Twas Friday night whilst in my basement that my ears perceived the skittery, sliding sound, even over the din of my running grinder. Try as I might, I could not suss the source until my wife returned from work later that evening. With news of a downed limb in the front yard, I had to wait for the light of the morning for the culprit to be revealed in full – an impressive swath of wood and leaves and tangle that had slid down the side of the house the night before. Thankfully, no damage seemed apparent, so I turned my frown upside down and used the opportunity to test some blades side by side on the woody monstrosity that lurked on our frontage.
The wood was American Sweetgum and very much healthy and green even at the break, which measured about 8-inches in diameter.
A chainsaw would do most of the work breaking down the arboreal morass, but not before I did some chopping with three big blades out of my personal collection: the T.M. Hunt M-18, the Becker BK20, and the LT Wright O1 Comp Chopper
The blades on each are near-as-dangit identical in length (between 10 and 11 inches) and they all start with quarter-inch thick stock of very similar metals: O1 for the T.M. Hunt and the LTWK, and 1095CV for the Becker. Each is also made/designed by someone I consider a friend, but that is where the similarities end.
With a wide range of weights and grind geometries, each knife has a very different personality.
The lightest of the trio is the BK20 at 1 pound, 4.5 ounces. The blade is full-height flat ground with a prominent swedge/relief running almost the entirety of the length. I have modified the profile of mine slightly but it is still very close to the original. What this knife lacks in weight it will have to make up for with geometry and velocity.
Although this knife is no longer on offer, being sold only as a limited run last year, the very similar and equally limited BK29 is still available at the time of this writing. Ethan Becker even tells me that the 29 outperforms the 20 by a nose in his testing around his Eastern Tennessee home.
The middleweight of this group is the LTWK, weighing in at 1 pound, 11.5 ounces. Sporting a flat saber grind, there is a ton of metal at the spine for a mighty punch. I’ve also modded the handle on mine as the original didn’t fit my hand very well.
While the knife is Bladesports legal, a nod was given to camp use with the clip point, rather than the cleaver-esque shape of modern competition knives. If you want one of these, the used market is your only shot, as they stopped making this knife a couple of years ago in favor of a more purpose built competition design.
Barely heavier than the LTWK is the M18 at 1 pound, 12.5 ounces. Certainly the least conventional, the blade sports a hollow ground recurve at the back of the blade and a convex straight edge out front. There are reasons behind every twist and curve in this design, but since this is a chop-off, that front section is what will be doing the work here.
My first swings were with the M18 which did not disappoint. This is the first time I have had a chance to really work the knife, having only acquired it a couple of months ago. The blade bit nice and deep with ease and had no problem lopping off smaller branches to clear the way to the main limb.
Next up was the LTWK, and while chopping on the big center of the limb, I have to give it a slight edge over the M18. While the geometry of the T.M. Hunt seemed to bite better, the LTWK is a little more forward heavy, which is likely what gave it the edge. Its a real close call though.
Hacking smaller limbs with the LTWK was just as easy as with the M18, but the cuts were not quite as clean due to the shallower angle of the primary grind.
Finally, the BK20 was brought to bear. This was the most nimble knife to wield, and while it is no slouch as a chopper, it was outclassed by the two O1 blades on the main limb. It was my favorite of the three for the smaller branches though, as I was able to pick up quite a bit of speed with the blade when slicing through them.
The final test between the knives came when I needed to section up the branches to fit in the bed of the pickup, utilizing the thickest part of the main stump as a chopping block. All the limb sections were thin enough at this point that it was difficult to tell any performance differences between the blades, with the LTWK and T.M. Hunt gaining a slight advantage on parts that needed 2-3 chops. Then again, the Becker was less tiring after repeated swings.
So, while some other outlets might just declare a winner, the Truth About (these) Knives is more nuanced than that. Here are the awards:
L.T. Wright O1 Comp Chopper: Best chopper, third place on smaller branches.
T.M. Hunt M18: Most versatile, most comfortable handle.
Becker BK20: Most nimble, best at smaller branches.
If I had to repeat a similar task to the one I faced this past weekend and could only grab one knife, the LTWK O1 Comp Chopper would get my nod. It barely edged out the M18 in performance (although I would be happy with either), while the BK20 felt like a half step below the other two knives.
Now for the caveats.
Do I consider the above to be a complete test of any of these blades? Not by a long shot. This was simply a chopping comparison of how they hacked those particular branches and limbs in my front yard a few days ago. There is more to the story on each of these blades.
I am still getting the hang of the M18, and it will probably be a while before I can fully exploit its versatility. If I ever get around to rigging up my preferred forward lanyard on the it, I would be interested to see it works better for me than the Comp Chopper.
If I had to rely on any of these knives as a one tool option, I would probably steer away from the LTWK. While this test was right up its alley, the blade is all chopper. Thanks to the wide blade at the heel, carving jobs are pretty awkward.
I would grab the easiest-to-schlep Becker. Thanks to the narrower height at the heel, small knife tasks are more easily accomplished than with the others and it does the best machete impression as well, making it the most useful perhaps in a survival situation.
My real advice though? Get a chainsaw. Even the cheap, corded gadget that I keep stashed at my house in the suburbs made quick work of the job.