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April 4, 2009 Comments (0) Blades & Tools

Ontario Ranger Afghan Review

I’m a real sucker for any blade that screams, “Use me!”  I like simple, rugged blades that I know I can depend on and take anywhere.  To some, this instantly conjures up images of a 3/8 inch thick, 8 inch long chopper made of the latest super steel.  And to others (like me), a thinner, smaller blade comes to mind: something light on the belt that can really slice.  Why carry 10 ounces when a 5 ounce blade will do?  But every so often I just get a hankering to use a blade with some heft to it, something that just laughs at you no matter how much you beat on it.  The Ontario Ranger Afghan certainly fits that bill!  But before getting into the nitty-gritty, let’s check out the pedigree of this blade.  While produced by Ontario Knife Company­­­, this blade was designed by Justin Gingrich.  A former U.S. Army Ranger, he started Ranger Knives in 2001 as a means to provide U.S. troops with a hard-use tool at an affordable price.  However, demand soon increased so much that he could no longer keep up with orders on his own, and in 2008 he sold Ranger Knives to Ontario.  Much to the delight of Ranger Knives fans, Ontario makes all Ranger-series blades to original specs and Justin is still involved in a design role.

Right out of the box, this blade & sheath system appears all business.  The sheath is a strong nylon with MOLLE backing and a Fastex-buckled front pouch.  The blade slides behind the pouch into a plastic insert, and is held snugly by a Velcro retaining strap at the handle.  When the Velcro is tightened, the whole system can be held upside-down and jostled without fear of losing a toe.  The pouch is one of the better executed that I’ve seen, for two important reasons.  First, the flap is as wide as the pouch itself, so nothing will be falling out at either side if it’s inverted.  Second, at the mouth of the pouch there’s an elastic band that makes for a comforting extra level of security.  For an idea of the pouch size, it easily held a Victorinox Rucksack, small piece of fatwood wrapped in jute twine, and a Light My Fire Army model firesteel.  The sheath has an overall length of about 13.5 inches, so I wouldn’t count on wearing this for a hike amidst a population of ‘sensitive’ dayhikers.  At a full .25 inches thick, the blade has all the heft that one would expect from Ranger Knives.  The blade is 5 3/8 inches from tip to handle with a 4.5 inch cutting edge, but it’s the ~1 5/8 inches width that really likens it to some bigger brothers from the Ranger ‘Ready Detachment’ series.

Quarter-inch thick micarta slabs cover either side of the full tang, putting the total handle thickness a tad over 3/4 of an inch.  The handle is not contoured, but there are finger and palm swells at the ‘edge side’ and spine, respectively.  It’s quite a wide grip even for my largish hands, but not uncomfortable.   After some extended cutting chores, however, I started to feel that the handle wasn’t quite round enough: the corners of the micarta would cause hot spots.   Secondarily, the handle doesn’t lend itself well to every grip style, particularly the chest-lever (or “side”) grip.

But ergonomics aside, the first question of any blade should be, “How’s it cut?”  Surprisingly well!  The relatively large width coupled with a full flat grind really helps to drop the edge thickness a bit, and makes for a good slicer.  Common field cutting tasks were no problem for the Afghan.  I’d often expect a blade from such thick stock to have a hard time with slicing and wood carving, but good, fine curls were easily made from a variety of woods.  The coating, while even and fairly attractive, is not a favorite aspect on a wilderness knife.  It tends to inhibit a blade’s movement through wood, and increase binding when batoning.  However, this wasn’t really an issue with the Afghan.  There is an almost ‘slick’ feeling to the coating.  Though purely for aesthetic reasons, I’d really enjoy seeing one of these knives stripped of coating.

With any new knife, I try to take it out and work through as many common chores as possible.  Fuzz sticks on even small twigs were really a breeze.   As noted, I worked on several types of wood, from soaking-wet branches to slivers of oak firewood.  The edge of the Afghan had no problem biting into any of these types.  And if I didn’t mention it before, this edge came sharp!  In my complacence, I managed to take a pretty fair chunk of my fingertip off!   But at least we can ascertain it should be good at small game processing.  I’m not a big proponent of choils in general, but the Afghan was pretty comfortable to choke up on using this.  The width of the blade doesn’t allow easy turning when carving, but you can still get lots of control with the choil when notching or making fuzz sticks.  In similar fashion, batoning was no problem at all with this blade.  While I would classify the knife overall as ‘medium’ sized, I had little difficulty in gaining enough real estate for a baton target.  Again, the coating did not seem to adversely affect performance here.

I’ve found that making a bowdrill & hearth to start a friction-fire is a pretty fair test of a blade.  You have to use a variety of grips and use the knife for several different tasks.  The Afghan was used to baton a nice, even plank for use as a hearth.  The tip worked well for drilling my divot, and cutting a notch for the coal to gather was not at all awkward.  I found a decent stick to make a bow, and presto!   I had a bow-drill setup.   I was sweating, cursing, and coughing through smoke in no time, but the Afghan can hardly be blamed for that.  With this activity wrapped up, I brought the OKC Ranger into the kitchen, a place where any camp knife should excel.  It was near dinner time, so the Afghan was used to prep veggies and slice up some sausage.  These activities are the bane of most thick knives, as they tend to do more crushing than cutting/slicing.  The Afghan did just fine though giving uniform and proper cuts of tomato, potato, and carrot.

So where does this Ranger blade fit into one’s knife repertoire?  I feel it makes a really excellent camp knife.  It’s compact enough not to be cumbersome on the belt when at the campsite, stout enough to cleave small branches in a single stroke and prep firewood, sharp enough for any food prep or fuzz sticks.  And, there’s no need to shop around for a decent aftermarket sheath, since the one supplied is quite suitable.  Hard to ask for much more!  As a dedicated ‘bushcraft’ knife, however, it might not be as ideal.  For this role a more nimble and compact blade excels.   Bushcraft, was not the focus of this article, and I told Justin Gingrich that I’d have no problem recommending this blade to any military friends heading into The Sandbox.  That fact stands true!

Visit: www.ontarioknife.com

www.rangerknives.com

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