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Thread: Skinning Knives Vs. "Nessmuk"

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    Default Skinning Knives Vs. "Nessmuk"

    So many times when people see my blades on the various forums I use, they comment on Nessmuk and his seemingly legendary knife style…but in a way I find it a bit misleading and wanted to discuss it here with people who may know more about the history behind the man, and the knife, separately.

    My background concerning blade use was that of a deer skinner at a local meat processor in Illinois in 1993 when I started on my 16th birthday. I was handed an aluminum scabbard with 4 knives, two Forshner Skinners, 1 6″ boning knife, and one boning knife that had been ground down to the point of looking like an ice pick. I was then given a few hours of instruction and let loose on literally a mountain of deer flesh. I skinned from sun up until sundown for 3 LONG deer seasons at that place as well as working the pigs, cows, sheep and ostrich when it wasn’t deer season…fast forward nearly 20 years, and I’m still skinning…only this time its pigs, on the weekends for a local outfitter I guide for part time.

    Now until about 5 years ago, I didn’t know such a thing called “bushcraft” existed…when I was a kid, we just called it “roughing it” and it was something we did often….my knife of choice, once I learned how amazing a sharp skinner could be, has always been a skinner for the past twenty odd years.

    Now that I’ve been showing my face on youtube, and visiting various forums concerning blade work and posting skinning of various critters videos around the internet, my blades often get referred to as a “Nessmuk Style Knife”. I think its kind of misleading.

    I dont use a skinner because its trendy or in vogue on bushcrafty forums. Nessmuk didn’t either. He didn’t use his skinner to process firewood, that much I can bet a large sum of money on. Skinners are meant to be SHARP, and stay sharp for when you need them. That’s why in the illustrations which are nearly as popular as his name, you see a total of 5 cutting blades…2 on his jack knife, 2 on his belt axe and his skinner. He used that style of blade because it is hands down the best blade design for skinning animals.

    Its been widely published that by the 1850′s buffalo populations were already on the STEEP decline in the US as commercial meat and fur hunters were decimating the population of bison on the open range. By the 1880′s there were only a few hundred left. It was during that time that the skinning knife style that we use today came into play. Any knife can skin, but only a skinner can do it as quickly. One animal and you may not perceive a noticable difference, but once you skin 70-80 animals in a day, you’ll readily notice the time it has saved you over the non skinning blades.

    I dont think it would be too far of a stretch to assume that Nessmuk, being the industrial fellow that he was, either commissioned a knife very similar to ones being used in the west at the time (and he was in his prime during the buffalo rush) or simply walked up to the local hardware store and bought it…maybe put a new handle on it, which was pretty common for that era.

    Now, I certainly dont take away anything from the man’s pioneering spirit. I’m sure HE didn’t refer to his blade as a “Nessmuk” knife. But I honestly do sometimes wonder about the background of the people who call a skinner a “Nessmuk”. I dont think there is any harm meant, but I do feel as though its out of ignorance (lack of life experience). GWS skinned with his skinner, he didn’t Nessmuk with it.

    Now, I get it, because GWS is a bushcraft icon, he gets the blade named after him. But to call a skinning blade a “Nessmuk” just sounds a little phoney to me…as if the person saying it only knows its a “Nessmuk” because they are on a bushcraft website…not because they’ve been doing much skinning lately…lol. But go to any meat processing website, magazine or catalog and they will basically have two styles of skinning knife. A 5″ and 6″ blade are most common. The 5″ will be referred to as a sheep skinner and is usually more curved and has a thinner belly than the 6″, commonly called the beef skinner.

    A typical hunter will process a few animals a year, a good skinner will average 6-10 deer an hour, if already field dressed. That isn’t with any fancy tricks like golf balls and winches or air hoses and inflation…thats just good knife work and a whole bunch of pulling.

    I would love to see more hunting, skinning, home butchering and preserving pics and vids on the various bushcraft and survival forums, and I think its a positive start to realize that Nessmuk carried a SKINNING knife. Get out there and see for yourselves why a skinning blade is so damn useful to an outdoorsman, but more specifically to a hunter.

    I guess my whole point is this: Nessmuk didn’t invent the skinning knife, he simply carried one.
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    I think most wilderness knives are not designed as a skinner. Why would they be? If I live with a knife on my hip, that knife has to do everything.

    I do prefer a thinner blade. 3/16 thick is just unreasonable for a small knife. IMO. 1/8 or smaller cuts everything easier.

    I have a nessmuk knife, it's not designed to be a skinner but it is a superlative field knife.
    I had a compass, but without a map, it's just a cool toy to show you where oceans and ice are.

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    but you make the assumption that it was originally designed in that fashion and it wasn't. Nessmuk carried a skinning blade, not a wilderness knife. Modern men have used the blade profile, and yet completely changed it's purpose by changing, among other things, the grind.

    So, if a knife with a skinning blade profile and with a "skandi" grind is considered a "nessmuk" thats all well and good...but that isn't what the man carried, nor was he using it for everything. He had several other tools with him that would do better for any other tasks at camp.
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    He had an axe an a 3 blade trapper if I recall. I didn't assume anything. The only thing differant from the "nessmuk" knife and an old hickory butcher knife is the blade length.

    You know the grind of the original knife? Wow, you are good at this crap.

    The guy was a tour guide.
    I had a compass, but without a map, it's just a cool toy to show you where oceans and ice are.

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    I agree, Nessmuk didn't do much original, other than write a book about his journey. That's entirely my point. The skinning blade was around long before him, and long after him. I'm just tired of people who have obviously never skinned more than one animal a year referring to every skinning knife they see as a "Nessmuk".

    Most professional grade skinning knives are a full flat grind, he had a TWO blade trapper and a double bit axe, each with a different grind...so to answer your sarcasm...Yes, I am good at this crap.
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    Yes, and the sarcasm is totally free of charge.

    The world over, there are alot of different skinning blades. The Saami reindeer herders use knives exactly like a Mora, Asians and S.Americans use their large bush knives to do it.

    I don't see alot of skinning in my survival life. It's far more a hunting issue.
    I had a compass, but without a map, it's just a cool toy to show you where oceans and ice are.

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    There is always the exception...but go to any industrial size skinning operation, where getting the most bang for your buck actually matters, and you'll see Victorinox Forshner blades 9/10 times.

    As a professional hog hunting guide and skinner, it does matter to me.
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    I se where you are coming from man. It's the best tool for the job, but, who has room in their gear for 6 knives? I carry 3 already and none are hunting specific. I have a multitool, a 4-5inch utility, and a large woodkiller.
    I had a compass, but without a map, it's just a cool toy to show you where oceans and ice are.

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    My general feeling is that there are 3 basic tasks to be performed around camp:

    Fine Carving
    Chopping
    Skinning/Meat prep

    You certainly have all the bases covered in your knife selection...and you'll never get a blade to do all 3 well, you only get two most of the time, and its usually the skinning that gets put by the way side. After doing it for so long though, I just get frustrated as hell without a dedicated skinning knife. For me, its worth it to carry the extra blade (but I dont count my multi as a knife lol
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    My multi is a Victorinox Trekker, not a pair of pliers.

    I think more along the lines of food prep instead of "skinning/meat prep".

    Unless my clothing is falling apart, skin is just bait fort traps and flavor for stew after the hair is burnt off.
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    I do sort of appriciate it when someone takes the hide off the meat before it hits my campfire.

    Hunting, or commercial processing, the hide still has to come off the carcass before it is turned into serving sized pieces. I have done it with 2" pocket knives and 3" Moras but one designed for the task is appriciated if I am going to do it often.

    I also have seen many knives that were poor excuses for the classics they were supposed to imitate. Nesmuks that were 1/4" thick and a foot long, Kepharts almost that big and they would have been thrown into the nearest river by their namesakes.
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    seems you really hit a nerve in that other place. oh well.

    i like how you pointed out the "triangle" (thats what ill call it) of woods chores. its like something i heard once. the triangle for building a house, you can have it cheap, fast, or good. you can only have 2 though, if its cheap and fast, it wont be good, if its cheap and good, it will take forever. oh well. what blade thickness do you use on your skinner, specifically your pig sticker crashblade, that thing is BA.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bigvisk View Post
    seems you really hit a nerve in that other place. oh well.

    i like how you pointed out the "triangle" (thats what ill call it) of woods chores. its like something i heard once. the triangle for building a house, you can have it cheap, fast, or good. you can only have 2 though, if its cheap and fast, it wont be good, if its cheap and good, it will take forever. oh well. what blade thickness do you use on your skinner, specifically your pig sticker crashblade, that thing is BA.
    Sure did, didn't I?

    Just under 3/16, my dedicated skinning blades are more like 1/8th.

    When I go into ANYTHING, I look at what the professionals use, and try my best to do what they do...that goes with everything from concrete finishing to meat processing...doesn't matter which. When you are starting a new hobby...look at what the pros do, and START there.

    If you look inside any commercial meat processor, you'll see these 9/10 times for all the skinning related duties:

    http://images.search.yahoo.com/image...nubl&fr=ytff1-

    Yes, yes, I know any knife can skin out a critter, or a piece of glass, whatever...but the professionals use these for a reason.
    Last edited by chinookpilot77; 06-09-2012 at 10:15 AM.
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    Interesting points brought up in this thread. Thanks.
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    In the right hand, almost any knife can be used to perform almost any task. In the wrong hand, the perfect knife will fail to perform any task. It's never about the knife. Some guys can do anything with almost nothing and some guys can't seem to do anything with everything.

    btw The pros at Olduvai gorge used these 1.5 - 2 million years ago. Fortunately, some guys departed from what the pros were doing.

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    Last edited by Bush Monkey; 06-09-2012 at 08:42 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bush Monkey View Post
    In the right hand almost any knife can be used to perform almost any task. In the wrong hand, the perfect knife will fail to perform any task. It's never about the knife. Some guys can do anything with almost nothing and some guys can't seem to do anything with everything.
    I could not have dreamed of saying it better.

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    Sourdough,

    I bet where you are, an Inuit (ie "Pro") would not even consider trading his/her Ulu for a dozen of these:
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bush Monkey View Post
    In the right hand, almost any knife can be used to perform almost any task. In the wrong hand, the perfect knife will fail to perform any task. It's never about the knife. Some guys can do anything with almost nothing and some guys can't seem to do anything with everything.

    btw The pros at Olduvai gorge used these 1.5 - 2 million years ago. Fortunately, some guys departed from what the pros were doing.

    When you do it for a living, and time is money, it IS about the knife. Agree to disagree then, but you'll never see anything but a skinner in a commercial meat processor...you dont see drop points, clip points, bowie knives, ulus, daggers, katanas, machetes....in equally skilled hands, the skinning knife is king.
    Last edited by chinookpilot77; 06-10-2012 at 08:11 AM.
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