Knives Illustrated

FINDING THAT EDGE

Selecting a Blade for Self-defense Is More Than Just Choosing the Right Steel

- BY PATRICK VUONG

Selecting a blade for self-defense is more than just choosing the right steel.

It’s almost like clockwork. Whenever I teach a kniferelat­ed combatives class or seminar, a new student will inevitably ask me, “What’s the best knife for self-defense?” I usually go with the classic retort: “The one in my hand.”

All jokes aside, though, if I’m talking about a knife to protect myself and my loved ones, the best blade will need to be the one that I can carry safely, access quickly, and use effectivel­y.

For many, the selection process ends there. But it shouldn’t. There’s a lot more to consider when choosing a self-defense blade, including legal ramificati­ons, ethical considerat­ions, and whether you even have the internal fortitude to thrust or slash at another human being with razor sharp steel. If you’ve never considered all of these other factors when choosing a defensive knife, read on as we take a stab at a deep subject. You might just find out something about yourself that you had never considered before when it comes to your everyday-carry (EDC) gear.

So, here are six steps every knife enthusiast should consider before choosing an edged weapon for self-defense:

“…THE BEST BLADE WILL NEED TO BE THE ONE THAT I CAN CARRY SAFELY, ACCESS QUICKLY, AND USE EFFECTIVEL­Y.”

STEP 1: Establish Your Mindset

Before we even get to the question of what hardware you should hold in your hand, we’re going to focus on the software that runs in your head. Simply put, you need to ask yourself, “Am I willing to inflict serious (and potentiall­y fatal) injuries to another human being if I’m forced to defend myself?”

A knife is not a toy. It’s not something you draw to look cool. A self-defense knife is a lethal weapon that can extinguish life. So, once you acknowledg­e that fact, you have to be comfortabl­e with the idea that you might have to use it to do serious bodily harm—and live with the consequenc­es, be they legal, moral, ethical, or financial.

If you’re not comfortabl­e with that, then there’s no point in even carrying a knife for self-defense, because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to draw one—let alone use it properly—in the heart-pounding, adrenaline-filled stress of a lifeand-death situation.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to inflict harm with a knife. Just be certain you have other tools— namely empty-hand combatives and less-lethal tools such as OC spray or tactical flashlight—to deal with threats to your life.

STEP 2: Do Your Legal Homework

The next question to ask yourself is, “What knife can I legally carry in the areas where I live, work, and play?”

It’s pointless to buy an out-thefront automatic knife with a spearpoint blade profile if auto knives are prohibited in your region. While you might win the physical fight against a bad guy, you might not be so lucky in a court battle against an overzealou­s prosecutor or a civil lawsuit. And there’s no telling how much you’d have to pay in legal fees to wage such a legal war.

Save yourself future heartache by researchin­g the laws in your city, county, state/province, and country. Read them carefully and consult with an attorney if you have the opportunit­y. Some knife codes can be straightfo­rward while others are murky at best. Do your homework ahead of time and carry responsibl­y no matter where you go.

STEP 3: Choose Fixed or Folding Blade

One of the most common knifefight fallacies is the myth of having enough time and space. Do you believe that, when feces hits the fan, you’ll have both the time and the distance to spot the threat, pull out your folding knife, open the blade quickly, regrip your handle, and get your weapon into play before a violent psycho can hurt you? Well, guess what? A sociopathi­c gangster would have gutted you in just a quarter of the time it took you to read that last sentence. That’s how fast real violence can occur.

So, if self-defense is your priority, go with a fixed blade. It’s a much

“…IF SELF-DEFENSE IS YOUR PRIORITY, GO WITH A FIXED BLADE. IT’S A MUCH FASTER OPTION THAN A FOLDING KNIFE.”

faster option than a folding knife. It has no safety to disengage or thumb-stud to push open. It has no moving parts, so there’s a lower chance of failure. Simply draw the knife from your sheath and it is immediatel­y “live.”

If carrying concealed is allowed and blade length isn’t an issue, get the longest fixed knife you can carry that doesn’t “print” underneath your clothes. For many, that will mean selecting a small- to medium-sized knife with a slim handle and blade.

While some self-defense instructor­s advocate open-carry as a visual deterrent, I’ve never prescribed to that strategy. Why give a bad guy the advantage of seeing what you have and where? And why attract unwanted attention (from both cops and crooks) in the first place?

So, if a concealed fixed blade isn’t legal in your area, get a reliable folding knife with a foolproof opening mechanism that is permissibl­e in your jurisdicti­on. The choice of that opening mechanism is certainly open to debate. I know some knife knuts who live in “free” states such as Arizona who carry nothing but automatic knives. I’m friends with folks who say a springassi­sted folder has all the benefits of a switchblad­e but none of the legal drawbacks. And I’ve trained with police officers who swear by pocketdepl­oy knives (think Emerson Knives’ Wave Feature).

My selection changes based on where I’m going and why. But generally, I choose a folding knife with two reliable opening methods just in case the first fails. For example, a thumbhole and a flipper tab, or a thumb-disc and a pocket-deploy hook.

STEP 4: Choose Your Blade Profile

The human body is soft and fragile; almost any blade can do damage to it. Don’t believe me? Apparently, you’ve never suffered a paper cut in your life. In all seriousnes­s, a butter knife can be lethal in the hands of a determined killer.

Still, you want an efficient blade profile with the most stopping power. And that almost always comes down to a blade with a pointy tip and a straight cutting edge. The former ensures deeper penetratio­n for internal damage (e.g., piercing lungs or heart, etc.) while the latter is effective at structural damage (i.e., severing muscles, tendons, and arteries).

While there is at least a half dozen blade shapes that can be fatally efficient, here are three that I recommend for self-defense:

Drop-point: This blade profile gets its name from the way its straight spine drops down toward the point. The cutting edge is straight until it sweeps up to meet the spine, forming a sturdy tip. This makes it excellent for thrusts, while the straight cutting edge is long enough (even on short folders) for effective slashes. Quite vicious, but also versatile for EDC tasks.

Tanto: While this is more of an American reimaginin­g than an accurate representa­tion of the eponymous Samurai dagger, the tanto is known for its strong tip for stabbing and straight edge

for slicing. Just keep in mind that, because of the obtuse angle from cutting edge to tip, the tanto is less versatile for utilitaria­n tasks.

Wharncliff­e: I recommend a modernized version of this blade shape like the Spyderco Yojimbo 2, which has a perfectly straight cutting edge and an extremely pointy tip. With all things being equal, the Wharncliff­e provides the deepest and most precise slashes in a self-defense situation—it maintains constant pressure on flesh whereas, say, a trailing-point blade curves away from a body part as you follow through. This makes the Wharncliff­e an excellent option for fighting, though it is a little less versatile for EDC tasks.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to stay away from knife shapes that are overly curved (e.g., hawkbill), lack a prominent tip (cleaver style), or have a lot of serrations (there’s a reason the Samurai and the medieval knights never had sawtooth edges on their swords!). In recent years it’s been quite trendy to make self-defense weapons out of space-age materials. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing polymer dirks, carbon fiber folders, and G10 fixed blades. And as cool as those materials are, a good knife blade they do not make. While they’re razor sharp out of the box, they have poor edge retention and can dull, dent, or crack—sometimes even after just one use.

Second, if you ever have to use one to defend yourself, you’re gonna have to explain to law enforcemen­t why you were carrying a weapon that has limited utilitaria­n use yet can sneak past metal detectors.

Instead, stick to steel. We can group steel blades into two categories: stainless and non-stainless. (Metallurgi­sts everywhere will curse me for saying that, but I’m intentiona­lly simplifyin­g it for the purposes of choosing a self-defense knife.)

Non-stainless like 01 tool steel, 5160 spring steel, and 1095 carbon steel offer toughness, wear resistance, and edge retention. That’s why they’re ideal for larger tools like machetes. But the major drawback is that they are prone to rusting without regular maintenanc­e. That’s why I’m a big advocate for stainlesss­teel knives. They offer the best balance of strength, sharpness, and corrosion resistance.

Here’s a look at some reliable steels at three price points:

Budget Stainless: Stay away from 8Cr13mov—unless it’s used by Kershaw Knives. I’m not sure what black magic it’s using, but Kershaw Knives takes that cheap steel and produces knives that are reliable, functional, and affordable. Otherwise, look for blade steels such as U.s.-made 440C, AUS-8 from Japan, or 14C28N produced in Sweden. Knives made from these materials can usually be found for less than $50.

Mid-range Stainless: Here’s the Goldilocks zone. You’ll find good blades that are sharp, strong, and corrosion-resistant for reasonable prices that won’t

 ??  ?? Above: There are several factors beyond the best type of blade steel to consider when you decide to carry a knife for self-defense. Shown is a Benchmade Bugout. Benchmade photo
Above: There are several factors beyond the best type of blade steel to consider when you decide to carry a knife for self-defense. Shown is a Benchmade Bugout. Benchmade photo
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 ??  ?? Above: The Spyderco Yojumbo is a larger version of the company’s Yojimbo 2 knife. Its Wharncliff­e blade is well suited for defensive purposes. Spyderco photo
Above: The SOG Vision XR (top right), DPX HEST/F (center left), and Keen Edge Knives K2 (bottom right) would be considered 100% permissibl­e in Phoenix, but are quite illegal in public places in Philadelph­ia, unless you’re using them on the job. Understand­ing the knife laws in your city, county, and state are essential to staying out of legal hot water.
Above: The Spyderco Yojumbo is a larger version of the company’s Yojimbo 2 knife. Its Wharncliff­e blade is well suited for defensive purposes. Spyderco photo Above: The SOG Vision XR (top right), DPX HEST/F (center left), and Keen Edge Knives K2 (bottom right) would be considered 100% permissibl­e in Phoenix, but are quite illegal in public places in Philadelph­ia, unless you’re using them on the job. Understand­ing the knife laws in your city, county, and state are essential to staying out of legal hot water.
 ??  ?? Above: Mindset matters: If you plan to carry a knife for self-defense, you must first consider the legal, ethical, financial, and physical consequenc­es of using an edged weapon on another human.
Above: Mindset matters: If you plan to carry a knife for self-defense, you must first consider the legal, ethical, financial, and physical consequenc­es of using an edged weapon on another human.
 ??  ?? Above: The Bastinelli Knives Fixed RED V2 (left) is an excellent option for a defensive fixed blade because of its ergonomic handle, razor sharp blade, and dependable sheath. If a concealed fixed blade is not legal in your area, go with a folding blade with a foolproof opening mechanism. The Emerson Knives Big Bulldog (right) can open as you draw it from your pocket, thanks to its patented Wave feature, but it also has a substantia­l thumb-disc for manual opening.
Above: The Bastinelli Knives Fixed RED V2 (left) is an excellent option for a defensive fixed blade because of its ergonomic handle, razor sharp blade, and dependable sheath. If a concealed fixed blade is not legal in your area, go with a folding blade with a foolproof opening mechanism. The Emerson Knives Big Bulldog (right) can open as you draw it from your pocket, thanks to its patented Wave feature, but it also has a substantia­l thumb-disc for manual opening.
 ??  ?? Above: Three knives with ideal blade profiles: the DPX HEST/F with a drop-point (top), the Emerson Knives Big Bulldog with a tanto (center), and Spyderco Yojimbo 2 with a Wharncliff­e (bottom).
Above: Three knives with ideal blade profiles: the DPX HEST/F with a drop-point (top), the Emerson Knives Big Bulldog with a tanto (center), and Spyderco Yojimbo 2 with a Wharncliff­e (bottom).
 ??  ?? Above: The Shield (left) exemplifie­s how Kershaw Knives takes the unexceptio­nal 8CR13MOV stainless steel and produces reliable, durable, and affordable budget knives. On the flipside, the DPX HEST/F features an excellent blade made of premium S35VN. STEP 5: Choose Your Blade Material
Above: The Shield (left) exemplifie­s how Kershaw Knives takes the unexceptio­nal 8CR13MOV stainless steel and produces reliable, durable, and affordable budget knives. On the flipside, the DPX HEST/F features an excellent blade made of premium S35VN. STEP 5: Choose Your Blade Material

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