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August 16, 2009 Comments (0) Blades & Tools

ML Knives Hudson Bay Review

MLHB6cStep inside and join us while we take a look at a custom reproduction from ML Knives of a classic knife style born on the United States frontier and still has its place in your wilderness kit today.




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One of the more popular trends in cutlery lately has been multi-use, multi-purpose knives that seem to want to do everything in the proverbial book. Now, I’ve never been a believer that there is one tool that will do it all. No such wonder tool exists. But even before Leatherman, and even before Victorinox, guys have been trying to get cutlery tools that do more in one package. Carrying one item instead of a half dozen has a distinct advantage while tromping through the woods. Perhaps no one knew this better than the early pioneers, mountain men, and fur trappers through the early part of our continent’s history. The traditional Hudson Bay knife was part of that culture, and this current reproduction by Matt Lesniewski of ML Knives certainly represents that well.Matt is no stranger to quality knives. He’s been making knives full time for years as his profession. A blacksmith by trade, Matt is more than capable of pounding out more than just cutlery. But his niche is quality, traditional styled knives similar to those early frontier patterns. Matt produces his work in my favorite way, forging each blade by hand with a hammer and anvil. Using primarily 1095 carbon steel, Matt makes hard working knives that are durable and well tempered to keep an edge. Matt’s Hudson Bay knife uses this 1095 steel to great effect, making a utilitarian and useful knife for camp and trail.

MLH4aThe Hudson Bay knife, as it is often referred to, is named after the company by the same name that provided so much of the equipment to the early fur trappers and pioneers. The Hudson Bay Company (HBC) is largely responsible for the western expansion across the northern states and Canada. As a matter of fact, the HBC was once the main governing body for the majority of the northwest. Providing everything from camp cooking tools, to cutlery, to the famous, albeit expensive, Hudson Bay blanket, the HBC of the frontier days is a far cry from the retail company it is today. For the fur trappers during the height of trapping, the HBC provided knives, often sold by the dozen, for practical use on the trail. While there were many patterns sold, what has become referred to as the Hudson Bay knife is the one that will be reviewed here.

When Matt and I were discussing the design for this knife, I wanted to keep the knife traditional and easily recognizable as a Hudson Bay style. Matt did a bang up job on this knife, and honored my request for a slightly straighter spine than usual with his typical professionalism. With an overall length of 13 3/16 inches, this is a large knife by any standards. The blade edge is 8 ¼ inches, with a handle length of about 4 ¾ inches. Besides its length, what sets this knife apart is the stock thickness. Coming in at a touch under 3/16’s, the blade is a thick one. With a convex grind about half way up the blade, and a secondary bevel honed razor sharp, the geometry of the blade makes this knife cut and slice like a much thinner blade. With a note to that secondary bevel on the ML, it is razor sharp. The first test out of the box left a bare spot on my left arm!

MLHB3aAfter handling the knife a bit, I couldn’t help but think, “This thing ought to chop pretty well.” And chop it does! Now this isn’t a machete, and it isn’t an axe, but with its heft and size it can handle those chores impressively. This needed testing. I recently spent an afternoon along the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, CO aimlessly wandering around with my wife. We were out for a day trip and decided to stop off along the river to give everything a thorough checking-out. On a little rocky sandbar I found quite a bit of driftwood that I just couldn’t help but testing the ML on.

The first test for chopping power was done on at chunk of Lodgepole driftwood about 5 ½” in diameter and running about 3’ long. Within a minute, I was tossing 2”-3” chips, and within about two minutes, the log was in two pieces. I was amazed at how well it worked. From a tool that I can carry strapped to the outside of my pack, this knife performed like a much larger, bulkier axe. Now, you won’t be building a log cabin with the ML, but you can easily chop and split wood to warm that cabin.

That brings me to my next test, fire building. One of my main tasks for determining how much I like a knife is to test is on fire building. In my opinion, this incorporates many of the chores typically done in camp. From shaving kindling, to limbing branches, to splitting wood for the fuel, an exercise in fire building will tell you just how well knife performs in the woods. I gathered my usual suspects, Mesquite, Lodgepole Pine, Aspen, and dried Sagebrush.

MLHB5aUsing a rocking motion much like chopping vegetables, I had turned the dried Sage stalks into minced tinder for the fire. Shaving the Mesquite produced a pile of shavings and chips the size of a softball in only about a minute. The Aspen I was using had numerous small branches. With a quick chopping action, the limbs jumped off the logs. The Lodegepole and Aspen logs I was using were between 4” to 8” in diameter. Using the ML and an Aspen log for a baton, I split out an armful of firewood with very little effort. With its convex grind coupled with the thick stock, the ML performed exceptionally well.


MLHB9aOne aspect of cutlery that is often forgotten about is the part of the knife you actually hold… the handle. Matt uses full tangs on most of his knives, with handle slabs made of natural materials such as wood and antler. On the Hudson Bay, Matt used Black Walnut shaped to the tang of the knife by hand. To hold it together, Matt employed a combination steel and brass pin that really looks, well, fantastic. These pins are some of the best looking handle pins I’ve seen, and they really set the Black Walnut off nicely. Matt’s handles are hand finished, making for a product that really fits the hand nicely. In the traditional Hudson Bay pattern, Matt left the end of the handle rounded to aid in keeping he knife in hand during use.

The handle is especially comfortable for up close whittling work. Using the few inches of blade closest to the handle, I was impressed with how controllable the ML was for such a large knife. Although my whittling skills are definitely lacking, I was able to use the ML Hudson Bay to carve out a hand line spool for fishing. Notching sticks for pot hangers, steaks, and camp projects were all easily done. While my trap building skills are about as refined as my whittling, I was able to do all the necessary notching and carving for the standard ‘figure-four’ deadfall trap. This is one aspect of my woods skills I have been trying to improve upon. And while I can’t get a functional trap every time, I am getting better!

MLHB2aMatt supplies his knives with a quality leather sheath built for the specific knife. That’s a refreshing personal touch to each knife, and you’re not trying to fit a custom knife into a generic sheath. As I do the majority of my own leatherwork, I asked Matt to leave the sheath up to me. Matt kindly obliged my request, and I built a sheath in a fold-over pattern that keeps the overall package slim and trim. I have carried the knife on my belt, laced through a pack strap, and dropped in the bottom of a backpack. Although heavier that most knives I carry, the Hudson Bay is all the knife I need. The ML Hudson Bay is large enough to do most of the camp chores, useful for the up close work, and well tempered and ground to stay sharp and useful through the course of an outdoor outing.

Although I was not able to process any game with the ML, I’m hoping my two elk tags for this coming hunting season will get me into some game processing. But from past experience processing deer and elk, I can say with certainty that the Hudson Bay will perform admirably in game cleaning and processing.

Setting up an order with Matt is a simple process. You can select a model from his website, but good luck, there’s plenty to choose from so it might be a hard decision! Dropping e-mail to Matt will set up an order. Any special requests to handle material, blade finish, handle pins, or anything else can be easily handled over e-mail. I can attest to Matt’s professionalism, and Matt will quickly impress you during the communication process. Although there is a wait for Matt’s work, it’s well worth it. And based on the enormous waits for other custom makers, Matt’s couple of months is nothing. Payment isn’t due until the knife is completed and Matt’s ready to ship.

If you’re looking for a traditional styled knife that’s well built to high quality, Matt Lesniewski is the maker for you. His knives are hand built quality tools that will last through generations of use and keep going strong. If you’re interested, check out Matt’s website here:

Visit:  www.mlknives.com

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