22
JUL
2013

Bark River Knives Bushcrafter Review by Kevin Estela

Posted By :
Comments : Off

Bark River Knife and Tool Bushcrafter Review
by: Kevin Estela
Founder and Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education

i1035 FW1.1

Introduction:
Certain knives speak to generations. If you grew up in the 80’s, you knew the hollow-handle variety made popular by a muscle-bound action hero. If you grew up in the 90’s, you probably don’t need “proof” of my opening statement but you know what kind of STEEL I’m talking about. In the 2000’s and today, there seem to be many knives sold as “bushcraft” style. Perhaps the most famous of these is Ray Mears’s Woodlore made by Alan Wood or SWC of England. Woodlore knives have devoted followers and are prized for their simplicity in design, beautiful hardwood handles and polished “Scandi” style short flat grind. As with any design over time, improvements can be made. Newer steels and improved technology can do nothing but enhance original specs. Thus is the case with the new Bark River Knife and Tool Bushcrafter. An improved edge, tougher steel and a more durable handle are just three of the improvements made to an already fantastic design.

PICT0228-1Background and Credibility: 
I am a Survival Instructor who teaches the gambit of skills from primitive through traditional to modern. I practice and disseminate many skills and information from various cultures and enjoy the pastime of getting outdoors. I am not a military SERE instructor nor do I try to inflate my resume’ to make me appear as something I am not. Truth is, I am a lifelong outdoorsman, realist and hobbyist bushcrafter with knowledge, ability and experience that casts no doubt to my credibility in evaluating knives and gear. I also practice “bushcraft” whenever I can. I may have modern gear making the fight with Mother Nature easier but, hell, I am totally fine sleeping in the cab of my truck if it is too nasty to pitch a tent near a fishing spot. While I can easily “smooth” it with luxury, I do enjoy and prefer roughing it outdoors and doing more with less. The pastime or lifestyle of bushcraft follows this simple philosophy. Live with nature as opposed to being a Man vs. Wild. I have learned to use natural materials in lieu of synthetics, make tools with what I have around (as carrying gear for every contingency is impossible and live life outdoors slowly and deliberately. I say “slowly” as this is a clear distinction between the SERE types and the primitive/bushcraft styles of survival. The SERE type can’t stop to admire nature the way a civilian can. That is a huge distinction between military survival and bushcraft. In bushcraft, there is no sense of urgency and I’m not evading, avoiding detection and dispatching enemies. About as close as I will get to avoiding detection in bushcraft is leaving no trace as in any outdoor pursuit.

Bushcraft

The Bushcraft Knife:
The knife of the bushcrafter must reflect its intended purpose. Sure, any knife can be stretched beyond its intended purpose much like a computer can be used as a hammer. Then again, the knife of the bushcrafter is more likely to be a planned decision since there is no urgency as mentioned previously. A bushcrafter’s knife will likely be purpose driven. In determining purpose, you look at the cutting tasks most commonly associated with the pastime. These include carving, slicing, light batoning, gutting/game prep and tip “drilling.” A bushcrafter would not be interested then in a knife whose attributes don’t help advance his/her skill. A saw back ruins and limits the effectiveness of batons. A large pronounced guard may protect a hand from riding a blade in a thrust but makes choking up on the ricasso more difficult. A black painted-on finish creates drag where a finely finished satin edge is more efficient in eliminating drag. There are many blades pushed into service as bushcraft knives but they are not the same. A bushcraft knife meets the needs of the bushcrafter. If it doesn’t, it is merely a knife used by a bushcrafter.

The Original 

My first real exposure to the gold standard of bushcraft knives came in 1995 when I purchased Ray Mear’s The Outdoor Survival Manual. In this book, a knife called “the Woodlore” was line drawn with a simple description. For years, I looked for a cheap copy, purchased some similar designs until I finally finished school, was hired as History Teacher and had more disposable income to buy a real woodlore (notice I didn’t say a lot of disposable income? I am a teacher after all)

My first Woodlore came from SWC in 2007 to my specs with a shortened 01 steel 4” blade and 4.25” handle. The handle material was Birdseye maple and it was razor sharp Scandi ground. I purchased this knife in 2007 and have used it off and on since then. Along the way, I purchased another from Adventure Sworn Knives. This one was also to the same specs but had a desert ironwood handle with red liners. These knives are works of art and they do exceptionally well for their intended purpose. Both of these knives batoned well and acted as wedges thanks to the edge geometry. They carved wood much like a carpenter’s plane thanks to their flat grind. The original Mear’s spec handle contour was also very comfortable in prolonged uses around the fire carving away at a stick until I was left with a bushy fluff stick or two or hundred. These knives were exactly like the original Woodlore just shortened to my preferred specs. Needless to say, I have a lot of experience behind them and can adequately judge other woodlore clones others by them.

i1035 FW1.1

Then, in 2012, I was introduced to a new kid on the block, the Bark River Knife and Tool Bushcrafter in 3V steel. Owner Mike Stewart and I talked about this knife when I visited the company in August 2011 and we discussed how it improved upon the original. With eager anticipation, I knew of the blade while I watched discussions about it unfold online. When I was finally sent one to test, I can admit I was more excited than in any other field test I’ve done for this company or any other. I knew this knife would be different and I was handling something that could potentially reshape the bushcraft industry.

i1035 FW1.1                  i1035 FW1.1

The Upgraded Knife:
The BRKT Bushcrafter has many upgrades to the original design. Instead of 01 steel, the bushcrafter is crucible 3V steel. This steel is much more durable than 01 and even A2 steel. Additionally, the handle material is much more durable than any hardwood. The model I was sent came in black canvas micarta. Unlike my SWC in Birdseye maple, micarta would not shrink in colder months exposing a slight raised surface of the fastening bolts.

i1035 FW1.1

Another upgrade to the BRKT Bushcrafter is the shape of the blade. Both SWC and Adventure Sworn renditions were designed off of the original pattern that included a very pronounced spear point shape. This shape makes penetration easy but does not provide much belly for gutting fish or slicing. The BRKT has a slightly higher than center line tip and a much wider belly.

Also a noticeable difference on my particular model is the thumb notches on the spine. While not essential, it does help when assisting the tip through material by applying force to the spine with your thumb.

Easily the most noticeable difference to the BRKT Bushcrafter is the modified Scandi edge. Instead of a flat grind, the BRKT has a convex Scandi grind where there are no sharp shoulders on the flat of the blade and no secondary bevel (A.K.A. microbevel) as other designs may incorporate. The convex edge supports the carbides along the edge stronger than any other blade design and therefore is an improvement in strength over any flat grind, Scandi included.

The Testing Process:

i1035 FW1.1I have never done a knife test with smoke and mirrors. My tests are done in the field and done a bit slower than others to collect more information and user feedback. This knife test is no exception. No basements were used to torture test it, no YouTube videos describing how well boxed up it came were posted and no knives stabbed in trees glamour shots were taken. My review is a collection of notes from activities performed with the BRKT Bushcrafter over a month long period.

In preparation for my stacked birch bark handle knife project, I took the BRKT Bushcrafter on a scavenger hunt and hike for white birch. I used it for harvesting what I needed and applied it to removing bark from dead and down birch. That process included tip scoring the outer bark and then retracing the score with the belly of the blade. The rounded pommel did not bite into my hand when I assisted the tip into the layers of bark to the inner bark. The BRKT Bushcrafter was also used to collect some cedar bark for an upcoming fire making seminar. I used the near 90 degree spine edge to fluff some off of a tree not far from the trail.

PICT0227-1

In creating a couple new leather sheaths on rainy days, I used the BRKT Bushcrafter on various pieces of leather ranging from 6 oz. to 10 oz. Leather can be very difficult to cut without a sharp knife and without the time to get out and hunt, leather provided a great substitute for field dressing. To truly test how fine the edge of the BRKT Bushcrafter is, I skived (thinning of leather with a blade) the leather of my firesteel loop to match the same thickness as my sheaths’ welts. I know it is boring sheath making talk so I’ll just say this; it cut leather like my dedicated leatherworking knives.

PICT0226-1

One additional task I tried this knife on was lace making. I drove the blade tip first into a log. I then used the fixed edge to cut the ¼” strips in a rounded piece of deerskin. I then tried it with a piece of leather. Both resulted in a usable leather lace.

No bushcrafting trip can exist on fuzz sticks alone so I sliced up some common snacks brought into the backwoods. Hard pepperoni and cheese were easily converted into bite-sized rounds and squares for sustenance. Green sticks were also stripped of their bark to make twist bread over my campfire. The satin finish of the BRKT Bushcrafter cleaned up nicely with only water. The only stubborn stain was quickly removed with a slurry of hardwood ash and water.

PICT0219

To satisfy the woodchucks out there, I decided to fell small saplings. This was done by bending the tree over and stressing the inner fibers of the wood. By placing a knife against these stressed fibers, the blade cut quickly and cleanly through the small tree. With these saplings, I proceeded to run the knife through a series of cutting tests based on frequent methods of using a bushcraft knife. I cut large shavings off of the saplings and then tried controlled thinner strips. I used the grip most commonly called the chest lever grip to power through the wood. I also tried the fine choked up cutting of a paring knife style grip to bevel the edges of the end of the wood. In each test/drill, the knife worked flawlessly and performed well.

i1035 FW1.1

In using this knife during extended cutting tasks, there were no hot spots that formed in my hand. This is essential in a bushcraft knife and something that separates this type of knife from a military-style blade. Unlike the military type with aggressive grips for fighting and blade retention, the bushcraft style is smoother to prevent hot spots from extended use. The handle contours fit my hand great and in lending it out to friends to try, all agreed it was comfortable to use. This knife worked well in every application I put it to.

       i1035 FW1.1 i1035 FW1.1

Overall Impression:
It may be blasphemy to countless minions of Mears Woodlore followers but I think BRKT succeeded in improving on the Woodlore design. For years, the reason I mostly did not carry a scandi as my primary blade was the fact something better (Better defined by strength behind the carbides) was out there. The BRKT Bushcrafter satisfies my practical approach to carrying only the best. The handle feels practically the same, just as comfortable and not fatiguing, but is stabilized and harder than most natural materials. As far as sharpening is concerned, I used this knife. I repeat, I USED it. More than a few casual strops along a rubbing compound impregnated piece of leather was needed to bring this edge back to life. I had to resort to my full sharpening kit after making a substantial pile of wood near my backyard fire pit. I can’t believe many people when they say a knife requires only a couple strops on a diamond hone and that they also really used it hard. Something doesn’t line up in those stories.

i1035 FW1.1

In sum, the BRKT Bushcrafter is true to the original design in some respects but improved all around. The design pays homage and hints to the woodlore origins but utilizes the best technology to better equip the woodsman with a tool certain to outlast him. This knife alone won’t make you any more of a bushcrafter as the most expensive rifle won’t make you any more of a better hunter. It will be a faithful companion though and will certainly endure the rigorous use a true bushcraft knife is designed for. If lesser quality knives speak to a generation, this knife will speak to your generation and your kids’. As a traditionalist and a true fan of Ray Mears, I will always admire the original woodlore design but I will not hesitate to pick up this new and improved model the next time I venture out to experience the woods slowly and deliberately.

15
MAY
2013

Grasso Bolo II by Kevin Estela

Posted By :
Comments : Off

Grasso Bolo II Review

By: Kevin Estela, Founder and Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education, LLC
PICT0067_zps87946c47

History

The Philippines is an island chain that has seen occupation by the Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese and the United States over the past 500 years. Despite years of foreign flags flying overhead, no occupying country has lasted forever. The indigenous people turned their cultivating tools into weapons and guerilla warfare tactics were difficult to combat. One reaction was the development of the .45 ACP after the Navy .38 revolvers failed to stop Moro warriors during the Philippine Insurrection in the late 19th century. The Filipino edged weapons received a fierce reputation, and for good reason. Now, years later, the blades once found in the hands of farmers and tribal warriors are still deeply embedded in the culture and continue to be utilized today by Filipino Marines, martial arts practitioners and everyday people.

Travel approximately 8250 miles East of Manila and you’ll find a modern day Filipino bolo, the Grasso II Bolo, being made in the Bark River Knife and Tool factory in Escanaba, Michigan. A collaboration between LAPD Detective and Weapons Expert Mike Grasso and Bark River Knife and Tool Owner and Master Knife Maker Mike Stewart, the Grasso Bolo II is a medium sized bolo for general use. It is constructed of 5160 Spring Steel (an upgrade from truck leaf springs common in the PI) and measures 14.875” overall with a 9” blade. My sample to test and evaluate came with matte finished black and green linen micarta handle slabs and a snap retention cross draw sheath with an open design to accommodate the shape of the blade.PICT0059_zpsaa85516e

 

Testing Phase

I’m no stranger to Bolo designs. I’m half Filipino, an avid Filipino Martial Arts practitioner and therefore, someone who has spent plenty of time training with one. Also, a bolo of my own design made by Scott Gossman, has been a “go to” blade while teaching survival courses, heading up canoe trips and as my all-purpose camp knife. With these facts known, I wanted to start fresh with my testing and evaluation and not be influenced by my own bias or affinity for a particular bolo design.

I started my testing with a clean slate and approached a trusted authority for guidance, Tuhon Ray Dionaldo, the founder of Filipino Combat Systems. Tuhon Ray is a well-known master of the karambit, Tabak Toyok (Filipino Nunchuck), Sarong, rattan sticks, barong, bolo and virtually anything he touches. Look up his videos on YouTube and you’ll see the man’s ability and presence. He is a world traveler and Master Level Instructor,Tuhon, in the system I train in, Sayoc Kali. He is also a well-read PhD and someone I call a friend. We spoke on the phone one morning recently and discussed edged weapons and their uses.

According to Tuhon Ray, there are generally two types of Bolo designs, the pointy matulis design and the better known and more widely recognized Bonifacio. The matulis is characterized by light and fast attributes while the Bonifacio styles are heavier and more weight forward. Bolos, in the Philippines, are generally made one at a time for the individual and the construction is from whatever materials are available. Filipinos are able to use seemingly any material to make the tools they need. Tuhon Ray told me truck tires are now being used as handle materials and they’re shaped the same way a synthetic handle is. This material, much like my linen micarta model, is impervious to water and salt. On a side note, Tuhon Ray told me all of his personal blades have linen micarta for handle slabs and he prefers the feel of the material. But back to the Bolo. The shape will vary from region to region depending on the primary purpose. There is even a bolo with an S shaped edge (think Spyderco Civilian) used for harvesting coconuts.

After an informative history lesson from Tuhon Ray, I asked him what advice he would give to someone who has never used a bolo before. He told me, “allow the weight of the weapon to do the work”, meaning, don’t muscle it. This is a concept I’m familiar with as it is what I tell my students when they use axes. The bolo then is a one handed chopper that utilizes its weight to do the work. Tuhon Ray informed me any horizontal or diagonally upwards cutting is using the arm muscles and fighting gravity. Cuts are made on a 45 degree angle downward incorporate the weight of the bolo in the swing. All you have to do is use proper body mechanics. Tuhon Ray further elaborated, “it is almost like a whipping motion just without the pull back.” I would use the correct manner of cutting during my testing. I also tried another method called snap cutting (giving a flick of the wrist at the end of the swing) and found it to be effective, but slightly more tiring, in the short term too.

PICT0064_zps9f6e993c

PICT0063_zps51dc9e16I moved onto testing the Grasso Bolo II extensively. I used it in lieu of a small hatchet or hand-and-a-half axe to limb a tree that recently came down on my property. Working from the base of the trunk towards the top and allowing for a generous follow through, the Grasso Bolo II made quick work of the limbs. This test is meant to duplicate the efforts a person would make in creating a spruce bough bed. Other than resin from the wood, there was no issue in working the blade this way. Not satisfied with simply working a softwood, I used the knife to chop through a good seasoned beech limb. For a relatively thick knife, the blade sunk deeply and didn’t bind as I thought it would. I attest this to the edge geometry the folks at BRKT are famous for.

PICT0072_zps0cd057db

PICT0065_zpsc50265f3

Years ago, Mike Stewart cut a section of manila rope in mid-air with a knife. I don’t recall what diameter it was so I taped 3 pieces of scrap 3/8” manila cord together and gave it a swipe. I’m no competitive cutter but I am a knife user. The Bolo went right through and the pieces of manila cord fell at my feet. Had I more time and admittedly more cord, I would have tried more. I am sure my technique would only get better and more cords could be cut with practice. The remaining cord I press cut through until I was left with scraps fibers. Then I tested the edge and it was still very keen.

I tested the penetration ability of the tip on 3 pieces of 8-10 oz. leather. This is almost ½” of leather. With a solid thrust, the tip of the bolo went right through all three pieces of leather. Despite a wide stock, the tip is surprisingly capable of penetration.PICT0061_zps2fc8c2f8

For fine work, I used the Grasso Bolo II for kitchen duty. Despite a thick spine, the convex edge sliced well for a big knife. Rather than using it for slicing only, I choked forward of the grip and used a pinch grip close to the tip. Popular with indigenous tribes around the world, this grip allows a big blade to be used like a smaller blade for fine work. The unsharpened swedge found on this blade was not uncomfortable to hold onto and anyone can imagine when this edge is sharpened, this style of cutting is dangerous to attempt.PICT0078_zps6433cd0d

A more morbid test and homage to the late Ron Hood, was the edge holding test on bone. Bolos were always heavy tools used for thicker wood clearing but when thrust (no pun intended) into weapon service, they were infamous for limbing and decapitating. I had a leftover ham bone and proceeded to chop it. I highly recommend glasses when working with bone like this and luckily I had a pair of safety glasses on because more than once I was struck with bone fragments. Bone can seriously damage thin edges and steel with a bad heat treat. I am pleased to say the 5160 steel held up fine in my tests. I cut through the thickest part of the bone for my test and did so easily.

PICT0070_zps80927612

No test of a bolo would be complete without testing the carving sweet spot just forward of the ricasso. Upon examination of the handle design, the forward sweeping shape of the handle allows for perfect thumb placement while fine carving. Leave it to the folks at BRKT and Mike Grasso to take this use into consideration when designing the handle shape.PICT0068_zpsbd73aff9 PICT0066_zps59b0d03b

After extensive testing, I’m very pleased with the Grasso Bolo II. It is a knife I would recommend to anyone looking for a large chopping tool in a somewhat compact package. While not an axe substitute, it is certainly capable of cutting through hardwood. Given the performance of this knife, I am eager to see how the other models (Grasso Bolo I and III) will feel in the hand. For now, I’m very impressed and believe you will be too.

MSRP: $289.95
Available through any Bark River Knife and Tool Distributor or Dealer

Kevin Estela can be reached at Estelawildernesseducation @gmail.com Follow his page on Facebook, Estela Wilderness Education, LLC or look him up at www.kevinestela.com

Special thanks to Tuhon Ray Dionaldo for his assistance in completing this review.

13
MAY
2013

Bark River Knives Bravo 1.5 by Kevin Estela

Posted By :
Comments : 0

Bark River Knives Bravo 1.5
By: Kevin Estela
Founder and Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education

1  2

A few years back, the Bravo 1 was introduced with great enthusiasm in the knife world. Created based on feedback from an elite division of the United States Marines torture test, it became one of the top selling knives in Bark River Knife history. The Bravo 1 spawned the shorter Necker and Necker II models as well as the Gunny and the Bravo 2. However, there was a demand for a knife not as stout as the Bravo 1 and not as long as the 2. Out of this demand was born, the Bravo 1.5.

I have used the Bravo 1 during survival courses and lent it out to students. It was the tough as nails knife in the loaner box and many students remarked how comfortable the handle was. The only criticism the knife generated was the shortness of the blade. If only the blade were longer, it could be a general purpose blade. The Bravo 2 was made to closely resemble the dimensions of the Ka-Bar. This knife was too long for those students I had who strapped it on their belts and often replaced it by the end of the week with something smaller. With both Bravos 1 and 2 already on the market, the 1.5 was conceived. After seeing the initial sketch in Mike Stewart’s office about a year ago, I knew I had to handle one.

3

Fast forward to early November 2012 when Jacquie Stewart handled my request for a Black and Green Canvas Micarta 3V steel model, with ramp and 3.5” unsharpened swedge.

I was told the knife was on its way and with great timing. I had a couple trips coming up and wanted to test it as an overall field knife. There is no secret my personal preference of knives is a 4” belt knife and this blade with a slightly longer blade would be outside my normal specs. The knife arrived and I quickly became attached to it. Immediately, I noticed how agile it felt in my hand. Thanks to the skeletonized but full-exposed tang, the balance is just behind the ricasso. The palm swell is generous and the ramp is not too large to impair choking up on the grip for fine work. My particular knife has a matte finished handle and it feels slightly more secure in the hand than higher polished micarta.

10

My testing of this knife involved using it for general camp craft. My testing was almost daily and included slicing food for camping meals, the occasional kitchen knife substitute on busy weeks when I couldn’t get out to the field, fire starting with the sharp 90 degree spine, cutting cordage (including 1″ tubular webbing that it went through with minimal effort), removing bark from birch trees and trap making/practice.

8

I am not one to become attached to tools as they are just that but this knife is a great companion and one I am quite fond of. That said, I don’t hesitate to use it as a knife and never baby it in fear of scratches or patina. Scratches from using your knife are like tattoos but with cooler background stories.
Of course, by the looks of my particular Bravo 1.5, you would say it has more of a “fighter” appearance than a field knife. You’re partially correct. While any knife can be used as a weapon, this knife was deliberately given more of an aggressive look with the unsharpened swedge.
The folks at BRK had previously given my CPM 3V Necker II a bit of flair with an unsharpened swedge and I thought, “why shouldn’t I match it?” Now, looks aside, I know there are folks out there who will purchase this knife with fighting or tactical scenarios playing out in their mind.

I wanted to test the various attributes of the knife in unconventional ways. Please don’t reattempt these! Part of my unconventional testing involved using the knife with various substances on the handle. From water to animal fat to gun oil, I tested the tendency of the knife to slip in my grip with and without gloves on.

97

If you can’t gain a purchase on your knife, you can’t use it. This is why this test came before all others. The culmination of the grip test involved performing a plank supporting my upper body weight on the knife. PLEASE DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME! ONE SLIP AND YOU CAN SERIOUSLY HURT YOURSELF.

6

Throughout the testing, the combination of the palm swell, ramp and self guard gave me a secure grip.
I also tested the knife in terms of slashing. At less than 6” long, the blade makes an inefficient chopping tool and the design lends itself to more thrusting and slashing techniques. Slashing requires little to no wrist whipping motion and I decided to see how well the knife would work on various fabrics. The ¾” height convex edge made short work of all and the knife performed well. Even when caught on zippers and buttons, the steel maintained a field edge quickly returned to shaving sharp with mere sandpaper.
In terms of maintenance, the 3V steel developed a rich gray patina quickly. There was no need to remove rust as it never developed. Light stropping after each use maintained the edge and the 3V steel required slightly more passes on the rubbing compound given its toughness.

5

I carried the knife in the provided kydex sheath and the leather sheath I made for lower profile carry. I intend to send it off to my Sayoc Kali training partner Nick Sags at Bladerigs.com to make me an extremely low profile sheath for IWB carry. Nick is the maker behind the new ambidextrous STS knife sheaths by the way.

Overall, I believe this to be the finest mid-sized knife on the market. I rarely will make a claim like that but as I feel each person needs to find what works for their own attributes and needs but, if this knife fits your hand and your needs, you won’t find one better. My review cannot express my level of satisfaction sufficiently. This knife exceeded my expectations and if you find yourself in need of a single knife to do a variety of tasks, it will definitely exceed yours.

You can find more information on Kevin Estela Here

13
MAY
2013

Ultra-Light Bushcrafter Review by Kevin Estela

Posted By :
Comments : Off

IMG_0464_zps023dabc1

Ultra Light Bushcrafter Knife
Review by: Kevin Estela, Head Instructor/Owner of Estela Wilderness Education

Ultra light knives are peculiar animals. Generally, they are considered light enough for neck carry and light-duty use. They are also sometimes considered relatively too light for main belt carry as the blade stock is too thin and the handles are insignificant for extended use without blistering. These knives are well suited as back-ups to larger blades if said larger blade should fail, end up lost or be inaccessible. I normally do not consider an ultra light blade substantial enough for larger tasks and always recommend a full-size belt knife instead. Recently though, a new offering by Bark River Knife and Tool caught my eye and changed my perspective. The new blade, the Ultra Light Bushcrafter, would challenge traditional views of what an ultra light knife could do and redefine the genre all-together.

IMG_0480_zpsccf1681dIn February 2013, I received a sample of a Bark River Knife and Tool Ultra Light Bushcrafter (ULB) to use. Mine came with a Great Lakes Leather Works Sheath and Matte Green and Black Micarta Handle.

IMG_0479_zps4fcfb1a1As with most of my knives, I made my own leather sheath for it that has a firesteel loop and a deep pouch for maximum protection while carrying it. Once I had my knife, sheath and firesteel combination set up, I began the testing process. I refuse to write a review for a knife I do not put ample time in working it out. This knife was carried regularly for approximately 3 months at the point this review was written and has been used in place of my usual folding knife carried around the clock. It was carried while teaching a weekend long emergency overnight survival course in winter conditions. It was carried in my car for occasional tasks and while on short hikes in the woods with my camera.
Unlike the larger Bushcrafter (previously reviewed), this knife was not intended to perform the same tasks equally as well. It will perform tasks relative to its size equally well though. As I view it, this knife is a companion to a larger blade. It is meant to be carried when a larger blade is inaccessible (under a heavy coat) in a manner that keeps it right at hand (neck carry is perfect). I used this blade for many tasks and found it to live up to the rave reviews from BRKT Owner Mike Stewart himself, “This is the finest knife we have ever created.”IMG_0500_zpsfd7ebd51IMG_0501_zpsf7e1e6eb

 

I’ve been asked how this knife compares to other popular knives meant for light and ultra light use. I can’t place the ULB and a Mora Clipper (perhaps one of the most popular models of this brand and extremely common in Bushcrafting/Outdoor community circles) in the same category but I can make comparisons between them. One is full exposed tang and the other is hidden partial tang and one has the BRKT “Scandivex” grind and the other the Scandi flat grind. The ULB has a deceptively light feel to it much like many of the Mora models. This is accomplished through skeletonizing of the handle. It is a scant handful of ounces but retains the strength of a full-exposed tang knife. While teaching survival courses and while attending seminars, I’ve seen many Mora knives break at the tang through the composite handle when improperly used.

IMG_0495_zps16b72142I put more confidence in using a full-exposed tang knife like the ULB over a hidden tang. Both can be destroyed with improper use but one is more resistant to accidental or negligent abuse. The ULB has a head up on the competition with the incorporation of 3V steel that is proving to be much more wear resistant than A2 or any of the steels in the Mora lineup.
During the testing phase of this knife, I used it for cutting leather when my normal leather cutting blades and Exacto knives weren’t handy.IMG_0499_zpse793d144

I used it for food prep on the occasional hike and for fire steel scraping with the nice near 90 degree spine. I must say the 3V steel throws a great spark and especially on my preferred SOLKOA ferro rods.

 

 

IMG_0450_zps8be27b10During the spring months, I used the knife while fishing. I found my hemostats clipped nicely to the neck lanyard and it took no time to remove the blade, clip a line and resheath it.

IMG_0470_zps5fb8671eI also performed some very traditional tests with this knife such as manila rope press cutting and paper slicing to see how well the edge held up. From visiting the BRKT factory during the last ICE IN, I watched Jim Stewart take one of my newly resharpened knives and remove the letters from a printed piece of paper. This knife accomplished that as well. The thin blade stock didn’t bind in many of the materials sliced and the Scandivex edge was convexed sufficiently to help prevent the edge bevel from sticking.IMG_0468_zpsb58e6b34The knife is considered “Ultra light” but it is certainly capable of larger blade tasks. With proper technique, I’ve used Mora knives without critical failure. I knew this little blade could be used for some tasks being limited only by the length of the blade. The whole knife is well proportioned and even though it does not have the same robust specs as the larger Bushcrafter it isn’t a lightweight in the ability sense.
IMG_0502_zps7b1975cc IMG_0503_zps57c5bb10I used it for batoning cross grain in wood as well as with the grain. Splitting wood with tip first batoning was also no problem as micarta is harder than the baton I was using and at no risk of being damaged. Generally speaking, this knife is capable of 99.9% of the tasks out there. The last .1% are the tasks basement bushcrafters are going to claim should be possible. I haven’t seen too many metal vices or concrete blocks in the woods so I’ll just dismiss these so called tests…again.
An added bonus of this little blade is the ease of sharpening it. Let’s face it, big knives are fun to use but a pain to bring back up to a good edge with a field sharpening kit. With a smaller blade and thinner stock, there is less material to remove to achieve the desired sharpness.

IMG_0473_zps72719efeI was able to use the BRKT pocket hone with some wet/dry sandpaper (800/1000/1500/2000 grit) then finish the edge with the black and green compound.IMG_0472_zps7bd3dd25

It went from working edge to hair popping edge quickly. I know a review of a knife will be thorough when I need to sharpen it and hone it regularly. This knife was a real treat to use and the pocket honing kit was just the right size to keep it running flawlessly.

 

 

Rounding out my test of the knife was general kitchen use. Rather than reaching for my Global Knives, I used this little guy for cutting up avocados, pears, apples, lettuce and various meats. CPM 3V takes a nice patina with use and my ULB is now a light battleship gray color from contact with acidic foods. Of course at less than 3.5”, the knife worked better as a paring blade than a main kitchen knife. The blade’s attributes contributed to the pleasure in using it. I found the handle comfortable in extended use and the generous belly of the blade allowed for my hand to be out of the way when slicing through food.
In sum, this little knife is one that breaks the boundaries of the ultra light knife category. It can be used as a standalone knife although I personally still like a larger blade and handle combination. I see this knife used in combination with a larger blade as a necker (the way I used it most) or as a primary blade for women and children or for those with smaller hands. It is a knife that will surprise you and will practically sell itself if you handle it. Don’t believe me? Ask my friend Lt. Mike or Big John who called me an expletive or two once they handled it and simply knew it was too nice not to own as well. This knife does live up to the claim Mike S. made. Handle one and you’ll know why.IMG_0508_zpsc036afdb

 

You can find more information on Kevin Estela Here