Story and Photos by Reuben Bolieu
Don’t Count Them Out!
When I first started getting interested in jungle survival, and all things related to general wilderness survival, I gravitated towards a big knife. I remember the outdoors forums all asking the question, “If you could only take one knife, what would it be?” About ninety percent would say a machete or some sort of big chopper, and I was part of that ninety percent.
For me it was the TOPS Knives Steel Eagle 111. Soon after, my choice gravitated to the Ontario 12-inch-long bladed machete—with all the cool modifications that everyone was doing at the time. Eventually, I moved to a stout fixed blade knife. All the while, I carried a Swiss Army Knife (SAK) for most of the knife work.
Years go by, knowledge is gained, and eventually most of us go for skill and technique, rather than brute force blades. The idea of using various tools that are made for specific tasks, over one knife to do all, sets in. This idea has become known as the Nessmuk and Kephart Trio. The trio usually includes a chopping tool (axe, big knife), a folding knife (like a SAK or single bladed folder) and a fixed sheath knife. Often, a saw is either added or replaces one of the other tools.
Either way, a small, able knife is always included in the trio—whether it be a folder or fixed blade—that will do the majority of the cutting tasks, and is more of the ‘go-to’ blade.
Light and affordable, with a legacy behind them.
When I think of small, able cutters with a rich history, two knives come to mind—the Old Hickory paring knife and the Mora Classic. Small and easily obtainable, these two legends have found their way into many kitchens and outdoors kits for more than a century.
Ontario Knife has been manufacturing Old Hickory brand knives since 1924. These rugged knives have stood the test of time and proven themselves as reliable cutting tools by professional butchers, chefs and outdoorsmen alike. Each Old Hickory knife is made of 1095 high-carbon steel, and the signature solid hardwood handles, are secured with brass compression rivets and branded “Old Hickory.”
I consider both the 3.5-inch-long bladed paring knife, as well as the 4-inch-long bladed version, to be a very good ultralight Bushcraft knives. For years the 3.5-inch bladed paring knife has been with me, especially when the need to go light and fast was of the essence.
I prefer a thin knife, that carves and is easy to resharpen. The downfall is the handle is a bit narrow for doing a lot of crafting. Cutting sandwiches, salami, cheese and making a few stakes for camp is what I’d limit it too. It does a great job on making fuzz sticks for tinder and kindling, but not for long. This is not because of the small blade, at all; it is due to the handle size. Also, this is a kitchen knife and doesn’t come with a sheath, so one needs to be custom made or a generic one found someplace.
Where the Old Hickory paring knife falls short—in discomfort over long use—is where the Mora Classic shines. In 2020 Morakniv revamped part of their legendary Classic series, giving the #2 and #3 new sheaths, a slightly aged looking red handle and full rat-tailed tangs.
They released the Mora #1/0, which was previously named the #2/0, with the same treatment as the #2 and #3. For years the #2/0 was my go-to crafting knife. Again, for the feather-like weight and super sharp, 3-inch-long, Scandinavian ground blade. It also had a more rounded handle than the Old Hickory paring knife.
Also featuring a blade construction of 1095 high-carbon steel, the broom-stick style handle of the Mora Classic offers a blank canvas for the users hand to grip wherever it feels right—without predetermined notches, that won’t fit everyone’s hand.
It seems that when it comes to a regular sized handle on a small blade, the Scandinavians have it right! Neither knife has a guard, because these are not thrusting knives but, rather, carvers and general utility slicers!
The contemporary alternatives to the old timey knives are many.
Of recent, is the new TOPS Knives Mini Tanimboca Puukko. Yes, it’s a mini, meaning there is a larger one—the full-sized Tanimboca Puukko. Both designed by Goran Mihajlovic, a native of Serbia, who grew up in Germany and now lives in Colombia. Goran is a knife maker, owner of the Tanimboca nature reserve and all-around Renaissance man.
The Mini Tanimboca Puukko is 4 inches-overall, donning a blade a hair over 1.5 inches. It is made to be a neck knife and comes with a breakaway cord, for wearing around the neck. The black leather sheath is not only attractive and elegant, but also secure enough to keep the knife in a pocket, without any worry of it coming out of the sheath.
As a small task knife, it’s readily available around the neck and easy to use for most utility needs. Cutting cord, food packages, webbing, minor whittling and drilling holes is what this knife does well. It can also be used as a finishing knife, for carving projects. The short handle (about 2.5-inches-long) limits it from prolonged woodcrafting work.
The 90-degree spine is sharp and is one of the gems of the knife. For scraping ferro rods and materials to produce tinder—like fatwood, magnesium and poplar—it works! In fact, it’s like an amazing striker with a generously comfortable, rounded handle that has a sharp cutting edge.
I carved a rough spatula with the Mini Tanimboca Puukko and used the spine to smooth out the rough edges; and believe me it had rough edges. TOPS Knives has a catalog full of small, handy knives that fit right in with the small able cutters criteria.
A few years ago, at a knife trade show, I was introduced to PB&J Handmade Knives. After checking out their work I had the pleasure of reviewing some of their knives, made out of L6 sawmill blade tool steel. Their line included very rustic looking sheath knives and a big Parang. I was attracted to the unfinished, forged looking blades with Scandinavian grinds, G10 and micarta scales.
One of their knives that really piqued my interest was the smallish, Bread & Butter knife. Small, sharp and stout, it had a handle close to a full-sized knife handle, which was longer than the blade. The issue I have with small-bladed knives, is that most companies give it a small handle, which almost makes it completely useless for regular carving and Bushcraft tasks; practically assuring hand fatigue. It also limits the small-bladed knife to occasional utility and puts it into a two or three finger grip knife category.
It was refreshing to see a small blade with regular sized handle, like the Bread & Butter. The 2.625-inch-long blade is 3/32-inch thick, a perfect slicer that is stout enough for being cross-grain batoned into wood, while making stop cuts for notches. It also served well slicing tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and salami.
The Bread & Butter was definitely the ‘Cadillac’ small, able cutter of the bunch!
It is worth considering a smaller, thinner knife for your sheath knife when carrying a ‘heavy work’ tool.
The weight savings and versatility of a neck knife, combined with the physics of less material passing through your subject matter, should be convincing enough.
However, if a neck knife isn’t going to fulfill your needs, consider the weight and cost savings of the Mora and Old Hickory knives, that have been a constant with outdoorsmen for years. These designs have shown staying power and will continue to be go-to knives for a long time to come! K&G
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Bread & ButterBlade Material: L6Blade Length: 2.375 inchesOverall Length: 5.625 inchesBlade Thickness: .09375 inchHandle Material: Tan MicartaSheath Material: Brown LeatherMSRP: Not Available
Mini TanimbocaBlade Material: 1095 High CarbonBlade Length: 1.63 inchesOverall Length: 4 inchesBlade Thickness: .090 inchWeight: 1.4 ouncesHandle Material: Black Canvas MicartaSheath Material: Brown LeatherMSRP: $110
Mora Classic #1/0Blade Material: 1095 High CarbonBlade Length: 3 inchesOverall Length: 6.5 inchesBlade Thickness: .07 inchWeight: 1.4 ouncesHandle Material: Stained BirchMSRP: $28.80
Ontario Old Hickory Paring KnifeBlade Material: 1095 High CarbonBlade Length: 3.25 inchesOverall Length: 6.75 inchesBlade Thickness: .06 inchWeight: 1.5 ouncesHandle Material: HardwoodMSRP: $12.95
TOPS Knives(208) 542-0113www.TOPSKnives.com
PB&J Handmade Knives(434) 857-6358www.Instagram.com/PBJ_Handmade_Knives
Morakniv+46-250 59 50 00www.IndustrialRev.com/Morakniv
Ontario Knives(716) 676-5527www.OntarioKnife.com
PB&JTOPS KnivesMoraknivOntario Knives
Adventurer, writer, photographer, gear designer and survival instructor for Randall’s Adventure & Training, Reuben has spent most of his life hiking and backpacking through the wildernesses of the world. He has traveled abroad in extreme environments, from Alaska to the desert heat of Egypt – as well as the humid conditions of Southeast Asia and South America. He continues studying primitive survival techniques, construction and uses of knives and edged tools from places such as: South America, Australia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, and numerous countries in the South Pacific and Scandinavia. Reuben has published many articles on survival, knife and tool use, woodcraft, shelters, and remains a lifetime student of survival.
Man I always like reading Reuben’s articles because I know his observations are always based on REAL use and authentic experience. Well done RB.
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