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Ranger Knives RD-9 and Shiv Review

Ranger Knives RD-9 and Shiv: A Backwoods Pair Capable of Taking on All Challenges

TimRanger015aTimRanger018aJustin Gingrich’s line of Ranger Knives has a well-deserved reputation for rugged practicality.  As with any custom knifemaker though, Justin can only do so much by himself.  Custom makers often run into the situation where they end up with long backlogs and wait times on orders.  While this certainly affects the time it takes for a customer to get a knife, it also affects the maker as it ties them up and keeps them from being able to explore new projects as well.  Being busy is good for business, but sometimes you might get too much of a good thing!  It’s times like these that collaboration between a custom maker and a quality manufacturer sure sound like a good idea. Last year Justin made just such an arrangement with the Ontario Knife Company and they agreed to produce a production version of Justin’s Ranger line.  This is looking like a win-win situation for everyone involved as Ontario gets to pick up a great new line of heavy duty field blades, Justin gets to ensure his customers have a steady supply of his designs available immediately, and the customer can now get the Ranger of their choice whenever they like.

When I spoke to Justin about the line at the 2009 SHOT show one of the things he stressed about this collaboration with Ontario was that they were able to make a production version of his knives to his specs, and of the same materials that he was using himself.  To try out the new production versions of the Ranger line I tried a pair of Justin’s classics, the Shiv and the RD-9.  Both have an enviable reputation with military users but I wanted to take a look at them from the outdoorsman’s perspective and see just how they’d fair around camp.

The Shiv

TimRanger017aI’ve wanted to check out a Shiv for quite some time now.  It’s basic lines appeal to the minimalist in me and it’s 4.5 inch blade is right about where I generally prefer my camp knives.  With a classic spearpoint design the Shiv actually looks a lot like many of the common bushcraft designs, just in tactical dress with its black texture powder coated blade.  The Shiv is made from 1095 carbon steel and sports a 4.5 inch blade that’s 0.1563 inches thick and has an overall length of 8.375 inches. The overall size and balance are excellent.  To me, this is practically an ideal proportion for general woods use.  The handle scales on my example are listed as Orange Micarta in the catalog and on all the online sites, but it’s a bright, smooth material that looks more like G-10 to me.  A quick with Justin confirmed that they are in fact using G-10 on at least the orange handles.

The general contours are quite comfortable; although I’d have liked to see the scales extend a little further up past the first finger groove of the handle.  If you look at the pics in the 2009 Ontario catalog it shows longer scales, but apparently there was a change made somewhere on the final production versions.  Two bolts hold the scales in place, and there is a lanyard hole at the butt of the knife, easily large enough to run paracord or other similar sized lanyards through.  There is a set of deep grooves set into the spine of the blade for thumb traction, just above where the handle scales leave off.  The sheath provided with the Shiv is pretty bare bones.  It consists of a squared off nylon pouch with a very thin plastic liner, and a Velcro retaining strap.  For as rugged as the Shiv itself is, I’d have thought it would have come housed in something a bit sturdier, but I suppose that’s one way of keeping costs down.

TimRanger004aWhere as the Shiv is a great size for belt carry, and well suited for that “knife you’ll always have on you”, the RD-9 falls into the serious tool better suited to mounting on your pack, or carrying in your vehicle.  I know some folks will tote a big blade on their belts, but for me this is a serious tool best broken out when you have heavy work to do.  The RD-9 is the behemoth of the Ready Detachment series and sports a broad 9.5 inch long, ¼ thick, clip pointed blade of 5160 steel. 5160 is a great choice for a hard use chopping blade and it’s the same steel that Justin uses in his custom RD-9’s.  There is a grooved thumb ramp along the spine of the blade and a large finger choil positioned just ahead of the handle scales.  The 5160 blade is black texture powder coated just like on the Shiv and is matched up with a set of hand filling tan micarta grip scales held on by three bolts on my test example.  There’s a large slotted lanyard hole and a serrated pommel rounding everything off on that end.  All of the Ready Detachment knives come complete with a MOLLE compatible black nylon sheath that’s fitted with a hard plastic insert and a front mounted utility pouch that’s plenty big enough for a 2 CR123 tactical light, a spare pistol magazine, or a large multitool like the Leatherman Surge.  While the Shiv’s sheath was pretty bare bones, the RD-9’s is quite solidly built and well designed.

Rangers Take to the Field

TimRanger009aI started working with the Shiv first, since it’s a size that I could use in projects around the house as well as out in the bush.  The first order of the day for me was to do something about the sheath.  I know finding the balance point between a functional and affordable sheath can be a tough one for companies sometimes so I try and cut some slack in this department when I can.  The supplied sheath on the Shiv worked, but personally I wanted something a bit more durable for my field use.  As luck would have it, I found that the Shiv fit perfectly in a spare JRE bushcraft style sheath I had lying about.  When I say perfectly, I’m not kidding either; the Shiv fit like it was made for that sheath.  That worked out well since it’s a favorite sheath style for me anyway.  I added a large S-Biner to the sheath so I could easily snap it on and off my belt and away I went!  Over the next few weeks I used the Shiv on a variety of tasks during spring yard cleanup, while helping my brother in law clean up and split wood after taking down a couple dozen trees, and during the annual Practice What You Preach campout in North Carolina. A couple things became readily apparent when using the Shiv. First, as I suspected, this is a great sized knife for general utility duties.  The 4.5 inch blade provides plenty of cutting surface for most jobs and is a handy, controllable length.

TimRanger008aThe factory edge on the Shiv was excellent and I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked on wood.  I had no problems at all making nice curls for fuzz sticks, or removing material when making tent stakes and while working on a staff sling.  The Shiv also a handled light batoning just fine and was more than up to the task of prepping kindling and tinder for a fire.  It wasn’t all peaches and roses however, there were a couple of minor issues that I’d like to see addressed, and they’re somewhat interconnected.  First, the notches on the spine are fairly deep and pretty sharp under the thumb with even moderate pressure.  I suspect they could be made a good bit shallower and without the sharp edge they have now, and that would be a major improvement when it came time to applying pressure on the knife’s spine with the thumb.  As it is, your thumb quickly fatigues when doing any sort of work that requires thumb placement along the grooves.

TimRanger006aNow, the second part of this might mitigate those deep notches a bit.  I mentioned earlier that I would prefer a bit longer handle scales on the Shiv, more akin to what’s in the catalog pictures.  I suspect that with the longer scales there would be more surface area to distribute the pressure on your thumb in the notch area and this would minimize the perceived sharpness of them.  So, either soften up the edges on the notches, and possibly make them shallower, or make the scales full length.  Better yet, do both!   Now, don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t a deal breaker with the Shiv for me.  I still found it a properly sized and balanced field knife, with a great factory edge and more pros than cons to it.  With a slight tweak on those scales and notches though I think it would shift from being very good to excellent. Now, I waited until I got to PWYP this year to break out the RD-9.

The RD-9 is an imposing piece that yearns to be cut loose in the field.  It was overkill for my yard work projects but right at home in the woodlands of Chestnut Mountain, North Carolina. I used the RD-9 for all the heavy things that I didn’t want to use the Shiv for, or that it wouldn’t have handled.  A big blade like the RD-9 really comes into its own when it comes to chopping and splitting wood.  While you could certainly build a survival shelter with the Shiv, you could do it a lot faster with the RD-9.  The tip forward balance of the knife made it a natural cutter and the heavy ¼ thick 5160 blade had a good bite and a sweet spot just south of the clip point.  You could save yourself a lot of effort by letting the weight and balance of the RD-9 do the work for you in most cases.  I cut some poplar saplings to use for various projects and had absolutely no problems chopping them down, limbing them, and then cleaving them cross grain into usable lengths.

TimRanger011aI used some of these for stakes and whittled out notches and points by choking up on the RD-9 and using the finger choil to get closer to the blade. I was actually surprised at the decent control I got doing this, as it’s a chore I’d typically use a much smaller knife for. The real brutality test on the RD-9 came when I was trying to split a couple of dried Poplar logs into boards for a spoon carving session.  Normally, I’m the first one to say that batoning is best left to small, short pieces of wood perhaps 2 inches or less in diameter.  That’s generally plenty to get to dry wood, and to churn up some kindling for fire starting. In this case though, I needed big flat hunks of wood and something the RD-9’s size was just what the doctor ordered.  I split two 4 foot logs, each maybe 4 to 5 inches in diameter, straight through with the RD-9 and heavy log baton.  That was definitely the most brutal batoning I think I’ve done.  I’ve done harder wood, but never pieces so large.  Still, the 9 went right through without issue.  Even getting pounded through a few knots didn’t seem to have any effect on its edge.  5160 is tough stuff.  There was some finish wear when I was done, but the RD-9 just looks well loved now.  Once I had some planks made out of the logs, I cleaned them up some by using the RD-9 as a drawknife.  At just over 15 inches in overall length, the RD-9 provided ample space for correct hand placement for this technique.

From Battlefield to Bushcraft

TimRanger014aWhile Justin’s brings a military background to his knife design, what he’s come up with are good solid tools that will serve just as well in the backwoods as they do the battlefield.  The same rugged construction and economy of design that serve in the rough and tumble world of overseas deployments, does just as well for camping chores and outdoor survival.  You don’t get any superfluous bling with Justin’s knives, just solid working class tools.  The new production versions from Ontario live up to his exacting specifications and are a worthy addition of the world of Ranger Knives.


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