I freely confess that I don’t know much about fine knives. I come from Africa, where the most common ‘bush knife’ is a machete-type blade (in southern Africa, we called it a panga), often made out of old car or truck leaf springs (those from Mercedes-Benz trucks being particularly prized). Here’s how one US backyard blacksmith made one. His technique is very similar to what I’ve seen in Africa.
A machete like that can serve as a bush knife, and also replace a small hatchet or axe. (They also make fearsome fighting knives, almost like short swords . . . I’ve seen that, too.) Smaller African sheath knives ran the gamut from ‘designer’ blades, brought in (often at great expense) from the USA or Europe, to cheap Mora knives from Sweden (my personal favorite). The latter were regarded as ‘throwaway’ blades; you used one until it went blunt or broke (they’re not very thick or strong), then threw it away and replaced it with another one. That approach served me well for some years.
Since coming to America two decades ago, I’ve noticed a distinct difference. Here, many people who spend a lot of time outdoors seem to also spend a lot of money on name-brand knives, optimized for purpose (skinners, camp knives, survival knives, etc.). The simple, versatile machete isn’t as widely used, being partly replaced by tomahawks and camp hatchets, as well as more specialized blades. (If I have to cut down a small tree or prepare firewood, I’m as likely to use a machete as an axe, because that’s what we did in Africa; but here that’s regarded with misgiving. Wood is cut with an axe. Brush is cut with a machete. That’s the way of things.)
Also, the nature of blades – their steel, their shape and their maintenance – is something of a religion in America, whereas in Africa (at least in my experience) it was much more hit-or-miss. Need to sharpen your blade? Over there, you picked up a suitable stone from a stream or river bed and went at it. Fancy operators used proper sharpening stones, but they were heavy to carry through the African bush for any length of time, particularly if you carried everything you needed on your back. However, outside that continent, if I offered to sharpen a high-quality blade such as a Randall, Fallkniven or Boker using a river stone, I’d probably be excommunicated from the knife fraternity on the spot – and possibly physically assaulted by the knife’s owner, too! I’ve been quietly amused by the amount some people are willing to spend on specialist knife sharpening tools and equipment. I daresay the top-end stuff, such as this electric sharpening tool, does an excellent job . . . but I can’t help thinking I could buy a dozen Mora bush knives for the same amount, which I’d never need to sharpen – I’d just replace each one as it wore out!
I’ve been helped to understand the complexity of the subject by two articles at the Lansky Sharpeners blog. Yes, I know it’s written to help advertise and sell a commercial product, but it still contains useful information. The two articles in question are:
If you, like me, aren’t an expert at this sort of thing, you’ll find much useful information there, and in the rest of their articles. Recommended reading, and a public service for which Lansky deserves our thanks, IMHO.