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The Combat Utility Blade (CUB) from Steve Woods and Wilson Combat has immediate curb appeal. The CUB’s good looks are deceptive, belying the true ruggedness and precision of its design, construction and utility.

Steve Woods, a superb photographer by trade, began making knives in 2000. Currently the holder of a Journeyman’s stamp from the Bladesmith Society, Woods developed his passion for knives by starting with a basic knife kit and learning the craft through trial, error and apprenticeship. His photographer’s eye for balance and proportion comes through in his designs. As soon as it is removed from the sheath, the CUB begs to be used. Like a sports car that looks to be going 100 miles per hour while standing still, the CUB’s heavy shouldered blade and tapered starburst-patterned handle gives it the appearance of a spear point in flight.

Knife Details

The CUB’s practical/tactical drop-point blade is 4 inches long and made from CPM 154 stainless steel. Carrying an HRC rating of 57-59, the highly corrosion-resistant, matte bead-blasted CPM 154 was originally created for the manufacture of jet turbine blades. Though similar to the more common S30V, Woods chose the metal for its slightly better field-sharpening characteristics. The blade features a thin, flat-ground edge, tapering from a thick spine of 0.15 inches with an index finger choil and thumb notch just forward of where the blade exits the handle.

Unlike the blade’s subdued finish, the CUB’s 3D-machined G10 handle is an explosion of texture and chromatic contrast. Offered in black, black/green or black/gray, the two-tone G10s highlight Woods’ variation on Wilson Combat’s iconic starburst-themed pistol grip pattern. Cut more sharply and at a closer interval than the pistol grips, the lines reach out to the user’s hands and provide multiple minor purchase points in the palm, complementing the major points at the index finger and thumb. The grip panels, secured by Torx-head screws, feature inset medallions from Wilson Combat and Rock River Iron Works, Woods’ smithing shop. The CUB’s rounded pommel extends 0.4 inches beyond the grip, features three lash-point holes and comes shipped with a braided, hollow paracord fob and a white skull-sliding bead.

The CUB’s custom sheath is made from two-piece molded Kydex that covers the blade and 1.5 inches of the handle. The Tek-Lok universal belt attachment is affixed to the sheath via Phillips-head screws and can be reversed to suit user preferences. As the belt attachment is below the handle, the CUB rides close to the wearer’s hip and not down the leg. This set-up allows the knife’s 9-inch overall length and 8.4-ounce weight to move with the user and not ride below the lower cuff of a jacket.

Butcher’s Block

Good looks aren’t enough for a knife sold as a utility hunter. To live up to the reputation of one of the country’s premier 1911 manufacturers, the CUB would have to earn its stripes. My first stop was to my friend Frody Volgger’s gourmet butcher shop in Tony Caputo’s Market. Born and formally schooled in Austria as a chef, Volgger’s training began as a butcher. Unlike many American culinary schools, European schools begin by teaching students to choose and process the best meats for their kitchens. Volgger processes several pigs, lambs, goats and cattle on a weekly basis. I handed him the knife and asked him to give me an unvarnished review. “We will put it to work.” he replied. Hundreds of pounds of meat later, I caught up with Frody. “I used it in all applications where the blade length was appropriate. It performed very well. I liked the thick, strong spine and the blade design. The blade sharpened well and held an edge for a long time and throughout a great deal of work. The handle design is rougher than one would want for processing meat for hours at a time, but I suspect it is designed to be gripped and utilized in a variety of circumstances.”

After sampling some Frody’s speck bacon, I recovered the knife and prepared for the next practical exercise.

Problem Solving

So it can carve all kinds of meat in an air-conditioned basement, but how will it hold up in more primitive circumstances? I carried the CUB throughout Haley Strategic’s Mountain Survival/Problem Solving course outside Montrose, Colorado. Over five days, we trained through scenarios in the Uncompahgre National Forest on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. In altitudes of between 9,000 and 10,500 feet, the CUB became a daily, working utility tool.

After our helocast into a long ridgeline, making shelter and fire was the first order of business. In hand, the CUB initially felt a bit short for the branch-chopping work required to harvest the pine and spruce bough materials from the surrounding forest. However, the thick spine and density of the blade proved surprisingly utilitarian to the task of removing limbs of up to 1.5 inches in diameter. Sweaty hands were no match for the handle’s aggressive grip patterns. I was prepared for the edge to dull quickly, as this was indelicate work, but it held up well.

Throughout the day’s work, I got several friendly and curious “Hey man, cool knife,” comments from my classmates. Indeed, the CUB is a cool knife, but it wasn’t until I set up to use it to split wood that it drew a small crowd. Setting a small log upright, I grabbed a fist-sized rock and prepared to use the CUB as a splitting maul. One of the students jumped in, “Hey are you going to use a knife that nice for that?” He and a few others winced as I cracked the CUB over the spine with the rock and split the log. To my great surprise, I could barely put a scratch in the finish after a dozen logs. I was fully prepared to break the blade in the process, but the CUB just kept working. All I managed to end up with were a few surface scratches.

I continued to use the CUB for a variety of utility tasks, from cutting cordage to shaving bark, with uninterrupted success. A surprise final test came when we were required to clean and cook rabbits for dinner. After several days of chopping, splitting and cutting, the CUB skinned and cleaned the rabbit with no trouble. In fact, I have yet to re-sharpen the blade, and while it will not shave arm hairs, it still has a very functional edge.

Final Notes

Woods and Wilson Combat have a winner in the Combat Utility Blade. The knife did all I asked of it, and it even found ways to surprise me a few times. As with any design, there are going to be tradeoffs. For example, the handle is made for all-season traction, so an un-gloved hand will likely be talking to you at the end of the day. That said, you will also be much less likely to drop it, and when you reach for it, the CUB will find your hand. The slightly lower carbon composition of the stainless steel blade is very stain resistant, but it’s not the best choice for striking against flint to create a spark. Also, the handle is best fit to a medium- to large-sized hand. But that’s splitting hairs, and there may still be just enough edge on the CUB to perform that task as well.

For more information visit wilsoncombat.com

For the complete article please refer to Tactical Knives July 2013.

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