written Overview Svord Von Tempsky Bowie (or just known as the VTB)
Notes on why I am no longer doing reviews (written reviews with cutting evaluations included) on fixed blades at the moment, my old man used to own a 15 acre block and I had access to large amounts of fallen timber and bamboo which allowed me to do a lot of chopping tests with fixed blades, and he has retired and sold the place.
I live in a suburban block and don't really have access to a lot of fallen timber (am working on that, but presently haven't secured a quantity of logs to do some chopping tests) so I have decided to do only over views at the moment. I did have a heap of offcuts and timber but did a clean up and it all went to the tip (not very much foresight on my part) so I will have to build up my stores again so I can again do proper testing again, and again do proper reviews.
I will get hold of some offcuts to do tip strength tests and some chop tests but I think cutting cardboard isn't really very good (or difficult) test for any fixed blade test, so I won't insult anyone's intelligence by doing anything like that with any fixed blades.
Preamble, I have long wanted a Svord Von Tempsky Bowie, ever since at least the Urban Bunker days, many Bunkerites were buying them (and started a
"Von Tempsky brotherhood") but I never dropped the hammer, other knives just seemed to always got in the way, and I ended up getting a Cold Steel Trail Master and TOPS Power Eagle (and several Condor machetes and Cold Steel machetes) and so basically never saw the point. Well I have sold off many of my Condors, I still have my Cold Steel Trail Master and TOPS Power Eagle (they are going nowhere ever) and recently decided to revisit the Von Tempsky as I have been watching a few YouTube vids and some had popped up in my recommended watched list.
I have fond memories of the VTB as my old man has one (as well as a Hog Beater, the single edged version) and I have handled it extensively and used and chopped with it often. His is at least a decade old.
Anyway Tom (Herr Geisser) got me onto My-Slice-of-Life on Ebay an Aussie retailer were selling them with a discount code for just under $300 landed to my door, I could not resist (as that was around $80-$100 cheaper than anywhere else from what I could find) I recommend that seller, 99.8% feedback score, and I had a good overall experience dealing with them.
What the company says
This replica Forest Ranger Bowie Knife is based on the knife design than Von Tempsky issued to his company of Forest Rangers in 1863. Gustavus Ferdinand Von Tempsky, adventurer, soldier and artist, learned the benefits of bowie knife fighting in California while working in the gold fields.
He possessed a fine knife of American manufacture for his own use, but had about 30 bowie knives made to his personal design by a cutler of Shortland St, Auckland. These were issued to the men of No. 2 Company, New Zealand Forest Rangers, under Major Von Tempsky's command.
The Forest Rangers were an elite corps of bush-roving scouts employed by the colonial government between August 1863 and October 1867 during the New Zealand Wars. "They were the Forest Rangers, whose very name carries a flavour of adventure in the Dangerous Lands, suggests tales of scouting and skirmish and ambuscade, and bush marching and camping in wary silence." (James Cowan, historian).
The knives were made from waggon spring steel – being one of the few sources of suitable steel available to blacksmiths in Auckland in 1863.Von Tempsky, an experienced fighter, taught his men to use the bowie knife in one-on-one armed combat. The knife was used to fend off an opponent’s attacking blows while a revolver was used in the other hand.The big knives were also used to clear tracks through bush, dig defensive positions, cut fire wood and for general use about camp.A 1900 interview with John Toovey, an ex Forest Ranger corporal, appeared in a 1935 issue of The New Zealand Railways Magazine: He had a farm near Te Awamutu. Customarily, out on the farm and in the bush, he wore a sheath-knife on his belt. The knife was a veteran like himself. It had been nine or ten inches long of blade, but the point had been broken off, and he re-ground and pointed it; even then it was like a young bayonet. He told its story, “That’s one of old Von’s bowie knives,” he said. “He had a lot made for us at a blacksmith’s in Auckland when the Forest Rangers were divided into two companies and he had command of me.
“You know, old Von was a terror with the bowie knife. He had learned to use it in Mexico and Central America. Certainly it came in handy in the bush, and as we had no bayonets it was comforting to know you had a good sticker on your hip for a scrimmage.”I’ve had that knife more than thirty years. See how it’s worn down. I’ve used it for all sorts of jobs, hacking bush tracks, pig-sticking, skinning sheep, cutting up my tobacco and my loaf of bread. It’ll last my day, my boy!”
Length of Blade: 11"
Over All Length: 16 1/2"
Blade Shape: Bowie, clip point
Handle Material: Hardwood
Steel Specifications: 15N20 (older models come with L-6 steel)
Blade Thickness: 5mm-7mm
Weight 27.3oz/774g+lanyard(with sheath 34.6oz/982g)
Made in New Zealand by B.W. Baker designed/made by Svord
I have registered my VTB with Svord knives.
*full tang, brass pins, lanyard hole
*steel guard (4mm thick, measured) they do vary as well, both in thickness and shape as well
*came with blade covered in grease/oil
*does have variances in spine thickness, between 5mm and 7mm. Mine has a full 7mm (measured)
**Concerning the variances, these knives are apparently mostly hand made, and thus many variances seem to be expected with Svord knives and my old man's VTB does indeed have a 5mm spine thickness, and mine has a 7mm spine.
This is something you will have to determine if you will be happy with if you are buying a VTB.
I for one, would not have been happy if mine had turned up with a 5mm spine, though I had specific reasons for buy mine (I will explain later in the overview)
I do find it a bit strange though, as you could conceivably simply buy bar stock that will yield 7mm spine thickness so I find this idea of variances in spine thickness a little bit of a weaksauce argument.
The VTB ships with its blade covered in oil with some paperwork lashed to the lanyard (registration paperwork, fill it in, what do you have to lose?, care, sharpening instructions and maintenance, warranty, these are high carbon knives and thus MUST be oiled constantly otherwise they will rust, mine has already started and I have been oiling it heavily), with the knife in the sheath and then bubble wrapped.
These are what is probably the quintessential American, hard use, user bowie, a classic clip point bowie following the classic lines, a full tang, with a hardwood handle and heavy "S" guard. A lanyard hole has been included, which I am very thankful for, as I believe with all large knives require such as you do not want these large tools flying out of you hand during heavy chopping and injuring a bystander (or worse). I added a basic thumb loop lanyard with skull bead and snake knot as soon as I could. I loop up, it has become natural now as I go to draw the knife, and it takes next to no time to do so.
The hardwood handle slabs are secured on the full tang by brass pins (three of them) and I have to say the fit and finish overall is very good, the slabs have all been somewhat contoured, there are no gaps at all, and the guard is fitted very well. Over all, very well executed. The knife has a very rustic feel about it though, I would call it 'old world' and that is probably much of its appeal to many of its buyer.
The handle does transfer a lot of vibration during heavy chopping, and I'll address this later in the overview. This is a common complaint though for many bowies and large knives and not just the VTB.
Now onto the big 11" clip point bowie blade. Made from 15n20 high carbon steel, current Svord knives seem to use this steel, older models used L-6. I didn't know much about this steel, looked it up, and this is what I found out, renowned for being super tough, tougher than say 5160 (which is known as being a tough steel), similar, and yet different to L-6 though at least as tough as L-6, high carbon, so rusts, it needs LOTS of oil. Svord harden the edge of the VTB to HRC 58 and then temper the spines (you can see the temper marks all along the spine, a lovely splash of colour that I find very pleasing to my eye), and this gives the VTB really good performance, good edge stability and good spine strength and overall good knife strength. I will say I was a bit disappointed with the clip, it was a bit rough, it looked like it had been ground with a grinder. That is the only complaint I have with the fit and finish with the knife. Though with that being said these are hand made knives so some 'rough and ready' finishing bits are to be expected, and the rustic feel of the knife is to be expected.
Svord proudly states they have a proprietary hand grinding process that they sharpen their blades with that they apply a convex edge on the VTB. To me it doesn't really looks like a true convex edge to me (I have seen true clam shell convex edges and these aren't that) but they are sharp, they cut phone book paper straight from the factory reasonably well (a little bit of ripping but still overall quite keen and really happy with the edge)
Next to the sheath, a leather affair. Suitable for the task, IMHO just barely. Belt loop not really big enough so it hangs properly on the belt. Not happy with the guard loop clasp, rubs against the blade as you draw the blade in and out of the sheath. Not very intuitive, has loosened up a bit and now a bit better. At least it is on the right side of the knife (not on the edge side and gets cut every time you draw the knife out)
I do want to replace it, though have looked into it, expensive to do so, looking at $200 to do so, which is almost as much as I paid for the knife. Not sure I want to turn a $300 knife into a $500 investment and might just suck it up and live with the factory sheath.
Improvements that IMHO should be done to improve the Von Tempsky as soon as you buy it
Add a thumb loop lanyard, these knives need a lanyard, you don't want them flying out of your hand during heavy chopping, especially with the the hardwood handles as they are in factory form. A simple thumb loop lanyard is all you need and they work, you will learn to loop up just before draw the knife.
Camo form the handles, the hardwood handles transfer a lot of vibration during heavy chopping (actually during any chopping) and the simplest and easiest solution I have found is to add a few layers of camo form to the handle. It also aids in slipperiness of the handle which in factory form can be a problem as well. Lanyards solve the slipperiness problems as well. Camo form adds comfort and stops vibration transfer and is probably the best mod I suggest to do to the VTB overall apart from the lanyard. It's just takes the knife to another level and improves it to no end.
Sheath, if you can justify the replacement do it, the factory one's aren't really up to spec. They'll do in pinch and are adequate but could be improved IMO.
big 11" clip point bowie blade
full 7mm spine
showing that the tang goes right through to the end
Now I will address the issue of the original Von Tempsky Bowie and Svord's interpretation the VTB. The Von Tempsky Bowie is NOT the original design, Svord took a lot of liberties and probably gave us a romanticized version of the knife. That's OK, and we all recognise that fact. The original knife would probably have been a hybrid between a butchers knife and a bowie, what Svord gave use was an American clip point Bowie. A big bruiser, user, and that is perfectly OK.
I have now joined the Brotherhood.
The Von Tempsky is exactly what I bought it for, a big, brutal, user, clip point bowie designed to be flogged and abused. A rugged user designed for heavy use, with everything Svord having done to facilitate that end, from the steel choice (15N20 very tough), tempered spine and hand grind convex edge.
1-5 star system 1 star poor/fail 2 star below average 3 star average 4 above average 5 star excellent
- Hands on/Ergos 3.5 stars (4.5 when lanyard and camo form added)
- Materials/Features 4.5 stars
- Build Quality/Fit and Finish 4.5 stars
- Value/Price point 4.5 stars
- Aesthetics 4 stars
-Sheath Quality/accessories 3 stars
overall rating 4
Pro's rugged "heavy user bowie", everything Svord has done is keyed towards being a good heavy user (15n20 steel choice, tempered spine, hand ground convex edge)
Con's rough and ready, sheath only barely adequate, handle vibration, needs camo form to dampen