Friday, December 11, 2015

The American Knife Company Forest Knife Review

First off, to all of the folks that do branding and IP and come up with names like Lunestra, Cialis, and Finasteride because all of the real word names are already trademarked, how the fuck did you miss "The American Knife Company"?  By this time you'd think every permutation of "Product + American X Company" has been taken.  But apparently not.  Congratulations to Jim Nowka for grabbing this perfect name.

Second, I would consider Jim a friend (and I hope he'd feel the same in reverse).  He has been on the podcast.  We have emailed back and forth.  I appreciate his wisdom and his know-how when it comes to all kinds of things.  Jim once told me how to remove a giant tree limb that fell on a porch without killing myself or damaging the porch.  He is a bit more to one side of the political spectrum than I am, but I have found that life is made better when your friends are diverse.  All that said, I think I can set that aside and review the Forest Knife fairly.

Here is the product page. The American Knife Company Forest Knife costs $239.95 in the high gloss black micarta, with prices that go up from there depending on the handle material. Here is a video from Chance Sanders.  Here are some thoughts about the knife from Equipped 2 Endure.  Here is a link to KnivesShipFree, where you can find the Forest Knife, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:


Here is my review sample (from Knives Ship Free and to be given away):


Twitter Review Summary: A great user, but not for the stupid.

Design: 2

Mors Kochanski outlined the ideal fixed blade in his book Bushcraft and that knife has been made a few times. Until the Forest, the most famous iteration of the Kochanski blade was the Skookum Bush Tool (or maybe the Fallkniven H1).  Like a Munroe Sigil for tactical folders, the Skookum Bush Tool became something of a legend.  It was hard to get one, waitlists were (are) very long, and they are quite expensive for what they are.  But they had that auroa attached to them because they were the the Kochanski knife and because they were handmade.

But the Bush Tools were, reportedly (I have never even seen one in person), very blade heavy and because of their price and limited availability, not the first knife you'd like to bludgeon in the woods.  In my mind, I can't see how the Forest is anything less than the Bush Tool (but for one thing, see Steel below).  Sensitive to the balance issue, I was curious when I got the Forest what it would be like and I can tell you that this is a very balanced blade.  I have had and used it for about four months now and the design is what you'd expect from a blueprint laid out by one of the most knowledgeable knife folks in the world, adapted by another, and produced by a third (that is, Kochanski, Nowka, and Stewart for those keeping track of pronoun antecedents).  


One note here, this is not a newb friendly design.  I would classify myself as a newb to intermediate in terms of my fixed blade skills, and I found this knife very nice to use, but the lack of a guard, the lack of jimping, and the continuous curve of the blade all make the Forest something that rewards skill and punishes stupidity.  If you want to go into the woods and thoughtlessly hack some stuff, this ain't your knife.  A Becker will serve you fine in that regard.  If you want to do some serious work in the woods, this is a masterful design.

Fit and Finish: 2

As good as the design is the execution is just as superb.  I have handled a few Bark River products now and all of them, all of them, have been uniformly exquisite.  Jim did a fantastic job choosing an OEM for his knife brand and he clearly worked with Mike on making sure everything was executed well.  Even the small details are there--the handle feels positively perfect in hand, the butt cap balances everything out very well, and there is, of course, that extra layer of "Bark River" gloss.  I am hard pressed to think of a way that the pricier Bush Tool could be better made than this.  Its possible, I guess, I just don't know how. 

Handle Design: 2

I am a huge fan of the Becker handle.  Huge.  But, in my mind, this is an equal good, but radically different design.  I have struggled with how to describe it, aside from comfortable, and in the end I come to this--the handle just gets out of the way. 


In many knives, folding and otherwise, there are times when the handle just seems to be fighting you, getting in the way, making cuts difficult or impossible, and just being an all around pain.  Not so here.  Never once in the cutting, battoning, slashing, chopping, slicing or other work did I feel like I was encumbered by the handle.  It was a remarkable experience and one that I understood immediately on an intuitive level, but only now, as I write the review, do I understand it in a way that I can verbalize.  


The handle is practically invisible during use, letting you cut EXACTLY how your mind wants your hand to work.  This is the first time I have had that experience.  I am sure other knives work that way too, but this is the first I have used.  

This is why, perhaps, this is not a newb knife.  It rewards skill.  If you have the idea and the muscle memory to make a complex cut, the Forest's handle lets you do it.  If you are a luddite pounding on oak, the handle won't protect you from your stupidity.  In game design and theory, better games are those that reward skill and punish thoughtlessness.  This is why Go is a better game than Rock Paper Scissors (did you know there are Rock Paper Scissor competitions?  There is some skill involved in tracking nonrandom patterns, but still...).  The Forest is like that as a knife and it is largely because of the handle design.

Steel: 1

A2 is fine.  It works well. It holds an edge forever.  But it does patina quickly.  If I am in that territory, for the price of the Forest, I want 3V.  The Bush Tool is available in 3V at a huge premium, but it too comes stock in a lesser steel.  This goes back to what I wrote about in the idea of the growing distance between acceptable and competitive.  A2 is and probably always will be acceptable, but when you are paying $250 or so for a fixed blade, 3V is something you can get.  Why not offer it here?  I know Jim is a person that likes tried and true steels, and there are few as tried and true as A2, but for me, I want 3V (or an equivalent).

Blade Shape: 2

Again like the handle, the blade shape is a skill-rewarding triumph.  Simply put, the continuous curve blade is as useful a blade shape as I have encountered.  


Also note that but for the straight spine, the Kochanski continuous curve blade shape is the Spyderco leaf blade shape as well.  There is a reason I liked the leaf shaped blade.

Grind: 2

This is a partial convex grind.  Over the years I have been persuaded of the superiority of a convex grind and the Forest has done nothing to convince me otherwise.  The grind itself is well executed, clean, even, and razor sharp. 

Sheath Carry: 2

The handle and the blade shape are excellent, old school designs.  The sheath, however, is decidedly different and innovative and I LOVE IT.  The x-shaped belt loop allows for horizontal and vertical carry and even on long hikes (my son and I walked a few miles down and back on an abandoned railroad line with the Forest on my hip) the Forest did well.  We did a few short uphill hikes and I switched to a "scout style" horizontal carry ("scout style" is internet knife nerd speak for horizontal carry in the small of your back, great for hikes with large elevation changes and for "covert" carry; obviously I was not in the covert carry mode).  


Its hard to imagine why the x-belt loop isn't a standard feature and it is also nice to know that Stewart, et. al. is still working on sheath designs (the magnetic sheath from the Adventurer being another display of their ingenuity and focus on pushing sheath design forward in the production world).

Sheath Accessibility: 2

As with all leather, it was stiff and tight when I got it (there is a "That's what she said" joke in there somewhere, I will leave that to Andrew Gene...).  Over time it loosened up and while its still not as snappy as kydex, its more than fine.  


Useability: 2 (with a major caveat)

This knife can do anything you would want a fixed blade to do.  Its big enough to do some real chopping and batonning.  Its small enough and well designed enough to do some serious precision work.  But if you are an idiot, the Forest will not save you.  The lack of a guard and the current trend in choptastic use of fixed blades leads me to believe that a lot of people will slide forward on handle and cut themselves.  If you are someone that chops cinder blocks on your YouTube channel, this is not your knife.  If you have an ounce of knife sense--here you go.  

Durability: 2 

SImplicity begets durability.  This is a thick chunk of A2 with G10 on the sides.  I beat this thing into thick green slabs of oak while processing wood for winter and it laughed at me.  I ran it next to the Didi Gigalu from Helle, doing a task for task matching test for an article for Gear Junkie and the Forest creamed the European blade. While the Gigalu looked like it had been through a chipper shredder, the Forest, but for the patina on the blade, looked brand new.  It may look like a glossy magazine, but the Forest can take a beating like a Kabar Becker can.  

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

When I was a kid my Dad did a lot of woodworking projects and I would watch him.  I remember him cutting dovetails, one after another, and I thought it looked so easy.  But he would always tell me--its harder than it looks.  His task and tool were things that reward skill and punished stupidity.  The Forest is that exactly.  In the hands of someone experienced it is as capable a fixed blade as I have handled.  I can tell during use that there are things, carving complex notches and the like, that it can do, but I cannot.  In the hands of someone like Jim Nowka or an experienced outdoorsman, the Forest's simple, elegant design could do just about anything.  This is a truly great blade.  Its also worth noting that it is size is just right.  If you aren't a fan of fixed blades but want one that can do a lot, this is a great knife and a great size.  Its not a chopper, but it can do some heavy work.  Its not a camp knife but it can do detail work.  In many ways, this knife reminds me of a fixed blade Paramilitary 2.  That's a medium sized knife that carries like a small knife that runs a large blade's lock.  It can do a lot of work.  So to with the Forest.

I was worried about bias in this review, but the moment the Forest slid out of the package from Knives Ship Free I realized I had nothing to worry about.  Its hard to imagine someone using this knife and not being enthralled with it.  Its so obviously well made and so obviously well designed that even Jim's most ardent enemies, if he has any (he really is a super nice and knowledgeable guy, willing to share information and tips on just about anything), would be hard pressed to bag the Forest.

The Competition

I can't see why you'd wait the YEARS it takes to get a Bush Tool when this is readily available for less.  If you really want the premium 3V model, okay, but I don't think the difference in performance is big enough to justify the wait and price increase.  It is unfortunate for the Helle that I had them both in at the same time.  They are roughly the same price, within $70 or so dollars, and the Helle came out looking very bad by comparison.  The real competition here is other Mike Stewart made knives.  Jim and Kyle both like the small Forest a bit better, but I like this size as it flexes both up and down the knife size spectrum quite nicely.   


  1. Great review as always. She's design that allows for horizontal and vertical Carrie is great but not really new. Winkler knives have it, and so does my custom by Matt LAjoie

    1. Oops, I really need to proofread before posting a comment made by voice recognition. That should have said "The sheath design that allows for..."

  2. Nice Tony. Fwiw I always thought you were very upfront about your biases (talking in relation to the Gemini review) and this review showcases that quite well.

  3. Looking forward to your thoughts on Helle.

    1. Here you go:

    2. Thanks! I thought it was a review of the Uteavar, I didn't know they had a second full tang blade out.

  4. Nice review. That polished micarta looks so great, and that sheath makes it look like a joy to use.

  5. Super pretty knife. That belt loop is pure genius.

  6. Love the way this knife looks. I haven't been able to justify a fixed blade just yet because I'm not outdoors enough these days, but this is pretty high on the list of blades I would look at. I really like the simple handle. It looks incredibly versatile.

  7. This looks like one of those knives that just melts in your hand. Great scales like that make you want to use the knife more and enjoy it.

  8. "a lot of people will slide forward on [the] handle and cut themselves"

    That sentence really jumps out. However, I'm not a skilled fixed blade user. What would have been the downside of adding a modest quillon to this design?

    1. My experience is that the guards or quillons impact dexterity while cutting.