Letter Re: Folding Fighting/Utility Knife Recommendations?

We have a copy of your novel “Patriots” published by Huntington House; and even had the 8.5 x 11 [self-published] precursor to the book. I’d like to ask you a question. Do you know of any tactical/SERE knife evaluation forums out there.
I’d like to obtain the best folder out there for my son. I have an old Al Mar SERE, but am curious if anyone has compared the various folders such as Al Mar, Masters of Defense, Benchmade etc.
Keep up the great work, James! – R.S. in Ohio

JWR Replies: I am by no means a knife expert. (Although the Memsahib claims that I am a seasoned expert at buying knives.) My general preference is for folding knives. Why? Because you will almost always have a folding knife in your pocket. Big sheath knives get left behind–often when they are needed the most.

The following is my advice for those you that like me are not independently wealthy: I think that the Cold Steel, CRKT, and Benchmade brands are some of the best affordable knives on the market. Granted, there are custom knives that are superior in many aspects, but most of them are quite expensive. I would rather have a half dozen Cold Steel or Benchmade knives than spend the same amount to buy just one from a “name maker.” Lets face it: If they are used on a day-to-day basis, knives get lost, stolen, or broken with alarming regularity. I know some purists who swear by their Chris Reeve, Lyle, Ruana, or Randall knives. More power to them. They own great knives that are expertly-made, durable, and, will hold an edge. They will even appreciate in value, if well cared for. (Witness the recent meteoric price increases for early Randall fighting knives in Heiser sheathes.) But my approach is instead to have a larger number of moderately priced knives. With these extra knives I will have spares on hand in the event of loss or breakage, and perhaps even a few for barter and charity. You can of course follow this approach to an absurd extreme. Don’t buy Chinese junk, just because you can get 10 knives for $100!

FWIW, my “daily carry” folder is a small CRKT M16-12Z with Zytel grips. This is a good knife that sells for less than $50. It has a half-serrated AUS8 stainless steel blade with a Tanto type point. BTW, I prefer tanto style blades, since they are less prone to broken tips. (Yes folks, I’m a bit hard on knives.) It has a belt clip, which I consider a necessity on small and medium-size folders. I previously carried a larger model (also a Tanto style, from Benchmade), but I found that it was too bulky.

Regardless of your choice of knives, a top quality knife sharpening system is a must for your retreat. At home, I prefer the Lansky Sharpening System. When out in the field, I use a compact Cam-Nu sharpener. There are several other good ones on the market. But just be sure to get a diamond-impregnated sharpener if you have any knives that are made with the modern stainless steels such as ATS-34. These are usually hardened to a high Rockwell scale number, so you’ll find that they are difficult to re-sharpen with a set of traditional stones. (But the good news is that their hardness also means that they hold an edge much better than traditional knives.) A diamond sharpener is a must!