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Review: C.T. Fischer Nessmuk Knife – a contender for best all-around knife

Review: C.T. Fischer Nessmuk Knife – a contender for best all-around knife

Sometimes a knife just looks right, and that’s what drew my eye to an ad for a “Nessmuk” knife. It looked like a quality workhorse.

The C.T. Fischer Nessmuk knife comes shaving-sharp with a quality sheath.

The C.T. Fischer Nessmuk knife comes shaving-sharp with a quality sheath. (Pantenburg photos)

by Leon Pantenburg

(This is my opinion after testing this product. I was not paid to do this review.)

For a little background here, George Washington Sears, 1821-1890, is better known by his pen name of “Nessmuk.” He wrote one of the first wilderness survival books,  “Woodcraft,” in 1884 and was a regular contributor to “Forest and Stream Magazine.”

Sears had tuberculosis and the simple minimalist lifestyle in the wilderness, similar to that of  Henry David Thoreau, appealed to him.  Subsequently,  Nessmuk wandered widely in various forests and wilderness areas, writing very popular stories for largely eastern audiences.

Nessmuk understood the importance of cutlery. His tools consisted of a custom light axe, a fixed blade knife he designed and a quality two-blade folding pocketknife.

I prefer a quality saw over a hatchet in most survival situations. Here are three different types of saws I carry as the need dictates: From left, is a Gerber folder; a Fiskar sliding blade, and a double-edged Pac-Saw Wyo.

I prefer a quality saw over a hatchet in most survival situations. Here are three different types of saws I carry as the need dictates: From left, is a Gerber folder; a Fiskar sliding blade, and a double-edged Pac-Saw Wyo.

I carry a quality saw instead of Nessmuk’s axe and a Scandinavian Mora and a Swiss Army Classic to replace his folder. But we both agree on the value of a sturdy sheath knife. Nessmuk thought the sheath knife should be of the best quality, well suited for skinning and field dressing game, and could be used as an eating utensil.

So when I saw a Nessmuk-style knife  advertised by C.T. Fischer Knives, based in Elk City, Idaho, I just had to try one out . I called knife maker Christopher T. Fischer and asked about his product line.

Fischer makes a variety of styles of knives, and the Nessmuk he sent me for testing is made out of a piece of used circular saw blade that formerly saw duty in a lumber mill. The knife is shaped by grinding, and he didn’t do any additional tempering.

“I look at this knife as functional (though not ideal) as a bush knife, as well as functional (though not ideal) as a kitchen knife, ” Fischer wrote. “Also, the shape is historical.”

“When I started making the knife, I knew it wouldn’t be my personal favorite.  But, it is a very simple knife to make; it is lightweight; it is sturdy (feel free to baton it); it can be used as a light chopper; it is carbon steel; unlike junky stainless, it takes a superb edge; a file will cut it, when major metal removal is needed; the blade should last for a lifetime of sharpening, without getting any more difficult to sharpen (as is the case with thick-spined knives); and it has a definite historical connection that is a WHOLE lot better than Bear Grylls!

“The final element that keeps these knives in production, is the customer feedback.  People love them!  So, the knife is profitable to produce, has a low price (for a hand-made tool), and has a connection to good batch of backwoods common sense,” he added.

The knife arrived about a week after our initial conversation. It came out the box shaving-sharp, and the first thing that caught my eye was the quality workmanship. This particular knife has a walnut handle, and the pride in craftsmanship is immediately evident. The blade is about four inches long and the smooth, flowing lines of the design are pleasing to look at. The  handle is ergonomically designed and fits my hand very well. It comes with a quality, hand-sewn leather sheath.

The Cold Steel SRK (top) and the J. Martinni Mora-style knives are good choices for all around use.

The Cold Steel SRK (top) and the J. Martinni Mora-style knives are good choices for all around use.

But a pretty knife that doesn’t work well is nothing more than expensive eye candy junk, IMO, and I set out to test it. My standards for knife evaluation are based on use, not abuse.  Try hard enough and  you can break anything, and I’m not sure what that necessarily proves.

So essentially, all the knives I test start out in the kitchen. They are used at every opportunity, to evaluate how the blade works for different common tasks. Also, I’ll find some lengthy cutting job, such as slicing prime rib thin, to test the handle design. The Nessmuk went on a picnic where it was used to slice up three large tri-tips and several chickens, and it came through with flying colors.

Once a knife passes the kitchen test, it goes outdoors. I did baton (pound the knife through a piece of firewood to make kindling) with it, though, quite frankly, this test is not particularly indicative of  blade  quality. If you have the right technique and piece of wood, batoning can be done with just about any knife you can image.

Then I cut up a bunch of manila rope, carved the end of a hickory hammer handle and whittled a lot of kindling to start a fire.

The blade held its edge throughout all this work, so finally, I deliberately dulled it with a rock. It was no job at all to put the edge back on it, and a few swipes with my butchering steel returned it to shaving sharp. The blade comes with a Scandinavian bevel edge to it, so re-sharpening is easy, even for a beginner.

Here’s my thoughts on the Nessmuk after testing it:

The Nessmuk  is not the best kitchen knife. While it slices and chops well and is easy to handle, it is too big for peeling potatoes, and it would be difficult to fillet fish with. It would work well for cutting the heads off small fish and gutting them, though!

And it would not be a perfect survival knife for me, because the blade is a little short (I like a five-to-six inch blade for overall use).  My preference in this category remains the Cold Steel SRK or Bark River Canadian, with the Cold Steel Master Hunter coming in a close second.

But the Nessmuk design may without peer for skinning large game animals. I typically use a Green River or Forshner five-inch sheep

These skinners all have a similar design. The Nessmuk is on top; followed by a seven-inch butcher, a five-inch modified sheep skinner and a Cold Steel Canadian belt knife.

These skinners all have a similar design. The Nessmuk is on top; followed by a seven-inch butcher, a five-inch modified sheep skinner and a Cold Steel Canadian belt knife.

skinner for my elk and deer skinning chores that has been modified with a sharper point. For small game skinning, such as rabbits and squirrels, a good Mora or the Cold Steel Canadian Belt knife is my choice.

In essence, these are modified Nessmuk knives, and they have proven themselves many times over.

But here’s the final part of the Fischer Nessmuk test, and I hope to play out this scenario  in October.

The sound of the shot echoes through the timber and canyon, and the elk drops in its tracks. After making sure it won’t get up, I walk over, remembering to be thankful for where I am and what I am doing.

Then, the fun is over. I will pull out the Nessmuk from my day pack and get to the chore of  skinning. I bet the knife will work superbly.

While the Nessmuk wouldn’t be my first choice as a survival or kitchen knife, in my hand, in that situation, it could prove to be my favorite knife!

For more information and to view the C.T. Fischer knives website, click here.

For more information about survival and backcountry knives, click here!

 

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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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