by Michael smith (Veshengro)
The first knives of the men of the backwoods, of the Eastern Longhunters, of the Rangers and Woodsrunners, the “coureurs des bois” or “coureurs de bois”, and also those of the Mountain Men of the Rockies, in North America, were not purpose-made knives but simple cook’s or butcher’s knives that had been given a rawhide or other kind of leather sheath, and at times converted somewhat for the tasks they had to perform in the backwoods.
The once standard outdoors' knife of the Australian Bushman for a long time was the so-called “Queensland Butcher”. Those were, basically, ordinary butcher knives, more often than not made in Sheffield, England, and put to use and that even by the mounted constabulary of the various territories of Australia, often worn in a sheath in the riding boot.
The Woodsrunner of old, much like the thrifty homesteader of old and of today, mostly converted other blades for his use or made his own knives from scrap steel.
This method of simply appropriating a knife of this kind, without or with reworking, still works today and is still often the best and certainly the cheapest way to acquire a good working knife for use in the great backyard.
The specially made blades that are associated with the Backwoodsmen and the Mountain Men – such as the predecessor of the Bowie and the Bowie knife itself – arrived much later on the scene.
Personally I find it very satisfying indeed to lay my hands on an old butcher’s or cook’s knife and by sharpening it up, maybe also regrinding the shape of the blade if need be, and otherwise reworking it, and then making a sheath for it (often also by making use of the leather from an old and discarded leather bag of sorts), knowing that I could not have bought a woods knife like that one anywhere or if then it would have cost me a great sum of money. What comes out at the end when one does this is, basically, a custom knife and custom knives are rather costly.
What I am trying to say with this all is that you do not have to spend lots of money in order to get yourself the perfect outdoors knife for yourself or for the youngster in your family who is a budding backwoodsman.
Look at Thrift Stores or at Flea Markets for good old cook’s knives and the like and you will find one, I am sure, that, with a little work, will become the perfect backwoods companion. I have been lucky at some of the so-called Charity Shops in the UK in the past to get such old knives. Alas nowadays they are not allowed to even give them away against a small donation but have to throw any knives, other than table knives, away.
The photo shows just one of the knives that I have got and converted, and this with actually very little effort. I call it my “French Gaucho Knife”. It is a small French chef’s knife and with the sheath that I have given it the knife does look a little like the knives that are carried by the Gauchos on the Argentine Pampas.
This particular knife was bought on a Flea Market for a less than 20 cents US equivalent and with a sheath recycled from an old bag that cost virtually nothing it has become one of my companion for the woods.
While that may not be the shape that suits you or that you like it is but an example and I have many others converted that equally can serve as an as such a wodsrunning knife and the same goes for you. There are surely other knives out there at certain sales that you can find for conversion into your own personal outdoors companion.
Don’t shy away from it just because you haven’t done it before. There is always a first time with everything. But aim to produce the best you can even in your first attempt. If it is not the highest quality immediately do not despair, however. Those things come with time.
Today we keep seeing those so-called Nessmuk knives, and knives that are based upon G W Sears' (“Nessmuk”) design, and other so-called Bushcraft knives, that run into hundreds of Dollars and Pounds in price and this is totally unnecessary and silly. Sear's knife, however, was also a rework, originally, of a knife that was to hand and intended for a different purpose and what he could do we can do too. It is not rocket science.
I have seen many designs of so-called Bushcraft knives – I will not name the Bushcraft schools or or such whence they come – and with some of them I must say that I wonder how they actually are supposed to perform all the tasks, as they often are too long and the thickness of the blade is a little on the fat side. That is because the designers believe that the knife must be capable of chopping firewood or at least kindling.
The next person who wants to chop firewood with a knife I hand a hatchet, I think. Even in an outdoors “survival” situation with only your knife as partner you do not want to chop firewood, not even kindling, with a knife (unless the knife happens to be a machete and then it is all but useless for the smaller tasks).
I think that you get the idea now and also that you realize that all the hype about those knives is all just that, hype. You do not need that kind and do not pay out that kind of money to have a good knife – or knives, for even the backwoodsmen would not have just carried one knife on them – to use in the great outdoors.