Monday, February 22, 2016


If we were practical sorts we’d think on knives as just another tool.  Of course, just about any knife works in the wilds if necessity dictates it must be used.  After all, our ancestors used rocks and bone to cut their way through everything from skin to wood.  Venture to faraway places and you’ll find knives that, from an American or European perspective, appear primitive, almost comical.  “Well, that’s not a knife.  This is a knife!”  But, indeed, those are knives and I’d venture to say that the thin-bladed, stick tanged designs seen in Africa and amongst the aborigines in Australia and the jungle enclaves in New Guinea are used more regularly and with greater proficiency than by any American who has a trunk full of knives, most of them barely used; and when those knives are employed they see nothing much beyond a feather stick or that tortuous practice called batoning.  Have you noticed that most of the knives displayed on the various knife forums and YouTube look unused?  Ah, but of course modern man (or woman) has other jobs for a knife like slicing tomatoes or cutting open cardboard boxes.  We are, however, as obsessed with knives as our brothers and sisters in other lands.  Our preoccupations are the product of a deeply seated collective unconscious that selected for those who could make and use knives as opposed to those who failed.  As such the knife holds a special place in our minds; a place reserved for those items wedded to our genetics through thousands of years of breeding and surviving.

We discuss steel types and blade designs and tang shapes and spine thickness and handle materials then go looking for the magic that will somehow turn us from novice to expert.  All the while the true practitioner takes a blade purchased at some market or even from a local peddler and plies his trade with nary a thought about the finer points of knife construction other than sharpness as it translates to cutting abilities.

This young fellow approached me and asked if I wanted to see the knife he carried.  He worked on a small piece of property attending to chores and helping with the garden.  The knife looked well used but functional.  He said he’d bought it la pulga (the flea market).  Stainless steel of what I imagine is 440A with plastic scales.  It looked sharpened with a mill file and as such had a burr-ridden edge.  But the knife served its purpose of cutting twine and jute rope as well as trimming stems and other odd jobs.

As with a lot of you, knives are an innate passion of mine.  I go about making knives and, as of late, buying puukko blades to attach all sorts of woods and antlers.  I’ve rescued dozens of machetes that had seen years of service and were but half as wide as they’d originally been.  I’d find them dumped into boxes or wooden crates and left to rot in barns or fields.  In my opinion the only machete worth saving is a Latin American machete because they’re made of good quality carbon steel usually between 1070 and 1075.  Sometimes I’ll reheat treat the steel and bring up the temper and other times I’ll just clean off the blades, reshape them into a smaller knife and go from there.  Peruse this blog for photos of my rescued and modified machete blades.  Recently, however, I did something I’ve not done before and that was to take a brand new machete and make it into three knives.  Made in Colombia, the Gavilan is, like all machetes, thin bladed and flexible.  The original blade length was 22 inches.  I cut the blade to ten inches leaving me with a 12 inch piece of blade steel that measured from 1.5 mm to 1 mm in thickness.  Using an angle grinder I cut out two knife blanks with the remaining 12 inches of steel.  It’s important to keep a can of water nearby to immerse the steel in the water in order to keep it cool.  Beveling thin blades is quite easy but thin blades heat up quickly.  So work for a couple of seconds and then immerse the blade in the water.

Once the blades had been beveled I scrounged around for some pieces of my micarta and found one made from cardstock and another from cloth.  I attached the cloth scales to the larger blade and the piece of cardstock micarta to the smaller blade.

I’ve done other similar projects in the last few months.  They’re fun to do if not a bit nonsensical.  In this case I took a ten dollar Gavilan machete and made three knives with it.  I used discarded pieces of micarta and some epoxy and I made some functional knives.  Don’t ask me to explain why I did this.  It’s not my fault.  Blame it on my ancient Celtic ancestors or maybe the people who lived even before them.  They passed along this passion for the blade.  I’m but an innocent recipient.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


It’s good to be back after two months working on another writing project.  More on that later but during this hiatus I found time to make some knives and leather sheaths and I plan to spend the next few posts focusing on various mods and knife styles.  There are other things to talk about and those are in the queue as well.

As always I’d check the various knife and bushcraft forums and YouTube videos to see what others are doing and it’s interesting to see how people approach both subjects.  Take knives for example.  About every two or three months someone will come along and say that the Mora knife is “a good beginner’s knife.”  Now that statement has always seemed odd to me.  Facts are that there’s no such thing as a beginner’s knife or a master’s knife or professional’s knife or anything like that.  A man or woman adept at using a knife won’t make distinctions about knives as long as the knife used fits the occasion; and even then people will make do.  In other words, some knives are probably more suitable for gutting and skinning a deer as opposed to carving a spoon or a kuksa but an experienced knife person will make it work regardless.  But here’s the important point: If a knife is intended for woodcarving and costs ten bucks and it’s well made regarding heat treatment, steel type, tempering, and if the bevel is properly designed then what more does anyone need?  You can spend hundreds of dollars on a beautifully made knife but you won’t have anything better than a good old Mora when it comes to woodcarving.  A carbon steel Mora knife comes as close to the perfect woodcarving blade as one can get especially when using one of their woodcarving-specific blades.  One of my favorite pastimes is sitting out on the front porch or under a tree out in the woods carving a spoon or small bowl with a Mora and one of my crooked knives.  There is, however, one small complaint I have about Mora knives and that’s the handles.  With the exception of the model 711 and its stainless steel cousin and a few longer bladed models, I find Mora knife handles either too short or simply uncomfortable.  Of course, the answer is to remove the handle and make a new one from a branch or block of wood.  Attaching handles to stick tang knives is as easy or hard as you want to make it.  But if you’re not fussy then simply grab a suitable branch, drill a hole into it, fill the hole with epoxy, insert the tang and wait a few hours.  Make sure the hole is in line with the branch and the tang was inserted straight.  Otherwise you’ll have to use a rasp or heavy sandpaper to true up the lines.  But aside from that it’s an easy process.  Admittedly, I prefer puukko blades that are a bit fancier with different woods on the handles and brass bolsters, things like that. But I didn’t go that far on two Mora 511s I own.  One is the older model with the extended handguard and the other is the newer model that came out about a year ago.  Brother Ragnar sells both models at his Ragweed Forge.  As much as I’ve tried to adjust to the Mora 510 and 511 handle design I find it awkward and a bit small for my large hands.  And the newer model 511 is just too short of grip area for my hands to fit.  So the solution was to modify them and that’s what I did.

Older model Mora 511 as sold by Ragweed Forge

(Left) Modified Old Model 511 with (Right) Mora 510 for comparison

Note the older 511 above.  Aside from taking the handguard down considerably I reshaped the back of the handle into a gentle curve.  The knife is now comfortable to use and as mentioned above, you can’t beat the Mora for woodcarving.

New Mora "Basic 511" as sold by Ragweed Forge

Two photos above show New "Basic 511" with modified handle

Now the new model “Basic 511” presented a few more problems because the space between the rear of the handle and the front of the handle is just too small for anyone with large hands.  One night I decided to wrapped the blade and put the handle to a 2x48 belt sander and in about a minute I had an entirely different knife in my hands.  I really like the way I modified this knife.  It feels natural now and fits my hand perfectly.  I’m going woods roaming in a few minutes.  It’s a cloudy day and the breeze is blowing out of the north: A perfect late afternoon for moseying through the woods, contemplating things and being renewed.  We’ll get together in just a few days.  No more long respites because I’ve got a lot of things to say and talk about.  So please stick around.