Your survival knife will basically do everything it needs to do to keep you alive.
What makes a survival knife different from other knives?
Technically speaking, any knife can be a survival knife. Whether it is a mini swiss army knife or a heavy-duty military dagger, as long as it helps to survive, it is a survival knife.
However, there are specific features which make good survival knives different from any other types of knives. These features allow the knife to be used in basically all conditions and to withstand hardcore activities, such as chopping, cross batoning, hammering, and many others.
A survival knife is also different form other knives due to its versatile nature. While other types of knives are usually restrictive in their abilities, a good survival knife is able to perform a multitude of tasks, from woodcarving to firesteel striking, to food processing.
A survival knife is not just a normal everyday item. It has a very complex anatomy and structure. Here are the most common features of a survival knife:
Handle body: this is the part that you hold the knife with. It is usually made of wood, steel or plastic, and may be coated with leather or other materials to give it extra grip.
Pommel: also know as the ‘butt’, this is the tip of the handle opposite to the blade. It is usually denser than the rest of the blade and can be used as a hammer on many knives.
Lanyard hole: a hole in the handle, close to the pommel, through which a lanyard or string can be threaded to create a loop and make it easier to carry the knife around or take it out of its sheath.
Guard: this is the part that joins the handle and the blade. It usually has some sort of concave shape on the ventral (down) side to prevent your index finger from slipping onto the blade.
Blade body: the actual metal part that makes up most of the knife and runs all the way through the handle in full tang knives.
Edge: the sharp, cutting part of the blade. This is the most important feature of the knife as most of its functions rely on it. Thus, it is important to ensure that the edge is always sharp.
Spine: the border of the blade opposite to the cutting edge. The spine in absent in double-edged blades. In single-edged blades, the spine is usually the thickest part of the blade.
Tip: the far end of the blade body.
Point: the end point of the blade where the spine and edge meet. The point is usually sharp in survival knives.
Cheek: the side of the blade where the cutting edge is found. The cheek usually slopes down slightly towards the edge.
Belly: the part of the edge that is closest to the point. The belly usually tends to have a convex shape and to be more curved than the rest of the edge.
Grind: the grind refers to the shape of the edge when you hold the knife directly in front of you, the point facing you. In many knives, the grind is triangular, sloping diagonally on one side of the blade and vertically on the other. In other knives, the shapes might be more convex or concave depending on the brand, design and function of the knife.
Quillon: the quillon is a feature that is prevent in most cases when there is no thumb or finger guard on the handle. The quillon is a concave curvature on the ventral side of the blade where the edge is not sharp, providing some sort of safety guard if your finger were to slip onto the blade.
Ricasso: the space on the edge between the quillon and serrations if these are present.
Serrations: saw-like, sharp teeth on the closer half of the blade. These allow one to cut rope or use the knife as a saw to cut branches.
In simple terms, the tang of the knife is the unsharpened, usually unexposed part of the blade that extends down the handle.
When a knife is said to have a full tang, this indicates that the solid piece of metal that constitutes the blade runs down the handle as well. A full tang knife relies in its structure and strength on a solid, continuous piece of metal.
The opposite of this is partial tang, where the blade only extends partially (usually very thinly) through the handle. As you can see in the images below, a full tang knife could just as well be used without a handle, and has a much more substantial profile than a partial-tang blade.
Knives come in all shapes and sizes. Therefore there are many different types of tang available on the market. However, while all these types have their own specifications, they can also be generally referred to as having either a full tang or a partial tang.
The grind of a knife refers to the shape of the edge when you hold the knife directly in front of you, the point facing you. The shape of the grind determines different things, including the sharpness of the blade and the need for regular sharpening.
1) Hollow Grind: The two concave sides of the blade form a very sharp edge. However, this is very difficult to sharpen with a sharpening stone, will damage quickly, and will require extensive stropping to be maintained.
2) Flat Grind: The blade tapers down as the two sides the blade are ground at an angle of about 10°. This is more common and much easier to sharpen than the hollow grind, while still providing a very sharp edge.
3) Sabre Grind: This is relatively similar to the flat grind, except that the two sides of the blade only start to angle down at about the middle of the blade, not the spine. This is one of the most common grinds on survival knives, and is relatively easy to sharpen.
4) Chisel Grind: Like on a chisel, only one side of the blade is ground, while the other remains flat. Knives with chisel grinds come in right-handed and left-handed varieties.
5) Compound Bevel Grind: A back bevel, similar to a sabre or flat grind, is put on the blade behind the edge bevel. This makes the edge very durable, while still allowing good cutting ability.
6) Convex Grind: Rather than tapering down in straight lines, the two sides of the blade taper in a convex slope, in an opposite manner to the hollow grind. This type of grind allows to keep a substantial amount of metal behind the grind, making the edge strong and durable, while still allowing an important degree of sharpness. This grind is more common on axe than on knives, and is sometimes referred to as the axe grind.
Usually, a sabre or convex grind is the best option for an all-purpose outdoors survival knife, since it is relatively easy to sharpen and more durable than other grinds. The compound bevel grind is also a good option as it is very durable. However, when time comes to sharpen it, it will be very hard to keep the original angle of the double bevel.
Cases are more important than you may think. I know of a friend who had bought a very poor quality sheath in a local store for his Ka-Bar, and fell forward one day while carrying it attached to his belt. He ended up in hospital with a large gash in his thigh. So sheathes are not just a random thing.
You need to make sure, first of all, that your sheath is strong and sturdy. It is quite nice when you have a sheath that comes with the knife when you purchase it. However, in many cases, the sheath is of poor quality and the end breaks quite easily. Of course, there are some knives that come with amazing sheaths.
A good example is the Mora Garberg, which comes with a fantastic MOLLE multi-mount system. But most of the time, you must make sure that you test the quality of your sheath beforehand.
The finish, or treatment of the blade: These techniques are used at the end of the knife-making process to strengthen the blade even more, or to add a more original style. These include methods such as Stonewash, DLC, Blackwash, Protective Paint and Etching. You can read more about these techniques in our article about the knife-making process.
The handle material: A wide variety of handle materials are available, including Kraton, Rubber, Wood, Micarta, Bone, Antler, etc.
The brand of the knife: Different people will prefer different knife brands. Popular knife brands include Buck, Spyderco, Case, Benchmade, Ontario Knifes, CRKT, SOG, Kershaw, Ka-Bar, Gerber, Emerson, Schrade, and Cold Steel. Here is my opinion and reviews of the Top 15 Knife Brands.
Additional features on the knife: These include blood grooves on the blade, finger guards on the handle, jimping, decorative milling, swedges, lanyard holes, etc.
jimping: a set of grooves present on the spine of the blade, usually near the handle. This can be used to improve grip when the spine is used as a thumb rest.
blood grooves: a small dent of the edge, usually near the ricasso, which is useful when skinning game or processing fish, so that the blood on the handle does not run down the handle.
swedges: the curves featured present on the blade – improve the aesthetic appeal of a knife and reduce the width of the blade near the spine.
Personal style features: color, handle design, blade design…
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