Why do you need a knife: A beginners guide to knife terms and uses

Every tool is purpose built, from a shovel to a meat cleaver, every tool was designed or originated for a single purpose. This applies to shoes, knives, firearms and any other tool a woodsman, weekend camper, day hiker or survivalist may need. The knife is by itself the most important tool any individual who spends a large amount of time in the out of doors may have on their person. This article is specifically centered around the use of the knife, however, there will be other articles discussing a variety of tools that anyone interested in the out of doors should think about.

The following article will review and explain the basic terms, uses and needs involving a knife for the serious outdoors minded individual. As with all things bush-crafting the need generally defines the tool. Questions I tend to ask of myself when looking at a new tool, gadget, ammunition, firearm, camping component and or bush-crafting necessity are quite simple and follow.

  1. Where do I live? (Am I in the jungle, low desert, high desert, tundra, forest or otherwise?)
  2. What are the largest animals of prey in my area, am I top of my local food chain or are there others possibly above me?
  3. What will it take for my basic survival in the area in which I live?
  4. How often will I be able to test what I am purchasing and or will someone else’s review be sufficient for me to make a decision on it?

It is essential to establish this in advance so as to be able to make the best decisions possible for the situation at hand. What so many people fail to understand is that a simple day hike can and does often turn into a survival situation. This year alone there have been hundreds of incidents in Arizona (specifically Pima and Maricopa county) involving day hikers who got lost and due to a lack of preparation, skills or foresight of any type had to be rescued by others. Some died only to be found later by Border Patrol, Sheriff Patrols and simple civilians hiking. Add into that the hikers or simple day trippers who suffered accidents in other states and you have a reality that can only be ignored by mainstream media and its sheep like followers in favor of the far less prevalent or statistically relevant gun related issues.

The knife-

Among those who embrace and practice life in the out of doors there are several lines of thought with regards to knives. To understand why a knife is important it helps to understand what a knife is. The definition of knife is simple, an instrument composed of a blade fixed to a handle, used for cutting or as a weapon. Knives come in several styles, they can be swords (long knives generally meant specifically for use as a weapon), folding bladed knives (the blade folds into the handle), or fixed blade (not a sword but can vary in length). A knife consists of a handle and a blade, the edge is the sharp part of the blade, the spine is the opposite side of the edge. Some knives may have guards (a cross section separating the blade and the handle) some may not, some knives may have straight edges and others may have serrations (alternatively cut areas in the edge allowing a quicker cut with certain types of items.) There are many other terms, the best way to learn these terms is to visit a forum based around knives. Of course by doing this you may end up causing yourself more confusion then benefit.

My suggestion is to think as basic as possible at this stage, after all, this is not an article for someone who has experience in the bush already. It is for those with little to no real experience outside of the occasional day hike or run without a thought to the future or what may go wrong. Again, I would point you too the simple reality that more people are lost on day hikes then are shot every single year. This fact alone should help most people be a little more prepared when entering an environment unknown to them. Remember, to someone from a city, farmland is the wilderness. Just as the city will be a wilderness to someone from a farm. A wilderness is also defined quite simply as a confusing situation. Though for most the wilderness is a place unoccupied by humans.

As a tool the knife allows you to both defend and provide for yourself. With just a knife someone with little to no real training can make a fire, scavenge food or harvest it as well as defend themselves and create shelter. The largest majority of knives are made of some type of steel, steels that are higher in carbon content allow for sparks when struck against hard rocks, sparks create fire. If you use the knife to shave little bits and pieces of wood from larger dead pieces of wood or use grass as well bunched up to shower sparks into and create fire. Another wonderful use for the knife is the creation of shelter.

You can easily use a larger knife (a blade length of 5 – 10”) to chop and trim tree branches, long grass and other types of vegetation for use in shelter creation. In the American Southwest we have several types of Yucca a spiny plant that has long wooden shafts growing from their centers. These plants offer the solution to easily constructed shelter in many ways, from the use of the fibers found in the center of the spines themselves to the use of the wooden shafts growing from them, they can be quite useful in building shelter, snares and even self bows and arrows if the need is there. Knives can also be used to collect or harvest food.

By using the knife to trim the spines for creation of rope for snares to the use of the knife to make spears or bows and arrows the knife is an essential tool for this purpose. Obviously, not all of us will want to dress game after capturing it, so for those who would rather take the life of a helpless plant, the knife again becomes an essential tool. In the American southwest there are several varieties of cacti that are edible and with a little work can be eaten raw, baked, fried or even boiled in a soup. (Of course now I am starting to sound like Forrest Gumps shrimp boat buddy).

Lastly, a knife can be used for self defense and even though during training I often suggest and in fact encourage the opposite of force when presented with potential problems, there may come a time where you are forced to defend yourself. Javelina in Arizona are well known for being un-predictable and have a habit of being easily startled by the unaware. They have poor eyesight and if they have young are quite vicious in the protection of that young. I would always suggest the use of a large walking stick at the very least if you take regular day hikes in Arizona. For myself, I carry a handgun, knives and many times will have a rifle as well. Having been attacked by Javelina, Feral Hogs, Feral Dog Packs and the occasional rabid coyote it is my opinion that armed and VERY aware of your surroundings and where these various animals generally hang out is the appropriate approach to hiking in the wilderness of Arizona.

We do have Black Bear, Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Centipedes, Wolves and even wild Sheep. However, the most predatory of the above mentioned animals are almost always going to be Javelina and Feral Dogs. Having a knife with a fixed 5-10” blade will allow you too stab, slash or otherwise disrupt the attack if it occurs. To explain further, feral dogs exist quite simply because humans are idiots. I love dogs, and if it were up too me would have dozens. However, many humans find they cannot care for a dog, so in many cases they will drive several miles into the wilderness and drop them off. The dogs that are not almost immediately picked off as easy prey by any of the above predators tend to pack up and along the border especially this will become a problem from time to time. As a child from 12-16 I was paid a bounty of $5 a head for each dog I took.

This may seem cruel and wrong, however, if you saw these dogs you would quickly agree that my accurate acquisition of them was far less painful than the life they currently lived. Most were sick, flea and tick ridden and almost always in some form of starvation. I once caught a human in the midst of dumping a dog and even at the tender age of 13 was quite close to shooting the human as I find that these types of humans are really quite useless in my strict opinion. Regardless, I quickly gained the dogs trust and took him to a friendly rancher where as far as I know he lived a long and happy life.

So, hopefully you can see why having a knife and knowing how to use it can be in fact a very good thing. My personal recommendations for the beginner would be to purchase a Morakniv Companion, Opinel #8, Condor Bush knife or a decent machete as any of these will easily allow you to learn how to use them without costing an arm and a leg. Less costly allows you to make mistakes, chip blades and even lose them without causing financially related pain, they are all VERY solid designs and I have reviewed or will be reviewing them all as well as currently having all of the above in my camping kits, cars, and on my person.

As you gain experience and become a better more knowledgeable woodsman/lady you can move up in knives and eventually will find that you are likely to do as I do and carry three or even four various blades as like all tools, they are purpose built. The above mentioned and linked knives are in my educated opinion very good basic knives that will function well in most roles and all of them come sharp, and in well made sheaths.

REMEMBER, ALWAYS USE A LIGHT OIL OR GREASE TO LUBRICATE YOUR CARBON STEEL KNIVES. A trick I was taught is to take your forefinger and thumb and run them down your nose, use the natural oils to coat the blade if you do not have any.

Or you can purchase small cans of Ballistol which is both green (natural), water based (can be thinned for use on leather and other surfaces) and functions extremely well in the role of protecting your blades. Alternatively you can heat up a cup or pan of 2-3 cups of apple cider vinegar to boiling, place the blade in the pan and let it sit there for 5 minutes. Rinse it off with cold water, and repeat the process until you reach a patina level you prefer. A “forced” patina will help prevent oxidization (rust) though it wont work alone it will make it easier to use and the blade will be far less shiny.

Please as always feel free to comment, ask questions and above all never hesitate to correct me if you find a mistake. I am after all human!

Free the mind and the body will follow

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About Jesse Mathewson

Jesse Mathewson is the author of the popular blog, jessetalksback.com and provides commentary to many varied places based on a background that includes education in criminal justice, history, religion and even insurgency tactics and tactical training. His current role in his community is as an organizer of sorts and a preacher of community solidarity and agorism. He also runs Liberty Practical Training, a self defense school specializing in the practical applications of defensive approaches versus the theoretical. As an agorist, voluntaryist and atheist his life is seen as crazy and wild by many, though once they get to know him most realize he is a bluntly honest individual who will give you the shirt off his back if he believes it is necessary to help you. Very simple, "That which is voluntary between all individuals involved is always right, if it is not voluntary, it is always wrong."
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