Classic Camping, like Steven Watts and David Wescott do it, requires assembling a camping outfit circa 1900-1930. You’ll be sleeping under canvas, wearing woolens, using point blankets, and cooking over campfires. When you camp like this, just any knife won’t do. You’ll want to carry something that would have been seen in the kits of the day.
Until a just a few years ago, you could buy a Marble’s Ideal or Woodcraft and carry a knife largely unchanged in appearance since these classics were introduced in 1898 and 1916, respectively. Not only that, both models were among the top three most recommended knives of the period (the other being the Marble’s Expert). Sadly, Marble’s is now just another formerly-respected brand name, applied to a line of Asian-made knives that have nothing in common with the works of art that came out of Gladstone, Michigan.
In late 2011, I discovered that Bark River Knives had introduced this 2011 Custom Canoe. It is a perfect re-creation of an original Marble’s model. For those not familiar with the Marble’s Canoe, it looked much like the Ideal but was offered only with a 4 1/2- inch blade whereas the Ideal was produced in 5, 6, 7 and 8 inch blade lengths. The Canoe was also made from thinner stock and featured a slightly different fuller groove and clip point. The differences are so slight that Canoes are often mistakenly identified as Ideals. The Canoe was produced from 1904 till 1923, smack dab in the middle of the Classic Camping age.
From what I understand, the knife was a custom order, commissioned by Jason Thoune, the owner of DLT Trading. Jason wanted Bark River to re-create a classic Marble’s-style knife and that’s a good thing as Marble’s no longer makes the knives that built their reputation. A run of 100 Custom Canoes were produced, with a few going to a select Bark River dealers. The blade was crafted from traditional 1095 steel that was just under 3/16ths thick, which gives these knives the look, weight and feel of the vintage Canoes. Each and every blade was hand ground and the handles were all hand shaped. Handle choices included leather, Sambar Stag, buffalo horn and sheep horn and in combinations such as leather/Sambar Stag/leather with Sambar Stag pommel, Sambar Stag with Sambar Stag pommel and leather with Sambar Stag pommel. Bark River also made some synthetic Micarta handled versions as well (a mistake on such a period style knife in my opinion, but I’m sure some liked them).
The original Bark River announcement for the Custom Canoe stated that they were planning to make “all of the sizes over the next year or so from the 4.5 all the way to the full size 8 inch blade version.” There was also a lot of discussion about this being the beginning of a new line of traditional knives, giving the impression that Bark River was going to re-create the Woodcraft and perhaps the Expert as well. Sadly, it appears that the plan didn’t unfold. By the end of 2011, DLT Trading was discounting the knife as sales were sluggish. According to Thoune, the decision to use traditional (old-fashioned) 1095 steel instead of the very popular CPM 3V powdered metal “super steel” currently being used by Bark River, was the main reason. If that’s the case, some folks made a real mistake in not buying one of these beautiful traditional knives.
Here are the specs:
- Overall Length: 8.775 in
- Blade Length: 4.250 in
- Blade Steel:1095
- Blade Thickness: .175 in
- Weight: 6 oz.
- Hardness: @58RC
For those who might discount the Custom Canoe because of its old-fashioned look, don’t be fooled, this knife will perform as well as any knife out there (no, the 1095 won’t hold an edge like some of the modern “super steels” but a quick strop on a piece of cardboard or your jeans will keep it razor sharp). Like the majority of Bark River’s products and all of the good Marble’s knives, these blades are convex ground. The convex grind puts more steel behind the edge and makes this more durable than any other knife grind. This is a knife you can depend on in the toughest situations.
The Custom Canoe is also a better knife than a vintage Marble’s. It’s tempered harder and the overall quality, fit, and finish is better than production Marble’s knives. The handle is also sized to better accommodate today’s hands (vintage knives had very short grips as hands were smaller a century ago). I also prefer the thinned blade over that of the Ideal. Note: being thinner than an Ideal’s blade does NOT mean this is a particularly thin blade, the spine is still very stout. Of course, you may find a particular type of knife to be more appropriate for a specific use (I wouldn’t use this as a fillet knife), but for an all-around outdoor/camp knife, you’d be hard pressed to find something better. This knife will do the job and then some.
The only thing I was not jumping-for-joy pleased about was the modernized sheath. Now, vintage sheaths leave A LOT to be desired. None I’ve encountered secured the knife very well and most Marble’s sheaths were rather thin and flimsy. So while I would not offer a replica of the original sheath, I wish Bark River would have chosen a style with a more vintage look. Still, this is a middling complaint and in no way changes my opinion of this being the perfect “Classic Camp” knife. Does all of that rustic perfection come cheap? Nope. Depending on the handle material, the Custom Canoe costs between $235.00 and $250.00.
Luckily, some of these knives are still available if you search on the Internet. My feeling is once they are gone; this style of knife will likely not be seen again. If you are a Classic Camper – get one while you can!