Can I Use a Lock Knife for Bushcraft?

by Paul Kirtley

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A lock knife and some basic green wood carving

Is a lock knife any good for bushcraft? Photo: Paul Kirtley.

“Can I use a lock-knife for bushcraft?” is a question I’ve been asked many times.

The answer is “it depends”.

It depends on the peculiarities of the knife and the techniques you want to employ.

A good quality knife

Just to give you some background, I’ve been using a lock-knife for more years than I quite remember.

At a time when I had big, cheap survival knives made out of soft steel, I saved up and bought a Winchester lock knife from my local gun shop. I think I was 13 or 14 years old. My Winchester lock-knife was the first good-quality knife I’d had.

It was certainly safer to use than anything else I’d been using. I’d had some really dodgy sheath knives, with really flimsy sheaths as well as some very cheap pen-knives (the sort of thing you’d be able to buy at the seaside or paper shop back then).

I actually used the Winchester for many years and took it with me when I started undertaking more serious hiking trips.

One of its downsides though is it’s heavy. It always felt heavy in my pocket. For this article I weighed it and it’s 168g. We’ll come back to that a bit later on.

Folding knives have an inherent weakness

A lock-knife is still a folding knife and all folding knives have an inherent weakness at the hinge. Moreover, because they hinge there is a risk that they will close while in use. Of course this may be down to user-error but it is still a risk. It’s also a risk that is removed when using a fixed-bladed knife.

A move to fixed-blade knives

When I first became interested in what we now call bushcraft, I bought a Normark knife very similar in size to what we would now call a ‘bushcraft knife’. It was the nearest thing I could find to the specification laid out in Ray Mears’ Outdoor Survival Handbook. It felt lighter in my hand than the Winchester lock knife I had been using. Again I’ve weighed it and, with sheath it’s 163g – lighter than the lock-knife. Many of the Mora knives, which are now ubiquitous, are a similar weight too.

Normark Knife and Alan Wood Woodlore Knife

Normark knife and a (very well-used) Woodlore knife. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

So with the availability of fixed-bladed knives that were a similar weight to my folding knife, and an increasing interest in bushcraft, I transitioned to using a small fixed-blade as my primary knife.

Then in 2001 I received an Alan Wood Woodlore knife as a present.

It wasn’t until quite a few years later when Lars Fält introduced me to the Fallkniven TK4 that I considered carrying a lock-knife again. I liked it because even though the overall size was smaller, the blade size was similar to my old Winchester. It was also a damn sight lighter (the TK4 weighs a little over 50g). It also had a lanyard hole – very useful for securing the knife to your person.

Fallkniven TK4 and Winchester lock knife

My old Winchester lock knife and my TK4. The TK4 is less than a third of the weight for a similar sized blade. Photo: Paul Kirtley

The TK4 also has an added benefit in that it works very well as a striker for a Swedish Firesteel.

This is not without peril though, as I discovered during a canoe trip in Canada. I had been scraping up some birch bark to accept a spark so had the TK4 open. I then turned the knife around and scraped the Firesteel down onto it, using the back of the knife. Somehow I depressed the release of the locking mechanism. The knife had closed hard on my right index finger. Not a great injury to sustain in the middle of nowhere when you need the use of your hands. I was concerned I might have cut a tendon but my finger seemed to be working OK despite the pain.

Now, a couple of years later I have some numbness in my finger below the cut due to some nerve damage. This accident was down to my error but it’s possible it wouldn’t have happened if the lock release was further back rather than in the middle of the handle. Either way, the solution isn’t to shun this handy little knife but to use the back of the knife on a Firesteel when it is folded closed.

Can you really do much with a small lock-knife?

While the small handle size and secondary bevel mean you are limited in how powerfully you can cut with a small lock knife such as the TK4, you can certainly use it for larger tasks that might surprise some people. Gralloching and skinning a deer with this knife is perfectly feasible for instance.

Skinning a Fallow Deer with a Fallkniven TK4 lock knife

Skinning a fallow deer with a Fallkniven TK4 lock knife. Photo: Paul Kirtley

But note lock-knives can be harder to clean than fixed-blade knives. The locking mechanism and the nail nick on each side of the blade can tricky to clean and therefore be a potential harbour for bacteria.

What about carving and other woodcraft techniques?

As long as a small lock-knife is kept sharp, it will be good for light whittling or carving. But as soon as you start putting more force into it, you are increasing the risk compared to a fixed-bladed knife.

Another, slightly larger lock-knife I’ve been testing out is the Spyderco Paramilitary. It has an overall size similar to a Mora knife. This is a US-made Spyderco and so relatively expensive. It’s well made and the blade steel is CPM S30V steel, which I find much easier to sharpen than the Fallkniven 3G steel. I liked the pocket-clip and I was attracted by the one-handed opening – handy in some circumstances. There are some other features different to the Winchester and TK4 type of lock-knife, primarily a liner-lock. In fact one of the few direct similarities is a lanyard hole.

Fallkniven TK4 and Spyderco Paramilitary

Fallkniven TK4 (top) and Spyderco Paramilitary (bottom). Photo: Paul Kirtley

What about a knife review?

Now, I’m sorry if I offend anyone here, I don’t intend to. It’s more a point about terminology than anything. To me, a knife review is not videoing yourself receiving it in the mail, taking it out of the box, and talking about what you think of how it looks.

Unboxing videos in general can be informative, whether you are buying a laptop or a knife, but it’s not a review of the item’s function. It’s a bit like reviewing a CD (remember them?) by filming yourself unwrapping the cellophane wrapper, opening the case, pulling out the booklet and leafing through it, admiring the artwork and commenting on the shine of the disc itself.

You can’t review a record unless you listen to it. And you can’t form an opinion of a knife (for a particular purpose) unless you have used it (for that particular purpose), preferably for an extended period of time.

I’ve been using this Spyderco for over a year and only now am I coming to a fully-formed view of it. But that’s one of my afflictions, if you like; I’m thorough.

The steel is sweet for carving green wood such as hazel. When I first used it I knocked out some nice tarp pegs with precision in no time at all. This type of green wood carving is one of the Spyderco’s consistent strengths. It’s also pretty easy to keep sharp.

Spyderco and simple bushcraft tent pegs

The Spyderco knife made quick work of simple tent-pegs. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Does it work with a Firesteel? Sadly not. The CPM S30V steel is not as hard as the 3G steel which, incidentally, makes it easier to sharpen. In fact I tried quite a few times with increasing force (knife was closed) and all it really did was mark the steel on the back of the blade. But a Fireflash comes with a striker so it’s not the end of the world.

So I thought I’d try some other tasks the similar sized Mora would be up to.

What about batoning? Whoops. I placed the knife on top of a round of wood, tapped it into the top. Once it was embedded, I hit the tip of the knife while pushing down on the handle (standard batoning technique). As soon as I hit the knife, the liner lock disengaged. I tried it again. Same thing. I tried it again with less force. Same thing. The first time wasn’t a fluke. It did it every single time. I didn’t need to tap the tip of the knife very hard at all to get the lock to fail. Here, then is the possibility of guillotining a finger (in my opinion).

Attempting batoning with Spyderco Paramilitary

Attempting to baton with the Spyderco Paramilitary lock knife. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Failed Spyderco liner lock and  folded knife

The Spyderco liner lock failed and the knife folded. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

OK, so batoning doesn’t work with the Spyderco. It’s not something I would consider with a TK4 either because it is too small and the blade is too short. But the Spyderco is larger and the blade length is similar to a typical ‘bushcraft knife’.

Assuming you can split some wood (either from smaller diameter or with an axe), what about making some feathersticks? Given the keen edge and the performance of the knife in carving small-diameter green wood, I thought the knife stood a good chance of making half-decent feathersticks.

Now one thing that should be noted is that good featherstick technique is like planing. This is aided on many so-called bushcraft knives by having a relatively broad, flat bevel. As with most folding knives, the Spyderco has a secondary bevel. In general this makes it harder to use for generating nice, even curls of a good featherstick. Even so the bevel on the Spyderco wasn’t as miniscule as a Swiss Army Knife for instance. I thought it looked promising.

Spyderco Paramilitary CPM S30V thumbhole and bevel

The secondary bevel on the Spyderco is quite wide as far a secondary bevels go. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

So to test out my theory, I set to work on a nice straight piece of split wood. No knots to hinder me. I did get a few half-decent curls but it was harder than normal to maintain a good angle with the Spyderco Paramilitary.

Just to make sure I wasn’t having a bad day, I broke out an old Mora. On a piece of wood split from the same source as the piece on which I used the Spyderco, I created a decent featherstick in fairly short order.

Mora vs Spyderco feathersticks

It was much easier for me to produce good feathersticks with my old Mora than it was with the Spyderco folder. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

So it wasn’t an off day. It was the Spyderco. Or at least, to be even-handed, my unfamiliarity with the Spyderco. But it does make passable shavings and in the absence of anything else in a scrape, I’d be relieved to have this knife on me.

A more serious issue for me is that when the knife is used for an extended period of time, the locking mechanism chews up the web of my hand. Now my hands are by no means as gnarly as some gamekeepers I’ve worked with, but they aren’t soft and they certainly aren’t weak.

my hand being chewed up by liner lock

My hand after using the Spyderco for several hours. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

That said I’m not used to aggravating this part of my hand. Over time, this is becoming less of an issue but a collection of relatively sharp edges (in the lock and on the inside edge of the handle) will always make your hand sore eventually.

Spyderco Paramilitary liner lock detail

Detail of the offending article. The Spyderco liner lock that was chewing up the web of my hand. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

To get around this issue, you could wrap some tape (zinc oxide, duck, gaffer, hockey – whatever you have) around the knife handle if using it for a long period. This is not something I would do in day-to-day use but would certainly do in a survival situation if I needed to do anything more than point a stick.

As with the TK4′s steel, the Spyderco steel is stainless. This and the synthetic handle makes it good in and around water. So the Spyderco has found a home in my buoyancy aid as a rescue knife (the downside is the very sharp point) and would be useful on shore as a back-up too.

The TK4 remains my general pocket knife. But neither the Spyderco nor the TK4 are a full alternative to a small fixed-blade knife.

So, can I use a lock-knife for bushcraft?

Lock knives provide a good back-up to a fixed-blade knife but if you want to exercise a full range of skills to the best of your ability, then use a fixed bladed knife with a comfortable handle.

Where you do use a lock-knife, be sure to remember about the relative weakness of folding knives. Plus get to know your lock knife and its specific strengths and weaknesses, then play to its strengths and avoid the weaknesses.

Let me know your thoughts… Do you use a lock-knife for bushcraft? Which model do you use and which skills do you find it good for? Or do you think there is no place for folding knives and fixed-bladed knives are the way forward for serious application of bushcraft skills? Let us know in the comments…

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

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{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

Spyderco Paramilitary II

An interesting artcile but a couple of points Paul;

* The para-military does not have a liner lock but a compression lock.

* it should not have failed when batonning-I would contact Spyderco if I were you!

Besides that I agree with your assessment, specially regarding the lock disengagement mechanism- it gives me blisters if doing very deep cuts.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi there,

Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right – ‘comrpession lock’ is Spyderco’s term for this type of locking mechanism. To be honest though, I’ve always seen it as a variant of the liner lock idea. It’s still the liner that is doing the locking.

But point taken about nomenclature.

If people want to know the difference – watch the beginning of this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmeZt8EceTs

Thanks and all the best,

Paul

Reply

Austin Lill

A thought provoking article. Your thoroughness is there for all to see and it is quite reassuring to know that any kit mentioned will have been given a thorough workout.

I think I purchased my first lock knife at the roughly the same age having cleared out the local corner shop of their pen knives on a regular basis which were mounted on a large cardboard display and held in place with elastic loops. I wish I still had one to see just how bad they were!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Austin,

It’s good to read the article brought back some memories. Yes, cardboard display and elastic loops is exactly what I was thinking of (and fake mother-of-pearl-type handles made in various colours) :)

I haven’t seen any of mine for years either….

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Paul Shakesby

Its good to see Paul put kit really through its proper paces.

Having learnt and used a Mora (specifically on a Frontier Elementary Bushcraft course!).

The fixed blade just has a different feel and security for heavy duty tasks.
Although, I am going travelling in Scotland this year, so have bought a TK4 mainly to have a portable blade I can carry in my pocket to cover the simpler tasks in hand (possibly making a quick tent peg, cutting paracord etc).

I think as always the key with kit is how, when and what you use it.

I would always, though, now carry a knife, and a good sharpened one at that.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Paul,

Good to hear from you. It’s also good to read that your course has given you a solid appreciation for the usefulness of various knives in different circumstances.

I look forward to hearing about your Scottish trip.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Malcolm McKee

Hi Paul,

I’ve got a Woodlore clone (SWC before he was official), TK4, and about 30 Moras.

After resisting for more years than I can remember I recently got a Swiss Army Knife (Victorinox Camper) that I keep in my pocket all the time and try to push the boundaries of what it will do. The saw in the Victorinox is welcome and useful for cutting things up to base of thumb thickness or creating stop-cuts. Batoning is a non-starter because it is a slip-joint, end-of. The first problem I overcame was finding a good surface for the fire steel. The majority of the tools are not designed for lateral pressure and feel like they are flexing too much when you put them up against the fire steel. Again, because it is a slip-joint you need to use the front surface of the tool rather than the back surface to prevent it closing around your fingers. Fortunately the screw-driver has a particularly robust joint on it and a handy flat surface on its front side that works really well with the fire steel. Finally, whole using the main blade for cutting – I find it surprisingly comfortable in the hand, but find myself chipping away for about twice as long as if I was using my SWC.

I can’t be the only reader who mentally cringed when you describe the TK4 closing round your finger in the middle of nowhere. My question would be, how accurate are you able to be with the knife closed? Can you still use a variant of the “left thumb as a fulcrum” technique, because closed it is quite small? Nevertheless, in the calculation of usefulness vs weight it is excellent.

Your article make me think about one other thing – the knife I keep in my PFD is bright red, has an ugly serrated blade that will saw through just about anything, and a big ring that makes it easy to open under pressure. I am thinking I should put something else in there for touring that would be more useful on land.

Many thanks for your thought provoking article.

Malcolm

Reply

Andrew

“…I can’t be the only reader who mentally cringed when you describe the TK4 closing round your finger…”

At the age of ten I managed to hack my entire thumbnail off with a small folding Puma 265, I always cringe when I hear about these things and subconsciously tap my forefinger to my thumbnail just to reassure myself that it is still there.

Nice article, thanks Paul.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

And I’ve just cringed at your thumbnail story :)

Thanks for sharing!

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Malcolm,

It’s good to hear about your experiments with the SAK. I too have experimented with various sparking devices and SAKs. It does require some modification of the usual technique. In addition to the awl/reamer, which I found quite useful, I figure sacrificing the edge of a smaller blade on the knife would be an acceptable compromise in an emergency – just use the opened blade as a striker. I’ve tried it and it works quite well. This, however, is not acceptable for everyday use as it ruins the edge.

As for the TK4, it works very well closed. It’s like an older-style striker for a Swedish Firesteel but with a comfortable handle and better “bite” into the metal. Yes you can use pretty much the same technique as you can with the back of a fixed-blade knife. I’ll show you when I see you next.

As for your PFD, as long as the knife works without compromise for it’s primary use – rescue – then the more alternative uses it also has in various wilderness scenarios, the better.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Par Leijonhufvud

Om my SAK I use the back of the saw (it is one of the larger lockblade models). I find that with finger pressure on the side of the blade it wil stay open and give good sparks.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Par, that’s a good tip.

Thanks,

Paul

Reply

Will

Not surprised the Spyderco collapsed. Normally they are not bushcraft type of knives. I always say whenever a knife is made and the makers put on things like “Tactical”, “Warrior”or in this case “paramilitary” or even “military” along with the ubiquitous numbers like Tactical T-240 survival knife, I just laugh. The Americans are known for this. Cheap knives made from pressed 440 steel and then sold as Tactical.

Spyderco is and can be considered a personal weapon. Military use them for paracord cutting and other “lighter” uses in the outdoors. Along with their lightness they are seen as personal defense/light use knives. Only thing I would say from Spyderco is the Bill Moran blade. But for outdoor use and doing things it is not designed to be. The USA have a lot of different knives for different things and the UK with restrictions we can not have any of the “nicer” knives they offer.

As I have not used a Mora I can not say but some knives that are out there are worthwhile as a lock knife. I just don’t have much trust in them as I do with my Gerber folding knife. But that is just me.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Will,

Good to hear from you.

The forefinger and thumb grips on the Spyderco Paramilitary II definitely feel like the knife is intended (at least in part) as a light stabbing/thrusting weapon.

The one-handed opening certainly lends itself to this type of technique (which is a long way from bushcraft):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA_sTMXzazM

The advantage of one-handed opening to an outdoors person is of course particularly useful in and around water – if your arm is entangled or you are holding someone’s head above water and cannot release to enable two-handed opening.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Nick Edwards

Great little article. I’ve become more interested in bushcraft over the past year or so and am looking at investing in a good knife soon. Good read. Thanks.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Nick,

You’re very welcome.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Faye Williams

Your timing is perfect Paul. I’ve just finished my forest schools training and having been slowly building up my kit. Great article, providing a lot of help. Thanks!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Faye,

Thanks for your comment. I’m glad the article was so useful to you!

All the best,

Paul

Reply

gordon groom

great article
and i think the summary at the end holds the key
i was brought up on a mixed farm in the uk and my first knife aged 10
bought for me by my dad and he then showed me how to sharpen it look after it and use it safely
it was a lamb foot knife a sharp blade is a safe blade
no lock and a carbon steel blade 3 inches long since then i have always carried one of these knives and still do age 44 i have used them for skinning jointing eating chopping kindling cutting my nails
and i think as a back up blade for bushcraft it is a must and a everyday tool in you pocket essential

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Gordon,

Agreed, in the right hands a folding knife (locking or otherwise) is an extremely useful (and safe) tool as long as you know what it can (and can’t do).

All the best,

Paul.

Reply

joseph harvey

i use a Normark super swede which in my opinion is hands down the best folder out there on the market and for 30/40 quid its a no brainer, for batoning it works fine considering the blade is 9cm long and there are no risks of you booby trapping yourself because the safety is on the butt of the handle and is virtually impossible to accidentally depress. its a very solid design a 3mm thick blade with brass screws on the handle that you can tighten depending on how stiff you want the blade to open or close this design also allows you to take the whole knife apart to clean and oil when required which i did recently with ease.Spyderco in my opinion are a cutler that make overpriced gimmick blades that suffice for light tasks only. Normark all the way

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Joe,

Great first-hand user feedback on the Normark. Thanks for sharing your experiences with this reasonably priced folder.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Duncan Stillwell

Hi Paul,

Excellent article, read it through a couple times to make sure I picked up on everything you said.
My opinion; I feel fixed blade knives should always be first and foremost for every occasion. Now thats not to say I am against lockknives, I’m not. In fact I’m very fond of them. They should only be relied upon however, only as long as they are sturdy and have a good reliable locking mechanism, if not then ditch it, they can be nasty.
But getting back to choice? I personally would only use fixed blades and keep lockknives as a backup should the need arise. Even strong hinges and solid locking mechanisms hold the potential for the nasty as you stated in your article, I’ve done it myself several times over the years, all it takes is that one moment of distraction or slip and there you are….stiches! Fortunately none of my mishaps were serious, but they were still painful nevertheless (and on occasion messy).
In everyday life I carry a Leatherman Charge as it’s an excellent tool. It has 2 locking knife blades on it, and a variety of other tools which also operate on a locking mechanism. Its very well designed and sturdy, carrying a lifetime guarantee. But I digress…LoL.
Fixed blade first always, fixed blade as a back up preferably and locking knife as an “only when necessary” measure. (why didn’t I just say that in the first place?!…. Arf Arf Arf!)
I look forward to more articles like this one Paul, great read and great follow-up comments by everyone else.
Regards
Duncan.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Duncan,

Great to hear from you.

I too find my Leatherman particularly useful in certain circumstances. Mine is of an older variety (PST II) and doesn’t have a locking blade. It generally lives in whatever toolkit or fixing-kit I might have on a journey (useful for the likes of fettling ski-bindings, snow-machine spark-plugs, canoe fixtures as well as making wire snares, etc).

Agreed that the follow-up comments from everyone really add depth and value to the starting point set by my articles.

Thanks adding to the conversation with your comment and feedback.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Steve Bayley

This is a good article and fits in well with the ‘Debunking the Kit Myth’ over on the Frontier Bushcraft Blog.

A folding knife certainly does have a place in a bushcrafter’s kit if you ask me. For years I’ve owned a Victorinox Huntsman as my ‘everyday carry’ knife. Here in the UK where there are legal issues associated with carrying a sheath-knife or lock knife in a public place without what the law calls “reasonable cause” my Victorinox Huntsman can be carried without justification. I use it whilst camping for all the usual tasks you’d expect: cutting string, opening packets and cans etc. and it incorporates some tools which make it particularly useful in backcountry: a wood saw and a sharp reamer which can be used to bore small holes. It has scissors which make it useful for trimming sticking plaster and a small thin blade handy for fiddly tasks like splitting small roots and fashioning greenwood skewers where a full size Bushcraft knife can be rather clumsy.

A few years ago when I attended the first Woodlore “Applied Bushcraft” course I left this knife at home in the name of de-cluttering my kit and going more light-weight. At one particular point in the course, and you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to here Paul, I realised what a terrible error of judgement this was. I swore that day that I’d never leave home without it again and I never have.

Whilst I wouldn’t want to be deep in the boreal forest without a bushcraft knife a good quality folding knife is a useful thing to keep about your person; for no other reason than you are more likely to have it with you when you really need it because it is small and light enough to sit in your pocket at all times.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Steve,

I do indeed know exactly which part of the course you are alluding to :) It’s a shame for participants that they don’t do that bit any longer. As your experience illustrates it certainly delivered some important lessons…

Which leads me on to the very important point you make. While you might plan to have your fixed-blade on you, you might not have it when it really counts. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to see how one could lose a knife in certain wilderness scenarios. Of course, you could also lose a folder. But the chances of losing both are lower. So having a folder in your pocket does increase the chances of having a useful blade on you when you really, really need it.

As you say, a good quality folder is “useful”. And as I’ve said elsewhere in this thread, the more I can do with any secondary knife, the better. The key is to find out what you can and can’t do with it in a safe way at a time when you are not dependent upon it functioning in a certain way.

As always, thanks for your comment.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Steve Bayley

I’m sorry to hear that the bivvy & signal fire exercise has been dropped. To my mind this was one of the best bits of the course, certainly in hindsight if not actually at the time; although perhaps this depends on how good your shelter was! The tool I missed the most was the wood-saw which can easily cut branches up to 30mm thick, more if you stagger the cuts. As you say it a SAK doesn’t replace a bushcraft knife but I’ve made pot-hangers and pegs with mine with no trouble.

Reply

Dave Cohen

As always Paul, a great blog. I look forward to your interesting articles!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks Dave! :)

Reply

Rody Klop

Good article, I do carry a pocket wenger swiss army knife in my mini-survival kit.
If I go out and do bushcrafting it is always with a fixed blade and fixed backup blade.
I also had a near accident with a folding knive, then decided folding knives are not for bushcrafting.
In my edc I have a small folder for food or open boxes.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks Rody. It seems you have everything clear in your mind and organised/selected accordingly. Thanks for sharing.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Julian Cresswell

In the UK either a locking knife or fixed bladed knife is equally “illegal”. Also the price appears to be firmly against locking knives too as a good Mora is c£10-£12 where as a locking knife of quality is four times that so it strikes me as a bit of a ‘no-brainer’.

A locking knife is useful for opening packets etc…if you’re staying out you’ll have planned it and you’ll have your fixed blade with you and using a locking knife is just too open to accident and injury. If its survival well that has vastly different implication and you will probably not have your proper kit with you.

Thanks for the excellent review from Paul, I’d suggest that just as an axe is used in different circumstances to a bushcraft knife so is a locking vs fixed blade – I know that sounds just like an excuse for finer kit graduation and therefore more new kit!……Well maybe it is!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Julian,

You make a good point, alluding to UK legislation regarding knives.

I hadn’t factored this into the article simply because the readership of this blog is much wider than the UK (see the pins on the rotating globe on my homepage). I’d come at the question from a purely utilitarian perspective. What works and what doesn’t?

But you are right to highlight that people should take local laws into consideration.

From a utility perspective, relative costs indeed imply you’d be unlikely to buy a locking folder over a basic fixed-blade as your primary tool. I’ve certainly made my views clear on all that I think someone really needs to get going with bushcraft skills. So, I’m in 100% agreement with you on this.

I don’t think there is a problem with the finer kit graduation you suggest, either. For exactly the reasons discussed in the article, we need to consider what our tools’ capabilities and limitations are then select them for particular trips accordingly.

Thanks for your comment.

All the best,

Paul.

Reply

David.

If you know the limitations of your knife, then does a folding knife need a lock? Arent locks on folding knives a relatively recent creation? Did folding knives used in the 16th Century have locks? There’s a place for a folder, and a place for a fixed blade. I use a spyderco UKPK, and would never think of using it as a substitute for a fixed blade, where-as I may be tempted if it had a lock. Thanks for Another interesting article.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi David,

You make some good points in your comment. As far as my use of knives is concerned, however, a non-locking knife is more limited than a locking knife.

I agree that if you know the limitations of your knife and use it within those limitations then you should have no problems (as far as the using that particular knife is concerned).

I also agree that a folder (locking or not) is not a substitute for a fixed-blade. My critera in choosing a folder though, is finding one that is as good a substitute as possible. If I lose my main knife, however, I want my pocket knife to be as much of a back up as possible.

Thanks again for your stimulating comment! :)

All the best,

Paul

Reply

dave brannigan

To my mind you can use any knife you can find or get yer hands on. All have advantages and disadvantages. If using a folder its simple, dont try and whack the crap out of it or use it like a fixed blade. Take time and have patience and bobs your uncle fannies your aunt. It matters not what tools you have but how you use/abuse them. You dont drive through deep puddles/pools in a standard car. You get a land rover etc. If all you have is a standard car then drive around the puddle or find the shallowest spot. Same crack with sharps, dont be a robot and bash on regardless. Think about limitations etc and work around em. Skill is more important than tool and a rubbish working knife is better than a broken misused one. If you do break it, fix it or adapt it to work as best you can. If your fingers are in the way of a folding blade closing then it aint the knife or manufacturers fault. The name folding is a wake up call to switch on, slow down and think carefully about what yer doing and to count yer fingers every 10 mins or so. Plastic party knives are great for skinning, butchering, skewering and poking etc but rubbish at owt else. They can and will bite yer to if yer not switched on and battoning and carving are out of the question but its simple, dont do these things. Find another way to do em. Work with what yer got, be carefull and you’ll have no worries.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

How-do Dave! :)

Always a man who speaks his mind! I agree that a skillful individual will get the most out of any tool available. But, as you say, not all tools are created equal. Some are better for some jobs than others. Moreover, some jobs are not achievable with some tools (e.g. axe vs SAK for felling a dead-standing pine for a long-log fire). What surprised me about the Spyderco was not so much that the lock failed but that it failed with a really light tap. There certainly wasn’t any robotic abuse!

Find another way is certainly the phrase to bear in mind. Adaptability is key.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

sargey

the spydercos are excellent & superb tools, i use one handed folders all the time, for the sheer convenience of being able to get a knife out, do a job and put the knife safely away. i find it so much easier than a fixed blade. they are not as you say a full replacement for a fixed blade.

batonning a folder like this to split wood can be done, however the pushing down on the handle bit is an innapropriate technique for this tool. you need to cut yourself a what engineers call a drift, or a wedge, BEFORE you get the knife stuck. cut a wedge with a tip like a flat bladed screwdriver.

start the split with the knife, then take over with the drift on the spine of the blade, hammer the drift in, free the blade, put it somewhere safe. carry on splitting with the wedge. the knife is too precious to risk exposing it to hamfisted brutality.

back in the days when i was adventuring all over the wilder parts of the planet, i came to the conclusion that two knives were needed. these being a short stout machete, not a long whippy one, and a pocket knife. a swiss army knife with large and small blades, scissors, saw awl, and a corkscrew is perfect. yes corkscrew, there is no excuse for running out of wine, it’s a sign of a poorly prepared & provisioned exped….

swiss army knives and fire steels: use the cutting edge of the awl for safe production of monster sparks, or use the back of the saw blade if the awl is too small and awkward.

stick to what you know, typing lots imagined scenarios and suppositions highlighted by loads of “would be”s, and “wouldn’t be”s in a comment is unhelpful to anyone.

another delightfully pragmatic article paul.

cheers, and.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Sargey,

Great comment – thanks!

The wedge is indeed a good technique to know about – something we teach on Frontier’s Elementary courses. Even though we use Moras on these courses, I’ve broken enough of them to know their limitations. Use of a wedge significantly reduces the chance of busting one while batoning (something Mora don’t recommend).

Good advice on Swiss Army Knives too. Particularly the corkscrew. I once found myself in Helsinki trying to source a corkscrew. I’d bought some wine to pass the time on the overnight ferry to Stockholm before I’d remembered I had no SAK with me. It was a devil of a job trying to find one. I ended up paying over the odds for a standard corkscrew in a kitchen shop…

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Steve Bayley

You don’t need a cork screw Paul. First push the cork into the bottle; this is easier using a short stick (even a pencil if you remove the point) that you hold on top of the cork before administering a sharp blow – perhaps with the heel of you shoe. Now remove the lace from the shoe you used and tie a large stopper knot in the end. Push the knotted lace into the bottle so the knot lodges under the bottom of the cork and carefully pull on the shoelace and draw the cork out of the bottle. Job done!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Steve, this sounds like good material for a guest blog article…interested?

Reply

Lars Rauche

Hi Paul,
thanks for the aricle. I used to be a big fan of folding knives. Always thinking they must be more lightweight and easier to carry vs. the fixed blades. That is why I bought the Spyderco Military. Soon afterwards I bought the Esee Izula II and the Esee 4 – both fixed blades and great.
Presently I find myself carrying my Izula around on a regular basis. Lightweight, small and safe for a beginner. Really turned out to be my knife of choice. Certainly cheaper that a Spyderco and less possible trouble with the police as you cannot carry a “one hand open folding knive” in Germany without trouble. Fixed blades – no problem up to 12 cm blade length.

Cheers Lars

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Lars,

Thanks for your comment. I’ve heard good things about the ESEE knives but have never had the opportunity to try one. It’s good to hear that you rate them.

It’s also interesting to note the differences in knife legislation/tolerance between the UK and Germany. Thanks for highlighting this.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Paolo Stefani

Interesting read as always Paul.
I think that a folding knife is a good complement for a fixed blade and, probably because I’m not so skilled with a larger knife in all the light tasks, as food preparing, wood carving, I use mine really a lot..
I also must say that, while I always carry a folder, I bring a fixed blade only when I stay in the woods overnight or for more than a day, this to avoid problems with the Italian law.

I usually carry a Victorinox Forester that has a locking blade longer than standard saks and an excellent saw that cuts small diameter logs very well, moreover, as another reader pointed out, the awl is quite good to make sparks out of a firesteel.
I like also a lot a simple Opinel, with the viroblock, of course, like nr. 8, they are cheap, easy to sharpen and excellent for wood carving.

Can a folder replace completely a good fixed blade? If I were really skilled, probably I would survive in the woods even making a knife out of a piece of glass or a flint, but at the moment I feel more comfortable with both in my backpack :)

All the best,
Paolo

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Paolo,

Nice to hear from you. Good comment :)

It seems the Victorinox Forester is a popular choice amongst readers here due to its locking blade and saw.

I have a Mauser Officer’s Knife which also has a good little saw on it and two larger blades (but neither of them lock). I tend not to use it much these days because, as far as I know, they don’t make them any longer and I’d hate to lose it (I realise this is a bit precious as the knife was made to be used). So maybe I should check out the Forester…

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Bean

Nice article Paul
I am not surprised at the blisters using the knife though, that’s the place I always look first.
The knife looks good and I think that if you are careful about what you are doing and don’t try anything too big you can Bushcraft with a folding Knife.
I am a big fan of the Opinel folders and carry a small (No 3) stainless steel bladed one as a backup in my rucksack. the steel bladed ones are good with a fire steel.
The blades are good and keep a good edge, the handles are solid beech and with the gunk they are supplied in scraped off, then replaced with oil nice and grippy, and do not cause blisters.
The blades use a barrel lock which is secure and locks the blade open or closed, the later feature is great if you store it in your bag (as I do).

Check them out, I am a user with no affiliation.

Bean

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Bean,

Good to hear you found the article interesting.

I had a larger Opinel when I was younger. I did like it although found I had to keep an eye on the lock as it would sometimes rotate due to the way I was using it. In the end I broke it but that was down to my misuse of it. The smaller ones in carbon make really nice little whittling/light carving knives.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Steffan Stringer

Hi Paul,

I have resisted for so long joining this discussion, but in the end my resistance has collapsed and I have given in to knife geekery.

Rather than contribute to the discussion on whether lock knives are suitable for bushcraft I wanted to drive the thread slightly off piste and pick up your experience of the TK4.

I bought myself one last year (after reading one of your articles) and it is indeed a nice light pocket knife made from good steel. It currently lives in a little canvas pouch with some other miscellaneous kit, and at the moment does not see much action.

I’ve been fixated on a getting a folding knife, that is street-legal in the UK as an everyday carry and still capable of dealing with heavy cutting tasks around the house and garden.

I think I have found it – the EnZo PK70 folder – https://www.brisa.fi/portal/index.php?option=com_oscommerce&osMod=index&cPath=119_316

It’s Finnish, and has a slip jointed, non-locking blade under 3 inches in length (street-legal for UK). There are options for flat or Scandinavian grinds, and different handles.

I went for a curly birch handle and scandi grind. The blade and mechanism is very robust and closes with a half stop to give you a chance to get your fingers out of the way. It actually feels much more secure than the locking TK4 which I think is quite wobbly when opened and locked. When I do some heavy carving with the TK4 I can feel the whole mechanism straining and giving. Not with the Enzo.

The steel is CPM S30V like the Spyderco, but unlike with the Spyderco gives great sparks (closed!) with a fire flash.

The knife has a removable clip that is high up on the handle allowing it to sit deep in the pocket and I keep it there every day whether I am wearing a suit or jeans. It’s a little heavier than the TK4 (80g versus 50g) but carried like this, you do not notice it there. Like you, I experienced a bit of a rub from the clip when doing some heavier work and suspect this would blister my hand eventually.

After a week or two I put it on my whetstones and was rather intrigued to observe that the curly birch scales warped with the moisture and did not settle back down completely even after a few days. At my request the manufacturer replaced the scales straightaway with some made from carbon fibre.

The way this knife cuts is quite different to the TK4 – and that could be down to the blade geometry. I really like the way it cuts. Being as I am an armchair adventurer it sees most action on the pencils in my office.

As it has replaced my SAK as my daily carry, I now stress about how I am going to open wine bottles. I’ll live with that.

Pricewise, you can get this Enzo for around the £80 mark in the UK compared to £120-ish for the TK4.

So, wrapping up – this is NOT an alternative to a fixed blade knife, I would never dream of battoning with it. You can’t open it one handed, it doesn’t lock, but is a wonderful utility knife and the best pencil sharpener I have ever owned!

Steffan

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Steffan,

Your comment – particularly the part about resisting the temptation to comment – made me smile :)

A client on a course recently had an Enzo PK70 with them and I had a look at it. It seems quite nicely made. I liked the bevel on it but I haven’t had the chance to give it a proper ‘going over’…

If I do, I’ll let you know…

In the meantime, thanks for your comments re the PK70 and PK70 vs TK4. Very useful.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Nicholas Keech

Great article.
I have recently purchased a Rat 1 folder and will be interested in how it performs in the field compared to my fixed blade. It has a substantial blade and weighs nearly as much as some fixed knives. But the best thing so far seems to be the liner-lock mechanism unlike some I have tried this really seems to lock and gives you more confidence in using it.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Nicholas,

Thanks for your comment. Please let us know how you get on with the Rat folder.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Sean Morgan

Your article hits a nerve, I’m sure. I have been teaching wilderness survival for many years. The VAST majority of folks taking my courses show up with multitools, lock blades or cheap hunting knives. When we get to knife skills I show all with multitools & lock blades the inherent problem with lock fail. Then I show them how to use a wedge to baton with after they make the wedge with their small knife blades. most are amazed at how the shock from the baton makes their lock fail easily 90% of the time.
Even still, after seeing & experiencing this, they still insist on carrying the lock blade knife as their primary cutting tool. They are however happy I showed them how to use it to split wood by making a wooden wedge of hardwood to combat the problem.
Personally I carry a SAK Alox Farmer & a Ben Orford Woodlander. I find the SAK to be a good pocket knife & The Woodlander is truly the best fixed blade for me. I’ve owned many, many knives & it fits my hand perfectly.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge. It’s obvious you know your stuff. Much respect.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Sean

Thanks for your comment and your kind words.

It is interesting to hear your experiences with similar knives, particularly with respect to people’s disbelief verging on denial.

Learning how to make a wedge is indeed a great tip. Even with fixed-blades such as made by Mora, there are difficulties due to the blades being only thin (the ‘Tough’ version is an improvement) and not having much of a wedge effect themselves as well as the handle/tang interface being somewhat prone to breaking while batoning.

Ben Orford’s workmanship is very good indeed. I don’t own one of his knives but I have friends who do and they are lovely pieces of workmanship.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience too.

Keep in touch!

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Andrew J. Jackson

Paul,

Good article and you knocked a little sense into me…I’ve become too trusting of my lockblades .

Like an idiot I gave away both my Mora’s a while back and finally got around to replacing them (bought one for each member of the family)…I bought the new (at least to me) one with the firesteel in the handle…can’t wait until they get here to see if they live up to the Mora name.

Thanks for the article,

Andrew J. Jackson

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Andrew,

Thanks for your comment. Good to hear your thoughts.

Mora’s are good but they are not indestructible. I’ve seen at least one out of the 100+ I’ve handed out to students in the last few months break at the tang while being used. They are certainly more predictable and robust in use than a lock blade, however.

The Light My Fire Swedish FireKnife is a relatively new model and I have yet to try it. Let us know your thoughts when you’ve had chance to test it out for a while.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

oldtimer

I’ve always wanted a knife that is always with me and that can do anything. For some years I carried a SAK rucksack knife that almost fited the bill given that I didn’t expect to baton with it.I also own an Opinel and a Spyderco, but neither are versatile enough for me. When it became apparent that my locking SAK was not UK legal I replaced it with a SAK e17 as EDC. When it folded back on me as I was cutting pea sticks in the garden I knew I had to go back to a fixed blade. I then bought a Mora as my old William Rogers Bushman’s friend bought me by my wife in 1966 wasn’t ideal for my needs. The Mora lives in my rucksack and the small SAK lives in my pocket. I thus replicate the system I used to use over 50 years ago.

Thanks for your article. As is your usual it combines common sense with a clear style. You helped me to realise that my old system of two knives works best for me.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi there,

Thanks for your comment, which I found very interesting, particularly that you’ve come full circle having thoroughly explored various options.

Thanks also for your feedback – much appreciated.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Mark

Liked the article Paul very helpful getting your experience on this issue.
FYI here is my results on some folders I have checked out with LIGHT baton work (small 2″ thick branches etc).
I trialled these models to see if I could rely on them in an emergency situation where I needed to make a fire quickly and did not have a saw or fixed blade on me;

1. Buck 110 Hunter; lock failed after light baton work. The lockback spring snapped from blade tang pressure created from hitting the blade spine. Very disappointed that this seemingly strong and VERY HEAVY lockback folder cannot withstand even light baton work. The blade also loosened up at the pivot, making me wonder what is the point of the heavy & thick brass bolsters…
For hunting and light whittling only!

2. Opinel No.10; the lockring began to fail after light baton work. The lock ring begins to carve into the handle due to force from the blade tang hitting it. It will eventually pop the locking ring off the handle.
A great folder for light whittling only.

Two folders that have passed with flying colors;

1. Cold Steel Pocket Bushman (improved 2nd gen version) ; quite a big folder but I have had no issues at all with this model. No loosening whatsoever. For the money IMHO it is the strongest on the market. Only issue is that you cannot hammer on the butt end as this will jam the ram-loc system.
Otherwise it is an incredibly well built folder, stronger than some fixed blades in my experience!

2. Sanrenmu 710; very small but withstood batoning thru small branches with ease. A good candidate for a small survival kit and extremely hi-value for the money.

The Svord peasant knife is also a very strong candidate AFIK, especially if you use it with the handle hanging and just hold the exposed tang. It is not very compact though. I think the plastic scales are stronger than the wood as far as holding in the blade retaining pivots.

A last candidate you might want to trial is one of the Cold Steel ‘Triad lock’ folders which seems to exceptionally strong. I prefer the CS Pocket Bushman only because it is cheaper so I will not be trialling out this model.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your comment, including notes on your experience with these models.

It made for interesting reading and I really appreciate you taking the time to share this.

I’m sure other readers will also find this information very useful.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

James Harris

Very interesting read,thanks Paul. Over the years I have bought and used more knives (folders and fixed blades) than I could hope to remember. I am guilty of having a rather large collection of different knives for different purposes, I’ll always have a sak on me (my girlfriend got me a nice new huntsman last Christmas with my name engraved on the scales). When out in the countryside I carry a Ben Orford woodlander and an Eka swede 8 lock blade. The Eka was only about £25 and is one of the best folders I’ve ever used, the lock is rock solid and there is no blade play at all, it holds an edge reasonably well and is easy enough to sharpen. The only drawback is there is no lanyard hole but they do make a slightly larger version called the Swede 10. I do usually have a leatherman in my bag and use the new sidekick model at work (the tools are great for fixing my coffee machine but the blades are absolute rubbish). I have twice now had problems with the locking mechanisms on different knives closing up with just thumb pressure. One last thought before I end this rather long post, I quite often carry a small custom made neck knife made by Ben Orford it’s an absolute dream for little detail carving I like to do in the woods. Does anyone else carry a neck knife or similar.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi James,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I also have an EKA folder (non-locking in my case) and I can attest to the quality and extremely good value it represents.

Also, as far as Ben Orford’s work goes, it’s hard to fault and represents some of the best bushcraft knives available.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

James Harris

Another bladesmith I’ve got a spoon knife blade from is Nic Westermann. I met him at a woodworking show earlier in the year, his work is beautiful, the profile of the blade I got from him is really good, I can carve deeply into the wood really quickly so it’s ideal for kuksas and bowls and the like. Sorry to go off track a bit.

Reply

Elise

I agree with your assessment of knife reviews. They should be thorough. People should only review a product they own and use, which sounds very common sensical, but the internet is becoming chalked full of reviews that are written by people who know little to nothing about the topic, and often times, people who don’t even own the item they’re reviewing themselves… I think that’s absurd.

Anyway, great article. Love your posts.

Reply

Stewart

Hi Paul
I like the subject, I have used a folding knife for outdoor, work, bush craft projects for years. Two of them, both Pumas, broke. I have used a number of Opinels and two Enzo’s A small legal folder and a the fix blade Trapper. I have several other Puma knives, the White Hunter and the Folder lock knife, the Game Warden. Neither of these have been used. And a Canadian, Russel Belt knife, had that since my first trip in 75.

Thank you for bringing to my attention the two folders you use, the Spyderco Paramilitary and Fallkniven TK4, I would say, I prefer the PXL. I went searching for the Spyderco web sit. The moment I opened it, I could see the Stuart Ackerman’s, Serrata. http://www.spyderco.com/forums/showthread.php?60090-Stuart-Ackerman-Serrata-initial-thoughts

I felt this was something worth researching. I found out as much as I could, covering the knife and his background. I placed it on my shopping list, in fact, I ordered one for April.
Take care Stew

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Stewart,

Thanks for your comment. That’s interesting. Let us know how you get on with the Serrata.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Stewart

Hi Paul, I will keep you up to date. I came across this site.

http://tuluskivi.suntuubi.com/?cat=27

Look down for. Full-Tang Bush Knives and the BushProwler. I feel this knife just speaks volumes about, Craft, Care, attention to what its made for. Theres a feeling of connection with nature.
Theres a good English translation, I found a great sense of pride, I like his philosophy. Craft skills, knowledge which has been passed down from generation to the next. This, I feel is a key factor why so many Young people don’t understand the workings of nature any more. The links have been removed through industrialisation.

kind regards

Stewart

Reply

Stewart

Hi, Paul.

I forgot to add. I have orders one of his knifes. The BushProwler. I said in the order, there is on time rush. Aug if possible. I wait for his reply.

Regards

Stewart

Reply

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