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Greatest Tool #10: The Knife
If you have been reading my count down, I’m sure it is no surprise to any of you that my number one greatest tool of all time is the knife.
There are hundreds of different kinds of knives designed for the kitchen alone.
To choose a knife that is of good quality and best fits your needs, you need a basic knowledge of the various parts and construction of a knife.
I’ve looked around quite a bit to find the best descriptions at places like the knife depot, buck, and case.
Let’s start with a few of the blades.
1. Carbon Steel – Carbon Steel has been used in the making of blades for many years. Carbon steel blades are tough and take a better edge with little effort. Carbon steel blades must be treated with care to avoid discoloration and rusting. Wash and dry thoroughly after use.
2. Stainless Steel – Unlike carbon steel, stainless steel blades do not discolor or rust, however, neither do they maintain the best edge.
3. High Carbon Stainless Steel – A combination of the best attributes of carbon steel and stainless steel blades. They have the toughness and ability to hold an edge and do not discolor.
4. Titanium – Titanium blades are made from a mold of titanium and carbides. When compared to steel, titanium is lighter, more wear resistant, and holds its edge longer. The titanium blade is more flexible than steel but lacks its tensile strength.
5. Ceramic – Ceramic blades are made of zirconium oxide and aluminum oxide. They are more delicate than steel knives but they hold their edge up to 10 times longer. Once these blades have dulled, they must be sharpened by a professional.
6. Hollow Ground – Hollow Ground is a process by which a knife blade is manufactured by fusing two separate pieces of metal together. After the pieces are fused, a beveled blade edge is created. Although these blades often have very sharp edges, the blade lacks the balance and longevity of a taper ground blade.
7. Taper Ground – Taper Ground knife blades are manufactured from a single sheet of metal that has been ground so that it tapers smoothly from the spine to the cutting edge. This type of blade desired on knives that are used frequently.
Now let’s look at the basic construction of knives.
1. Tang – It is not what the astronauts drink. The tang is the part of the knife blade that extends into the handle. The length of the tang is thought to be significant in the ability to balance and control a knife. Various manufacturers believe that producing a knife with a tang that extends throughout the full length of the knife is most desirable. Other manufacturers argue that each piece of a knife benefits from using a different metal.
2. Metal Rivets – Metal rivets are used to secure the tang to the handle of the knife. To prevent irritation to the hand, the rivets should be completely smooth and lie flush with the surface of the handle. In addition, this will help prevent debris and microorganisms from collecting in the spaces between the handle and the rivets.
3. Bolster – A bolster is a thick piece of metal (collar or shank) that is placed between the handle and the blade. The purpose of a bolster is to provide safety from the blade and add balance to the knife.
Let’s move on to the handles.
1. Wood – Wood handles provide an excellent grip, but require more maintenance than a plastic or stainless steel handle. Critics argue that wood handled knives absorb microorganisms.
2. Wood Handles Infused with Plastic – A combination of the best attributes of wood handles and molded plastic handles. They have an excellent grip but do not require the maintenance all wood handles require. They are also not as porous as wood handled knives, preventing the absorption of microorganisms.
3. Molded Plastic or Composition – Molded plastic handles are much easier to care for than wooden handles. They will not absorb debris and microorganisms and are easily cleaned. Critics argue that handles made with molded plastics become brittle over time and can become slippery in the hand.
4. Stainless Steel – Metal handled knives last longer and adds weight to the knife. Critics argue that they become slippery in the hand.
Above and beyond construction we can look at the styles of knives.
1. Fixed Blade Knives
A fixed blade is a knife in which the blade does not fold and extends most of the way into the handle. This type of knife is typically stronger and larger than a folding knife. Activities that require a strong blade, such as hunting or fighting, typically rely on a fixed blade. Some famous fixed blade designs include the Ka-bar and Bowie knives.
2. Folding Knives
A folding knife is one that has a pivot between handle and blade, allowing the blade to fold into the handle. Most folding knives are small working blades; pocket knives are usually folding knives.
Some folding knives have a locking mechanism:
- The most traditional and commonplace lock is the slip-joint. This isn’t really a lock at all, and is found most commonly on traditional pocket knives. It consists of a back spring that wedges itself into a notch on the tang on the back of the blade.
- The lock back is the simplest true locking knife. It is found on most traditional locking knives. It is like a slip-joint, but the lock consists of a latch rather than a back spring. To disengage, one presses the latch on the spine of the knife down, releasing the tang.
- The linerlock is the most common today on knives, especially so-called “tactical” folders. Its main advantage is that it allows one to disengage the lock with one hand. It consists of a liner bent so that when the blade opens, the liner presses against the rear of the tang, preventing it from swinging back. To disengage, you press the liner to the side of the knife from where it is attached to the inside of the scales.
- The framelock is a variant of the linerlock, however, instead of using the liner, the frame functions as an actual spring. It is usually much more secure than a liner lock.
Then there are knives grouped by function.
In general, knives are either working (everyday-use blades), or fighting knives. Some knives, such as the Scottish Dirk and Japanese Tanto function in both roles. Many knives are specific to a particular activity or occupation:
- A hunting knife is normally used to dress large game. It is often a normal, mild curve or a curved and clipped blade. Hunting knives are a staple in the extensive world of knives. The term “hunting knife” is used loosely to mean any standard straight blade sheath knife that is at least somewhat geared towards real hunting use. In reality most of these knives are never used to dress an animal or for hunting related uses. There are some types of knives that are made specifically for hunting practices. The use of a “skinning knife” is obvious. They generally have a short, tough, razor sharp blade that is designed to easily separate hide from flesh. Skinning knives will sometime have a dull, barbed hook on the tip of the knife for eviscerating game. This is often referred to as a “gut hook.” There is no perfect “hunting knife”. The ‘right’ knife will be determined by the specific use, kind of game, and hunter’s preference of materials and style. There is certainly no lack of choice for someone who is looking for a knife made for hunting purposes.
- A stockman’s knife is a very versatile folding knife with three blades: a clip, a spey and a normal. It is one of the most popular folding knives ever made.
- Utility or multi-tool knives may contain several blades, as well as other tools such as pliers
- An electrician’s knife is specially insulated to decrease the chance of shock.
- A kukri is an Indian fighting and utility knife with a deep forward curve.
- A machete is a long wide blade, used to chop through brush. This tool (larger than most knives, smaller than a sword) depends more on weight than a razor edge for its cutting power.
- A survival knife is a sturdy knife, sometimes with a hollow handle filled with equipment. In the best hollow-handled knives, both blade and handle are cut from a single piece of steel. The end usually has an O-ring seal to keep water out of the handle. Often a small compass is set in the inside, protected part of the pommel/cap. The pommel may be adapted to pounding or chipping. Recommended equipment for the handle: a compass (usually in the pommel). Monofilament line (for snares, fishing), 12 feet of black nylon thread and two needles, a couple of plastic ties, two barbed and one unbarbed fishhook (unbarbed doubles as a suture needle), butterfly bandages, halizone tablets, waterproof matches.
I’m just saying its way cool.
What are your favorite knives and uses?
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