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TOPS Knives Shango

bushcraft, survival, knives
Testing the TOPS Shango knife. We use the skeleton type knife for fire starting, making feather / fuzz sticks and cook a delicious meal using primitive methods.


  • Overall Length: 6.5 inches (16.51 cm)
  • Weight: .15 pound (0.068 kg)
  • Blade Length: 2.75 inches (6.985 cm)
  • Thickness: 5/32 / 0.156 inch (0.396 cm)
  • Steel: 440C RC 58-60 Cryo Treated
  • Handle: Skeleton
  • Blade Color: Gray
  • Sheath: Kydex

  • What comes with the kit?

    When we received the knife from TOPS Knives, it had the following gear with it.

    • Lansky Sharpener
    • Fire Starter - magensium rods with ferrocerium striker
    • Whistle
    • Snap Link
    • Neck Chain

    • What is 440C RC?

      Common details about 440C are its high carbon content and it's superior wear and still have good rust resistance. 440C is a 400 series stainless steel, and is the highest carbon content from 400 stainless steel series. Grade 440C is capable of attaining, after heat treatment, the highest strength, hardness and wear resistance of all the stainless alloys. Source It is usually heat treated to reach hardness of 58–60 HRC as is the case for the Shango. Purposely designed to provide stainless properties with maximum hardness. It is used for bearing steel, bushing, surgical instruments, chisels, pump parts and of course most important for us knife blades. "Stainless steels were invented roughly around the beginning of the 20th century. Many different alloys were experimented with, and it didn't take long to discover that chromium, the hardest of all known metals on the Periodic Table of Elements, was highly beneficial as an alloy element to steel. It was discovered that the addition of this extremely corrosion resistant, hard, brittle, and lustrous metal would make steel (basically iron with a tiny amount of carbon) a lot harder, a lot more corrosion resistant, and stronger overall. Another curious fact surfaced too, that the higher the carbon content in the chromium steel, the less corrosion resistant the stainless steel becomes. More carbon makes the steels more hardenable, and thus more wear resistant, but decreases the corrosion resistance. The issue is one of balance, a term frequently referred to in machinists' and engineers' references. This balance depends on the use, exposure, strength, and corrosion resistance needed for particular applications. In the following Link, Jay Fisher discusses 440C in depth.

      Feather Stick (Fuzz stick)

      Often used to as fire starter, feather sticks are just another old trick. The idea is to remove the outer bark of dead standing wood and create long thin curls of wood. By increasing the surface area of the wood and getting to the dry center we can improve the chances of establishing a flame. There seemed to be two areas in the blade that cut the wood easier, the center of the blade and the curve on the clip point. If pushing the blade away from you, the clip point curve slices through the wood easier if held at the right angle.

      Making Sparks

      The notch on the end of the knife (pommel), is designed for scraping the magnesium and ferrocerium rod that comes with the Shango knife kit. We ended up giving the magnesium/ferro combo rod to a boy scout while helping a troop with the survival badge. We tested it using just a ferro rod. There is a great video by Joe Flowers where he shows scraping the magnesium and sparking it into a flame. The idea here is to save your blade edge by using a different part of the knife to create the spark. It took a little getting used to, but we were able to create hot sparks. Striking against the firesteel rod seems to make a hotter spark versus scraping. Reading different reviews some people still prefer to scrape the finish off the knife spine and create and area on the back of the blade they can use to create the shower of sparks.

      Anytime we are dealing with scraping a magnesium block/rod or a ferrocerium rod, the trick is not to hit the nice pile of tinder we worked so hard to create. Yes we will preach it again, we believe in practicing with the blade often before possibly being forced to use it under pressure. Trying to learn how to use a tool after falling into cold water, or being caught out in a cold rain is a bad idea.

      Below we show how we used the Shango to start a fire one handed. By using a stick as support and putting pressure from our leg, the tinder scraping and spark can be done if one arm is injured. Thinking about possible scenarios and repeatedly executing a task is one way of preparing the mind for a stressful situation. Knowing how to start a fire one handed is just one of many incidents.

      In the following sequence we start a fire under very humid conditions. Due to the high rains we have been dealing with a humidity as high as 97% on some days. Finding dry tinder and kindling has been a challenge. River birch being a year around good source of tinder. A nice dry cat tail head would have been nice too.

      Camp chores

      How about different chores around camp? The fall fish are pretty active chasing bait around into the back of the creeks. It was time to catch a fish and clean it using the shango. Grabbed some wood we had laying around for the wood stove and followed up by using it to split some planks. First it would test if the knife could take a beating from batonning and the planks would give us a nice base to keep the tinder off the damp ground. Needless to say the blade stood up to the pounding once again and came through in flying colors. This is not really what the tool was designed to do, but it did not bend of break during testing.

      First we wanted to ensure that we had everything ready to start a fire. It would be a shame to catch a fish, and not have a way to prepare it. This is where we test the toughness of the blade. We took the inner bark of a poplar tree and shredded it into a nice fine tinder bundle. Earlier in the day while looking for tinder we saw a bird's nest. That could have been another option to help start the flame.
      While we were able to baton through smaller pieces for kindling, we used an axe to create the foundation wooden planks.

      Once we had several pieces of kindling split, we used the same wood to make a feather stick. As mentioned earlier, the Shango was used to create a very thin fibered tinder nest using inner bark. Although the blade edge seems a little thicker than we are used to, it cuts through the wood without high levels of effort. For those used to a mora knife it may feel different at first. A sharp Mora knife can usually cut through wood like soft butter.

      Now that we have the tinder and wood prepared for cooking, we needed a way to cook the fish. Using the shango we quickly put together a tennis racket shaped broiling rack. With the use of a smaller river birch tree, we found the right amount of flex in the wood used for the frame and the smaller branches on the same tree were used as natural cordage material. Any left over branches were used as cross pieces to hold the fish in place. Although we only used one branch to trap the fish between the cross members, it is usually a good idea to have multiple back cross pieces to ensure the fish does not fall out while changing positions. This is to ensure the fish is cooked on both sides.

      And so we are rewarded with a warm fire, a cooking tool and most importantly, a nice meal.

      So we used the Shango to chop through wood, make feather sticks, start fires, clean fish and all around camp chores. There were times we felt a flatter grind might have simplified tasks however the Shango did all the tasks without a scratch. The blade looks untouched and remained sharp. We plan on carrying this blade for a while and report back on sharpening and anything else that may come up. Our next step is to wrap the handle in parachute cord and see how that changes the feel of the knife. This blade is an all around tough piece of equipment. We look forward to testing more blades as we continue to add articles to the page. Thanks for reading and go enjoy the woods while getting familiar with your gear.

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