VIS­UALLY STRIK­ING FUNC­TION­AL­ITY

DOG­WOOD CUS­TOM KNIVES ARE HOW BUSHCRAFT­ING IS SUP­POSED TO LOOK

Knives Illustrated - - News - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY REUBEN BOLIEU

Dog­wood Cus­tom Knives takes looks, com­fort and hard­core ac­tion and puts an ex­cla­ma­tion point on it. BY REUBEN BOLIEU

It takes a spe­cial kind of maker to make a spe­cial kind of knife, and Dan East­land of Dog­wood Cus­tom Knives is one such maker. “If one day a grand­fa­ther hands his grand­son one of my knives and says, ‘My dad gave me this knife when I was your age,’ then I will con­sider my­self a suc­cess.”

This is what Dog­wood Cus­tom Knives cre­ator, Dan East­land, said when asked about what would be his idea of be­ing a suc­cess in the knife world.

Af­ter spend­ing some time in the field with a few dif­fer­ent mod­els from Dog­wood Cus­tom Knives, in­clud­ing the Hawkins, Echo-5 and Vulpine, I have con­cluded that not only do they look great while do­ing their job, but they re­ally shone when it came to their per­for­mance.

Win­ter Brew­ing

One of the best sea­sons to test knives and gear is win­ter. In my part of the coun­try, win­ter camp­ing means hav­ing a fire burn­ing al­most non­stop. Sure, a saw and axe/tom­a­hawk do the heavy lift­ing, but for me it takes a keen edge to get a fire go­ing. Once the wood is cut and even split a lit­tle, the fine whit­tling to make tin­der, or the next step of kin­dling, is usu­ally done with a fixed blade.

An axe type of tool will only get you down so small, while a re­li­able fixed blade can make finer, thin tooth­pickor pen­cil-thick pieces. This is es­pe­cially true in forests lack­ing dry pine nee­dles or thin conifer twigs for kin­dling. Even more true when win­ter is brew­ing, and wood has a layer of mois­ture blan­ket­ing it. Frost, ice, rain, and snow, are but a few ways mois­ture ef­fects wood in the for­est and ul­ti­mately—fire.

Hawkins

I used the Dog­wood knives to start fires, build camp uten­sils and other tools that would be help­ful around a win­ter camp, as well as food prepa­ra­tion. That be­ing said, food and fire go hand in hand, at least for my style of woods-time they do. I tend to fa­vor the log-cabin fire-lay for most of my camp­fires. I used the Hawkins first for

“… NO MAT­TER HOW YOU SLICE IT, DAN’S WORK SPEAKS FOR IT­SELF WITH STEL­LAR AES­THET­ICS AND UN­DE­NI­ABLE QUAL­ITY AND FUNC­TION­AL­ITY.”

my fire prepa­ra­tion. I al­ways start with soft­wood that is preva­lent in my area. In this case, I used poplar wood for mak­ing the tin­der and kin­dling from damp cuts.

The Hawkins has a big knife feel, mi­nus the weight. It was the prod­uct of Dan’s re­search­ing of trade knives, of which I am a huge fan. He men­tioned it be­ing a knife you might likely see in an old Moun­tain Man movie like “Jeremiah John­son.” I agree, which is why it was a good all-around woods knife. This is an amaz­ing qual­ity to have in a knife. Dan used bam­boo scales for this one, and the 4 ½-inch han­dle was quite gen­er­ous for large paws or win­ter gloves. The blade was thin at about 1/16 inch, with a very sharp Scan­di­na­vian grind. The patina fin­ish was both rus­tic and pur­pose­ful. The blade shaved thin, curly fuzz sticks for my tin­der and kin­dling, com­plet­ing the log-cabin fire-lay.

I use a Bur­tonsville rig sys­tem for boil­ing my wa­ter in camp about 90% of the time. Ev­ery cou­ple of years, de­pend­ing on the weather and wood, I need to make a new notch stick. I em­ployed the Hawkins for this, mak­ing a se­ries of pot hooks on the length of the stick. I used a piece of hard­wood from a downed tree, as to not waste time or cut any­thing green un­nec­es­sar­ily. I used a mal­let I fash­ioned to pound on the spine of the Hawkins to cre­ate the stop cuts. This can be prob­lem­atic for thin knives due to the cross-grain ba­ton­ing of the wood with a thin edge. Dog­wood knives knows their heat treat and I wasn’t at all ap­pre­hen­sive about this task on a hard­wood branch. I was also not sur­prised at how well it han­dled it. Af­ter the stop cuts were pounded in, I carved out the notches with the ease one would ex­pect from a thin, Scan­di­na­vian blade.

I checked the edge sharp­ness, af­ter days of work, by carv­ing a sim­ple chisel-point on a piece of wood to see if it would drag at all or feel like it was los­ing the ini­tial keen­ness, but it didn’t. Not at all.

Echo-5

Food test­ing is al­ways fun on an out­doors knife that is meant for cut­ting and carv­ing wood, but a knife for the woods should be able to do ev­ery­thing from food prep to wood­craft. Again, thin 3/32-inch stock made this slice like a laser in the camp kitchen cat­e­gory on meat and veg­eta­bles. The Echo-5, with a unique, blue-col­ored Kiri­nite han­dle was cho­sen. Dan ex­plained it got its name from the rank of sergeant, and if you need a job done right you call a sergeant. I pushed the lim­its of “knife­work” by us­ing the Echo 5 to help make a new, larger mal­let for camp. I saw-cut a stop cut around the cir­cum­fer­ence of a piece of dead Maple and used a ba­ton to chip out the wood, which would form the han­dle.

Once the rough work was done, the Echo-5 had to carve the han­dle to an ac­cept­able com­fort level to use with bare hands, if need be. This was a hard carv­ing task, but the edge ge­om­e­try was spot on. Dur­ing hard cut­ting jobs is where the han­dle com­fort is truly tested. Dan has con­toured han­dles on most knives, some more con­toured than oth­ers, which is some­thing I never cared for. How­ever, Dan only makes com­fort­able han­dles. This is a huge thing for peo­ple who carve camp tools a lot. The han­dle is the heart of a good knife to me, while the blade is like the brain or the head of a knife. Dan has both down to a science.

“THE EDGE WAS SO SHARP I COULD EAS­ILY HOLD THE STICK OUT IN FRONT OF ME, RATHER THAN BRACE IT ON A STUMP, AND JUST FEATHER THE STICK. TRY THAT WITH A KNIFE THAT HAS BAD EDGE GE­OM­E­TRY!”

Vulpine

The new­est pat­tern to Dog­wood knives is the Vulpine, with a beau­ti­ful han­dle and el­e­gantly rus­tic blade. Dan said, “The blade is based on clas­sic Scan­di­na­vian lines, while the han­dle has an Asian in­flu­ence. Com­pact and light to carry, while be­ing great for camp tasks and game prepa­ra­tion. The dis­tinc­tive han­dle gives out­stand­ing con­trol and a con­nectable grip for long use.” Dan used black wal­nut scales with G-10 for the bol­ster and liner. One of Dog­wood’s fa­vorite steels, the Vulpine is rounded out with a CPM-154 blade with an­tique fin­ish.

I took to this knife right away for most of the same tasks I did with the oth­ers, but in­cluded a few dif­fer­ent projects as well. My tarp stays up most of the year, but some­times the tie-outs need to be changed and new stakes made, so I used the Vulpine to cut bank line and plas­tic rib­bon cord, and then made stakes from dry wood for this project. An­other project where the Vulpine stood out was to make a new back­pack hanger to keep it off the snow and wet ground. I cut a length of cord and then made a hanger, sim­i­lar to a sin­gle potholder but in­verted, by us­ing a mal­let to tap on the spine to make the stop cuts and cut the wood down to size. I then at­tached the cord to the part that usu­ally holds the pot, leav­ing a large hook for my pack.

The stout 1/8-inch blade was at home split­ting small rounds of poplar and maple for kin­dling and food. Again, Dan’s edge ge­om­e­try re­ally came to the fore­front when it came time for mak­ing fuzz sticks. The edge was so sharp I could eas­ily hold the stick out in front of me, rather than brace it on a stump, and just feather the stick. Try that with a knife that has bad edge ge­om­e­try! The han­dle end, although at­trac­tive, wasn’t com­fort­able for chest-lever grips as the point digs into the palm a lit­tle, but even worse when split­ting small sticks in an icepick-grip, with the thumb on the butt for safety. It was too pointy for this tech­nique, but not hard to work around. A woods­man will find a way to get it done.

Above: The au­thor used the Hawkins for start­ing a log-cabin fire setup in the Eastern Wood­lands. The knife split and shaved wood for tin­der and kin­dling.

Above: The Hawkins (Top) with bam­boo scales and or­ange G-10 lin­ers and the Vulpine (Bot­tom) sport­ing black wal­nut and G-10 for the bol­sters. Com­fort and el­e­gance at its finest from Dog­wood. Bot­tom Left: The au­thor made a new potholder stick with the Hawkins in his win­ter camp. Carv­ing hard­wood can be tricky with a thin edge, but not for the Hawkins.

Even a thin edge can be used to lightly ba­ton and chunk out wood for this mal­let the au­thor made. There were no is­sues with the thin blade when do­ing this type of camp craft.

Above: The Vulpine split small di­am­e­ter rounds of poplar and maple for a fire in the win­ter camp. A stout 1/8-inch blade of CPM-154 can han­dle this task with­out bat­ting an eye.

Right: The Vulpine made a hanger, sim­i­lar to a pot hanger, but in­verted.

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