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May 23, 2014 Comments (0) Blades & Tools, Reviews

The Benchmade Bushcrafter

There have been a host of do-it-all knives hit the market.  Some have lived up to their hype, but most haven’t.  The Benchmade Bushcrafter has certainly had a lot of that hype in the knife world.  But, it has knocked expectations out of the park.  The Benchmade Bushcrafter is a top of the line production knife to tackle any task that an outdoorsman may require.  In this review, Woods Monkey puts the Benchmade Bushcrafter to a myriad of tests.

IMG_8745It’s gone by about a zillion names, but the concept of bushcraft is really quite simple.  Bushcraft is purely going out and making, designing, and working with the materials nature provides to produce tools, furniture, and shelter out in the wild places.  Typically, folks who are practitioners of this style of outdoor recreation take great pride in working with nature, not against it.  They are the original low impact, leave-no-trace campers.  The mission critical tool for all bushcrafters is the knife, along with the axe, saw, and some type of cordage or rope close behind.  With those tools, an inventive outdoorsman can produce everything needed for a comfortable stay in the woods.  Benchmade has produced the Bushcrafter for exactly those types of tasks.

The Bushcrafter is 100% US made, something I really appreciate.  The knife weighs in at 7.72 ounces, which gives the knife a good heft without trying to pull you pants down.  The steel is S30V stainless, and has been heat treated to an amazingly even 58-60 HRC hardness.  In testing, the combination of the steel with Benchmade’s heat treat yielded an ability to retain a shaving sharp edge after some downright abusive tests.  The cutting edge comes in at 4.4” of typical Benchmade out-of-the-box shaving sharp evenness all the way to the tip.  The overall length comes in at 9.2”.  The steel is .164” thick, which gives the knife superb strength without turning into one of those ‘sharpened prybars’ hanging off of many a tenderfoots’ pack.  The handle is green G10 over red spacers, secured with flared titanium tubes.  The Bushcrafter is hell-for-stout.  I tried to find its limits, and was forced to stop just short of a grinder.

    

The sheath to the Bushcrafter is made from brushed, full grain, buckskin tan leather.  The sheath is set up from the factory with a firesteel loop ready to take the ‘army’ size rods.  The interior of the sheath houses a plastic liner that protects the knife and prevents the tip from being accidentally stabbed out the side.  Additionally, it is very easy to slip the plastic liner out of the sheath for cleaning purposes.  The sheath secures around the knife with a snap that holds securely.  The belt loop holds the knife high on the belt, which I prefer.  This style of carry makes moving in the woods much easier.  The top of the belt loop has a metal D ring that a dangler loop can be attached to.  Even though Benchmade did not include a dangler, they can be easily purchased from shops online for under $10.  Personally, though, I prefer a knife to ride tight to my body and not bang around like a pendulum.

    

The first opportunity I had to test out the Bushcrafter was on an afternoon hike on my favorite section of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land here in the Colorado high country.  I live less than three blocks from a 5,000+ acre section of BLM property, so getting the Bushcrafter into its natural habitat was as simple as a walk up the street.  I carried the Bushcrafter on my right hip this entire trip, and I quickly remembered how I like the knife to ride high and tight.  With my jacket between me and the knife handle, I literally couldn’t tell it was there.  I slipped in a Light My Fire army sized fire steel in the loop with a piece of shock-cord to loop around the tip of the rod keeping it secured.  Another benefit of keeping the knife high on the hip is that is doesn’t seem to slide around on my belt as much, and doesn’t get in the way when sitting or kneeling.

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About 1.75 miles into the hike, off trail for over a mile, I came across an invasive creature that seems to pop its ugly head up all over the woods: trash.  How on earth do some people think leaving behind their beer cans and grocery bags is acceptable?  I don’t get it.  But anyway, it nonetheless presented me with an opportunity to play with the Bushcrafter.  I came across two thick-walled glass bottles that, while dirty, didn’t seem to have any cracks.  Also, a few of the beer cans were crushed less than the others.  Still having a few pockets of snow on the ground, and strong early-afternoon sun, I decided to see if I could make up a reflector to melt some snow in the beer bottles.

    

I first took some dead juniper and whittled out a plug for one of the beer bottles.  Then, I packed a handful of snow into it, and shook the mess out of it.  I slung as much out as would come, then tried again.  And then again.  Then I packed the bottle completely full of snow and set it in the sun while I made the reflector.  I took two of the least crushed up beer cans, and cut the top off of one of them.  Then the other, I cut both ends off and split it vertically.  All this was accomplished by simply pushing the tip of the Bushcrafter in, and cutting accordingly.  I took the cut open can and set it around the bottle where it would reflect as much sun as possible.  This worked pretty well, even though the air temperature was in the mid-50’s.  In just over fifteen minutes the bottle was melted entirely and I could pour it into the can that was turned into the cup.  Then, a quick boil over the fire would make it safe to drink while the bottle continued to melt snow.  This would conserve fire fuel since I didn’t have to melt the snow, and the fire could be kept small for one 10 ounce or so batch at a time.  Seemed to work pretty well, and yeah, I packed out all the trash.

    

Inspecting the Bushcrafter after cutting the cans, I couldn’t even tell where I had cut them.  There were no discernible marks, and the edge was shaving sharp all the way up.  So I set about making a small fire.  Cutting off and processing dried juniper bark from a huge blown down tree was a total breeze.  Very lightly pushing the tip under the bark and prying up had a half-gallon size bundle in under a minute.  Chopping and crushing the bark gave me a tinder bundle a little bigger than a softball.  I used the firesteel to light the bundle using the back of the Bushcrafter as the striker.  Now the Bushcrafter doesn’t throw sparks from a firesteel… it launches them!  This knife easily throws sparks better than anything I’ve tried with the exception of a carbide scraper.  After one test spark, and a talking-to-myself “Oh Wow,” I went to the tinder bundle.  Keeping the knife still and pulling back quickly on the firesteel, the sparks were amazing.  The juniper bark tinder bundle went up, first try.  So quickly in fact, I nearly dropped the firesteel in the flame while trying to get the camera up quickly.  Fire building with the Bushcrafter?  I’m not sure if I could’ve done it any faster with a can of gasoline and a road flare.

    

On another trip, a good friend of mine came along for the adventure.  Matt is a Class 3 firearms dealer, and the owner of the Alpine Arms in Eagle, CO.  He has been around guns, knives, and the outdoors all his life.  You can tell by looking at him that’s been a while!  (…sorry, buddy, couldn’t help it….)  Anyway, we found ourselves several miles up a national forest road at about 9,100′ elevation in hip-deep late spring snow.  We decided we’d try to get down to the creek for a little photography and knife testing.  On the one hundred yard walk down to the creek, it was obvious we should have brought along snow shoes.  We talked about that, and Matt looks at me and says, “Let’s make some.”  I couldn’t have thought of anything bushcraftier than that.

Matt took over the camera duty while I started cutting some oak brush for the frame of the first snowshoe.  I used simple push cuts to zip through inch-thick oak brush.  After gathering a few pieces, I stripped them clean of any branches.  With some jute twine from the tool box, I had the first frame together in a couple of minutes.  I moved to a nearby lodgepole pine and found a few bushy branches.  A couple quick cuts later, and I had the makings for the inside of the snowshoe.  Weaving them roughly back onto themselves, I tied the pine boughs into the frame.  Using less than three feet of cord, I had made a snowshoe in just a few minutes with only the Bushcrafter.  We took turns testing it out, and it worked surprisingly well. Matt has about 40 pounds on me, and it kept his foot from sinking more than a couple inches where he was going hip deep before.

        

The second snowshoe was more of an experiment in improvement than anything else.  I found a few longer pieces of oak brush and was able to make more of a teardrop shape like a traditional snowshoe.  Then the pine boughs went in after being liberated from the lodgepole and we were nearly done.  Having stepped through the first one a few times, Matt suggested I tie on a few cross pieces to the second.  Cutting the thickest oak brush nearby with the Bushcrafter was easy.  I still hadn’t touched up the factory edge, and at this point, it could still shave hair.  I made a few ‘beaver chew’ cuts around the stick, and easily broke them to length.  Tying them in completed the job, and Matt volunteered to go first.  I helped tie this one to his shoe, and he walked around testing it against his other foot without the snowshoe.  Not only did it work, but it worked extremely well.  This quick bushcraft project might just be the one that gets you into that downed elk in hunting season, or gets you out of camp after an unexpected snowstorm covers the trail.  Having done this, I’ve changed my perspective on whether I’ll carry snowshoes for ‘just in case’ in the future.  I wouldn’t want to travel in these if I didn’t have to, but if I’m in an area with the right natural materials, I’m convinced I could bushcraft a set in short order, and dispose of them in the campfire when I’m finished.

    

Batoning through Aspen with the Benchmade Bushcrafter was child’s play.  I whacked and pounded the knife through Aspen thicker than the blade is long, and could find no ill effects.  The G10 scales stayed firmly to the tang, and I never felt like I was ever pushing the limits.  Drilling holes with the tip was simple.  This is actually something I’d like to improve my technique on, but I never so much as rolled the edge while drilling a hole.  If you needed to start a bow drill hearth, you could drill with the tip of the Bushcrafter all day without worry.

        

If I am 100% honest, there are two things I don’t like about the Bushcrafter.  One is the D-ring on the sheath.  I understand why some folks like it, but the constant ‘clink clink clink’ of it tapping against the G10 handle while I walked, drove me nuts.  After the second or third time I carried the Bushcrafter, the D-ring fell prey to my bolt cutters.  The last thing that I think could be better is the shape of the back of the handle scales, where the web of the hand falls in a normal ‘hammer’ style grip.  There is small area where the G10 is squared off a little too much.  Heavy pressure, like when I was push cutting pine during testing, gave me a little aggravation.  It wasn’t bad, but I noticed it.  I don’t like square edges on knife handles, and this was a little too squared off for my comfort.  Under normal use, like in the kitchen or simple cutting chores, it wasn’t an issue.   But heavy use or long work sessions did have me thinking about taking some sand paper to it.  Both of these are minor issues and pretty specific to me, and even with these in mind, I’d spend my hard earned bucks on one without a second thought.

        

Overall, the Benchmade Bushcrafter is a fantastic piece of kit.  It’s built like a tank.  But not one of those cheesy, paper-thin armor, hope-we-don’t-get-stuck-in-the-mud, soviet bloc, tank shaped piles of scrap metal.  The Bushcrafter is built like an M-1 Abrams, cannon you can fit your head in to, can lose half its parts and still make it home kind of a tank.  It’ll get you there and back.

    

If you’re in the market for a Bushcrafter and are looking for the best deal around, shoot Matt Solomon at Alpine Arms an email and let him know you read about him here.  He’s been a long time Woods Monkey supporter and is a Benchmade Dealer.  He told me, that if folks mention this article, he’ll not only beat any advertised price, but he’ll ship for free.  He’s honest-to-goodness good peeps, reach him through www.alpinearms.com or email him directly at sales@alpinearms.com

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