I hesitate to discuss knives, as they’ve become one of the major talismans of the talk-more, do-lessitude which is such a feature of outdoor culture on the internet. That is not a condemnation of individuals so much as it is a reminder, to everyone, that it is disconcertingly easy to pave the rhetorical road to hell with statements just a little beyond your personal sphere of experience. The amount of information online is such that it has never been easier to become an armchair expert. The problem with this is two-fold, first that being one promulgates technically correct but untested knowledge and thus reifies an echo chamber which both breeds and enlarges sycophants. Second, practicing theory over practice is a particular problem in outdoor pursuits as it cultivates the worst of the unhappy unconsciousness, allowing us to forget why the discipline in question came into existence in the first place.
At the same time knives are utilitarian and beautiful, sheath knives especially. In no other tool without moving parts can you find so much versatility and utility potentially married to beauty. I’ve carried one knife or another every day since fourth grade, and appreciate one which can do many jobs well.
The Candiru is a very small fixed blade. It’s a hair over 5 inches long, with a 2 inch long, .125 inch (or 3.2mm) thick blade, and is made from powder coated carbon steel. Handles (“scales”) are available, which attach with bolts. The steel is powder coated for rust resistance, in a variety of colors (had purple been available last year I would have bought that). You can buy the Candiru as pictured here for about 65 dollars. A year ago this included a nylon and velcro belt sheath; today it includes a kydex (molded plastic) sheath.
The conventional wisdom concerning the carbon steel used in the Candiru is that is relatively soft, but very tough. It dulls fast, is easy to sharpen, and because it is so un-brittle stands up to hard use extremely well. I haven’t put much energy into researching steels, but I have found this characterization to be quite accurate over the previous year of use. These attributes combined with the knives unique shape give the Candiru distinct strengths and weaknesses.
The Candiru is the smallest knife I can imagine being truly good for tough tasks like splitting wood. Last week I used it, without reservations about durability or safety, to open a can of beans when we forgot a can opener. I’ve used it, at least in part, to butcher six big game animals, and while a sharper knife like a Havalon is preferred for parting things out and fleshing a cape, the Candiru works well for basic skinning and the heavy lifting of removing quarters and heads. The subtle curve of the knife and big, but not too big, handles make it feel larger in the hand than it looks. In both delicate and heavy use it is remarkably comfortable and agile.
For me it’s a survival knife in the real sense of being small and light enough to carry even when you don’t think you’ll need it, but thick, large, and burly enough to do anything a knife should be expected to do. It’s quite rare to genuinely need to split wood for a fire or cut off tree limbs to build a shelter, but over the past four years I’ve needed to do both, in situations serious enough to make me consider always bringing a small, tough knife on certain sorts of trips. The Candiru fits this application almost ideally.
There are two major ways it could be better, and I’m not sure either could be simply achieved. First, while it is easy to sharpen (though due to edge geometry it is hard to get a truly sharp edge), it does need to sharpened very often indeed. While with most knives heavy use on a trip necessitates bringing along a sharpener, with the Candiru a sharpener needs to come along for any trip where you’ll be doing much of anything with it. A day of cutting slings for canyoneering anchors, fairly light work, dulls it enough that sharpening is required for continued acceptable use. I find this to be a pain in the ass. Second, the carbon steel rusts, quickly. I’ve never owned a non-stainless woods knife before, and was impressed with how quickly the edge and exposed metal (due to the logo and to chips in the powder coating) rust. A half day in a wet pants pocket will leave stains which resist anything short of a serious buff job with oil and steel wool. Cosmetic, but annoying.
Smaller objections include the bolts on the handles, which are inset just a bit too much. This allows them to collect flesh and gore when butchering game or cutting up fish, and their little edges make this harder to clean than is strictly necessary. Another minor niggle is, as mentioned, the edge geometry. I’ve tried both a convex and a standard flat secondary edge (in several different angles), and neither really made much different in the difficulty of getting a seriously sharp edge on the Candiru. Folks who are better at sharpening than me will surely be able to do better, and I’m not sure there is any way to avoid the steep secondary angle which seems to be responsible for this while still preserving the great splitting characteristics and all-around burliness.
The Candiru is similar in many ways to my “normal” knife, the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 pictured above. Both have similarly dimensioned blades, and handles which work bigger than they measure. Both are very handy. The Spyderco comes sharper from the factory, and slices better due to this and being much thinner. Would I want to beat on in way back in the woods during a tricky situation? Not really.
While I wouldn’t mind it if the Candiru came in a stainless steel and a perhaps subtly thinner blade, overall the design is impressively elegant and functional, and the knife a very good value. Not a perfect purchase, but one with which I’ve been very pleased, and anticipate continuing to use hard.