Just starting out with this blog, what would be more essential than to talk about the ultimate survival tool – the knife?
I have heard as many views on this subject as I have talked to people about it. I guess your knife says a lot about your philosophy and approach to the outdoor life. So here are my thoughts:
Before I get into the knife talk, let me say that I’m beyond the “strong fixed blad” and “full tang” subject. My guess is that everyone practicing bushcraft or wilderness survival knows these are the basic demands for a knife.
I purposely wrote “bushcraft knife” not “survival knife”. There’s a big difference between the two in my opinion. A survival knife is supposed to solve all tasks you might encounter as you try to find you way OUT of the wild, or while on a military operation. It should be able to function both as a weapon, a chopping tool, a carving tool, a skinning tool for game and so on. It must also be extremely reliable, as your life may depend on it. You might say the same goes for a bushcraft knife. The main difference lies in it’s purpose however.
Let’s take a look at the survival knife.
The need for solving many different tasks with one knife makes the survival knife mediocre at each of these tasks in my opinion. Remember most knives are designed to perform a specific task. So having one knife for everything means you have to make compromises. The first compromise is weight. If you need to use your knife as a chopping tool you want it to be somewhat heavy – and longer. The next compromise is it’s handling. If you want to use your knife for carving, you want a knife that is easy to grip in different ways. Survival knives often have finger guards on the handle, that makes it very impractical to carve with. Because you can basically only hold it one way. It’s a great idea if you are going to stab someone with it, because (obviously) you don’t risk injuring yourself. Precision is also an issue. Most survival type knives come with a convex grind, which makes them very sturdy, but it also makes them less suitable for carving. The convex grind gives you less precision. This brings me to the bushcraft knife.
My definition of the bushcraft knife
The bushcraft knife is primarily a carving and skinning tool. It is not made for war. It is made for living IN the wild. Your life may still depend on it, so you want it to be sturdy. I wouldn’t normally use it as a chopping tool though, so I wouldn’t choose a convex grind (I always bring a hatchet for coarse work). I wouldn’t choose a long or heavy knife either. For carving I prefer a fairly short sturdy scandi grind. It is very precise and it’s also safer, because the knife doesn’t slip as easy as a convex grind does. A downside of the scandi grind however, is that it chips much easier than the convex grind. For carving, I want to avoid finger guards. If you’re going to carve holding your knife backwards, when carving a notch for instance (see different techniques here), finger guards are in the way. Now for the compromise. As I said, most knives are designed to perform a specific task. So for field dressing, gutting and skinning an animal, it would be desirable to use a hunting knife. Hunting knives often have a hollow grind, because it creates less friction when cutting the hide. Hunting knives vary a lot, but for field dressing a thin, short, sharp and point knife tends to be the choice. The compromise here is possibly the scandi grind, but it comes much closer to the hollow grind than the convex does, and many people use hunting knives with scandi grind as well. The bushcraft knife blade tends to be a bit thicker than the hunting knives too.
So to the point. My favourite bushcraft knife is this one:
Enzo Trapper. Full tang, scandi grind with micro bevel and dangler sheath. Wild Olive handle. Finnish made in D2 steel:
The Enzo Trapper has a great balance. It looks simple and it is a great carving tool. The drop point blade also makes it ideal for field dressing game, because it gives you better control over the knife. I think it balances well between a great carving tool and a hunting knife. It has a 3,6 mm thick blade, making it very sturdy. And it has all the qualities that I mentioned in the section above about the bushcraft knife. Another detail that I have come love is the dangler sheath that it comes with. It really comes in handy when you’re outside, because it gives you greater freedom of movement. The knife is out of the way no matter where you sit. So you avoid getting poked in your ribs by it’s handle. It is also really easy to access your knife even if it’s raining because you can just swing the sheath outside your rain pants. I realised the other day that the stitches on mine had loosened though, so I guess I will have to write Brisa one of these days to have it fixed or to get e new one.
As the description says, my knife has a micro bevel. If you look really close at the first photo, you can actual tell. It’s really a compromise, because I had chip in it after using it the first time. So I wrote Brisa (the maker of these knives) and they offered me the possibility to send the knife back to them and have a micro bevel put on it. It works really well and I haven’t had a chip since, although some of the scandi feeling is gone. I could also have chosen to have my money back, but it was a great solution. On top of that they treated me with an extra product for my inconvenience AND payed for shipping both ways. Great service from Brisa.
I have read that some people find the handle a bit short for their hands, but it fits me very well. If I had to change one thing about it though, I would probably grind it a bit more round. It can be a little rough on your hands when carving for longer periods of time or when doing hard work with it. But you could always do that yourself. Actually you can buy this knife as a kit that you can build from scratch. I didn’t though. I trust the knife makers at Brisa more than I trust my own skills in this regard.
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