Friday, 3 July 2015

A Wright & Sons - Ettrick Knife Review

A Wright & Sons - Ettrick Knife

I am often attracted to functional items that have an appealing aesthetic born purely out of their function. Items such as these cannot readily be improved as any alteration would be a reduction in utility rather than an improvement. The Ettrick knife from Arthur Wright of Sheffield falls squarely into this category.

A Wright & Son describe the knife as follows:
"One of our best-selling pocket knives. The Ettrick started life as a small gutting knife, reputedly designed by the Earl of Wharncliffe and his gamekeeper! Due to its comfortable handle and short blade it has since become a great general purpose pocket knife, easy to carry and particularly popular with whittlers."

I purchased this knife as a general purpose EDC pocket knife, but find that the knife is making itself very useful for backpacking, especially around camp. Whilst I do strive to keep my pack weight to an absolute minimum I also believe in carrying solid reliable items.  After all - the items we carry over hundreds if not thousand of trail miles become the items of much focus and sometimes heavy or constant use. We need the few items carried on our backpacking trips to work impeccably for their designed use and deliver reliability beyond their design at times.

This knife weighs around 57g on my scales, so not super ultralight by any means but certainly light enough for a pocket carry. The 5cm length blade is made of C70 Carbon steel with a Rockwell hardness of 54-56. Once opened against the very robust spring the blade has no noticeable side to side or other movement at all. The high carbon steel blade in the closed position sits slightly proud of the rosewood scaled handle, so using the spine as a striker against a ferro rod is certainly possible.

The handle is very comfortable for a pocket knife and is long enough to accommodate all four fingers. There are slight gaps between the brass liners and the internal metalwork upon very close scrutiny on my example. This in no way appears to affect the strength.  I would describe the finish as 'workmanlike' / 'No-nonsense' rather than an attempt at 'cosmetic perfection'. Considering the price point I am not concerned by this, as this is an item designed to be used rather than to act as an ornament.

The blade has a flat grind and arrives new with a secondary bevel, this makes a strong edge for pruning type duties. I altered the secondary bevel angle slightly to help the knife work better with general camp and food cutting / slicing. A DC3 sized pocket stone is more than adequately sized to keep the knife razor sharp in the field. Indeed an even smaller stone or even just a ceramic rod for regular honing would probably suffice.

My usual backpacking knife is a Victorinox Swiss Army Climber which has been with me for over 10 years, which replaced a simple Ettrick style pocket knife by another Sheffield 'Little Mester' - possibly Thomas Ablett. I can no longer recall the makers mark, the knife having been lost in use years ago. I had been looking for something similar and spotted this one a few months ago. Almost identical to my original, and also hand made in Sheffield from carbon steel, result! Incidentally Arthur Wright and Sons also produce a Barlow knife design, another historic design which gained favour as a small outdoor / hunters knife with a clipped blade shape. and also a larger heavy duty utility Lambsfoot farmers knife.

The spine of the Ettrick blade is around 3mm thick at the spine. The blade comes with a flat grind with a secondary bevel, so sharpening is very straight forward. The knife is well suited to assist with basic camp chores, such as food prep without a chopping board, opening food packets, cutting cordage, plaster and so on. The sturdy little Ettrick bladed knife will also take care of basic woodworking duties - such as whittling tent pegs and so on, in fact it excels at this. The handle offers a good 4 finger hand grip and is also long enough to enable a thumb to bear on the back of the handle bolster to deliver plenty of power to the tip for push strokes.

So will the single blade be replacing my SAK anytime soon? Well, yes, maybe, - I am going to be carrying this little Ettrick blade on a few shorter trips to see if I can manage again without the usual array of SAK tools. I am doing this mainly to ensure that I can consider different ways of achieving my aims on the trail.  My initial thought is that I think I will miss the little scissors on my SAK for trimming nails etc. Perhaps an emery board might be a solution. Also more alarmingly I am now without a can opener. Not that I aim to carry tins but they are available in camp shops and village shops along most of our trails here in the UK - Maybe most tins these days have a ring pull? Again lets see how we get on. . After all there are ultralight trail walkers out there carrying only a couple of razor blades in lieu of a knife so by comparison this knife is surely 'luxurious'.

This general purpose working blade shape has a long heritage similar in style to the Lambs foot - These general styles have been used for cutting everything from from cordage to ovine hooves to sailors scrimshaw carvings for generations. The blade also has a scalpel sharp and strong tip which works well for gutting fish, which is not surprising if the gamekeeper did provide input to the design.

I particularly like using the knife for paring veg. I can peel and cut veg into small pieces without needing a chopping board, which I do not carry on the trail. I use cutting strokes towards the thumb, to the halfway mark, then rotate and cut again to the halfway mark.  The handle is so comfortable and easy to control that these tasks become about as enjoyable as it gets cutting carrots! The tip can be honed to scalpel sharpness and so is great for slicing bacon, chorizo and other back country staples. Of course other tasks such as cutting cord and line, slicing the tops from food packets and trimming plaster or webbing to length are all easy tasks.

I have found the best way to sharpen this knife is by laying the secondary bevel on a DC3 diamond stone and then working the DC3 in tiny motions forwards backwards and then slightly up and down, then switching to the left hand and repeating for the other side of the bevel. Finally repeating with the ceramic side of the stone. Works a treat, and gains a razor edge without even needing to be stropped. Of course if you want to go the extra then even the smallest pocket strop or belt back would be sufficient. The ceramic side of the DC3 is the side that is mostly used in the field for touch ups -  so to reduce carry weight further a simple ceramic rod in my opinion is really all that would be required to maintain the edge in the field.

The knife does not have a lanyard attachment hole, but a lanyard could still be tied and attached due to the shape of the handle which thickens to a bulb at the end, perhaps using a turks head or similar.


An attractive, solid, ergonomic, general purpose utility knife for basic camp duties and trail food prep without the necessity of a chopping board. The cutting edge of the blade is only 5.0 cm long, the opened knife is 15.9 cm overall, so the knife will have its limits. The knife is very solid & should last for years if appropriately used. The knife is hand made here in the UK by apprentice trained cutlers in Arthur Wrights workshop. How they make such a knife for the money I will never know, but make it they do, so grab one and a stick and start making those tent pegs!

I purchased mine from Heinne - £14.95 plus £2.00 delivery. For some reason they are cheaper on here than the manufacturers own site. Delivery was very efficient and the communication was exemplary. Please note I am in no way connected to either the manufacturer or supplier and have given my views based upon my own experience of using this knife in the field.

Thank you for reading as always.

Way of the backpacker