The Buck Vanguard, shown in its “upscale” walnut version, is beautifully done, a great slicer and a good weather-resistant choice for deer camp.
Spyderco’s Bushcraft features a substantial handle contour and a strong blade with the popular Scandi grind for camp and trail wood chores.
The Viper Scout from TOPS uses time-proven 1095 carbon steel for a tough blade and easy resharpening.
Don’t let its less-than-3-inch blade fool you, ESEE puts a lot of performance in the lightweight Izula II, shown in green with a belt clip sheath option.
Todd Hunt’s handmade Yuma, with premium 0-1 steel and lightly polished Micarta slabs, is a very practical all-round trail combo, and very affordable for a custom blade.
Even the diminutive Izula II is fully capable of most cutting chores, and offers a variety of carry options.
Big Rambo-style blades have an undeniable fascination for many of us. Visually impressive, they feel very solid in the hand, they inspire confidence and they can quite literally chop a tree down if you forget to bring your axe or saw along on an outing. Well, a small tree.
For applications like processing wood for fires, clearing a campsite, emergency digging and hammering newly carved tent pegs into the ground, I prefer a bigger knife with some serious heft. But practicality has to enter into the equation too, and toting a Bowie with a 12-inch blade around all day can get a little tiresome.
Why A Fixed Blade?
Folding knives take up less space in a pocket or on a belt, but many users prefer the strength of a well-built fixed blade without the potential weaknesses of the folder, which include the pivot and lock. A 4-inch fixed blade can handle most daily camp chores as well as the mundane demands of life on a farm or ranch without getting loose at the joint, the lock failing at the wrong moment or needing to be disassembled for a thorough cleaning.
A smaller fixed blade also draws less attention than a Bowie in areas where sensitive people congregate, it works more effectively in tight confines and is easier to use than a folder for those with a touch of arthritis.
Selection criteria should be based on your hand, your wallet and the anticipated uses. A wet environment suggests stainless steel; continuous everyday cutting may recommend a tool steel that holds an edge longer; a hunting application might indicate a particular grind; specific dimensions or handle preferences may dictate a custom maker and so on. Let’s look at five that cover a good range of types and prices.
Buck is a brand name very familiar to at least two generations of hunters and workers, but my personal favorite in their entire production line is the Vanguard. Available with either a black textured rubber or smoothly varnished walnut handle, the Vanguard is a well-configured design with a 4.25-inch, hollow-ground, 420HC stainless blade, a brass cross-guard and pommel (matte on the rubber version and highly polished on the walnut model) and full-length tang.
Ordinarily, 420HC stainless steel is a lower grade that I don’t recommend, but with Buck’s proprietary heat-treatment process and the higher carbon content of the 420HC, it’s perfectly workable, highly corrosion resistant and very effective when processing meat with that thin, hollow grind. The 6.6-ounce, black, non-slip handle lists at $117 and the more upscale 6.3-ounce walnut Vanguard at $100. (buckknives.com; 800-326-2825)
TOPS Viper Scout
TOPS Knives has one of the most extensive lines built with time-proven 1095 carbon steel in the industry. It’s a tough steel that holds an edge well and sharpens easily. The Viper Scout is a lightweight drop point with a 4.125-inch blade and has a full flat grind for roughly 60 percent of its length. The 0.125-inch-thick, coated blade features a slight upswept angle with plenty of belly for skinning and approximately 0.875 inches of coarse jimping on its spine just forward of the widely grooved, contoured “antique” white paper Micarta handle slabs with a large lanyard hole at the rear.
Weighing 5.8 ounces, the Viper Scout rides light, handles well, is comfortable in use and comes very sharp. It sells for $150, which includes a black leather pouch-type sheath. (topsknives.com; 208-542-0113)
Spyderco’s Bushcraft incorporates the parameters of knives used in the practice of bushcraft. A bit on the pricey side at $350, this knife is a very high-quality production model with a Scandinavian grind on its 4-inch-long blade. The steel is 0-1, a relatively expensive high-carbon tool steel with excellent edge retention and a decent thickness at 0.141 inches.
One of the heavier models, the Bushcraft weighs in at 7.8 ounces with its perfectly fitted, highly polished and very durable G10 handle scales. The large handle dimensions, incidentally, are extremely ergonomic and a perfect fit in my hand. The lanyard hole for a wrist thong is a useful touch on this strong, full-tanged knife. With care the Bushcraft should last a lifetime. It comes with a black leather sheath. (spyderco.com; 800-828-1925)
ESEE Izula II
Dropping down in size and price, but not quality or performance, ESEE’s Izula II is a smaller carry option with a 2.63-inch, 1095 carbon steel, drop-point blade with a maximum thickness of 0.156 inches. The Izula’s high, full, flat grind creates a thinner edge angle than the Scandis while still retaining strength, and the textured powder coating resists rust. Canvas Micarta leaves a coarser surface texture to hang on to, and Micarta material in any grade is totally weather-resistant and strong.
The 3.2-ounce Izula II wears jimping on its spine for additional thumb control on its small blade, and rides very light in the injection-molded black sheath that comes with it. A large 0.550-inch attachment hole in the handle is intended for use with a carabiner. When ordered as the Izula II B Kit, it comes with a number of carry options for that sheath, including neck and belt options. The little Izula II at $134 is well made and fully functional. (eseeknives.com; 256-613-0372)
TM Hunt Yuma
Limited-production custom knives crafted by one man typically offer excellent quality control, personal options and higher prices. Todd Hunt’s Yuma is nicely done and quite affordable considering what you get for the $225 he charges for a “plain” version.
A believer in premium 0-1 tool steel, Hunt hand-builds each Yuma to order with a 0.1875-inch-thick, drop-point blade in either a 4.25-inch or 5.5-inch length and a 4.75-inch contoured bird’s-beak handle. Weight in the shorter Yuma with black Micarta slabs is a tolerable 8 ounces. The high, full, flat grind’s thin edge is an efficient slicer and strong enough for heavy-duty wood processing. Two sets of jimping up top on the blade’s spine add control in field work. Hunt can provide other handle materials for the knife, which comes with a black leather sheath. One standard feature that I like on the Yuma is the tang extension at the rear. On occasion, the ability to baton a knife blade point-first into a log or a limb can come in very handy, and this tang extension allows that without chipping or chewing up the handle slabs. (tmhuntcustomknives.com)
This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Spring 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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