Know Your Knives

Know your Knives: DH Russell Canadian Belt Knife

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The Grohmann #1 is the original Canadian Belt Knife

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.

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Some Canadian Belt Knives, like this Grohmann, feature beautiful scales of inlaid turquoise.

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.

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Cold Steel’s modern take on the 50’s classic.

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.

 

Discussion

23 responses to ‘Know your Knives: DH Russell Canadian Belt Knife

  1. This is one of the knives that have appealed to me for years. A few months ago, I bought the CS version. Came sharp, but rough-looking on the edge, so I smoothed it up. Feels nice in my hand.

  2. This is a knife I first experienced as a Boy Scout in the late 70’s. In 82 I spent a summer in Northern Canada and they were very common. It holds better than any knife I have ever dealt with. The biggest challenge with this knife is choosing which one to get. The Cold Steel knife is a $20 knife and that is all. The Grohmann / Russel knives are exceptional. Get one for yourself or give one as a gift and it will be one of the few in the “life-long” category.

    Cheers and Merry Christmas!

        • Don’t thank me anymore!!; from the $11.99-to-$9.59 drop, it’s now jumped more than 100% from that discounted price to $13.47!!! Just absolutely CRAZY how fast something that never really ever changed physically shifted in such a monetarily driven amount! And I say this as someone who understands that numbers aren’t real.

          *so so, so So so absolutely glad a friend has Amazon prime*

  3. I adore these knives! The CS version is my go-to beater knife and I have a drawer-full for use as steak knives. The 4116 Krupp is surprisingly good stuff, like a refined Victorinox steel, and takes an edge as acute as my Endura. The real Grohmann’s are something else. I do prefer the #4 survival over the #1, though. I wear a size small glove, but I still like a more hand filling grip when whittling using the loose hammer grip that I prefer. In a saber grip for fine work, the #1 is unsurpassed.

  4. necrotizing for those who may exhume this.
    a third offering in this design is the us made murphy (.com) knife falling between the two price points mentioned, in the forty dollar neighborhood.
    some nice wood choices and they often have blemished leather sheaths on special that will fit your chine knife.

  5. I picked up a “build your own” #1 from a Scout shop in Windsor for under $50. Maple instead of rosewood, and all I had to do was attach the clamp style handle with 3 rivets. Sanded and oiled the wood, been using it now for 4 years without ever sharpening it.

  6. So about a 2 weeks ago I found a Dexter Russell 659-8 in a thrift shop for a buck. I bought it because they’re decent knives and a buck was too good to pass up. I got home and realized I already had about 6 kitchen knives that fill the same niche. I thought about what I wanted out of a woods knife, and with help from a Dremel tool to cut out the shape I came up with something that looks VERY similar to the Grohmann. I didn’t even know about the Grohmann until today. Mines a little different, since I haven’t had time to cut jimping on the back of the blade yet, and where the Grohmann has jimping on the blade side, I ground a half round “recess” to stop my hand from sliding down the blade if it gets slippery. I really don’t like cutting stuff with a Dremel because it heats the steel, but I laid the blade on my leg and traced carefully with the cutting wheel over the whole length of the cut about 50 times. I figured that if it got too hot I would know it before it ruined the temper. Other than that it’s been hand sanding and hand grinding on a rough stone to shape the blade. It looks a little bit like… Well if you can imagine what Legolas’ mid-sized chef knife looks like you’ll have a pretty good idea. Walnut handles and brass compression rivets. No plastic for me, plus white handled knives are unlucky.

  7. I recently found one of these knifes burried in the ground with case.Its funny becouse my backyard is air base in Trenton and i see these were issued to the military what are they worth

    • Condition is every thing Shannon, give me an email. I’m in Kingston, or drop by the 560 Legion with the knife on Thursdays between 4-6pm, bring your darts.

  8. Thanks for the kind words about my write up on the Grohmann #1. Still using the #1, its still my favorite knife. I don’t really use it for wood processing, although it would most likely do a great job my Grohmanns ride in my pack until an animal is down. I’m old school, my pocket knife is the work horse, my axe handles the firewood, and my hunting knife handles the game. Its probably been used to dress and quarter around a half dozen moose and elk, and over a dozen deer. One of the things I’ve come to love most about it is how handily it does the legs of a big game animal. You make the first incision and then just run the knife down the leg, the point is such that it won’t pop out, but neither will it slice into the leg meat. I haven’t owned another knife that makes these cuts quite so cleanly and effortlessly.

  9. I was a diver on offshore oil rigs all around the world. My DH Russell was the best ever. I had a sheath custom made by a leathersmith in Kitsilino. It had a pouch on the back to hold a marlin spike with a built in shackle key. The sheath was much lower cut than the one that came with it, made it a lot easier to remove. With a very cleaver cut of the leather a brass snap shackle was looped in the top. I never took this knife in the water or even a diving bell but it would always be with me when the overalls came on. Today I still think of it as the best tool I have ever owned. Some a-hole swiped it at BC Place Stadium and I’ve never seen it since. On one Rig an old British Chief Bosoms Mate sharpened it for me, he was very impressed with it and said this is made with very very good steel. The edge he put on it lasted for a long time. I had my name etched on the blade if anyone comes across it someday.

    • A Chief Bosoms Mate? Aren’t most men chief bosoms mates? Yes, I know it’s Chief Bos’ns Mate, and you typed a bit too fast, so Reader’s Digest could use this in the Humor In Uniform column.

  10. My girl friends mother gave me her fathers Dh Russell Canadian belt knife and it is a great knife. Designed for real use

  11. Just picked up the #4 today. This will be my first hunting season and I wanted a lifetimer knife. I’ve had the CS version for years and always found myself going back to it, despite the number of “cooler looking” knives in my collection. Not only is it a very sturdy knife, but it’s quite a beautiful one also. I look forward to using it as my daily carry.

  12. When my father was a young man he found a copy of the D.H. Russell knife being discussed here, and it quickly became his favorite knife. He claimed to prefer it over the original version as the copy he had, made by Herder’s, had a thicker handle that filled his hand better. When I graduated from high school he gave me a D.H. Russell, because he couldn’t find any made by Herder’s. And he told me “this knife will do anything that a big bowie knife will do, without looking half as scary.” I’ve found that statement to be absolutely true. I absolutely love the D.H. Russell that my father gave me, and it’s currently the number one knife in my kitchen. I carry the Cold Steel copy as my every day knife, and it has traveled all over the country with me and been used in just about every way one can imagine using a knife. If I was only allowed to use one knife for the rest of my life, I’d choose my Cold Steel Canadian belt knife, and never have a second of doubt about it.

  13. I inherited a 1958 Russell belt knife with original sheath from my father-in-law. He liked fine things, and this knife was one of them. It is one of my prized possessions. Thank you for the excellent information on it. Dick

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