Thursday, August 18, 2011
Tools of the Trade?
Lately I have taken to the philosophy that "the best knife is the one you have with you." So many knife enthusiasts say you need to get this knife or that. Many are dedicated to a particular manufacturer or a knife maker who can produce that "best" blade because it is all handcrafted. There are so many different geometries for knife blades and handles and sheaths, etc. So how does one choose? It is amazing to me how much time is put into choosing or for that matter, not choosing the right or wrong knife. Why is it so important to get the right or the best knife? After all, the right knife does not mean the same as the best knife. All knives may be the best, but are they the right knife for the job?
This is why I have a picture showing all the knives I have available to me for my kit. I do not carry all of them at the same time. Usually I have at least 2 different blade lengths with me. This allows me to cover most of the usual knife needs that I have for cutting things. I don't think it important that you know what type they are, or who makes them although you may recognize them and some of good quality. I refer to them as my 3" knife or my 4" knife or my "necker" or whatever the flavor of the day. Blade length most often dictates purpose. You would not use a sword to split a toothpick, although you could with the right posture and aim, etc. By extension in most cases, blade length will also dictate blade thickness, because it is a matter of physics. Blade hardness will also help to dictate purpose, although in the right skilled hands of the craftsman, any reasonable knife can be made sharp again to continue the job.
So what it comes down to is this, for the bushcrafter, the decision you make about your knife may have your life depending on it. How much your life depends on a knife really depends on what you have for knowledge in your head. Some well practiced bushcrafters don't put a lot of stake in carrying anything to elaborate or well crafted because they know they can make a knife out of what ever materials present themselves. Thus, the knowledge of flint knapping a knife from rock, stone or mineral sources becomes a very attractive idea, because it releases you from a dependency on man made and ready materials and frees you to adapt with your environment.
I have the very fortunate opportunity here in Minnesota to explore a couple of very large paleo-indian village sites near to our local state park. It is amazing how much you can find of two meaningful items related to bushcraft. Number one of course is the large number of cutting tools and arrow and spear heads. These sites date back to roughly 2,000 years ago and even then there was a huge need for cutting tools. The site is just full of pressure flakes and percussion flakes and arrow heads and bird points and spear heads. Some of the cutting tools are intact and some are partials. But by shear numbers of cutting tool "parts" you can tell that having a good "knife" was very important. The second item you find a lot of are pottery fragments. Large numbers of these show evidence of staining at certain levels indicating the storage of liquids, most probably water. Even back in that day and age, a good cutting tool and a good container meant everything. There is little or no evidence for cordage or types of cover, yet we do know they had these things as well as a means of combustion. So they would have had the top five covered. Definitely knives were at the top of the list and I do not think they argued over what manufacturer was best, or if it was "better" because it was "handcrafted."
They made what they needed for the time it was needed. We need to recognize and do the same. We need to know about knife geometries and materials and how to make and keep and edge, but bottom line is manufacturers and names and labels don't really have to play a part in what is the best knife. You make it the best by learning how to use it and by choosing the right knife for the job, or learning to make one that can do the job for you. Ask yourself, "Is a knife just a knife?" and see if you can live with the answer.
I will have probably stirred up a hornets nest of controversy with this article, but I hope it encourages you to consider what you put in your kit and whether the knowledge you have is enough to make that knife "the best knife, because it is the one you have on you" 'Til next time, happy exploring...