The best survival knife is one you enjoy carrying, because you’ll have it along when it’s needed.
The new Sterling from Lon Humphrey Custom Knives is affordable, good looking and really useful, and may be what you’re looking for.
by Leon Pantenburg
I did not get a free knife, and was not paid to do this review. KnivesShipFree is a sponsor of SurvivalCommonSense.com, but neither KSF nor Lon Humphrey had any input in this review.
It’s bad enough that I struggle with a history addiction, but that’s combined with a deep-seated fascination for cutlery. Both of these are integrated into my hunting, fishing and backpacking hobbies. And then I have this obsession for quality, durability and function in all my outdoor equipment.
Given all this, just show me a pretty blade, and I start teetering on the verge of buying yet another knife I don’t need.
These factors came together with a resounding “GOTCHA” when I saw the new Lon Humphrey Sterling. Commissioned as a special by KnivesShipFree, I ordered one as soon as it came on the market.
Here are the specifications:
- Overall Length: 8 7/8″ (225mm)
- Blade Length: 4 ” (101mm)
- Thickness: .21″ (5.35mm)
- Handle Thickness: .584″ (14.87mm)
- Weight: 5.8oz
- Comes with a sturdy leather sheath.
The Sterling went immediately into my daypack and rode along on a couple of short hikes and outings in the Cascades.
Here’s what I liked:
Size: The four-inch blade is about perfect for 90 percent of what you’ll need a knife for outdoors. It’s big enough to do just about everything, but not so big as to be awkward to use. At 8-7/8-inches long, it is compact and easy to carry. It’s lightweight for a knife of its size.
Handle design: Thank you, Lon Humphrey for making a knife with a reasonably-sized handle! Many knives have handles less than four-inches long, and those just don’t work for those of us with large hands. The Sterling handle design is just right for my glove-size large hands. Ergonomically, it is just about perfect for me, and is very comfortable for long whittling or carving sessions.
Curly maple handle: This handle is affordable, traditional and really good looking. It also was the deciding factor on getting the knife. When combined with my .40 caliber flintlock rifle and pipe tomahawk, everything looks like a museum display.
Steel: Humphrey starts out with 1095 high carbon steel, and tempers it to about 59-60 rc hardness. It hold an edge like crazy, and will be easy to re-sharpen when the edge eventually needs it.
Spine: The side opposite the edge is ground at a 90-degree angle, like an ice skate. I use this side a lot for processing tinder and scraping pitchwood for firestarting. You can also use the spine to scrape a ferrocerrium to make sparks for firemaking.
Point: The point helps determine what the knife can be used for. The drop point on the Sterling is a good all-around choice.
Forge marks: All Humphrey knives are hand forged, and some of them have the hammer marks. This is how knives on the frontier, or those carried by the mountain men looked. The forge marks, combined with the curly maple handle, are what make my Sterling so cool-looking with my flintlock rifle. They give a one-of-a-kind look.
Sheath: A traditional-looking knife should have a good leather sheath. The Sterling comes with a well-designed, sturdy one.
Made in the USA: Support American small business. All Humphrey knives are made here.
Price: Depending on what handle option you order, a Sterling will start out at $179.95. That’s a steal for a semi-custom, hand-forged blade.
Not so hot – maybe?
These are not deal breakers for me, but you may want to consider them.
Carbon steel may rust: I wipe off my carbon blades after using and coat them with mineral oil if they’re going to be stored. If you’re going to be using a knife in a hot, humid saltwater environment, where the knife will be wet alot, you may not want carbon steel.
Carbon steel may stain: I like the honest patina that builds up on a carbon steel blade. It gives character. Use your carbon steel blade enough and it will show some honest use. If you don’t like a patina, get a good stainless blade with CPM 3V steel. I find Maas metal polish works really well for keeping a blade looking new.
Use as a firestarter steel: I’ve seen videos of people striking a spark with a piece of flint against a carbon steel blade as an emergency way of firestarting. I don’t think this is a valid survival skill. Before this can work, you must have a material that will catch said spark. I have not successfully ever used a carbon steel blade to start a fire, even though I have tried hard, using several different kinds of carbon steel blades.
Don’t rely on this technique until you have successfully accomplished it many times in a controlled setting.
When it’s all said and done, buying a good knife is not hard if all you want is a reliable tool. You can go into any hardware store and buy a better knife than those the mountain men or frontiersmen used.
But that’s no fun, and is hardly satisfying to most of us history/cutlery enthusiasts. My primitive hunting gear is an art form, IMHO, and I really enjoy carrying and using the same stuff the old-timers did. I also like setting it up in camp and looking at it, much as you would enjoy viewing a familiar painting or sculpture.
I like my Sterling so well, I ordered one for my brother Mike Pantenburg as a birthday present. He has a .50 caliber Lyman Great Plains rifle, and is also a history/cutlery enthusiast. He’s going to appreciate the hand-forged beauty.
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