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.)