Spyderco Survival Knives
A dog is a man’s best friend, and his knife is a close second. With that said, I am often surprised when price is used as the limiting criteria of a new blade. What would you think if someone called a breeder and said what’s the best dog I can get for under $30?
Or perhaps dropping the comment that it was possible to get five lesser dogs for the price of that one. Or what if your neighbor eyes your papered pooch and noted that a pound puppy can do anything your dog can do for a tenth the price? So let me get this straight; you’d rather have a whole pickup truck full of dogs rather than one best friend? We should extend the same loyalty to our knives that we do for our dogs since there are few things in life with which we spend more of our precious time.
Bushcraft is a term used to describe “skill in matters pertaining to life in the bush, ” at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But what does “life in the bush” mean? Basically it originally meant the outback of Australia and later Africa, but now the word bushcraft extends to mean those skills used to survive in the wilderness regardless of geography. And if knowledge is the door to survival, then the bushcraft knife is the key to that door.
The important aspects within the definition of bushcraft are both inclusive and exclusive. In order to assess the merits of a knife designed for bushcraft, one must limit the scope of the knife’s capabilities to those within the realm of bushcraft, and exclude those knifley functions not in the privy of bushcraft. The categories of edged tools extends from swords on the long end, through machetes, Bowies, survival blades, fighting knives, hunting knives, and on the shorter, stout blade-end of the spectrum is where bushcraft knives are found.
The expectations of bushcraft include, according to various resources on the subject, “firecraft, tracking, hunting, fishing, shelter building, the use of tools such as knives and axes, foraging, hand-carving wood, container construction from natural materials, and rope and twine-making.” Putting a finer point on each of these topics (pun intended) requires a knife with the talents and fortitude to thrive in the bush doing just such tasks.
General Knife Design
The common attributes of bushcraft knives have evolved over centuries of use and experimentation. Everything from blade shape, edge grind, blade thickness and length, steel type, and handle shape have converged into a highly recognizable knife.
The blade of a Bushcraft knife is like a bionic upgrade of your index finger. The length common to bushcraft blades is four to six inches, or about the width of a man’s palm. The Spyderco Bushcraft clocks in at 4.1 inches with all but a couple tenths are a Scandi grind cutting edge. A perfect pointer finger replacement. The blade thickness is a robust 0.14 inches or 3.6mm. The blade width is necessary for prying, twisting and batoning tasks of bushcraft.
Traditions in bushcraft blade steel have chosen edge retention and ease of sharpening over low maintenance stainless options. Tool steel is a popular bushcraft choice and the Spyderco Bushcraft uses O-1 tool steel. Tool steel grades are designated by a letter followed by a number. The letter represents a defining characteristic of the steel such as A for air hardening, D for High carbon and chromium content, H for hot working, and in the case of the Spyderco Bushcraft, O for oil hardening. Oil hardened steel experiences less distortion during cooling than water hardened steel, but more than air hardening.
The number designation references the particular alloy of the steel. O-1 tool steel is a high carbon steel and unlike its stainless counterparts, O-1 steel in general is susceptible to staining and discoloration over time and use. Some folks in bladecraft would argue that D2 steel, a very popular and fine choice used in many bushcraft and survival knives, is less likely to stain or rust, but the edge qualities of D2 are slightly less refined than O-1 steel with the ease of resharpening slightly less, and some would argue the ability to get a true hair-splitting edge.
Since a bushcraft knife is really an extension of your hand, expect to use it daily if not hourly when living the bushcraft life or even just working outdoors. That amount of hands-on with the knife negates much of the worry about one day pulling a rusted blade from your sheath. But in the end the difference between high quality knife steels is found in the final few percent of performance, which is often where and when it really matters.
The handle shape of a traditional bushcraft knife is rather uneventful. The grip is a somewhat non-directional bulbous platform that lacks the fancy accoutrements found on survival and fighting blades. No carbide window breakers. No compass pommells. No obvious finger grooves. No heavy brass bolster to keep your hands from sliding onto the blade. The handle or grip of a knife is the main contact and control surface between human hand and blade. Complete and predictable control of the bushcraft knife’s edge must be possible regardless of the rotational direction of the blade. The fairly uniform grip on the Spyderco Bushcraft encourages a comfortable and secure grip throughout a variety of different holds. The cross sectional diameter of the handle is greatest in grip’s center, and just slightly less so at expansions at the extremities.