A Few New Fixed-blade Knives

I am not quite sure how it happened, but at some point I started a knife collection. Even when I was a kid and just had my first Victorinox Swiss Army Knife, I appreciated that a knife is not just a crude tool of pure utility but has historical and aesthetic components as well.

Like any tool, a knife can be just a sharpened hunk of metal, in which case its form likely interferes with its function, or it can be a perfect embodiment of its intended purpose, in which case its form and function are likely perfectly cohesive and nothing can be added or taken away from the knife to improve its performance.

I am not a fan of baroque knives with aesthetic design elements added for no other reason than to show of the supposed skill of the maker. I prefer knives in which function dictates form. The knives which draw my attention tend to be simpler in appearance, though their form has been honed by a hundred or a thousand years of cultural development. Often these knives, such as those from Scandinavia, are the product of a culture where resources were scarce, needs simple, and survival the paramount motivator.

I have my share of folding multi-tools (Victorinox and Leatherman mostly), but those I do not categorize as knives in the purest sense of the word. To me they are miniature toolboxes and have there place for repair and maintenance of mechanical gear (bikes, boats, skis, etc.) In other situations (skinning, cutting, chopping, carving), a simple rigid blade and handle is usually the best tool for the job. In this post I am showcasing just a few of these fixed-blade knives.

Schrade Walden 165 Old Timer Hunting Knife

My dad brought out this old knife a few days ago. I remember it fondly as the camp knife in our car-camping kitchen outfit from when I was a kid. Our family has never hunted and we wouldn’t carry something this big on backcountry trips, but it was always there in our car-camping gear. Looking at it after I all these years I thought to myself, “This knife has cut a lot of potatoes!”

My dad said he remembers buying it at the “old hardware store”, which probably means the local hardware store on the West Side of Bowness, near where I grew up. (Remember local hardware stores, before the days of Home Depot? If you do you might now be considered old by a vast majority of the population.) According to information I found on BladeForums, non-serialized versions of this knife, with the stamp on the right-hand side of the blade and the sheath strap around the handle, date from around 1973 or later. This makes sense considering my parent’s moved into their house in the spring of 1974 — the year I was born.

The knife is in great shape and still incredibly sharp. The sheath is very well made and in good condition too.

This knife could still be a regular “user”, but for now this 40+ year-old knife is hanging on the wall of our cabin as a collector’s item. Maybe I will use it every once in a while to cut some potatoes.

Schrade Walden 165 Old Timer Knife

Schrade Walden 165 Old Timer Knife with Sheath

[table th=”0″]
Item,Schrade Walden 165 Old Timer (circa 1974)
Price,US$60 to US$120 on eBay
Pros,”solid blade, nice comfortable handle shape, heavy-duty sheath”
Cons,”heavy (full tang), and not so great in cold weather”
Summary,”A nice collector’s knife and still a great heavy-duty performer.”

Lapin Puukko Whittling Knife

I got this compact little fixed-blade Finnish knife a few years ago from Bushcraft Canada. The blade size and shape is great for detail work, but a bit small for general use. However, the blade is incredibly sharp and durable and the handle has a great shape which fits perfectly in my medium- to large-sized hand. I wish I had more time to work with this knife.

Lapin Puukko Whittling Knife

Lapin Puukko Whittling Knife with Sheath

[table th=”0″]
Item,Lapin Puukko Whittling Knife
Pros,”amazingly sharp blade, ground to a fine point for detailed whittling, comfortably shaped handle”
Cons,”handle really only allows one holding position”
Summary,”A super-sharp whittling knife, but not a great option for an all-around knife.”
Availability,Bushcraft Canada

Roselli Leuku

Another Bushcraft Canada purchase. This knife is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Lapin Puukko Whittling Knife. This is a big 10″ knife, with a fat 5 3/8″ blade. (Roselli make an even larger version with a 7 1/4″ blade!)

The leuku is the traditional knife of the Sami people who live in northern Scandinavia. In much of the traditional Sami territory, trees, if there are any, are not very large. This knife fills the role of axe, hunting knife, and all-around tool. The big handle is good for use with gloves.

I have been carrying mine around our property a lot this winter. We had a snowstorm in September that bent or broke a lot of small aspen. One or two light chops with this knife and a trail is easily cleared. I also cut and dressed some small teepee poles in very little time with this knife. Where a smaller knife would require a lot of force to do the same work, the inertia of the weighty leuku does most of the work once the knife is moving. Delicate work can be performed by choking up and holding the knife by the spine. When chopping, let the knife slide forward so you are gripping the flared pommel/butt with just your pointing and index fingers and your thumb.

I like Roselli’s unique sheath configuration — very simple and secure. As with most Scandinavian knife sheaths, the leuku sits deep in the sheath and is held with simple friction. No fumbling with snaps with gloved hands in -30°C, and the knife is not going to just fall out on its own — an important consideration in a traditional culture where your knife is your only tool and the key to survival in many situations.

Roselli Leuku Knife

Roselli Leuku Knife with Sheath

Roselli Leuku Knife with Sheath - Detail

[table th=”0″]
Item,Roselli Leuku
Pros,”solid blade, oval cross-section symmetrical handle accommodates multiple holding positions, nice sheath”
Summary,”A big knife. Good for chopping or limbing small trees. Great with gloves and in cold weather.”
Availability,Bushcraft Canada

Using JaVaWa GMTK To Fix Open Street Map Garmin Files

I am a big fan of Open Street Map (“OSM”) Garmin-compatible maps available from garmin.openstreetmap.nl. Whenever I travel, I download OSM maps of where I am going and install them on my GPS receiver.

There is one problem with OSM Garmin-compatible maps: you can only view one OSM map at a time in BaseCamp or on your device. This is because all OSM map files share the same map name and ID. (This is probably a result of how the maps are auto generated, especially ad hoc views which allow you to create a custom map by manually selecting tile segments.)

OSM Custom Map Built On Demand

OS - File Download

The excellent cross-platform JaVaWa GMTK (Garmin Map Toolkit) to the rescue. With JaVaWa GMTK you can perform a lot of map management tasks, including changing of map name and ID properties.

As you can see in the following screenshot, I have multiple OSM maps installed on my computer hard drive (I have renamed each of the .gmap files so I can have several in Garmin’s Maps directory). However, only the first listed OSM file would normally be available in MapManager, MapInstall, and BaseCamp.

Finder - Garmin Maps
Finder – Garmin Maps Folder
MapManager - Before
MapManager – Before

The process for changing a map’s name and ID is pretty straightforward. Make sure you quit BaseCamp/MapSource and MapManager first. I am doing this on a Mac, but it should be similar on Windows.

  1. Download and install JaVaWa GMTK.
    JaVaWa GMTK - Install
  2. Launch JaVaWa GMTK (on OS X 10.8 and later, right-click on the JaVaW MapConverter application icon the first time and choose the “Open” menu item — this will ask you if you want to bypass OS X’s developer signing restrictions — click the “Open” button).
  3. JaVaWa GMTK will scan your installed maps. (On OS X, map files used by BaseCamp are installed in the directory /Users/[username]/Library/Application Support/Garmin/Maps. Any problem maps will be highlighted in orange or red.
    JaVaWa GMTK - Before
  4. Click the map you want to edit and then click “Extras” in the toolbar and choose “Change map name and ID” from the drop down menu.
  5. In the dialog, set a unique Family ID (this must be unique across all your maps — GMTK will warn you if you enter a duplicate ID), and descriptive names to be displayed in BaseCamp and on your GPS receiver.
    JaVaWa GMTK - Modify
  6. Click the “Modify” button to save your changes.
    JaVaWa GMTK - After

That is it. Repeat steps 4 to 6 with the rest of your OSM maps. Quit JaVaWa GMTK and launch MapManager, BaseCamp, or MapInstall. All of the OSM maps will be available for viewing on your computer and installing on your GPS receiver.

MapManager - After
MapManager – After
BaseCamp - After
BaseCamp – After
eTrex 30 - After
eTrex 30 – After

Convert Garmin Windows Map Files To Mac BaseCamp .gmap Format

For some legacy reason, the file formats for Garmin-compatible maps differs between Windows and Mac OS X. Even Garmin’s own Mac BaseCamp application does not support Windows’ BaseCamp maps.

There are two methods for converting Windows Garmin-compatible maps to BaseCamp for Mac: 1) on a Windows XP or later computer, or 2) on a Mac.

On a Windows XP or later computer

If you have maps on a Windows computer already, and would like to move them to a Mac, then you are in luck. Simply download and install Garmin’s MapConverter on your Windows computer. Apparently it can convert your maps to the Mac format.

On a Mac

If you only have a Mac computer, there are two free utilities available to that convert Windows Garmin-compatible maps to the Mac BaseCamp-compatible format: JaVaWa MapConverter and Gmapibuilder. Both have a graphical user interface, but I found JaVaWa MapConverter easier to use. You will of course need Java installed on your Mac, which it may not be by default.

I use the Ibycus Topo Canada map as my main map for off-the-beaten-path adventures. Because this is a very large map, Ibycus does not distribute the files directly. You need to download a copy using BitTorrent. I was able to find a copy of version Ibycus 3.2 for Mac, but I could only ever find the Windows version of Ibycus 4.0. Today, I was able to convert Ibycus 4.0 to Mac .gmap format, and I thought I would use that as an example of converting Garmin Windows maps for use on a Mac. (Caveat: since JaVaWa is a free tool and not supported by Garmin, it is not guaranteed to work, and I have no idea how it works with locked maps). I will assume you have your Windows map files already.

  1. Download and install JaVaWa MapConverter
         Installing JaVaWa MapConverter
  2. Launch JaVaWa MapConverter (on OS X 10.8 and later, right-click on the JaVaW MapConverter application icon the first time and choose the “Open” menu item — this will ask if you want to bypass OS X’s developer signing restrictions — click the “Open” button).
  3. Ibycus Topo  4.0 is downloaded as an ISO file (this is a DVD disk image). Double clicking the ISO file will mount a new disk on your computer.
    Finder - ISO
  4. Copy the entire contents of the Ibycus Topo  4.0 disk image to folder on your hard drive — you are going to move some files around and the disk image is read-only.
  5. Move the following files from the folder you created in step 3 and into the “imgs” folder.
    • Ibycus Topo 4.0.img
    • Ibycus Topo 4.0.MDX
    • Ibycus Topo 4.0.TDB
      Finder - Move Files
  6. Now, drag the “img” folder onto the JaVaWa MapConverter window.
    JaVaWa MapConverter - Start Screen
  7. When asked to select the “.img” file, choose “Ibycus Topo 4.0.img” from the drop down menu.
    JaVaWa MapConverter - Select the correct file
  8. JaVaWa MapConverter should now be ready to convert the file. Click the “Convert” button and choose where to save the .gmap file.
    JaVaWa MapConverter - Ready To Convert
  9. After JaVaWa MapConverter is finished, in the finder, go to the saved .gmap file. Double-clicking it will open Garmin’s MapManager application which will ask you if you want to install the map. Click “Install”.
    Finder - .gmap filesMapManager - Install
  10. You can now relaunch BaseCamp and use the map. You can also run Garmin’s Map Install application to install Ibycus Topo 4.0 map segments onto your GPS receiver.
    BaseCamp - Map Select
    MapInstall - Map Segment Select

You can now eject the disk image mounted in step 3 and delete the folder created in step 4. You might want to keep the “IbycusTopo40.iso” and the “Ibycus Topo  4.0.gmap” files for later.

There is another map on the ISO that you might want to convert as well. Repeat steps 2 through 10, this time with the files named “Ibycus – Old Roads 1.0.img”, “Ibycus – Old Roads 1.0.MDX”, and “Ibycus – Old Roads 1.0.TDB”. This Map contains old roads that were removed from the Government of Canada datasets between versions of Ibycus Topo. Personally I don’t have a need for the “old roads” map, but it is there if you want it.

Depending on the source of the Windows Garmin map, the file and folder layout may differ slightly. As the JaVaWa MapConverter documentation states, it is simply critical that the .tdb and .img files be in the same location. The .mdx and other files are optional, but if they are provided, JaVaWa MapConverter will use them. For JaVaWa MapConverter all the files need to be in a single folder. Gmapibuilder seems more flexible — you can locate the required files individually.

Fun With GPS

Today I went for a walk in at Fish Creek Provincial Park with a friend and I brought my GPS receiver (GPSr) along. I almost always run my GPSr when walking, cycling, or canoeing — even in familiar areas. My friend was curious so I shared my thoughts on GPS, the benefits of non-commercial maps and my enthusiasm for geocaching, geotagging, navigation, athletic training, etc.

I wanted to share today’s GPS track and data with my friend. I thought I would make it even more useful by sharing it here, as I think it is a good explanation of why I like using a GPS to record my adventures (no matter how close-to-home or seemingly insignificant).

Fish Creek - Trees Fish Creek - Cattails

Cheap GPS

When I first bought my GPS, I made it a goal not to pay for maps. I had three reasons for this:

  1. commercial maps are expensive (and, from what I have heard, often not very good quality);
  2. I believe that map data from government sources should be freely available to citizens (i.e., it was already paid for with taxes);
  3. Open Source maps, updated and prepared by millions of people, are better than most commercial maps, and more up-to-date than most government data.

Free and Almost Free Maps

I have a Garmin eTrex 30 GPSr and use the following free maps:

I also subscribe to openmtbmap.org because I think the operator does a worthwhile service packaging up OpenStreetMap based mountain biking maps.

My wife just complete a canoe trip along the Gulf coast in the Florida’s Everglades National Park. Before she left I found a free Florida topographic map that contained depth soundings for the area she was going to be in. Just today I discover OpenSeaMap, an open source initiative to provide free global nautical charts — they have Garmin downloads, but I haven’t tried them out yet. Looks interesting.

Of course, each map source provides different features. There is no ideal map — the best map to use will depend on your activity.

(Not strictly GPS related, but I today I also discovered OpenWeatherMap — an Open Source weather mapping initiative. See the embedded sample at the bottom of this post. Just yesterday I completed the build of a Phidgets-based weather station. I will have to look at OpenWeatherMap in more depth.)

BaseCamp - Global Base Map
Global Base Map
BaseCamp - Ibycus Topo 3.2
Ibycus Topo 3.2
BaseCamp - OpenMTB Map
OpenMTB Map
BaseCamp - OSM Cycle Map
OSM Cycle Map
BaseCamp - OSM Generic
OSM Generic
BaseCamp - Southern Alberta Tail Maps
Southern Alberta Tail Maps

Track Data

As you can see in the above screen shots, once you get home it is easy to review the GPS track (recording of where you went with the GPSr), but what else can you do with such a track? Well, I like to take a look at the speed and elevation plots of the track just to get a sense of of my performance, especially after a bike ride. I don’t use my GPSr as a religious training tool, though a lot of athletes do. I also use the track data to geotag any photos I take on my adventures. I use PhotoLinker to merge my track location data with any un-geotagged photos. In the case of today’s walk, I only shot a few photos with my iPhone, so those were already geotagged by the camera.

Here is the track data from today’s walk:

  • GPX (GPS Exchange format — compatible with most GPS receivers and software)
  • KML (Google Earth file)

(Note: Below, the second spike in the Speed graph up to 8 km/h, is me sliding on my butt down a frozen, mossy, leaf covered hill in the trees then coming to a sudden stop with my feet against a log just before I would have hit a tree. The dangers of walking on icy, north facing trails never ends. The subsequent lull in movement for 15 minutes is my GPSr sitting idle under the aforementioned log while my friend and I continued our walk, unaware that the GPSr had been ripped off my belt. When I realized it was missing we knew exactly where to look for it. Previously, I always carried my GPSr in a pocket or in my pack, and I will do so from now on. The first spike might be an error, because I don’t ever remember running that fast — and I only fell down a hill once.)

Graph Plot - Track Points
Track Points
Graph Plot - Speed
Graph Plot - Elevation


Geocaching is a great way to get familiar with a new GPSr. If you expect your GPSr to save your butt on a glacier in a whiteout, then its use better be like second-nature to you. Geocaching is also a fun hobby in its own right. When I go looking for geocaches I always learn something new about an area — wether it is half-way around the globe or in my own back yard — even if I don’t actually find the cache I am looking for (which happens quite often). Today, I didn’t have geocaches in Fish Creek Park loaded on my GPSr, so I just used the Geocaching iOS app, which is a great place to start if you just want to try out geocaching but don’t own a dedicated GPSr.

Geocaching iOS App

I Heart GPS

I’ve written a bit more about GPS in the past, so feel free to review those ramblings if you are so interested.

I Heart My GPS Button

[osm_map lat=”50.999″ long=”-113.995″ zoom=”6″ width=”600″ height=”450″ type=”OpenWeatherMap”]

GPS Drawing

Last year, after I started geotagging my photos, I did a few visual art projects combining photography and GPS technology. I am fascinated by maps, how we imagine the world around us, how we communicated that world to others, etc.

A GPS receiver (including many smartphone apps) can record a GPS track — that is, a series of linked points recorded at regular intervals or distances as you move. Normally, these tracks are used for navigation — record where you have been so you can later retrace your route and thus find your way back home. These track files are also good for post-adventure analysis. Your can plot your speed, heading, elevation, etc. You can also use the point data in the track to geotag your photos so that you, and others, can see exactly where a particular photo was taken.

Beyond their practical uses, however, GPX tracks, when displayed as a line on a map, have an aesthetic value as well. They are a virtual mark on the land — the mark of an adventurer expressing some desire to explore. In this way they are not unlike the marks an artist makes on paper or canvas. Lines creating shapes, outlining objects, representing barriers overcome or avoided. Lines demarcating space and time. Tracings and recordings of life.

A Walk In The Park

After a long walk at Bowness Park last March, I overlaid photographs I had taken with the abstract and graphically rich tracings of my GPS tracks. Typically, one displays geo-located photos on a map — saying “this is where these photos were taken.”

But the map is not the terrain. The map is not the location.

Instead, I am displaying the map (in the form of the track overlay) on the photo. This gives the photo context. The image exists in concert with — because of — my movement across the land.

IMG_0977 TrackIMG_0985 Track
IMG_0990 TrackIMG_1008 Track

Photo Walking

The other project I started, is a series of large scale conceptual drawings. By walking a path across the land tracing the shape of a word, I am making visible some thought, some meditative idea. The word — the path — is not visible to others even though it’s creation is a very concrete act. However, by capturing the path in the form of a GPS track, I am able to share the act with others. The track image, is combined with photos taking during the walk so the viewer can experience the original event.


Winter - West

Winter - Map

Winter - East


Home - Up

Home - Map

Home - Down

Chainsaw Mill

I’ve had a Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill MKIII for a little over a year now, but apparently haven’t posted anything about it here. This isn’t going to be a detailed review or anything like that. I just wanted to post some pictures of my set-up. I will say that the Granberg mill is a well made, robust, easy to use piece of equipment. For what it is — a portable chainsaw mill — I have no complaints. Highly recommended.

I do wish that Granberg’s EZ Rails (which can be used to make the first cut) were cheaper. I am mostly using my mill to make lumber for timber-frame construction. As such I often need beams of 14′ or longer. The 9′ plus 5′ EZ Rails would cost me about $400.

I initially made my own level-adjusting rails using 2x4s and some aluminum stock. However, the 2x4s have warped and I no longer use them. Instead, I made new rail brackets with integral quick clamps (see the photos) that work with an aluminum ladder. This set-up works quite well, though I am limited to milling logs about 13′ in length by the 14’/28′ extension ladder parts I currently have (I could get a 16’/32′ ladder, but can’t justify the $300 expense). I always find that the set-up for the first cut takes quite a bit of time. And since I am making squared timbers, I have to do the first-cut set-up twice.

I run my mill with a Husqvarna 395 XP (7 hp) chainsaw, a 36″ bar, and skip-tooth chain. Before I got the bigger saw, I ran the mill with a Husqvarna 545 (3.35 hp) chainsaw, a 24″ bar, and a chain modified for ripping. However the 545 didn’t have enough power to efficiently get through logs bigger than 8″ diameter. The 395 has plenty of power and I will probably never need the capacity of the 36′ bar/mill as trees just don’t grow that big on our property.

Another Day In The Office

I took these photos yesterday. The temperature was about 7°C. There was zero wind, a bluebird sky, and ravens soaring through the trees. The snow is very deep this year (near mid-thigh in some places) and I had a bit of trouble getting the quad into the bush to get at the log I wanted to work on. I managed though. I like the system I have for hauling the ladder, mill, saws, and other tools in my quad trailer.

After milling the log I covered it up so it is not exposed to weather. It is down a small hill and I will have to wait a few months until the snow melts a bit to winch it out of there.


[table th=”0″]
Item,Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill MKIII
Availability,granberg.com or leevalley.com
Pros,”portable, well made, robust, easy to use”
Cons,”slow set-up for first cut, expensive accessories”
Summary,Highly recommended

Opinel No. 7 Carbon-steel Folding Knife Detailed Review

This is a follow up to my initial review of the Opinel No. 7 carbon-steel folding knife. I have been using this knife for about 10 days now. I’ve kept it with me almost constantly throughout this time (except while sleeping and showering) and I’ve tried to use it as much as possible. Here are my impressions.

Opinel Carbon-steel Folding Knife No. 7

A Good Everyday Knife

As I noted in my initial review, it took a bit of tuning up before I was happy with this knife. After that initial work though, this knife has been a pleasure to carry and use. I appreciate its lightness, and rarely notice that it is in my pocket. The handle is very comfortable, though I do feel the No. 8 would fit my hand better.

Opening, Closing, and Locking

Opinel Carbon-steel Folding Knife No. 7 — Lock DetailThe folding mechanism is very smooth. I actually like that it does not have a spring tension lock like the type found on most folders, Swiss Army knives, etc. the lack of spring resistance means that the folding action of the Opinel is very smooth — almost effortless. Engaging the fingernail opener slot is sometimes difficult, but almost not necessary. Just disengage the hinge lock, and pull the blade open with your thumb and forefinger.

The fastest method of engaging and disengaging the hinge lock is with a quick swipe of the thumb of your knife holding hand. This is fast, but the lock mechanism does tend to dig into the pad of the thumb. On the plus side, I am getting a nice callous on my thumb.

Blade Performance and Maintenance

I have used the knife to cut just about every material I have encountered over the previous ten days: packing tape, cardboard, envelopes, cheese, bread, pâté, plastic, wood, epoxy, string, etc.

Though a bit short, the blade excelled in the kitchen and for simple food prep tasks. I would not hesitate to keep this knife as a permanent addition to my hiking/skiing lunch bag kit.

The blade performed very good in wood, doing light carving tasks. It was also great for opening packages, etc.

Opinel Carbon-steel Folding Knife No. 7 — Blade Detail
Blade damage after cutting moderately hard material

I did find that the blade tends to lose its edge quite quickly. After cutting anything even moderately hard, the edge is noticeable marred and wanting a quick sharpen. The good news is that the carbon-steel is easy to touch up. Plan to keep a small diamond file around if you get an Opinel carbon knife. A dull knife is dangerous as you have to exert more force and therefore increase the likelyhood of slipping.

One of the first impressions I had about this knife is that its blade is quite thin and flexible. It has a single bevel grind that goes all the way from the edge to the back of the blade (“full-flat” grind). In use, the blade does not flex as much as I thought it might, but still it would not be the best knife choice for heavier work. I have a Leatherman and a medium-size Wenger folder that I wouldn’t hesitate to use carving heavy wood, cutting rope, repairing a canoe, etc., but I would avoid using an Opinel in these cases.

I’ve been pretty good about cleaning and maintaining the blade over my short usage period with this knife. If I used the knife with food and had to clean it with water, I dried it well and applied a thin coat of olive oil (because that is what sits on our kitchen counter all the time). I have had no problem with rust spots or tarnishing. I am curious to see how the carbon-steel holds up over the long term.

Summary and Specifications

Opinel folding knives seem to be a real bargain. The No. 7 is a compact and lightweight folder that would be a good everyday knife. You won‘t even notice it in your pocket, and it will stand up to most typical tasks you will encounter. If you need a serious work knife, consider something else, or try one of the larger Opinel sizes. If you are hard on gear and don‘t feel up to the task of maintaining a carbon-steel blade, then consider getting the Opinel stainless-steel version instead.

Opinel Carbon-steel Folding Knife No. 7 — Open

[table th=”0″]
Item,Opinel No. 7 Carbon-steel Folding Knife
Materials,”Beechwood handle, carbon-steel blade, stainless-steel lock”
Length,”77 mm (3 in) blade, 177 mm (7 in) overall, 100 mm (4 in) closed”
Weight,”37 g (1.3 oz)”
Availability,mec.ca or leevalley.com
Pros,”lightweight, comfortable handle, easy to open/close/lock, easy to sharpen, nice aesthetic”
Cons,”factory finish needs some tuning-up, carbon-steel requires more care, requires sharpening often, light-duty blade, handle is small in average male hand”
Summary,A good value folding-knife for everyday light-duty use.

Handmade Leather Handled Knife and Leather Sheath

I became a fan of fixed blade knives rather late in life and have started to experiment with different handle materials. I never really understood the appeal or construction of leather knife handles, but I became intrigued and decided to make my own.

A leather knife handle is actually made from a stack of compressed, glued, and shaped leathers “washers”. The form and feel of the handle comes from the leather, but the strength comes from the tang and the rigid bolster and butt/pommel reinforcements.

I used a commercially available 6″ carbon-steel blade blank from Morakniv as the basis of this knife. Most leather handled knives I have seen are of the hunting-knife variety, so I decided that a larger knife would be better.

Leather Handled Knife Belt Loop DetailFor the most part, I followed an excellent tutorial in the British Blades forum. I deviated a bit from the tutorial by hiding the tang under the butt cap and securing the butt cap with two 1 1/4″ #14 screws. This was not my original plan, but I had trouble riveting the butt cap to the tang. I sanded the screw heads flush with the butt, though two small depressions from the driver holes remain visible — not the most professional job, but a strong and fully serviceable arrangement.

Today I finished making the leather sheath. I like a Scandinavian-style sheath, which is stitched at the back and holds the knife with simple friction rather than a complicated snap and/or strap.

Leather Handled Knife in Blade GuardThe sheath is lined with a hand-carved cedar blade guard. After seeing an interesting comparison of the performance of various sheath materials in wet and frozen conditions I decided to make a drain-hole at the tip of this blade guard. If water gets in the sheath, it will simply drain out the bottom. I also applied a good coat of paraffin wax to the blade guard interior to discourage moisture build-up. The devil is in the details, as they say.

I tried to match the coloration of the sheath with the knife handle. I first dyed the sheath brown, applied a bit of yellow dye, and then applied USMC black dye. The black dye I applied sparingly only to the tip of the sheath, and then with a cloth, blended it into the brown. I repeated this a few times until I had a nice smooth blend from solid black at the tip to warm brown at the top.

Leather Handled Knife StitchingI hand stitch all my sheaths. Normally I make my needle holes with an awl, but on this sheath I used my recently purchased hand sewing punch. This is a great tool and created even and consistent stitching holes. I still had to use a fid/awl to slightly enlarge the insides of the holes so I could easily pass the needles, but in general the punch really sped up the hand-sewing process.

Though it had some challenges I really enjoyed this project. I like the lively feel of the leather handle surface. I compared it to a 6″ Buck plastic handled knife I have which feels dead by comparison. I am also, once again, very happy with the combination of the knife and the sheath. I got into knife making from working with leather, so it makes sense that I put a high value on the sheath.

I like to give my knives a name. I will call this one Gandalf The Mad, after the unscrupulous and cruel Viking Chief from the Thorgal comic book series. It gave me some trouble, has a complex and dark exterior, but also a spark of power and nobility.

Gandolf the Mad

Blade: 6″ High-carbon-steel Morakniv blank

Handle: vegetable-tanned leather, African Rosewood, aluminum, carnuba wax

Sheath: hand-carved cedar blade guard insert, hand-dyed and hand-stitched vegetable tanned leather, riveted belt loop

Leather Handled Knife in Handmade Sheath

Leather Handled Knife


Opinel Carbon Steel Folding Knife No. 7

I have been seeing Opinel knives appearing on my Tumblr dashboard for a while now. I recently wrote about my experiences with my wife’s Opinel when we first met. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed with Opinel at the time. But a lot of people seem to be using them so I decided to get one for myself to put it through its paces. Opinel knives — hipster accessory or serious tool with a history?

Opinel knives have been manufactured in France by a family owned company continuously since 1890. Long recognized for its simple utilitarian design, the classic Opinel knife is available in 12 sizes. The standard knife employs a carbon-steel blade and beechwood handle. The folding mechanism incorporates a rotating lock-collar which, when activated, prevents the blade from opening or closing accidentally. A stainless-steel version and alternative handle materials are also available.

I picked up a No. 7 Opinel yesterday from MEC for $15 dollars. (Lee Valley is another good source of Opinel knives for Canadian buyers.)

The No. 7 size, with a 3″ (7.5 cm), blade seems like a good compromise between utility and compactness. This would be a good everyday pocket knife or backpacking knife. The larger No. 8 size might be a better shop or camp knife. I usually prefer a slightly larger knife if for no reason other than having a larger handle which often fits my hand better. The No. 7 handle feels fine in my hand though.

I am not sure about other retailers, but MEC sells this Opinel knife in a sealed plastic clamshell package. I hate this form of package as it seems very wasteful and is extremely difficult to open.

[pullshow id=”pq1″]After I got the package open I had to remove a magnetic ant-theft sticker attached to the handle. Of course a sticky residue remained on the handle afterward and I had to resort to scrubbing the handle with mineral spirits to get it clean. Stickers on products is another pet peeve of mine. If a manufacturer sticks a hard-to-remove label, etc., on their product they are basically saying they don’t care about the customer or the products they sell.

Inspecting the knife for the first time, I was [pullthis id=”pq1″]impressed by its lightness, and by the quality of the wooden handle and simple locking mechanism[/pullthis]. The blade was okay, though the edge was basically blunt for the the entire length of the curved tip. I also did not like the subtle grinding marks left on the sides of the blade. But what should I expect from such an inexpensive tool? The back of the blade had extremely sharp 90° edges which were not pleasant to handle, either when opening/closing the blade or when holding the knife in my pocket.

A bit of extra attention to detail and Opinel knives could be very nice right out of the box. But [pullthis id=”pq2″]as they are sold, they need a bit of a tune-up[/pullthis].

[pullshow id=”pq2″]I spent the better part of an hour today, filing the tip to a sharp edge, sharpening the knife with an oil stone and leather strop, easing the profile of the back of the blade with a bench belt sander, and polishing the blade with some buffing wheels and abrasive compound. With a properly sharpened blade and a more comfortable blade back profile, the knife feels and performs better. I oiled the blade and lock mechanism and now it feels like I have a quality product to work with.

I will be carrying this knife around for the next few weeks and I will post an updated review after working with it for a while.

Update: I have posted my detailed review.

Elk Pass Cross-country Skiing

8:30 AM — Snowing heavily. Wind steady at 30km/h from the NW.

8:35 AM — Traffic heading towards downtown Calgary is a parking lot. Traffic heading towards the mountains is non-existent.

9:03 AM — Scott Lake Hill. No more blizzard. And in the mountains, blue sky!

10:28 AM — Elk Pass parking lot. -20°C and windy. I change my boots and numb my hands. The wind chill coming up from the outhouse seat is significant.

10:47 AM — Starting to warm up as I climbing the steep hill towards Fox Creek, one ski in front of the other. Warming hands tingle with pain as the blood begins to flow again.

11:06 AM — Survey the alterations to Fox Creek caused by the hundred-year floods. Signs say “Flood Damage,” but I don’t think that nature damages itself. Renewal.

11:40 AM — Detour through the pillowy soft drifts of Fox Creek meadow. Breaking trail through powder is so much more aesthetically pleasing than slipping along on the arctic, styrofoam, track-set, ski trail.

12:01 PM — At Blueberry Hill junction. Too out of shape and too cold to go up the hill today. Will head to the low Elk Pass instead. No lunch break. Just a quick piece of chocolate and a swig of water.

12:40 PM — Elk Pass and the Alberta/BC border. I want to take a picture of the sign at the border but my camera is frozen. “If you want to see scenes like this again,” I think to myself, “then just get out skiing more often.” Less is more.

12:48 PM — Eyelashes starting to freeze closed.

12:55 PM — Good skating along the groomed Powerline trail. But nature, ceaseless, and moving, is reclaiming the path. Drifts every three to five meters. The unsintered drift snow grabs at my skis, throwing me off balance. I learn to unweight as I glide over the drifts. On the steepest part of the Powerline trail the drifts are bigger. The biggest offer an 8 to 12 inch jump every 10 or so meters. Yahoo! This is why I still use my old Nordic-Norm leather boots, cable bindings, and circa 1988 skinny Fischer telemark backcountry skis instead of upgrading to more modern cross-country ski gear. Anachronistic? Maybe. Versatile? Yes. Fun? Hell yeah!

1:02 PM — Alpine-style parallel turns carve me down the steep hard slope back to Fox Creek. One steep ascent and then one more flowing, windchill downhill take me to the parking lot.

1:20 PM — Start truck. Change clothes. Put damp gloves and jackets in front of the heat vents to dry out. Scarf down my paté sandwhich and some hot tea. Hit the road. As my body warms my mind starts to make plans to do it all again in a day or so.