“How Survival Knives Are Designed And Manufactured”

That’s the title of a very interesting article over at Indefinitely Wild, a sub-forum of Gizmodo.  Jeff Randall talks about the design and manufacturing process at ESEE Knives, a very well respected knife maker.  For those interested in knives for hunting and hard outdoor use, it’s a very worthwhile read.

I have a rather different take on knives compared to most Americans.  I come from Africa, where a knife is a tool in the class of a hammer or a hacksaw.  One uses a good basic blade, nothing fancy, no exotic alloys or materials, just a plain utility tool.  When it wears out or breaks, one buys or makes a new one (Mercedes-Benz truck leaf springs are in high demand by village blacksmiths to make the strongest machetes on the planet:  here’s a US article on how it’s done).  Skinning knives are ubiquitous, as are machetes.  The Swedish-made Mora knives are sometimes hard to come by, but very popular when they’re available, partly because they’re sharp enough out of the box to shave with (I’ve done it – I’ve even watched a mission doctor use one as a scalpel to perform surgery, when the real thing wasn’t available), partly because they’re so low-cost that if one breaks or loses them, it’s not a major tragedy.  (I still keep several Mora knives in my emergency supplies – I won’t be without one if I can help it.)  I also like machetes like the Condor and Cold Steel product lines, and camp knives like those made by Kershaw – all very good quality, reasonably priced blades.

American knife aficionados, on the other hand, will happily spend up to several hundred dollars (even a four-figure sum, in extreme cases) on a custom-made knife that’s lovingly and carefully fabricated by a professional knifesmith.  They’re beautiful and functional, but I can’t help wincing at the thought that if they’re used the way we use knives in Africa, they’ll break just as fast as anything else, and cost an arm and a leg to replace.

I found the closing question-and-answer of Jeff Randall’s interview very telling.

IW: What one knife would you want with you in a survival situation?

JR: A low-cost, carbon steel machete. Easy to sharpen, superb cutting efficiency, it can be choked up on to clean game (we do it all the time in the Amazon), makes shelter work quick and easy and will do everything needed to build a fire. What else could someone want in a true survival situation? The bottom line is, a machete works for anything I need to do in the areas I haunt.

I couldn’t agree more.  If one knife is all you can have, a good machete will see you through.



  1. I too am a fan of Mora knives. You can buy some models new for less than $20. No reason not to have several stashed around.

  2. Guys are routinely amazed by how far down my knives are worn- well, I use them every day, and sharpen them., That is what happens!
    The mora knives are great- and the new plastic sheaths can be clipped about anywhere, and they don't weigh much either, which is nice. I would rather have a mora and a multitool than some big old "survival" knife that has about as much relationship to a working tool as a body builder to an endurance runner.
    Like every other hobby, sport, or event, western culture has pushed it's better, better, best to the point of microscopic returns on the dollar spent. I think a lot of it is no different then a guy buying an expensive car to impress the neighbor.
    A really useful knife is a good chefs knife with about an 6-8" blade. The interesting part of this is if you look at the sole surviving real (as in owned by a Bowie family member) Bowie knife, the Rezen bowie, it looks an awful lot like a big chefs knife.
    Another great guide to what is a useful knife is to look at cultures that actually use them. The standard belt knife in about 8 jillion different cultures is a carbon steel single edge knife with an 6 to 10" single edge blade.

  3. When I grew up in coastal Alaska, either sport fishing or commercially, we used to buy these little 4" Victorinox knives by the case. They were semi serrated, could cut anything like a champ, and at $5 a piece your heart wasn't broken if they went over the rail. I used to have a sheathe duct-taped on each thigh on my rain gear. Like anyone else who uses something as an everyday tool, pretty takes a back seat to function.


  4. Still have a USN marked Collins machete from 1944. Story was that in the days before that war, the Collins rep would come into the villages supporting the local plantations and cut the local-made blades in half with the Collins blade. Always thought that story had a nice ring to it, but …
    And all you need to fix the edge is a good 12" mill-file.

  5. If you want really cheap useful knives take a look at the "Wahoo Killer" from BudK. It is a Mora knockoff for 1.99. Takes a good edge and you can afford enough of them to stash everywhere. I must have a dozen of so left from when I bought a Work Sharp sharpener and wanted cheap knives to learn the system with. I've given them away as presents for bugout bags, kitchen drawers, and tackle boxes.
    The Work sharp is as good and quick as the seller says it is. I used to farm and butcher all my own meat and sharp knives are essential for that task. I tried the Lasky system, all different kinds of stones, and some name brand electric sharpeners. Some were worthless and some took forever to put and edge on a blade. I can (and do)put a shaving edge on any knife or machete in about 5 minutes now. If the blade had some kind of edge to begin with that is, some cheap big knives and machetes come with no edge at all, and that requires some grinding.

  6. That was a very interesting article – interview. I like his candor about custom knife design becoming more 'flash then function'. Tactical folders come in so many price ranges, but the high end (to me) are just nutz!!

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