Ontario Knife Company Blackbird SK-5 Wilderness Knife

Ontario Knife Company is a venerable, old, and well known knife company that was founded in Naples, New York, in 1889 by three men William B. Ensworth, Charles Albert Brace and William Maudsley who derived the name of the company from Ontario County where Naples lived.

Their early knives were hand-manufactured on a water-powered grindstone and sold tinker style via a pushcart throughout the neighboring countryside.

Consequently, over the years, OKC has built its considerable reputation on a heritage of uncompromising craftsmanship, quality materials and components, and a steadfast commitment to its workforce. Therefore, today they produce one of the most comprehensive, wide-ranging, product lines in the modern cutlery industry.

For instance, the Blackbird SK-5 Survival Knife which was designed by well known outdoor survivalist Paul Sheiter, is a prime example of Ontario Knife Company’s continuing commitment to excellence in knife design and manufacturing quality.

From the OKC web site: “A knife of sublime simplicity, the SK-5 will do nearly anything and stand up to nearly anything. It’s 5 – inch spear –point-flat-ground blade is made of stain-resisting 154 CM steel, tempered to Rockwell 58-60, which is on the hard side. It takes a razor edge and holds it forever. The tactical sheath is ballistic nylon with a hard liner. The generous handle is canvas Micarta, and it is an ergonomic masterpiece that will survive anything short of a nuclear blast.”

From the Blackbird Knives Designer:

“I believe the more complicated a product becomes, the more likely it is to fail when your life depends on it. For this reason I designed The Blackbird SK-5 Knife to achieve maximum function delivered through pure simplicity. You won’t see gimmicks or gadgets on this knife…only the core essentials that provide the user with comfort and a sharp edge to handle the most demanding wilderness survival tasks.” – Paul Sheiter

Now, while I do agree with most of what both designer and the manufacturer have to say about this knife, in my opinion, it is not one of the more aesthetically pleasing knife designs I have ever seen. For instance, the black Micarta handle (looks like Rucarta to me) may be somewhat ergonomically shaped but, it lacks any artistry or imagination whatsoever (unlike some of the other survival knives I have reviewed on this site so far) and the spear point blade shape has always struck me as esoteric in a fixed-blade knife.

In fact, when I think of spear point blades, I automatically think of the official Boy Scouts of America folding knife which always features a spear point blade. But then, a knife doesn’t have to be pretty to be functional; it just has to work well and be there every time you need it. On the other hand, that I do believe that the Blackbird SK-5 survival knife features a truly practical blade design (unlike some of the other survival knives I have reviewed on this site so far) and the entire knife and sheath are made from some of the best materials available for survival knife use. Although, it still doesn’t quite meet my personal standards for the best survival knife design ever invented; but, it does come very close.

The blade of the Blackbird SK-5 is crafted from 154CM stainless steel which is an American made, vacuum melted, steel that was originally designed to build fan blades for the turbines in jet engines which have to operate at very high speed and at red hot temperatures. Consequently, due to this steel’s combination of hardness, toughness, and its superior resistance to corrosion, it attracted the attention of famous custom knifesmith Bob Loveless (a contemporary of Bo Randall) in the early seventies who first experimented with, and then introduced, this steel for use in knife blades.

Since then, 154 CM has become the pinnacle choice of steel among custom knifesmiths and it is highly respected for its ability to combine the properties of superior toughness, sharpness, edge-retaining ability, and resistance to corrosion which is rivaled only by the Japanese equivalent of this steel: ATS34.

In addition, the SK-5’s Spear Point blade, which measures 5″ in length and is ground from 1/8″ thick bar stock stainless steel, it has a Rockwell hardness of 58-60 (which is very hard), and it features a full-taper, flat-grind, with a straight, flat ground, edge and a passable design to the sweep, a center lined tip, and a sharp edge along the spine. Consequently, although the blade at 5″ in length and 1/8″ in thickness is excellent for general purpose work such as fine carving and preparing harvested game, it is way too short and too light to be an effective chopping tool.

In addition, while the full taper, flat grind, edge bevel with a flat ground edge is an excellent choice for slicing tasks since it is easy to sharpen to a razor-like edge and carves though material with a minimum of resistance, it is also much weaker than a flat grind with a lower edge bevel and thus, this type of blade grind should be restricted to light chopping jobs only; especially with a Rockwell hardness of 58 to 60.

On the other hand, the miniscule choil and the non-existent ricasso do place the back end of the edge of the blade as close as possible to the single quillion which results in the user being able to gain as much leverage as possible when carving. Also, the design of the sweep from the edge to the tip leaves quite a bit to be desired as a skinning tool. There again, when I actually take a close look at the tip of edge of  this knife, I honestly cannot identify what, if anything, needs to be adjusted but, the fact is, I simply do not like the shape of the sweep on this knife for the purpose of skinning game.

Plus, I personally find the Spear Point blade shape to be a little too strange for my taste but, I also agree with the designer’s reason for using a center lined tip since, whenever you are attempting to drill a hole with the tip of your knife blade, a non-center lined blade tip causes the side of the hole to “fan out”. But, when you attempt to drill the same hole with a center lined blade tip, the hole turns out perfectly round. One feature about this knife design that I do like though is the sharp, perfectly perpendicular, edge along the spine of the blade which is specifically designed to aid in striking a spark from “flint-and-steel” type fire starters.

In addition, the full tang hilt is coved with two, black, Micarta (Rucarta?) slabs which not only provide an excellent gripping surface but are literally impervious to changes in temperature, moisture, and chemicals. For those of you who not familiar with this material, it is made from several layers of resin impregnated linen (Micarta) or canvas (Rucarta) which is then heated and pressed to form a non-conductive, insulating, material for the electrical industry which just happens to also make excellent knife handles. Also, the perimeter of the Micarta handle on this knife is rounded to provide a comfortable grip and is secured to the knife tang with stainless steel Allen screws. Therefore, the Micarta slabs could, theoretically at least, be easily removed in order to mount the knife into the end of a stick to create a spear.

Last, the Blackbird SK-5 comes with a MOLLE compatible nylon sheath that features a rigid protective insert. The sheath also features a belt loop so that it may be worn on the hip in the traditional belt mount configuration.

So, while the Ontario Knife Company’s Blackbird SK-5 Survival Knife is obviously well designed and is made from top choice materials for an outdoor specific knife, in my opinion, it leaves a bit to be desired as true survival knife since it is both too short and too light to be an effective chopping tool which is a property that I consider to be essential for a true survival knife. Also, I am not particularly enamored of this design as a hunting knife which is another essential task for any dedicated survival knife. Therefore, while I would certainly consider the Blackbird SK-5 as a partner to a larger knife, there are other dedicated survival knife designs we like much better that you can see here.

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