A reliable and usable knife is the essential bushcraft tool. Selecting a bushcraft knife is simple and cheap: Get a Mora knife with a carbon steel or laminated steel blade.

Ideal features of a bushcraft knife listed by Kochanski in Bushcraft include:

  • fixed blade (not folding)
  • carbon steel (or laminated carbon steel) blade
  • no guard (it interferes with some grips)
  • palm width in length (around 4 inches)
  • single edge
  • full tang (blade extends fully into handle)
  • oval handle
  • durable pommel (end of handle)
My most-used knife is a #1 K. J. Ericksson Mora with a carbon steel blade just under 4" long (around 10 cm). The handle was painted red by the factory, and I burned off the red paint and fire-hardened the birch handle. I then coated it with boiled linseed oil, but I now use teak oil, which is less slippery and more suited for outdoor exposure. The blade portion was carefully suspended in vinegar overnight to give it a dull, corrosion-resistant patina. I also flattened the back of the blade with a file for more comfortable push cuts, and carefully re-sharpened the factory edge on a waterstone.

Attached to the sheath is a neck lanyard, pealess whistle, twisted double-strand paracord (just the right length for a firebow string, twist-braided for better gripping of the spindle), and a small firesteel (under the paracord). Rubber bands made of sections of bicycle inner tube secure the whistle and firesteel.

A knife like this which meets most of Kochanski's criteria can be purchased for around $10 to $20 at Ragweed Forge or Ben's Backwoods. Mine was $10.50. I bought two, and carry the second in my pack as a backup.

There are other styles of knives which are higher quality and more durable, but those are significantly more expensive.

Edited 12/21/2008 1:49 am


  1. Does the ideal features of a bushcraft knife vary according to what environment one is facing?

  2. I can't think of any environment in which I wouldn't want a Mora knife. It is optimized for cutting, and really shouldn't be used for things like prying and digging like some general purpose survival knives are capable of. The carbon steel metal is very hard for better edge retention, but it also chips easier. It reportedly can support a person's weight when driven into a tree, but I'm not planning to try it. :) Instead of using the knife to pry and dig, use it to carve a digging stick or prybar.

    A stainless steel blade would be needed if the blade were constantly exposed to water or moisture (such as when fishing or diving), although a laminated steel blade (with stainless on the outside, and hard carbon steel on the inside for the cutting edge) might be usable.

    For chopping, a larger knife such as a Finnish leuku or a machete would be useful. Anyone planning to build primitive wooden structures beyond a simple shelter should have an axe.

  3. Anonymous4:48 AM

    Hi Andy.
    Knives are a funny subject because there really is no ideal.
    As a general use knife the Frosts (Mora) is very good and Kochanki's habit of wearing it like a necklace works in the woods.
    I am not really fond of their plastic sheaths though because I have found the knives tend to fall out or jamb into them when you carry them in a pack.
    If you look at the belt loop on the sheath you will see at the it has like two holes punched at the top of the slots for your belt.
    I cut a groove in the handle of the knife to match these holes and then tie a string around where the center strap of the belt loop is narrow (clove hitch).
    This string is then good for tying around the groove I cut into the knife handle.
    This prevents the knife falling out of the sheath when carried in the pack.
    I have not yet figured out how to keep it from getting jambed into the sheath except to keep it in the cooking pot or wrapped to something longer and stiff enough to prevent jamming.
    Mora also makes a "river" knife with a bright yellow plastic handle in stainless.
    They have a catch on the sheath to prevent them working out of the sheath. They also have a sort of shoulder on the handle that keeps them from jambing too deep in the sheath.
    Folding knives can be good too.
    Opinel makes a fairly good cheap one, Spyderco makes a superb one called the Enduro but it is pretty expensive.
    The balance between price and utility is always a factor with me.
    While I seem to have quite a collection of hunting knives floating around they all tend to be about the same size and style as the D.H. Russel #3.
    The one them I use the most though is a six inch Henkels kitchen knife. It had a broken tip and was in the thrift store among a bunch of junk kitchen gadgets. It cost $2.00.
    After reshaping the tip it is 5 and 1/2 inches long. I made a sheath for it out of some stiff leather I had. The sheath keeps it safe in the kitchen drawer and it get used for cooking all the time.
    Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
    p.s. I like stainless for not rusting.Knives that are in car trunks and seldom used and near wet stuff often are best in stainless. If I need a sparh to light a fire a Bic lighter or one of those magnesium fire flint things are good.
    If you use Zippo make sure you have spare flints and a container of fuel with it.

  4. Thanks for posting your insights. The friction fit of my knife into the plastic sheath is perfect, and I haven't had any problems with it falling out or being difficult to remove. This could be because I lightly sanded and applied a finishing oil to the handle. I put my knife into the sheath tightly.

    That sounds like a nice modified Henkels knife, especially for the price!

    Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

  5. Anonymous1:38 PM

    OH, Hi back again. I thought you got that part about it only being tied or wrapped into the sheath only being for when it is carried in the pack sack.
    The real glory of these small and rather plain swedish knives is that they are cheap and hold a good edge.
    Most people who live in the bush around here have a few of them floating around.
    You see them in barns, sheds, toolboxes, car trunks and every place else you can think of.
    Mora #1 and #2 are the standard utility knife up here. They do everything fron woodcarving through potato peeling to skinning moose.

    Have you ever spoken to Mors?
    He is not far from here, just a bit out of town, their school is just west of Edmonton at Wildwood in Alberta.
    You should give him a shout.

  6. Good idea. :) I have been wanting to get up there for a course with Mors sometime.

  7. Anonymous11:12 AM

    Nice blog so far! TPol

  8. Anonymous6:50 PM

    FWIW and FYI anyone who happens across this, the Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel used in Mora knives *can* spark a fire steel if you square the spine with a file first.

  9. Great write up and I agree about the Mora Knives. Such an underrated knife. I also however am a huge fan of Opinel Knives as I think they make the perfect knife just for carrying around should you need them for small jobs or to slice an apple or something on your walks.

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