Heafner Model 17 D2 Camp Bowie

The review of the Heafner Model 17 Camp Knife consists of :


The Model 17 Camp Bowie from Heafner knives is made by stock removal out of D2 tool steel. The bowie is a massive 0.275" thick with a primary hollow grind, 2.8 cm wide on a huge 4.8 cm wide blade. The primary grind tapers to a edge ground to 0.024-0.031" thick and beveled at 19.7 +/- 1.7 degrees per side. The knife has a deep clip point which is very acute due to the hollow primary grind.

Stock testing

The camp bowie was used so no comments could be made on new in box factory sharpness. With the edge sharpened to a razor finish, push cutting 3/8" hemp required 24 (1) lbs.

Pointing sections of hardwood dowel took 12 (2) slices and pointing a section of birch hardwood took 20 (2) cuts. Cutting television cable required 71-75 lbs, the edge was undamaged.

The point profile is decently acute given the hollow primary grind and clip point design, the point tapers from a thickness of 0.275" through a length of 1.2" on a angle of 6.5 degrees, the tip is 0.975" wide at the start of the tip. The camp bowie achieves 141 +/- 4 pages into a phonebook on a 50 lbs push and 839 +/- 28 on a hard vertical stab.

Attempts were made to dig in a piece of clear spruce 2x4 with the bowie, however with 3/4" penetration, which was less than full force, the tip just bent without clearing the wood and popped out, when repeated it cracked without clearing the wood, leaving about a quarter inch of tip in the 2x4. A shot of the wood, the hole was dug with the Ratwiler : The bowie was regound to a slighly thicker tip profile both in distal taper and width. This tip work was done very late in the work with the bowie, unless otherwise noted, the work that follows was done with the new in box tip profile.

Running the camp bowie against the Wildlife Hatchet from Gransfors Bruks on some sections of birch hardwoods, the bowie got 83 (2) percent of the raw penetration of the hatchet through a few dozen pieces of wood cut. Due to the hollow grind it did tend to bind more than the hatchet as well the blade tended to want to curve in the cuts which makes it more prone to glancing. This lowered the efficiency from a time/effort perspective more than the chop ratio would predict.

The bowie was also used alongside the Ratweiler on some felled wood the two blades were not significantly different. As the chopping ability of the Ratweiler was about 72 (4)% of the ability of the Bruks axe, this puts the Camp bower further behind the Wildlife hatchet on thicker felled woods than on the birch hardwood. This is expected because the edge on the bowie is thinner than on the axe, however the axe is thinner further back than the bowie and thus works better in thicker woods.


While the Camp Bowie is quite large and in general is awkward for precision cutting in the kitchen the superior ergonomics allow it to peel potatoes for example better than the Ratweiler. The Heafner is heavier in hand, but a high grip around the guard is much more comfortable around the Heafner due to extensive contouring. However in general for peeling and such it has to slice off pieces rather than work a full peel. As a general utility knife, it is workable on carrots, but does have problems with thicker vegetables. Slicing up a turnip for example takes 10-12 lbs with a japanese utility from Lee Valley however in contrast the Camp Bowie takes more than 30 lbs, and tends to split and crack rather than make slices. Of course for camp work, delicate julienne cuts are probably not a large factor and the bowie can easily back a few wild vegetables up for the stew pot.

The bowie works well slicing meats, the blade can ride flat to a cutting board and since meat opens up when cut the thickness of the blade and edge doesn't significantly effect performance and as long as the edge is nice and sharp the knife cuts well. With a hair popping edge it literally floats through a thick roast, cutting through gristle just as easily as the tender cuts. The weight of the knife is an advantage as it aids in the knife pushing through the meats.

The weight also adds to the cutting power on such work, running it against a Meadowlark from Spyderco, an efficiently ground small folder, the bowie held its own in ease of cutting, the slightly thinner edge on the Meadowlark was offset by the greater weight of the bowie which gave it similar ease of cutting. The well rounded guard also was comfortable with an overhand thumb grip.

The bowie can also handle general meat work such as taking apart an uncooked chicken. A traditional boning grip is a bit problematic due to the size and the blade is also way to wide for such work in general and care needs to be taken to avoid the edge, but it is workable. For finer cuts the blade itself is used as a grip, the wide blade here actually increases ergonomics.


The bowie cuts light vegetation well when sharp as will any blade, with a razor hair shaving edge it literally floats through the vegetation. The heft allows it to plow through thick vegetation cutting a very wide swatch with little effort on the swing. This vegetation can be used for bedding, to both provide comfort as well as insulation from the cold ground. It can also be used for shelter construction, insulation for clothing, or signal material for a smoky fire.

Limbing some small to medium woods, 3-6" at base, the bowie had solid reach and decent cutting power. It was more effective than a Wildlife hatchet on that size of wood as the smaller branches could be cleared readily in one cut and since the bowie had a longer blade length it could draw cut though many more branches. In terms of time or number of swings it was about two to one over the hatchet. Of course the bowie is readily outperformed at such tasks by a solid heavy machete such as made by Barteaux which is just as much of an improvement again. As the wood got larger and the limbs had to be chopped off individually the hatchet pulled ahead of the bowie, but the time advantage was much smaller, between 25-50% on woods 6-12" in size. On the larger of these woods an actual limbing axe is desired. For limbing in general the bowie would benefit from a more forward sweet spot or rotational node to enhance its effective reach.

Carving woods the Heafner works well for a blade of its size as illustrated by the stock work on dowel and birch hardwoods. It readily out cuts tactical blades like the Strider WB many times to one. Of course it is well being blades optomized for such work like an Opinel. Much of this is just due to the angle of the edge which can be adjusted to improve the performance if desired. Long term carving of course has fatigue and control issues with a knife of this size, but again the superior ergonomics of the guard compensate for this somewhat and make the knife handle as a much ligher knife. However in general for most significant wood cutting which is shaping based, it is more efficient to just chop off waste wood than slice it all off. Even for precision cutting such as making notches for a figure four trap, it is much easier to cut out the wood with a couple of deft chops with the Heafner bowie than carve notches even with the most efficient cutting blades.

As a splitting tool, the Heafner bowie has solid performance for a large blade. Starting light with a small piece of alder, about a pound, heavy elbow swings were used (about 25 ft.lbs calibrated from lead weight drops) to drive the Heafner custom and Ratweiler though some small clear wood. No effect on either blade, except to remove some coating from the Ratweiler. The baton was way too light for this size of knife. Twenty nine impacts for the Heafner bowie and 31 for the Ratweiler through the sticks.

Four more rounds, more dense wood and a few small knots were then used. The splits were still done with maximum efficiency, use of breaks in the wood and avoiding chisel cutting knots. The baton was a three pound piece of alder, impacts were from the shoulder (50 ft.lbs). The black depost on the wood is the coating of the Ratweiler, powder coatings come off fairly quickly when splitting due to the high friction against the wood. Blades were again similar, 59 and 60 impacts for the Heafner and Ratweiler respectively. Heavy down force was used on the handles of both knives. Both had decent feedback, but nothing serious, no gloves were used and there were no problems controlling the knives during the splitting.

Finally three problematic pieces were chosen, significant knots including one piece for each knife which was cross knotted and large which took very heavy hits to split, full force impacts made about 1/4" progress through the problematic areas and pressing down on the blades was not possible due to feedback, they were wrapped with cloth. It took 47 and 57 impacts for the Heafner and Ratweiler respectively in total, with the majority of each being on the last round. The Heafner chipped in two places clearing through the knots, it was impossible to keep the blade stable, there was no way to put enough pressure on the handle due to feedback. The chipping was minor, a small fraction of a millimeter, it was removed with about 100 passes on a 200 grit silicon carbide stone.

Shelter : the Heafner quickly went to work making a bough cave. A large group of Alders made an efficient basic frame as all the forks interlocked well and they are also very light and easy to cut. A large tree had already been cut down nearby which formed the main ridgepole and also provided much of the bough covering. Even with a heavy chopping tool looking for already down wood is usually a good idea. A loose framework was used here, in an open area with really high winds the base poles would need to be lashed, or a much stouter frame built out of thicker poles to allow for more roofing material which would eventually hold its onw shape due to its weight. But here the poles where just fixed at the top in the ready made alder notches.

Construction time was about fifteen minutes. The Bowie had enough heft to cut the frame poles in 1-2 hits easily shearing off all the branches in one pass and was much more efficient than the Bruks axe due to the ability to clear several branches at one time. The final shelter was closed in on all sides with just a slight opening to get in. In really high winds or snow or blowing rain a layer of boughs would be extended right down over this as well, just push them out of the way to get in. This same task can be done with smaller knives like a Manix or even with no knife at all just using deadfall and tearing off boughs and light vegetation as needed. However a larger knife with enough chopping and reach to cut both thick and light woods well really speeds up the process and reduces the effort many times to one.

Shelter : working mainly off of one large tree, a large fir or similar tree with heavy coverage and a decent amount of low hanging branches, the Heafner went to work again making a "tree pit". The lower limbs were removed close to the tree and a basic framework built around the trunk using the limbs removed and local deadfall. The simplest design was used, just radiate outward in a circular pattern. During the construction, limbs are not pruned too close as the stubs allow an easier interlacing of the wood for the basic framework.

This tree isn't ideal as it is a bit sparce on top, but some of the lower limbs had already been removed and there was a large amount of dead sticks around which would enable the basic frame work to be readily filled out. Branches work very well for the basic first layer, ferns and other light vegetation can be used as well but they demand a much tighter frame with much smaller holes. Once the basic layer has been formed with some large boughs then smaller vegetation can be weaved in to fill it out.

As with any such general type of shelter, it takes foot+ of vegetation to give even moderate protection from the rain unless a lot of very large and leafy cover is available, or something like birch bark or sod is used.


The camp bowie easily opened up small can

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and hacked it up with no significant effect on the edge, just some dulling :

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It also cleaved through some light cabling with no problems and worked well for digging a small hole, it was a little awkward for removing the top layer of sod due to its size and weight, a small knife actually works better for that allowing the sod to but remove much like skinning, just cut through the grass roots and peel it back. The Agent from Dozier actually works very well for that stage of the work.

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For digging a larger knife is much more effective primarily the longer blade allows more leverage for popping out large rocks, and a wider blade makes a better scoop. A poking motion is used to loosen the dirt, since a knife has a much finer point than a pick it doesn't need as much force. After the hole, the bowie had a few minor chips through the sweep of the tip and some slight impaction of the tip, all of which was removed after the next couple of sharpenings :

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For shelter construction sod makes an excellent bedding material and is a near optimal insulator from both rain and temperature so works very well for both the floor and roof of a shelter. It is however many times over longer to gather than grasses and boughs and is more for a long term shelter. When used for a roofing material it also demands a lot more sturdy base for the shelter because it is way heavier than sheets of thin bark or boughs.

Years ago Kevin McClung used his knives to open a hole in the roof of a car as a demonstration of toughness showing an emergency use of the knives. The Heafner bowie was used with a section of stick to perform this task on an SUV. The cutting took less than ten minutes, with time was spent exploring technique and periodically stopping to check for damage.

Stabbing and chopping turned out to not be very effective, batoning works best with the knife held at about a 45 degree angle and used to chisel cut the roof. It works easily twice as well as trying to pound it through with the knife held vertical, a half inch or more of travel can be made with each impact. It is kind of hard to make straight cuts, especially whem moving fast which makes it harder on the blade as the edge is twisting.

In terms of damage, there was none on the cutting, just blunting, except when a cut was made through the support accidently and the blade twisted and took out a notch about 1/8" deep, the steel fractured from one side of the blade. A shot :

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After the cutting the knife was easily sharp enough to cut wood, trimming the end off a small stick in 5 chops :

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It easily cut light weeds, it functioned similar to a saw, more resistance than on a freshly sharpened blade, but no real difficulty cutting enough for thatching, bedding, insulation or food :

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Back to the SUV, the one inch section of edge which did the batoning was used cut through the seat belts and some poly cord which took 4-5 back and forth passes to cut the belts and ropes, compared to less than one pull when freshly sharp, so it was blunted, but still very functional :

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Sharpening was about two minutes with a 200 grit silicon carbide waterstone to clean up the bevels and remove the metal from the roof. Some small chips were still present in the main impact area, just visible by eye. They were removed in a further couple of minutes the blade was then raised to a fine polish through a 1000 grit waterstone, fine chinese waterstone then polishing on chromium/alinumum oxide loaded leather. A dremel was used to round out the larger chip turning it into a serration.

edge retention

The bowie was used alongside a few other blades to gauge its edge retention over a broad range of materials.

some carpet work

The bowie was ran against a Paramilitary and Manix on some used carpet :

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The carpet was wet and it was lightly misting so corrosion was also likely a factor in the edge loss as well as wear and deformation on the carpet. The blades were tested for sharpness after 64 and then 254 cuts into the carpet by cutting light cotton thread under 500 and then 1000 grams of tension respectively. The results :

edge retention on used carpet sharpness checked by slicing 1/4" poly rope under 10 lbs of tension
# cuts Paramiltary Manix Heafner Bowie
S30V S30V D2
rank based on length of edge to cut poly
64 100 93 ( 7) 48 (12)
254 100 106 (15) 45 (12)

As expected the two Spyderco folders are identical in performance, they have the same steel with the same heat treatment, this was just a consistency check. The custom in D2 is lower likely because the carpet was wet, it was raining during the cutting so the blades would be wet for 5-15 minutes at a time thus corrosion was likely a factor in the blunting.


The Bowie sharpends quite readily, the edge isn't excessively thick, there are no funky curves or sharp angles and even after extensive blunting such as on the hole digging, the edge is readily reset with a couple of minutes on a x-coarse SiC waterstone, then taken up to razor sharpness with a series of finer waterstones and finishing on CrO lapping papper. The entire process only takes about five minutes.

Edge durability

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The grip for the bowie is a solid handle and a half length which makes it very versatile. It is contoured enough to allow a decently secure grip however not so much extensive grooving so that it lowers grip versatility. It was found to work well in a variety of grips and was especially flexible for woodworking.

In general three main grips were used for heavy work, far back when maximum power and reach was required, for both heavy felling and general machete work :

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A full hammer style grip for the majority of wood work, most chopping and medium limbing :

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as well as a forward grip around the guard when the chopping was light and most cutting could be done with light wrist flicks, light soft fir and most alders :

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The dual guard was also a standout as the ergonomics were very high with grips over the guard in several configuration due to the extensise contouring and sloping.


The bowie comes with a solid leather sheath with secure stitching. The blade is however difficult to sheath without cutting through the scabbard and the belt loop gets in the way. The leather sheaths that came with a couple of Randalls showed an easier draw while still maintaining a very tight fit around the choil, of course they were very broken in, one of the advantages to leather, it wears very well ref : 1, 2.


The Ratweiler was used alongside a custom Heafner bowie for most of the above work. The two knives tended to cut side by side on both the light springy woods and dense hardwoods. They also had similar chopping ability in both regards to raw penetration and fluidity. In general the custom Heafner bowie had much greater impact energy but the Ratweiler has a thinner edge profile which raises its efficiency. Both knives split wood with a baton well, the custom Heafner bowie had a slight advantage as the blade is longer and thus there is more of it to hit with the point extended past the wood.

In regards to general handling, the custom Heafner bowie was much heavier in hand and had greater impact energy and it worked better as a club or hammer and was thus more efficient driving stakes. This also made it easier to knock off dead and/or frozen limbs from trees which can save the primary edge. The grip ergonomics of the custom Heafner bowie were also significantly uperior especially in overhand grips to give maximum leverage. The top ramp on the Ratweiler is fairly abrasive and a heavy glove has to be used to allow maximum force to be applied. In contrast the custom Heafner bowie was very comfortable to use barehanded.

Comments and references

Comments can be sent via email : cliffstamp[REMOVE]@cutleryscience.com or by posted to the following thread :

There was also a pass around held on Bladeforums which may be of interest.

Last updated : 02 : 15 : 2006
Originally written: 05 : 31 : 2005