Take a look at one of the new offerings by a new maker picking up the torch and carrying on the knife-making tradition. The Fiddleback Forge Woodsman just might be the next model for your stable!
In the outdoors industry, more particularly the field of knife making, we have all heard the various big names in the business, and some of those big names could even be considered legends in the field. These are the guys whose knives we seek out to add to our collection and go to shows in the hopes of meeting them. There is certainly no doubt that there are quite a few expert knife makers in the industry right now making some of the best tools that history has ever seen. But, where did they come from? They all had to start somewhere, and it took them years and years to build up their portfolio and garner that legendary status. Luckily, I've had a chance to meet and become friends with several of those folks that I consider to be legendary knife makers, and that's been a benefit of doing this type of work. Another benefit is having the chance to meet makers that are just getting their start and getting their chops in the business. Over the past few years, I've run across several individuals who've started in the knife making arena that I've had no question in my mind that they possess the potential to become one of those "legends" decades down the road.
I hate to name just a few of these guys, because I'm sure to leave someone out, so for today, I'll stick with the person whose Woodsman knife that I just got done reviewing. Andy Roy of Fiddleback Forge just might be one of those folks that we'll hear about years from now and covet one of his creations. He has been making knives this past three years and seems to have hit his stride by going full-time with the endeavor just this past spring. Andy sent the Woods Monkey staff three of his models to be reviewed, including his EDC knife and his Bush Crafter, but those two are with other writers just now and will be online soon. I had the pleasure of trying out his Woodsman, and I'm glad I had the chance. When I first took the Woodsman out of the box, my first reaction was, "Huh!" While it was a beautiful piece of work, it initially struck me as the kind of knife Chef Tell would take out in the woods if he ever made the trip. It has the hallmarks and styling of a very nice chef's knife. But, when I got it out in the field, I found out that it was much more than that.
Constructed of 3/16ths inch O1 steel, the knife came out of the box with a razor sharp convex edge. There are lots of folks out there that prefer one blade grind over another, but I'm fairly flexible. My preference in blade grind is going to be based on the intended use of the knife. After getting some dirt time with the Woodsman, I believe this particular choice is the best. The Woodsman turned out to be a very versatile blade and did a great job against whatever I threw at it. One of the features I really liked about the Woodsman was the ergonomic and very comfortable grip design. The grip slabs of this particular Woodsman were made of Waterfall Bubinga wood over Maple. Aside from the purely beautiful aesthetics of the handle, it is also quite functional with its sculpted palm swells. So, rather than picking up a knife with just a flat, square styled handle, you're sliding your hand over something that feels like it was molded just for you.
I especially got that impression with one of the first things I did when I hit the field, and that was the chopping test. For doing chopping chores with a knife, I do like the convex edge styling very much. It leaves just a little more mass in the blade for strength and for that extra bit of momentum in your swing. Since you're chopping with a short tool, every little bit helps. I had no problems using the Woodsman as a chopper. In fact, I very much liked the feel of the countoured and radiused handle slabs. There were no hot spots anywhere on the grip, and I had a very good purchase on the knife with no concerns about it slipping. As good as it did during the chopping task, adding a lanyard to it and backing up your hand a bit a bit will give you even better results. Even so, it was comfortable enough that I could have doing nothing but chop with it that day and have no complaints.
After doing a several chopping tests on a variety of woods, I was satisfied with its performance. I then moved on to the batoning trials. I recently reviewed a small outdoors grill, and for the grill to straddle the fire, the pieces of wood need to be fairly compact. So, the Woodsman got pressed into service splitting a few logs and breaking down them down into smaller pieces for the cooking fire. I know, I know. Real mean don't baton wood out in the field. It never happens according to some folks. You should always use the right tool for the job, namely an axe or a hatchet. But, hey, a lot of folks don't carry an axe or a hatchet when they are out in the field. There are times when you've got to work with what you have, and at the very least, that usually means a knife. But, you'll get no complaints from me as the Woodsman did a great job in this trial. The 5.5 inch blade is long enough that I had no problems getting enough real estate to smack on the spine while splitting the wood for the fire. As you can see in the left picture, I was able to get plenty of wood split and it was a breeze with the Woodsman and the baton that I chopped out for myself earlier.
After the fire was started and I got the grill set up, I threw a New York strip steak on there and let it start cooking. Now, the Woodsman was going to be my "camp kitchen" knife. While the steak was sizzling, I checked out the blade edge for any dings or other issues, and couldn't find any at all. I tested the edge with my thumb, and it seemed to be still plenty sharp. But, as always, the proof's in the pudding--or the steak in this case. I'm sure a lot of you out there have seen the free-hanging manila rope cutting tests that some makers do with their knives. It's done to give an idea of how sharp the knife is in cutting something that is loose with no resistance like a back stop or being tied down to something on the other end. Well, in that same spirit, I did my free-hanging steak cutting test. I wanted to check the inside to see how well done it was, and I thought it would be an interesting way to see how sharp the blade was after all of that chopping and batoning that I did earlier. Picking up the steak with a fork, I just let it hang in the air and drew the edge of the Woodsman across the meat and got a very nice cut with little effort. The blade edge was still up to snuff after the day's activities, so I cut that strip steak into even smaller strips and the Woodsman sliced through it like it was butter.
Andy sends the Woodsman out with the popular style sheaths made by JRE Industries. So, as quick as you get it in your hands, you're ready to hit the field. As pointed out to me previously by our Associate Editor, there is some credible evidence that would indicate that I am a bit of a gear snob. I'm always looking for the latest designs, the newest wonder steels, and gear with the latest cutting edge technologies. So, I will have to confess that with the hundreds of knives that I've owned and the various models I've reviewed, this is the first time I've played with a knife made of O1 steel. Yes, I know O1 has been around forever and that it takes a fantastic edge; I've read all the white papers. But, typically, I've leaned more toward knives that are more rust-resistant, or at least have the various coatings on them to help stave off corrosion. I'm not the most conscientious person when it comes to cleaning gear and maintaining it, and I know that. That's why I also like stainless firearms as opposed to blued ones. Even though they can still corrode, my odds are better with the former than the latter if I fall off the wagon and don't do my part. But, that's my issue and I'm trying to work through it. As they say, admitting your problem is the first step to correcting it. But, after trying out Fiddleback Forge's Woodsman knife, I think I've seen the light and I'm on the road to recovery.
While I may not be an expert on all types of steels and the best knife designs (as argued about constantly in various forums), I do know what I like. I was very impressed overall with the Woodsman. There's a definite synchronicity in play with the various features of the knife that make it a fantastic and versatile tool out in the woods. The grip shape and design is not only beautiful, but very functional in that it makes the knife very comfortable to use for long periods of time. The blade length is just about the perfect compromise between what you could consider a chopper and a general utility blade. The convex blade grind lends to the Woodsman being a good chopper while only having a 5.5 inch blade, and the O1 steel does indeed take a great edge and is easily maintained out in the field even by someone with limited sharpening skills such as myself. Not to mention, it has an aggressive drop point profile that makes it excellent for piercing or stabbing thrusts. It's an impressive package overall, and at just $200 for the knife, it's a great value for a tool that can be passed on through the generations.
With today's culture seeming to be on a constant path distancing itself from the skills and tools that helped define our civilization, it's great to see new makers stepping up to take the torch and continue the tradition. While keeping the spirit of our past alive in their designs, I'm also glad to see that new touches, tweaks and personal innovations continue to rise to the surface with the more talented members of the next generation of knife makers. This is definitely one knife that I'm going to hate to return now that the review is done, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that I'm going to end up ordering one for myself anyway. I like the camp knife concept of having a tool that's versatile out in the field, and the Woodsman certainly fits the bill. And, who knows? Maybe I'll have an early model knife from one of those legends that pop up from time to time years down the road.
Also, for more info and purchase information: Fiddleback Forge Maker's Forum
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