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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Early medieval utility knives and skinning game Reply to topic
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Jeremy V. Krause




Location: Buffalo, NY.
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PostPosted: Tue 23 Nov, 2010 11:19 am    Post subject: Early medieval utility knives and skinning game         Reply with quote

Hello everyone,

I am no hunter so for general knowledge I looked up "how to dress a deer with no equipment." In this YouTube video the fellow masterfully skinned and dressed the deer using a small 4 in knife and ropes- thats all the equipement he emplyed. He made the point that many folks believe you need a larger knife but this is not true. He emphasized that a very sharp knife is integral to this task and he demonstrated how to sharpen said knife using both an electric grinding wheel and a sharpening stone.

I watching this I noticed how very thin his knife was. Having seen several nice early medieval (1000-1300) utility knife reproductions they are on the thick due to the need to provide needed ridgidity to iron or iron composite blades.

My question, having no knowledge of dressing game is- Could a thicker utility knife be brought to the needed acute sharpness appropriate for this task?

Is there evidece of specialized knives for this. I would imagine folks would want to emply a knife for as many purposes as possible.
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Jason Mather




PostPosted: Tue 23 Nov, 2010 11:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have knives of widely varying thickness of spine and I find it has little bearing on my ability to keep them sharp. Blade geometry is everything in my opinion. A thick spined blade needs to be wedged shaped to hold a good edge. From my limited experience, most medieval utility knives had this.
To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.
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Scott Woodruff





Joined: 30 Nov 2005
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PostPosted: Sat 01 Jan, 2011 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a little 6" blade knife I made that has a back about a quarter inch thick and wedge-shaped section. It sharpens to razor sharp easily. It is perfectly capable of both slicing through flesh and hacking through bones, but is less than ideal for cutting heavy leather or aggressively cutting wood, though it is a good whittling knife. For a larger cleaving knife, I would prefer a thinner blade, but for a small belt knife, a thick back is a positive feature for the type of work it is usually used for. The thick, somewhat rounded back makes whittling very comfortable, no deep, semi-permanent grooves imprinted in your thumb when you are done.
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Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

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PostPosted: Sat 01 Jan, 2011 7:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeremy,


There have been many deer field dressed with nothing more than a pocket knife and a shoe lace. I'd rather not try to skin a deer with a jack knife and I certainly wouldn't want to attempt to butcher one that way either.

Preferred knife geometry is, I suppose, subjective and market driven. Generally Americans today prefer a hunting knife with a thick cross section and a rigid blade, a knife that is in some ways more adapted to cutting wood than meat. It seems that manufacturers educated hunters to buy that kind of knife when they started making "hunting" knives in the 19th century. Before the advent of the hunting knife in North America would have used a knife whose blade was very similar in thickness and sometimes in shape to a butcher knife and would have looked to a hatchet for heavier cutting. If you compare the traditional Finnish Leuko knives to most American style hunting knives you'll see that the blades are both thinner and deeper (from back to edge) and more flexible which makes them better adapted to cutting meat than wood and very similar to a butcher knife.

I'm trying to avoid discussing edge geometry because that's another kettle of fish altogether.

By the way, if you ever do find yourself having to field dress a deer, make very sure that it is DEAD! Many overeager hunters have been injured badly by seemingly dead deer.
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Robert Hinds




Location: Whitewater, Wisconsin USA
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PostPosted: Sun 02 Jan, 2011 2:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
Jeremy,

By the way, if you ever do find yourself having to field dress a deer, make very sure that it is DEAD! Many overeager hunters have been injured badly by seemingly dead deer.


That's why you should always bring your rondel dagger with you when you hunt. Just to make sure...

"Young knight, learn to love God and revere women; thus your honor will grow. Practice knighthood and learn the Art that dignifies you, and brings you honor in wars." -Johannes Liechtenauer

"...And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one..." Luke 22:36
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Rusty Thomas




Location: San Antonio, Texas
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PostPosted: Sun 02 Jan, 2011 12:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A thicker knife can be just as sharp as a thin one as long as they share the same cutting edge geometry. But the thinner knife will slice most things much easier. For general outdoor use I prefer a thin knife but it seems the trend today is towards very thick knifes. Both will work but I do not like the "feel" of cutting with a thick blade.
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Larry R




Location: Minneapolis
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PostPosted: Sun 02 Jan, 2011 1:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree that a thicker knife can be just as sharp as a thinner one. Edge geometry and quality of steel are crucial.

How was a deer in medieval times butchered? You can use a relatively small knife if you don't spit the sternum or the pelvis. When I dress a deer, I use a thick splined hunting knife and split both the sternum and pelvis. For skinning I use a thinner knife that has more belly to the blade. Finally for butchering I use a very thin bladed knife like a fillet knife. If I had access to only one knife, I would take the thick spined sized knife with a 4"-5" blade.
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Mon 03 Jan, 2011 10:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was just reminded of the wood-cut showing Queen Elizaeth prepraring to butcher a deer with a moderate-sized knife that looks like a typical chef's knife.
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Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

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PostPosted: Mon 03 Jan, 2011 10:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually two of the knives I prefer to carry in the woods have blades only about 1/8" of an inch thick, they're both Finnish knives, made by different manufacturers, and both take and hold an incredibly sharp edge. I'll readily admit I don't expect them to chop down trees, that's what axes are for.

It seems to me that the knife one uses to field dress a deer is the knife one has at the time. Trapper type and Sodbuster type jack knives by Case and other makers have probably field dressed more deer than any of us will ever see in our entire lives. Field dressing a deer just isn't really all that demanding a task, practically any knife will do it although some will, of course, be better than others.

Skinning is fussier and I'd want a knife that held a sharp edge and had some belly or sweep. Cutting through heavy bone generally falls under butchering and a saw will likely be the best tool.

I think Jeremy asked a question about specialization. I think specialization in knife making started with whoever made the second knife.
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Douglas S





Joined: 18 Feb 2004

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PostPosted: Tue 04 Jan, 2011 10:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For the handful of field-dressing, skinning and flensing tasks that I have tackled over the years, the answer has always been the sharpest knife. Wink

Of my Viking-Age kit, I'd certainly look to my small Hanwei seax first.
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Michael Ekelmann




Location: Seattle Metro Area, USA
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PostPosted: Sun 09 Jan, 2011 2:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the later middle ages, hunters would have used what is called a hunting trousse, at least in situations where the hunter is part of a formal hunting party. The trousse would have several knives and in the Renaissance and later a pricker and fork, to break down game as well as serve it when cooked in the field. Gaston Phebus' Livre de Chasse shows some of the knives and accoutrements to good effect. http://classes.bnf.fr/phebus/pistes/index6.htm
“Men prefer to fight with swords, so they can see each other's eyes!" Sean Connery as Mulay Hamid El Raisuli in The Wind and the Lion
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Larry Bohnham





Joined: 20 May 2010

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PostPosted: Wed 12 Jan, 2011 12:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've hunted deer, elk (American Wapati, not European Moose) and moose for years have used a simple Buck skinner with a gut hook for all of those tasks. It has a blade about 4.5 in long with an pronounced upcurve to the point which is very useful to get the right angle on the hide when skinning. Having said that I also use a Sagen Safety Saw to split the ribs and pelvis which helps to avoid perforating the gut, and I carry an old Gerber BMF for quartering if necessary. I really should invest in a Wyoming saw for the larger cutting jobs but never seem to get around to it.

Frankly, while the correct tool does help, it is really the knowledge and experience of the hunter that makes the big difference when field dressing game. With the knowledge I have, I could use just about anything sharp (sharp is the operative word) and successfully "unmake" the animal as the medieval folk used to call it. If neolithic man could survive with the most basic of hand made stone tools, then we can get by with just about any piece of steel that'll hold an edge. When I hike and climb I always have at least a good folder with a 3-4 in blade just in case i needed to hunt to survive under extreme circumstances (the trick being not to get in such dire straights in the first place!).

Larger knives do have their place though and I've been quite happy with my BMF over the years. Plus, it comes in handy in the chicken yard when it's time to restock the freezer Wink . As far as historical blades go, I think that a good seax would be a dandy tool for general back country duty and I can see why they were so prevalent in Nordic cultures. If I were a Viking and could only carry a limited number of tools, I'd take a seax, a good single hand axe, and a spear. With those I could house, feed, and defend myself quite well for a very long time.

It's not the weapon/tool, it's the hand that wields them.

"No athlete can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows; he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack under the fist of his adversary..."
Roger of Hoveden, d.1201

a furore Normannorum libera nos Domine

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