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Knives were among the first tools fashioned by humans. Using flint or obsidian, prehistoric craftsmen knapped sharp edges from these soft stones using harder ones. By fracturing the stone, they could shape blades that could be used as crude knives or axes for preparing food or building shelters. Sharing a similar design, these basic tools evolved to become spearheads and arrowheads. As time went on, techniques were improved, and stone blades were refined and improved upon. The more advanced of these could feature animal skins wound around part of the stone, or lashed to wood or bone handles to make them more comfortable for extended use. As civilization progressed, Man discovered metals, how to work them, and developed into the Bronze and Iron Ages. It was during these periods that knives began to resemble their modern descendants.
"Knives were among the first tools fashioned by humans."
Fast forward to the present day and not too much has changed since those basic Bronze- and Iron-Age designs. The methods of construction and components are greatly improved, but the overall form remains much the same. A knife still consists of a sharp blade and a handle by which to hold it; however, advances in metallurgy have made these much more durable than their predecessors. Handle materials have also come a long way, with many different materials and textures to help make use easy in varying temperatures and environments. They are all almost certainly more comfortable than a piece of stone wrapped in barely tanned leather.
There are two types of knives that are typically used in the outdoors: fixed blade and folding. A fixed-blade knife tends to be sturdier, with the blade material extending at least part of the way into the handle, and often all the way down the interior of the handle. These blades are carried in a sheath, constructed out of either natural or man-made materials, to protect the blade and the handler when not in use. Folding knives, as their name suggests, feature a pivot point that allows the blade to be tucked into the handle for safe storage, negating the need for a sheath.
Fixed blade knives tend to be more rugged, as there are fewer parts to break. At their simplest, they consist of a sharpened piece of metal sandwiched between two pieces of material to form a handle. This category encompasses everything from the steak knives in your kitchen drawer to the Bowie knife of Davy Crockett fame. Their uses are as varied as well, running the gambit from bushcraft, to clearing brush, to cleaning fish and game.
Bushcraft refers to skills that would be needed to survive in the wilderness. While knowledge is often considered the most important thing in a survival situation, having the right tools to apply that knowledge can be considered almost as important. And one of the most important items you can have with you out in the woods is a sturdy blade. Models with fixed, thick backs and straight edges, such as the Gerber LMF II and StatGear Surviv-All Survival Knife excel here because they are versatile in their applications. They can perform delicate tasks and still be used to fell trees in a pinch and everything in between. The Surviv-All’s sheath not only holds the knife, but it has an integrated cord cutter, a sharpening stone, and a fire steel. To hold and carry the LMF, Gerber provides a low-profile sheath with two straps to secure the sheath tightly to your leg if it’s being worn on a belt, plus, it’s MOLLE compatible to carry on a harness or pack. It also includes a patented built-in sharpener that ensures a honed edge when it’s drawn.
People all over the world have come to rely on the machete. From the jungles of South America to the Australian Bush, many styles of this useful tool evolved. While they have many different shapes, they share the common trait of having a long blade, which can not only cut large swaths of brush but offers a nice weight and length that puts a great deal of power behind a solid swing. When clearing trails, or dealing with an unruly backyard garden, the long blade is useful for cutting back vegetation without extending your arms too far and potentially getting cut up by sharp leaves or thorns. Models like the SOGfari Machete have the ability to cut through thicker materials using the saw teeth incorporated on the back of the blade. A different configuration is represented by the Gerber Gator. This style has a shorter blade than the SOG, but features a sharp brush hook on the spine for clearing hard-to-reach brush by hooking it and pulling the machete toward you.
Typically, when filleting fish, you would like a blade with a certain degree of flexibility to get the cleanest cuts, as well as the most out of your catch. A thin blade is also desirable, as it gives you the finesse you need for this delicate procedure. A handle that allows you to retain grip even when wet is a bonus here, for obvious reasons. The KERSHAW 7" Fillet Knife is a good choice because of the softer stainless steel that is easy to sharpen, and a handle that seems to get stickier when wet. For those who are interested in a folding model, CRTK has an innovative folding system that allows for a 6" blade, yet folds compactly as seen on the Clark Fork Folding Fillet Knife. For larger jobs, CRKT also offers the Big Eddy II, with a 9.25" long partially serrated blade that weighs just 3.5 ounces.
When you are preparing game for the table, nothing beats a sharp knife. A sharp edge goes through hide and sinew with ease, and delivers the delicate precision that is necessary when you are crafting steaks, chops, and cutlets. While there are folding hunting knives out there for sale, I’ve always preferred a fixed blade for the ease of cleaning. Blade-shape selection is largely personal, but a modified clip point is tough to beat for versatility. Models like the CRKT Onion Skinner can pull off skinning duty, as well as the more final cuts as you get ready for the freezer. If you’re looking for something of a multi-tasker, CRKT’s Free Range Hunter 4.25" clip point blade can be used for a variety of outdoor and camp jobs and prepping game, too.
CRKT Free Range Hunter with clip-point blade
Folding knives are more compact, as a rule. Typically, they are (roughly) half the size folded as they are open, so they are well suited to being tucked in a pocket. This genre is very diverse, encompassing single-blade models all the way up to specimens with more tools than you can count. What type and the number of implements included determines the functionality of the knife, and many of these are designed with specific end users in mind. These users can be tradesmen, first responders, office jockeys, field hands, or even golf enthusiasts.
Tradesmen may enjoy the simplicity of an easily replaceable razor blade found on the small and compact Gerber EAB Lite Pocket Knife. First responders, such as EMTs and police officers, may appreciate the StatGear T2 Auto Rescue Tool, which has a glass breaker on the end of the handle and the seatbelt cutter that easily and safely slices through the webbing to extricate someone without causing more harm than good. For those who call the office home five days a week, the CRKT Hootenanny, despite its awkward name, has classic lines and a functional design of the would be a good fit. Those working the back 40, or pulling wire for the local utility, would find the versatility of the KERSHAW Clash Folding Knife. Its partially serrated blade can cut anything from your lunch to cordage, and the reinforced nylon handle is strong and durable and won’t get cold even if the temperature drops. There are even models aimed at golfers, like the Victorinox GolfTool Pocket Knife, complete with retractable divot tool, tee punch, ball marker, tweezers, and scissors.
Most folding knives have some sort of lock, and the forms they take are as different as the knives themselves. Whatever form they take, they prevent the blade from closing accidentally, potentially causing harm to your fingers. The most traditional is the lockback, as demonstrated here on the Gerber Gator. This device requires you to depress a lever to release the blade. Probably the most popular now is the liner lock. This mechanism is a bent piece of metal that snaps into place behind the blade when it is opened to lock it in place. To close it, simply push the lock to the side and fold the blade into the handle. The CRKT Endorser is an example of this locking system. A variation is the frame lock, where the frame acts as the protrusion, like on the CRKT Squid. While the liner and frame lock work in virtually the same way, a frame lock is generally a bit thicker and sturdier and will be more resistant to slipping than the thinner liner lock—especially after years of use. The last lock type we will cover is the piston lock. To use this type of lock, you slide a bearing back to close the blade. SOG Knives created its own proprietary version, called the Arc lock, as seen on the Flash II.
Another consideration is how the blades open. Some blades come out only using the force you apply, while others have a device to help them spring open. These are referred to as assisted opening, and usually employ a spring to help actuate the blade. The CRKT Hissatsu features the OutBurst Assisted Opening System, which takes over after the blade opens past 30 degrees, to open quickly. As far as moving the blade, there are several different options here, as well. Studs catch your thumb to pry the blade out. Some manufacturers use discs, while others use holes. Blade protrusions, for example, in the Zero Tolerance 0562, are also commonly used where a grooved heel sticks out of the handle when the blade is closed. To open the blade, the user employs his forefinger to press down on the protrusion while flicking the wrist. This can be stacked with opening-assisted springs to make it very quick and easy to open.
An offshoot of the pocket knife is the multi-tool. Many believe that the origins of these jack-of-all-trade tools were what we commonly refer to as the Swiss Army Knife, a pocket knife with many implements such as scissors, screwdrivers, tweezers, and saw blades. The multi-tool can perhaps be best classified as pliers with additional implements, although these, too, have undergone many changes in form in recent times. They are very useful, both in urban and in-the-wild scenarios, as they can be used for a number of repairs. From maneuvering a hot pot over a camp fire to fixing the radiator in your apartment, the uses are only limited by your imagination and dilemma.
Blade style is another important consideration. These can be divided into three camps: straight edge, partially serrated, or fully serrated. Which edge is best for you depends on the type of cuts you will need to make. A straight edge is good at performing push cuts, allowing for greater accuracy and control. They tend to make cleaner cuts overall. A serrated edge will perform both push and pull cuts, working with a sawing motion. These are suited to cutting rope and straps, or softer items like tomatoes and bread. A compromise between the two is the partially serrated blade. Most of the time, these blades have straight tips for delicate work and a serrated back section for tougher cutting jobs.
A partially serrated blade will perform both push and pull cuts, with a sawing motion.
The shape of the blade helps dictate what it is used for. The most common is probably the drop point, or some modification of that general outline. The convex curve of the back toward the point is a good choice for general-purposes knives, both folding and fixed. A clip point is similar, with the back being more concave to provide better piercing performance. On a sheepsfoot blade, the sharpened portion is straight and the back is flat until it curves to the edge at the end, lending it to chopping. The straight back pattern is very common in fixed blade knives as the curving edge and flat back allow it to chop, pick, and slice equally well. Another increasingly common form is the tanto and it is primarily designed for piercing. This style, inspired by the short sword of the same name, traditionally worn by Samurai, is more accurately called the American tanto and features a chisel-like tip with a thick spine that provides the strength required to punch through tough materials without bending or breaking.
|Drop point||Clip point||Tanto|
When it comes time for you to buy a knife, think about what you will end up doing with it. If you are going on an extended trip in the bush, then something reliable is best. A full-tang blade with a well-thought-out sheath is in order. While fixed-blade knives may be more durable, they don’t fit well in a pocket. Another consideration is length; some municipalities have a cap on how long your blade can be. If you are an avid angler, then the obvious choice is a fillet knife. And tradesmen should consider a multi-tool to help in the day-to-day, and an office worker may want a simple single blade folder to help open boxes.