Monday, July 24, 2017

Knife Review: Fiddleback Forge Bushfinger (Production Model)


The Fiddleback Forge Production Bushfinger with black micarta handle.
Okay, so first things first, this review is a year and a half overdue.  I have been very busy during grad school, and I have really let my knife reviewing slide.  Also, I liked this knife, but couldn't give it a glowing review, and that left me feeling conflicted and not wanting to face writing this review.  I'm going to try to get more active with this blog this summer, and this knife review is important to that effort.


The knife I am reviewing today is the Fiddleback Forge Production Bushfinger.  The Fiddleback Forge "Production" line is what are known as midtech knives.  Fiddleback Forge is a handmade knife company, but that means that a lot of their handmade forged knives can be hard to get a hold of, so they came out with the production models that are made using more production friendly methods and materials (but still high end) like particle steels and micarta for the handles.  Midtech is the middle ground between custom knives and regular production knives.  It is a pretty amorphous term for an ambiguous category that mostly implies that the knives are fancier and more limited than normal production knives, but not as fancy and expensive as full custom knives.  In the case of the Fiddleback Forge Bushfinger it means the production version is about $225 vs. $350-plus-if-you-can-even-manage-to-snag-one for the handmade forged versions (You can look here for some images of the handmade Bushfingers).  So the production versions are relatively affordable, easy-to-get versions of popular models.

This particular knife was a prize that I won.  I entered into a drawing for sharing pictures and stories of practicing bushcraft skills with children, and I got lucky and received this lovely Bushfinger.  My desire to say nice things about the Bushfinger for use during bushcraft was a big part of why I delayed writing this review, because even though I really like the knife, I don't like it for bushcraft.  This knife has made it into regular use, but actually in the kitchen, not in the field.

The TL;DR review summary: 

This is a great little general purpose knife, but not great for working with wood.  In my opinion, you are better off with a $15 Mora knife for bushcraft, but the Fiddleback is far superior for most actual camping tasks like food preparation.

Let's Start With the Specs:

From the Fiddleback Forge website:

Blade length - 4 inches
Handle length - 5 inches
Blade metal - 1/8" thick S35VN (or maybe 5/32", different sites say different things, and I don't have my calipers handy)
Handle material - Canvas Micarta (black canvas micarta on the reviewed knife)
Tang - Sekeletonized full
Grind - Flat
(Note: no Rockwell hardness is specified on the website

The blade on this knife was given a stonewashed finish, which is one of my favorite finish types.  A stonewash finish is created by... tumbling the knife with pebbles.  It is what it sounds like.  In my experience stonewash finishes feel pretty low friction, and they are more resistant to corrosion than bead blasted finishes.  Additionally the stonewash hides scratches pretty well, which helps keep the blade looking nice.  The stonewash on this particular knife has worn off somewhat unevenly.  It has seen quite a bit of use, but I have been a little surprised compared to other stonewashed knives I have owned and used.  But the wear is hard to capture in a photo.
Closeup of the wear on the finish after a year and a half of use...  that somehow doesn't really show what I am talking about.

The steel of the blade itself is the very fancy supersteel CPM S35VN.  This is a very tough, hard wearing, corrosion resistant, stainless steel that is able to take and hold a very keen edge.  It is a particle steel, which as I have written before is made with science magic.  The fantastic performance has something to do with carbides... I think.  I'm no metallurgist (I've actually learned a lot about metalurgy over the last couple years, but it is a fantastically complicated topic and I am no expert, so this blurb still holds true).
It is a handsome knife.

This is a handy sized, but not large fixed blade.  The Bushfinger avoids one of my pet peeves common to smaller fixed blade knives by having a full sized handle.  I have big hands, so little handles are a problem for me.
Generous handle, don't be fooled by my bearpaws.

Like I said, I have big hands, so unless you also have big hands the knife probably won't look quite so small in your hand.  The handle is a full five inches, so it has plenty of handle, and that handle is very comfortably designed.  The comfyness of the handle is one of the nicest features of the knife for me.

The blade size and shape is well designed for general use.  The swell of the base of the blade keeps your fingers from sliding up during use.  The point is nicely sharp, and the shape provides a long shallow belly that is handy for slicing things like meat and vegetables as well as cutting cordage and boxes.

A Note on the Sheath:

The RLO sheath is good looking and offers excellent retention without being to clingy.
The guy who gave me this knife had a custom sheath made for it, a leather covered kydex RLO sheath (RLO is Rick Lowe Custom Leather) with a Tek Lok belt clip.  It is a cool setup, but I think I would actually prefer the leather beltloop sheath with the ferro rod holder that comes standard from Fiddleback Forge.  I like my knives to sit lower, and I like to wear them on my belt.  The sheath is a part of why this particular knife hasn't made it onto many hikes for me.  But it would be great for attaching to webbing or a backpack.  It is a cool sheath, just not my style.
Knife next to sheath.



CPM S35VN is an excellent steel.  It certainly meets the standard of being a supersteel.  It is a high quality particle steel, made in the USA.  It is well known, and has excellent characteristics for knife making.  And while $225 is not chump change, it is not a high price for a good quality US made knife with a supersteel blade.  I think that for the price this is an excellent steel.

Blade Finish:

Stonewash is probably my favorite blade finish.  It usually is excellent for a user knife.  It hides scratches, it looks nice, it is not too reflective, and it has a lower friction coefficient than most coatings.  But as previously mentioned, I have not been thrilled with the uneven way the finish has worn off.  Perhaps it is just a result of use, but I think it was caused by an uneven finish.


This knife was not new when it came to me.  It was in excellent condition, but I can't evaluate the quality of the factory edge.  When the knife came to me it was duller than I like, so I sharpened it and gave the edge a slightly more acute terminal bevel.  The reprofiled edge handled wood work a little better, but still didn't make this a knife I really like for bushcraft.

The shape of this blade is good for general purpose, but for me it has not been good for working with wood.  I have tried carving and whittling with this knife, and really didn't find it a good option.  It is possible to make shavings for tinder with the knife, but it is not that easy.  If you are like me then you like to have obsessively pretty shavings and feathersticks.  Despite the name of the knife, I found it unpleasant to try to make feathersticks with.  For tinder making the knife was functional, and not much more (You can compare the wood shaving picture below to this one from the Ambush Alpha):
I just can't seem to get really good pretty shavings with this knife.

But even though I found the knife a disappointment for woodwork, it is a pleasure to use and hold, and a generally useful design.  I found it so nice that it ended up going into my kitchen knife block to use as a petty-knife.  It isn't often that I come across a knife that is robust enough for camping use and also refined enough for daily use in the kitchen.  The bladestock is thick for a kitchen knife, but not too much so, and the blade height and angling makes the knife easy to use on a counter or cutting board.

So all in all, I like the blade, just not for wood.


Outstanding.  Very comfortable handle.  Great ergonomics.  Well done CNC sculpting of the micarta.  Good size.  Hand filling but not too big for people with normal sized hands.

Fit and Finish:

As I said, this knife came to me used, but in good condition.  As such, I cannot make claims as to initial edge quality.  Other than that, this is a lovely knife.  The uneven wear of the stonewash didn't become apparent until after a few months of use, and since I typically only use a knife for a month before I review it, that wouldn't have been an issue in a more timely review.

Otherwise, this knife was excellently made.  The sculpting of the micarta takes the grain of the material into account, which makes for lovely patterns in the handle.  The logo on the spine is attractive.  The knife is certainly a good looking knife, and well made.

Use Review:

As I have mentioned a couple times, I both really liked this knife, and was disappointed in it.  I liked it so much that it became a daily user, but in the kitchen, not the field.  It is a little short and robust for a petty knife, but it is just such a nice knife that it makes me want to use it.  It has served me well over the last year and a half getting almost daily use in the kitchen.

But I can't quite get over how much I didn't like the knife for bushcraft.  I have read other reviewers that seem to like the knife just fine for woodwork.  I have seen other people post pictures of fine feathersticks they made with a Bushfinger, but the knife just doesn't work quite right for me with wood.

It would be perfectly fine as a knife for camping and hiking.  It is a good size and weight.  Handy and generally useful design.  And the handle and blade design make it feel very secure in the hand without forcing your hand into any particular positions.  The design is stout enough to stand up to any uses that I would typically put a knife through (though if I were looking for a sharpened prybar to pound through logs I would probably get something else).


 This is a good knife.  A pretty knife.  A useful and handy knife.  But despite the name, I would not recommend it for bushcraft.  But like I said earlier, there are great low cost options like Moras for bushcraft.  What really sets apart a knife like the Fiddleback is materials, style, and execution; and all three of those are excellent with all of the Fiddleback knives.  The handle really is great.  So this isn't an unequivocal review, but if this knife appeals to you I suspect you will like it.

This angle actually shows the wear on the finish better.

Fiddleback Forge Production Bushfinger

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