Knife Review: L.T. Wright Rogue River

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

I’ve had the pleasure of testing out a new knife from our friends at L.T. Wright Knives, the Rogue River. L.T. himself offered me the knife and I have been putting it through its paces in a variety of scenarios. The Rogue River is an exclusive design for KnivesShipFree.com and it is the first LTWK production knife to feature a convex grind. It is a handy size that should be ideal for both general utility and camping and hiking.

I had a chance to speak with Derrick Bohn, the owner of KnivesShipFree.com, and was able to talk to him about the creative process behind the knife. Derrick is a big fan of super-usable drop point blades in the 4” range, and he commissioned L.T. to design a knife meeting his general ideals for an outdoor utility knife. The Rogue River is what L.T. came up with.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

Due to similarities in their appearance, comparisons of the Rogue River to L.T. Wright’s GNS bushcraft knife (read our review here) are unavoidable, especially considering the green micarta scales featured on this test sample. The Rogue River is a smaller knife but I wouldn’t call it the GNS’ baby brother. It is more like a cousin. It bears a family resemblance but is actually quite different.

OVERVIEW

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

From KnivesShipFree.com:

New for 2015, the Rogue River from L.T. Wright Knives is a great size for everyday carry in any environment. As adept at being used to prepare your favorite club sandwich to cutting kindling for a campfire. The Rogue River is small enough to be unobtrusive, yet large enough to meet the demands of outdoor life.

This is an L.T. Wright design through and through. All of the hallmarks of LTWK construction are present and accounted for. Full tang, tool steel blade with crisp, 90º spine? Check. Extra large lanyard tube? Check. Beautiful micarta scales secured to the tang with high strength epoxy and Loveless style bolts? Check, check, and check! Top notch quality from stem to stern, and handsome to boot!

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The 1/8″ thick by 4 ⅛” long blade (measured from tip to scale) on the Rogue River is constructed of A2, an upgrade from the O1 on the GNS. LTWK does convex grinds different from most makers that I am familiar with, being more of a compound-convex, rather than a single convex grind. The Rogue River has both a primary bevel and a secondary convex bevel which forms the edge. This puts the type of grind somewhere in between a normal flat grind with secondary bevel and a pure single-convex grind.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The Rogue River uses exactly the same sheath as the GNS and I do mean exactly the same. It is constructed of high quality, welted leather made by JRE Industries and it includes a firesteel loop that will fit a ⅜” ferrocerium rod. The belt loop is huge and, unless your name is Paul Bunyan, you will be hard pressed to find a belt that is too wide for the sheath. A dangler attachment is included if you like to wear your knife a bit lower. If not, the dangler can be folded under to keep it out of the way. It is ostensibly removable by unscrewing the Chicago screw that holds it to its D-ring, but the it only spun around in place when I tried.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The RR sits deeper in the sheath than the GNS does and extraction is a little more tricky as a result. It helps to pull the knife out in two stages. The depth means the pommel does not stick above your belt line if you wear the knife without the dangler which is a plus for plus-sized guys like me.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

Visual similarities aside, the Rogue River is a very distinct knife from the GNS; the difference in hand is immediately felt. Whereas the GNS is somewhat weighty when hefted, the Rogue River is altogether more nimble. I can only describe the knife as feeling eager.

I was definitely ready to start cutting things but first I did have a few criticisms. While it is not noticeable during more mundane chores, the contoured handle is on the small side for me when pressed into heavy work. At just under 4 1/2″ in length, there is just barely enough purchase for my medium-large hands, especially when wearing work gloves. The feel of the grip itself is very comfortable, but I could use maybe another half inch to make the handles perfect for my mitts. On the plus side, my one complaint about the GNS handle is remedied on the Rogue River. Thumb scallops!

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

My second gripe is with the unsharpened portion near the rear of the blade. On my test example this area measures roughly ¼” and it is mostly dead space. It is not large enough to form a usable choil or to really rest your finger on it; it just doesn’t seem to serve any purpose.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

I would rather see this section sharpened for just a bit more usable edge, or keep the sharpened length the same and trim down this dead spot. This second option would help bring the tip-to-scale length down to 4 inches, a boon for those dealing with local blade length regulations.

I have one last complaint and it has nothing to do with the product itself, but with the price. When it comes to value, the Rogue River does founder compared to other LTWK offerings, Starting at $215 for micarta versions and going up from there depending on handle material, the Rogue River carries a premium over the L.T. Wright Bushcrafter–a similarly sized knife made of the same steel–which starts at $165 (via KSF). The Rogue River definitely has a sexier profile, but materials are otherwise on par. That is probably a necessary evil for purveying an exclusive design, but it does make the Rogue River a harder sell.

[UPDATE 5/27/15 @ 2:00PM] Derrick Bohn reached out to me regarding the pricing after the review went live. Here is his email.

I had the exact same issue with the knife.  I called L.T. and asked about it because I was sure there was a mistake.

There are some significant differences between the Bushcrafter and the Rogue River that account for the difference in price.  Namely, we did a convex grind and more work on the handles.

Ultimately, [L.T.] used the same calculations to arrive at the retail price as his other knives and sold them to us at the same discount and we marked them up the same amount.

Fair enough?

BUILD QUALITY / FIT & FINISH

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The same solid feel of the GNS is evident here. It may be smaller, but it doesn’t feel any less ready to work, giving up none of the heavy duty qualities of its stablemate. LTWK applies high strength epoxy to all surfaces that make contact with the handle scales, including the threads of the Loveless bolts. It would take a lot to separate the scales from the blade and it also means you won’t have to worry about moisture finding an entry and rusting the blade from the inside out.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

When viewed from above, the handle scales on my test sample were a bit asymmetrical, both in shape and in the size of the thumb scallops. Although you don’t notice it by feel, the thumb cutout on the presentation side is about 1/16” smaller, only realized because of where it interacts with the forward handle pin.

Thanks to the hands-on nature of L.T.’s shop, the initial edge on the Rogue River was ready to go right out of the box without any need of attention, unlike the sharp but rough edges that you see in most factory made knives. Shaving hair and cutting thin magazine paper were easy feats.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

That refinement carries through to the feel of the handle as well. The scales are polished (as opposed to bead blasted like our GNS tester) and are perfectly even with the blade tang. Hot spots are only notable by their absence.

TESTING

Over the course of a few weeks, I used the Rogue River as my primary kitchen knife and was impressed by how well it functioned. I also put it to use around the house, the versatile blade shape making it an adept knife for opening boxes, packages and general utility. It was in it’s element when I took it to camp as well, performing very well and remaining unobtrusive while hiking and fishing.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

I also put it through our normal battery of tests, including thick rope and cardboard for evaluating edge retention. The smaller handle proved to be a standout characteristic, continuing to provide just enough grip to handle the bigger jobs while still feeling sprightly in the hand.

EASE OF SHARPENING

The more I work with sandpaper and strop, the more I like it as a sharpening method. After the camping trip, the edge was in need of some attention so I set to it with some 800 grit, 2000 grit, then black and green sharpening compound. With the gentle arc of the blade, little adjustment was needed to keep the edge at the right angle and I was impressed with how little effort was needed to to put a screaming edge back on the knife. Testing it on the hair of my arm seemed to simply brush the hairs away.

EDGE RETENTION

I liked the profile and I liked the steel so I expected big results on our cardboard test from the Rogue River and I was not disappointed.

For the first 50 feet, the knife went through the cardboard like a hot wire, with only a moderate difference in feel after that. It was smooth sailing up to the 320 foot mark; the blade was still zipping through with very minimal effort although it was no longer shaving sharp by this stage. The knife sailed past 400 feet before it started to show any real signs of edge degradation.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

All cuts were performed on corrugated cardboard, cutting across the grain.

The grip was supremely comfortable for the test and a quick stropping with black and green compounds had the edge back lickety-split. The blade held up well during the test, showing only a few extremely fine scratches near the edge. Far fewer than on any knife I have tested so far.

BUSHCRAFT AND CAMPING

Rope & Cordage

The size of the knife was a boon when trimming paracord and fishing line while on my camping trip. It was not at all cumbersome, deftly executing these precise cuts. Reverse grips were comfortable; the small finger guard does not get in the way.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

It didn’t do too badly on thicker bindings either, cutting cleanly through a loop of ¾” manilla rope in two solid strokes. I’m sure with a slightly toothier edge, single pulls would be an easy task for the knife.

Woodwork

The Rogue River was very handy for carving. The compact package lent itself well to the types of tasks normally encountered in a camping situation; the knife has a way of staying out of its own way. Tent pegs were fashioned very comfortably due to the contoured handle scales.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The convex edge produced very effective feather sticks. Using the spine of the knife to strike a ferro rod, the resulting sparks readily ignited some dry tinder and the feather sticks caught the flame easily.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

I trimmed some saplings in my backyard by bending them over and using push cuts with the Rogue River and it handled the chore with aplomb.

Tip Strength

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

I repeatedly stabbed the knife point into a downed log and pried loose chunks of wood, but the tip remained undamaged, showing only a few scuff marks around the point. It was equal to the task of drilling divots as well, with no noticeable deformation of the edge. Credit the toughness of the A2 steel.

Batoning

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

I processed as much firewood as I was able with the Rogue River to see if the thin blade would let me down. It did about as well at splitting logs as the GNS did in that anything too knotted will present problems for the knife. I encountered a bit more difficulty than I thought I would on some of the straighter grained logs that I tried, although I am not sure whether to chalk it up to the blade or the hardness of the particular wood.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The unsharpened choil tripped me up a few times; given the short blade length I would keep placing the wood right up to the edge of the scales in order to maximize the point sticking out the other side. I would then have to back the blade off slightly due to the unsharpened portion stalling any progress.

Across the grain batoning was much more effective.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

Whether it is the best tool for the job or not, the Rogue River soaked up the abuse that comes with batoning like a champion. Despite all the banging the blade is still in great shape and the micarta scales are still perfectly flush and unscratched from the hammering to the pommel that they took.

FOOD PREP

Apart from handling camp work with aplomb, the Rogue River has proven itself to be an adept culinary tool. The only area where it fell a little short was when trying to cut slices from a block of cheddar, a difficult task for all but the thinnest of kitchen knives, where it tended to crush the cheese. Everything else was easy prey for this versatile knife.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The thumb scallops provide a positive engagement point for pinch grips, making the handhold similar to a larger chef knife. The belly on the front half of the knife is at just the right angle to be very useful at dicing tasks, making mirepoix a breeze to prepare.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The ⅛” thin blade of the Rogue River was appreciated when it came time to for finer slicing tasks, onions in particular. While thicker knives will split an onion in half, the RR is thin enough to actually cut. Once I halved the onions, they were quickly reduced to thin slivers.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

When dismantling a turkey breast, I had a little trouble getting nice thin slices (perhaps because the edge was in need of a touch up at that point in time) but it did well at dicing the remainder.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

It also had no trouble slicing through thick pineapple skin, and easily removed the rind from the sides. Despite all of the juice, the grip remained rock solid with no slip at all.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

The Rogue River was equally adept at smaller chores where you might reach for a paring knife such as dicing strawberries or coring pineapple slices.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

At camp I didn’t miss having a chef knife, and that is high praise. The Rogue handled everything I needed with ease, cubing up a bunch of spuds, cutting my steak dinner, and removing thin slices of summer sausage. We didn’t catch any fish so I wasn’t able to test the knife on any gilled critters but I think it would do well.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

Some patina did develop when working with food, but I would say the corrosion resistance is orders of magnitude better than the 1095 steel in my Old Hickory knives.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

Interestingly, you can see by the patina where the blade has received more polishing in the manufacturing stage. The patina is least significant near the edge where most of the sharpening and buffing takes place. Then the primary grind shows a bit more patina. Finally, the area near the hilt, right by the maker’s mark took on the most noticeable patina. Presumably this spot would have seen very little polishing when being made. This was even seen right out of the box, the area being slightly duller than the rest of the blade.

CONCLUSION

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

While the value for money is up for debate, the Rogue River will certainly not let you down. The smaller handles make the knife nimble and versatile enough to do just about anything. That versatility is it’s strong suit. It does everything needed from an outdoor utility blade, leaving a little on the table only when it comes to batoning, and transitions well into home and kitchen use.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

Not only does the Rogue River perform well, but it looks great while doing it. The classic good looks, are backed up with rock solid materials, ensuring this knife will look great and work hard well into the future!

Detailed Specs

Blade: Drop Point, Full Tang A2 Steel, Compound Convex Grind, Satin Finish
Rockwell Hardness: 57-59 HRC
Scales: Polished Green Canvas Micarta (other variations available)
Country of Origin: USA

Dimensions & Weights (as measured on our test subject)
Overall Length: 8.547
Handle Length: 4.475″
Handle Thickness: 0.896″
Blade Length (tip to scale): 4.14″
Sharpened Length: 3.9″
Blade Thickness: 0.124″
Lanyard Tube Inner Diameter: 0.246″
Weight (Knife): 6.05 oz
Weight (Sheath): 3.75 oz

I’d like to thank L.T. again for sending us the knife for review. I’d also like to thank Derrick Bohn from KnivesShipFree.com for his time as well when we spoke on the phone. After talking about the design philosophies behind the Rogue River, our conversation ranged a gamut of knife subjects. He is a passionate guy and I was very happy to make his acquaintance.

*Thanks to my good friend Jesse Evans and to my girlfriend Whitney Nichols for their assistance with some of the hands on photos.

comments

  1. Spencer says:

    This is an detailed and informative review of what seems to be an excellent small field knife, though I wonder why some folks insist on misusing any knife by batoning and chopping into wood. Weirder yet, more than a few people abuse knives by digging in rocky soil and then act surprised when the tip breaks or the edge is badly chipped. Could it be that those users/owners are Rambo wannabes who believe that a knife–to be considered worthy–must perform the duties of an axe, shovel, machete, drill, pry bar, blackjack, and God knows what else? I doubt the manufacturers would honor warranties when their knives are thrashed through mistreatment.

  2. Great review David! Cool little blade, and seems capable. In regards to batoning with knives, for myself, I like to travel light when trekking around/fishing. I usually carry a 4 inch or so knife and a smaller one. I baton all the time with them and have never had a problem.

  3. Thanks Jake!

    Spencer, batoning as a technique is definitely controversial. In the context of our testing here at TTAK we always try to push the knife’s capabilities and batoning is a good “stress test” on a blade.

    Some knives are absolutely designed with batoning in mind. ESEE and Becker are two that immediately come to mind, and ESEE’s warranty is known to be pretty fantastic. If the knife fails for any reason, they will replace it.

    I’ve defended the subject before. Here are my reasons why batoning is a legitimate technique for more than just “survival”.

    http://www.thetruthaboutknives.com/2014/02/in-defense-of-batoning/

  4. Spencer says:

    Well, David, though batoning isn’t a practice of mine, I admit that if a knife can stand up to it well then it’s one stout blade. Good rebuttal, too.

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Knife Review: L.T. Wright Rogue River

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