Saturday, March 11, 2017

Marble's Woodcraft 100th Anniversary Knife Review

The venerable Marble's Woodcraft Knife was originally designed in 1914 by George W. Brooks.  Mr. Brooks took his design to Marble's and contracted Marble's to make the knife. Seeing promise in this design, Marble's acquired the rights to the design and began limited production of the Woodcraft in 1915. By 1916, the Woodcraft was a staple in the Marble's Knife catalogue. The Marble's Woodcraft has been made in various iterations over the past century, both on-shore and off-shore.  The versions made in the USA by Marble's have gained a legendary reputation for exemplary performance in the field.

The current version of the Marble's Woodcraft 100th Anniversary Knife is a true 100% American Made knife, made by Mike Stewart and the good folks at Bark River Knives. It is made under license for the Marble's name, which is owned by Blue Ridge Knives. The Woodcraft carries with it Bark River's no-nonsense, rock solid warranty.

Here's the Woodcraft's specs:
Overall Length: 8 1/4"
Blade Length: 4 1/2"
Handle length: 3 3/4"
Blade Steel: A2 Tool Steel
Blade grind: Fully convexed
Blade Thickness: .185"
Handle: Stacked Leather
Weight: approx 5 oz.
Sheath: (as supplied) right hand tanned leather

Opening the box on my sample knife was like taking a step back in time to my childhood, circa 1969. Back then, I spent a lot of time in NY's Adirondacks with my Great Uncle Charlie. It was my job to pack Unc's packbasket prior to each of our endeavors into the woods to forage for leeks and fiddleheads. The very first things in the packbasket were always Uncle Charlie's prized Marble's Woodcraft and his old Plumb hatchet. I admit that, on seeing this knife, I choked up some remembering those golden times...

The only difference I can see between early versions of the Woodcraft and the current model are:

1. Steel type, 1095 carbon steel (olde) vs A2 Tool Steel (new),
2. Blade thickness .125" (olde) vs .185" (new), and;
3. The fact that the current iteration does not have checkering on the spine.
The current version mirrors the 1924 design specs pretty closely.

So what did Marble's see in this design that led to it's inclusion in their line-up? I believe that the reason is because the Woodcraft is the true grandfather of the current genre of "bushcraft" knives. In the early 1900's, using your fixed blade knife for anything other than processing fur, fish, fowl or game was unheard of. Knives of this size typically had a blade thickness of .10" or less - sometimes far less. What we refer to now as bushcrafting tasks back then were accomplished with an axe or hatchet, saw, and maybe a stout pocketknife. Batoning a knife to split wood or make kindling was unheard of. The Woodcraft broke away from that tradition and was purposefully designed and built stoutly enough to handle separating bones on large game, carving trap triggers, making tent stakes and the like. In that it has a step down stick tang under the leather washer handle, batoning the Woodcraft to split wood, whether you have a 1916 version or a 2016 version is probably not a good idea - it was not designed for that type of abusive treatment. However, the Woodcraft is perfectly capable of processing kindling and tinder as long as you use proper technique in performing the baton cuts.  By proper technique I mean:

1. Keep the blade spine parallel to the deck throughout the cut to avoid creating a mechanical shear which could cause a break, and;
2. Cut all the way through the material being baton cut - do not cut partially through and then pry the wood apart.  Doing so could cause a break or bend.

I've seen a lot of knives damaged by user error by not using proper techniques.

Some may balk at the size of the Woodcraft's handle. At 3 3/4", it just doesn't sound very big. On the odd occasion that I wear gloves, size Large fits me, albeit somewhat snugly. The Woodcraft fits my hand very nicely in a variety of grips and locks in place providing good purchase. It is nimble in the hand and easy to manipulate for a host of cutting chores. One thing I love about the handle length is that for drilling, ie. beginning cuts in a hearth board for a bow-drill spindle, it is very comfortable and easy to bear down on with the nicely rounded pommel.

I was thinking of a way to show the knife's cutting ability - the Woodcraft is made from Mike Stewart's legendary A2 tool steel and is expertly convex ground by his staff.  We know it will cut.  Then it came to me.  Anyone who camps with us knows the quality of my wife's cooking.  One of her specialties is soup and one of my favorite soups is her 1860's style corn chowder, which calls for salt pork.  If you've ever tried slicing and cubing salt pork, you know it can be a real PITA with a poor quality blade or a blade that isn't really sharp.

Hence, I put the Woodcraft through several pieces of salt pork, using just a little more than the weight of the knife alone to slice through without cutting the thick skin underneath.  It did very well, but I did have a hard time not cutting skin.   I fillet the strips of salt pork off the skin and save the skin to slice up into thick strips to be fried up for dog treats - my dog Jake loves them.

So what is my impression of the Bark River made Marble's Woodcraft?  The Legend continues.  This knife is absolutely a keeper whether you're a collector or hard-core user who likes gear with an olde-timey flare.  I love this knife!!! 

Where do you find the knife, you ask?  Try my good friends at  ...       M

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