Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mora No. 1 Review

Till now I have made an effort to stay away from knife reviews and debates because they tend to lead to much fighting and anger. After numerous emails however, I’ve decided to do some short reviews.

All of my reviews should be taken in context. I carry an axe and a saw, and the knives I will review are ones that work with that combination of tools. As a result, they will tend to be smaller knives. Their size and shape however, should be judged only in the context of the whole tool kit that I carry. If I was to take only a knife in the woods, my choices would be different, and the tasks I would ask the knife to perform would be different. For these reviews I will assume that the user is also carrying at least an axe or some other wood-processing tool.

So, as you know, when it comes to my axe reviews, I compare all axes I test to the Gransfors Bruks line, as their axes are some of the best around and are very well known and tested. I looked for a similar knife that I can use as a point of comparison, but one was hard to find. Eventually I decided to use the Mora No 1.

The reason I chose the Mora No 1 is that it has been used by many in the bushcraft community for a long time. It has been thoroughly tested and reviewed and is endorsed by many respected woodsmen. I have done some other posts on Mora knives, which you can see here and here.

There are however a lot of myths about the Mora knives, perpetuated by people who don’t actually use them for serious work, but have read a lot about them online. So, I want to take a brief look at one here in order to establish a base line.

None of my tests will be destruction tests. I will simply provide as many of the knife specifications as I can, and then put it through the activities that a knife might be expected to perform alongside an axe, or in case of emergency, alone. So, here it is:

Knife Length:
7 7/8 inches (198 mm)
Blade Length: 3 7/8 inches (98 mm)
Blade Thickness: 3/32 inches (2.4 mm)
Blade Width: 11/16 inches (17.5 mm)
Blade Material: 1095 carbon steel (also available in laminated carbon steel)
Blade Hardness: HRC 59 on the Rockwell Scale (the laminated version has a core hardness of HRC 61)
Type of Tang: Partial concealed
Blade Grind: Scandinavian/single bevel
Handle Material: Birch
Sheath Material: Plastic
Cost: $10.00

The Mora No 1 has a very well earned reputation. It is very comfortable in the hand. It is light and easy to handle. The blade is thin and mine came shaving sharp. However, because the knife is so light and thin, it can feel a bit flimsy-it has some give when you bend it with your hands. The tip of the knife I got was not evenly ground, so I had to do some work with a sharpening stone to even it out.

The back of the knife was not polished, and looked like it had just been punched out of the blank. The corners were rounded, so it was very hard to use it with a ferrocerium rod. I had to square it off with a rough sharpening stone. Then it threw sparks nicely.

When that was done, I put it through the usual tests of batoning, truncating, and carving.

I selected a two inch thick piece of oak and went to work. The blade had no problem making its way through. It is important when doing batoning tests to use wood that is though enough to require that the knife be batoned while it is in the wood. That way you have to put pressure on the handle while hitting the tip, providing for the most stress on the blade. The knife is not particularly strong, but is more than strong enough for the task, which is made easier by the shortness of the blade, limiting the size wood you can baton.

Then I did some minor truncating. I placed the blade 90 degrees to the grain of the wood, and beat it in as far as it would go. If I was actually truncating, I would do successive cuts like this in a V shape. Here this was done only to see if the knife would dull down. This is as much penetration as you can expect from any knife.

I then again split one of the batoned pieces and made some curlies for a feather stick. You can see that the knife was still sharp.

The knife has a partial tang. This model used to have a rat-tail tang, meaning the tang gradually thinned out inside the handle, coming out the back at one point. The new version however, has the concealed tang, epoxied in the handle, as you can see from the below x-ray. This actually makes the knife stronger.

As you can see from the above picture, the tang does not come all the way to the back of the handle.

I would not use a knife with anything other than a full tang for batoning the tip into the wood by hitting the back of the handle. The reason is that while the knife may be able to take it, the strength of such a knife comes from a secure connection between the tang and the handle. When the back of the handle is hit, the force does not go directly in the tang and blade, but is rather transmitted to the tang through the handle. This weakens the epoxied connection between the partial tang and the handle, leading to serious problems down the line. I will do the test however with the full tang knives I test.

Something you may want to do with a new Mora No 1 is to put some glue in the gap where the blade enters the handle. Otherwise moisture can get trapped there and rust the tang.

The sheath is of the lowest possible quality. It is made out of plastic, and the knife does not fit well. Mine fell out of its sheath when it was in the backpack. The sheath also stays high on the belt, making it impossible to wear with a backpack which uses a hip belt.

Like I said before, the blade is thin and the tang is narrow and short. This makes the knife relatively weak. You can easily devise tasks which will snap the blade. The place where it is most likely to snap is the area where the blade meets the handle. That being said however, if you only use your knife to supplement your axe when it comes to light tasks, this knife if more than sufficient. What is even more important is the low cost of the knife. It is an excellent design and a wonderful tool when used for the intended tasks. Clearly the design is not intended to be a rough tool that can handle anything you throw at it, but is rather intended to be a fine cutting tool. In that role, for $10 the knife is a steal.