Last fall I had the chance to meet L.T. himself of Ohio-based L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives. He was very approachable and we had a nice conversation before I headed home. He was generous enough to send us a GNS fixed blade to review, and I promised to work it hard!
The GNS was originally designed by L.T. Wright as the official knife of Self Reliance Illustrated, a quarterly publication that has recently announced that they are shutting down. The GNS will continue to be available however. Via email correspondance with L.T., he had this to say:
“We wanted to offer the readers [of Self Reliance Illustrated] a great working bush knife. At this time it is a stand alone knife that we sell through LTWK and no longer carries the SRI logo. We designed it originally as a hard working Bushcraft knife.”
Despite the initials GNS standing for “Go No Show,” I do think this knife has a little bit of “Show” to it. The gentle, downward curve of the spine and the swells of the handle scales create a pleasing sillhouette and the Loveless-style fisheye bolts add a touch of class to the otherwise utilitarian color palette. Perhaps the knife should be titled “Lots of Go, Just Enough Show.” But then again, LOGJES doesn’t sound as good as GNS!
The design is definitely full of “Go” as the name implies. The Loveless bolts work in concert with high strength epoxy to secure the canvas micarta scales to the full tang blade. The whole handle is bead blasted, giving it just a hint of texture. This rough and tumble look calls to mind an old pair of jeans, broken in and ready to work.
The blade, like that of the classic Woodlore that influences the GNS, is O1 tool steel. None of the metal has been polished–the working finish of the blade adds to the broken in look. The edge is a single bevel v-grind, also known as a scandinavian or scandi grind. The angle of the grind is roughly 12º per side with a microbevel at the edge from the final polishing. According to L.T. this is the optimal range for edge retention without losing toughness. If a scandi grind isn’t to your liking, the GNS is also available with a saber grind as well. It should be noted that the handle on the saber ground GNS is polished smooth rather than bead blasted.
Measured from the tip of the blade to the leading edge of the scale, the length is a hair over 4 ⅜”. Sharpened length is 4 ¼” and the overal length comes in at 9 ½”. The stock is ⅛” thick by 1 ⅛” wide–sturdy enough to take a beating without being burdened by extra thickness.
The lanyard tube is large with roughly a ¼” interior opening. Threading paracord or any other lanyard I had on hand was very easy–a refreshing change from knives I own with tight lanyard holes. Especially when circumstances get wet and cold, not having to struggle installing a lanyard could be a life saver.
The sheath included with the GNS compliments the tool very well. It is an open top design that is made for LTWK by JRE Industries. The sheath holds the knife snugly and appears to be very well made with a full welt and heavy stitching. Much to my pleasure, a dangler loop is included as well. This was beneficial to me as most of the testing for this knife took place during the colder months of the year. The GNS was easy to extract even when wearing a long winter coat.
The dangler can be removed if you don’t care for it, or, it can simply be folded under without removing it. The remaining loop is still large enough to accept very wide belts. The three eyelets could be used to facilitate other attachment options as well.
A firesteel loop is included and is sized to accomodate the standard ⅜ inch “army” size rods. The spine of the GNS is sharp enough to throw sparks from the rod, eliminating the need to also carry a striker. This sharpened spine enables you to save your edge during tasks such as scraping for tinder.
The whole knife/sheath package was fairly unobtrusive on the belt and was easy to carry. The knife itself weighs in at 7.75 oz, and the sheath adds another 4.05 oz.
FIT & FINISH
I can find nothing to complain about regarding the construction of the GNS. The blade grinds are symmetrical. The scales are smooth, flush with the tang, and sanded evenly. There are a few small “imperfections” that let you know the GNS is handmade, but if anything they add to the character of the knife, rather than detract from it. The centers on a few of the fish-eye bolts spread out slightly into the outer ring, but are otherwise level and smooth. The only tooling marks that stand out are on the spine where it has been squared off.
The biggest benefit of a shop made knife vs. a factory made knife has got to be in the attention paid to the sharpened edge. Whereas most factory edges come sharp but rough, the GNS’ edge was finely polished and very sharp.
My favorite thing about the GNS, by far, are it’s handles. They were built for hard use comfort. Never have I used a knife that was so comfortable for carving hard woods. The shape is subtle, and seems to fit my hands, which run on the medium-large side, perfectly.
Those with larger hands may want to check out the Kephart inspired L.T. Wright Genesis, which shares many of the same traits of the GNS, but with a simpler handle shape that may accommodate larger hands even better.
I may sing the highest praises for the handles, but there is one discordant note in that song. At the hilt, the edges of the scales are rather sharp, and feel out of place on the otherwise hot-spot free handles. I found this right-angle edge to be in the way when attempting pinch grips or choking up on the blade. The addition of thumb scallops (like those on the aforementioned Genesis) or, at the very least, rounding off the edges would go a long way to minimizing this discomfort.
After writing that last paragraph, I asked L.T. if there was a reason for this element of the design, and indeed there was. It is a feature meant to facilitate a certain grip, where you choke up on the handle and hook your thumb over the top of the handle scale, and he shared two instances where this grip is more useful than a simple hammer grip. 1) It allows for finer control of the tip, and 2) when carving near the base of the blade, the application of force is more inline, allowing for more control and more efficient application of force.
The first big task I set before the GNS was carving a spoon from the side of a log. This is not something I have done before, but I knew it would involve lots of carving and would be a sure way to learn about the character of this knife.
I started by batoning a slat off the edge of a piece of aged and frozen hardwood that was laying in my woodpile. Being only 1/8” thick, the GNS is not going to be the best tool for batoning, but more on that later. It did well enough, and after cross batoning the piece of wood to length, I started with some rough shaping. A hatchet would have been a better tool for this, but I wanted to as much of the work as I could with the GNS.
I don’t know what type of wood it was, but it’s age and the sub-freezing temps meant that the knife had its work cut out for it. Scandi edges are known for biting deep into wood and that character was on full display. Very soon the GNS was sending chunks of wood flying and the rough shape came together rather quickly. It also responded well to a more delicate touch, cutting with more precision when needed.
Some key takeaways: The height of the blade made the transition between the bowl to the handle a little difficult. The narrow tip added some usefulness here versus a knife with a wider point. By choking up on the blade and using the tip I was able to make the shoulders deeper. I did resort to using a hook knife to hollow out the bowl, but all other carving was performed by the GNS. The blade was simply too long for me to feel comfortable hollowing the bowl with it.
The handles were rock stars in this test, and in all of the woodcarving tests that follow. Apart from during the occasional pinch grip, hot spots were never an issue with the smooth scales. In addition to being comfortable, I found the GNS to be very secure in hand, even when they got wet with snow. Between the bead blasting and the small finger guard, I never felt in danger of losing my grip or having a finger slide forward onto the edge.
Ease of Sharpening
I have never been the best at sharpening a scandi, but I was still able to bring back the edge without too much trouble. I had stropped the blade a few times during the spoon carving in order to keep the edge keen, but when finished it did need a little attention. Starting with medium, then fine Arkansas stones, and finishing on a strop loaded with black and green compound, I was able to bring back the hair splitting edge that the knife arrived with.
I proceeded to shred a few pages of thin magazine paper with ease. The GNS’ O1 steel is definitely capable of a very sharp edge.
Given the thickness of the blade and the scandi edge, the GNS performed rather well on cardboard. I got through 100 feet of cardboard without too much degradation in performance. That isn’t to say the performance was the best to begin with; a thinner blade will usually perform better. The cuts performed by the GNS were not very efficient, but the comfortable handles made the effort needed easy to apply.
When tackling tougher rope like ¾” manilla, I never had much luck with the GNS, mostly due to the fantastic polished edge that it arrived with. To separate a piece of the rope it required two solid pulls and another quick swipe to take care of a few uncut strands. More cottony varieties were much easier and paracord was a snap. The narrow point made inserting the tip into loops of cord very easy.
These aren’t the best feather sticks I’ve ever made. True to its nature, the scandi edge seemed to bite into the wood, moreso than I wanted, making long curls harder to achieve.
This behavior was also on display when trying to strip bark from the sticks. Rather than sliding along under the bark, the blade would often dig into the wood. I imagine the saber-ground GNS would be better for these tasks based on my experience with flat and hollow ground knives in these scenarios.
The GNS was comfortable in the variety of grips needed to create a set of tent stakes. Using the chest-lever grip made the points very easy to create. The scandi edge worked wonders on the stop cuts and notches at the other end. By far, this has been the best knife at creating stakes of any that I have in my collection.
I gathered up a few logs from my woodpile to see how well the GNS would baton. My guess is that I might have a little trouble–like I did when I reviewed the Condor Nessmuk–with the leading edge of the blade not making contact with the wood due to the shoulders of the grind making contact instead.
The first log was no problem and it was quickly reduced to kindling, allowing me access to the rich resiny core of the wood. The second and third logs turned out to be dry-rotted on the inside and broke apart with ease as well. It was time to find something gnarlier for the GNS to sink its teeth into.
I tried to baton through this forked and knotted section and it wasn’t long before I the wood was “gapped” away from the edge and progress became decidedly more difficult. In the end I had to give up on this piece of wood and needed to break out my Becker BK9 to finish the job. Even that struggled a bit before finally busting the piece in two.
If batoning is in your future, the GNS scandi is not going to be your tool of choice unless you are dealing with a consistent supply of straight-grained, un-knotted wood. Don’t expect it to do well with the really twisted stuff. Within those limitations the GNS should baton just fine. It is certainly sturdy enough to take the abuse. Even after beating on the blade and handle scales for several minutes on that last log, the knife was none the worse for wear.
Tip Strength, Prying, and Drilling
In the process of preparing a bow drill hearth, I used my baton to drive the point into some lateral cracks in some baton’ed planks and used the GNS to pry them in two. I wouldn’t normally do something like this but I wanted to push the knife and see how it would handle the abuse. There was no damage to the tip and the butt of the knife took the hammering in stride, with no adverse effects.
I found the GNS to be very efficient at drilling divots into the board. The rounded pommel was very comfortable when applying the downward force needed. After making a few divots there was some minor rolling of the edge near the tip that was quickly set aright with some stropping. The obtuse point created by the single bevel was beneficial, making for a very strong tip.
The GNS performed better than I anticipated in the kitchen. The only real difficulty the knife had was with quartering an apple and prepping an onion for slicing. In these types of cuts, the blade split the food without cutting, and had a tendency to wander off center in the process. Good enough for camp, but not the prettiest result.
In building the ingredients for a hash, I was able to dice a potato cleanly with only a little effort. Likewise, when slicing the onion I was able to get slices that were quite thin for a knife of this type.
In carving slices off a whole turkey breast, I was also able to get some nice thin slices. Not as thin as a good chef knife of course, but still surprisingly thin. Further cutting into nice tiny strips was also a breeze.
Overall the GNS proved very capable for food prep. Certainly good enough to work as a primary food prep knife at camp.
With it’s scandi grind, I expected the GNS to be good at woodworking, and it turned out to be very good indeed. Beyond that, it performed better with more generic tasks than I expected it to, given the specialized edge. The handle is truly excellent and is made to work hard.
As a bushcraft or camp knife, the L.T. Wright GNS would make a very good choice. With two different blade grinds available, you can get the one that best suits your needs. If you would rather have thumb scallops instead of the squared off hilt, the Genesis is made to the same standards as the GNS, and can be had with a scandi or full flat grind.
The aesthetics of the GNS speak to me. It has a timeless look that should age very well–there is nothing gimmicky about it’s design. The rough and ready shape is simple, but refined. None of its good looks come at the expense of function.
The GNS is not outrageously expensive either. Online prices are currently around the $155 mark. For a handmade in the USA knife, that is not bad at all. When you compare it to the Spyderco Bushcraft–another O1 bladed knife with a scandi grind and composite handles–and it’s retail price of $190 or higher, the GNS is an absolute bargain.
One could argue the value proposition versus a factory made knife with more exotic blade steel, but I would argue that the GNS serves a different demographic. Knowing that the knife is handmade by a small team of people rather than being churned out on an assembly line or CNC machine only adds to my appreciation of the blade. The work done by L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives is solid and I have no doubt that the GNS will last a lifetime.