A Do-All Blade for Alaska’s Backcountry
One thing that is certain while selecting gear for use in Alaska is that it has to perform…plain and simple. Selecting a quality knife that you can use from skinning and butchering to general bushcraft and survival can help save weight, reduce the hassle of replacing inferior blades, and make getting ready to go afield a bit easier.
I’m usually not one to steer myself, let alone others, toward a custom knife because, well, they all seem so expensive! I know there is a niche market for just about anything in this world, but paying $400 or more for a knife, no matter the performance, seemed silly to me. Being a simple guy, and having relatively good performance from our Cutco knives that we have previously reviewed, this was my go-to knife for my excursions and didn’t think twice about it. The Double-D edge that comes on those knives seemed to hold an edge well, but definitely required a sharpening after a few animals. Resharpening isn’t in itself a big deal, but the proprietary edge required you to send it back to the company. If you forgot, the edge seemed to deteriorate rapidly once it was on its downhill slide, and you could find yourself fighting the blade to do what you asked of it on the thick hide that adorns much of our big game in Alaska.
Custom knife maker, Gary Bolduc, happened across our Facebook page and threw up a link to his website. I flipped through the virtual pages of his offerings and what I saw didn’t immediately appeal to me. Highly polished blades, gorgeous wooden handles with accent trim running through them…overall pieces of artwork that could definitely perform to a level of the looks that these knives had, but ultimately a bit on the ‘nice’ side for what I was wanting to see. When not driving what I call our ‘man-van’ (yeah, yeah, I know…its a soccer-mom rig), I drive an older pickup, shoot a .30-06, and am generally not very flashy. So when I contacted Gary, it was kind of difficult to relay that his stuff seemed too nice without offending him somehow. Gary was very receptive to a few of my ideas to not only whittle down the price a bit, but to also draw a regular guy like myself to a knife that oozed utility, was still ruggedly good looking, and offered performance that would mean you would only need one knife in your pack.
I told Gary that I wanted a knife that had roughly a 4.25-4.5″ blade sporting a nice ‘belly’ for skinning and general use accompanied with a bit longer handle for larger hands. The absolute LAST thing I wanted was, what I call, a ‘Rambo Knife’. You know the ones you see proudly displayed on the hip of a dude with a 10 inch blade ready for action…in town…yeah. I also wanted to see the blade have a good amount of jimping on the spine for added purchase while resting your thumb beyond the bolster. Having some exposure to G10 scale material, I chose this for the handle as I knew the product to be almost bulletproof. Gary was new to G10 as well since he was drawn to the natural beauty and hardness of some of the exotic hardwoods that he utilizes, but was more than happy to give me what I wanted. A second bonus of using G10 is that since its a synthetic, it comes in almost any color you could want and a high-visibility orange was a must for this knife. How many times have you set your knife down in the tundra only a few feet away to then spend a few minutes looking for it, scratching your head thinking ‘where could it have gone?!’…high-vis handles are a must. I chose a black/orange laminate ground in a ‘skip pattern’ to give the blade an attractive appearance over a solid color. Lanyard loops are always a good addition to things, so we threw two of them on here. The second lanyard loop on the bolster near the blade could help you lash it to a stick if you were ever in a REAL pickle and needed to fashion some sort of spear or whatnot. I also wanted a bit of exposed steel past the rear of the full-tang for striking, gouging, or whatever else you may need it for. For those of you that don’t like the exposed steel on the rear of the knife, we have a few units without that. Lastly, I wanted the blade thickness to be enough to where you could do some basic batoning if you found yourself in need of ‘chopping’ some firewood for a small fire.
Now to choose what kind of steel to make it out of. Since I was consulting an expert for this project, I asked him what his take on it was. I don’t remember his exact words, but I got the impression that using anything other than CPM S35VN for this purpose would likely be silly. After making that choice with Gary, I’ve done some research on CPM steels, S35VN itself, along with other factors that make this particular alloy good for a knife of this type, and it is fairly clear why some people call this ‘the ultimate cutlery steel’. Made in the USA, this CPM (crucible particle metallurgy) steel, and its predecessor S30VN were the first steels specifically made for knife making. The CPM process results in very fine-grained steel that has an extremely uniform micro-structure. The S35VN also incorporates a certain percentage of a material called Niobium, which replaces a bit of Vanadium in this steel making it 15-20% tougher than (remember that the Vanadium content in barrel steel is what separates 4140 barrel steel from 4150 barrel steel used in higher grade barrels and machine guns) than the S30VN. Along with superior edge-retention, blade toughness and stain resistance also play a part in selecting this steel. Improved toughness (along with Gary’s cryogenic ‘heat’ treating of each and every blade he makes to a predetermined Rockwell hardness) means less chipping of the edge or tip. Stain resistance is also a big factor for me, personally, because I want gear that is low maintenance. I don’t want to have to be oiling my blade every night and worrying about one more thing while I’m using it. I could relay heaps more information on this steel but I don’t want to bore anyone. This steel is expensive, extremely high-quality for this application, and simply will not let you down. We could have saved a few more bucks on the steel and made a cheaper knife…but why? To top the package off, I requested a molded kydex sheath to protect the blade and keep the weight down over a leather style sheath.
Gary pumped out the first version of the knife, kept it for himself after getting me all excited (he keeps all the firsts, I was just pumped up to see it in-hand), and quickly got a second ‘prototype’ headed my way. I got the blade at the tail end of hunting season, only got to butcher one small deer with the knife, but have used it around the house a bit, handled it way too often, and showed it to almost everyone I came across. Since I’m not the biggest guy running around, I handed the knife to a buddy who had significantly larger hands than I did, and immediately after getting a grip on it, he said that the ‘kick-up’ at the rear of the tang that was present on the prototype was very uncomfortable. We have slightly enlarged the grip and smoothed the rear hump to accommodate larger hands. So far, this is the only modification that has been made before we decided to offer this to our readers and fans.
The pricing on this knife will be $225 which I feel is a great value for the quality of the blade steel, the precision of the hardening process, the hand-made nature of this item, and the fact that it comes with a sheath and is ready to throw in your pack and head to the field. I wanted this to be an item that you should only need to buy once, acquire it at a fair price, and have it perform for you when you need it to. I think we pulled it off, and hope you like what you see as well.