Friday, June 13, 2014

"Made in the USA" FIELD REVIEW: Ontario Blackbird SK-5 Survival Knife

Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Bushcraft

Okay readers, here is the long overdue field review of the Ontario Blackbird SK-5 Survival Knife. We originally got the Blackbird in the middle of a major wildfire back in 2012, and due to everything going on at the time, we never posted the field testing part of the review. While digging through the RMB photo archives recently, I found the original field test photos from the Summer of 2012 and wanted to get them posted ASAP.

This review will focus on the Blackbird's development and performance. Rocky Mountain Bushcraft covered the Blackbird's technical features in our First Impression Review back in May 2012. You can check it out here.

The Knife

The Ontario Blackbird is the brainchild of Paul Scheiter, a young entrepreneur, survival expert and leather-making prodigy. Paul took the survival world by storm back in 2009 with his innovative Hedgehog Leatherworks survival knife sheaths. The Hedgehog sheaths are unique because of their patented shock-cord laced retention strap system, which automatically springs open the straps when you unbutton them.

Hedgehog Leatherworks Blackbird sheath:

The retention straps pop open when unbuttoned, allowing the knife to be inserted into the sheath without fear of cutting the straps:

Paul's unique retention strap system, along with his sheath's high quality, heavy duty construction, has made Hedgehog sheaths popular with world adventurers, military personnel and others who need maximum durability and reliability.

As Paul's reputation grew, he eventually caught the eye of famed New York survival knife company Ontario Knives, and teamed up with them in 2011 to create the Blackbird SK-5 Survival Knife, the subject of this field review. 

Simplicity in Design

Paul says he designed the Blackbird with a simple philosophy in mind-- "achieve maximum function, delivered through pure simplicity." He goes on to say "I believe that the less complicated a product is, the better it will perform when your life depends on it. The Blackbird SK-5 is comfortable to use, has ideal cutting geometry, and is extremely durable... all of the things necessary for the most demanding wilderness survival tasks."

Paul's design turned out to be a big hit, earning the coveted Field and Stream "Best of the Best" Award in 2011. The Blackbird went on to become popular among Youtube knife reviewers, wilderness survival enthusiasts, and members of the prepper community.

Much has already been written about the Blackbird, but what I wanted to find out in my field testing was- 1) How does the Blackbird perform as a bushcraft knife and wilderness survival tool? and 2) How tough is it? 



To test the Blackbird's ability to handle batoning, I selected a log from the base of a branch on a large, old growth Ponderosa Pine. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, this stuff is the toughest, most twisted wood in the RMB test area, and has broken or bent the edges of several machetes and survival knives over the years. If it can handle this stuff, it can handle almost anything!

I call these 'evil' logs for a reason, and this one was probably the most 'evil' I'd found in a while:

As you can see in the photo, the Blackbird's blade was literally bending sideways while batoning through it:

The wood was so knotted and twisted, it only split into rough pieces. The Blackbird's blade was still straight as an arrow, and the edge could still shave hairs after this insane test-- wow.


The edge geometry on the Blackbird works well for most wilderness carving applications, but is a little more conservative than on the Benchmade Bushcrafter or Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Survival knives I tested last year. This makes feathersticking a little harder, but still gets the job done.

Tent Peg

While the Blackbird didn't perform as well in the featherstick category as other survival knives I've tested in the past, it performed excellent in general wood carving applications like making tent pegs:

Testing the spine with a Firesteel/Scraping Tinder

Paul did an outstanding job with the spine on the Blackbird. It makes fast work of scraping tinder for fire preparation:

The Blackbird also throws mondo sparks from a firesteel, easily igniting these pitchwood shavings in the pouring rain:

Spectacular nighttime firesteel shot captured while testing the Blackbird:

Opening a Can/Testing Tip Strength

I used the tip of the Blackbird to open several steel vegetable cans at my base camp over the summer. There was no degradation of the edge, and the tip came out completely intact:

Steel Quality Observations

I've never hidden the fact that I'm a fan of Ontario Knives. I believe that for the money, they have some of the best steel and heat treat methods for survival knives. The Blackbird is no different. The 154CM used on it is very strong, takes a fine edge, and holds it very well. The only negative I could find is that like many 154CM blades, it can be a little harder to sharpen than typical carbon steel blades.


The nylon sheath is well constructed but a bit thin, and can flop around on the belt a little. However, it did seem well suited to its purpose during field testing:


The Blackbird's ability to do so many things well is probably its greatest asset. The blade's utilitarian shape makes it useful for nearly any task, from carving to batoning, food prep, or skinning game. The high quality steel is tough, yet takes and holds a great edge. The handle is one of the most comfortable I've used, and it fits a wide variety of hand sizes. Literally, the Blackbird is a "Jack of All Trades" wilderness survival knife.

Of course, all this doesn't come without a few caveats.......

The Blackbird's sheath is serviceable, but can flop around on the belt a bit. The good thing is that there are lots of aftermarket sheath options for the Blackbird, including Paul's own Hedgehog Leatherworks sheath.

The edge geometry could be improved slightly to make it better at carving feathersticks. One option would be to give it a convexed edge, or a slightly more aggressive V-grind.

One other minor issue is the Blackbird's chopping ability. Since it is weighted more towards the handle, it is one of the weakest choppers I've tested. It can handle light chopping, but shouldn't be counted on for heavier duties.

Overall, the Blackbird's pluses outweigh its minuses. The combination of its supremely comfortable handle, high quality, durable construction, and Ontario's history/lineage, make it a well rounded wilderness blade that's up to nearly any task.

4 out of 5 Stars (Recommended)

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About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)

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