Knife as a hammer

Jan 5, 1999
Just wondering, for those fixed blade owners, have you ever used your knives (the pommel) as a hammer in a camping or survival situation? I'm trying to get a feel of how important is this feature for a camping/ survial knife.
I've used it to pound tent pegs into particularly dry or rocky soil. If I hadn't used the knife, I could've easily found a rock and pounded the tent peg in with that instead. For me, the pommel is a convenience but not a must. The guys in the military tend to find more uses for a pommel that can pound.

I own a Project 1, allegedly with a pommel designed for hammering. What ever! No way I'm gonna smack anything hard with that aluminum endcap, it'll get all buggered up. I have determined I will have a tempered steel endcap made. Don't get me wrong, I would't trade my Project 1 for anything else that's on the market right now, but aluminum and pounding don't mix.

Well, that's not entirely true. I do use it to bang open coconuts and acorns. Yes, acorns are edible, if you leech out the tannic acid first. Not bad really, I like to make mine into a mush with sugar. And sugar is a perfectly valid survival food in Florida. We have plenty of cane fields out here.

That said, if you have a knife and you need to pound something, use it to make a maul out of whatever wood is lying around. If your life depends on immediately using your knife as a hammer, then and only then, use it as such. Besides, tent pegs are easier to drive home with a wooden maul than a knife. Not that I use tents any more.
I have an Imperial bayonet that I keep in my truck that USED to have a pommel that was both a hammer and a nail puller. Never used it at all and now I've ground it off.
I have an Imperial bayonet that I keep in my truck that USED to have a pommel that was both a hammer and a nail puller. Never used it at all and now I've ground it off.
Barnaby, yes, I usually use the spine though as the pommel unless its shaped really well tends to slip and I end up mashing my hand.

The hammer pommel is a nice feature if done right and I don't see why you wouldn't get it if you could.

I want to know because I was told that for a camping/ survival knife it is an important feature and very useful. However from personal experience I seldom need it, but then again I'm no expert in camping or wilderness survival. And out of all the "nice" fixed blade out there, some (Fallkniven, Busse etc) do not have a real pommel, just the exposed tang, some don't have a pommel at all (Randall #14, CS Trail Master). So I'm wondering if I shall keep looking for a knife with a real pommel, custom order one, or simply ignore this all together.
I don't believe I ever saw a hammer on a survival gear list
My feeling on hammer-pommels is this:
If a knife has one and I like the rest of it I'll buy. If a knife does not have one and I like the rest of it then I'll still buy.

Basicaly, it's a nice feature but not on my mandantory list.

And, yes, I have one. It's the US issue pilots survival knife, fair design, lousy execution. What do you expect from the lowest bidder?

But doom'd and devoted by vassal and lord.
MacGregor has still both his heart and his sword!
-MacGregor's Gathering, Sir Walter Scott
Stompy, usually because you can get the required functinality from a solid knife. The last time I used this aspect was when I was fishing a week ago and realized that the last hook I had was badly bent so I found a smooth rock and straightened the hook out with the help of the extended tang of the A1 I was carrying.

You can often make due with either a hard wood club for some types of hammering, or for hard materials a decently shaped rock. However if you knife can take this impact it will be a lot easier. This is the whole idea of the thing anyway.


Okay, first off I don't believe there is any such thing as a "wilderness survival expert". To my mind, an "expert" is someone who's real good at doing something that's hard. Wilderness survival isn't hard. Our entire 2 million years of evolution was guided by one goal, adaptability and survivability. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or trying to sell you something. Yeah, there's a few tricks to learn, but you had to learn a few tricks to do any other normal human activity, like walking. I don't see anybody talking about "walking experts". It's pretty much one foot in front of the other. That'll piss a lot of people off I'm sure, but if I believed in such things, I could probably be considered an "expert" in survival in my native Florida. So I know what I'm talking about.

I have this thing about people who try to tell everybody that something that's easy is actualy hard. I think practical experimentation will prove that the only thing that's hard is figuring out what's hard. It's pretty much a matter of figuring out what and how to do it, and then doing it. Some things may be labor-intensive, but hard? Nah! Give me the time and money, and I'll build you a spaceship, that works too!

Okay, that's just so you don't get the idea that camping and survival is somethig that takes an inordinate amount of skill. They're fun activities, you know I love'em, but they don't require esoteric wisdom from the Nth Dimension.

Like Cliff said, if you need to hammer, you can always find a rock or a stick or something. As long as it's not differentialy tempered, you can always use the spine of your knife. The only neccessary features on a survival knife are, in order of importance;

1: a blade

2: a handle

3: a finger gaurd

4: a sheath

Oh yeah, that assumes the knife is of decent manufacture.

If you wanted to make the ultimate "survival knife", I think you'd end up with a saw-backed, hammer-pommelled, shovel-for-a-gaurd, hollow-handled with-a-compass-in-the-handle mostrosity that would, of course, be useless.

A knife is for cutting first and foremost, any added features are just that, added features. They may be beneficial, or detrimental. Either way, they are unneccesary. Especialy a hammer.

Like Stompy pointed out, who's ever seen a hammer on a list of survival gear?
I shouldn't rise to the bait but when amazing ignorance crops up, I feel I need to say something. Snickersnee, that's a pretty incredible statement. I know a lot of "survival Experts" and I know what they went through to gain their skills. It is nothing like walking and you are far from qualified to tarnish their efforts.

If I were to drop you into my neck of the woods (Idaho), in the winter, without a match... you would die. Your instincts would be worthless and probably would kill you. Knowledge and experience would save you.

If I took you to the jungle and left you... you would die. Even though there is food a plenty and the temperature is reasonably comfortable. You would eat the wrong fruit or offend the wrong native or not speak the right language or.....

Walking a few miles in either case would not save you.

I've taken thousands of folks into the woods for training. There is no right "Instinct" for survival. There is only a certain wilderness arrogance that says "It's pretty much a matter of figuring out what and how to do it, and then doing it." You would make the wrong choices... It happens all the time.

Oh I agree, Florida is easy for survival. Walk in a fairly straight line East or West and you will be OK. There are a few plants, and a couple of critters to watch out for but that's it. Florida is pretty much a park. As a matter of fact, if one of your local "survival experts" took you out without training... You'd probably manage to die there too.

Try the rest of the world.

About those millions of years. Funny you should mention it. In that time we have learned millions of ways to satisfy our needs. From weapons to shelter to lore and other fundamental environmental knowledge. I've been studying these skills for the better part of 40 years and I'm still learning every day. Sorry... you lose. It is not about instinct, it is about learning.

A thousand years ago they had steels that hacked their way through armys of armoured men. By your suggested definition for "expert" the simplicity of that steel would suggest that there are no experts in steel making today, nor are there any expert knifesmiths since it is instinctual to make good steel and good knives. All of the basic designs have been seen for a thousand years.

Have you ever worked with a thousand year old blade? I have, I own one and it is GOOD.

We know there are "experts" with steel and knife design. There are "experts" in wilderness survival as well. Most have earned their stripes at the wheel of knowledge.

About your "expert" opinion on blades... I agree pretty much. Too bad.

Just one thing. A hammer is much better than a stone and a hammer pommel is not as good as a hammer but better than a stone. With a good knowledge of survival skills, you would know why.

I don't carry a hammer, I have a knife with a full exposed tang, a hammer pommel.

Take one of my courses... I'd love to give you a run in the woods ;>)

Barnaby --

A couple thoughts come to mind.

First, there are plenty of guys knowledgeable in wilderness survival who don't much care about a hammer pommel. And even those that do usually put first priority on the rest of the knife, with hammer pommel a nice feature but not mandatory. Looking at what guys who teach survival carry, I always see a vast array of knives.

Also, I bet I could give someone like Ron Hood a Case slipjoint knife and he'd still survive just fine. As a non-expert, I concentrate on the basics -- ergonomics, safety, strength, carryability, cutting ability for the kinds of jobs I think I'll be doing.

Lastly, and most importantly, if you don't know what to do with a hammer pommel, then no matter what the experts say, you don't need one! This reminds me of when someone posts on the martial arts forums, "should I fight reverse grip or forward grip?" Hell, if you haven't trained enough to even know which grip works for you in what situations, perhaps you'd better just concentrate on the basics. Regarding hammer pommels, that's exactly the situation I'm in also -- I'm no expert, but I don't see why a hammer pommel would be mandatory, so I'll let the experts carry handle pommels and I'll just carry a knife that does the basics well. If I can't use it, it's useless to me.

Interesting note, in the past I had noted Ron Hood's attraction to big survival bowies. I've always heavily favored a machete plus a small scalpel-type knife for food prep etc. over big bowies, for the camping I do (northern california mountainous conifer forests). I asked Ron about it, and he thought my choice of going with the machete instead of a bowie was perfectly fine. I think a lot of the choices guys like Ron make are made on subtleties that might not be as relevent to less-experienced guys.

Well said Joe,

In our Jungle living skills video you'll see that the Candoshi- Shapra use a machete for everything from making the darts for their blowguns, the blowguns themselves, cutting fruit (in their hands!) to felling trees and clearing paths.

In my "Tactical Knives" article (this month) I describe the quality of those blades and how they use the busted ones. In the video you'll see how the CS bushmaster handle is used to crush stone for grinding compounds, much like the hammer pommel is used for some wilderness crafts. and push the jungle video button.

As to the selection of knives, a lot of it is dependent on personal preference once basic utility is met.

Weight isn't an issue with me, I don't see knives as heavy, and I don't carry much gear. However, bulk is an issue to me. While a machete would be better for clearing trails where I go, I don't like the length.

That doesn't mean machetes wouldn't be just as good, they're just not my style. In additon, I'm going to be using a knife for killing game, so I prefer my Project 1 over the machete because it is a more capable thruster.

It all depends on what you're going to be doing and how you like to do it. Every so often in various knife, survival, and woodsman mags, there'll be an article about how a big knife is the sign of a tenderfoot because you don't need that much, or a little one is because anyone doing serious survival needs a seriuos knife. A recent such article written by a guy I otherwise respect was saying that you should carry a lot of little knives because a big one is unwieldy and to heavy, but then he goes on to say that he packs pruning shears! Weird. So I just have a little chuckle and decide if the mag's worth buying for the other articles.

What works for one may not work for another. What is humorous to one is a good answer for another. Like I said, it largely comes down to personal choice.

I read that article too. Got a good laugh. The guy is an old friend of mine. I had to write him about his choices... jeese. He carries 3 lbs of blades (small ones and the clippers)!

If push came to shove.... I'd just take my SAK rucksack model. I can make all the other tools I need from materials out there.

BTW... I guess I'm a little touchy. Last week I returned from taking a dozen Game Wardens from CADFG into the mountains for a high altitude survival training session. 15 degrees, 30mph wind, 6 inches of snow and only a blanket, a trash bag, street cloths and a knife as gear. 6 days....
They are all still alive and now know the tricks for that environment.

2 backpackers died in the area during the same time under the same freak storm. They had gear. If we had found them, we could have saved them.

Sorry if I came down too hard.

First off, let me point out that I'm definitely not an expert. It occurs to me, nevertheless, that the so-called "hammer" pommel on a knife handle might actually be more analogous to the head of a nail in some instances. If you can pound WITH it, you can pound ON it too, right? I've never pounded on the butt end of a knife to drive it into something, but I can imagine myself doing that in a survival situation. Suppose, for example, that you want to open an oil drum.

David Rock

[This message has been edited by David Rock (edited 17 June 1999).]
Doc, don't sweat it. I tend to get carried away too.

You are incorect in assuming that I am unskilled and inexperienced in wilderness survival. I make quite frequent forrays into my home turf for anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks. I do a lot of primitive huting. My loadout looks like this.

1 small backpack
1 1quart canteen
1 Army surplus wool blanket
my Project 1 and Buck Titanium and a flat diamond stone(doesn't break like ceramic can, more compact then arkansas)
"some" socks and undwerwear, a couple t-shirts, a pair a Levi's, usualy a denim jacket(love the pockets)
Oh yeah, and my bow(recurve) and a couple arrows(6-12, depending on how many I've lost. I can make'em, but the high-tech stuff is better)

I bring enough mre entres for 1 day, just to give me time to scrounge up something. Oh, and the canteen is full when I go out.

If I could only bring one item of equipment, it'd be some clothes. If you go around naked you'll get tore up on the vegetaion, eaten alive by mosquitos, Lyme disease would be a give, encephalitus a strong possibiliity, and I wouldn't even rule out malaria. You don't hear about it anymore, but I have a hard time believing it's died out entirely. If clothes are a given, it'd be the Project 1. I could make it on the folder, but I'll take a stout fixed blade anytime. Anyway, swamp cabbage is some great stuff, but there's no way you're gonna take down a palm tree with a pocket knife.

I do pretty good in other environments too. Though I confess a hatred for cold. I reckon the natives are a lot like the Swampers. Not neccesarily hostile, but watch your step.

I stand by what I said. I'm not trying to knock anybody, all I'm saying is that it's not something that's out of reach for most people. Everybody is a survival expert. We all know how to get by and thrive in our own environment. Be it urban or wilderness. It all depends on where and how we live. I'd even go so far as to say the homeless are experts in survival. Sure, they don't have high status, but they know where to find food, shelter, maybe some cash, you know, the basic facts of life.

I'm not really talking about instincts in the animal sense, that's not how humans work. We're not pre-programmed to do any one particular thing, like a beaver's pre-programmed to build dam. We're built to be adaptable, and we are. Some moreso than others, but as a species we do all right.

It's just a matter of learning the tricks of a given environment. I would argue that tool and weapon building is an instinct. Technology is the key to human's success on this Earth. Be it Space Age(or is it the Information Age? who knows.) or Stone Age. It's our strength. I could never go force on force with an aligator or shark with out a harpoon or rod and reel. But with them, I'm the equal of any out there.

Sorry to hear about those two campers. Sometimes people get in over their heads. I know it's no fun at all to have had something bad happen to someone not so far away, but not being able to do anything about it.

I'll say this much, like walking, survival skills aren't something you're born with. You do have to learn them.

Like I said, I'm not trying to slam or discredit anyone. I think guys like Chris Nygres who spend a lot of time learning survival tricks are great. I have a lot of respect for their work. My problem is that some people like to put survival, and also martial arts, up on a pedestal, make it seem inaccessable to the layman. I love this kind of stuff. I want to be able to share it with everybody I can. I don't want people to get discouraged by thinking it takes decades of intense training.

Oh, if that's a serious invite, I wouldn't mind taking you up on it... What sorts of environments do you work? I do swamp, scrubland, estuarine, and ocean mostly.

Dave, good observation on pounding ON the pommel. As I've mentioned before, I hunt aligator. We're not allowed to shoot'em, so you typicaly harpoon'em and sever their spinal cord. Some people use machetes, hatchets, even chisels. I use my Project 1. I ain't easy to do by yourself. They tire out pretty quick, but you still gotta keep ahold of the line or they can get away from you, and that can be dangerous. Anyway, even going through the soft, well the part that isn't covered by scutes, I wouldn't call it soft, spots isn't easy.

If I have somebody to help me out, I like to give the knife an assist by whacking it with a piece of wood. Especialy considering I go for the bigger specimens if I have help.