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Foragers

Foragers

Learning is not compulsory … neither is survival.

W. Edwards Deming, scientist and lecturer 

Like the fibers we twist into cord, the threads of knife making tradition that have endured the ages are spun into today’s ideal woodcraft knives.  One knifemaker weaving tradition and technology into superior woodcraft tools is Andras Corbas, whose latest masterwork is the Forager by WoodBearKnives (WBK). 

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Knívleysur maður er lívleysur (maður).
Translation: “A knifeless man is a lifeless man.”

Faroese axiom

The Forager’s Old-World Roots

Quality woodcraft knives like the WBK Forager harken to pragmatic and proven predecessors.  The tried-and-true qualities incorporated into the Forager are cherry-picked from designs ranging from the arboreal knives of Old World Europe to the repurposed butcher knives utilized by North America’s early European explorers. 

PuukkoLeuku

Like most WoodBearKnives products, the Forager blends two traditional Finnish knife styles: the robust Sami leuku, a kind of mini-machete; and the puukko, essentially Finland’s everyday carry (EDC) knife.  The resemblance of the Forager to its Old World ancestors is clear in several ways. 

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Blade01

The Forager – which has 5 ¼ inches of blade length, including 5 inches of beveled edge – is ideally sized to balance the leuku’s wood-processing chores with the finer, close-in work of the slender puukko. Like the puukko, the Forager’s drop-point design aids with field-dressing large game, and the curved belly is suitable for skinning. 

FeatherStick  

Like Finnish knives, the Forager also features a Scandi grind.  The Forager’s wedge-shaped Scandi grind helps to split what you’re cutting, whether batoning limbs or carving meat.  The Scandi blade bites limbs easily, stop-cuts are relatively effortless, and notching is quick and easy.  And despite the thickness of the blade, the Forager’s Scandi made feather sticks a breeze: Just lay the bevel flat against the wood and gently draw the wood toward you to shave fine curls.  Contrast that with rounded grinds that force my focus to controlling the angle and depth of the cut.

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… perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to
add, but when there is nothing more to remove.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry, aviation pioneer

Features, Yes.  Bells and Whistles, No.

One of my first review assignments was for WBK’s sturdy Rogue Bear.  As a novice in the world of woodcraft knives, the Rogue Bear appeared so simplistic that I assumed it was a museum replica.  I didn’t yet appreciate the breadth and depth of human experience that shaped the subtle design of this modern woodcraft knife. 

RogueBear

In fact, engineers often observe that the more complex a system is, the more likely it is to break down: This is a common failing of many modern knives.  Hollow-handle knives, for instance, might give you a place to store your fish hooks, but they don’t allow a full-tang, weakening the overall strength of your tool.  Serrated spines sacrifice practical needs like batoning and safe handling. 

When it comes to survival, built-in weaknesses are unacceptable.  In many of his videos, Dave Canterbury of the Pathfinder School reiterates that every piece of your gear must be ‘bullet-proof.’  In his book Bushcraft 101, he puts it like this: “… you must choose the right elements for your kit, and you must ensure that these items are of the best quality.”

Simply put, your gear cannot fail: Canterbury also states that, “Quality, well-maintained tools can mean the difference between an enjoyable, comfortable tramp and an unsuccessful — or even dangerous — venture into the bush.”   And this is especially true of your knife: “A belt knife is the most important tool any woodsman can own.”

Like the knives of old Scandinavia or the American frontier, today’s woodcraft knives are reliable because of their simplicity, focusing on the features we need and rejecting the glitz embraced by many gimmicky newcomers.  So while today’s marketplace offers a staggering array of knives labeled as bushcraft or survival blades, the tools preferred by wilderness experts share a surprisingly short list of attributes.  Learning why the experts consistently choose the same features in their favorite knives – and reject many other features – provides a window into the world of woodcraft to guide us on our journey to self-reliance.  So let’s look how quintessential woodcraft knives like the Forager derive from classic knife styles.

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“A well-trained person needs only a knife to survive.”

– Mors Kochanski, Survival in the Boreal Forest

A One-tool Workshop

Our pioneering ancestors traveled tool-heavy when they could.  Individuals had reliable axes, while teams packed long saws too.  But whether they carried butcher knives, company-issued knives, or trade knives, the first woodsmen could do most anything they needed with their knives.

Tip
BowDrillFire

During a  two-day class with Dave Canterbury at Prickett’s Fort, Virginia, I found that the Forager’s tip was sturdy enough to bore spindle wells in fireboards, while the point was precise enough for drilling eyelets in my leather hat to thread a chin strap through.  And the belly of the blade looks suitable for skinning, which I’ll put to the test when I take the Pathfinder School’s trapping class. 

ForagerGlamourShot03 One-Log-Fire

My Forager was rugged enough to split cordwood to get at the dry heartwood for a ‘one-log fire,’ and yet it was still sharp enough for peeling feathery curls for fuzz sticks.  Later, the blade bit into limbs when cutting notches for spring traps, and after the weekend, I added some rough carving jobs like scraping the shell off a horse hoof fungus.     

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Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.

Henry Ford

The Traditional Blade

Sturdy medium-length blades, 5 to 7 inches, are desirable for purpose of processing wood.  In this regard, a Forager at your side can substitute for a lost hatchet or camp ax, because Andras designed the knife to withstand the stresses of batoning.  As mentioned, the Forager quickly succeeded at Dave’s one-log-fire challenge, and not for the first time: Over the previous twelve months, the Forager and I had built half-dozen sustainable fires this way. 

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Every bit as important, though, is that the spine meets the sides at crisp 90-degree angles, giving the Forager the ability to shower sparks from a ferro-rod.  At Dave’s class, I used those sharp angles to scratch a pile of fine tinder from poplar heartwood, and recently I found that the angles work like a spoke-shave when scraping bark from limbs for tool- and arrow-making.

In addition to adding beef to the blade, the smooth wide spine offers plenty of comfortable surface area for thumb-push assists during careful carving tasks. 

Steel

The O-1 Advantage

The Forager’s full-length steel slab is ground from O-1 tool steel.  Because O-1 steel is naturally hard, the metal can be oil-quenched slowly, bestowing the alloyed carbon a Rockwell hardness of 57-62 without making the blade as brittle as many other steels.  So like the specialized steels of Old World Scandinavia, the Forager should stand up to arctic temperatures.    

In his videos, Dave calls O-1 one of the two best steels for woodcraft knives, balancing the hardness required to retain a durable edge with being workable enough to sharpen at base camp.  And as mentioned, O-1 is more resilient than stainless steel in cold environments, crucial if you find yourself batoning wood for winter warmth.

Thanks to modern processes, the satin finish on the O-1 tool steel doesn’t easily show when it’s taken a beating.   For optimal durability, Andras works with professionals to perfect the heat treat, which increases the steel’s hardness, as well as the tempering, a process of gentle reheating and gradual cooling that removes excess rigidity from the metal, improving its durability.

TinderBundleBirdsNest

The Spark of Life 

I knew the high-carbon O-1 tool steel in my Forager was great for sparking with flint, but at the Pathfinder class, I discovered that the Forager’s thick spine provided a larger surface area for striking, shearing more sparks from the metal than the slim spines on the knives around me could.  Another valuable fire-making advantage! 

Old-time high-carbon steel on trade and butcher knives could be sharpened at basecamp and honed in the field, much like today’s O-1 steel, which can also hold a sharp edge.  And if you’re dubious about sharpening a Scandi-ground knife, give it a try.  The large flat area above the bevel enables stable positioning on an oilstone or waterstone when in the field, or at your knife-table when you’re at home, offering a degree of control almost impossible with hollow or convex grinds. 

Food

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire  

Conventional wisdom says that thin flat-ground blades are better for slicing foods like meat, but it’s also a question of surface area.  The same wedge shape that makes the Forager’s Scandi grind great for splitting wood also pushes sliced meat away from the flat of the blade, reducing surface-area friction. This is handy for those backwoodsmen who avoid carrying more weight than necessary. 

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Tangy 

The Forager boasts a full tang, meaning that the metal extends to the edges of the handle and is visible on the handle belly, butt, and pommel.

The full tang is the most stable blade construction for heavy-duty wood processing: It won’t shimmy out of the handle material during prying or batoning, like a stick tang is prone to do, and a full tang is more resistant to bending or breaking.  I measure the Forager’s tang at 5/32 inch thick, nearly 1 ½ inch tall at the choil and 1 ¼ inch at the base of the blade. 

The extra heft lends a helpful hand to camp chores, and the tang is skeletonized to provide great balance.  At 5/32” (4 mm) thickness, the knife has the bulk to withstand rugged tasks like batoning, even prying.

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Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Albert Einstein

The Traditional Handle

Rain is a woodsman’s constant companion no matter where (or when) he is, so the Forager features an ergonomic handle designed to improve grip and ease-of-use.  Like the blocky handles of frontier knives, the Forager’s fat handles provide great grip without fatiguing or cramping your hand.  This girth provides an advantage over narrow-handled knives, which are smaller than your hand is designed to clamp around, forcing you to squeeze progressively harder to maintain a pinching grip during prolonged carving tasks.

Handle01

The generous handle is optimally sized to fit most hands, which is to say it’s actually fist-sized.  The Forager’s 4 5/8 inch scales are nearly 1 ¼ inch high and 7/8 inch wide at the belly, making for a chubby handle that provides a comfortable grip for most hands. 

The scales are superbly fitted, with a smooth transition from scale to tang.  Like the barrel-shaped Finnish grips, the fat Forager handle is comfortable no matter how you hold it, whether you’re using a forehand grip, backhand grip, and so on. Leg-lever and chest-lever power cuts make carving stakes, posts and fire spindles easier – and more fun!

Handle02
FingerGroove

Like many Finnish knives, the Forager has a mushroomed pommel, meaning the butt of the handle is gently flared, providing a firm backstop when drawing the blade in backward slicing motions.  Unlike Finnish knives, in which the profile of blade edge runs pretty much in-line with the bolster and handle, the Forager has a slight forefinger groove to improve grip, forming a modest finger guard or ramp to discourage the hand from slipping forward onto the edge. As with the Finnish puukko, a pronounced cross guard is not necessary, because the Forager is a carving and cutting tool, not a stabbing weapon. 

Handle03

Unlike traditional Finnish knives that bolster the junction of blade and handle – an area of the blade especially prone to breakage – the Forager features a 3/8” ricasso or choil – an unsharpened chunk that strengthens the blade before the bevel begins.  Like many other modern woodcraft knives, there is no cross guard to get in the way of wood processing, and the Forager’s choil lets you to choke up a little during precision cutting.

The Forager has a lanyard hole that you can use for a wrist tether, if you like, or a shorter loop can serve as a finger leash for removing the knife from its deep sheath.

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By the work one knows the workmen.

Jean de La Fontaine, poet

The Traditional Sheath

The Forager sheath is hand-made by Andras. The full-grain leather is thick and sturdy, with a smooth matte finish. It is wet-formed for a snug fit and secure during travel.  Bradford Angier, author of How to Stay Alive in the Woods (1969), requires that “a substantial and well-riveted sheath should be added for safety,” and this one fits the bill.

Sheath

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Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.

John Ruskin, English author and art critic

ForagerGlamourShot03

Verdict: Virtue and Independence 

The Forager is an exemplar of WoodBearKnives’ high-quality product line.  Inspired by today’s stout bushcraft knives, the Forager retains the virtues that characterize its predecessors:

  • medium-length blade,
  • single-edge,
  • high-carbon steel, and
  • comfortable handle.    

The Forager combines

  • the heft of the Finnish leuku with
  • the utility of the puukko,
  • adds a choil to avoid breakage, and a
  • slight forefinger ramp for a guard. 

It also exemplifies other qualities of traditional Finnish blades:

  • backstop pommel,
  • drop-point profile, and
  • multipurpose Scandinavian grind.

Like the knives of the early American pioneers, the Forager boasts a

  • medium-length blade,
  • high-carbon steel, and
  • round belly near the tip. 

And Andras infused the Forager with modern requirements:

  • greater blade and handle thickness,
  • full-tang design,
  • sharp 90-degree angles for throwing sparks from ferro rods, and
  • O1, an ideal modern steel for bushcraft knives.

Considering its sturdy construction and the WoodBearKnives lifetime warranty, the Forager is a prudent investment at $175.00 in a quality tool that will serve you faithfully in the wild.

www.woodbear-knives.com

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The Phrike from Spartan Blades

By Nicholas Seliga

IMG_0515Phrike is known in Greek mythology as the goddess of fear and horror. The outcast, the odd one, the unconventional. And the minds behind the operation and designing scheme at Spartan blades have aptly applied this archaic name to one of their creations. At this point I choose to “spoil” the ending for my reader. This is a fantastic knife. While I have done extensive first-hand review of this knife, my opinion hasn’t changed from the moment I laid eyes on it. From the design characteristics to functional dynamics it offers features that make it extremely useful, comfortable, and practical. Now, for those who would appreciate more detail on the subject of this awesome blade, read on.

I refuse to subjugate my reader to the mundane and somewhat drawn-out details of my interest and career in the knife industry, instead I will simply summarize my experiences by saying that since my parents gave me my first knife when I was five years old – a Swiss army knife – I have been a knife freak, a true believer in the religion of blades, I love knives, from making them to using them and everything in-between. I am by no means an expert; however, it always brings me joy to have the right tool for the right job. In our everyday activities we see that there are multiple chores that require a knife and having a good one can make all the difference in the world.

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Generally, there seems to be three major schools of thought in the knife community. Those who believe that one knife should be able to accomplish every task the user wants to apply itIMG_0521 to, those who own a particular, dedicated knife for each individual job, and finally, those who don’t fit neatly into either of the other categories. Personally, I fall somewhere in the last class. For certain jobs it’s great to have the perfect knife: a thin, flexible razor for cleaning fish, a great santoko for kitchen prep, and a spear-point scandi for bushcrafting. That being said, sometimes you can only have one knife and it had better be good at doing a wide variety jobs. Circumstances that arise during travel or emergency situations mean that what you have is what you get and in a scenario like that I would want a Phrike with me.

Spartan Blades has created one of the very best all-purpose every-day-carry fixed blade knives I’ve ever had the pleasure to carry and use. Here’s the cold numbers: 4.25 inch blade, 8.50 inches overall, 3/16 inch thickness, S35VN stainless steel, textured G10 inset handle, 59-60 HRC, and the proprietary Spartan Blade coating. Together with these excellent features, the Phrike has a saber grind that makes easy work of most cutting tasks. Also, because of the swedged drop point blade shape, the Phrike has a strong and versatile tip. The handle is one of my absolute favorite features. The inset G10 looks incredibly thin and in fact the overall thickness of the handle is only about 5/16 inch thick. Despite this, the user is able to have great control while gorilla gripping or doing more fine cutting. Also, this makes the knife very wearable whether using the nylon MOLLE sheath or an in-the-waist-band kydex.

IMG_0570When I first received this knife for review I put it through some usual trials. I started by doing some feather sticks and some fire prep work. Right out of the box I was able to get some very nice results doing shavings and feather sticks with minimal effort. After doing a bunch of these I paper tested the edge and was happy to see that it was still in good shape. Next, I did some batoning through a stack of wrist thick branches which the knife made short work of. Again, I paper checked the edge and again, no problems. After this I decided to push the edge a little so I processed a pile of cardboard boxes. After reducing these – approximately fifteen large boxes – into one foot squares I thought I’d definitely see at least a dull spot somewhere on the knife. But, while it may not have gone through the paper with the same absolute smoothness it still went through easily and without any tearing.IMG_0530

Since then, I’ve been able to carry this knife on a daily basis and put it through many more chores including: cutting webbing and rope, opening boxes, and most other everyday tasks over a three year period. And to this day I’m still happy to put this knife on.

I should mention a word or two about sharpening. Because of the nature of S35VN steel and because of the hardness this knife is heat treated to, it takes a little while to get used to sharpening it. This doesn’t mean that any special technique or equipment is required, just that a few more repetitions are necessary. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have talked with and read what some other uses have had to say about sharpening this knife. Some have told me that they think that it takes too much work to get a serviceable edge on this knife but I have not had this experience. In the time I’ve owned it I’ve sharpened my Phrike a few times. Mostly, I’ve used a simple strop to polish the edge, and once I used a felt wheel on a buffer. Bottom line, this steel is hard, durable, and tough. It takes a wicked edge and holds it well. And the best advice I can offer is, like with any knife, keep it sharp instead of letting it get completely dull.IMG_0495

So, there’s my story, the Phrike offers a whole lot of knife in a minimalist package. I’ve carried mine across the country and through all kinds of situations and it has never let me down. As a backup, self-defense, bushcrafting knife, it shines and I never hesitate to recommend it to my fellow lovers of knives.

Spartan Blades

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L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives – Genesis

As many people already know, the most important thing you can bring with you into the woods is a good quality cutting device. With this, you can obtain a vast majority of your other survivability needs in the field without the added burden of bringing the extra weight with you on your excursion. In a world now full of high end marketing on several levels, one may think that heading to the local big box sporting goods store and paying a chunk of change for that fancy packaged knife will be just what you need for survival under hard conditions. While that blade may get you through a long hike, or a few overnights, I simply would not trust my life to it.

When you start looking at good quality knives you should pay attention to several things such as length, steel that’s used and the grade, the grind, handle material and overall construction. There’s plenty more you may want to take into consideration, but that is a good start in most cases.  Along with construction, you will want to take a look at the company you’re potentially purchasing from. Along with looking at the products you may want to take a look at the reviews the company has received over time for past work and present. One knife maker that has always stood out over time in my eyes has been L.T. Wright, who has a long and rich history in knife making first as a solo custom maker, then as one of the founding members of Blind Horse Knives and most recently, started up his own company justly named L.T. Wright Handmade Knives. More about L.T.’s history can be found on the web with a little research, I am to keep this review on the product that I have had the pleasure to work with for some months now, the Genesis.

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When I found out that I was going to be given the chance to review the Genesis, I was pretty pumped and immediately thought about some things I wanted to do with it so that it would get a good workout. A few earlier reviews over the web had some very positive things to say about the knife, plus knowing that L.T. produces quality blades, I was ready to get my hands dirty! I have had the pleasure of reviewing a few other custom blades over time here for the Monkey, but in recent days, I have fallen back to my Condor Bushlore with green micarta plates that I reviewed here a few years back.  I still always like to take a variety of blades with me into the bush to try different tasks with different blades, but the Condor tends to wind up on my belt more times than not. I knew beforehand that the Genesis I was going to receive had many of the qualities that I heavily favor in my go-to blades.

I was floored when the Genesis arrived the day after I was told I would have the chance to work with one. It turns out that L.T.’s shop is located in Ohio (one state over from me) so shipping was amazingly quick! My first impression of the Genesis was very positive. After unwrapping the knife from the shipping paper (kudos to L.T.’s shipping-packing team) I immediately noticed the heft the knife had and how my big hands were able to grip the handle. The handle itself consists of bead-blasted micarta overlays that feel as good as they look. Somehow to me, it feels like I’ve been using this knife for some time now, even though I’m likely the first person to touch it outside of the shop in Ohio. I believe that the bead-blasting gives the micarta that aged texture I’m feeling. It’s hard to explain, but trust me when I say it feels and looks great. I also prefer micarta handles because they perform well even when they’re damp, so if it’s raining, you’re still going to be able to get a decent grip with working away.  The handle is rounded from butt to its guard. Immediately in my head I see Horace Kephart’s design shine through and my smile grows even bigger. I have reviewed a few other Kephart designs for Woods Monkey in the past and found their simplicity very pleasing, while being quite functional at the same time. The rounded handles on the Genesis will really help when working on camp chores. I know from using rounded handles in the past that with extended use your hand feels less fatigued, which helps over time. The Genesis also features two thumb scallops on either side, which is the perfect place for your thumb to rest while doing wood work, processing game, or any other task where you’re looking for more precision control in your cut. The Genesis also comes with a nice lanyard hole for those of you who like to add a lanyard.

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The blade itself come in right at 4 ¼” with the entire knife being 9” long. I’m a big fan of a scandi grind, and the Genesis not only comes with the mentioned grind, but a highly polished one as well! The mirror finish was a surprise to me, even after reading about it previously over the web. It almost seems harsh to muck up such a beautiful grind and finish, but this blade is screaming “get me in the woods and abuse me!” The steel being used for the Genesis is a strong tool grade A2. They say that A2 has all of the qualities of 1095 (another popular steel used in bush knives) but A2 will hold its edge for longer and is less apt to rust, something that 1095 tends to do when not maintained as it should be. The steel is said to be much more user friendly and tough as nails. My Genesis came with a drop point tip, with the blade width being 1/8” thick. A fantastic feature this blade features is a squared spine which will make striking a ferro rod effortless and scrapping items just as easy.

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Not wanting to wait, I took the Genesis into the back yard where I have more firewood than I know what to do with and started working on some feather sticks and light carving. Out of the box, the Genesis was sharp enough to shave with, which made creating a few feather sticks effortless. With little effort, you can dig-in and carve out larger strips for adding to an existing fire before your larger material. After 15-20 minutes of use, the Genesis still felt great in my hand with no hot spots to report and again, I have to say that I love the slightly longer handle since I have some pretty large mitts. With a nice pile of feathersticks, I put the 90 degree spine to the test and was easily able to pour a shower of sparks on to the sticks and get a fire going.

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My first outing came shortly after the backyard test. I was able to sneak out for an overnight to one of my favorite local places where I have a few camps hidden away in the Hoosier National Forest. After getting to my spot and setting up a majority of my camp, I wanted to get to work on firewood collecting and processing. The first test that evening for the Genesis came in the way of batoning some firewood. After some initial processing with my saw, the Genesis made quick work of the old pine and oak branches I had gathered. As long as they are under four inches in width, the Genesis will baton through them with little effort. I then made some stakes for my tarp, cut up some pieces of tarred line for lashings and got busy with some others chores. Everything I did with the Genesis turned out as good as I would expect. Again, the primary thing I noticed was the comfortable grip and the fact that the knife stayed as sharp throughout the evening as I worked with it.

Not to be forgotten, the sheath that comes with the Genesis is one that I am well familiar with, and very happy to receive. Just like everything made by JRE industries quality is combined with functionality and I have yet to be disappointed with any of the work that Spen, the chief leather bender at JRE, makes. The sheath that comes with the Genesis is American made, full grain leather with a nice deep drop-in pocket that hugs the Genesis well and keeps your knife safe from accidental pop-outs when you’re charging through the brush. Included is a loop that holds a 3/8 firesteel, as well as a dangler for free-hanging at your side. I have been getting very used to the dangler for the Genesis and prefer it now opposed to the traditional belt method. It’s easier to access your knife that way, plus it’s just simply more comfortable over time. The sheath has a square bottom, and the JRE logo stamped on the backside.

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When all is said and done I’m very pleased with the Genesis and honestly can’t find anything wrong with it, which is kind of odd to be honest. The A2 steel is still very sharp, almost as sharp as the day that I got it. The bead blasted micarta handle is a dream to hold and easy to grip in any weather condition. The slightly longer handle helps us big handed guys maintain more control, and being rounded helps a lot with hot-spots over time. That nice shiny scandi grind also cleans up well after an outing.

So for a full tang, custom knife with all of the features I mentioned you might be shocked to hear that this gem sells for only around $170.00 and to make it even sweeter ALL of LT Wright handmade Knives come with a lifetime warranty. I haven’t had to use it yet, but I also hear that their customer service is excellent as well. If you’re looking for a great quality bush knife that will last you a lifetime and not break the bank, I would suggest you give the Genesis a close look. You won’t be disappointed.

https://ltwrightknives.com/the-genesis.html

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