I was recently asked my thoughts on choosing a knife. My first thoughts were, “Whoa! Hold on there a minute! This is a minefield!” To explain my reaction it’s best to understand that choosing a knife is a very subjective matter. Much like choosing a gun, a car or a pair of shoes. We’re all different. Hand shape, size, left handed, right handed or ambidextrous. All those factors boil down to what’s comfortable and how easily we can manipulate a cutting implement.
Intended use is another huge factor when choosing a knife. A knife that’s suitable for skinning and processing game is not necessarily a good knife for intricate carvings, or as a camp knife, or the current trend of “bush knife.” It’s hard to take a machete and field dress a deer. It’s not impossible but it’s exceedingly difficult.
I buy and use knives for cutting stuff. Period. Dot. If I want to cut down a tree by hand, I use an axe or a saw. My preference is to use a chain saw but, those are rather difficult to tote around on a hiking or camping trip. Back to knives, I have three basic, broad categories in which I use knives, General Purpose, Specific Purpose, and Convenience. Those three broad categories can be broken down even further.
General Purpose: Knives that I can use camping, hunting, at work, or around the house.
Specific Purpose: Knives that I use for something very specific, such as processing meat, stripping wire (I’m an electrician by trade), working with wood, and survival/emergency.
Convenience: A knife that’s easy to carry around, is compact, holds a good working edge, and can accomplish a multitude of common tasks.
I’ve discovered that these three categories tend to cross over quite regularly. In other words there is no clearly defined line at which one stops and the other starts, with the exception of some very specialized knives and cutting implements such as draw knives, chisels, etc. With that caveat firmly in place, let’s take a look at some different styles of folding and fixed blade knives.
From the top:
Boker Bullet Knife, CRKT M16-02Z, Swiss Army Knife, Kershaw Volt, Crossman Lockback
Of the five knives pictured above, the CRKT M16-02Z sees the most carry and use. I purchased it about fifteen years ago and have carried it daily since with the exception of the three times I lost it, tore the house, vehicles, garage etc. apart looking for it, mourned it’s loss, purchased a replacement, opened it, carried it, then found the original. There are also a few occasions when I leave it at home or in a vehicle for when it’s not appropriate, such as I have to dress up (shudder) or I have to go into a NPE or Non Permissive Environment. That particular knife fits well into the General Purpose and the Convenience categories. I can use it for a multitude of cutting tasks from opening a package to stripping wire to light duty prying to sharpening a pencil.
From the top:
Swiss Gear Key Multitool, Kershaw Swerve, CRKT M16 serrated, 5.11 Tactical, Klein Hawkbill
I carry the Swiss Gear Key Multitool on my key ring. That way I always have a knife of some sort. I’ve used it for the occasional bottle opening and screw turning. It provides a nice, lightweight method to have a very basic multitool. The Klein Hawkbill is pretty much a one trick pony. It’s a decent wire stripping knife and fairly easy to sharpen.
Fixed Blade Knives:
From the top:
M9 bayonet with the barrel ring cut off, USAF Survival Knife, Custom Damascus Utility Knife
The USAF Survival Knife has been with me for well over twenty years. I had it when stationed overseas, carried it on my all expenses paid vacation to the Armor Warfare Training Center in The Mojave Desert, (Not quite the beach I had pictured when they told me I was going to the beach for three weeks.) I’ve carried it camping, hiking, kept it as a vehicle knife, used it to drive tent stakes, light duty batoning, light duty brush clearing, dug fire pits and slit trenches with it and generally abused it. It has held up to all sorts of abuse and continued to perform every single time I pulled it out of the sheath. I’ve slowly replaced it with a Gerber Hiker’s Hatchet/Knife combo for most outings but it continues to ride around in my truck should I need it.
From the left:
DPx HEST, Mora Classic, Schrade Skinner
The Mora Classic has become my favorite fixed blade knife, hands down. The relatively thin Scaandi Steel blade takes and holds and edge like nobody’s business. I have skinned, quartered and processed the meat from several deer with it. The highly polished carbon steel blade cleans up very well. The only downside is the craptastic plastic sheath that comes with the knife. The plus side is the knife retails for around $15. For a cutting implement it is about as close to perfect as I have found and doesn’t break the bank either.
Of all the knives I own and use, only about a third which are pictured, this final one is my favorite. I’ve been accused of being an ’Old Soul’ and don’t really find that to be an insult. To that end this particular knife is representative of my outlook on life. It fits my hands well, it cuts well, takes and holds a good edge, is made of good steel and is, as far as I can determine about a 100 year old design.
The Case Sodbuster is a single blade, folding knife with a clip point. In my opinion that is about the most useful blade shape ever designed. The example pictured has black Micarta handles. It does not have an assisted open nor any sort of blade lock. It’s about as simple a knife as you can get and one of the most useful. I recently had a local Leather Smith make a belt sheath for it so I could free up a bit of space in my pocket. His work is excellent and the sheath exceeded my expectations. Expect a short blog post on him and the sheath in the near future.
What I’ve tried to do in this post is show a few options of various knives and my personal preferences. With the exception of the DPx HEST, none of these knives cost over $40. The USAF Survival Knife is proof in my book that one doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good knife. The CRKT M16-02Z is another example of a knife that keeps performing time and again. I won’t tell you which knife to buy, but I’m happy to point out a few of my favorites.