My considerations when choosing a hunting knife/sheath combination include a suitable blade design made of steel of appropriate hardness. The knife should be retain its edge well but also be relatively easy to sharpen. I want the knife to have a guard to prevent my hand sliding forward and cutting my fingers on the blade. It needs to be well secured in a sheath which allows the top of the handle to be readily accessible at hip level. If you would like to learn more read on...
Features and benefits
I can offer "out of the ordinary" blade designs.
The blades are of known hardness and in a range useful for the intended purpose of the knife.
My knives have a useful balance between edge-holding and sharpenability.
Construction methods that I use are chosen to enhance the knife's longevity.
I make knives using stable, quality materials that have shown consistent performance characteristics.
Good fit and finish give the knife a pleasing appearance and contribute to its longevity.
Handles are comfortable, provide a positive grip and help the knives "point" well.
The knives are held securely in the sheaths (under all bar extreme circumstances) but are readily accessible.
The guard helps prevent the hand slipping forwards onto the blade
I make commonly seen blade styles such as drop points and skinners but also less common designs such as a variety of semi-skinners. The knife shown at the top of this page is an example of one of my "less common" designs, as is the semi-skinner below.
Benefit - I can offer "out of the ordinary" blade designs.
Hardness tested blades
As part of my quality control I test each of my blade blanks for Rockwell "C" hardness after heat treatment so that no unexpectedly soft blades get further into "the system". I use a small portable Rockwell hardness tester, calibrated with reference samples. I have found that occasionally a heat treated blade has not reached full hardness. This usually seems to happen with the first one or two blade blanks treated during a session, or with blanks made from chainsaw bar. I put aside any such blanks for re- heat treatment.
In the images below one of my own hunting knives tests out at RC56.
Benefit - the blades are of known hardness and in a range useful for the intended purpose of the knife.
Ease of sharpening vs edge holding
I aim to make blades that have a good balance of edge holding and ease of sharpening. It appears to me that the useful range of knife blade hardness is from about RC50 to RC60. My blades generally range in hardness from about RC53 to RC59, with an occasional one reading RC60. Our field observations are that knives with hardness values of around RC53-55 hold their edges when processing a single deer (gutting, skinning, removing legs and backsteaks and boning out), but it's a good idea to touch them up on the sharpening steel or stone at the end of the job. The "harder" knives generally hold an edge a little better. One benefit of the "softer" RC53-55 blades is that they are easier to tickle up in the field with a sharpening steel, so a balance is in play here with respect to desirable knife hardness. Any harder than about RC60 and the edge may be prone to getting small chips, especially if abused.
Benefit - my knives have a useful balance between edge-holding and sharpenability.
The ways I make my knives are described on the construction page. In the interests of durability the handle slabs of full tang knives are secured with epoxy adhesive in combination with stainless bolts and round brass nuts. Knives I made in the past with scales attached using epoxy in combination with brass locating pins have held up perfectly well, but I like the added security that comes with using bolts.
Inletted tang knives have the tang secured in the handle slot with epoxy; I often add a retaining pin as well although it's not really necessary. With the tang embedded in epoxy I believe that the inletted tang knives will last as well as or even longer than the full tang knives. As an aside, in comparing two identical knives made by untapered full tang and inletted tang methods, there is an obvious weight saving with half tang construction.
Benefit - Construction methods that I use are chosen to enhance the knife's longevity.
I use mainly recycled carbon steel millsaw blades (nominally of type L6) for my knives. I like this steel because it is of very high quality (think of the consequences of using poor quality steel in a very large, sharp, rapidly spinning disc !) and its heat treatment characteristics are well known. It is easy to work with in its annealed state, but can be hardened and tempered to useful levels. It can also be selectively tempered easily (especially compared to the knife grade stainless steels). For example, the back of a large working knife can be drawn to spring temper while the edge retains a harder cutting temper. The main downside of using carbon steel such as L6 is corrosion, so I stress that my knives do require some care and maintenance.
For handles, especially the handle scales of full tang knives, I favour wenge , an African hardwood. For me its overriding quality is its good (albeit not perfect) dimensional stability : I have seen very little swelling or shrinkage with this timber, making it well-suited for the handle scales of full tang knives. I also like the dark colour. Other handle materials I have used include resin-impregnated cotton synthetics such as Micarta, Tufnol and Orkot. All three of these are dimensionally stable.
I have made handles of half tang knives from Orkot, Tufnol, wenge, bubinga, New Zealand maire and some other timbers. Maire's behaviour has been interesting in that I have sometimes noticed shrinkage even with timber seasoned for some (often many) years. Thus I only use maire for inletted tang knives, and usually glue them up then leave them for six months or more to allow for any further shrinkage of the timber. Only then do I go on to final shaping and finishing.
Benefit - I use quality materials which have consistent performance characteristics to make my knives.
Fit and finish
I pay close attention to the fit up of the individual parts of the knife as I make them. I surface grind the blade blanks so that the surfaces are flat and parallel, which gives a good foundation to work off. I use a milling machine to cut the slots in the brass guards so the slots are parallel and a nice sliding fit on the blade. A good fit of guard to blade in combination with a well fluxed lead-free soldering job makes for a strong joint between blade and guard. I check that the timber handle slabs are flat and that there is a good fit between the face of the timber and the back of the guard. The 5/16" diameter brass handle fixing nuts are inserted into holes made with a flat faced 5/16" counterbore, ensuring a good fit here as well.
I believe that the fewer gaps there are in a knife the fewer places water can gain access and initiate deterioration, thus a good fit of parts contributes to the longevity of the knife.
Benefit - good fit and finish give the knife a pleasing appearance and contribute to its longevity.
Handle design and ergonomics
The most common handle designs I use feature no finger groove, one finger groove or four finger grooves combined with a downcurve at the butt to help "lock" the hand on the handle. The handles are flat sided with rounded edges which, in combination with the way they are designed, are very comfortable to use. The flat sides provide a positive grip that is more resistant to movement compared to handles with circular or oval cross sections. The flat sides also mean that there is an instinctive feel for where the edge is directed in relation to the direction of your hand.
Benefits - handles are comfortable and secure to use and the knives "point" well.
I make sheaths of a pouch design from 3.2mm to 3.8mm thick leather. The design is such that the knives sit deeply within the sheath to help prevent knife loss. They are of glued, machine stitched and riveted construction with the stitching protected by a leather welt or insert. The sheaths are individually fitted for each knife.
The sheaths have belt loops sized for belts 50mm (2") wide or even wider. The large loops make the sheaths easy to get on and off your belt, with the loops positioned near the top of the sheath so the butt of the knife handle is located at waist level and is readily accessible. The loops allow some independent movement of the sheath on your belt, potentially helpful when you crap out and are sliding down a hill (smile).
I prefer the deep pouch sheath design over ones with cover flaps or keeper straps. The pouch sheath design is simple, there are no domes or other hardware that may come undone or break and the knife is secure under most circumstances (maybe not if you are being held upside down and shaken vigorously by a Middle-Earth troll !). More importantly to me, when I need the knife there is no messing about with straps or flaps, with a pouch type sheath the knife is quickly accessible.
Benefits - the knives are held securely (under all bar extreme circumstances) but are readily accessible.
I fit all of my knives with brass guards. I usually make the length of the guard around 35mm - 40mm (35mm in the image below) which is sufficent for most purposes; in some cases I have made the guard a bit shorter, particularly with small knives so that the guard is in proportion to the rest of the knife. The guards of my knives are soldered on using lead-free solder. With a well-fitted guard and a properly fluxed soldering job the result is a strong joint between the blade and guard. Just as important to me as an ex- corrosion and materials scientist is that the joint is sealed permanently with a waterproof material; an unsealed joint here is a potential source of crevice corrosion. Thus the soldered joint contributes to the long term durability of the knife.
Benefit - the guard helps prevent the hand slipping forwards onto the blade
Copyright © 2018 Darren Englebretsen