Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife, Roach belly, and Finn Bear, budget steel with classic appeal.

A few years back, Lynn Thompson's Cold Steel knife company introduced a series of extremely inexpensive fixed blades based on classic designs. They have thermoplastic handles and blades of Krupp 4116 German stainless steel which is highly polished to an almost mirrored appearance. Each knife comes with a simple pouch-style cordura sheath with a hard liner inside. Every knife in the series is super lightweight and stays surprisingly secure in its sheath, which has a simple belt loop on the back side. My first purchase in this series was the Finn Bear (top knife in the photo below), a knife that I've found to have excellent corrosion resistance, good edge retention, and decent sharpen-ability. The Finn Bear's handle is extremely comfortable as well. Krupp 4116 isn't the best steel out there, but it's far from bad. I live near saltwater and took the Finn bear out on my dad's boat several times 2 summers ago. I used it as an all purpose knife, everything from making sandwiches, to splitting clams and mussels. It excelled at nearly every task I threw at it, plus I made a concerted effort to avoid cleaning up the blade. Eventually, some little freckles of pre-rust appeared, but those were quickly wiped away with a dab of metal glow, followed by an application of Sentry Solutions' Tuff-Glide, the liquid ingredient that their Tuff-Cloth is impregnated with.

I think I paid between $12.00 and $14.00 USD for the Finn Bear, then I was impressed enough to buy the Roach Belly (the middle knife in the above photo). The Roach Belly has a simple upswept semi-skinner style blade and Cold Steel claims it's a tribute to the black-powder hunting and shooting community, evidently based on a very old early American design. My Roach Belly accompanied me on a camping trip to the Oregon coast last summer. I used it to prepare food for my friends' kids, and my buddy Dave used it to whittle sticks for roasting sausages and marshmallows, as well as just generally abusing the inexpensive knife by breaking down kindling for our campfire on the beach. The Roach Belly, like the Finn bear came away unscathed, a few light scuffs on the blade was all. It took me about 10 minutes with a Smith's diamond rod and a Lansky dogbone style ceramic stick to get the edge nearly as sharp as it came right out of the box when new. Needless to say, for a series of knives that can be found for well under $20.00 USD (usually about $12-$14), everyone who has used these 2 knives has been impressed with the performance-to-price ratio.

I recently needed a new bottle of Sentry Solutions Tuff-Glide, and it's impossible to find in physical stores out here for some reason, even better Western, WA gun shops don't carry it, and there's only a handful of knife shops that stock Sentry Tuff-Cloth, and never the liquid Tuff-Glide. A small bottle of Tuff Glide essentially turns any soft cloth into a Tuff Cloth. It's a dry metal sealant that goes on wet, with white mineral spirits as the carrying agent. I've found it to be one of the best things for cleaning, lubricating and rustproofing knives. Anyhow, I wanted to order a small bottle from knifeworks.com but I thought it'd be ridiculous to pay $7+ in shipping for a single item that cost less than that. So I browsed knifeworks' selection, and remembered the Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife, based on the traditional Grohmann Canadian outdoor knives. Grohmann is still the manufacturer of the original D.H. Russell Canadian outdoor knife series. Grohmann's knives have a uniquely offset handle, and for such an old design, are fantastically ergonomic. Grohmann's knives have an outstanding reputation among boaters, hikers, hunters and general outdoorspeople. If the Bowie-style knife is uniquely American, the Grohmann D.H. Russell style blades are surely the more useful Canadian equivalent.
Here's an original Grohmann Bird & Trout, which I believe is roughly the same size as Cold Steel's version:

Here are the specs for Cold Steel's Canadian Belt Knife:
Blade: 4"
Overall: 8 1/2"
Thick: 2.5mm
Weight: 2.2 oz.
Sheath: Cordura
Handle: Polypropylene
Steel: 4116 Krupp Stainless

I'm not sure how much the Grohmann knives weigh, but with wooden handle slabs and thick leather sheaths, it's safe to say the Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife is a HUGE cut in weight. In fact, just for kicks, I've carried it around for a couple days in the front pocket of both khaki work pants and shorts on the weekend. Hell, I've got small folding knives that weight twice what this thing does! I mean, just over 2 ounces, and just slightly more in the sheath, that's nothing! This (and the other knives in the series) would be a great choice for hikers, backpackers or canoe paddlers wishing to keep their gear-weight to an absolute minimum, while still having a durable fixed blade knife for bigger chores than a small folder would be able to handle.

My new Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife alongside a Victorinox classic SD Swiss Army for size comparison:

So, I have yet to put the Canadian through its paces the way I've done with the Finn and the Roach, but I'm confident it's just as usable for pretty much any light to moderate outdoor task I could give it. Camping in Oregon, Dave really reefed on the Roach Belly, digging into hardened driftwood logs, whittling to pass the time, and generally abusing it. Like I said, all it took was a bit more pressure on a diamond rod, followed by touch-up with a medium grit ceramic sharpener to restore the edge back to useful, from butter-knife dull.

So, this lightweight series of cheap Cold Steel fixed blades aren't going to win any awards for aesthetic appearance, they ain't pretty, but they work. 4116 Krupp isn't the world's best steel, but it's by no means bad, and certainly very resistant to corrosion, in my experience so far. I think the biggest advantage to this series of knives is the nearly-disposable price point. It goes overboard while fishing? Not a huge deal, it's not your limited edition Chris Reeve Sebenza, or $1200 Allen Elishewitz custom! These knives practically beg to be abused, on average costing less than a new DVD, they'll perform and take all kinds of abuse. I love the light weight too, how many fixed blades are there out there that can ride nearly unnoticed in a hip pocket? Not many. The polypro handles and highly polished blades offer superior weather resistance in any natural condition you could think of, from snow and ice, to summer heat or spring rain. The sheaths are simple but do their job well. I forgot to mention as well, that the Roach Belly and Canadian sport lanyard holes as well, which would be great for attaching a float to keep these lightweight knives bobbing until you can get 'em back when you're out trolling a lake.

These are some of the best wallet-friendly knives I've ever owned and used. It seems a shame with such simple materials, that Cold Steel makes these in Taiwan, instead of the US or Japan. But hey, you get what you pay for, and in this case, Cold Steel gives you much more than you pay for, in a durable and lightweight package.

If your adventures call for a larger knife, Cold Steel offers their Long Hunter, in the same materials, with a 7" blade, for just over $20.00 USD:

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