Several months ago I was tasked with writing a comprehensive guide on, “Knife Buying for Beginners”! At the onset it all seemed simple enough… address the classic details of knife steels, length, handle ergonomics, blade shape, and grind selection..etc.etc. and move on to more pressing matters. Well, after struggling for weeks, and with only a trashcan full of failed intros, over the top rhetoric, and pages of tedious information to show for my efforts, it became painfully obvious that this was not going to be easy. Furthermore, as I continued my research, putting myself in the shoes of a newcomer to see what help was already available, I was mortified by what I found. At every turn were bombardments of conflicting ideologies, new and confusing advances in gear, and the endless blaring record of ”must haves and don’t evers”. Thankfully, after enduring these tribulations over and over again, the path forward finally came into focus. I didn’t need to write yet another guide of “How to Buy a Knife”–slathered and drowned by generalizations and blanketed information, what I needed to write was a guide on “How NOT to Buy a Knife”. A guide that perhaps with some good old fashioned street smarts, the newcomer could safely forgo the onslaught of outrageously cult like beliefs, horrible misinformation, and worst of all, all out lies! So buckle up sunshine, I’m going to step on some toes, push some envelopes, and hopefully set you in a good direction.
“HOW NOT TO BUY A FIXED BLADE KNIFE” A guide for the beginner
CHAPTER 1– Enough is Enough
To begin, as you read through the chapters below, please remember the monumental words of Richard Bach, “everything you are about to read-may be wrong”! A rough way to start right? NO…it’s an honest way to start! Because nobody can tell you what is absolutely “best” for you. You, like your fingerprints, are completely unique and blessedly individual. So too are the situations that you may find yourself in. Allow me to be starkly specific as to avoid any confusion: Your skill-set, comfort level, hand size, shape, knowledge base, dedication, muscle structure, coordination, needs, desires, task application, other tools you carry, weight you can bare, destination, type of ecosystem you most frequent, temperature, time of year, weather, group size, mode of transportation or conveyance, injury, and/or any of the other infinite number of challenges that you may be forced to face along the way, are all individual and therefore yours and yours alone. And we haven’t even broached all the typical knife stuff yet. Therefore, any online-site, magazine, guidebook or supercool outdoor star trying to convince you that you “need”, “must” or “will die without” this one exact knife, is tragically misguided and is lying both to you and to themselves. Therefore, I am writing this segment only as a guide with the hope of illuminating some of the areas that consistently ensnare, entrap, and enslave beginners just like you! Trust me, I’ve been there..it sucks. I spent 3 long and expensive years tumbling through this very web spending thousands of dollars and always being disappointed because I was letting someone else define who I was and what it was that I needed. I will allow this no longer.
CHAPTER 2- AVOIDING IDOLITRY
We all have our heroes. With that, we trust in them completely. Whatever they say to do, to buy, or not to buy, we follow without question. Sadly, this is the first pitfall of many a beginning outdoorsman. We allow our fondness for a particular person blind us to fact that they, like us, are human. With that, they, like us, can be overcome by the sins of a capitalistic society. Now an entire expose’ could be written on this topic alone. However, to save you the time and torment, I will address only some key points of caution.
Special Addition Knives:
As with sports allegiance, we wish to outwardly show our support of those we admire. The draw of, “I’m wearing what they wear”, or “I have the same knife as…” can be all consuming. Furthermore, and most tragically, we trust the person/s we are supporting to never lead us astray. If they use it, and they say that I need it–then here I come! Sadly though, this is not always the case. “Signature Additions” or “Name Branded Tools” take up a great portion of the marketplace, especially the shelves in the big brick and mortar stores that we have the most access to. Not only that, for some reason, unlike any other outdoor equipment, these “Signature Knives” open amongst the community endless torrents of en tempered conversations and contempt. In this sophomoric storm or pathetic righteousness, all middle ground is washed away. You then are left either on the side of the “true outdoorsman”, or sadly stranded with all the other “helpless stupid sheep” without any knowledge or intelligence. Such divisive rhetoric is ridiculous and in the end, helps no one. In that regard, allow me to reestablish some much needed middle ground. Look, if you want to support someone, do so–but keep in mind some realistic points of concern.
1. These big names, are people too. Some, not all, can be easily swooned by endorsement dollars and notoriety. Unlike us, they are constantly being approached by huge companies with offers of signature gear, the creation of their designs, and most importantly access to major marketplaces. Therefore, the outdoor personality as ALL OF US WOULD, launches a line. It is at this juncture that the danger happens and it is most always attributed to the actual process and not the person. For this example, let us say that I am launching a line. Production of the “MHM Knives”. It takes months, maybe years, of submitting designs, alterations, and resubmittals, more alterations, test periods, test marketing, and cost analysis. We settle on a “Final” prototype. This is the knife I show the world–maybe not directly– but you see me using it on my show and I am always carrying it. However, even in the last exchange before production, it will still be changed several more times. Therefore, the knife you see me ”actually using”, the knife I say is amazing, the knife I tell you that I’ve tested and approve of, may in fact be a completely different knife by the time it reaches the shelves. Some of these changes and how they affect your purchase are as follows:
A. Steel- My prototype is in 1095. A durable, woods tested, capable steel. However, the manufacturer wants to use a cheaper steel (price) to save money and because it is what they are used to. This change can vastly effect edge holding, sharpening, durability, heat treat, and even stock thickness in some cases. Therefore, the knife that is available for your purchase is NOT the knife you have seen.
B. Grind- My prototype was a high saber grind with a convex microbevel. This is not incredibly hard, but it takes more time and skill than the production company’s choice of a hollow grind. This change effects the cutting capability and edge durability the most.
Grind Part 2– I like to strop or hone my knife to perfection and to what suits me. I take hours getting the edge just right. This time does not mesh with mass production. The knife is sent out with a make shift edge and not the razor blade you see me demonstrating.
C. Sheath- The final prototype I was sent has a nice Kydex sheath with all the trimmings. The company went above and beyond. However, Trimmings = Spendings. Therefore, they simply told me that the sheath was going to be “altered” for something very similar. I give my final approval only to find that instead of Kydex, the company ships the knife with a loose cordora sheath with plastic insert. The issues are clear.
As you can see, the name on the knife isn’t what matters! They can make their opinions known, and always offer valuable advice, but it is what that signature is emblazed on that actually matters.
D. Footage: As I use the knife, especially on my amazing weekly outdoor survival show, there is a lot of time between “takes”. Therefore, I have time to select the perfect piece of wood I want to baton to make the shot flow more easily, I can have my production assistant change out or re-hone the knife I’m using. In actuality, I only use my “show knife” 3 or 4 times max over the entirety of what you see. To make filming go faster, there are a group of people, with their own tools, helping build the shelters and other outdoor inventions along the way. My knife stays pristine and in top shape. I’m just showing you, “what can be done” not “what is done”. You on the other hand, will have to do it all! No end of takes, no other support. Get it done.
2. Are outdoor idols were just like us at one time. They too had their idols and mentors. However, the difference between the average weekend warrior and these outdoor masters is that they then put that wealth of information into motion. They accrued their skill set through hours and hours of practice, testing, and study. By doing so, they have become proficient in all areas. By being so skilled, they can also make sub-par items work proficiently. Note– it’s not the knife–it’s the user. Therefore, thinking that you will all the sudden be able to cut, skin, feather, and create like your idols just because you have the same knife is wrong. Put it this way, just because you were the #23 doesn’t make your Jordan—ask LeBron. Take the time to learn the skill–and you will truly key in on what you need.
3. As I alluded to earlier, as with no other gear, signature lines seem to stir up the most controversies. PLEASE don’t read the comments! Just Don’t. This will be addressed much more in later chapters, but for now, just understand that most of the people commenting have NEVER even touched the item in question. And though they have no personal experience to draw from to make an actual worthwhile point of reference, they fill the comment sections with their mysterious “data” and palpable hate. Furthermore, most of them have no true outdoor experience, metallurgical background, or skill set to back-up their argument. Don’t get trapped by, “whoever yells louder must be right.”
In closing out Chapter 1, before you buy based solely off name recognition, know that you are really being sold a name and not a knife. I am in no way saying that you shouldn’t buy it, or that they are horrible, just to be cautious. Often times, stars will sell the “right to their names” thus giving all decisions over to the purchaser. In that way, Artistic License, Cost Analysis, and Marketing Demographics account for the final product..not quality and dependability. As you can see, it is so much more valuable for you to focus on what YOUR SKILLS are and what YOUR NEEDS are than thinking that a certain knife is what makes the difference. To make it as clear as possible, I ask you this: Do you play tennis? Well, Serena Williams will absolutely decimate you with a wooden racket from 1976 that is half strung and warped from being in the lost in found for 43 years without breaking a sweat. It is her skill set that triumphs– not her gear.