Story of the Woodlore Knife

Many of you are already familiar with Ray Mears and know, too, I am also a fan. Those of you familiar wit Ray, will likely also know he has a knife out, designed by him, called the Woodlore. And though we only know of the knife’s existence, the back story of its creation is just as bit as interesting as that of it’s designer’s.

Alan Wood was the creator of the knife and shared the interesting backstory, with Bushcraft UK magazine, circa 2005, of how this knife came to be.

As a bonus, in this article, you scandinavian grind nuts, me being one of them, will read what happens when the scandi grind is not sharpened correctly, and Alan’s frustrations with those knives sent back to him that weren’t sharpened correctly. I can tell you, early on, I also would missharpen the grind, out of fear of scratching the grind, and the results were unfortunate in that I ruined the beautiful wood cutting ability of that grind.

I digress! Here is the article.

“I suppose I’ve always made certain knives that are multi-purpose and suitable for living off the land. Tastes change with time and experience but after using a lot of knives available in the 70s for rough camping similar to what is experienced on today’s bushcraft courses I always remember the failures and problems of various types of knives. This experience still tempers my decisions on knife design to this day.

I first met Ray Mears at a London Arms Fair in the late 80s when his friend introduced the fresh faced blond as the designer of the Wilkinson-Sword Survival Knife. I asked if should really be bragging about such a thing and commented that the chances are that such a beast would be left behind in a drawer when a survival situation occurred and that a compact 4” drop-point would better serve the wilderness traveller. He just smiled and left. I found out later that Ray was responsible for the shape and grind of the big knife and it was the numbskulls at the factory who decided to add the Mickey Mouse bits to make it more likely to sell to the Rambo crowd.

About a year later Ray contacted me to discuss a British knife specifically designed for bushcraft. He visited with a friend who was producing a magazine for Survival Aids, the Morland, Penrith, company, and we discussed his concept. He wanted a smallish knife, handmade and as British as possible that was to become the Woodlore Neck Knife due to the sheath concept that allowed carry with a cord around the neck or slung under the arm for discrete carry or Arctic use. He wanted carbon steel as he felt stainless had no “soul”, a full, non-tapered tang and the short Nordic grind, a wood handle from native trees and a design that was devoid of frippery.

I wasn’t convinced about the steel choice having “moved on” to stainless and the short grind was against current conventional wisdom which promoted the convex “Moran Grind” as the ultimate strength/cutting ability solution. He left and took away a 4.1” D2 steel drop-point with a brass guard and Tufnol (British phenolic laminate) handle to use to see if the size and shape were suitable. I still have this knife and it has a very mild hollow grind with a heavy convex bevelled edge. 

(The knife Ray took away with my own Woodlore knife. Although now “retired”,  this was my main belt knife for deer, rabbits and camping for many years. The wear is obvious from sharpening on belt grinder.)

In the meantime, I tried to source sufficient native wood that was suitable for knife handles and drew a blank. The next best was Bird’s Eye Maple which was available in sufficient quantity and had the important FSC stamp to ensure it came from sustainable reserves.

Ray returned the knife and was definitely not impressed by the D2 steel as it was so difficult to sharpen and was adamant that he wanted a simpler carbon steel. I suggested O1 as it was endorsed by many world class knife makers, is readily available in all sizes and I had worked with it many times before. He also found the brass guard to be more of a hindrance than a safety feature. In the top corner of his letter was a small sketch of a knife with the similar shape of the knife he tried showing a full handle without the guard but with the same two  Loveless handle bolts and a thong tube. The sketch included a dip in the rear top of the handle but also a sharp heal near the butt thereafter. I eliminated the latter as I felt it would cause irritation in use and limit the versatility of the grip.

Story of the Woodlore Knife

He still wanted the short bevel grind and explained that most people who attended his courses weren’t necessarily “knife people” and that it would be easier for them to sharpen if they could lay the whole bevel on the hone. Also, he needed the wedge-like edge that it produced for specific bushcraft tasks and controlled woodworking cuts. The sheath was to have a slot down the side like an old Native American sheath to allow a cord to be wrapped around and fixed to another hole in the toe of the sheath to produce a hanging loop.

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