Thursday, October 2, 2014

I am looking for a new knife. And probably always will be.

I have a problem.  My name is Chris and I am a knife addict.  In some circles, and mainly on the internet, folks like me are referred to as knife knuts.  Just like home audio, cars, home brew beers and sports teams, there are a certain segment of users, hobbyists, enthusiasts and tinkerers; they obsess about certain things.  Knives, yes, are one of these.  You can find many websites, forums, social media groups and blogs dedicated to sharp, pointy things.  In all honesty, a knife is just a piece of metal, with a small portion of the edge, sanded down to an apex.  This apex is small and minute, and is able to separate matter when pressed against a substrate.  That's it.  Just like the Mona Lisa is just a bunch of colors, placed upon a canvas.  You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want.  

For me personally, I think of a knife as one of man's first and most basic tools.  Carrying a knife does not make me a threat to the public or "tacti-cool", but rather it allows me to complete certain tasks quickly and it is a benefit to my life.  I think James Mattis said it best -

"My good reason to carry a knife is that God gave me rather weak teeth and rudimentary claws in an evolutionary trade-off. The hairy-armed person who figured out how to put an edge on a suitable rock made it possible for us to be recognizably human in the first place. I wear a wristwatch whether or not I have an appointment to keep, and I carry a pen and/or pencil because I am a literate person whether or not I have a specific writing task ahead of me, and I carry a knife because I am a human and not an ape.

A knife comes in handy for all sorts of random tasks that involve separating matter. Like cutting a string, or making a sandwich, or opening a package. It can also come in handy in an emergency, which need not involve a human assailant, and emergencies are by their nature unforeseen, so one should carry a knife all the time.

And in a perfect world where nobody needed a weapon, I'd probably carry a slightly larger knife, because it wouldn't scare people."

Casey Anderson and I are working on a project together and during some downtime, he asked me for my opinion on a new knife.  In my social circles, I get a lot of question about knives, so I am going to try to summarize my decision making process when trying to answer some of these questions when someone asks me about knife recommendations.  While I have never claimed to be an expert, I try to be a studious student of the knife world and pass on what I have learned in my own quest to find myself my favorite knife.  And in all honesty, I do not think I will ever find it.  But, I do have a couple of knives that are as close to perfect for me.  

I want a knife that will stay sharp for a long time.  This is one of the most asked questions I get.  Honestly, the only answer is to buy a knife, take it home and place it in a box or storage.  Never touch this knife, ever.  And it will stay sharp for a long time.  Knives that are used, will lose their sharpness over time. Just like car tires, they will wear out over time when they are used.  Some faster than others, how you use them and what materials they are made of.

I want a knife that is easy to sharpen.  Every knife is easy to sharpen.  But in today's throwaway society, this skill is not as pervasive as it once was.  You probably remember your grandfather's pocket knife or your grandmother's kitchen knife, that had been sharpened down to virtually nothing.  Sharpening a knife is basically abrading away the metal on the bevel, on both sides, to where the apex forms a certain angle.  Sharpening is very easy in theory; there are a hundred ways to do it and a hundred end results that will define whether or not a knife is sharp.   Just like baking a cake is easy.  You can give a hundred people the exact same ingredients, the exact same instructions, the exact same oven, and you will get vastly different tasting cakes in the end.  Sharpening (to me at least) is the same.  What works for me, may not work for you.  Your cake could actually be better than mine, given all things being equal and your tastes.

I want a knife for... Usually the next question I ask, is what are you going to use your knife for?  One would not try to prepare firewood with a fillet knife, nor would you try to fillet a fish with a machete.  It could be done, but it is not the right tool for the job.  There are different blade lengths, thicknesses, geometries, different types of metals, different grinds, different bevel angles, fixed blades, folding blades, corrosion resistance, and price point.  Unless you are going to use this knife for one specific purpose, it will be tough (but not hard) to find a one size fits all knife, to do everything you need.  There will be trade offs, here and there.

I want a knife from manufacturer X.  To me, knives are like BBQ and beer.  There is no such thing as bad BBQ or beer.  Just some are better than others.  For me personally, I support manufacturers or makers that actively interact with their users/customers, and actually listen to them.  One manufacturer specifically took an idea from a knife forum user, and turned it into a full production blade.  The owner of another manufacturer actually will respond to users on forums or social media and will own an issue through resolution or will replace a knife that had been clearly abused.  These are the makers that I lean towards.  I met an individual that made custom fishing lures once and asked him was his lures were designed to catch.  His simple reply was "fishermen".  I avoid these types of knife manufacturers.  

I want the best survival knife.  Very easy answer.  The knife you have on you at the time you need it.  A $2 piece of junk knife from the gas station is the best knife in the world when you really need it.

I did not type up Rockwell hardness of steels, carbide structures of steels, who heat treats steel better, whether or not you should use 1095 versus D2 versus SV35N steel, convex edges, stropping, India stones over diamond stones for sharpening, etc...  This is a rabbit hole that one could go down forever.  I know I have in my life.  I just wanted to type this up, so if you are looking for a new blade, start with some the basic questions first.  Maybe in another blog post, I can peel the onion a little more and expand further.