March/April 2023 print issue of Knives Illustrated.