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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fine Tune Your Mora Knife - part 1 by Jim Dillard

The Mora knife is without a doubt the best bargain in the field of bushcraft. Bushcraft greats such as Mors Kochanski have developed techniques with the Mora that go far beyond what most of us ever thought could be done with a simple knife – and all with a tool costing only a few dollars. Admittedly, for most buchcrafters there is an attraction to specialized knives costing hundreds of dollars, but the truth is that in skilled hands, and with a little tuning, a Mora can do the work of the most expensive custom knife. There are clearly some benefits to carrying an inexpensive knife in the field. For those who tend to lose things, the replacement of a lost Mora won’t do damage to even the tightest budget. Another advantage is that considering the cost and the light weight of the Mora, most folks can carry two or three of them in different places in their gear, insuring that they will never be without a knife. As a teacher, one of my favorite advantages of carrying a Mora is that when I come across a special student, I can give them my knife as encouragement – a special gift for them, and at very little cost to me.

There are a few simple alterations that can be made to the Mora and sheath to make it more useful to those practicing the art of bushcraft. The first such alteration is to SHARPEN THE SPINE of the knife. This does not mean to create a cutting edge on the back of the knife, but instead means to grind the back of the blade to where it has a sharp 90 degree angle to the side. A word of caution here – this technique is best used on simple carbon steels. Because the sides of the Triflex and laminated blades are soft, a sharpened spine will only last a short time before needing to be redone and therefore would have limited use. The sharp spine would have more use on a stainless blade, but generally stainless blades do not work as well with a firesteel, so the alteration is best with blades made of simple carbon steel..

The first photo shows the spines of two Mora carbon steel blades. The bottom blade is rough and rounded on the edges, just as it comes from the factory. The top blade is one with a sharpened spine, a more useful bushcraft tool.

Sharpening the spine is a simple process, but needs to be done with caution. The blade can be ground on a bench grinder with a fine stone, or can be ground with a belt sander with a fairly fine belt, 220 or finer. When grinding make sure of two things. First, the spine needs to be ground at a 90 degree angle to the side. If you are experienced with such things this can be done by “eyeball.” If your grinder has a guide as many do, set the guide at 90 degrees to the stone. The second caution of course is that the metal should not get too hot. If the blade gets too hot, the temper will be ruined. Make quick passes when grinding and use light pressure. The tip of the blade is most likely to burn, so see to it that the tip spends very little time on the stone or sander and has time to cool between passes. If at any time the blade becomes so hot that it is uncomfortable to touch, you need to make quicker passes or use water for cooling.

Once the spine is ground, it will have to be maintained just as the edge does. Every time you sharpen the edge of your knife, turn the blade over and rub the spine against the sharpening stone. This can be done with the coarsest stone you have. Grind the spine until the corner feels sharp. That’s all there is to it – no finer stone or stropping needed.

Photo #2 shows a spine being sharpened on a diamond stone. Simply place the back of the blade down on the stone and go back and forth – point to handle.

Photo #3 shows one of the uses of a sharpened spine. Several bushcraft projects require that the outer bark be scraped off of green wood. Here the outer bark is removed so that the inner bark can be made into cordage.

Photo #4 shows a technique that is impossible with a blade spine as it comes from the factory. Here the sharp corner is being used to “fuzz” a piece of split wood. If the wood is dry the fuzz can be lit with sparks to start fires.

One of the most dramatic benefits of a sharp spine is with the firesteel. Photo #5 shows a strong effort being made to make a shower of sparks with a factory spine. Even though a great deal of pressure was used only a meager shower of sparks is produced.

Photo #6 shows a massive shower of sparks produced by the corner of a sharpened spine. The difference is obvious.

As your bushcraft skills increase, you will most likely find even more uses for a well-sharpened spine.


sam said...

I'll probably just do mine with a file.
I'm not sure how sharp I'd want all the edges on a spine as it can cu into your hand when you choke up on the tip or use it as a drawknife in longer blades.
I wrote a bit about it a while back:
I was using it to strip the bark off of pine roots.
I've also tried soaking the blades in vinegar, mustard and ketchup to get a patina and protect them from rust as well as braiding a neck cord for the sheath.

Ben said...


Yea I tend to keep the last inch or so on my moras near the tip sharper on the spine as I like using that end of the knife with a firesteel, I get more control that way..thanks Ben

Tyler said...

Boiling a blade in vinegar will leave a nice black patina on it. This really helps keep down the rust. The longer you dip it the darker it will get. A serious drawback for the married folks is that it will stink up the kitchen.

Mungo said...

I will coat the blade of my carbon steel Moras with mustard, wrap it loosely with plastic wrap and leave it overnight. That gives a nice blueing on the blade...
That should help Tyler with the marital effects of smelly vinegar...

Ron Layton said...

Excellent post. I like the Lauri blades because they already have a sharp spine.What a blade!!!!!!!!

drtisbeter said...

I've got a Puukko knife, great knife, but when I use it with my firesteel I don't get half the sparks I get when I use the striker that came with the steel. Any idea what I'm doing wrong? The back of the knife is pretty much 90 degrees with the side of the knife...


Ben said...

Depends on what type of puukko you have. Some knives like the mora triflex and laminated blades have a hard cutting edge, but a soft spine, and if you sharpen the spine it is just too soft to throw good sparks. Make sure your spine is filed flat so the edges are sharp and bite into the firesteel. Hard tempered carbon steel works best, stainless works also but the harder the better..thanks Ben

Nick Weston said...

Love the Mora- prefer it to my Helle Eggen- especially for using the firesteel- not thought of sharpening the back though...I usually use the mora and hit it with the back of the axe for splitting bits of wood for finer wood work projects as the helle can't take it- will just have to get another Mora- Oh well!

Anonymous said...

What mora do you recomend

Menseffects said...

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