I've been wondering for a while about the Ray Mears woodlore knife, If I may, I'd like to share my musings with you. The Mears woodlore knife is a pretty basic design. Ray has commisioned what appears to be a pretty standard 4" puukko blade, made from carbon steel, but instead of the traditional puukko "stick" tang, has asked that the knife be made with a full tang with handle slabs riveted on.
As mentioned, the knife itself is a pretty simple design. It looks to be essentially a simple puukko blade of the kind used for many centuries by the Lapps...
So what makes the Mears knife so different? Well, I'm not so sure that it is. I think it may be more a question of image, rather than being fuctionality different. To explain, a lot of knife collectors and makers favour the tradional bowie....
It conjours images of the heroic cowboy riding into battle against fierce indians, armed only with a winchester and his trusty bowie. A romantic image, much more so than those funny puukko's, carried by those chaps in Lappland who wear Santa costumes, with the pointy shoes and hats - no?
In reality, the overly large bowie is a ludicrously cumbersom, weighty, blade-heavy tool, possibly useful for chopping things and fighting people (tasks really better suited to axes and daggers). On the other hand, the puukko is a small, deft tool, usually less than 4" long, making it quick in the hand, accurate, excellnt for woodwork & game prepping alike. The puukko design has been refined and proven over many centuries by a people who depend on their knives to eek out their existance. It doesnt surprise me in the least, that the Ray Mears "westernised puukko" turns out to be a rather excellent tool. What does surprise me, is that it's taken so long to recognise the merits of the puukko design. In this review, the Mears knife scores a respectable 8/10, but in this review, the chesp £30 puukko scores a phenominal 10/10. That's very interesting indeed.
So, what makes the puukko so good. Well, you'd have to ask someone who uses them regularly to get a reliable and trustworthy answer, but undoubtedly, the small, relatively narrow 4" blade, combined with a substantial and ergonomic handle, makes the knife a quick and accurate tool to use. The blade geometry, also plays a part. Puukko's traditionally have only a single flat ground bevel and are usually made of laminated steel (softer on the outside for toughness, with a hard inner core) see...
By a single falt ground bevel, I mean that the bevel goes all the way to the edge, like a chisel or carpenters knife, this differes from western knives which generally have a secondary bevel right at the edge. This single bevel gives the knife an excellent "wedge" making it good for carpentry (& bushcraft?), as well as more mundane stuff like skinning game. Many of our western knives are hollow ground, like razors, which makes them hair-poppingly sharp slicers, but absolutely no "wedge" and therefore terrible whittlers. For the majority of people who buy them, this makes little difference as most are never actually used in anger. The tactical style knives, which are becomming increasingly popular, have a totally different remit, and are equally useless as woodland tools, however efficient they may be at killing people.
I must admit though, I do like the idea of a full tang construction, over the traditional stick tang. Though the Lapps dont seem to have a problem with the stick tang construction, it does make for a very "solid" feel to the knife in your hand. It makes it easy to trust it.
I'd like some feedback from people with hands on experience of the mears knife, in any of it's incarnations, and also owners of puukko's - especially regarding the blade geometry. I'm pretty sure my research is on the money, but having never owned either I'd appreciate opinions from experienced owners/users.
I'm wondering if there is an opening here, to develop a westernised puukko design. The knife does suffer from a less-than-cool image IMO (albeit unjust), and could benefit from a redesign - not the blade, that would appear to be pretty much perfect, but the handle consruction. Modern materials, such as S30V steel, epoxy resins, micarta, G10 and carbon fibre could do a lot for the image of the humble puukko. I'm sure had these materials been around 100's of years ago, the Lapps would have used them. I'm increasingly more and more surprised that there isn't a bead-blasted, S30V, micarta and G10, slab handled puukko on the market.
I'm also surprised that manufacturers havent started to take up the slack with this. Alan Wood has a 12 month waiting list, even if he works full steam, I doubt he could stop the waiting list growing.
On a slightly different note, I see Helle are making some nice designs, the "Helle Winner"...
and the "Helle Fjellkniven"...
Helle have a good reputation for their laminated steel blades. In fact you can buy a blade blank...
..with a 4" laminated blade, for about a tenner from Brisa Knives, tempting eh? Even if you have never made a knife yourself.
Opinions? Feedback? I'm thinking of either making a prototype blade myself, or commisioning one. Any comments from owners/users of these blades would be appreciated.
This thread has been duplicated on BritishBlades to get feedback from folks who make and collect knives.
Thanks for reading,