Matt Graham Knife

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gear, Survival Equipment & More' started by Brian Andrews, Jun 23, 2014.

  1. Brian Andrews

    Brian Andrews

    Dec 11, 2006
    I am surprised there is not more talk about this knife in the "Gear" section. I find it really fascinating the knife that is Matt is using.

    I have always had this love/hate thing with big knives. You have to love them, because they are just plain cool. They bring up visions of living off the land with just your one knife. You can do everything with it, and yes, you can be just like Rambo. Then reality sits in and the big knife is too big for the backpack on long adventures. When you base camp, it stays in camp. Then it never leaves the car, and pretty soon, it just stays at home. The reality is, you really don’t need a big knife for much. Now, if you had to erect an emergency shelter, build a fire quickly, or make some traps, it sure would be nice to have one. But, the odds of that happening are low and pretty soon that big knife is feeling like an issuance policy that you are never going to cash in on.

    I think part of my hate for the big knife has been in proving that I can do anything that I want without one. I think I had to get past that point to be able to really enjoy using them again. Once I proved that to myself, I started to look at the big knives in a different way. No longer a necessity, but more of a crafting tool. For example, I can take my small mora sized knife and cut some limbs, tidy up the ends, make some notches, and build a fire heart that I can use for cooking for a long time. In about a quarter of the time I can do the same thing with a big knife. Did I need it? Of course not. But it sure was fun building it, and it is really fun becoming skilled with a big blade.

    Let me explain what I think, or used to think, about big and small knives, and the no mans land in between. I consider a small knife to be about 4 inches or less, and generally thin bladed. Since I make my own knives, the ones I carry are my own, but think about Mora sized. Of course pocket knives are thinner and smaller and there is quite a difference between one and a Mora, but I still lump them into this “small knife” category. When I talk about a “big knife” in my mind, I mean something that has a minimum of a 9 or 10 inch blade. That is because a knife that size is large enough to have some mass, and develop some speed to be able to chop with. Which brings me to this kind of “no mans land” of knife sizes, and kind of the point of this article.

    I am always open to learning more, and trying new things, and that is kind of the point of this article. So, keep that in mind before you start hating me and disagreeing with what I am about to say. But, I have always felt that the knife sizes in between my definition of a small knife and a big knife kind of fell into this no mans land of knife sizes that I have honestly felt kind of useless. Yes, the 6, 7 and 8 inch blade sizes, favored by many. Here is why.

    I have always felt that these mid-sized knives were often too big, heavy, and thick at the end to do what the smaller knives could do. Be able to do it well anyway. You can live with a little bit of clumsiness at small tasks if it pays off in other areas, but I didn’t see that either. Knives in this range generally don’t have a ton of mass, or the length to generate the moment and tip speed necessary to chop well. Kind of like a lumberjack felling a full sized tree with a pocket axe. I just never felt that it worked well. For me I just felt that these knives did not do small stuff well, and also they did not do big stuff well, and they were just stuck in this zone of uselessness. With the exception that the extra length is nice if you have to baton wood, but I have been to a lot of places in a lot of conditions and that is something that rarely HAS to be done. I know it is fun, it can make things easy, there is always the “what if” scenario for doing it, but the reality is, for me anyway, needing to do it is pretty low probability.

    If you have noticed a theme with me, I am always about the odds. I will always favor what I do the most, which is why I generally carry small, thin, super sharp knives. People will always make the argument “What if this happens?” I have always had the opinion that if you have a tool (doesn’t have to be a knife, it can be anything) perfectly optimized for the job you are doing, and then you ask the question “what if this….?” That leads you to make a design change in the tool. Ask “what if…?” again, and then there is another change. Ask that question too many times and you now have a tool that can serve its original function, but no longer nearly as well as it did previously all because of the low probability of a hypothesized scenario. It leads to overly thick designs, saw backs, gut hooks, funky notches and bow drill sockets.

    I am the exact opposite. I look at what I do the most, and design and strive for that specifically. I play the odds. If the dreaded “what if” scenario were to occur, I would rather have a non-optimal tool for that improbable scenario, rather than having a non-optimal tool ALL the time. I know I got off on a little tangent, but it kind of applies again to the discussion on knife sizes.

    Suddenly, something happened that made me question my opinion on this range of knife sizes. It was seeing Matt Graham on dual survival, and he is using this knife.



    I know it is TV, I know they fake scenarios, I know they stage stuff, and I know there is crafted drama. But, you have to watch Matt for about 10 seconds until you realize that the guy has a serious amount of skill. When you see someone with that amount of skill, you take note of what they are doing, what works for them, especially if it flies in the face of your previous conceptions. So now, watching every episode with Matt Graham in it several times, especially the knife scenes, I have some new things to think about.

    I will look into what Matt is on to with this knife in detail, but first, let’s get the “what knife is it” question out of the way. First, it is a Condor. Many on the forums, and there are even websites reporting that it is the Gladius Hunter model. But, it is not. Here is the Gladius and here is a side view of Matt’s knife.



    If you think the Gladius could have been modified into looking like Matt’s knife, look at the lines in the blade, in relation to the hole in the blade. They do not match up. Sorry… is not this knife. Instead, it looks to be a modified Jungle Bowie.


    The handle is the same, the lines are the same in relation to the hole in the blade, and the shape of Matt’s blade fits into the outline of the Jungle Bowie. Looking at Matt’s blade, you can tell it was modified somehow. The spine is not square, it is not swedged, but it was hacked at some how. Not sure how he modified the design, but that is what looks like happened.

    After doing this research, I sent pictures to my friend who works with Condor for his opinion, and his reply was “Yup. Jungle Bowie.” So, the rest of this article assumes a Jungle Bowie was used.

    First thing to do is look at the specs of the Jungle Bowie. The length does not really matter, as the knife has been cut down. But, we will come back to blade length. From knowing the overall length of 16 1/4” and a blade length of 11”, you can easily figure out that the handle length is 5 1/4”. I caught a screen capture on the show, which was a full side view of the knife. Just by taking measurements, and doing a ration (because we now know the handle length) it was easy to determine that the final blade length was roughly 8 1/2”.

    The only other real spec to look at is thickness. The condor site specifies it as 3.6mm. For me, working in inches, that comes out to .142”. I know some websites are listing the thickness as 1/8”, but that .142” number is closer to 5/32” (at .156) than it is to 1/8” (at .125”).

    Why is all that spec stuff interesting to me. Well, for one, I am took cheap to buy a knife and then spend the time to hack it up, so I am going to build one similar. Second, it gives me insight to what he may be on to with this knife, performance-wise. I have already mentioned that I am normally not a fan of knives in this size range. However, most knives of this size are generally around 3/16” or 1/4” thick. I think that is part of my turn off to them. They carry too much mass for their size, and yet are not long enough to really chop with. This knife, however, reminds me of a thick machete. Its sides are left flat and the grind is just sort of a scandi, or more likely a scandi-vex grind. In my opinion this is a good choice, because with the thinner blade, the full size will give it some blade mass and a knife this size is good for splitting wood, and that grind is great for it. I think I am really beginning to see the usefulness of a knife like this. Enough that I wanted to build one for myself and give it a go.

    Last edited: Jun 23, 2014
  2. Brian Andrews

    Brian Andrews

    Dec 11, 2006
    When putting my knife together, I struggled with every bit of the design. Figuring I could tweak this or tweak that, and make it just a little bit better. Then, I figured if I did that I would end up with a knife I wanted, rather than keeping my mind open to perhaps there was something new here that I would like even better than where my own thoughts lead. Because so much thought went into this, and I did have to make some tweaks because of build style, I want to take you through every step and though process of this knife from tip to butt. So, that is where we will start. First, here is a picture of the finished knife.


    At the tip, you will notice that the Matt Graham knife has quite the curve to the spine, a big drop and the knife point is below center line. I have to admit, my first impression is that it is an odd looking knife. During just about every episode, Matt spins his knife with two hands (almost like a hand drill) and uses the tip to drill something. Instead of keeping the knife true to design, my first instinct was to make that tip right on the centerline of the knife design. I told myself “Matt couldn’t control the cutting edge of the knife, because he hacked it out of an existing one. If he would have had more choice, it would make sense to get that tip closer to center.” It would balance things out, and make that type of drilling easier. I again reminded myself I wanted to stick with the original design, so I kept my tip below centerline. I think Matt’s knife is perhaps even a touch more below centerline, but honestly, this is far away that I could get myself to drift.


    Next, is the stock thickness and edge type. As I mentioned earlier, the condor stock is closer to 5/32” than it is to an 1/8” and since I am working in steel made in Pennsylvania, I am working in english sizes. Meaning, 5/32” it is. For the grind, I am pretty sure that Condor is not doing super flat, water stone level type of scandi grinds. I am guessing they have an ever so slight convex quality to them. I could be wrong, but regardless, I am going to do what I want here. Usually, with smaller knives, I am a die hard flat bevel scandi type of person. I cringe when I hear people talk about just stropping and convexing their scandi edges, and yes…I do maintain all my small type knives on waterstones. I have just become addicted to the control that offers (in a small knife) and even the smallest amount of rounding is noticeable to me. I know it is just me being way over the top picky, but that is also why I am making my own knives instead of buying them. I am getting off point here….With a larger knife like this one, I am aware that it is not going to be a precision carver. So, I can give up that little bit of control in favor of gaining durability for chopping, battoning and other things I don’t normally do with a smaller knife. Which means that I going to put a slight amount of convex into this grind.

    I generally make my customer knives at 12.5 degrees per side. It is a good general purpose angle, and yet has a lot of durability for whatever use people want to use it for. For my own personal stuff, I go thinner, but that is beside the point. For this particular knife I beefed up the angle, and kind of compromised and went with 14 degrees. It is an odd number, but when I explain how I did it, it was because of where I wanted the actual angle to land when the grind was done.

    On a normal scandi, I would grind edge up until I raised a burr, and then go finer and finer grit until I got to the level I wanted to stop at. Since this was going to be slightly convex, I did the grinding at 14 degrees until I almost raised a burr. I mean super thin edge, but just quite not there yet. Then, I quite the edge up grinding. I went to the next finer grit, took the platen off the grinder (so that I could slack grind and get a little bit of the convex shape) and ground until I got a burr. Then it was the next grit, and then the next grit. Much like how I would grind out a machete or some other tool that didn’t have the right edge on it.


    Next is the handle guard. This is the one area where I kind did do my own thing. On the Condor knife, there is a bit of guard, both on top and bottom that protrude. Again, my mind said “stick to the original design.” But, I just couldn’t do it. I don’t thrust with my knives. If I have to push on them, I put the butt in the palm of my hand so that there is no forward slippage. While chopping and cutting, the motion tends to pull the knife out of your hand, not your hand into the blade. I just don’t have a use for the guards, in fact, I find that all they do is get in the way for me. When carving, and doing things like battoning notches, the guards want to hit the work surface before the blade is done doing their job. Long way of saying, I really, really do not like guards. Much like a kukri, I just allowed my blade width blend into the handle, and not make any guard type swells.


    Finally, the handle. Many knife handle designs are oriented one way or another. Flat back with two swells on the bottom. One swell on the back, two on the bottom, etc. As you can tell from the original knife, it is pretty much a uniform handle from any direction. One thing I wanted to avoid was being truly round, because it can be hard to keep things from spinning in your hand, and it also hard to index where the blade is in relation to the handle. Keeping Matt’s spinning technique in mind, I wanted a handle that felt the same in the forward and reverse grip, capable of spinning, but enough indexing to let you know where the blade was line up with when you held on it to.


    So how did all this work out? The whole point was supposed to be an experiment to try something new and I have to say, I really like it. It will cut small and light grasses easier than every machete I have. It doesn’t have the reach and clearing path of a machete, but whatever is within reach of its path falls easily. With super light grasses like that, in my experience it is all about edge sharpness. An otherwise great machete can bend and break grasses, but a super sharp non-optimal tool can some times cut them better. Just saying…I am attributing this surprising feature to the fact that this knife is super stinking sharp and easy to keep that way.

    On green wood sticks, ones the size I would normally harvest with my small knife, it obviously cuts them down very easy. What is even better is stuff that is the size that I would normally beaver chew, or intentionally cut through, I can just snap cut through. Super easy, and more importantly super fun! Limbing….easy. Bark stripping, while not as elegant and awesome and a small, super thin, super sharp, flat beveled scandi, was way more impressive than I was expecting. It did it nicely, it did it easily and I was impressed. For all the things that I gain with a knife this size, I can certainly live with that little bit of loss. Plus, nobody is telling me I have to stop carrying a small knife.
    Having just completed the knife, I have not put it through a full evaluation to see if will hang in there for the long term. But, I am about ready to head out to the woods for about 10 days or so, and will for sure use it here. Hopefully it will get used on some animals, some fish, some crafting and shelter building, at a minimum. If there is enough interest, I can take pictures and report back further.

    I wrote this all up to simply get people to think about things a little bit differently. Looking at this knife, I wouldn’t have given it the time of day. But since it was being used by someone with skills I highly respect, I figured it would be worth my time to look harder. It is in no way an attempt to sell knives. In fact, I probably would not make this knife for anyone. My wait list is way longer than I want it to be, and I am not looking to add it. I don’t want to chain myself in the shop, and I just want to be in the woods like most of you. For me, and my particular skill set and with the materials available to me, making a knife was the easiest way to learn something new. Perhaps for you, it is the same. Perhaps it is something different, like buying a Condor and cutting it up…..I don’t know. My point is this writing is not about promoting any product… is all about the fun of big steel and learning something I didn’t know yesterday.

    Last edited: Jun 23, 2014
    Justin.P and WILLIAM.M like this.
  3. Jeff H

    Jeff H

    Feb 14, 2008
    Bravo, Brian!

    You hit the love-hate thing on the head!

    Makes a guy think (or rethink) a bit about his own personal prejudices.

    I LOVE the over sized "willow leaf" shape of your blade!
  4. Angus McGunnigle

    Angus McGunnigle

    Jan 1, 2013
    Great looking knife. I too am going to make one similar to what you have done. I have no where near the skill level you do though !!!
    Watching Matt use his has peaked my interest in the leaf shaped blade. He has skills and since he has few tools, he must really like this style.
    I also am in the process of making a small kiridashi/otzi style knife. I will call it the hillbilly otzi or some sort other name. Big leaf shaped blade and a nice small very sharp kiridashi kind of thing and who knows.
  5. Woods Walker

    Woods Walker

    Jun 3, 2010
    What someone uses on TV has near ZERO influence on what I use be it gear or soft drinks. That said you knife looks great.
  6. Rockywolf

    Rockywolf Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 16, 2005
    Very nice. I've admired Matt's work with his knife too. Yours looks fabulous. Please report back on your uses during your trip.
  7. Shotgun


    Feb 3, 2006
    Your second paragraph illustrates my main beef with them to, they're a PITA to carry. How are you getting past that aspect with this knife?
  8. Brian Andrews

    Brian Andrews

    Dec 11, 2006
    I am not saying this size knife will NOT be a PITA to carry, I am just saying that my previous experience has not showed enough benefit in a knife this size to overcome the PITA portion of carrying it.

    For example, in the summer I don’t know generally take any size axe with me. In the winter, I generally take a 26-28” handle axe with me because the benefit of processing a lot of wood outweighs the downside of having to bring it.

    My previous experience with knives of this size is that they had almost no benefit, so of course they will not get used. So far though, I really, really like this one and I do see a lot of benefits to the combination of different features. Is it enough to make me put up with the PITA of carrying a larger knife? Don’t know yet…..time will tell for sure :)
  9. LG&M


    Dec 19, 2005
    Nice work, I am impressed with Matt's skill. I would go a different way with the knife but to each his own. No question he can use it well.
  10. newknif

    newknif Banned BANNED

    Apr 30, 2014
    I've seen all the episodes with Matt. I've seen him make shavings, split small logs, make a bow and drill, and chop down a small tree here and there. Skillful?

    Edited because I thought about it and I guess these things are indicative of skill with a knife. I'd look at the stuff he did and not think much of it in the way of being skilful with a knife. But I think you guys are right, it is skill and shows he's comfortable using a big blade.

    Great knife and thread by the way Brian Andrews.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2014
  11. neeman


    Apr 5, 2007

    What a superb looking knife
    I am sure it is a pleasure to use.

    I agree with your 'big' knife discussion
    I resolved the same questions you asked with a rather simple and light answer
    I carry a 12" Imacasa macette that weights 9.5 oz, in addition to my sheath knife
    I find it to be an extemely versitile blade for all the tasks you mentioned
  12. Brian Andrews

    Brian Andrews

    Dec 11, 2006
    I can see that for sure!!! One of my favorite machetes, even though I have longer, thicker, etc is a 14" Imacasa. I am sure I would like the 12 as well, I just don't own one.

    Good point.
  13. Joe Real

    Joe Real

    Apr 4, 2006
    Great experiment Brian, I really enjoyed your though process and open mind behind this.
    Thanks for sharing it.
  14. Shotgun


    Feb 3, 2006
  15. Brian Andrews

    Brian Andrews

    Dec 11, 2006
    One of the big difference is the tip issue, already pointed out. Visually, I want to like the Canadian Camp better. But practically, in use, I like the gentle curve of the blade that having the tip lower results in. So....little tweak, pretty big change.

    Second, and this is a big one for the handle. I was going for uniformity in my handle (top the same as the bottom). Which was not random. It was based on seeing Matt use his knife, using it a way that I normally do not, and me wanting to give it a try. I generally can not stand it when a knife has the single pronounced lump between the first and second finger. I definitely can not live with 3 of them!!! :) I have always loved the blade shape on the canadian series, and have never liked any of the handles.

    Another minor difference, is in a blade of this length, I don't see the point in having a through hardened blade, like A2. I realize this won't matter to most, but it does to me. Making the best choices for the specific tool being made. Regardless of the steel being used, in a blade of this length, I want a spring temper in the spine, and target hardness at the edge. Not a fully hardened piece of steel.

    There are no real "new" ideas. Most of this stuff has been around for a long time. I just tend to make very specific tweaks, in very specific areas to suit the things I like, which I also recognize that my likes are going to be a very small minority of knife users. With the exception of this "project" which I purposely took out of the scope of what I would normally do, as an experiment. Because it was different, I felt it was worth sharing.

  16. Brian Andrews

    Brian Andrews

    Dec 11, 2006
    Oh yeah....I almost forgot, two other key differences:

    1) Thickness. The BRKT CC Knife is 3/16", which is the next step up in thickness sizes for precision ground flat stock. That thickness and even thicker has generally been my experience with knives of this size, and part of what has led to my dislike. Doesn't seem like much, but small thickness changes make big differences. I just got done building a 3/16" knife, and it is a totally different animal.

    2) Grind. The BR is a convex grind, higher up into to blade. Not comparing the two knives here, just a general observation on grinds. IF you keep stock thickness the same, a small scandi-vex grind leaves more metal in the blade, keeping the weight in the blade. If you were to grind more of that out, like on the BR CC knife, you have less material, and push the center of rotation back towards the handle. For thicker stock (like was used on the CC knife) that makes total sense. But, what makes this knife different than others I have used is the combination of thinner stock, and the forward weight, aided by the type of grind. Like I said, it feels more like a thick machete that what I would typically classify as a "big knife."

    Those two things, while not seeming like much, have night and day performance difference, even in two knives that look to have similar outlines. Does that mean one is right for you, and not the other? Of course not. Every grind style, every knife thickness, every steel, every handle design has good things about it, and not so good things about it. It is all about the trade-offs.

    I continually make things and change things to make trade offs that suit my style. Of those trade off, thickness and grind are among the ones that I specifically wanted, and not the same as the knife you linked to.

    To much detail.....I know :) But that is what happens when you can tweak whatever you want, whenever you want, and walk out of the shop with a new toy to play with :)
  17. Swampdog

    Swampdog Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 14, 2007
    Excellent post, I really enjoy reading all the information you gentlemen share on this subject. I'm a big fan of Matt on Dual Survival and have been following all of the different opinions of his knife. This post is the best I have read, and is the reason I am a member of this great forum; thanks!
  18. RoyalM


    Dec 10, 2007
    Great thread. Your version of Matt's knife looked very useful and I for one would be interested to see a thread on how it performs over a few days in the woods.

    You make a lot of good points about midsize knives and large knives. I generally carry a midsize knife and it does come with a few frustrations, a jack of all trades rather than a master of one/a few. As I say I will be interested to see how you rate your mid-sized knife at all your normal tasks compared to your small and large knives.
  19. mtangent


    Dec 6, 2011
    Your knife has the shape of a Smatchet.
    You could name it the "bush smatchet."

    Anyway, I like your thoughts on design, & the knife looks good.

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