Why a ‘Mora Knife’?

When it comes to the design of a bushcraft knife, the classic Scandinavian style knife in my experience sets the standard and I will share my reasons as to why in this article. But before we get started, let’s be clear on what is meant by a Mora Knife — a term that has become slang to describe the Scandinavian style. KJ Eriksson and Frosts of Mora both have a rich history and in 2005 merged into the company, Mora of Sweden (Morakniv)…

While most attribute Mora of Sweden as the manufacturer of Mora knives, there are other makers of Scandinavian (or Nordic) style knives in the town of Mora, Sweden, as well as much of Scandinavia, Europe and now North America (thank you Mors Kochanski). So please be aware, many have lumped multiple manufacturers, and now the design, into the term, Mora Knife.

Recent manufacturers aside, including those hundreds of years old, that Scandinavian knife design has over a thousand years of continued use from a people that literally made their livelihood everyday with this most basic of tools. Hence the Nordic proverb, “A Knifeless Man is a Lifeless Man.”

End users in those bygone days were demanding of the blacksmith in getting what they needed. This was actually the case in North America for the axe up until 100 or so years ago. In those times, it was the lumberjack who demanded the best from the blacksmith. That was until 1880 when the crosscut saw was introduced… axe quality started diminishing soon thereafter.

Somewhere along the way, knife-makers were also left to their own accord. The industrial revolution, modern conveniences, Rambo movies, et al., this paradigm shift in recent history resulted in customers that didn’t know what to demand in a woodcraft knife. Hence the aesthetic, and in many cases, non-practical design many knife makers now add to get the sale.

“The height of cultivation runs to simplicity.
Halfway cultivation runs to ornamentation.”
— Bruce Lee

As I have spoken about in previous skill related articles, progression in bushcraft runs towards simplicity. Through experience comes the accumulation of knowledge which allows you to be more direct in your actions and affords you the opportunity to rely on less gear — the more you know, the less you need. Going back to knives and their design, if you think about Bruce Lee’s quote, you see in many of today’s knives an ornamentation because the design was only ‘half-cultivated’ from what is truly needed — again, very few of today’s customers make their livelihood with a knife and know what they truly need.

As Lee states, the height of cultivation is found in the simple, and that is what you get in the classic wooden handled Scandinavian knife.

The handle is oval shaped minimizing hot spots in prolonged use. The handle is also tapered front and back preventing slippage. The lack of a guard allows for more carving opportunities and grips when choking up on the knife. The blade’s point is normally close to centerline or up at the top inline with the spine; this aids in multiple tasks by knowing exactly where the tip is when needed.

Mora_choking_up

While I understand the science behind a continuously curving edge offering better slicing capability (think katana); I personally prefer having a straight portion for some carving applications as found in a Mora — it also makes it super simple to sharpen its most renowned feature, a large flat single bevel. And it is that single flat bevel on a relatively thin blade 3 to 5 inches long that makes it excel in woodcraft.

Mora_notch1

That is just the design, the materials in Scandinavian knives are generally simple too being carbon. I won’t get into material details here, however, I do greatly appreciate modern manufacturing and processing improvements of steels. So take note, this is not a nostalgia article, I am purely looking for the practical. For example, Mora of Sweden continues to improve their heat treat and other manufacturing processes while keeping the practical design of most knives.

Mora_bow_drill

I have tried many different bushcraft knives over the last 20+ years, more than a dozen being customs of which some were my own design. However, at the end of the day, I always come back to Ol’ Red, a Classic #2 by Frosts (now Morakniv) I got sometime around 2002. She is my most used knife. In cold temperatures with overly dry hands or when using gloves, an old Mora 510, or now Light My Fire knife could be there instead.

Mora_coal_smoke

So the classic Mora is my perfect knife, right? Pretty much actually. The older and more experienced I become, the more I appreciate the simple and practical. Nonetheless, I am more than willing to try something new and will do so in some future knife reviews. Therefore, let this article be the bar for which the others are judged. Good luck too, you’ll need it going up against a thousand years of practical use.

Mora_classic_LMFP.S. Yes, I said Light My Fire Knife earlier with it’s crazy colors and all that plastic. Don’t care, the damn thing works great, even for stainless (Sandvik 12C27 steel, hardened to 57 – 58 on the Rockwell Scale). I can get it so sharp I think it might even shave molecules 😉 , and most importantly, it’s fun to use and I trust it!

 

Mora_LMF_feather

Just for fun… Be Quick My Friends!

 

Mora_bow_drill_dust

 

About Christian Noble

Chris Noble is the founder of MasterWoodsman.com and Woodsmoke Camping Company. A Master Naturalist, he holds a Bachelor of Science in Forestry and has worked as a Registered Forester and Certified Burn Manager in several states. Chris is also a Wilderness First Responder and since the late 90’s has been “practicing primitive” skills and taking lessons from numerous Master Woodsmen throughout North America. An advocate for Conservation, teacher of Wilderness Living Skills, and happily married, he enjoys passing what he has learned thus far to others, especially his 2 children, Emerson and Duncan.

18 Responses to Why a ‘Mora Knife’?

  1. dave@mahikan.ca'
    Dave Holder August 16, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I could not agree more with this article, and having bought a “light my fire knife” for my wife I find myself “borrowing” it more and more.
    I have a “Skookum bush tool” which I always use when I am teaching bushcraft classes, but when I am out on the ground by myself hunting, fishing, or guiding groups in the mountains it is a “mora type” knife I have in my pack.

    I am somewhat overwhelmed and tired of seeing all the ridiculous knives that make it to the store shelves.

    Simplicity and quality is everything.

    • Christian Noble August 16, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks for the reply Dave, means a lot coming from you.

  2. neemancallender@hotmail.com'
    Neeman August 17, 2015 at 2:46 am #

    Excellent article
    May I suggest you expand this to include most Nordic rat tail scandi grind knives
    The distinguishing feature of the oval barrel shape handle, but many of the Nordic knives have a similar handle or even more ergonomically designed handle
    And many of these knives have the blades from Lauri, a classic Nordic blade company
    This range of knives all move within your definition of simplicity

    • Christian Noble August 17, 2015 at 8:56 am #

      I agree with you Neeman, there are more than just the barrel shaped handles that feel and work great. Keeping with the simple theme, I guess I unintentionally kept the article that way too, with the classic being the simplest of them all. Thanks, Chris

  3. 101st Airborne Div August 17, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    CN: I have as many knives as my wife has shoes – according to her – I have a knife problem – from those that have been passed down to me since WW! and every conflict since – from the moonshine stills in the Blue Ridge mountains where grandpa taught me how to barter and sale them to build my own collection. The knives you speak of are some of my favorite. Seems like I order a couple a year – affordable, squirrel skinning, fish fileting – rabbit guttin perfection.

  4. Steve@icanbenefit.com'
    Smt August 17, 2015 at 6:48 pm #

    I’m carving something almost everyday. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. It’s actually more true considering price…! Where else can you buy a quality tool for under $40…?

  5. sasweb@sbcglobal.net'
    Steve August 18, 2015 at 11:26 pm #

    Chris,

    I own several models from Mora of Sweden and I like them all. I call them the “Honda Civics” of knives.

    But many of the models I own have spines with rounded corners that do not work well with firesteels. I think this should be a consideration when selecting one as your bushcraft knife.

    – Steve

    • Christian Noble August 18, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

      Hi Steve – your right in that the classic style Morakniv does not have a sharp spine. I took a file to mine and it is super sharp for a firesteel now. Nice thing about the carbon blades is they also work well in the flint & steel method. Thanks, Chris

  6. tray@york.k12.sc.us'
    Tom Ray August 19, 2015 at 6:08 am #

    You can’t go wrong with a Mora! Great article Chris! I think the number one thing that folks get wrong when choosing a knife is the thickness of the blade. I guess people worry about breakage, but in normal use, it has never been a problem for me. Stick tangs are weaker, but anyone worried about accidently breaking a knife based on its blade thickness alone should try putting an Old Hickory butcher knife in a vise and breaking it. The thickness of a plain old Mora is just about perfect.

    • Christian Noble August 19, 2015 at 8:27 am #

      Thanks Tom! I am with you on a thinner blade — they carve so much better. Not to mention, I appreciate not having the extra weight. Best, Chris

  7. Philip.g.loftus@gmail.com'
    Philip Loftus August 25, 2015 at 7:17 am #

    Hello Chris

    Nice interesting article, thank you. In my opinion- and btw everything you say is right, but my feeling is that there is just one small drawback to the #2 you illustrate as ideal. If you’re cold and tired and you really need to get something done, it helps to have a handle which gives you info about how you’re holding it, like a teardrop handled puuko for example.

    Just a small niggle.

    Thanks again for the article.

    Philip

    • Christian Noble August 25, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

      Hi Philip – nice feed back. The #2, or any of the red handled classics with that barrel (really oval) shape, provide decent feedback for me. Where I go for the other knives, such as the Light My Fire, is when it’s cold and dry, or when using gloves. The handle shape and texture does better in those conditions in my opinion. Thanks!

  8. steven@skillcult.com'
    Steven Edholm September 7, 2015 at 9:13 pm #

    I love that knife, and it’s the main Mora that I use, but it’s kind of a princess. I find that normal everyday use, at least things I do, like disjointing animals, carving in hard seasoned woods and scraping wood, let alone cutting or scraping anything harder like bone or antler, frequently results in edge damage. I own and have owned many mora knives. I was around when Mors showed up at the RabbitStick Rendezvous and made them popular, and I’ve used them ever since. about 30 years of use I think. At first I was an enthusiast, but with daily use I became much more disillusioned. My basic conclusion across all models I’ve used is that the grind angle it too steep for me, and for many people, for general off the belt use. If you are very careful with them, they are great wood working knives. I never like to be without one, but I think they make terrible belt knives, or at least they do for me. I’ve seen a lot of trashed mora edges on other people’s knives too, so it’s not just me. I was just asking a friend that was wearing one if he found that the edge get’s damaged a lot and without hesitating he said ‘all the time”. I would recommend that everyone who is interested in bushcraft and wood working buy and own one, and probably that red handled one (though a little more meat to the handle would be nice) but I would not recommend it as an all purpose or belt knife. Given that a backup knife is not a bad idea, Mora is a good backup knife to have and in reserve for appropriate woodworking tasks. To me, taking a mora camping as my only knife is like taking a princess camping. Am I recommending taking more than one girl camping at the same time? well, maybe… 🙂 I just don’t want to tiptoe around a carry knife because it’s too delicate to go where I want or need to take it. I don’t recommend against them as a carry knife to everyone, it either works for someone or it doesn’t, but I would not recommend mora as a sole sheath knife for any new comer, at least not without major qualification.

    I’m interested in the scandi grind at a more obtuse angle, but haven’t tried it. That grind is magic in wood, as long as you stay within some pretty tight parameters of wood hardness/type-of-use. I live in California, this ain’t the boreal forest. Oh yeah, and if, no make that WHEN, the edge is trashed, you have to remove a heck of a lot of steel to get it back. I could say a lot more, but I’ll save it for an article or video.

    • Christian Noble September 8, 2015 at 12:57 am #

      For wood carving, it’s hard to beat the scandi grind. Overall the steel quality has improved in recent years on the Moras themselves. My edges don’t get trashed very often. And after considerable use/sharpening, they naturally get a slight convex improving the overall strength of the edge.

      • steven@skillcult.com'
        Steven Edholm September 9, 2015 at 3:28 pm #

        Interesting. At first, way back, I thought I was getting defective knives, but the issue has persisted. I have three of them that I just sharpened up recently and all three are trashed. One is new. I have to admit one was a test seeing if I could trim the corner off some seasoned hardwood without edge damage (not), but the other two are incidental, or me just not being cautious enough. One I was scraping the shelac off of a hickory handle. To me scraping is an essential task with a knife. Sure, if you end up with a rounded profile, or put a microbevel on them, that will make the edge less delicate, but I have always sharpened mine flat on the original bevel. I know I’ve cheated the bevel before and decided the knife didn’t work as well. If you want to put it back, that is a lot of grinding. I think some experimenting with different bevels and also adding microbevels would be worth experimenting with. I’ve never done any of that with any kind of methodical approach or intention. I might have to make an experiment of that sometime, but I’m skeptical that the advantages could be retained. They obviously grind them that way for a reason.

  9. knifehunting@gmx.com'
    Barry Hunt October 12, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    Great post, Have had one of these brilliant knives for a long time, it’s all I need really. I have brought it everywhere on the coast and do not go anywhere without it and can use it for just about everything, it’s still in perfect condition. What I love about it is it’s simplicity as you mentioned, and its own light weight makes it perfect as you have to have one to take hunting or harvesting but really don’t care to carry around extra weight around.

  10. virtualnerves@gmail.com'
    sam robert April 28, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

    I’ll generally be a collapsing blade fellow on a fundamental level, yet as of late I’ve been on a settled sharp edge kick. I never thought they would speak to me, however I’ve come to acknowledge settled edges of every kind imaginable. Also, in a pleasant little fluke of symmetry, similarly as my energy about collapsing blades started with a moderate, European everyman’s blade, the settled cutting edge that opened my eyes is comparably reasonable, European, and populist: the Mora Companion knife.

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