A Good Work Knife Is Worth Its Weight In Gold. These Half-Dozen Blades All Excel At Something Outdoors From Gardening To Felling Trees.
Serious work knives are going to be fixed blades. Strength is something that can’t be sacrificed, and while many folders are incredibly rigid, they have mechanisms and moving parts that can and do become worn or damaged with hard use.
Modern folders are great knives. However, once mud, grit, sand, and the unexpected rock an inch underground comes into play, they tend to fail. Few folders are strong enough long-term for use as a trowel—fewer still can be safely batonned through wood. On the merit of ergonomics alone, the folder is usually slab-sided in profile and isn’t comfortable to hold for long periods, nor does it allow for easy cleaning. As such, the fixed blade is superior when the woodchips or dirt need to fly.
Defining work knives is merited by the individual task at hand. Some of the knives featured herein are not suitable to assume the role of another. Specialization is the name of the game and the knife you need for splitting wood is far different than one for working the ground. The main characteristic, across the board, is that these knives simply must hold up for their intended role and be at least serviceable in others should the need arise.
The test knives were all put to heavy use during an exterior cleanup, pulling up rotten posts, planting vegetables and bulbs, cutting down saplings and small trees, starting fires, making kindling, opening fertilizer and feed bags, and all sorts of things you would use a knife for in routine outdoor chores. They were exposed to rain, soil and, on occasion, cleaning supplies. I evaluated the edges and finishes for how well they cut and the handles for how well they felt in the hand after extended use.
Case Winkler Recurve Utility No. 6
A collaboration between Case and Winkler Knives, the Case Winkler Recurve Utility No. 6 is large, beefy, well-made, and very, very sharp. It arrived with a much finer edge than most Winkler designs, which made it all the more interesting when compared to the other Winkler knife in this article.
One of this issue’s cover knives, the No. 6 is not machete size but is big and heavily built. The deep belly and recurve result in a wide, rounded curve up to the tip, with about an inch-and-a-half of front-facing edge to the point. It is excellent at digging but not great at penetrating materials.
Where the knife really excels is in deep, long cuts. The recurve shape and handle angle make it want to sink right in. It can be batonned through wood around 2.5 inches in diameter with ease, can make tinder and is great at striking. The knife comes with a leather sheath that includes a polymer clip for a Zippo mini lighter. This is probably the only downside to this overall fantastic knife—the polymer clip isn’t strong enough to keep the lighter firmly in place and it can and does fall out.
In terms of general utility, I used the No. 6 hard and heavily for just about every task I could think of in the yard/garden. It chops well for a standard-sized knife and takes down medium branches as well as a small saw. It wants to work and, due to its shape, is simply useful and never got into a place where it was too much or too little. Overall, it is a fantastic work knife that should last you a lifetime.
Winkler Knives Drop Point Crusher
A classically styled working knife, the Winkler Knives Drop Point Crusher is a rugged gentleman’s knife with an appearance that doesn’t immediately give away its abilities. It was the only test knife with a wood grip but this never became an issue despite it being the most organic in composition. It was, like the others, exposed to rain, sap, dirt and dried wood. In addition, and thanks to the glass breaker/striker pommel, it was also used to bust down rotten posts and break glass out of a damaged windowpane.
It is a lightweight knife and easy to carry all day long. While Winkler makes knives for some of the most tactical dudes in the world, this one doesn’t draw that sort of attention in the slightest. It looks old, like something your granddad may have carried while hunting, and most people just look past it.
As an heirloom-quality knife it is hard to want to use it, but like all the Winkler blades I have looked at over the years, it wears nicely and simply gains character. For basic work the knife is great at everything but is just a bit thin for heavy batonning, though it can be used to split smaller pieces.
As a work tool, it is firmly in the everyday use category but like the Earth Skills knife is best set aside for heavy work. This is the knife I ended up wearing the most and using for the greatest number of tasks as it was so effortless to carry.
Condor Tool & Knife Woodbuster
The Condor Tool & Knife Woodbuster is the biggest knife I’ve tested for BLADE®. Because of the knife’s name, I decided it best to use it on as much wood as possible, from taking down branches to dropping small trees. Designed by Joe Flowers, it sailed through things like they were hardly there. It approaches machete size, though it is heavy and the energy you need to get it moving is wasted on small brush.
I chopped firewood and reduced sections of trunk 12 inches wide into firewood with the Woodbuster. It can be batonned with surety and is great in that it has no real tip, so you don’t risk catching your hand or fingers if the blade sticks in the wood. It chops as well or better than a camp axe and with less physical effort in preparing firewood.
In taking down trees care is needed, but it is as good as an axe on anything under a foot across, which isn’t small by any stretch. The Woodbuster is 100 percent a working knife and is easy to become proficient with.
The only downside is the grip, which is rather round in profile. Smaller hands may have a hard time with it. The grip is also a bit smooth, though not all that noticeable if you wear work gloves. It becomes a bit hard to hold when wet and can roll in the hand after repeated strikes. This isn’t a serious problem, just something to be aware of.
KA-BAR Jarosz Camp Turok
The KA-BAR Jarosz Camp Turok is large but not as beefy as the Woodbuster, and much lighter. With the exception of heavy wood cutting and batonning, it performs most outdoor tasks. The blade is thick but draws to a relatively fine point.
Designed by Jesse Jarosz, the Turok is a great general-purpose outdoor tool in that it’s easily maintained and stays sharp when handling chores. It’s a bit too large for EDC and is, like the Woodbuster, something you will want to carry until you don’t; it’s an overt item.
It is, however, the test tool that has the most utility for the price and the broadest range of uses. The only thing I don’t like is the grip—too smooth for my taste and slippery when wet. However, the scales are removable, making the knife easy to clean and maintain.
Benchmade 162 Bushcrafter
The handy Benchmade 162 Bushcrafter is eminently useful for most outdoor work, and easy to carry and maintain. Designed by Shane Sibert, it arrived with a very sharp edge, though more notable was the grip profile. It’s a relatively small knife and the handle is unusually shaped, almost like a dog bone in geometry, and is very easy to get a firm, solid grip on. It can’t really be used for chopping large materials but is exceptional for fine work. It’s great at making fire and excellent in the garden and for pruning.
While billed as a bushcraft blade, it’s really a fine everyday knife and graciously civilian in appearance. It doesn’t look tactical at all and won’t draw attention anywhere from the farmer’s market to the barnyard. It held up exceptionally well and maintained a sharp edge in use.
It was used like the others to open feed and fertilizer bags and to cut cord and roots. The only downside is the sheath. While aesthetically pleasing, it has a suede feel and once wet tends to stay wet for a long time.
TOPS Knives Earth Skills Knife
The Earth Skills Knife from TOPS Knives is large and has a very atypical profile. Matt Graham designed it as a type of survival knife, though not necessarily a heavy-duty one. It is quite thin and has a generous Scandi grind, making it absolutely wonderful for working the earth, cutting through rooted soil to plant new bulbs or vegetables, and light work like cutting branches and digging up old wire netting. It’s great as a close work tool and for preparing food but has little value for hard-use tasks.
The edge geometry and thin spine are not suitable for batonning, though the blade is great scraping tinder and striking on a rod. Because of these special features, the knife is at home in the garden or camp in that it likely won’t be used for initial setup, but rather for cutting food, root vegetables, harvesting forage and as a light machete. The grip is very comfortable but quite large. The blade stayed very sharp through testing and accomplished tasks easily with minimal wear.
Knife Guide Issue features the newest knives and sharpeners, plus knife and axe reviews, knife sheaths, kit knives and a Knife Industry Directory.
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