There are certain lessons in life that my father taught me that I’ll never forget. How to drive a standard transmission (I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten that lesson either). That your belt buckle, pants zipper, and buttons on your shirt should all line up (still trying to teach this one to my son who refuses to wear a belt). And never ever leave the house without a knife. Ever. Of course, this was back before the days of zero tolerance in schools so today this would get kids in trouble but for the rest of you there isn’t an excuse for not having a knife.
To this day I do a pocket check every time I walk out the front door to make sure I have a blade on me somewhere. It looks like some strange obsessive compulsive dance, or a really bad version of the Macarena. Call me nuts, but I also have a couple of knives in the truck and one on my bicycle just in case (yes I’m over 30 years old and still ride a bike on occasion, don’t look at me that way) plus my wife keeps one in her purse as well because you never know when you might need a knife. I used mine less than five minutes ago.
A good knife really is one of the most versatile simple tools you can own, but which one do you choose? Is it possible to get one knife that fits all situations? The quick answer is no, one knife won’t cover every scenario from a night on the town to gutting a Tyranasaurus Rex but if you own just a couple you can get by.
When choosing a knife there are a few things you need to look at before making a selection. First is the chemical make-up of the blade itself and there are a lot of different metals that could be used, all with different positive and negative aspects. Two of the more commonly used steels in knife making are 1040 and 1095. The 10 means it is a carbon steel, the last two digits are the percentage of carbon (40 = 40%, 95 = 95%).
1095 blades take an edge very well and stay sharp but also rust easily and aren’t as strong as a 1040 or 1050 blade. So if you choose a knife with this type of blade you have to make sure to keep it dry and oiled. A knife with 1040 doesn’t hold an edge as well but is less rust prone so if you live along the coast or plan to spend a lot of time near water you might want to check into knives with these kinds of blades. 1040 material is also stronger than 1095 which means the knife can take a beating. When choosing a knife blade material you have to weigh your options carefully to make sure what you get fits your needs and environment.
If you are partial to knives with a stainless blade then look for something with a blade made of 440 material (it will have an A, B, or C designation on the end). 440 material takes an edge well and is corrosion resistant, but don’t be lulled into thinking that it doesn’t have to be maintained. Stainless material can rust if left unattended, it just takes longer.
The second consideration when choosing a knife is whether or not you need a smooth or partially serrated blade. Both have their place and really it is user preference as to which one you choose. If all you are doing is open boxes and cut small items a smooth blade is preferable. If you need to cut through more substantial items then consider a serrated blade for sawing.
For my everyday job (yes, I do work other than writing) I have to spend my days wearing nice clothes sitting behind a desk being all responsible and junk. In this case a bowie knife strapped to my waist or a jack knife in my boot just wouldn’t be appropriate. So my every day carry knife, when I have to be proper, is an Old Timer Minuteman two blade. It’s a classic looking little knife, like your grandfather used to carry, and while it looks small it still has plenty of blade to do just about anything I need in an average day. The non-serrated blades are made from 1040 steel so it does take some maintenance to keep sharp but I don’t have to worry about the blades bending or breaking under a load which might be a concern since they are thin. You can get a solidly built Old Timer for under $30 just about anywhere.
When I do not have to be socially acceptable I change my every day carry knife to something a little more substantial, and it’s not just to make me feel manlier. My carry knife in these times is a Gerber EVO with a partially serrated blade with a lightweight skeletonized aluminum handle. The blade is almost 3.5 inches long and made from 440 stainless steel, so it is easy to sharpen, stays that way for a while, and I don’t have to worry a lot about keeping it spotless clean. The blade also has an easy open lever making it easy to open with one hand just in case I don’t have two free hands. The other feature that is popular on many knives today is the belt or pocket clip. This makes it easy to get to the knife so you don’t have to dig it out of your pocket. My Gerber, and most other comparable knives, will run under $40 so they don’t break the bank.
Now, if you just have money to burn then check out the line of knives by William Henry Studios. These knives are closer to works of art than tools, some with Damascus blades and gold inlays, but expect to pay for it. Starting prices are around $250 and run upwards of $2500. For an extra $1000 you can even get a matching pen.