My Knife: The ERK Bushcraft Knife

by Matt Batham

The ERK Bushcraft Knife

The ERK Bushcraft Knife. Photo credit: Nick Sandy

Your knife is your life, or so they say.

For me, a knife is an essential tool when studying or practicing outdoor skills.

Tools should be carefully selected and used. They are not ornaments or show pieces.

With these thoughts in mind, I had to find the right tool for the job.

My First ‘Bushcraft’ Knives

As a Scout, my father gave me a fixed blade knife for use as part of my Backwoodsman proficiency badge test. The sheath was made from a plastic packet, wrapped in electrical tape. I believe the knife was an ornate letter opening knife that had been sharpened.

It wasn’t sharp and I was next to skill-less, although not clueless, thanks to my Scout Leader. I got through the test, unlike the sheath. It tore through. The Backwoodsman experience set me on the path I now find myself travelling along; a student of bushcraft.

My next knife was a real knife with a leather sheath. I was still lacking skill but my desire to learn was growing. I remember sharpening sticks and shaving wood for kindling but doing little else. I still have the knife but do not use it.

scout knife

My first real knife. It wasn't sharp! Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

Scout knife with sheath

Real knife with sheath. Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

Becoming Skilled

My desire to learn new skills grew to the point where I booked myself a place on my first bushcraft course in 2004. As part of that course I was given a Frosts 780 Triflex Carbon Steel Knife.

Frosts 780 Triflex Carbon Steel Knife.

Frosts 780 Triflex Carbon Steel Knife. I was given this on my first Bushcraft course. Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

The course and knife opened my eyes to what was possible with good tools and a few practiced skills.

I used this knife right up to 2010 as my primary fixed blade knife, despite being given a carbon steel Mora Clipper on a subsequent course in 2005. I practised all the skills I had learned, and developed new skills alongside.

frosts knife and sheath

Frosts knife and sheath. Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

Sharpening, however, took a little while to grasp. I tried repeatedly to get sharpening right until I felt I could achieve a consistent sharp edge. The face of the blade is dulled through many attempts to remove stains, blemishes, and tarnishing.

Cutting New Cloth

In 2011, I decided it was time to try a new tool. I knew I could use a knife effectively but wanted to try something a little different. The Frosts 780 felt a little cumbersome when carving finer pieces, so for that reason alone I wanted to try a shorter, finer style of blade with less material across its face. I selected the Mora 510 MG after reading good reviews and seeing that the blade fitted my loose specification.

mora 510 knife

The Mora 510 MG. Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

I had a custom sheath made to hold and protect my knife on my waist belt. The kydex sheath provided with the knife doesn’t sit well on a belt.

mora 510 mg with sheaths

The Mora 510 MG with sheaths. Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

I used the Mora 510 MG in 2011 and throughout my first year with Frontier in 2012. However, the higher demands of working in the woods highlighted several weaknesses in my knife selection. For instance, the thinner blade allowed a little flex when putting a lot of force through the knife. This is problematic when carving feather sticks or sharpening for instance. The smaller handle also contributed to cramp as my fist had to curl tighter when using power cuts.

I concluded that the 510 is highly suited to finer carving work and preparing food. I still use this knife for these purposes when I have the luxury of carrying several cutting tools.

What Does A Knife Need To Do?

In my opinion, general purpose knives intended for use in wilderness settings must fulfil certain criteria.

  • The construction must be robust and utterly reliable. This is especially important if venturing away from sources of re-supply. To achieve this, the blade should be around 5mm thick providing strength and the ability to act as a wedge when splitting wood. The blade must also be full tang so that force is applied directly to the blade and not through a joint with the handle.

  • The handle must be comfortable in the hand and fit securely in a curled fist. Wooden scales are tactile and nice to hold for long periods. The scales should be hard wood to insulate the hand from steel in cold weather.

  • The blade should be a comparable length to the handle so that the knife feels balanced in the hand. Unbalanced knives take more effort to use.

  • The point of the blade must drop from the spine and not definitely not rise. The point is essential for certain carving tasks such as drilling depressions in bow drill hearths. The dropped shape also allows the blade to make smaller, more precise cuts.

  • The steel should be high carbon which takes a good edge and holds it for a reasonable time under heavy use. Sharpening in the field and base camp is also more straightforward than stainless steel for example.

  • Finally, the style must have good reviews from trusted peers and be produced by a trustworthy knife maker with a good track record.

Why Eifion Roberts?

Eifion was one of the knife makers that I was keeping an eye on. I liked his knife making heritage and respected his move to make knives commercially but still employing handmade techniques.

Most knife makers tend to list knives for sale on their websites http://www.erknives.com and I was planning to grab a bargain from one of them. Eifion listed a knife that was made for a pyrography experiment. In various emails, he informed me that his test pieces yielded less than desirable results so therefore he shelved the experiment. The knife was listed at a good price late in 2012. I bought it and I am using it as my primary fixed blade knife to this day.

My ERK Bushcraft Knife

erk eifion roberts knife

My ERK Eifion Roberts Knife.The black fibre inserts add a little interest in the handle. Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

My knife is made from 01 tool steel and has a blade thickness of 4mm. It is full tang and remains a constant width through the handle. The scales are made from teak and attached to the tang with three buried stainless steel pins. The black fibre inserts add a little interest in the handle.

The handle is not a conventional shape. In fact, it’s not a shape I’d describe as being ideal. But it is working extremely well for me. I have wide, square palms which wrap around the chunky handle well. The shape was designed to accept a pyrography design rather than considering its use as a tool. Eifion now shapes his handles to fit in the fist more comfortably.

The knife came complete with a robust leather sheath. The belt loop is reassuringly chunky and well stitched. It is also has an ERK stamp.

ERK and sheath

The ERK and sheath. The knife, etched with ERK logo, came complete with a robust leather sheath. The belt loop is reassuringly chunky and well stitched. Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

The Benefits To Knowing Your Knife Maker

I managed to damage my knife early in 2013. What most people would call a dink was formed near the handle. It was a very inconvenient feature positioned right where many of the power strokes occur. I took a photo at the time using my mobile phone.

dink in blade of erk knife

The dink in the blade. Photo Credit: Matt Batham

I got back in touch with Eifion to seek advice. He was extremely helpful and guided me down the path of a 400g water stone to grind the bevel down across its full length.

Is My ERK The Right Tool For The Job?

Absolutely! I have no problems with my knife. It does everything I need it to when working in the woods and undertaking my own adventures. I have complete confidence in the construction of the knife allowing me to undertake a wide range of cuts and tasks without the worry of it failing.

I am not yet ready to get another knife; there is nothing wrong with the ERK. However, my next fixed blade knife will have a slightly thinner blade, perhaps 3.5mm and the tang will be tapered to improve the balance and stability of the knife while I’m using it. I am also considering micarta scales rather that wooden scales as this would reduce the amount of maintenance needed.

My ERK is the right tool for the job and I’m pleased to recommend Eifion’s knife to others.

fixed blade knife line up

Progression illustrated with knives. Photo Credit: Nick Sandy

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Matt Batham is a member of the Frontier Bushcraft instructional team. His interest in the outdoors has been cultivated by an active involvement in Scouting since he was 8 years old. He is currently an Explorer Scout (14-18 year olds) Leader with a particular interest in the Duke of Edinburgh Award and camp craft skills.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Will

Great post. It really takes getting out there and using it, to properly figure out what you need, and what works/doesn’t work for you. For most it is a developing process and I’m glad to see you reached the end without breaking the bank on the way! I’m using an ESEE 3 paired with a big knife for heavier tasks. I’d change a few things about the ESEE 3 but I’m happy enough with it ☺

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Will,

Thanks for your comment. I agree that getting out there is the only way to understand your needs. Everyone is different and what works for me, won’t work for others. For instance the handle on my ERK is chunky and ‘square’. My hands accept the shape but it is probably blister maker for others!

Happy enough is a good place to be! Enjoy your adventures!

All the best,
Matt

Reply

Stephen Walker

Hi Matt,
Interesting post, thank you.
Revealing your knife-life to all is akin to baring you bushcraft soul.
I especially like your blade journey. Like a camera, your best knife you have is the one you have with you. A 5mm blade is OK for your big hands, and one that could be described as bombproof. A bit on the thick side for me with smaller hands, but in a situation where it’s your only tool, the stronger the better.
My current blade is a Woodcraft knife made by your fellow scout Roger Harrington, with a curly birch handle, much like the one in the first photograph here. https://bisonbushcraft.co.uk/collections/handmade-1/products/woodcraft-knife
I ordered it as it just felt right in my hand and, although ‘only’ 3mm thick, does all I have asked of it to date.
Best wishes,
Steve the Wise 😉

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Steve the Wise,

Always nice to hear from students and friends of Frontier!

I was unsure whether people would be interested in my knife journey so I’m glad you like it. Eifion has also read the article and told me that my knife is actually a 4mm blade. I’ll get the article changed (thanks Eifion!) Still 4mm might be too thick and chunky for someone with smaller hands.

I can’t remember whether you had that Woodcraft knife when I saw you last. But I was reminded of you when repairing the dink in my blade. A jewellers loupe is very useful for inspecting the progress of blade grinding!

Thanks and all the best,
Matt

Reply

Dave Howard

Hi Matt,
An interesting progression from a knife that got you started, to a lovely purposeful piece of equipment. i was interested in your first “real knife” as I had an identical knife in the early 70s. I swapped a rubbish yoyo for it. That was the start of my love of knives, My favourite knife as a teenager was a heavy full-tanged kitchen/butchery knife with a 5″ long blade. However much I would love one, I have never allowed myself to spend enough to get a bespoke hand-made made one.
All the best, Dave.

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Dave,

Interesting that you had the same knife in the past. There’s knives out there for everyone. I would say that my knife isn’t bespoke but a best fit. Try browsing a few knife makers, including Edition, there might be something to the right price. Mora make some pretty good mass produced models to.

All the best,
Matt

Reply

Eifion Roberts

Nice review Matt !
Its always nice to get feedback on a knife, especially in that much detail, and from someone who has taken time to use and enjoy it. As I said the other day the handles are shaped more nowadays as my skills improve with each knife I make, and the logo on the blade is stamped rather than etched (my website needs updating to reflect this).
Remember if you are in the market for another knife get in touch, I am always happy to discuss any custom knife making.
I hope you still enjoy the knife for years to come !
Best Regards
Eifion

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Eifion,

Glad you dropped a comment here. I’m sure your knife will last many years, at least if I don’t damage it again!

Cheers,
Matt

Reply

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