We’ve evaluated a lot of medium sized fixed blades recently, so when I got the chance to review something larger I jumped on it. After reviewing the Production Bushfinger for Fiddleback Forge, I asked them if I could take their new Camp Knife for a spin. To my pleasure, they said yes and loaned me one to test! This was the knife that really caught my covetous eye at BLADE Show – it looked like a no nonsense brute that could take on all comers. Now to see just how well it can do!
Manufacturer: Fiddleback Forge
Designer: Andy Roy
Blade: CPM-3V Drop Point, Flat Grind, Stonewashed Finish
Scales: Natural Textured 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: 12”
Handle Length: 5.855”
Handle Thickness: 1.0”
Blade Length (tip to scale): 6.375”
Sharpened Length: 6.1875”
Blade Thickness: 0186.”
Weight: Knife, 13.85 oz / Sheath, 4.25 oz
The Camp Knife follows the same formula as the rest of the Fiddleback Forge Production Series. The blade blanks and micarta handle scales are CNC machined by outside suppliers. Once the steel is heat treated, all of the components are assembled by the Fiddleback crew, getting the same sort of attention that their handmade offerings receive. The scales are secured with 3 bolts applied with thread-locker, and the blade bears a beautiful stonewashed finish. With a sharpened length of just over 6 inches, it is a good size to handle all manner of outdoorsy undertakings.
Setting the Camp Knife apart is its oversized handle. This is essentially a foot-long knife, and the stretched grips mean it can chop like an 8” blade when holding the end of the handle, but carve like a smaller knife when choked up.
Since the Camp Knife is meant to take a beating, Fiddleback has swapped out the S35VN used on the smaller production knives in favor of CPM-3V, a high end steel that I have been looking forward to trying. Zknives.com has this to say about the material [emphasis mine, text cleaned up for clarity]:
One of the toughest tool steels available, especially interesting considering its high wear resistance. In other words, there are other tougher tool steels… but none that have comparable wear resistance. CPM 3V also has 7.5% chromium which definitely helps with corrosion resistance although it is not a stainless steel. When it does stain, apparently it develops pitting, rather than surface rust.
When maximum toughness is required, combined with very good wear resistance, 3V is a great choice. CPM 3V also works very well for small fixed blades and folders at a high hardness of 62-63HRC. Edge stability is very high even at 63HRC because of its high toughness, and you won’t have edge dulling due to microchipping, which does happen for many alloys at that hardness.
Sounds like a home run choice for the Camp Knife to me!
Fit & Finish / Initial Edge
I did find a few issues with the finish on the Camp Knife, and while they were disappointing I highly doubt that you will encounter the same thing. Having seen how perfect the construction of the Bushfinger was when I tested it, I am confident that the issues on knife I received were an anomaly.
The initial edge on the Camp Knife was not the best. The big blade could shave hair roughly, but cutting magazine paper was less smooth – the cut edges were pretty ragged. I also had trouble cutting through ¾” manilla rope initially.
A look under the microscope reveals the secondary bevel had its own secondary bevel… a tertiary bevel if you will.
Either this is intentional – I’m guessing for improved strength – or a mistake in the finishing process. I’d lean toward the latter given another mistake I found.
It was hard to capture in a photo, but the first quarter inch of the edge grind was not finished and would need some work before it could be sharpened.
Although this is disappointing to see on a $350 knife, anyone can have a bad day at work, and the folks at Fiddleback will take care of you if you were to encounter something like this. A full satisfaction guarantee comes as part of their warranty. They’ll pay to have it shipped back to them, and then you will get your choice of repair, replacement, or a refund.
My contact at Fiddleback offered to send a new knife, but I had already used my Ken Onion Work Sharp to grind down to the edge as I wanted to see how difficult the 3V was to work with. More on that later.
Edge inconsistency aside, the Camp Knife feels as solid as they come. The scales line up perfectly with the tang and everything else is impeccable.
The lightly textured handles fill the hand well and provide a solid grip without feeling harsh. The only hot spots for me were at the corners of the pommel. If these were radiused just a little more, I think the handle would be absolutely perfect in terms of the ergos.
In use, the versatility of the handle shines. With your thumb hooked over the top of the scale, the balance is very close to neutral, making precise woodworking cuts and feathersticking extremely controllable for a knife this size. When choking back for chopping I liked to keep all four fingers on the handle, rather than hooking a finger or two behind the beak, due to the hot spot and lack of a lanyard attachment.
Pinch grips are comfortable and help with detail work. There is plenty of belly and the blade is wide enough that you can choke way up on the blade for precision skinning.
The Camp Knife is larger than I am accustomed to carrying on my belt, but the handle sits low enough that it didn’t jab me in the side.
The generous belt loop on the JRE Industries leather sheath means you have some room for adjustment when sitting down or moving around. With a combined weight of just over a pound, the package is not a lightweight, but neither is it a boat anchor on your belt.
The Camp Knife is thick, so it is naturally not going to be the best for kitchen duty. In a camping scenario however, the Fiddleback should hold its own, whether it is cubing spuds or processing meat from your latest hunt.
If you want to employ the Camp Knife with a pinch grip like you would a typical santoku or chef knife, make sure the end of the handle is sticking out past the edge of the cutting board or surface you are using. It needs the extra clearance as otherwise the tail end of the handle will make contact with your work surface and prevent you from making complete contact with the cutting board.
One of the first things I did with the Camp Knife was use it on all the necessary tasks to make a pot of my Harvest Sage Chowder. This consisted of cutting carrots, onions, and celery for a mirepoix, as well as breaking down some potatoes and protein.
While it fulfilled my needs adequately on the plant matter, where the knife really shone was in breaking down the meat. I had cooked a pan full of chicken thighs for the soup but they had cooled to room temperature by the time I got around to cubing them. Because of this and their fat content they were transformed into slick, slippery balls of meat. Slicing them was a dicey (hehe) proposition, so i employed the Camp Knife like a meat cleaver, hacking the thighs down to the appropriate size quite effectively.
To further test the cleaving qualities of the blade, I used it to break down a whole chicken. Rather than carefully taking apart the various pieces of the bird, I simply hacked through the joints as necessary with single blow and the knife edge held up without any signs of damage.
While not fine enough to see regular use in the kitchen, the Camp Knife is more than adequate for the campsite mess or hunting base.
Whittling: Feathersticks & Tent Stakes
After reprofiling the Camp Knife, I was able to create feathersticks fine enough to catch a spark from a ferrocerium rod. A smaller knife would have made the task easier, but it was not laborious with the Fiddleback at all. Other woodworking motions such as notching and carving with a chest-lever grip to make tent stakes proved to be comfortable and were executed easily.
I tried to give the steel a real workout so I was not kind to the sharpened edge, often twisting it out of the wood I was carving. This provided my first clue that 3V is something special. While this can cause microchipping in some steels I have tested, the 3V shrugged off the stress as if to say, “Bring it on,” so I did!
The added leverage from the long handle makes the Camp Knife a worthy chopper for its size. The rear of the handle is flared (almost like a hatchet) to help keep your grip secure, but the knife is really let down by the lack of a lanyard hole. While I can look past this on smaller knives, on a large chopper I appreciate the added security that a lanyard can provide.
I had a hard time executing force-multiplying snap cuts with the Camp Knife because I had to maintain too firm a grip to avoid losing my hold. To perform a snap cut, you grip the knife with just your thumb and forefinger, and snap the knife forward at the last moment of the swing. As you can see here, I rigged up a forward lanyard that helped – I definitely chopped deeper and more securely – but a hole on the end would have been even better.
The point of the Camp Knife is broad and the grind height actually drops near the end of the blade, making for a very robust tip.
It drills well enough, but I wouldn’t mind if the back edge of the pommel was a little rounder for better comfort. The steel took the twisting motion in stride – I could find no evidence of the edge rolling or chipping anywhere.
Batoning and Other “Abuse”
Being a thick hunk of 3V, the Camp Knife should stand up to the strain of splitting wood extremely well. My testing bore out that assumption. The blade batons like a champ and I never did manage to find anything that could slow it down for very long.
As for other abuse…
With the caveat of “knives are not made for prying,” I used the Camp Knife to prize apart the slats of a pallet. This was fairly low stress as far as prying tasks are concerned and the blade handled it just fine, with no chipping or damage to the edge.
The last thing to do with the Camp Knife was to see how long the edge would last against our favorite test medium – corrugated cardboard cut across the grain.
This steel is absolutely incredible. I couldn’t actually manage to cut enough cardboard to significantly dull the blade. After 550 feet, I was still slicing off thin ribbons with relative ease. I compared the cut with a freshly sharpened knife I had on hand for reference, and the Camp Knife was only marginally duller.
Evaluating the state of the edge, it was no longer shaving sharp but it could still cut through newsprint, albeit not very cleanly.
I would have kept going, but it was past my bedtime and I had nearly filled an entire trash bag with cardboard scraps. I’m going to call that a win for the Fiddleback and the 3V steel!
This is one area where you often pay the price for having a high performance steel, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised – things are not as difficult as I would have anticipated.
Using my Ken Onion Work Sharp, I quickly worked my way through that little unsharpened nubbin, and soon had a beautiful convex edge going.
From there on out, I stuck with a Spyderco Sharpmaker to maintain some consistency with my other reviews. Truth be told I only sharpened the knife on that device two times, once before the cardboard test (again, for consistency) and once more afterwards. I had no problems getting a razors edge either time, using the standard 20 strokes per side on each set of stones (once on the points and once on the flats of each – 80 strokes per side total). This only takes about two minutes and it was enough to turn out fantastic results.
I don’t know how difficult it would be if the edge were ever truly dull, but with only minimal maintenance it will probably never get that far. Sharpening newbie’s may have trouble with it, but if you are the type to drop $350 on a knife, you probably have the skill set needed to maintain it.
The Camp Knife should cope with anything you are likely to throw at it in a wilderness survival situation, so if you are considering this blade for the role of “survival knife” I would heartily recommend it. Out of anything I have had the chance to use extensively, it is my first choice if I had to pick one tool for this type of scenario. It is fairly light for its size and is equally at home performing small tasks as it is powering through the tough stuff.
The steel is simply astonishing. I’ve been impressed with other steels before, but none to the extent of the 3V on the Camp Knife. It survived my testing regimen with flying, nay, soaring colors!
The only drawback for me is the missing lanyard hole. The handmade versions of the Camp Knife have one, but it is strangely absent here. It is truly a shame; that small addition would unlock this knife’s full potential.
Despite that shortcoming, I can’t imagine sending this knife back – I’ll be asking Mr. Roy if I can buy it from him, and the reason is simple. For a one-tool “survival knife” solution, you’d be hard pressed to find something better than the Fiddleback Forge Camp Knife.