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A radical theory, and leaving the world of expensive modern knives behind

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by Chopaholic, Mar 6, 2019.

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  1. Chopaholic

    Chopaholic

    64
    Aug 20, 2018
    TL;DR a $20 butcher knife designed in the 19th century is better than anything you own for any purpose.

    I've been collecting hundreds of knives of every description for 15 years, since I was a child, including countless survival and combat knives costing hundreds of dollars. I have been an avid hunter, fisher, hiker, and prepper for my entire life. I am also a professional butcher and use my own knives that I personally sharpen for 50 hours per week at work. I've cut more stuff in more ways and with more knives than virtually anyone.

    Here is a theory I've been playing with recently: inexpensive "work" knives having old designs intended for culinary and butchering use are superior to more modern and expensive designs in every way. Whether the intended use is camping, hunting, wilderness survival, combat, EDC, the work knives represented by brands such as Dexter-Russel, F. Dick, Ontario Old Hickory, and so forth, the sort of cheap, boring, plastic and wood handled stuff that you subconsciously skip over when browsing online vendors, just flat-out outperform the fancy stuff we all drool over by every measure. Here's why.

    Blade thickness: Work knives are made of very thin blade stock by modern standards, usually between 2 and 3 mm. This presents several advantages. The knife will slice much better, be dramatically lighter (only 4oz for a 6" boning knife), and be much faster and easier to sharpen. The disadvantages are non-existent. People sometimes talk about using thick modern survival knives to "pry" things, but that is ridiculous. I've been backpacking and practicing survival skills for years, and I've never once had to pry anything, and if I did, I'd just use a stick or something. Same goes for digging, not that I would ever dig using an edged tool that I had lovingly sharpened anyway. Thick knives are used for "batoning", but that is a terribly inefficient technique, one that I consider essentially useless, because it is much more efficient to split wood using improvised wedges carved from sticks or saplings at the site, something that takes very little time or effort. Batoning is also just about guaranteed to break any knife that isn't specifically designed for the purpose; it basically needs to be a shingling froe with a point. Youtubers who preach batoning and judge survival knives based on their performance with this technique are a sorry lot. Thick knives are often marketed as heavy chopping tools meant to stand in for a hatchet, but are always inferior for the purpose in comparison to a hatchet of the same weight. The whole "chopping knife" fad is a sad reflection of the modern outdoorsman's alienation from reality. In a pinch, a thin knife can fell large trees by using them as chisels with a baton, a technique that doesn't stress the tang and can be very effective with practice. As far as combat goes, even just 2mm of thickness is plenty to prevent the knife from flexing in a thrust, and the thinner knife will cut much better than the thicker ones. There is basically no reason for any knife to ever be thicker than 3mm.

    The edge: Most survival and combat knives,even expensive ones, are shipped with ridiculous hatchet edges sharpened at 25 degrees or more per side. You need to work at them for days with coarse stones to make them usable. You will be tempted to break out the mill file and will probably screw the knife up pretty badly in a fit of frustration sooner or later. Many people don't even know what sharpness is because these types of knives are all they've ever seen. Work knives are generally shipped with far more acute factory edges, as little as 14 degrees per side sometimes, and cut amazingly because of both that and the thin stock. If a more durable edge is desired, it can be quickly and easily microbeveled to a more obtuse angle suitable for rough work without making you cuss and start thinking about buying a belt sander. People today think cutting is useless in a fight relative to stabbing because they've never seen a proper edge in their lives. They think you're a zen master sharpener if your knife can slice paper. I cut through chucks and inside rounds as thick around as a man's waist with single passes hundreds of times every day.

    Steel: Modern knives boast wonder steels that profess to confer all sorts of amazing advantages and justify costing $200 or more. The truth is that blade steel was perfected 100 years ago and some of the most respected knife makers in the world make knives with old bearing steels that are the same or scarcely any different than those that have been used in work knives for generations. People blame bad steel for knife breakages when a $20 machete made of cheap carbon spring steel can fell a forest, so knife manufacturers make knives out of the very same cheap spring steel and sell them for $200. They think they will get a sharper edge by using the latest spaceage steel when they don't even have any clue how to sharpen because every knife they've bought was too thick and stupidly designed to learn to sharpen on.

    Overall design and geometry: Many modern knives marketed for survival and combat don't even have a friggen finger guard. The sheer stupidity of it is baffling. All of my butcher knives have very secure and ergonomic grips with contoured finger guards, I rarely see any that don't. A common chef knife essentially has an integral finger guard with the blade being so broad and abruptly transitioning to the tang. A little friction tape around the sanitary plastic handles makes them foolproof. A finger guard doesn't interfere with anything, I would know by now if it did, so that debate is over. Knives marketed for combat almost always have dull clip points or obtuse drop points that couldn't stab through a paper bag. It's like a conspiracy between manufacturers and law enforcement to reduce knife fatalities or something. In order to thrust well, a knife needs to have no drag points, that means it must either be double-edged, or have a straight or trailing spine like butcher knives nearly always do. It's astonishing how many people cannot comprehend this. Combat knives frequently have completely useless finger choils that not only reduce edge length, but also serve as a convenient hook for a penetrated medium to rip the knife out of your hand. Work knives don't. If I were to design a knife for wilderness use or fighting, it would be scarcely any different than a boning knife or a butcher's cimeter.

    I could go on, but this is a wall of text already. Hopefully you get it. I'm taking a break from expensive modern knives on a trial basis.
     
  2. marcinek

    marcinek

    Jan 9, 2007
    Not rust resistance.

    Theory disproven.
     
    kniferbro, tyyreaun, kwselke and 19 others like this.
  3. b00n

    b00n Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 15, 2016
    And not superior in style. There is no "single thing best in every category" that's why there is variety.
     
  4. Chopaholic

    Chopaholic

    64
    Aug 20, 2018
    Actually, most of them would have fantastic rust resistance, being made of quality stainless steel. If anything, modern survival and combat knives are more likely to be made of plain carbon steels that will rust quickly.
     
  5. Chopaholic

    Chopaholic

    64
    Aug 20, 2018
    I'm talking about a category of knives, not one particular design.
     
    Night Rider likes this.
  6. b00n

    b00n Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 15, 2016
    I will read your novel when I am not on my phone anymore and will give a better reply. ;):thumbsup:
     
    Khanvoy44 likes this.
  7. marcinek

    marcinek

    Jan 9, 2007
    But the steel you are discussing, in your own words, was "perfected 100 years ago."
     
  8. Chopaholic

    Chopaholic

    64
    Aug 20, 2018
    I was exagerrating slightly, but the major modern stainless steels used in blades are indeed very old, older than anyone in on this forum anyway.
     
  9. marcinek

    marcinek

    Jan 9, 2007
    Not true.
     
  10. marcinek

    marcinek

    Jan 9, 2007
    And you were exaggerating when you said "... inexpensive "work" knives having old designs intended for culinary and butchering use are superior to more modern and expensive designs in every way." too?
     
    115Italian and 19-3ben like this.
  11. dirc

    dirc

    Jan 31, 2018
    Here is a perfect example of what you're talking about - the ontario hop knife - under 2mm thick (0.07 inch) steel 1095 goodness for about $10
    [​IMG]
     
  12. marrenmiller

    marrenmiller Basic Member Basic Member

    943
    Apr 6, 2017
    Subscribed. I want to be part of this ride.
     
  13. marcinek

    marcinek

    Jan 9, 2007
    "....$20 machete made of cheap carbon spring steel can fell a forest,..."

    Wrong. Or this claim just another "exaggeration"?
     
  14. marcinek

    marcinek

    Jan 9, 2007
    Where's the "...friggen finger guard. The sheer stupidity of it is baffling. All of my butcher knives have very secure and ergonomic grips with contoured finger guards,..."

    That must be a new knife design! :D
     
    LX_Emergency, Bigfattyt and 19-3ben like this.
  15. marcinek

    marcinek

    Jan 9, 2007
    "In order to thrust well, a knife needs to have no drag points, that means it must either be double-edged, or have a straight or trailing spine"

    Trailing points dont stab/thrust....they slash.
     
    Bigfattyt and 19-3ben like this.
  16. Danke42

    Danke42

    Feb 10, 2015
    Could you just name some of these modern expensive knives you've replaced with the $20 butcher knife.

    Extra points of course for the before and after pictures of you knives vs. your current carry.
     
    hexenjager and Night Rider like this.
  17. Dirtbiker

    Dirtbiker

    Jul 2, 2010
    Mike Stewart of Bark River said he would rather make knives from tool steel or 1095 than any of the latest super steels. But by comparison no one buys them and retailers dont want to stock them.

    I have a Dexter Russell roast slicer with the Sani-safe molded handle that makes a wicked golok. Anything green under 2" is cut in 1 or two chops.

    I still love my huge stack of knives though.
     
  18. Chopaholic

    Chopaholic

    64
    Aug 20, 2018
    Yes it is. I've broken and seen broken countless knives applied with this technique. Every time you see a review or video with a broken survival knife, it is almost always the case that the knife was broken by batoning it. To survive such use, the knife must have a full-profile tang with absolutely no weak points, a soft temper, and even then it is still inferior to just making a few wedges and batoning those instead. Batoning is just plain dumb.
     
  19. sharp_edge

    sharp_edge Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 30, 2015
    inexpensive work knives = butcher's knives. That's it?
     
  20. Chopaholic

    Chopaholic

    64
    Aug 20, 2018
    Exactly, although I prefer the 7" and 10" Old Hickory butcher knives with the humps on the backs filed flat.
     
  21. dirc

    dirc

    Jan 31, 2018
    I was really talking about the geometry aspect & simple 1095 steel ... It's really difficult to find any expensive knife with a 0.07" thick blade.
     
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