Story and Photos by Joshua Swanagon
I don’t think it comes as a surprise to any of my readers – here or in any of the print titles I write or have written for – that I am a big fan of the Kephart knife. So, it was with great excitement that I got to review the AA Forge Handcrafted Knives Mini Kephart.
My first experience with AA Forge was back in 2018, while I was still the Editor of Knives Illustrated Magazine. I was scrolling through Instagram one night and came across the work of Adam Gray of AA Forge, and there was something about his work that drew me in. So, I reached out to Adam and asked him if he would be interested in being featured in Knives Illustrated. In no time at all, I had the Nomad and Camper in my hands.
After working with the Nomad and Camper I was immediately a fan of AA Forge, and even made sure to pass the word on to other writer friends of mine. They were both really solid knives that felt good in the hand during lengthy bushcraft chores.
Based on my prior experience with AA Forge, when I saw the Mini Kephart I knew I had to share it with all of you. So, again, I reached out to Adam and he was kind enough to send one out. It is every bit as amazing as it looked.
See for yourself.
When I first unboxed the Mini Kephart, it was a feast for the eyes. However, even though it looked absolutely amazing, the aesthetics quickly took a bit of a back seat when I picked it up – it was like it was made specifically for my hand.
The Mini Kephart comes in at a 7.5-inch overall length, making it a little over 2 inches shorter than the original Kephart design. The .125-inch thick, 80CrV2 high carbon blade features a hammered look finish on the blade flat – on either side.
The 3.5-inch blade has a Kephart grind – which is basically a high convex grind with micro bevel – that is brought to a polished finish. This grind gives the Mini Kephart a keen edge, while remaining robust enough for tackling hard use chores.
As the name implies, the blade profile is a Kephart, but has some slight modifications to it. The tip is slightly more prominent than the original Kephart design, due to a marginally less pronounced belly and a drop at the point that begins farther back on the spine. Even with the slight modification, the tip still centers beautifully with the handle and is great for drilling and penetration.
The handle of the Mini Kephart measures at exactly 4 inches and fits my average size grip with very little handle to spare. The handle scales are constructed of Ivory Paper Micarta, with Green Canvas Micarta liners and a figured walnut bolster. The hardware consists of four eye catching copper pins and a copper lanyard tube at the butt.
The handle is 1 inch wide, at its widest, and tapers down to .89 inch at the bolster – providing for a hand filling experience, which also reduces fatigue during extended use.
The handle also features a front quillion (guard) that helps prevent the hand from sliding up the blade during use. The grip increases from 1.02 inches tall at the bolster, to 1.192 inches tall at the butt; which holds the knife firmly in place during draw cuts.
The spine on the Mini Kephart maintains the 90-degree edge, which is perfect for striking a ferro rod in fire starting situations. However, I did find the 90-degree spine to dig into my thumb a bit – while bearing down during some tougher cutting chores – and I think I would have liked it to be knocked down just a touch. Not too much, just enough to reduce the sharp edges but still throw a good spark from a ferro rod.
As I mentioned, I really like the Kephart model, big or small. When I saw the Mini Kephart from AA Forge I was really excited about playing around with it. So, when I recently got it out into the woods, it was everything I had hoped it could be.
Here in Michigan we have been hit recently with a lot of snow (which is melting regularly and rapidly), rain and ground frost thaw. Needless to say, things have been a little wet and relatively muddy around here. So, I started by carving a quick pack hook, so I could keep my pack off the wet and muddy ground.
Next, just to get a little better feel for it during more involved and detailed work – especially in tight spaces – I carved a four-prong fish/frog gig. The keen edge and smaller profile worked beautifully for this task. Even though the blade is a little wide for getting in between the prongs to carve the barbs, the short blade made it easy to carve with the tip, without struggling to control the knife.
When it was time for a little lunch, I processed up some fire fixings, by creating a couple feather sticks, a small tinder bundle and some small kindling. The edge geometry of the Mini Kephart did a good job producing some fine curls on my feather stick but kept wanting to bite a little deeper than I was looking for. However, the feather sticks were very suitable for getting my fire going.
After I had some coals going, I got a little lunch on the fire – beef stew and a slice of ham. Strange combination, I know, but I like both and have never been accused of being one that pays much heed to social convention.
To prepare, I carved a pair of tongs to flip my ham as it cooked. I carved the tongs out of a piece of maple and the Mini Kephart did an outstanding job getting into the split between the tongs, to hollow it out a bit, and create the flats on the end.
Following the tongs, I carved out a quick and easy spatula to stir my beef stew, and the Mini Kephart had no issues getting into the tight corners at the spatula end. The stout handle and smaller profile make the Mini Kephart very easy to control.
After eating a little lunch, I went to work on an old Native American snare. The Mini Kephart had no issues with cross grain batoning, while carving the notches, and I was able to maintain great control as I carved out the grooves for the snare wire and paracord (for lashing the trigger to the engine).
Although I used the Mini Kephart for many various other tasks throughout the day (and prior), the specific tests I performed went very well and the Mini Kephart was a joy to use. The edge held up very well, and a quick stropping quickly brought it back to hair popping sharp for the next time I take it out for play time.
As I mentioned earlier, the Mini Kephart is not my first exposure to AA Forge Handcrafted Knives and I certainly hope it will not be my last.
As with the other knives I have experienced in the AA Forge line, the Mini Kephart was a joy to use. It was comfortable the entire time – never presenting any fatiguing or hot spots – and performed admirably. Not that it plays a role in the functionality of the knife, but the beautiful aesthetics don’t hurt either. This is the kind of knife that gets noticed and receives a lot of compliments.
As I have said a few times in this article – and in general conversation with friends – I am a fan of the Kephart design and the AA Forge Handcrafted Knives Mini Kephart is an honor to its namesake. K&G
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Blade Material: 80CrV2Blade Length: 3.5 inchesOverall Length: 7.5 inchesBlade Thickness: 0.125 inchBlade Finish: Hammer finish, polished primary bevelWeight: 6.3 ouncesHandle Material: Ivory Paper MicartaLiners: Green Canvas MicartaGrind: Kephart Grind (high convex grind with micro bevel)Bolster: Figured Walnut with copper hardwareMSRP: $240.00 – $300.00 (as seen in the article)
AA Forge Handcrafted Knives(513) 668-8716www.AAForge.com
AA Forge Handcrafted Knives
Joshua Swanagon has studied survival in both urban and wilderness environments in Colorado and Michigan for most of his life, while also adding experience in harsher terrains abroad. He utilizes his experience and years of diverse martial arts and combatives training and real world application as a self-defense/combatives instructor, published freelance writer and Field Editor for various magazines in the fields of knives, survival, self-defense and tactical subject matters. Joshua also brings with him his years of experience as Editor of, and Subject Matter Expert for Knives Illustrated Magazine.
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