Monday, June 11, 2012

Mora Knives

I was excited to see something new on my last trip to the gun show; a small booth of Mora knives. The well endowed Swedish woman in a low cut shirt running the booth was excited when I told her I had heard of Mora knives. I vaguely recalled someone mentioning European Mora knives on a forum and doing some quick research on them. Because I had never seen Mora knives in the US before, the result of my research was dim in my memory, but I remembered it being positive.

After handling a few of the knives and furrowing my brows at the strangely low prices, I decided on the knife that felt best in my hand and had the best overall look. I picked up the Mora 946 for $20.

The blade-to-grip size ratio was smaller than I was used to, but the grip felt so incredibly comfortable and positive that it was my first choice. I prefer a defined finger guard for utility knives, and because this one was added so artfully, it didn't disturb the lines of the grip. The light jimping on the grip was unobtrusive and positive. The actual grip material escaped me, it was rougher than rubber and had a feel more like a rough G10. It slid along your hand at minimum pressure, but as soon as you squeezed it seemed to glue itself to your fingers. Water does not seem to affect your grip on the material at all.

The second aspect that attracted me to this knife was the sheath. Retention is by friction on the handle, which has been quite effective so far. You'll note that the grip enters the sheath the same way most strapless leather sheathes do, this look has been attractive to me lately, and was definitely a plus on this knife. Modern materials with classic styling.

The "loop" on the sheath was actually clip made of the same materials as the sheath. I prefer clips for general use because it's easier to snap them on and off your waistband without playing with your belt. If you don't normally wear belts (like me) you don't have to worry about putting one on just so you can have a fixed blade knife nearby. Note the unfinished injection point in the blue plastic facing the camera. Easily removed or smoothed, and with no functional impact, it's perfectly acceptable on a $20 knife. There are a couple other unfinished edges on the grip, but they fall under the same category. Unobtrusive, reparable, and acceptable.

The clip rotates with a bias in the vertical position. This has aided in comfort when sitting as the knife seems to rotate out of the way on its own, without you needing to "prep" it for sitting. I've read reports of the clip being unsatisfactory due to crouching or sitting pressure pushing the clip up and off of your waist, but have yet to encounter that. From here you can see the button loop which is probably a popular method of carry for the Swedes, but most pants here lack suspender buttons. Still, the design of the clip is such that the button should be kept at the top of the slot by pressure (see the angle of the clip in the above picture).

The last feature I appreciated about this knife was the overall style. The lines of this knife and sheath combo blend beautifully together. Soft curves at the top, and geometric lines at the bottom. Looks were definitely a factor in this purchase. I'll always choose utility over looks, but having both is a definite benefit. It's hard not to appreciate a beautiful design.

The first few things I cut with this knife split easily, and after some slight misuse, I decided to touch up the edge. You probably noticed that this knife has a Scandinavian grind, meaning it has one bevel from the blade width down to the edge of the knife. This simplifies the sharpening process if you use the right tool. I used the wrong tool. I spent a couple hours fighting with the edge using the stones from my Spyderco Sharpmaker. My pocket microscope kept showing slight bevels due to minor inconsistencies in my sharpening process. The failure opportunities are exaggerated by the fact that you must remove steel from a 1/4" bevel as opposed to the 1/16" edge on most double beveled knives. After I switched to a proper whetstone, I started getting the results I wanted. These knives are made for whetstones because the extra long bevel can easily be pressed flat against the stone and drawn back and forth without worry of angle. After about an hour of metal removal to grind past the edge damage, it returned to a facet-free edge that bit easily into light materials along the entire length of the blade. I noted the grind was not perfectly even at the tip, and adjusted my draws to the slightly different angle. The result is an edge at the tip that is a bit thinner, and sharper.

The lesson was learned. Don't chip or deform these edges by letting them touch hard materials, and don't try to shortcut sharpening them by giving them a deeper pass on the sharpener. Grinding past the damage to reestablish the flat single bevel requires a lot of metal removal. Of course, this weakness is also a strength in that sharpening with a basic whetstone is extremely simple. This grind also seems to bite into and slice into materials easier than the double bevels I use. I don't have any hard evidence of this, but the feel of the knife was definitely different. I felt more like I was parting materials than cutting into them. I look forward to using this knife more, and will post any developments.

After coming home with the 946, I did some research on Mora knives to refresh my memory of their performance. Reviews were extremely positive and spoke mainly to the quality of the rolled steel and simplicity of the designs. After finding them somewhat difficult to order online, I decided to go back to the gun show the next day for the single purpose of buying another knife, the Mora 2000, for $40.

The Mora 2000 made a noticeable splash when it came out, so this model seems to have the most reviews and information available online. By comparison, it took me about 30 minutes of research to confirm the model number of the 946. Even then, information is very sparse about the less popular models. I decided to make my second Mora knife this model because it was a flagship of sorts, and because it had a larger blade with a belly and a more blunt tip. The proportions of the blade were more to my liking, but that was as far as preference by appearance went. It's an ugly knife. The grip material is surprisingly positive, and the hard plastic ends don't afford much protection from slipping, though I've yet to slip on the grip material. The pommel is flat, which some claim is good for hammering, but without a guard between the grip and blade, I'll skip that feature.

The sheath keeps the same classic form of friction retention on half the grip, but skips all the style. The sheath feels cheap and thin, but those who have used it longer attest to its strength. It is symmetrical for ambidextrous carry, which gives the sheath an odd profile which (coupled with the partial grip insertion) may increase your ability to carry this all day without worry of someone pointing and screaming "HE'S GOT A KNIIIIIIFE!" (depending on your locale, of course). Ok, I can't avoid the elephant in the room any longer. The color. This color scheme is so close to a standard OD green and coyote/desert brown, but is clearly off by several shades. It looks like dog vomit. But I didn't buy this knife for the looks... obviously.

Leave it to the Swedes. You tell them their blades need two bevels and they add it in the wrong direction. The blade is beveled a little over halfway down the blade. Clearly, the intent here was to provide the cutting benefits of the single bevel without so thick a blade jamming in your cut. I imagine this makes it easier to bite deeply into materials, but have yet to test this. It's a very interesting feature, and certainly adds something unique to the design.

The belt loop is a basic piece of leather with a slit and openings for button carry. I have yet to test this on suspender buttons, but suspect it is meant to offer a quick on/off method for casual carry. Because this is more of an outdoorsman's knife, I understand the reason for a solid loop instead of a clip, and appreciate the quality of leather for the loop material.

The loop is very flexible, which makes it less rigid in carry than the clip on the 946, and makes it more comfortable overall. It's also much thicker than I'd expect for a knife of this price point.

Both sheathes feature drainage holes to prevent the hard plastic from becoming an unintentional canteen. It's a minor feature but strangely lacking from more expensive designs. Another indicator of design by experience. One other small feature both knives have is no ricasso, meaning the cutting edge goes all the way up to the grip. Apart from the unique style, this allows you to do push cuts with minimal arm movement by putting the material up against your grip. This prevents you from swinging your arm through the cut when the knife makes it through the material. More control is always better, and because you're sharpening with a whetstone, there is no noticeable impact to this design decision.

I haven't had much opportunity to try out this knife yet, but that will change once I get to a state which allows you to interact with nature instead of making illegal things like moving branches out of your way.

I very much look forward to comparing these knives to my expensive utility knives. I feel like I've found something that's better than what we have, but didn't catch on for some reason. Unless further testing reveals catastrophic failures in them, these are easily worth more than the $60 I paid for them both. The $20 946 is less than I'd pay for the sheath and grip alone.

It hasn't been my experience that you can find tools that are cheap, good, and reliable, but I'm very open to the possibility.

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