Mora Companion Black vs Hultafors Craftsman’s Knife

Carving and test cuttingI seem to have a problem with stainless Mora knives. I broke one after abusive testing last year. Then (or maybe it happened first), the brand new cutting edge of another stainless Mora bulged out while carving a piece of green elm. I’ve never had any of this happen to me before or after with any other knife. Sounds like a good reason to test this steel again and compare it to another cheap stainless steel on a very similar knife – Hultafors Craftsman’s Knife.
Mora and Hultafors SS-2

I took the hardest, most knotty piece of dry blackthorn to prove that Mora’s stainless warps on hard wood and stainless Hultafors does not. And I failed. Well, at least partially (no pun intended). The Mora did not bend like I expected (I had convexed the edge very slightly though). Neither did the other knife. The whole carving test didn’t last more than 10 minutes but it already revealed something I suspected. Both edges started to dull and the edge of the Mora seemed to like the treatment less than the Hultafors.

It’s true, the difference is very slight at this stage. But given more time it gets more and more obvious. I just didn’t have two hours to show a completely blunt knife to prove it. I have done that, however, while carving and the results and my perception were similar. Mora starts skimming the surface of the wood much sooner. In fact, I’ve never got any of my Hultafors knives that dull.

So, what is that super stainless steel used on Hultafors knives? In the video below, I admitted I didn’t know that at the time. I do now. And just like in the case of their high carbon steel choice, I was quite surprise again. Hultafors Group answered me on their Facebook page saying, for their stainless knives they use AUS-8. That’s right. The same steel Cold Steel likes to use and the same steel the famous Ontario Rat – 1 is made out of.

Ontario Rat 1 closeup

So I suppose, that’s another thing Hultafors and Cold Steel have in common. Both these companies make use of relatively inexpensive Japanese steels (SK-5 and AUS-8) and they do it very well. Knowing what stainless steel I’ve been so impressed with, and that chemically, it’s not much different from 440 A, I’m really convinced that heat treat makes all the difference, although I must admit, I’m not sure how that works with stainless steel. Especially that many people, myself included, have complained about edge holding of the RAT – 1. I found it a bit ‘chippy’ at first. I guess the very slight strop convexing did the trick again. Nevertheless, I never had these problems with any of my stainless Hultafors knives, which left me even more surprised.

Hand Drill Fire – There is a Trick

Hand DrillWe don’t know which method of primitive fire making came first. Most likely we’ll never know for sure. We can’t even say if it was a friction or percussion method. Most scientists, I know about, that researched this topic seem to believe the first fire started by a human-like species must have been made using the hand drill.

Some of those scientists claim this is a very easy way of making fire, and give examples of people from various primitive cultures, who are supposedly able to get an ember in 10 seconds. Maybe. If you are in a hot dry environment and happen to have some of the best possible materials with low combustion threshold. I suspect most people interested in learning this method live in a bit less favourable conditions and don’t have those supper materials to hand. Not to mention those guys lived in the late 19th century and would’ve mastered their skills possibly for decades as that was the only way of starting a fire they knew.

Hand Drill kitLet’s get this straight. Hand drill is not easy. It’s not like the bow drill where you can take two random pieces of more or less dry wood and make it work. Especially in places like the UK where rain is the norm rather than exception and temperatures are generally not very high. If you’ve never done this before expect your hands to hurt. A lot. You’ll get blisters which may burst and bleed. Your skin will then come off, your muscles and bones will hurt too and you’re out for days before you even got your first ember. Does that sound easy to you?

You can, of course, get a coal the very first time if you have someone experienced make the kit for you and then watch you and tell you what to do. Needless to say, this is not the same as doing it all and succeeding by yourself. Plus, even if you do succeed with somebody’s help, there is a good chance you’ll still mess up your hands.

So in this sense, there is no trick. You have to practice your coordination, stamina and thicken you skin just like you would when learning to play guitar – practising gradually longer and longer. But you can do all that, make your spindle and hearth board from the best materials available in your area and still fail. The trick to solving that problem is patience.

First of all focus on each task as if there is nothing else to do. Don’t think about the notch before you burn the pieces in. Don’t wait for the ember if you haven’t even seen smoke yet. One thing at a time and it’ll come. And remember – if you’re sweating, you’re doing something wrong.

The Spindle
The spindle I used in the video below, is made from a cattail or bullrush (Typha) stalk. I absolutely love to use them for hand drill as they are already perfectly straight, usually have the right diameter and are relatively soft which is good for your hands. They also work quite well with many types of hearth board materials, and grow almost everywhere in the world where there is a bit of water. The perfect length for me is between 50 and 35 cm (20 and 13″) and diameter between 6 and 10 mm. Because they are soft, they do get worn Hand Drill smokedown quickly and a stalk of less than 30 cm will be difficult to use. Therefore, I tend to make a compound spindle consisting of a thicker piece with one end hollowed out (about and inch into the stalk) and reinforced with sinew, and a removable short piece which takes all the beating.

The Hearth Board
Outdoor Hand DrillThe type of hearth will depend on what the spindle is made from. For a cattail spindle it’s good to use something soft. In the video, I used a piece of long-dead poplar. Willow, slightly punky birch or even pine, spruce and ivy will work too. The hearth cannot be too thick. There won’t be as much dust as in the case of a bow drill kit, and your board has to be appropriately thiner. One centimetre (0.4″) works best for me.

The Notch
If everything is dry, you’re getting a lot of smoke but the ember just isn’t forming, there’s probably not enough oxygen. The hand drill notch has to be perfect. It shouldn’t be too wide or your spindle will bore its way out of the socket ruining everything seconds before the ember formed. It can’t be too narrow because the dust needs to be able to come out freely and your ember will need oxygen to start glowing.

There is one trick I learned from a guy who calls himself Mr Wilson, and haven’t seen anywhere else. He once showed me how to increase friction when marrying  the pieces together by adding a pinch of sand under the spindle. Works great and reduces the time needed to char the spindle tip and the board.