You ever watch NCIS? Not exactly thought inspiring television. But it is a fun watch if you need to just tune out. The lead character is Gibbs. Portrayed by Mark Harmon, Gibbs is a marine sniper badass. And he has a set of rules. One of his rules is also one of my rules.
Always carry a knife.
Now we have to make one thing abundantly clear. Yes, a knife can be used as a weapon. But I do not advocate carrying a knife as a weapon. Unless you have training. Without training, you’re better off just getting the fuck out of Dodge. The best thing you can have in a knife fight is a good pair of running shoes. The winner of a knife fight is the guy who lives long enough to bleed out in the ambulance instead of on the pavement. What I’m trying to say is defending yourself with a knife should be your last resort. Repeat after me:
A pocket knife is not a weapon. A pocket knife is a tool.
So why should you carry a knife? Plenty of reasons. Ever need to open a box? Or a letter? Or that annoying plastic clamshell packaging everything seems to come in? Perfect job for a pocket knife. Need to open a puffed up bag of chips without risking it exploding all over the place? Perfect job for a pocket knife. Crud under your nails? Perfect job for a pocket knife. Have some frayed threads on your shirt that you need to cut off? Perfect job for a pocket knife. Need to rewire the trailer harness on a 92 Volvo semi on the side of the road? Not the perfect job for a pocket knife, but I’ve done it.
Or to put it another way: I can think of plenty of times I thought “I wish I had a pocket knife with me.” I can’t think of any times I’ve thought “I wish I had left my pocket knife at home.”
Now, I understand there are some places you simply can NOT carry a knife. Like on a plane, or in the courthouse, or anywhere else with metal detectors. I get that. But beyond that, there is no reason not to.
However, with knife ownership comes responsibility. This holds true for any kind of knife. Pocket knife, kitchen knife, doesn’t fucking matter. The same thing holds true for all of them. You are more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one. A sharp knife cuts what you want it to. A dull knife cuts what it wants to. So keep your fucking knives sharp.
That sounds like a daunting task. And it can be. But I’m going to help you out a little bit. I’m not going to teach you how to sharpen. There are plenty of tutorials out there. I will, on the other hand, help you avoid some common pitfalls.
- Don’t buy a gadget that promises to sharpen your knife with no work from you. This includes, but is not limited to, anything motorized, anything with a V shaped channel you run the blade through, etc. These gadgets are more likely to fuck up your blade geometry than actually produce a sharp blade. There are some that work OK. But none can beat a set of stones.
- Get a decent set of water stones. There is a reason stones have been in use for literally thousands of years. They fucking work. You really only “need” a 400/1000 or similar. Start on the 400, then move to the 1000. You can go higher. But a 400/1000 will make a good start.
- Don’t expect to get it perfect on the first try. Sharpening is an art. It takes a LOT of practice. What might take me 5 minutes, could very well take you an hour. But I’ve got 30 years worth of muscle memory.
- Watch some tutorials. We have the collected knowledge of the human race at our fingertips. Don’t be afraid to use it.
- Go to your knife block/drawer/whatever, and find the crappiest knife you have. If you don’t have a crappy knife, go thrifting for one. Practice on that. Once you can get it sharp, move up to your better knives.
Anybody can learn how to sharpen a knife. And everybody should. Did you know that cutting an onion with a sharp knife produces less of the chemical compounds that make you cry than if you use a dull one? Even if you decide not to follow my advice on carrying a knife, give some thought on learning to sharpen.
So what kind of knife should you carry?
That depends on several factors. First and foremost being legality. Some places have restrictions on blade length. In the UK, you can’t carry a knife that can be locked open. Make sure you aren’t breaking the law just because some asshole on the internet said you need a knife in your life. I often carry a “switchblade” with a 3 inch blade these days. They are legal here. Where you are, a switchblade might be a jail sentence.
How much do you want to spend? Oh boy can this be a hot button issue in the knife world. I’m of the opinion that there are many fantastic options available for under $50 USD. Can you get a much better knife by spending more money? Yes. But for your average person who isn’t abusing their knife… Under $50 is fine to start out with.
The style is going to be completely up to you. Do you want a pocket clip? I prefer to have one, so I don’t have to dig around. Or do you prefer the old school Swiss Army Knife? Blade shape, serrations or not, etc are all completely up to you. I have a strong preference for something I can open and close one handed.
In the “featured image”, 2 of those knives are over 20 years old. One of them has been through hell and back with me. It is the one I rewired the trailer harness with. I’ve cut semi tires off the rim with it. It has been my best friend since before my daughter was born.
I would offer a bit of a caution. Knives are made for 1 thing. Cutting. If you decide to follow my advice and start carrying a knife, do not abuse your knife. It isn’t a screwdriver. It isn’t a pry bar. Trying to use it for anything but cutting is a good way to not only ruin your blade, but you’ll probably get cut in the process. Don’t be stupid.