An Informed Choice
A knife is an important tool in the woods.
When teaching youngsters bushcraft skills – or starting to learn the skills yourself – it’s important to select the right tool for the job.
The are a plethora of ‘Bushcraft’ and ‘Survival’ knives on the market, so choosing the right one can be a daunting task.
Something safe, reliable and value for money is a good place to start.
In this article I explain the features to look out for and make a couple of recommendations on good knives to consider.
In our experience the best type of knife for practicing and teaching bushcraft is a simple fixed-blade sheath knife.
A fixed blade knife is much safer than a folding knife as it cannot accidentally close on the hand of the user.
It is also much more versatile in its application. For example, you can use a fixed-blade knife for striking sparks from a fire steel or splitting wood using a technique called batoning. You can also make much more powerful, controlled cuts with a fixed blade knife. With a knife, control equals safety.
In executing bushcraft techniques our knife needs to perform a number of duties; carving, splitting wood, cutting cord and food, scraping with the back of the blade and piercing with the point.
So at one end of the spectrum it needs to be thick enough and long enough to be suitable for battoning and at the other it needs to be thin enough to make the finer cuts used in carving. Luckily there are a number of good choices available that meet this criteria.
Key Considerations In Choosing A Knife
When selecting a suitable knife we need to look for the following:
Quality and reliability – The knife should be well made and robust. The part of the knife blade inside the handle (called the ‘tang’) should extend a good distance into the handle and be firmly fixed. The handle could be bolted to or moulded around the blade so that it is secure.
Ease of sharpening – When learning to use a knife we also need to learn how to sharpen it correctly. There are three main characteristics of the knife which can impact sharpening:
Blade shape – Overly curved blades can be harder to sharpen.
Blade material – Carbon steel is softer and easier to sharpen than stainless steel but carbon steel is more prone to rust so needs greater care. My personal preference is to use a carbon steel knife but in my experience stainless steel knives fair better in the less caring hands of multiple users. If you are equipping a Scout Troop, for example, I would suggest you buy a few of each and see how it goes.
Edge angle – There are different ways in which the sharp edge of the knife can be achieved. The simplest to sharpen are those with a single, flat bevel. This type is often referred to as a ‘Scandinavian’ or ‘flat’ grind and is simpler to sharpen because the flat bevel makes good positive contact with the sharpening stone. In terms of ease of sharpening – particularly with simple sharpening equipment when outdoors – this is preferable to a blade profile with several angles or with a very narrow bevel. Simplicity is best here.
Safety features – We want our knife to be as safe as possible so there are a few additional considerations here such as handle design and sheath materials.
Handle – needs to be non slippery, well secured to the blade and possibly have a finger guard depending on personal choice.
Sheath – needs to be strong so that the user is protected from the blade when not in use and it needs to securely hold the knife to ensure it doesn’t fall out. The sheath could be made of moulded plastic or leather as long as it holds the knife safely.
Price – Thankfully we don’t need to spend lots of money to get good quality knives that are suitable for bushcraft. We can (and do) buy very good knives for around £10-12 that meet all of the criteria described above and this brings us to recommended brands and models that are suitable for use.
Mora of Sweden make some brilliant knives that are suitable. Their current ‘Adventure’ range caters for budgets from £10 to £50 whilst their ‘Construction’ range has knives starting as low as £5 which are fine for use in a Scout troop.
Mora Craftline Q 511 – This is a basic carbon steel knife that comes with a plastic sheath and is good for buying in bulk to fit out a Scout Troop. Expect to pay around £5.00
Mora Companion 840 (carbon steel) or 860 (stainless steel) – Previously called the ‘Clipper’ these are great knives for beginners and experienced professionals alike. Comes with a robust plastic sheath and a handle with rubber inserts to aid grip. Expect to pay £12.00
Other Things You’ll Need
To go with your knife (or knives) you will need a few things to ensure that they can be maintained:
- Sharpening stone(s),
- WD40 or other oil to lubricate the stones,
- a leather strop to complete the sharpening process.
I can’t write an article on knives without mentioning knife safety.
Whenever I use knives with my Scout Troop we always give a strong and clear message about knife safety. The following points are always reinforced:
- Knives must be in sheaths when not being used or when moving around;
- Make safe cuts and think about where your knife will go if it slips;
- If sitting keep your elbows on your knees – its much harder to cut yourself like this;
- Keep plenty of space between you and other people;
- Have a first aid or cuts kit close by.
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