You get what you pay for, right? When I was a kid, the most ruthless implication that another’s gear was not up to snuff was to simply ask "so, was that made in Japan?" It didn’t take long though before I invested eleven dollars cold, hard cash, earned at a rate of about twenty five cents an hour in a Panasonic transistor radio.
When I was old enough for my first shotgun, I was gifted a fine twenty gauge over and under – an Ithaca-SKB. Within the first year out on my own, my first big expenditure of "disposable" income was a hundred and twenty four bucks (a week’s pay working for Uncle Sam) for a single lens reflex film camera – a Pentax. All but the transistor survive and are used today over three decades after the last mentioned purchase.
Today, we refer to Chinese goods disparagingly as "cheap Chinese junk," and sometimes a bit more passionately by replacing "junk" with an expletive associated with a certain organic fertilizer. This is not necessarily untrue or unfair, because a lot of it is low quality but folks buy it. There is a demand for it regardless of why. The mistake that we sometimes make is in assuming that all goods of a certain origin are as bad as, or as good as those we most commonly see on store shelves. While many tons of goods from Japan, Taiwan or Hong Kong have been shipped to our shores which fell well below some ambiguous quality standard, it did not prove that they were incapable of producing high quality goods. If you are willing to be specific about the level of quality you want (and are willing to pay more) you will get what you pay for.
The CAS Hanwei Rock Creek Kudu is an example and is one finely made knife. The materials and workmanship are excellent and its single best attribute is that it is one of the better designs I have handled in some time. Given that a hunting knife is a highly personal tool, some of the design features may or may not appeal to everyone, but I find that when viewed with overall functionality in mind, someone was actually thinking about functionality when they designed it. The Rock Creek Kudu is also a very nice-looking knife as well, but that seems a superficial side affect of real functionality and good workmanship.
CAS Hanwei, being cognizant of the stigma carried by Chinese knives, has made a concerted effort to defy that notion. That effort is materialized in some extremely well executed knives being sold under the Rock Creek Knives brand. They are not what you might expect if you have only owned one of those two-dollar folders from the clear plastic jug at the counter of your local hardware store – the ones with soft stainless blades you carry just in case you find yourself faced with rendering a reply to a sudden request to borrow your knife. The Rock Creek Kudu is one you will not want to loan to someone who doesn’t own a knife, in fact you may just want to buy a dozen of those at the hardware store just in case someone asks.
Before killing the mood with the minutiae of quantitative specifications (weights and measurements), I have to describe the CAS Hanwei Rock Creek Kudu within more a more inspiring context. The "feel" of the Rock Creek Kudu is experienced with the eye as well as the hand. The look of the Kudu evokes the sense of a wilderness trip in pursuit of big game with its gently sweeping blade and warm stacked-leather handle. The blade itself is something of a practical Nessmuk interpretation but it has some old skinner or butcher’s genes as well. There is a gentle and continuous curve along the edge until it sweeps up and terminates well below the spine and only slightly above the center of the handle. In-hand, it has a slightly handle-heavy balance that lets you lever the blade with the guard lying against your index finger and with the handle lightly pinched at its narrow front. It fits my hand well for field dressing and skinning and I envision this blade a well chosen dedicated hunter.
The Kudu’s Nessmuk-inspired blade provides a suitable drop in the point for field dressing and has plenty of belly for skinning and in cutting flesh on the carcass or on the block, while the guard might get in the way a bit in the kitchen. The flat-ground blade, with it’s secondary cutting edge moves quite nicely through store bought chicken and beef in spite of its .157" spine thickness and its corrosion-resistance seems to be very good, as I have no patina to show for my efforts. Corrosion resistance is not only important in terms of looks, but in terms of how the fine edge stands up to use processing game. Through non-game-related experimentation, I found that the blade steel is quite hard – harder than I expected, as I spent some time processing some kindling with it just to see how it fared at other tasks.
"Other tasks" included some typical bush craft exercises like fire building and working wood. The blade was wonderful for these chores while the handle was not quite perfect. Given that the knife is a hunter, the handle is executed exceptionally well for that task, but a bit thin at the front end for prolonged woodworking. The sharp spine excelled at turning inner bark into fine, fluffy tinder as well as providing an impressive ball of fire from a ferro-rod. Notching was easy with the flat grind and the fine yet robust tip allowed for more delicate work. For emergencies, the Kudu is as good an expedient as they get for woodworking and I would not shy away from putting to hard use if the chips were down. While there are more suitable Rock Creek Knives for woodworking endeavors, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings a bit to find this blade on the end of a more barrel-shaped handle as a bushcraft type knife.
I did not hone the blade before use but I did remove a very fine and very even burr along one side by stropping on leather embedded with Mibro #2 compound followed by Dico WR1. The fine burr put up some resistance, which was a good sign, but gave in and I proceeded to remove it from the opposite side, fully expecting to chase the burr back and forth for some time but I was fooled. The burr worked like that of most high carbon steels I am familiar with, unlike many lesser stainless steels on which you have to work a tenacious flap of steel back and forth many times before finally thinning it enough that it wears or breaks off. The edge, still in possession of its original though very fine grind marks, worked well and even the microscopic teeth it still bore did not bend and break while working hardwood. Not being a fan of "proprietary" steel markings, which in this case is "HWS-1K," I have to admit that my cynic’s hunch that the steel must be an inferior grade or they would say what it really is, failed me on this occasion.
With the initial minor stropping, the Kudu was sharp. Trying a number of sharpness tests, I found the whole edge to be free of abnormalities or defects and could push cut Post-Its and cut long, smooth ribbons of copy paper without a hitch. Yes, I even shaved a patch of arm hair, which I have been trying not to do, but I could not resist. After spending some time doing some fire-building tasks with the Kudu, I had a chance to even things out by shaving a patch off the other arm just as easily. I split some small sections of mulberry and ash and spent an unreasonable amount of time shaving fuzz sticks in an attempt to degrade the edge as much as possible. I have to admit that I was skeptical about the proprietary steel marking of "HWS-1K" and was fixed on proving that it was probably some decent but not excellent common stainless. I believe that I may have been wrong about that because the patch on my other arm came off as cleanly as the first after giving the edge a workout. Subsequent stropping seems to simply make the edge just that much better so I am anxious to polish the edge and see how it works on game flesh without the fine teeth which I had expected to leave the Kudu at a disadvantage.
Generally, the Kudu’s blade is very appealing. The faces of the flat grind are very, very slightly convexed and the flat does not go all the way to the spine, making it a very stiff blade. The plunge lines are perfect and the evenness of the faces and the entire edge are about as close to perfect as I have seen. I can’t see any laborious hours on a stone being necessary; some minor polishing above 600 grit and down to a high polish on the very edge is all that it needs. I purposefully used the knife without having done this initially to see how the fine "teeth" would stand up and they did so very well. The blade finish on the Kudu is not highly polished, but more of a satin finish except on the flats, which are finished at approximately 600 grit. Just as well, because while you probably could shave with it, you can’t shave with it and use it as a mirror at the same time. Please do not misconstrue that as a challenge.
The Kudu’s handle is stacked bark-tanned leather with a cast stainless pommel and guard and the pommel is secured with a sleeve nut The Kudu’s weight is just right, the balance is good and the handle fills the bill for processing game. The narrower front portion of the handle facilitates a secure pinch grip without straining your hand and fingers and the straight sides provide a lot of control. Toward the rear, the handle widens to almost a tall oval cross section with a slight bottom swell just before the pommel, allowing for a secure extended grip to reach farther up or around a carcass during skinning. The traditional look of the bark-tanned stacked leather handle is also very functional in being smooth but non-slip. I could do without the guard or would accept less of a guard, but I won’t deny that it is probably a good idea for field dressing in the dark, or near dark, or while working inside the chest cavity of a large game animal. In fact, the feel of the Kudu’s handle shape leaves no question as to which way the edge is oriented or which way the tip is pointed, making it a sensible and safe knife for working where you cannot actually see the knife.
The sheath that came with the Kudu struck me as being a bit flashy at first, with its stainless steel-reinforced tip and upper edges, but as I have used it more, I have come to appreciate these features. From a functionality standpoint, the reinforcements may make the sheath last longer. I have always considered a sheath a "wear-item" which must be replaced a few times over the life of a good knife, but I guess that doesn’t necessarily have to be. As for the flash, well, carbon steel would rust and brass will turn green, so I guess the stainless is a good idea after all. The leather from which the Kudu’s sheath is made appears to be vegetable tanned and is of high quality without blemishes. The 8 ounce thickness is substantial but not bulky and the stitching is very nice even for having been done by machine. The retaining strap is solid and secure and the belt loop is about an inch and five eights wide with enough room to accommodate up to a two and a half inch belt. The Kudu’s sheath was not just an afterthought and it actually complements the quality of the knife very well.
CAS Hanwei went to some trouble to supply a production knife that stands on its own merits and I believe that they have succeeded. Overall workmanship is excellent. The grinds are impeccably even and the finish is very nice. There are no asymmetrical eyesores to make you wince and only a few little sharp edges where they shouldn’t be, but those will be easily corrected with a stone. One thing I really appreciated was the fact that the Kudu is indelibly etched with its country of origin, something not all knives made in China are. I have seen a number of decent knives with a tiny country of origin sticker clinging to no more than a thin film of oil on the blade and I saw a table full of such knives at a gun show once with no country of origin markings at all. At the end of the row I saw several dozen "China" stickers in a barrel clinging to the sides of the trash bag. I give CAS Hanwei a lot of credit for being honest and having enough faith in their product that they don’t have to hide where it came from.
The cold, hard specs of the Kudu are listed on CAS Hanwei’s site and they vary slightly as they have stated there. This is how mine shakes out:
- 5.8 ounces without the sheath
- 8 13/16" overall length
- 4 3/8" blade length
- 1 1/16" blade height
- .157" blade thickness (at the spine, near the guard)
- 4 7/16 handle
The subjective part – the aesthetic, is simply conveyed by saying that the Rock Creek Kudu has all the rugged good looks and finesse of a good old-fashioned American hunting knife. The sheath, as stated before, is no slouch either. The total package is quality and constitutes a sound gear investment at around a hundred bucks retail but usually goes for a good bit less at most online knife suppliers.
Check out the CAS Hanwei Rock Creek Kudu and the rest of their line on their website. And while you’re surfing, get another perspective on the Rock Creek line in Tim’s excellent article on two other Rock Creek Knives: bit.ly/o4cAr3
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