“Presentation is everything.” At least that’s what I’ve heard from time to time regarding food preparation. Just like the witty quip that it is, it sounds good until you get a pretty plate of something that doesn’t quite satisfy your palate or appease your grumbling innards, and when your element happens to be in the elements, presentation takes a back seat to function regardless of whether it’s food, clothing or tools. Presentation, especially if not a direct consequence of functionality, belongs at wedding receptions and on knick-knack shelves because it’s dead weight in the wild.
The Boker Plus Bushcraft comes in a classy looking presentation box, which took me a few seconds to figure out how to open. The flap on the lid contains a couple magnets that hold it shut and may just buy a few seconds of time while some nosey visitor attempts to enact plans of getting greasy fingerprints on your shiny new knife. Inside the box is well padded and the components comprising the kit are kept from rattling against each other by a velvety flocking on inlet padding. As one lifts the lid of the box, a vision of a Ray Mears classic presents itself seemingly very impressive. The Woodlore which the Boker Plus Bushcraft seems to mimic is something of a holy grail of woods knives to some and, when not attached to one’s belt while in the bush, such accommodations would seem entirely appropriate.
The Woodlore itself has its appeal and I have to admit that it appears to be a fine knife. I personally have a lot of respect for Ray Mears and am confident he has a pretty good idea what a woods knife should be able to do. I also know the Boker name from many years back and it has always represented extremely good quality to me. My father carried a Boker Tree pocket knife which I thrilled at seeing every time he presented it for some minor chore because, to me, it was as fine a knife as one could buy. Having handled it myself, I considered it a step up from my own Shrade Walden and I thought extremely highly of that old Muskrat – still do. Given that the real McCoy Woodlore is also extremely pricey, seeing a clone by a knife-maker I have had tremendous respect for over several decades, it didn’t seem a bad idea to try one out.
I had seen several photos of the Boker Plus and they were impressive. I had read a few reviews and also knew it was made in China, which didn’t concern me regarding potential quality because I have worked with the Chinese and have used Chinese-made knives which were as well designed and made as well as anything we have produced here. It’s not all like the stuff in the discount stores and the Chinese will make anything as poorly or as well as you tell them you want it made. One comment in some of the reviews I read which came up several times was that “it’s a fifty dollar knife,” almost as an excuse or an apology for shortcomings on which no one seemed willing to elucidate. That part did bother me but, I thought that if Boker specified the knife, the design was solid and they surely would insist on very high quality since they have their name on it.
Back to the box for a moment. Once I had opened the box and looked at the knife and other accessories, I was surprised that I was not awed. “Maybe my expectations are just too high,” I thought, “after all, it’s a fifty dollar knife.” I stepped into better light, removed the knife from the box and looked it over. Still not wowed and still not willing to admit it. For several days, I left it by my computer and handled it frequently. Ray Mears is no dummy and this knife should induce butterflies when I pick it up. Boker is a grand old knife company and I should feel a wave of nostalgia and confidence when I handle it and I just wasn’t feeling it. I wrote it off to all work and no play dulling my senses and made plans to get the Boker Plus Bushcraft outside where it could shine more figuratively than literally and convinced myself it was all going to work out.
Let me be very specific before I go further that I believe Ray Mears had nothing to do with the design or production of this knife and that I know of no claim by Boker that it is meant to imitate Mr. Mears’ fine creation specifically. On the other hand, I cannot imagine that any knife person who sees it would not conclude on their own that it certainly looks very, very much like it is supposed to look like a Woodlore.
As I meandered about time (this article has taken me a long time to write) in the fog of denial, days and weeks passed until I decided that I at least had to sharpen this knife if I were to take it outside and use it. Some knives come with a nice edge out of the box but usually not and especially production knives, so it simply had to be done. I studied the edge and the grind. I knew from reading that it was not a “true Scandi” and had a secondary edge. I’m OK with that as I have several Scandis that I sharpen that way but something about the edge just did not incite me to run out to the shop and “touch it up.” I knew (but did not want to) that the secondary edge was extremely obtuse and ground onto a pair of bevels which, if sharpened as a single-bevel, might have been effective, but they were not so ground, not ground flat and not ground evenly. I was in for some work. I don’t mind work, in fact I like to work, but I still didn’t want to admit that this knife was not what it appeared to be based on my own preconceptions.
I worked on the edge long enough to find that the unevenness would not allow any abrasive tool I had to contact more than about a third of the entire edge at any point along a stroke along the abrasive.. I tried to maintain the original angle as much as possible but it was an unnaturally steep angle to hold as I eventually resorted to my coarsest stone, which is much coarser than the 200 grit diamond plate I had just given up on. That one did the trick and I worked all the way back up through all the grits, up to and including Simichrome metal polish on a maple block. It was indeed sharp but the high angle of the grind precluded even doing a reasonable paper test on the edge although, held at a precarious angle, it would shave hair easily. To actually use the knife, I would have to monkey with the grind, which I often do for my own knives but not for those I am reviewing. After all, I am reviewing Boker’s Bushcraft, not Hamilton’s geometry preferences.
The bevels were more uneven than the edge and obviously had a lot more surface to work on. I tried my best to stick with just stones and abrasive papers and still tried to maintain the original angles, but I knew material had to go away just behind the secondary edge if this knife were ever to cut somewhat efficiently. Out comes the grinder. I almost never resort to using the grinder on my own stuff, let alone something I am reviewing, but I had convinced myself that this knife HAD to work. It was patterned after an excellent design and made (specified) by a company I know and trust. All the same, I was surprised at how long it took to even out the faces of the bevels and get some meat away from the “after-edge” as Scott Gossman calls it. I did somewhat maintain the original “angle,” which I could not measure initially because of unevenness and something of a multiple convex effect on the faces. Finally succeeding in achieving a reasonable convex-Scandi grind, still steeper than I expected to work, I believed that I had at least worked out the production problems on this particular blade.
This is a lot to expect of someone who would be inclined to buy a production clone of a popular custom knife, I believe, and would make this knife pretty frustrating for someone looking for a way to have something similar yet within a tight budget. The Boker Plus Bushcraft I received could have been an anomaly, and I hope it was but what I experienced seemed to go along with what I had read of other’s experiences, except that they didn’t spend the time at the bench in deference to alluding to the shortcomings by way of reference to the price. Probably the smarter of the alternatives to have chosen but it was cryptic and I didn’t want to believe it.
Outside, the Boker Plus Bushcraft performed a number of wood-working tasks somewhat poorly, but I believe only because of the angle of the grind. I could have completely reground the bevels to a high convex, or may even talked a knife-maker friend into making it a true Scandi, but that’s not what is presented – that’s not what you get in the box when you buy the knife. While I do change geometry on knives for my own use, their subsequent performance is indicative of my work and not representative of the maker’s offering. Stripping bark went reasonably well but only when the knife was held at an unnaturally high angle, which causes it to catch and skitter from time to time and does not keep the centerline of the edge in line with one’s forearm. Batoning green wood for controlled cuts required undue force and effort and crushed the surrounding edges of fine notch-work. Cutting fuzz-sticks went ok with some dry basswood but then the angle would have made it difficult with hardwood. Batoning a dry chunk of basswood went well. Obviously, the obtuse grind helped to pop the splits off the main block and made that task go fairly well.
With the performance of the Boker Plus Bushcraft being what it is, it’s tough to give a fair assessment of other features but I will include observations which may be of significance. The overall dimensions of the knife are excellent. Overall length is 8 5/8″ with about 4 1/16″ of blade and the remaining 4 9/16″ being a substantial handle. The blade is 0.152″ thick (a fuzz under 5/32″) and about 15/16″ tall at the hilt. The Bushcraft weighs 7.4 ounces alone and 9.5 ounces with its sheath. The grind has been discussed at length already but the finish is a high polish with no sharp edges. Looks nice but one might be well advised to sharpen a portion of the spine for use with a ferro-rod or for scraping inner bark for tinder. I attempted scraping basswood bark with the knife’s edge and did turn a very slight but even burr.
Once stropped on the basswood proper, the edge seemed decent but I could not put the knife through enough rigors to make a meaningful comment on the temper other than it did not take the effort to sharpen (excluding the work done to even the grind and bevels) as the custom knives I have had in other steels. I had dearly wished to get a good assessment of the edge in 440C since I had neglected 440C (and any other stainless steels) for decades because of the bad experiences I had with cheap production stuff many years ago. 440C would be an excellent choice but I was not able to get to a point of determining if this particular bit of that steel was going to stand up.
The handle on the knife I have in my possession has the general profile of a Woodlore and is a profile I personally like a lot. There is a generous brass lined lanyard hole, which I also prefer for inserting a doubled loop of 550 cord on the rare occasion I choose to use a lanyard. The scales are attached with visible adhesive which I assume to be epoxy and a pair of aluminum pins with what appears to be a brass sleeve on each. Whether there is any mechanical fastening effected by the pins I cannot say but some speculate that there is. Regardless, I have knives with “pins” and epoxy which hold up just fine. The scales are reportedly Micarta but they look more like G10 to me. Either way, they are not contoured in cross-section to any great degree as shown in some of the photos I saw on the Internet. Some people prefer a blockier handle but in a hard-working woods knife, I prefer the contour I saw on sites selling the Boker Plus Bushcraft. The good news is that either taste can be accommodated, the latter with files and abrasives.
The sheath that came with the Boker Plus Bushcraft is neat, with an even dye, smooth edges and even machine stitching. The leather seems to be of good quality and of consistent but light thickness, entirely suitable for presentation and probably pretty good for outdoor use but I tend to have specific preferences about sheaths myself and make what suits me. One can hardly fault a knife-maker for not being able to suit everyone’s sheath preferences, which seem to be highly variable and specific. I’ve sold a lot of well-used knives with their original sheaths in brand new condition and I believe this one would fall into that category, although it is really not bad for a cost-competitive production knife.
The kicker, one which seems to make the Boker Plus Bushcraft more of a “kit” than just a knife is the fire-starting tool included in the plush box. If you’re a “gear-head,” Boker will set the hook with this little gizmo. I am fascinated with it myself and tend not to get terribly excited about gadgets. The included fire-starting tool is a ferro-rod encased in an aggressively knurled, black anodized aluminum cylinder. It’s almost 5″ long and 5/8″ in diameter and weighs 3.4 ounces with the included striker and ball chain. The ferro-rod itself is actually of very good quality, throwing an impressive shower of sparks with little effort. Some require holding the striker at a precise angle and holding your mouth just right for a puny spurt of sparks, but this one, once the black coating is scraped off, is close to being on par with my LMFs. I lit some hastily assembled tinder of scraped inner basswood bark which was less than ideal in that I could only scrape so much with the striker. Sharpening the spine of the Boker Plus Bushcraft would help out a lot in this respect.
The ferro-rod is exposed by unscrewing one end, leaving a generous, knurled handle on the rod, which is round and does not make one tend to use the same two sides of the rod more than the rest of it. Each of the two pieces of the case have about a quarter-inch hole bored perpendicular to its axis near the end, through which the ball chain may be passed for security and to keep track of the striker. It seems a bit bulky and heavy for pocket carry or a neck lanyard but the threaded aluminum case stirs one’s inner gear-head just the same. It’s a pretty cool addition to the setup, especially in that there is a small and sufficiently accurate compass embedded in one end for gross navigation. The compass, I have to confess, is what makes this item hard for me to ignore. A decent, lightweight and small compass (or three, scattered about one’s personal kit) can be comforting and convenient. I use the one on my K&M Match Safe almost exclusively these days because gross navigation or a quick general orientation check is about all I need where I am inclined to wander. Two suggestions I would make to a potential user would be to add a rubber o-ring on the male thread to keep it from unscrewing on its own and to add a brightly colored lanyard or spot of paint or tape. I lost track of this item several times with it lying near my feet.
Looking back over my complete experience with the Boker Plus Bushcraft, I have really turned it over in my head as to whether I have been fair to the knife or not. If the Boker Plus Bushcraft were meant as a conversation piece, then, no. It looks good, but not nearly as good as the first pictures I saw of it on Boker’s site. The finish, the box, the arrangement of the contents all indicate the intention of presenting themselves well. On the other hand, its name and general appearance clearly indicate an intention towards getting it out in the bush and using it. Its similarities with a knife used by a certain well-known woodsman present a higher set of expectations, but is it fair to compare a fifty dollar knife to a Woodlore? No. I have never seen or held a Woodlore for one thing but a knife which represents itself as its Bushcraft name implies should at least perform basic bush craft tasks very to extremely well. “Bushcraft” categorizes a tool for specific tasks and clearly claims that the tool is meant for more than chopping lettuce or opening letters.
That the Boker Plus Bushcraft sort of looks like a Woodlore is really just that – looks, which would be a nice bonus to performing well and pretty cool to look at if that was why you owned it. As far as the Boker Plus Bushcraft’s performance being excused by its price tag, there are ten to twenty-dollar knives that do everything one could expect and in exemplary fashion, so fifty bucks might be ok for a presentation piece but thirty to forty of that could have been spent more effectively on other things if one chooses to use their knife in the woods. If the Boker Plus Bushcraft really looked like the one on the Boker site, had a grind appropriate for Bushcraft use, were heat-treated well and exhibited reasonably decent workmanship, this knife could have had a $150 to $180 MSRP and they would have sold like hot-cakes at a hundred bucks or so. I’m not a marketing expert but I know most woodsy folks figure out what works and what doesn’t rather quickly and I know a damned fine knife can be made (in China) for that kind of money. A hundred bucks for a high-quality, functional knife which you may end up trusting your life to is a bargain though not an absolute requirement. That the knife works well and holds up is first and foremost and that can be achieved (again) for as little as ten to twenty bucks though it does not mean it is unwise or unreasonable to spend a hundred or two hundred – if the knife does its job well. Even a ten-dollar knife is no bargain if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.
Was the Boker Plus Bushcraft intended to be used as a collector’s piece or was its similarity to the Woodlore really meant to imply that it was made for actual use? Hard to say based on what I experienced but I think it’s safe to say that the unspoken speaks much more loudly and clearly than anything else in this case. How could one not assume that this knife should be in the woods? Then again, “it’s a fifty-dollar knife.” Maybe it was meant to be a presentation piece and I held it to an unreasonable standard. There are people who appreciate the aesthetic for its own sake and what the visual aspect of an object represents to them. They derive great pleasure and satisfaction from collecting things they don’t use. It took me a long time to learn to appreciate and respect that but I do these days, as I just finally realized one day that I am simply not that disciplined in that respect. If there were a pristine ’86 Winchester 40-65 with one box of well-kept original black powder cartridges in my safe, I’d have it out in the woods as soon as hunting season opened. If there were a non-functioning (and much less expensive) replica of a pristine ’86 Winchester hanging on my wall,….well, that just wouldn’t happen.
Editor’s Note: We’re going to touch base with Boker on this one and see what they think. We’ve worked with a number of other Boker items and have been very pleased with their performance so this one was sort of a surprise to us. Have any of you had experience with the Boker Plus Bushcraft? If so, let me know what you’re experiences have been at firstname.lastname@example.org