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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.