Bushcraft, a subject popularized by men such as Canadian Mors Kochanski and Englishman Ray Mears, is in essence the study of spending extended periods of time in the bush, or the woods, and using only a minimum of gear. It is the practice of existing within the natural environment and making, or crafting, many of the items that add to one’s creature comforts rather than packing them in. For this type of use, tools with a high level of efficiency in woodworking are a definite asset.

At first glance the Camillus Bush Crafter has somewhat of a transatlantic, Nessmuk meets Ray Mears appearance. That is to say that the size and blade profile is reminiscent of the hump-backed belt knife favored by “Nessmuk” in his trinity of cutting tools, but it has a saber or Scandinavian grind and full tang construction like Mears’ “Woodlore” knife that is popular with the U.K. bushcraft crowd. The overall length is 8.5 inches and the 4-inch blade is made of 0.125-inch thick 1095 hi-carbon steel. The contoured slab-style handle scales are made of brown Micarta, and give the knife a nice earthy look. The knife comes with a sturdy leather pouch sheath, and it has a leather thong that is 2.5-feet long attached to the belt loop tied in a square knot.

Craft Some Bush

One common habit among bushcrafters is to carry their knives around their necks for ease of access in pretty much any position. Since the knife comes supplied with a leather thong that is obviously intended to serve as a neck lanyard, I chose to wear the knife thus on the hike to my intended campsite, and through the initial phases of testing. At just over 6 ounces, and the 8.7 ounces sheath and all, the knife didn’t feel like a boat anchor around my neck so that was a definite plus, but this would be as heavy as I would ever want to neck carry. Having the knife positioned on my chest kept it from interfering with the waist strap of my pack.

Along the way I stopped now and then to gather pieces of wood from downed trees for whittling and carving later on, with some of the branches being more seasoned than others. In keeping with the theme of the knife I had packed along a large, hammer poll hawk for heavier chopping duties, so some of the larger limbs were lopped off with that. With other smaller branches I used a technique I’ve always just referred to as ring-and-break. For this I make diagonal push-cuts around the circumference of the branch and then break it for a much cleaner end than simply breaking will produce. The knife comes with a very nice edge, with only a slight secondary micro-bevel, so making the 0.25-inch-deep cuts into the wood for making the ring was easily done.

By the time I made it to the camp I had a good little bundle of wood to work with, so finding a log to sit on, I set about making a few things common to bushcrafting. The first project was fabricating a set of L-7 trap triggers, which required cutting a beveled end and a simple diagonal notch on one end, and then a ring notch near the other. The second project was to fashion a figure-4 trap trigger that is a bit more complex and requires making notches of various shapes, sizes, and depths.

By this point – after the long meandering hike in – my stomach was starting to growl, and this inspired the making of an adjustable pot hanger. The adjustable pot hanger is simply a fairly heavy branch with all the smaller branches cleaned off, save part of one left to serve as a pot hook, with a series of deep diagonal notches on the back side. It is used, in conjunction with a sharply beveled stick propped over the fire, to adjust one’s pot from a lower cooking position to a higher warming position without worry of moving the pot to maintain the fire, or having the burning logs adjust themselves and spilling your water or victuals into the fire. Personally I like to slowly cook or warm my soups and let the aroma whet my appetite. The various shapes, sizes, and depths of the notches; diagonal, square, and V-shaped, on all three of these projects enabled me to work the knife through a number of carving techniques and a number of grips. The knife is a good size for this type of work and is very nimble in hand. I found it comfortable to use in all of the over-hand, under-hand, and pinch-grip holds I used in making the push, draw, and chest-lever cuts I made, as well as the straight up slicing cleaning when flat notch ends. Even though the spine is sharply squared to serve a striker for a ferro rod, the thickness of the spine isn’t uncomfortable when using the thumb for controlling the force in detailed carving. The pointy tip works well for reaching into tight areas, cleaning up angles, and smoothing the square notch bottoms.

Where’s The Fire?

In bushcraft, the belt knife, teamed with a larger chopping tool such as an axe, hatchet, or machete depending on terrain type and quite often a fire steel, is an integral part of the fire starting kit. In wet or snow covered terrain, fine shavings from the inner core of a dead limb or log is often the best (and sometimes the only) option for tinder material. Primarily, this requires some skill with a knife, but having a knife with a good sharp edge and comfortable ergonomics sure goes a long way toward making the situation better.

The Scandinavian grind is, in my opinion, one of the easier edge geometries to control for planing off thin curls of wood. The sharp edge, the slight drop from the handle of the continuous-curved edge, and the comfortable contours of the handle allowed me to make quick work of creating a nice pile of feather sticks for tinder. Holding the knife firmly in an over-hand grip, I was able to plane off tight curls of even hard, seasoned oak.

A dedicated bushcraft knife differs from a dedicated survival knife in that it is intended to be teamed with larger tools for doing the heavier work. Therefor it is not intended to take a lot of abuse and lateral stress, and thus a sharply squared spine becomes a strength in this case rather than a weakness. The sharp corners of a squared spine make an excellent striker for a ferro rod, allowing the use of the knife as a striking tool while preserve the fine edge for what it was actually meant for, cutting things. The squared spine of the Bush Crafter really threw excellent showers of hot sparks from my fire steel, and soon the scent of burning hardwood was wafting on the breeze as the smoke drifted up through the boughs. As the first stage of fuel caught, I gathered some larger pieces to build a good bed of hot coals as I could already taste the meal that was to come.

Smell In The Air

The forest is a special place with a magic all its own. Homemade vegetable soup may smell really good when cooking at home, but no matter how good it smells at home, it always smell at least twice that good warming over a fire at the end of a long day. After determining the desired length of my prop stick, and quickly chopping the angle on the pointy end, I set up my pot hanger and suspended my little pot over the flames. Then I sat and whittled away the time, patiently awaiting the meal to come. What a fantastic way to end the day!

Though it is one of life’s most simple pleasures, there are few things that exceed the pleasure I get from the smell of bacon frying over an open fire in the woods early on a cool autumn morning. It is said that the smell senses stimulate our oldest and deepest memories. This is one scent that not only speaks to primal instincts deep inside me, it is a comfort to me which goes back to my earliest memories of childhood. Just the slicing of the meat, which the Bush Crafter handled with ease, while listening to the crackle of the fire starts the slide show of images playing in my mind. By the time it is sizzling in the pan I am reliving dozens of my favorite memories. When I am alone sitting in the woods, watching the smoke curl between the limbs of the forest canopy, eating crispy fried bacon and nibbling on freshly sliced hunks of longhorn cheese and hard bread, I get the joy of reliving some of my greatest memories of all. Memories of days gone by that are all but completely forgotten under normal circumstances, buried by all the sights and sounds of a modern urban world.

Over the course of a few days I’ve spent a good deal of time with this knife in my hand; whittling, carving, cutting, and slicing. From whittling and carving shapes with real purpose, to whittling out nothing but shavings and thinner pointier sticks. From carving the triggers to set traps to catch game, to starting the fires to cook over. From making the utensils to cook with, and then on to slicing the meat to be cooked. The Bush Crafter handled everything I asked of it with ease, and made a good accounting of itself. Despite it’s having an atypical blade profile, the knife can definitely hold its own in bushcrafting.

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