We only have to look in any bushcraft, hunting or survival magazines to see pages and pages of different knives. All shapes, all sizes. Some very expensive, some with almost everything on them apart from the kitchen sink!
So, with so much choice out there, how do you choose the best knife for you?
I’m not sure if I, or anyone else for that matter, can give you a general answer to this question.
What I can do, though, is tell you how I chose mine…
My first knife was a Mora Clipper. This was given to me on my first bushcraft course in 2008. A great knife to start off with, holds a sharp edge, has a nice balance to it and a good, grippy handle.
As my woodcarving started to increase, so I needed a more heavy duty knife. So, I moved up to a Mora Companion Heavy Duty. With a slightly longer and thicker blade and larger handle, it suited my needs better.
Fast forward four years and I was looking again.
This time I wanted a hand-made, bespoke knife for carving, as this is primarily what it would be used for.
A question you should consider when you are choosing a knife is: What am I going to be using it mainly for?
The Mora had served me well over the years, but not being a full tang, I was always hesitant through fear of snapping it when batoning large, hard and dense wood. So I was looking for a knife with a full tang.
The blade also had to be quite wide, about 3 to 4mm, for splitting wood. But not too wide, as this would impair some carving techniques.
A high carbon blade was another factor. Carbon Steel generally allows for a sharp edge to be relatively easily attained as well as better edge retention. The downside to having a carbon blade is that they can turn rusty very quickly. So, care must be taken to keep the knife dry when not in use. A light coating of oil after use will help prevent this.
With all this in mind, I set off to look for my knife. I came across Ben Orford, one of the UK’s best knife and carving-tool makers. Ben has an array of beautiful knives. But again, which one would be best for me?
This is where someone like Ben comes into his own, being an excellent green wood carver, Ben knows what is required when it comes to producing a good knife. He talked me through all the possible knives that would be suitable for me.
He let me try out different grips and blade types, making sure the knife was right for me and not just trying to sell me his most expensive knife.
The knife I finally chose has the following specification:
- Woodlander 4” Classic
- Blade length: 4”
- Blade width: 3mm
- Handle: 4.45”, with English Olive Ash scales
- Full tang
- 01 Tool Steel high Carbon
The handle is very comfortable. With an ergonomic grip and splayed end this gives a good grip even when the knife is wet. An important feature in the UK weather!
This is where you can see Ben’s quality of workmanship. The grain in the wood scales matches up perfectly on both sides. All the sanding of the wood, rivets and lanyard hole all match perfectly. No lumps, bumps or ridges.
The 3mm wide blade, with a full tang, now allows me to do heavier work. Batoning larger pieces of wood – up to 3” in diameter – is now routine, whereas before I would have sometimes had to resort to my axe.
The only change to the knife I wanted to be made was to have Ben round off the back of the knife for the first inch and a half from the point.
Ben did this for me at the time of purchase. This is because when I carve, I use my left thumb to push on this part of the blade.
The sheath I use didn’t come with the knife. The one I use was given to me by a good friend years ago. It is a Ray Mears knife sheath with whetstone and fire stick holders. This is also another top quality piece of workmanship. I find the two go very well together and I have everything I need in one compact, functional package.
I hope this helps someone in their decision making process.
And remember – a small first aid kit or “cuts kit” is also good practice to have around when using a knife.
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Was looking forward to another ‘My Knife -article’, thanks!
The Woodlander is probably a much sought after knife nowadays since Ben seems to have A LOT of orders coming in. I particularly like yours Paul, nice grain pattern, classic looking knife. I like the round of back on the tip a lot, might ask Toby Platts to add that feature too on the knife I have ordered.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts, picking out a knife is not a one size fits all. I am new to bushcraft and love looking at the custom knives and some day might justify spending the money. I had a Buck when i was a kid but misplaced it many years ago. I decided to go with the Mora Companion HD which I got online delivered for less the $18 US.
I was very impressed with the sheath you show, especially with the fire steel and the sharpener compartments. I have been looking for one like this but have not been successful. Did you make this yourself or if purchased where from?
Richard (The Old Man)
An excellent article with good sound guidance points. Many thanks.