The use of tools is one characteristic that distinguishes mankind from the animals. It may be true that chimpanzees will crack nuts with a stone and that some kinds of crows will use a stick to extract insects from tree bark. But when it comes to making and utilizing tools, human being operate on a level far above the most sophisticated denizens of the animal kingdom.
Perhaps the most widely used tool across cultures and throughout history is the knife. From the flint knives of paleolithic tribes to the laser knives of modern neurosurgeons, knives enable us to cut things with an ease and precision far beyond what can be accomplished with tooth and fingernail.
There are many beautiful knives in the world. Pat Cascio highlights many of them in his reviews here at SurvivalBlog. But when I hear how much some of these knives cost, I recoil in horror. If I paid that much for a knife, I would be afraid to use it. (I have a similar perspective about ink pens and watches).
This is partly due to a deeply ingrained habit of thriftiness (or tightfistedness, depending on your perspective). It is also partly due to the fact that I can be hard on my knives at times. It is said that to a man whose only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I usually carry a knife, and it is almost always the only tool I am carrying. This means that if I need to pry something open, turn a screw, or tap a peg into place, my knife may be pressed into service. Since I use my knives so roughly, perhaps it is best that I have never yet paid more than $50 for a knife.
Known and Loved
In spite of the fact that the knives that I have owned have been inexpensive, some of them have been wonderful tools, winning a place of affection in my heart. I would like to tell you about my favorites.
I will begin with the more recent acquisitions, and work my way backward in time to the oldest of my favorites. This will give you the opportunity to read first about knives that fit more modern tastes before wandering back into the recesses of history.
Outdoor Edge Onyx EDC, OX-10
I was under the impression that I first read about this knife here on SurvivalBlog, but I have been unable to locate the source, so perhaps I read about it somewhere else. I have now owned it for about a year. It is my current everyday carry (EDC) knife.
I originally bought the knife because it features replaceable blades. I was never very good at sharpening knives, and felt that this feature would help me to always have a sharp blade handy.
Soon after I bought this knife, I also bought a sharpening tool that I have found to be extremely useful (more about that later). As a result, I am still getting excellent service from the original blade of the Onyx. The 420J2 surgical stainless steel blade takes an edge extremely well. Although the blade does not hold its edge as well as some of my other knives, it is easy to re-hone.
The blade length is 3.5 inches long, while the closed length of the knife is less than 4.5 inches. The knife uses a very sturdy lock back design which clips authoritatively into place. The polymer handle is extremely durable and nicely textured for comfort and secure grip.
I carry this knife pretty much all the time unless I am in a restricted area like a courthouse or psychiatric unit. I carry it between the waistband of my pants and belt, over my right rear pocket with the clip facing outward. This gives the knife good belt retention, while keeping it easily accessible to my right hand. About the only drawback is that the clip will sometimes catch in a loosely-woven sweater. One of the things I like best about this knife is its size. It is large enough to be useful, while being small enough to avoid poking me in the kidney or posterior. Another feature I like is its inconspicuous appearance. I have had people notice other knives that I have worn on my belt, but no one ever seems to take note of this one. It is also light, sturdy, and easy to open with one hand.
At the time of this writing, this knife –with two spare blades–is listed at just $20.95 on Amazon.com.
Smith’s CCKS 2 Step Knife Sharpener
Though not a knife, this is the knife sharpening tool that I mentioned above. Many have strong opinions about knife sharpening, and will view my recommendation of this simple tool with disdain. I freely admit that if you are skilled in the use of another sharpening system, and if you own especially expensive knifes, then this may not be the tool for you. But if you have never spent months mastering the arcane secrets of a particular sect of knife sharpening cognoscenti, if your knives are not listed by serial number on your insurance policy, and if good but inexpensive knives are good enough for you, then this handy and inexpensive tool may be right for you. It helps semi-skilled users to keep halfway decent blades sharp enough to shave the hair off of their forearms.
I don’t recommend using the carbide side of the sharpener unless a blade has become especially dull or damaged. The carbide side tends to remove too much material at each stroke, and could easily ruin a blade. But regular use of the ceramic side of the sharpener will keep the edge of a halfway decent blade in tiptop condition.
To use the sharpener, hold it vertically on a flat surface like a work bench with the groove you wish to use upward. Place the blade into the groove, and then pull it toward you through the groove with minimal downward pressure. Repeat this motion a total of ten times. Then rotate the sharpener 180 degrees, and pull the blade through the groove another ten times. If the sharpener is used in this way on a regular basis, your blade will remain surprisingly keen and ready for use.
At the time of this writing, this sharpener is listed at just $3.98 at Amazon.com.
I learned about this knife here on SurvivalBlog, in JWR’s Recommendations of the Week for May 1, 2019. It has a 4.1 inch fixed carbon steel blade attached to a comfortable, rubber-like plastic handle (a version of the knife is also available with a stainless steel blade). The carbon steel blade takes and holds an edge extremely well. This knife would be an excellent first knife for a young outdoors-person. When my grandsons are old enough, I hope to buy one for each of them. It is the type of simple, basic knife that ought to be pictured in an illustrated dictionary next to the word “knife”. It is sturdy, inexpensive, reliable, inexpensive, sharp and inexpensive. What is not to like?
At the time of this writing, this knife is listed at $14.93 on Amazon.com.
Opinel No. 8
I purchased this knife at a garage sale for a dollar if I remember right. It did not look very impressive. It is just a simple blade that folds into a slotted beechwood handle. It is held open or closed by a rotating steel collar. A nail nick on the blade helps with opening. What immediately surprised and delighted me about this knife was the quality of the blade. The 3.15 inch carbon steel blade was razor sharp, and has continued to hold its edge extremely well. I believe this to be my sharpest knife. It is currently the knife I carry in my mini survival kit (more about that later).
Opinel of France has been producing this type of knife since 1890. I am surprised that I have not yet run across any cheap Chinese knockoffs. Perhaps it is because the original is so reasonably priced that there would not be a market for copies.
At the time of this writing, this knife is listed at $17 on Amazon.com. Other models are available in sizes ranging from 2.36 inches to 4.72 inches and costing between $14 and $25.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)
Good article! Appreciate the tone and practicality.
Also made me double check the knife serial numbers on my policy. Kidding.
Thanks for the encouraging word, Mike. May your knives always be sharp, and never require the use of your insurance.
Yeah, I’m cheap too. Some of Pat’s reviews make me cringe at how expensive the products are, although I do appreciate the level of detail he puts into it.
I mostly manage to keep my knife purchases under $40, with the notable exception of my one KA-BAR…
Save the carbide sharpener for a hatchet or machete. Otherwise it is a knife destroyer.
Hi Tom, Yes, I agree that you should only use the carbide side as a last resort.
Yes, the Morakniv is a good utilitarian knife, and rumored to once have been issued to the Swedish Army. The recent Mora designed for the bush craft crowd is arguably worth the money as it is thicker, a tad longer, and has a full length tang, and the sheath holds a ferro rod, yet I would rather buy 3 of the knives in the picture, than one bush crafter knife, and I carry an extra Mora in the pack. The hard plastic sheath can be made to be more comfortable to wear if a leather strap about 1 inch wide, and about 4 inches or longer, and is folded to form a loop over the belt, and is joined with a flanged bolt head that fits into the slot of the sheath. This duplicates the button that the swedes use on their clothing for holding Mora knives, and makes the knife much more comfortable to wear. Mora knives are considered by the Swedes to be low end utility knives for all kinds of tasks. I would have several for each family member, and extras stashed. Any good kitchen knife can be used for many tasks, but finding sheaths that make carry possible is difficult. The Mora knife as pictured is a good choice for the money. They are surprisingly tough. Just avoid using it to spit wood and it will last. Get the Mora knife that is intended for bushcraft if you can afford a better quality knife that can take the abuse some believe a knife must endure, especially if a knife is all we will carry.
Use ranger bands, or cordage to attach a small bic lighter or ferro rod to the Mora knife sheath pictured, and you’ve got a fire starting kit on your belt at all times. The Mora are generally light enough to also be worn around the neck.
As for sharpening knives, I prefer a flat diamond ‘stone’ that quickly can get the blade hair popping sharp. A small fine stone will last for years, and with proper technique, will sharpen the blade better than any knife sharpening device. I do have a few high quality custom knives. The temper on the steal is however a bit too hard, and mine are difficult to sharpen, but once sharp, these hold their edge. Those without the experience and stones to sharpen hard steel will be frustrated. It is not the type of steel that is most important, but the temper. Mora knives have a softer inner core of steel, and harder outside layer, and are easy to sharpen as a result.
I should hasten to add that the ability to split wood using a knife and baton is a very important capability as one can find dry wood inside of a larger in diameter piece of wood after a rain fall. If one does not wish to carry the weight of a light weight hatchet such as the Fiskars brand offers, or has lost their main pack, then having a knife that can take that kind of abuse day after day, would be a good choice.
I believe a Glock knife would be a good, inexpensive choice for that
A folder that would be sturdy enough to use with a baton is the Coast FX350. I am testing one now, and it is a real beast.
AFAIK the rumour is fact and there is a button regularly on their craftsmen trousers for Holding the knife.
There also exist´s a heavy Duty companion
On my first African safari, I watched in amazement as the natives would spit on a flat rock to “touch up” an edge while skinning and quartering up game.
Yes, the edge was rough, but it worked.
Both the Opinel and the Mora are great knives. I own several of each, which is easy to do considering the price point. The Opinel is a great little pocket knife that doesn’t scream weapon when you have to use it as EDC. It actually comes across as quaint, kinda like Granddad’s Old TImer. All the better to my opnion. BTW Opinel also makes kitchen knives. I can attest their paring knives though, they look rather flimsy, are top notch.
I have several Mora knives, and the Mora is my go-to knife when out hiking, hunting, fishing, etc. Excellent knife for the price and if per chance I lose it for some reason, I am not too heartbroken because of the cost.
My collection includes knives costing several hundred dollars (Busse) to good utilitarian fixed blades and folders (Cold Steel, Mora, ESEE, Kershaw etc.) to daily carry multitools (Leathermans) and cheap tool box lockblades. Most of the expensive knives have become safe queens, mostly because they are either too big for typical carry or too specialized, though a couple have seen some regular and rugged use. My Leatherman Wave is the most used tool I own, and has been for decades. I have three and they are “my Precious”. You can field dress an elk with them, and you can hook up 90% of a SCADA network with one. If I could find an attachment that would let me solder with it, I’d be set.
I’ve spent the time and money ruining a few knives trying to get that scalpel edge. I can get it, but I usually ruining the tip in the process. I have a wWrksharp in a box that hasn’t been used in 3 years. For general touch up, I use the diamond surface sharpener on my Leatherman Waves. Occasionally I use something similar to the CCKS if I have an edge that is boogered up more than usual. For my Henckels kitchen knives, I’ve only needed the sharpening steel that came with it to true up the edge in almost 2 decades of use. If you don’t abuse them, they will just keep cutting and cutting.
A dull knife can be more dangerous for the wielder than a razor sharp one.
Hmm, I to cringe at the prices of some of thee knives, but looking at the prices of some of the knives that you see in the local stores, big box stores, and hardware stores that are priced at or below the $25 range makes a person wonder about the quality of said knives. But then you get what you pay for. I have one knife that is custom made by a local retired guy who makes works of art out of them that cost almost $300, a waste of money, yup, but sure is pretty. But I carry a 3-blade Buck that I paid $20 for, new.
I’m really happy to see someone recommending the Opinel #8 and Mora knives. I don’t have any of the higher end knives that Mr. Cascio reviews (although I enjoy his reviews) but I do have much “nicer” knives than my Moras and Opinels. With that said, when it comes time to dress out game fish, and livestock I pick up either an Opinel or a Mora.
Another Mora that you may want to take a look at is a Mora 612 or a #2, if you like wood handles. I use my companions a lot, but my favorite is the 612, it is like the #2, but it has a finger guard. I burn the red paint off with a propane torch, then finish with steel wool and linseed oil.
Hi Wwes, Thanks for the tip about the Mora 612. It looks very interesting.
You’re welcome! I’m far from a knife expert, but when I found the 612 I thought it would fit the bill for what I wanted, and it did. I have a few Mora 511 knives as well, and for a ~$10 knife they are wonderful as well. They make a smaller version of the 612, the 611, if you prefer smaller blades. I think it has the same blade as the 511. I gave a 611 to my Uncle, who prefers a smaller knife, and he seems to like it as much as I do m 612.
I don’t know how Mora makes a knife so lightweight – they must inject the wood with helium. Light enough to make into a neck knife.
Thank you for the shout outs for inexpensive using knives. So much is said about knives that require a $100 minimum to purchase. A sharp edge trumps super steel.
My recommendation are the SAK (Swiss Army Knife) of your choice. The Huntsman has plenty of EDC tools and can be re-sharpened with your choice of materials. I’ll bet for every knife you see, 3 our of 4 will be the SAK Classic.
Hi Anonymous, You have made a great introduction to part 2 of my article. In it I mention two Swiss Army Knives.
Last year I bought an Ontario Knife Company etc folder. Got a great deal on it. Super sharp right out of the box. Nice size and very comfortable to use. Very easy one handed opening. Great knife. Can’t wait to read the test of your article.
Hi BWL, Is that the RAT 1? If so, I have heard good things about it.
Yes it is. Got in clearance at my local wally world for $17.
Wow, BWL, what a great deal! I am trying not to be envious. How long have you had it?
Bought it last summer.
Kinda a non-point, mostly just because I find it fascinating, but there are many dozens of animal species which use tools. Some use is simple like smashing a nut shell with a rock, but others are very sophisticated like chewing up a mass of leaves to make a sponge to retrieve water “hidden” in the crook of a tree. Some aren’t even vertebrates (octopus). Yes, humans have developed tool use to the level of flying space stations but Nature is still awesome.
Hi GeoGuy, Yes, I admire intelligence wherever it is found. It is pretty impressive what some animals can do. But mankind takes it to a whole new level.
Mora Survival Knife complete with attached ferro rod and diamond sharpening ‘stone’. $63.00 A bit expensive for myself, yet it could be a nice package for a BOB.
This one is a tougher than the other Mora knives and could be used for splitting wood if necessary. However I carry two of the inexpensive $12.00 ones that do most of the same work, and if one is lost or damaged, I have another. Carry an inexpensive Mora along side this one and get the best of both worlds. It will fit in the same sheath.
On Mora knives– I prefer the thinner models, because the Scandinavian grind is so much easier to maintain that with a thick blade. If I want a stiff blade, a thick-spined full-V grind is more to my liking. Also, on the Scandi-grinds, rounding the shoulder back a bit into a convex edge does a lot to improve cutting efficiency, while sacrificing very little strength. Think about the shape of a Very-Low-Drag long-range rifle bullet. Shaping the knife edge like that is very effective.
Good stuff Novice. Looking forward to the 2nd half. Wondering if any Bucks will make the cut….(pun intended).
The “Companion HD” line of Mora knives is only slightly more expensive (under $20, shipped) but offers the same knife as above with a thicker blade and better finish.
It is a very simple matter to add a retention loop to the sheath using 550 cord. The belt-hook can also be cut off at the top, several holes drilled and then sewn to a leather or nylon loop to fit it to a wider belt.
I’ll add my $.02 to the topic. What matters to me most in a folding knife is it needs to be easy to work with either hand and the best I’ve found for that is Benchmade with their AXIS lock. It definitely doesn’t meet the sub $50 price point, but I’ve carried the same one for over a decade and is still working flawlessly after being used hard. Recently added another and it is just as well built as my first. Couldn’t be happier with them and given a choice it is the only folding knife I’ll carry. There’s many good knives out there and Benchmade AXIS is the best for me. YMMV
Those Moras come in lime green and orange handles as well. Last year I was quartering out a couple of deer at night and those high vis. Handles saved me a lot of searching and fumbling. They stayed razor sharp even after hitting bone. There was no touch up needed through the whole process. They kinda remind me of a high vis diving knife I used have strapped to my leg. Didn’t know about the short one. Thanks for the article.
I second that, I have two of the 511’s with the orange handles, I love the fact that they’re so easy to see even when it is getting close to dark,
Good informative article. Although I do not own any Mora knives I have a collection ( obsession ? ) of 50 some knives and a couple swords. Since I am a deer hunter I prize knives that hold an edge and are super sharp since field dressing a deer is way easier with a very sharp knife. ( was in on a couple deer dressing that my buddies shot and told me their knives were sharp; wrong! and it took way longer and messier ) . I bought a 4 inch fixed blade knife from Cabelas years ago called a Pro Gold. Had this titanium nitride gold finish on it, made by Buck for Cabelas. This knife is super sharp and I field dressed 5 deer before I even had to think bout touching up the blade! This was outstanding performance from a 65.00 dollar factory knife. I have lots of CRKT knives as the designs and performance for the money is hard to beat. I know Cascio likes this company products also.
My EDC pretty much is an old Lakota pocket folder that has served me well for many years and has always been easy to bring back a shaving edge with a diamond rod and a good stropping. Bush craft knives have been two of the Benchmade Siberts and cradled in the excellent sheaths by Sagewood Gear. My other favorite is a 70’s Randall no.1 fighter gifted to me by my uncle when I graduated high school who spent many days aboard subs keeping those diesel engines operating.