Bush Blade Perfection

Wilderness Expert Mors Kochanski picks a knife that’s ready to take on the backcountry

by Dan Shechtman of Tactical Knives

What would it be like to interview the legendary woodsman and writer Horace Kephart and the guy at Colclesser Brothers who made his knife? Sounds like a knife writer’s dream, doesn’t it.

Well, I have had the opportunity to do the next best thing. If there is a modern Kephart, it is Mors Kochanski of Peers, Alberta, Canada. Mors is arguably the finest practitioner of Northwoods survival skills in the world. His region extends from the Canadian Shield across North America, the Bering Strait, Siberia, and westward to Scandinavia and the North Sea.

Mors is master of it all. He has shared his knowledge with a range of students-from college kids to the Swedish Special Forces. He has written so many articles that a compilation of them is as thick as a big-city phone book. His book “Bushcraft” is a classic.

Summer and Winter Survival Classes

I has the good fortune to take both a summer and winter survival course with Mors. What an experience! As he does in his book, Mors presents and covers each topic thoroughly. Like the rest of us, Mors is a knife enthusiast and recognizes the supreme value of this survival too.

In “Bushcraft,” Mors devotes a full 24 pages of knife selection and use. Mors’ choice of survival knife? The common Frosts Cutlery Mora. Mors has convinced uncounted legions of woodsmen of the virtue of this $12 wonder. The Frosts Mora is a great knife for sure, but can it be improved upon? How about improved upon with the advice, consultation and blessing of Mors Kochanski himself? Enter knifemaker Rod Garcia and his “Skookum Bush Knife.”

Rod also took both a winter and summer course with Mors. He was astounded with what he saw Mors do with the Mora knife. The experience changed Rod’s previously held concept of what a survival knife was and what it was capable of in the hands of a master woodsman. It was after his second course that Rod studied Mors’ description of the ideal bush knife in “Bushcraft” and began to consider improving upon the Mora and developing a knife that conformed exactly to Mors’ criteria.

The Mora knife is close to Mors’ description, and it is what is available and inexpensive. However, Rod believed that he could do better, and more importantly, so did Mors. Thus began a collaboration between the forest-sage and the aspiring knifemaker. No keyboard commandos cooking up imaginary gizmos here. What Rod has come up with is the real deal. After conferring with Mors at the 2006 Rat Root Rendezvous, Rod went home and crafted the bush knife that Mors Kochanski had in mind.

Puukko Heritage

Like the Mora knife, the knives that Rod sent me derive their form from the traditional Scandinavian puukko. This is the pattern of knife that Mors describes and there is little wonder why. The puukko is a style of knife that has endured unchanged since the iron Age and is indigenous to the vast sub-arctic forests of Scandinavia. Woodsmen from Vikings to those resolute Finnish fighters on skis who defeated the Russians in the Winter War carried puukkos. Think those guys knew something about what works in the woods?

Unlike the Mora, or for that matter any other puukko I have seen, Rod’s knife takes this traditional knife pattern a step further and buy utilizing modern materials. Creative design makes his knife virtually indestructible and thereby supremely useful.

Both of the knives Rod sent carry blades of just over 4 inches in length, 1-inch wide and 1/8-inch thick. The full tang is handled in canvas Micarta secured with some serious rivets and is finished off with a 1/8-inch thick steel butt cap. The knife is solid, heavy for a puukko and conforms to Mors’ ideal when he uses words like “durable” and “test of strength.”

I was immediately struck with how natural the knife felt in my hand. I’m hard on tools. I grip hard and use my knives in a way where handles matter. The Skookum Bush Knife was so comfortable. The slight swell in the middle of the handle conforms to the hand and the modest flare towards the blade gives the user a margin of security with the guardless puukko. The butt cap gives the knife a handle-heavy feel. I like the solid feel of it and the confidence it instills when used as a hammering surface.

0-1 and A-2 Carbon Steels

Rod’s choice of steels gives insight into his understanding of his craft and to his commitment to conforming to Mors’ ideal. Rod comments, “After the Rat Root Rendezvous I started coming up with a plant o make my knives and learn the ins and outs of steel, heat treating, etc. I settled on 0-1 and A-2 tool steel. I wanted to stick as close to Mors’ criteria as possible and 0-1 was ideal for covering all the bases. When heat-treated properly (59-60 RC), it holds a good edge, is tough enough for any practical knife usage in the bush, is easily sharpened with basic stones and will also throw a spark. I added A-2 because it does everything about 10-20% better than 0-1 except throw a spark.”

Rod sent me one of each. Both knives performed in an excellent manner. However, I have always been a great fan of A-2. I find that A-2 holds an edge better than 0-1, is perhaps a bit tougher and will not rust quite as readily. The ability to strike a spark is an interesting issue.

I have been an admirer of the mountain man since I can remember. I have read everything I can get my hands on about that era, and I have been at it for almost 60 years. In all my reading I have only found one reference to a fire from a spark thrown from a knife. When Hugh Glass was on his survival trek, some accounts have him coming upon a straight razor and using it to strike a spark. I have started a zillion fires from flint and steel, but I would not want to rely on the scarce spark from a knife to get a fire going in a survival situation. Mors includes this ability in his criteria. I defer to his great wisdom. However, I would not choose one type of steel over another based on its ability to strike a spark. I’d sooner carry more matches or another ferro rod.

Whether in 0-1 or A-2, Rod utilizes the traditional Scandinavian grind on his knives. The virtues of the Scandi grind are many. Again, Rod’s own words tell it best. “The bevel type that Mors like is what is called the Scandinavian grind. This is a flat grind which is incorporated into the lower third to lower quarter of the blade. Well over 90% of what one cuts and carves in the bush is going to be some form of plant life or wood.”

“Flat grind bevels excel at cutting wood. The Scandi grind affords a larger bevel surface or slip face that engages the wood. This larger flat surface gives you better control when carving and is especially important when carving feather sticks. If you are dealing with wet wood and need a fire, the feathers you carve should be very thin and retain many curls. A small flame or even a spark has a much better chance of igniting thin, curly feathers.”

The Scandi grind is also easier to sharpen, as one can lay the edge on a stone and follow the bevel. This, along with Rod’s sophisticated heat treat and tempering process, allowed for great edge retention yet ease of re-sharpening.

Leather Tube Sheath

The Sheath that Rod provides is a very high quality, heavy leather tube sheath that is designed to be worn around the neck. Sturdy it is, but a bit heavy for a neck sheath. I ran a rawhide thong through the holes, and the knife and sheath rode well on my hip. Mors suggested that Rod incorporate a small hole at the tip of the knife to be a pivot point where a nail or bit of wire could be inserted for shearing. Sort of a scaled-down AK 47 bayonet. It actually works, but the jury is out on this option.

What Rod Garcia set out to do, he has done quite well. He has brought to us the knife that Mors Kochanski considers to be the ideal bush knife. No compromises, no almosts, this is it. This is the knife that can carve and craft with complete dexterity. This is the knife that superbly slices meat and leather. What a hunting knife it will make come fall. This is also the knife that can baton, hammer and be hammered. What Rod offers us is a real survival knife and Mors Kochanski agrees.