By Drew Dockstader, June 2014
The history and use of hunting knives can be traced back to the Stone Age. Some of the first blades were made from bone, rock, obsidian (volcanic glass), and flint (cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz). The Greeks used bronze to build knife blades, and the use of steel to make most of today’s blades can be traced back to the Romans. Today’s steel blades, while still using iron, have many additional minerals, such as molybdenum, nickel, carbon, and chromium. The mixture of these alloys and how the blade is heat treated, forged, quenched, and tempered can produce many different steel blades, from carbon steel to stainless and high carbon stainless. Each of these have different properties, including blade edge sharpness, edge retention, corrosion resistance, or all of these combined. Other lightweight materials, such as ceramic and titanium, are used for knife blades, but they are not as common due to cost or fragility.
In today’s hunts, the need for a good, sharp hunting knife probably means you were successful. It also means, in most cases, that the hunt is over, the pictures have been taken, and now it is time to go to work. Like any job you do, the task at hand can be made easier if you have the proper tools and knowledge to perform the job with the least amount of effort, and the best tool for field dressing, skinning, caping, and quartering an animal is a good, sharp knife. The word sharp, when talking about knives, is very important. There is nothing more frustrating than killing an elk right before dark and realizing that you have forgotten to sharpen your knives from the last skinning and quartering job. This is one advantage of replaceable blade knives, such as Outdoor Edge’s Razor-Blaze or Havalon’s line of replaceable blade knives. Or it may be that you do not know how to properly sharpen a traditional hunting knife, so now you can just pop in a new sharp blade and you are back to skinning.
Although many hunters and taxidermists that I have asked still prefer the feel and heft of a more traditional fixed or folding knife to perform their work, for myself, I usually have more than one of both kinds in my pack, since animals, like an elk, can dull most knives before the job is complete. At least that was the case until I just tried out the DiamondBlade knives. If my traditional blade knives are sharp, such as my Benchmade or Browning, I tend to favor them over my Havalon, and they too will last through a bull. However, if they are dull, I will usually insert a new blade in my replaceable blade knife rather than take the time in the field to sharpen dull knives. Being a big game guide for the last 20 plus years, I have gone through many knives and have tried all of the latest fads and sharpening techniques. It seems that if you ask five hunters or guides what their favorite knife is, you will get five different answers, as was the case when I asked the other Huntin’ Fool® consultants.
The problem is that there are many knife manufacturers in the marketplace today with hundreds of different knives to choose from. Having owned and operated a sporting goods store for many years, I am familiar with most of the companies whose knives we are including in this review, and with one of my sons being the buyer for Sportsman’s Warehouse, I had a pretty good idea of which ones were good and bad. I selected a few of the more popular knives available from the good list and headed out to California with fellow Huntin’ Fool® consultant and longtime friend, Jeff Warren, to hunt wild boars and turkeys. We were invited out and were the thankful guests of our gracious friends, Larry and Trish Strawn. We had a very successful hunt and were able to test the knives on pigs and turkeys, both skinning and butchering them. I was also able to use the knives on some other animals prior to that trip. The following is our experience and review of the knives we were so graciously provided with by the participating manufacturers. Huntin’ Fool® appreciates and thanks these companies for their participation in this review.
Browning Model 100 Diy Butcher Kit
The Browning DIY (do-it-yourself) butcher kit consists of five different knives (a folding knife with sheath, butcher knife, fillet knife, skinning knife, and boning knife), sharpening steel, game shear, and cap light, all in a convenient roll-up bag. The suggested retail is $110, and the knife blades are made of 420 stainless with textured, soft plastic handles. It is manufactured in China. I used this knife set both on skinning a pig and butchering it. We also used the boning and fillet knives to breast-out some turkeys. I found this to be a handy little set to have along. The edge on the knives I used the most dulled fairly easily, but they also touched up easily with the steel provided. I also used the shears to cut off the turkey wings, and they performed okay. This is an inexpensive but functional set that would be handy in any camp trailer, cabin, or grub box. It would also work well for butchering your own venison and will not break the bank to own a set.
Browning Model 424 Non-Typical Stag Fixed Skinning Blade
The Browning model 424 Non-Typical is a fixed blade skinning knife with stag handle. It comes with a top grain leather sheath with the Browning Buckmark logo lasered into it. The blade is made of 9Cr18MoV, which is a high chromium stainless steel. It is manufactured in Taiwan, and the suggested retail is $122. This knife is very attractive with the stag handle and with gold and black rings on either end of the handle between the stainless bolster and pommel. The pommel also has a hole for a lanyard. This knife really felt nice in my hand and was comfortable to use. I have shorter hands, and the handle may seem a little too short for someone with large hands. It is well-balanced, and the curve in the stag handle made it nice to skin with. It came sharp enough to shave with and still felt sharp after using it for a while skinning a boar. The bolster also made rocking the blade back and forth easy, and the roughness of the stag helped to keep a grip on it with wet hands. I have personally used many of Browning’s knives over the years and have found them to function well and to be a great value.
Havalon Piranta Torch Hunting Knife
The Havalon Piranta Torch folding hunting knife has an aluminum alloy handle and comes with replaceable stainless steel blades. The suggested retail is $59.99. The handles are made in China, and the blades are made in India. I have used this knife for several years now and have seen other guides use them for many years. There are two great advantages to this knife — the blades are incredibly sharp, and they are replaceable. This knife, like all the rest of the Havalon knives, is very lightweight. There are some learning curves when first using a Havalon knife. You should let the knife do the work with its sharp edge and not pry or bend the blade because it will break. Recent improvements with a 20% thicker blade have helped with this. The other thing you need to remember is that they will cut whatever they come in contact with, including human flesh. As recently as last year I had a guide working with me who required stitches because he forgot this rule. As I stated before, I sometimes would rather use a knife with a little more heft when performing certain tasks, but that is a personal preference, and all in all these little knives have cut a big swath in the hunting and taxidermy world and are a great product.
Outdoor Edge Model Rb-20 Razor-Blaze
The Razor-Blaze folding knife by Outdoor Edge has a replaceable blade that can either be sharpened or replaced. The knife is manufactured in China and has a suggested retail of $49.95. This knife has a blaze orange rubberized Kraton handle with lock-back and dual thumb studs for one-hand opening. The blade locks in with an ear on the front and a lock-button on the handle that releases and secures the replaceable blade. This knife comes with a Mossy Oak nylon holster and six replacement blades. The stainless blades are sturdy and come razor sharp. This knife worked great for skinning and held an edge longer than I expected it would. I found that it works best for skinning or cutting but not as well for slicing through meat like a butcher knife. Although, to be fair, I do not think it was designed with that in mind. The problem with using it for slicing or cutting deep is that material gets caught in the blade frame and hair and meat can build up in that area.
As the instructions state, this knife should have the blade removed and the knife cleaned after each use to ensure there is no build-up of hair and material in the blade slot. I really like the ease of changing the blade with the push of a button and the fact that the new ones come with a protective plastic cover over the edge. This SwingBlade works great for the hunter who does not like sharpening knives or having to do so at an inconvenient moment. This is a great knife overall and a very good value as well. It performs like it was intended if it is used this way by letting the blade do the work.
Outdoor Edge Model Sz-20N SwingBlaze
The SwingBlaze knife by Outdoor Edge is the latest in the SwingBlade series. It features a unique locking, two-in-one swinging blade design in a blaze orange rubberized Kraton handle. The knife is made in China and has a suggested retail of $69.95. This knife features a very clever design in that it has a stainless single blade with a 3.6" drop point on one end and a 3.2" gutting blade with safety tip on the other end. It has a swivel point that rotates in the locking handle, which lets you choose the blade edge you want to use, while concealing and protecting you from the other edge. It really is a two-ended fixed blade knife with one handle, and it comes with a nylon holster.
I found that the gutting blade on this knife was extremely sharp, and I was able to field dress the animal like it had a zipper on it without having to worry about puncturing the entrails. That end also worked well for cutting up the back of the legs. I was a little concerned about sharpening that end, although the instructions suggest using a crock-stick or clamp-on guide style sharpener. The drop point end was very sharp and was easy to touch up with a steel to keep it that way. The knife was very comfortable to use, especially with the drop point. As with many of the knives Outdoor Edge President David Bloch has come up with, the SwingBlaze is both innovative and functional, while representing a good value.
DiamondBlade Knives Model 00293Fg Pro Series Summit & Model 00103Fg Summit Ram Horn
These fixed blade knives are made in the USA and have a suggested retail of $345 for the Suregrip and $495 for the Ram Horn-Mosaic Pins model. This review is for both models since the blades are the same Friction Forged® D2 High Carbon Tool Steel drop point. The differences are in the handles, with one being made of Suregrip material and the other one being a handmade, hand-inleted set of three Mosaic pins in a Ram Horn custom handle. The other difference is in the sheaths, with one being a solid, molded Kydex and the other being custom leather with Kydex liner to prevent the knife from cutting through the leather.
DiamondBlade uses a trademark process called Friction Forging®. You can go to their website at www.diamondbladeknives.com to learn more about this process. The short version of what this process does is that it creates a fine grain structure in the high Chromium stainless edge that is harder and holds an edge longer, while being corrosion and rust resistant. For our tests, we let guide Don Walgamuth use the DiamondBlade knives to skin and dissect a very large pig. He was very impressed, as were we, with the sharpness at the beginning and at the end of his task. The Summit knives felt good in our hands and made short work of skinning and butchering a pig. I liked these knives very much, and Don was wondering where to buy one. At the beginning of our skinning efforts the blades were shave sharp, and after the chore was done you could not shave with them, but they were still sharper than others I have used out of the box. If price is not a factor, these are great knives and ones you would love to own.
Diamondblade Knives Model 00290Fg Pro Series Pinnacle II & Model 00093Fg Pinnacle II Ram Horn
Like all of the DiamondBlade knives, these fixed blade knives are made in the USA. They have a suggested retail of $345 for the Suregrip handle model and $400 for the Ram Horn-Mosaic Pins model. The description of the handles is the same for the Pinnacle series as the Summit series, except the Ram Horn-Mosaic Pins model has two pins in this knife instead of three. The blades are a full tang clip point design and are made the same way as the Summit series. I have used this same blade shape for years in the Knives of Alaska Cub Bear as a caping and fine detail knife. On this trip, I used the DiamondBlade Pinnacle II for making my cuts up the legs and skinning a boar. The knife held up well through the entire job. It only needed a little touch-up to be as sharp as it was when I started. The size and comfort of this little knife makes it handy for many tasks. The Ram Horn-Mosaic Pins knives are very attractive and feel good in your hands as well. If you can justify the cost and want a sharp knife, the DiamondBlade knives are a good choice.
Benchmade Knife Company Model 15016-1 Hidden Canyon Hunter
The Hidden Canyon Hunter by Benchmade is a small fixed blade skinner from the new Hunt series of Blue Class knives. It features G10 (glass-cloth laminate with epoxy resin binder) handles and a CPM-S30V premium stainless blade. It comes with a form fit Kydex sheath with a reversible belt loop. The blade length is 2.67". The Hidden Canyon Hunter is manufactured in the USA, and the suggested retail is $135. This is a great little skinning knife, and it performed well on the skinning tasks we put it to. Its size and heft were very comfortable in my hand, and it came sharp right out of the box. It retained its edge very well through the whole skinning job but will need a little touch-up before the next one. I like the sheath as it holds the knife in a horizontal position on your belt. This is a very well-made knife, and if you are looking for a good little skinner, this one will fill the request. All Benchmade knives are covered by their LifeSharp service in which you can send your knife back to Benchmade and they will sharpen it for just a $5 charge for the first knife and $2.50 for additional knives. This service is free, and the fee covers handling and return postage. All knives also come with Benchmade’s limited lifetime warranty.
Benchmade Knife Company Model 15001-2 Saddle Mountain Skinner
The Saddle Mountain Skinner by Benchmade is a fixed blade, modified clip-point skinner from the new Hunt series of Blue Class knives. It features a Dymondwood (a layered composite made from natural fiber) handle and a CPM-S30V premium stainless steel blade. It comes with a Kydex-lined leather sheath. It has a 4.17" blade. The Saddle Mountain Skinner is manufactured in the USA, and the suggested retail is $155. Jeff Warren used this knife on a boar and was impressed with its sharpness and feel. He used it to skin and quarter the animal. The longer blade lends itself to being a good knife for quartering as well as skinning. We did not sharpen the blade, and after the job it was dulled very slightly and was only in need of a little touch-up. The knife fits the sheath well but could snap in a little tighter. However it does have a hole for a lanyard if you feel the need for a little added insurance. It is covered by the same LifeSharp service and warranty.
Benchmade Knife Company Model 15031-1 North Fork
The North Fork folding, modified drop point knife by Benchmade is from the new Hunt series of Blue Class knives. It features a contoured G10 handle and a CPMS30V premium stainless steel 2.97" blade. This stainless steel product boasts better edge retention and corrosion resistance than other stainless steels. The North Fork is manufactured in the USA, and the suggested retail is $165. It comes with a reversible tip-up pocket clip, making it possible to wear the knife on either your right or left side. It also has dual thumb studs and blade release buttons to further its ambidextrous abilities. I found this knife to be as sharp as the rest of the Benchmade knives we tested and with the same blade edge retention as you would expect, since they are made of the same materials as the others. This knife performed well and is small enough to fit your pocket well enough with the clip to be worn and used for other chores besides hunting. For a folder, it has a very sturdy feel and gives the sense of quality when it is in your hands. The blade studs made one-hand opening easy, and the lock-back felt secure. This is a great knife and is covered by the same Benchmade warranty and LifeSharp policy as all of their knives.