Sunday, May 22, 2011

Knives and other sharp things

Cutting tools are a critical part of any outdoor pursuit. There are few things that are as needed or used as much as a knife in the woods. Almost every outdoor magazine, website, blog and message board has recommendations and information on what to carry and why to carry it. I am a firm believer that what you carry is based on where you are going and what your planning to do there. If I'm heading into a thick hardwood eastern forest, I'm going to carry different tools then If I'm going into a southern swampland. There are areas of overlap such as pocket knives and sheath knives but there are also specialized tools for your surroundings. Let's take a look at what I regularly carry up here in the Northeast.

Let's start with the basics. Anytime I head out on the woods I carry a good quality pocket knife. I prefer Swiss Army Knives, They're sturdy, multifunctional, and lightweight. It is a proven design that has been around for a long time and are an excellent value. You can buy them at almost any discount store and if you buy an original Wenger or Victorinox, you are assured of a certain level of quality. They excel in general campsite usage such as cutting rope, pulling splinters with the included tweezers or spreading peanut butter on some bannock. The can opener on genuine Swiss Army Knives is first rate.

I also carry a sheath knife. My preferred sheath knife is a handmade Billy Watson Hunter. I own a whole lot of knives, and the Watson is the highest quality, best designed sheath knife I have ever used. It fits my hand perfectly, is well balanced and stays razor sharp for a long time. It is also not an inexpensive knife, mine was a gift from my father who has an appreciation for custom knives. That doesn't mean that everyone needs a expensive, handmade knife for the woods. A good, quality knife can be bought for $10 if you know what your looking for. Some of the less expensive knife brands I have used and like are Mora, Buck, Green River and Gerber. The key is to find a knife that works for you, practice with it and learn how to use it properly.

I no longer carry a folding multi-tool with me unless I'm bicycle camping. I found that the only features I really used consistently on it were the same ones on a SAK. Since I have simplified what I carry, I no longer needed the extra tools included. If you do carry something like a stove that occasionally needs to be disassembled, a multi tool can be a big plus.

I also carry a small home made folding saw that I made a couple of years ago.  It's a jigsaw blade mounted in a crude folding handle. It's great for small jobs like cutting notches in fireboards and roughing out spoons, etc. They are simple to make and cost almost nothing.

The only other cutting tool I carry is a small tomahawk. It's actually a modified, cheap throwing hawk I picked up at a gun show for a couple of bucks. Originally it had a spike opposite of the cutting head but a few minutes with a hacksaw and a file and it now has a blunt hammer on it for driving in stakes, etc. The reason I carry a tomahawk instead of a small hatchet is the ease in which I can replace the handle if it breaks, I don't have to worry about wedges or perfectly fitting the handle. The softer steel of the cheaper tomahawk can also be sharpened on any hard stone, negating the need for me to carry a file or stone for it. If you do drive stakes or hammer with any hatchet or tomahawk you must keep the blade covered to prevent injury. I use a simple tie on blade sheath.

No matter what you decide to carry, you need to keep he blades sharp. To maintain my edges I carry the 2 stage sharpener pictured at the right. A couple of strokes through it and my blades are sharp again. I make sure any knife I carry is sharp before I leave so all I have to do is maintain the edge instead of resharpening out in the woods. If you carry a hatchet or small axe with extremely hard steel, a small fine file is not a bad idea.

So there it is, what I carry for cutting tools. This post was meant to give you an idea of why I carry what I do and to help you make some decisions about your own kit. Carry what you're comfortable with and practice, practice, practice. Carving and whittiling are excellent ways to get a feel for how comfortable a knife is to use and how it holds an edge. Practice at home so your knife handling becomes second nature in the woods.  Feel free to let me know what you carry and why in the comments sections, I'm always looking for new ideas and suggestions. Until next time, be safe and I hope that someday our paths may cross in the woods.