VISUALLY STRIKING FUNCTIONALITY
DOGWOOD CUSTOM KNIVES ARE HOW BUSHCRAFTING IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.