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November 2, 2012 Comments (0) Blades & Tools, Reviews

WoodBearKnives Rogue Bear

Andras Corbas at WoodBearKnives (WBK) designed a winning woodlands knife in the Rogue Bear. Over three weekends, I put in some decent dirt time with the Rogue Bear, and each time it impressed me more.

Inspired by the milestone EnZo Trapper by Brisa of Finland, the Rogue Bear falls into the category of bushcraft knives that include many high-tech and gimmicky newcomers, but like the more traditional Ray Mear’s Woodlore knife, both the Rogue Bear and the Enzo Trapper harken to their simpler, more pragmatic ancestors. No serrations or false edges on these knives!

The design is a blend of 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 Rogue Bear to its arboreal ancestors is clear in pommel shape and modest finger guard, single-edged blade profile and Scandi grind, as we will discuss below.

But with a lifetime of wilderness experience under his belt, Andras pressed beyond his inspiration piece and has taken the backwoods knife back to the drawing board. By learning what aspects he emulated as well as what he changed, I’m learning to be a better woodsman. So let’s look at each aspect of the construction and performance of the Rogue Bear.

The Blade

With four and a quarter inches of exposed metal, and four and an eighth of beveled edge, this medium-length blade strikes a strategic balance between the wood-processing chores of a large knife and the finer, close-in work of a small blade. Taking the Trapper name literally, for a moment, a sportsman can use this knife for everything from harvesting greenwood for spring traps to cutting the notches, from coaxing curls for feather sticks to splitting branches for fire fuel. And the curve at the tip looks well-suited to skinning, as well.

The drop-point design is great for field dressing game, but sturdy enough for boring spindle wells or ‘drilling’ thread eyelets in a birch bark container, as well as for rough carving jobs like shaping a spoon.

The sides and back of the blade form sharp 90-degree angles that did a superb job of scraping bark from tree limbs, and the same sharp edges threw impressive showers of sparks from my Light My Fire firesteel.

The back of the blade has no false edge, maintaining a straight plane along the length of spine, except where Andras added a bit of thumb-friendly jimping for extra grip when you need it. In addition to adding beef to the blade, the smooth wide spine provides enough surface area for comfortable thumb-pushing assists during more careful carving.

The 3/8 inch choil – that space between the end of the bevel and beginning of the handle – is large enough to be useful for choking up for more control during precision cutting, and strengthens the tool at the juncture of the blade and handle, an area prone to breakage.

The Scandi Grind

The WBK Rogue Bear features a Scandinavian grind, the profile that many woodsmen prefer for bushcraft. The Scandinavian, or Scandi grind, has a wedge-bottomed cross-section for good bite and great wood-splitting ability, and lends itself to woodcarving tasks ranging from slicing fuzz sticks to finishing bannock boards. Despite the thickness of the blade, the Scandi grind made flossy feather sticks a breeze: I was able to lay the bevel flat to help guide my arm to make thin curls, unlike curve-sided blades that force my focus on controlling the angle and depth of the cut. Along the same lines, the blade bit easily and stop cuts were relatively effortless, notching quick and easy.

But unlike many Scandi-grind blades, which use a stick tang to keep weight down, the Rogue Bear boasts a full tang, meaning that the metal of the blade extends through the entire handle and is visible on the back, belly and butt of the grip. The full tang is the most stable and desirable blade construction for heavy-duty work, being most resistant to bending. Nor will a full tang shimmy out of the handle material after prolonged batoning, like a stick tang is prone to do.

The extra metal also makes for a heavy knife: great for woods work, if not preferred for everyday carry, and yet the tang is skeletonized to provide the Rogue Bear with great balance. The extra heft lends a helpful hand to camp chores, and at 5/32 inch (4 mm) thickness, the knife has the bulk to withstand rugged tasks like batoning, even prying.

Many knife reviews do chopping tests, but to achieve good hatchet action with a blade that is this well-balanced, I added a lanyard to shift momentum toward the blade, replacing the usual chopping test with a finger-leash chopping test. Thirty cross-grain chops with an extended grip dug a respectable 1 x 3/4 inch gouge in pressure-treated 2×4, pretty good considering that I’m not a skilled knife chopper.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that while a flat grind is considered the go-to shape for a kitchen blade, the Rogue Bear slices beautifully. I found that the same V shape that makes a Scandi grind great for splitting wood also pushes sliced meat away from the flat area of the blade, significantly reducing surface-area friction. This is good news for the backwoodsman, who doesn’t want to carry more tools than necessary.

Sharpening and Edge Retention

After he receives the precision-ground steel plates, Andras applies the shape with his template, and the dirty work of stock removal begins. Because it is made from O-1 tool steel, the satin finish on the Rogue Bear doesn’t easily show when it’s been through a beating. In fact, the O-1 alloy has been called the most forgiving steel out there, its material properties being an ideal balance of the hardness required to take a great edge and the durability to retain that edge, all the while remaining affordable to the typical Joe.

For this reason, O-1 is often used for knives, which is great for bushcrafters who might have to sharpen their blades in the field, and who need steel that is more resilient than stainless in cold environments. O-1 is naturally hard, allowing the metal to be slowly oil-quenched, bestowing the alloyed carbon with a Rockwell hardness of 58-60 without making the blade as brittle as many other steels.

Reaping the maximum benefit of O-1 depends largely on tempering, a process of mild reheating and gradual cooling that removes excess rigidity from the metal, thus improving its ­­­toughness. To this end Andras worked with professionals to perfect the heat treat for optimal durability.

Their success is attested by my knife-nut buddy Matt who recently sharpened my Rogue Bear. After three wood-splitting sessions, the out-of-the-box edge finally showed some minor chipping resulting from cross-grain batoning through a resilient knot in some dried ash. Despite this, the Rogue Bear was still able to do its job during a weekend in the field.

Matt was so enthused about how well the knife took an edge that he couldn’t wait until he handed it over to tell me about it. He said he was able to put a better edge on the Rogue Bear than any knife before it. Coming from a steel guru like Matt, that is really saying something, and it sounded like a wild claim. But I had so much fun watching the edge melt through bond paper that my desk looked like I’d spilled a paper shredder.

In addition, Matt told me that the Rogue Bear’s Scandi grind made sharpening easy and effective. Being perfectly flat, the large area of metal above the bevel enables stable positioning of the blade on the knife table of his Edge Pro Apex sharpener. That degree of control isn’t possible with convex blades.

The Handle

Ergonomically, the optimally sized handle on the Rogue Bear fits the hand well. The generous handle length equals the blade measurement, and the thick profile provides a great grip without wasting energy. This haft doesn’t fatigue your fist or cause cramping in your fingers or palm, unlike narrow-handled knives, which are smaller than your hand is designed to clamp on to, forcing you to squeeze progressively harder to maintain a pinching grip during prolonged carving tasks.

Unlike traditional Finnish knives, the Rogue Bear has a lanyard hole, often an under-utilized feature. Not only might you use the hole for a wrist lanyard, but a shorter loop for a finger leash not only helps to remove the knife from its sheath but enables an extended grip for better leverage while chopping. Or you could even attach one or more useful baubles like a ball compass or firesteel to your all-important survival knife.

The handle is almost an inch wide, and the fat inch-and-an-eighth swell is practically a beer belly – making for a comfortable grip in all positions, whether you’re using a forehand grip, backhand grip, and so on. Leg-lever and chest-lever power cuts were especially fun as I made a pile of stakes, a fire spindle and two posts for a spit.

Like many Finnish knives, the butt of the handle is gently flared, and on the Rogue Bear, the pommel is boxier than the barrel-style handle on WBK’s Nordic Bear model, providing a firm stop when drawing the blade in these backward slicing motions. At the forefinger, a finger groove improves grip, where a slight guard or ramp is provided to discourage the forefinger from slipping forward onto the edge.

The scales are superbly fitted to the tang, the transition from scale to tang being virtually indiscernible to the touch. Several materials are available for the handle, such as tan or black Micarta, ironwood or ironwood burl, Osage orange, and bamboo laminate.

The JRE Sheath

I didn’t expect to love the sheath as much as the knife. It seemed almost too much to ask, but I must have done something right in life.

 

The Rogue Bear sheath is handmade by JRE Industries. The handsome leather is thick and sturdy, with a smooth, matte finish. It is wet-formed for a secure, snug fit, and the Rogue Bear would not slip out of the sheath, even when I hung it upside down and gave it a dozen good shakes.

The baldric loop is fastened with two rivets, which is twice as many as a lot of the other guys’ sheaths. And two small eyelets provide the option to carry the knife horizontally.

Attached midway down the seam is a firesteel loop gauged for quality ferro rods. My Light My Fire rod has unyielding retention in this leather sleeve, so I expect the fit will be secure for a long while after many uses begin to erode the rod and reduce its diameter.

Dangler System

My Rogue Bear came with the optional Manus Celt Belt Loop dangler system, which comprises an extra leather loop attached to a standard sheath loop with a steel split ring. I admit that I expected the kit to flop chaotically, and I assumed that the loop would have to go, which would have been easy: A flathead screw is provided to allow for easy removal. But I could not have been more wrong.

Because of the sturdy construction and excellent leather, the whole package was tame as it hung comfortably at my side, and the flexibility afforded by the ring made sitting comfortable, whether in a chair, on a low stump or on my haunches. Hanging at my hip like a gunfighter’s holster made for a fluid, natural movement of the arm and hand when drawing and replacing the blade, and as I grew accustomed to it, I often didn’t need to look away from the task at hand.


Perhaps just as importantly, I experienced none of the awkward torsion of the wrist typical of drawing from a sheath resting at my waist, so you might safely assume there is even some health advantage to using the dangler. My wrist was never fatigued, and I don’t expect any repetitive stress to occur. And remembering my product-design days, I anticipate this ease-of-use being a boon to fellow woodsman who might be experiencing limited movement caused by arthritis or similar chronic joint or muscle discomfort.

The Verdict

In the Rogue Bear, WoodBearKnives proves Andras’ mastery of the craft. He was inspired by the stout-hafted Brisa EnZo Trapper, which combines the heft of the Finnish leuku with the utility of the puukko, excludes a fuller, and adds a choil to avoid breakage and a subtle forefinger ramp as a guard. Both the Rogue Bear and the Trapper that influenced it retained the qualities that characterize traditional Finnish blades: backstop pommel, straightback or drop-point profile, Scandinavian grind.

And Andreas infused the Rogue Bear with his woodcraft experience, adding the thumb jimping and lanyard hole, beefing up both blade and handle thickness, and choosing the ideal steel for the usage and tasks this knife is intended to perform.

This sturdy tool is built for woodcraft, reliable for all your camp challenges. Whether you’re in the woods to work or to play, this knife is there to work, and it wants to work hard.

Couple the Rogue Bear’s sturdy construction with the WoodBearKnives lifetime warranty, and you can have every confidence that this knife is a sound investment in a quality tool that will serve you well in the wild.

www.woodbearknives.com

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