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.

The 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.


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.


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


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.

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