THE BEN ORFORD TRAPPER DOES DOUBLE DUTY FOR BUSHCRAFT, HUNTING
Pick up most bushcraft books and you’ll likely find a very common blade shape in the section on edged tools. It seems like one of the most prevalent knives advocated for is a spearpoint blade. This is due largely to the work of the renowned British bushcrafter/naturalist Ray Mears. Now, pick up a hunting book and you’ll most likely find the hunting knife suggested is a drop-point blade with a hollow or flat grind.
“A knife like the Orford Trapper blends the best design elements of the hunting and bushcraft world.”
Every so often, a knife comes along that defies convention and blends concepts from two different circles into something really impressive. I found the Ben Orford Trapper at the center of the bushcraft and hunting Venn diagram and had to give it a go.
Also, I wanted to see if one knife could handle both bushcraft tasks and hunting knife duties. I contacted Ben and asked for a trapper in my preferred dimensions, and what he sent was nothing less than a functional work of art.
I received my sample of the Ben Orford Trapper at a great time of year between hunting seasons and when most would view camping season as ramping up. This knife is made in Orford’s shop, The Craft Lab, in the U.K. For full disclosure, I paid for this sample and the shipping along with the international money transfer with conversion fees.
The added fees can be seen as an inconvenience and, spoiler alert, they were the only disappointments I would experience in evaluating this blade.
Communication with the maker was excellent, and he was a total gentleman in responding promptly. In typical Craft Lab form, the knife was finished second to none with no large grind marks and a handle that felt just right in the hand.
For my particular sample, I requested a slightly shorter handle than the typical dimensions for better dexterity as a hunting knife. The handle is green Micarta with natural Micarta liners with a matte finish set of stainless steel pins and lanyard tubing.
I wanted AEB-L as the blade steel given its reputation as a steel that performs like O1 but is less prone to rust. Ben made this blade out of 4 mm (0.157 inch) stock, which is thicker than one-eighth (0.118) inch but thinner than three-sixteenth (0.197) inch. I was curious how this thicker blade would perform and if it would favor one use or another.
Staying true to the combo bushcraft/hunting knife, I chose a Scandi edge. The Craft Lab puts a 13-degree angle on each side for 26 total. The Scandi grind excels at cutting wood, and I didn’t expect any issue with slicing up game meat.
The Trapper Knife is available with a rounded or squared spine. I needed to decide one way or the other that would favor the characteristics of a bushcraft knife or a hunting knife. In the end I decided on the sharpened spine.
Traditionally, makers rounded the spine. This helped with a choked up grip or index-finger supported skinning grip especially when processing game. I decided this knife would be carried and used for fire starting more than it would be used to break down game, which led to my decision.
Ben and Lois Orford offer both leather and Kydex sheaths. The end user will be well served with either selection, but for this particular blade, Kydex was requested. I wanted a sheath that would perform as well around potential moisture as the AEB-L steel.
Kydex, as we all know, doesn’t absorb moisture and would be relatively maintenance free. While traditional bushcraft knives arguably look best in leather, a knife that could also be used for cleaning game will be rinsed regularly, and the safest place for a butchering blade is in its sheath.
“ Even with bloody hands, I was able to retain a good purchase on the handle”
The sheath provided is OD green in color with black webbing for the drop leg belt loop, but many color combinations are available upon request. My only suggestion or critical comment regarding sheath design is the webbing choice.
Orford uses a flat webbing that has more flexibility, and I would like to see a more rigid web option or perhaps a sewn insert combined with tubular webbing.
There is a slight flare to the front of the sheath opening that helps the user defeat the retention prior to drawing the blade. Even the edges of the sheath are cleanly sanded and look uniform. Finishing off the sheath is a very subtle Ben and Lois Orford logo.
I hypothesized the Ben Orford Trapper would make a great bushcraft and hunting knife. I needed a series of practical field tests to assess the duality of the blade.
Also, I used a campout with plenty of game meat prep and camp chores as the primary test bed. I used the Orford Trapper to set up a bushcraft campfire complete with pot hangers for making coffee and grilling sticks for cooking slices of meat.
“The Trapper has ample heft to inspire confidence to use it hard.”
This also included cutting thumb-thickness forked sticks to support the cross bar that held everything in place. I trimmed willow saplings to size and processed plenty of firewood out of the dead and downed wood from a nearby creek with plenty washed up on shore from a higher water mark.
I used the trapper to tip-split smaller tree branches and then batoned through the rest. From these halved sections, I feathered shavings to take a spark. At no time did the Trapper pick up any damage to the blade.
I was very impressed with the keen finished Scandi edge as well as the comfort in hand. As a wood splitter, the wider blade with the thicker shoulders split whatever I batoned through easily.
The Trapper has ample heft to inspire confidence to use it hard. I powered through more wood to add to the fire and develop a strong bed of coals.
I also wore the Trapper as an EDC knife and used it for a wide range of daily tasks, such as cutting cordage, slicing cardboard to make target backers, and prepping meals throughout the course of the evaluation.
Because hunting camp is always better with food, I thawed a frozen deer leg from a previous hunting season and used the Trapper to dice up the meat. I took it to a backstrap steak and cleaned the silver skin connective tissue using the belly of the blade.
Even with bloody hands, I was able to retain a good purchase on the handle and never felt like my grip was becoming insecure.
I didn’t have much fat to work with, and I can’t speak to how the handle would feel with it on there as can happen in cold weather as it cools down. As expected, the blade looked brand new when I was done with cutting up the venison and cutting up the other foods that went with it for dinner. AEB-L is an incredibly resilient steel when it comes to stain resistance.
As I waited for food to cook, I used the Orford Trapper to carve Kochanski try sticks and feather additional rounds of wood. The knife is incredibly functional and it looks great paired with a solid Scandinavian hatchet such as the GB Outdoor Axe and a folding saw such as the Bahco Laplander.
Even though it was not big-game hunting season when I received the knife, our fishing season is year-round and I was able to take a few trout for yet another meal. I used the Orford Trapper to slice them from vent to gills and under the jaw plate.
Ben designed the trapper to be comfortable in a “skinning” grip with the index finger supporting the tip of the blade. This is the same grip I used for cleaning the fish and the knife felt like an extension of my hand doing so.
I trimmed up the fins and sliced up lemons to cook the fish over the campfire. Even though this knife was not intended to be a fish processing knife, it works fine as one, and I changed my assessment of the knife serving as a hybrid bushcraft and hunting knife to an all-around outdoor utility blade.
One of the major selling points of O1 steel, years after its introduction on the market, is the ease in which it can be sharpened. I did a side-by-side comparison of the AEB-L Trapper with a bushcraft knife made from O1 and found the same progress and perception of sharpness was attained as I progressed from higher grit stones to the highest. During the test, the Orford Trapper never fell to a point where I could honestly call it dull.
It did pick up a couple spots on the edge that caught light when I examined the edge, and I can only assume it was from grits of sand on the wood I split and used to burn. That said, the spots were very minor and when I tested the edge drawing it along the body of a Sharpie marker, it didn’t skip.
The steel never once stained or developed rust. This lack of patina is something that might dissuade someone from buying but, that is the nature of steels like AEB-L.
A knife like the Orford Trapper blends the best design elements of the hunting and bushcraft world. Considering if it is more one style than the other is natural if you use it long enough.
While it may seem like a cop out, I can honestly say it handles just about any task from both design influences with ease. I’ll be happy to carry the Orford Trapper for any hunting, fishing, camping, or trekking trips to the woods.
Hopefully I’ll be able to combine multiple interests into one trip the same way this knife design combines multiple blade styles into the perfect multi-purpose blade.
THE THORN IS ANOTHER ORFORD CLASSIC
Sometimes you can’t easily access your belt knife and sometimes you take off your neck knife. Other times, you carry a blade that doesn’t feel like a neck knife at all. Ben Orford produces the Thorn neck knife that is easily worn and forgotten about until you need it. The small size and light weight make it a true neck knife.
Designed to be a companion blade, the Thorn complements Orford’s larger knives exceptionally well. In combination with the Trapper featured in this article, it makes an excellent small blade for caping and fine hide removal tasks.
The knife has a near mirror-polished Scandi grind that makes cutting effortless. The handle looks small and it is, but when the 18 inches of cordage are held in the hand as well, it creates an extended flexible handle for more security. In a past issue of Knives Illustrated, I reviewed the Orford Parang and this Thorn is exactly the knife you want to use when drawing a large knife is impractical.
I know the Orford Thorn is not going to replace all your knives, but it will be used frequently because it wins the convenience battle handedly. You’ll use it for cutting cordage, opening packages, trimming fishing line from lures, scraping ferro rods, and more.
Made from highly rust resistant AEB-L like the Trapper, you don’t have to worry about maintenance or the effects the sweat from your body will have on the blade. The Thorn is one of those knives you will find increasingly useful as you wear it more and more.
Rockwell Hardness: 60RC
Blade Length: 99 mm (3.9 inches)
Thickness: 4 mm (0.157 inch)
Handle Length: 114 mm (4.5 inches)
Handle Material: Green Micarta with natural Micarta thick liners
Overall Length: 8 3/8 inches
Weight: 7.55 ounces without sheath, 9.74 with sheath
Price: From £325 British Pounds/$436.22 USD
Orford Knives Thorn
Steel: AEB-L at 60RC
Blade Length: 2 inches
Thickness: 3 mm (1/8 inch)
Overall Length: 4 11/16 inches
Weight: 1.23 ounces without sheath, 1.73 ounces with sheath
Sheath: Kydex neck
Price: From £87.50/$108.62
A version of this article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2022 print issue of Knives Illustrated.