Within the entire field of bushcraft, there is no other subject or topic that is wrought with more controversy and passion as is a discussion on the “bushcraft knife”.
I have experienced heated exchanges in social media and in bushcraft related forums on anything from; what makes the best bushcraft knife; the one knife option; to the type of steel best suited for a bushcraft knife. What amazes me is the sheer number of opinions on the subject…so yes, I have one too!
Our purpose here is not to open the floodgates of criticism, though I am sure that will happen. Rather our goal is to discuss some of the aspects of what, in our humble opinion, makes a “bushcraft knife”. What we are not going to talk about is “the right bushcraft knife”! Why? Simply put, there isn’t a right bushcraft knife. The right knife depends on factors including environment, the tasks you need to complete in camp, and frankly, a great deal of personal bias.
So, just what is a “bushcraft knife”?
It might be easier to start by discussing what a bushcraft knife isn’t. At the risk of life and limb, or at least of committing heresy, in my humble opinion, a bushcraft knife is NOT a survival knife. That said, any good bushcraft knife can certainly be used in any situation to affect survival.
Bushcraft knives can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be production or custom made. They can have a full tang or a hidden tang. They may have just a primary bevel or have both a primary and secondary bevel. They can range in price from $15 to well over $500 depending on the craftsman making the knife. Regardless of the size and price, there are a few things one should consider before purchasing a “bushcraft” knife.
- The steel should be a good quality, high carbon steel. This ensures it can strike a Ferro rod or flint and produce a spark.
- It should have a 90-degree spine so you can use it with a Ferro rod and scrape deadwood to make scrapings for tinder.
- The blade should be a minimum of 1/8″ thick and can go up to 1/4″ in thickness.
- The blade length should be a minimum of 4″ in length.
- The type of grind of a bushcraft knife is also important. The primary grind thins the blade stock down from its width at the spine, to that of the cutting edge or secondary bevel. The best grinds for bushcraft knives are strong and versatile. Specifically, the best grinds for bushcraft knives are:
- Convex Grind (Primary bevel only.)
- Scandinavian / Scandi Grind (Traditionally primary bevel only. Often found with secondary bevel.)
- Flat Grind (Almost always secondary bevel only.)
- Chisel Grind (Not common. Primary bevel only.)
One of the main things a bushcraft needs to provide the capability of doing is “crafting” items needed in the wild. Whether you want to make a spoon, make a friction fire kit, make a snare or deadfall, cutting and making tent stakes, or carving a gorge hook, a bushcraft knife is one that will allow you to “craft” these things.
Another group of tasks a bushcraft knife should allow you to accomplish is food or game preparation. Gutting fish, skinning and preparing rabbit or squirrel, or slicing and dicing veggies for a stew, are tasks a good bushcraft knife lets you take on and complete easily with practice.
Finally, a bushcraft knife should be able to process firewood. Some may feel this is the single most important task a bushcraft knife is designed for. Regardless, processing firewood means it should be able to create both shavings, scrapings, and make feather sticks with ease. Some may say it should also be able to baton (split) wood down to finger, pencil, and pencil-lead sized pieces of wood. A bushcraft knife can even be used to chop down small saplings or small trees.
That discussion is left for another day.
So, what is a bushcraft knife? You decide!
One thing is a certainty, a bushcraft knife in the hand of a skilled woodsman has no limits.