The Original Kephart Knife Examined

Every year, the BLADE Show is full of highlights, but 2017 gave me something that will be hard to beat. I had the chance to handle an original Colclesser Bros. Kephart knife. Holy smokes!

Formerly belonging to Mark Zalesky, owner of Knife Magazine, the Kephart was brought to the show by Ethan Becker, who had recently managed to acquire it. I’m afraid to even ask him what it took to make that transaction take place. The knife is one of two known to still exist, and the only one in private hands. Horace Kephart’s personal knife is the other, and it resides in a museum collection.

Fortunately for all of us, Mr. Becker is a most gracious individual. If his new prize belonged to anyone else, no one would ever see it again, but Ethan told me he enjoyed being able to share such a once in a lifetime opportunity with people that truly appreciate it.

So, it was with reverence in my step and gloves on my hands I accepted the knife as Ethan handed it to me like some Excalibur.

It took a moment to sink in as I stared at the knife. In my hands was a direct link to Horace Kephart, the Godfather of American woodcraft, designed by him and then produced by the Colclesser Brothers in Eldorado, PA. I was in awe.

It may not look like much from a distance, but get closer and there is plenty of information to be gleaned.

Everyone interested in Kephart knives has surely seen the illustrated adverts for the knife, but those drawings don’t truly communicate the subtleties of the design. This is so much more than any “Kephart” reproduction I have ever seen.

The blade was in remarkable condition for its age. A bit of surface rust, sure, but nothing to worry about. You can just make out the maker’s mark and the edge was even sharp still. Ethan told me he had to use the knife just once, so he made a single tent stake with it, and said, impressed, “That edge wanted to cut,” describing it as “hungry!”

The walnut handle is thin but felt comfortable with an oval cross section. I’m guessing each slab was less than a quarter inch each, except for the flare at the front.

That flare looks a little unusual, but it provided a very natural place for a pinch grip right behind the apex.

The blade itself was ⅛” thick with a tapered tang, and the blade length was right around five inches. Rather than a symmetrical spear point, the cutting edge angles lower before the belly brings it back up to the point along the centerline.

Most interesting is the blade geometry. The shape is convexed about halfway up the blade, and then slightly convexed back toward the spine as well. This makes the thickest part of the blade in the middle, rather than at the spine. Combined with chamfered edges at the spine and a distal taper, such a shape should move very efficiently through soft materials (such as flesh while processing game). Seriously, there is a lot going on within that “simple spear point” shape.

I won’t go in depth on the sheath. According to Ethan, the rivets appear to be period correct, but they are not sure if it is original or not.

I have heard people say before that the Kephart design is “everything you need, nothing you don’t,” and while that is true, I think someone said it better at the show this weekend. Ethan relayed it to me, although I can’t remember who it was exactly that said it “There is nothing on that knife that doesn’t need to be there.”

Originally sold for $2.00 those many years ago, there is no telling the true value of this knife today, and I can’t thank Ethan Becker enough for not only sharing the knife with me, but with all of us.

comments

  1. Sam L. says:

    Cool!

  2. Ethan had it with him today at Elishewitz’s house. I got to spend some time ogling it myself.

  3. simon melbourne Australia says:

    Thanks for the pictures. With my interest piqued, I am currently listening to a librivox reading of Horace’s book while I cut the pizza makings with my Mora heavy duty companion.
    link to the mp3’s here:
    https://librivox.org/the-book-of-camping-and-woodcraft-by-horace-kephart/

    1. That’s awesome. I got to handle the knife today. Ethan brought it to Elishewitz’s house.

      Thanks for the link

      1. logan stokely says:

        Allen is a cool cat, and quite the host. It was super cool to check out this knife and the rest of the goodies at blade show.

    2. I have to admit, I got a little teary when I held it, thinking of my good friend and mentor Steve Watts. He would have really enjoyed taking a look at it. Simon, thanks for letting me know about librivox. I didn’t know about that and I am an audio book junkie

  4. L.T. Wright says:

    Very nice article.
    I enjoyed it quite a bit. It is always good to see where what we are doing came from.
    Thanks for the info.

    1. Great to see you this weekend LT.

      Thanks for dropping by our little corner of the interwebs.

  5. Great article. Too bad I missed seeing the knife.

  6. Terry Stilwell says:

    Great write up. Good pictures and explanations of some of the things pictures just done tell. I make a kephart and tried to be as close to shape as I could while still being my hand, one of my favorite knives despite the fact that my personal one isn’t very traditional with ghost jade and glow in the dark liners heh. Looks like I’ll be making one with the rhombic/diamond type geometry to play with. Seeing the way a rhombic puukko performs I can imagine it perfoms wonderfully.

    1. Thanks Terry.

      “Good pictures and explanations of some of the things pictures just done tell.”

      That was the most interesting/revealing thing about seeing the original. There really are a lot of things that just don’t come across from the old photos and illustrations.

      To all those out there who have ever derided the design as being “simple,” the knife is actually pretty complex. Just not from the side view lol!

  7. Dubz says:

    Very nice write up. Ethan is a stand up guy. What a great blade Mr. Kephart designed.

  8. Andrew Blanchard says:

    Nice article. I got to check it out and talk with Ethan about it. All the mazing coolness of the knife aside I think I am most touched that a man like Ethan got it. A modern outdoorsmen with a taste for the woods. Much more satisfying then being locked away in a case somewhere.

    1. “All the mazing coolness of the knife aside I think I am most touched that a man like Ethan got it.”

      I couldn’t agree more. I think he is the perfect custodian for the knife. Beyond thrilled for him!

  9. Will Nelson says:

    Great write up! Thanks for sharing, and thanks Simon for the librivox link too

    Will

  10. Larry Canter says:

    That is something I NEVER THOUGHT I’d see. Now Ican get a true pattern made and know I got it right. Guess good things DO come to those who wait. thanks for sharing it with us.

  11. brad r says:

    totally awesome, great article. I’m glad I found this website today!

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The Original Kephart Knife Examined

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