He blends training and gear based on his years of experience and devotion to the school of the woods. Dan Wowak of Coalcracker Bushcraft is a TV and YouTube personality, a wilderness skills instructor, and a gear designer with a vision— and knives.
Possibly best known for his 51 days in Patagonia and extreme weight loss of 54 pounds, Dan Wowak was a cast member on History Channel’s third season of “Alone.” A true educator, Dan releases helpful videos weekly that offer quick tips, and some more in-depth skills-based content. In addition, Dan operates his Appalachian Bushman School and teaches classes with a very able staff of instructors in Ringtown, Pennsylvania.
It has been a long journey since Dan was sitting in a cold, wet, muddy campsite with his camping crew “The Coalcracker Coalition.” Dan Wowak and the Coalcracker Bushcraft name have accomplished so much in the industry from teaching wilderness skills to designing outdoor equipment, and their more recent list has grown to include an array of knives.
“Heft, elegance, and comfort can best describe the Coalcracker Knife.”
Jake Mogish of Ashland, Pennsylvania, is the bladesmith responsible for executing Dan’s designs. He said they started the knife line making prototypes and developed the lineup from there.
“I like to use 01 for its ability to hold an edge when properly heat-treated,” Jake said. “The steel definitely gets a very nice patina to it over time with use and proper care.” I agree with Jake on this as I very much favor 01 steel.
small Uberleben woodstove. The Coalcracker Knife was tasked with batoning the small rounds for fuel and kindling-sized pieces. It did this with the help of a stout maple baton, cut by the bucksaw.
Thinner pieces that had some length were used for shaving tinder into feather sticks. The sharp saber grind did a good job at shaving thin, curly slivers. This step would ensure them lighting via ferrocerium rod. For feather sticks to be used as tinder they must be thin enough to take a spark in my book.
I made a very useful set of wedges for splitting medium-sized logs, putting the knife once again in a position for the tool to be able to make other tools that would facilitate camp life.
All through the testing process, the spalted beech handle remained comfortable and striking in appearance. I’ve never used beech scales, and I have to say they were done right. As for the blade steel, O1 has that fast patina-like quality that gives a knife instant character. The Coalcracker Knife was developed as a true woodsman tool. Heft, elegance, and comfort can best describe the Coalcracker Knife.
I gravitated toward this knife of all the Coalcracker Bushcraft knives in the lineup. Resembling a puukko knife from Finland, it just spoke to me. Slightly shorter than the Coalcracker Knife at 8 inches overall, the Mineshaft has a 4-inch-long 01 steel blade and is 1/8-inch thick. It has a straightback 90-degree spine for all sorts of crafting projects. The gem of this knife is the true zero-edge Scandinavian (Scandi) grind. Tan Micarta scales and brown sheath round out the package nicely.
IN THE WOODS
During the bulk of the Mineshaft evaluation, I was in Alabama helping out with several Randall’s Adventure & Training classes. This gave other people a chance to try the knife out and give me their opinions too.
I started out using the Mineshaft to make a few stakes for my T6ZERO tarp shelter from Coalcracker Bushcraft and whenever I need two, I make three or four. Most stake snobs wouldn’t approve of mine. I haven’t put a point on a stake in years; for me, I go with a 45-degree chisel end. This is done by using a firm hammer (forward) grip and taking a large slice off the end. A chest-lever grip can also be used.
For thicker pieces of greenwood, I sometimes use a baton to shear cut the chisel end cleanly. I opt for branches that have a natural fork and trim it accordingly. Usually, I don’t chamfer the top, especially when using them for one or two nights. And, miraculously, they still work. However, I put some effort into these to set a good example. Notches, carving, and chamfering were easy and comfortable in both hammer fist and chest-lever-grips.
One of my go-to tests for a new knife is making feather sticks from scrap wood, not 100% straight-grained wood. This says a lot to me about edge geometry and the Scandi edge usually bites no matter how uneven or hard the wood is. The Mineshaft shaved wood with authority, but I felt the handle was a little bulky despite it being comfortable.
Making pot hangers and stake notches for wire snares was easily done with the Scandi edge. I made a figure-four trap after I had grown accustomed to the bulky handle, and it didn’t bother me as it may have earlier on. Making a trap with multiple notches is a good test of knife comfort, edge geometry, and a good overall skills practice in my book.
“Coalcracker Bushcraft has grown into a premier survival and bushcraft training and equipment brand in the industry.”
A student used the Mineshaft for a day and made bamboo fish spears, a bucksaw, and fire with it. The spine stood out in his mind as one of the best, sharpest 90-degree spines out there; I agreed. He liked the knife’s performance, but had smaller hands, so the handle seemed too wide for him at times. A person with larger hands would probably not think twice about it.
I carved a bow drill fire kit with the Mineshaft, all but the bearing block as I used the ESEE Knives Fire Steel. I used maple, cedar, and poplar for my spindles, all relatively soft except the maple. I used a cedar fire board and drilled easily with the tip. Even though the blade has a straight spine, it is angled down so that the tip was in line with the handle, which was excellent.
I made a larger bucksaw with a 24- inch saw blade using the Mineshaft. This was a bucksaw inspired by Kelly Harlton (head instructor for Mors Kochanski, and Karamat Wilderness Ways), called the H-Bucksaw. It uses a double windlass system for stability. I carved all the pieces of thick, green witch hazel easily with the Mineshaft. This project required carving, splitting, notching, and cord-cutting. There were some tricky carving positions, but the knife handled the task with flying colors.
Appalachian Trapper’s Axe
- Handle made of hickory or ash
- Contoured handle for fine and chopping cuts
- Each axe comes with a leather sheath
Head Weight: 1.5 pounds
Handle Length: 16 inches
Cutting Edge: 4 inches
Often I get tasked with being the camp cook, an honor I readily accept. This means whatever knife I have is the kitchen knife. This also means lots of fire-making in addition to an array of vegetables that need to be sliced. Lucky for me the Mineshaft has a nice belly that aids in cutting on flat cutting boards, as a sheath knife rarely has the correct amount of finger/knuckle clearance of a cleaver or kitchen knife.
The spine peeled carrots easily. Meats and veggies were all processed with the knife and it didn’t take long before the 01 steel started to patina. This is not only normal, it was welcomed. I’d rather have a knife with a natural protective patina than have to oil it. Food does that naturally. A sharp knife is a safe knife, and so is a patinated knife.
Each Coalcracker Bushcraft knife comes with a classic, beautifully constructed high-quality sheath. The 9-ounce bridle leather is brown with white thread. Bridle leather refers to the way that a piece of leather (cowhide) is finished at the tannery, having both the flesh and grain side of the leather. The sheaths from both knives were oversized, adding bulk and weight, yet not the best retention. I resorted to wet forming both for a snugger fit and adding more wax.
Overall Length: 9 inches
Blade Steel: 01 tool steel
Blade Length: 4 1/8 inches
Blade Thickness: 1/8 inch
Blade Grind: Saber grind
Handle Material: Spalted beech
Sheath: Brown bridle leather
Weight: 8 ounces (12 ounces with sheath)
Overall Length: 8 inches
Blade Steel: 01 tool steel
Blade Length: 4 inches
Blade Thickness: 1/8 inch
Blade Grind: Scandi grind
Handle Material: Natural canvas Micarta
Sheath: Brown bridle leather
Weight: 7.5 ounces (10 ounces with sheath)
Coalcracker Bushcraft has grown into a premier survival and bushcraft training and equipment brand in the industry. Since the beginning, Dan felt it was their mission to create a passion for the outdoors. Through handmade products and courses, they share outdoor experiences and expertise to make people’s experiences better and more enjoyable. Every day they work on making better products and enhancing teaching for their customers and fellow outdoor goers as they matter most.
APPALACHIAN BUSHMAN SCHOOL
Coalcracker Bushcraft is not a one-man show. Its instructors are made up of Kian Pederson, Mike Gasper, Sara-Jo Fegley, and Dan Wowak. They offer a variety of courses. To name a few titles: Basic & Advanced Survival, Basic & Advanced Bushcraft, Navigation, Modern Bushcraft, and a Bushman Class. Info is clearly listed on the website and includes course description, field and classroom work, required kit, level of physicality, and prerequisites if any.
APPALACHIAN TRAPPER’S AXE
Not just for trappers, this axe may be the ultimate in bushcraft axes. Anyone who has seen online videos from Dan Wowak has seen his trapper’s axe at one point. The one he uses (until now) came from Russia and was produced in the 1950s.
“Russian axes are very hard to come by and when you can locate one, often they are damaged or not in good condition,” Dan said.
The axe itself was used by government-paid trappers in Siberia, and now Coalcracker Bushcraft is making a hand-forged version. The Appalachian Trapper’s Axe is an absolute workhorse.