For now I have to use a stock photo of this knife till I can get the chance to take some photo's in the dry or when the weather improves a little.
Still I had the chance to try this knife out last Sunday in some woods I visit about five miles from where I live. A nice place called Marl woods where it is possible to lose yourself for a little while.
The Bark River Lil Chute is a very interesting knife in my opinion. Its just under a 4" blade and is of morticed tang construction. Whats a morticed tang you may ask? Well if you look, its a full tang knife, but the bottom of the tang is coved by the handle. This means you have no steel where the finger groves are on this knife. There are several arguments for and against this style of tang, but from my experience I would say the following.
Its a very thick spine for this knife anyhow so any reduction in strength over a full exposed tang would be marginal at best. The knife is warmed to the hand as your fingers and in paricular when using the knife are more sensitive to the cold a full exposed tang can give. It gives a marginal improvement in grip as the Micarta gives a better purchase than plain steel. It reduces weight and reduces the parts on the knife open to corrosion. So on this knife I prefer the Moriced tang!
Lets talk about corrosion. We have all seen how a well made carbon steel knife can take and hold a great edge, but if you forget to wipe it down or your gear gets wet... Now many still argue they prefer a carbon blade over any stainless knives for several reasons. I accept and appreciate that a steel like A2 carbon is hard to beat, it takes and holds a great edge, it is tough so it won't break easily or chip out easily... oh and its easy to sharpen.
This knife however is NOT made from carbon steel. Its made from STAINLESS steel! OK, that is nothing new, but if carbon steel is still very popular, why have knives in stainless steel been frowned upon by many? Well its like this, the elements that make a knife stainless also make it less able to hold an edge, less tough and less easy to sharpen. So a stainless knife generally only has the advantage of being less likely to rust. Modern super steels like S30V and VG-10 are greatly improved, but try sharpening these steels in the field... Not easy unless you have the right gear and knife know how. Plus they contain so much carbon, they will rust with little effort if you leave blood or similar on them.
Well this Lil Chute is made from Sandvick 12C27 stainless steel. I have used this steel in several knives and never been impressed or happy with it till now. Normally you see this knife hardened to a RC of around 55 or so and while it was stain resistant and tough at this level, the edge holding was not all that great. Very much like 440a or AUS-6 steel. It was a reasonable but hardly stella performing basic stainless steel.
Well Bark River and Mike Stewart have given me a new perspective on this steel! This knife is hardened right up there to 58 or 59 on the Rockwell scale and what a difference this makes! Suddenly this is a very more interesting steel. I spoke to Mike at length about this and he explained how a very complex and little known heat treat is used to bring out qualities in this steel otherwise not tapped into. You see Sandvick steels have a rare quality... purity. With the right heat treat and process its possible to push this steel beyond what on paper it ought to be capable of.
OK, so you have heard this kind of hype before, but the proof is in the using... right? Fine, so what did I do? Well I took the Lil Chute for a little try out in the woods. I did not take the digi camera as it was wet. Bloody wet in fact. Raining hard and seriously, there was no way I was going to take the camera out in that. So, I used the knife to cut some wood, batoned some thick branches and used the knife to prep a fire. I cut bark from dead trees and made a bundle of feather sticks for the fire. At this point I noticed something. The edge was holding up brilliantly and the Kydex sheath this knife came with was great! I was really glad of this over a leather sheath in this weather! It gives a very secure hold onto the knife. I also noticed that the wetter that my hands became the better my grip on the knife became. This Micarta used by Bark River is very grippy stuff and I will try my soapy hands test on it soon to see if its as good as I think it is.
Well, I am working a lot of hours in work at the moment, so I really don't get the time to get out into the woods as much as I want to, god knows there are a dozen or so knives I really want to try out in the field and get some good photo's of it in action.
Well the rain was really pouring now and the thunder and lightening were flashing in the distance and to be blunt I was getting really cold and wet. My hands were begginging to shake a little and I was finding it quite hard to concentrate on what I was doing. I found myself in hindsight using this little knife quite hard. I started prying and batoning with less than great technique and I found myself wishing I had my Forester with me for this part of the task!
Bear in mind I am now complaining about a sub 4" fixed blade when performing tasks a much larger knife is most often used for or even an axe! Well I will tell you one thing. This knife never slipped once. Never failed to keep cutting and never made me think twice about anything other than getting that bloody fire lit and getting me warm!
I forgot to mention that I had errected a British Army DPM Basha to give me some cover and a bit of respite from the wind, but big drops of rain were finding themselves through the tree cover and I knew I needed to get warm real fast! It was a good walk through the woods to get back to the main road and a bus ride home (it is North Wales you know!) and I was damned if I would leave without getting this fire lit.
I decided to cheat a little, I had some cotten wool balls with me coved in vasaline and strips of rubber tire from an inner tube of a mountain bike. I used my Blastmatch to get the little bundle going and then I made sure the feather sticks and dry inner bark shavings were well covered and blew gently till the bundle burst into flames. I was very careful to use large sections of bark to keep the rain of the fire and I then stated feeding the split and quartered branches to the fire, always being careful to feed it only the dryest sections of wood I had. I then placed the green and wet wood around the fire to dry out and sat back while the fire built up nicely.
It was at this point that the thunder and lightening really started to get close, so I pulled the Lil Chute from the wood stump and gave it a little wipe with the trouser leg of my BDU's and glanced briefly at the edge. No obvious signs of damage or wear. I waited till I had warmed up and dried out a little and to be blunt the weather was really closing in and I had my shealter strung between two tree's so I decided I better leave.
I carefully put out the fire and scattered the sign that there had been a fire. I made sure it was compleatly out and waited several mins after it seemed to be out before leaving. I used the Lil Chute to do a little digging at the fire pit and make sure there were no more embers or buring materials still going. The rain was so significant at this point I decided to put my Army poncho on over my SAS smock. I would have worn this before, but it gets in the way when you are working and it does not react well to fire or heat! Well the fire was out so I gave the knife a good wipe down and left the scene.
Well tonight a week later I remembered about this knife and pulled it out from my backback and noticed the following. The blade and handle were darkened from the use so I used some flitz polish on the handle and blade. Came right back, it was just sooty dirt. The Kydex felt a little gritty so I washed it out and its fine now.
The edge held up very very well, there were a couple of spots on the blade where the edge had dulled slightly, so I used some more Flitz on cardboard and it came right back with a little work. Nothing serious and the vast majority of the edge would still shave hair, though not as brilliantly till I got the edge polished with the Flitz. Five Mins work and the edge is scary sharp again. My thoughts on this? Brilliant! No corrosion and an edge that did not fail me.
Now that I have the time to sit here and think about this knife some more I find myself looking at it and thinking. What is this knife? Is it a military knife or a camping knife? Is it a hunting knife? Do you know what? I really don't know. It has a very stout and usable tip, though its not long enough as a knife to be a fighting knife. I think the finger grooves work very well and I love the kydex. Let me stress this again. The Kydex is one of the best examples of the kind I have ever seen! Its certainly not a cheapo made one.
So, what is this knife? Bloody usable and dependable in my opinion, easy and light to carry and very very strong. If I had a prefence I would like this knife with a 5" blade, thats my only complaint, I wanted a little more edge. Oh and for once the little guard (Nikel Silver) did not get in the way at all and yet provided just enough to allow choking up on the blade for feather sticks and a nice thumb placement spot.
Buy one of these right now!