Ontario Knife Company Forges Onward For A New Generation!
By Pat Covert
Photos: R. Jones/The ImageSmith, LLC
Dozier Strike (top) and Carter Trinity (bottom) Folders
Acutlery company doesn’t get to be over 125 years old by sitting on its laurels unless they make a great product, and even then they must change with the times. The early years of the Ontario Knife Company are somewhat murky, but we do know it dates back to three gentlemen — William B. Ensworth, Charles Albert Brace and William Maudsley. These three formed a cutlery concern in Naples, New York, in 1889. The Ontario Knife Company name is derived from Ontario County where the Naples factory was located.
Ontario’s very first knives were handmade on a water-powered grindstone and sold off of pushcarts throughout the area. Business was good and the founders soon relocated production to a sawmill in nearby Cadiz on Ischua Creek. By 1902 the company had moved to an even bigger location in Franklinville, New York and around 10 years later built a new factory there, which remains the headquarters of the company to this day.
Cerberus Fixed Blade
Forged By Fire
The Ontario Knife Company’s star took off in World War II, supplying American military forces with edged steel, and they have continued to do so since. Beginning in 1942, the company was awarded government contracts for military knives including the U.S. Air Force Survival Knife, the M1942 Machete and the Navy MK3 MOD 0 diving/survival knife. Ontario has also supplied a host of bayonets to the U.S. Military including the M7, M9 and most recently the U.S. Marine Corps OKC-3S. All are proudly manufactured here in the United States at the Franklinville facility. The manufacturer’s more recent Spec Plus Series is the new generation of Ontario military knives, blending the past with new designs for today’s warrior.
“We are best known among active and former military members who like to use our knives, with their experience making them confident in how rugged and useful the knife is,” Andrew Yates, Ontario’s vice president of sales and marketing, informs American Handgunner. “Our knives are also favored by heavy knife users and other working people as they are purpose driven and overbuilt. The purpose of carrying an Ontario knife is to make you more likely to get your job done and get home safely.”
“Our most popular knife remains the 499 Pilot’s Survival Knife,” Andrew adds. “The knife is well known for its leather sheath and handle and versatile, utilitarian design. Ontario is also well known for the Spec Plus line of military knives and has recently won multiple awards for Bushcraft knives,” he continued.
The manufacturing of all of Ontario’s military knives has followed a tried-and-true formula using 1074 or 1095 high carbon tool steel with a black coating. High carbon steel is widely used in military, tactical and sporting knives because, unlike many of its modern stainless brethren, it can be easily sharpened in the field — even with a rock if no whet stone is available.
SPEC PLUS Alpha Combat Fixed Blade
The Ontario Knife Company struck gold again in 2002 when it introduced the RAT Series of outdoor knives. Developed in conjunction with outdoor expert Jeff Randall and Mike Perrin of Randall Adventure Training (hence RAT), these knives are a group of fixed-blades hellbent for hard duty. They range in size from the 7.9″ RAT 3 with a 3″ blade to the giant killer RTAK II, which stretches out to a whopping 16.6″ — 10.3″ of that in the blade. The RAT 5 and 7 fall in between and there are three folders in the series: the RAT 1, RAT 1A Assisted Opener and RAT II. All of the fixed-blade knives are U.S.-made with high carbon steel with Micarta scales. The folders have AUS-8 stainless steel blades and are produced offshore.
The RAT fixed-blade knives have become legendary as tough and affordable outdoor knives. As luck would have it, this series entered the market just a couple of years before the modern Bushcraft movement that revolves around the fixed-blade knife as its central base. Ontario’s sturdy RAT fixers stood at the ready and are currently widely used by Bushcrafters and survivalist users alike.
A note on blade steels is in order here. “While Ontario Knife Company is able to produce knives in a wide array of steels, the most common ones are high carbon spring steels as well as a variety of stainless steels,” Andrew states. “Most importantly, Ontario Knife Company tailors the knife to fit a purpose or variety of purposes, and the steel is selected to best meet that purpose. Ontario Knife Company is best known for fixed blade knives but also has many popular folders, mostly featuring frame-locks or liner-locks.”
RAT-3 Fixed Blade
Tomorrow Is Today
In the past two years the Ontario Knife Company has been making a ruckus with their new generation of fixed-blades and folders. “We have worked with several custom knifemakers and well-known knife designers, such as Robert Carter, Joe Pardue and Bob Dozier,” Yates informs. “Their design expertise brings great value, and the added variety of interests and opinions helps us keep our line varied and versatile.”
The big noise is coming from the company’s collaborations with Robert Carter, grandson of Blade Hall of Fame custom knifemaker Mel Pardue and son of Joe Pardue, a well-known custom maker in his own right. Robert’s customs are in hot demand and Ontario bet more affordable factory versions of his folders would be as well. It was a “bingo” of mammoth proportions. When the first entree, the Carter Prime, was served up it was an instant hit. A second course, the 2quared, soon followed. The newest is the Carter Trinity, pictured on page 56. All three folders feature Robert’s trademark aggressive styling and beefy, overbuilt construction.
Collaborations with popular Arkansas custom knifemaker Bob Dozier have also spiced up the line. First out of the chute was Dozier’s dagger-esque Arrow folder. The newest is the Strike model, a send-up of Bob’s best-selling Folding Hunter in a lockback design. Dozier has a waiting list of several years for his custom folders, but the Ontario Knife Company has sweet factory versions available now at an affordable price.
Ontario hasn’t forgotten to dance with what brung ’em. Modern fixed-blades are also part of the new generation of knives. The sleek-yet-dutiful Cerberus clip point is 10.2″ of stealthy, all-black heaven. Sculpted G10 handle scales and black oxide coated D2 steel bring the Ceberus up to modern tactical standards. For the outdoorsman, the Hunt Plus Series will fill the bill. Available in both drop point and skinner styles, these 9.19″ fixers feature deep grinds — just like hunters like them — and grippy rubberized hidden tang handles for excellent comfort and purchase. In addition to these new entrees, Ontario has a host of other fixed blades for any need imaginable.
Hunt Plus Camp Knife Fixed Blade
Now & Then
There aren’t a lot of century-old cutlery companies left in our country. Most have fallen by the wayside or shuttered their doors and licensed their names to companies who specialize in offshore manufacturing. The Ontario Knife Company proudly makes the overwhelming majority of their knives right here in the U.S., just as they have for generations. Considering Ontario Knife Company’s successful history, they’ll be doing it for generations to come.
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