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Here are some of things that I've found in my hunt for a woods knife. Let me come right out and say it. I prefer a folding Opinel N9 or N10 as my woods knife (the top 2 here).
Opinel by Pinnah
First, length and fixed vs folder depend heavily on shelter/stove/fire choices. I rely on tarps, tarp/tents and tents for shelter and when I don't carry an alcohol or gas stove, I carry an Embelit wood stove. This minimizes my need for wood harvesting and processing, which then affects my knife choice.
Hot Chocolate by Pinnah
Generally, I can run this stove using small stuff that can be entirely processed by hand. On days of soaking rain, I do baton wood, but the Opinel N9 or N10 can handle occasional batonning in stride, so long as I don't push it through tough knots. (Additional bonus, the stove minimzes cinder and wood harvesting impact too, so it's more guilt free.)
Outside of food prep and general cutting needs, my main need for my woods knife is to make wood shavings (and maybe feather sticks). I've found that I can really notice a huge difference in blade grinds for this type of wood work. I find that hollow ground knives (usually hunting knives) slice meat wonderfully. But meat self-seperates. And the thin blade behind the edge works just great.
Wood, on the other hand, doesn't self-separate and when making shavings (or batonning) I find that hollow ground blades hang up on the wood when the wood passes over the shoulder of the grind and the spine. This can be minimized to some extent by thinning out the shoulder of the spine on a stone, but it's something of a labor of love and in the end, doesn't do as well as a convex ground blade, at least for me.
Here are 2 knives I've thinned. This is a Buck 500. Notice the curve in the shoulder that resulted from the thinning of the shoulder.
Buck 500 by Pinnah
And here is a Case 316-5, which hasn't been thinned as dramatically.
Case 316-6 blade by Pinnah
I've found that convex ground blades (like teh Opinel) or flat ground blades with a convexed edge (like my old USA made Schrades) produce nice curved shavings and they don't hang up in wood like my hollow ground knives do.
So, at the end of the day, I would rather clean a fish with my Opinel (or other flat ground blade) than work wood with any of my hollow ground knives.
In terms of steels... I disagree slightly with one poster who suggested that stainless is more brittle than carbon. I've found it to be a bit more complicated than that. Two things...
First, carbon steels tend to have small carbides in them, which allow for both a keen edge and also minimizing built in fracture points. Some (but not all) stainless steels can have large carbides, which give great edge retention but can become "chippy", since the carbides can fracture out of the steel. 440C is one stainless that has this property. But other stainless steels have small carbides, similar to carbon steel. So they "tougher" and less prone to "chipping". IME, both 420HC (Buck, Case) and Sanvik 12C27 (Opinel) are in the small carbide camp and have somewhat similar "toughness" to carbon steel.
The second issue is heat treatment, which can vary widely between manufacturers. Old Schrade USA carbon steel is reported to be in 58Rc range and is very hard. But, it can chip. I got this old boy used and badly chipped. It's almost all better, but you can see the chip up in the belly area still if you look close. It's just ahead of the twig.
Schrade H-15 Modified by Pinnah
In contrast, Opinel's Carbone is at around Rc 56 and will roll or dent if pushed hard or run against steel bits. It's tougher for sure but that's the trade off with Schrade 1095. The Schrades hold an edge better and the Opinels are tougher.
On the stainless side, there's a big and noticeable differnce between Case's 420HC (56Rc) and Buck's (58Rc). Case is softer and tougher and Buck's hold an edge longer but aren't as tough.
Last thing... Everybody has a different philosophy of carrying a knife. When out in the woods, I always have a pack on and can't stand having a belt sheath or holster on. So, for me, fixed blade translates into stuck in my pack somewhere.
I find I have better access to my knife if it's in my pocket. So, this is what leads me to the Opinel N9 and N10. They are big enough to handle most jobs and light enough to pocket carry. Honestly, I end up with the smaller N9 most of the time.
Last comment... I find on wet summer hikes (wet? in New Hamshire? really?) I can get rusting on my carbon steel knives. The heat of my body combined with the wet creates a rust factory, even if the blade has good patina on it. So.. stainless has it's virtues.
Last, last comment... I found that for me, I needed to experiement with a bunch of knives to settle on the Opinel with peace of mind. I generally advise buying a bunch of inexpensive knives and trying them side by each for a bit to find out what works and what doesn't.
Hope something here has some value for somebody.
Just wanted to second those who recommend the Condor Bushlores and Moras, or Finnish puukos. All great knives, but the bushlore is my favorite.
I use mine every day doing all sorts of farm labor and use it for bushcrafting/ hiking stuff when I get the chance.
My bushlore does not carve as well as my mora, nor does it process game as well as my finnish puuko knife.
But it does heavy chopping and battoning very well. It can batton through tree limbs almost as thick as the blade length, I just leave about 3/4 of an inch out and hit that! It is a knife that I do not grimace when I drop, because I know it will be fine. Very durable, and does everything pretty darn well, and is stronger than some knives 2x the size. It can take a wicked edge if sharpened well, but since I'm very hard on mine I make sure the edge is not to thin/weak.
If you are mainly going to carve, do light wood and/or game processing, I would would definitely go the Mora route. Nothing beats a mora for general bushcraft stuff.
If you want a knife to do light carving and such, and heavier wood processing, small tree cutting, ect. , go with a bushlore.
But remember, a knife is still just a knife, no matter how plain or how awesome. It's still a tool- and if a person can't sharpen it well, or use it safely and effectively, it doesn't matter what kind it is, it won't get the job done.
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