Bark River Knives (formerly known as Bark River Knife & Tool) has recently become my favorite knife company.
The Upper Peninsula, Michigan family-owned company is run and managed by Mike Stewart who is not only hands-on in training the company’s craftsmen to design and produce a lot of today’s best survival knives but is also hands-on in customer service.
One of my favorite Bark River designs is the Grasso Bolo II knife which is a collaboration product of Mike Grasso and Mike Stewart.
This knife design features an overall length of 14 5/8″ with a drop point blade that measures 9 1/4” and is made from 5160 non-stainless steel that as a Rockwell Hardness of 57-58 Rockwell. It also features a recurved edge with a flat ground bevel, a short ricasso and full-tang construction with black Micarta handle slabs.
Then again, like many other BRK models you can choose among the company’s many other handle slab materials – they have different colors of Micarta; different types of wood including burl wood and exotic hard wood; and they even have a vast collection of synthetic handle slab materials such as thermoplastics.
The Bark River Grasso Bolo II comes with a heavy-duty leather sheath designed by Mike Grasso and made by Greg Anderson at Great Lakes Leatherworks to be carried cross-draw fashion.
As I mentioned in my previous articles on the Fox USA Parang and the Tops .170 Machete, it seems that everywhere in the world where people live outdoors or at least, very close to nature, they have developed their own, ethnically identifiable, styles of large camp/survival knives such as the Indonesian and Malaysian Parang, the Filipino Bolo, the African Bushman’s knife and the American Bowie knife. And, although each style differs greatly in design, they all have one thing in common; they are all large, heavy-duty, multi-purpose knives.
However, up until now, I have written about several different Bowie designs but, I have failed to write about the parang, the bolo, the kukri, or the machete and yet, all of these styles of knives are very useful as wilderness survival tools when they are combined with a smaller, more general purpose knife.
Consequently, although the bolo knife may have its origins in the Philippine Islands, it seems to be a universally accepted design which serves the same purpose as the Malaysian parang and American bowie in that it is used for a multitude of differing camp tasks. Thus, they are often considered an indispensable part of their owner’s life.
In fact, in my opinion, the Bark River Grasso Bolo II is quite possibly the ultimate rendition of this type of knife because with its characteristic weight-forward blade design and recurved edge that is combined with a large “sweet spot” located just behind the widest part of the blade and the very ergonomically designed handle, the user can employ a “snap cut” technique to apply extra speed to the blade when chopping. Thus, the user can gain more work done for less effort expended than is possible with other knife designs (with the possible exception of the Nepalese Kukri).
However, due to several adjustments to the design of the original prototypes, the final rendition of the BRK Grasso Bolo II is also very well suited for more precise tasks such as carving the necessary notches needed to set spring snare and “figure 4” deadfall triggers.
For instance, the recurved edge creates a forward positive angle just in front of the ricasso that is perfect for carving and yet the deep belly provides plenty of weight right where it needs to be for maximum efficiency when chopping. The sweep to the tip is perfectly shaped for skinning harvested game animals and the flat ground bevel allows the edge to be honed very sharply for slicing tasks such as skinning.
In addition, the drop point blade design places the tip near the center line of the blade where it is out of the way when performing precision cutting tasks and the “false edge” along the spine of the tip creates a very sharp point which is well suited for piercing tasks such as poking holes in leather or cloth.
Also, the BRK Grasso Bolo II features a full tang with a very ergonomic handle shape that includes an integral quillion and, on this particular knife, for the first time in any of the articles I have published on this web site, I am not going to complain about the ricasso because, on this particular design, it actually makes sense for it to be there.
However, as usual, I will complain about the fact the 5160 steel that this knife is made from is not stainless and thus, it requires more care to keep it corrosion free. This can be hard to do in a true wilderness survival situation.
On the other hand the 5160 series steel was chosen because it is a very tough steel with a carbon content of 0.56% – 0.64%, a chromium content of 0.70% – 0.90% and a manganese content of 0.75% – 1.0%. Consequently, as you can tell from the very simple alloy formula, 5160 is meant to be a tough steel rather than a hard steel and thus, although it won’t win any edge holding contests, it is considerably better steel than 1095 (which most knives of this type are made from.)
In addition, with the inclusion of Manganese to increase hardenability to a Rockwell Hardness of 57-58 this steel will hold an edge reasonably well.
Therefore, as usual with Bark River Knives, I am absolutely in love with the overall design of the BRK Grasso Bolo II but I would prefer that the blade be made from a stainless steel. And yet in my opinion, this is one of the prettiest Bolo designs I have seen yet.
In addition, I believe that a fair argument could be made that the Bolo knife design is second in slashing and chopping efficiency only to the Nepalese Kukri design and yet, it has a far more general purpose blade shape that makes it an excellent choice for a wilderness survival knife.