COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS THAT PLAGUE THE KNIFE WORLD
Have you ever questioned the “facts” within the knife world? Truth be told, they may not be as accurate as you had previously thought. It’s debunking time! By Jonathan Kilburn
There are times when a statement or an idea is repeated constantly, over a long period of time, and it becomes a true belief to most people. They tend not to question it, or test it, or do anything else except pass it down to the younger generation and thus, the cycle begins anew. This type of misconception also runs rampant in the knife world. As a child, anything my grandfather told me about tools became the undeniable truth, even if it wasn’t the appropriate tool. As an adult, I have the option to explore the truth, or untruths, behind such age-old statements, that can only benefit me, and knife enthusiasts in general over the long term. The alternative
options, as opposed to a lifetime of erroneous facts, may vastly improve our quality of work and can allow us to prevent certain painful behaviors that could, in truth, be avoided with some minor research.
Now is the time for enlightenment, as we take a deep dive into common knife myths and correct those that are just longstanding fallacies with some modern and updated information.
01. STAINLESS STEEL DOESN’T RUST
Ask any Floridian about stainless steel, and they will tell you that anything will rust in Florida. It’s accurate that a stainless knife performs well and lasts longer in a humid environment, but this does not mean it is impervious to the elements. Stainless knives are generally made of a slightly softer steel that is more corrosion-resistant with the inclusion of chromium. For winter-use blades and humid environments, this steel remains an excellent option, but still needs to be maintained.
02. CARBON STEEL KNIVES SHOULDN’T BE USED AROUND WATER
I can’t tell you how often I hear from people that they will only use stainless steel in the kitchen. Granted, there are
benefits to stainless, but a properly maintained carbon blade may last longer, remain sharper and can indeed become more water-resistant with age. High-quality kitchen knives are primarily made from carbon steel, since they remain incredibly sharp for prolonged periods of time. With all that use, they develop a nice patina over time that does minimally preserve the blade.
03. KNIVES CREATED FROM RAILROAD SPIKES CONTAIN THE HIGHEST QUALITY MATERIAL
No, they do not. Everyone has seen railroad spike knives. They are easy to forge, and materials are pretty inexpensive, comparatively. But there is a reason why. The carbon content of the spikes is drastically low and will change depending on where the spike is. The same can be said about the track itself. Straightaways have only 0.12% carbon and curves have 0.30% carbon. The standard and acceptable carbon content for a high-carbon steel in knifemaking is 0.85% to 1.05%. That is a considerable difference. So, put away that railroad anvil, it’s not going to satisfy the requirements; files remain a superior alternative.
04. ALL STAINLESS STEEL IS THE SAME
People tend to shy away from the term “stainless” for very compelling reasons. But, that has improved over the last 20 years. Stainless steels have some significant benefits compared to other alternative alloys. There are five types of stainless steel — ferritic, austenitic, martensitic, duplex, and precipitation hardening — which vary in strength due to the additives and alloys included in the steel itself. CPM S30VN, a modern stainless, is one of the hardest steel types available for knifemakers today, and contains more carbon than a “high carbon” railroad spike.
05. ONLY SHARPEN A KNIFE WHEN IT NEEDS IT
The most efficient way to keep a blade in tip-top shape is to constantly sharpen and hone the edge. Harder steels make it incredibly challenging to get a top-quality edge from a dull one. As it is used, it will become more and more difficult to sharpen, but these materials will retain an edge better than alternatives. Keeping “constant sharp” will limit the amount of time needed to refine the blade and also keep it in its best shape, in case disaster or necessity strike. Honing a blade also doesn’t require much effort, as you can hone a knife on the palm of your hand after each use and before sheathing. There’s nothing wrong with preventative maintenance.
06. FULL TANG IS THE ONLY TANG YOU SHOULD USE
Technically a full tang is sturdier than other types of tangs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Different tang options depend on the grip, use, and materials used. While it’s true, a full-tang blade will offer strength throughout the handle, this design also adds a significant amount of weight. This is especially accurate when using a high-carbon steel, like 1095. Also, handle designs are limited and may be uncomfortable or unsafe for the task at hand.
07. KNIVES ARE INHERENT WEAPONS
This is more common with those who are not experienced with knives. It’s accurate, in that any blade can be used as a weapon, but knives are first and foremost a tool. Any deviation from an intended purpose will put extreme strain on the edge and the user, which could potentially be lethal. There seems to remain a commonplace idea that a knife should invariably be a weapon. That just isn’t the whole reality, any more than it is that a wrench can become a weapon.
08. FOLDERS CAN’T PERFORM AS WELL AS FIXED BLADES
A generation ago or more, this idea might have been valid. However, a
“… CERTAIN PAINFUL BEHAVIORS … COULD, IN TRUTH, BE AVOIDED WITH SOME MINOR RESEARCH.”
well-made folding knife can perform almost any task a fixed blade can handle. Granted, a folder will be much more likely to break where the blade and handle meet. This area will inevitably have thin, moving parts, so care must be taken to protect this area from unnecessary damage. The blade itself will handle any impact or use that a fixed knife of the same steel type will handle. Taking a quality folder as a backup for a bush knife is not impractical.
09. HARDER STEEL OFFERS GREATER EDGE RETENTION
This is true … to a point. Undoubtedly, how you handle the knife for the task at hand is more a factor for retaining a sharpened edge than the makeup of the steel itself. If improperly cared for, any knife — no matter how hard the steel may be — will dull. The general trade-off with harder steel is that it’s also more brittle steel. That edge may be razor-sharp, but it’s also going to be considerably easy to chip or damage.
“… MISCONCEPTION ALSO RUNS RAMPANT IN THE KNIFE WORLD.”
10. ONE KNIFE SHOULD PERFORM ALL TASKS
This idea bothers me and is only a recent conception of survival blades. The idea is that if someone is left in the woods with only one knife, they could survive. While a good idea in theory, it completely diminishes the capability focus of all knives. This creates a mishmash of knife designs that are not efficient at one thing, but mediocre at all things. The one thing multi-tools do well, is perform all tasks poorly. Don’t get me wrong, survival blades remain nothing to gawk at, but part of being prepared is possessing the proper tools for the job.
11. ONE KNIFE IS ENOUGH
Let’s be realistic. One knife is never enough, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. KI
ANZA Knives are handmade knives which utilize tool files. The file’s tool steel is hardened and ground down to a sharp edge. They make excellent and durable blades that will handle nearly any task they are presented with. This type of steel is a better option than a railroad spike.
Bottom Left: Stainless steel is all similar in that all stainless steel is corrosion-resistant. S35VN, or Stainless 35 Vanadium Niobium, is one of the newest forms of stainless steel. White River Tool and Knife produces several high-quality knives made from this relatively new and extremely durable stainless steel.
Bottom Right: There are many other alternatives to full-tang blades. Full tang has become quite popular over the last 10 years, but many manufacturers prefer other methods to fix their blades to the handles. Other tang options also allow for a handle to wrap all the way around and insulate the hand from metal. This is extremely important in cold temperatures.
Even though it’s potentially problematic to use, a folding knife can still help to process wood at a camp site. Finding a folder with a preferred grind is a great way to keep a backup ready at all times. If necessary, this Scandi Folder from TOPS is a valuable asset for processing wood.