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Pocketknives for Survival
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Pocketknives for Survival

Leathernecks from the Marine Corps Martial Arts Center at Quantico Virginia recently evaluated twelve pocket knifes, any one of which is suitable for a survival kit. My preference is for a Kershaw Skyline model 1760, which they did not evaluate.

The exercises consisted of:
1. Cutting a commercial grade cardboard sheet in a dozen pieces
3. Cutting through a 1 meter length of 1.5 inch military strap
3. Cut through .5 meter length of heavy Nylon rope
4. Cut through two 7/8 hardwood dowels
5. Cut through two two-by four pine boards
6. Stab through a Kevlar Flak Jacket (no plates) three times
7. Split a piece of firewood using a 2 by 4 as a hammer
8. Bury and cover a simulated mine
9. Open a steel can

Results were as follows:
1. Ka-Bar Dozier Bobcat - Failed the log splitting test
2. Buck Knives Tops CSAR-T - Excelled at opening cans and the log-splitting exercise - no serrations, unfortunately
3. Gerber Knifes - Applegate Fairburn - Failed wood splitting - long blade, slim profile
4. Zero tolerance 200 ST Locking mechanism lacking - blade comes out too easily
5. Cold Steel Spartan - oversize knife with well-designed ergonomic grip
6. Timberline Tactical - 18 delta - User friendly - failed log splitting test
7. Spyderco Endura - - dull proof sharpness - failed log-splitting test
8. Columbia River (CRKT) M16-14ZSF - performed admirably in every test
9. Ontario Knife -XM =2TS - not good for cutting wood
10. SOG - TF-7 Trident - a tanto-edged knife not effective for hardwood
11. Benchmade knives - Griptilian - ambidectrous locking feature - One of the best, except for chopping wood
12. Boker USA - Kalishnikov 101  - Stellar performer - adept at splitting wood

All of these knifes fall within the "parameters of acceptability" for a small folding pocketknife. Of the Marines selection I prefer the Timberline and the Buck.

I sort of also like the Kershaw Stainless steel knives, which are available at Wal-Mart (sometimes)

The main use of such a knife is for cutting rope, twine, to cut meat, clean fish, and to prepare tinder for a fire. Pocketknives are not really suitable for self-defense.

You really need to have a small sharpening stone handy if you give any pocketknife a lot of use.

Almost any small pocketknife will do an acceptable job. In general, price is a pretty good indication of quality.

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144586 tn?1284669764
Almost any small folding pocketknife is suitable for survival purposes. The list is not intended to endorse any specific product.  If you use a knife on a boat near salt water a stainless steel blade is preferable. A knife with a stainless steel blade can be sterilized in boiling water. Chlorine, the universal disinfectant, attacks stainless steel. If the blade is polished (rather than dull) it can be used to reflect sunlight as a signaling means.

I use one every day for food preparation purposes. To cut an orange, peel potatos, slice a tomato or onion and cut up apples and cheese. And of course to cut rope and twine. And open plastic packages.

The dull side can also be used as a scraper on an iron frying pan to remove encrusted food.

When I used to go camping I was fond of bringing potatos to be roasted in a fire or boiled. The pocketknife was nice to slice up kindling or remove bark from branches on the floor of the forest. Of course, for butchering small game, a small knife is essential.

If you are an EMT a solid folding knife such as a Buck may be better because the solid brass end can be used to break the side glass on a vehicle. I stopped carrying the Buck because the blade was a little too big and "weapon-like" to display when cutting oranges in a city park.

I am not in favor of using a pocketknife for self-defense (in the United States, most jurisdictions,  a pistol permit is easy enough to come by), however the large folding Buck series, if kept folded, can be held in the hand and used to strike a blow to the side of the head to render an assailant unconscious.  A lot better idea than stabbing someone. I have gone to knife-fighting classes in the military and never heard this suggestion offered as an option, but it's something to think about.

If you use a knife to open a can, the best was is to punch a hole with a screwdriver, and then insert the point of the blade in the hole and pound it down with a piece of wood or steady pressure (don't hold the can). Make several punched holes and use the blade to connect the holes enough to fold back an edge.

Of course, a small sharpening stone is essential to touch up the edge.
144586 tn?1284669764
I am sorely tempted to provide a complete post on knife sharpening, however a google search will reveal that there many experts that have done a superb job of explaining the process, and there is no sense in rediscovering the wheel. There are even videos on the net that should be viewed.

The general concept is to develop two distinct bevels.

Suffice it to state, there are significant differences of opinion in regard to wet vs. dry sharpening.

Wet sharpening involves use of "honing oil".

In general, you can usually get a better edge with dry sharpening.

There are a great variety of stones, and you will find you can spend as much as you would spend on a small automobile to obtain a complete professional set.

My preference for survival with a pocketknife is a small Spyderco 1800 fine (1" by 5") in a leather case, which run under ten dollars. Spyderco stones are designed to be used dry.

There are also small stones available for sharpening fishing hooks (yes - they need to be re-sharpened!) for about four bucks.

More professional bench stones would include a blue-black Arkansas (fine) or a translucent Arkansas (extra fine - for surgical instruments)

144586 tn?1284669764
The sharpest edge on a knife or surgical instrument is obtained using a three stone system. The system starts with a "soft" Arkansas stone (500 grit), then progresses to a "hard" Arkansas grit, and the third stone is a Black surgical Arkansas (900 grit). With a three stone system a surgical edge can be put on a blade.

Such a set sells for about $70 (U.S.) circa 2011.

During the civil war a surgeon's kit consisted of the knives and three sharpening stones.

In this age of disposable surgical blades the polishing stones have disappeared from most medical facilities, as well as the expertise necessary to sharpen a surgical blade. In the event of a disaster it would probably be a good idea to have such a set at a medical facility and ensure the personnel know how to use the stones before the disaster.

I do not oil pocket-knife blades because the oil becomes a reservoir for bacteria (which is why I prefer a stainless steel blade for a pocket knife).

A knife can be sterilized by boiling in hot water (brought to a rolling boil) for twenty minutes). Or in an autoclave. In the movies a fire is often used to sterilize a blade. This will damage the temper of the blade and remove the extra-fine cutting edge.
144586 tn?1284669764
One use for a pocketknife that is never ever mentioned is as a windless for a torniquit. Torniquits are rarely necessary, and should only be resorted to in life-or-death situations, however, if used, they must be tightened. If you are alone or in a small plane crash (you won't have your pocket-knife on a commercial airliner these days) it is going to be very difficult to find a stick for use as a windless to tighten the torniquit. The handle of your pocketknife (after using it to cut the cloth for the torniquit proper) will serve nicely.

If youn don't have a sharpening stone sandstone will do in an emergency. Emory cloth (fine) wrapped around a flat piece of wood can work. An old flat-sided red brick (free from concrete) will also provide sufficient abrasion. A concrete sidewalk is not recommended. In the woods a relatively flat rounded stone that has been washed in a stream may prove to be acceptable.
144586 tn?1284669764
Pocketknives can also be used to carve traditional wooden spoons or bowls. An abrasive stone can be used to finish these utensils. Wood spoons and bowls tend to develop a "fuzz" after a while. Brown wrapping paper (or a brown paper bag) makes a good expedient "sandpaper" to remove the fuzz.
144586 tn?1284669764
Tent-pegs are a necessity while camping. It is not always possible to find suitable anchor points. And a pocketknife is the ideal accessory for carving them from scrap branches.
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