Knives have a rich history dating back many thousands of years as one of the first tools used extensively by man. Over the years the knife has evolved into a very sophisticated tool and has become an instrument undergoing constant design and development. Knife steel and handle material has also evolved into an art, allowing the designer and developer to create a knife that is much more refined and functional then we have ever seen. Selection of special steels and Rockwell hardening and grading have allowed the overall durability and quality of the knife blade to serve a multitude of functions. Factory knives of the past and industry leaders such as Buck, Gerber, Kershaw, Schrade, Imperial, and Case, to name only a select few, are now competed with by special manufacturers. Randall, Chris Reeve, Ruana, Blackjack, Bark River, Cold Steel and Columbia are but a few, not to mention the handcrafted makers that design and custom make an exotic line of knives that may appear to be more of a product of an artist's dream than that of the traditional knife as we used to know it. The field has opened up to where creativity is the only inhibitor and knives of today are, in many cases, very different from the knives of the past. While they basically provide the same functionality the improvements have been extraordinary.
Regardless of your infatuation with knives, whether it is as a collector or a user, there are a few main principles that a person should keep in mind when purchasing a knife. One of the first is the intended function the knife is to perform. Like a fine firearm you usually pick a type and caliber that will fit the type of hunting and game animal you will be hunting. While many guns fit dual purposes one usually tries to select a firearm on personal preference, recommendations by trusted others and overall application to the specific shooting situation. A knife should be selected with the same type of care. General field use, skinning, deboning, field dressing, large game or small, overall general purpose, survival or self-defense should be considered. The blade edge should also be considered for the use the knife is to perform. Bo Randall in his recommendations for knife edge once said, "Edge Holding ability and keenness of edge do NOT go hand in hand." A knife designed for heavy cutting or general use would probably not serve well as a skinning knife where the ability to efficiently skin an animal is dependent on the edge sharpness. Likewise the ability to cut through bone and general field use is not suited for a knife with a razor sharp edge. Such an edge would not hold up very long under such extreme conditions. Many outdoorsmen opt for a compromise and try to hone their knife edge for dual purpose use, sharp enough to field dress an animal and perform the skinning process and still cut heavy material if required. Other outdoorsman may carry two knives, one for heavy cutting and a smaller more delicate knife with an ultra sharp blade for skinning and/or deboning. Whatever your choice, remember to pick a knife based on the function it is to perform.
Knife care is also extremely important. Many of the knives today have coated blades such as those produced by Chris Reeve, the KG (Gun-Kote) type coating makes them very resilient to rust and corrosion. Stainless Steel also helps reduce rust when subject to adverse conditions, although I have seen stainless steel blades that have discolored due to improper care. Carbon Steel is less forgiving; a trusted Randall knife that I use for all my game cleaning started to discolor within a few hours of having blood not completely removed from the blade. Another mistake people tend to make is storing their prize knife in the sheath. While this is not an uncommon practice and it protects the blade from cutting things one does not want cut, and adds to the safe handling of the knife…it promotes rust! The acids and chemicals used in the tanning process of the sheath are not friendly with a carbon steel blade and storage in a sheath over time can cause pitting and rust. If you have spent the money to buy a fine knife the best practice you can adopt is to lightly oil the blade and store it separate from the sheath. Use good oil and the only evidence that the knife is not new will be the battle scars associated with your adventures.
The knife has been an essential tool for the outdoorsman, hunter, fisherman, adventurer, camper, hiker, and of course our military. You can do without many of the outdoor comforts and amenities when you're required to spend an unexpected few nights outdoors. The knife is one tool you do not want to be without, as it serves many survival and support functions. Many of us that have had to survive outside of our basic "comfort zone" have relied heavily on our knife and were glad we had it with us. When you decide to buy a knife, look at the decision as if you were buying your rifle or your hunting dog; it will probably be with you for some time and you never know when you will have to rely on it as one of your best friends!! Remember you get what you pay for so do not only look at cost, as this friend may be required to "stand tall" when called to duty…May The Adventures Begin!!