It seems that the “Kephart” knife is a very popular one for beginning knifemakers to make. I can speculate at the reasons why for that. Ranging from not having much design experience, being able to make a design that is already “laid out” for you, making a knife that IS a proven design, or even that the general shape is very easy to manufacture. For that reason alone, I have avoided it up to this point. Until now….
I recently took a vacation to the Smokey Mountains with the family. While there we did a lot of the touristy visitation of the historical buildings there. I also read (and am still reading) about the history of the inhabitants. Meanwhile, I also read of Kephart’s time and experiences while spending his own time in those mountains. Those things all together have inspired me to take up making this design of knife.
In one of the early editions of Woodcraft and Camping, by Horace Kephart, he dicusses knives in general. This is interesting information and since I have come up with the same conclusions independently, I think it is worth quoting the text here for information.
“On the subject of hunting knives I am tempted to be diffuse. In my green and callow days (perhaps not yet over) I tried nearly everything in the knife line from a shoemaker’s skiver to a machete, and I had knives made to order. The conventional hunting knife is, or was until quite recently, of the familiar dime-novel pattern invented by Colonel Bowie. Such a knife is too thick and clumsy to whittle with, much too thick for a good skinning knife, and too sharply pointed to cook and eat with. It is always tempered too hard. When put to the rough service for which it is supposed to be intended, as in cutting through the ossified false ribs of an old buck, it is an even bet that out will come a nick as big as a saw-tooth — and Sheridan forty miles from a grindstone! Such a knife is shaped expressly for stabbing, which is about the very last thing that a woodsman ever has occasion to do, our lamented grandmothers to the contrary notwithstanding.”
“A camper has use for a common-sense sheath-knife, sometimes for dressing big game, but oftener for such homely work as cutting sticks, slicing bacon, and frying “spuds.” “
So now, Kephart has told what a knife should do, but next he gets into very detailed and specific dimensions for this knife.
“For such purposes a rather thin, broadpointed blade is required, and it need not be over four or five inches long. Nothing is gained by a longer blade, and it would be in one’s way every time he sat down. Such a knife, bearing the marks of hard usage, lies before me. Its blade and handle are each 4 1/2 inches long, the blade being 1 inch wide, 1/8th inch thick on the back, broad pointed, and continued through the handle as a hasp and riveted to it. It is tempered hard enough to cut green hardwood sticks, but soft enough so that when it strikes a knot or bone it will, if anything, turn rather than nick; then a whetstone soon puts it in order. The Abyssinians have a saying, “If a sword bends, we can straighten it; but if it breaks, who can mend it? ” So with a knife or hatchet. “
“The handle of this knife is of oval cross-section, long enough to give a good grip for the whole hand, and with no sharp edges to blister one’s hand. It has a 1/4 inch knob behind the cutting edge as a guard, but there is no guard on the back, for it would be useless and in the way. The handle is of light but hard wood, 3/4 inch thick at the butt and tapering to 1/2 inch forward, so as to enter the sheath easily and grip it tightly.”
With the dimensions and shape given, there is not too much left to the imagination in terms of design. Still, there is a lot of variation out there in the design among many makers. Of the folks making it, I have to say that I believe to Bark River variation to be the most appealing in overall shape. But, I still believe there are 3 key points that can still be improved, based on my own personal preference. They are:
1) Thickness. Kephart explicitly states that the spine should be 1/8” thick. Since this happens to be my favorite general thickness for a 4”ish knife, I have to agree. For some reason, Bark River went a touch thicker.
2) Grind. Kephart discussed “thinness” of the knife and the purposes it is used for. He also continually talks about his hand axe, and have a “combo” of tools. To me, that tells me exactly what this knife should do and not do. Again, along with my personal preference, the priority should be on pure cutting ability. Which to me, means that it should stray away from the convex grind, and get into a thinner flat grind, in which I will put on a convex secondary.
3) Guard. I am a minimalist when it comes to guard size. I want it to take up a little less space in the direction of overall knife length, and also want to make the protrusion on the small side.
A couple final thoughts on this knife. I mention one of the reasons for me avoiding making this style of knife, but another reason is that I personally feel that it is rather ugly : ) I am honestly not the biggest fan of the broader point, and the “plain jane” look of the thing. It looks like my opinion is in good company, because Kephart pretty much had the same thing about this knife. Again, a quote from his book.
“It was made by a country blacksmith, and is one of the homeliest things I ever saw; but it has outlived in my affections the score of other knives that I have used in competition with it, and has done more work than all of them put together.”
In the end, I can’t ignore the fact that this a time proven design. Hence, my version of it : )
It also interesting to note that I have the seventh revision of this book, and in this one Kephart has updated his thoughts on overall knife shape and has a sketch of a completely different knife design. This might leave the door open for a Kephart Version 2! : )
In included a small “sharpening notch” on this one, but it can also be left out as well.
Blade Length: 4 1/4”
Overall Length: 8 1/2” Thickness: 1/8”
Grind: Flat grind, convex secondary
Steel: O1, A2 or D2
Pricing and Options:
Base Knife Price: $220.00
1/8″ – $0
01 – $0
A2 – $10
D2 – $10
Scandi – $0
Flat – Default Grind (Default finish for flat grinds is a belt finish unless hand finish is specified)
Green Canvas – $0
Black Canvas – $0
Natural Canvas – $0
Red Linen – $0
G10 – $0
Maroon Linen – $10
Cocobolo – $20
Bocote – $20
African Blackwood – $25
Stabilized Curly Birch – $90
Desert Ironwood – $40
Desert Ironwood Burl – $65
Stabilized and Dyed Box Elder Burl – $45
Curly Maple – $25
Maple – $20
Cherry – $20
Walnut – $20
Something else in mind? I can do almost anything you want. Contact us for pricing.
Stainless (default on micarta and G10) - $0
Brass (default on woods) – $0
Mosaic – $20 (see this link for styles)
Blue – $5
1/8″ Black Paper Linen – $10 (see this link for example)
Normal Foldover sheath – $0
No Sheath – (subtract $20)
Matching Firesteel (Army Sized Light My Fire Blank) – $25