I fancy myself being, well, not very fancy. My tastes are simple, if existent at all, and I am perfectly happy with the obnoxious red plastic handle on my Mora 510 simply because it doesn’t matter. I consider this particular Mora to be the epitome of functionality as production knives go and to me, it is quite beautiful in spite of how ugly it is. While ugly is not a prerequisite to function, I have to confess that I do have a soft spot for the aesthetic of certain natural materials. Being a wood-worker, I appreciate grain of all kinds but get butterflies when I see polished curly maple, the most beautiful of woods indigenous to North America in my opinion.
Pair curly maple with forged carbon steel and I get weak in the knees on top of the former affliction. Forge marks, betraying the hidden fallibility of the maker, subtle accoutrements, genuine leather and exquisite lines all at the same time just make me woozy and I am not my old pragmatic self. There are a few artisans out there yet today who have inherited or exhumed the skills, the touch, the methods and an eye for the functional art of the past several centuries who create eminently useful and useable functional art that characterizes the heritage of a new world, which by its birthright had to be independent.
Lon Humphrey, of Lon Humphrey Custom Knives, creates functional articles characterizing the work of independent craftsman of a hundred to two hundred and fifty years ago. The knives he makes are made in much the same manner they were made then. When I first learned of Lon’s work, I naturally headed right for the Internet. What better use for such a modern technological wonder than to research historical things and to find people who actually recreate them? Poking around on Lon’s site revealed some fascinating images of truly historical-looking knives very artfully crafted and using most of the old ways to boot. Lon’s knives don’t just look like real, hand-forged Americana – they are real, hand-forged Americana.
Not to diminish the importance of functionality, the beauty of the particular Lon Humphrey knife in my possession would not induce me to babbling if it were jes’ fer purty. I have the Lon Humphrey Brute de Forge near me as I type and it lives up to its name, being of significant mass and dimension, the bulk of which is composed of high carbon steel. The Brute de Forge weighs slightly over half a pound and is about nine and three quarter’s inches long. The blade itself is five and a quarter inches long, about an inch and a half tall at its greatest height and a quarter inch thick at the spine. The handle is four and a half inches long and shaped like a peg, which has always struck me as odd in that handles so-shaped have always looked great to me but they have always also been very comfortable and comforting on knives with the greater part of their mass forward of the handle.
To reduce such a knife to mere dimensions is an injustice. Without pictures, I would personally be hard pressed to convey how refined this knife looks and how well it handles. You will have to rely on the photos to see what I mean about the aesthetic appeal, but I will try to explain the tactile appeal of the Brute de Forge. The tapered full tang and natural wooden
scales help keep the otherwise substantial grip from throwing off the good balance. The generous handle could have easily made the knife feel a little awkward if it were heavier but the extra effort in tapering the tang and the choice of a lighter scale material were well thought out features. The peg-shaped handle allows the knife to hang, tip-down in a loose grip between tasks without feeling as if it will be dropped. The creatively forged guard lets the weight of the knife rest against one’s forefinger comfortably when held and used tip-up and there are no sharp edges to gnaw at one’s skin.
While the blade has a portion that is all of a quarter inch thick, the nearly full height flat grind over the inch and a half from spine to edge at that same spot, makes a very stout, yet not unduly heavy blade. The blade comes to a rather fine point for its overall size and the extra-wide willow-leaf pattern provides a very natural curvature along the entire cutting edge. The natural symmetry of this hand-made knife displays no parallel lines to confound the eye or disappoint the hand. The girth of the handle, even at its narrowest, is still more than sufficient for heavy cutting tasks. The Brute de Forge’s curvature along the spine sets the blade tip and edge conveniently so that they come to the work piece naturally when held in a number of different grip positions.
For general use and camp chores, the Lon Humphrey Brute de Forge is quite handy for its size – more so than many more modern-designed “larger” knives I have used. Having handled a great many simple designs, most of which I liked at least to some degree, I feel that the ergonomics born of the not so mathematical lines are partly responsible, while the strategic placement of mass is as well. This is definitely not a design that would be “CAD-friendly,” so it was entirely up to the eye of the maker at its inception and the hand of the same as it was completed to determine what was “right.”
The Brute de Forge would be fun in a large game processing project but that season is still a short time off. While a bit more than necessary, I can see it still being capable in small game processing if the need arose in the absence of a smaller knife. Fire-making chores are easily accomplished with the Brute de Forge and it has something of an advantage in processing kindling with its mass and blade length. While not long enough or heavy enough to be what many would consider an outright “chopper,” its design makes it handle quite well for its size in that role for kindling-sized material. I did not even consider touching the mirror-polished spine to a ferro-rod as that would have seemed completely inappropriate. If one doesn’t already have a flint and steel fire kit, it is the perfect accompaniment this historical-looking piece.
Lon uses primarily W2 steel but indicates on his site that he will work with some other carbon steels. He flatly states that he does not work with stainless steel. Any of the stainless steels would be wholly inappropriate for Lon’s work anyway and would deprive the owner of the gratification of seeing the character of an honestly acquired patina further beautify this knife over time and through use. Being a hand-made knife, one Brute de Forge will not look exactly like the next Brute de Forge and I am just fine with that. One’s knife is a highly personal object and the individuality of each, because it is hand-made, is a very fitting attribute.
The sheath that comes with the Brute de Forge complements the knife very nicely. It is not one that I would relegate to a drawer and then make my own, which I very often do. The sheath is made of high quality leather and is very nicely put together. It is highly functional, without unnecessary clutter and is aesthetically compatible with the Brute de Forge. It has a generous belt loop, allowing one to slip up to a three-inch belt through it. With the knife in place, the combination hangs on the loop well and would work with a Baldric rig as well.
The Lon Humphrey Brute de Forge is a traditional knife in looks, functionality, materials and fabrication, with all the individuality that comes with a hand-made tool. Lon’s work reflects the considerable skill and knowledge required to work with traditional materials, using traditional methods, and he also manages to draw out the artistic nature of the process and product. With all of that said, I’m sure a lot of you are sitting back waiting for the sticker shock but, despite the quality and workmanship that go into Lon’s knives, the asking price for a Brute de Forge at the time of this writing is a modest $189.00 for a Curly maple example with leather sheath.
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