Steel Will Druid Model 205 Knife
By Gary Zinn
Steel Will Druid Model 205 Knife. Image courtesy of Steel Will Knives.
Steel Will knives are imported and marketed in the U.S. by a firm called SMG, Inc. The majority of Steel Will models and variants are made in China, with a significant number of models made in Italy, plus a few from Taiwan. The Chinese and Taiwanese made knives are budget priced, while the Italian products are upscale, with premium blade and handle materials.
I have been aware of the Steel Will brand name for some time, but had not paid much attention. Recently, though, a model called the Druid caught my eye. The design struck me as having potential as a hunting and general purpose outdoor knife. I decided to take a close look at the Druid, as a means of making an initial assessment of the Steel Will product line.
The Druid model designation features 14 fixed blade variants, with the same blade steel and handle design. Otherwise, these knives differ in blade length, profile, or grind. Three skeleton-handled neck knives, plus a pair of locking folders (made in Italy) round out the Druid line.
The knife I chose to review is one of a pair of fixed blade Druids with the shortest blade length, which Steel Will quotes at 3.94"; the Model 205 "Mini Druid" (reviewed) has a high hollow ground drop point blade, while the Model 265 has the same blade length and profile, with a sabre grind. I chose to review the shortest bladed Druid, because the length is sufficient for most hunting and general field use applications.
My first impression of the Model 205 knife was quite positive. The design is straightforward and functional, as befits a no-nonsense working knife. Most surprising to me was the high quality of the sheath, which I will discuss in more detail below.
All Druid fixed blade knives use Chinese 9Cr18MoV stainless steel, described by Steel Will as, "High carbon chromium bearing steel. It is steel that is known to keep its cutting edge and has good corrosion resistance. Blades made from this grade of steel are also easy to sharpen."
Those who understand blade steel formulations and proprieties better than I generally judge that 9Cr18MoV is comparable to 440-type or AUS-8 steels. In other words, it is a common stainless steel that can be expected to perform well in normal use. It is not a high tech, high performance super steel.
The blade has 3-7/8" of sharpened edge in front of a short ricasso. It is 0.14" (3.6 mm) thick at the spine, and 1-1/8" wide at the midpoint of its length. Both the spine and cutting edge are straight for half of their length, then the spine drops gently and the edge curves smoothly to a well defined tip. The drop portion of the spine is lightly swaged on both sides. In summary, the blade has a quite normal and functional drop point profile.
The Model 205 Druid blade has a high hollow grind, with a very narrow micro bevel forming the final edge. I evaluated the factory edge to be Extremely Sharp, my top qualitative grade of sharpness. This was a better edge than I expected on a budget priced knife with a common blade steel. (See Knife Sharpness, Sharpening Methods and Tools for an explanation of my knife sharpness classification system.)
The contours of the blade are precisely machine ground and the blade is buffed to an even satin finish. Initial indications are that the blade will resist work marring well, for I did some pretty aggressive test cutting without the blade finish showing any ill effects.
As an interesting aside on the sharpness issue, I ran across an article titled "Different Types of Knife Steel" on the Sandvik Materials Technology website. 9Cr18MoV was grouped with 440A, 440C, D2 and 19C27 as a course carbide steel. According to the article, course carbide steels perform poorly in terms of taking a sharp edge, because, "A knife steel with large carbides is generally very difficult to regrind, since the carbides crumble out of the edge and cause a 'saw edge' instead of a razor-sharp edge."
The factory edge on my review knife said otherwise. This contradiction intrigued me enough to motivate some focused testing. I used the knife to cut a one by two foot piece of double-ply corrugated cardboard into narrow strips. I did forty cuts, which dulled the edge to what I call Sharp Enough (to do normal cutting tasks) condition.
Then I sharpened the blade on my Lansky Master's Edge ceramic rod sharpener. I started with the medium grit rods, set at a 17 degree sharpening angle. I worked the blade until it felt right, which turned out to be 12 strokes on each side. Then I switched to the fine grit ceramic rods and worked the blade another dozen strokes, after which I honed it on a butchers steel.
I rechecked the edge and found it to be back to Extremely Sharp condition. My knife sharpened easily; it does not get much easier than a couple dozen strokes on ceramic rods and I got a very acute edge, the coarse carbide argument notwithstanding.
In addition, I felt the blade had pretty good edge retention, given the edge was still decent after I had cut 40 feet of heavy cardboard. Corrugated cardboard is a good test of edge durability, for about the only common material that will dull a knife quicker is sisal rope.
The handle is a good design, well executed. Its shape is ergonomic and the size is excellent. Working length of the handle is 4", with maximum dimensions of 7/8" thick and 1-1/8" wide at the middle. It is oval shaped in cross section, with a slightly arched back, characteristics that help it fit the hand naturally and comfortably.
The cardboard cutting exercise I did incidentally demonstrated the ergonomics of the Druid handle. I did the entire cutting regime in a single session, without experiencing noticeable hand fatigue, or cramping.
Steel Will describes the Druid knives as having full tangs, but this is not quite correct. The tang extends the full length of the handle, but it is not truly a full tang, because it is not as wide in profile as the finished handle. Actually, the knife has a full length hidden tang.
That said, the tang geometry is appropriate to the handle material used and the way the handle is formed. The material is thermoplastic elastomer, injection molded onto the tang. Depressed edge checkering is molded into the sides and bottom of the handle. The handle molding on my knife is flawless, except for the barest hint of mold seams along the top and bottom of the handle, which I expected, but had to look closely to notice.
The shape, rubber-like material and checkering combine to produce a handle that is quite grippy. It will be secure in the hand, except under ridiculously extreme conditions.
Incidentally, the end of the tang sits slightly proud to the butt of the finished handle. Steel Will touts this as a design feature, suggesting that the exposed tang end can be used as a "hammer/glass-breaker." I am not in the habit of beating on stuff with the butt end of knives, but the feature is there, for what it is worth.
There is one small tweak that would make the Druid fixed blade handle design even better. This would be to arch the back of the handle just a bit more, which would improve how it fits into the palm of the hand. The folding blade Druids (models 290 and 291) appear to have this extra bit of handle spine arch.
Budget priced hunting knives usually come with sheaths made either of lightweight ballistic cloth or mediocre leather. I was surprised, then, to find that the Druid sheath is a high quality leather item, in both materials and fabrication.
The leather is thick, 10 ounce grade I believe, with unexpected quality details in the construction. The body of the sheath has separate front and back panels, with a triple-ply leather welt that forms the edges of the sheath. These pieces are neatly sewn together with heavy thread, reinforced by hollow metal bolsters at each corner of the sheath mouth.
This is a "dangle sheath." A strap riveted onto the back of the sheath anchors the flat side of a D-ring, with a leather belt loop riveted onto the curved portion of the ring. The loop is large enough to accommodate belts up to 1-3/4" wide.
The sheath is designed for deep pouch carry of the knife, with the handle buried about one-half of its length in the sheath. (See the image below.) However, the sheath was not molded to conform to the contours of the handle, so I needed to wet form it to get the fit just right.
This was a simple operation, which I detail in the addendum below. I got a perfect fit of the knife to the sheath and did not mind having to do the wet forming operation. One cannot expect everything in a $50 knife/sheath package.
Druid Model 205 in sheath. Image courtesy of Steel Will Knives.
SMG, Inc. product support
SMG, Inc. is a private business firm, established in 2008 and incorporated in New York State. Its warehouse/distribution center is in Huntington Valley, PA (15 miles north of Philadelphia). Besides Steel Will knives, SMG markets Gletcher brand air guns, featuring replicas of firearms such as the Luger P08 and Beretta 92 pistols.
The Steel Will knife line includes several distinct models (and numerous variants) of fixed blade and folding knives that are loosely grouped into EDC, Tactical and Outdoor style/use categories. Details of the product line may be studied on the Steel Will website (www.steelwillknives.com), so I will not go into more detail about it here. Most major internet knife vendors carry at least some portion of the Steel Will line.
Steel Will knives are backed by a warranty that covers defects in materials and workmanship, but excludes any problem caused by improper use, owner modification of the knife, or botched knife repair performed by a third party. It is stated that, "This warranty runs as long as you own the knife. Coverage will end if the knife is sold or ownership is transferred to another party."
Purchasers of Steel Will knives can register them on the company website, which would seem a good thing to do, to document the original ownership of the product. See the Steel Will website for more complete information regarding the warranty, product registration and communication with the firm.
Steel Will touts the Model 205 Mini Druid as, "a light and compact hunting and camping knife." I agree. With a blade almost four inches long, a 8-5/8 inch OAL and a carry weight under eight ounces (three ounces of which is the sheath), the Mini Druid is compact enough for comfortable carry, yet is large enough to dress out Class 2 size game animals. There are Druids with longer blades, if one wants a larger knife.
The knife/sheath package, as reviewed, is more impressive than I expected it to be, given the price at which it sells. It is an excellent bargain and value in a working field and hunting knife.
Addendum: Wet fitting a Druid sheath
There are several methods of wet fitting a knife sheath. In this case, I was able to do the job in a simple, straightforward manner, since I did not have to contend with handle or blade material that was any problem to temporarily immerse in water.
Step 1: Since the sheath is designed to enclose part of the knife handle, the first task was to insert the knife into the unfitted sheath, as deeply as feasible without gouging the blade tip into the bottom of the sheath. An aid to getting this right is there is a drain hole in the back of the sheath, 5/8" above the bottom. I worked the knife into the sheath until the blade tip was visible through the drain hole. At this point the handle was almost exactly half way into the mouth of the sheath. Perfect!
Step 2: Next, I placed the sheathed knife, handle butt down, in a tall glass and poured in water until the level rose to one-half inch above the junction between the handle and blade. I left the sheathed knife to soak for two hours.
Step 3: Then I unsheathed the knife, lightly dried it and the sheath, and poured the water out of the glass. I resheathed the knife and pressed the sheath against the knife handle with my fingers, to get the sheath and handle in even, close contact on both the front and back sides of the sheath. I also pressed shallow dimples into the front and back sides of the sheath, just in front of the junction between the blade and handle.
I placed the sheathed knife in the empty glass, handle butt down, and left it to sit for another two hours.
Step 4: Finally, I removed the knife from the sheath, dried it thoroughly and laid it aside. I placed the sheath in the empty glass, upright this time, and left it to dry over night.
The next morning, the sheath had dried and the knife-to-sheath fit was just right. The sheath holds the knife securely, yet the knife slips into and out of the sheath smoothly. Mission accomplished.
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