MKM Normar Knivesandtools Exclusive | Review by Padraig Croke
This knife has been in the works for a long time. I first got wind of it a few years ago from Knivesandtools, and you can bet I was excited to get my hands on one. Being a big fan of LionSteel and their build quality, not to mention the shapes and models that Jesper Voxnaes (Vox) has worked on in the past, I had no doubt that this would be one for my collection. I was right. After almost 2 years of prototypes, alterations and testing, the MKM Normar has finally landed on my desk, and it was worth the wait. So let’s get out in the field and see what this tidy-looking tool can do.
MKM and the Normar
MKM stands for Maniago Knife Makers. MKM is a consortium representing knife-makers from around the world with their headquarters in Maniago, Italy. MKM has a range of knife companies working under their name, from LionSteel and Viper to Fox and Mercury, and each company has its own specialty. They have therefore created a large collection, with something for everyone. MKM has slipjoints and gentleman’s knives, as well as tactical fixed knives and EDC pocket knives. All made from the best materials and finished according to the Italian standard.
Jesper Voxnaes, whom I mentioned in the intro, was the mind behind the shape and style of this beauty. For those who may not be familiar with Jesper: he is a Danish knife maker with an impressive list of clients including the excellent GiantMouse Knives, as well as Böker, Spyderco, CRKT and Helle. Jesper is probably one of the most trusted in the industry right now, and his fingerprints are all over this knife. When discussing Vox with Knivesandtools, they pointed out some style features of Vox’ previous work that is also evident in the Normar: ‘... especially the handle, [which] is very recognizable as a Vox design. Check out a GiantMouse GMF2, for instance.’
Once Vox had the basic design ready, the folks at LionSteel built the knife, since they have the proper tools and machinery to deal with the materials. So, after almost two years in the making, the rest is history. The Normar shows us what rigorous prototyping and testing can achieve. But on a market already bursting at the seams with choices of tools, what makes the Normar stand out?
Specs and materials
What I found most refreshing about the Normar is that they didn't try to reinvent the wheel. That’s not so say it isn’t a looker. The curve of the belly is truly eye-catching, and the drop on the back of the knife gives it a traditional French Trade kind of feeling to it. I personally love the balance of traditional and modern here. That being said, this full-tang knife features reliable geometry and it is made from simple, trusted materials.
The Normar’s overall length comes in at about 23 cm, with a 10 cm cutting edge made from probably my favourite type of steel; CPM 3V. The Scandi grind (a first for LionSteel) sits comfortably at roughly 1/3 of the blade's surface (comparable to the Morakniv Companion). The use of 3V steel is a great choice in my opinion, as it adds to the knife’s premium quality while still keeping things affordable. When I asked Knivesandtools about this choice they said, ‘We wanted to make sure we made the most of the CPM 3V steel on this one, so we played around with some different sharpening angles on the Scandi’. The evidence speaks for itself, and my own experience with this setup has been fantastic.
When it comes to the handle, I believe it will sit comfortably in most hands, although it does taper quite a bit towards the back of the handle. The scales are held in place with titanium Torx screws, which you will find on most LionSteel designs. The handle materials come in a choice of black G10, santos wood, olive wood or green micarta.
The sheath is sleek and inconspicuous, with a generous belt loop that keeps your knife sitting at a really comfortable height without digging into your side when you sit. As always with LionSteel, it’s made from tough and robust Italian leather, double stitched and glued, and the finish on everything feels really good. The knife is secured with a button and leather strap placed across the finger choil of the handle. The leather that covers the blade reaches all the way up to meet your knife. This prevents any floppy or top-heavy sheath action. Your knife is guaranteed to sit tight, which is essential when roaming the woods. On the back side there is also a MOLLE compatible leather webbing strap, secured with a robust button. This is perfect for people who like to keep their knife on their backpack or tactical vest.
How does it feel?
This blade feels just as good as it looks! There are so many interesting shapes on this knife. The prototyping must have been intense, with testing and rounding and refining for very specific hand positions. Using the Normar in my hand, I found a variety of grips equally comfortable. Whether I used it in a full grip, reverse, chest lever, or knee brace, I was constantly surprised by something that feels like it was put there for that very motion. Maybe I’m giving it too much credit, but the invisible lines of this knife are incredibly smart.
The G10 handle meets every requirement I have of a knife. With a simple full grip position, for example, you have a comfortable choil built into the scales towards the front. A large surface area of jimping for the thumb along the beautifully rounded spine feels very nice when extra force is needed from the thumb. For example, when you’re pushing notches through hard or frozen wood. Prolonged use in this position will start to hurt the thumb pretty quickly, due to the 90-degree spine. If you’ve ever tried to thumb push with a Morakniv Garberg then you’ll know what I’m talking about. A 90-degree spine is extremely useful though, especially for scraping tinder materials or striking a firesteel. LionSteel already has a feature on their own range of blades to answer this need and they’ve built it into the Normar too. A squared off section of the exposed pommel allows for scraping and striking motions. My only criticism here would be that I’d rather they had squared off the lower part of the pommel, instead of the very back. The shape of the scales taper quite a bit at the end of the knife. Personally, I think this is very comfortable, but some the handle too short for their preferred grip. The swell catches your pinky nicely, with enough room left for your index finger to sit in the curve of the finger choil.
The cutting edge itself works in a variety of positions too. The extra belly allows for the hand to find plenty of steel under the thumb if you want to choke up for reverse grip pull strokes. The added belly also makes for really comfortable cutting, and the angle of your hand can easily determine the thickness of the slice you're making. This is especially useful for carving or for making feathersticks.
There are so many things to love about this knife. It feels great in hand, it’s super comfortable to use, it’s well built and it just looks so nice. Those modern lines and curves, combined with some traditional nods, makes the Normar, in my mind at least, a bit of a modern classic. I recently uploaded a video on my YouTube channel comparing the differences between bushcraft knives and survival knives. In this video I was talking about how some knives sit squarely in the middle of these two categories. The materials used for the Normar are all very modern, and yet it feels like a traditional tool. As I mentioned, CPM 3V is one of my favourite steels because it’s easy to sharpen, but remains extremely wear resistant. However, it is prone to corrosion if not properly taken care of, so it does require a bit of maintenance. Using 3V was an excellent choice in my opinion, as it gives people access to this material, without the usual price tag that comes with it. It has happened a few times now that people who are just getting into bushcraft ask me for advice regarding their second knife, as they want to upgrade from what is often their entry-level Morakniv Companion. Usually I would recommend a Garberg, because of the upgrade to full tang, the sharpened spine and the improved materials. But now I believe I have another contender for a recommendation in the Normar. It ticks all the boxes for me.
Pros and cons
- Very comfortable in the hand in all cutting positions.
- Excellent steel choice for a bushcraft tool.
- Leather sheath is excellent quality materials and build.
- The squared-off pommel for scraping is on the wrong angle for easy use. Being on the very back of the knife, instead of at an angle, feels like a mistake (however minor).
- I would like a little more material towards the back of the handles, but not much.
- Front button is starting to show copper colour. Personally I don't mind a weathered look, but it may bother some people.
Padraig Croke is the host of the outdoors podcast Trial by Fire, which ran from 2018-2023. A graphic designer and photographer by day, as well as an avid outdoorsman and bushcraft enthusiast, when he's not writing for us he's usually out in the field making film or taking photographs.