Camping knives are essential outdoor tools for carving, cooking, cleaning, clearing and cutting. To learn any aspect of bushcraft, you’ll absolutely need to know your way around a good dependable camping knife – and how to use it safely and effectively.
Kept clean, dry, sharp and well-practised, a camping knife is your master key to the world of bushcraft. Whether you’d like to strike campfires, whittle crafts and cutlery, hunt and forage in the wild or turn branches and timber into universal building materials, it all starts with choosing the perfect, all-purpose bushcraft knife.
It may sound strange, but many people need to hear it: don’t let bushcraft knives intimidate you! While action movies would have us believe a certain image of grizzled survivors, taking on the wilderness with giant combat knives, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, the bushcraft knife is exactly as its name suggests: a crafting tool. Your bushcraft knife is a dinner knife and vegetable knife, that must also be sharp and sturdy enough to carve through solid wood, to turn a camp into your home in the great outdoors.
– A good, grippy, comfortable handle: Especially important in wet conditions, and when using your camping knife for long periods of time while avoiding aching hands. You may want to look for an indent to fit your index finger at the top of the handle, which can provide a better grip. Always choose a knife with a handle that perfectly fits your hand.
– A thick-enough blade for your needs: While a blade that’s too thin may struggle while carving or splitting wood, a blade that’s too thick won’t be much use to you when chopping vegetables, carving small notches or feathering wet firewood, for example. If it’s your first bushcraft knife, the trick is to find a golden medium – and we’d be happy to help you with our recommendations!
– Easy to sharpen, and keeps its edge for a long time: Sharpening a bushcraft knife is easy with the right sharpening stones – but no one wants to spend all their time in the wild just keeping a knife sharp!
– Carbon steel versus stainless steel: Carbon steel is stronger and more durable than stainless steel, while stainless steel is far more resistant to rust and corrosion. (Also bear in mind that some leather sheaths can absorb moisture, which can rust a carbon steel knife if it isn’t dried out). It really comes down to personal preference – and whether you’re happy to keep your carbon steel knife well-tended more regularly, or if you’d prefer to use a stainless steel knife just when you need it, and save more time with its aftercare.
To sharpen a bushcraft knife we use sharpening stones. Good, pocket-sized sharpening stones can go everywhere your knife goes, and can be used dry or wet – although wet is recommended. Having soaked your sharpening stone in water, it absorbs enough moisture to act as a lubricant to make sharpening smoother, but you should also wet it during use.
– Set down your soaked sharpening stone flat on a solid, grippy surface – or use towels, bark or anything handy that will hold the sharpening stone level and still. This is so that you don’t physically hold the sharpening stone still with your hand. Just like with bench joinery, your work should be secure enough on its own that you don’t have to hold it – and don’t have any hands or fingers in harm’s way!
– Holding your knife with the blade at 16 to 20 degrees up from the flat of the stone, push the blade lightly across the full length of the stone’s surface, away from you to sharpen one side, and carefully towards you to sharpen the other side. It takes lots of passes across the stone to sharpen a camping knife – so keep it wet, take your time, and always keep all your fingers on the knife!
– Over time, you’ll begin to both hear and feel the blade getting sharper, and any dullness or tiny notching in the blade should completely disappear. To sharpen the tip of your camping knife, draw the blade full across the sharpening stone in a slight curving line towards one corner. This makes sure that the blade’s tip is sharpened all at once in a light, smooth pass.
If you’re new to whittling and woodcarving, then the best thing you can do to start is to practise making try sticks.
Whittling a try stick is like learning your ABCs of woodcarving. It’s simply a branch or other piece of wood, about arm’s length, and about one inch thick. Using your sharpened bushcraft knife, the task is to carve ten distinct notches into the same piece of timber; kind of like an alphabet of all the most useful cuts you can carve into any piece of wood to turn it into a tool or camping component.
Specifically, the ten notches to practise carving into a try stick are the Blunt End, Reduction, Pot Hook Notch, Saddle Notch, Dovetail Notch, Latch Notch, 90-Degree Planes, Bow Notch, V-Notch and Root Stripper. You’ll find plenty of examples of try sticks online if you’d like to practise – and while it may not seem like much at first glance, this will actually get you well on your way to mastering bushcraft, and using your camping knife to make any tool or solve any problem!
We’d love to help you find your perfect camping and bushcraft knife, and to get you started on your great adventures in the wilderness. You can click here for our wide range of world-class bushcraft knives – or just get in touch if there’s anything you’d like to know!