Choosing a Survival Knife  |  Knife Steel Properties  |  Knives and UK Law  |  Knife Terminology

SIMPLES? REALLY?

There are so many different types of knives on the market that it's understandable that lots of people end up totally confused and buy something that doesn't do what they were hoping it did. You buy a Survival Knife because you may RELY on it one day for your very life.

Whatever you do ... don't go for the cheap option. That will probably let you down right at the moment when it counts.

If you're serious about surviving in unforeseen situations then buy the best you can afford because none of your money is any good to you if you die as a result of choosing an unreliable cheap knife in the local flea market!

WHAT TO CONSIDER

Now, a few very important things to consider before rushing off to buy a Survival Knife:

  • What is the purpose of the knife?
  • What are going to be its main tasks?
  • What will you trade off between corrosion resistance, edge retention, toughness and hardness?
  • What sort of knife fits the bill?
  • Can you afford it?
  • Try to afford it ... or the next affordable compromise!

So, what is a Survival Knife expected to do? Here's a list of tasks that any good Survival Knife should be able to accomplish:

  • Extrication/Escape from being trapped
  • Hunting
    • As a spear
    • Fashioning other weapons bows, arrows, stakes, etc.
    • Making traps
    • Up close and personal!
    • Game preparation
    • Gutting & cleaning
    • Jointing
  • Food preparation
  • Wood processing
    • Chopping
    • Sawing
    • Batoning/splitting
    • Fashioning tools, etc.
    • Whittling, carving & shaping
  • Fire starting
    • Feather stick making
    • Creating a Bow Drill for fire making
    • Creating tinder
  • Shelter building
  • Emergency stake or equipment hook
    • Driven into ground
    • Driven into a tree
  • Area clearance
  • Digging
  • First aid
  • Hammering & grinding
  • Self defense
  • Multi-purpose

Of course, that list is not exhaustive ... just what I think of as important tasks. Now it's up to you to consider very carefully what you need from the knife. Read through the pages to familiarise yourself with knives before making your decision. I've tried throughout these knife pages to provide as much information as I can think of to help you get the best tool to fit your personal survival purpose.

 

MIND MAP

There are so many things to consider before finally choosing the correct Survival Knife for yourself that I thought I'd better put together a Mind Map to help you (and me) understand all the areas that need to be thought about. Imagine my surprise when I developed this little monster below ... and I can already see that there are areas that need still more development!

Don't let the apparent complexity put you off though. If you click on the pic it'll bring up a full size image in a new window (or tab). Depending on which browser you're using you may need to click on that image to bring it up to full size. Feel free to print it out if you want to. Once you've finished with it simply close the window or tab to return here.

MIND MAP: CHOOSING A SURVIVAL KNIFE

FULL SIZE = 1400 x 1467 px (332 kB)



Of course, you can always pop over to YouTube and look up Survival Knife reviews. They're often a lot more helpful than the manufacturer's advertising blurb; but please use them to confirm the detailed uses, strengths and weaknesses of a knife AFTER you've decided on exactly what sort of knife you need.

 
If you want my opinion, for what it's worth, I'm not going to guide you towards any particular knife. My own preference is for a full tang, high carbon steel, spear point, single edged with a good strong pommel and a blade of around 5 - 6 inches (125 - 150 mm) which is in the region of a quarter inch (5 - 6 mm) thick. Cutting edge with a scandi grind and possible a secondary micro-ground edge (known as a sabre grind).


ANATOMY OF A KNIFE

You'll find a glossary of common knife terms on this website by clicking HERE.

TANGS

The tang is the part of the knife you don't see much of. It's the continuation of the blade steel back into the handle and it's crucial to the overall strength of the knife. There are several different types of tang, four being commonly found in fixed blade knives: Full, Half, Partial, Rat-tail.

Full tangs make the strongest knives by far. The full tang may even be extended out of the butt of the handle to give a pronounced and very strong pommel.

Under heavy use, both the partial and rat tail tangs can bend or break. Personally, I've had a couple of knives in the past where the rat tail tang actually broke out through the handle - in one case causing me a nasty injury to the palm of my hand.

 

 

GRINDS

Most quality knives start out life as a flat steel bar of uniform thickness. The shape of the blade and tang is cut out and then it's time to put an edge on it. This is usually achieved by grinding the cheeks on each face at a specific angle to form a wedge shape, the apex of which is the cutting edge.

Once again, there are several different types/shapes of grind as well as grinds of different angles. Each has its own good and bad points as to use and durability. Ask a dozen different knife experts about the pros and cons of any particular grind and I guarantee you'll get a dozen different answers. Each to his own! What I've tried to do here is give you a straightforward description and the most logical pros and cons.

FLAT GRIND
The faces (or cheeks) of the blade are ground flat and even from the spine to the edge.
 
Easy to sharpen.
Cutting resistance is encountered the deeper the cut when chopping/splitting wood, as the faces are always in contact with the wood, increasing frictional drag. Progressive sharpening changes the angle at the edge or results in the blade becoming progressively thinner.
SCANDI GRIND
Like the flat grind, but starting some way down the blade face
 
Easier to sharpen than the flat grind, as you're not removing nearly as much material. Better for chopping and splitting. More robust edge.
 
CONVEX GRIND
Sometimes known as the "Axe Grind" the faces are ground curving in towards the edge. This grind may start at the spine or some way down the face.
 
Great at chopping and splitting, as it forces the wood out and away from its main surfaces, reducing frictional drag. Extremely durable.
Not much good for slicing or detailed work and progressive sharpening results in the edge angle becoming larger and larger, reducing its effectiveness.
HOLLOW GRIND
The exact opposite of the Convex Grind. The ground surfaces bow inwards (concave). Favoured by a lot of hunters.
 
Produces an extremely sharp edge which is good for dressing game. Great for fine work.
Edge is often so fine and contains so little material that it is easily damaged. Not recommended for chopping/splitting. More difficult to sharpen correctly.
CHISEL GRIND
One side ground only, which gives rise to a very sharp and sturdy edge, depending on the grind angle.
 
Extremely sharp and very easy to sharpen. Sharpening does not reduce its strength or diminish its effectiveness. Ideal for carving, whittling and food preparation.
The edge requires very frequent maintenance. Most chisel grinds are ground on the right side, which disadvantages left-handers. Not much good for chopping or splitting.
COMPOUND BEVEL
 

COMMON KNIFE BLADE SHAPES

NORMAL
A normal blade has a curving cutting edge and straight back. A dull back lets the wielder use fingers to concentrate force; it also makes the knife heavy and strong for its size. The curve concentrates force on a smaller area, making cutting easier. This knife can chop as well as pick and slice. This is also the best single-edged blade shape for thrusting, as the edge cuts a swath that the entire width of the knife can pass through without the spine having to push aside any material on its path, as a drop-point knife would.
SPEAR POINT
A spear point blade is one that is symmetrical from tip to bottom and is essentially shaped like a dagger. The main difference between a spear point and a dagger is a spear point will only be single edged, while a dagger is double-edged. With a strong point, the spear is good for piercing and it contains a small "belly" that can be used for slicing, but they're not ideal for this purpose. They can be single or double edged, although most forms of the spear point knife come with a double-edged design. Spear point blades are often used on throwing knives.
DROP POINT
Drop point is a knife blade that slopes on the spine of the blade from the handle of the knife to the tip of the blade, where the tip is still noticeably higher than the midpoint of the blade, unlike a spear point where the tip is at the midpoint. This allows the spine of the blade (where the blade is thicker, and thus stronger) to continue forward to the tip of the blade. The curve on the top of a drop-point blade is always convex, which is what distinguishes it from a clip point blade. The drop point is typically thicker (especially at the tip) than a clip point. This makes it a more versatile tool for game-care/butchering tasks like disjointing and prying. The drop point is a very common design for hunting knives.

CLIP POINT
Clip point blades have the appearance of having the forward third of the blade "clipped" off. The clip itself can be straight or concave. The blade spine then tapers in thickness in either a straight line or a recurve to the knife's point, which may be located above, below, or in line with the central axis of the blade. Because the tip is controllable, sharp and thinner at the spine, a clip point knife lends itself to quicker stabbing with less drag during insertion and faster withdrawal.

The thinned false edge of the clip may be sharpened to form a true second cutting edge. If the false edge is sharpened it increases the knife's effectiveness in piercing.

However, the tip of the clip point is not as strong as that of the drop point and much more easily damaged. Take good care of it and don't use the tip for prying purposes!

TRAILING POINT
A trailing point knife is a lightweight knife that has a back edge that curves upward. The "trailing point" is named for the point which trails higher than the generalized axis of the spine of the knife blade. These blades provide a large curved cutting area (known as the "belly") and are optimized for slicing or skinning. They offer the sharpest point for fine, delicate, and small work, such as skinning and caping game or fish. The blade is drawn toward the knife user in a sweeping motion, cleanly separating the skin from the game or fish. They are most commonly found on skinning and filleting knives.

TANTO POINT
Tanto blades were invented by Cold Steel during the late1970s,  inspired by a classical Japanese design with a "barracuda tip". Strength is a prominent feature of tanto blades. Every tanto knife maintains a high point, along with a flat grind. This structuring enables a very powerful knife, which can puncture very hard materials. The reinforced blade allows continuous puncturing without issues such as the blade snapping or wearing down quickly if used a lot. They're good for scraping, chiselling and prying ... but that's about it.

The lower photo is a modified tanto, where the end is clipped and often sharpened. This brings the tip closer to the centre of the blade increasing control of the blade and improves penetration potential by having a finer point and a sharpened back edge.

HAWKBILL
A knife blade with a concave cutting edge and claw-like shape. This blade type is designed primarily to cut using a pulling or raking motion and has both utilitarian and martial applications. Utility-oriented knives of this type are used to make long, continuous cuts in surfaces, with the idea to reduce the wasted effort of simultaneously pressing the blade into the item as one would with a straight blade. They are also used by hooking thin items, such as plant stems holding fruit, allowing the task to be done with only the blade and no stabilizing hand, much like a sickle. The most common example is the Southeast Asian karambit.

Push-cuts and slicing are difficult as the blade shape gets in the way, so the only real use for a hawksbill blade is a draw-cut.

GUT HOOK
The gut hook is more of a blade feature than it is an actual blade shape. Most gut hook knives are actually trailing point skinners with the gut hook feature added to the back spine. It's actually a unique type of blade with a sharp hook to the top side of the blade near the tip.  This feature is designed for skinning animals: the hook is inserted into a small nick made in the the skin of the underside of the animal and is pulled like a zipper for the initial cut.  It is designed to cut into the animal skin without slicing into any of the muscles or internal organs.

Couple of disadvantages: the back spine of the knife cannot be sharpened, leaving only a singled edged front blade and sharpening of the gut hook is relatively difficult unless you have a round file with you. Also, the gut hook can be dangerous if you're using the knife as a general utility blade: it can hook up on clothing or even you. You won't use it very often, so if you believe you need one it's best to have a dedicated gut hook knife in ADDITION to your main knife.

 

Choosing a Survival Knife  |  Knife Steel Properties  |  Knives and UK Law  |  Knife Terminology

 

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