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Pat Covert

Recurve Knives: Top Options In These Curvy Carvers

The sexy shape of three U.S.-made recurve blades addresses both performance and aesthetics.

As blade patterns go, the recurve is right up there in the “flair department.”

Just as the curves of a Ferrari add irresistible styling to the classic sports car’s appearance*, so does the curvature of a blade’s edge add to that of the look of the knife. It also changes the geometry of a blade—sometimes radically—in some ways better and other ways not so much. That’s the beauty of blade design and why there are so many different styles from which to choose.

How much length does a recurve add to the edge of a blade? This chart compares the length of the ’Squatch blade to the length of the actual sharpened edge. The curved top edge blade of a straight blade might add 2-to-3 inches to the edge. The Sasquatch’s recurved edge stretches the increase to 4.75 inches.
How much length does a recurve add to the edge of a blade? This chart compares the length of the ’Squatch blade to the length of the actual sharpened edge. The curved top edge blade of a straight blade might add 2-to-3 inches to the edge. The Sasquatch’s recurved edge stretches the increase to 4.75 inches.

The waisted recurve design shifts the weight of the blade toward the tip, which while excellent for chopping also reduces the blade’s effective chopping length. The recessed area on the lower part of the recurved blade adds the benefit of being able to trap or gather in its subject when performing chores like debarking and taking slivers from wood, but it also makes sharpening more difficult with flat-surfaced media such as whetstones.

Sharpening A Recurve

Like any blade design, there are trade-offs. To get an idea of how radically the recurve lengthens the edge of a blade, see the accompanying chart of the Case Sasquatch bowie. The height of the sharpened portion of the blade is 7.5 inches, but when the length of the curvature is factored in the number swells to 12.25 inches!

Recurve blades require a rounded or ovate sharpening medium to properly hone the curvaceous edge. Hand-held sharpeners similar to those used by chefs or the common V-sharpeners work well on curved edges, as do stones with curved edges such as the Spyderco Golden Stone ceramic.
Recurve blades require a rounded or ovate sharpening medium to properly hone the curvaceous edge. Hand-held sharpeners similar to those used by chefs or the common V-sharpeners work well on curved edges, as do stones with curved edges such as the Spyderco Golden Stone ceramic.

When sharpening these blades the concave lower curve does not conform to a flat plane, so an ovate or rounded surface grit is required for sharpening. Fortunately, there are plenty of these to choose from, such as handheld sharpeners similar to those used by chefs or the common V-sharpeners that use alternating rods set at opposing angles in a base. The Spyderco Golden Stone and/or Webfoot works as well. Now, on to the recurves!

Bear Forest Knives Custom Recurve

The Bear Forest Knives Custom Recurve is a small fixed blade built like a tank, owing much to the 3/16-inch thickness of its acid-dipped 52100 carbon steel blade. At 7.75 inches overall, the knife is geared toward light-to-medium camp chores and could conceivably be used as an EDC. The full-tang handle boasts colorful scales of a wavy sandwich of black, orange and natural cross-cut canvas Micarta®. Weight is a hefty-for-its-size 5 ounces. Bear Forest provides a black Kydex sheath with a nifty black coated 2.25-inch spring steel belt clip.

Bear Forest Knives Custom Recurve Specs
Blade length: 3.25”
Blade material: 52100 carbon steel
Handle material: Crosscut canvas Micarta®
Gripping feature: Tri-color Micarta handle material
Sheath: Black Kydex w/belt clip
Weight: 5 ozs.
Overall length: 7.75”
Country of origin: USA
MSRP: $249

Recurves shine when performing shaving tasks. Both the TOPS (left) and Case (right) did a nice job rendering cedar curls for fire starter.
Recurves shine when performing shaving tasks. Both the TOPS (left) and Case (right) did a nice job rendering cedar curls for fire starter.

Case Laramy Miller Sasquatch Bowie

The Case Laramy Miller Sasquatch Bowie is a study in understated good taste. The large 13-inch Jim Bowie namesake flows from stem to stern, from the break in its flat-ground 1095 carbon steel blade to its rounded combo lanyard hole and pommel. The matte-black Caswell finish gives the bowie a rustic look. The bag-style handle is topped with natural canvas Micarta scales affixed with 5/16-inch brass pins. Case provides a double-stitched natural leather belt sheath that matches the knife in clean styling.

Case Laramy Miller Sasquatch Bowie Specs
Blade length: 7.75”
Blade material: 1095 carbon steel
Handle material: Natural canvas Micarta®
Cutter keys: Clip-point blade, Caswell finish
Sheath: Natural leather belt model
Weight: 14.5 ozs.
Overall length: 13”
Country of origin: USA
MSRP: $219.99

TOPS Longhorn Bowie

The TOPS Longhorn Bowie is a thoroughly modern recurve with such classic touches as its upswept clip-point blade—always welcome on a bowie. The flat-ground 1095 blade is coated in dark sniper gray Cerakote®, matching the gray/black layered linen Micarta scales nicely. The black nylon MOLLE-compatible sheath carries on a belt or a pack and other gear. It includes a front pouch for stowing a sharpener or fire-starting accessories.

TOPS Longhorn Bowie/Sniper Gray Specs
Blade length: 6.75”
Blade material: 1095 carbon steel
Handle material: Canvas Micarta®
Cutter keys: Trailing-point blade, sniper gray Cerakote® finish
Sheath: Black nylon, MOLLE compatible w/pouch
Weight: 18.1 ozs.
Overall length: 13”
Country of origin: USA
MSRP: $305

Testing The Recurve Knives

The TOPS Longhorn and Case Sasquatch bowies begged to be reviewed together because they are exactly the same length and share the same 1095 blade steel, yet are two very different knives. The TOPS blade has a more casual recurve while the Case is full tilt. The handles couldn’t be more different as well, with the Case opting for a clean, traditional bag-style grip while TOPS chose a modern tactical design a full inch longer than its counterpart, resulting in a slightly shorter blade. Let the fun begin!

The Bear Forest Custom Recurve is small compared to the two larger test knives, though the same blade geometry applies. Note how the upper curve of the edge ensnares the rappelling rope as it slices through it.
The Bear Forest Custom Recurve is small compared to the two larger test knives, though the same blade geometry applies. Note how the upper curve of the edge ensnares the rappelling rope as it slices through it.

I started with some basic chopping on a 5-inch diameter oak log. The Sasquatch brought the hammer down with its weighted fore-end but the Longhorn had the advantage of more working area on the blade for chopping. Both manufacturers chose 1095 and have loads of experience at maximizing the steel’s benefits. I found both knives excelled in the pure blade bite and performed well chopping. The Sasquatch weighted front end is an advantage for sheer power but the Longhorn is 3.6 ounces heavier, so it closes the gap significantly.

I did some shaving doing push cuts on 1×3 cedar planks. As expected, the concave edge of the Case excelled at trapping the wood through the straight cuts. Advantage Sasquatch. However, the TOPS has a grip a full 1-inch longer than the ’Squatch and is textured as well, offering superb purchase. Advantage TOPS. Bottom line, both recurve bowies performed very well. The choice is yours.

It's a trap! The lower concave area of the Case blade traps the rappelling rope during a pull-through. The deeper the concave curve, the better it performs this function.
It’s a trap! The lower concave area of the Case blade traps the rappelling rope during a pull-through. The deeper the concave curve, the better it performs this function.

The sheaths for both are well done. The Case belt model is natural leather designed in a simple, tasteful manner. The TOPS is unabashedly rock ’em, sock ’em tactical all the way.

The Bear Forest Custom Recurve punches up in its size class thanks to thick 3/16-inch blade steel and a healthy handle length, a trait often missing on smaller fixed blades. I tested the blade for its ability to capture 3/8-inch rappelling rope in its concave maw. Thanks to its overbuilt steel, the blade never wavered while producing slice after slice. It also took off nice, healthy curls of cedar just like the big boys. The curves of the cross-cut canvas Micarta scales made for excellent purchase and are attractive to boot. I also did some bark skinning on seasoned oak, took slices off other kinds of rope, and batonned fatwood pine fire starter.

Bear Forest provides a nifty Kydex sheath. It has a 1.5-inch spring clip on the back that not only mounts on the belt for vertical and cross-draw carry/deployment, but doubles as a pocket clip on either side, something seen more and more from the fixed-blade EDC crowd lately. All in all, I was impressed with the whole package.

Final Cut

The recurve isn’t just for whacking stuff. It requires a little more finesse and is typical of blades that don’t walk the straight and narrow. However, the benefits of recurves will reward you dearly when kept in their lane. All three of the test candidates performed admirably and are well worth your consideration.

*Editor’s note: Long-time custom knife purveyor J. W. Denton, who was a champion racecar driver in his younger days, was fond of comparing the knives of Steve Johnson, BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-of-Fame member Bob Loveless and others to curvaceous sports cars. J. W.’s comparison, however, was largely between the handle butts of the knives and the rear ends of the cars. However, both comparisons are accurate.

  1. Bear Forest Knives Custom Recurve
    Blade length: 3.25”
    Blade material: 52100 carbon steel
    Handle material: Crosscut canvas Micarta®
    Gripping feature: Tri-color Micarta handle material
    Sheath: Black Kydex w/belt clip
    Weight: 5 ozs.
    Overall length: 7.75”
    Country of origin: USA
    MSRP: $249

Check Out More Outdoor Knives:

Game Shears: Affordable Options To Cut Bones And More Down To Size

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Affordable game shears that offer cut, power, features, size and more…

When you think of processing game, a skinner is typically the first knife that comes to mind—and rightfully so. At the same time, game shears provide a viable role in the processing equation, particularly with small game like squirrels, rabbits, fowl and fish. A good pair of shears made for small game processing can cut through bone, slice hide, remove unwanted viscera and, in the case of fish, remove heads and fins. Many shears have extras thrown in, technically making them multi-tools, though that’s a bit of a stretch.

My team tested four current game shears to see how they perform and what they offer in the way of goodies. Just so we don’t get repetitive, it should be noted that all our candidates have take-apart pivots that allow the main blade/handle sections to separate for easy cleaning.

Gerber Vital Take-A-Part Shears

Gerber Vital Take-A-Part Shears
The Gerber has a humped portion of the serrated blade on the bone notch area that enables the blades to continue cutting the full length of the blade rather than bogging down at the notch. It is the only test shears with the feature.

The simplest and smallest of the test group is the Gerber Vital Take-A-Part Shears. The spear-shaped blades are 2.5 inches of 420J2 stainless steel. Overall length: 8 inches. The handles have a hard thermoplastic frame sporting rubbery Kraton™ overlays with an ovate hole for the fingers and a round one for the thumb. One blade is plain with a bone notch and the opposing one is fully serrated. A two-color nylon sheath matches the handle. Weight: 5 ounces. Country of origin: China. MSRP: $20.

Kershaw Taskmaster Shears

Kershaw Taskmaster Shears
The Kershaw takes the end of a wing at the joint in fine fashion. The blade section did the handiwork, zipping through the cartilage and muscle at the convergence of two main wing sections.

The Kershaw Taskmaster Shears is a straight-blade design with a nice assortment of built-in goodies. The 3.5-inch blades are stainless steel. The spear-point patterns include one plain edge and the other partially serrated with a bone notch. The grips are finger-loop style and overlaid in black Kraton. Additional features include a lid lifter, bottle opener, screwdriver, nutcracker and jar opener. Weight: 5.1 ounces. Overall length: 8.875 inches. Country of origin: China. MSRP: $26.73.

Smith’s Edgesport Bait & Game Shears

Outdoor Edge Game Shears
The Outdoor Edge is the largest of the test group. At 10.5 inches overall, it was the only model that could tackle the larger chicken bones. Note the hefty bone notch just below the serrations.

The Smith’s Edgesport Bait & Game Shears is the most elaborate of the group we tested. The curved blades are 3 inches each of stainless steel. One’s a plain edge and the other is serrated, but what really sets them apart is the curved fish scaler on the underside of the plain blade. The handles have a thumb hole and opposing finger hole with black Kraton over a white thermoplastic main frame. Additional functions include a nutcracker, screwdriver, bone notch and cap lifter. There is no pouch. Weight: 5.25 ounces. Overall length: 8.5 inches. Country of origin: China. MSRP: $28.99.

Outdoor Edge Game Shears

Outdoor Edge's shears are spring loaded
The Outdoor Edge shears is the only one tested that is spring-loaded—that is, no finger holes are required to open and close it. Note the catch at the base for keeping the handles closed while not in use.

The Outdoor Edge Game Shears is the juggernaut of the bunch. What it lacks in features it makes up for in size. Respective blade and overall lengths: 3.75 and 10.5 inches. Another distinguishing feature is it’s spring-loaded with a swing lock at the base. This negates the need for manually opening the blades after making a cut—the spring does it for you. The wharncliffe blades are a plain edge and the other partially serrated with a healthy bone notch. Handles are ribbed Kraton. Weight: 10.5 ounces. A pouch is included. Country of origin: China. MSRP: $49.95.

Testing Shears

I focused on the main job of shearing first. I started with some basic straight cutting exercises of suede leather to simulate animal hide. All the candidates performed the scissor cuts well with the exception of the Outdoor Edge shears, which are just too big for such small detail tasks. As you’ll see later, the Outdoor Edge more than makes up for this deficiency in other areas. The Gerber cut best because it is the only test shears that has a humped serrated blade opposite the bone notch. It just keeps on cutting like a standard scissors whereas the others bog down when they hit the notch.

Smith’s Edgesport Bait & Game Shears
All the blades on the smaller shears were adept at such detail work as cutting suede, and the Smith’s cutter was no exception. Note the pivot piece that rotates to take the two sections apart.

Next I tested each model’s bone notch, a great feature I’ve only seen on game shears that is worth its weight in gold. I used the shears on chicken bones as they were the easiest to get in the 15-to-25°F cold snaps we were experiencing at test time. The humerus and femur are the largest “rounded” bones in a chicken skeleton, offering the best way to gauge cutting power. This is where the Outdoor Edge shears excelled. It munched its way through the larger bones with ease while the smaller shears had a hard time opening up wide enough to be able to grip them. All the review shears performed well on smaller bones, as well as cutting through the cartilage and viscera around the joints.

Hightlighting Features

Kershaw did a nice job of organizing the additional functions on its shears.
Kershaw did a nice job of organizing the additional functions on its shears. Look closely and you’ll see a bottle opener, nutcracker, lid lifter, screwdriver and jar opener built into the design.

The Gerber and Outdoor Edge Shears are sparing in the multi-implement category. The Kershaw and Smith’s, on the other hand, offer a wide range of added features. Most impressive on the Kershaw is the way the lid lifter, bottle opener, screwdriver, nutcracker and jar opener are incorporated into the design. You don’t really notice the various little helpers, but you’ll be darn glad they’re there when you need them. What’s more, the fish scaler on the Smith’s shears could be a real game changer for the outdoorsman who enjoys fishing as much as hunting, or is solely into angling.

Final Cut

The good news for game shears users is choices abound in this small sliver of the overall cutlery industry. For starters, pricewise none of the test shears are going to break the bank. The small Gerber and large Outdoor Edge will please those who could care less about the extras. For them, a sharp shears with a bone notch is all they need. For those who like bonus functions on their shears, the well-organized Kershaw will perform a myriad of chores. Finally, the gamesman who prefers a loaded shears with a little something extra will appreciate the fish scaler on the Smith’s entry. Between the four choices there’s bound to be a game shears ready to work for you.

Check Out More Outdoor Knives:

Keychain Knives: Unlocking The Secrets To The Convenience Blade

Handy keychain knives are pocket pards ready to sever and serve.

As competitive as today’s cutlery market is, it behooves a factory knife company to fill as many categories as it can—including the keychain knife. In fact, keychain knives offer a number of the same utilitarian functions as many contemporary tacticals and EDCs. Whether you need a small knife to handle daily chores or a back-up to your back-up in an emergency, a keychain knife can answer the call.

Keychain Knives
The test bunch, from left with manufacturer’s suggested retail prices in parentheses: Schrade Roadie ($25.99), Smith & Wesson Stonewash ($17.99), Bear & Son 3-inch Keychain Knife ($22.99) and Gerber Keynote ($27). All are made in China.

Bear & Son 3-inch Keychain Knife

Bear & Son 3-inch Keychain Knife
The Bear & Son’s 2-inch drop-point blade of 440 stainless steel in a brushed finish took off slices of 1-inch-diameter smoked sausage with no problem. Note the cap lifter on the rear of the handle spine. Weight: 2.3 ounces. Closed length: 2.8 inches.

The Bear & Son 3-inch Keychain Knife is a study in curves and its all-silver frame and blade add a classy touch. The blade sports a brushed finish and rolls out via a nail nick. Key hauling is handled by a 1-inch flat split ring on the base, very adequate unless you carry a large number of keys. In that case you can always add a larger split ring. A cap lifter is on the lower backside of the handle.

I sliced 1-inch-diameter smoked sausage and the blade performed admirably—not that you’d typically grab your keychain knife to perform such a task but it’s there if you need it. The cap lifter is handy. There is no pocket clip but the Bear & Son is not overburdening for loose pocket carry. This is a stout keychain knife well worth the money.

Schrade Roadie

Schrade Roadie
The Schrade Roadie is a little bulldog. The 1.5-inch blade of black-oxide-coated AUS-10 stainless steel bit through round after round of rappelling rope like a walk in the park. It’s a no-frills cutter meant for cutting. Weight: 2 ounces. Closed length: 3 inches.

The Schrade Roadie is a little bulldog of a keychain knife that doesn’t pretend to be anything else—it’s strictly a knife. In fact, it looks like a squeezed tactical folder. The blade opens via a flipper tab. The handle is black G-10 over black-coated stainless liners, with the rear liner serving as an unusual exposed locking leaf. Keys carry via a 4-inch black ball chain that dangles approximately 2 inches off a hole in the base.

I tested the blade on 3/8-inch synthetic rappelling rope to see how the reverse tanto pattern—a cousin to a modified wharncliffe—performed. It had no problem taking 3/8-to-1/2-inch slices in a single pass. The grip is excellent, aided even more by gimping on the upper rear handle close to the blade spine. This is a heck of a small knife and I only had one beef with it—the ball-chain key dangler. With the weight of keys tugging on the chain both sloshing around inside the pocket and while in use, you are asking for it to break. By the nature of ball-chain construction there are simply too many points along the way it can fail. I’ve got a remedy for that I’ll discuss later.

Smith & Wesson Stonewash Keychain

Smith & Wesson keychain knife
The Smith & Wesson’s 2.1-inch drop-point blade of ti-nitride-coated 8Cr13MoV stainless steel sliced its way through 1/8-inch harness leather, something the author indicated the other knives would have more trouble doing. Weight: 2 ounces. Closed length: 3.2 inches.

The Smith & Wesson Stonewash Keychain is the largest of the test bunch and it, too, resembles a scaled-down tactical folder. There’s a cap-lifter cut-out on the back frame slab. Keys mount at the base using a 3-inch ball-chain loop. This is the first of two review knives with a convenient pocket clip. The keys must be removed before using it because the clip is mounted for tip-up carry only, and if you use the keys they will hang out the top of your pocket. If this is acceptable to you, go for it.

I tested the blade on 2-inch-wide harness leather. Looping the leather strip over I did pull-throughs and found the little cutter more than up to the task. The framelock knife is built like a tank with the exception of a ball-chain key carrier which, as stated, I believe will give you issues down the road. That said, if you’re comfortable with it, go for it. I like this otherwise sturdy knife and it’s worth every penny of the price tag.

Gerber Key Note

Key Note cutting leather
The Key Note’s satin-finished 5Cr stainless blade is too short for slicing but the tip scores quite well.

The Gerber Key Note wins the Keychain Outside The Box Award for its sheer imaginative design. With a stubby tanto blade, this offering radically differs from the pack. Both praised and panned on YouTube, the Key Note’s stubby .8-inch double-ground blade is certainly different. The frame has black-anodized aluminum rails with black stainless steel liners, the front which houses a linerlock. A flipper on the back side of the tang gets the blade rolling but only deploys it halfway, after which you pinch it for full deployment. You can also use the nail nick. Two nice touches are a wide tip-down pocket clip and a healthy 1.25-inch-diameter split ring for holding keys.

The blade is limited by its small size but I found it useful in scoring mode taking off strips of suede leather, and it is a heck of a box cutter. It will also push-cut paracord on a flat surface. The beefy tip-down pocket clip can be used with keys attached. The amply sized split ring is the best of the test knives, providing plenty of room for key-a-holics.

Is the Gerber Key Note different? Yes, but it may do just what you need a keychain knife to do.

Keychain Knife Carry Options

keychain knife carriers
Modifying a keychain knife to suit your preferred carry can be done any number of ways. Examples include, from left: lanyard mini-carabiner for neck carry, a belt clip with split ring, the Roadie with ball chain removed, ready to modify, and a quick-release carrier that allows you to easily separate the knife from the keys.

There are other ways to carry these diminutive cutters than in or on the pocket. Accessories and findings (jewelry making parts) can be had by a various number of sources such as hobby stores, online at eBay and Etsy, or by doing an internet jewelry search such as Rio Grande Jewelry Making Supplies. Neck lanyards, belt clips, split rings large and small, breakaway connectors, small carabiners, and more are all available to modify your keychain carry to suit you. Any one of our candidates may suit your tastes as is, but if you want to mod it to suit your needs, there are plenty of options!

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Jantz Knife Supply: Providing Everything Required To Make Knives

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Jantz is a crucial source for many who fashion knives.

For 58 years Jantz Knife Supply has met the needs of cutlery craftsmen of all stripes, from green behind the ears to on up in years, with everything needed to make knives. This includes specialty steels, handle components, sheath materials, hand tools and sanding supplies, as well as the heavy equipment for knifemaking.

What started as a small mom-and-pop gun supply outfit founded by Ken and Venice Jantz in 1966 is no less than a U.S.-based juggernaut in today’s cutlery industry. The Jantzes haven’t left their humble beginnings behind, though, so no customer job is too small for the venerable knifemaking supply company in the heartland of America, Davis, Oklahoma.

Ken Jantz
Company co-founder Ken Jantz works on a prototype for a new hollow-grinding fixture at the company facility.

Shanna Kemp oversees the marketing, financial and human resources for Jantz. She probably knows as well as anyone about the many specialty and other items available to the company’s legion of customers.
“Our goal is to provide everything knifemakers could need for their project,” she begins, “whether you’re a beginner looking for a new hobby or a custom knifemaker stocking your shop to get ready for the BLADE Show. One thing we really love is creating fixtures and tools to make knifemaking more accessible for every skill level.”

One of the company’s most popular new fixtures is the PDJ Knife Vise. “It’s handy for all levels of knifemakers as it allows you to drill perfectly perpendicular holes through your handle material” regardless of the material’s texture or unevenness, Shanna explains.
Jantz stocks an abundance of parts for assembling and enhancing knives of all types. “Our most popular products are our Corby rivets, Loveless bolts and metal round and bar stock,” Shanna enumerates. “Our customers love the quality of our materials as we source directly from reputable mills with consistent quality and do our cutting and machining in house. One of our other popular products is our handcrafted mosaic pins. Each pin design is meticulously hand assembled right here in Davis, Oklahoma.”

Jantz Steel Stock

JS750 perpendicular vise with drill press
Jantz offers a range of knifemaking equipment. An example is the JS750 perpendicular vise with drill press.

An outstanding blade is the heart of any knife and Jantz offers all kinds of stainless and high carbon steels. “We carry a variety of knifemaking steels to suit both forging and stock removal,” she states. “1095 and 80CrV2 are very popular carbon steels and CPM 154 is our most popular stainless steel.” She added that the damascus forged by Brad Vice’s Alabama Damascus is very popular because of the quality and solid price point for the company’s patterned-welded steel.

“For Jantz, steel and other metals have always had a long lead time since we source from a variety of mills in the U.S., Germany, Sweden, Brazil and others,” Shanna observes. “We have strong relationships with our suppliers, and they have worked with us to keep material moving forward even when lead times began to exceed a year.”

Jantz Knife Supply warehouse
No matter the material, component or tool for knifemaking, Jantz probably has it somewhere in one of its well-stocked aisles.

Fixed blades will never go out of style, Shanna opines, and the Jantz business model caters to the mindset that drives the knives’ popularity. “We find that fixed-blade makers tend to use both stock removal and forging in their blade design and development,” she states. “The television series Forged in Fire certainly increased the popularity of forging, but we still see about the same divide between stock removal and forging. Fixed blades designed for hunting and survival are top sellers for our custom knifemakers as well as our hobbyists. There’s something special about using a knife in the field during hunting season that you made yourself that really resonates with the knifemaking crowd.”

When it comes to heat-treating ovens, Jantz recommends Paragon kilns above all others. “Not only do they make a quality oven,” Shanna assesses, “but they have a variety of ovens designed for beginners to pros. Their customer service is top notch and Burt Flanagan, who represents Paragon’s knifemaking ovens, is a custom knifemaker, so he truly understands what knifemakers need.”

Jantz-Made Blades

Knife assembly kit
Knife assembly kits such as the Caballero are a great way to learn the ins-and-outs of folding knives. Jantz offers over a dozen knife genres, from traditional slip joints to modern tactical fare.

For those wanting to get their feet wet in the cutlery world, Jantz offers a cornucopia of pre-made blades for virtually any niche of the market, including household cutlery. According to Shanna, many custom makers order beautiful stainless damascus in various patterns from Damasteel for their kitchen knives. “Our Jantz-made line of household cutlery is especially popular with customers,” she adds. “Our santoku, cook’s and paring blades are favorites of makers using pre-shaped blades for project knifemaking. All the Jantz-made blades are manufactured in our facility.”

Jantz offers an abundance of both knife blades and knife kits. These are designed not only for the novice and hobbyist, but for those who want to tailor special knives for sale. The Jantz website offers links aplenty to a wide range of genres in both folders and fixed blades. Need a fixed-blade hunter in damascus? No problem. Like a kit to learn the ins-and-outs of folding knives? There are over a dozen styles available, from traditional slip joints to modern tactical fare.

JS500 for slip joints
Providing fixtures such as the JS500 for slip joints that make knifemaking more accessible to hobbyists and makers of all levels is a specialty at Jantz Supply.

If there is an innovation on the horizon, Jantz Supply will be on top of it. “One of the many things we love about the knifemaking community is how open and sharing makers are with each other,” Shanna observes. “Want to learn something [another knifemaker] is doing? Just ask. You will rarely find someone not willing to share.”

That spirit and willingness to help is what has made Jantz an important part of the cutlery industry for going on six decades now.

More On Knifemaking:

Shop Dump: Murray Carter’s Tools Stick To His Knifemaking Roots

Carter’s training at the elbow of a Japanese master smith shows in his shop.

Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated with blades,” ABS master smith Murray Carter writes. “Why some blades would cut and others would not was a mystery to me that I felt compelled to solve.

“A chance encounter at age 15 with a karate instructor began my love affair with Japan. A trip to Japan, when I was 18 years old, led to an unexpected encounter with an amazing man, Sensei Yasuyuki Sakemoto, who I would come to learn was the 16th-generation Yoshimoto bladesmith and whose family custom forged samurai swords for some of Japan’s most influential feudal lords. My relationship with Sensei Sakemoto led to a unique six-year apprenticeship, and upon its completion, I was asked to continue on in the 420-year-old family bladesmithing tradition as the 17th-generation Yoshimoto bladesmith.”

Sakamoto-Shiki Japanese spring hammer
Murray’s forging hammer is a 25-kilogram version of a Sakamoto-Shiki Japanese spring hammer. Japanese laminated steel is heated in a solid fuel forge and forged under the spring hammer with 800 to 1,000 individual hammer blows to achieve a blade that is very close to its final shape and thickness, and with extreme grain refinement.

Murray was off to the races. “I worked as a village bladesmith for 12 more years, constantly availing myself to other industry experts to glean what I could, and spent many long hours in the forge putting my newfound skills and knowledge to practice. I introduced my handforged Japanese kitchen knives to the Western market in June 1997 and achieved the ABS master smith rating in June 2001. In 2005, I moved to Oregon and have been busy plying my trade ever since.”

His shop is steeped in Japanese knifemaking history and his equipment reflects it. He begins with his forging hammer. “The Sakamoto-Shiki Japanese Spring Hammer is a 25-kilogram version,” Murray notes. “This particular hammer is the last-ever spring hammer to be manufactured by Sakamoto Ironworks in Tosayamadacho on the island of Shikoku, Japan. Blades are forged both hot and cold under this spring hammer. The 25-kilogram ram strikes the steel with enough kinetic energy to actually heat up the steel as it is being forged. One of our spring hammers has forged over 40,000 blades to date without breakage or malfunction.”

Next up is his rotating waterstone. “Keeping with traditional Japanese bladesmithing methods, handforged blades are quenched fully thick and then blade geometry is ground by hand on the rotating Japanese waterstone,” he explains. “When purchasing stones from Japan was no longer possible, Radiac Abrasives, Inc., from Salem, Illinois, stepped up and fabricated this stone for us.”

bending sticks
The mage-bou custom made ‘bending stick’ with slots of varying thicknesses is used to straighten hardened laminated blades. It can be made from most any hard material, including oak or Micarta®.

Murray’s forging hammer bears little resemblance to American fare. “The Japanese tagane hammer is made by brazing a carbide bit into a regular hammer,” he writes. “This is a specialized tool skillfully used to straighten bent homogenous steel knives after hardening. It is hammered into the concave side of an unwanted curve in a blade, and the carbide bit penetrates the surface of the metal and moves a tiny bit of steel in either direction, perpendicular to the length of the bit. Handforged saw blades before the days of disposable saw blades used this straightening technique heavily.”

For further blade straightening Carter uses a simple yet effective tool. “The mage-bou custom made ‘bending stick’ with slots of varying thicknesses is used to straighten hardened laminated blades,” he observes. “The bent blade is forced true via the lever and fulcrum effect. Care must be taken not to snap a stiffer blade by applying too much force.”

brass hammer and wood stump
The brass hammer and wood stump are used to fine tune the straightening of blades after heat treatment. The convex side of a curve is placed face-up on the stump and judiciously hammered with the brass hammer.

Sometimes it just takes experience and a good eye in lieu of hi-tech. “The brass hammer and wood stump are used to fine tune the straightening of blades after heat treatment,” Murray notes. “It’s probably the most-used workstation at Carter Cutlery. The convex side of a curve is placed face-up on the stump and judiciously hammered with the brass hammer. Examining by eye the effects on the blade after each single hammer blow is the most effective way to do it.”

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Shop Dump: Where Dmitriy Popov Bangs Out His Kitchen Masterpieces

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Known for his custom kitchen knives, here are the tools Dmitriy Popov relies upon to craft his creations.

“I am not going to score any originality points for naming my belt grinder as the most important tool in the shop,” Dmitriy Popov begins with a smile. “I have had the pleasure of using a wide variety of grinders and the Wilmont TAG 101 is my favorite. Chris Williams, who builds it, is a knifemaker himself and it shows in the product. Also, Chris is only a message away in case you may need anything, not that you have to worry about it too much the way this machine is built.

Dmitriy’s 15-kilogram Anyang power hammer
Popov’s 15-kilogram Anyang power hammer “gets the job done in no time.”

“I have a large variety of tooling accessories that I use with the grinder—radius platens, flat platens, rotary plates, large and small wheels, as well as a surface-grinding attachment. I run the grinder off a dedicated Genesis VFD [Variable Frequency Drive], which enables me to control the speed.

“Next up is my Toolmex 1-horsepower disk sander,” Dmitriy continues. “It took me a little while to get to know this machine and to incorporate it into my workflow—but these days I would struggle to make a knife without it. My sander is hooked up to yet another VFD, which is shared between the disk sander and my second belt grinder through a switch. I can slow it right down and change the rotation direction.

“I primarily use a disk sander for two purposes. First, to thin out the knife behind the edge. I do this very carefully with the aid of water cooling in order not to generate any heat that would negatively impact heat treatment. Secondly, I use it to shape facets on my knife handles, which are mostly wa [Japanese-style octagonal] handles these days.”

His power hammer is a real game-changer.

“I used to hate forging as tendinitis in my elbow would flare right up and would take weeks to settle,” he explains. Before Popov moved his shop to a rural area, getting a power hammer was not an option due to the noise level it generates. “Needless to say is how much easier, quicker and more pleasurable my forging experience is now,” he writes. “The hammer is only a 15-kilogram Anyang but it gets the job done in no time.”

Dmitriy does his own heat treating with a Paragon KM24 Pro Heat Treat oven. “Quite a high-ticket item this one,” he notes, “a three-zone 415V/3P/15A unit which reaches temperatures of 1,100° C/2,012 F° in just 15 minutes. It has super precise temperature control front to back, which is so crucial for me in order to be able to squeeze out the most of each steel I work with.

Optimum MH28V
When selecting his milling machine, Dmitriy wanted something solid and with enough vertical clearance. As a result, he opted for the Optimum MH28V. He also fitted it out with an Optimum DRO (Digital Readout at top left) and a motorized slide table.

“My milling machine is definitely underutilized in my workshop. When selecting the mill, I wanted something solid and with enough vertical clearance. The Optimum MH28V fit the bill. Machine and tooling is not cheap and I use it only for a couple operations, but it is a real time saver.”

Last but not least, Dmitriy expounds the virtues of his large workbenches.

DMITRIY POPOV's Honyaki Sujihiki Sakimaru
Dmitriy Popov specializes in custom kitchen knives such as his Honyaki Sujihiki Sakimaru in an 11.8-inch blade of differentially heat-treated W2 tool steel with hamon. The handle is stabilized spalted tamarind and ironwood. (SharpByCoop knife image)

“This seems simple but if you make knives, you know that you will end up using any horizontal surface available to you. I would say that one-third of my workshop floorspace (page 45) is taken up with workbenches which allow me to work on multiple projects at the same time, and stay organized and productive. I found that yellow-tongue flooring panel is a great workbench surface, and frames can either be built from timber or, alternatively, metal warehouse framing can be purchased from any hardware shop or Costco.”

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Knife Sharpener: Top Choices To Keep Your Edge

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More than mere knife sharpeners, these options are complete honing systems that keep your blades razor-sharp.

Many of you probably learned to sharpen knives freestyle on a carbide, ceramic or diamond stone that required setting the proper angle by guesswork. The problem with sharpening a knife freehand is that no matter how good you are, the angle can vary with each stroke.

Fortunately, knife sharpening systems these days are so advanced they can virtually eliminate human error. Among other features, the systems allow the user to preset the blade angle and lock it in so it never varies throughout the sharpening process. Of course, systems that “lock in” sharpening angles are nothing new. However, the ways today’s angle-guide models do it not only are especially creative and user friendly, the best of them offer many other highly useful functions as well.

Before reviewing four of the latest examples, a word of advice when sharpening a knife: stop and gauge your progress as you go. It will help ensure you don’t miss a dull spot and also keep you from over sharpening/abrading, thus preserving the life of your blade.

Smith’s Edge Pro Electric Sharpener

Smith’s Edge Pro Electric Sharpener
The Smith’s Edge Pro Electric Sharpener provides a competent edge in a minimum amount of time. It has angled, electric-powered left- and right-side coarse grinding slots (right), and a vertical manual ceramic rod slot (left) for fine honing. The knife is a Boker paring model.

Smith’s has gotten more into electric sharpeners lately and the Edge Pro Electric Sharpener is one of the company’s latest. It is a countertop unit with a 3-foot-tall main housing rounded at the top for gripping. It is a three-stage pull-through sharpener—right side blade, left side blade and vertical hone. The right and left side pull-through slots access coarse diamond wheels that sharpen each side of the blade via a motor turning the wheels, the end result being an angle of approximately 22 degrees. The non-electric third slot houses two crossed ceramic rods to hone and de-burr the edge. A detachable electrical cord with adapter plug is included and a rocker switch on the base cuts the unit on and off.

Sharpening with the Edge Pro is simple but some tips will make its use more efficient and hazard free. First, this is a pull-through sharpener, so do not try to push the blade through. Second, for the best edge keep the blade as close to level as possible. Last, don’t apply too much downward force—you can bog down the motor. Steady, moderate pressure works best. The hone slot removes any rough burrs and sharpens the edge. I finished the blade with a leather strop and the edge was shaving sharp.

Smith’s Edge Pro Electric Sharpener Specs
Type: Benchtop electric, slotted
Dimensions: 8.5” long, 3” wide, 3.5” tall
Main body material: Plastic
Sharpening slots: Two coarse, one fine
Grit types: Diamond coarse and ceramic fine
Carry: None; tabletop design
Weight: 1 lb., 4 ozs.
Country of origin: U.S.A.
MSRP: $32.99

Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener

Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener
The rod angle of the Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener is adjustable from 15 to 30 degrees and is locked in by a thumbscrew on a sliding mount. To reverse the blade for sharpening the opposite edge, remove a thumbscrew from the base and rotate the tower 180 degrees.

The Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener is an affordable version of the variable fixed-angle sharpeners folks like to demonstrate on Instagram and Facebook. The knife is mounted blade-up* in the jaws of a clamp and the grit block sweeps across the edge horizontally. The blade is mounted at the top of the unit upside down, and the rod that holds the grit block is mounted on one long end of the base. The rod angle is adjustable from 15 to 30 degrees and is locked in by a thumbscrew on a sliding mount. To reverse the blade for sharpening the opposite edge you must remove a thumbscrew from the base and rotate the “tower” 180 degrees. There are two grit blocks, each with different diamond-coated surfaces: 300 and 600 on the coarse block, 800 and 1,000 on the fine one.

There’s a good reason for watching videos on complicated sharpeners such as these. I noticed the tower (my jargon for the sharpener’s tall main component) where it mates to the base had slack in it, allowing it to rock when sharpening. I watched two videos and saw why. When sharpening the edge with a grit block, the loose base allows you to follow the edge of the blade as the block traverses from base to tip. To hold the tower stable, use your free hand to keep the tower from tipping backward while your other hand sweeps the blade edge with the grit block. This is a bit awkward until you get the hang of it. When you finish one side of the blade, undo a thumb screw and rotate the knife 180 degrees to do the other side. Then start over again with the next finest grit until you finish with the 1,000 grit.

It seems time consuming but remember, this is a budget fixed-angle sharpener that costs less than many diamond bench stones. If you want to learn the basics, this compact sharpener is a good one. (Author’s note: The clamp jaws are wider than on the other fixed-angle sharpeners, which means it will not work with as narrow of a blade width as the others reviewed.)

Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener Specs
Type: Fixed angle, horizontal swing
Dimensions: 8” long, 5” wide, 9.75” tall
Main body material: Steel
Grit types: 300, 600, 800 and 1,000, diamond coated
Carry: Hard-shell thermoplastic case
Weight: 2 lbs.
Country of origin: China
MSRP: $129.99

Work Sharp Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener Elite

Work Sharp Elite with the guide rod and a Tri-Brasive block
The Work Sharp Elite with the guide rod and a Tri-Brasive block is ready for action. According to the author, he snuck the Elite’s instruction pamphlet into the photo because Work Sharp does an outstanding job of providing set-up and use instructions, which is not always the case with some sharpeners.

The Work Sharp Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener Elite is an affordable, sophisticated sharpening system. It is a fixed-angle unit that operates using rods with an array of grit blocks that would make the pickiest sharpening aficionado drool: 220, 320, 400, 600 and 800, a ceramic rod for serrations, and a leather strop. That’s right, you can even strop with it. The tower clamps the blade, sets the angle of the edge you prefer, and holds the rod and grit block. It is the only sideways/horizontal blade mount of the test bunch. The Tri-Brasive grits are held in a special housing with a finger grip, three to a block—two total except for the ceramic rod and strop, which have their own smaller housings. Each housing has its own rod, making it easy to install and use. The clamp holds the knife with the blade edge facing the user. (Author’s note: This is the budget version of the Work Sharp Professional Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener, the BLADE Magazine 2023 Accessory Of The Year [page 16, September BLADE®], which has grit widths of approximately 3/4 inch like the other fixed-angle sharpeners reviewed. The Elite model has 3/8-inch-wide grit slabs that may wear out faster.)

Assembly is shockingly easy—no tools required. Once the blade is mounted in the clamp, the grit housing/rod locks into place with a magnet located under the degree-setting brace on the tower, and that sets your blade angle. The edge faces you horizontally, making it easy to gauge your progress. Simply work your way up the consecutively finer diamond grits until it’s fine ceramic and strop time, which gives the razor-sharp edge a blazing shine. The ceramic rod for serrations is a nice addition. The only thing that might give you trouble is the base can tip forward if you put too much pressure on the blade. Easy does it is the byword here. All in all, the Work Sharp Precision Knife Sharpener Elite is a breeze to set up, easy to use for blisteringly sharp results, and packs up nicely when it comes time to stow. It is a tremendous value.

Work Sharp Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener Elite Specs
Type: Fixed angle, horizontal swing
Dimensions: 5” long, 4.5” wide, 7.25” tall
Main body material: Steel
Grit types: 220, 320, 400, 600, 800 diamond coated, ceramic and leather
Carry: Soft case
Weight: 1 lb., 8 ozs.
Country of origin: Assembled in the U.S.A. using foreign-made parts
MSRP: $139.93

Wicked Edge WE66 Obsidian

Sharpening both edges at the same time
The Wicked Edge WE66 Obsidian is the only test model that sharpened both sides of the blade in one session without flipping the knife. The blade mounts atop the tower and the swing rods and grit blocks are used in alternating right- and left-hand sweeps. Note how the guide rods are held in mounts that also set the angle.

The Wicked Edge WE66 Obsidian is another upscale, state-of-the-art fixed-angle sharpener capable of delivering mind-blowing results. What sets it apart from the others is that you sharpen both blade sides in the same session—no flipping of the knife is required. The Obsidian is the largest of the sharpening systems reviewed and has an 8×11-inch base that weighs more than the system itself.

The Obsidian uses diamond blocks with two different consecutive grits on opposing sides. There are four blocks total, two each identical because you sharpen both sides of the blade at the same time. There are two sanding-block rods with orb-shaped bases that act like ball bearings in the mounts. The bases slide on a rail to set the sharpening angle. Despite sounding complicated, it’s actually quite simple. The angle settings are very easy to read on the side of the base. The blade mounts upside down in the jaws atop the center tower and locks in place via a lever.

To use the Obsidian, mount the knife so the edge points straight up, and operate the rods and blocks with opposing hands. Once you sweep the blade with one hand you switch to the other and repeat until that grit has done its business. Sharpen with the low grit and when done rotate to the higher grit on the other side. When you’re finished with that block, replace it with the other block of a higher grit. You’ll have to provide your own strop.

Wicked Edge WE66 Obsidian Specs
Type: Fixed angle, horizontal swing
Dimensions: 11” long, 3” wide, 4” tall
Main body material: Steel
Grit types: 200, 600, 800 and 1,000, diamond coated
Weight: 2 lbs. 13 ozs.
Country of origin: U.S.A.
MSRP: $799

Due Diligence

Much of what is written here will make a lot more sense when you watch a video of the sharpener that strikes your fancy. It will make assembly easier as well.

There’s something for everyone here. If you don’t care to labor over sharpening but still want a very competent cutter, the Smith’s Edge Pro should suit you just fine. The Cold Steel Benchtop Sharpener offers fixed-angle sharpening at a budget price and is a perfect steppingstone for getting your feet wet in hi-tech sharpening. Finally, the Work Sharp Elite and Wicked Edge Obsidian are both lights-out sharpeners if you want outstanding performance. Both are truly state-of-the-art.

Editor’s note: Always practice extreme caution when working on a knife held in a clamp, vise, jig, etc., with the edge pointing up and/or toward you. When finished sharpening, remove the knife from the fixture immediately so the danger of accidental cutting is eliminated.

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