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Thread: Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

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    Flashaholic* subwoofer's Avatar
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    Default Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

    The Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5 review is the third of a three-knife review series featuring the Black Bird SK-5, RD Tanto and RTAK II. (See - OKC Group Review.)



    The Black Bird SK-5 is a survival knife designed by Paul Scheiter and is intended to be highly functional and yet very simple.



    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Author's Statement for Transparency and Disclosure
    The test sample/s featured in this article have been provided for technical testing and review by the manufacturer. Test samples are retained by the reviewer following publication of the completed review for the purposes of long term testing and product comparisons.

    All output figures and test results published in this review are the sole work of the reviewer, and are carried out independently and without bias. Test results are reported as found, with no embellishments or alteration. Though best endeavours are made to maintain the accuracy of test equipment, the accuracy of these results is not guaranteed and is subject to the test equipment functioning correctly.
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Blade and Handle Geometry:

    Most knives specifications have a basic description of the blade geometry, but in this section I will be taking a more detailed look at geometry and balance.


    Using a set of gauges and precision measuring equipment including a Vernier protractor, callipers, fixed radius gauges and the unique Arc Master adjustable radius gauge (the one that looks like a crossbow).


    These measurements have been tabulated and are presented along with a few reference blades (8" Chef's Knife, 5.5" Santoku and the popular Fällkniven F1).

    Key aspects such as the primary bevel angle, grind type, blade depth, blade thickness, length, weight are detailed, along with balance information.


    The 'Balance relative to the front of the handle' tells you if the knife will feel front heavy, or if the weight is in your hand (a positive value means the weight is forward of the front of the handle). The 'Balance relative to the centre of the handle' indicates how close to a 'neutral balance' the knife has in the hand.


    In the case of full convex grinds the approximate centre of the grind is used for the primary bevel angle estimate.



    The blade is made from 154CM steel.




    Explained by the Maker:
    The reasons for certain design choices may not be clear when simply looking at an object, so this section is intended to give an insight into the thinking behind a design by speaking to the designer themselves.

    Unfortunately I can’t always get time with the designer so will use this section to include relevant information about the knife and its designer. The following information was noted from an interview with Paul Scheiter by Adam from Equip2Endure

    Starting with the name...for this section, please go to the Exclusive Content at Tactical Reviews, but remember to return to this forum to discuss the review.





    A few more details:

    Just as with the others in this series, the Black Bird SK-5 comes in Ontario Knife Company's standard knife box.



    Inside the box the knife has a cardboard protector over the blade, and the knife is not fitted into the sheath. There was also a letter explaining that this knife had upgraded G-10 handle slabs.



    The first proper view of the Black Bird and its sheath.



    Before going back to the knife, a quick look at a few details of the sheath. On the back, the sheath has a PALS/MOLLE strap for mounting on a pack, vest or load carrier.



    The press stud used on the retention strap is a military specification type where you can only release it from one direction.



    It is possible to change the fit of the retention strap using the Velcro adjustment.



    Inside the sheath is a felt liner.



    As well as there being PALS webbing on the front of the sheath, here you can also see the drainage hole at the bottom to allow water out.


    Back to the knife and its details. On one side the maker and model are engraved on the blade near next to the handle.



    There are three details I'd like focus on in this photograph:
    - The generous lanyard hole allows for easy fitting of a lanyard.
    - Inside the lanyard you can see evidence of the water-jet cutting and slightly imperfect fit of the handle material, but on the outer edges of the handle and blade tang have been ground to a smooth finish.
    - We are looking at the handle grip hook which gives plenty of purchase for all tasks.



    Although the handle slabs are flat sided, they have been well rounded to remove sharp edges. Three bolts are used to secure the grips.



    A close look at the blade tip showing the blade-flat surface finish as well as the factory edge and its finish.



    One of my personal preferences, a sharpening choil.



    As mentioned earlier, the handle slabs and blade tang are ground/sanded to a completely flush fit.



    A sharp edge is left all along the spine meaning you can strike a ferro-rod from any part of the spine that suits you.



    Though not a mirror finish, you can see the reflection of the handle on the blade flat so you could use the knife for signaling.



    Unlike the other OKC knives in this series of reviews, the Black Bird's sheath has only a single retaining strap. There is enough room for the knife to come about half an inch out of the sheath with the retaining strap closed.



    For the last photo in this section, we have en extremely close view of the peely-ply G-10 handle texture.






    What it is like to use?

    As the designer Paul Scheiter noted earlier, the SK-5 does feel lighter in the hand than you would expect - immediately manoeuvrable and easy to use. This is largely thanks to the full flat grind keeping just enough steel in the blade for strength without being overly thick and heavy.

    There is no 'ideal blade length', as everyone has their own preferences, but being the only Black Bird so far, the choice of 5 inches for a general purpose survival knife is really hitting the spot for me.

    To give an idea of scale, here it is next to the Fällkniven F1 and a Spyderco UK Pen Knife.


    At 5", the blade is half the overall length of the knife. Combining this with the full flat grind and full tang, even though the blade is 5", the balance point is brought right back into the hand (see 'The Blade and Handle Geometry:' section), and this is the reason it feels light and easy to handle.

    With this blade length you still have great control over the point and enough length to make batoning easy (if you need more than 5" to baton, you should probably choose smaller wood or be making wedges for splitting instead).

    Overall the package is small enough to carry easily, immediately making it more likely to be your survival knife (as a 'survival knife' is the knife you have with you when you need it).

    The Black Bird is extremely comfortable in the hand, though the grip is a little boxy due to the flat sides.


    Not to get started on the subject of factory edges (which by necessity have to be created quickly, typically with belt sanders, and are usually not the best edge that knife can have), but in this case I need to mention the factory edge on the Black Bird sample I received. Check back to the measurements I took and you see it was a 58 degree inclusive angle out of the box; this is more like an angle you might choose for an axe. My initial testing was with the factory edge including comparing it to the other OKC knives. (OKC said this was an anomaly as the factory edge is not normally that steep)

    Despite such a large edge angle it still cut very well just requiring a higher angle of attack for each cut. Unsurprisingly it was by far the most controlled carver of all three.


    Despite not needing a sharpen at this point, I wasn't satisfied with the factory edge angle, so decided to reprofile to around 38 degrees. Even using DMT diamond stones, the 154CM steel proved to be very hard to work and the reprofiling took me a good four hours. The edge bevel is around three times as wide as the original factory edge. Was it worth it? Well, YES, a complete transformation!

    Reprofiling the edge has taken a capable cutter and made it supremely efficient and eager. On a simple paper cut test it now glides through with a push cut where previously it cut perfectly well but needed some drawing across the edge. In wood I have to be careful not to over-cut. (Remember to sharpen your knives to suit you and don't be afraid to change the edge angle)

    Another characteristic this knife has is its inoffensive look. By this I mean the fact that it has a SAK style spear point which makes it look more utilitarian than many 'survival' knives on the market. If other people are more comfortable when they see the knife you are more likely to carry it and have it with you when you need it (if you are bothered what others might think). Obviously when sheathed you can't see this, but overall it is easy to carry unobtrusively. If you take it out to whittle or use it for frivolous cutting tasks it doesn't look like a weapon. It might seem a minor point, but so far I've found this knife getting more positive reactions than any other I've carried.





    Review Summary

    The views expressed in this summary table are from the point of view of the reviewer’s personal use. I am not a member of the armed forces and cannot comment on its use beyond a cutting tool or field/hunting knife.

    Something that might be a ‘pro’ for one user can be a ‘con’ for another, so the comments are categorised based on my requirements. You should consider all points and if they could be beneficial to you.


    For this section, please go to the Exclusive Content at Tactical Reviews, but remember to return to this forum to discuss the review.



    Last edited by subwoofer; 04-28-2016 at 06:29 AM.
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    Flashaholic* subwoofer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

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    Flashaholic ncgrass's Avatar
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    Default Re: Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

    I don't visit the knife section often, but this was very helpful and I'm going to look at a few more reviews and opinions. Thanks for the great review!

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    *Flashaholic* CLHC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

    Fantastic review yet again.
    LUX'Ottica

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    nfetterly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

    Nice review, nice knife. Thank you.


  6. #6

    Default Re: Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

    Excellent review. Though having had experience with 154CM in the past.... Very surprised it was chosen as the blade steel on something billed a "Survival" knife. Even compared to other very good stainless steels, I find it a bear to re-sharpen. Not surprised that re-profiling took 4 hours even with a good diamond hone.

    I just think that a survival knife should be easy to re-sharpen in the field or the great outdoors. If one wants a stainless steel knife for that purpose, there are better choices of steel. Not only is 154CM a chore to re-sharpen, but I've personally found it a bit lacking when it comes to corrosion resistance. I love the design of the SK-5. But 154CM is a very odd choice, considering the market this knife was made for.
    "The World is insane. With tiny spots of sanity, here and there... Not the other way around!" - John Cleese.

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    Flashaholic* subwoofer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

    Quote Originally Posted by Monocrom View Post
    Excellent review. Though having had experience with 154CM in the past.... Very surprised it was chosen as the blade steel on something billed a "Survival" knife. Even compared to other very good stainless steels, I find it a bear to re-sharpen. Not surprised that re-profiling took 4 hours even with a good diamond hone.

    I just think that a survival knife should be easy to re-sharpen in the field or the great outdoors. If one wants a stainless steel knife for that purpose, there are better choices of steel. Not only is 154CM a chore to re-sharpen, but I've personally found it a bit lacking when it comes to corrosion resistance. I love the design of the SK-5. But 154CM is a very odd choice, considering the market this knife was made for.

    OKC make most of their knives out of 5160 or 1095 as reliable, inexpensive and easy to live with steels. Inexpensive enough that if lost you are not too upset. They wanted a 'survival' knife to have a stainless steel so needed to make a choice.

    There are two schools of thought regarding steel hardness in a survival knife:
    1. Easy field maintenance for longer term isolated survival.
    2. Edge retention as the primary concern, keeping a good working edge for as long as possible, so hopefully not needing any field maintenance during a survival situation.

    The second school of thought is also often used for military blades where a soldier may not want to carry out any field maintenance.

    Of course even that harder steel with higher edge retention can be sharpened in the field, it just takes longer.

    With their choice of 154CM, OKC went with edge retention, so a harder steel to sharpen.

    There is a great story of a Blackbird being used in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for extreme rescue work and even being battened through hinges without any damage.

    I would say that this is not an odd choice, only one that goes with the school of thought of prioritising edge retention. This then becomes a matter of personal preference for the end user.
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company Black Bird SK-5

    Good points you raised.

    Put me firmly into the the first school. A survival situation is just too unpredictable to hope a blade's edge retention doesn't give up the ghost before being rescued. (Realistically, 3 days. But sometimes longer.) Also, while I agree with you that such a steel can be re-sharpened in the field but only takes longer; I would add if one has access to a diamond hone.

    I'll never forget one true story involving a high-ranking officer in Vietnam not afraid to be in the thick of it with his men. They had made camp, only to get ambushed. Fighting was intense. The officer ended up grabbing a young lieutenant's Kabar knife (carbon steel) to dispatch one Vietcong. Won't go into the details. But the end result was very messy. To put it mildly. Seems the younger officer had let his knife go completely dull. The older officer forced the younger one to sharpen it back to hair-popping sharpness. A traditional sharpening stone, little more than a rock shaped like a brick was used. Took the young officer nearly the entire night to do it.

    Now that's 1095 carbon steel. With a reputation for being easy to field sharpen. 154CM without a diamond hone? That would be a nightmarish amount of time to try to get the edge back where it was. I actually prefer stainless steel over carbon steel for a survival blade since rust can be a huge concern in certain environments. I think 440C would have been a better choice and hope Ontario considers making a version of the SK-5 out of it. Sure it's not exciting or exotic, but it's a good one for both edge-retention and re-sharpening effort, if the latter becomes necessary.

    However, please don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I love the design itself and that Hurricane Katrina true story is impressive.

    Bit confused about military blades though. I've been looking for one in S.S. with excellent edge-retention that follows the 2nd school of thought. (I see "survival" and "military" blades as two separate creatures that can sometimes overlap in terms of function.) Not only have I run into a wall of carbon steel models, but have literally found 1 model in the $250 range. Perhaps there are plenty of customs out there or in the $300+ range. But sadly, I'm not joking over finding 1 quality model that is a military blade of excellent quality and made from S.S. (I wish I was.)
    "The World is insane. With tiny spots of sanity, here and there... Not the other way around!" - John Cleese.

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