Blacktag Knives and Rags: Reviewing a custom skinning/ caper

by, Jesse Mathewson

survival knifeSometimes you can find a knife at a good price, with the beauty and superb construction that makes it worth buying custom. I am someone who enjoys blades, and own several thousand; ranging from Opinels, Moraknivs through CRKTS, Kershaws, Ganzo, Blue and Gold Benchmades as well as high-end custom jobs. If I were to list every manufacturer I own one by one it would fill several pages, then adding the knives from each into that equation and you would have a book larger than the current Lyman Loading manual.

As a father-son bonding experience, my dad and I started building blades years ago, while I would love to get back into the industry, it is unfortunately not something I am capable of doing at this time due to physical constraints.

Every other day someone is handing me a blade and asking for me to put a razor edge on it, or touch up some nicks or buff out scratches. Being raised in the Midwest on a farm and then moving to Arizona and living in the wilderness several months a year, I don’t have power tools for these jobs; I use whetstones, diamond hones, strops, and files. Every blade I own can shave, including my hand axes, tomahawks, fighting hawks, khukris, machetes, bowies, fighters, etc. This is an essential part of owning a knife, after all what good is a dull blade? You are virtually guaranteed to cut yourself faster with a dull blade due to lack of purchase on surface you are attempting to cut.

survival knifeHowever, this isn’t an article about sharpening, which can come at a later date if you want. This is an article about one specific knife from a relatively new blade crafter. Blacktag Knives and Rags; made by Rachel Oliver of Michigan. She creates camping, skinning, and working blades. Her prices range from $50 through $150 and without a doubt the money spent is worth it. The holster is just a cover for the blade, nothing special, you need to add the belt loop or purchase a specially made holster for the blade. However, the blade itself is where everything comes together.

survival knife

Blade specifications of the one I purchased are as follows –

1. 1095 high carbon steel, well-tempered, it holds an edge well and is more difficult to sharpen than my baseline high carbon moras, which means the hardness/Rockwell is over 57 (this is good).

2. 1/8” of an inch thick at the spine, mora style grind ending in a concave edge

3. 3 and ¼” blade length, 1 and ¼” width from edge to spine

4. 3 and ½” handle, fits very well in the hand especially when holding it in the standard caping/ large game skinning hold.

5. Weight is around 4 ozs., very solid feeling.

When it came to me it had a hard sharp angle a little over 25 degrees and thin, I re-profiled this to allow for better ability to use as a skinning/caping knife; dropped it to a wide, shallow 17 degree angle approximately. I find this angle or even a 15 degree one works best for caping properly, especially with Arizona antelope and Coues deer. It is just small enough for rabbits (which are not extremely difficult) and large enough to easily work up through black bear should I decide to tag for one this year.

The testing for this blade was relatively simple; I purchase knives much the same way I purchase firearms, with specific intentions involved, it is the rare blade/firearm that is expected to do more than a single task at a time. I should note, I do have them and enjoy them as well. You will be seeing some reviews in the future from some of these.

1. Blade strength, I placed it in a vise with cloth and wood bracing it, using my substantial body weight I pushed and pulled and failed to cause it to move. (Again a good thing for this particular knife)

2. Edge longevity, I used it to prepare several meats, skinned out a couple of rabbits, cut through about 50 boxes post moving (new and better location) and it was still shaving sharp. A few swipes on the strop and I was able to easily slice paper again.

3. Grip retention, even with dirty hands, wet hands, and bloody hands and greasy hands it stayed nicely in my hand. The grip design was quite well thought out. For the pictures I wiped it down well with Ballistol, a personal favorite cleaner and lubricant for both firearms and knives.

4. I specifically requested that it have character, meaning, I did not WANT a knife that matched in every way, it needed to fit me. And this one does, and still looks VERY beautiful.

5. I will be building a leather holster for the knife, it will enclose the plastic/carbon holster it came in, and as sweat and heat are catalysts for rusted high carbon materials in Arizona.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the blade and would not hesitate to recommend this young lady and her very skilled work to anyone who knows knives. Given my need to re-profile the edge I would suggest clarifying with her what it is you are planning on using it for. Otherwise this knife and manufacture gets 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Let me know your thoughts and ideas, and or if there is a specific brand you are interested in and if have it or have used it, I will gladly drop a review here. Remember, we are only as good as our equipment, and not all equipment MUST be made in a certain area to be quality. Test for yourselves, and above all, think about where you are, what you want and where you want to be.

Free the mind and the body will follow

Comments

  1. Hi Jesse. Nice article. I searched Google for Blacktag Knives and Rags, and also Rachel Oliver Knives, but nothing came up. Does she have a website? How can you see her knives online and make a purchase.
    Thanks for the information.

    • The best contact for her is the following –

      Instagram – rachel_oliver_creations
      Link to Etsy – blacktagmi.bigcartel.com

      I got in touch with her through a friend and she is newer which means no solid website yet, though she is building an underground following-

  2. i looked also nothing would like to buy

  3. She has knives on Etsy regularly-

    Instagram – rachel_oliver_creations
    Link to Etsy – blacktagmi.bigcartel.com

  4. Chuck Findlay says:

    I think it’s a hit or miss thing with custom knifes. I have 5 knifes I would call custom and some hold an edge well and some don’t.

    I think it’s from the hardening process not being consistent from one to the next knife.

    Custom knifes almost always look better as the knife maker puts his or her heart into it. You almost never see that once a company gets big as bean counting production comes into play. Not that they are bad knifes, but for a profit to be shown they need mass appeal so the cutting-edge designs are not too common because of limited sales of unusual looking knifes.

    Not that this is bad, it is what it is.

    • I agree Mr. Findley

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        One thing I find limiting in custom made knifes is machining or whatever you want to call the intricate workings of a modern knife. Custom knifes don’t fold, aren’t multi-bladed, don’t have tools (that I find quite useful)

        Few people have the machining ability to turn out such knifes and I suspect that the profit margin would go way into the negative unless scaled up to a high production that is beyond a custom makers ability.

        I know when I make something (be it wood or metal work) it’s very time consuming and no way I could sell something I made for anything close to worth the time I have into it.

        Custom made knifes are more along the lines of a blacksmith type of product that is more suited to bushcraft or combat.

        Not that I do any kind of combat, but I do camp and this is where I use the larger knifes.

        Both types have their use, but I tend to collect and use the factory-made knifes more as I can do more with them on a daily bases.

        My Swiss Champ is a tool I use every day and feel naked without it. I have used the same one for over 20-years.

        Another problem with custom knifes is that in today’s world of trigger-happy cops a custom knife (as most of them are on the larger size) can get you shot if you have it on you. Not a thing to take lightly.

        • This one is small, nicely made, well within all legal limits for even California and New York. Better, it is hand forged, no machining here. 🙂

          Thats my version of a custom knife, that and it has too work. 🙂

          I appreciate the feedback for sure.

          • Axelsteve says:

            I looked at her knives and liked some of them. As for big knives I have a kabar and a bushman. They are pretty good knives,just ask a marine what they think of the kabar. No bottle opener no gps no hollow handle just a a solid knive for a solid man.I would like to have a Skandi grind tanto blade and a skinner though.When I get ahead a bit I am gonna get a couple or few Moras.

  5. Thomas The Tinker says:

    Mr. Mathewson: I own three custom made pieces by two different makers .. a ‘patch’ knife .. a small/mid sized bushcraft knife and a larger camp knife. All full tang. The bushcrafter seems to show up where ever I do. It’s ugly, rough looking and I would miss it like my thumb and first two fingers. I found those folks on line. They offer a limited stock but my favorite style of work. Thank You for the nudge.

    • Exactly, a good knife and or good gun etc., doesnt by default need too be purty. Function, ability to use and longevity is by far superior to looks, a few, very few manufacturers have been able to combine all of those. Pricing is always extreme.

      For me, a knife is a tool, I plan on using. Not taking pictures of and bragging about price spent, if that makes sense. I need solid, functional usability, pretty is a hard last place for requirements.

  6. Are you familiar with the Spivey Sabretooth? If so what is your opinion of it?

  7. I want some knives for picnic purpose: cooking, cutting wood. Which should I choose? I want something with reasonable price, cause I only go for picnic 2-3 times a year.

    • My initial thoughts would say get a decent machete, condor or ontario and a morakniv companion. For well under $75 bucks you have two amazing blades that will last a lifetime. This being said, I have recently switched to sirupate khukris made by GK&co or ExGhurkaKhukriHouse found on amazon for around $75 bucks, dont get the cheap version or even cold steels. After extensive reviews get one made by Ghurkas from Nepal, shipping takes a couple weeks keep them well oiled (high carbon steel) and they will last a lifetime.

      13″ blade, sweet spot is right at belly forward a bit and amazing choppers, bush knives etc. Especially for the price – additionally the modern approach regarding full tang or nothing, doesnt apply with these. I have several and have never had an issue, pry testing and more.

      Tested them by chopping several Texas Mesquite trees down (4th hardest wood in usa) and still had an edge with minor nicks from stones. Easily retouched by hand.

      Love em

      As for my go bags, all of them have morakniv companions in stainless and high carbon. The.high carbon ones I forced an apple.cider patina to reduce rusting issues –

      Havent had any real.issues with any of them. And they are amazingly strong plus super inexpensive. In fact the tool company Bahco had morakniv make them a line, same size shape as the companions but they run $9 apiece with a decent holster.

      Buy three or four and be ahead all.day.

      • My initial thoughts would say get a decent machete, condor or ontario and a morakniv companion. For well under $75 bucks you have two amazing blades that will last a lifetime. This being said, I have recently switched to sirupate khukris made by GK&co or ExGhurkaKhukriHouse found on amazon for around $75 bucks, dont get the cheap version or even cold steels. After extensive reviews get one made by Ghurkas from Nepal, shipping takes a couple weeks keep them well oiled (high carbon steel) and they will last a lifetime.

        13″ blade, sweet spot is right at belly forward a bit and amazing choppers, bush knives etc. Especially for the price – additionally the modern approach regarding full tang or nothing, doesnt apply with these. I have several and have never had an issue, pry testing and more.

        Tested them by chopping several Texas Mesquite trees down (4th hardest wood in usa) and still had an edge with minor nicks from stones. Easily retouched by hand.

        Love em

        As for my go bags, all of them have morakniv companions in stainless and high carbon. The.high carbon ones I forced an apple.cider patina to reduce rusting issues –

        Havent had any real.issues with any of them. And they are amazingly strong plus super inexpensive. In fact the tool company Bahco had morakniv make them a line, same size shape as the companions but they run $9 apiece with a decent holster.

        Buy three or four and be ahead all.day.

        I also tend to gift moraknivs regularly, as they are great knives and it is amazing how many people for all.their prepping forget a good knife!

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