Story and Photos by Jonathan Kilburn
Last year I had the opportunity to write about Josh Navarrete, and one of his robust designs, for Knives Illustrated Magazine. Shortly after, he won the coveted History Channel title of “Forged in Fire Champion.”
It’s clear to see why Josh won, as his designs are unique, high quality, and not really easy to emulate in any way. Speaking with Josh over the last few years, I have gotten some insight into his roots and what designs he favors.
What really stands out to me is that each knife, and style, he produces are quite different from one another. Sure, the materials might be the same and the handles are unique to Josh’s character of design but overall, the knives are completely different in form and function.
When asking about his earlier designs, compared to what many have seen on Forged in Fire, Josh shared some of his older styles that he still really enjoys making and using.
One of them being the Alpha.
Set to be one of the leading designs in his ‘Bushcraft’ category, Josh has put together one hell of a knife.
It’s a 5.25-inch full tang, flat grind blade with a 4.75-inch handle – bringing the total length up to 10 inches. The spine boasts a hefty .25-inch thick CPM3V steel, while the handle consists of an elegant combination of Ziricote and African Ebony; held in place by the 7-circle inlay pin that Josh’s designs are known for.
In terms of design, the drop point blade really does scream bushcraft – and looks the part. With the thick blade, it seems more than robust enough to handle the largest burl on the hardest wood. The handle itself is a bit shorter than most bushcraft designs, but I absolutely love this design for the size of my hands. It feels like the perfect amount of real estate.
The handle on the Alpha allows me to grip in a variety of different ways, with, or without, gloves. The belly of the handle provides a rather pronounced curve, which allows for a firm front and aft grip. The butt of the handle also keeps the hand firmly secured, without slipping rearward. Width wise, the handle also has some tapered curves to assist in gripping and retention.
The wood is shaved down perfectly with the pins, exposing no distinguishing surface changes where the pins are set into the handle. Even when running your finger across a pin, it is difficult to feel any difference. The same can’t be said from the handle to the tang, where there is a minor bump, but nothing that can create a hot spot or even deter from a hardy grip.
While there is a noticeable bump on the gripping surface of the handle, the same cannot be said for the butt of the knife. It’s as smooth as a baby’s… well… bottom?
The balance of the Alpha is great, even if a little tail heavy. Because of this, it sits firmly in the hand, without any worry, and is perfect for wrist chopping and control, while securing the edge against a piece of wood for splitting.
The Alpha is designed for, and easily handles, any bushcraft type of task and made short work of chopping small tree limbs, removing and processing branches, splitting wood, whittling, making feather sticks, etc. – all of which it performed handily and as it should. However, that isn’t where its functionality ends.
I went outside one evening and came across a raccoon that had died in my yard. While I am not the kind of person to celebrate the death of an animal, it did offer me the opportunity to put the Alpha into use, in a unique situation.
Personally, I didn’t want this animal’s death to be a complete waste, so I strung it up for the evening and decided to revisit it in the morning. After having checked the animal over for disease or potential cause of death, I felt it was safe to skin, in an effort to preserve the pelt.
Out came the Alpha.
The large blade of the Alpha is obviously not designed for this type of work, but a good Bushcraft knife can be used in a pinch, for most any situation and circumstance.
I took the Alpha to the raccoon and made a cut from one rear ankle to the next, just in front of the vent. The Alpha – while it sliced through easily – was cumbersome to use in this manner. I then split the tail and made a V incision around the vent, in order to begin pulling the pelt down.
Each cut into the pelt went pretty deep, showing me how sharp the Alpha really is. As the skin was rolled and pulled down gradually, the tip of the knife was used to cut through extra fat, stuck to the skin. This was due to the earlier, deep cuts. The skin began to roll down easily, with a lot of fat attached, and I could see this was going to be a larger project than anticipated.
After cutting towards the shoulders of the raccoon, I realized the Alpha was much too large to cut through the small spaces and opted for another knife, to finish the finer details of the job.
All-in-all the Alpha performed well, for a tool not specifically designed for the task.
Navarrete has designed a more than capable bushcraft knife. The steel, handle material, and design choices fit the aesthetic and use perfectly – although it is on the larger side of the types of Bushcraft blades I personally use for fine camp tasks.
The thick spine, mixed with a 5.25-inch blade, makes the geometry difficult when first handling the knife. That cumbersome movement quickly goes away after a short time, as the user becomes familiar with the position on the knife where the balance sits, and the edge begins.
On a personal note, the balance and handle design are by far my favorite parts of this blade. I have smaller hands, and it just felt absolutely perfect to me. Navarrete’s handle design has a lot to do with that, as the handle curves will make it an exceptional handle for many different users.
What can I say? The Alpha checks all the boxes necessary for a bushcraft knife. It can handle various wood types and cuts, while still boasting a thick spine for ease of processing firewood.
Finding a comparable knife – in quality of materials and craftsmanship – at $300 is already hard enough, but the bargain takes on a whole new meaning when it is hand crafted by Josh Navarrete himself.
This CPM3V will probably outperform D2 steel, while maintaining better edge retention and being easier to sharpen. It is uncoated, and CPM3V is not a stainless steel, so there is some maintenance involved to prevent the steel from oxidizing in difficult weather conditions.
Nevertheless, the overall maintenance is reduced, compared to many alternatives, and the functionality is increased.
It’s worth looking at the Alpha for your next bushcraft knife. K&G
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Blade Material: CPM3V full tangBlade Length: 5.25 inchesOverall Length: 10 inchesBlade Thickness: .25 inchHandle Length: 4.75 inchesHandle Material: Ziricote and African Ebony woodWeight: 13 ouncesGrind: Full flatMSRP: $300
Navarrete Knives(503) 409-5944www.Navarreteknives.com
Jonathan Kilburn is an avid outdoors-man, shooting sport enthusiast, martial artist, and wanna-be comedian. He has spent many years involved in outdoors hobbies, which has led him to bring the outdoors inside. While his focuses are on getting back outside, his home life revolves around preparing, making, and learning about ways to improve his skills in the field.
When people close to Jonathan are asked to describe him, they often describe him as a "man's man," because of his involvement in the outdoors, firearms, knives, motorcycles, and various other activities. Despite this description, Jonathan doesn't enjoy watching or playing team sports. No one is perfect.
Besides his hobbies, Jonathan is deeply involved in the special needs community, in an effort to assist and help those who may need it most."
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