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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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