Cutting Tools – Knives
It has often been said that the knife is the most important tool in Bushcraft. They say that because it is true.
With a good, strong, sharp knife we can craft the tools that we need to make fire, make water safe to drink, prepare food and an infinite number of other tasks that without a sharp tool would be impossible.
Forget the drop point bowie’s and Rambo knives, leave behind the ‘survival knife’ with the hollowed out handle, hunting knives are also out I’m afraid and don’t even think about taking that double edged dagger you bought from a man in a pub when you were 17. The problem with hunting knives is they are designed to penetrate flesh, this makes them unsuitable for carving as they have a feature called a clip on the top. This is basically an edge that runs a few inches back from the tip. When carving, you thumb will need to be there.
What you need is a fixed blade of approximately 4 to 5 inches long which is 10 to 11 centimetres in old money with a single edge with a flat grind. That is a bevel ground all the way to the edge.
The total length including the handle should be around 9 inches or 24 centimetres. The blade should have a full tang, this means one single piece of metal from the tip to the base of the handle. This makes a seriously strong knife. The handle should be solid and comfortable. You will be using your knife a lot so you can’t have an uncomfortable handle that is going to make your hand sore or give you blisters.
There are a few purpose designed survival knives on the market. These are best left avoided in my opinion. Some have a hollowed out handle in which you are supposed to keep a survival kit. While it is a good idea to have a survival kit, some useful items such a fishing kit, sewing kit etc.. There are many other places that you can store this, the handle of your knife is a rather strange choice of places to keep it. More importantly it weakens the knife and with some of the cutting techniques that we will learn here, it may get damaged and if you lose your knife you’re in big trouble.
Knife connoisseurs will note that there are quite a few ‘missing’ features here, this is because they are not necessary for our purposes.
Your knife must be as sharp as a razors edge, I’m going to show you how to easily sharpen your knife later on but in honour of my predecessors and colleagues who are so fond on mnemonics and acronyms and sayings, here are a few regarding knives.
You are only as sharp as your knife – so keep it sharp
Your knife is your life – so don’t lose it
I try to avoid things like that but these are true and you would do well to heed their message.
Another important factor regarding knives is that is commonly misunderstood is that a blunt knife is more dangerous to use than a sharp knife. A sharp knife will cut through wood like a hot knife through butter, a blunt knife will require a lot more pressure to make the cut, and this can lead to the knife slipping and you losing control of it, perhaps slashing yourself or one off your friends. This is bad for moral.
And peoples health.
Folding knives should be considered a supplement to a good fixed blade knife. Used for minor tasks while you fixed blade knife is used for pretty much everything else. I have one folding knife, a single handed opening lock knife with a serrated edge for cutting rope. There is no doubt that this can be a handy thing to have but it cannot be relied upon for the full spectrum of tasks that we use a knife for in Bushcraft.
Folding knives also have a tendency to ‘Fold up’ during use, even knives with locking mechanism can do this. A knife folding up on your fingers is not funny I can tell you. I was once dressing a bird that I had caught in a snare and for no good reason I chose to use my locking folding knife to do it. What happened was some feathers and gut’s got caught up in the locking mechanism and prevented it from locking fully, unaware of this, when I got to a tricky park and had to apply force, the blade closed up on my fingers causing a nasty cut and bleeding.
Open wounds and dead animals are not a good partnership! Not to mention the fact that I was bleeding into our food.
It’s not just animal parts that can gum up a locking mechanism, wood shavings can have the same effect.
Probably the safest of the various locking mechanisms is the type that twist in to place made by a certain French company.
If you remember from earlier on, I told you that a full tang blade makes for a stronger knife, in a folding knife it is not possible to have a full tang which means that your folding knife will be weak. It simple will not stand up to the continued forces that we’ll be applying to it on a day to day basis in Bushcraft.
It is handy to have a single handed opener with a lock and a serrated edge to enhance your capability, since a serrated edge will cut rope much more efficiently than a straight edge but it cannot be considered a suitable alternative to fixed blade knife and is in fact, more dangerous to use.
Some tips for the safe use of your knife,
• When you are not cutting or carving, the knife goes back in its sheath – no exceptions (except when dressing meat)
• When holding a knife, never take a step – put it away before taking a single step.
• Elbows on knees when carving, with your elbows on your knees, if the knife slips it will slip in a direction that takes the blade away from your body. Importantly, it won’t cut the inside of your leg where there is an artery
• This knife is a tool – not a weapon
• You will, even when following best practise, cut yourself at some point, you must have your own first aid kit on you whenever you are using a knife – no exceptions
• Be aware of your surroundings and the proximity of others around you
• Be aware of where the knife is in relation to your body
• Dont wave the knife around when you are talking, put it away the second that you stop cutting or carving
• Don’t give your knife to anyone else – it’s your responsibility
• Don’t start hacking away at tricky bit’s, take a breath and work slowly and methodically, take your time.
• Use your strong hand to carve with. If your right handed them use your right hand
• Carve for short periods of time – if you are tired, stop.
With practise, it is possible to carve just about anything that you might need our in the woods, bowls, spoons, forks, cups and a million other things such as tent pegs, wedges, bow drill sets and anything else that your imagination can come up with.