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The Nordsmith Canteen Knife Design Explored

The first run of my Nordsmith Canteen Knife is almost complete! This is the culmination of over a year’s worth of work and planning, so I thought it would be a good chance to look back on the inspiration behind my inaugural design.

I may have only formed my company this year, but the Canteen Knife is something I have been thinking about for a long time; a medium-large camp knife that could handle culinary tasks well enough that I wouldn’t feel the need to bring a chef or santoku knife along as well.

There are plenty of camp knives that can “food-prep” just fine, but I could never find one designed so that the handle could clear a cutting board and allow me to mince herbs or garlic with a rocking motion. I wanted my knife to be able to do this while still being able to handle everything at camp, or even in a quote-unquote survival situation – carving, trimming cordage, splitting wood, skinning and butchering etc.

As has been well chronicled ’round these parts, I am a big fan of Nessmuk knives. I have waxed poetic about this beautiful blade shape before, but part of my love for the pattern is the potential I saw in it for achieving the kind of camp/cook knife crossover I had been looking for. The offset edge seen on many modern interpretations of the ‘Muk was just what I needed, which is why the Nessmuk design played such a big inspiration on the Canteen Knife’s shape, in addition to the santoku, the Hudson Bay, and a bit of classic butcher knife as well.

canteen-knife-hero-1-straight

Now, some have asked about the name Canteen Knife and where it comes from. Here is the dictionary definition of “canteen”:

Canteen • [kanˈtēn]
Noun
1 a restaurant provided by an organization such as a military camp, college, factory, or company for its soldiers, students, staff, etc.
2 a small water bottle, as used by soldiers or campers.

It is right there in #1, underlined for emphasis. So is the Canteen Knife more of an outdoors blade or a kitchen knife? I venture to say that it will be at home in either situation, but it is definitely a camp knife first that can also do kitchen work. I didn’t want to sacrifice any outdoorsy capability at the expense of the culinary side of things. Finding the right balance became key.

This is why the edge offset is not as extreme as what you would see on a typical chef knife. The smaller offset works together with the continuously curved and upswept edge to enable your rocking motions. This keeps the edge close enough to the center axis that fine woodwork is still comfortable and easily controlled.

The blade was actually the easy part. In fact I had the shape figured out a few years ago and I’ve even featured it on these pages when I modified an Old Hickory cleaver as a proof of concept.

Image courtesy of David C. Andersen

But I knew a straight handle as on that proto-Canteen Knife could not take advantage of all the versatility inherent in the blade’s sweeping profile. It took me awhile to get it right, but the handle design I came up with has unlocked so much potential in the blade.

For the knife to do what I wanted it to, I needed the grips to work in four key positions.

canteen-knife-hammer-grip

The first of course is the standard hammer or saber grip. If the knife doesn’t feel good here, all the rest matters little. This section of the handle is fairly traditional with a slight swell and a bit of an inverted egg shape to the cross section, which is comfortable and helps the knife index in your hand.

canteen-knife-pinch-grip

Next, the pinch grip, which not only makes precision point work easier but is also the typical grip used for cutting board work. A slight taper at the front of the handle combines with thumb scallops to keep a secure grip when engaging the tool in this way. The hump of the blade provides a spot to pinch with your other hand as well, facilitating a two-handed rock.

I also wanted the Canteen Knife to be able to handle light chopping, whether using it on small branches or doing a meat cleaver impression on bone or joints. The end of the handle cants downward and when you choke back on the pommel it causes the tip of the knife to lower as well.

canteen-knife-chopping-grip

This changes the presentation of the edge to the object you are chopping, squaring it up for a better contact angle. This works in concert with the hump in the blade which brings some weight out toward the tip for more power.

The final trick up the handle’s sleeve comes when drilling. Draw a right angle from the center of the pommel and extend it forward, and the tip of the knife sits right on that line, making for efficient and controllable twisting motions.

All of the design on the Canteen Knife wouldn’t mean much without solid construction, and that is why I have L.T. Wright and his fantastic crew building these knives for me. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of his products, which is why I approached him to handle my production.

Last week I was at the shop and I got to visit my creations in their final stages of construction. We also shaped the handle on the very first one so I could have direct supervision and approval of the final shape. You can see more “in progress” shots here on my Instagram page.

canteen-knife-and-grinder

Regarding materials, I selected AEB-L steel for the blade, and a signature color combination of yellow liners and green canvas micarta for the handles. AEB-L is ideal for this blade. It is stainless, but unlike most stainless steels it is actually very tough, and even though it can take and hold a wickedly sharp edge very well, it is still easy to sharpen. In a way, it is a stainless steel that behaves a lot like a good carbon steel.

The first run of knives, which sold out in just over 24 hours, is nearly complete and will be delivered to my customers very soon. These are exciting times indeed. Thanks for letting me share!

Discussion

6 responses to ‘The Nordsmith Canteen Knife Design Explored

    • Full specs are here: http://www.nordsmithknives.com/the-canteen-knife/

      1/8″ AEB-L steel, 5.5″ sharpened edge, 11″ OAL

      I did make some changes to this knife based on my first prototype (not the Old hickory above), but they were mostly just refinements. The bulk of the design is unchanged because that knife worked so well. I tested it for several months to make sure the production version would be exactly how I wanted it.

      The first prototype had a convex grind with secondary bevel and had a shorter handle. On the final version that is pictured above, I went to a high flat grind for better slicing, made the handle 1/4″ longer and added thumb scallops where the proto had a 45º bevel diving into the blade. On that knife you would be grasping the blade when doing a pinch grip, but on this version you pinch on the thumb scallops instead.

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