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May 12, 2015 Comments (0) Blades & Tools, Reviews

T.M. Hunt Custom Knives

By Brian Griffin

Todd Hunt is a rare find in the knife world. He has been making high quality working knives for hunters and outdoors-men in America’s heart land for nearly two decades, however few outside his home town of Seymour Indiana knew much about that until a few years ago. Todd made his first knife in early 1998, inspired by watching his father making them by hand with minimal tooling. He soon found out that he really enjoyed the craft and has developed a very deep passion for it over time.

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As an addition to the Workhorse line Todd created the Tradewater model. This knife is essentially a Yuma with a 1-inch longer blade.

Fast forward fifteen years, to the spring of 2013, and there is my first meeting with Todd. I had been told about his work – and the quality of it – by a close friend, and needed to see for myself. The first T.M. Hunt knife I saw was a prototype of his Yuma model.Photo-13

We talked for a while about steel types, blade profiles, edge geometries, and heat treatment. It was definitely one of the more interesting conversations I have had which ended we me leaving with the knife. I was on my way to a three-month stay in the “Sunshine” state, and that knife would endure quite a torture test in the swamps of southern Florida.

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In this picture, which first appeared on the cover of SRI issue #14, I am using the Yuma prototype for one of the many times it was used to strike a ferro rod for fire starting. It was during that trip to the swamps of southern Florida that I developed a healthy respect for Todd’s heat treating skills.

Over the next three months, it was pitted against various synthetic and organic materials: nylon rope and webbing, wood, crustacean shells, coconuts, and ferrocerium rods. That prototype did so well in the field that I chose to use it for the “Fire Steel” article I wrote for SRI issue #14. By the time I had used that knife for a month, I was impressed with Todd’s heat treat as much as I was with his fit and finish work and design concept. When I returned from that trip, I was very much interested in seeing other models in the T.M. Hunt line. As it turns out, he is as much an artist as he is a tool maker and does some fairly impressive work.

Over the last few years I have had several opportunities to examine T.M. Hunt knives, including some of his more artistic pieces, and to test the entire “Workhorse” line in the field. The following is an account of those tests; covering them smallest to largest.

The Handy Little Hornet

The Hornet is a small knife designed for EDC with an overall length of 4.25 inches and a blade length of 1.75 inches. The blade has a Wharncliffe profile that lends itself to common chores. It has a small profile and a simple, unassuming appearance, but this little knife is much more capable than one might think. It has the handiness of a folding knife in a more durable fixed blade design.   

It is such a light-weight knife that it is easy to forget I have it on my belt yet I have found it extremely helpful on many occasions. It has served well in the tasks of cleaning my fingernails, cutting random strings here and there, opening parcels and stubborn  packages, and it has been pressed into service as a steak knife when the only knife brought to me in a busy restaurant was a butter knife. When it comes to food preparation or consumption, fixed blades are much more hygienic than the average folding knife because they lack crevices and moving parts.

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These are the primary models of the Workhorse line. From top to bottom, The M-18, Yuma, Magua, and Hornet. Each offering a size and level of usefulness to suit the individual needs of the purchaser.

The Magua

The Magua is reminiscent of the patch knives of old. With an overall length of 7.5 inches and a 3.5-inch blade it is an excellent size for all-around use. It is small enough to be unobtrusive and easy to handle yet large enough to perform a variety of tasks, and is a capable cutting tool. It is as much in its element in a home or R.V kitchen. It is an excellent knife for day hikes, picnics, camping and fishing trips. Weighing in at 4 oz, it is also a good candidate for backpackers and through-hikers. For those who are serious about weight, I have seen skeletonized versions available that barely weigh more than 1 oz..

This little cutter has a handle that is large enough to offer good control during use in the larger hands of a grown man, yet small enough to not be unwieldy in the smaller hands of women or young adults. The pointy tip gives it good piercing and penetrating capabilities; a must have in a good fishing knife. The guardless blade works equally well for cutting up snacks, prepping meals, or cutting bait on the gunwale of a bass boat. In any case, you can get the entire cutting edge on the cutting board for nice clean cuts in whatever you are portioning. My nine-year-old daughter has been helping me with food prep since she was five. While using the Magua, her motions seem natural.

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The Versatile Yuma

This model came from Todd’s desire to create a stout working knife with good cutting geometry and some specialized features for well-rounded use. It has a 4.5 inch drop point blade, flat ground from either 3/16 or 5/32 inch O-1 tool steel depending on the preferences of the user.  The handle is also 4.5 inches long, three-dimensionally contoured, has a birds beak at the pommel end for a secure purchase in multiple holds, and a textured pommel extension for striking. The blade has gimping strategically placed in two locations on the spine. One section, just forward of the handle, for traction during push cuts or pinch grips. The other, close to the center of the spine, for added versatility. The shape, features, and overall size of the knife combine to serve very well in all-around-use.

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I have made use of the Yuma’s tang extension in a few situations. One of those times was to drive the knife into a coconut for a quick snack in the field. This allows the knife to function in uses that would normally require a larger tool.

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First off, I noticed how well the contours of the knife fit the shape of the hand in various holds and grips: over-hand, under-hand, reverse, and in pinch grips.. It ensures a very secure purchase in slippery conditions. I found the handle to be very ergonomic in prolonged use when fashioning field expedient tools and utensils. The integral guard and birds beak pommel create a very secure purchase when doing both push and pull cuts which helps the user bring more power to bear in both cases.

The full-flat grind gives the knife a very good geometry for slicing capability even in the thicker 3/16-inch stock, which I happen to prefer for the additional lateral strength. The knife did very well in tasks ranging from cutting rope and straps to slicing meat, cutting vegetables, and mincing onions for making stew. It handles much like a stouter version of my kitchen paring knife. For those whom lighter weight is a priority,  or those who have more of an emphasis on slicing ability, there is the thinner 5/32-inch version.

The pommel extension is a feature I like very much. It enables the knife to be used in chisel fashion with much less risk of damaging the handle scales when striking with a baton. The first time I used this feature was to drive the point of the knife into one of the soft “eyes” of a coconut. Initially to drain the milk for drinking; then to split it open to access the meat inside. Another task was in driving into, and prying pieces off of, the ripped-apart ends of trees felled by a storm to access dry kindling material in the rain.

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The extended tang allows for the knife to be stricken in chisel fashion, with less risk of damage to the handle scales. This comes in handy during times of extreme uses of the knife.

At this point the edges of multiple Yuma models, and thus T.M. Hunt’s heat treatments, have been subjected to quite a bit of abuse. There has been the abrasion of cutting rope and webbing, wood and coconuts, meats and vegetables. These edges have also been placed under lateral stress and heat while striking ferro rods both for the purposes of starting personal fires and for demonstrating the use of ferrocerium. After months of use, I found the Yuma model to be a very capable tool. Also for those who prefer somewhat larger blades, there is the Tradewater model which is a Yuma with a 5.5 inch long blade. 

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Todd is extremely particular about about every aspect of the knives he produces, and he does his own heat treatments in house. Here he is inspecting the hot blank of an M-18 for any warping prior to the quench.

The Venerable M-18

The M-18 is a beast of a wilderness tool and the largest of the Workhorse line. This behemoth has an overall length of 16-inches. It has an ample, contoured handle that is 6-inches long and fills the hand nicely. The shape gives the user a secure purchase in chopping which, with the amount of inertia that can be developed with this knife, is a good thing. This tool has a very uniquely shaped blade that is 10-inches long with a width of 3-inches at the widest point, out at the tip. It has a profile that could probably best be described as “tanto-shaped” but, rather than a secondary point, it has a tight radius at the transition from the primary edge into the leading edge. It is a hefty blade made of .25-inch, O-1 tool steel which has a hybrid edge geometry that is a full flat grind in the forward 6-inches with a hollow ground section near the handle. There is a scallop on the spine at the front end with rounded corners which serves as the second handle when utilizing the hollow-ground area as a draw knife. The knife has gimping in three locations: on the thump ramp, of course, but also on the extended pommel and then another section on the spine at the very tip for enhanced control when performing more intricate work.

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The M-18 has excellent weight distribution for chopping. The forward mass gives the user a good degree of mechanical advantage, and the full-flat-ground forward edge bites deeply.

The M-18 is an exciting tool that inspires confidence and makes you look around for something to chop as soon as you pick it up. It has that kind of heft and weight distribution. The balance point is roughly 1.5 inches forward of the handle. In the chopping role, it performs very well indeed. I quickly learned that 1-inch diameter saplings were no challenge and 2-inch diameter saplings were felled easily with one cut from each side. While I would not want to use it to build a log cabin, it did chop through 4-inch dead pine logs in a couple of minutes with not too much exertion. What really impressed me was how well the weight distribution created a level of mechanical advantage and inertia development that allowed the blade to bite deeply, even into seasoned oak. Every blow produced a solid resounding “thunk!”, however the capabilities of this knife are hardly limited to chopping, in fact, that is only the beginning.

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This photo illustrates how the lanyard can be expanded and pushed further up the forearm, so that the weight of the handle will be supported when using the M-18 to do more detailed work with one hand.

Even though it is a blade heavy design, the the large handle does offer somewhat of a counterbalance and comes in handy when using the edge nearest the handle for sharpening stakes and whittling. The edge of the M-18 I received for testing came extremely sharp and the mass of the blade makes creating feather-sticks from dry seasoned hardwood a near effortless task. The weight of the blade did most of the work for me, I just had to maintain the correct angle and planing off nice tight curls was easily done.

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The draw-knife feature of the M-18 takes the tool to a whole new level of usefulness in long term wilderness adventures or primitive living scenarios. This is a tool that can be used to fashion other tools to make like easier, and would do very well at tasks such as carving out a bow for hunting game, or fashioning handles for other tools.

I found that the special features that are designed into the M-18 as functional in use as they are intriguing to the eye. The built-in draw knife feature works really well when pressed into service. The knife handle is large enough and shaped so that it is comfortable in both standard and reverse grips and the rounded corners of the scallop on the forward end of the spine works well as the other handle. With a .25 inch width, the thickness of the blade allows a safe grip and excellent control for working the blade and the very sharp hollow grind bites easily into wood. It was a lot more comfortable to my left hand – gripping the spine – than I expected it to be. The gimped tang extension, much like the one on the Yuma, allows for the knife to be struck at the pommel without damaging the handle scales. This feature can be handy for a number of chores. Obviously it compliments the draw knife feature by allowing the tool to be used as a wood chisel, but the knife can also be driven into smaller diameter logs to start splits for inserting wooden wedges while making half-rounds or planks.

Though separated by14-inches of steel, the round holes at each end of the knife work in conjunction with each other when needed. The lanyard on this knife serves more of a purpose than to simply secure the tool to the wrist when chopping or working over water etc., it can also be expanded and slid further up the forearm to support the handle weight while using the tip in fine detail work one handed leaving the other hand free to hold whatever you are working on. The gimping on the very tip of the spine gives good traction to the tip of the forefinger in a pinch grip for added control. In this mode the knife could be more easily used to dress large game or to flesh hides. The rounded secondary point could be used when scraping the burned-out bowls of hand-made spoons. The tip, when used in this fashion, would make the chore of grooving arrow shafts for fletching much easier when using such a large tool, and the hole could even be utilized as an arrow straightener. Though the cant of the blade makes it so that it works best if the handle is kept overhanging the table or stump, the forward edge also works well enough for portioning meats and vegetables. The more I used the M-18, the more impressed I became with just how well thought out the design is. Obviously primitive living type situations would be much easier if this knife were paired with one of the smaller, pointier blades, it is clearly a formidable tool even as a stand-alone.

At The End of The Day…errr Years

Three years and seven knives later, I have put the T.M. Hunt “Workhorse” line through as many tasks as I could think of from every day cutting to prepping meals, building shelters, and starting fires under adverse conditions. I have put the blades through what many would consider unreasonable amounts of lateral stress and have experienced no failures. I have put the handles – as well as my hand – through hours long workouts in extended use and found the ergonomics as exceptional as the fit and finish. I have pitted the edges against everything from the soft flesh of lobster to rope, and from extremely hard seasoned oak to more repeated strikes of ferrocerium rods than the average bushcrafting knife will experience in a lifetime. It has never taken any more than a couple of minutes with a medium Arkansas stone to get the edge cleaned back up and sharpened again. Between the use of the knives, and my conversations with Todd during the interviews, it is clear that he not only knows a good deal about hand crafting well made tools, but takes great pride in producing high quality tools for the outdoor enthusiasts as well.   

It should be noted that Todd Hunt is in no way limited to making the simpler knives of the Workhorse line. I have seen examples of his work ranging from Loveless inspired drop point hunters, to very intricately detailed brass-back Bowie knives. This man does some very impressive work, and his finer work is also made to be used, not just admired.

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