Ever wonder where some knife designs come from?
At Big D Custom Knives, the maker is also a user. And his competition credentials are very impressive.
By Leon Pantenburg
Disclaimer: I was not paid, nor did I get a free knife for writing this review. Nobody had any input in anything I wrote, All I ever promise is a fair shake.
Some knife designs come from the marketing department, rather than people with actual experience. But Donavon Phillips, who markets a line of user knives, is both a maker and a user. Donavon is the defending World Bladesports champion, winning his title at the 2019 BLADE show in Atlanta. He followed this win with another on the History channel “Knife or Death” show.
In addition to all this, Donavon also is a really nice guy, with a booming laugh as big as he is.
Donavon and I live near each other in Mississippi. I had been reading about his skill in Bladesports, and wanted to field test and review one of his knives. We met at the Highway 25 gas station after he got off work at Nissan and talked knives. Or rather, he talked knives, and I asked questions. I was interested in reviewing a hunting knife that could double as a survival knife.
The knife Donavon recommended and loaned to me was his personal hunting knife, which he calls a Drop Point Kephart. Donavon has done deer, hog and alligator processing for years, and the design is something that evolved from field use. All his knives are completely handle made, and custom built to the customer’s specifications.
“I’m a knife user, not just a maker, and this knife was designed to be my Kephart,” he said. “I wanted a drop point and a narrow blade. You can completely process a deer with this knife.”
I whittled some sticks and did some bushcraft tasks and was impressed with the performance. I had to wait a few months to take the knife on a successful deer hunt.
But November did arrive and I harvested a whitetail doe. I used the Big D to gut the deer and split the ribcage, then it disjointed the lower legs. The knife performed wonderfully at the skinning shed to remove the hide and quarter the carcass.
Here is what I found out about the Drop Point Kephart.
Overall length: 10 inches
Blade length: 5-1/4 inches
Point: Drop point
Handle thickness: Approximately 3/4 inch at widest point
Blade thickness: 1/8 inch
Comes with sturdy leather sheath
The good stuff:
Steel: Donovan used CPM-4V steel on many of his knives. While it is more expensive than some of the other super steels, Donavon says, the upfront cost is worth it.
“This is the same steel I use in my Bladesports competition knives because it holds an edge,” he commented. “You could sharpen the Drop Point Kephart with a rock, if you had to, but I don’t take sharpening gear along. I’m not in the woods to sharpen knives.”
Handle: This is a bushcraft-designed handle, according to Donavon, which is more rounded and with a larger diameter. All handles are made to order using materials of the customer’s choice. He usually uses micarta, because of the durability, and the material is fastened to the steel with epoxy and pins.
I loved the handle. It fit my large hands very well, and the larger diameter meant I could use is safely, even when it was wet with blood and deer body fluids. I typically wear cut resistant gloves over vinyl examination gloves when doing field work, and the Big D was very safe to use. You can tell it’s a user handle – it fills my hand, and there is no danger of it slipping.
Grind: The Big D is convex ground. Convex is my favorite grind for a variety of reasons, but tops on the list is that it works well for everything. I suppose a scandi grind may have an edge (couldn’t resist the pun!) when it comes to wood processing, but I’ll take a convex grind any time.
Point: A drop point is one of my favorites. The configuration is strong, and works well for piercing and doing the initial under the tail work when gutting a large animal.
Belly: The belly is the part of the blade that does the work of skinning. It is that part of the blade from the point back to where the blade straightens out. The Big D’s belly is just right for skinning, and it worked very well for me.
Tang: The Drop Point Kephart is a full tang, with a unique difference. All Big D Knives have tapered tang. This reduces the steel in the handle, which cuts weight, and helps with the balance. And it really works. “Tapered tang and good steel – won’t find that just anywhere,” he says.
Sharpening: Just when you’re beginning to think you know a thing or two about sharpening, you run across a master.
I was at the BLADE show, watching Donavon put the final sharpening touches on the knife he would use to win the 2019 Bladesports World Championship in a few hours. Despite chatting with me and other spectators, he steadily honed the knife to beyond razor sharpness. He plucked a hair from his beard and demonstrated how the blade would carve a shaving from the hair.
That is the sharpest knife I’ve ever seen, and I look for such things. A standard strop, with compound, would allow the user to keep the blade wicked sharp. (Here is how to make and use a strop.)
All Big D knives are handmade, one at a time, using stock removal tools and techniques. Donavon’s knives hark back to the days when a bladesmith made all his knives one at a time by hand.
The pride in workmanship shows through when the “Donavon Phillips, Morton, Mississippi” logo is engraved on the blade. You can depend on this knife.
Get a Big D knife here.
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