This is a new post that is entered in our contest. It is an article from Elijah on choosing a blade. Don’t forget to get your article in, you have until the end of February.
Whether you are outfitting a bug out bag, a survival pack, putting together gear for a backpacking trip, or anything else, there are some common themes you need to consider when choosing knives and cutting tools.
What are you going to use the knife for? Even though a knife is probably one of the most fundamental and versatile tools there is, the performance of a knife is enhanced in a certain task if it is particularly suited for the job.
A great example that comes to mind is a hunting knife. It seems the traditional or popular hunting knife is usually too large, heavy, and cumbersome for the job. What many companies sell as a tool for field dressing a deer or even an elk is not suitable for that task.
My favorite knife for skinning and quartering large game is a sharp, light blade of about three and a half or four inches. Anything much longer just gets in the way or is too heavy. This size of knife usually comes with a fairly thin blade, such as an eighth of an inch, which I also like. The thinner blade allows cutting through things with less resistance.
If you’re primary tasks for the knife are things like cutting and trimming small branches and wood, cutting cord and rope, leather and fabric, and foodstuffs, you may find a slightly larger knife more useful, such as four or five inches long.
I have also found over and over that a small, thinner blade gives an advantage with many bush craft tasks, such as constructing a bow and drill set, snare triggers, and so forth. This comes back to the blade thickness and ease of slicing through whatever you’re cutting. Suffice to say, unless you have a compelling reason for a heavy blade profile don’t get one. Therefore, it’s good to know what kind of “grind” the blade has. A hollow ground blade is usually quite thin, but sometimes isn’t as strong as others. A flat grind makes a very gradual wedge shape, and while maintaining a thin profile it is sturdier than a hollow grind. You can check the blade grind by holding the knife between both index fingers, while looking directly at the point. The profile of the blade and how thick it is will be visible.
So, you’re intended use for the knife directly influences its size. Under normal circumstances you simply don’t want a 12” chopper when you’re cleaning a rabbit or cutting wild roots for the pot.
Maybe you’re starting to see a theme: there is no knife that will do it all perfectly. You need an assortment of good blades.
But to my mind, there is one important exception to this rule, and that is if you are limited to the choice of only one blade. There may be few times when this happens, but the idea is a good exercise nonetheless. It forces you to carefully consider the capabilities of any knife you choose. Can you chop with the knife? If so, how large a piece could you reasonably handle? How will this affect your ability to make a shelter? Start a fire and gather kindling and wood? If you only carry a small blade, how will you accomplish tasks that would normally require a large knife or hatchet? What techniques could you use to accommodate the limited size of your blade?
If I could carry only one blade and it was my only cutting tool, it would be a large knife, about 10” or longer, but not much more than 12”. With a knife this size I can do some serious chopping as with a hatchet. This is extremely advantageous for many tasks, including shelter building, fire starting and feeding, cooking pot supports, and more.
But since it is still a knife, I can do a lot of finer work as well. It is a bit cumbersome, but it gets the job done. It is still easier to do smaller jobs with a big knife than with a hatchet.
Whatever the size and purpose of your knife, it must be a quality blade. The last thing you need is to experience the failure of your most versatile and important tool. I look for several things when purchasing a quality knife:
- The Steel:
This determines how well the blade holds an edge, how easy it is to sharpen, and how it holds up to use and abuse. There are limitations to every tool, but if you have to do a little batoning, prying or tough carving and scraping with your knife you want to know it’ll be up to the task, and not snap off in the middle of the job. You also can’t afford to have to sharpen your knife every five minutes while using it. But the good thing is that it’s not difficult to find a knife with excellent steel these days.
Steel can be summarized in two categories: carbon steel and alloy steel. Carbon steel is not rust proof, but can make a very good blade when properly cared for. In this day and age, there are coatings or finishes that can be applied to the entire blade to protect it against the elements. Some manufacturers have adopted this for their carbon steel knives.
Alloy, or stainless steel, has the obvious advantage of being corrosion resistant. Alloy steel can also be stronger and more durable than carbon steel, and is very popular today. Whether you choose a carbon steel or alloy blade, if you stick to a reputable manufacturer I don’t think you’ll have an issue.
- Tang Design
An important feature of every fixed blade knife is the tang. This is what connects the handle to the blade, and in my opinion, the stronger the better. There are many quality knives with full tangs. This is easy to see on a knife, as the steel of the knife is visible between the pieces of handle material, or scales. The scales are attached with pins, bolts or screws, and sometimes can be removed for replacement or cleaning.
A hidden tang is imbedded within the handle, which is often polymer, rubber, leather, or antler. The sturdiest hidden tangs run the length of the handle and are secured at the end, usually by threading into a pommel or end cap.
- Blade Design
It’s important to pay attention to the blade design. If you’re looking for a multi purpose bush craft knife you don’t want a thick blade. It will greatly limit the ease with which you can cut through many things, and when it comes to fine work with tight angles like a snare trigger, a heavy blade profile can get in the way. An example of this is a knife designed for combat applications, like the Cold Steel SRK and the classic KaBar. While they are good knives, I would not choose them for multipurpose application.
- Fixed Or Folding
Where you are going and what you are doing may determine if you can carry a good fixed blade knife. This is my first choice if possible, but for me, like most people it’s just not practical. Since I prefer a sheath knife with a blade between 3.5 and 5 inches in length, I compromised with a hefty CRKT 4 inch folding knife with a sturdy liner lock. I can carry this every day all the time, and although not a fixed blade, it has performed very well.
Some Knives I Like
I have purchased, made, and used many knives. My fellow knife aficionados will agree, it’s a never ending search for the next perfect knife. That said there are several knives I have used extensively and continue to employ. Not only are these knives quality and well suited for my purposes, they are also affordable. They are below or well under $100 dollars.
Cold Steel Pendelton Lite Hunter
This is a great little knife, and very affordable. I’ve used it for general bush craft as well as big game skinning and field dressing.
- SOG Field Pup
I’ve used this knife a lot and have found it to hold an edge well. It has a good handle that maintains grip when wet.
- KaBar BK – 16
This is a full tang design with removable handle scales, with a good blade design and profile for general purpose cutting. The blade is only a touch over four inches, but I’ve used it for batoning on smaller stuff and it handled it no problem.
- Ontario Cutlery RTAK II
This is my big knife. It still rings in under $100, and has a 10” blade. I like the Micarta handle slabs, which fill even large hands like mine, making it comfortable for heavy chopping. It’s also easy to choke down on the handle to get close to the blade for finer work.