KNIFE BUY­ING 101

10 TIPS TO CON­SIDER WHEN DE­CID­ING WHAT TO BUY

Knives Illustrated - - Contents - BY KEVIN ESTELA

Don't pull the trig­ger on a new knife un­til you read this. Our top sur­vival ex­pert pro­vides 10 key items you must know. By Kevin Estela

As a pro­fes­sional sur­vival ex­pert and Filipino mar­tial arts in­struc­tor, I field many ques­tions about the knives I’ve car­ried over the years. Stu­dents and sem­i­nar at­ten­dees want to know what works best for me.

While I do have my pref­er­ences and find it flat­ter­ing they re­spect my opin­ion, I gen­er­ally re­spond by ask­ing ques­tions to help th­ese in­quir­ing minds dis­cover which knives suit them best. The same logic we use in, say, finding footwear, should also ap­ply to prefer­able cut­lery. My size-13 win­ter boot would be too loose for a smaller foot, and too warm for some­one in a trop­i­cal cli­mate.

We dif­fer phys­i­cally and have dis­tinct at­tributes, mak­ing the per­fect fit any­thing but universal. To help you de­ter­mine what works best for you as a knife buyer, here are a few ques­tions to get you started:

01 WHAT’S MY BUD­GET?

Here’s an ex­pres­sion that rings true for knife pur­chases: “When you buy qual­ity, you only cry once.” You should pur­chase the best you can af­ford. The key word is “af­ford.” At every price, there are knives for sur­vival in the street as well as in the woods. Knives beyond your bud­get are fan­tas­ti­cal; spend too much on a fancy-look­ing knife and your heart may break when your cir­cum­stances re­quire you to use it as a tool. Don’t buy what you can’t re­place. Stay within your bud­get.

02 WHAT’S THE TASK?

Knife de­signs can evoke emo­tional re­sponses. Some­times the knife we want is not the knife we need. Pop­u­lar fic­ti­tious char­ac­ters like Crocodile Dundee, Rambo and Jack Bauer blur the un­der­stand­ing of a knife’s func­tion. In­stead of fo­cus­ing on form first, think about the knife’s func­tion. A large Bowie knife isn’t the best choice for fil­let­ing fish. A dou­ble-edge dag­ger serves as a bet­ter de­fen­sive blade than a bushcraft knife. Think about what tasks you need to ac­com­plish be­fore set­tling on a knife de­sign.

03 WHICH STEEL IS BEST FOR MY PURPOSE?

The aver­age knife user has a hard time dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween most of the ex­otic steels avail­able. With­out the la­bel, it would be tough to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween car­bon and stain­less steel. There are var­i­ous grades of car­bon steel, cru­cible met­als and non-mag­net­ics. With all the op­tions avail­able, do a quick in­ter­net search on “which steel is best for ___,” and in­sert your need in the blank. In­stead of jump­ing right for the lat­est and great­est, a bit of re­search will help you pur­chase a more re­li­able and longer-last­ing blade.

04 IS THE HAN­DLE COM­FORT­ABLE?

“THERE IS NOTH­ING WORSE THAN FINDING OUT THE KNIFE OF YOUR DREAMS IS A QUAR­TER-OFAN-INCH TOO LONG FOR EV­ERY­DAY CARRY.”

When watch­ing oth­ers use a knife, we some­times for­get about the han­dle inside their clenched fin­gers. Just like my anal­ogy with shoes for the right fit, a han­dle with a thick con­tour (my pref­er­ence) won’t fit as com­fort­ably in a smaller hand. De­pend­ing on the use of the knife, an ag­gres­sively tex­tured han­dle is a bet­ter pur­chase in de­fen­sive sce­nar­ios, but can cause blis­ters dur­ing pro­longed use. When­ever pos­si­ble, hold a knife and work through var­i­ous grip ma­nip­u­la­tions to get a feel for the han­dle. If the knife isn’t com­fort­able in your hand, move on to some­thing that works for you.

05 WHERE AM I GO­ING TO USE IT?

Think about the en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors that may af­fect your knife’s per­for­mance when you use it. This can help

you ad­dress which steel and han­dle you prefer­ably want. Bushcrafters in dry en­vi­ron­ments may fa­vor 01 steel and other high car­bons, but those in coastal ar­eas where mois­ture is high will likely pre­fer 3V, S35VN or S30V steel due to its cor­ro­sive re­sis­tance. Of course, you’ll need to bal­ance th­ese fac­tors against the re­sults from the ques­tions you’ve an­swered.

06 WHAT DO OTH­ERS SAY ABOUT THIS KNIFE AND WHY DO OPIN­IONS VARY?

Thanks to the in­ter­net, it’s easy to find re­views of just about any knife. De­pend­ing on distri­bu­tion, you may find a few hun­dred ob­ser­va­tions or re­views from peo­ple who have used knives in the field. Look for pat­terns and re­peated com­ments. Opin­ions will vary based on the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence of ac­quir­ing and us­ing the knife. Be wary and look at the big pic­ture: Some feed­back may be neg­a­tive due to a buyer’s ex­pense or user er­ror. Like­wise, overly zeal­ous feed­back might lead you to be­lieve the knife could chop fire­wood all on its own. Each user has his own opin­ion when it comes to knife use. Ex­pe­ri­ences vary based on knowl­edge and blade skills. Take them with a grain of salt and try to get a bal­anced view by reading a wide range of opin­ions.

07 CAN I LEGALLY PUR­CHASE, POS­SESS, AND CARRY IT?

Con­sult with a rep­utable source, such as the Le­gal Blade app from Knife Rights (www.kniferights.org) be­fore your knife pur­chase. There is noth­ing worse than finding out the knife of your dreams is a quar­ter-of-an-inch too long for ev­ery­day carry. Be a smart and le­gal knife owner when buy­ing, car­ry­ing, and us­ing knives.

08 IS THE KNIFE DURABLE? WHAT IS THE WAR­RANTY?

A good war­ranty on a knife means the maker stands be­hind his work, which means you can trust its dura­bil­ity. A good war­ranty also means it can be ser­viced if it’s ac­ci­den­tally dam­aged dur­ing train­ing. Per­son­ally war­ranties don’t mean a damn thing in an emer­gency, but buy the most ro­bust knife you can af­ford.

09 HOW DOES THE SHEATH CARRY THE BLADE?

A sheath is to knife, as hol­ster is to pis­tol. A sheath should hold the knife in a se­cure, but eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble man­ner. Self-de­fense knives should be eas­ily drawn from sheaths, free of in­ter­fer­ing straps. Bushcraft knives should have deep pouch sheaths to pro­tect the blade and han­dle and should fas­ten se­curely to pre­vent ac­ci­den­tal loss. Tac­ti­cal knives likely have pro­vi­sions to at­tach the blade to MOLLE or web gear in any num­ber of po­si­tions. De­pend­ing on the user, the sheath may fea­ture “click” re­ten­tion or a fric­tion fit. Also wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion is the lo­ca­tion where the sheath al­lows carry on the body or pack.

10 WHERE CAN I FIND ONE?

Once you have your knife se­lec­tion nar­rowed down, it’s time to search places such as ebay, Ama­zon, Google, online mes­sage boards, and fo­rums to lo­cate po­ten­tial bar­gains. The ex­tra money you keep can be placed aside for a backup blade pur­chase, sup­ple­men­tal gear, or for train­ing. Don’t waste any of your hard-earned money by pay­ing too much.

“THINK ABOUT THE EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL FAC­TORS THAT MAY AF­FECT YOUR KNIFE’S PER­FOR­MANCE WHEN YOU USE IT.”

Top) What is the purpose of the blade you want? The RMJ Kukri is a chop­ping machine and per­fectly suited for cut­ting through ma­te­rial in ur­ban and re­mote set­tings. The re­verse curve of the blade max­i­mizes cut­ting po­ten­tial. Right) A com­pact blade, like the RAT from Head­hunter Blades, is a great option for those who go into harm’s way. Worn op­po­site the firearm, it pro­vides an­other option for lethal force when it is deemed nec­es­sary. Photo credit: Voodooman

Uti­liz­ing an S35VN blade, the Martin Knives Phoenix is a top-of-the-line hol­low-han­dle sur­vival knife that holds up in the dampest en­vi­ron­ments and keeps the han­dle con­tents dry. Martin Knives has never had a blade re­turned bro­ken at the hilt. A Scandi-ground knife ex­cels at cut­ting wood and holds up to the el­e­ments when ground from a “su­per steel” like the Martin Knives Bushcraft Clas­sic in S35VN. The com­fort­able han­dle will not blis­ter the hand after pro­longed use.

The Ve­he­ment Blades Com­bat Dag­ger is an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of a done-right dou­ble-edged de­fen­sive knife. Per­fectly bal­anced and made from mod­ern ma­te­ri­als, it is an ex­cel­lent com­ple­ment to the com­bat­ive load­out.

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