Nearing the completion of our exhaustive review on the knives from Fiddleback Forge, Will takes a look at the Fiddleback Forge Hunter model. It might be possible that he saved the best for last!
I’m a sucker for two things: sharp edges and curvy handles. And, when I say curvy, I’m talking about lines that would make Marilyn Monroe envious. Now, a sharp edge can come in many forms and from many directions. A good production knife can arrive sharp with a solid grind, and most makers can send you a blade that will slice free-hanging newspaper. But not everyone can make a truly comfortable handle! And it’s on this feature that I’ve developed a reputation for pickiness. A good handle feels natural in the hand, allows for excellent retention and control, and won’t develop hot spots after extended use. I don’t know of anyone who is eager to use a boxy, thin handle for extensive periods of time, but I do know of too many folks willing to settle for less than a handle that fits them like a glove. Or put another way, life’s too short to use uncomfortable blades! To this end, I’ve spent a great deal of time searching for a grail knife; one that felt molded to my palm. And thanks to Andy Roy of Fiddleback Forge, I’ve found it.
On a relative whim, I found Andy’s Hunter model for sale at BladeForums. I was struck by the smooth curves, and gorgeous osage layered over walnut on the handle. The Hunter is a newcomer to Andy’s lineup, and sports a beefier profile than his standard bushcraft knife. Most notably, the increased width of the handle at the first finger offers a much less ‘forced’ or cramped grip, and the blade is a just a touch wider. The location of the palm swell keeps the hand nice and high, as close as possible to the cutting edge for maximum control. It’s also a shade longer at around 9.5”. At 5/32” thick, the O1-steel blade made for a great slicer with plenty of strength. Much to my chagrin however, the handle just wasn’t quite the fit for me that I knew it had the potential to be; perfect profile but a bit thin in the wood. I knew Andy had an absolute “satisfaction guarantee”, and I took advantage of this! Although I was somewhat hesitant to let this blade leave my possession, I mailed it back to Andy. In just over a week (a week!), I had a totally new Hunter sitting in my paw. And I have to say, this one is almost a whole other beast!
The profile and steel are unchanged; it still offers a full grip and 1.5” wide, almost camp-size blade that’s 4.5” in length. But this had two important differences! First and foremost, the handle has been much improved to fit my big(ish) paws. The thickness at the palm swell is about 1”, with a circumference of 3 7/8” at the same spot. It just plain fits, and it even fits in just about any grip configuration I can use in the bush. Second, this blade sports a new type of grind from Fiddleback Forge: a convex saber grind. This means that the grind starts a little lower than the full convex, but has a slightly steeper angle to it. There’s also a slight convex secondary bevel, which really exudes strength against harsh use. The edge of the blade comes all the way to the handle, and extends to a slight drop point. The drop point design is a favorite of mine, leaving a great blend of adequate belly and good tip control for drilling or other fine tasks.
Aesthetically, the Hunter leaves nothing to be desired. The heat-treat scales are left on the area above the bevel, always an endearing quality for me. The osage outer layer of the handle has perfect grain and depth, with a deep color I’ve never seen from this type of wood. The underlying walnut compliments it perfectly in my opinion and really brings out the darker tones in the osage. Blue liners set off the package and add a decidedly personal flair. And certainly not least, Andy’s famous bullseye lanyard tube rounds out the package. Simply stunning!
Andy ships his blades complete with JRE leather pouch-style sheaths. I’ve owned several of these, and the fit & finish is always on par. They are usually plain-jane but all business. Retention for the Hunter is quite good, owing to the fact that only about 2” of handle extends from the sheath when stowed. I added a small paracord lanyard to help draw the knife (and for one other use to be mentioned) and then hit the woods as soon as possible. No twig is safe when I have a new piece of steel, so it was no exception with the Hunter! The convex edge is a demon on any wood I could get my hand on; it makes smooth cuts and provides superb control for delicate trap notches or for making even the smallest fuzz sticks. The wider handle really proved itself here, in that a less wide blade would have a greater propensity to roll or shift in the hand. And need I say that there was nary a hot-spot on my palm throughout some extensive use? Fantastically comfortable!
I carved to my heart’s content and decided to get a little rougher with this blade. This handle is gorgeous, but can it stand up to old-fashioned abuse? I batoned through a few sections of dead wood of varying thickness (up to about the thickness of my upper arm) without any issue: no shifting of the handle, no chipping or rolling of the edge. I made some healthy curls from the fresh sections and (with the help of some jute twine and my firesteel) had a fire going in a jiffy. Time for some hot java! While my kettle brewed, I decided to see what kind of light chopping a 4.5” blade could do. This is where the lanyard came in handy; I can use it to take a very distal grip on the handle (half on the handle, half holding onto the lanyard) that affords a lot more chopping momentum without sacrificing security. I found that the extra beef of the Hunter due to the slightly increased width really made it perform better than I thought it could. It’s obviously a far cry from a hatchet, but it certainly removes enough wood to clear small branches for shelters. And still, no chipping or rolling of that convex edge!
I am clearly quite smitten with this blade, but for good reason. I’ve used it for one thing or another daily since I received it. From preparing dinner to carving a turkey to prepping some wood for the fireplace, it hasn’t missed a beat. I, like many others, can get a little tired when ever knife that gets reviewed is the next ‘end-all, be-all’. And I also know that for the vast majority of cutting tasks, most any blade will do. But for those who do enough bumming around the woods, who don’t like to settle for an ill-fitting tool, or who want what is essentially a functional piece of art, the Fiddleback Hunter should most certainly be the beginning and end of your search.