THE ESEE CAMP-LORE PR4 PAYS HOMAGE TO A LEGACY
ESEE Knives takes on a legendary design and gives it a new twist with the new Camp-lore PR4. BY REUBEN BOLIEU
Inspired by a great American classic woodcraft knife, and giving Horace Kephart his due!
When it comes to knives, few have such an iconic look to them that they can be recognized with little hesitation. Most of these classic patterns were designed in the 1800s and early 1900s. Among them are the famed Nessmuk, Deweese, Roach Belly, Bowie, Hudson Bay, and various trade knife patterns. One pattern that has proven its staying power is the early-20th century Kephart design from prolific writer, outdoorsman, and librarian, Horace Kephart (1862 - 1931) of Pennsylvania. It is this legendary design that inspired the ESEE Camp-lore PR4.
Like the other Camp-lore series knives, the initials are used to identify the model; in this case, designer Patrick Rollins, and the size of the blade equal the PR4. Instead of trying to come up with another knife design, Patrick opted to honor one of his favorites, and already seminal knife styles, while adding his own touch to it.
I’ll let Kephart describe this style: “A
camper has use for a common-sense sheath-knife, sometimes for dressing big game, but oftener for such homely work as cutting sticks, slicing bacon, and frying ‘spuds.’ For such purpose a rather thin, broad-pointed blade is required, and it need not be over four or five inches long. It is tempered hard enough to cut green hardwood sticks, but soft enough so that when it strikes a knot or bone it will, if anything, turn rather than nick.”
The ESEE PR4, influenced by Kephart’s timeless design, has a very high sabre grind on a 4-inch-long blade made of 1095 high carbon steel. It sports a very hefty handle, approximately 4.5 inches long for large hands and when wearing work or winter gloves. Rather than using a coating, the knife has a black oxide tumble finish, but it gives the appearance of a patina, although it is not. The handle has textured, brown Micarta scales, which were not sharp or uncomfortable to the bare hand. It gives a unique look and feel to the knife, separating it from the more common Kephart renditions.
“A THINLY GROUND KNIFE IS USUALLY THE STAR PLAYER IN A TEAM SETTING.”
At the time I was writing this article, the sheath I received was from JRE Industries and will be offered as an upgrade. The Camp-lore series sheaths are getting a facelift and will all have plain, tan leather sheaths from one of the oldest tanneries in the USA, Wickett and Craig.
In the Woods
Over the course of the summer, I used the PR4 in the Southern and Northeastern Woodlands, making all sorts of camp implements and cooking fires with the knife. In the spirit of Kephart, this knife was used as it was intended, in a tool-group setting (chopper, saw, knife) rather than a one-tool-option. A thinly ground knife is usually the star player in a team setting.
After 3 months abroad, I returned to my “summer camp” and went to work getting it back in order. First, I needed a fire to get some decent cooking coals while I tended to other camp needs. I went with my go-to log-cabin fire lay, which involved splitting small sticks, about broomstick thickness, to make smaller sticks. Rain had been keeping all the small, dry twigs moist, so small splits were needed and a fixed blade does this quite easily.
The PR4 has a broad tip and splits sticks, in an icepick-grip fashion, without any worry of breaking the tip off. When it came time to spark the ferro rod into some poplar tinder, the spine really showered sparks down like the Fourth of July! The sharpness of the spine made it another useful camper’s tool, without being gimmicky.
I don’t do a lot of batoning wood when there is a designated axe/tomahawk in camp, but on small rounds I do a lot of cross-grain baton work for making stop cuts on trap parts, stakes and other notches. The thin grind makes this controllable and precise, where thicker knives may just split the wood. I also batoned (cross grain) a chisel-point on the end of a hefty wrist-thick piece of maple for a digging stick, which was sharpened a little and the other end was carved to a comfortable, rounded butt end for the hand to hold onto when digging.
The PR4 sliced chunks of dry maple well, but this was due to the factorykeen edge. How well the knife would slice through dry hardwood would be proven over the next few days. Weather has a way of degrading soft wood, as does a campfire, so new pot hangers and roasting system were needed after months of snow, rain, wind and sun. I quickly carved up a pot hanger for my boiling pail and some stakes to secure my tarp against the wind and inevitable summer rain. Being that it was hot, I wasn’t interested in a lengthy, hot fire, so I let the coals die down and roasted some sausages using a “Y-stick” roaster. I split the two ends of a dry Y-stick and sharpened the end to stick in the ground. I debarked a green pencil-thick beech branch and chiseled the ends to stick in the two splits of the Y after I put it through the sausage. The Y-stick can be stuck in the ground or propped over logs and easily rotated.
A few days later, rain was falling yet again and the temperature dropped, meaning wood for a fire would need to be cut and split to make small kindling for cooking a stew. I used the PR4 to split wood thinner than wrist-thickness after sawing. I used a simple baton to drive the PR4 through dry red oak, as the vegetables were being rinsed in the rain. Wet weather requires hotter fuel to keep the fire going, so the oak was split down to pencil-thickness using the broad tip of the blade. Once the fire was going it would not go out in the driving rain.
“THE PR4 HAS A BROAD TIP AND SPLITS STICKS, IN AN ICEPICK-GRIP FASHION, WITHOUT ANY WORRY OF BREAKING THE TIP OFF.”
With the coals established, I went on to the camp kitchen and sliced onions, peppers, potatoes, mushrooms, garlic, and sausages for a stew, with lots of seasoning. As expected, the thin grind sliced as if it were made for the kitchen, especially getting that garlic thin enough to liquefy while cooking. The high sabre grind (practically flat) proved to be perfect for all camp and woodcraft chores.
Waiting for the stew to cook over the coals gave me time to carve more stakes and try the spine on a chunk of fatwood and dry, split poplar to see how fast I could acquire a small pile of scrapings. As an extra bonus, I laid the knife on the burning fatwood and poplar tinder to see what the handle was made of. After a little soot, it was clear to see the Micarta wasn’t even phased. What else could a person need in a devoted camp knife?
The Knife Done Right
Although I was already aware of the prowess of the Kephart design, the PR4 just reminded me how wellthought-out that design really was. Building on the Kephart and adding his own flair, Robert really took this model of knife to the next level, making for a solid campmate that I believe would have made Horace Kephart himself proud. KI
“ONE PATTERN THAT HAS PROVEN ITS STAYING POWER IS THE KEPHART DESIGN …”
Above: The Y-stick roasting system was easily done with the medium-sized PR4.
Left: The author made a pot hanger and some rough stakes on thick sticks by splitting them to make two out of one with the PR4.
Above: The author taking large slices off a green, hardwood branch for making camp tools with the PR4. The handle fills the hand, even when wearing a work glove. (Photo by Jonathan Kilburn.)
Top: A digging stick for the fire area moves around coals and clears the fire area beforehand. The PR4 made the chisel tip by cross-grain batoning with the help of a mallet, then carving to a rough end, and a rounded hand-hold on the other. (Photo by Jonathan Kilburn.)
Bottom: Log-cabin style fires were made by the author with the PR4 and a saw doing all the preparation in wet weather.
Middle: The sharpness of the spine was perfect for throwing sparks from my ferro rod. (Photo by Jonathan Kilburn.)
ESEE PR4 with 1095 carbon steel and a lustrous black oxide coating. The textured Micarta scales were first done on Patrick’s prototype made by James Gibson.