PART KITCHEN KNIFE, PART BUSHCRAFT KNIFE, PERFECT FIELD KNIFE
If the name TJ Schwarz sounds familiar, it’s quite possibly due to the multitude of designs that he’s done with Columbia River Knife and Tool. Those have been mostly folders, but TJ does fixed-blade designs as well, and he makes those himself, by hand, in his Idaho workshop.
THE OVERLAND KNIFE
I first caught wind of TJ’s custom work on Instagram and only later connected the name with his CRKT designs. I have an affinity for knives with short blades and long handles and was immediately drawn to his Scalpel + design that I previewed a couple issues back in my Gear Up column. When I went to dig deeper into his work, I saw the Overland, and it had a lot to like as well.
The Overland’s lines are not your run of the mill bushcraft style. They’re modern and sleek, with the handle sitting higher than the centerline of the Wharncliffe blade. The clean lines of the knife and matte finish of the blade contrast nicely with the wide variety of handle colors. You get a simple, workmanlike design that’s modern and eye catching at the same time.
You can see the kitchen knife influence with the handle and blade design, but that doesn’t detract from its bushcraft or field use. Think about it: our forefather’s Green River and Sheffield trade knives were essentially the same knives used in the kitchens of the time. The simple, sturdy, one-piece designs were stout enough to hold up to hard use but thin enough to be efficient slicers, fitted with a simple set of handle scales. The Overland carries a lot of that heritage with it, but it’s built from 21st century materials.
TJ uses CPM Magnacut steel with a high, flat grind on the 3.8-inch-long blade. Blades are treated to a 61-62 HRC by Peters’ Heat Treat of Meadville, Pennsylvania. Peters’ always does a fantastic job, and the company is the choice of many custom makers. It’s also only about two hours from my house and fellow Pennsylvanians, so I always like seeing when a maker uses them. I know what to expect, and it’s always great quality.
When I went to check out the steel properties, I found another local connection for me. CPM Magnacut was developed by Larrin Thomas, a metallurgist in my hometown of Pittsburgh and author of the excellent book “Knife Engineering: Steel, Heat Treating, and Geometry.” If you’re a knifemaker or a serious knife enthusiast, grab the book. It’s well worth it.
I read through Larrin’s post on his blog Knife Steel Nerds about the development and properties of CPM Magnacut. I’ll be honest: my eyes glazed over, and I started skimming it. Larrin knows more about steel than I could ever hope to learn. I guess that’s why I’m a cop and not some kind of scientist, or engineer. I can’t do math either.
Still, what I discerned from it is that he’s managed to come up with steel that has the toughness and edge retention of carbon steels such as CPM-CruWear and CPM-4V but with corrosion resistance better than stainless steels such as S110V, S45VN, and M390. It’s only been out for around a year now, but it’s making fast inroads with custom makers. Point being, TJ is using top notch materials and keeps up with the latest advances in knife-related technology.
MAKE IT YOUR OWN
The Overland has a thin 0.140-inch blade and overall thickness of only 0.50 inch with scales installed. What kind of handles you ask? Well, what kind do you want? TJ uses a “configurator” that allows you to pick your handle material and color from a variety of choices. There are seven colors of G10 including black, coyote, olive drab, red, yellow, orange, and jade, or you can go with green canvas Micarta.
Once you pick a color and material, you get to pick from black oxide or stainless steel handle screws and brass, black oxide, or stainless screw collars. The standard blade finish is stonewashed, but you can also get a black or coyote Cerakote-finished blade for a small upcharge. You get to customize your knife exactly how you want it, and TJ will build it for you.
The Overland doesn’t come with a sheath, which I know can be a contentious subject for some folks. Some guys prefer that, as they do their own Kydex or leather sheathwork and don’t want to pay for a sheath they won’t use. Other guys want their knife ready to go out of the box and expect a sheath. Well for the latter, TJ has two sheath options for the Overland, both of which are reasonably priced at $40 each.
If you like Kydex, TJ has another configurator on his site that lets you select your Kydex color, option of a belt clip or not, and right, left, or ambidextrous orientation. TJ makes the Kydex himself, but he also has a leather sheath option as well.
Those are made by his dad, Cary Schwarz, who has been a full-time saddle maker and leatherworker for nearly 40 years. Your option on the leather sheath is natural or black colors, and right- or left-hand orientation. It’s a pouch style sheath with a belt loop that will take 1½-inch-wide belts.
I got the Kydex sheath with my Overland, and it’s really nice, but I’m tempted to grab a leather one, too. It’s a good-looking sheath at a very reasonable price.
TJ describes the Overland as a knife designed for camping, backpacking, hunting, and general outdoor use. I’d add canoeing, rafting, and fishing to that list. With that hybrid design, it’ll work quite well around the camp kitchen as well.
“This…hearkens back to those old trade knives. They were jack-of-all-trades tools. You carried one knife that could do it all…”
This again hearkens back to those old trade knives. They were jacks-of-all-trades tools. You carried one knife that could do it all, not like today where your average knife nut hits the woods (or the sidewalk) with five different knives for at least that many specialized purposes. When weight and space matter, having one tool that can do most everything you need makes a lot of sense.
I used the Overland around the house for utility work and some kitchen chores when my wife wasn’t looking. I kept it on my desk and used it to open the steady flow of packages that I got including other knives, Glock parts, photo equipment, tools, and some birthday stuff for my wife. I think I keep the postal service in business single handedly.
I know opening boxes isn’t exactly hard, but I rapidly realized how easily the Overland was zipping through things, including heavy layers of packing tape and clamshell packages. I had to rein in my usual hacking at packages so that I didn’t punch right through to the items inside.
When I was outside, I’d clip the Overland to my belt or pocket. I used it for a bunch of yardwork, including clearing branches and dead plants left over from the fall, as well as new drops from late winter storms. I tried my hand at some typical camp skills like making tent pegs and splitting up some kindling for my fire pit.
One thing that was apparent was that although the Overland has a thin handle profile, it’s very comfortable to use. The tang sits slightly proud of the scales, but everything is nicely contoured with all the sharp edges knocked off. In a sabre grip, my thumb falls naturally on the jimping on the spine of the blade. That’s also nicely melted with no sharp edges.
I will note that if you’re a firesteel guy, you’re going to need to carry a striker as the spine of the blade is rounded on the Overland. That’s nice for when you’re applying pressure to the blade for harder cuts or using it in a reversed grip for carving, but it won’t strike a ferro rod.
The blade shape is a great all-around style for utility and camp work. There’s enough belly for processing game or making rocking cuts on a cutting board. The Wharncliffe blade has a stout point, but it has a fine enough tip to pierce the skin for a starting cut on game or even to do some drilling on wood for campcraft.
I really didn’t do enough to dull the blade over the month or so that I was using it. I got some wear marks on the blade and the yellow handle on my Overland got a little grubby, but the edge still seemed to be about like when I started, even after batoning the kindling. It would still shave hair after that. So, I’d like to tell you how it resharpens, but it doesn’t need it yet.
ONE NICE DESIGN
If you’re already familiar with TJ’s work with CRKT, then you know he has a good eye for design. If you really want to see that, as well as his own personal craftsmanship, you need to grab an Overland. With the configurator you can design a knife just for you and know that when TJ builds it, he’s building it especially for you. Although I don’t want to live in a world where I can only have one knife, if I really had to do it, I could easily do it with the Overland. It’s comfortable to use, easy to carry, and made from top notch materials that will resist the elements. It’s the perfect 21st century trade knife. KI
“You can see the kitchen knife influence with the handle and blade design, but that doesn’t detract from its bushcraft or field use.”
SCHWARZ OFFERS THE MINIMALIST SCALPEL +
If you’ve been reading the Gear Up column over the past few issues, you already saw a preview of the Scalpel +. I’ve gotten one in hand since that time and have been able to work with it for a while now and see what it can do firsthand.
The Scalpel+ is made from one piece of AEB-L stainless steel with a Rockwell of 60-61. I’ve used that steel on other knives and have been pleased with it. It takes and holds a good edge but is still easy enough to sharpen. The whole knife is just 5 inches long, with 1.65 inches of that being the blade. It’s finished with a matte acid stonewash.
The handle has a recessed center with a large oval lanyard hole at the base. I mentioned in the Gear Up column that it reminded me of a World War II Army mess kit knife. In hand it still does, although it’s smaller in proportion. The Scalpel+ weighs only an ounce, with another 0.3 ounce added with the sheath. Speaking of the sheath, it’s a simple leather sleeve made by Gfeller Casemakers in Idaho.
As is suspected looking at the pictures of the knife, it’s extremely handy. Although it’s a one piece design with no handle scales, TJ has everything smoothed out with no sharp corners. It’s comfortable in hand, and that 1-ounce weight is negligible. Put this one in your pocket and forget about it, and you’ll be looking for it all day.
The edge is excellent, and I’ve used it as a workbench and shop knife primarily. I found that it worked great in that role, cutting all sorts of stuff from packaging materials to leather, to cord and twine, and even whittling away rough wood edges on a project I was making for my wife.
As the name implies, it handles like a scalpel with the long handle and short blade. It allows for very fine control and was excellent for working in tight spaces. It makes a fantastic craft knife but is durable enough for regular EDC use. If you’re a fan of this style knife for craft or bench work, or for general EDC chores, then I’d highly recommend you add the Scalpel + to your list to check out. MSRP: $135.
TJ SCHWARZ OVERLAND
Maker: TJ Schwarz
Type: Fixed blade
Overall Length: 8.5 inches
Blade Length: 3.8 inches
Blade Thickness: 0.14 inch
Overall Thickness: 0.5 inch
Steel: CPM Magnacut with Peters’ Heat Treatment
Hardness: 61-62 HRC
Configuration: Wharncliffe, with flat grind
A version of this article first appeared in the June/July 2022 print issue of Knives Illustrated.