Choosing a Survival Knife

Choosing a Survival Knife

According to survival legend John “Lofty” Wiseman and countless other survivalist; a reliable survival knife is the single most important tool in your survival kit. There are many tasks you can perform in the wild to survive using ONLY a knife, so it stands to reason that choosing the right survival knife is probably the biggest decision you have to make regarding your survival gear.

Your knife is an amazing multi-tool and in a survival situation will be used to:

  • Cut/Shape/Split/Chop Wood
  • Build a Shelter
  • Start a Fire
  • Hunt/Skin an Animal
  • Prepare Food
  • Hammer (if big enough)
  • Pry (not advisable, but if you might need to in a survival situation)
  • Signal (with a polished blade)

You want to make sure you have a knife that can perform the above tasks and that you can rely on and stake your life on if necessary. This guide was written to help point out what you need to consider when choosing your survival knife.

While not listed as one of the seven, it’s almost universally accepted that a folding knife makes a poor choice as a survival knife. Even the strongest, well-built folding knife will be weak at the joint and far easier to damage than a fixed-blade survival knife. Folding knives are great backup knives or for fine work where you don’t need a larger blade.

However, seeing as a folding knife is very easy to carry, the principle of “the knife you have on you is the best survival knife” becomes clear.

 

Feature #1 Tang

Blade Tang

The Tang of a knife is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. The tang and the blade are one piece of steel. A Full Tang, or tang that goes all the way to the base of the handle, is regarded as the best choice for a survival knife. A full tang gives strength to the knife and eliminates the chance of the blade breaking of (as can happen with some cheaper knives).

 

Feature # 2 Size

Knife Length

Most survival knives are between 5 and 12 inches. Any less and it might not be big enough to do the things you will have to get done in a survival situation, like chopping wood.

But, any larger than 10 inches and you are moving into parang/machete territory; unless you need to chop a lot of thick wood, you shouldn’t need a blade this long. After 10 inches a knife becomes too unwieldy and is hard to use for fine work. If you need a blade this long, get a parang, such as the Chris Caine Survival Tool.

 

Feature # 3 Blade Design

Knife design is also hotly debated. As with blade metal, it purely depends on how you will use the knife.

Blade Edge

Blade Edge

One of the biggest debate is with straight vs. serrated blades. A straight blade knife will work better for chopping wood and fine work and is much easier to sharpen. Any smooth stone can even be used to sharpen a straight blade, so if you’ve lost your sharpening stone, you’ll be OK.

For most scenarios, you’ll want to stay away from serrated edges. While they do have their uses, a serrated edge almost always needs a special sharpener and serrations are difficult to sharpen out in the field. Unless you are cutting a lot of rope, the serrations are rarely necessary.

Spine of the Blade:

Blade Spine

In general you’ll want the spine or back of the blade (opposite the blade edge) to be flat, with no edge or serrated areas. This makes it easy to hit the back with a baton to split wood and to use with fire steels to create sparks.

Some knives such as The Parry Blade have a serrated back edge, giving the advantage of a straight blade, with the availability of serrations.

Ideally you’ll want a spine with a 90 degree angle near the handle, this makes stripping bark easy and saves your blade.

 

Feature # 4 Blade Shape

Blade Shape

The geometry of the blade will ultimately determine its functionality. For example, a meat cleaver is shaped and weighted in such a way that it is perfect for chopping through thick slabs of meat and bone. The same knife however would have very limited use in the field.

The same holds true for the double-edged spear point and tanto knives. Such knives are designed for combat and military use. They are perfect for thrusting and stabbing but don’t perform very well with standard survival tasks (splitting wood, making feather sticks etc.)

For survival tasks, drop point or clip point blades are ideal.

A clip-point blade is like a normal blade with the back concavely formed to make the tip thinner and sharper. The back edge of the clip is sometimes sharpened to make a double edge. If the false edge is sharpened it increases the knife’s effectiveness in piercing, so is useful for skinning. The sharp tip is useful as a pick, or for cutting in tight places.

However clip-point blades do have their downsides. Some clip points with exaggerated points are prone to breaking when splitting wood with a baton.

The drop point blade shape is the best all-around blade style.

A drop point blade has a spine which gently slopes downwards (from half-way point) and meet the curved up blade edge slightly above the centre of the knife. Almost every reputable survival knife has this blade shape as it is perfectly suited for the various activates that would be required of it in a survival situation.

 

Feature # 5 Grinds

Blade Grinds

The grind used on your knife will say a lot about how the knife was designed to be used.

  • Scandi: Similar to a flat grind blade except that the bevel starts at about the middle of the blade, not the spine. It produces a long lasting edge at the expense of some cutting ability and is most popular grind for bushcraft and survival knives.
  • Hollow: A knife blade which has been ground to create a characteristic concave, bevelled cutting edge along. This is characteristic of straight razors, used for shaving, and yields a very sharp but weak edge which requires stropping for maintenance. It is highly unlikely you will find this grind on a survival knife, though they are more common on skinning knives
  • High Flat: Very similar to a Full Flat grind except the flat grind doesn’t go all the way up to the spine. These knives have a secondary bevel at the edge of the knife (can be scandi or convex). A true flat ground knife having only a single bevel is very rare.
  • Full Flat: The blade tapers all the way from the spine to the edge from both sides. A lot of metal is removed from the blade and is thus more difficult to grind, one factor that limits its commercial use. It sacrifices edge durability in favour of sharpness. The Finnish puuko is an example of a flat ground knife.
  • Full Convex: Instead of tapering with straight lines to the edge, the taper is curved, though in the opposite manner to a hollow grind. Such a shape keeps a lot of metal behind the edge making for a stronger edge while still allowing a good degree of sharpness. This grind can be used on axes and is sometimes called an axe grind. As the angle of the taper is constantly changing this type of grind requires some degree of skill to reproduce on a flat stone. Convex blades usually need to be made from thicker stock than other blades. The Chris Caine Survival Tool and Chris Caine Survival Knife both use a convex grind.

Feature # 6 Blade Metal

Survival Knives really only come in two types of steel: stainless steel or high carbon steel. Each has its own advantages and it purely depends on your usage as to which you should go for.

Stainless Steel is fantastic when you are in a coastal town or using the knife around water. The steel will last a VERY long time without rusting and it can take quite a beating. However it is commonly accepted that stainless steel blades don’t hold an edge as long as carbon steel blades.

Carbon Steel knives are generally accepted to hold a really sharp edge for much longer than a stainless steel knife. Some people believe that they are also easier to sharpen. The downside is that unless you take good care of the blade, the knife can rust and become damaged when exposed to the elements.

Recommended Stainless Steels Recommended Carbon Steels
CPM 154S60VBG-42S90VCPM S30V A2D2O110955160

A good general rule is about 4.5mm -6.5mm thickness is the best for survival knives. A knife of that thickness will be very solid and able withstand the abuses of survival tasks e.g. wood chopping and prying. You don’t want a survival knife with a thin or flexible blade.

Feature # 7 Handle

The handles on survival knives vary, some are hard rubber or plastic and others are solid wood or micarta canvas. Aside from comfort and handling the knife with wet or sweaty hands, one handle material is as good as another. One thing you should avoid at all costs though are knives with hollow handles for storing your survival kit.

If the knife has a hollow handle, then the blade and the handle are 2 separate pieces of metal. The knife will be weak at the joint and you could end up snapping the blade from the handle.

If you are storing anything in the handle and the handle breaks away, say goodbye to your survival kit! Not a good situation to be in.

Hollow handled knives tend to have a round handle; these are difficult to grip in some situations and in the long term are far from comfy.

Something else to note about this type of knife, is that many come with a button compass in the bottom. What if you need to use the pommel to hammer something? You’d break the compass and probably lose your survival kit in the process. It may also make holding and using the knife more difficult and increase the chance of injuring yourself or damaging the knife. If you really want a compass, buy a separate one, they’re not that expensive.

A good survival knife will have a solid handle made and often has a lightweight handle material such as micarta canvas.

The Law

If you live in the UK and you’re a little unsure about what you can legally own and carry, I’ve written a, hopefully, easy to follow guide – UK Knife Laws.

 

History of British Knife Making

Summary

This page explains the growth of knife making in the UK; from its earlier years, the rise of Made in Sheffield, the decline and finally through to how it is today. Modern day knife making is re-emerging with skilled craftsmen making incredible knives.

The Early Years

Knives and cutlery were made through Britain and the rest of the world for thousands of years.

In Middle Age Britain, most bladesmiths were based in London, though York, Salisbury and Thaxted (Essex) were also seen as knife-making centres, albeit smaller.

The Rise of Steel City

It wasn’t long before all of these places would be overshadowed by a small northern town, planted next to the Pennines. Sheffield had an advantage that other places didn’t, seven in fact. Like Rome, Sheffield is built on seven hills, but also at the confluence of the 6 rivers and 8 smaller brooks. This made providing water power easy and by the mid-18th century, almost 100 water driven mills had sprung up along the length of these rivers. The water power made it possible the operation of grindstones, rolling mills and forge hammers; all vital to knife making.

The Seven Hills around Sheffield and in the nearby moor help large supplies of sandstone, form making grinding wheels.

To improve Sheffield’s position even further, in 1740 Benjamin Huntsman, developed crucible or cast steel – the ideal material for knives.

This combination of factors empowered Sheffield to expand rapidly and in doing so it dominated production of knives and cutlery, not only in Britain but around the world. Due to the sheer volume of knives produce in Sheffield, the name Sheffield became synonymous with cutlery and it picked up the nicknames of “Knife City” and “Steel City”.

To demonstrate the volume of knives, know that in 1900 Joseph Rodgers and Sons produced three million knives. The knives produced in Sheffield were world class quality and none could compete with the sheer size of the industrial machine that was Sheffield.

Steel City Decline

Sheffield however had caused its own eventual decline, because of the way labour was organised. Factories were inhabited by “little meisters” meaning masters, each specialising in a part of the knife making process.

The “little meisters” would bid against each other for work, meaning that the factory owners could demand lower bids. This had result of significantly lowering morale amongst the craftsmen.

Sheffield factories were also gradually eclipsed by technology and manufacturing methods; mostly in Germany and America. Knives were mass produces and as such were often lower quality than Sheffield-made knives. This created a dwindling demand the very best Sheffield craftsmen.

These knife-makers were mostly self-taught and unlike the specialist “little meisters”, they were skilled in the complete knife-making process.

These remaining few craftsmen worked in small workshops and were mostly unaware of each other’s existence. These knifemakers each had a small but slowly expanding group of enthusiasts who cherished their knives and were eager to buy them

Modern Knife Making

In Britain today there are a small band of craftsmen who are equal in skill to any others around the world. However many makers had no time to spend on advertising or publicity and so long as they were making enough money to survive they were satisfied.

So although they were known to the small groups of enthusiasts, the wider market didn’t know of the existence of these craftsmen and the wonderful knives which they were producing.

The internet changed all this. Knife makers could create online shops where they can display and sell their knives for very little cost and importantly gain higher profit margins. Forums allowed knife enthusiasts to meet in the hundreds (online) and share their passions.

The interest in knives and knife-making has grown so much in the past decade that some knife makers are now running courses for people who want to learn to make knives for themselves.

There are also complete ranges of basic parts and materials needed for beginners to start making knives.

There is a tremendous history and heritage of knife making in Britain, these skills are being practised and are thriving now more than ever.

UK Knife Laws

Regardless of what many people in Great Britain believe, our knife laws are amid the most sensible in the World.

In Great Britain we benefit from laws which on one hand, promote the sensible use and collecting of fine knives, and on the other reject those who would abuse them.

What You Can’t Have:

The following items are banned from sale within the UK (although if you already own one you may keep it, but not use it outside of your own property)

  • Switchblades
  • Automatics or flick-knives
  • Gravity knives
  • Balisongs or butterfly knives
  • Push daggers
  • Belt buckle knives
  • Sword canes
  • Disguised knives
  • Knuckle-duster knives

Iin 2004, an amendment was introduced which restricts the sale of any knife which is not readily detectable by the normal methods of detection, ie: either x-ray or metal detection, unless it can be proven that the knife’s sole purpose is for the preparation of food.

This means that the Cold Steel CAT Tanto or Lansky Knife is now illegal in the UK.

These knives referred to as both Airport Knives and Stealth Knives.

In 2006, Disguised Knives were prohibited. You may not buy any knife designed to look like something else, for example a knife which appears to be a pen, (it doesn’t matter whether the pen actually works or not).

What You Can Carry:

The Criminal Justice Act (1988) says that you may carry a knife with a blade length of 3.0″ or less, as long as it is capable of folding; meaning no fixed blade knives. However use your common sense; a knife has no place at a football match, in a pub, nightclub or school. In such circumstances the knife is viewed as an offensive weapon.

Bigger Knives:

Bigger knives are legal to own and use on your own property, but if you want to carry a larger knife then you must have ‘reasonable cause'; you must be able to prove that you have a genuine reason for carrying the knife.

You may carry a larger cutting tool if it is associated with your work (a chef carrying a 9” butchers knife), or if it is associated with your sport, (a fisherman carrying a 6.0″ fillet knife, or a hunter with a 4.0″ fixed blade hunting knife).

Please don’t forget you have the knife though. If you stop off at the supermarket on your way home take the knife out of your pocket and lock it in your glove box or boot. Also when transporting a knife by car, make sure you keep it locked away in the glove box or securely stored in the boot of the vehicle. Do not slip it into the door side-pocket, under your seat or in a centre console, if stopped by the Police this gives the impression of keeping the knife close to hand.

Don’t Argue With The Police:

Make sure that you comply fully with the law. The Police take breaches of knife law very seriously and the measures they take are in place for our safety.

Please note: this information is supplied for your information only. We are not solicitors  so please follow the links below for more official information, or speak to a solicitor for legal advice. Please refer to the footnote at the page bottom.

The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act (1959)

Prevents the use and sale of switchblades and automatic knives within Great Britain due to the violent and prevalent use by “Teddy Boys”.

The Criminal Justice Act (1988)

The Act outlaws the sale of certain knife categories. Amongst those included are belt buckle knives, push daggers, and other martial arts weapons.

Click Here to View The Act

The Offensive Weapons Act (1996)

Restricts the sales of certain types of knife to persons under the age of 16.

Click Here to View The Act

The Knives Act (1997)

The most recent law to affect knives in Great Britain basically banned the sale of any knife suitable for combat. Although theoretically this could mean ANY knife, the law is there to protect us all. It has been left “grey” enough to exercise a little self-control for those wishing to collect such items, yet gives no loop holes for acquisition with violent use or intentions.

Click Here to View The Act

Please note: this page is supplied for information purposes only and only represents our personal understanding of the law. I am in no way legally trained this information is not offered as a substitute in any form for professional legal advice. For more information regarding UK legislation please contact a solicitor.