Unless you’re a regular on Knifeforums.com you may be missing out on one of the real sleepers of the custom knife world right now. Quietly, but steadily, Mike McConnell has been showing off an ever growing line of practical, hardworking blades built for the everyman. Mike has a vision that I can really appreciate: make a quality, handmade tool that folks can afford and won’t hesitate to use.
Mike is a 45 year old full time knife maker working out of his shop in Tennessee. He has a long history of working with his hands and has tinkered with blade making and blacksmithing for at least 20 years now. He recently decided to start into full time knife making after being influenced by semi-custom shops like Blind Horse Knives and Bark River Knife and Tool. Mike felt that he could bring a quality product to hunters and campers at a price that would attract folks that might not be able to spring for a high end custom. He felt there was a good niche there between a production retail knife that you pick up at your local box store or sporting goods chain and the high end custom knives. Mike said that he’d much rather see one of his knives in a well used state with a good patina on it, than sitting in a drawer with a collection somewhere. He’s a man after my own heart. I’ve always felt that a knife with a little wear and tear shows character and has a soul and a story behind it, whereas one that isn’t being used is just wasted potential. I recently had a chance to check out Mike’s Bushcrafter model and see just what you get for the modest amount that he charges.
Mike does most of his knives out of O-1 high carbon tool steel, although he will use 1095 high carbon steel on request. I have a lot of time in with O-1 knives and have been very pleased with their performance, so that was just fine by me. O-1 always seemed to be a good compromise of edge retention, strength, and ease of maintenance for me. It takes a patina quickly, but that was always a plus as far as I was concerned. The steel is 1/8 inch thick and hardened to a 58-59 Rockwell. The blade itself is a 4 inch drop point with what Mike calls a flat grind, but which I would call a high saber grind. It carries a convex edge and the profile is reminiscent of some of the Dozier designs. It features the Sugar Creek Knifeworks logo etched into the left-hand side of the blade. The handle is a healthy 4 3/4 inches long and provides plenty of space for just about any sized hand. It’s fitted with tan Micarta scales, which are attached via epoxy and two stainless steel pins and is rounded out by a lined lanyard hole. Weight on my U.S. Postal scale is 6.0 ounces even. The Bushcrafter comes with either a brown stitched leather sheath with a full welt, or a black Kydex sheath. Overall fit and finish are excellent. If Mike hadn’t told me he had only recently started making knives full time I would have presumed he’d been at it for quite some time. You can tell he’s a guy who has worked with their hands a lot and has good attention to detail. His grinds are clean and even and the handle to tang fit is seamless. There were no detectable high spots or areas that might cause hot spots during use.
I received the Sugar Creek Bushcrafter just in time to attend Dave Canterbury’s 2010 Pathfinder Gathering in Hillsboro, Ohio. This was a 5 day gathering featuring a variety of survival and bushcraft oriented topics and was attended by over 200 people. It was a great chance to try out the knife myself, as well as get impressions from others at the event. My personal impressions of the Bushcrafter were quite favorable. The knife felt good in the hand and was light and balanced enough to be fairly nimble. There’s enough belly to the drop point that it looks like it should do equally well has a hunting blade as it does it camp tasks. While I liked the lines of the knife, and the fit and finish and feel of the Bushcrafter, the blade didn’t seem super sharp to me at first. It would shave hair, but it took some pressure to do so. However, once I moved on to real woods chores I rapidly found out that my initial impression of the edge was incorrect.
The convex edge that Mike applies to the Bushcrafter proved to work quite well on a variety of woods, including garden stakes made of some sort of iron like hardwood that I in my back yard. Sharpening stakes and notching them proved much easier than I anticipated and whittling fuzz sticks wasn’t a challenge either. It may not be a shaving edge but it proved to be a practical and durable one for actual field use. Basic EDC items such as opening up meal pouches and cutting cordage didn’t pose any sort of challenge either. I did some light batoning to prep a some kindling and used the spine of the knife with an LMF firesteel to start the fires as well. A quick run on my JRE Stropbat and the convex edge quickly brought back anything it might have lost through being beaten through a couple lengths of wood. That’s one of the things I appreciate about O-1, when it does loose some of its keenness, it comes back easily and quickly. I put the Sugar Creek Bushcrafter into the hands of a number of folks at the gathering to get some feedback. Overall opinions of the knife were very good. Even comments from other established knife makers were very positive, and these are folks who know the art well. The simple style and clean lines were much appreciated as were the combination of O-1 steel and Micarta scales. That’s a hard combination to beat for a working blade, and all you generally really need.
Mike McConnell set out to make Sugar Creek Knifeworks a business that would appeal to the common outdoorsman, and if the Bushcrafter I had a chance to try out is any indication, I think he’s well on the path to success. I know I’ve mentioned a number of times now about Sugar Creek knives being ones folks can afford, and I’ve been teasing you a bit with how affordable they really are. Part of that has been because I’m still pretty surprised myself at just how reasonable Mike is in his pricing. The Bushcrafter I tested goes for a very modest $95.00, with sheath! Pretty much everyone agreed that the price is a steal and that you’re getting a hell of a bargain for a handmade, made in U.S.A. knife for that price. If the Bushcrafter isn’t exactly your style, check out the Sugar Creek website and check out Mike’s other designs as well. The run from $65.00 on up, but the majority of them can be had for less than one Ben Franklin. That’s an impressive feat when you factor in the quality that you get for your modest outlay. If you’re in the market for a new field knife and can’t bring yourself to drop a good chunk of your mortgage payment on one, then definitely check out Sugar Creek Knifeworks. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal on a custom field knife.