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Friday, March 20, 2009

A Knife

Knives. Great tools, probably the second-oldest that mankind developed, since I am pretty sure the club was the first tool/weapon. The first knife probably came as a result of someone cutting a finger on a fragment from a bone they'd just smashed with that first club. There are a lot of books available and articles & forums all over the internet on choosing & using knives, but I thought I'd drop a few of my thoughts on the subject here. I've carried one ever since grade school and owned dozens. Some I have liked, some I have hated, and some, like a girl with a pretty face and no character, I fell in love with for a while and then discarded when I couldn't handle their faults, but I still haven't found the perfect knife or knives for all my uses. There are a lot of choices to make when you shop for a knife, just like shopping for a car. You have to decide what type of vehicle will suit your purposes and what price range you can afford before you even start shopping. Even with those two broad criteria settled, there are a ton of other decisions to wade through. In knives, the first major decision will be what you want the knife to do. If all you want is to trim your toenails, that's one thing. Splitting firewood or stabbing grizzlies is something else entirely. The second decision is fixed or folding blade. The folding blade is easier to carry, the fixed blade is stronger. The third major decision is blade material. Your options run from obsidian through ceramic to Damascus and the latest stainless steel, and every one of those choices has upsides and downsides. Next, you have to decide on a blade style, and they run the gamut from needle-like stilettos to Bowie knives, heavy duty machetes and double-edged spear points, in serrated or non-serrated styles. The next decision is price range, since knives can cost from pennies to thousands of dollars. As a general rule, around $50-$75 is the bottom end for a quality knife and the peak is probably around $300 for something that isn't custom made. Which reminds me, I was looking at a site that specialized in high-end $300+ knives, which asked the question "Would you trust YOUR life to a hundred dollar knife?" Well, yes I would, actually. If you are rich, things are simpler. Go to an experienced custom bladesmith with a good reputation and tell him what you need. Satisfaction guaranteed! I'm not rich, so I am shopping. I know what I expect to use a hunting knife for:
  • Dressing, skinning, & butchering fish, birds, and animals that range from rabbits to moose.
  • Chopping wood or cutting limbs for building fires, shelters, etc.
  • Prying & pounding, if nothing else is available.
  • Camp cookery, food prep & eating.
  • Self defense, as a last resort.
I know what I want:
  • A handle that fits my hand, orients properly, & doesn't slip when wet, bloody, or greasy.
  • A straight or drop point -- these work best for field dressing animals.
  • A 6" long blade not over 1.5" wide -- I've tried shorter and longer blades and did not like them. Longer or wider gets in the way and shorter sometimes doesn't reach where I need it to.
  • A bolster or guard to keep my fingers away from the cutting edge (A guard gets in the way sometimes, but cutting all the tendons and nerves in your fingers if your hand slips down the edge is more inconvenient, as a knifemaker friend of mine learned to his sorrow.)
  • A metal cap on the butt of the knife so I can use it as a hammer or, conversely, pound on if I need to drive the knife into something.
  • Made from 3/16" or 1/4" thick stock for strength.
  • A full length tang, also for strength.
  • 440C or AUS8 steel, which are good compromises in edge holding, flexibility & rust resistance.
  • A Titanium Nitride (TiNi) coating to prevent rust.
  • A hole through the top of the handle, so a loop of cord or lanyard can be attached for added security.
  • Manufactured by a company with a reputation for quality -- the way the steel is tempered is at least as important as the type of steel used. (Too soft a steel doesn't hold an edge, too hard a steel is brittle.)
  • A fixed blade. No folding knife can meet my specs.
  • Price under $100.
I want a synthetic sheath, preferably of Kydex. Leather deteriorates and does not really protect the knife from being damaged or damaging you if you fall. A well-designed Kydex sheath actually locks the knife into place when the blade is inserted, a nice security measure, and is designed for several different carrying options. Adding a sharpening surface or fire flint to a kydex sheath is relatively easy and adds utility. I DO NOT want a gut hook, which I consider a gimmick to sell knives. A double edge is out -- I don't need a slashing tool. Saw teeth on the back of the blade? I guess they are okay, but I can live without them: I've never used one that worked well. I don't want serrations on the blade, a serrated edge is good for cutting rope or seat belts and that's about it. I don't want a Rambo-style hollow handle, which weakens a knife and is not comfortable to hold. This knife comes close to what I want. The brand is SOG, the model is the S21T, the Gov-Tac Black TiNi. "Features a 3/16" 6.10 in.bead blasted single plain edge blade of AUS 8 steel, and a 4.90 in. Kraton rubber handle with Black and Grey washers. Comes complete with a Kydex sheath. Overall Length: 11.375" Weighs 9.6 oz." It has a slightly slab-sided handle shape with bold diamond checkering, and grip lines that don't twist in the hand and give good control. The Kraton cushions your hand and adds comfort. There is a proprietary rust-proof TiAlN deep black coating on blade, pommel, guard, and spanner nut, and a stainless steel sculpted crossguard and pommel, capable of being used as a field hammer. There is a lanyard hole on the pommel. The choil (the rounded-in portion of the blade between the cutting edge and the guard) and a grooved section on the top of the blade allow you to choke up on the knife for fine work. Perfect? No. Acceptable? Probably. Just another infatuation with a pretty face? Hopefully not! (Me) (Blacktail Books)


Jean&Vic said...

I rather enjoyed this post. my personal preference is for utility, so I carry a buck knife with me everywhere I go (one never knows when a knife will be needed) it has the front guard to keep fingers from slipping onto the blade, even when the handle gets greasy. the blade has a small back edge that has come in handy on a couple of occasions. it is easy to keep track of, despite not having the lanyard hole (though I often think it needs one when the weather gets cold and I can't feel my finger tips).It has a strait back edge as well (no serrated edge), and I like it that way. It tends to keep me from abrading my sheath and destroying it in the dark, or when I am half awake trying to up it back after some half remembered middle of the night trip to the barnyard that required using my knife (don't laugh, it has happened. I would really love to have that coating on all my knives though, as some of them tend to rust, and coating them with oil tends to make them slippery.
I also have to agree the hollow handle types are not as durable. goodness knows I had one given to me for my 17th b day, and it was a pretty but shoddy knife. the contents in the handle were worth more than the blade, sad to say (the little ring saw was particularly useful, and worked on everything shy of metal poles)
This is not to leave out the other multi tool I always carry with me, that being a folding blade pocket knife. I am on my 3rd one here in MT, my 5th total in my life. It is indispensable for a pocket tool, and is always something we almost always forget we are carrying, until some one mentions it. Useful on more than one level, I have repaired doors with one, opened locks, tightened screws, gutted more than one animal, whittled, carved, and performed first aid with one (though I recommend something more suited to removing beebees, or buckshot, like say a pick, or pliers with a needle nose)
This of course includes the multi tool itself, but as we are on knives, it gets no more than the honorable mention.
For throwing blades, I have to say, I have tried a few, and the home made variety have always served me best (but there have been some other fine blades I would never have refused a home, just because 8-)
So in response, the purpose for the blade is to be considered, then shop accordingly. though I have to admit, I am particular to your new little buddy. I am just wondering, is there a cute little twin I might convince the wife we need for her to carry around when I go out and find one like yours?