I’ve long lusted after the customs coming out of Andy Roy’s Fiddleback Forge but they remain, sadly, outside of my price range. I’ve heard the praises sung about the Bushfinger and with the release of the new Production Series of Fiddlebacks, I am finally able to see if the knife lives up to the siren song I’ve been hearing in my head. After meeting Mr. Roy at BLADE Show, he was kind enough to loan us a knife to test. Let’s see whether the Bushfinger can hit that high C, or if the note goes flat!
Manufacturer: Fiddleback Forge
Blade: S35VN Drop Point, Flat Grind, Stonewashed Finish
Rockwell Hardness: HRC 60-61
Scales: Brown or Black/GrayTextured Micarta
Tang construction: Full Tang
Sheath: Leather with Firesteel Loop, made by JRE Industries
Country of Origin: USA
Dimensions (measured on this test sample)
Overall Length: 8.83”
Handle Length: 4.77”
Handle Thickness: 0.752”
Blade Length (tip to scale): 4.06”
Sharpened Length: 3.875”
Blade Thickness: 0.145”
Weight: Knife, 6.3 oz / Sheath, 2.55 oz
The new Production Series by Fiddleback Forge is their entry into the mid-tech market. Components of the knife are outsourced to other US manufacturers, who then ship the parts back to Fiddleback where all of the finishing takes place – handle fitting, sharpening, etc. Larkin Precision Machining does the job of cnc machining the steel and the micarta handles, and Peters Heat Treat tempers the blades.
The Bushfinger is Fiddleback Forge’s signature knife, so it was only natural that it is one of the first to be released as a production version.
The blade is an acute drop point made of premium S35VN steel with a flat grind and stonewashed finish (one of my favorite combinations). In a departure from other bushcraft knives, there is virtually no belly to the knife. You won’t be doing any skinning with the Bushfinger. The trade-off is a very fine tip that should work well at precision tasks.
The micarta handles have small ridges machined into them to increase grip, and they are fastened to the tang with 3 sets of Loctite-secured bolts. Notably absent from the design is a lanyard hole.
Bucking recent trends, the Bushfinger does not have a 90–degree spine. While this precludes you from using the back of the knife to scrape tinder or as a striker for your ferrocerium rod, it also makes it more comfortable in a saber grip, when your thumb is pressing on the spine. It is also less stressful on the knife when batoning.
From the Fiddleback Forge blog entry, No Squared Spines?:
It is a fact that striking a hardened piece of steel creates harmonic vibrations within that piece of steel. It is also a fact that sharpened outside corners are known stress risers, which are susceptible to damage from applied forces such as lateral stress and harmonic vibration. Both of which occur during the process of batonning… softening the outside corners of a knife spine produces a more durable tool.
The included sheath is made by JRE Industries and I’ve come to appreciate their handiwork in my reviews of the L.T. Wright GNS and Rogue River. The quality is just as good on the Bushfinger sheath although the leather feels a bit stiff at first. The ferro rod loop is also a bit larger – my ⅜” “army” sized firesteel was loose, so a retaining cord is needed. It looks like you could fit at least a ½” diameter firesteel in the loop provided.
Fit & Finish / Initial Edge
The Fiddleback production knives are all finished in house, and the attention to detail shows. The handle scales are a perfect fit and the final edge is amazingly thin. Everything was so perfect, that the one blemish on this example was all the more glaring; one of the handle screws came out of the box already scuffed.
Apart from that, everything was exemplary. The handles were a perfect fit, with smooth transitions across the tang. I’m sure these are fitted and then sanded smooth at the Fiddleback shop.
The sharpened edge on the Bushfinger was sublime. Out of the box, this is the sharpest knife I have ever encountered, period. The edge was so fine, I cut myself very easily on my index finger when I wasn’t paying attention. More on that later.
Normally, high-polished edges have trouble with my ¾” manilla rope, but the Bushfinger was so keen that it pushed through the rope with nary a shrug. The slice was so clean that the end of the cut rope even looked polished. Thin magazine paper was sliced with equal efficiency.
The blade was actually so sharp, that I nearly ruined the sheath. The sheath opening has to be large enough to accommodate the wide blade, and as such there is little feedback to let you know when you have pushed the knife down enough to be secure. One time, I pushed the knife in a little too far and the acute point scythed through the leather and popped a stitch. Yikes!
The thread is synthetic so I was able to melt the ends down to the holes and will put a drop of superglue in there as well. To keep it from happening again, I wet-formed the sheath around the knife to give it some positive feedback when putting the knife away. It was easy to do and I would highly recommend doing it. Just liberally wet the leather and press the sheath around the knife over the course of 10-15 minutes, re-wetting as necessary.
The machined ridges in the micarta scales are deep enough to increase grip, but not so deep that they are uncomfortable. The handles index well in the hand, but the palm swell sits too far forward for my paws (I wear a size-large work glove) causing me to subconciously choke up on the blade more than is prudent for standard use. I actually wound up cutting myself on the back edge of the blade because of this.
I put the accident down mostly to carelessness, but the forward swell and lack of any real finger guard did contribute. Fortunately the cut was not too deep, and thanks to the super sharp edge the incision was clean and healed without scarring.
Once I changed my grip to compensate for the location of the swell, carving and cutting chores were plenty comfortable, with no real hot spots. Drilling comfort is subpar however, due to the sharp angle of the pommel. If I were keeping this knife I would round off that point.
Sheath carry on the belt is high for my taste, but there is enough space in the loop that pivoting the sheath is easy. Carried on my right hip, I was able to drive my car without the package causing discomfort.
The Bushfinger’s edge was so fantastic that I couldn’t bring myself to use the Sharpmaker on it. I love Spyderco’s system but it has a tendency to round off the very tip of the blade. Instead I used a loaded strop to keep the Fiddleback keen.
The S35VN steel was not as hard to sharpen as I feared. After toasting the edge cutting cardboard, it took me about 5 minutes with the strop to get a hair shaving edge back on the blade, not quite as good as the initial edge, but getting there.
I performed all of these woodworking tasks with the edge as it came out of the box. There was nothing I could have done to improve upon the superlative work that the Fiddleback crew did to sharpen the knife. By the end of everything – carving, drilling, and batoning – the blade was still hair shaving sharp. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Carving with the Bushfinger is sublime. I had a set of six tent pegs whipped up in no time flat. Using a chest lever grip to carve the points, I was able to hog off huge chunks of wood at a time. The out-of-the-box edge is truly superb, and the handle did not cause any hot-spots.
When trimming the tops of the stakes, the knife was very efficient and I was able to make impressively clean and level ends.
Having not needed (still) to resharpen the knife, I managed to make some decent feathersticks with the Bushfinger.
I had to be careful not to slice off my completed curls, the blade was still that sharp. I’m not the best at feathersticking, but the Bushfinger is more than up to the job.
I am not a fan of the Bushfinger for drilling tasks. The sharp end of the pommel is not condusive to applying any significant amount of pressure. To accomplish the task you have to maintain a normal/hammer grip, or flip the knife around – both of which are more dangerous holds should your hand slip or lose control of the knife.
That said, the acute tip shrugged off the task without any rounding of the point. This S35VN is tough stuff!
The Bushfinger batons capably. Being a flat grind means that it will cut through knots in the wood, whereas a scandi or thick convex grind can have a tendency to get caught up by the same knot – gapping the wood apart so that the edge is not making any contact – as I saw in my review of the Condor Nessmuk. They are two different schools of thought on bush knives and both are valid, but I happen to prefer the flat grind.
The converse side of this (especially with an edge as sharp as the Bushfinger’s) means the blade doesn’t always follow the path of the wood, and can instead cut its own way through the grain.
That said, I enjoyed turning a bunch of medium sized logs into small sticks with the Fiddleback. The non-sharpened spine means that it won’t tear up your baton as much, but the acute point made up for it by getting lodged in my beatin’ stick on multiple occasions. The knife was still none the worse for wear though!
With a shape similar to a shrunken chef knife, the Bushfinger ought to perform well on comestibles, and it did not let me down.
There is just enough offset to the blade edge, that if you grip the knife just so, you can manage rocking cuts, which enabled me to mince some thyme. It was a little awkward, but most camp/bush knives can’t accomplish these types of cuts at all.
My normal prey of onions and potatoes fell easily before the Bushfinger. The high flat grind keeps the edge thin enough to perform quite well at slicing and dicing.
Cutting up a pineapple was a thing of beauty. The blade was just long enough to cut slices in one cut and after trimming the rind I was able to use the rocking motion to julienne the skin with ease.
With a freshly stropped edge I started ripping into a pile of corrugated cardboard. The blade went through the material like butter; I was able to continue to slice off very thin strips well past the point where other knives I have tested aren’t so precise.
It wasn’t until I cut through 251 feet across the grain that the Bushfinger started to show any signs of edge degredation. Very impressive considering some knives I have tested have completely kicked the bucket by this point.
Time to settle in for the long haul.
The final tally was just shy of 700 feet of cardboard detritus, and it could have been higher had I not run out of cardboard.
At this point I could not cut paper with the remaining edge, but I was still taking fairly thin strips off the cardboard, albeit with ragged edges starting to turn up more prominently. I was very close to the end of the edge’s usefulness.
As I mentioned before, a few short minutes of work with the strop brought the edge back to acceptable levels quite easily.
So, with the siren song of the Bushfinger still echoing in my head, how did the knife fare? I would say the tune is a cheerful one, but with strains of melancholy woven between the notes.
But, music elicits a different reaction from every listener.
Despite the handle not fitting my hand as well as I would have liked, the Bushgfinger is impressive. The construction and quality is beyond reproach and you can’t really go wrong with this knife, or any other of the Fiddleback Forge Production Series, which are all made to the same high standards.
My only real critique of the knife is the pointed pommel. This is a design decision I could have done without as it precludes the user from drilling safely with the Bushfinger.
But then, the steel on the knife completely won me over. This is the first time I have used S35VN extensively, and I walked away in awe. The edge just kept going and going. I was worried that the thin tip might not hold up to abuse, but the blade proved to be tougher than anything I could throw at it.
If you are interested in the Fiddleback Forge Bushfinger, by all means pick one up. The tool is robust and the steel is fantastic. Just make sure it fits your mitts before you buy.