Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Mora knives are inexpensive but they’re not cheap.  While you can buy a Mora knife for well under $20 they are of superior quality made from the finest steels and provided with nearly perfect Scandinavian grinds and well-made handles.  Made in Sweden, the Mora knife is really a miracle of sorts in a world focused on obsessive cost cutting that when it comes to knives translates to low quality steels and oftentimes poor workmanship.  Pretty doesn’t amount to much if all you’re getting is 440A or 420 stainless steel.  Years ago I purchased three Gerber knives at a gun shop only to find they wouldn’t hold an edge and were practically useless when preparing game.  The knives came in three sizes and along the way I loaned the smaller knife to a friend who ended up keeping it.  No le hace; I didn’t like the knife anyway.  I used the other two knives for shop knives until I finally broke the tip off of one of the knives and misplaced the other.  But Mora knives are made of high quality 1095 carbon steel and their stainless models use proprietary steel called Swedish Sandvik 12C27.  The carbon steel Mora’s are heat treated to 59-60 on the Rockwell scale and the stainless models are held at 57-58 Rc which is actually higher than many high priced semi-custom knives.  Mora also produces laminated blades especially made for woodcarving.  Lamination is a process where high carbon steel is pressed between two layers of lower carbon steel.  The process allows the high carbon steel insert to be heat treated to above 60 Rc while the outer steel layers remain soft to assure durability.

The knives pictured above are classic Mora 510 carbon steel models that became popular among American woodcrafters.  Note that the blade on the left is pitted and worn, the result of the previous owner not having taken the best care of his knife.  When I reclaimed the knife I polished it up as best I could but the pits remained.  1095 steel is exceedingly tough and when properly heat treated will hold a razor edge.  It will, however, rust and stain.  The stain creates no problems and some even prefer the patina of a well-used carbon steel knife.  But the pitting can ruin the knife over time.

I’ve owned dozens of Mora knives and have given many away as gifts to folks interested in woodcarving.  And that’s where the Mora knife shines.  No, I don’t consider the Mora knife an ideal survival or bushcraft knife, especially in regions where the wood is ultra-hard and every plant comes decorated with long thorns or spines.  Mora bevels their knives using a grind named after the region where it was popularized thus the term, Scandinavian grind or “Scandi grind” for short.  With a bevel that forms a V from about 6mm to 10 mm from the knife’s edge and runs from the tip to the ricasso or the blade handle, the Scandi grind provides one of the best woodcarving bevels with the possible exception of a hollow grind that is both fragile and more difficult to sharpen.  Mora knives also come with partial stick tangs and some people complain that a partial stick tang is not as rugged as a full tang.  Maybe, maybe not.  I’ve seen a few “full tang” knives snap in two because of improper heat treatment.  I’ve never heard of a Mora knife snapping at the tang though I imagine if you abuse it enough you can snap it.  Most of the times when people snap the blades or tangs it’s because they’re behaving foolishly.  I’m not sure where or why this became a popular thing to do but batoning a knife is a good way to ruin the bevel and snap the tang.  Most genuine woods sorts don’t abuse their knives in that manner.  They’ll instead pick up dried pieces of wood and build fires with that.  They’ll break apart rotting limbs and make a fire that way.  They’ll carve out a wedge and split wood in that fashion.  Or they’ll be smart and bring along a hatchet, a froe or a steel, splitting wedge and break up wood for the campfire.  But they won’t do the city-slicker thing of batoning wood with their knife.

 Regardless of the Mora’s few shortcomings these little knives exemplify the ethic of performing top quality work seen in most Swedish products.  Recall the great small-ring Mauser model 96 that was perhaps the best made Mauser ever produced.  I never found its cocking on closing a problem.  Besides, the workmanship on those old Husqvarna rifles is superb.  My point being that the Swedes (and Scandinavia in general) give us the ultimate in craftsmanship and I would guess that anyone who has ever owned a knife made in Sweden, Norway, Finland or Denmark probably agrees.

I own quite a few Mora knives and use them for making spoons and bowls and cups and for all tasks related to woodcarving.

I purchase my Mora knives from Brother Ragnar, the good man who owns Ragweed Forge and who offers all sorts of Scandinavian knives as well as knives made in the USA and in El Salvador.  If you’re interested in things related to the Celts then Ragnar carries a supply of Celtic items as well.  By the way, Longoria (originally spelled Llongoria) is a name that comes from the old Celtic Kingdom of Asturias.  When the Moors invaded the southern Iberian Peninsula and occupied the southern kingdoms of Granada and Spain, the Visigoth Germans entered the Celtic regions in the north to help keep the Moors out.  With the help of the Visigoths the Celtic people in Galicia and Asturias (the two main Celtic kingdoms) were never occupied by the Moors.  Even today those areas in the northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula do not necessarily get along with the rest of Spain.  Their national instrument is the bagpipes and they are of Germanic/Celtic decent.  Catholicism is the primary religion and when those people migrated to South Texas and northeastern Mexico they, for better or worse, gave their names to many of the indigenous people of the region just as the English gave their names to the Africans.  I wonder how much richer the local culture would have been had the indigenous people been allowed to keep their religions, their names, their cultures, mythologies and histories.  But the Catholics made sure all of that was erased and as such produced a people with no knowledge of their roots or remembrances of who they were and what they believed.  More’s the pity.

Above an altered old model 511 and a new model 511

I have large hands and sometimes find Mora knife handles a bit small.  The 510 and 511 models are not very comfortable but I am going to modify one of my old 511 handles to fit my hand better.  The Clipper and Companion style handles are quite comfortable and I consider those models superior to the smaller handled 510 which is the same handle provided on the older model 511.  I recently purchased a newer 511 model and found the new handguard cramps my hand and I’m probably going to have to cut it off using a Dremel tool.

My new favorite general purpose Mora knife is one I just bought called the Soft Grip.  The longer handle that slopes gracefully at the rear is what I prefer about the knife and not necessarily the softer rubberized grips.  I’ve noticed that the carbon steel example I now own has a bit more robust blade but yet not so thick as to interfere with carving.

Mora stainless steel models come in various blade shapes and handle dimensions.  I seldom use my Mora stainless knives with the exception of fishing trips to a place called Port Mansfield where I enjoy staying a few days in a condo and spending my nights fishing for speckled trout.  I have a couple of Marttiini fillet knives and use them as well but my Mora stainless steel knives are my favorite.

A few years ago a fellow brought me a Mora knife he’d used to butcher a deer.  The edge had folded over when he tried to use the knife to cut through the bone or joint, I’m not sure which.  Apparently, he attempted to baton the blade through the bone and that proved a bad idea.  There was no way for me to fix the knife other than to give it a secondary bevel and slightly convex the blade.  He didn’t really care since he only used his fixed blade knives for butchering hogs and deer and he’d ordered the Mora through Amazon because he’d read about it on some forum.  Scandi, convex, flat grind meant nothing to the man; he just wanted a knife to butcher game.  I suggested he buy a dedicated hunting knife so he invited me inside and in his office he opened a drawer full of hunting knives.  “Which one do you think is my favorite?” he asked.  I looked at about a dozen then said, “Damn if I know.”  So he pulled out a couple of Marble Ideal knives.  He held one of them up and said, “This knife belonged to my father.”  Then he held the other one up and said, “And this one my dad bought me in 1966.”

The photo above shows a couple of laminated carbon steel Mora knives that have been around the block—or more accurately said, All over the woods—and have been used for everything from carving tent stakes to making impromptu bows and arrows to fashioning triggers for traps.  The handles are short and not particularly comfortable for anyone with big hands but they are sweet little knives no longer made (to my knowledge) by Mora.

The above woodcarving laminated steel knife had an odd looking handle that I reshaped to fit my hand.  It has since become one of my favorites.

The 2.5 inch blade laminated carbon steel woodcarving knives are perhaps the best of all the carvers.  The short blades are ideal for close-in work especially when making spoons and bowls.  Notice that two of the knives have a curved bevel edge while the third has a straight edge.  The straight edged knife is one every woodcarver needs to own.

I don’t use the longer blade laminated carbon steel woodcarving knives as much as I use the shorter blades, but on occasion I’ll find a project that works with the longer blades.  Regardless, I just love Mora knives and am always looking for an excuse to buy a new model.

Speaking of new models, the knife pictured above is especially designed for woodcarving.  The blade is not laminated and is particularly thin thus it should be a great carving tool.  This knife just arrived from Brother Ragnar the other day so I’ve yet to use it.

These are the first hook knives I ever owned.  Purchased years ago I made dozens of spoons with them until I started to make my own hook knives and since then these Mora’s have been relegated to the tool box.  Note the farrier’s hook knife in the bunch.  I’ve owned quite a few of those farrier’s knives and have given many away to local woodcarvers.  My handmade hook knives are beveled on the inside; the Mora hook knives are beveled on the outside.  I find my knives easier to sharpen and my attention to heat treatment gives me, in my opinion, a sharper blade.  Still, these early Mora knives helped me master the art of carving wooden spoons.

The knife above is not a Mora knife but instead a Scandinavian knife made by Marttiini.  This knife was discontinued a few years back and I don't understand why.  It has one of the most comfortable handles you can imagine.  The rearward sloping section of the handle fits my hand almost perfectly.  The Scandi grind is executed with precision.  One more of my favorite knives.

Down the road I plan to discuss dedicated hunting knives but let it suffice for now that the Mora knife is best used for woodcarving and does not provide the ideal bevel shape for a hunting knife.  In a pinch just about any sort of knife can be used to butcher game.  When I was a kid we’d butcher deer with broken pieces of glass.  We didn’t want to get our pocket folders bloody and dirty.  Besides, glass shards can be razor sharp.  I’ll get back to you in about a week.