Bark River Knives Bushcrafter 1 Expert Review | The perfect bushcraft knife
According to many bushcraft enthusiasts the Bark River Bushcrafter 1 is the ultimate bushcraft knife. This status is not earned overnight. As such a lot of research was carried out during the design process to make this knife as perfect as possible. We can wholeheartedly confirm that Bark River Knives did a great job. To fully comprehend what makes the Bushcrafter 1 this unique you need to use it. That’s why we asked bushcraft expert Padraig Croke of the Trial by Fire Podcast to review it for us.
Bark River Bushcrafter 1
When I sat down to write this article, I didn’t know where to start. Do I approach this by beginning with the legacy of the Bark River company? Do I jump straight into the specs of the knife or do I talk about the properties of 3V steel? I don’t believe it really matters much, except to tell you that this knife is simply exceptional.
The price point of the Bushcrafter is a little out of my usual spend on a knife, but with Bark River Knives having the reputation they do, I was very interested to see what all the fuss was about. As the old saying goes ‘a ten euro knife will cut just as a well as a 300 euro knife.’ Probably… But there is a difference. The build and fit of this knife is really something to behold, and truly exceeded my expectations.
One of the reasons I believe this knife to be so exceptional is the fact that it comes from the guys at Bark River. A family-owned business who have been producing knives for the past 18 years. Their products have been coined as semi-custom knives, due to the fact that there is so much manual labour involved in their blades (from edge grinding to handle shaping), and there are no production compromises made. Bark River always make sure what they are producing is a topquality product. They seem to invest a lot of time in their research, heat treats, even their hand grinding; everything is executed to the highest standard… And it shows.
Before I talk about the blade itself, a look at the sheath for this knife is also necessary. BR roll out a standardised knife sheath with their blades, meaning that the style of the sheath is not defined by any specific style of knife they produce. On a production level, I can see how this would make sense for their business. With so many different types of blades being produced by them, it would make a lot of sense to have a sheath that worked across the range.
Honestly I was not particularly impressed by the sheath when it first arrived, and trying to fit the knife out of the box I thought perhaps they sent the wrong sheath! However, this is designed to be wet moulded to the users needs. After I had soaked it in warm water and shaped the blade to the mould it was fitting beautifully. If you have not wet moulded a sheath to a blade before, then this is the perfect knife to try it on. Just make sure to wrap the blade in cling film before inserting into the wet sheath, as it will without a doubt rust on you. There is also a magnet inside the leather on the back which grips the blade and stops it from coming loose. Choice of orientation is also an option with this sheath, and the construction of the loops in the back allow for both regular and scout style carry.
Scandi grind vs convex grind
As I was saying at the beginning of this article, this was my first proper experience with a Bark River, having only had brief encounters with them in the past. However, what was also new to me, was working with a Scandi-Vex grind! Simply put, a scandi-vex is a traditional Scandinavian grind (synonymous with most bushcraft knives of this style) with the shoulders of the bevel rounded off, as you would find in a convex blade. At 10.1cm long and 3.6mm, combined with the scandi-vex, I would honestly be hard pushed to find a more suitable and fit for purpose blade for the types of work I find myself doing in the woods.
So whats the advantage of a scandi-vex? Although I have been known to tote an ESEE or a BK2 into the woods with me from time to time, the majority of my knives tend to lean more towards the scandi grind type (a Mora Garberg is usually my go-to). I find the scandi to be best suited to things like feathersticking and woodcrafts in general. When it comes to spoon carving, a mora 106 with a zero-grind edge cannot be beaten in my option. The Scandinavian grind was after all, designed primarily for woodwork. The scandi grind on a bushcraft knife, is designed to shed wood away and its amazing at doing this. But with blades any thicker than say a carving knife, this grind it tends to be a little too clunky when it comes to finer tasks such as food prep or game dressing. And this is where the scandivex comes into play.
In true bushcraft fashion, the first task I threw at this blade was simply to make some feathersticks. This is always a good place to start for me as it allows me to experiment with a few different grips and techniques. It is also a pretty surefire way of seeing if the knife has any hotspots in the blade or handle, that can potentially wear out and tire your hand with repeated use. Using this blade to make feather sticks was a dream. It will glide through the wood with so little resistance, because there is much less surface area for the wood to come into contact with the blade after the edge. Unlike a scandi, which retains a lot of contact with the wood, the convex shoulders simply roll away the feather. The result is a smooth and accurate blade that gave me zero trouble slicing through the wood.
On top of this highly refined grind, adding to its robustness and durability, Bark River went a step further and decided to build this knife in CPM 3V, a high toughness, wear-resistant tool steel made by the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process. It is designed to provide maximum resistance to breakage and chipping in a high wear-resistance steel. Arguably one of the best steels for outdoor and bushcraft knives. It has outstanding toughness, so you can expect it to survive abuse in the field and in survival scenarios. This is the principle reason to select CPM 3V for a knife like this, on top of its ability to absorb shock.
According to Crucible, 3V steel is meant to be heat treated in 58-60 range for knife blades. Less hardness in the heat treatment will mean more toughness but less edge retention; like many properties with knife steel it is a trade-off in qualities. I think with the Bushcrafter coming in at 60 HRC they have found a beautiful balance of toughness and edge retention, taking into consideration the scandi-vex edge also.
The other side of 3V is that is has a reputation for being difficult to resharpen if you let your blade go dull. It would be recommended to keep your edge keen on this knife simply by stropping it after a day of use on a leather strop with a little give in the surface hardness. The reason for the slight give in the hardness is to retain your convex edge and allow it to roll along your strop to the shape of the blade. When sharpening is necessary, I would recommend using wet and dry sandpaper on top of a foam mouse mat to allow some give on the surface.
Traps and bow drills
One technique I like to put into practice when testing a knife is to make some small camp craft items. The reason being that they usually require a number of different cuts and hand positions and gives me a great range of things to try. For the Bark River Bushcrafter I made a figure 4 deadfall trap.
The figure 4 trap, as the name suggests is a deadfall trap for small game and rodents such as squirrels and mice. Putting one together requires chest lever cuts and push cuts as well as some more intricate carving techniques and cuts. Again, the scandi-vex performed amazingly well here, easily slicing and nicking as needed. The tip of this blade is also very tidy, and can be used for very intricate and small details.
I also like to build a bow drill set, (as you may have seen in my KA-BAR Becker BK2 review) when testing a knife, as it allows me to try some more heavy duty tasks with a blade. A 3-4” log can be battoned down and processed to create a spindle and a hearth board. The knife also needs to make circular cuts to establish the spindle into the board, and heavy push cuts are required to get your V-notch cut across the grain into the board.
Still, the Bark River Bushcraft has not let me down in either of these tasks, and I found both projects an absolute joy to execute with this blade. I have heard from people however, that the top part of the handle profile lacks some purchase in the hand, due to its slight narrowing. I understand that scales and handles can be a very subjective thing. Unlike the blade itself, handles work differently in every hand. From my experience with this blade I did not seem to have this issue, but it is worth noting here.
I think this may be one of my most favourite knifes I’ve had the pleasure of using in the field. The combination of beautiful details where they matter, and simplicity where they don’t, the Bark River Bushcrafter 1 with CPM 3V-steel has achieved the perfect balance of edge style, steel choice and materials in my opinion. I have a feeling this won’t be the last Bark River Knives I own…
Padraig Croke is an avid bushcraft and outdoor enthusiast, spoon carver and hiker. He is the co-host of The Trial by Fire Podcast, a bi-weekly podcast dedicated to all things bushcraft and outdoors. He is also an admin at the Living to Learn online community and lead designer of The Bushcraft Journal Magazine.
In the Trial by Fire Podcast, Padraig Croke and Joe Price discuss all things buscraft and outdoor. You can find all episodes on TrialByFire, and all of them are available by searching for 'The Trial by Fire Podcast' on iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher. And do follow @thetrialbyfirepodcast on Instagram.
Thanks Padraig for this awesome review!