Thursday, December 18, 2008

Choosing an EDC knife - More Thoughts

My Choosing an EDC knife post is probably the most consistent hit I get from search results on this blog. I was recently reminded of it, and reread it. I realized I had a few opinions I had changed, and a few revelations I felt like sharing, so without further ado; more thoughts on Choosing an EDC knife.

(and since I did it before...)
Should you wish to bypass all my conclusions, you can skip to the bottom of this post where I make a recommendation for an EDC knife that will probably fit most people and their uses.

Expensive knives and Inexpensive knives

While I try not to spend time on knife forums, one comment seems to pop up there, and all over; "I love my high dollar Benchmade, but I'm afraid I'll lose it, so I always just carry my $35 delica." This seems silly to me because it's an admission that this person has spent money on a quality tool, and won't use it. I like knives too, but I don't have any "display pieces." Everything I have has utility. I certainly wouldn't buy an awesome cordless drill, and only use my old cheap one for fear I might break or damage the expensive one. These people usually use their delica until it gets intolerably dull (why pay $10 to sharpen a $35 knife?), and just buy another one. This means they've got a perfectly good knife, but are opting for a dull knife. A dull knife is an unsafe knife. That isn't to say someone couldn't just sharpen the knife themselves, and keep it in good working condition, it's just that, in most cases, they don't.

A while ago, I was struck by an odd knife fancy (as most blade-o-philes are) in the form of a $30 compact CRKT M16, and carried it primarily for about a month. In this time, it suffered a chronically dull-but-tolerable blade, a gummed-up action, and a bent pocket clip. It worked, just not well. With the proper tools, and a good sharpener, I was able to spend 30 minutes sharpening it, pulling it apart for cleaning, and re-bending the pocket clip. After that time, it was back in working condition, and ready to go again. I opted not to carry it again, but it remains ready in another capacity.

I bought my first 940 when they were still new and expensive. It was a lot of money for a teenager, but it was still mistreated, used for almost every task I could come up with, and asked only that I give it a few passes over the sharpener every now and then. I carried that knife every day I could, in every place I was allowed, for almost 9 years. That knife was expensive, but I got every penny worth (maybe more). In fact, the only reason I'm not carrying it right now, is that Benchmade updated the model with my favorite steel and a slight blade remodel, and Turners was selling the new model at a discontinued price that was a fraction of what I paid for the my first 940. For about a year, the new model has been riding in my pocket, wearing in nicely, satisfyingly sharp, and I look forward to carrying it for even longer than the first.

Inexpensive knives are fine as long as they can function reliably with minor maintenance, and you actually do the maintenance. I'd rather spend more for reliability, but some people prefer to work with their knives, or simply can't afford the more expensive knives. Just don't fool yourself into believing that expensive knives are for suckers.

Note that the word "inexpensive" starts at $30. Any less, and you're getting less "inexpensive," and more "cheap." The cheapest off-brand Chinese-made piece of junk can be factory sharpened to a razor edge. Note, however, that it will become uselessly dull almost instantly, and refuse to be resharpened. Don't waste your money.


Serrations have become a sticking point for me. They're the most effective way to cut through some materials, but they wear down so quickly, chip so easily, and are impossible to resharpen without special tools, practice, and patience. There are different kinds of serrations, and without a doubt some are better than others, considering the different types of serrations and the different steels they come in, there must be some combination of the two that lasts longer and is easier to sharpen, but I haven't found it yet. Until then, the only solution seems to be to get partial serrations, and only use them when necessary.

The advantage of serrations was always having an extremely sharp portion of blade for cutting through especially tough materials, but considering the difficulty keeping them sharp, I've become of the mind that I'd rather have a plain blade that's easy to keep sharp, and actually take the time to keep it very sharp.

So if you have the ability to sharpen plain blades, I'd recommend keeping a plain blade nice and sharp. If not, I'd recommend getting a combo blade, and using the serrations sparingly.

Leatherman Skeletool Cx

I found out about Leatherman's Skeletool by accident. Normally, I wouldn't look to Leatherman, since I already had my Surge, and honestly didn't expect much innovation from them. It was originally purchased as a "oh cool" item to fill out the $200 required to get 20% off my purchase.

It's pliers. Small pliers.

Small, funny-shaped pliers.

It has large and small philips and flat-head screwdriver bits, which is pretty cool, but nothing amazing or new.

It has a small, sharp knife with partial serrations, thumbhole opening, and a pretty good liner lock.

It has a belt-loop clip/bottle opener (insert rolled eyes here).

And it's final, and most impressive feature;

It folds up really tiny.

Pretty meh, huh? I mean; I've been talking about serious tools, perfectly machined and expertly tuned for one specific purpose; and now I'm telling you all about some funny looking pliers with a bottle opener on the back?

The individual parts are not very impressive, but when combined as skillfully as this, they create a very versatile tool, worthy of your every day carry.

The blade is made of a good quality steel, and comes from the factory extremely sharp on the blade, and retardedly sharp on the serrations. The thumbhole makes the blade quick to open, the location makes it usable when the tool is completely folded, and ergonomics make it surprisingly confident in your hand. Leatherman redesigned way back with the Wave to make their blades accessible while the tool was completely folded, but the thumbholes thumbslats were slow and difficult to open one handed.

This blade is perfectly designed to be easy to open and close one handed, and remains available when the tool is completely folded.

The other impressive design is the multiple carry options. The silly bottle opener clips to the belt loops on whichever pants you happen to be wearing, and carries comfortably, keeping a factory sharp knife, pliers, and four screwdrivers ready.

If dangling from your waist is not your style, the Skeletool comes with a pocket clip in the perfect spot for quick knife access, and easy pocket carry.

The versatility of carry keeps it ready for those odd times when you might be inclined to skip your EDC knife (Blasphemy! But it happens), and since you don't have to carry it in your pocket, you have the ability to carry it in addition to your EDC knife. The Skeletool is a good balance between EDC knife and multi-tool, since not everyone is comfortable carrying (or even able to carry) a single function knife.

This is a winner no matter which side of the fence you're on.

Knives with purpose

There are really two kinds of knives, knives that try to be everything, and knives that try to be one thing. Buying a reliable blade of a standard design will likely be capable of serving many functions; from opening envelopes to defending yourself. But there are situations where you would like something a little more specific.

If I have a job where I cut cardboard boxes apart all day, and can foresee an emergency situation where I would have to cut through nylon, you better fucking believe I'd have a separate knife for such an emergency situation. Relying on a knife you know might not be up to the task is always a bad idea. If you can conceive of a situation where there is doubt of your knife's capabilities, test it out! Get those old jeans and try to cut through them with the knife you carry and use every day. Buy a seatbelt on ebay, and try cutting through it. If your knife fails to preform, try different knives until you find one that can satisfy both needs. If that knife doesn't exist, carry two. There is such a variety of knife sizes, it should be easy to find one that's small enough not to get in the way, but big enough to get the job done when called upon.

If you do decide to carry a specialized knife, for heaven's sake, don't use it for anything other than its intended purpose. Test it out, and let it sit at the ready. Just as sharp and reliable as the first day, every day.

Buy a $120 Benchmade 940 with a plain blade, and this inexpensive, easy-to-use sharpener. If that's too much, get a $45 Spyderco Native II in plain blade, and the sharpener.
Keep your plain blade EDC knife sharp enough to cut paper cleanly!

There will probably be more later, but it won't be for a while. Thanks for reading.


Kent McManigal said...

Saws are serrated; knives are not.

Mike said...

I have to disagree with you on the serration issue. Serrations don't dull as easily and need sharpness less than a plain edge does. I sharpen my serrations far less than I sharpen the plain portion of my Trident. Sure, I use them less, but I'm cutting tougher stuff than with the plain edge.

They're also pretty damn easy to sharpen with a simple sharpener. I have two pocket-size sharpeners on the desk in front of me that I can use to get my knives back to razor sharp with just a few minutes of work. My favorite is this one:

Mike said...

Edit that second to last sentence in my comment to read "I have two pocket-size sharpeners on the desk in front of me that work on serrations and I can use to get my knives back to razor sharp with just a few minutes of work."

Fascion said...

Excellent followup, ET.
In my comment to your original posting I was still undecided on the subject of serrations for my EDC. Since then, I too have converted back to plain edges for my EDC, taking extra time to insure that the edge remains acceptably sharp (which I must admit I have been pretty lax with that in the past.)

And for my next confession... *gulp*... I have been known to be one of "those people" who have quality knives but opt to carry the inferior ones. As I look across my desk here, I see a Buck Alpha Dorado and matching Alpha Mini Hunter which I purchased at huge discount about 3-4 months ago which have yet to see use. Looking back, I could have just as well put that money towards a 940 which I have been eager to wrap my mits around ever since your first post.

Headed out tomorrow for a weekend long dove and deer hunt/family get together. I will force myself to devirginize these two knives this trip in honor of this comment. :P