The Pursuit of Steel

White River Knives is a Family on a Mission

Bottom: Hunter Custom. Top: Hunter

The Cammenga family of Fremont, Mich., is far from the first family business to pursue manufacturing knives, but they’re certainly one of the most devoted. “Beginning in the early ’90s our family manufactured the U.S. military lensatic compass which was also used by hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts,” President and founder John Cammenga Sr. tells Handgunner. “We sold the business in 2005 and I planned to retire, travel with my wife Susan and go fishing. However, we soon realized we needed to go back to work as we missed the challenges and rewards of operating a small business.”

“In late 2010, an opportunity arose to purchase knife-making equipment from a local bank. I immediately asked my sons if they wanted to form a new family business,” John recalls. So in 2011 White River Knife and Tool opened for business. From the start, we committed to make all White River Knives in the U.S. with sourced materials made in our own country.

Backpacker Pro

Family First

“It soon became clear we wouldn’t be where we are today without the dedication and skills of our sons,” John relates. “So we recently made them co-owners of the business — announced here publicly for the first time. Still being a small company, we all wear many hats. I may have the title of President, but I spend most of my time in the shop. Susan is our Secretary and Treasurer but splits her time between the office and the shop. John Jr. is our General Manager but spends most of his time designing our knives and sheaths, programming CNC grinders and in project management. Matt is our VP of Sales but spends most of his time writing code and setting up CNC machines, making sheath fixtures and is our IT guy.”

I’m often reminded of something my father told me years ago: ‘If you are too big for the little jobs, then you are too little for the big jobs.’ We try to live by that every day at our shop and it’s resulted in a dedicated team and great working atmosphere.”

Exodus 4. Exodus 3

Outdoors & More

White River Knives is known for making some mighty fine fixed-blade knives for hunters, fishermen, campers and survivalists. “We named our company after the White River in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest, which runs through our personal property. Our bear logo is inspired by a pet bear that lived for many happy years on our property in a massive bear cage with a one-acre play area, says John. “We are best known for our outdoor knives. That said, through many collaborations and OEM work we have manufactured a wide variety of knives including tactical/fighting, first responder, throwing, chef knives and more. We also make folding blades for other brands.”

Our Model 1 knife is our most popular and is offered in a variety of handle options. It features a high finger choil and the handle is contoured to fit a wide variety of hand sizes,” notes the senior Cammenga. “The M1 Backpacker features a mil-spec 550 paracord wrapped handle. The M1-PRO features a textured G10 handle, and the M1-Caper has a thicker and fully contoured handle. A close rival to the top spot is our Firecraft Series FC-3.5-PRO designed by outdoorsman Jason Tietz. It is lightweight and suitable for bushcrafting tasks, field dressing, skinning, food prep and more. Other top models include our Knuckle-head and traditional fillet knives, designed by John Cammenga Jr.” Recently White River was contracted by Exodus Knife & Tool to produce two of their innovative bushcraft-oriented fixed-blades, and the Cammengas liked their designs so much they offered to sell two of the knives in their line to help increase exposure and sales. These appear in the White River catalog as the Exodus 3 and 4.

Firecraft FC 3.5 Pro

Corporate Values

Having tested many of their fixed-blades over the years, I can attest they cut like a house on fire — much due to the fact they use top-shelf steel heat-treated to perfection. “Most White River blades are made with premium steels produced in the U.S., such as CPM-S35VN, CPM-3V or CPM-S90V,” John relates. “These are all proprietary knife steels made by Crucible Industries, LLC based in Solvay, N.Y. Our most popular handle options are phenolic laminates, such as Micarta. A common trait of White River knives is user comfort, even with extended use. We try to eliminate ‘hot spots’ and give the user maximum control.”

“In 2021 we plan to introduce a folding knife, a chef set and a line of first responder tools designed by Kurt Delia of Delia Tactical. We are also increasing capacity for our own knives and our OEM partnerships.” Switching career gears is risky any way you slice it, but White River Knives has not only weathered any storms it may have encountered along the way — it has thrived. This is a story of the American dream come true and how one family is living it and enjoying it at its finest.

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