Grohmann #1, “The Canadian Belt Knife”
By Cal Bablitz
The name “Grohmann” typically doesn’t mean much to outdoorsmen outside of Canada, but here in the north it is a common household word to most sportsmen, much like Buck or Gerber in the U.S. That is our good fortune, as this little company makes and sells some of the best outdoors knives that money can buy. Over the years they have come up with a full line of knives, but this review is about the original design. Over the years it has been known as the “D.H Russell Belt Knife” or the “Canadian Belt Knife”; however, its official designation is now the Grohmann #1.
The story of the Grohmann #1 began before the Second World War with a commercial buyer from Quebec, who would travel to Czechoslovakia every year to buy pocket knives. He would often urge the plant manager, Rudolph Grohmann, to come to Canada. After the end of the war Grohmann decided to accept the invitation. His knife making career got off to a slow start, but eventually he got his big break. A government official named D.H. Russell got tired of seeing only imported knives in stores and teamed up with Grohmann to design a unique knife that could be made in Canada. They gave out the prototypes to trappers and guides across the north and made changes at their suggestions. In 1957, they ended up with what became the #1. For its time the design was a revolutionary departure. The knife won many awards worldwide and there is even one on display at the Smithsonian Institution. The #1’s design has been widely copied. Knives from Alaska, Cold Steel, Browning and others have borrowed this design, but the Grohmann is the original.
I bought my first Grohmann #1 after losing a previous favourite. I liked the idea of getting a knife made in Canada and I couldn’t believe that a knife could be hand made and sold for such a reasonable price, but I admit I had a little trouble with the styling. This knife looks more like a particularly elegant kitchen knife than a typical hunting knife. I remember telling a friend who spoke highly of the #1, “I’m not crazy about the looks, but if it works as well as everyone says, I suppose I could learn to love it.” His response was “You don’t need to learn to love it, just hold one!” These words were very true. To this day, whenever someone remarks about its unconventional appearance, I simply hand the knife to them. By the time they hand it back they aren’t worried about its appearance anymore.
This knife was designed to turn animals into fur and game into meat. No team of marketing specialist looked at the #1 and made suggestions on how it could be altered to better visually appeal to the masses. It sports a number of features that are uncommon in an outdoors knife. The elliptical blade and odd looking, offset handle give it a somewhat unconventional look. When one looks at the Grohmann #1 it doesn’t conjure up images of bare chested men in fur hats fighting off large bears; one never gets the urge to fling it into a tree. What one gets is a superbly executed tool that does what it was designed to do better than anything else. This philosophy can be seen throughout the entire Grohmann line.
After using it on a few animals, I began to appreciate the beauty of this design. Every part of its unconventional shape was designed for a good reason. The point is sharp and makes the initial incisions with ease and is good for delicate work, while the curve of the cutting edge makes it easy to skin without poking holes in the hide. The curved spine helps keep the sharp point from cutting into meat or paunch while making the initial cuts when field dressing. The uniquely shaped offset handle is easy to grip securely, even when wet and it is virtually impossible to grasp it in a manner that feels uncomfortable.
The balance and feel are exceptional. The steel is easy to sharpen and holds its edge well, after gutting and skinning a deer, only a couple swipes across the bottom of a ceramic coffee cup is needed to keep it razor sharp. I have quartered moose with this knife without the need to re-sharpen. The 4110 steel is a European steel that is comparable to 440c; it seems very similar to the steel that Victorinox uses. I eventually replaced my "old favourite" hunting knife with the Grohmann, but by that time it wasn’t my favourite anymore. After a couple seasons of using the Canadian belt knife, everything else felt awkward and clumsy.
One last story to illustrate how great the Grohmann design is. A friend of mine took his old, beat up Grohmann to a local knife maker to get it refurbished. While he was there, he decided that maybe it was time to spring for a custom knife. He told the knife maker that he wanted a good knife for hunting and general camping duties. He wanted it to be easily sharpened in the field, yet still have good edge retention. A couple days later the knife maker told him his knife was finished. Surprised at the promptness, he went to pick it up. When he got there the knife maker handed him back his refurbished Grohmann and told him, “For what you want I can’t make you anything much better than the knife you dropped off.”
Grohmann knives are a good option for any outdoorsman. The designs are second to none; the steel is as good or better than anything in its price range. They are hand made in Canada and the real world price makes it an excellent value. Grohmann makes a wide variety of fixed and folding outdoors knives, they are all well designed and well made, but the #1 remains my personal favourite.
Copyright 2013 by Cal Bablitz and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.