Knives Under $50 That I Love – Part 2, by The Novice

(Continued from Patrt 1. This concludes the article.)

The Mini Survival Kit

Since I mentioned the mini survival kit, I will tell you more about it. It is easy throw into any pack or game pocket when I head outdoors. In addition to the aforementioned Opinel No. 8 knife , it contains a waterproof match case filled with waterproof matches, a ferrocerium rod with a built in compass and whistle, an extra whistle, and a half dozen or so cotton balls dabbed with Vaseline enclosed in a plastic bag. All of these things are kept in a pint sized SubZero stainless steel water bottle. In addition, a Sawyer mini water filtration system can be carried outside of the water bottle.

I keep the mini survival kit stowed in a water bottle, because I believe that if a water bottle can keep water in without leaking out, it ought to be able to keep water out without leaking in.

Having waterproof matches in a waterproof case in a waterproof bottle might seem redundant, but we are all haunted by the ghosts of our past. I once capsized a canoe on a river trip. Actually, I have done this a number of times, but the incident I am thinking of occurred on one particular trip. Even though my matches were in a waterproof case, they became damp, and would not light. Fortunately, I also had a cheap paper matchbook wrapped in a plastic bag that remained dry. Since then, I have become a bit obsessive about keeping my matches dry.

I have used a number of different ferrocerium rods in the past, and have been satisfied with all of them. The only reason I keep this particular rod and not another in the survival kit is for the convenience of the built-in compass. The cotton balls serve as tinder for the rod. The whistle built into the ferrocerium rod does not inspire my confidence, so I carry another. When I worked as a mental health worker at a psychiatric hospital many years ago, I was issued a whistle to summon help in case of emergency. It is still the best whistle I own, and the one that I trust when the chips are down.

Sheffield Multi-Tool

There is a “Lost and Found” closet at the organization where I work. After a certain period of time, the unclaimed items are boxed up and donated to a local thrift store. I intercepted this tool en route to the thrift shop to keep in my desk for minor repairs around the office. Later I picked up a heavier multi-tool at a garage sale. I put the heavier one in my desk at work and brought this one home. The knife on this tool is nothing to brag about (I can’t get it particularly sharp). The other tools have proven themselves to be sturdy and dependable, and the multi-tool as a whole is surprisingly light.

This particular model is no longer available new, but similar ones can be found used on eBay for about $10.

Olsen OK #706

This knife got into the under $50 range on a technicality. I inherited it from my uncle, so it cost me nothing. It is a fine, classic knife that used to be manufactured in Howard City, Michigan. If I were to buy one now on the used market, it would likely cost more than $100. It has a 6 inch carbon steel blade set into a beautiful, nicely contoured rosewood handle. The blade has been scratched by unskillful sharpening in the past, but it still takes and holds an excellent edge.

In a way, this knife is an exception that proves the rule. It is so nice that I never use it. I just keep it on top of my gun safe, and admire it from time to time.

This gives me sympathy for people who own expensive knives. There is something very pleasing about a fine piece of steel set into a beautiful piece of wood. I am just too thrifty to buy this type of thing for myself.

Victorinox MiniChamp

Mini Champ Swiss Knife EDC KeyringThis knife has accompanied me everywhere a knife is allowed to go for almost 20 years. It is a warrantee replacement for a similar model that previously accompanied me for more than a decade. It is only 2.25 inches long folded, and less than a half inch thick. The model that I now own includes two blades, a nail file, scissors, cuticle pusher, screwdriver with ruler, hook tool/package opener, tweezers, and toothpick. The newer model that is currently available adds a number of other functions like a bottle opener, wire stripper, Phillips screwdriver, and ballpoint pen.

I keep the knife on a key ring in my left front pocket with a Maglite Solitaire LED flashlight and a Craftsman pocket screwdriver.

This knife is battered and beaten, and the toothpick is lost, but it continues to function effectively whenever called upon. For example, a few years ago I was one of the first people on the scene of an accident. An injured child was trapped in a car seat by a seat belt that would not unbuckle. The MiniChamp made quick work of the nylon belt, freeing the child to be transported to the hospital. That was a job well done for a tiny knife.

The MiniChamp was my only everyday carry knife until it was joined by the Outdoor Edge Onyx about a year ago.

At the time of this writing, the current version of this knife is listed at $37.94 on Amazon.com.

Victorinox Mechanic

This knife makes my list on a technicality as well. I received it as a gift, and it therefore cost me nothing. The Mechanic model is no longer available, and the closest parallel, the Tinker, costs just over $27. The Mechanic includes two blades, a can opener, two screwdrivers, a bottle opener, a reamer/punch/sewing awl, a Phillips screwdriver, pliers, toothpick and tweezers. In a way, this knife is also an exception that proves the rule. I love it, but it just seems so nice that I am a bit hesitant to actually carry it. It mostly sits in a drawer waiting for me to decide to use it after all.

One task that does see the Mechanic coming out of the drawer from time to time is removing slivers of wood and metal from fingers. The tweezers in the Mechanic and the MiniChamp are more effective at this task than typical drug store tweezers.

Cornete No. 31 Machete

I bought this machete on a trip to the Dominican Republic in 1979. I don’t remember exactly what I paid, but it was not very much.

The machete has a 22 inch blade that doesn’t take an edge very well, but it is as durable as the day is long. The crude wooden handle is nothing to brag about, and is a good argument for wearing gloves.

The stiff rawhide sheath is tied to the handle of my lawn mower. I often use the machete for beating back encroaching brush and thorn bushes along my driveway.

After using the machete, I clean the blade with a wire brush, use a stone or the Smith’s sharpener to smooth out any dings on the blade, wipe the blade with a rag dipped in used motor oil, and return it to its sheath.

At the time of this writing, similar machetes are available on Amazon for under $25.

Village Blacksmith ST113

According to the Wm. Frankfurth Hardware Company’s General Catalog No. 5 of 1917, the Village Blacksmith ST113 is a A “sticking knife”. It is made for “sticking” or bleeding out livestock in home butchering. It has a five inch fixed blade, a beech handle, and brass tubular rivets. In 1917, it cost $4.50 to buy a dozen of these knives. In the early 1970’s, it cost me about $4.50 to buy just one of them at a general store in northern lower Michigan.

The blade used to be more symmetrical, but I cracked a piece off while using the knife as a pry tool many years ago. I smoothed out the chipped portion of the blade using a bench grinder, and then re-sharpened it. This process is not recommended, since the heat of grinding may ruin the temper of a blade. Happily, that did not happen in this case. The blade will still take a sharp enough edge to shave the hair from my forearm.

The wooden handle was originally too long for my taste. It kept poking me in the kidney at inopportune times. I cut it down twice, first more cautiously with a handsaw, and then more aggressively with a chop saw. It fits my hand very well now.

The sheath originally belonged to my very first knife, a  “camping knife” from my preteen years. That knife was a stainless steel bowie-style knife that looked like something you might buy for a child at a cheap souvenir shop near a national park. That is exactly what it was. It was good for carving sticks, and not much else. That knife is best left forgotten. Its sheath, however, fit the much sharper ST113 very well. The ST113 was so sharp that it cut the threads holding the two halves of the sheath together near the bottom. I sewed the halves of the sheath back together using steel wire, which has held up well for many decades.

I have used this knife to field dress more game than any other knife I have owned, and I would not hesitate to grab it again for my next hunt.

The Village Blacksmith ST113 is no longer in production. The similar Dexter Russell 6 inch sticking knife is listed at $20.40 plus $13.90 shipping on Amazon.

Disclaimer

I have mentioned a number of products and vendors in this article. I did not receive any financial or other inducement from any manufacturer, vendor or supplier in return for mentioning them. This is a simple factual account of my own experiences: good, bad or indifferent.

JWR Adds: I annotated some of his knife and other item descriptions with Amazon.com links.  We earn commissions on sales of Amazon products, but I have no financial interest in any of the companies mentioned.




20 Comments

  1. the opinels are really a great deal. for that price the blade is of very good quality and the ergonomics are pretty decent. I’m not a huge fan of the folding/locking mechanism but despite that an opinel has been my typical daily use knife for random home repair/ in the shop/out in the garden or field type of general purpose pocketknife needs and it’s been fine. all the other cheap knives in a similar price range , compared to the opinel, are really junk. swiss army knives (the victorinox genuine article) are decent but a bit overrated. The quality of the steel is excellent. the random mix of tools is sort of a grab bag, sometimes a couple of them might be handy , but mostly you want a small knife- the swiss army type knives dont have locking blades and for me thats a big detractor, having to worry about loading the blade just the wrong way and it folding up on my fingers. never happened but even the slightest tilt toward it folding is enough to limit what one is willing to do with it. For a small hand gadget with a non-locking knife blade, i prefer my old-school leatherman tool (which the sheffield you show here looks very similar to, it might even be an unbranded oem rebadge of the leatherman).. if i can take only one tool with me, the leatherman is it, no doubt about it. if i actually plan to want to use the knife specifically, the opinel.

    They dont make the old simple leatherman anymore, for many years now. i found that out by surprise after thinking i’d lost the thing and started looking around for another one. luckily it turned up again. Ive had that leatherman now for close to 20 years and it’s still _very_ useful. maybe the newer ones (all bigger and more awkward looking to my eye) are still of the same high build quality, dont know.

  2. Thank you for the submission. A great time to chime in with ‘knife talk’. As far as machetes go, the Tramontina and Gavilans are fine work blades. About $20 when can be found. We keep a 10″ Tramontina in the pack for chopping up kindling and even some camp knife use. Made a DIY PVC pipe sheath with a heat gun for it, a lightweight cover. Still haven’t figured out a way to keep it inside – a piece of duct tape bridging handle to cover is how it is done now. A simple belt loop – cut one end of the pipe down the pipe about 5 – 6 inches, then heat at middle to fold over and form a belt loop that slides over belt or pants hem.

    SAK tools – the wood saw is fantastic, especially in the larger 110mm sized belt knives. Those last are at tip-top price point we are discussing, but can be found for sale for less. Those large saws really put out some work, especially on soft wood. Even in pocket knife models, the saw is very useful for outdoor work. There are some great internet videos on alternative uses for SAK tools, well worth reviewing.

    One of my outdoor kits is similar to yours with the water bottle. Mine uses the Thermos hinged flask for the container for easier access to interior. Fits a jacket pocket very easily, about $15 or so at big box stores. At the expense of not having a water boiling container though – that is a huge trade-off maybe not worth it.

    Thanks again for the submission and feedback from others below.

  3. I would never own a replaceable blade knife..They are like replaceable blade broadheads for archery hunting..they just aren’t strong enough to do the job thoroughly and consistently. I would not trust my life with one.

    I like a knife to be a tool, a potential weapon, as well as a work of functional art. Not a junker held together with tape or wire and non-locking blades. I’m willing to pay for high quality and be able to think “Now, THIS is a knife!”.

  4. Thanks for the very good write-up on everybody’s fun subject. It is a great distraction from the gloom and doom.

    As I look over to my bookshelf I see JWR’s book “How to Survive TEOTWAWKI” and smile about his remark on page 245 ….. I am also an expert in BUYING knives.

    I like a good factory knife NOT made in China (I’m prejudiced) and like the Mora knives. However, a few years ago I purchased a Marttiini skinner for use as a “cheap” camp knife. That knife has been a pleasure to use for chopping, slicing and processing fish. The stainless steel blade touches up easily and the Kraton handle is great for wet chores. A very comfortable and balanced knife.

    I have no skin in the game but I pass this Amazon link along if anyone is interested:

    https://www.amazon.com/Marttiini-Knives-Stainless-Skinner-Kraton/dp/B001BTNNLC/ref=psdc_3307781011_t2_B00BEV81LE

  5. I own an Olsen #704 which is very similar to what is shown above. Great carbon blade that takes a fine edge like you said above. If I were you, I’d use it – only if not to appreciate what a pleasure it is to use a fine tool. Some of those sharpening marks could be buffed out I think, or at least minimized.

  6. Hey Novice, nice article.

    I have an Opinel that I use for grafting which I really like.

    I’ve carried a Tinker Swiss Army knife for almost 40 years and wouldn’t be caught dead without it. I only had the TSA catch me once so they are easy enough to conceal. When they did catch me, I went back out to the main lobby and pushed it down into the soil of a large planter, then retrieved it on my next trip there a month later. Most of the other Victorinox knives are too large for me to carry comfortably in a front pocket or they wear a hole too quickly.

    If any knife makers are reading this… I go to festivals and drool over all the really nice knives I see but like the author of this article, I just can’t justify spending that kind of money on something I’ll rarely use. I already have way too many knives. Now, if they had those same kind of cool handles in different selections of wood and other materials, different blade materials, Damascus steel, in cooking knives, then I’d gladly fork over some major bucks for a knife like that which I’m going to be using almost every day.

    1. I’ve done the same at ABIA. I had a SA Huntsman I forgot to leave in the vehicle. Left it on top of the cut flower machine near baggage claim. Picked it up on my return.

  7. I have been carrying a VICTORINOX for 35 yrs. Some models do come with a lock back, such as the one I own. I use mine almost every day for some project or another. I’ve worn 2 of them out, and without a receipt, sent them in and had them replaced for free. I have 2 of them. One is a back up. I’d not like to be without one.

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