Primitive knives made of stone are perhaps the earliest implements and weapons that humans ever used. Knives are a very basic, but very critical, important, versatile and useful part of your survival kit. Knives come in many different shapes, sizes and types of steels. Not to mention a variety of handle/scale materials, such as wood, micarta, G10, bone, plastic, nylon, GRN. etc.. Knives can cost a few dollars for very cheap knives or up to thousands for hand-crafted knives made from exotic and/or advanced metals and materials.
This article will help educate you about knives so you can choose the best knives for your budget, purposes and needs. One thing to keep in mind is that a more expensive knife may not, and probably will not, be the best knife for your situation.
There are 2 basic types of knives: Fixed blade and folding blade. Each of these basic knife types have several different types of knives based on the intended purpose of each knife.
For survival kit purposes, knives are a basic and essential tool, so you should always carry (in your pack or on your body) at least 2 knives, such as 1 folding blade knife for light-duty general usage and a fixed blade knife for heavier tasks such as bushcrafting or building a shelter. I suggest carrying three knives: 1 fixed blade, 1 folding blade and a multi-tool with one or more knife blades.
A. Fixed blade knives. A fixed blade knife has a blade that is fixed in place and does not fold.
1. The back end of the blade (called the tang) on a fixed blade knife extends into the handle, either part way (partial tang) or all the way (full tang).
2. Fixed blade knives are stronger than folding blade knives and full tang fixed blade knives are stronger than partial tang knives.
3. There are many different types of fixed blade knives, depending on what each knife is designed for. Most knives are also multi-purpose in that although designed for one task, they can be used for other tasks too. Some common fixed blade knife types are:
e. Bowie knife
4. Pros and cons of fixed blade knives.
- Due to the nature of their construction, fixed blade knives are stronger and more durable (depending on the type of steel used) than folding blade knives.
- Fixed blade knives can be used for a variety of purposes such as chopping, slicing, batoning or as a small machete.
- Fixed blade knives are easier to maintain than folding blade knives since there are no moving parts of a fixed blade knife.
- Due to their durability, fixed blade knives usually last longer than folding blade knives. b. Cons.
- Fixed blade knives are heavier than most fixed blade knives.
- Fixed blade knives won’t fit in your pocket and require a sheath to protect the knife blade and to protect you from the sharp edge.
- Fixed blade knives may be too large and unwieldy for some tasks.
B. Folding Blade Knives (Pocket Knives).
As the name implies, a folding blade knife has a blade that folds into the knife handle. There are many different types of folding blade knives suited to a variety of tasks/purposes. Folding blade knives have only partial tangs. The tang on a folding knife is the back end of the blade where it attaches to the pivot point. The pivot is where the blade is attached to the handle, and it allows the knife to open and close.
1. In general, folding blade knives are not as strong as fixed blade knives.
2. Folding knives are classified in different ways. One such way is by the locking mechanism. A second way is by the blade type and yet another way is by the knife’s purpose. There are many different types of folding blade knives, again depending on what tasks knife is designed to do. Most folding knives are also multi-purpose in that although designed mainly for one task or purpose, they can be used for other tasks too.
3. Some common folding blade knife types by purpose are:
a. General Purpose
e. Serrated Blade (for cutting rope)
4. Folding blade knives by lock type.
a. Liner Lock. The liner lock is the most common method of locking a folding blade open. The liner is a thin steel plate, shaped the same as the handle, and is inside the frame of the knife. The lock on a liner lock is part of the liner that automatically bends in and locks the blade in place while open. To close a liner lock knife, you press the lock back toward the frame and release the blade to close.
b. Frame Lock. Also a very popular knife lock. A frame lock works the same as a liner lock, but instead of being part of the liner, it is an integral part of the frame. Since the frame is thicker steel than the liner, the frame lock is a stronger lock than the liner lock.
1. Frame Lock Pros.
- Simple construction
- Very strong lock so knife is safer to use.
- Few moving parts to break or get gummed up with dirt and debris.
- Right Hand Grip Only
- Lock wear may cause sticking
- Smooth action may require correct pivot adjustment.
1. Lock Back Pros.
- Lock back knives are left or right handed.
- Lock back knives have a very strong lock and are safer to use than other types of locks because the lock is less likely to fail.
- Lock back knives are safer than frame or liner locks because your fingers and thumbs are not near the blade, so there is less chance of cutting yourself.
- Wear to the lock bar surface may cause blade play/looseness.
- Not as fast opening as frame locks or liners locks so the “fidget” factor is missing.
D. Button Lock.
Button locks are usually found on automatic and out the front (OTF) knives. When the button is pressed the spring-assisted blade is allowed to open and the blade is locked open by a bar that fits into a notch on the blade tang. The button must be pressed to either open or close the blade.
1. Button Lock Pros.
- Very strong lock so blade will not fold in while using.
- When closing the blade, your hand and fingers are not in the path of the blade.
- In areas where automatic knives are prohibited, police may think these are automatic knives.
- Moving parts can get gummed up and affect knife opening.
- Usually only right handed.
E. Slip Joint.
A slip joint is not an actual blade lock since the blade is not locked open. It gives some safety but if the blade is put under enough pressure, it will close, and you may cut yourself. A slip joint knife uses a spring that holds a blade open or closed. The spring is mounted along the knife spine and is attached to the handle. When you open the knife, the spring presses on the blade tang and holds the blade open.
1. Slip Joint Pros.
- Simple and sturdy design.
- Very reliable.
- Legal to use in areas where locking blades are prohibited.
2. Slip Joint Cons.
- Blade does not actually lock open so not as safe as liner locks, lock backs and frame lock knives.
- Takes 2 hands to open or close the blade.
F. Axis Lock.
The axis lock is a fairly recent invention. The Axis Lock is patented by Benchmade, and other knife companies have created similar knife locks under different names. All these variations use similar mechanisms that use a spring to force a bar or ball-bearing against the top of the tang which locks the blade in place.
1. Axis Lock Pros.
- Strong lock, so safer to use.
- Easy to open and close.
- Right or Left Hand
- Hands are not in the path of the blade as it closes.
- Several moving parts that can wear out or get gunked up with dirt and debris.
- Springs may break and are less durable than liner locks.
- Wear can cause can loose blades/blade play.
5. Folding Blade Opening Mechanisms.
Folding blade knives have a variety of ways to open the knife. This section will discuss the common folding blade knife opening mechanisms/methods.
A. Nail Nick.
This is a very common, reliable and very basic way of opening a folding blade knife. This type of opening is very common and found on knives such as the multi-tool knives from Victorinox or other slip joint knives. A nail nick is simply a groove near the spine of the knife that allows you to insert your fingernail and open the blade. It takes both hands to open a knife using a nail nick.
B. Thumb Stud.
Thumb studs are another very basic, reliable, and very common way to open a fixed blade knife. Thumb studs are mount at the top rear of the blade and give you the leverage needed to open the blade with one hand. It does take some practice to be able to flick open a blade using the thumb studs. Thumb studs can be single, on one side of the blade spine, or dual, with a stud on either side of the blade spine. Dual thumb studs make the knife ambidextrous.
C. Finger Flipper.
A flipper knife has a tab that extends up from the blade. When the knife is closed, the flipper allows you to use your index finger to open the knife. When your knife has a smooth pivot mechanism such as steel or ceramic ball bearings, your knife can open very quickly. People who like to play with/fidget with their knives like to use finger flippers due to the fast opening. Finger flippers are my preferred way to open knives.
D. Thumb Hole.
Thumb holes are located at the top rear of the blade and are just a hole machined into the blade that allows you to open the blade with the thumb on one hand. Thumb hole blades are usually easy to flick open. One advantage of thumb holes is that the do not snag other items in your pocket as thumb studs may.
E. Button Lock.
On a button lock knife, a spring-loaded button is pressed to open the knife. This opening mechanism is used on automatic knives, and some manual opening knives. When the button is pressed, a spring pushes the blade open.
Whew, that is a lot of information to digest, but I hope this is useful to you when trying to decide what knife you need to buy for your survival kit.
If you have any questions or suggestions for improvement, please post them so everyone can benefit from your question or suggestion. Thank you!
The next topic I will post is the parts of a knife.
Until then, stay safe.