One Bushcraft Knife To Rule Them All?
Over the years I have had a lot of questions posed to me on the subject of bushcrafting knives. Mostly “which is the best bushcraft knife?” and “will any one bushcraft knife fill all of my needs in the field?” It usually turns out that this question is more complex than the enquirer realizes on one hand, and then simpler really on the other. Mainly it just requires some deep thoughts on what the end users really needs from the knife in question, and some knowledge of how to best meet those needs in an order of priority that best suits their own hierarchy of needs. This should be qualified here that I'm not talking a one-knife-to-do-it-all, I firmly agree with George Washington Sears' (Nessmuk) philosophy that one needs a team of tools in the bush. Here I am just talking about the belt knife in this team of tools.
It has been my personal experience than any sharp edge will whittle fine curls, regardless of whether the blade is 3/32-inch thick or 3/8-inch. All that is really required for good feather sticks is a good sharp edge, and practice with that particular knife. One needs to look a little deeper into their needs in a knife, and style of use, than just whittling feather sticks in order to choose a blade thickness and profile that will better suit them personally. To me comfortable handle ergonomics are much more important in long term knife use than blade thickness. One of the many reasons I became so fond of Fiddleback Forge knives. Their three-dimensional contouring is sublimely comfortable, and being hand made they use their different tang styles and layered liners to make handles of varying thicknesses to better suit the needs of the end user.
If you are like me, and the type to under-work your ax and over-work your knife, then you probably want to go with a thicker blade. Thicker blades tend to have more mass, which is a force multiplier that helps with many of the hard use tasks I put my knives through. Thicker blades can also withstand more lateral stress. This is good in those cases when tinder prep becomes a cut-a-little / pry-a-little operation. Thicker blades often have thicker, tougher edges that don't roll as easily in twisting motions such as when you are leveraging bundles of curls off of a larger branch to make your tinder pile. The stouter blade also deals with things like digging through old stumps and rotten logs for fish bait. A guard also comes in handy in such cases, though thumb-capping the pommel of a guard-less knife will help prevent your hand from sliding down the edge.
A thicker, wider, heavier blade is also a better choice – in my opinion – if your style of bushcrafting includes batonning during fire prep, and parts fabrication. A lot of people, myself included, feel it is safer to baton smaller pieces of kindling in the cold than it is to try to hold the small chunk of wood in one hand, whilst splitting it with an axe. The act of batonning simply keeps ones finger out of harms way. There is nothing like an injury to put a damper on an otherwise great outing. Batonning also gives you more control, and affords better accuracy during the fabrication of camp implements and trap trigger parts where precision is required.
If you are more a part of the minimalist and ultra-light crowd, or a desert dweller, then obviously you are going to prefer a thinner lighter blade. There is seldom a need for heavy knife work in a desert anyway. If it comes down to it, there are small-knife techniques that allow one to do some of the work usually reserved for heavier cutting tools. In truncating for instance, a thinner blade will be driven deeper in to the wood easier and with less force than is required for a thicker blade. A full tang knife will be much more durable in this application than a stick tang or rat-tail tang will be, but it's still important to remember that this technique is more about tapping and finesse than beating and force. The ring and break, pictured here, is another small-knife technique that comes in handy. Simply use a sharp knife to cut a ringed notch around a branch, and then break it on a tree, a rock, or across your knee, depending on the diameter of the branch.
The correct point shape for one's personal style of knife use is another important factor to consider. If you do a lot of prying and leveraging in your field use of a knife, then along with the thicker blade it may be prudent to consider a less pointy blade profile as well, for the added tip strength. If you do a lot of fine detail work, and are not typically hard on your knife blades, then a pointier tip may be the better option. I happen to like pointier blades myself. In most cases I can find an alternate technique for the gouging and prying, even if I have to carve out another tool to do it with. I have never been able to make a more blunted tip bore smaller holes, or to fit into the tighter places a pointier tip will fit.
So, will one knife suit all needs for everyone? Obviously the answer there is no. However I believe as long as you put some serious thought into the matter, and really think through your knife uses in the field, that yes one can find the fixed blade knife that will suit their needs in the role of their bushcrafting belt knife in their team of tools. Odds are one can find that ideal bushcraft knife made by Fiddleback Forge. After years of experiments with many knives I have settled on the Fiddleback Forge K.E. Bushie with a with a 5/32-inch thick blade, as you may note from how often it pops up in my posts. This thickness and blade profile give me the perfect combination of toughness and pointy tip to get maximum benefit from a knife in my style of knife use in the field, and the supremely comfortable handle ergonomics allow me to use the knife long term with no hot spots or hand fatigue. So take a moment and look through the various models, and chances are you will find your perfect bushcraft knife at Fiddleback Forge as well.