A reader weighs in on the Tac Tool debate

Yesterday’s post about the Ka-Bar Tac Tool produced a number of comments and e-mails among those who know about and use such things.  One extended reply was submitted by reader Raven, who agreed to share it with all of us.  Given his background and experience, I found it interesting.

My comments are not too well organized but do come from 50 years of manual labor- mechanical, logging, commercial fishing, woodworking etc.

Modern life is packed with gadgets- any hobby or vocation is filled with trinkets to part people from their money- newest and best gimmick on the block syndrome- everyone looking to develop  a new niche product to fill some perceived or imaginary void.  And every once in a while someone hits a home run- but rarely.

IMO, with all due respect, most of those “all purpose whack’n chop” tools are just belt jewelry for the tacticool, and people who have never really worked with tools on a long term daily basis. And the danger of using a very marginal tool to try to accomplish a task is real- for example, using something as a pry par that has cutting edges on it, is asking to be badly cut, when it slips, it will be with full body weight behind it…All of a sudden the problem got much worse.

I never understood the “cutting brush” business- unless you are clearing for column of infantry behind you, it is far easier and quicker to sneak through it or walk around it..  And if one really has to “cut brush”, the tool to use is not a chopper or machete of any sort- it is a set of tree trimming shears.  How prosaic. And chopping? Why, exactly? To cut firewood? Ha ha ha. Give me a break- if one is in the woods, and needs to start a fire , use deadwood, burn it from the ends.  And a simple notch cut with a penknife will create a stress riser to break off a modest sized dry branch. If you really absolutely have to cut through something, a lightweight folding swede saw is the way to go.  And splitting wood? What they like to call “batoning? HA HA HA- if you gotta split shakes, get a froe – that’s what they are made for. I get the impression most of the advocates for the whack’n choppers can’t decide if they are going to evade the enemy or timber frame a vacation home- in either case, the tool is crap.

(a fire starting tip- if you are in a forested area, look for a nice old rotted stump from a coniferous tree- standing out in the soft duff of rot there will be hard spikes of undecayed wood filled with pitch, and they will burn like a candle when used as a firestarter.  Smokes like the dickens too, so not good if bad people are looking for you)

For 50 bucks, a guy could go to a thrift store and buy a nice American made framing hammer  or framing axe– AKA- Bec de Corbin / mace, a nice American made pry bar, a pair of vice grips and and knife and be worlds ahead. Add an old E-tool and be a universe ahead. And an old carpenters tool bag.  And a handful of nails- Now a pry bar is exponentially more useful if a hammer is available to drive it into a crack.  And if one has a bit of skill, they could even trade a meal for a simple repair job! Throw in a hardhat and reflective vest and you could go anywhere without a second look….just another construction worker.

they won’t have to explain to the cops what that funny weapon looking thing is either.

One has to assume these  whack’n choppers are meant to be carried in a vehicle, as such an implement would be the first thing dumped on a long walk, so there is no weight penalty for having a bag of goodies in the truck that will actually be of some use, they won’t go on a walk either.

Tools If you have to walk-

An rarely mentioned item of clothing- a good brimmed hat.

a Mora knife- light, strong, sharp.

A multitool with locking pliers.  Kershaw 100 is my favorite, no longer made. A broken piece of hacksaw blade or two, and a scalpel blade, and a few feet of .030 stainless steel rigging wire. (boat wire, for securing turnbuckles etc- it is tough , strong, and malleable). All of which can be clamped in the pliers and put to use. The locking function means you have a clamp, as well as a pliers. Do not underestimate the value of a clamp!!

A small LED flashlight. (Light of Galadriel)

the  normally carried pocketknife.

DEET.  a “tool” of near infinite value..

Just with the above, things are getting heavy…..when everything else is added in.

In wooded country, maybe a folding saw like one of the Japanese folding tree trimming saws or a sven saw. For cutting shelter.

Couple of vicegrip stories- once when I was way back in the boonies with my dirt bike, I lost the shift lever-bolt came loose and it slid off the splines-a vice grip pliers clamped on gave an impromptu shift lever and saved miles of walking.

A friend, who’s father ran a makeshift sawmill ( aren’t they all?) , was fond of relating how he was riding with his father on a tough downhill run when the shift lever on his logging truck broke off almost flush with the floor, and without missing a beat his dad grabbed a pair of vicegrips, clamped them on the stub and kept rolling!

The same guy liked to use  the classic colloquialism, “don’t force it!. Use a bigger hammer.” Like I said, makeshift…

Useful advice. Thanks, Raven!



  1. In the South those pitch soaked wood splinters are known as fatwood.
    Catch a spark in a ball of tinder, add a couple sticks of fatwood, and you can burn most anything flamable.
    And those low hanging dead branches you'll find on most pines were once upon a time called squaw wood as a Native American lady could gather the makings of a cook fire without the help of the menfolk.
    I suppose neither term is politically correct these days.

  2. I agree with Raven. I see a lot of hundred dollar – or more – knives offered. People buy them. I don't know why. My daily carry is a small Swiss army knife and a small Kershaw folder that clips on. I keep the Kershaw very sharp. The Swiss knife won't hold an edge but it has a screwdriver and a corkscrew. The Kershaw cost about twenty bucks at the Walmart. If I'm going hunting I carry a small pack. In it is a cheap skinner and a stone to touch it up. Also a hack saw frame with a piece of meat saw blade on it.

  3. My favorite carry knife is some El-cheapo that I don't have to worry about losing because, well, I'll lose it. Not a total 20 knife-for-20 dolla one, but a 20 dollar Lowes or even the NRA knives they are constantly sending me.

    I do have a really expensive folder, and I don't use it because what would happen if I lost or broke my really expensive folder? Especially since my El-Cheapo works perfectly fine.

    And, yeah, framing hatchet. I called that correctly, though I called it a roofing hatchet because I got mine from an old man who used to do cedar shingles and shakes and basically lived with one in his hand for 12 hours a day.

    Best way to chop deadfall? Whack it against a tree. Saves the edge of any edged weapon you have, and also scares away Bigfoot. Unless it makes Bigfoot amorous, which then you'll need your knives nice and sharp.

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