Back when we were toying with the idea of starting the Woods Monkey site, we wrote a brief note about Charles May’s Fire Ant knife. But, since that time, we haven’t had a chance to revisit his work. So, today we’re going to take a look at one of his more recent, though nameless, designs.
Charles is a custom knife maker and he’s always working on some new version that he thinks might appeal to his customers. Every now and then, he’ll bring some of his knew stuff to our annual Practice What You Preach weekend, which is what he did this year. When I was looking through his bag o’knives, this little gem was separated from the rest. Charles said that he had made it for himself and wasn’t intent on selling it. Well, I made him an offer and gave him a while to stew on it. Sure enough, he came over and said it was mine. The main reason I was interested in it at the time was because I had been looking for more of a camp kitchen/utility type knife rather than the typical outdoors knife. When I stumbled across this new design of Charlie’s, I knew I had found what I was looking for.
Since he wasn’t really looking to sell the knife, he hadn’t come up with a name for it yet. I still don’t think he has one. In fact, he’s asked me for my input, and so I’ll ask for yours as well. So, be thinking about it while I talk a little bit more about the knife itself. First off, the steel is that premium wonder steel S30V, so you’re getting a high quality blade that will maintain its edge for a good while. But, the flip side of that coin is that S30V is a little tougher to bring back the edge because of the strength of the steel. But, when you look at performance, it’s one of the best types of steel going right now. The cutting edge of the blade is 4.5 inches long and it’s 1/8th of an inch thick. The one aspect that distinguishes this knife from a lot of other woods knives is the narrow width of the blade. At the widest point from edge to spine, the blade is just a hair under 3/4’s of an inch. This narrow profile makes this blade a great slicer since there’s less surface to drag, and like all of Charlie’s knives, it had a screaming sharp edge ready to go to work. Overall length of the entire package is right at 9.5 inches.
It took a while for me to get to do this review because I had sent it off to have a Kydex sheath made for it. Charlie makes a great leather sheath, and you’re never going to have one get lost on you because of how snug it is and how high up the handle the leather rests. Sometimes, I find drawing his knives out of the sheath a little bit of a pain because you can only get a couple of fingertips on the handle. But, the main reason I was looking to get another sheath was I wanted to carry this blade left-handed. So, I thought I’d try out a Kydex sheath maker that had been recommended to me. The knife was gone for awhile, and when it came back, I wasn’t very happy with the new sheath. There was no positive lock on the knife, and the Kydex was rubbing against the surface of the blade and making marks on the bead blasted finish. Oh well, lesson learned. So, I just stuck with the right-handed leather sheath that Charlie provided. A couple of modifications that I made was adding a “dangler” attachment from JRE Industries and I added a lanyard from Scott’s Knotts. Because of the dull blade finish and the green handle, I wanted a brightly colored lanyard in case I laid the knife down and needed to find it again.
While I had used the knife some over the past few months, I officially “tested” it not too long ago. I got a new puppy named Jethro, and I took him out in the woods with me for his first time. While I was out there, I did a number of chores that you would do in a regular camp, and I also tested some other pieces of gear while I was out there as well. In testing the other gear, I had to do things like cut packages, do a little light chopping, and all of normal knife tasks that you’d typically encounter. I cut some tent stakes to test a new shelter that I was reviewing, I did some food prep (ahem), and experimented with making some different triggers that I learned recently in the book I reviewed called The Modern Hunter-Gatherer. Every cutting task that I did that day, I relied on Charlie’s knife with no name. Of course one thing that just about every knife reviewer tries out in the woods is making fuzz sticks and preparing tinder for a fire. Naturally, I did the same thing.
I started out with a rather thick dead branch that I could just tell was very hard and going to be tough to shave off tinder. No matter, once I put the knife to work, the shavings started flying onto the ground. The contoured handle was very comfortable during this task, even though the branch was very tough and required a good amount of force to strip off the wood. One thing I did notice was I kept wanting to put my thumb on the spine during this chore, and the square corner kept gouging my thumb. That was just poor form on my part, and I had to make sure that I just held the handle in a closed fist and keep my thumb off the back of the blade. As mentioned, the edge was very sharp, and made quick work of this particular exercise.
After getting the fire going and doing some of the other review tests for different pieces of gear, I decided to go ahead and fix some lunch. I don’t know what it is, but just about the only time that Spam tastes good is when you’re out in the woods and cooking it up over an open fire. Well, that’s what Jethro and I had along with some Mac and Cheese. Of course, I used Charlie’s knife for the Spam slicing chores, which wasn’t a really terrifying test, but the length of the blade was enough that I could keep the handle away from all the grease and “packing jelly” on the block of psuedo-meat. I used an improvised cutting board to make the slices and get them ready for the grill. The thin profile of the knife did help it slice through quickly and give me some good cuts of meat. In fact, it handles somewhat like a high end steak knife. And actually, I joked with Charlie about that when we were talking about coming up with a name. I told him that Hardee’s had the Six Dollar Burger, and maybe we could call this the Three Hundred Dollar steak knife. He didn’t like that idea too well.
While we’re on the subject, this knife does run around the $300 mark depending on materials. I do remember when Charlie’s prices were a little lower, and that’s why I have a few of his other knives in addition to this one. However, given the materials used in its construction and considering the clean lines and great finish that Charlie puts on his products, his prices aren’t out of line at all. Charlie also did the official knife of the Outdoor Survival Forum over at KnifeForums.com. That knife was designed by Terrill Hoffman in collaboration with the forum members, and I’ve seen several variations of that design which are extremely attractive. Ever since I saw the first knife made by Charlie, I have always been impressed with his work. The nice thing is that he’s always open to listening to input about his knives from his customers, and he takes great pains to make sure he delivers a superior product. All I know is that the Spam tasted great, and Jethro wolfed it down as well, so you could almost say that the Knife With No Name is Jethro-approved…sort of.
Charlie works with different types of steel including the S30V, but he really likes working with D2 as well. I’ve got knives from him with both materials, and all of them cut like crazy. If you’re in the market for an actual hand made, custom knife as opposed to a semi-production piece, I’d encourage you to give Charlie a try. On his site, you’ll see that he has lots of models available from which to choose. Stop by, check out his knives, and if nothing else, send him an email if you have a name suggestion for this particular design. Editor’s Note: I just spoke with Charlie today (12/05/09) and he said that he’d definitely be up for any name suggestions on this model, so feel free to throw your ideas into the mix.
Just to give you an idea of the demand for his knives, the last I heard, Charlie had a waiting list of a year or more. But, I guarantee that if you make the leap, your wait will be more than worth it!