You have probably noticed that I have not done any knife reviews in a while. The reason for that is that the more I use knives, the less it matters what knife I am using. On top of that, I have figured out what I like, so I no longer need to bounce between knife design in pursuit of “The One”. For a while now I have been using a basic Mora #2 as my backpacking/bushcraft/woodcraft knife. Its size and proportions are exactly what I like, so there has been no reason to look for anything else. Recently however, I stopped carrying an axe or hatchet on most of my trips. As a result, more of the woodworking tasks have started falling on the knife. While the Mora #2 is a great knife, I’ve been finding it a bit on the weak side. It wasn’t an issue when I had my hatchet, but as a stand alone woodworking tool, it was not ideal.
There were three possible solutions. The first was to go back to a more robust knife like my Fallkniven S1, something I’ve been trying to avoid, as I have not needed a larger knife. The second solution was to find a knife similar to the Mora #2, just more robust, something I have not been able to find to my satisfaction. The third option was to get a custom made version of the Mora #2, which will have similar dimensions, while being stronger. After some thinking, I opted for the third option.
Of course, all that did was replace the search for the perfect knife, with the search for the perfect knife maker. For some time now I have been looking at different knife makers, but none of them have been exactly right. Either their products cost too much, take too long to make, or are simply Woodlore clones, or sharpened pry-bars (obviously not my thing). A few weeks back however, I stumbled upon a post on Blades and Bushcraft, where a knife maker new to the forum, was showing some of his designs. I immediately liked what he had, and contacted him to inquire if he does custom work, and how much he charges. The makes was Mark Hill, and the knife you see here is the product of his work.
This review is not so much a review of the knife, which after all was made to my specification so it’s hard for me not to like it, but rather a review of the knife maker, Mark Hill. But before I get into all that, let me give you some of the specifications of the knife, in case you are curious. In essence, this is a modified Mora #2 clone. Below you can see the specification. A lot of them are the same as the Mora #2. The ones that are different, I have noted to the side.
Knife Length: 8 3/8 inches (212 mm)
Blade Length: 4 1/8 inches (104 mm)
Blade Thickness: 1/8 inches (3 mm); this is thicker than the Mora #2, which has a thickness of 3/32 inches (2.4 mm). The angle of the grind for the cutting edge however has been kept the same as that of the Mora #2, 16.6 degrees.
Blade Width: 13/16 inches (20 mm); the Mora #2 actually has a slightly sloping spine to the blade, which varies from 20 mm at the ferrule to 18 mm where the drop on the blade starts for the point. On the custom knife I kept the width the same 20 mm the whole way until the start of the drop.
Blade Material: O1 carbon steel; obviously this is different from the 1095 steel of the Mora #2. Other metals are also available.
Blade Hardness: HRC 59 on the Rockwell Scale
Type of Tang: Full tang; this is probably the biggest difference from the Mora #2, which has a partial tang.
Blade Grind: Scandinavian/single bevel; the type of grind as well as the angle of the grind (16.6 degrees) has been kept the same as the Mora #2.
Handle Material: Cocobolo wood with liners; other options are also available.
Sheath Material: Leather; I requested a brown dangler sheath. Other designs and colors are also available, and clearly different from the plastic Mora #2 sheath.
Cost: $235.00; much more expensive than the $12.00 Mora #2.
So, to summarize the specifications, it is a full tang Mora #2 with a slightly thicker blade, but with the same grind angle for the edge, and with a better quality handle and sheath. Oh yes, and much more expensive.
As I mentioned above, any review of the knife that I write will not be completely unbiased. After all, the knife was designed to my specifications, so naturally, it will perform the way I want it to. Just a few brief notes though.
The extra thickness and full tang have transformed this knife. While with the Mora #2 you can feel the flex of the blade, and have to be careful under heavier use, the Mark Hill custom knife felt extremely strong, and handled the applied forces without any sign of weakness.
I certainly didn’t take it easy on the knife, but again, not only did it not fail, but felt very strong. Even though the handle and blade are the same length and width as the Mora #2, the slight increase in thickness and the full tang did wonders.
Of course, it is common sense that a thicker knife will be stronger. The big gamble for me was whether the increase of the thickness would effect the knife’s cutting characteristics. I like how thin the Mora #2 grind is, and my hope was that by preserving the same grind angle in the custom knife, the same cutting characteristics would be preserved. I am happy to report that the attempt was a success. The knife cuts just like a Mora #2, and has the same feel when carving or cutting.
Now, back to the knife maker, Mark Hill. As I mentioned, when I first saw his work, I contacted him to see if he would be interested in a custom knife. He replied that he is willing to take on any project I might have, and that I should take a look at his website. It is at that point that I realized that Mark Hill is a UK knife maker. I wasn’t sure what that would mean in terms of cost, but he quickly quoted a price for the completed knife and sheath, shipped to the US for $235.00. Now, I know that is a lot of money, but in all honesty, it is cheap for a custom knife. There are plenty of mass produced knives that cost more, and virtually every hand made knife is in the same price range or above. More importantly, this is not just a hand made knife like for example the Woodlore knives, which are handmade, but all identical, made using the same jigs. This knife was made to my exact specifications. I just sent an email with what I wanted, and Mark Hill had to get a Mora #2, figure out all the dimensions, figure out the modifications, and then make it. I think $235.00 is a bargain.
More importantly, working with Mark Hill was a pleasure. The whole exchange consisted of only a few emails. He was quickly able to understand all of the details I was trying to communicate. To be honest, I was sure that something would be wrong in the final product, but to my surprise, he understood exactly what I wanted, and was able to deliver.
Equally important is the fact that the knife was designed and completed in about 10 days. By that, I literally mean, it took about 10 days from the time that I sent him the specification to the time the knife was in the mail. I received it a few days later. As far as I am concerned, that is impressive. Many of the knife makers I had contacted before had productions schedules measured in months, not days, or had waitlists that went on for years.
I have no idea how the knife was made with such speed, or at such cost, but the result is impressive. There are no flaws, or errors. Everything is perfectly aligned and centered.
I purchased this knife as a replacement for my Mora #2. I plan on using it in the exact same way, so it will get some serious use over the years to come. I must admit, I will be doing so with some reluctance because it is a beautifully made knife.
I can honestly say that this has been the easiest and most pleasant experience I have had with any manufacturer. Had I know that this was an available option, I would have done it years ago, instead of spending a lot more money on other knives. I think it is definitely an option to consider, and I would certainly recommend Mark Hill as the knife maker for the job.
For more information, you can visit Mark Hill’s website at http://www.markhill-customknives.com/. There you can see available knife design, blade and handle materials, as well as contact Mark for any custom projects you may have in mind.