FRY UTILITY HUNTER IS A HANDY FIXED BLADE THAT OFFERS CUSTOM QUALITY AT A PRODUCTION PRICE
Lots of knifemakers are turning out great custom and small-batch knives of their own designs. Purchasing one is the best way to get exactly the knife you want.
However, the buyer can encounter two potential obstacles. The first hurdle is price. Individual knifemakers typically put in lots of time and talent into each piece they sell. The prices are usually very much in line with that effort, but that might make particular models out of reach financially for many buyers.
The second hurdle, availability, is affected by consumer demand and a maker’s limitations on how many pieces can be completed. Some makers’ knives are so highly sought after that getting one usually involves either a lengthy wait or timely luck.
Jason Fry, a highly regarded Texas maker, hopes to have solved these problems by contracting to have one of his more popular designs—the Utility Hunter—manufactured in a small production run by White River Knives in Fremont, Michigan. The hope is that anyone who wants one of his Utility Hunter knives can get one without a long wait. (Note: On page 10 of this issue, Fry talks about what it’s like for a custom knifemaker to work with a manufacturer.)
White River Knives is building these knives in the USA from USA-sourced materials to Fry’s specifications with the same thickness, profile, and edge that you’d find on one of his custom blades. There will be a few differences, however. The production version will feature a stonewashed blade finish, bolted-on handle scales, and a straight tang.
GOLDILOCKS EVERY WAY
I love knives that fall into the Goldilocks just-right, mid-sized range. They’re large enough to handle most tasks while being small enough to be convenient to carry.
But “just-right” needs to cover more than size. Fry’s Utility Hunter is an attractive knife made of high-quality materials that you’ll be proud to carry. Yet its value is very much tied to its ability to be useful for a variety of tasks in a way that makes it a comfortable and natural extension of the hand that holds it.
“My knives are at the same time tools and works of art,” says Fry on his website. “A pretty knife that doesn’t hold an edge isn’t much of a knife. On the other hand, an ugly knife isn’t any better than what can be bought at the store for much less. I try to make every knife both functional and beautiful.”
I believe Fry has accomplished this Goldilocks just-right balance of art and performance very nicely in this design.
So, let’s look at the numbers on this knife. It measures 7 ¾ inches overall with a 3 ¼-inch, stonewashed blade and 4 ½-inch handle. The knife is a full-tang design with a drop-point blade and flat grind. It’s made from a 1/8-inch (0.125-inch) CPM S35VN steel about 15/16-inch wide. The steel is heat treated to 59/60 RC.
The handle is shaped to provide a slight finger guard at the front and is curved with a slight flare at the butt. This shape is very conducive to taking a comfortable, secure grip on the knife. The scales on my knife are a nicely executed green and black G10 held in place with Torx bolts. Those handle scales feature pinky finger contours, which is a nice, subtle touch that adds to the overall great feel of the knife in the hand.
There’s an unlined lanyard hole too that I might use when traveling by canoe or kayak. If I become concerned about losing a knife with green and black handle scales, I can always run a short length of fluorescent ribbon through the lanyard hole. Historically, though, I haven’t been prone to losing knives in the woods.
A variety of handle colors are available. Some of the knives feature Ultrex Suretouch scales instead of G10. Suretouch is a grippy material that features composite layers of G10 and rubber.
A brown leather, pouch-style sheath made by Smith & Sons Knife Company in Sulphur, Louisiana, is included. It holds the knife deeply and securely. The belt loop will fit belts up to 1 ½ inches wide and is set up for right-side carry. However, I’ll probably carry it on my left side as a cross-draw rig to accommodate the handgun holster I’ll most likely have positioned on my right side when I don’t opt for a chest holster.
MORE THAN A HUNTING KNIFE
Just because this knife has “Hunter” in its name, don’t think for a minute that this knife is limited in any way to that role. Yes, it’s what I’d consider the perfect size and shape for field-dressing most game animals.
One mistake many new hunters make is carrying a knife that’s unnecessarily large for the job. Yes, I’ll use a knife with more belly for skinning and knives with longer blades for butchering, but those aren’t things that are typically done in the field with up to and including deer-sized game.
So, while the Fry Utility Hunter would make an excellent hunting knife, it’s sized and configured to make a great all-year woods companion. The “Utility” part of this knife’s moniker is the one I’d emphasize. Specialization when it comes to knives can sometimes be a good thing, but let’s face it: I’m not going to carry a half dozen or more knives when I’m covering miles off pavement.
Even in camp, as a matter of convenience I’m likely to grab the knife that’s close at hand, the one that’s on my belt or in my pocket.
So, it makes sense that the knife close at hand should be as versatile as possible. I’m not going to choose a specialist such as a karambit, for instance, as my primary go-to woods knife that I might have to use for myriad cutting chores. But I am apt to carry something such as the Fry Utility Hunter.
This knife arrived with a great, sharp edge. I expected that. Just as important is how the knife handles and its ability to make various cuts without it fighting against the user.
Yes, how a knife feels can be a very subjective thing, but I found this knife so comfortable in use that it was as if Fry and White River had taken a mold of my hand in shaping the handle. No, I can’t guarantee that kind of fit for you, but I’m guessing this knife will be a good fit for more people than not.
The grip is not overly bulbous, so it carries well, but it’s not so thin that there’s nothing to grasp.
Most of my use with this knife so far has been with woody materials and various types of cordage. Due to the timing of the test, I haven’t been able to field-dress game with it yet, but I did slice some beef steaks and veggies with it and the knife did very well. Although this wouldn’t be my first choice as a dedicated food prep blade, as I said, the knife on my belt needs to be able to do many things.
WHILE THEY LAST
The combination of Fry’s design and oversight, together with the manufacturing excellence of White River Knives, has resulted in a knife worthy to be worn on anyone’s belt. It’s a simple design that, upon a close look and time in the field with it, has proven that some real thought went into it.
For now, this knife is available only on Fry’s website. My guess is that Fry will have to order more from White River on a consistent basis. I’m holding on to mine and I hope to purchase one for my son for the upcoming hunting season. That’s the only sure way to keep mine from disappearing into his gear bag.
WHO IS JASON FRY?
Jason Fry is a custom knifemaker living in Wolfforth, Texas. This family man (father of four boys) hasn’t quit his day job yet. He works as a behavior analyst for developmentally disabled persons.
But knifemaking is more than a hobby with him. He’s on the board of directors of the Knifemakers’ Guild, an apprentice in American Bladesmith Society, and vice-president of the Texas Knifemakers’ Guild.
Aside from his regular knife designs, he’s especially known for incorporating materials from historical objects into one-of-a kind collectibles. For instance, in a Bowie that won “Best Bowie” in the Guild awards at the 2021 International Custom Cutlery Expo, he used 1836-layer Damascus and an 1836 half dollar to commemorate the year of Texas’ independence.
The Damascus and the guard contained nails from the Mexican meeting house after the Battle of San Jacinto, and the spacer and butt cap were relics from the “Sea of Mud” camp during the Mexican retreat. The handle wood was live oak from the “Sam Houston Runaway Scrape Oak” where Sam and the Texian Army camped on the first night of the Runaway Scrape after the fall of the Alamo.
Fry is a lifelong hunter, trapper, and fisherman. In 2003, he found he was skinning so many raccoons that he needed another sharp knife for the job. He remembered a blade he had ground from a file, but set aside, while he had been in high school. He put a handle on that blade and his first knife was completed. Five years later, he was stuck on knifemaking for good.
He makes knives both by forging and by stock removal. He often performs the heat treat himself, using a digitally controlled kiln and then using dry ice for cryogenic tempering. His preferred steels include: 1080/1084 carbon steel and CM 154 and AEBL stainless steels. Sometimes he uses files or other “found” or historic steel. Additionally, he has a home-built power hammer and makes his own Damascus steel out of 1095, 1084, and 15n20.
Fry has shared his knifemaking knowledge too as the author of Knifemaking Hacks, and Blade’s Guide to Knife Buying, both published by Caribou Press and as the editor of Next Level Knifemaking.
Fry Utility Hunter
Manufacturer: White River Knives (WhiteRiverKnives.com)
Overall Length: 7 ¾ inches
Blade Length: 3 ¼ inches
Handle Length: 4 ½ inches
Blade Thickness: 0.125 inch
Steel: CPM S35VN
Blade Finish: Tumbled stonewashed
Handle Material: G10 (tested) or Ultrex Suretouch
Sheath: Leather (SmithAndSonsKnives.com)
Fry Custom Knives
A version of this article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2022 print issue of Knives Illustrated.