I need a break from the news, and I don’t have anything ready to go review wise at the moment. So it seems like the right time for a Know your Knives post. A friend of mine introduced me to an interesting knife one night this Fall, and asked me if I knew anything about the style. It was what is known as a Canadian Belt Knife, and while it was a new style to me, our Canknuckleheaded northern brethren have been wielding this venerable knife since the late 1950’s.
After World War II, Czech knifemaker Rudolph Grohmann immigrated to Canada. His business struggled until he linked up with DH Russell, a Toronto cutlery store owner. Russell had been disappointed by the lack of domestic Canadian knives, especially when he believed he could design a better knife in the first place. To make a long story short, what arose from this collaboration was a knife of unique lines and time-tested functionality.
To paraphrase Will Woods, there is something about a knife preferences in the northern hemisphere where you start our with small and strangely shaped (an extreme example would be Alaskan Ulu), and as you travel south the knives get straighter and bigger (think Bowie-style) until by the time you reach the equator you are swinging a machete.
The Canadian Belt Knife is best exemplified by the Grohmann #1, the original knife that has been copied by countless custom makers and even production makers like Cold Steel. It features an elliptical blade shape which allows for a long belly section ideal for skinning game. Traditionally, it has featured a grind that is too full to be called Scandinavian, and too short to be called flat (though full flat grinds are available). The blade tapers to a thinner neck section and forward portion of the handle before swelling out to fill the hand. As strange as it looks, it is described many places as extremely comfortable and I can imagine how that might be the case.
In researching this post, I relied heavily on an article by Cal Bablitz on the history of this knife. From Cal’s excellent piece:
“After using it on a few animals, I began to appreciate the beauty of this design. Every part of its unconventional shape was designed for a good reason. The point is sharp and makes the initial incisions with ease and is good for delicate work, while the curve of the cutting edge makes it easy to skin without poking holes in the hide. The curved spine helps keep the sharp point from cutting into meat or paunch while making the initial cuts when field dressing. The uniquely shaped offset handle is easy to grip securely, even when wet and it is virtually impossible to grasp it in a manner that feels uncomfortable.”
Sounds good to me. My only concern is it seems like it is a bit gracile for the kind of wood processing I put a typical bushcraft knife through. Especially as it narrows at the neck of the knife. However, when used in conjunction with a hatchet or machete, it might form a perfect pair.
Cold Steel has taken the design and updated it in their typical fashion. They use indestructible polypropylene scales, and a thinner 2.5mm blade with a friction reducing hollow grind. Their sheath is Cordura, and the knife comes in at a budget friendly 19.99 retail. A true nova Scotian-made Grohmann will set you back a minimum of $96. More decorative models like the turquoise-scaled one above go for upwards of $300.
Both the Grohmann and Cold Steel knives are highly reviewed on various sites, though I can find nothing that sums this little knife up better than this. Again, from Cal Bablitz’s piece:
“A friend of mine took his old, beat up Grohmann to a local knife maker to get it refurbished. While he was there, he decided that maybe it was time to spring for a custom knife. He told the knife maker that he wanted a good knife for hunting and general camping duties. He wanted it to be easily sharpened in the field, yet still have good edge retention. A couple days later the knife maker told him his knife was finished. Surprised at the promptness, he went to pick it up. When he got there the knife maker handed him back his refurbished Grohmann and told him, “For what you want I can’t make you anything much better than the knife you dropped off.”
For a look at a traditional Canadian Belt Knife, see the video below:
And then there is the Cold Steel treatment:
It seems a no-brainer to pick up a Cold Steel to see what I think of the style. If it performs like I anticipate, I might just drop the $100 on an original Grohmann.