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Thursday, 19 April 2018

The knife you WANT vs the knife you NEED (part 2)

Yesterday we looked at a range of iconic knives and their designers specifications for those knives; both the successful ones and a few which do not really float my boat. I made it clear that all you really NEED for bushcraft is a Mora or similar knife, I would feel dishonest saying that you need a more costly knife to do bushcraft but because I use a knife so often I have developed certain preferences and a budget Mora or Hultafors doesn't quite meet those criteria.

A Hultafors Craftsman knife and a Mora Companion; if I had nothing but one of these I would not be at a disadvantage and these are the kinds of knives I provide for my students when I teach bushcraft. 
It's the small differences in knife design that make the difference in terms of it's suitability for an individual in my opinion; the grind, steel, blade shape, handle material, inclusion of a sharpening choil, ricasso or other features all of which might make a significant difference to the user but which, to the uninitiated, may not look or feel like a big deal.

We looked at some of the iconic bushcraft knives in yesterdays post and you will see that they are all fairly similar with a few minor differences, the nessmuk knife is the most 'different' one in line with his usage of the knife as a butchery and skinning tool rather than for wood working. We also saw some of the knives which broke the mold and discussed why they aren't really comparable to the knives of Ray Mears, Horace Kephart, Nessmuk and Mors Kochanski. Well just like all these people WANTED specific features in their knives I WANT a few specific things from mine.

So what did I WANT in my bushcraft knife? 

I have a few personal preferences and a taste for wooden handles which aren't met by the Mora and Hutlafors ranges, my first forays into finding a knife which met all my requirements involved having a go at making my own;
Clockwisee from the top; spoon knife with yew handle, walnut handle on a blade made with a heavy duty hacksaw blade, a whittling knife made with a broken silky saw blade, an Enzo trapper blade with a New Zealand silver beech and sheep horn handle (I made this one for my wife)
I went through a phase of making knives myself but my skill never matched my enthusiasm and I was never really happy with the finish on my handles (except the Enzo above; I had been saving a piece of silver beech I had brought back from NZ for years for something and was never quite sure what until my wife wanted a bushcraft knife and that special piece of wood had to be hers, it's not great by professional standards but we were happy with it, and she uses it regularly). The quality of the blades I made myself was severely lacking and I didn't have the natural talent or time to get better at it so to get the knife I really WANTED I couldn't rely on my own skills to provide it.  

Going to the length of designing and having a knife made to my own design wasn't something I took lightly, I didn't 'borrow' my Dad's copy of Lofty Wisemans SAS survival guide at age nine and immediately order a custom made knife. I didn't save up the proceeds of my paper round or first full time job to get a custom made knife. I didn't get a custom knife once I started teaching bushcraft regularly in fact I had been working in the woods and countryside for fifteen years and had been teaching bushcraft for over ten years before I went to the lengths of designing and ordering a custom made knife. This was the right way to go about the process too, by that stage I was very comfortable with my knife skills and was sure about my preferences, the grind I favoured, the blade shape I preferred, the tang and handle I wanted. If you rush into a custom knife you may find that as you use it you realise that the features you have are not what you eventually are comfortable with. I was well passed that phase when I designed a knife I knew what I wanted and have not been disappointed.  

My initial sketch of the knife I wanted.
Now I have already made it clear that my knife making skill does not match my enthusiasm and it will be clear to most of you looking at my sketch that there are some design flaws in my sketch, particularly in the exposed portion of the tang. That's another reason I got in touch with a professional, someone who could not only make what I wanted but someone who could bring their experience as a knife maker to the design process and question my wishes if they weren't really realistic, a quality obviously lacking in some of the manufacturers of some of the knives I featured in yesterdays post, you would have thought that SOMEBODY would have questioned the features of the Tom Brown Tracker Knife.

Luckily I managed to find a knife maker who asked a lot of questions to work out exactly what I wanted and who helped me refine the design of the knife I wanted to make sure it would perform well. I looked around online a lot to find someone to make my knife for me an eventually I got in touch with Tim at Ammonite knives. One of his designs I particularly liked which drew me to contacting him were his field and fish knives;

Once I had got in touch I was able to set out my ideas of what I wanted in a knife;
  • A continuously curving cutting edge; a feature which is particularly useful for carving and whittling. This makes slicing cuts for the production of feather sticks easier and provides more edge area for the same blade length.
  • A sharp point; this almost goes without saying but you'd be surprised how many knives are out there without sharp points. I don't mean by that that they are blunt necessarily just that you couldn't really describe them as pointy;
Medford Knife & Tool Praetorian P Tactical Folder Knife Tanto Point OD G-10 Handles Tumbled Blade MK030DTT-1010
Something like this medford  folder, while it's point probably is sharp a blade that narrows at the tip and tapers to a point is much more useful and indeed essential for fine carving. 
  • Full length, narrow tang; I wanted the full length for strength but a narrow tang so that my hand wouldn't have to come into contact with the tang in cold weather. For added security I wanted the tang to be secured with pins or similar through the handle.
  • Exposed pommel; not because I want to use it to crush the skulls of my enemies or use it for striking a fire steel but because I don't need the extra space on the handle. I'm not going to be holding onto the handle at the back to get a better swing for chopping so why have that extra piece of handle.
  • Lanyard hole; I don't normally use lanyards on my knives, certainly not wrist lanyards even if I am chopping vigorously with something designed for chopping like a bill hook or machete the thought of letting go and having it swing back towards me on it's lanyard is frankly terrifying, I certainly don't need that in my knife. What I do want though is a small lanyard to help pull it out of a deep carry sheath. 
  • A convex grind; I had considered a scandi grind too but decided in the end that I wanted the added strength that a convex grind would provide especially in the fairly fine point that the knife would come to. 
  • Impervious handle; although I like the way wooden handles look I originally wanted a kirinite or micarta handle so it wouldn't soak up any blood or other things which could contaminate my knife as I would be using this knife to process game. 
  • Four - five inch blade; I'm not a fan of large blades except for specific jobs and find that four to five inches is about right for an all round knife, not too big for whittling and not so small that it can't be pressed to tasks which require a little more length. 
  • Sharpening choil; large finger choils are a pet hate of mine but I do like a sharpening choil to allow me to sharpen the blade right up to the point it comes closest to the handle. 

 These are the sketches that Tim provided after I sent him my specifications and I went with the top one. My original sketch did have a slightly drop point blade but we eventually decided on the strait spine like many Scandinavian style knives. You will also notice in these sketches that once the tang narrows it doesn't widen again at the end like it did in my original sketch. Obviously my original sketch wouldn't work as the wider exposed pommel would never fit through the hole in the handle but sometimes it takes a more experienced pair of eyes to spot these things.  

Tim and I also had a discussion about the handle material, I was after something that wouldn't soak up any blood or liquid and so had originally requested a kirinite handle. Tim explained that stabilised wood was just as impervious to liquid as synthetic materials are though as they are completely impregnated with resin. With this in mind we decided on a piece of stabilised elm burl for the handle which satisfied my aesthetic preference for a well figured wood handle and for a handle that would be impervious to liquids. As the build started we also went for a buffalo horn bolster. 

A final finishing touch was added to the knife with a small metallic ammonite fossil set in resin on the right hand side. Quite fittingly the ammonite came from my home county of Kent. 

A knife isn't complete without a sheath and quite a few production knives are let down by inferior sheaths, the TOPS C.U.B is one which will be reviewed here in June which was an excellent knife in an appalling sheath. A sheath is another reason that some might upgrade from a Mora, the plastic sheaths are very hygienic but eventually loose their retention and the knives in them begin to rattle. Add to that the aesthetic appeal of a leather sheath and the preference of a lot of bushcrafters for traditional materials and leather is often a good pick for a sheath. 

I do like the look of leather sheaths and as this was a knife I WANTED rather than one which I would need in the larder for large scale food prep and game processing for sale into the food chain, I would of course use it for processing some game but  I went for a leather sheath. It was to be a deep carry sheath leaving nothing but the very top of the knife handle visible. I wanted one that I could hang on my trouser belt without it dangling as I don't like the thump-thump of a dangler style knife sheath on my thigh as I move but I also wanted to be able to convert the sheath to dangle so I could wear it on a belt outside of my winter clothing in cold weather.

While the knife was being made Tim regularly sent tantalising pictures of the progress he was making on the knife.

My blade blank, ground to shape and ready to have the edge bevels ground.
Finished blade ready for a handle

Almost finished

The finished sheath with
dangler arrangement.
It wasn't long before Tim emailed me to let me know that the finished knife was ready to send and I excitedly waited for it to arrive. Once it did I wasn't disappointed and have enjoyed using it ever since. I've had it a few months now and it's been working hard. It has dressed a couple of deer, several dozen ducks pheasants and geese and has been an excellent camp companion and general carving/whittling knife, in short i does everything a bushcraft knife should do.

The finished knife with a small lanyard I made to help withdraw it from it's sheath. 

A close up of the sharpening choil, bolster and Tim's ammonite logo
The handle including the  ammonite set in resin. 
Carving a spoon

At work preparing duck, goose and pheasant for a game curry. 
Using my knife as an improvised draw knife
This is the knife I WANT for my bushcrafting, it has all the features I want in one package and is attractive as well as functional. That doesn't mean that it will be right for everyone but it is perfect for my needs and I would highly recommend it and Tim's craftsmanship, you can check out his knives on his website at and follow him on instagram to see more of his knives;

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