BACKWOODS KNIVES

BY LEN WALDRON

A specific definition to some and a general notion to many, “bushcraft” has gained popularity both in the U.S. and abroad. The term “bushcraft” is derived from the skills utilized by the “Bushmen” of Southern Africa and Australia who live in austere environments detached from the comforts of civilization. In recent years, fueled by a renewed interest in basic survival skills as well as movements to return to simpler ways of living, bushcraft has evolved to incorporate not just basic skills, but also a guild-like adherence to certain techniques and tool designs. However, within the discipline itself, various schools have modified their knife designs with attributes that reflect the preferred techniques utilized by the knife’s designers.

What’s A Bushcrafter?

By its most basic definition, it is a knife used to perform the field tasks required to survive or enhance one’s circumstances away from civilization. So, by that view, whatever knife that happens to be on hand when stuck in the wild meets the definition. However, for those who prepare for (and even seek out) such circumstances, a proper bushcraft knife has specific design and performance features. Generally speaking, a bushcraft knife should have a blade from 4 to 6 inches in length. Because the tasks assigned to the knife can include building traps, skinning game, slicing, chopping or whittling, a massive Bowie-like blade is impractical, as would a pen knife be unable to withstand twisting and chopping motions.

For strength, the knives are full tang, meaning the blade steel extends throughout the entire handle and is typically made from a high-carbon tool steel such as 1095 or O1. High-carbon and chrome bearing alloys such as D2, 12C27 and 3V also keep an edge and resist corrosion.

The edges are in many cases a Scandinavian or “Scandi” grinds that fea- ture a wide primary cutting edge suited to hold up under repeated slicing and chop- ping tasks. The handle material can vary from synthetic Micarta to natural mate- rial such as wood and bamboo. Consistent among them, however, is their simplicity. Bushcrafters prefer a simple, smooth handle that can be used throughout the day without excessive abrasion to the user’s hands. While some models might feature cutouts to support a bow drill rod, or slight contours for a single finger or thumb, they are generally without ornamentation, harsh curves or serrations.

Though lanyard styles differ between individual users, most bushcraft knives have a lanyard hole through which leather, fiber or synthetic cordage can be looped. And finally, most bushcrafters prefer a leather, dangle-type sheath, upon which many have an external loop for a ferrocerium fire-start- er rod. Starting a fire, arguably the primary task of most people in a wilderness situa- tion, merits the only ornamentation to the bushcrafter knife setup. Use with the ‘ferro’ rod is another practical reason for carbon steel—it produces a shower of sparks where a stainless knife will produce little, if any.

Though using a sharpened stone to cut and slice material was one of prehistoric man’s first tools, many feel the modern bushcraft knife has its design roots in the Scandinavian puukko. With its origins in Finland, but widely used throughout the Nordic countries, the puukko is a basic straight-bladed knife designed for wood carving, food preparation and, in an emergency, self-defense. The handle is typically made from wood with a hidden tang that runs the length of the handle, ending in a decorative screw or cap. Though this cap primarily functions to secure the handle tightly to the blade, it may also work in concert with a flap of leather on the sheath that’s punched with a corresponding hole to retain the knife during movement. In Finland, the gift of a puukko is considered an honor as its uses and utility reflect the giver’s concern for the recipient’s well being.

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BUSHCRAFT NORTHWEST

As a full-time field biologist, Mike Lummio of Bushcraft Northwest had lots of time to practice and refine his skills in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. “I became less reliant on gear and more on skills. Mostly because knowledge weighs nothing.” But he was frustrated with the offerings of most knives of the market from a practical use standpoint. “Most of the knives on the market had a military and law enforcement slant to them, and their design got in the way of many practical applications. I needed an affordable, full-tang knife that could be used comfortably for up to a full hour to make things.” Mike Lummio knew exactly what he wanted in a backwoods blade, but couldn’t find it, so he designed his own. The Bushcraft Northwest 1 (BCNW-01) was the result. The BCNW-01 was Lummio’s fusion of his favorite elements of woodcarving, bushcraft, Mora and puukko knives, as well as his own design preferences. Most notably, the BCNW-01 includes thumb scallops to enhance control for fine carving and stability in a chest-lever wood carver’s grip.

Editor’s note: The BCNW-01 will be back in full production in 2015 with an updated design and materials.

Features: BCNW-01

8-inch overall length • 3.75-inch blade • 6.5-ounce weight • HRC 59 • Bamboo handle • Leather sheath with fire-steel holder O1 steel • MSRP: $175

O1 steel • MSRP: $175

Lummio also designed the Celilo (in honor of the Celilo Falls on the Columbia River) as a lightweight (4-ounce)alternative witha narrower blade and a point slightly below the centerline to more efficiently transfer power to wood. Adept at cutting and field dressing, the Celilo comes in 3V steel with a Scandi-groundblade.

Features: Celilo

7.5-inch overall length • 3.375-inch blade 4-ounce weight • HRC 59 • Micarta handle Kydex or leather sheath with fire-steel holder 3V steel • MSRP: $225

BATTLE HORSE KNIVES

Designed by Tim Stetzer, Battle Horse Knives of Cambridge, Ohio produces the Bushcrafter, a simple, refined 8.375-inch work- horse. The 3.75-inch blade is made from O1 tool steel with a 24-degree Scandi grind. The 4.25-inch, full-tang handle is made from canvas Resiten with a matte bead-blast finish and a 0.375-inch thong hole. The Bushcrafter features a gently curved and smoothed index-finger grip choil. The handle slabs are thick and almost perfectly round, giving the Bushcrafter a consistent feel in any either hand or in any grip. Battle Horse equips the Bushcrafter with a traditional hip sheath.

Battle Horse Knives also makes the Pathfinder Series of knives for DaveCanterbury and the Pathfinder School (thepathfinderstore.com).

Bushcrafter

8.375-inch overall length • 3.75-inch blade 7.7-ounce weight • HRC 57-59 • Resiten handle Leather hip sheath • O1 steel • MSRP: $140

 

SPYDERCO/BUSHCRAFT UK

Spyderco, an American company known for its sharp and reliable fixed-blade and folding knives, teamed with Bushcraft UK knife designer Chris Claycombe. Claycombe, the son of an artist but a mechanical engineer by training, cannot remember a time when he wasn’t carrying a pocketknife. With both technical training and a rearing in the importance of aesthetics, Claycombe’s skills developed through primitive bow making and training with Ray Mears. He continues to build knives and refine their design through trial and error in the field with a focus on balancing edge design for woodcutting and skinning.

The Spyderco Bushcraft is a large, rugged knife with an 8.75-inch overall length and a full-tang, O1 tool steel, Scandi-ground 4.1-inch blade and black G10 handle scales. Claycombe insisted on getting as round a handle as possible to comfortably accommo- date use in either hand and multiple grips. “It’s a strange phenomenon. We have observed that nearly 50 percent of bushcrafters on the UK forum are left-handed, so we incorporated an ambidextrous handle and sheath design in the Bushcraft.”

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Spyderco Bushcraft

8.75-inch overall length • 4.10-inch blade • HRC 58-60 7.8-ounce weight • Ambidextrous leather sheath G10 handle • O1 steel • MSRP: $349.95

MORA & LIGHT MY FIRE

For many bushcrafters, their knife conversation begins and ends with a Mora. For over 120 years, Mora (pronounced “moo- ra”) has produced functional cutlery in the town of Dalarna, Sweden. Similar in their general design to Finnish puukkos, the Mora Clipper and Companion are reliable and cost-effective alternatives for bushcrafters. Recently, Light My Fire teamed with Mora to create the Swedish Fireknife. ITS Tactical has branded the knife for its line and offers them in safety orange and black/gray combo. Contained within the handle is a Swedish magnesium alloy firesteel rod that detaches with the pommel of the knife. Capable of a 5,400-degree spark, the fire tool is designed to be used with the 90-degree spine of the knife’s Sandvik 12C27 blade as a scraping tool. Simple and light but rugged, the knife comes with a polymer molded sheath with a clip for quick and easy attach/detach to a variety of strap types.

Swedish Fire Knife

de Polymer sheath • Rubber/polymer handle • 88.5-inch overall length • 3.75-inch blad • 3.9-ounce weight • HRC 59-60 Sandvik 12C27 steel • MSRP: $34.95

DOZIER

The undisputed master of D2 steel, Bob Dozier, offers the K-36 Bushcrafter in his line of hunting and tacti- cal knives. “D2 is the best all around utility steel there is. There are some steels that have better properties in certain things, but when you want something that’s all-around, D2 surpasses them all. Very high edge retention, good corrosion resistance, and it’s tough.”

Dozier’s K-36II Bushcraft features a 0.125-inch, full- tang, Scandi-ground D2 blade at 60-61 Rockwell hardness. The K-36 is now offered in its second generation. The first generation was a slightly larger 8.375-inch knife with a 4-inch blade. The second generation K-36II is a slimmer and slightly shorter (8.25 inches) version with a 3.75-inch blade. Says Dozier bladesmith Daniel Crotts, “We slimmed down the first version to both reduce weight and make the knife perform better in the more intricate bushcraft tasks.” The K-36II comes with a Kydex Dozier horizontal sheath.

K-36II Bushcrafter

8.25-inch overall length  • 3.75-inch blade •  5.3-ounce overall weight  • HRC 60-61  • Micarta handle Horizontal Kydex sheath  • D2 steel • MSRP $245

TOPS KNIVES

Designed by outdoor survival instructor Reuben Bolieu, the CUB (Compact Utility Blade) is a stripped down, rugged and feature-rich field tool. Bolieu distilled and imparted time-honored elements from the Finish puukko and the standard Kephart knife to create a tool designed to be a complement to heavy chopping tools. Through his international travel, Bolieu learned that having a compact blade that looks more like a woods knife and less like a weapon raises fewer eyebrows. The CUB’s 3.75-inch blade is 0.125-inch 1095 steel with a modified Scandi grind. Its full tang is handled with natural tan Micarta scales that feature divots to secure the tip of a bow drill and thumb notches to employ a chest lever grip. The handle’s scales are secured via Chicago screws for easy removal should the user need to pound on the butt or choose to cord-wrap the handle. Bolieu added a distinctive square lanyard hole in the handle that can be used with either cordage or a carabiner.The CUB also comes with a nylon survival sheath stuffed full of small survival tools such as fishing line, a razor blade, a fire starter, and a compass.

Features: TOPS CUB

8-inch overall length • 3.75-inch blade • HRC 56-58 • 5-ounce overall weight Micarta handle • Ballistic nylon sheath 1095 steel • MSRP: $159.95

 

 

For More Information

Battle Horse Knives

battlehorseknives.com; 740-995-9009

Bushcraft Northwest

bushcraftnorthwest.com; 360-606-1036

Dozier

dozierknives.com; 888-823-0023

Light My Fire

lightmyfire.com

Spyderco

spyderco.com; 800-525-7770

TOPS Knives

topsknives.com; 208-542-0113

This story was originally published in the American Frontiersman 2014 issue. For more great stories Click Here to Subscribe