Ka-Bar’s Kephart Bushcraft Blade: Still Sharp 100 Years Later
In a nod to a simpler time, Ka-Bar’s Becker BK62 Kephart knife is a refreshing throwback to a truly utilitarian bushcraft blade designed for daily use in the field. Elegant in its functionality, this seemingly simple blade actually holds many features that make it ideal for those who like to spend extended periods away from the city lights.
This USA-made knife is hardly a combat or tactical blade, and it’s better off for that fact. In a market awash with tactical, high-tech knives, the humble-looking Kephart is more at home breasting a turkey, skinning a rabbit, or processing kindling for a cooking fire in the field. This is an all-function blade for anyone looking to take a quick jaunt or extended excursion into the wilderness, which is fitting given its origins.
A Bit of History
The Kephart is the product of a historical collaboration between Ka-Bar and Ethan Becker, founder of Becker Knife & Tool. Named after Horace Sowers Kephart (1862- 1931), a famed travel writer and outdoorsman, this relatively new addition to the Ka-Bar line is an attempt to create the most accurate reproduction to date of Kephart’s own blade. While most of Kephart’s original knives are either lost to history or worn/sharpened well beyond the original form, this blade is based on a rare near-pristine example of his original.
When Ethan Becker got ahold of that original knife for the first time to test it, even his experienced hands were surprised by the Kephart’s desire to get to work. “When I first had it, and I cut something with it, I went, ‘Damn, 100 years, never been sharpened, and it wants to cut,’” recalled Becker. And I can attest the Ka-Bar/Becker remake does indeed feel like it “wants to cut” when you hold it in your hand.
More than a knife with a story, this is a working blade designed by a storyteller with a deep love for outdoor living and woodsmanship, and the magic is in the subtle design features of the blade and handle.
Specs & Features Overview
Horace Kephart designed his original blade to be an all-day cutter, and the svelte appearance hides just how much thought went into that design. The walnut handle is somewhat rectangular and gently rounded. A subtle, but effective, flair at the top mimics the type of hand stop you might find on knives with a metal bolster, and it also provides a nice shelf for your thumb. At first glance, the grip scales seem fairly basic, but the material and shape create a highly controllable handle that indexes easily and prevents hotspots during extensive use.
The full tang sandwiched beneath the walnut scales is also tapered for better balance. It’s easy to miss, but the gradual reduction in tang width – and thereby weight – as you approach the butt of the knife creates a beautiful balance with the blade itself. That balance rests nicely below the flair in the handle and right between your thumb and index finger while grasping the knife. Hence, the blade wants to almost float along with your hand while cutting.
The edge of the blade itself comes ready to finely shave wood – or the hair on your arm – and keeps its edge remarkably well after extended use. It has a long, flat grind that covers nearly the entire face of the blade up to the spine, which has a very light false edge. The tip is a drop-point style. This allows for a relatively thick spine all the way to the end of the tip. It’s also a nod to the utilitarian purpose of the knife, making it safer to wield extensively without exposing yourself to an extreme point.
There’s a frontier-like quality to the Kephart, which translates into the American-made leather belt sheath. After extended daily use, the sheath has proven rugged and offers excellent retention. The flair at the top of the grip scales locks Kydex-like into the leather, and the leather’s retention remains after extended use. I’ve listed some additional specs below:
The wide drop-point tip with rear false edge make this knife far more at home in the kitchen or around camp than on a tactical belt. In fact, much to my wife’s dismay, this has been the only knife in our kitchen for several months now. When not on my belt, it has been making quick work of everything from tomatoes and onions to full chickens and thick blocks of Wisconsin cheddar cheese.
It also shined in outdoor work. As bad luck would have it, I quickly found a rough field use for my test Kephart blade when a 12-foot branch from my willow came crashing down after a cold freeze hit on Thanksgiving Day. With temperatures hovering around 14 degrees, I headed out with my Bahco Laplander saw – which I highly recommend – and my Kephart on my belt. Though not necessarily advertised as a heavy chopper, it did fine work limbing dozens of small and medium branches while I prepped the frozen tree limb for sawing.
Being a test knife, I had little intention of babying this Ka-Bar, but it handled branches as thick as two inches just fine and remained sharp enough for prepping dinner after clearing the downed willow branch. I would recommend treating it with a bit more respect in normal use if you have other tools available, but I can confirm the blade will handle some decent abuse.
Beyond being tough, the knife just feels like it wants to cut when you hold it, and the grip allows you to work with it comfortably for extended periods. The only ding I can really give the blade is that it does require some maintenance. If you don’t like cleaning or maintaining your knives at all, this might not be for you. The Kephart will take to a patina just fine, something I prefer, and a quick polish will bring back a shiny mirror-like finish if that is what you want. But, as with many nice knives, you do have to take care of the steel. A dash of mineral oil from time to time before storing it in the sheath for extended periods should suffice.
Beyond that, I absolutely love this knife. It isn’t small, but it is far wieldier than most field knives I’ve handled. In fact, I find myself making excuses to pull it out for just about any task I can think to throw at it.