Friday, June 15, 2012

The Knives in our Lives: Part 1 - Glen

I grew up carrying an Uncle Henry pocket knife, which my Dad had given to me somewhere around the time I was 7. He taught me to sharpen it, care for it, and the safety rules concerning knife use. I then went on to abuse that knife in ways that would make a knife collector squirm with discomfort, but along the way I learned a very important lesson: knives are invaluable, and you should always have one with you. By the time I was a teenager, I had moved onto the larger blades, and my Dad again bought me a knife - a Kershaw Whirlwind, my first assisted-opening knife. This began my love affair with Kershaw pocket knives, and I carried that knife for several years.

Knives are a tool that a lot of people still carry daily, and I was raised to believe that it was the responsibility of a man to have a knife available. While used daily for utility purposes, there are also a few people out there who carry a knife for fighting or self-defense, but that is more the exception than the rule, since few know how to really use it effectively in such circumstances. As self-defense and self-reliance instructors, we often get asked about the knives that we carry, and in the interest of more fully answering that question, we decided to write out the details of our 'daily blades.' This month, we'll look at the knives that I (Glen) use and carry, which are more suited to utility and everyday use. While I've owned many blades over the years, and still have a good sized collection, the knives below are the ones that still see use today, and they've each 'been through the fire,' so to speak.

Daily Carry - Kershaw Boa

This knife has been discontinued since I purchased it several years ago, but Kershaw makes several other folders which fit the bill just as well and are designed by the same famous knife maker, Ken Onion. I'm not easy on my pocket knives as they do get used daily, so a knife that can stand up to how I use it for as many years as my Boa has (and other Kershaws I've owned) is impressive. This knife has been used to cut ropes, skin game animals, open boxes, trim branches, assist in first-aid, cut up my meal, gut fish, start fires, and other such tasks. Part of what makes this knife so interesting is the steel that it's made of, which at the time of production was a bit experimental. Made from a very hard and heavy steel, this is a thick blade, which makes it perfect for use as both a tactical folder and a survival knife as it has an aggressive cutting edge but also a solid point and deep serrations. The Boa uses the assisted-opening system that both Kershaw and Ken Onion are well known for, and the blade opens quickly and easily with one hand. So what's the downside? Maintenance is high on this knife - thanks to that same thick, hard steel that makes it so durable, the edge is also hard to keep razor sharp, and putting any edge on generally requires the use of very coarse stones first. If you are looking for a new folding knife, I highly suggest Kershaw Knives.

Survival - Mora Bushcraft Triflex

I've used a lot of "survival" knives in my time, but none hold up like the Mora. It's lightweight, perfectly balanced, durable, and with it's thin, carbon steel blade, it's easy to get and keep a good edge. In fact, I rarely sharpen this blade and yet it keeps a razors edge - and when I say razor, I mean just that. This is my primary survival and backpacking knife, and one of the best things about Mora knives is their price - this knife is only $40, with their Clipper and Scout series hitting around the $20 mark. Like my daily carry, this knife has seen all kinds of use, from skinning game animals to making emergency shelters, and it has never let me down. It also makes a great striker for fire steel with it's wide, flat spine. My only complaint about this knife, and Mora knives in general, is the absolutely useless sheaths they come with. Most of their sheaths have almost no retention and no real mounting options, which is why, after trying a few other sheaths, I had our own John Pinnix make the custom kydex sheath shown here. If you're hunting for a new solid fixed blade, consider a Mora.

Tactical Utility - Leatherman c305

I'm not a "knife fighter", and so it doesn't make a lot of sense for me to carry a large fixed blade on my go-to rig, as I am most likely going to need a utility tool over a fighting tool. Enter the Leatherman c305 (now replaced by the c33tx) - it has a solid blade that maintains an edge very well, an effective lock for keeping the blade right where I want it, and handles that offer superb grip in all conditions. But what's better is that I get both flat head and phillips screwdriver heads, which have proven to be extremely useful on several occasions, as well as a folding carabiner clip for keeping the blade close at hand. The blade is stainless steel, so I don't have to be constantly worried about maintenance, especially when things get a little "sporty" while I'm working. And while it doesn't have assisted opening, it does have a stud on the front and back of the blade to make one-handed opening quick and easy. This is one of the few blades I have owned that I have nothing bad to say about.

Dress Knife - Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) PECK

While my daily carry knife goes with me everywhere I go, there are times when other items in my pockets can't. My wallet, for example, is not comfortable in the front pocket of a pair of dress slacks, and so I need to trim it down. My driver's license, CCW permit, a little cash, and a debit card are really all I need to carry to most meetings or events I attend where a tie is required, but carrying them loose in my pocket is just asking for trouble. Enter the CRKT PECK. Available in black or silver, this compact knife not only keeps a sharp little edge and makes for a great utility blade, but was designed for use as a money clip, which is perfect for my current needs. My brother-in-law gave me this knife well over a decade ago as a gift, and it truly is the gift that keeps on giving, as this little blade has seen time on my keychain, clipped to my shirt pocket, and now as a money clip. I've owned a few CRKT knives, and the PECK certainly stays in line with keeping their tradition of quality.

Large Utility - Ka-Bar Cutlass Machete

A large knife can sure come in handy when you need to chop down a small tree or remove some brush, and the Ka-Bar Cutlass Machete has served me well in these tasks. In almost a decade of use, this large blade hasn't come up against a job that it can't handle, and like my other blades of choice, it keeps a good sharp edge, even after hacking through tree limbs or thick brush. The spine is wide and flat which makes it handy for using a rock or a strong limb to pound the blade through small tree trunks or larger limbs when needed. I take my Ka-Bar Machete with me when I'm backpacking into country with thick brush, or anytime I expect to, or know I will have to, build an improvised shelter. And when I'm car camping, a large blade sure comes in handy with camp chores. The Kraton G handle helps me keep my grip even in wet conditions, and the leather and cordura sheath provided with the knife is very good at securing the machete as well as giving lashing and attachment points for use with a pack. Ka-Bar knives are always a good choice, and this machete is certainly no different.

Work Tool - Husky Folding Razor Knife

A lot of the knife guys that I know wouldn't really consider a folding razor knife to be part of their "blade collection," but based on my experience, I absolutely do. There are several different companies that make these types of folding razor knives, though I've found the Husky brand from Home Depot to be the most durable. This particular knife has been run over by a truck, dropped into wet concrete, covered in rain and snow, and still continues to be a solid tool. Before I became a full-time instructor, I worked in the concrete trade, and that is a job that is not easy on your tools. This little razor knife was my daily carry for several years while working concrete, and when it got chipped, dull, or busted, I just popped out the blade and turned it around to a new sharp end or tossed it and grabbed another fresh, razor sharp blade! New razor blades are much less expensive than new pocket knives, and it didn't take me long to discover that the contruction trades are absolutely brutal on regular knives. With a folding razor knife, however, I never have to worry about a dull edge or a broken blade, and this is a knife that I still use quite often these days. The best part of this tool, however, is that you can get a 3-pack of them for $10! Affordable, reliable, durable - that's a tool I want to keep around.

Hunting - Victorinox Straight Edge Paring Knife

When I teach hunting courses or take a new hunter out with me into the field, and the time comes to skin or dress out a game animal, it's usually expected that I'm going to pull out some giant bowie knife and go to work. Instead, out come my Victorinox Paring Knives, which look more at home slicing tomatoes on the kitchen counter. However, these little knives have a lot of things going for them. First, they come from Victorinox who, according to their advertising, make the best cutlery in the world. Second, they are made of high carbon stainless steel, which makes them tough as nails, but because they are so thin it also makes them very flexible, which is very handy when skinning animals. Third, they are $8, which makes it easy to own several. Fourth, they are lightweight and small, so carrying them is no problem. And fifth, because of the grade of steel they use, they are easy to sharpen and they maintain an amazingly sharp edge. My only complaint is that when your hands get a little slippery, or when wearing lightweight gloves, the handles can get a little slippery. Stippling the handles with a soldering iron or something similar can easily fix that problem, however. So whether you are after a new skinning knife or a new cooking blade, I highly recommend the paring knives from Victorinox.

Multi-Tool - Leatherman Wave

No knife list would be complete without a multi-tool, and no multi-tool quite stacks up to the models from Leatherman. Durable, reliable, and full of useful tools, I've had a Leatherman of one kind or another since my Dad starting buying them in the late-80's - I always got his old models when he upgraded and this Leatherman Wave was no different. Given to me by my Dad almost a decade ago, after it had already seen lots of tough jobs and hard work, it still goes on every backpacking, climbing, and hunting trip I go on. The blades on the Leatherman are not well-known for staying super sharp, so that is certainly a complaint I have. But with that said, I have seen many a cheapo multi-tool break and fail when put to hard use, while my Leatherman just keeps on going strong. Now it would be unfair for me to not mention another multi-tool here that has never failed me - the Gerber 600. Issued to members of the U.S. Military in several different configurations, mine has since gone into my shooting bag, and has helped to do several 'field expedient repairs' on firearms and other pieces of equipment. It's another multi-tool that I all too happy to carry with me, and one that would be a good choice for anyone to consider when shopping for a multi-tool.

So there you have it - my list of useful knives. While some of them are not "tactical," all of them are "practical" and that means a lot more to me, personally and professionally. If you've got a comment or question on the knives I've talked about above, put it in the comments section below!

Next month, we'll take a look at John's knives, which are sure to be just as useful but much more "tactical!"

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.

-Glen Stilson