On Knives, Philosophy of Use, and the One-Knife Solution

I will warn you now: knife purchasing can be addictive. Part of this has to do with something knife enthusiasts label “philosophy of use.” Let me chat a bit about a few knives I own to illustrate what I mean.

My EDC (everyday carry) knife is an unassuming thing–a carbon steel blade and a beechwood handle. It is the venerable Opinel No. 7 and I love it. If I lost it today, I would replace it with the same knife tomorrow. It does what I need it to do, and I’ve learned how to open it with one hand over the years.

But it isn’t perfect. Yes, the sharp 90˚ spine will throw ferro rod sparks with enviable ease, and it can spark flint, too. But get the wooden handle wet and suddenly the blade freezes in place until the wood shrinks and dries again, and I would never attempt to split wood with this little critter. Yet I love this knife.

My backpacking blade of choice is the Light My Fire/Mora Fire Knife, a 3.84 oz. wonder with a razor sharp steel blade and a fire steel embedded in the grippy handle. It slices food, cuts paracord, and shaves marvelous feathersticks. I’ve batonned small stock with it, too, but larger wood is not threatened by it. It is a cost-effective, quality blade, but it has limits to its use.


Enter my Schrade SCHF37. It is 22.18 oz. of beefy, quarter-inch thick 1095 steel. Wood splits almost effortlessly when I beat this beast through its core. Heck, it almost splits from the knife’s intimidating appearance alone! Limbing is a piece of cake. But what about fine carving tasks? Not so much.

The longer I use knives and the more knives I log time using, the clearer it becomes to me that choosing the optimal blade is situational based on one’s needs and a knife’s philosophy of use. A well-tailored speech is crafted to achieve a particular result for a specific audience; so, too with knives: a knife is crafted of specific metal, shaped with into a specific form, given a specific edge–all for a specific purpose. It may be a skinner, it may be a carver, it may be a chopper, it may be a general purpose knife with a design that targets a bit of this and a bit of that. My EDC is ideal for small cutting tasks of the sort one associates with a pocket knife. My LMF/Mora provides the reliability of a fixed blade (no working parts) while also providing a means of starting fire. My SCHF37 uses its width, size, and weight to make quick work of bigger tasks. A knife’s philosophy of use is basically its purpose–what it is meant to do and how it is meant to do it, and thus philosophy of use encourages one to find the perfect tool.

But this can be maddening.

Surely there is a knife that is the ultimate marriage of different blades, the one-knife solution? I confess I’ve looked into this. I’ve purchased a knife as my one-knife solution. Then another one. And another one. And I like these knives, the way they feel different in my hand, the lightness or heaviness, the flat ground blades and the Scandi ground ones, the Zytel handles and the beech and the maple. I like the look, the profiles, the way they cut, slice, or chop. I love the sound of them against stone or strop. So heady are these things to me that eventually I had to admit to myself that the quest for a one-knife solution was a rationalization for acquiring knives, a rationalization that leads to another: how can I determine what a one-knife solution would even look like if I don’t own and use enough knives to make an educated determination? I know, I know. It’s a disease, I tell you.

But surprise! I’ve defeated the one-knife solution temptation.

The key is not to find the ultimate knife. It is to have such an array of knives that one can happily chose the optimal blade for each specific given need!

Now if only I could stop thinking of new situations in which I might just possibly need a knife that could do something I hadn’t thought of before . . . .


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