Knife Review: Bark River Grasso Bolo III

Image courtesy Henry Robinson

By Henry Robinson

Bark River’s ‘Grasso Bolo’ line is comprised of several different sizes.  The smallest are just a few inches, and the get progressively larger.  The Grasso Bolo III, the largest, is over seventeen inches.  The knife weighs 27 ounces and the blade is .217″ thick. While the whole line of Grasso Bolo knives are functional, the Grasso Bolo III distinguishes itself as a serious camp knife.

Image courtesy Henry Robinson

Most of Bark River’s knives are made with slight variations in blade grind and handle material. This is has a natural linen Micarta handle. The durable material looks highly textured, but is polished out as smooth as glass. It is cut to cover part of the ricasso which forms an ample quillon.

Image courtesy Henry Robinson

The sheath is functional, if not very attractive. A knife this size isn’t easy to contain and draw. Accommodations must be made for the wide part of the blade, and a straight pull would require a sheath that was open wide at the mouth, too. So the Grasso Bolo sheath is cut away so the knife can be pulled with minimal maneuvering.

Image courtesy Henry Robinson

The leatherwork is solid. The snap is tight fitting and prevents the blade from moving around. There’s even a notch cut in the welt that fits the quillon. While doing the review, I wore the knife on my belt and put it on my pack. Having a foot and a half of steel hanging off of a belt isn’t ideal, but it is convenient. The pack is much more comfortable.

grasso bolo 35The Grasso Bolo III is the perfect heavy hitter for a good three knife combination. It is a bit big for general bushcraft use, but ideally suited for larger chopping, splitting wood, cutting brush–anything you might do with a small machete or parang. What it loses in terms of speed, it more than makes up for in momentum.

Image courtesy Henry Robinson

This beast is substantial. The balance point makes the Grasso Bolo III feel more like an small axe than a knife, and it is better than a hatchet (unless you need a hammer, too).  Green limbs are no match for the Grasso Bolo. The weight means it is easy to build up serious chopping power, and the convex grind keeps the blade from getting stuck in wood.

While it shouldn’t be the only knife you carry, it is capable of smaller buschcraft tasks too. Like every Bark River knife I’ve seen, it is seriously sharp. The blade even ships with a piece of tubing split over the cutting edge. The 5160 is tempered to a 58RC, which makes it easy to keep functionally sharp.

Sharpening

Image courtesy Henry Robinson

The 5160 is tempered to a 58RC, which makes it easy to keep functionally sharp. With a bit more chromium than most high carbon steels, the 5160 may not hold its edge as long.  But it is easy enough to sharpen.

The big challenge will be in the actual sharpening itself, as the heavy blade is long. But there’s enough real estate here to allow for axe like grind across the belly, and a steeper angle towards the heel for finer jobs.

Favorite Features

When I bought this knife, I was looking for something big. I got it. The style: functional, not tactical.  It looks good with bluejeans.

Least-Favorite Features

The sheath doesn’t look good with anything. But it works, so what am I complaining about?

Conclusion

One of the big decisions that comes with each Bark River is that of ownership. Will you own the knife, or will the knife own you? Bark River knives are collectable. Some buy them and stash them away. I understand the philosophy.

But this is a true workhorse. The A2 steel makes for an ideal working blade. The convex grind is easily maintained. The linen micatra handle is contoured to fit the hand. Even the sheath…I have to admit that it works.

Still, when I pay this much for a knife, I tend to baby it. I’m waiting for that moment–the first chip out of the blade or a good deep scratch that takes a chunk out its resale value. I’ve come to respect those moments as liberating. Time to set it free.

Ratings (out of five stars)

Styling: * * * *
Five stars for the knife, minus one for the sheath.

Blade: * * * * *
No complaints about the 5160 steel. It will require some care, but should age nicely.

Ergonomics: * * * *
The Grasso Bolo III is unapologetic about its size. It is.  Still, it fits in the hand wonderfully well.

Ruggedness/Durability * * * * *
Bark River developed their reputation for excellence by making knives that don’t fail. Ever. Even if you could wreck a handle, this is the type of blade that can be fixed. No matter what.

Overall Rating: * * * * *
I’m going with a five for the overall. I could take away half of a star for the sheath, but I feel like that might be getting a bit picky.

Price:
Anywhere from $260 down to $200, depending on the handle material and applicable sales.

Made: USA (Escanaba, Michigan)

 

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5 Responses to Knife Review: Bark River Grasso Bolo III

  1. Don says:

    Beautiful knife, and nice review! Thanks!

  2. Aharon says:

    Now that is a classy knife. Was this the model used in The Book of Eli?

    • jwm says:

      The knife in the Book of Eli was similar but it had holes in the blade. Something added just to give it more hollywood flourish?

  3. Daniel says:

    This review is honestly nothing but a puff-piece. At no time was any actual testing performed, probably as the author himself states, because “when I pay this much for a knife, I tend to baby it. I’m waiting for that moment–the first chip out of the blade or a good deep scratch that takes a chunk out its resale value”.

    How the author can then arrive at the conclusion that “Bark River developed their reputation for excellence by making knives that don’t fail. Ever.” – – – is beyond me. I know he may be in love with the looks and the finish of his new purchase – – – but this is no substitute for testing. As a matter of fact, Bark River knives do have problems with quality. Especially with regard to proper heat-treat: http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php/1083819-another-bark-river-grasso-bolo-2-fail

    Bark River is not the only company which has made this error. Ontario knives have had issues with the heat-treat on their RTAK models as well (I got lucky and have one that is excellent and well-used). The bottom-line, is that since this Grasso Bolo has not been tested by the author ( no wood chopping, kindling-prep, general cutting tasks, etc.) – – – he has no knowledge about edge holding or chipping or rolling, no knowledge about how the blade profile handles larger tasks, no knowledge regarding the comfort (hot spots) and durability of the handle during usage in heavy tasks.

    Finally, is the knife made of A2 Tool Steel as he stated in the article, OR is it 5160 Spring Steel, as he stated in the summary: “No complaints about the 5160 steel. It will require some care, but should age nicely.” I mean how can he have complaints about either if he does not know which is which, or has even tested the blade (the blade in the pictures looks mint). In the end, if you do not test it, you cannot vouch for its durability and utility, as the author has done. There is no doubt that it is a good-looking knife, but this is not enough.

  4. roy contego says:

    Pshh….this knife has a tendency to chip out on light use. Mike Stewart calls it “unsupported chopping phenomenon” lmao

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