JK Handmade Knives-Kephart/Nessmuk
Man behind the Man
Custom knife maker John Kiedaisch (Stomper) has been making knives out of Mokena, Illinois. I first noticed his Nessmuk style knife about a year ago. Little by little I have seen pictures of his knives turning up around the forums. Now, I have a thing for Kephart style knives and when I saw the one that John made, I had to try it out.
John’s package showed up just before I left town for some preparation hikes for Mount Whitney. Inside the package were a Kephart, Nessmuk, and Hiker. The Kephart and Nessmuk are the test pieces for this review. They are handsome knives built for real use. One thing I noticed about JK Handmade Knives is their Oak Handles. John will put whatever a person wants on them but his knives always caught my eye by the Oak. The Kephart and Nessmuk are made from 01 steel. Both are flat gound. John finishes his knives with a 400 grit satin look to them. I personally prefer this type of finish. It is easy to maintain and doesn’t look too, pretty. Blade length on the Kephart is 4-inches and 1/8-inch thick. Overall length is 8 ½-inches. JK Kephart weights in at 5 ½-ounces. Nessmuk has a 4 ¼-inch blade and is also 1/8-inch thick. Overall length, 8 ½-inches. Weight on the JK Nessmuk is 5 ¾-ounces.
To understand the Kephart Knife it is important to understand the man.
Horace Kephart (1862-1931) was an author, librarian, outdoorsman and early champion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He spent most of his life traveling the southern mountains, researching the area and its inhabitants. In 1913 he authored "Our Southern Highlanders," which became the definitive work on the area. He also published "Camping and Woodcraft”: A Guidebook for Those Who Travel in the Wilderness, which was the "bible" of outdoor living in its day. During the 1920's he contributed his significant influence to promoting the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He died in an automobile accident, and he did not live to see the National Park come to fruition in 1940.
Some people prefer a simple spear point knife with rounded wood handles. If you look through your kitchen knives you will notice that you probably have some Kephart-ish type knives. Look around at restaurants and you will see the same style of knife, usually a steak knife from a Bar-B-Q type restaurant. I noticed this while out to dinner a few weeks ago. With my order of salmon, I got a wood handle 5-inch knife that had a spear point blade. This doesn’t begin or end here; you can find shades of Kepharts simple designs in many other places. I have been looking through my knives, even looking in, “The Basket” to see if there were any knife handles that mimic the same principals. I found the Tramontina machetes to have a Kephart-ish style handle too. While its good for general outdoors applications, it is not very good for specialty type of work like tactical use. In fact the Kephart is about as tactical as a pack of Twinkies.
George Washington Sears (1821 –1890) was a writer for Forest and Stream magazine in the 1800’s in which his stories, appearing under the name, Nessmuk. George Sears was a pioneer of ultralight camping. His book Woodcraft and Camping is still in print, it was written in 1884. Mount Nessmuk, in northern Pennsylvania, is named after him. Nessmuk preferred a trio of tools for his travels through the woods. His fixed blade features a hump on its spine toward the tip and lots of belly. The Nessmuk is one of the most replicated knives of all time.
In the spirit of the days when drying out meat for consumption at a later time, was necessary, I decided to make beef jerky. Why not? This requires cutting lots of meat as well as trimming fat. I thought this would be a good test of edge holding ability and edge toughness, not because meat is hard on a blade, but the wood cutting board under it can be. This will dull a knife and you will loose your edge fast if you don’t have a good heat treat.
The Nessmuk was used for a week in the kitchen. This means slicing fruit, vegetables, cheese, salame, and all the other typical chores one could use a kitchen knife for. I did a few things with the Nessmuk that was a little more creative. One of those was slice pizza, not for me since I gave that up. It worked well as a slicer by simply using the belly of the Nessmuk with a rolling motion. This made short work of a small frozen pizza that needed to be cut. When the slices were cut the Nessmuk made a good server for the hot pie. This gave me another idea for later. I decided to eat some fish and rice with only the Nessmuk, no fork or spoon. The wide blade design did a good job scooping up rice as if it were a spoon. For a knife with an unorthodox design, compared to most kitchen knives, it sure did all the work of a conventional kitchen knife. I think every kitchen should have a Nessmuk!
On the Trail
Big Bear, in the San Gabriel Mountains Southern California, is the place where as a kid I spent much time hiking and camping with my grandfather and cousins. My grandfather was the anti-Nessmuk. He brought everything to the mountains! He had a list of 80 items he must take with him for a weekend in the mountains. There was a hatchet, saw and a machete. He would bring two rifles BB guns and a sling shot. The tent was enough for a small army. Those were the days. While all these years later I still hike and camp in Big Bear my style has taken a different path. For this hike I carried the JK Kephart on my paracord belt.
The Kephart was used to split a 4-inch wide log that was cut by the forestry. I did this with the help of a baton. This task is hard on a knife and some people consider it abuse. When attempting to split a log that’s diameter is the same or larger than the length of your blade, you don’t have much room to strike the tip of the blade with the baton. You must pick a spot on the outside of the round log to start your splits. Slowly work your way around making flatter corners. Get it as square as you can to make it easier to split. When there isn’t enough tip sticking out to strike with the baton try using the baton in an ice pick grip to get more pin point accuracy while striking the tip. Spear point designs are good for this, there is good energy transfer directed down through the wood, not back through the blade or handle. I split through a pretty hard knot that didn’t seem to want to give. The Kephart won.