The Edged Tool at Hand

By CTD Blogger published on in Blades and Knives, General

A guest post by Pete in Alaska

What makes the knife perhaps one of the most important tools you could have in the field or… anywhere? Stop for a moment and consider what you could use a good blade for on any given day.

Go ahead, take five seconds and count them up—surprised?

The important question is, “What tool will serve me wherever I find myself?”

Assortment of Knives

Stop for a moment and consider what uses you can apply a good blade to in a given day.

What makes a good edged field tool? How do you make a choice with so many options? For this discussion, let’s just consider fixed-blade knives. You need a foundation with the following “must haves” (and they are also important in other edged tools).

Consider These Elements

  1. Full tang blade, essential for strength
  2. Non-slip or composite grips contoured for safety and positive handling
  3. Chip, drop or Tanto point, for strength
  4. Sheath, positive lock, waterproof and durable

A Few Specifics

Environment and projected use will help determine the material type (steel) of the blade you need. Stainless steel blades are most common in today’s market, although not all stainless is equal; some types are much better than others. Stick with the better-known manufacturers when buying stainless. Your requirements  help determine the construction and materials you should look for to best fill them.

As most of you are familiar with how to use a knife, not make them, the following is a basic set of guidelines to consider when searching out your next knife. These suggestions were drafted with the fixed-blade hunting knife in mind. However, they will also apply to the better classes of folders, automatics, spring-assisted and multi-tools—for the most part.

Steel

A blade with higher carbon content provides a sharper edge and longer use and is also easier to maintain. A non-stainless blade is fine. However, it requires additional care and discolors over time. It may also rust if not taken care of. Rockwell Hardness (RC) is the general standard for the hardness of the steel. It rates the steel’s flexibility (how brittle) steel may be. The RC should be somewhere between RC54 and RC59 for general use.

Blade Design

In general, you want a 4- to 7-inch working area or edge with an .1875- to .25-inch thick by 1.125- to 1.5-inch wide blade. Blade shape is a personal choice, however. For a multi-purpose blade, get a blade that carries its strength to the tip or point.

Stay away from the longhand thin when looking for a general service tool. The full-tang handle, where the steel of the blade continues into the handle and creates the basic handle shape, provides the greatest strength.

The handle fit should be comfortable and feel natural when held. Take the time to find the knife that fits your hand and your requirements.

NOTE: Don’t get a knife just because it looks “cool.” This is too important a tool for that.

Two multitools fully opened

Higher carbon content will provide a sharper edge for longer use and is easier to maintain.

Handle Materials

The grip should be sure, comfortable and feel solid in your hands: a non-slip grip material is your best choice. A blade should always feel secure and in control in a wet situation. The grip telegraphs the blade’s position even when you aren’t looking at it.

Consider the placement of your fingers when looking for that one knife. The new materials that are rubber-like and, when wet, seem somewhat sticky feeling in the hand are an excellent grip choice for a field knife, if for no other reason than safety in the field.

Sheath

The sheath is an often overlooked but a very important part of this tool system. Bad design of the sheath spells disaster in the field. Keeping the blade in a positive, secure and safe manner is imperative. The modern thermo-plastic or ballistic nylon designs are perhaps the best for security and safety of your knife today, not “pretty” but purpose-made carriers. Classic leather is still widely used but may cause issues with the blade and security as it gets old, worn and abused, or hasn’t been well cared for.

Multi-Tools, “Survival” and Specialty Knives

These are a category unto themselves. A multitude exist from general-purpose, such as a basic Leatherman to the Leatherman “Wave” and onto the task-specific Leatherman MUT for handling explosives. There are number of good “toolbox in your hand” systems. Perhaps the best known of these is the Swiss Army Knife series.

Specialty knives are generally task-specific and custom knife makers may also fall into this category.

The so-called “survival” knife is, for the most part, a myth. ANY knife may be a survival knife. There are, however, several blades out there worthy of this title, such as the Cold Steel Bushman series.

Let’s hear what’s on your hip or in your pocket, on your MOLLE gear or leg… and why. Information is power, knowledge is life. Tell us in the comment section.

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Comments (7)

  • Pete in Alaska

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    When one attempts to write a blog like this, one hopes to generate discussion, comment, suggestion and add additional insight to the subject being written about. I’d like to thank you one and all for those attributes found in your comments above and the time you took to comment. My knowledge has been increased by you input on this subject. Thank you, Pete sends . . .

    Reply

  • Steve

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    While I agree that a cheap knife will do a job (a bamboo cane pole, a piece of string and a hook will catch a fish), I just get a lot of satifaction when using a high quality knife (as a fine fly rod and a hand tied fly will catch a fish in style). I collect knives and appriciate a makers artistic ability, choice of materials as well as functionality. I guess it just boils down to what a person values.

    Reply

  • faultroy

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    Good article and some even better comments. One point that was not made is that of the price and style of knives. Everyone should carry what they think best, but after 50 years with knives and owning a number of high dollar knives, the knives I have gone back to for hunting and survival are basic kitchen knives and Moras.

    My favorite knife for field use is the Ontario Old Hickory 7″ Butcher knife. It costs all of $10.00 USD. I also have a couple of Moras–which cost about the same and use them as neck knives. The Moras is standard for those of us with an interest in Primitive Skills and Survival.

    If there is one thing that really bugs me, it is the idea that you need a high dollar knife. More has been written about knives than probably any subject. Those of us with a lot of years behind us tend to look at things differently than when we started.

    Today, I am only interested in thin knives that are easy to sharpen, hold an edge and are cheap. There is nothing more disconcerting than breaking a $400.00 knife in the Bush–and there is no need if you buy good cheap knives.

    Today, there is an ever growing array of specialty steels that custom knife makers are using to sell to their customers. Are they good blades? Yes they are. Will they do anything a $10-$15 knife can’t do? No, but they can do it with less wear on the edge so you don’t have to sharpen it so often.

    For a novice, that is the worst thing that you can do. The young knife enthusiast should purchase a cheap knife and sharpen it often.

    Your objective should be to put a good working edge (a good working edged defined as being able to easily slice thru a piece of typing paper with little resistance)on any knife with any piece of material available–from sandpaper, to a stone, to a piece of cardboard to a rock that you picked up from a creek bed. You should be able to sharpen the blade upside down. You can’t learn these much needed skills by purchasing a super steel that rarely needs to be sharpened.

    You also need to learn how to read a blade to decide what the best method of sharpening is. And this is easily practiced by taking your thumb and forefinger and stroking the knife at various points along the edge from the Spine (back of the knife) to the edge.

    If you learn to read a knife properly, it will be the map you will use to sharpen a blade, and you will never be in a situation where you are sharpening a blade and can’t figure out why you can’t get an edge on it.

    To give an example, the method for sharpening a Scandi grind is a little different that sharpening a flat grind. Furthermore, many hollow ground knives are very difficult to sharpen because they have a double bevel and consequently, the angle required to put a good working edge on them may have to be changed in order to compliment the grind lines. By spending time reading the blade, you can anticipate problems that you may encounter while sharpening.

    Reply

  • Calvin Richardson Knives

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    The comment regarding a full tang knife being stronger than a hidden tang isn’t necessarily true. A properly constructed hidden tang knife is just as strong as a full tang knife. We need only look as far as the European swords and the Japanese swords. They took an incredible beating yet were still functional and seldom broke through the handle.
    I mostly agree with the comment about stainless though. High carbon will take a much better edge due to a finer grain structure and lack of chromium carbides. There are a few stainless steels out there that are incredible performers, but they are far more expensivensive knives due to the cost of the steel. High carbon also has the added benefit of working with fire steels and flints, thereby making it a much better choice in a survival or wilderness situation. Just keep it clean and oiled and don’t store it in the sheath over long periods of time. High carbon steel has been with us for a long, long time and will continue to make quality tools.

    Reply

  • art kunstmann

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    Jims right, there is no such thing as a knife thats multi purpose…I carry two a thin pocket for routine stuff from opening mail, cleaning toenails, to cutting my steak, and a 6″ full tang carbon steel blade for the tougher jobs gutting & quartering critters, cleaning fish, opening cans or just a security blanket.

    Reply

  • Jim

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    The functional shape, size and tooling properties of a knife to hold an edge; are paramount. A cutting tool, works best while sharp, and a person’s ability/willingness to correctly keep it sharp, is very important. Being a maker of hand carved, custom made to order leather products, an extremely sharp cutting tool, allows precision severing and carving, with little effort and little chance of personal injury. You don’t have to spend a lot of money for a good knife, but you do have to decide just what you want to use the knife for. For instance, a skinning blade and a head knife have altogether different purposes, as a machete does from a utility knife. You may need more than one knife. There is no such thing as a “multipurpose knife” if you want to do a specific task well.

    Reply

  • AR Shooter

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    make sure it not STAINLESS STEEL i can not get a good edge on this rust proof product . i will admit i like a edge you could shave with [not really , just a expression] if you know how to get a good edge please post it here…………

    Reply

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