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Are Quality Knives Worth the Quid?

                                                The “collector” took a backseat to the “user” as

                                                  the author real-world tested Fällkniven knives

One of the grandest campfire knife debates involves the age-old question of whether costly, premium knives are worth the buck paid. Arguments rage one way or another, with the debate oftentimes stalling due to a dearth of experience with the real pricey ones. Truth is, who wants to plunk down the big dough just to treat a cutting tool like a farm implement in order to find out if it was worth all the quid? And, well, what if it isn’t? Mulling this over, I decided to dedicate myself to the exclusive use of a pair of “high enders” in order to see for myself. Where I use my knives in winter,Are Quality Knives

I must have good faith they will serve well or I may be in it deep. Deep snow and ice that is, and far from home and hearth. I cannot afford failure, whatever the dollar price paid! My work and play take me into remote, high mountains where knives are not just helpful, they are essential.

So it was with a little trepidation I swore off my own handmade and well-proven knives in order to obtain a couple Fällkniven AB models. Fällkniven has earned high praise the world over, and is a thoroughly modern company. The finest Swedish iron is mined 140 miles from its headquarters in Norbotten, Sweden, whereupon it is shipped to Japan. There, Swedish iron becomes Japanese steel, and the knives are made. Some years ago, the company used Hitachi ATS-34 stainless steel, but now favors a VG-10 steel laminate for the toughest of its outdoors knives. Leather scabbards are made in Spain.

Fällkniven takes pride that, in 25 years of production, its knives have leapt to the forefront of the short list of world’s best. Or so they say. Are they? My feeling was that I could not agree or disagree until I knew through my own experience.

Reality sneaks in with the fact that I have, until now, never used a Fällkniven knife under hard conditions, and many of the ones I know of owned by friends and acquaintances rest comfortably in such places as mantles and presentation cases where they are treasured, not used.

Before I went to work, I had to decide which of the company’s knives I wanted to subject to Old Man Winter. That wasn’t too difficult. Due to the nature of my backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, I have for many years carried a pair of knives for the gamut of needs I face. These include shelter building, and general camp and emergency survival challenges. I favor a medium-length bolo or parang (Malaysian or Indonesian knife similar to a machete) and a smaller general-purpose knife in tandem. The big one does what the little one can’t, and the little one does better what the big one can. Put differently, there is no other way to get the service of one or the other than by carrying both. I’ve worked this all out over the years, and due to the stress added weight puts on me I wouldn’t carry it if it weren’t “worth the weight!”

Treat These Like Garden Tools?

When the Fällkniven knives I had ordered arrived in the mail, I opened the boxes and immediately understood the hesitation some have about using these knives hard. Close examination made clear that my first impression was spot on about the knives being gorgeous and finely crafted, true pieces of art. I wish I could nitpick and sound like I am not fawning, but I can’t. Every angle was straight; every edge grind ran true, every matiAre Quality Knives 1ng of parts, perfect. I admit, I had to rethink my intent to treat these things like garden tools, but eventually, curiosity overcame hesitation, and the collector in me took a back seat to the user.

Some similarities between the two knives are worth noting. First, both possess stacked-leather handles. Prior to my selection, discussion among several experts resulted in a recommendation to choose Kraton®-handle models, but I have decadeslong experience with leather handles and I like them. In the end, no trouble whatsoever resulted in their exposure to five months of ice, snow and rain.

A stacked-leather grip is extremely tough, and the Fällkniven handles are superb examples of the type. Well fitted and tight from the start, neither demonstrated any tendency to absorb water. Regardless, my normal practice was applied, and a month or so into knife testing I soaked both in boiled linseed oil, and thereafter, when the knives were used repeatedly for fi ne dicing and meat cutting, I merely coated the blades in olive oil as I usually do with edged tools used around food. I allowed the oil to run down onto the grips where I rubAre Quality Knives 2bed it in.

Except for slight darkening caused by the oil, and some dents and a few rub marks from dropping the knives and bumping them in the field, they look and serve as good as new. Both handles have lanyard holes, and the pommels are secured with split spanner-type nuts, which likely could be tightened with a modified screwdriver should the handles ever require it.

The blades are VG-10 steel laminated between two layers of 420-J2 stainless steel, and what a sandwich this makes! While the Rockwell hardness is listed as 59 HRC, sharpening is a snap and edge holding marvelous. The former, for me, has always held some sway over the latter. All blades, no matter how hard, tough, well ground, shaped or heat treated, will dull. And though it may seem that dulling is a demon from which one must place first priority to flee, in a survival scenario, in fact it is sharpening that is the devil.Are Quality Knives 3

Some high-tech steels hold edges phenomenally, but become true liabilities in the field when they eventually dull because they require a machine shop of specialty tools to sharpen. Not so with the VG-10/420-J2 laminate. Though it took the skinning and cutting up of an elk and a deer, and then some camp chores, to remove the hairsplitting factory edge, a few strops on an old carving-set steel brought the edge back to true. Then much later, after hard use in the field, merely a few minutes work with a small, hard Norton stone honed each edge.

Time Spent with a Convex Edge

Large and small blades arrived from the factory sporting convex-ground edges. Some may take issue with the manufacturer concerning this. Not me. I suggest the critics hold their tongues till they have spent some time with a Fällkniven convex edge. Fällkniven notes that this form of edge requires skilled hand grinding, and asserts its superiority over other edges for hard use. In deference to those who might think of the convex edge as more suitable for an axe or cleaver than for knives to be used for fine cutting, the Fällkniven grind isn’t your average hatchet edge.

It is the combination of the angle with the quality of steel that achieves sharpness and resistance to the forces of dulling. At first blush I myself might have been tempted to question the use of the convex grind on the smaller of the two, but in the field I found both knives to cut superbly, even for fine work. Cleaning a mess of small brook trout proved the theory.

The sheaths are made of leather. Leather put to hard use has been the subject of criticism in recent years due to the development, production and marketing of excellent synthetics. But as a leatherworker, I have always been a fan of the stuff.

Are Quality Knives 4

It is incredibly tough, and should it be damaged, it is repairable. Certainly use in the tropics has gained it a reputation for disintegration and rotting, but in the cold, wet conditions to which I subjected the knives and sheaths, both scabbards served admirably with no indication of problems, no breaking of stitching, no rotting.

Part of the reason Fällkniven knives were chosen was that the company offers a truly large knife, as well as smaller models, and it was their largest I chose to be my “big one.” This is the bowie-styled NL1 Tor. It is named Tor (Thor) for a reason. The knife is worthy of the symbolic association with the mythical Norse god. With a blade thickness of .275 inch at the spine, a blade length of 10 inches and an overall length of 15 1/8 inches, this big knife represents a rarity in today’s market. Few truly massive, high quality knives exist.

Tor stood up to the hammering. Noted in the company literature as a “strong chopper of world class quality” and a “thrill to use,” it is both. I readily admit I generally do not favor bowies as my big knives. They often possess marginal chopping ability, forcing excessive muscling of the blade and, due to the lack of a positive stop for the hand on the pommel, consequently become dangerous to use as I become fatigued, risking slippage on the grip.

The NL1 is the best bowie-type blade I have ever used. The chopping properties of the knife are not just adequate, but rather excellent. Numerous small trees up to 8 inches or so in thickness were felled. It is fun to use. And the width of the NL1 is 1.75 inches, allowing choking up of the hand forward of the guard for fine work.

Finding Fault

I had to search for something to criticize. While the scabbard materials and workmanship are fl awless, I did experience one problem. The belt loop has two hard snaps that allow it to be removed from a belt without stripping the belt of other tools. This is, of course, an excellent idea. However, in use, I found the snaps to detach from time to time. This occurred while skiing, when falling and occasionally when I tossed my gear belt on the ground. The solution was simply to wrap the loop with a leather thong.Are Quality Knives 5

The retention strap was on the same side as the edge, meaning that the edge could cut it when the knife was removed. On sheaths I make myself, I place the retention strap on the opposite side of a cross-guarded knife where the blade cannot cut it. Fällkniven’s solution was to incorporate a small elastic cord that pulls the strap away from the edge. Curious, but ingenious, and effective! If anything on the knife itself could be changed, it might be to soften the edge of the guard just a little to add comfort when the index finger rests over it for control in making fine cuts. Only a couple strokes with a file would round it over.

Tor’s little brother, the second of the pair, is Frej, the NL4. Hearkening in general shape back to the ancient and effective Marble’s Ideal, this knife too benefited from the stainless properties of the superb VG-10/420-J2 laminate. Blade length is a little over 5 inches, with a spine thickness of .197 inch and overall length of 9 5/8 inches. Balance is excellent and cutting properties are absolutely workhorse. Fine skinning and caping were easily accomplished, and for camp, kitchen and food prep chores it was a delight to use.

In practice, I tend to protect the littler knife when traveling in the backcounAre Quality Knives 6try since I want the

finest edge preserved for medical or other needs in the event of an emergency. Frej didn’t get that favoritism. I hacked and worked it setting up camps and against bone in butchering, generally treating it poorly, and it served well. The point opens soup cans well. The fact that the blade is so easily sharpened tended to encourage its use, though the fact that it holds an edge well meant I rarely had to sharpen it! And when I did, it was back to shaving sharp, and though not a tiny knife, I found it served well even in the cleaning of small fish. This is one general-use knife that defies improvement. ArouAre Quality Knives 7nd the ranch, every visitor who grabbed it had to be patted down before leaving … just to make sure they weren’t absconding with my knife!

Value is a funny thing. Everyone has his or her own definitions of what it is. But I believe all would agree it exists in its highest form when art meets function, as exemplified by the Fällkniven knives. With a combined cost of around $1,375 for both knives, the question remains. Are they worth it? That is a question only an individual can possibly provide, but if the answer relies on getting the best of the best for actual hard use, that’s easy—yes!

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