I had been aware for quite some time that my camping equipment was missing a tools for chopping up firewood into manageable pieces. I did have emergency tools like the excellent shark toothed saw on my Victorinox Swiss champ, and a commando wire saw. However these are basically tools to be used in an emergency and not for regular use. I say this not because they are under performers, but just that they won’t be in peak form when they are needed in an emergency, besides replacing a worn out saw on a Swiss knife would be more expensive than getting a cheap chopper. I transferred those items into my bug out bag even though I sometimes still carry them along when camping.
My main task was sizing up wood for my Bushbuddy stove. Twigs are OK and can be snapped to size, but they burn out relatively fast compared to pieces of wood split from a larger branch which is required for long duration unattended cooking such as with meats. They also form better long lasting coals which provide a good amount of heat when using the Bushbuddy as a room heater. When its raining, finding twigs that are ready to burn are equally difficult -if not impossible, especially in semi rural or semi urban towns where the locals use wood for heating and cooking. The kids normally have already cleaned up everything worth burning as part of their daily chores. Later on the women go out to collect wood and everything within reach is lopped off leaving the trees heavily coppiced.
I had been eyeing the Gransfors small wildlife hatchet for a while now, but knowing that my ancestors used iron sickles quite effectively for the purpose I had in mind, which I knew could fell small tree branches even up to 4 inches pretty easily. I did not want to opt for a large axe, although even a small one would prove to be very useful for a host of different purposes. I obviously wasn’t going to be splitting large logs or building log cabins out in the wild. It would also take up too much space in my pack and strapping it on to me or my pack would cause me unnecessary trouble with our troublesome authorities always on the lookout for a quick bribe to help finance their daily tot of rum. I did get myself a BHK Bushcrafter -an excellent knife after looking at its wood working abilities from the then Blind Horse knives website. Although it can do everything they claim, I realized that practically finding something to use, such as a baton to split wood when trekking in the places I visit would be next to impossible as any piece of wood qualifying as a baton would have been long picked for use as firewood by some villager, either for stocking up for the monsoons/winter or for using up right away. I had no intention of banging my beautiful (and expensive) knife on its spine with a rock. Carrying a baton around was out of question as it would have been nearly as cumbersome as carrying an axe.
Note: [23rd October 2011]
I take some of my words back. i have finally got a Gransfors (SFA) Small Forest axe and am delighted with it. The
Khukhuri is still primarily looked upon as an offensive weapon and is very difficult to carry around in public transport specially with all the new Xray scanners at the Metro and railway stations. I’ve also heard about some rules about restrictions on the length of the blade, but in the Delhi metro even scissors and pen knives are banned.
I realized the immediate need for a bigger knife when I was on a trek to witches hill (Pari Tibba) in Landour, Mussoorie with some friends. I needed a small branch of an oak for burning as I had heard that it would burn even when it was green. I needed to check this fact for myself as I was writing a post on the Himalyan oak. As usual, the locals had pruned off all the branches within reach -for use as firewood and cattle feed. When I finally found a wiry branch, I had to lean out over what could have ended up as a long drop for me along with my BHK Bushcrafter knife. It became so difficult balancing myself with my hand totally stretched out that after cutting it half way through, I gave up and bent and twisted the branch till it snapped. I was worried that I’d lose my knife as I had not attached a lanyard to it. My friends however were worried that I’d go over the precipice as well. This is when I realized that I needed a bigger knife as a there was only so much that a small knife could do. The thought never left me that if I had the traditional sickle or a Gurkha Khukuri with me, I could have made a clean cut with one stroke and the extra reach would have been an added bonus.
The first option I explored was the trusty old family heirloom iron sickle. These sickles called Katti in the Tulu language and prepared by local blacksmiths back home in Karnataka cost not more than USD 3-4. They are traditionally fitted with a handle made from the root of the mango tree (Mangifera Indica) which is very strong. Surprisingly, these sickles when used regularly do not rust, but acquire a black patina over the exposed blade over time -not unlike that of what a regularly used cast iron pan. Since they are not hardened, they can easily be sharpened by rubbing the blade against any flat surface which includes stone, marble, granite table tops and even with pieces of broken glass bottles, apart from using conventional sharpening tools.
This usually takes not more than 3-4 strokes to get its edge up razor sharp as it is not hardened. The traditional tang tapers to a point and is passed through the center of the handle and bent over at the point where it exits the end of the handle making for a very robust sickle, close to a knife with a full tang. (I learned later on that this khukuri uses a similar technique -the only difference is that the end is peened over the metal end plate like a riveted end , rather than bent) Mostly it is not sharpened to a very fine edge (unless it is also used to dress poultry, meat or fish) as it would mostly be used for de-husking coconuts, splitting them open, trimming branches in the garden, cutting grass, lopping of small branches from trees etc… the only disadvantage? It is curved – almost close to a “C” and comes with no sheath as it is not normally carried around when traveling. In India the only knives that have sheaths are those that are primarily ornamental display pieces or ceremonial/religious. This lack of a sheath was a big disadvantage for me. Come to think of it now, I could have designed a sheath for it myself.
This left me with only two options, a heavy bowie knife or a khukuri. I opted for the latter having personal experience of the advantages of having a curved blade and having wielded my uncle’s WWII era khukuri as a kid. Kathmandu has been on my places to visit list, but since I didn’t see it happening this year, I started looking for a reliable online dealer. I stumbled on the Khukuri House website and after reading all the glowing stuff, and debating on what model or size of Khukuri I should opt for, I settled on the Ganjuwal Swiss. I placed the order for this model as I was curious about all the additional tools on the “swiss” model. In addition, the sheath was beautifully done and the lovely Rosewood handled 10.5″ khukuri weighed a good 800gms which would not require me to swing very hard to chop up wood. Here is a record of what followed between placing my order and receiving the khukuri.
June 12 2010
I Receive a receipt from Paypal to a certain Deakon McCurdy for my payment for the Ganjuwal Swiss.
June 13 2010
Received an address confirmation email from the shipping department
June 13 2010
Received another email from Khukuri House, I’m quoting a part of the email…
“We have received the payment for your online transaction. Your order of khukuri/s (Ganjuwal SWISS x1 and Nepalese Coin x1) will be processed in our Production Dept. tomorrow. However, we regret to let you know that we will be unable to ship the order to India due to strict Indian custom regulations, for India we always ask someone who goes to India ( any parts) and ask them to ship the items.”
This surprised me as I had no customs problems and all of my knives were shipped from overseas. In addition there was no warning message as I selected India as my country during checkout. If this was a regular problem, it should have cautioned me when placing my order. All it said was that the customs responsibilities were mine -which is fair. Why then did they not ship it? Were they trying to save on shipping?
June 15 2010
I asked them whether they can ship to an address in Birgunj which is in Nepal on the India-Nepal border near Bihar (Raxaul). I was surprised when they said no. I wonder whether they have customs procedures for shipping within Nepal too? They replied that they will ship from within India either from Darjeeling or Kolkata… whenever they find a “reliable person” to take it across. Unknown to me, It was going to be quite some time before they could find their “reliable person”. This was business wasn’t it? Not some kind of a personal favor they were doing me! They did charge me USD 20 for shipping. If they indeed had such a tough time sending it across they should have cancelled the order or not accepted it in the first place.
July 02 2010
I send them a request to be informed before shipping, as I need to make arrangements in office to receive it as my outstation travel has increased dramatically and it was highly unlikely that I would be around when it arrived. In reply, I receive the same drivel quoted above in green -as if I had disputed what they had said. I begin to suspect whether we are having a communication problem here… As a postscript it says yes, they’ll keep me posted when they ship it.
August 18 2010
No communication from KHHI yet, So I send them an email saying that 2 months had elapsed since I placed my order and inquired how much longer I was supposed to wait for them to find someone reliable enough to ship my order. I got a prompt reply on the same day that they had found someone and that he would post it in 1 or 2 days.
September 09 2010
I threaten them with a chargeback and I call up Citibank. They ask me to contact Paypal first and I do so. Meanwhile in response to the threat, I receive another email saying that “the post office refused to accept it in Darjeeling, so it will be now posted from Kolkata.” I’m slowly realizing that they reply only when I send them an email, otherwise they stay put even for 2 months at a stretch without any progress on the order. Hmmm feels like Delhi…
September 10 2010
I’ve given up on the Khukuri (especially as the security has been beefed up for the upcoming common wealth games) and have started looking online for an alternative to the KHHI khukuri. I’m now looking at the Ka-bars, cold steels, Tops knives and the Fallknivens. I’m also half hardheartedly looking at the Tom Brown Tracker knife, but the cost of the Hedgehog Leatherworks sheath freaks me out. For once I wish I had a tidy pile of black money. I go to the KHHI website and click on chat. I copy and paste my problem and order ID -which was a mistake, as after that there was no response from the other side. I leave a response telling them that I have begun processing the charge back. I don’t remember the date, but I receive the same apologetic polite reply. I tell them they can keep their product and wish them good luck. In response, I receive this last email from them.
Thank you for your mail. We can understand your situation.We have been really trying hard to deliver your order.
The person will give complete details on Sun. We’ll then update you with your current order status.You can then decide what to do.
We are seeking for your cooperation in this matter.
No one contacts me on Sunday or on any other day of the week. I’ve had previous bad experiences with Paypal, but I have re-opened my account with them recently. The purchase that I made was before I re-opened my account so I am expecting no support from Paypal. Surprisingly they are very helpful and give me the information on how to file a claim. This bolstered my faith in Paypal India for the future and I’ve always shopped through Paypal after this incident. However before I could file a fresh claim according to their instructions, the Khukuri arrived by DTDT courier (around the 27th of September 2010). The courier shipping note shows that it was shipped on the 23rd of September from Kolkata.
When I came to office on Monday, I saw a newspaper wrapped package lying on my desk. It looks like a snake that had been badly mauled or molested. I had placed an order with Chicobag for a water bottle sling for my Klean Kanteen and was shocked at their packing style. I picked it up and I realized that it was too heavy to be a recycled bag made from discarded PET bottles. Then It struck me that it was probably my khukuri. The Khukuri seemed to be coated with petroleum jelly, white silicon grease or something similar, placed in the sheath and then wrapped in plastic and then with newspaper and finally wound tightly with packing tape, no wonder it looked so queer.
To their credit, there was no shipping damage. The quality of the product however was another story. My colleagues immediately crowded around me and began to fiddle around with it. When one of them turned the sheath over, the Khukuri fell out of the sheath (It was too loose). Luckily he managed to hold it without cutting himself. A chill went down my spine as a heavy khukuri failing on someones toes from a height of 5 feet could have had an unpleasant ending no matter how it fell.
As soon as I opened the package, it took my breath away -at last it was here. However on closer observation disappointment began to set in. I realized that it was a poor quality product and if at all their quality control was what they said it was like on their website, then they obviously took this opportunity to pass off to me at full price one of their rejected Khukuris. The sheath however was beautifully made although there were color differences with what was shown on the
website which is understandable. There is no accompanying documentation on how to use the chakmak for sharpening the khukuri especially as it is differently shaped than the ones shipped along with other Khukuris. The brass butt cap has a stain that cannot be cleaned and the pommel (skull crusher?) are nailed in asymmetrically which spoils the show of the Khukuri. There are cracks running up the Rosewood handle (If at all it is Rosewood) on both ends of the pommel. The heads of the three nails used to hold the pommel in place protrude and thus get caught in clothing. The same happens with the two nails holding the extra pouch on the sheath. These nails also reach through the wooden scabbard and scratch the blade of the khukuri. The engraving (of my name and date) is done well but I would have preferred a better location closer to the handle. (Not their fault, but they could have shown a sample online or asked) The design on the khukuri appears to have been done in a hurry and there are ugly looking engraving mistakes on one side of the blade. I am planning to get the handle re-done or buy a new khukuri when I visit Kathmandu. The blade seems to be OK and should be functional enough to do the job that I bought it for. The “screwdriver” however seems shaped more like a chisel than a screw driver and the tip is not well finished. The ear cleaner hurts (sharp edges) and the tweezers are so thick and stiff that they have to be gripped hard very close to the jaws. Besides most of those tiny tools have wooden handles which have their ends sharpened to a point which makes them uncomfortable to use, although they look nice.
Additionally I have doubts about the heat treatment of the blade edge as it was scored without much effort when I used the metal file on my Victorinox Swiss champ on it. Near the butt cap, there is a small piece of wood missing which had probably been filled with a filler and then varnished over. I can see another prospective spot and only when the varnish wears off will it become readily visible. With daily handling (as with gloating over a new toy) I can already see anomalies surfacing on the handle. The cutting edge of the blade also has anomalies and when running my fingernail on the edge, it gets caught at various places so I’ll need to get the cutting edge re-ground or finish it with my Fallkniven DC4 whetstone.
The thick spine of the blade can be used to break thin pieces of wood by raising both ends of the wood slightly on two stones or other sticks and hitting it lightly with the spine. This can probably also be used to break/crush the bones of an (dead) animal which translates to less wear and tear on the blade and hold the edge of the blade longer when outdoors. I like the sheath. I plan to get rid of those nails and hold down the other sheath piggybacking on the main sheath with some kind of glue.All the implements are relatively blunt compared to western knives which suits me quite well. Going by the weight, feel and balance of the khukuri, I feel that this will be one efficient chopper. The tweezers tip mates well and the awl is sharp and strong. I wish there was a hole in the awl though (for thread)… I also wish they had paid more attention to the other details -especially when they are retailing it for USD 70 plus shipping. That would have made it a fine product. The sheaths for the tiny tools are tight. It would have been messy if it were loose like the main sheath and I would have lost some of them by now. Hopefully as winter approaches, the leather will shrink and the sheath will become tighter. [Note added 28th Feb 2011: It didn’t get any tighter]
Needless to say, I won’t encourage anyone to buy these shoddy overpriced products from either http://www.thekhukurihouse.com or their other sites http://www.khukurihouseonline.com/and http://www.gurkhas-kukris.com/ I’m unable to understand why they have 3 sites with more or less the same stuff. Unfortunately I had great respect for the Nepali Kamis which has now decreased considerably. Surprisingly, the same Khukuri sells for USD 60 at http://www.khukuripalace.com/ and it looks identical. It could very well be that everything on their sites is a lot of bull and that they all buy from some wholesale vendor or factory in Nepal or from some guild of kamis. Or maybe KHHI is the factory? It could be anything… When I buy next, I am going to have my Khukuri made in front of me! I’m serious about it. Bearclaw Bushcraft in the UK seems to source their Khukuris from them or from wherever they (KHHI) get theirs (if they are not the manufacturers), but I’m not 100% sure of that fact. Bearclaw Bushcraft doesn’t look like the type to copy & paste content from The KHHI website, so KHHI which rants a lot about the IP rights for their content on their website has probably allowed it because they buy from them. However it looks like they no longer stock their Khukuris which is understandable.
Disassembling and reassembling the khukri :
Disassembly of the khukuri butt cap turned out to be not too difficult. One nail came off pretty easily, the other had to be beheaded. I also removed the two protruding extra large nails hammered onto the sheath to hold the pouch (These were the nails which scratched the blade). I intend to replace these nails with cutoff brass nails to retain the look. On the picture to the left you can clearly see the careless asymmetrical holes on the butt cap. The butt cap is a genuine curved brass plate of good quality about 2mm thick. The center nail was queer, it was square!
When I filed it down sufficiently to release the butt cap, I realized that it was the tapered tang of the blade. the plan now is to re drill the hole on the right and then put it back using brass nails and then buff the pommel. I will need to grind down the center brass cup to accommodate the now shorter tang and then peen it in place. The blade will need to be polished too after re-grinding the edge. Unfortunately heat treating the edge again is out of question as it might damage the Rosewood handle on disassembly. The handle was chipped in places and there is a large crack which almost splits the handle into two. This probably happened when after applying the laha glue (made from resin collected from trees) the tang was hammered through a too small hole in the handle. I’m tempted to do this to my Khukuri, but I read that post too late.
A few quick tests :
My primary purpose was to split wood with the khukuri and in spite of its shitty build quality, the shape, weight and balance felt OK for a chopper. To test it, I got a piece of wood from my stash of Mango (Magifera Indica) wood. This is available easily at shops supplying items for use in Hindu religious rites. However it is thick enough to prevent it burning easily for use in my Bushbuddy wood burning stove.
First I split the piece of wood vertically into four sticks. On placing the blade on the wood and striking it (the wood) on the floor with the blade in contact with the wood, the blade bounced off the wood as it wasn’t sharp enough. However when I brought down the blade on the stationary piece of wood standing on the floor, it easily split the wood thanks to its weight with hardly any effort. You need to be careful here as once the blade bites the wood, it travels pretty fast down the split due to the weight of Khukuri and can be difficult to stop before it reaches your fingers.
I tried another test, striking a supported piece if wood slightly above a half inch in thickness with the back of the blade. I had to do this carefully increasing the pressure of the stroke slowly as the bouncing blade might otherwise have hit me between the eyes with its business end. Finally the wood did snap after 3-4 tries. I had to apply a normal amount of force for it to fracture. It looks like this blade will soon go places with me!
Watch this space for a link with more real world tests to come and photos of my Khukuri after I’m done with the repairs. The problem like I stated above, is taking it along with me on tours with all this security checks every where. Now with X-ray baggage scanners at the Metro and railway stations, getting past is very difficult.
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