Wednesday, June 21, 2017

TRADITIONAL SLICING, BONING and HUNTING KNIVES


Note: I’m recovering from surgery, doing much better and hope to get back to my projects and work shortly.

“A word as to knife, or knives.  These are of prime necessity, and should be of the best, both as to shape and temper.  The “bowies” and “hunting knives” usually kept on sale, are thick, clumsy affairs, with a sort of ridge along the middle of the blade, murderous looking but of little use; rather fitted to adorn a dime novel or the belt of Billy the Kid, than the outfit of a hunter.”—George Washington Sears, “Nessmuk”

They want Bowie and “tactical” knives with four or six millimeter spines.  They want flaring clip points.  They are enamored with ponderous blades that serve little purpose other than to look macho.  If they happen to have a sample on hand they’ll attempt to chop with it, even as the angle of blade to handle screams, “This is not a chopper.”  They tote these blades never realizing they are proclamations to inexperience and lack of skills.

But head to far-off homesteads or distant villages where people live off their knives and you’ll see something entirely different.  In those places folks don’t collect knives to sate their boredom; they own knives that function and serve specific purposes.  Used daily they are nearly always an object for butchering, boning and slicing food.  Be it a fat pig or young goat, or perhaps potatoes, carrots and onions, the knives have long blades that are immediately marked by their litheness and perfect temper.  The spines measure in the area of one-sixteenth inch and it’s not unusual to see a blade from eight to ten inches long.  These are not woodcarving blades (the folding knife serves that purpose) and their owners would never stoop to the foolishness of attempting to baton a piece of wood with their precious food knives.  Besides, every woodsman knows how to break up wood without resorting to harming their knives.  Even so, there will always be macho aberrations (what do you think the Bowie knife was/is) designed to represent fierceness in battle, bar-fights and gang disputes, but little use beyond the facade.  Travel to the African Sahara, the jungles of Peru, the ejidos of Mexico, European villages, or just about every corner of the United States and Canada and you’ll find knives similar in design and concept being used as butchering knives, food preparation knives, hunting knives and camp knives.


A few months ago I watched a relative slice up a wild hog roast he’d prepared in his smoker.  The knife he used was a twelve inch, carbon steel knife he inherited from his father who was a butcher from the mid-1930s until about 1968.  Next time I’m over at his place I plan to take a photo of his two 12-inch knives, both Green River meat cutters circa 1940.  I told my relative it was time to retire those two knives.  “Don’t you realize what you’ve got?”
“Not really.”
“Take my word for it; those are valuable pieces of Americana.”


Above is a recent interpretation of a boning knife.  The steel is 15n20 and the blade is six inches long.  I also made the denim micarta handles.


The slicing knife above has an eight-inch blade fashioned from the same stock as the boning knife.

Above is a variation on the same theme.  The blade measures 6.75"


The two knives below are lightweight, 5.25" blade lengths.  The stick tangs are inserted into mesquite handles.  One knife has a two-part handle, mesquite and ebony.





To paraphrase Nessmuk, in order to make a knife suitable for slicing and boning it must be thin.  The Old Hickory slicing knife is a good example at .055” thick.  That’s really all you need.

9 comments:

  1. I like Old Hickory's too for camp and kitchen use. You find them everywhere, used and new and they work very well. Mom's kitchen knives were Old Hickory and Chicago Cutlery knives which are very similar. Good everyday users fits the description.

    Glad to hear you are on the mend, I wondered where you had got yourself to.

    j.r.

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  2. I'd like to add more photos of old traditional knives if folks send them to me.

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    Replies
    1. I have a good many older knives, what is the best way to get the pictures to you to post them?

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    2. Please send the photos to thewoodsroamer@gmail.com

      Thanks!

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  3. those are some great looking blades-I enjoy your blog and good luck with your recovery

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    Replies
    1. Thanks a million. It was an emergency surgery and took three hours. But I'm feeling better daily.

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  4. I'm glad to hear you're on the mend. Been thru that myself off and on over the last year. Spent most of that time daydreaming about getting into my woods (south end of the Big Thicket) and doing anything.

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    Replies
    1. Oh yes. My sentiments exactly.
      Thanks so much.

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    ReplyDelete