Our Guide to Choosing a Bushcraft Knifes
When it comes to the most important tool in bushcraft you want to get it right and choosing your own bushcraft knife is always a personal decision – The market today is saturated with bushcraft knives that claim to be the bush man’s best friend but many are ill suited to the specific demands of bushcraft and can often leave you disappointed and out of pocket.
Exactly the reason why our own chief instructor Jason Ingamells spent 7 years designing his own with one of the countries (we think THE countries!) top knife makers Ben Orford.
So here is the Woodland Ways short guide to avoiding the pitfalls in knife selection.
Ask yourself what you expect your silent companion to do for you. If all you need is something to cut apples and string occasionally go for a small, non-locking pocket knife such as our selection of JOKER pocket knives. If however you expect your knife to carve in a manner of different applications and grips, split wood and prepare game you will need a fixed blade general purpose bushcraft knife such as the Companion knife by MORA.
Always a strong argument in your decision. Usually we would come straight out with ‘Buy nice or buy twice!’ but fortunately for you there are excellent bushcraft knives on the market which are almost dispensable they are so cheap! Widely recognised as the industry standard on courses the MORA companion knife and similar MORA designs are cheap, tough and apply themselves wonderfully to any task you set in front of them. This is the knife we would recommend without a moment’s hesitation to any novice or price-wary enthusiast.
There comes a time in every bushcrafters’ life however when they may wish to upgrade to something a little more aesthetically pleasing. Take the Karesvando and ENZO ranges we stock for example – these stunning knives are made from higher quality materials and have more craftsmanship in their design and leatherwork. Consider knives like this to be a great mid step between your first training knife and the more costly yet highly sought after bushcraft knives by expert craftsmen like Alan Wood and Ben Orford.
3 Blade design
This ties in strongly with step 1 and Function. But key decisions you will make here will be blade length, blade thickness, type of bevel and style of tang.
Length of blade, thickness of blade and style of tang will dictate the knifes overall weight in your hand but consider also that whilst carving, shorter blades are far more controlled being closer to your hand and longer blades are often quite unnecessary. In the same vein a thick blade will of course be very robust and lend itself well to being battened through wood but will struggle to exact the finer carving detail of a thinner blade.
The type of bevel we would strongly recommend is that of a Scandinavian grind (ask us to point out different examples of bevels when you come to the World of Bushcraft Store in Bedford). With a Scandi-Grind you get a broad flat surface which can be easily brought into contact with a sharpening tool. Other grind types such as the concave or convex have their place but are not well suited to being good ‘all-rounders’.
4 Metal choice
Think yourself lucky you have metals to choose from, our ancestors made do with razor sharp shards of flint and other suitable rocks for their impressive array of tools!
Generally you will be deciding between Carbon and Stainless steel. Carbon is certainly more high maintenance than stainless (being more susceptible to rust if stored damp) but is comparatively easy to re-sharpen and is wonderful in use during carving projects. Stainless remember means just that, it stains less! You still have to care for your knife but it will generally take more punishment than carbon steel and will hold its edge for longer. Getting that edge back however will require more calories whilst sharpening!
Consider hygiene issues here, if you are intending to do a lot of game preparation it may be worthwhile investing in a stainless steel knife which will not take on a patina or tarnish which may harbour bacteria.
5 Handle design
This really is simple, try before you buy! If the knife is not comfortable in your hand you will severely limit what you are capable of achieving with the tool. You are aiming to become so familiar with your knife that it is just another part of your hand moving effortlessly to accomplish what you ask of it.
Generally speaking oval shaped handles are what the majority of people find most suited to a bushcraft knife. Avoid like the plague any squared edges, burrs between material types and unnecessary handle design features. Ask yourself will you be comfortable using this knife for prolonged periods of time, often putting considerable force through your grip onto the handle.
Often overlooked is the means to stow and carry your knife. With the exception of a folding pocket knife it is essential to have a sturdy, well-made sheath to protect yourself and others from its cutting edge when not in use. Most bushcraft knives come with either a plastic or grain leather sheath – leather will require more care but looks more authentic. Consider whether you need a fire steel holder also. We would suggest that fire steel holders can add unnecessary weight to your belt, after all if you are out for a day you pull your fire steel once, if you are out for a week… you pull your fire steel once. However we do recognise that some people like this feature in a knife.
Some final thoughts –
Remember you are buying a tool and should always respect and use your knife with this in mind. The law will see a weapon where you see your most valued asset so make sure you are up to date with the latest legislation regarding the use of knives – ask us if you are unsure.
Caring for your knife is easy so get into the habit of keeping it clean and dry wherever possible and make sure you have a system for keeping that shop-bought razor edge on it – come into our World of Bushcraft Centre and ask us to demonstrate how we keep our knives at their best?
BLADE – The sharp pointy bit.
BEVEL – The section of the blade which is shaped to from the cutting edge. Also the part of the blade which comes into contact with your sharpening stone.
HANDLE – The bit you hold i.e. not the sharp pointy bit.
TANG – This is a continuation of the blade through the handle. There are various designs from full tang to three quarter tang and styles including the ‘stick’ or ‘rat-tail tang’.
CHOIL – Typically a short flat section of blade immediately between where the blade joins the handle.
FULLER or CANELLURE – A shallow groove running along the blade – can be used to lighten the blade but is nearly always used for an aesthetic gain i.e. no functional reason in a bushcraft knife.
POMELL or BUTT – Refers to the end of the handle. Contrary to popular choice a wide butt can be more desirable… as it will spread the impact of a mallet if using the knife to punch a hole for example.
SPINE – The back of the blade where you would measure the blade’s thickness.
DROP POINT – A feature of blade design where the spine curves down from the back of the knife to meet the cutting edge. This is what gives a general purpose bushcraft knife a spear-head-like shape.