• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


UP Bravo Grail knife improved | Check out the elk antler re-handle

558 400 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

It’s my own fault that I have so many custom knives I don’t really need.

But these Kendall Carpenter custom handles made my grail knives even better.

by Leon Pantenburg

Disclaimer: I didn’t get free knives, and I paid Kendall Carpenter to do the re-handle work. This is my opinion, and nobody had any input into this post.

I cannot stop tweaking hunting knife designs. There is no reason for it – several of my knives are the epitome of blades that will work for me.  But cutlery enthusiasts are never satisfied, and we are always looking for that perfect blade/handle combination.

Here’s my reasoning: Knife handles have to be made to fit the largest number of potential users – i.e. the average person. No knife handle is perfect for everyone. Here are some ways to measure your hand for the best handle fit. 

For several years I used an Ambush Tundra, with a custom Pete Winkler antique walnut handle, for most of my deer and elk hunting. I ‘d never need another hunting knife.

The finished project. The sheath leather came from a pair of harness boots I bought in the early 70s.

Then the Bark River UP (Upper Peninsula) series was released. For a couple of years, I had lobbied for a knife combination Canadian-style blade/Bark River Bravo handle. I might have had a minuscule influence in that design – suggesting, then further whining, begging and sniveling may have helped.  Regardless, the UP Bravo and UP Gunny are for me the epitome of useful hunting/bushcraft/survival knives.

This photo show safe firearms handling and respect for the downed animal.

I killed this Oregon elk in 2015. The right antler was used for handle material.

Then Kendall Carpenter, of Carp knives, made a hunting knife to my specifications. Called the Carp LP (LP stands for Lower  Peninsula), the LP combined the Canadian leaf style blade with a handle built to my specifications. I love the LP and have used it extensively.

So, the search is over?

Well, I’ve been working on another knife handle project for over a year, just because I can and I wanted to. The best way to get my absolute best handle fit, I reasoned, was to put tennis racket tape on a handle, use the knife and tweak the handle shape and diameter until it was perfect.

Here is what we did.

I kept adding or subtracting tape in different areas of the standard Bravo handle until the grip fit my hand perfectly.

Tennis racket tape was wrapped around the micarta handles of my UP Gunny and Bravo. Initially, the idea was to find the correct diameter. The ideal handle for me would allow a full hammer grip, where my fingertips didn’t touch my palm.

FYI: The average American man has fingers that measure about 3.5 inches long. Mine are 4 inches long. So, I need a thicker handle than the standard.

My taped UP Gunny and Up Bravo handles were used last hunting season on several deer. Which is the better UP knife – Bravo or Gunny?

Both knives with taped handles were used in field dressing and skinning several deer. This is the Gunny at work.

Both knives got bloody several times, and each, at some point, was dipped in the bloody slurry that comes with a solid heart/lungs shot. The A2 steel didn’t stain or develop patina because each blade was wiped down after using with an alcohol swab, then a dry paper towel. (Incidentally, I  also have a UP Gunny and Bravo in desert ironwood with red liners, which won’t be modified.)

The Bravo and Gunny were also taken on several canoe trips with Quapaw Canoe Company, where they are used for everything from whittling wiener sticks to cleaning fish.

Once the handle design was established, Kendall got to work.

So how did the project work out?

Well, both knives are drop dead gorgeous, and neither will end up a safe queen. Chances are, one or the other will be on my hip or in my pack when I’m outdoors. The superb handling of the UP series is enhanced by the custom handles.


The re-handled Bravo looks and handles great.

The nostalgia value is beyond measure. Every time I use one of the Bark River UPs, I’ll be reminded of that cold morning of Nov. 11, 2015, when I harvested that beautiful elk. I’ll recall the hard work involved in getting that bull to a vehicle, and the camaraderie of my hunting buddies as we all pitched in. And the leather from those boots – the stories they could tell! Most of all, I’ll be reminded how blessed and lucky we are to be able to hunt big game in America.

So is a custom re-handle job expensive?  Well, such an item is within reach of anyone who wants a semi-custom knife. If you can afford to buy cigarettes, $4.95 coffee or lotto tickets, you can afford a custom knife. To quote me in another post:

“I quit smoking, drinking and chasing women many years ago and I don’t gamble, drive fancy, expensive vehicles, own a spendy motor boat or play golf. I figure the money I could spend on such items or activities should be invested in something far-reaching, important and useful, with lasting value.

“Like hunting and fishing trips, and really cool knives and guns. Anyway, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.”

The UP Bravo, top, has a desert ironwood handle with red liners. The Gunny, third from top has the same configuration. These factory knives won’t be altered.

Feedback: From Brandon “I bought a UP Bravo in desert ironwood after reading this (the initial review) post and am very impressed so far. Now that that you’ve had some time with yours, what’s the verdict? Is it in fact your grail knife? It checked all the boxes for me.

I’m from Wyoming and grew up ranching and outfitting. This has become my go-to mountain knife. I have XL size hands (in gloves) and much prefer this to my Aurora LT. Thank you very much for sharing your experience and knowledge!”

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