I’m not someone who gets all that excited about knives, they are tools for a job and little more, but I must admit taking on a notable air of impatience when I was informed that a skookum Bushtool was on its way.
The Skookum is a dedicated Bushcraft/survival knife designed Mors Kochanski and hand made by Rod Garcia.
Few people in the world are more qualified than Mors Kochanski to define the requirements of a Bushcraft knife, and rather than try to explain his thinking on the subject, I’ll take the lazy way out and quote him from his book “Bushcraft” (with permission)
All general-use knives should have the blade tip close to the profile centerline of the handle. The back of the handle and the back of the blade should be on the same line. The back of the blade should not be thinned down or sharpened so that a baton can be used more effectively without being cut up. There is no advantage to a two-edged blade in bush living.
The blade should be of a good quality carbon steel, from two and a half to three millimeters thick and about two to two and a half centimeters wide. This size of blade is light in weight, yet difficult to break. The steel should be soft enough to be maintained at a shaving edge with common sharpening tools, without frequent sharpening. Such steel is found in Mora (Sweden), Solingen (Germany) or Sheffield (England) knives. Carbon, unlike stainless steel, can be used as the striker in the flint and steel method of fire-lighting. Inexpensive stainless steels have had a bad reputation with respect to producing a keen edge let alone holding it. The Mora stainless steels however, are every bit as good as their carbon steels.
The metal of the knife blade should extend for the full-length of the handle (a full tang) for strength.
The handle should be a durable, water-resistant material that can be shaped to the user’s hand if necessary.
The knife should have a strong pommel that will protect the handle if the knife is driven tip first deep into wood.
The curvature of the cutting edge should extend for the full-length of the blade. This cuts well and is one of the best shapes that quickly sharpens to a razor’s edge. The knife blade should have a sharp enough point to penetrate deep into wood with a minimum of effort.
The knife handle should be about as long as the width of your palm. A handle that is too thick or too thin fatigues the hand and causes blisters. The cross-section of the handle should be an oval instead of round or rectangular. An oval handle provides an adequate indication of the direction of the cutting edge and raises fewer blisters than handles with angular or rounded corners.
A guard on a bush knife is in the way and detracts from many operations. It prevents the use of a simple, secure deep sheath. Some people prefer a guard for fear of slipping forward onto the knife edge, but unless the knife is used for stabbing, the hand should never slip in this way. In all my years of instructing I do not recall an injury due to the lack of a guard.
As a test of strength, a good knife should not break when driven four centimeters into a standing tree at right-angles to the grain, and the handle bears your weight as you stand on it.
It arrived just in the nick of time for my departure to Borneo, certainly not the environment it was designed for, and a harsh environment for a carbon steel Bushcraft knife but Mors states that he intended this tool to function as a practical ‘Survival Knife’ and in my opinion to be qualified as such, it should perform in any environment it is required to.
Things got off to a bit of a bad start initially, I am in the habit of starting the splitting of light/small wood rounds by placing the edge where I want the split and striking the spine with the heel of my palm to start the split, progressing to a baton only if this fails to get things going.
Unfortunately the 90 angle on the spine of the SBT is quite a bit sharper than my past knives, and whilst it casts incredible sparks form a ferrocium rod and makes a superb scraper, three heel strikes in rapid succession to the spine cut the heel of my hand to ribbons (literally!). After I had stopped bleeding I decided that a change of technique was required for this tool!
This is nothing against the knife though, had I thought about it it’s an obvious mistake on my part, it was simply force of habit to use the knife as I have for years.
(Note. The spine isn’t so sharp that it would cut into your hand when choking up on the blade for carving etc. just don’t try smacking it with the heel you unprotected palm as the bone structure beneath the skin acts as an anvil with your skin pinched between it and a hard narrow piece of steel, something has to give. You should also be aware that compared to Mors, I have baby soft hands )
With this hiccup out of the way however the knife really impressed me, and I mean really really impressed me, it’s now my favourite bushcraft knife by far.
The A2 carbon steel surpassed my expectations for corrosion resistance, naturally I took great care to avoid rust but I expected to be fighting a losing battle in the jungle, instead I found it didn’t need quite so much care as I had feared. One morning when I realised that after a river crossing the night before I had forgotten to dry and oil the blade before going to bed and it had sat at 30 centigrade in a wet sheath all night, I drew it fearing the worst, only to find to my delight only light spot rusting here and there.
It took serious abuse (hammering in 3 inch nails with the base plate and splitting logs all day to build a basecamp kitchen) and shrugged it off without harm, without raising a single blister on my part and handled the finer tasks with the same finesse as a Finnish Puukko
Firstly a close up of my hand after it had healed up, I wont be doing that again! :
Some shots of the knife in camp, with some camp furniture it was used to make:
In the jungle things often get quite slippery, this was no problem with the Skookum at all:
Splitting wood was no problem either, even when the round was wider than the length of the blade, as the solid handle arrangement allowed you to hammer on the back of the handle to drive the blade though without any subsequent damage to the knife:
In the building of the kitchen for our ‘Bushpig Basecamp’ we used nails, as this was to be a permanent structure intended to be in use for years to come. The entire structure was built using the Skookum not just for cutting but also as a hammer, for most knives this would be outrageous abuse, for the skookum however it was just another days work, it finished the day none the worse for wear.
It works very well as an emergency hammer, hammering with the skookum is however slow going!
Removing bark slabs for construction of the kitchen:
Our camp kitchen, Dave on the left with the skookum in hand, myself on the right, kitchen consists of a raised platform to keep the fire safe from flooding in the rain, the fire built on a sand basin (made with the bark), a rack for drying fire wood and of course a roof:
a jungle shelter, also built with assistance from the Skookum:
The Skookum Bush tool is as tough as nails (tougher actually) and super reliable, whilst also maintaining the finesse of a true carver, which is a very tricky balance and a testament to Rods accurate interpretation of Mors requirements. It gets a five star rating from me, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a no nonsense tool for the wilderness. You certainly couldn’t get me to part with mine.
For more information see: www.skookumbushtool.com