Review: Schrade SCHF 37 Frontier


Lots of folks seem interested in Schrade’s high-value, low-cost SCHF 37. I put mine through the paces and posted a review on This is no custom knife or anything like a TOPS, but for a sub-$40 hunk of high-carbon 1095, it’s a lot of knife for a  little bit of money. Check out my review, and feel free to ask me any questions.

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Snowy Walkabout


One of the many miracles of nature is the unforeseen lesson: out of the blue, she teaches you something new.

Yesterday I went for a walk in the local woods, seeking burls on fallen trees to make a kuksa, a carved wooden cup, and looking for fatwood. I had not gone far at all when I came across a blown down pine, and a promising branch soon allowed me to harvest the precious fatwood that I use for fire starting. I love the smell of pine!

Snow began to fall as I traversed the wooded terrain, marveling as the speed of the snow increased and the flakes began to stick, revealing the contours of the land to be that moments before had been a swath of browns. Soon–if the snow continued to fall at this rate–the terrain would vanish again into a swath of white. New snow produces a heady feeling though (if you’re not from Boston!), and with lightened step I moved forward toward a hillside break in the woods. And there Mother Nature offered to me a lesson.

Stretching across the hillside was a suddenly visible trail, an animal footpath that had been well disguised among the weeds before the snow, but which was now revealed by the new-fallen flakes. In an instant it dawned on me as to why this was the case: the animals had packed the soil down, hardening it and making the flakes more susceptible to sticking there than on the surrounding, untrodden grasses and leaves. It was beautiful, even magical, as I went into the woods on the far side of the clearing and saw the paths continue before meet. At one point two paths joined. Here, amidst and idle walkabout in the woods, I was discovering something new, something that I could only see at the beginning of a snow storm and which I was blessed to see only by a trick of fate that brought me out of the trees at just the point the animals crossed the clearing.

My soul sustained yet again by nature, I wandered on. I never found the burl I sought, but it didn’t matter. I had gained a precious lesson that I valued infinitely more.

To see a video of this walkabout, please click here.

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Knife Mods: Schrade SCHF37 Reborn


The inter webs have been buzzing over Schrade’s new bushcraft series knives, and I myself was seduced when I saw the price of the knives–any time I can get a hunk of 1095 steel for under $40, I am likely to be at least interested. So I took the plunge, received a knife, and discovered it was bent. An unsolicited message from Schrade (a representative of whom had seen my tweet about the bent knife) resulted in a new knife arriving and the bent one being returned on Schrade’s dime for destruction–it seems a batch had issues with heat treat.

I will write a full review eventually and  post to, but for now I want to share what I have done to the knife after completing testing for that review. I was not a fan of the jimping on this knife: both the top and bottom of the blade have sharply cut jimping that made the handle–otherwise fine–uncomfortable to hold. Well, I bought this to chop and baton wood, so that was a problem.

IMG_1069 IMG_1070Once my tests were complete, I set about a modest series of mods. First, I added a lanyard to extend the functionality of the handle. A curve in the tail fits the hand nicely, but with the lanyard, I have something more to hold when chopping, adding leverage to each stroke.


But note the scuffing on the thick black blade coating–this was causing friction when carving or battoning, friction I didn’t want. The jimping still bit into my hand, so I wanted to round it off some, and I found the generous finger choil also suffered from a sharp, potentially hotspot-producing edge.


This, too, I wanted to round off. And, finally, the coating had to go. I wanted a smooth, slippery blade to go through wood.

I began the process by smoothing out the jimping and the choil with my Dremel tool. When these felt good to the touch, I worked on the spine of the blade with a file to achieve a sharp 90˚ angle for throwing sparks off a ferrocerium rod (the SCHF37 comes with a ferro rod and striker, but I’d love to get rid of the striker’s weight). Then I donned protective eyewear and chemical-resistant gloves and sprayed Jasco paint remover on the blade in an old paint pan. After fifteen minutes, I could scrape the coating off a suddenly slippery knife.

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This process revealed some of the imperfections in the fit and finish of the knife that had been concealed by the coating, but this remains a killer blade for the money. Then came steel wool and sandpaper, gradually moving through 100, 400, 600, 1000, and 2000 grit papers as the metal smoothed out. Trouble areas I polished with pads on my Dremel until I was satisfied with the results. Then I reapplied the scales to see how it looked.

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I confess that I was quite pleased! But 1095 needs protection, so my last mod was to remove the scales again to add a mustard patina to the blade. For this I used an old eyedropper bottle filled with mustard (I favor a yellow-Dijon blend . . . just kidding; that’s all I had on hand). About a half-hour later I had a pretty cool pattern to show for it.


That’s all for now. I am basically pleased with the mods so far, but I will test the blade again to see how it fares. I also skipped a step in the mustard patina–next time I’ll do a vinegar bath to provide a base patina for the blade before adding the mustard design.

One future project is a set of hickory handle scales–the existing ones are fine, but I would like a little more thickness, and I’ve never made scales before. These I cut from a slab of hickory that a neighbor generously gave me. Beautiful wood! I have these scales in wood hardener at present, but they should be ready at the week’s end.

Oh, and I am researching a custom kydex sheath for the knife. It will cost more that the knife itself, but–while I have made smaller sheaths for other bushcraft knives from kydex–I would prefer a professionally made sheath for this one. Any kydex sheath makers in need of contributing a sheath for review? Hint, hint . . . 😉

I’ll keep you posted. I welcome your feedback, suggestions, or ideas. Cheers!

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On Knives, Philosophy of Use, and the One-Knife Solution

I will warn you now: knife purchasing can be addictive. Part of this has to do with something knife enthusiasts label “philosophy of use.” Let me chat a bit about a few knives I own to illustrate what I mean.

My EDC (everyday carry) knife is an unassuming thing–a carbon steel blade and a beechwood handle. It is the venerable Opinel No. 7 and I love it. If I lost it today, I would replace it with the same knife tomorrow. It does what I need it to do, and I’ve learned how to open it with one hand over the years.

But it isn’t perfect. Yes, the sharp 90˚ spine will throw ferro rod sparks with enviable ease, and it can spark flint, too. But get the wooden handle wet and suddenly the blade freezes in place until the wood shrinks and dries again, and I would never attempt to split wood with this little critter. Yet I love this knife.

My backpacking blade of choice is the Light My Fire/Mora Fire Knife, a 3.84 oz. wonder with a razor sharp steel blade and a fire steel embedded in the grippy handle. It slices food, cuts paracord, and shaves marvelous feathersticks. I’ve batonned small stock with it, too, but larger wood is not threatened by it. It is a cost-effective, quality blade, but it has limits to its use.


Enter my Schrade SCHF37. It is 22.18 oz. of beefy, quarter-inch thick 1095 steel. Wood splits almost effortlessly when I beat this beast through its core. Heck, it almost splits from the knife’s intimidating appearance alone! Limbing is a piece of cake. But what about fine carving tasks? Not so much.

The longer I use knives and the more knives I log time using, the clearer it becomes to me that choosing the optimal blade is situational based on one’s needs and a knife’s philosophy of use. A well-tailored speech is crafted to achieve a particular result for a specific audience; so, too with knives: a knife is crafted of specific metal, shaped with into a specific form, given a specific edge–all for a specific purpose. It may be a skinner, it may be a carver, it may be a chopper, it may be a general purpose knife with a design that targets a bit of this and a bit of that. My EDC is ideal for small cutting tasks of the sort one associates with a pocket knife. My LMF/Mora provides the reliability of a fixed blade (no working parts) while also providing a means of starting fire. My SCHF37 uses its width, size, and weight to make quick work of bigger tasks. A knife’s philosophy of use is basically its purpose–what it is meant to do and how it is meant to do it, and thus philosophy of use encourages one to find the perfect tool.

But this can be maddening.

Surely there is a knife that is the ultimate marriage of different blades, the one-knife solution? I confess I’ve looked into this. I’ve purchased a knife as my one-knife solution. Then another one. And another one. And I like these knives, the way they feel different in my hand, the lightness or heaviness, the flat ground blades and the Scandi ground ones, the Zytel handles and the beech and the maple. I like the look, the profiles, the way they cut, slice, or chop. I love the sound of them against stone or strop. So heady are these things to me that eventually I had to admit to myself that the quest for a one-knife solution was a rationalization for acquiring knives, a rationalization that leads to another: how can I determine what a one-knife solution would even look like if I don’t own and use enough knives to make an educated determination? I know, I know. It’s a disease, I tell you.

But surprise! I’ve defeated the one-knife solution temptation.

The key is not to find the ultimate knife. It is to have such an array of knives that one can happily chose the optimal blade for each specific given need!

Now if only I could stop thinking of new situations in which I might just possibly need a knife that could do something I hadn’t thought of before . . . .


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Bushcraft shirt takes shape

Well, I made plenty of errors on the way, but my DIY bushcraft shirt made of my dad’s old wool army blanket is pretty much done. The front pockets accommodate hands but also room in three separated sections for miscellaneous gear. Adjustable cuffs and paracord drawstrings in hood and at neck allow flexibility for underlayers. It isn’t fancy, but I am enjoying it!



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DIY Bushcraft Shirt

For some time I have been eyeing the Lester River Bushcraft Boreal Shirt. It is gorgeous, just the sort of thing I’d love to wear when scouting and day hiking. Big, warm, durable, and thoughtfully designed.

The problem for me is one of finance. $267 shipped is a bit rich for my budget, at least if I want to remain on good terms with my bride and help keep the family budget afloat. But for Christmas I received a sewing machine. Now this isn’t exactly a present I boasted about among friends as they were chatting about last night’s game, but it has inspired me to take a stab at making my own crude version of a bushcraft shirt from an old, US army wool blanket that I inherited from my dad.

Stay tuned! I’ll post pictures once it has taken shape.

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A Beautiful, Desperate Struggle


It was my good fortune recently to travel to Costa Rica and there to experience firsthand that country’s remarkable biodiversity. From rainforest to cloud forest, Costa Rica offers a dazzling and at times overwhelming array of species. Coati, tree frogs, howler monkeys, fear-de-lance serpents, leaf-cutter ants–the list goes on and on and on. If you are curious, Google Costa Rica and biodiversity; you’ll be blown away. The reasons for such a plethora of flora and fauna are numerous, but basically Costa Rica is a geologically young country blessed to be at the crossroads between North and South America and serving as a land bridge for species between the two. Having a salubrious climate, Costa Rica became home to countless species.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cloud forests. Heavy winds and yes, clouds, greeted me as I entered the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Here the vegetation is lush from an annual drenching of twelve feet of rain, and this is apparent everywhere one looks. Moss clings to trees, bromeliads and orchids to the moss, and entire ecosystems develop in pools of water that in a plant’s fronds and which host countless other species. According to a Monteverde travel web site, this cloud forest reserve is home to  “over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles living within its bounds. It’s one of the few remaining habitats that support all six species of the cat family – jaguars, ocelots, pumas, oncillas, margays, and jaguarundis – as well as the endangered three-wattled bellbird and resplendent quetzal.” But everywhere one looks, the vegetation dominates.





But it was a chance event on the way to the cloud forest that most affected me. High winds had prevailed in the days before I arrived in Monteverde, and the night before my visit to the cloud forest, they brought down trees in the area. En route to Santa Elena, my progress was halted by a fallen tree that several locals were in the process of removing from the muddy roadway. I was stunned by the thick foliage covering the trunk of this ficus tree, and stunned even more when I realized that there were literally hundreds if not thousands of species of flora on this one fallen tree. Five orchids with different blooms I spotted in a few minutes–these branches were literal gardens.


As I pondered this casual destruction of myriad life forms, I grew reflective. In this meditative frame of mind I wandered the cloud forest, ascending a tower for windswept views of the Costa Rican continental divide, descending again into a wet woodland of wind and green. I was overwhelmed by the multitude of life forms about me, literally unable to begin to count or differentiate among them.

But one sinister fact was clear: amid the gorgeous, luxuriant spread of flower and foliage and then-snoozing nocturnal creatures, survival was at a premium. Walking palms moved their center of gravity to catch fleeting glimpses of sunlight; various species of philodendron grew enormous leaves in an attempt to accomplish the same goal under the thick, tropical canopy; the strangler fig choked the life from its host tree–each engaged in a silent, beautiful, but desperate struggle for survival.

Standing amid the towering trees, crystal droplets of moisture falling everywhere, my thoughts were as disruptive to me as the gusting winds. Here, amid nearly unfathomable beauty, life remained a precious, uncertain thing.

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Light My Fire Swedish Fire Steel 2.0 Failure


A mix of sporadic sleet and snow induced me to head outside today to do a little product testing. I was eager to play with my new Grilliput portable grill, and I was curious to test the BioLite KettleCharge, too (more on those later). Since I had to wait for an HVAC serviceman to conduct our seasonal service, I had to use my fire pit instead of heading out to the wilderness.

After making some curls with my Mora Companion (the Scandi grind is brilliant for this task!), I battonned a few sticks, gathered some grass for tinder, and pulled my Light My Fire Swedish Fire Steel 2.0 off its resting place on my Companion’s sheath.


This installation was a simple mod I made awhile back. First, I filed the edge of my Companion to 90˚ so that I could use it to throw sparks from a steel. As for the sheath, a folded ranger band serves as padding for a piece of plastic from a ball point pen–the “sheath” or my fire steel–while a second ranger band secures both to the sheath. Rubber is a good emergency fire starter, so the ranger bands serve a dual purpose. Around these I also wrapped some Type 1 paracord to both secure the steel more securely and to give me some cordage in event that I might need it. This has worked beautifully, and I have enjoyed the convenience of adding a steel to my Mora.

Today, however, as I began to throw sparks into the grass, the steel broke off at the handle. I was frankly stunned. I have never had this happen before with a Light My Fire product, and I have quite a few (among them the Army 2.0 and the Mora/Light My Fire collaboration, the FireKnife–love both). Obviously, this could have serious consequences under more dire circumstances. As it was, I was at home, not trying to make fire in adverse conditions to combat potential hypothermia. And, too, the fracture point–being located just where the steel went into the handle–left me with enough material to grasp that I was able to awkwardly through sparks with the remainder. Had it broken elsewhere, though, the steel would have been rendered wholly useless.

Have any of you had a fire steel fail like this?

I suppose you can never log too much time testing and using your gear before taking it with you into the wilderness.

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Lakeshore Tracking


After heavy rains in spring and early summer, a drought settled in in my area. Three rows of beans shriveled and died, and as the weeks of summer wore on, the water in local creeks and lakes shrank away from its banks. Fall arrived, a flurry of colors and wind, and then–the night before last–the temperature finally plummeted after weeks of temperate weather. A low of 22˚F petrified the area.

The next day found me in the woods, and when I realized that the drought had taken an especially hard toll on a local lake, I headed off trail to patrol the newly uncovered beach, hunting animal tracks. They were plentiful. The receding waterline made a perfect track trap.


I’m sure the local critters struggle with the drought. The receding shorelines means that terrestrial varmints have to walk in the open to reach water. At night the shorelines must be a veritable freak of wildlife, each waiting and seizing what it hopes will be the safest moment to emerging from the sheltering vegetation and make the dash to the water’s edge, in some cases more than one hundred feet from the last cover. Different creatures move in different fashion. The raccoons seemed focused and purposeful, making fairly direct paths to and from the water and the woods.


Various canids seemed to have patrolled the beach. The broad, splayed toes and dull claws of a domestic pooch left tracks that wove up and down the sand, likely guided by an ever-inquisitive nose. Wild canids were more purposeful and discrete. Moe compact prints with sharper claws  suggested the presence of both coyote and fox, both indigenous to the area but seldom seen.


Some deer seem to have been moving in more languid fashion along the shore, too, and their tracks betrayed a wide range of sizes, from the smaller tracks of young deer to the impressive and deep impressions of an unhurried larger deer. My boots are size 12: the critter that made the tracks below was a good-sized deer!


What made this day especially interesting was the way in which the frost heaving had produced and preserved tracks in areas where shade predominated. An experienced animal tracker would likely have fun reading the pressure releases that were preserved in the chill air after the weight of a creature left its impressions in the freezing ground.


It is easy to forget just how many creatures occupy our neighborhoods, sharing habitat with us. A day on the lakeshore like this one provided a reminder of this. Later reclining in my Trek Light Gear hammock, I heard deer moving through the woods as I sipped a Pat’s Backcountry Black Hops brew, I thought about how easy it would have been to miss the tracks.


Someone without curiosity could have passed by on the woodland trail, and seen only an unlikely stretch of shore hiding the secret traverses of the night.


I’m glad I took the time to wander for a spell in the tracks of woodland critters; it enriched my day immeasurably.

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Leaving the Firmament


One of the many debts we owe Native American culture is the hammock. I recall in childhood my first discovery of a hammock, a beguiling swing-like contraption on the deck of some forgotten building. Wooden spreader bars held a fascinating web of sun-bleached rope, and immediately I threw myself into the webbing. It moved much like a swing, and soon I had clamored into the hammock completely, exhilarated by the freedom of leaving earth and hanging suspended above the firmament, even if it in this case it was only the wooden decking of a porch. I suspect that this departure from the firmament remains one of the charms of hammocking for me: somehow the world slows, worries flee, and relaxation eases into my bones once I recline in a sling of fabric above the ground.

On that first occasion, I soon discovered the perils of spreader-bar hammocks: I flipped and landed with an unceremonious thud on the decking, first stunned, then frustrated, then determined as I clamored back into my new-found play toy for a second round. Over the years I have abandoned rope for nylon, spreader-bars for gathered end hammocks, but my joy of abandoning myself to the comforts of a hammock remain. Now I can grab my daypack, throw in my Trek Light Gear double hammock, and know that on some remote precipice overlooking a river valley, I can set up my hammock and enjoy an idle lunch, swinging lazily in the breeze and soaking in the intoxicating view. Or, less dramatically, I can steal outside after dinner, when my family is engaged in evening routines, and watch the light fade from the fall sky and the animal noises shift from diurnal chatter to nocturnal hoots. Either way, the restorative powers of the hammock work on my body and psyche, freeing me from stressors even as the sling of fabric frees me from my normal earthbound state.

I love the solitude of my hammock, but it is a parent’s instinct and joy to share his or her own loves and joys with his or her own children, and thus I recently set up two hammocks–one for me, and one for my nature-loving, third-grade son. He took to it immediately, delighting in the act of cocooning himself in the fabric, or sitting perpendicular to the length of the hammock so that he could push off on the ground, an act that echoed those of my youth decades before when I first discovered that roped wonder. Like me, too, he grew reflective in the hammock, at times closing his eyes in delight, at times absorbing the world seen through new eyes from his recumbent position in space between two trees.

Soon, I think, it will be time. He and I will pack our packs, lose ourselves in the wilderness, and find a precipice with a view to share. How wonderful, how strange, that a chance discovery in my childhood should yield such rich rewards decades later. Maybe some day my own grandchildren or great-grandchildren, too, will leave the firmament and discover the joys of hanging aloft.

It is something all need to try, at least once.

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