Olsen OK Hunting Knife
By Chuck Hawks
Olsen OK Hunting Knife. The pinkish color on the polished blade is a reflection. Photo by Chuck Hawks.
The history of the Olsen Knife Company ("Fatty Fatty run for your life, here comes Skinny with an Olsen Knife") is a bit obscure and confused. Here is what I have been able to piece together. The village of Howard City, Michigan (founded in 1868 and incorporated in 1873) was the home of the Hudson Knife Co., which became Joslin Knife Co. and ultimately the Olsen Knife Company owned by Lee Olsen, Jr.
The Olsen OK fixed blade hunting knives that established Olsen as one of the premier American knife makers of his time were made in Howard City (population around 1500) from 1950 to 1970. These were excellent quality knives (I believe hand made) and highly respected in the period before the general revival of interest in custom American knife making.
During the 1950's and 1960's, Olsen knives were generally equated with contemporary Randall, Buck and Gerber hunting knives, which were probably the best known premium American knives of the period, although Olsen never achieved the fame of Randall Made or the popularity of Buck and Gerber. In addition to fixed blade hunting knives, Olsen offered nice folders and pocket knives. Note that Olsen's American made knives reached prominence prior to the founding of the Knifemakers Guild (1970), the American Bladesmith Society (1972) and American Blade (later just Blade) magazine (1973), all of which came too late to benefit Olsen.
After 1970 and possibly until as late as 1980, the Olsen Company marketed knives made to their pattern in Solingen, Germany. It is unclear whether they produced any hand made knives in America during this period. The Olsen facility in Howard City was apparently destroyed by fire sometime between 1978 and 1980, marking the end of the original Company. However, a group based in Grand Rapids, Michigan apparently marketed Olsen brand knives made in Germany and Japan from about 1982 until 1985 and some Olsen branded knives from this period may have been made for them by Schrade Cutlery.
I purchased the Olsen hunting knife that is the subject of this article in 1970 from a sporting goods retailer in Eugene, Oregon. It was the only Olsen knife they had, mixed in with a display of Buck hunting knives, and the sales clerk was unfamiliar with the brand. Several years earlier I had read an article in one of the gun and hunting magazines about premium American hunting knives that focused on Buck, Gerber, Moran, Olsen and Randall Made knives, so I had at least heard of Olsen knives and bought it on the spot. This turned out to be one of my better buying decisions, as I have used the knife ever since.
It came with a top quality sheath bearing the Olsen OK trademark. The sheath is made of heavy duty saddle leather, heavily stitched, with a thick, stitch-protecting spline of leather around the sides and a big 4" belt loop. The knife point cannot pierce the stitching. It is similar in design and quality to the sheaths supplied with Randall Made knives, which is to say excellent.
Olsen sheath. Photo by Chuck Hawks.
Like the other American made Olsen hunting knives I have seen, mine has a heavy duty blade, full length/width/thickness tang, brass single hilt (finger guard) and a two-piece wooden handle. The slightly hollow ground, mirror polished blade is 4" long, made from 3/16" tempered carbon steel stock and tapered for its full length. The curved brass hilt is soldered to the blade. The handle and grips, which look to me like rosewood, are the typical Olsen curved shape. (See photo above.) There is a hole for a lanyard in the end of the handle.
This knife is a pleasure to hold and use. It balances about 1-1/4" behind the base of the blade and the handle shape, flat sides with enough belly to fit the curve of the fingers of the cutting hand, is very comfortable. The back of the handle curves downward at the butt for firm retention. It is easy to grip, even with bloody fingers (as when dressing game), and provides excellent cutting leverage.
The straight back blade has a gently curved cutting edge and a flat back. This design makes the blade heavy and strong for its size and allows the thumb of the cutting hand to rest on the blade forward of the hilt when extra cutting force is required. The blade's curve makes cutting easier by focusing the force on a small area, while the overall blade shape allows chopping as well as slicing.
The blade is marked in two lines "Olsen OK / H.C., MI."; there is no model number provided. It holds an edge well, being sufficiently hard to remain sharp after field dressing a deer, although I don't know its Rockwell hardness. Its gently curved cutting edge, beveled at about 20-degrees, is relatively easy to sharpen. I use a Buck sharpening set with medium and hard stones to keep my Olsen's blade sharp. Always use honing oil on the stone when sharpening any knife and never use an electric kitchen knife sharpener on a fine blade.
Olsen knives are long out of production, but they are occasionally offered for sale on eBay and other used markets. I have seen used, made in USA Olsen hunting knives in excellent condition that are similar to mine advertised for sale in the $90-$175 price range. The Olsen brand knives imported from Germany, while presumably good quality, are usually much less expensive on the used market.
Copyright 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.