Randall Made Model 5 Small Camp and Trail Knife
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Cutlery Hall of Fame member William "Bo" Randall founded Randall Made Knives (www.randallknives.com) in 1938. He began, like many later custom knife makers, by making a knife by hand for his own use. As an avid outdoorsman, Bo put serious effort in to the design and fabrication of his knives, which he strove to make both simple and elegant. Before long, local demand for his knives developed and he was selling his hand made knives at his father-in-law's clothing store in Orlando, Florida. For Bo Randall, knife making was still an avocation; his real job was managing the family citrus groves. However, the onset of the Second World War changed Bo's little business forever. He described it thusly:
"A young sailor asked me to make him a knife for use in man-to-man combat. When his friends saw it, they placed orders, their friends placed orders, my knives were used in combat, a reporter wrote a story and . . . suddenly, unexpectedly we were in the knife business, as envelopes addressed simply to 'Knife Man, Orlando, Florida' arrived on the doorstep."
"I built a full-scale shop and for the first time began using apprentices. With demand so strong, it was tempting to develop mass production methods. Now, more than ever, I wanted Randall Made™ to stand for quality and dependability, because servicemen were telling me how much they relied on my knives."
Randall Made has been blessed with management continuity. Bill Platts joined Randall in January 1944 and stayed for 35 years, most of that time as Shop Manager, before retiring. Bo died in 1989 and control passed to his son Gary, who had been slowly taking responsibility for daily operations. Gary is an American Bladesmith Society member. Today, Gary's sons Jason and Michael are the third generation of Randall knife makers actively involved in the family business and Randall Made is the biggest name in hand made knives.
Randall knives have never been mass produced and all Randall knives are made to order. As of January 2014, Randall offered 40 regular catalog items and 17 non-catalog models. These are all fixed blade knives; Randall does not make folding knives. Many optional custom features and variations are available for regular catalog knives, but not for non-catalog models.
Randall Made is a small business and the knives are made by a small group of dedicated and highly trained craftsmen. A long and arduous apprenticeship is required for new employees, which few are willing to undergo. This is one reason the production of Randall knives remains limited and delivery times are so long.
Randall group photo courtesy of Randall Made Knives.
The Randall knife obtained for this article was purchased from a private party. It was advertised as previously owned, but never actually used. Since the waiting time for a new Randall knife is about 4-1/2 years as this is written, it was impractical to order a new knife for this review. Randall knives have been back ordered since 1953, when sales permanently exceeded production, so used Randall knives in excellent to like new condition typically sell for about the same price as brand new knives (and sometimes more).
Intense interest in Randall Made knives by collectors contributes to the ongoing shortage, as many are purchased and held in private collections. We agree with Bo Randall, who wrote: "Frankly, our favorite models are those specifically designed to be carried and used day in and day out, year after year. The reason is because, like many of you, Gary and I are both sportsmen, so we make knives we want to use." Amen to that!
Our sample Randall is quite similar, but not exactly identical, to the current Model 5 Small Camp and Trail Knife pictured on the Randall Made website. Because Randall knives are hand made, frequently ordered with custom features and Model 5's first joined the line over 65 years ago, finding two of different generations that are identical is problematical.
The Model 5 joined the line during the immediate post World War II period, between 1945-1948. The standard Model 5 Camp and Trail has an optional blade length of 5", 6", 7" or 8" made from ¼" stock and comes with a standard leather handle (plain butt). The current Model 5 Small Camp and Trail comes with a 4" blade of similar pattern made from 3/16" stock and comes with a standard stag handle (plain butt). Other handle shapes and materials are optional for both Model 5's. Carbon steel blades are standard for Randall knives, but high carbon stainless steel is optional. Stainless blades are marked with an "S."
Model 5's are normally supplied with the standard Randall single hilt (finger guard), but other styles can be special ordered. Many other custom features can be ordered for Randall knives, including sawteeth on the back of the blade, non-slip thumb notches on top of the blade, various handle materials and shapes, brass or duralumin butt caps, butt plates of various styles, nickel silver hilt, wrist thong, a compass in the butt, an initial plate inletted into the handle or a name etched on the blade and so forth. Our sample, for example, came with a brass butt cap and non-slip thumb notches. New knives can be ordered with up to five custom features. The limit of five is intended to help control back order times.
2014 Catalog Specifications for Model 5 Small Camp and Trail Knife
2014 Randall Model 5 Small Camp and Trail Knife catalog illustration.
Note: because Randall knives are hand made and often incorporate custom features, all specifications are approximate.
Measured Specifications of our used Model 5 Small Camp and Trail Knife
The Randall Model 5 knife that is the subject of this review.
Note: Date of manufacture unknown.
Comparing the photos accompanying the specifications, the basic outline and cutting edge shape of the two blades is nearly identical. However, the older knife has additional planes ground into the upper portion of the blade, which lighten the knife at the cost of extra shop time. In addition, if the current version's finished blade is actually 3/16" thick, it is 0.0415" thicker than our older knife's finished blade. The handle shape is also somewhat different, but this is probably mostly because of the older knife's brass butt cap. Actually, the older knife is closer to the standard Randall handle shape specified for Model 5 knives than the 2014 knife pictured.
Like most Randall knives, our example came with a hand crafted sheath specific to the model. (The model number and blade length is stamped on the back of the sheath.) The prices of new Randall knives include a sheath. Randall sheaths are made of the finest oil-tanned saddle leather, heavily stitched, with a three-ply stitch-protecting spline of leather around the sides and with a 2-3/4" to 3" belt loop. The knife point cannot pierce the stitching. Left handed or black dyed leather sheaths can be special ordered. Should your Randall's sheath be lost or damaged, send your knife to Randall and they will make a replacement sheath for your specific knife.
The sheath supplied with our knife.
Randall uses carbon tool steel or high carbon (1%) stainless steel knife stock for their knives. The rectangular steel blank is repeatedly heated, hammered and ground to shape. It is then heated again, hardened and tempered. The tempered blade is ground, smoothed, honed and progressively polished, being careful not to overheat the steel and destroy the temper. Getting the lines and bevels of the blade true is done by eye, requiring expert skill. The brass hilt is cut and shaped, drilled and filed to fit the tang, then soldered in place. The handle material is fitted to the tang, filed to shape, glued to the tang and held in place by a precisely fitted butt piece peened in place or secured by a threaded nut. The hilt and butt are filed and sanded as the handle is shaped. The blade, hilt and butt are polished on a muslin wheel with polishing compound and then the blade is sharpened. These polishing and sharpening stages are repeated, the final polishing being done with a soft muslin wheel.
The result of all this hand labor and care is a truly beautiful hunting knife. It is also exceedingly functional. Randall's blades hold an edge very well and are capable of fine cuts. The cutting edge bevels are normally hand honed at 20-degrees. This angle is optimized for cutting skin and meat. If your knife is intended for heavy duty cutting of bone or other hard materials, Randall will hone the cutting edge accordingly, using a different bevel. Randall warns that using a fine hunting knife as an axe will damage its cutting edge and that pounding, prying or throwing a fine hunting knife may damage it. Reading their knife care instructions, it is obvious that it pains the folks at Randall Made when one of their knives is abused. They have a lot invested in each knife they make.
Sharpen a Randall knife using a typical two stone (medium and fine) sharpening set, such as offered by Buck and other sources. (Never use an electric kitchen knife sharpener on a fine knife.) Always use honing oil or kerosene on the stone when sharpening a blade. (In a pinch, saliva will work in the field.) Follow the directions supplied with the sharpening set or on the Randall Made website, sharpening the blade edge at 20-degrees. Sharpen from hilt to point in a single stroke. Alternate blade sides with every stroke. Use the medium stone for duller edges and the fine stone for final edge polishing or touch-up sharpening.
Our previously owned, but allegedly never used, Randall arrived with its cutting edge dull. We would never allow a knife to get so dull and it certainly was not shipped from Randall that way. Close inspection showed that, in our opinion, it had been used, never sharpened, but not abused. There are no nicks or dings anywhere on the knife. We would rate it as "Excellent-Plus" condition. Knives of this high quality are made to last and will show little sign of moderate use. It is probable that the seller was not the original purchaser, had never used this knife and was not sufficiently experienced to recognize that a knife in such excellent condition had, in fact, been previously used.
Inspection also showed that the blade was ground dead straight and the finger guard hilt is a smooth oval when viewed from the front. The brass butt cap is also a smooth oval when viewed from directly behind and both the hilt and butt cap are mirror polished, while the blade has a satin finish. The traditional Randall red-white-blue line spacers are fitted between the polished stag handle and the brass end pieces. The stag handle material is genuine elk antler, not plastic.
The thumb grooves on the top of the blade allow the thumb of the cutting hand to securely apply extra pressure to the blade when necessary, while the single hilt keeps fingers safely away from the cutting edge of the blade. It doesn't take an expert to see that this is a special knife.
In any case, we sharpened the Randall in approved fashion, starting with a medium grit stone and progressing to a hard/fine stone. Its blade shape and size makes this knife relatively easy to sharpen, although the steel is quite hard. The side of the blade has what is essentially a straight taper to the cutting edge (not hollow ground), which makes sharpening easier. A few minutes spent restoring the edge produced good results, a knife capable of easily slicing cloth, paper and shaving hair from our arms. We will get it into the field on our next hunt.
The brass butt cap increases the weight of the knife by about an ounce and shifts the balance rearward. The handle is long and provides plenty of room for large hands. Interestingly, the Randall balances in almost exactly the same place as Chuck's Olsen hunting knife (also a 4" blade), about 1-1/4" behind the base of the blade. The little Randall feels good in the hand.
Randall Made knives are not cheap in any sense of the word. Some knives, especially when highly decorated, are more expensive than a Randall hunting knife and many serviceable hunting knives are a great deal less expensive. This is as it should be, for we all have our individual needs and budgetary limitations. A deer hunter hunting out of his home for the day probably has different knife requirements than an Alaskan outfitter guiding clients airlifted to a remote wilderness camp for moose and grizzly bear hunts.
It is worth noting that when extreme performance and service is required, Randall knives are prized and highly sought after. Long ago one of our friends spent the summer in Arctic Alaska, doing a little subsistence fishing and hunting. He was carrying a Randall Made hunting knife. One of the locals spotted his Randall and tried to buy it on the spot, but Ricky politely demurred. Such stories are not uncommon in places where a really good knife can be a life saver.
Many experienced outdoorsmen, big game guides, explorers, bush pilots and hunters carry Randall Made knives, even though they are persons of modest means. When NASA needed an Astronaut survival knife, they went to Randall. (Presumably, the U.S. Government could afford any knife they wanted.) Generations of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen have armed themselves with Randall knives at their own expense. Bo Randall probably said it best: "Our customers have included astronauts, government agents, celebrities, statesmen and royalty. Most importantly to me, there are thousands upon thousands of individuals who choose Randall knives because they need a superbly crafted knife they can count on in the home and in the field."
Note: A review of the Randall Model 23 Gamemaster knife can be found on the Outdoor Accessories page.
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