It astonishes me how good some of today’s inexpensive knives can be. Mora Love runs deep around these parts but those Swedish gems are not the be-all, end-all of good, cheap knives. Case in point are the line of knives and machetes available from Condor Tool & Knife. A friend of mine recently picked up this Nessmuk for less than $30, and lent it to me for review. While it can’t challenge the cheapest of the Moras on price, it is square in line with some of their mid priced options. Nessmuk style blades have always appealed to me and I was eager to give this one a try.
We know that the classic Nessmuk knife has a thin blade with an emphasis on slicing and skinning capabilities, and is also traditionally teamed with a slipjoint folder and small double-bit axe. A quick glance at the Condor shows that instead of being thinly ground, it sports a single, thick, convex edge, so it is obviously optimized for different uses than the original. But is it still a good tool?
The Condor Nessmuk is a medium sized knife, with a full tang blade, 3 ⅞” long, measured from scale to tip. The steel is 1075 carbon steel with a bead blasted finish and is heat treated to 56-58 on the Rockwell scale. The scales are Central American hardwood and are secured with brass pins. The knife is lightweight, registering 5.3 oz on my scale. The knife also comes with a high quality leather sheath, which adds another 2.5 oz in weight.
Condor’s rendition of the blade differs from the traditional interpretation in both shape and edge geometry. As you can see from the photos, the blade shape deviates from the sketch in Woodcraft and Camping, and the grind is different as well. The Condor’s blade is ground with a rather thick convex edge, meaning it differs from the thin hollow or flat grinds found on most hunting knives intended for skinning and meat processing.
Fit & Finish
The construction of this knife is quite good with only a few small caveats. The scales are flush with the blade with no gaps, with only a few areas where the scale extends further than the metal, and only slightly where it does. Certainly not enough to cause any discomfort. The brass pins are finished perfectly level with the wood and do not stick up at all.
The only thing that didn’t pass muster was the initial edge grind provided from the factory. The convex edge was fairly rough, and this did not surprise me for the price, but at the section closest to the handle, the edges are inconsistent, making sharpening of this section somewhat difficult. Also, if you are looking to use the spine of the knife to throw sparks from a ferrocium rod, the edges of the Condor are not quite crisp enough.
The factory sheath on the other hand is fantastic, and Condor truly deserves credit for providing top notch workmanship on such an entry level product. The welted leather is thick, and the stitching is strong. Considering the knife cost less than $30, it is even more impressive; Condor could easily charge $30 for just the sheath, and I would consider that a good deal!
The handle design is very graceful, thin near the blade, but swelling nicely at the pommel. This swell fits nicely in the palm of my hand and provides some much needed grip when choking back on the handle. I say “much needed” because the hardwood scales are on the thin side and are polished very smooth.
In order to make the slick handle a little safer, the Condor differs from the traditional Nessmuk in the illustration; the edge drops slightly from the line of the handle, providing a rudimentary finger guard integral to the blade. This is especially helpful if you are dealing with wet or bloody (i.e. skinning) conditions. Even more helpful for this knife would be a lanyard hole, but alas, there is none.
The chord of the blade is very wide and gives plenty of options when choking up on the blade. The width even allows you to eschew the handle and grasp the blade directly, using it as a drawknife, or as a scraper, or to allow fine tip control.
Because the scales are small near the blade, pinch grips are effortless, but a traditional saber grip feels a bit thin.
When on your belt, the sheathed blade is unobtrusive. It does ride a bit high above the belt line (I prefer dangler type sheaths), but the belt loop has plenty of room for even large belts (up to 2 ½” wide), enabling me to pivot the sheath when sitting.
As mentioned before the factory edge was in need of some attention. It was serviceable but it needed a bit of work. As such I’ve had plenty of practice sharpening this blade. It took some time with sandpaper and strop, but the Condor will take a finely polished edge. It can be made hair shaving sharp, although I was never able to get the blade as keen as I wanted. I could not get it as sharp as I can my Fallkniven F1, the only other convex ground knife I have experience with. This could be because the edge geometry of the Condor is more obtuse.
That uneven bevel further complicates the sharpening process. It is going to take a few thorough sharpenings to get the rearmost edge as sharp as the rest of the blade’s length.
Once sharp I was able to slice through newsprint fairly well, although the thick edge meant it wasn’t exactly gliding through the paper. Progress was also hampered a bit, due to the paper tearing if I started the cut too near the less sharp rear portion of the edge.
The Condor was able to saw through the 3/4″ manilla rope fairly easily. I had a bit more trouble pulling the knife through a loop of the rope; it took me four full strokes to pull through. I also used the Nessmuk to trim some paracord. With the tip as wide as it is, loops need to be larger in order for it to fit, but the cuts it made were clean, with only very minor fraying.
The cardboard testing was difficult from the start. Between the blade’s continuous curved edge (it is essentially all belly), the thick edge geometry and that difficult to sharpen rear edge, finishing this test was a real chore.
The curvature of the blade meant the knife would often slip out of the cut only halfway through the piece of cardboard I was working with; I would have to reinsert the blade to finish the cut. The cardboard also had a tendency to crumple due to the thick rear edge, even though the blade was still plenty sharp.
After only 70 linear feet I had to stop. I was having to seriously manhandle the cardboard in order to cut it. The frustrating thing is the knife still had a lot of usable edge left on it.
While this might seem like a failure, you can learn a lot about a blade with these tests, and it is not all related to the raw amount that you are able to cut. It is a way to learn about the character of the tool you are using, what its strengths and weaknesses are. I can’t attribute that 70′ result to the steel or its heat treatment. This is more the result of using a specialty blade shape/grind in a chore it was not designed for.
This knife is definitely oriented for outdoors use. Hopefully, here is where this knife will shine!
Through the typical camp task of making tent pegs, I used the Nessmuk to make a series of stop-cuts, notches, and points on the ends of sticks. The “narrow near the blade” handle does a great job of staying out of the way during woodwork. I appreciated the fine control allowed by the smaller grips here. I was worried that the narrow handle might be uncomfortable, but that proved to not be the case. The only discomfort arose from pressing my thumb into the spine of the knife.
When preparing feathersticks (admittedly not my strong suit) for firestarting, the blade produced curls that should catch a flame quite nicely.
There are two things I learned when I conducted the chopping tests. Firstly, the thick edge is robust. There is a reason this is sometimes called an “axe grind” – there was no damage sustained to the edge from the tests.
Secondly, chopping much of anything with this knife sucks! The blade is simply too short and too light to be effective.
I had to use a lot of arm strength to get through a 2” diameter branch, and by the end, the muscle fatigue I experienced convinced me that one was enough! Without the advantage of a lanyard that would allow you to choke back securely and increase leverage, you won’t want to be doing much chopping with this little guy.
I can’t hold its performance in this test against the knife as it is not meant to be a chopper. Following the Nessmuk archetype, that is where the hatchet comes in.
I did not find the Condor Nessmuk to be a good tool for batoning. This can again be attributed to the thick edge. The blade was doing alright with straight grained sections, but as soon as I got to any knotted portions, progress was slowed to a standstill.
Upon inspection I found that the shoulders of the convex grind were “gapping” the wood apart and that the sharpened edge was not making contact with any part of the wood, meaning the edge was not cutting anything, and I had to rely on brute force to muscle the blade through the knot. It took far too long, and required a much greater expenditure of energy than should be needed. If the edge had been just a bit thinner, batoning performance would have been significantly better.
On the plus side, after using the baton to beat the snot out of the blade and handle, the scales and blade were still in perfect shape. It even retained its hair shaving edge after chopping and batoning with it.
Tip Strength / Drilling / Prying
Due to the shape of the tip, drilling with the Nessmuk produces very wide shallow divots. Something to keep in mind for those of you who use your knife to prepare bow-drill divots.
I also decided to insert the tip of the knife into the wood and pry, to see if I could glean anything about the tip strength and heat treatment of the blade.
I’m happy to report that the Condor passed with flying colors here. The wide tip was undamaged, and the heat treatment proved to be quite good. I managed to induce a fair bit of flex in the blade – even farther than is shown in the photo. I did this repeatedly and the blade always returned to straight afterwards, and the scales suffered no damage, remaining perfectly flush.
The last thing I used the ‘Muk for was whipping up some camp grub. I pulled out an onion and a rather large fingerling potato and set about prepping a hash.
Chopping the onion in half was a bit dicey (no pun intended)–the blade wandered to the side and wound up splitting the onion off center. You can see the rough edges in the photo below. The thick edge geometry was again a hindrance here. As I diced the rest of the onion, I definitely felt like I was splitting it, rather than cutting it.
Similarly, the blade worked against me when chopping the potato. Eventually, with care, I had a pile of ingredients ready for the pan.
While that was cooking, I quartered and cored an apple. Here, again, I was dealing with split, rather than cut sections.
After throwing in some leftover pulled pork, I had a delicious camp hash. Here is where the hump on the Nessmuk’s spine comes in handy; as an impromptu eating utensil.
If you are planning on doing much food prep with your camp knife, I would have to say look elsewhere. If you do use the Condor Nessmuk, best keep it to rough cuts. I bet it would spread peanut butter like a rockstar though!
The Condor Nessmuk is a solid budget camp blade that has a lot going for it. The steel is heat treated well and holds an edge. The included leather sheath is fantastic. The handle is comfortable and the blade shape is unique and interesting. Truth (About Knives) be told, it is hampered by only one thing, and that is the obtuse edge grind. I am hard pressed to think of a situation, where this knife would not be better if that edge were a bit thinner. If I am nit-picking, I would also have liked there to be a lanyard hole on the knife, which would increase its utility in certain situations.
If you are willing to invest the time in reprofiling the edge (as I am going to do for my friend), then by all means give this knife a try. It should perform well and is different than the knives you see every day. The Nessmuk pattern has a lot of history and the Condor is a good cheap way to experience it, even if it does differ from the traditional interpretation. However, if you are looking for something in this price range that is ready to go right out of the box, buy a Mora.