I have always had this love/hate thing with big knives. You have to love them, because they are just plain cool. They bring up visions of living off the land with just your one knife. You can do everything with it, and yes, you can be just like Rambo. Then reality sits in and the big knife is too big for the backpack on long adventures. When you base camp, it stays in camp. Then it never leaves the car, and pretty soon, it just stays at home. The reality is, you really don’t need a big knife for much. Now, if you had to erect an emergency shelter, build a fire quickly, or make some traps, it sure would be nice to have one. But, the odds of that happening are low and pretty soon that big knife is feeling like an issuance policy that you are never going to cash in on.

I think part of my hate for the big knife has been in proving that I can do anything that I want without one. I think I had to get past that point to be able to really enjoy using them again. Once I proved that to myself, I started to look at the big knives in a different way. No longer a necessity, but more of a crafting tool. For example, I can take my small mora sized knife and cut some limbs, tidy up the ends, make some notches, and build a fire heart that I can use for cooking for a long time. In about a quarter of the time I can do the same thing with a big knife. Did I need it? Of course not. But it sure was fun building it, and it is really fun becoming skilled with a big blade.

Let me explain what I think, or used to think, about big and small knives, and the no mans land in between. I consider a small knife to be about 4 inches or less, and generally thin bladed. Since I make my own knives, the ones I carry are my own, but think about Mora sized. Of course pocket knives are thinner and smaller and there is quite a difference between one and a Mora, but I still lump them into this “small knife” category. When I talk about a “big knife” in my mind, I mean something that has a minimum of a 9 or 10 inch blade. That is because a knife that size is large enough to have some mass, and develop some speed to be able to chop with. Which brings me to this kind of “no mans land” of knife sizes, and kind of the point of this article.

I am always open to learning more, and trying new things, and that is kind of the point of this article. So, keep that in mind before you start hating me and disagreeing with what I am about to say. But, I have always felt that the knife sizes in between my definition of a small knife and a big knife kind of fell into this no mans land of knife sizes that I have honestly felt kind of useless. Yes, the 6, 7 and 8 inch blade sizes, favored by many. Here is why.

I have always felt that these mid-sized knives were often too big, heavy, and thick at the end to do what the smaller knives could do. Be able to do it well anyway. You can live with a little bit of clumsiness at small tasks if it pays off in other areas, but I didn’t see that either. Knives in this range generally don’t have a ton of mass, or the length to generate the moment and tip speed necessary to chop well. Kind of like a lumberjack felling a full sized tree with a pocket axe. I just never felt that it worked well. For me I just felt that these knives did not do small stuff well, and also they did not do big stuff well, and they were just stuck in this zone of uselessness. With the exception that the extra length is nice if you have to baton wood, but I have been to a lot of places in a lot of conditions and that is something that rarely HAS to be done. I know it is fun, it can make things easy, there is always the “what if” scenario for doing it, but the reality is, for me anyway, needing to do it is pretty low probability.

If you have noticed a theme with me, I am always about the odds. I will always favor what I do the most, which is why I generally carry small, thin, super sharp knives. People will always make the argument “What if this happens?” I have always had the opinion that if you have a tool (doesn’t have to be a knife, it can be anything) perfectly optimized for the job you are doing, and then you ask the question “what if this….?” That leads you to make a design change in the tool. Ask “what if…?” again, and then there is another change. Ask that question too many times and you now have a tool that can serve its original function, but no longer nearly as well as it did previously all because of the low probability of a hypothesized scenario. It leads to overly thick designs, saw backs, gut hooks, funky notches and bow drill sockets.

I am the exact opposite. I look at what I do the most, and design and strive for that specifically. I play the odds. If the dreaded “what if” scenario were to occur, I would rather have a non-optimal tool for that improbably scenario, rather than having a non-optimal tool ALL the time. I know I got off on a little tangent, but it kind of applies again to the discussion on knife sizes.

Suddenly, something happened that made me question my opinion on this range of knife sizes. It was seeing Matt Graham on dual survival, and he is using this knife.

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I know it is TV, I know they fake scenarios, I know they stage stuff, and I know there is crafted drama. But, you have to watch Matt for about 10 seconds until you realize that the guy has a serious amount of skill. When you see someone with that amount of skill, you take note of what they are doing, what works for them, especially if it flies in the face of your previous conceptions. So now, watching every episode with Matt Graham in it several times, especially the knife scenes, I have some new things to think about.

I will look into what Matt is on to with this knife in detail, but first, let’s get the “what knife is it” question out of the way. First, it is a Condor. Many on the forums, and there are even websites reporting that it is the Gladius Hunter model. But, it is not. Here is the Gladius and here is a side view of Matt’s knife.

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If you think the Gladius could have been modified into looking like Matt’s knife, look at the lines in the blade, in relation to the hole in the blade. They do not match up. Sorry…..it is not this knife. Instead, it looks to be a modified Jungle Bowie.

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The handle is the same, the lines are the same in relation to the hole in the blade, and the shape of Matt’s blade fits into the outline of the Jungle Bowie. Looking at Matt’s blade, you can tell it was modified somehow. The spine is not square, it is not swedged, but it was hacked at some how. Not sure how he modified the design, but that is what looks like happened.

After doing this research, I sent pictures to my friend who works with Condor for his opinion, and his reply was “Yup. Jungle Bowie.” So, the rest of this article assumes a Jungle Bowie was used.

First thing to do is look at the specs of the Jungle Bowie. The length does not really matter, as the knife has been cut down. But, we will come back to blade length. From knowing the overall length of 16 1/4” and a blade length of 11”, you can easily figure out that the handle length is 5 1/4”. I caught a screen capture on the show, which was a full side view of the knife. Just by taking measurements, and doing a ration (because we now know the handle length) it was easy to determine that the final blade length was roughly 8 1/2”.

The only other real spec to look at is thickness. The condor site specifies it as 3.6mm. For me, working in inches, that comes out to .142”. I know some websites are listing the thickness as 1/8”, but that .142” number is closer to 5/32” (at .156) than it is to 1/8” (at .125”).

Why is all that spec stuff interesting to me. Well, for one, I am took cheap to buy a knife and then spend the time to hack it up, so I am going to build one similar. Second, it gives me insight to what he may be on to with this knife, performance-wise. I have already mentioned that I am normally not a fan of knives in this size range. However, most knives of this size are generally around 3/16” or 1/4” thick. I think that is part of my turn off to them. They carry too much mass for their size, and yet are not long enough to really chop with. This knife, however, reminds me of a thick machete. Its sides are left flat and the grind is just sort of a scandi, or more likely a scandi-vex grind. In my opinion this is a good choice, because with the thinner blade, the full size will give it some blade mass and a knife this size is good for splitting wood, and that grind is great for it. I think I am really beginning to see the usefulness of a knife like this. Enough that I wanted to build one for myself and give it a go.

When putting my knife together, I struggled with every bit of the design. Figuring I could tweak this or tweak that, and make it just a little bit better. Then, I figured if I did that I would end up with a knife I wanted, rather than keeping my mind open to perhaps there was something new here that I would like even better than where my own thoughts lead. Because so much thought went into this, and I did have to make some tweaks because of build style, I want to take you through every step and though process of this knife from tip to butt. So, that is where we will start. First, here is a picture of the finished knife.

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At the tip, you will notice that the Matt Graham knife has quite the curve to the spine, a big drop and the knife point is below center line. I have to admit, my first impression is that it is an odd looking knife. During just about every episode, Matt spins his knife with two hands (almost like a hand drill) and uses the tip to drill something. Instead of keeping the knife true to design, my first instinct was to make that tip right on the centerline of the knife design. I told myself “Matt couldn’t control the cutting edge of the knife, because he hacked it out of an existing one. If he would have had more choice, it would make sense to get that tip closer to center.” It would balance things out, and make that type of drilling easier. I again reminded myself I wanted to stick with the original design, so I kept my tip below centerline. I think Matt’s knife is perhaps even a touch more below centerline, but honestly, this is far away that I could get myself to drift.

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Next, is the stock thickness as edge type. As I mentioned earlier, the condor stock is closer to 5/32” than it is to an 1/8” and since I am working in steel made in Pennsylvania, I am working in english sizes. Meaning, 5/32” it is. For the grind, I am pretty sure that Condor is not doing super flat, water stone level type of scandi grinds. I am guessing they have an ever so slight convex quality to them. I could be wrong, but regardless, I am going to do what I want here.

Usually, with smaller knives, I am a die hard flat bevel scandi type of person. I cringe when I hear people talk about just stropping and convexing their scandi edges, and yes…I do maintain all my small type knives on waterstones. I have just become addicted to the control that offers (in a small knife) and even the smallest amount of rounding is noticeable to me. I know it is just me being way over the top picky, but that is also why I am making my own knives instead of buying them. I am getting off point here….With a larger knife like this one, I am aware that it is not going to be a precision carver. So, I can give up that little bit of control in favor of gaining durability for chopping, battoning and other things I don’t normally do with a smaller knife. Which means that I going to put a slight amount of convex into this grind.

I generally make my customer knives at 12.5 degrees per side. It is a good general purpose angle, and yet has a lot of durability for whatever use people want to use it for. For my own personal stuff, I go thinner, but that is beside the point. For this particular knife I beefed up the angle, and kind of compromised and went with 14 degrees. It is an odd number, but when I explain how I did it, it was because of where I wanted the actual angle to land when the grind was done.

On a normal scandi, I would grind edge up until I raised a burr, and then go finer and finer grit until I got to the level I wanted to stop at. Since this was going to be slightly convex, I did the grinding at 14 degrees until I almost raised a burr. I mean super thin edge, but just quite not there yet. Then, I quite the edge up grinding. I went to the next finer grit, took the platen off the grinder (so that I could slack grind and get a little bit of the convex shape) and ground until I got a burr. Then it was the next grit, and then the next grit. Much like how I would grind out a machete or some other tool that didn’t have the right edge on it.

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Next is the handle guard. This is the one area where I kind did do my own thing. On the Condor knife, there is a bit of guard, both on top and bottom that protrude. Again, my mind said “stick to the original design.” But, I just couldn’t do it. I don’t thrust with my knives. If I have to push on them, I put the butt in the palm of my hand so that there is no forward slippage. While chopping and cutting, the motion tends to pull the knife out of your hand, not your hand into the blade. I just don’t have a use for the guards, in fact, I find that all they do is get in the way for me. When carving, and doing things like battoning notches, the guards want to hit the work surface before the blade is done doing their job. Long way of saying, I really, really do not like guards. Much like a kukri, I just allowed my blade width blend into the handle, and not make any guard type swells.

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Finally, the handle. Many knife handle designs are oriented one way or another. Flat back with two swells on the bottom. One swell on the back, two on the bottom, etc. As you can tell from the original knife, it is pretty much a uniform handle from any direction. One thing I wanted to avoid was being truly round, because it can be hard to keep things from spinning in your hand, and it also hard to index where the blade is in relation to the handle. Keeping Matt’s spinning technique in mind, I wanted a handle that felt the same in the forward and reverse grip, capable of spinning, but enough indexing to let you know where the blade was line up with when you held on it to.

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So how did all this work out? The whole point was supposed to be an experiment to try something new and I have to say, I really like it. It will cut small and light grasses easier than every machete I have. It doesn’t have the reach and clearing path of a machete, but whatever is within reach of its path falls easily. With super light grasses like that, in my experience it is all about edge sharpness. An otherwise great machete can bend and break grasses, but a super sharp non-optimal tool can some times cut them better. Just saying…I am attributing this surprising feature to the fact that this knife is super stinking sharp and easy to keep that way.

On green wood sticks, ones the size I would normally harvest with my small knife, it obviously cuts them down very easy. What is even better is stuff that is the size that I would normally beaver chew, or intentionally cut through, I can just snap cut through. Super easy, and more importantly super fun! Limbing….easy. Bark stripping, while not as elegant and awesome and a small, super thin, super sharp, flat beveled scandi, was way more impressive than I was expecting. It did it nicely, it did it easily and I was impressed. For all the things that I gain with a knife this size, I can certainly live with that little bit of loss. Plus, nobody is telling me I have to stop carrying a small knife.

Having just completed the knife, I have not put it through a full evaluation to see if will hang in there for the long term. But, I am about ready to head out to the woods for about 10 days or so, and will for sure use it here. Hopefully it will get used on some animals, some fish, some crafting and shelter building, at a minimum. If there is enough interest, I can take pictures and report back further.

I wrote this all up to simply get people to think about things a little bit differently. Looking at this knife, I wouldn’t have given it the time of day. But since it was being used by someone with skills I highly respect, I figured it would be worth my time to look harder. It is in no way an attempt to sell knives. In fact, I probably would not make this knife for anyone. My wait list is way longer than I want it to be, and I am not looking to add it. I don’t want to chain myself in the shop, and I just want to be in the woods like most of you. For me, and my particular skill set and with the materials available to me, making a knife was the easiest way to learn something new. Perhaps for you, it is the same. Perhaps it is something different, like buying a Condor and cutting it up…..I don’t know. My point is this writing is not about promoting any product…..it is all about the fun of big steel and learning something I didn’t know yesterday.

This was built as a first prototype. It may be the only one, or I may turn it into a new model. Bottom line is, this one is available now.

It is a mid-sized knife design, based on the larger Thai Enep style machete’s, but in knife form.

It has a 7” blade length, is made from 3/16” O1, differentially hardened. Flat primary grind, with convex secondary. Cutting edge is thin and sharp close to the handle, and a tad thicker in the “sweet spot” for more chopping type work.

Green canvas micarta with brass and steel loveless bolts.

Comes with leather sheath.

If you are interested, drop me an e-mail at offthemapknives at iCloud dot com.

Cheers!!!

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6th Feb, 2014

Taking Orders Again!!!

If you have contacted me in the last couple of months about a knife order, you more than likely got the response of “I have stopped taking orders at the moment.” My wait list was getting crazy long, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I also need some time to sort things out.

The good news is that I am opening up for orders again. Wait time is relatively short, but I can give you a better estimate if you e-mail me with an order.

I have also changed some of the knife options. So, if you want a knife, check the knife pages, shoot me an e-mail and let me know what you want.

Thanks,
Brian
offthemapknives at iCloud dot com

My wait list is roughly a year at this point. It is very rare for me to have any knives available, but I do have a couple at the moment.

The first is my twist on the traditional Leuku that I posted about a while ago.

The knife has a 7” blade, awesome contoured handle in green canvas micarta. Made of 3/16” O1, differentially hardened and etched, with a scandi-vex type of grind. It comes with a nice deep leather sheath.

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I am asking $280 for this beast plus $8.95 shipping CONUS. I will ship elsewhere, but would need you to cover the extra delivery costs. Just ask.

The next is a model that I am really fond of, but have been too lazy to create a page for that would allow people to order it. It is a great all around knife, and makes a great camp kitchen knife too.

The blade is 5” long, made thin and sharp from 3/32” O1 with a forced patina finish. The handles are osage and comes with a leather sheath.

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With the wood on this one, I am asking $220 plus $8.95 shipping CONUS. I will ship elsewhere, but would need you to cover the extra delivery costs. Just ask.

If you are interested in either, shoot me an e-mail at offthemapknives at gmail dot com.

Thanks for looking!!!!

Brian

I went on a snowshoe/backpacking outing with one of my friends.

I call this a “Traditional Meets Modern” trip because I tried to stay as traditional and primitive in my stuff as I could. However, we were going in the winter, in about 4 feet of snow, and were in a National Park that did not allow fires unless in the designated fire rings. Try to find one of those 4 feet under the snow! :) So, a white gas stove was going to be in order for cooking and melting snow. There was not going to be any primitive shelter building and I did not bring an avalanche shovel (which would have been a great idea) for any snow shelters. So, a sleeping bag, mat and a tarp were in order for the modern gear (we left the backpacking tent behind). I tried to stay as traditional with the rest of the gear as possible. Wool clothes, from pants to hat, wooden snowshoes, canvas pack.

I know a lot of people like gear, so I will get back to that in a little bit, but first wanted to cover a little bit about the trip.

The Trip

First, a couple quick comments about the trek. I am by no means heavy, but a couple pounds heavier than I normally am, and would like to be. Also, I am not as in shape as I would like for a trip like that. I have not been running, or doing anything like that, which I usually do. This trail that I am about to take you on would be a piece of cake in the summer, and easily done in a day. The distances are not crazy for a summer hike, and the terrain would not be all that demanding. But, coupled with the deep snow (4 feet or so), more than a day pack, snowshoes, some of the trail conditions and the fact that some of the trip was pure navigation (hard to find a backpacking trail under the snow) all added up to make it quite an adventure, and slower than summer hike.

We were leaving on a Saturday, to return on Monday. The location was about 5.5 to 6 hours from my friends house. Leaving early Saturday morning, we knew we would only have a partial day to snowshoe in. Knowing that, we wanted to keep the first day in a reasonable hike. You can see from the map below (we actually started about a mile south of the marked trailhead because of road plowing conditions) that our plan was to start from the trailhead and try to make it around Chapel Rock area for the first camp. Somewhere around 4.5 miles with our additional distance from the trailhead.

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Our next planned leg of the journey was to continue along the shoreline trail for a longer full day of about 7 miles and make it to the Mosquito Falls area. After that, we would have an easy 1.5 miles out (plus an additional mile of unplowed road that we didn’t know about) that would get us back to our vehicle, and on the road home at a decent time. That was the plan anyway…….let’s see how it goes.

Gear

I know a lot of people like gear. So, I will cover everything I took here all in one fell swoop (I can’t account for everything my friend brought) and then I will go on with the whole story.

Both my friend and I were wearing Iverson’s Michigan patterned 12×46 snowshoes.

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I was wearing Danner boots, wool socks, Smart wool base layer, super cheap military wool pants, used Swanndri Bush Shirt, and homemade wool hat. My gloves changes from a leather pair to a more modern warmer pair (for get the brand).

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The pack I was wearing was Duluth’s Bushcrafter, which is a canvas and leather pack. The two things of note you will see on the pack here is a little round pad for standing on to keep your feet warm in camp, and reflective windshield shade from the dollar store. This is my second experience with the window shade and put on top of your sleeping mat, it seems to work rather well, and is virtually weightless. If you ruin the thing…..it was a dollar :)

For additional clothes, all I brought was a change of wool socks, a heavier base layer (for sleeping in and in case I got wet) and a down shirt, which is mean to be an inner layer as well, but I put it on wherever was convenient.

I took a Wiggy’s Super Light sleeping bag (for lack of a better cold weather bag), and my Cooke Custom Sewing 10×10 tarp.

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I already mentioned the Duluth Pack. For cooking, I used my MSR Dragon Fly, took along 1L bottle of white gas (I knew it would be a bit too much fuel, but with melting snow for hydration, I would rather go on the safe side) and my Mor’s Bushpots for cooking. I would never stick the large pot in a backpack for backpacking, with the exception of winter. The larger pot makes melting snow easier, and will fill two nalgene bottles. It saves a lot of hassle. I also had a Vargo titanium mug, and one nalgene bottle.

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How about knives?

I took along my Northstar.

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And my new Leuku.

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I also can’t forget the Savinelli Tortuga 677ks pipe with about 1/2 ounce of Cornell and Diehl Ephiphany :)

That about does it. Let’s go on with the hike.

Day 1

I ended up waking up at 4 am, and left my house at 4:15 arriving at my friends house around 5:15. We loaded up and were on the road by 5:30. There was nothing overly eventful on the road trip, and we ended up close to our destination around 11:30 am. We figured we would have one last purchased meal before heading in. Stop for lunch, another 30 minute drive to our spot, and 4 miles down a 5 mile road hoping that it was plowed at all at first, then hoping it was plowed to the trailhead. Get to our parking spot, check out the snow, last minute shuffling of gear, changing our clothes, and we are finally on our way around 2 ish. My times are pretty approximate as I don’t wear a watch and kept having to ask my buddy what time it was when I wanted to know :)

Off we go…..

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At first we were taking pictures of everything. How deep the snow was and how it made some cool formations on top of logs and such. In the grand scheme of the amount of photos we took, they just didn’t make the cut.

So, our first real sight was the first set of waterfalls.

One of the bridges getting there.

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My friend.

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We also used this break to brew up a quick tea at hot chocolate.

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Getting to this first set of falls was not all that difficult, and it was a great sight to see. Looking back, the next stretch of trail was pretty short, but it seemed fairly long at the time. There were no gorgeous waterfalls or cliffs to keep you pushing on. Pretty much decent terrain through woodland. Toward early evening, it felt like we had enough trekking, and were feeling pretty tired. Just then, about an hour and half before darkness (or so) we came up to Chapel Rock. I have seen it from boat, but it was amazing from this side, and this close.

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There was one last bridge crossing before we found our spot to camp for the night.

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Our camp is overlooking a small creek. It is hard to see, but is a very nice spot.

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The next day is periods of grey, grey and snow and then periods of sun.

We started along the shoreline trail, which if you look back at the map, is going to be long.

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After leaving camp that morning, it did not take long to reach what I call the “wimp out trail.” It was allow us a fairly easy (3 mile) hike back to the trailhead. If you look back at the map, you can see it, and it basically goes on the other side of Chapel Basin. The decision had to be made to wimp out, or go long. Of course we went long :)

After making that decision, there were some creepy moments for sure. Motorized vehicles are not allowed out here, so there are no snowmobiles, no sight of people, but there were some old tracks to let you know someone had been here before. It was never a feeling of “we are not going to make it.” Just more of being able to finish the loop in the time we had intended. Plus, committed to the loop, it was not like you could quit and give up, or even just turn around and go back.

Added to that was the fact that the first mile of lakeshore trail was kicking our ass. Terrain, our packs felt heaving, and we were overall just slow moving. At this point, it was looking like maybe we got in over our heads with the timeline. It ended up working out perfect by the way, I am just trying to re-tell my feelings at that point.

At one of the more difficult terrain features, my buddy decides to jump off one of the bridge crossings and go up another way.

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The lakeshore was starting to look really amazing, and some of the ice formations were hard to believe unless you were seeing them. The pictures do not do them justice.

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There were also points where the trail came eerily close to the cliff. Again, hard to do it justice, but here is a look down.

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I told my buddy that just standing there, it really didn’t bother me. But, if you started to think about it, it was pretty freaky :)

There were a few spots in the trail that we decided to go into the woods and come back and meet the trail because we were just not comfortable what was going on with the snow and ice that was near the cliffs. There were also a couple of other sections that the trail was literally a foot from the end, and the snow was sloping towards the edge. I decided to remove the snowshoes and post hole it across those spots rather than risk sliding of any sort. :)

At some point, the terrain broke. It became a nice woodland trek, with occasional shore line views, and also one that allowed us to pick up our pace. Somewhere along the line, we also stopped and whipped out a stove, and cooked up a nice spicy chili for lunch.

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At this point, we were feeling fatigued for sure, but also much less concerned for how far we needed to go to finish the loop. We could make it out the next day, regardless if we got home later than we would have wanted.

The next sight we came upon was quite cool. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, but apparently the way the water was hitting the rocks allowed for a lot of spray to hit the trees and freeze. Really, really thick ice.

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One last bridge to complete our lakeshore portion of the trail.

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The turn in to Mosquito Falls is where things get a little bit interesting. We kind of knew it could, so we made another break for tea, hot chocolate, elk jerky and trial mix before going further.

Up until this point, there were at least signs that other people had been around (old tracks). Besides, the trail is not hard to find when it is going along the lakeshore. The next trail had not been traveled on at all. We saw the marker for where it started, but ten feet in and the trail was lost. Try finding a narrow backpacking trail under 4 feet of snow, and it is just not going to happen. I had brought detailed topos, and my friend had brought his GPS for backpack up. Neither of us were even the least bit concerned about getting lost. This was a piece of cake. But, at this point in the day, we had caught that medieval disease (Dragon Ass…..spelled Draggin Ass), we were more worried about energy conservation. We didn’t want to be back tracking, and finding river crossings, etc.

Admittedly, this was also one of the most fun parts of the trips. Because we had to navigate, had to use the terrain features, and since everything worked out for us (we did have to find a bridge crossing), it was pretty cool.

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Oh yeah, my topo map (which was USGS) and being old, does not always have newer trail information on it. That was the case hear, and our trail was not on our map. So, it was not as easy as just following the trail on the map, and matching terrain. Regardless, we set out knowing we would make it without issue.

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Following the terrain, we knew when the river direction change was coming, and then we changed our course accordingly. We ended up hitting the river about where the trail should, but obviously never saw a trail. From the terrain, I could tell exactly where we were at on the river.

My buddy was using his GPS occasionally, but it did not have as much detail on it, and did not contain the branch in the creek, which we were obviously going to have to cross. Guessing where the the trail was supposed to be, and using the topo map and terrain around, we figured we had better head into the creek branch, otherwise, we could easily miss a bridge.

Good thing we did! As soon as we saw the creek, about 75 yards (we actually passed it) was the bridge.

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Had we not decided to head in at the time we did, we would have easily missed this bridge, and do the dreaded double backing that we were fearing. Obviously, that didn’t happen and things worked out rather well for us.

This is the point where we wanted to make it to for the day. Camping in the general area would allow us a fairly quick 1.5 mile hike to the trailhead (and the additional mile of unplowed road), and get home at a decent time on Monday.

At this point, as you can tell, having run out of steam, we were also running out of steam for pictures. They are becoming few and far between and this is the end of the pictures.

This is the part where we deviated from our plan a bit. We went a bit past this point, and the woods opened up in to an fairly open, fairly flat woodland. Pitching camp would have been no big task, but it also would be nowhere near as fun and interesting as our last location either. Figuring that we had already came this far in a day, we decided to push on the last bit to the vehicle. Navigating out of the woods was no issue at all, and we arrived at the unplowed road about exactly as there was no light left to see :)

We got the truck, and the gear all loaded and pitched our last camp Bear Grylls style (at the Days Inn in town), and then wandered next door for a beer, a sandwich, and then passed out!

Trip Summary

All in all, it was an amazing trip. If you just think of it in terms of winter camping, it was not my ideal way to camp in the winter. For a few reasons, we didn’t really have much choice. This is a highly visited area in the Summer. While I wouldn’t mind that type of trip, it is usually not my thing. But, visiting the same location in the Winter is awesome because the views are different and absolutely no people :) Because of that though, there are lot of regulations of what you can and can’t do. You are not going to be making a primitive bed, or making a swedish fire lay.

Ideally, it would have been nice to use snow to our advantage for sleeping arrangements, instead of sleeping on top of it. That would have required an avalanche style shovel, which I wasn’t interested in carrying, unless it could be used to dig to the ground to have a large fire, which wasn’t an option either because of the area. With a large fire, it would have been nice to rig up a ridge pole, drop some hooks, and melt snow and cook that way. It is much more enjoyable than using stoves. But, we spent so little time in camp, and more time moving that they way we went worked out rather well for this trip.

If I have any other random thoughts on the trip, I will try and jot them down. Just thought you might be interested in going along.

Thanks for looking!

25th Feb, 2013

Leuku

I am not a big knife person. I tried to be. I have owned many, many big knives, from all of the big names (before I made knives). I have to admit, there is a strong emotional appeal to a big knife. They are cool, they are appealing in the movies, and there is always the “what if” scenarios that go through you head.

In reality, all my big knives ended up staying home, or staying in camp. If they got used, it was because I purposely went looking to use them instead of actually needing to.

As a result, my personal knives have gotten thinner, lighter and sharper because those are are things that help me do the things that I do often really, really well. Because of that, I can definitely see the usefulness of a big “tool” for processing dried wood. I call it a “tool” because is isn’t a replacement for my smaller, sharper knives and was never intended to be.

With that in mind, if I am going to use a larger knife, I have always had an attraction to the Leuku. I believe the reason is simplicity. It is a simple design, that has been around for a long time, and has done all the jobs a big knife requires for generations.

With the idea of a Leuku in my head, I started have all the thoughts about how to make it. Of course it would be a full tang. But, would it be a normal full tang, or a rat tail? Peen the end, or thread it with a pommel?

What I ended up with is a kind of a modern twist on a simple knife. I didn’t necessarily go traditional, but stuck with what I know would work, but tried to keep the simplicity of the knife shape.

I started with the blade length. I drew out various ones, but ended up going with 7”. I know that 8” is a more common length and a true “big knife” would work much better if it was longer. But, I was trying to be realistic with this knife and keep it at a length that I would actually use, instead of leaving in camp or at home. I drew it out with that pure straight back and it just look too boring to me. I ended up giving it a bit of rise in the spine, but not enough that it would drop the point and negatively effect batoning. With the grind, as with most Leuku, I put a scandi on it, and then convexed it a bit for durability and decreasing the wedging that would occur in splitting and chopping. The thickness is 3/16”……..so it is a heavy duty Leuku. Remember when I said “tool?” :)

Next is the handle. The scandi or scandi-vex grind is good at keeping the metal in the blade, and giving it a forward weight. With that in mind, I wanted to keep the handle as compact as possible (no butt sticking out). I planned the butt to swell out like a small axe handle, and it ended up working out great. When shaping the handle, I kept it wide at the top (to spread the force from impacts out over a larger surface area) and tapered it toward the bottom to get the classic egg shape. Once I got the handle shaped in that dimension, I tapered toward the front until a choke up grip was really comfortable. Finally, I put the swell in the butt to give it that axe handle feel. I couldn’t be happier.

If you look close, you can see the etched hamon line. I used green canvas micarta, and finished it to a bit of a polish with brass and stainless loveless bolts.

Enough talking, here are the pictures.

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31st Jan, 2013

Grinds

It was a long time ago that I wrote the page for my blog about knife grinds. While a lot of the information still holds true, my personal preferences have changed greatly!!

Just yesterday I had a customer write me and ask me the following question:

What advantages do you see in a scandi grind besides ease of sharpening (I find convex to perform well, and is incredibly easy to sharpen)… “

Since I took a decent amount of time responding with a thorough response, I figured I would share it here.

Different grinds are all about what YOU do with your knife. There is no one grind that does everything well. If someone tells you that, it is because they only know how to (or only sell) one type of grind.

Assuming all things kept equal (steel, heat treatment, tempering, etc) a convex grind is the most durable grind there is. Immediately after the cutting edge, the edge quickly gets supported by more steel the fastest of any other grind. That is why axes are made with a convex grind. They receive lots of impact, and hold up really, really well.

The reason I am not a fan of them is that most of the knives I use and use often, are 4″ or so. I am not chopping, beating on it, or pounding through concrete blocks. Meaning that durability is not on the top of my priority list for that type of knife. What is at the top is cutting ability. For me, all that extra steel behind the edge of convex grind is just too much unnecessary ”meat.” Once the cut has occurred all the steel must not but pushed through the material you are cutting, and slicing ability is greatly reduced.

If I like the feel (and ease of sharpening of a convex edge) what I do us put a full height flat grind on the knife, and then put the secondary grind on with a slack belt so that it is mildly convex. I think it works well because you get a touch more durability with the small convex grind, it can be easily sharpened like a convex grind, but once you get past the secondary edge, you don’t have all that steel (that I don’t think you need in a 4″ knife) left to get in the way of your cutting.

That is not to say that the scandi grind is a super slicer. In fact, it is definitely not the best at slicing, especially non-deformable things (like an apple). The full height of the grind occurs over a short distance, and once you get past that, you are now trying to push the full stock thickness of the knife through the object you are cutting.

In my personal knives, I minimize that by going with thinner stock. I know that a thick piece of steel is reassuring in your hand but is also not as necessary as most people think. My favorite scandi grinds are made from 3/32″ stock. It is thick enough that you can use it much harder than you think, still has enough bevel for control (which I will get to next) but yet is thin enough to improve its slicing ability (even though it will never be the best slicer compared to other grinds).

What keeps me coming back to the scandi grind is the carving control. If you carve stuff from wood often (especially green wood) the scandi grind bites and holds well. The flat bevel works like a wood plane and it is very easy to control the depth of cuts and keep them even over long distances. A very simple test is to try and remove the bark from a green stick. You quickly find the correct angle to hold the scandi knife, can hold it easily, and can quickly shave the bark. With other grinds (especially the convex) you are always hunting for the correct angle, and once you have it, it is not easy to hold. There is always a bit of “wobble” going on during that process.

Once I got used to that feel and that control, I could not give it up unless I am in a position to have more than one knife.

To make a long story short (too late)…….

I like scandi’s for wood crafting, carving, light food work (not cooking grand meals, but if I am doing that I can afford a second knife), and venturing into the general purpose arena.

I like the full flat grind with convex secondary for a more general purpose knife. Works great of food, game (skinning and butchering), opening packages, boxes, and in general a more general purpose knife.

I think a convex grind is just too overkill for 4″-ish knife.

You asked my opinion….so there it is :)

4th Dec, 2012

Stormy Kromer

Stormy Kromer caps are made in Michigan. It is something every outdoorsman in Michigan should probably own. The further north, the less excuse you have :) I have lived my whole life in Michigan, and have somehow managed to not own one of these. I have eyed them for a long time, but never purchased one.

Finally, I made the decision to get one. Mostly because, as much as I don’t like to admit it, on the course of a normal work day, taking the kids to school, going to work, stuff after work, I don’t spend a ton of time outdoors. Days like that it is too cold to not wear a warm hat, but sometimes a little overkill to go wearing the full stocking cap. I was looking for something warm, comfortable, and that I liked the looks of. I don’t mind the wool caps (like the Scottish Driving Caps) but most people associate those things with golfers, of which I don’t want to be included :)

Looking through the models, I knew I wanted to get the Mackinaw. I figure if I want a cold weather hat, I want it to be for cold weather. Might as well get the warmest. I am also a sucker for the color that SK calls “Olive” and it is nicely trimmed in tan.

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Since I wanted the Mackinaw, the only way to get it was to order it on-line. I found a couple local places that carry SK’s, but they all carried the standard model. I did try a couple on, but all the ones that I found were one size larger than the one I thought I would need. So, it was a little scary ordering a hat and hoping that it fits properly, and that was probably one of the things that has kept me from one for so long. My biggest fear was that this one would show up too tight, not having tried on this exact size before.

When it showed up, I pulled it out of the box and it felt awesome. Nice wool, and the interior was super soft. Almost felt like a merino, even though I know it is not. SK states the liner is 100% soft cotton. Plopped it on the noggin. Wow! It felt great. Like a hat that had been broken in for years. Seriously. Only one issue…..it still felt a tad bigger than I would have liked.

I thought about it for a few and figured I would live with it. Then, I thought about the flaps that tie in front. I undid them, tied them closer together and tried again. Too tight! Bit that is a good thing, because somewhere in between is easy, and was where I needed it to be. I got it tweaked in just right and it is awesome!!!! It is actually quite cool that you have that little bit of adjustment available to you.

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A couple other things I learned in the paperwork that came with it. Made in the US (knew that) lifetime warranty and it came with a 3 year insurance card. If it is lost or stolen in the first 3 years they will replace it no questions asked at half price.

All on all I am happy with everything but one thing. It is in the 60′s!!! :) Highs on Wednesday will be in the 30′s though, so I will get to wear it soon :)

I have a knife design that has been rattling around in my head for some time. I have to admit, it is also not solely my brain child. The design also comes from months of chatting with Ben Piersma, owner of Ben’s Backwoods.

One of the most underrated knife features (in my opinion) is a swell on the top of the handle. When you close your hand around an object, having something filling in that space is pretty damn important to comfort. It is something that a simple oval shaped handle can do very easily, but becomes trickier with a full tang knife style like this one. It seems so many knives are cut out of a piece of stock that is flat across the spine and the back of the handle. While easy to do, it can never match the comfort level of a swell like this, in my opinion anyway.

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The second key feature on this new knife is the first finger groove and guard area. A true guard gets in the way when doing things like batoning notches on a flat surface (like a log). But, having a little bit of something there can be beneficial for the grip I am about to talk about.

Previously, one of my primary concerns with this area of the knife was to get the first finger groove as close to the cutting edge as possible. Easy to understand because it is a matter of leverage. The farther away from your hand the item you are cutting, the more leverage it has. Power cuts are done up close.

However, this one is a bit different. I put some space in there for a very good reason. Ben has been known to grip his mora’s with his whole hand going over the guard. It kind of puts your first finger half over the cutting edge, but it is not scary to do. It feels like it centers the whole knife in your hand, and gives it a balance that is not achieved by simply “getting close to the edge.” It allows a lot of control and makes doing things like feather sticks a really fun task. Since Ben grabbed his Mora’s this why, I try to optimize this area of the knife specifically for that, and I have to say it feels wonderful.

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The picture I have of my holding is attempting to show that grip. I was trying to take the picture with a big camera and no tripod so I had no choice but to do it up close and left handed.

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I will try and get a better picture, but if you watch Ben’s video on the Ghillie Kettle, right around 0:20 you uwill see him using this knife technique.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgUuPE1GI0E

This knife now has a page of its own for ordering under the “Off The Map Knives” tab of this website.

I have handled one, and used one a little. But, I am looking to get my hands on one for at least a few days.

I would be willing to buy, trade, or if you are willing borrow for a few days.

Let me know if you can help me out.

Brian

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