Tuesday, July 21, 2009

1=0, 2=1

There is a great adage regarding equipment. You may have heard it. “The best [insert piece of equipment here] you have is the one you have on you.”

Normally I have heard this in regard to cameras. Today, I am thinking about knives.

Those of you with a little more than a passing association with me probably know that I carry a knife or so with me whenever I can. On top of having a plethora of edged and pointy objects on me, I like to keep the knives I use ridiculously sharp. I have sharpened friend’s kitchen knives under the guise of doing them a favor. Truth be told, I’m probably sharpening their knives because I have been in their kitchen at least once, and I am loathe to use a dull knife.

The best knife you have is the one on you. In this case I am thinking specifically about the knife that is strapped to my PFD. I put some thought into which knife to use for this application. It had to be a few things.
1. Immediately available. The PFD has a lashing point on the right breast, as well as adjustment straps on the shoulders and waist. After much thought, I chose to mount whatever knife I chose on the left shoulder adjustment strap, in a cross draw position with the blade edge down.
2. Low profile. In my quest to keep things simple, and to make re-entry into my kayak as easy as possible should I decide to or unwillingly take a dip, the knife cannot be too large. Smaller knives also provide for more of a safety margin – they are much easier to control.
3. Easily retained – not just by the sheath, but while in use. The best knife you have is the one you have in your hand, not the one on its way to the bottom of the ocean. Again, a knife with a small form factor is easier to manipulate.
It should go without saying that it needs to be sharp. Pointy is not entirely necessary or desirable while in the water. It should also be inexpensive enough that if I do lose it, I am not too torn up.

I already have several knives and used a couple of them to get an idea of setup and see if they would work. In keeping with the low profile and small form factor, I tried out a couple of knives that might fit the bill. First I tried my Krein Dogfish. Tom Krein is a knife maker out of Arkansas, and his Dogfish design was picked up by CRKT for mass production. The one that I have is a semi-custom – the blank was machine cut for Tom, and he ground and finished the blade. The Dogfish is one of my favorite knives – wharncliffe style blade made of S30V steel (a very high tech knife steel) with a bottle opener worked into the butt end. It is a skeletonized knife, and Tom worked the lightening cut outs so that the knife looks like a fish. The knife has a wicked, wicked edge, and it handles wonderfully. As a knife to work out the kinks of putting a knife on a PFD, this helped, but I never intended it to be a safety knife. I normally keep this one on a lanyard around my neck under my shirt.

The next one that I had laying around was one of my Strider EDs. Strider Knives Inc. is one of the premiere knife making companies in the United States. They don’t really do “production” knives in the sense that Buck, Gerber, CRKT or Kershaw do productions. Nope, Strider is a low yield shop, with the majority of their effort going towards fulfilling orders for various governmental contracts. Pretty much everyone who works for SKI is a military veteran. The lead designers for SKI are Mick Strider and Duane Dwyer. Since they are a low yield shop, and all of their knives are made from premier materials and fitted and finished by hand, they aren’t exactly inexpensive. The ED is at the bottom rung of their prices. Again, it is a skeletonized knife, and someone at SKI took that idea and made it reality. The original design of the ED incorporated lightening cut outs patterned to look like a skull or a skeleton. Again, the ED is a very basic knife with outstanding ergonomics. Made from S30V, again with the wicked edge, but this time in a spear point blade style.

I liked the ED on the vest, but even though it and the Dogfish are both very small knives, it still felt too large for any external mounting location. Since the knife has to be immediately available, there is no strapping it to the inside of the PFD.

I thought for a minute. And then remembered a knife that I owned and sold a couple of years ago.

In my never-ending quest for new and interesting bits of stuff, I stumbled across HideAway Knives (HAK). The woman who designed the HAK wanted a self defense tool that was easily manipulated and retainable without having to use grip strength. Her idea was for a ring knife, similar to a Karambit style fighting knife. The design allows for the knife hand to retain the blade while remaining free on the palmside for open hand techniques. In non-fighting terms, this allows your knife hand to remain free to grasp other things.

The HAK that I originally owned was made from Titanium and was a very aggressive “tiger claw” style. I ended up giving it away a couple of years ago, as I basically did not have a use for it (titanium has very poor edge retention).

I ended up trading one of my EDs for a newer HAK claw. The basic HAK utility design is similar in shape to a box cutter blade, and the claw adds a recurve to the blade. The recurve increases the available cutting edge without having to increase the overall length of the blade. Multiple recurves on a blade are serrations.

As a safety knife, a recurve HAK is outstanding. The knife is passively retained, the package is very small, and all you do is grasp and pull. My only concern is that the knife is made from 440c steel, which is not corrosion resistant. Of course, that is easily remedied through basic preventative maintenance, which in this case is a rinse after salt water exposure and a wipe down with Marine Tuf-Cloth.

Now, before everyone goes out and decides they want a HAK, understand a few things. First and foremost, the company that produces the HAK is effectively no longer a viable business, due to all kinds of poor business decisions and drama. I was lucky in that I am part of a larger community of knife collectors, and so I basically just put out a wanted add. You can still purchase utility HAKs from Fenix Outfitters (as well as other nifty bits).

The closest knife that I can think of that isn’t a HAK that would fulfill all of my needs in a PFD safety knife would be the Fred Perrin La Griffe or derivatives. Emerson knives makes a production version of the La Griffe, and Sypderco has produced a limited run called the “Swick.”

My HAK is specifically a safety knife. While I could use it as a utility knife, I will not. The sole reason it is on my person is as an emergency tool in life threatening situations. The idea is that it only gets used if I am in or underwater and I need to cut through something immediately. No sense in using it for utility tasks, as that would take it out of its sheath and potentially take it out of useable reach.

More later on utility knives and multi-tools.


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