Arno Bernard Knives: Fine Custom Knives from South Africa

 

by Greg Quinn

photography by Greg

August 3rd, 2010

UPDATED November 24th, 2010

 

 

 

Itís been about three years since I first met Arno Bernard Senior and his son with the same name.  Each year, the last day of the SHOT Show is dedicated to my going through the smaller booths, usually stuck back in one of the back sections of the immense Vegas Convention Center show floor.  I walk quickly past booth after booth of products ranging from decoys to clothing to knives to other products from smaller less-known manufacturers.  Iíd stop when something specifically caught my eye.  Some of the best new products Iíve seen and reviewed have been found tucked back in one of these small SHOT Show booths.  At SHOT 2007, one of the booths that caught my eye was a small table with a simple sign that said ďArno BernardĒ.

What caught my eye was not the small booth size, or its location (it was hard to find and easy to miss), or the simple sign, but the small table filled with some of the most beautiful fixed-blade knives I had ever seen.  Handmade in South Africa from the finest materials, and handed to me with big smiles by Arno Senior and Arno Junior, I immediately fell in love with the product and their story.

The Arno Bernard workshop is located in the Eastern Free State town of Bethlehem in South Africa.  A beautiful region with friendly people and great wildlife, Bethlehem in South Africa is home to Arno Bernard and his knife company.  Arno Bernard Jr. founded the Arno Bernard Knives company in late 2005, following in the footsteps of his well-known custom knife maker father Arno Bernard Senior.  Arno Jr. had his wife Zine and brother Franco join him in 2007.  Zine handles customer relations, and the two Arnoís and Franco are involved in the design, manufacturing, and sales of the knives.  Their vision of manufacturing the finest quality hand-made custom knives and selling them at affordable prices is a hallmark of their company.  To aid in the US distribution, they distribute their products through a new distribution center established in Plant City, Florida.

At SHOT 2007, on the last day of the show, I truly enjoyed handling their product and hearing their story.  One will not find a more charming elderly gentleman than Arno Sr., and Arno Jr. is very friendly, knows the product well, and is a good salesman.  Arno insisted that I pick out a knife from among their large array to take with me and use as I would any knife.  While warning Arno that he probably didnít want me to treat their beautiful custom knife as I would the hard-duty knives that I test and use daily, he encouraged me to do so.  Therefore, I left with a smile on my face, taking with me one of their medium-sized Predator series knives, with the intent to use this knife to determine if the quality matched its appearance.

Itís been more than three years since I left them that day, knife in hand.  Iíve seen Arno at every SHOT since then, and always look forward to seeing their new product entries as well as talk to him and his family.

Regarding the knife itself.  I truly had to overcome some mental barriers to enable me to take something so beautiful and use it as I would a factory-made Ka-Bar, Kershaw, Benchmade, SOG, Buck, or other quality knife I regularly use and abuse.  However, I was determined to see if the quality of the product matched its appearance, so for the next two plus years I would use the Leopard as if it were a stock $60 knife instead of a custom $250 knife.

The Arno Bernard Predator Series Leopard (all their knives are named after regional animals) knife of mine had a Sambar Stag handle and came with a sheath made from cape buffalo hide.  The stag handle, while stunning in its beauty, is very strong as well.  Being from the southern US where exotic animals are rare, carrying a knife with a Sambar Stag handle in a cape buffalo sheath is pretty cool.  The steel is 12C27 (N690 in some knives).  The knife proved to be as strong as it was pretty.  Over the 2 plus years that I used the knife, it never failed.  The edge proved strong even in hard duty and held an edge well.  The knife is very well made, and the fit and finish is as beautiful as the materials.  I have pried with the knife like a small pry bar and it never stressed the knife to the point where the metal moved or the stag handle cracked.  I have hammered on landscape timbers with the butt of the knife and it didnít crack the bone.  Iíve cut through landscape fabric into compacted dirt while replanting bushes in existing beds, which is tough on a knife.  I used the edge as a screwdriver as I often do knives.  I even pried some rocks out of dirt and it did well.  The knife cleaned up very well even with caked on dirt and mud, largely attributing to the exceptional fit of metal to bone.  I admit that I never cleaned an animal with the knife, but the serious duty it performed in everyday landscape work and tough carry duty is much harder on a knife than dressing game.  Every time I used the knife as I would a factory-make product of one-third the price, I must admit I felt quite guilty.  And, one would think that a friend passed away while, after more than two years, I lost the knife.  Iíve searched for it and cannot find it anywhere.  I guess one of these days while tilling my garden or replacing some plants in a mulched bed or walking through the woods behind my home I will once again discover my Leopard friend.

Arno made the loss of my Leopard up to me by recently sending a box full of their new products for review.  So, while this article both discusses the quality of the product after more than two years of use, it also showcases some of their new knives which are sure to be a hit with the consumer market.

It takes a bit of internal convincing to make a conservative Southern boy be willing to endorse spending $250 for a high-quality knife when other fine knives can be purchased for half this price.  But, as with most high-quality products of any kind (cars, guns, homes, etc.), you get what you pay for.  At prices ranging from $95 for their Bush Babies series to $290 for their Giants series, Arno Bernard knives represent some of the best value in the industry.  Iíve seen custom knives from other manufacturers that are not half as good for more than twice the price.  Iíve not seen another knife in this price range that allows the carrier to pack a full-custom, exceptionally high-quality, extremely beautiful knife containing exotic materials from a far-away land.  You can spend $100 or so now days and get a very good knife from a number of different manufacturers.  Weíve reviewed some pretty good products from fine knife manufacturers with prices ranging from $40 and up.  And some fine tactical knives that meet a specific duty; these Arno Bernards are not that kind of a knife.  If youíre looking for a beautiful custom knife that is tough, unique, and that provides great pride of ownership, look no further than the fine products of Arno Bernard.

The products of this review, in addition to sharing information about my long-term test of the first Arno Bernard product, are an initial evaluation of the box of new Arno Bernard knives recently received from South Africa.  Iíve already shared information about the quality of my prized Arno Bernard Leopard that I have unfortunately lost after more than two years of use that at times was pretty tough.  I wish I had taken pictures of that knife after hard use, but didnít, thinking Iíd have time to do that later.  The loss prevented such.  However, I have included pictures of the knife when new, and after more than a couple years of use, it really didnít look much different.  The steel is very tough and holds and edge well, the fit and finish remained impeccable, and even the exotic handles held up very well indeed.  I suspect that these new Arno Bernards are no less quality in hard use.  The beauty is there, they have the same fit and finish, and the knife sizes, shapes, and designs are all very unique.  Out of the box they exude quality.  If they are like their Leopard brother, then the quality remains consistent with years of use. 

We received knives in all of the Arno Bernard series of knives.  The Giants included the Buffalo, Hippo, and Rhino.  The Predators included the Leopard, Sail Fish, and Lion.  There were Grazer series like Impala and Oryx, and Scavenger series products named after dogs (Jackal, Hyena, etc.).  And, the small Bush Babies series had a Porcupine and Squirrel.  All have high-quality steel, polished to a bright finish, and with a very keen edge.  There are no tool markings on the blades; the finish of the steel is impeccable.  Handle materials included mammoth tusk, ironwood, Sambar stag, warthog tusk, ebony wood, snakewood, cocobolo wood, sheep horn, and giraffe bone.  All sheaths were made of cape buffalo hide.  Try buying a product of these materials at your local gun store, Cabela's, or Wal-Mart.

As Arno Bernard are allowing Gunblast.com to keep these knives for long-term test and use, you likely will hear more about them again.  My brother Jeff, who looks at knives as mere tools, was even impressed with these products, and will be carrying one no doubt at times on his hip.  My brother Boge appreciates beauty and quality as do I, and being a single-action revolver lover, appreciates the form, function and beauty over convenience and sheer toughness.  We even provided one of the smaller Bush Babies series knives, the Porcupine, to our dad J.P. Quinn, who was extremely proud to strap it on his side.  While he is way past the years of using a knife as one normally uses a knife, to see the smile on his face as he admired the beauty and quality of such a product was very worthwhile indeed. 

I imagine that Arno Bernard Sr. admires his product with the same feeling of pride and satisfaction.  I hope that this dedication to beauty and quality never deteriorates, and that the knives of Arno Bernard are the same (if not better) 10 years from now as they are today.  From what I know of Arno Senior and Arno Junior, my bet is that they will be making these beautiful, high-quality custom knives for many years to come, providing a combination of quality, fit/finish, exotic materials, beauty, and value that will result in pride of ownership among those who own them for many years.

Iíd recommend you get one yourself.  Click on the link below, or the Arno Bernard banner on the Gunblast.com home page.  Then youíll see what I mean.

www.arnobernard.com

Greg Quinn

 

UPDATE!

November 24th, 2010

New Models from Arno Bernard elevate their already great product line to new heights. We are sure you would appreciate the materials and craftsmanship of these fine knives.

Clockwise from 11:00 position are new Arno Bernard offerings: Sail Fish with Sambar Stag handle, Lion with Giraffe Bone, Nyala with Sheep Horn, Vulture with Desert Ironwood, and Squirrel with Snake Wood handle. All AB knives are custom made in South Africa out of the finest quality materials.

 

 

More fine new AB knives, featuring (clockwise from top): Oryx with Giraffe Bone handle, Bokmakiri with Sheep Horn handle, Hummingbird with Ebony Wood, Great White with Snake Wood, and Buffalo with Maple Burl Wood handle.

 

 

Clockwise from top: Wild Dog with Sheep Horn handle, Oryx with Giraffe Bone, Squirrel with Snake Wood, Hummingbird with Ebony Wood, Hoopoe with Desert Ironwood, and Buffalo with Maple Burl Wood handle.

 

 

Lion with Giraffe Bone handle shows the exceptional quality that goes into each Arno Bernard knife.

 

 

The fit, finish, and quality of Arno Bernard knives are evident, as shown in this Sail Fish model with Sambar Stag handle. These are among the finest custom knives on the market, and available at a good price.

 

 

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 


A few Arno Bernard knives showing varieties of size, design, and materials.

 

 

The Oryx from the Grazer series with a Sambar Stag grip and cape buffalo sheath.  The Oryx is 8-1/8" overall with a blade length of 3-7/8" and 12C27 steel.

 

 


The Squirrel in the Bush Babies series has a Warthog Tusk handle and an overall length of 5-7/8", with a 2-1/2" blade of N690.

 

 


The Lion from the Predator series has steel of 12C27, a giraffe bone handle, overall length of 8-5/8" and blade length of 3-7/8". All Arno Bernard knives come with sheaths of cape buffalo hide, beautifully tanned and finished. The Predator series knives have a retail cost of $250.

 

 


The Rhino in the Giants series is one of the largest of the Arno
Bernard knives.  Retailing for $290, the Giants are the largest and most expensive of their full-custom high-quality knives, and still a great value. This one has a sheep horn handle, a unique design that would be great for skinning (the little hump on top of the blade is great for leverage with your thumb), is made of high-quality N690 steel, and has an overall length of 9" and a blade length of 4-3/8".

 

 


The Giants series Hippo knife pictured here has a sheep horn grip, an overall length of 9-3/8", and a blade length of 4-3/4".  This is a great all-round design in a large custom knife.  Like all  Giants, it is priced
at $290.

 

 


The Buffalo in the Giants series has an overall length of 9-5/8" and blade of 4-3/4".  With N690 steel, a great design, and a sheep horn handle, this is all the big knife a hunter should need. 

 

 


The Leopard in 12C27 steel and an overall length of 8-3/8" with a
giraffe bone handle is a great knife.  All Predator series knives have a price of $250.

 

 


The Impala is a Grazers series knife from Arno Bernard.  It has
an overall length of 7-3/4" and a 3-1/2" blade of 12C27 steel.  This one features a grip of beautiful desert ironwood.  The Grazers series retail at $230.

 

 


The Porcupine in the Bush Babies series quickly became our Dad's favorite knife.  It has an overall length of 5-5/8" and a 2-1/2" blade design that would be excellent for cleaning fish to peeling apples to skinning a squirrel.  This one features a handle of beautiful cocobolo wood. The Bush Babies series sell for a retail price of $95, depending upon grip. For an easy-to-carry full-custom exotic knife, one cannot beat the value.

 

 


The Predators Sail Fish with a giraffe bone handle and featuring a unique blade design is truly a beautiful knife. It has an overall length of 8-1/4" and a blade of 3-3/4".

 

 


The Hyena from the Scavengers series (which also includes Jackal, Wild Dog, etc.) has a suggested retail price of $160; a great value for a knife of this quality.  This one has a beautiful ebony wood handle, an overall length of 6-3/4" and a blade length of 3-1/4".

 

 

Author's original Arno Bernard  Predator series knife, now lost to the wilds of Tennessee.