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

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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

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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

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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

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.

Knife Making

Thorgal Aegirrson
Thorgal Aegirrson

Shortly after I started collecting axes, my wife travelled to Norway. She wasn’t prepared to pack a Scandinavian axe in her suitcase as a present on her return, so instead she brought me a Brusletto knife direct from the factory in Geilo. When I received that knife I instantly got the idea that someday I would make my own knives.

I recently expanded my knife collection with Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish examples from Helle, Mora, and Laapin Puuko. All of the knives from each of these manufacturers is a high-quality product. The quality and finish varies depending on the amount of handwork that went into each knife (the more handmade, the better). There are a few other brands that I would like to purchase knives from (for example, Roselli of Finland), but for now I decided to make a few knives of my own.

At my wife’s recommendation I recently started reading the Thorgal saga fantasy comic series. (Yes, I have the coolest wife ever.) I took the two main characters, Thorgal and Aaricia, as the thematic inspiration for my first two knives. For both knives I used 4 1/4″ Mora laminated steel blade blanks purchased from Lee Valley. Each knife then takes visual queues from its namesake: Thorgal — hand-shaped African Rosewood handle, polished aluminum bolster, and dark-brown handmade leather sheath with contrasting thread and nickel rivets for the belt loop; Aaricia — hand-shaped maple handle finished with linseed and tung oil, brass bolster, and dark yellow handmade leather sheath with contrasting stitching and brass rivets for the belt loop. Each sheath features a hand-carved cedar blade guard insert.

Aaricia Gandalfsdotter
Aaricia Gandalfsdotter

Each knife is a slightly different shape and incorporates features I’ve seen in various other Scandinavian knife designs. I quite enjoyed the process of shaping the handles (and it was a good excuse to get a new desktop belt/disc sander). Since the knives took shape in my hands, they feel very natural to hold and use. As nice as the commercial knives in my collection are, they were not custom made for my hand and therefore are a bit of a compromise in terms of fit, balance, and dexterity.

This project was also a good excuse to do some leatherwork. I am very happy with the sheaths for each knife. Each is as good or better quality than any of the sheaths that came with my commercial knives.

I have a few more Mora blade blanks that I will be using to make a more knives. Just looking for my inspiration right now. In the future, I would like to get a small forge set-up to make my own blades. I also want to make a crooked knife for carving canoe paddles — another project I have on the go right now.