Bark River Brokk Knife

by Gary Zinn

Image courtesy of Knives Ship Free.

Bark River Knives (a.k.a. Bark River Knife and Tool) has a reputation for making high quality hunting and general purpose fixed blade outdoor knives. I have been wanting to get my hands on one for some time, but had procrastinated because Bark River knives are pricy. Then Knives Ship Free ran a limited time half-price special on a particular Bark River model, called the Brokk. The size and pattern of this knife appealed to me and the bargain price was unusual, so I jumped on it. (Knives Ship Free is one of a small group of internet retailers that feature Bark River knives.)

The Brokk is one of a handful of knife models designed by Dan Tope for Bark River. The Brokk is a Scandinavian puukko style knife, with a straight blade spine and a close balance between blade and handle length. Its design is suitable for both hunting and general outdoor use.

Specifications (as reviewed)

Model designation: Brokk

Blade shape: straight spine with convex grind

Blade length: 3-3/8 inches (length of sharpened edge)

Blade thickness: 0.153 inch

Blade material: A2 tool steel (Rc 59-60)

Blade finish: satin

Handle material: natural canvas Micarta

Weight: 6.3 ounces (8.6 ounces with sheath)

Total length: 8-1/8 inches

Sheath: Leather

Country of origin: USA

2019 MSRP: $290 (retail price typically discounted about 20-25%)

The blade

Bark River used A2 tool steel in the run of Brokk knives from which mine came. A2 is an alloy steel, with a recipe that includes (nominally) 1% carbon (C), 5 percent chromium (Cr), 1% molybdenum (Mo), .75% manganese (Mn), .3% silicon (Si), and .25% vanadium (V). A2 has been used in industrial applications (metal working dies, tools, etc.) since about the time of WWII; indications are that a few custom knife makers began using A2 during the late 1960s to early 1970s. Currently, it gets a fair amount of play in high end production and semi-custom knives, and is used in about the same number of production knife models as is D2 steel, which has similar performance properties.

Bark River is one of the more prominent users of A2 for knife blades. I believe A2 is the third most used steel in Bark River knives, after CPM-3V and CMP-154, and ahead of Elmax.

The blade has 3-3/8” of sharpened edge in front of a short ricasso. It is 0.153” (3.9 mm) thick at the spine, and 1” wide at the midpoint of its length. I classify the spine as being straight, though it drops slightly between the midpoint and tip; this is not pronounced enough to call the blade a drop point. The cutting edge is curved for most of its length, sweeping smoothly upward to a well-defined tip.

The blade profile is very much in the puukko tradition, except that the Brokk blade is thicker than puukko style knives are usually. This is the one thing about the Brokk blade dimensions that nags at me a bit. I think that a spine thickness of 0.12” (3.0mm) would make for a better balance with the length and width of the blade.

The Brokk has a convex ground blade, rather than the scandi grind usually found on puukko knives. I evaluated the factory edge of my Brokk to be Extremely Sharp, my top qualitative grade of sharpness. (See Knife Sharpness, Sharpening Methods and Tools for an explanation of my knife sharpness classification system.) The contours of the blade are precisely ground and even on both sides, and the blade is buffed to a finish right on the boundary between satin and mirror polished.

After cutting some 50 lineal feet of corrugated cardboard with the knife, I decided to give the convex ground A2 blade my toughest cutting test. I broke out a length of 1/2-inch sisal rope and started cutting on it. After 25 cuts, I felt that perhaps I was dulling the edge, but not by much. I redid my standard acuity test and determined that the blade had dulled from Extremely Sharp (ES) to the borderline between ES and Very Sharp. That is not a lot of difference in edge acuity.

I touched-up the blade with 10 alternating strokes on both sides of a leather-faced paddle strop, the first side treated with coarse black sharpening compound, the second side with finer green compound. This restored the edge to ES condition. I am very satisfied with the way the blade holds its edge and the ease with which it can be touched-up.

I consider a convex ground blade to be a quality feature on a production knife. However, many users may be wary of a knife with a convex grind, because do-it-yourself sharpening requires different tools and techniques from those used on other knife grinds. The appropriate tools and techniques are no dark secret, though. See Sharpening Convex Ground Knives.

I think it is enlightening to compare A2 with some steels with similar performance properties. I do not want to break the flow of this review by doing so at this point, though, so I include a basic comparison of A2 with 1095 and D2 steels in an addendum, below.

The handle

The Brokk comes with several handle materials. I chose the one with natural canvas Micarta (pictured above) because Micarta is my favorite synthetic material for tough knife handles. Note the forward slanting brass bolster at the front, the brass cross pin at the middle that anchors the hidden tang, and the hollow brass pin in the butt that serves as a lanyard hole. The finish of the handle and bolster is immaculate. The grooves in the bolster add a nice aesthetic touch.

The size, shape, and ergonomics of knife handles often disappoint me, but I have no criticisms of the Brokk handle design. I have a slew of fixed blade knives, but only a few of them have handles that immediately feel just right when I first grasp them. The Brokk handle fits my medium/large (size 10) hand like it was custom made for me.

Dr. Kyle Ver Steeg, who has studied and experimented with the ergonomics of knife handle design, recommends knives with a swell in the middle of the handle to make contact with the center of the palm and the natural curve of the closed fingers. Gentle curves at the front and back of the handle keep the hand from sliding forward or backward. Dr. Ver Steeg emphasizes that this curving and shaping of handle contours need not be overblown; subtle shaping gets the job done. (See Knife Handle Ergonomics.)

The design of the Brokk handle conforms well with these guidelines, which goes far to explain why the knife feels so comfortable and secure in my hand. The handle is smoothly contoured, with no abrupt corners or edges that would interfere with gripping it securely and comfortably.

The handle is 4-1/2” long overall. The middle swell measures 1” deep by 13/16” wide, yielding a girth of 3-3/8”, which fills the hand nicely. I judge that all adults except those with unusually large hands would find that this handle fits them well.

Before handling the knife, I thought the upward and forward slant of the bolster was just for looks. However, I discovered that the slanted bolster serves a use function, for it facilitates gripping the knife with the thumb on either the top or side of the bolster. A thumb on top hold is most effective and comfortable when making forceful downward cuts or cutting away from the user. Resting the thumb on the side of the handle facilitates control when making delicate cuts or cutting toward the user. Either way, the slanted bolster offers an ample surface on which to rest the thumb comfortably and securely.

There is nothing at the front of the handle that serves as a finger guard, but the length and shape of the handle naturally keeps the index finger from wanting to wander forward onto the cutting edge. Even if one has a very large hand, or chokes up on the grip some, a 5/16” ricasso provides a bit of extra space before the finger might possibly end up on the cutting edge.

The sheath

An upscale knife deserves a quality sheath, and the Bark River sheath satisfies. It is a pouch type sheath, made from medium-heavy leather. The body of the sheath has separate front and back panels, with a leather welt between. These pieces are neatly sewn together with heavy thread, reinforced by hollow metal bolsters at key locations. The belt loop, a separate piece of leather, is sewn to the back; it will comfortably accommodate field belts up to about 1-1/2 inches wide. The leather is dyed a rich medium brown.

The sheath is designed for deep pouch carry of the knife, with the handle buried about one-half of its length in the sheath. However, the sheath was not molded to conform to the contours of the handle, so I needed to wet form it to get the fit just right. I had to use some finesse in doing this, since the A2 steel has low rust resistance. Forming the sheath properly was not difficult, but I was a bit miffed that I had to do it, given the MSRP of the knife/sheath package.


Two key characteristics I look for in a general purpose field knife are a sturdy plain edge blade with 3-1/4” to 3-1/2” of sharpened edge and an ergonomic handle that has at least 4” of working length. Those are the nonnegotiable essentials for me, while the blade steel and specific blade profile can vary somewhat, as can the handle material.

The size and design of the Brokk fit my essential requirements for an outstanding fixed blade knife, while the A2 steel, puukko blade profile, convex grind, and Micarta handle are all good with me. Add a high quality leather sheath (though I did have to fuss with it to make it fit just right) and this is an impressive package. My first Bark River knife was worth the wait.

Addendum: A brief comparison of A2, 1095, and D2 blade steels.

Some notes on how A2 may be expected to perform in use are in order, since many of us may not have much experience with it. Those who understand blade steel formulations and proprieties better than I generally judge that A2 falls between 1095 and D2 in the key performance characteristics of toughness, edge retention, ease of sharpening, and corrosion resistance. Comparing these three steels is interesting because all are non-stainless carbon steels that have an established history of use in a range of knife brands and types.

1095 has a well-earned reputation for being a very tough blade steel — i.e., quite resistant to chipping or rolling of the cutting edge, or blade failure (cracking or breaking) during heavy use. A2 is arguably as tough as 1095, while D2 lags somewhat behind. (D2 is rated as being on a par with steels such as CPM-S35VN and Elmax in toughness, which is not bad.)

In terms of edge retention, no one is likely to mistake A2 for “super” steels such as Elmax and CPM-S35VN. A2 has decent edge retention (arguably about like that of CPM-154), with D2 generally holding an edge a bit better and 1095 somewhat worse than A2. I have done enough test cutting with my Brokk knife to conclude that A2 steel is close to D2 in edge retention, and clearly holds an edge better than 1095.

1095 is among the easiest to sharpen of the popular blade steels. Conversely, D2 is said to be relatively hard to sharpen. My experience is that D2 is not any harder to sharpen than, say, CPM-154 or CPM-S35VN. Steels such as these can be readily sharpened, provided that the appropriate tools and techniques are used. A2 falls closer to D2 than to 1095 in ease of sharpening, but keeping an A2 or D2 knife sharp is by no means an impossible task. It is a matter of using the right tools and technique.

(See Sharpening S30V and Similar Super Steel Knife Blades for discussion of tools and techniques for sharpening difficult steels; that article assumes conventional blade grinds. Sharpening convex ground blades requires different tools and techniques, as explained in the Sharpening Convex Ground Knives article cited above; these work on A2 steel with no problems.)

The key ingredient that makes steel corrosion (rust) resistant is chromium; it is generally held that a steel alloy must include at least 13% chromium to be classified as stainless steel. 1095 contains no chromium, A2 5%, and D2 12%; meanwhile, the three steels have similar amounts of carbon. It is well known that 1095 has virtually no resistance to corrosion, while D2, with chromium content just below the minimum of most stainless steels, is often referred to as “semi-stainless.” Logically, this implies that A2 may be somewhat more corrosion resistant than 1095, but not nearly as much as D2.

The bottom line, I believe, is that A2 should be maintained much as one would treat 1095 to prevent rust/corrosion problems. I.e., thoroughly clean off any gunk that gets on the knife from using it, dry it thoroughly, and do not put it away in a wet or dirty sheath. For an extra measure of protection, especially if the knife is going into storage, treat the blade to a very light coating of mineral oil or wipe it down with a Tuf-Cloth or similar. See Caring For Carbon Steel Knives.

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Copyright 2020 by Gary Zinn and/or All rights reserved.