How to choose the right bushcraft knife
Is a knife essential for bushcraft?
Yes. Sure there are things you can do without a knife, but really a knife is THE fundamental tool for bushcraft. Therefore it is not only essential you own one, but you own one that is right for you! Because no two bushcraft knives are the same, and no two people bushcraft the exact same way.
A good bushcraft knife should be able to perform a range of functions above that of your standard EDC knife. It should be built to last and built for hard-use.
How do I know which bushcraft knife is right for me?
Well this is what we are going to break down for you in this article. But in this paragraph we will also give you some more general advice. If you are going to in a wet/damp or humid environment you’ll likely want a stainless steel model (corrosion resistant). If though you are likely to use your knife in drier conditions then a carbon steel knife will likely be suited. The other thing we want to point out is that we recommend fixed blade over folding blade nearly every single time. There is so much more to go wrong with a folding blade than a fixed blade, fixed blades are also stronger and generally more hard-use.
Now in this article will break down the key terms and jargon associated with a bushcraft knife. We will then look at popular blade shapes and sizes specifically with bushcraft in mind. We will then explore the steels and grinds you should look for. We will then round off this article looking at handle materials and extra features, followed closely by some of our favourite bushcraft knives from the more popular to the more expensive.
What part of the knife is that?
This is a question we get asked a lot. So here is an image we put together to help you out a little!
Resist the Crocodile Dundee temptation to get the biggest knife possible. It will definitely have some benefits but it will also have a lot of drawbacks especially when carrying out some pretty standard bushcraft activities. If you think that you are likely to need to be chopping trees or clearing bush, then bring an axe or machete. Let those specialist tools do the work in those specific situations, as it’s what they were designed for. On the flip side, having knife that is too small to be able to carry out batoning tasks or cutting through tree limbs is not really any good either. We recommend your bushcraft knife blade be 8-15cm in length, depending on your comfort and expected tasks.
Blade Design & Shape
A good bushcraft knife should have a long flat cutting edge that turns up to meet a tip. Ideally you will want your blade to remain at thick as possible as much as possible to ensure the blade is as strong as possible. With regards to the tip, most bushcraft knives will have a distinctive tip, but this tip isn’t very thin and pointy. It’s sharp but don’t expect it to be needle sharp. Because the tip of a bushcraft knife is so heavily used and abused, it has to be strong but remain functional. It should be sharp and strong so that it can withstand hard use. With a bushcraft knife you won’t need a big or bulging underbelly as they are designed for skinning and hunting rather than bushcraft. With that in mind the two best blade designs for bushcraft knives are probably spear point and drop point.
For an in-depth look at blade shapes have a read of this: http://www.heinnie.com/blog/popular-blade-shapes/
The blade grind or primary bevel refers to how the blade has been shaped above the cutting edge or secondary bevel (if present). The primary grind thins the blade down from its initial width at the spine, to that of the cutting edge or secondary bevel. The best grinds for bushcraft knives are strong and versatile. If a grind makes the cutting edge too thin, the strength of the blade is dramatically reduced. Good grinds to look for are:
Convex Grind (Primary bevel only.)
Scandinavian / Scandi Grind (Traditionally primary bevel only. Often found with secondary bevel.)
Flat Grind (Almost always secondary bevel only.)
Chisel Grind (Not common. Primary bevel only.)
One grind we recommend that you avoid is the hollow grind. It is a great grind for EDC knives and lightweight work, but not for bushcraft. It makes the blade too thin and therefore not very effective or strong.
Cutting edge is pretty important. If you want a better edge, you will need a steeper angle, but this will make the edge weaker. If you have a bigger angle, the edge will be much stronger but obviously cutting will not be as easy.
What is a thin cutting edge good for? A thin edge will be very good for things like food preparation and whittling, but will struggle with heavy duty tasks like splitting wood. A thicker cutting edge is exactly the opposite.
Something else you will want to consider when looking at which grind you want is the ability to re-sharpen the blade. If your knife is going to be in constant use then it’s likely to need a fair amount of sharpening. Some grinds are much easier to sharpen than others, both in the field and at home. Grinds which focus on the primary bevel are much easier to sharpen in the field than those which focus on a secondary bevel.
Steels are a tough topic to go into as there isn’t a best or worst steel, only recommendations, and those recommendations are based upon the tasks that you want your knife for.
Starting with stainless steel. To become corrosion resistant the steel must contain high levels of the element chromium. The more chromium that the steel contains the softer it becomes, but obviously it has further corrosion resistance. Because carbon steels do no contain chromium it is much harder, however has very little corrosion resistance, which means it require a lot more upkeep and care.
Steels which are highly geared towards corrosion and wear resistance are very hard to sharpen, especially when you are out in the field as you will require specific diamond stones. Unfortunately not steels have the perfect balance of resistance to corrosion and wear, hardness, toughness and everything in between. Each has their own qualities, good and bad. Inevitably, you have to experiment, compare and contrast to come to your own opinions.
We are going to keep this section nice and short for one key reason. You can read our dedicated knife handle article, which will give you a clear and comprehensive guide to knife handles including the ones you will find on bushcraft knives.
Some handles will be better looking, some better for durability, some for shock and absorption, and others will be great for grip.
When looking at a handle type. Think about the tasks, the conditions, and how often you’ll use it. Those three factors will be key in your decision.
For a bushcraft knife we always recommend a fixed blade knife. But, not just any fixed blade knife. You almost definitely want a full tang construction. Why? Because it’s stronger, and more versatile. Shocks and impact are also shared throughout the length of the knife not just until the end of the blade.
Some people say you need them. Purists would say you don’t. Generally we agree with the purists, but this isn’t a cast iron fact. Some people will find that serrations could be helpful for their tasks. We also get a lot of questions about ‘sawback’ knives (pictures below). Some of these are good, but we don’t really recommend them as to use the saw you have to have the cutting edge facing up at you. You’ll also find it a lot harder to baton, and using a Ferro rod with your knife has become nearly impossible. If you want a saw, we recommend something like a Pocket Boy Folding Saw.