Nessmuk and a Knife for Chad





Regrettably Dale sort of disappeared off the map together with some money paid on orders. I have nothing to do with that, other than I helped people find him. The worst of all of this is that Dale's is still the Nessmuk to beat

I kept this page up because no matter whatever happened after, everything Chad said at the time is true. I'd go out with Dale's Nessmuk and I'd come back despite all of the people who have disappeared around here over the decades - and I can tell you why the knife will work. I already have in so many emails.


All of these years later - and since I'm updating my email, I see more years have passed than I like on the original file. The simple bottom line is that I kept the page up because while it describes someone who caused me and others problems - it was written by a person I admire. And we can all still learn from - Chad.

So what follows is a review as it should be written about a knife which was as good as Chad says. I have one.



In order to appreciate the knife that is the subject of this essay, you must first understand the man to whom it is dedicated, George “Nessmuk” Sears. Here is a short biography of the man, taken from www.rtpnet.org/robroy/boo.../SEARS.HTM which also has an on-line version of his “Letters.”


George Washington Sears

('Nessmuk')

(1821-1890)

George Washington Sears, under the pen name of "Nessmuk," wrote many letters to Forest and Steam magazine in the 1880s. These popularized canoeing, the Adirondack lakes, self-guided canoe camping tours, the open, ultra-light single canoe, and what we today call environmentalism. It was a happy union of technology and art, nature and life.

Before Sears, canoeing was mostly after the model of "Rob Roy" McGregor, in decked canoes, sometimes sailed, or in heavy guide canoes. In later years, the familiar canoe of today developed from the birch-bark model, but covered in canvas. After 1945, the aluminum canoe sold in the millions. In an alternate path, the old decked canoe reappeared in the form of the modern kayak, usually plastic now.

Sears also wrote a general book on camping, Woodcraft, 1884, which has generally remained in print since then. A book of poems, Forest Runes, appeared in 1887. It has not been republished, and copies are scarce.

Sears was born in Oxford Plains, Mass., Dec. 2, 1821, the oldest of 10 children. A young Narragansett Indian named Nessmuk ("wood drake" befriended him and taught him hunting, fishing, and camping. Later he took that as his pen name, and also as the name of a couple of his canoes. In his youth he was a commercial fisherman and sailor, but fell ill, probably from tuberculosis. He wrote that he taught school in Ohio, "bullwhacked" across the plains, mined silver in Colorado, edited a newspaper in Missouri, was a cowboy in Texas, a "webfoot" in Oregon, and camped and hunted in the then wilderness of Michigan. His family moved in 1848 to Wellsboro, Penn., his home for the rest of his life..

At the age of 59, a little more than 5 feet tall, weighing less than 105 pounds, and weak with acute pulmonary tuberculosis, Sears decided to see if the Adirondack lakes and forests could improve his health. William Henry Harrison ("Adirondack" Murray, pastor of Park Street Church, Boston, had published a book in 1869, Adventures in the Wilderness, which praised the North Woods as a health resort for consumption sufferers. (Later, Saranac was to become the site of one of the most famous American sanitoria for tuberculosis care.).

Since Sears was so small and weak, he could not carry the usual heavy guide canoe over the carries between the lakes of the Fulton Chain. His experiences hiring a guide showed that was most suitable for rich people. Thus he investigated ultralight canoes. He persuaded J. Henry Rushton of Canton, N.Y. (a small town northwest of the Adirondacks, near the St. Lawrence River) to build him a single canoe he could carry. It was delivered by railroad car and horse cart to the lake.

Forest and Stream magazine had been founded in New York City by Charles Hallock in 1873. It and Nessmuk had a mutual admiration society and both gained wide readership. The magazine was folded into Field and Stream in 1930.

Sears died in Wellsboro, Penn., May 1, 1890. He received many honors, including having a mountain in northern Pennsylvania named after him.


The Nessmuk Knife

Nessmuk favored a “trinity” system of cutting tools, his little double bit hatchet, a light fixed blade and a substantial Moose pattern folder. Nessmuk’s views towards knives are arch-typical of the classic outdoorsmen; he preferred thin knives, keen edges and a useable length. Nessmuk, like other classic outdoorsmen, recognized that a hatchet or small axe was the tool of choice for chopping, and wrote with disfavor of large, thick “Bowie” knives. Instead, a smaller knife designed for cutting efficiency was highly favored.

It is in this vein that Dale “Racquette” Chudzinski designed his Nessmuk inspired knife. With its sine wave profile, humped back and thin steel, Dale’s version is the most authentic I have seen. As soon as I saw pictures of this knife, I knew I had to use it. Dale sent me the first two versions he has made of this knife, one a stag handled semi convex Scandinavian profile, and the other a full tang, wood handled version with a forged full flat grind.

It is the stag handled version that is the subject of this essay, as the full tang model is boxed up and ready to ship out for a custom leather sheath.



Specifications/ Initial Observations:

The knife has an overall length of 9 inches, the blade is 4.25” and the handle 4.75”. The point of balance is a finger width back from the tang/handle junction. This type of neutral balance makes for a good handling knife in this size class. For a larger knife, where chopping is a major performance goal a blade heavy balance is optimal. In very small knives, a more handle heavy balance is usually used. For a medium size belt knife, like this, a neutral balance is very nice.


The handle is ultra premium crown stag, and this is a beautiful example, with a lovely character. There is something about carbon steel and stag that really appeals to me. A knife like this has a warmth that no modern micarta and uber-steel tactical knife can hope for.


The fit and finish of the knife is excellent, which is what I expect from a custom maker. There are a few forge marks left in the steel. I could have asked Dale to polish these out (to his credit Dale asked me how I wanted the knife finished), but I chose to leave the forge marks in, as I feel they add something to the overall appearance of the knife.

The blade is forged from 3/32” 15n20 Swedish band saw steel. 15n20 is a fairly simple carbon steel, being alloyed with .75% carbon, a dash of manganese and 2% nickel. The blade is heated to workable temperature in a charcoal forge, and hand hammered to shape. This knife is made by hand, with files and abrasives. Over 95 percent of the work is done without electricity.

The forged blank is heat treated by triple quenching in oil, then triple tempering at 375 degrees, for a tough, easy to sharpen blade. The knife is then hand finished, using files, and abrasives, and a whole bunch of elbow grease.

Dale was kind enough to provide me with these pictures of my knife being made.




Testing by the maker:

Since this was a prototype blade, Dale tested out the heat treat before sending it to me. In addition to using it for some general shop chores, he took it out back and gave it a good beating to make sure the heat treat was right on.

Dale used the knife to chop and baton through some hard Elm branches, and reported that the knife performed flawlessly.

Performance Evaluation:

Initial Sharpening:

Dale shipped the knife to me with a good useable field edge. Knowing that I am a bit picky about edges, he left it for me to decide what kind of edge profile I wanted on the knife, and we agreed on this before he shipped me the knife. As a side note, he shipped the full tang model with the edge in ready to go, .025 behind the edge, with a bevel height of .060 sweeping to .075 at the tip. Razor sharp.

I began applying the edge by using 800 grit sandpaper on a piece of foam to refine the edge, then used a fine ceramic hone from a Spyderco Sharpmaker freehand to finish. The 15n20 steel sharpened very easily; very similar to a carbon steel Opinel. In all, it took less than four minutes to bring the edge to a smooth shaving finish. The ability to be sharpened easily is a desirable trait for a for a field knife.

At this point the knife would fillet copy paper, as well as cut thin ribbons on a push cut, and is a good starting point. With a keen edge on the knife, I can concentrate on how other factors, such as the primary grind, stock thickness and handle ergonomics effect performance. An edge that is not at optimal sharpness will swamp out other factors on the light cutting tasks that I start with.

Kitchen Work:

As always, the first and most frequent place I use a knife is in the kitchen. For me, food prep is a great way to get a feel for a knife. One of the first things I noticed about this knife, was how comfortable the stag handle is. The natural handle material has a warmth in the hand, and it is very nicely shaped. Using either hand, it fit perfectly. The texture of the stag kept it secure in the hand, more secure than I had expected.

There is no guard on this knife to get in the way during close cutting work. The handle shape, combined with the wide blade made the knife a joy to use with a pinch grip, holding the knife with spine in the web between the thumb and forefinger with the fingers gripping the flats of the blade. This is a highly useful grip position, and is very frequently used in food prep, and also for wood work to obtain a high degree of control during fine work.

Another noticeable advantage to the stag handle was that its natural curvature, presents the blade at a slight angle, which adds a shearing effect, improving slicing performance.

I used the knife for two weeks in the kitchen, preparing about 15 meals with it. I cut a variety of foods including meats, breads, lots of vegetables, and opening various packages.

The knife performed very well, as well as a dedicated kitchen knife. The primary reason for its high performance is how thin it is. At just 3/32” thick, it glides through vegetables, and the keen edge makes short work of meat. I sharpened the knife just about every day, just a few swipes with a fine ceramic hone. The knife had not dulled at all, I just like to start preparing a meal with a fresh edge, it is a mental thing with me. Despite being used on nylon cutting boards, as well as maple, and being used for a variety of tasks, the edge showed no signs of damage, no chips or dents at all. Granted, the work I was doing is fairly low stress, but I have seen several blades chip in the kitchen, usually from sloppy handling.

As an example, slicing pepperoni sausage, it was easy to get paper thin slices, or to vary the slice thickness to whatever I wanted. The combination of a comfortable handle, and a great blade shape make for a very controllable knife. Pepperoni is a great trail food, and one that is often overlooked, or dismissed as being just for pizza. Pepperoni is a very concentrated food, both in terms of energy and taste. It will add important fat calories, and just a few slices into a soup, stew or other meal will quickly improve the flavor with its peppery garlic goodness. I also like it as a sandwich filler, on a good asiago cheese faccacio (Italian flat bread) and fresh sliced tomatoes and some fresh chopped basil.

The width of the blade also made it a champion peanut butter spreader, as well as for scooping up freshly cut vegetables to be put on the plate, bowl or stove.

The kitchen is also a great place to observe the corrosion resistance of a knife, as acidic foods such as fruits are cut, you can literally watch the effects with many knives.

Here, the Nessmuk knife took on a beautiful gray patina very quickly. I was slightly surprised that it did not form small spots of surface rust, as many carbon steel knives do under similar circumstances. Something I have noticed in the past, is that forged knives seem to have a different reaction to than similar knives made using the stock removal method. One guess is that during the forging process, the surface of the steel loses some of its carbon content, causing it to be slightly more resistant to corrosion. In any event, the forged 15n20 steel has a higher corrosion resistance than I expected, forming a rey patina instead of red surface rust spots.

Utility Tasks:

Moving on to some utility work, I used the Nessmuk knife to slice up some 3/16 corrugated cardboard. Cardboard is a good test for edge retention, it is a fairly abrasive material, and will work down an edge in short order. It is also fairly consistent, so it gives me an idea of how one knife steel compares to another in terms of wear resistance.

For a quick comparison, I used a French Opinel #8 twist lock knife with an olive wood handle. The humble Opinel does not get the respect it deserves from many people who dismiss it because of the low cost. They don’t know what they are missing, the thin flat ground steel blade slices like a demon, and they are easy to modify to suit our own taste. The twist lock is not as strong as modern frame or axis locks, but it is certainly suitable for my uses. It requires two hands to open, and is not very “tactical” but it has a class all it own. The one here is an olivewood handle that I reformed to fit my hand perfectly, and ground the tip of the blade into a drop point format. I used the Opinel for a comparison blade for the simple reason that it was the knife that was in my pocket at the time. However, if I was to search for a knife to use as a benchmark, the Opinel would still be a nice choice.

The Nessmuk knife did very well here, it push cut through the cardboard very well, about as easily as the Opinel, and the edge holding was very similar. I stopped using each knife when it would no longer smoothly push cut through the material. As you can see, the piles are pretty similar. In use, it was easy to tell the advantage of the long, well shaped handle of the Nessmuk knife, it really is a nice knife to use.

Again it proved easy to sharpen, just a few minutes freehand on a fine ceramic hone put the edge back to hair popping sharp. As I planned to try a little wood working with the knife, I stropped it out, edge trailing, on a leather strop charged with weenol metal polish. This left the edge with a high polish, very well suited to the push cuts of wood work

Wood Work:

The blade is a bit wide for use as a dedicated wood carving knife for intricate wood carving, which is something that very narrow knives like a Mora knives excel at. The design of this knife is more of a woodsman’s tool for general field chores. For an example, I pointed out a large stake out of maple. Stake pointing is a familiar chore to any one that has spent a few nights in the woods, from pointing out cooking sticks, making tent pegs, or just wasting time in front of a nice fire.

The Nessmuk knife performed very well, this was a task it really excelled at. The handle is easy to use in a variety of grips, and is comfortable in all of them. The thin, keen edge bit into the wood well, was easy to control, and left a nice smooth finish. It cleaved through knots with no damage to the edge, and peeled bark off like a champ. For this type of chore, the Nessmuk knife really shines.

While the knife, by virtue of its size and weight is not designed as a chopping tool, it is still performs respectably. By holding on to the end of the stag handle (at the crown) I was able to get some good wrist snap action, able could chop through maple and lotus branches about wrist thick with no trouble in just a few minutes.

Sheaths:

Dale’s original plan for sheaths was to make them from buckskin he tanned himself. Dale made me such a sheath for my Cold Steel Red River, and it is nice. For these knives, and for a smaller utility knife that he has designed and will be introduced soon, Dale is probably going to outsource the sheath work to a custom maker. One thing I am confident of, is that Dale will choose a sheath maker whose quality will match his own.

Dale provided a serviceable leather sheath, as shown above, with the Stag handle, and I am sending the Full tang out for a sheath of a very special design.



Conclusion

Dale set out to create a tribute to Nessmuk, and he succeeded in spades. This is a wonderful knife, and I am proud to own it. As a student of the classic outdoorsmen, this is a knife I will treasure.

This is a knife that Nessmuk would have loved, the thin stock, keen edge and beautiful handle are all features he would appreciated.

Most of the pain being a thing of the past, I'd still agree with Chad's

For a hand forged knife, his prices offer an incredible value. For a base model Nessmuk knife, either full or Scandinavian bevels, the price is only $100 plus shipping. Naturally, premium handle materials will add to the price, and Dale is perfectly willing to use the customers handle materials if they have a special piece of wood or stag that they would like to use. Once a sheath maker has been contracted, these will be available with the knives at Dale’s cost.


Chad





Dale's Contact Information:


Dale Chudzinski

1474 County route 44

Madrid, New York 13660

Tel: 1-315-388-4800


Email for Dale Chudzinski

Dale's Home Page





If you have questions, criticisms, or things to add - email me please.


Jimbo

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