Cariboo Blades – A Review of their Edge Tools for Bushcraft
There are about as many opinions of what makes a “good” knife as there are people who use them, especially if those people have any real bushcraft experience. If you research camping in the old style of E. Kreps, Daniel Carter Beard, Warren H. Miller, Horace Kephart or George W. Sears “Nessmuk” or the like, you will come to know that the three most indispensable pieces of equipment in their opinion were the knife, the compass and matches. I have been thrashing around in the woods since I started hunting squirrels with my first .22 single shot rifle I got for my 10th birthday, which I can reluctantly tell you was a long time ago.
Since those early days in the woods of the Midwest, hunting squirrels, rabbits and running a trap line. I have camped and hunted in the Everglades of Florida, hiked and camped in the Appalachian mountains, climbed the 14,000 foot summits in Colorado, strayed in the deserts of California, camped in the Grand Canyon and hunted and fished in the woods and mountains of Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho and Montana. In all that rambling, I have always found it difficult to say that I had ever been able to find the “perfect” knife to serve all the necessary tasks required while “smoothing it”, in the words of Nessmuk, in a wilderness camp.
I always had in mind what I might define as the “perfect” knife with which to
build a camp, but until I found Scott Richardson and Aki Yamamoto of Cariboo
Blades (www.caribooblades.com) I was unable to have that perfect knife built.
I now have that knife which has been named the “Wiseman” and is available
Although the “Wiseman” is an extremely versatile camp knife capable of splitting wood, shaving tinder, digging a fire pit or chopping small wood to make camp furniture, I realized that I could expand my camp building skills, if I had available a broader range of other bushcrafting tools that would extend my capability of building a fixed camp with available materials. Thanks to Cariboo Blades, I now have, in addition to the “Wiseman” camp knife, an adze, a drawknife and two hook knives with which to make camp furniture and utensils.
Each of these tools were brilliantly designed and shaped by Scott Richardson. Aki Yamamoto used her superb leather craft and artistic skills to make and decorate fantastic sheaths for each piece. The workmanship and fitting on each of the bushcraft tools made by Scott & Aki are beautifully balanced and all the tools have beyond belief edge holding ability. Scott carefully forges and tempers each tool and is an artist when it comes to shaping the edge and fitting knife scales and tool handles. The wood used in the production of the tools is most typically fruitwood including cherry, apple, pear, and crabapple depending on what the tool is meant to be used for and availability of wood type.
The reason for all of this fuss is when I set up a hunting or fishing camp these days, I take some time on arrival at a suitable campsite to build at least a camp stool, a small table, and a shelf or two on which to safely set food items or camp utensils. I have tired of sitting on the ground and kneeling over my stove while cooking & constantly struggling to find a safe level place on which to set a stove. I am also not a fan of trying to keep the food out of the dirt while I am cooking. So to remedy the situation, I build a camp in the old style by utilizing some bushcraft skills with the best tool available to accomplish the task at hand.
The more I studied the old ways, the more appreciation I have gained for the time the old woodsman took to set up a camp the right way. By the right way, I mean before they started fishing or hunting they would take a day or two to straighten out and build a camp so it was organized and handy to use. Today, if we search enough catalogs, it is possible to purchase anything and everything from microwaves to refrigerators. However, unless you of a one ton pickup and don’t intend to get far from the road it, seems more practical to learn something about bushcraft and build a camp. However, without the skill, understanding and craftsmanship provided by a Cariboo Blades, it is very difficult to find usable bushcraft tools made from forged tempered carbon steel with the necessary edge holding capability and ease of sharpening required to build a camp. Nessmuk many years ago was forced to travel far and wide to find someone he could commission to create just the right knife, axe and canoe that he used in his travels. Even that long ago, it was not easy to locate someone with the particular skills needed to make just the right knife or tool to supply the level of reliability needed in the bush. Today the bushcrafter is lucky to have available to him or her similar skills provided by Scott and Aki of Cariboo Blades. They have both the artistic imagination and accomplished skill to create usable knives and tools that will give you the confidence to go out into the bush with a minimum of weight, knowing from the outset you have both the tool for the job and knowledge needed to use those tools to build a comfortable hunting or fishing camp.
I have become very interested in the old style when it comes to enjoying trips into the bush. This necessitates setting up a camp with more than a nylon tent and a roaring gas stove. The question that had to be answered was what tool or tools could I afford to add to my pack to accomplish the making of simple camp furnishings. After some study, I decided that a drawknife, a small adze, a small and medium hook knife and a light but sturdy bow saw would be all I needed to work with the materials available almost anywhere I chose to set up a hunting camp in the fall or a summer fishing camp.
A small usable bow saw was relatively easy to locate, however, I was not satisfied with the aluminum mass manufactured ones found in every catalog. Finding just the right saw, drawknife, hook knife combo and adze was as much a part of the process as was building the camp. I was able to find just the right saw but I searched much longer and harder to find the other items. In fact, it was not until I located Scott and Aki at Cariboo Blades that I was able to translate my idea into reality.
I explained to Scott exactly what I was looking for in a drawknife. I wanted a relatively short curved blade made of carbon steel so it could be easily sharpened in the bush. I wanted to be able to use it to shape wood that was 4 to 6 inches in diameter, so a long flat blade or a wide curving blade would have been too large and heavy. He suggested a shallow curved blade, which I commissioned him to make for me. Scott fashioned a beautifully designed and functional drawknife that was beautifully made. Aki made a leather sheath to protect the blade and made it easy to transport without fear of
damage to my pack from the razor sharp blade. The shape of the blade
and the angle of the handles allowed the drawknife to pull easily through
the log creating whatever shape I chose. The wood was nicely fit on the
handles and secured with heavy pins.
The adze was a different problem. I wanted a short handled tool. I wanted the blade curved, but not too much. My goal was to use it to do some of the heavy work flattening logs to make
a table top or stool seat. I was not going to be building picnic tables, only small
us able flattened surfaces to make eating and cooking more convenient. When I
explained what I was looking for in an adze, Scott and Aki knew exactly what I
wanted. This was a good part due to Aki’s experience as a carver in her own
right. She knew instinctively what would best serve my needs. Once the adze
arrived, I noted the short curved handle had been shaped from apple wood that
had been soaked in oil for several months which not only added to the character
of the tool, but also made it work ready with no fear the wood handle would loosen
from the adze head. The head was fit perfectly and was secured with a hefty steel
wedge. The metal work was an absolute work of art. Scott had perfectly formed
the head and shaped the blade to effectively flatten small logs which could be
used to build small camp furnishings. Furthermore, the blade was thick enough so I did not have to fear it chipping if I encountered a knot. The blade had been expertly sharpened. (adze page)
The first thing I did with my newly acquired adze was to shape four table legs. I just wanted to see how versatile the tool would perform, since I would normally use a drawknife to shape table legs. The obvious significance of this was that should I choose, I could leave the drawknife at home and take only the adze to perform both the job of creating a flat surface and of shaping my table legs. This worked because of Scott and Aki’s understanding of what I wanted to accomplish and coupled with their talent of building exactly the right tool for the task.
Now I had two of the four tools I required and awaited the arrival of the two hook knives I had ordered. As you will note by reviewing the Cariboo Blade website, Aki carves great wooden spoons and bowls and I wanted the ability to carve a wooden spoon from found wood in the bush or shape a bowl. All this seems a bit redundant to our modern world so full of easy to purchase utensils that are made of titanium and weigh next to nothing. My goal was to be able to take with me the necessary tools to fashion my own utensils in camp. I wanted to be able to go to the bush for a week or two, if I chose, and spend as much time as it took to set up a camp building and using camp furnishings that I had created. It was a sense of accomplishment that I think the old woodsman appreciated and that has for the most part been lost in the modern world. The bottom line is I chose to buy high quality well designed tools to be used in the bush instead of the low quality mass produced stuff found in a sporting goods store. (hook / crooked knives page) The hook knives arrived and as anticipated both tools were again flawlessly designed and built. The first was a small #3 hook knife which I immediately used to carve two wooden spoons. It took a bit of practice to get used to using a hook knife, but it was so sharp and well formed that the spoon took shape within 30 minutes. I used the drawknife to shape the handle of the spoon as the
work went faster with the heavier tool. It wasn’t long and I had my first
spoon. The second hook knife was larger and used it to smooth the
table legs that I had previously carved with the adze. The larger hook
knife was to be used to hollow out and shape a bowl.
Both worked nicely once I got the hang of using them for their respective tasks.
Each tool that I purchased was shipped with a nicely designed leather sheath that was secure on the tool and made to fit each tool individually. The hook knife blades were each wrapped in a leather wrap to protect the blade. Aki also took the time to carve a design on each sheath which was a great touch. By placing a special design on each leather sheath she produces, Aki puts that special final touch on each commission you purchase from Cariboo Blades.
I have now been able to use the drawknife, the adze and hook knives for several projects and the blades of each have maintained an unbelievable edge. Scott has posted instructions on their web site on how to sharpen the hook knives. I have now carved 8 spoons and have not yet had to touch up the steel. The combination of the steel and the forging process Scott uses to produce each tool creates a cutting edge that holds.
I have commissioned Scott and Aki to design and build several knives in addition to the tools mentioned in this review. Each shipment has arrived carefully packaged in a timely manner and each commission has been well executed and met every expectation. I have proudly shown these various blades to many of my friends and their comments are almost always, “these should be displayed somewhere” or “you aren’t going to use them and ruin them are you?” Well, I do use them and with great satisfaction. My friends honestly admire the blades as a work of art and not as a tool to be used.
Scott and Aki are very talented artists who do not compromise when it comes to either design or detail. As a team they have a very special talent and a creative integrity seldom experienced in today’s world. It has been my sincere pleasure doing business with Scott and Aki and expect I will again commission them to make something I can’t possibly purchase from anyone else. I thank them both for their artistic approach to each commission and their dedication to a code of integrity most have abandoned.