Chris Williams is a 20-year SOF veteran and a lifelong “tool guy”. When he was dissatisfied with off-the-shelf knife grinders, he decided to engineer his own. His design was a success, and Wilmont Grinders was born. Chris refined his knifemaking over the course of testing his grinders, and before long the demand for his knives was apparent.
Jon “Shrek” McPhee, fellow retired operator and friend of Chris (and proprietor of SOB Tactical), put him in contact with Craig Nugent of Empire Outfitters. Since Chris was already running a grinder company and didn’t want to run a knife company too, the two struck an arrangement where Chris sends Craig his knives and an invoice, Nuge takes care of the marketing and selling. The knife world gets to reap the benefit of this collaboration.
I received this knife from Empire, and at the time of this writing the knife’s status is that it is a loaner and needs to be returned.
This is my first experience with CPM Cru-Wear steel. Really tough stuff. It is a Crucible powdered-steel, which according to Zvisoft has even greater wear resistance than D2, my previous toughness bechmark. It is hardened to an incredible 62HRC. It is not the fastest sharpening knife on the planet, but the Spyderco Sharpmaker will put an incredible edge on the Wharny with practice and patience. Once set, this edge is remarkable. I batoned across grain through an inch and a half of cutting-board maple, and it still sliced newsprint when I was finished.
The blade shape is what gives the knife its name. It is a hybrid sheepsfoot/wharnecliffe shape. Unlike a traditional wharnecliffe, the Wharny does not have a flat edge, rather it rocks up slightly. The spine side is most like a sheepsfoot, though the chisel-like tip is almost a nod to a reverse tanto which seems to give it the tip-strength attributes of the latter’s style. This reverse tip can be easily sharpened to increase the Wharny’s thrusting ability. The knife is 9.25″ overall with a 4.625″ blade and is 3/16″ thick.
Chris finishes the blade with an acid-etched, tumbled black finish. This is a great choice both for the aesthetics, as well as for the corrosion and wear resistance. I carried this knife for almost 2 months on the river, second only in aggregate time to my Mora Bushcraft. I never went out of my way to treat the blade for corrosion, yet there was only the slightest hint of discoloration spots. These wear off quickly when the knife is dragged through cardboard.
As I mentioned, the CPM CruWear forms a solid foundation for a knife. Chris adds scalloped g-10 scales which are removable and affixed with a standard, though robust trio of hex screws. The knife is full tang with the scales lining up cleanly at the pommel of the knife.
There is a large choil, almost a sub hilt, which is large enough to actually protect your finger and is the primary grip position for the knife. There is effective jimping on the spine near the handle, which is not uncomfortably aggressive. The spine has clean edges that are more than up to scraping a ferro-rod firestarter.
While the knife has a full, the tang is skeletonized. I was puzzled when I first discovered it, but it got me thinking. After some playing with the knife a bit and contemplating, I had the minor epiphany that if you take a thick hunk of steel and give it a high, flat grind, you hog off a tremendous amount of weight. If you don’t remove some material from the tang, the knife will feel handle-heavy, fundamentally altering the experience of using the knife. In the case of the Wharny, the balance-point is within the choil. In fact, the knife balances nicely on one finger.
The sheath is Kydex and provides solid, positive retention. The knife is loose inside, it will wiggle below the retaining throat, however there is noticeable friction between the sheath and the Kydex. The knife will shake lose without substantial effort if the sheath is inverted. Over the course of testing, the retention has loosened somewhat as well, though in a vertical carry position, the knife is not going anywhere.
There is a Tec-Lock buckle that can be removed and re-positioned. I will go into more detail in the Carry and Deployment section.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the scalloped scales. They are increasing in popularity, but I am concerned that the points would cause hot-spots and palm irritation. While this is true to a point, I never managed to give myself blisters and did not find the grip to be problematic. It is a net positive because my finger tips always seemed to find a facet no matter how I positioned my hand, and had no problem with grip when both the knife and my hands were covered in fish slime.
Carry and Deployment:
Chris and Nuge recommend horizontal carry. I understand this from a “tactical” point of view, and this is the orientation of my Kim Breed IWB sheath in my street-clothes. However, I found a couple of problems with this from a fishing guide’s point of view.
First, the sheath, while providing good retention allows the knife to wiggle and I was constantly worried about losing the knife. Part of this is that it is as of this writing a loaner knife and I didn’t want to call Nuge and tell him the knife fell out in the river. The other problem with front/horizontal carry for a flyfisherman is that your fly line hangs down in front of you and I would sometimes get the line wrapped around the handle.
I first tried a 3/4 forward tilt on my offhand (left side). Offside is my favorite carry position for a fixed blade knife, and the knife can be deployed blade side out with my left hand, or cross drawn with my right (when it is not holding a rod). From the 3/4 position, I still found myself catching the handle on things, though I was no longer worried about loosing the knife.
When I finally went full vertical, I found the position that for me was the most comfortable. Tucked just behind the point of my hip, my wading belt twists just enough to tilt the sheath forward and allow for a forward draw. Fitting closely to my side, the handle is out of the way and does not snag on my line or streamside brush.
Slicing newsprint and rope was no problem for the Wharny. What got interesting was the cardboad test. As soon as I started it became apparent that the Wharny is lousy at cutting cardboard.
There are a number of design features that conspire against the Wharny in this instance. First is simply the thickness of the knife. At 3/16″ thick, it is a large wedge to push aside the cardboard. Ironically, I mostly had double-ply corrugated from a bookcase I purchased, so it was stiffer and thicker than your average box.
Secondly, the acid-was finish has a much higher friction coefficient than something more polished. Of course, its primary function is corrosion protection and at this it does fantastically. It just doesn’t zip through cardboard.
I was about 50 feet into the double-ply cardboard when the performance took a nose dive. Single-ply was still alright, though the performance was considerably diminished. The edge was far from trashed however.
I could still slice newsprint with care, though it wasn’t great. Copy paper was no problem however. The blade was still very sharp. I cut tomatoes, green beans, and several other foodstuffs, just to test how great the edge could still perform despite the cardboard cutting abuse.
The Wharny did a mediocre job of slicing cardboard, however the cardboard did a less than mediocre job of dulling the Wharny’s edge.
The food tests above were to illustrate how sharp the blade was even after cardboard testing. I also subjected the knife to wide variety of produce to test its kitchen ability.
The high, flat grind on the Wharny gives it very friendly culinary manners. It does not wander in thick produce the way a scandi-ground blade might. In fact, the grind, combined with the Wharny’s slight upward sweep and elevated handle position make it almost as good as a small santoku.
I could cube pineapple and julienne the skin, mince onions, cut steak, you name it. It could even make passable slices in a cherry tomato after I batoned it through the maple. A couple of swipes on my Lanky Diamond Sharp Stick, and it was back to slicing like a kitchen knife.
The Wharny is a batoning monster. Because its overall robustness, one is not afraid to give it some hard whacks. It parted logs and reduced them to kindling with great efficiency. The shape of the blade combined with the thick spine cleaved and popped piece after piece of kindling from the log.
Not content to just to the routine, I set about to chop/baton across the grain of a strip of cutting board maple. This is extraordinarily hard stuff, and instead of splitting, the Wharny had to cut the fibers.
. The blade’s heft caused chips to fly when I chopped. It took a while of back and forth chopping, but the wood finally relented. What was more amazing was that the blade still sliced newsprint and even tomatoes when I was finished. I think I might have found my new favorite steel.
As mentioned, the spine has crisp edges which easily spark a ferro-rod. Almost a must-have feature on a bushcraft knife.
As has been my MO, I gutted a couple of Smoky Mountain trout as a final test. The knife passed with flying colors. It’s heft made a fantastic “priest” to dispatch the fish with a strike of the spine to the top of the fish’s head. The belly cut was like a laser, and there was no problem slicing the fins or maintaining a good grip on the knife despite a hefty coating of fish slime. It might not do the best job of actually removing fillets, but with enough skill a passable result would be possible IMHO.
The last test I subjected the Wharny to might possibly cause knifemakers to suffer from seizures. I had a block of frozen chicken stock which was considerably more than I needed for a recipe. I had the idea to use the Wharny to chip/chop off the appropriate amount from the block. I experimented with both pressing down and tapping on the spine with my palm. Soon I had chipped enough stock for the recipe and replaced the block in the freezer, down a quart.
Even after completing the cardboard test and cutting through the frozen stock, I could still peel translucent pieces of apple skin.
When I was surveyed for TopSpecUS’s Survival Knife Roundtable, it was the Wilmont Wharny that I was thinking about when I formulated my answer.
“The single greatest consideration for a survival knife is trust. You need a knife that says ‘I will not fail you.’
The number one rule for survival, if I remember my merit badge, is ‘maintain a positive mental attitude.’ I can think of little more devastating to one’s personal morale than to have a tool fail at a critical time. With a good knife and the knowledge you carry in your head, you have the foundation to begin to take control of your situation.”
I was testing the Wharny at the time and when I hold this knife in my hand it feels like it wants to work. This is a knife I can trust, it has a substantial heft that borders on the (relatively) invincible. Throughout all of my testing, the only real “damage” was that the scale screws worked a bit loose when I was batoning. Easily remedied with a little locktite.
As I mature in my role at TTAK I am faced with a little bit of a conundrum. It is impossible not to develop personal relationships with the individuals making the knives. This is why we strive for utmost transparency. That is why we include so many photographs so that you all can see quantifiable results and judge for yourselves. That disclosure aside, I really like the Wharny and can recommend it as a rock-solid piece of kit. The ultimate fate of this knife is yet to be determined. Upon publishing this review, I will offer to return it to Craig at Empire.
The Wilmont Wharny retails for $250 at Empire Outfitters. They are in stock at the time of the writing. Of course everyone’s budget is different, but if the thought of carrying a knife of that price point doesn’t cause you hives, you would be pleased with the Wharny. It is a knife that is meant to be used, not put up in a drawer. I have hardly scratched this knife, and it is a massive undertaking to dull the blade beyond functional sharpness.
Ratings (out of five stars)
I find it attractive in the same way the A-10 Warthog is attractive. It might not be the shiniest and prettiest thing at the ball, but it will get any job done with power and surprising agility. And like the venerable Thunderbolt, the shape is unmistakable.
In both sharpness and strength the Wharny’s CPM CruWear blade is unmatched. While I understand there is no perfect blade shape for all applications, the shape of the Wharny seems like it would not be effective as a skinner. (Chris makes a knife for that though)
The high, flat grind performs fantastically in all manner of material, cardboard excepted.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the scalloped scales did not give me the anticipated hotspots. The large choil provides a comfortable and solid grip. The elevated position of the handle and the terrific balance make food preparation tasks pleasant – high praise for a bush knife. The knife is nimble in the hand.
If you remember the surface rust that formed under the scales of the CPM-3v Wood’s Kraken (easily removed), you can imagine how pleased I was to discover that there is no sign of corrosion under the Wharny’s scales. I do not know how much this is inherent to CPM CruWear versus the treatment that Chris gives it, I just know it works well at fighting corrosion.
This knife spent a lot of time in and out of the water. As strange as it was to leave my Mora at home, I used the Wharny exclusively for six weeks (about a dozen trips). It cut down plenty of rhododendron branches, filleted some trout, sliced tomatoes, and even served as a comfortable handrest as I stood back and watched my clients fish.
There was nothing I could throw at it that the Wharny did not take in stride. There is only the slightest sign of wear to the finish at the margins of the blade’s edge. This is one tough knife. No sign of damage to the sheath either.
Overall Rating: ****.5
A terrific tool. While I have a bit of trouble carrying a $250 to the river as my go-to knife, the extreme durability of this knife make the prospect considerably less daunting.
Given that almost all Wilmont Knives are made from the same materials by the same people, and based on my handling of their other offerings, I have no problem recommending any of Chris’s knives if their shape suits your end use better than the reverse-tanto/sheepsfoot/wharnecliffe than the Wharny. For me, a Smoky Mountain flyfishing guide, the Wharny makes an excellent companion.