While no longer required to keep lines of communication open, the utilitarian penknife continues to prove its EDC cred.
The penknife is a tool that has grown to fit our needs for centuries. It used to be an item that was in the pocket or purse of just about every individual alive, but today is easily confused with multi-tools and ‘Swiss Army’ knives.
The penknife is the ancient great-granddaddy of EDC knives, it was not just an EDC knife like we understand today in our assist-open or fixed blade defines knives, rather it was an edged tool that accomplished all daily chore-cutting, from maintaining writing utensils to working on small game.
History Of The Penknife
The original penknives were created to help maintain quill pens, the kind you see in movies made from feathers. These were called dip-pens, as they were dipped into ink to write with. The tips of these pens were shaped with penknives. As the quill lost its integrity from use, the tip was reshaped until it was depleted.
The penknife was small, usually only a few inches long with a fixed blade. They remained in their original form for much of history until the 1700s saw some variation as pencils began to appear on the scene, though in limited numbers. Interestingly, the knives excelled as the maintenance tool of the newer writing implement. Through World War 2 the penknife was considered the most functional and least wasteful means to sharpen a pencil. The British famously banned the use of mechanical pencil sharpeners in the war due to how quickly they consumed graphite and wood.
The last major leap forward in design changes came in the mid-1800s when penknives commonly become folders, where they remain today as a standard design element. These knives rarely had any kind of locking mechanism, and even today many are simply opened with a nail nick and held open with a slipjoint design. The pen blades were later combined with larger blades, usually, clip-points and the utility was expanded beyond simple maintenance functions.
Traditional Penknife Design Points
The penknife in its double-blade form became standardized into one of two categories, those being knives with blades mounted at each end of the grip and those with two blades mounted on one end. The latter is referred to commonly as a ‘trapper’ style, itself a design that has a following even today.
The penknife reached something of a crossroads in the modern era. Knives have always been used for regular tasks, however, as pocket knives changed they diverged from multi-tools. Penknives can fall into either category depending on who you ask, some consider any small, sub-3-inch folder to be a penknife, while others would happily call a Leatherman tool a glorified penknife.
The tool aspect is something that blurs the line today, the original utility was as a tool, but in adding more tools to create more function, it moves into a new category…or does it? As we are about to discuss, the penknife isn’t one particular thing. It is what we need it to be.
Practicality Of The Modern Penknife
Victorinox and its classic SD model set up the penknife as a multi-function tool as opposed to a task-oriented specialty item. Some would argue that a true penknife is simply that, a penknife and any added function beyond maintaining quills or pencils move it from this category. That is not something that has legs to stand on in the author’s opinion, as the entire original premise of the penknife has been thoroughly antiquated as quill pens fell out of use.
The pen blade was functional for general use, but then again so was the larger blade. So what to keep? Many of these multi-function knives still carry two blades of different styles and lengths, however, nobody but perhaps a few dozen individuals worldwide are using modern penknives to maintain quill pens. The inclusion of pen blades on these knives is, as of 2023, purely ceremonial or simply a callback to what many see as a necessary feature. Adding things like scissors or a file was the first step in making these small knives functional for regular life, which was of course their original intent, but life changed beyond their utility.
As materials have evolved, so have the strength and utility of these small blades. Despite this, penknives are not for heavy lifting. It is beyond its role to pry, baton, or otherwise abuse these small knives, but it should be your expectation it hold up to regular use in a light-duty setting.
The penknife today should be thought of as a companion tool and that very much depends on what you do with your life. If you don’t want scissors in yours, they make a variety without. If you need a bottle opener, you’re covered. Hell, if you need a can opener, Boker makes a great replica Japanese version that includes one.
The penknife is the knife for your life, and even if you aren’t trimming feathers, you will certainly benefit from one of these clever little knives.
Traditional Style Penknife Options To Write Home About
Case & Sons Small Pen w/Stag Grip
Case has been making pen knives since time started. Well, probably not that long, but they have been the leader in the category for decades. Just about every hardware store across the country has a Case display hosting the company’s various small pocket knives, among them their famous penknives.
The knives are available in a variety of styles, however, the standout example of a penknife is their Small Pen with stag scales. The knife features two blades, one at each end, and it is just about as classic as you can imagine. It has one pen blade and the other a functionally designed clip point. Despite being a rather benign presentation compared to today’s advanced materials, you’ll never want for function with this old-school setup. For all light tasks you are covered, and to make it better, chances are your granddad carried this exact knife… or at least one very close to it.
Benchmade 317-1 Weekender
Benchmade manufactures a dizzying number of knives, however, each is very well thought out and of extremely high quality. While not exactly a penknife in the strictest sense, this modern twist has a bit of added function and pizzazz. The Weekender is designed as the perfect weekend companion and has features that make it great for light tasks. It is great for work on small fish or small game and is also equipped with a bottle opener, because let’s face it, you’re probably going to be killing beers more often than you’re going to be killing game.
The knife is finished in green micarta and bears flashy copper-colored accents. It has just the right amount of flair to match the rest of your daily gear but isn’t made of easily damaged materials. Think of this little guy as the ultimate modern penknife. It is the most expensive option listed here, but it is arguably the strongest and sharpest of the bunch. For what it’s worth, these are advantages of a small knife where cutting ability is limited and strength is lacking.
Schrade Old Timer
In the world of penknives, there is little room for variation except in price. These small knives are not designed for the strength of heavy work, and in some cases, they are made to a standard that more closely resembles their class in terms of cost.
The Shrade knife here retails at under $20, making it a fraction of the price of some on this list. It has a clip-point blade as well as a pen blade and a pair of small scissors. For the duty of a penknife, you don’t need to spend more and this will last you years if used accordingly. Light duty is something that needs to be stressed here, but at this low cost, you won’t be out much if you do break it. Shrade priced this right to be bought and used, and it makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for that hard-to-buy-for person in your life.
Hen & Rooster Stag Penknife
Hen & Rooster knives are great, medium-cost alternatives to Case or other penknife brands. The company is not as well known as the others on this list, but they make a great product that rivals all in quality and appearance.
Its stag-griped penknife is extremely simple and priced right for someone looking to have a nice knife with real materials as opposed to lookalikes or plastic stand-ins for antler. The knife features both clip point and pen blades and is exactly how you figure a penknife should look. Stag isn’t the only material offered for grips, and the company has a tremendous number of models and variants available.
Boker Historical Japanese Army Penknife
There is a long history of small utility knives integrated with other tools to make them just a bit more functional. This offering by Boker is a replica of a Japanese army penknife that has an integrated bottle and can opener. This penknife served to open rations and prepare food in the field and it is good for just about anything minor.
It is an exceedingly slim knife in all proportions, the single blade being just 2 inches. The blade folds into the steel frame, itself just slightly wider than the blade itself. History buffs may not be aware of this little tool, but they sure will love it when they open it. Boker has a winner here, and to boot, they also have a Japanese multitool and other historical knives should you want to start collecting modern replicas you can use in your daily life.
Rugged, Long-Lasting And Easy On The Eyes… G10 Might Just Be The Ultimate Knife Handle Material.
You often hear G10 lumped in with a variety of other materials, such as Micarta, glass-filled nylon, carbon fiber, and more. In this vein, you’ll also see misrepresentations such as ‘G10 Micarta’, this is generally incorrect despite being so close to right. This raises the question…
What The Hell Is G10 In The First Place?
G10 is its own material and is more or less a generic trade name for a subset of insulating fiberglass composite. Because it is a standard material used in both civilian and military manufacturing, it is very consistent and must meet certain standards to be called G10.
It is made in a similar way to Micarta, but instead of actual layers of cloth fabric being compressed, G10 uses glass cloth to achieve a similar result—a grainless, easily shaped material that is resistant to the elements and most chemicals.
It first appeared on the radar in the 1950s, but it arguably has seen the most use since 2000 and it has knives to thank for that.
G10 Usage And Properties
G10 is made colorful by alternating these glass cloth layers before it is heated and compressed. The original versions of this were a bit bland, and like Micarta, were developed to provide insulation barriers for electronics. G10 material is not common in electronics today, but in its day it was considered to be quite good at its job.
It is now primarily used for knife handles, gun grips and accessories, robotics, 3D printing, and in some aerospace roles. It has great strength-to-weight properties and is easily shaped, making it ideal for modern manufacturing techniques. Unlike Micarta, it won’t change color when wet and it doesn’t absorb water or chemicals. It is impervious to salt water, making it a great choice for any products that require a firm grip in maritime conditions.
Advantages Of G10
Durability is key to a knife handle. It is, after all, your interface with a sharp, dangerous tool. If you don’t trust your handle material, you don’t trust your knife, simple as that. G10 Gives you a lot to hang on to.
Very strong and light, it’s waterproof, corrosion-proof, and can be washed with normal cleaning products with no ill effect. On knives that are used for hunting or the outdoors, it isn’t bothered by blood, fat, or hasty cleaning methods.
If G10 is textured, it will provide a sure grip in all conditions. Don’t like that your grip is just a bit too textured and perhaps a bit sharp in places? Just take out some sandpaper and knock the edges off and then wipe it down with mineral oil. It will appear just as new.
G10 is just a rockstar material for knife handles because it does what we need it to do in all capacities from initial manufacture to end-use maintenance. G10 is a win-win material across the board and it shows.
Disadvantages Of G10
Due to the overwhelming amount of advantages G10 has over most other knife handle materials, the downsides are for the most part a personal matter. Some people don’t care for the appearance or texture of certain G10 products, and still, others don’t care for how widespread the material has become.
Wood, bone, and Micarta all have significant followings, but are less durable overall than G10 and are usually heavier. These materials do require regular maintenance unlike G10, but this is a relatively subjective thing at the end of the day.
GREAT G10 HANDLE KNIVES
Benchmade 15500-3 Meatcrafter
The Meatcrafter has been around for a few years, but it continues to undergo evolutions. This particular model features a razor-sharp blade using the company’s SelectEdge technology. The 15500–3 model is visually attractive and features green G10 grips with nice-looking accents.
The knife comes with a Boltaron sheath finished in high-visibility orange. The author has experience with the Meatcrafter series, and has found them extremely suitable for their niche. The blade profile is not especially thick, it borders on filet knife territory but is heavy-duty enough for working on large pieces of meat and big animals.
This knife isn’t meant for chopping or use on bone or camp chores. Rather it is for end processing of soft tissue only. The blade has a good degree of flex for boning, though not too much that it won’t give clean presentation cuts in the kitchen if you are trying to impress company. Though, the $370 price tag is impressive in its own right should your dish not wow your guests.
Tops Sky Marshall
Tops is known for making some of the most rugged and powerful cutting tools on the planet. Very few, if any, could be called under-engineered, rather it is just the opposite. Most Tops blades are thick, and heavy, and hold up to years of the worst abuse that their owners can put them through.
The Sky Marshall is one of those items in life you buy once and keep using. Barring being dropped into a lit forge, there is little that can deter the stout Sky Marshall. The knife has a tanto point and rear serration coupled with a daunting 1/4” spine. The knife is finished in all black with black G10 grips. It is both an attractive conversation piece and a hardcore tool. The blade profile has a lowered point and a specially contoured handle with a deep, secure finger choil to give it extra power when thrusting. The Sky Marshall retails at $210 and comes with a black Kydex belt sheath.
Tops Muley Combo
Another G10-handled set from Tops is the new Muley series, made specifically to address materials that are hard on blades when hunting. The Muley series is born to hunt and is best purchased in a set with a double sheath ($500), though each knife can be purchased separately should you wish. One is a standard knife while the other is a knife-handled saw with a gut hook meant for dealing with bone and cartridge.
The combo doesn’t take up much space and affords the owner a high amount of general utility when both weight and durability are concerned. The backcountry hunter doesn’t always get away with pack animals or 4-wheelers, so having multi-use tools is very important when ounces count. The dedicated saws take up room in the pack, and knives with gut hooks are a liability when splitting kindling or skinning. In this set, you get the best of all worlds and each is made of super-tough, easy-to-clean 154CM.
The G10 grips are meant to be stylish but also high-visibility thanks to their orange liners. As field tools, the Muley combo here is hard to beat, and the author looks forward to putting them to hard use in the coming years.
LT Wright Apex
LT Wright is a name synonymous with edged tool quality. The Apex is an interesting knife not just in construction, but in shape and cosmetics. It features black G10 grips with a striking bright green liner and a bright, saber-ground A2 steel blade packed nearly in a brown leather sheath.
The knife has a profile common to many working knives and resembles a Puuko in overall aesthetic, though, it has one interesting point worth touching on. The blade and the spine are reverse curved, giving the blade a deep belly and the handle a distinctive upturned profile reminiscent of traditional Japanese tanto and katana profiles.
This intriguing knife is excellent for just about any task from kitchen chores to outdoor labor, breaking down game, and as a regular EDC knife. The Apex is a fascinating product that deserves more than a second look, and for a decent retail price of just under $200, it won’t break the bank, either.
Toor Jank Shank
One of the more interesting knives released recently, the updated Toor Jank Shank is part EDC knife, part karambit, part self-defense tool, and all American made.
The knife is beefed up over the original release and is thicker in more places while more ergonomic in others. The most visually appealing variant on Toor’s site is a black blade with eye-catching white G10 grip panels.
The knife has an easy-to-maintain straight edge that can be used in many ways in conjunction with the finger ring or without. The tip is aggressive and will easily penetrate through most common clothing and jacket materials.
While not a true karambit in that it lacks the signature curve, it should translate easily for fans of the design while offering daily utility lacking in a hook-shaped tip. The Jank Shank retails at $195 and the included Kydex sheath is compatible with a variety of mounting interfaces.
Kizlyar Supreme Hammy
Hailing from Russia, the Hammy is a cute little blade that has a lovable little hamster engraved on it. While it is small, the Hammy lives up to its namesake—a tough, resourceful little animal that can pack several features into its cheeks… rather to say its small, easily carried profile.
The Hammy comes with bright orange G10 scales and is meant to be a highly visible working tool. The edge profile is designed for common cutting tasks and the handle is contoured for comfort in long periods of use.
The Hammy is the least costly of the bunch here at just $99, but it punches above its class and will probably be the knife in this group that you use the most daily basis. The Hammy comes with a multi-position leather sheath that also features a cute hamster motif.
The Esee 5 is not a new knife, but it is notable for being so rugged and storied that it just had to be mentioned here when talking G10.
There are many models in the Esee 5 line, but the stand out—visually and functionally—is the all-orange model complete with black-and-orange G10 grips. This knife has a highly functional grip texture, is visible in many different light conditions, and is remarkably easy to maintain.
The Esee 5 is a weatherproof machine and it is a popular choice for bush crafters, rescue crews, hunters, and many military personnel for its wide-ranging capabilities. The G10 grips on this knife are available in other colors as well, and due to its popularity, a wide range of other G10 options are available aftermarket through renowned retailer The Knife Connection. TKC makes a full range of G10 grips for most of the Esee line should you wish to change colors or make your trusted blade just a bit more yours.
There Are Few Factory Makers As Well-Known As Kershaw. The Oregon-Based Company Continues To Innovate And Create Top-Tier Knives.
Kershaw is a beloved knife brand set to celebrate its 50th year in business in 2024. In the years since the company was founded a half-century ago, it has delivered some incredible products that continue to set industry standards today.
Kershaw has become a staple of the knife industry at large and they represent a significant percentage of what is being regularly carried in pockets all over the country. Pete Kershaw began the company to create excellent outdoor knives and eventually partnered with Japanese company Kai to bring more high-quality products to market.
The modern Kershaw knife is a truly high-quality tool, and lucky for us, the company has a dizzying number of options that can fit just about any niche you may have.
Kershaw’s Top Ten
Kershaw has a large fanbase because the company is incredibly consistent at making quality knives at quality prices. These 10 have stood out as some of the company’s best.
The Kershaw Leek is arguably the most prominent product that the company has released in recent years. This knife is the epitome of what you would consider being an everyday carry tool: it is light, sleek, and has an extremely reliable mechanism.
The lines of the product are immediately recognizable and it has achieved iconic status among knife enthusiasts. At the time of this writing, Kershaw offers over a dozen variations of the Leek, and, while the internal mechanism is the same, you get your choice as far as cosmetic features go. Currently, handle materials range from plain aluminum or color-anodized aluminum to exciting options like copper.
The actual copper handle material will patina over time, giving your individual knife a unique look as you carry and use it. Despite the fact that copper weighs a little bit more than aluminum and this knife costs a bit more than the other products in the Leek line, it isn’t for everyone. The Leek’s mechanism is an assisted-open type, and it is one of the more reliable and energetic on the market. In carrying Leek knives over time, the author has never had a failure to open or to remain closed.
The Skyline was one of Kershaw’s most recognizable products. The simple, black-handled knife
was one of the more popular carry options of years past and it earned a reputation for being strong and reliable at a good price.
There are, of course, other products that now fill its niche, but the Skyline will not soon be forgotten. Its status as a common, affordable, and reliable knife helps it make this list even though it is no longer available.
Many Kershaw fans have lamented the decision to axe this otherwise popular knife, and it has achieved a moderate collector interest since early 2021 alongside the Shallot and Camber, themselves very well-received by fans of their respective styles.
Skyline Knife Specs
Overall Length: 7.4 inches
Blade Length: 3.1 inches
Blade Steel: 14C28N
Weight: 2.5 ounces
Handle Material: G-10
Kershaw Lucha Carbon Fiber
At a hefty $500 retail the Lucha in carbon fiber is one of the more unique and interesting offerings currently had by Kershaw. This balisong is arguably one of the highest quality production blades of its type. Even custom options available on the market may not be able to match the Lucha in terms of overall fit and finish at the price.
For fans of this type of knife, this is certainly a holy grail item, and it boasts some very nice features. The blade rides on KVT ball bearings for exceptionally smooth handling. At a full ounce lighter than the original model, the carbon fiber Lucha features striking handles that are composed of blued titanium and overlaid carbon fiber.
The price is quite hefty for an EDC knife, though it’s without a doubt worth it to the person who loves flipping and twirling. While the fidget spinner craze ended a few years ago, you’ll probably find yourself playing with this knife in your hand more than you will end up performing cutting tasks with it.
Lucha Carbon Fiber Specs
Overall Length: 10.25 inches
Blade Length: 4.6 inches
Blade Steel: CPM 20CV
Weight: 4.9 ounces
Handle Material: titanium with Carbon Fiber Overlay
Taking a departure from today’s tactical and overbuilt blades, the Kershaw Federalist is a rugged gentleman’s knife that has a number of interesting and tasteful features. While the company does make a number of traditional styles of gentlemen’s knives, the Federalist is geared for that man of taste that still has to get some work done throughout the day.
This knife has a more traditional closing and opening mechanism reminiscent of the knives of yesteryear. It has a nail nick for opening and lacks any assist mechanism. In fact, the company lists this blade as a non-locking slipjoint with a dual-detent system. You’ll likely want to save this knife for general tasks and leave the heavy lifting to a more substantial tool.
In place of polished wood and silver inlay, the Federalist features green Micarta grip panels and a matte finish. Seeing as how assisted opening and larger, tactical-style blades have the majority of market share, it is refreshing to see that Kershaw is still catering to people who view knives as simple, everyday objects.
Federalist Knife Specs
Overall Length: 7.5 inches
Blade Length: 3.25 inches
Blade Material: CPM 154
Weight: 2.1 ounces
Handle Material: Micarta
Kershaw Launch 14
The Launch 14 is a large, automatic opening, cleaver-bladed knife. This is a hard-use tool that has the looks of a collector’s piece. Not all automatic-opening knives are meant for daily use, but this one breaks the mold and is geared for any task you may find on the job site or in your daily adventures.
The cleaver blade is not for everyone. Some people prefer to have a distinct drop point while others definitely prefer the more adaptable Wharncliffe style. The knife lacks a true puncturing tip, which to some could be considered a detriment. The steep tip angle on these cleaver-type blades is actually excellent for true cutting tasks where spear point or drop point blades may be too fragile.
Using a cleaver-style knife for puncturing can be achieved, although the stout angle of the tip may be too coarse for fine work. When it comes to cutting things like straps and heavy tubing, the type of knife we see here definitely excels. The Launch 14 is elegant in its execution and has very functional, subtle features, such as a recessed opening button and carbon fiber panels.
Launch 14 Knife Specs
Overall Length: 7.75 inches
Blade Length: 3.375 inches
Blade Steel: CPM 154
Weight: 3.2 ounces
Handle Material: 6061-T6 Aluminum, Carbon Fiber Scale Front
Kershaw Reverb XL
Borrowing the same features as its smaller namesake, the Reverb XL is a daily carry knife that has a wide range of uses for the outdoors. The knife has a long, upswept blade, reminiscent of fillet knives. Because of its size and light weight, it makes an excellent companion for the fisherman who enjoys working out of a canoe or kayak.
The knife doesn’t take up much space and doesn’t require an additional sheath. Not only that, at under $50, it won’t cause you financial issues if it accidentally falls overboard. The knife is very simple in terms of operation, it is a manually opening blade with a liner lock.
Although it lacks a fast opening blade, the discerning outdoorsman or angler shouldn’t find this to be an issue, considering that once the blade is out, it is likely going to get used for quite some time. If you find yourself in coastal towns, or perhaps going for a cold one after a fishing trip, this knife will not stand out like a fixed blade will.
Reverb XL Knife Specs
Overall Length: 7.4 inches
Blade Length: 3 inches
Blade Steel: 8Cr13MoV
Weight: 2.2 ounces
Handle Material: G10 with Carbon Fiber Overlay Front
Kershaw Lonerock RBK2
Knives with replaceable blades are something that have been around for quite some time. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a greater interest in this style of knife, if you can even call it a knife in the first place.
The Lonerock RBK2 is a kit that includes a main, folding handle assembly, and a non-folding ‘buddy’ handle. The ‘buddy’ is simple and non-folding, but takes the same blades as the folding assembly. The basis of this system is meant for hunters as a means to keep sharp blades at the ready with no additional maintenance.
Keeping a good edge on the blade is no easy task in less than ideal conditions. Many people think that sharpening is as simple as pulling the blade through an off-the-shelf sharpener, but inevitably every knife needs to be professionally re-edged at a certain point. If your blade is replaceable, you shouldn’t have to worry about that latter part of the process. If the knife goes dull, simply pop in a new blade and keep working.
At just under $60 retail, the Interstellar is a mean looking knife that has function at its heart. While it appears to be an out-the-front automatic, the Interstellar is instead a manual knife that opens in the same way as a standard box cutter. The blade features a serrated tanto point and has an affordable price to match its rugged looks.
Kershaw lists this knife under their work knife category, and while it looks tactical, this knife is perfect for the job site. It is easy to use with heavy gloves on, and is excellent for controlled, one-handed operation. The tanto point is excellent for getting into those tight spaces and it is serrated for cutting through various types of cord and material.
People that work with materials like drywall will enjoy its ability to score easily before cutting. If basic folders and box cutters aren’t your style, you should really consider the Interstellar for your daily use. After a long day, you may want to break open some cold ones, and the Interstellar comes with an integrated bottle opener in its frame.
Interstellar Knife Specs
Overall Length: 6.9 inches
Blade Length: 2.7 inches
Blade Steel: 8Cr13MoV
Weight: 3.1 ounces
Handle Material: Glass-Filled Nylon
Kershaw Blur With Glassbreaker
The Blur is a rugged and popular design from Kershaw. Not only is it a suitable knife for daily carry, the glass breaker version is a simple-to-use and affordable rescue tool. Similar to Kershaw’s other assisted opening knives, the Blur can open with one hand and is ready to go into action. The glass breaker can be used with blade open or closed.
Additionally, the particular model we are talking about here also has a deep, swept belly with aggressive, scalloped serrations. This type of situation should make quick work of seatbelts or other types of common materials found in vehicles if someone needs to be removed quickly after an accident.
This knife features a pointed tip, so unlike other types of rescue tools that are designed to be completely blunt, you will need to take care not to accidentally stabbed or cut someone you were trying to free with this tool.
Emerson is well known for producing some exceptional tactical knives. The company needs no introduction here, and luckily, for us, they have collaborated extensively with Kershaw.
This particular knife, the CQC-10K, is striking to look at with its green scale handles and aggressive, Bowie tip. The knife features the patented Emerson Wave Feature that allows for an otherwise unassisted knife to open instantly upon draw. With practice, this knife can be drawn and opened in a fraction of a second, even faster than can be attained with an assisted opening mechanism.
This knife is not just for self-defense situations, it is ruggedly built, and should be an excellent friend for the field and trail. Thanks to its fine point, it can also be used for tasks such as fishing or skinning small game.
CQC-10K Knife Specs
Overall Length: 8.5 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Steel: 8Cr14MoV
Weight: 5.1 ounces
Handle Material: G10 Front, 410 Stainless Steel Back
The Dirk Has A Long, Exciting History And Has Been Used For Everything From Farming To War All Around The World.
The general definition of a dirk is that of a one-handed thrusting knife. Depending on region and style, it may be single-edged or double-edged. It also may or may not have a defined cross guard and pommel.
Dirk as a term is loosely associated with several Scottish and English regions. It is most commonly credited to the former, though no one really knows for sure, and it also has a long history of use across medieval Europe. It was a very important object to people in the Highlands of Scotland at an individual level and had significant ceremonial and practical uses.
Weapons Before The Dirk
As is common in the era of gunpowder in Europe, many types of knives and daggers owed their roots to the bollocks dagger and other stabbing weapons that originated hundreds of years prior when soldiers wore heavy armor. Contrary to popular belief, most swords are not like how you see in the movies. These stabbing and thrusting weapons seldom had what we’d expect as edges, rather they were made to parry and bludgeon. Maces, picks, and hammers were very common in this time, prized for their ability to bash and smash, where swords, while deadly, were not always the first choice.
These long, thin daggers were sometimes the choice when things got up close and personal, though even then the textile layers of armor were hard to penetrate. All that changed with gunpowder weapons causing a wide decline in armor use, and the dirk as we know it today was the product of that evolution. The dirk became something quite different than other edged weapons of the time and developed in its own way, largely apart from other European designs.
The Scottish were some of the first to begin independent development of swords and daggers alongside guns in the post-armor age along with strategies to fight against firearm-equipped soldiers. The heavily tribal Scottish Highlands were not especially invested in standardized firearm technology.
Guns did figure heavily into the culture, but the Scottish never developed a well-oiled machine akin to what the British developed when it came to battles. The Scottish had two primary tools for the battlefield, the broadsword and the targe (buckler), itself a small shield held in the weak hand. The combination of buckler and broadsword allowed the Highlander to easily kill British soldiers, usually armed with nothing more than a musket and bayonet.
They specialized in fast ambushes, often called a ‘Highland Charge’ where they wore virtually no protection of any kind and ran headlong at their enemy. If the enemy didn’t flee on sight, they would only have one shot at most before they had to fight hand-to-hand.
How The Dirk Developed
The dirks developed in the post-armor era became focused on all-purpose use, not just stabbing or bludgeoning. As a result, sharp, light-bladed swords and short-sword like knives and daggers became the norm.
Slashing through clothing wasn’t difficult and the Highlanders found themselves at a distinct advantage using these tactics. That is, until the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Here the entirety of the Highlander army was soundly defeated by the British in a battle that lasted an hour. The British faced them on an open field and modified their tactics to anticipate the Highland Charge, resulting in a complete defeat of the Scottish Jacobite movement that had made an invasion into England a year earlier.
Dirks were common even after Culloden. The carrying of knives wasn’t necessarily seen as carrying arms in most cases, and dirks were something of a common, everyday tool for most people. They would be not only used for self-defense but also for regular tasks like eating, splitting kindling, and standard daily chores.
Dirks vs Daggers
Is the dirk a dagger? The short answer is yes and no, and that is because there is a great degree of ambiguity in the definition. A dirk is classically a large, single-bladed knife with a blade anywhere from 12 inches all the way up to 20 inches.
Naval dirks were commonly used for ship-to-ship fighting as they were short enough to be used in tight confines yet large enough to still be effective. Daggers at this time would have been primarily understood to be stabbing weapons, whereas the dirk was large enough and stout enough to be used in a primary slashing role.
Daggers are, by type, geared mostly for stabbing. Rarely do companies refer to any large, single-edged knives as ‘daggers’, but the dirk is often classified right alongside them by name in many laws.
The American dirk which evolved in the early 1700s, was almost always single-edged and was primarily used as a support knife alongside the tomahawk and rifle. It could be said that a significant and wide-ranging number of knife styles, including the Bowie, evolved directly from the Scottish dirk on the American frontier.
Daggers as stabbing knives were somewhat uncommon in America because they lacked general utility in the field at a time when larger camp knives and multi-purpose tools saved weight.
Is It Legal To Own A Dirk?
Unfortunately, Dirks have a wide legal definition across the board that often describes them as daggers or stabbing weapons. In many municipalities, this type of weapon is not legal to carry. There is a blurred line in this definition, as many places considered double-edge, stabbing weapons as the verboten item. As many historical dirks are single-edged, there could be room in these laws that skirts one definition or another.
4 Best Dirks Available Today
COLD STEEL SCOTTISH DIRK- $119.99
Cold Steel is well known for making some very durable and interesting products. They pay great attention to detail and their Scottish Dirk is no different. While it is not the most costly, it is a step above the rest, and it is affordable and backed by Cold Steel’s legendary standard of excellence. The Cold Steel Scottish Dirk is a working tool that does everything the historical versions did and then some. If you’re looking for a hard-use dirk, look no further.
Overall Length: 18.38 inches
Blade Length: 13 inches
Weight: 1 pound
Blade Steel: 1055 Carbon
Handle Material: Rosewood
WINDLASS BONNIE SCOTTISH DIRK- $149.00
If you’re looking for a prettier dirk than the rest, Windlass makes some excellent historical replicas that reflect various periods of Scottish history. The Bonnie Scottish Dirk is reminiscent of the late stage of refinement on these weapons. It is ornate yet functional and is sure to be a conversation starter. While other companies tend to take some liberties, this is a very accurate replica of what may have been on the belts of Highland Warriors at the Battle of Culloden.
Overall Length: 17.5 inches
Blade Length: 11.75 inches
Weight: 18 ounces
Blade Steel: 1055 Carbon Steel
Handle Material: Wood
WINDLASS EARLY SCOTTISH DIRK- $139.95
This product is a replica of some early dirks as they would have looked descending from the bullock dagger. A functional reproduction, this early replica features a more basic feature set as would’ve been seen a few hundred years prior to the Battle of Culloden. Although it has unrefined features, it is still not out of place for costuming or period reenacting.
Overall Length: 21.25 inches
Blade Length: 15 inches
Weight: 16.2 ounces
Blade Steel: 1055 Carbon Steel
Handle Material: Hardwood
CAS IBERIA (LEGACY ARMS) SCOTTISH DIRK- $159.00
This dirk has some classic lines, but is all about function. It will not look odd at a cultural event, although it is made with a slight skew to the modern. The handle design is reminiscent not of the bullock dagger, but the earlier Rondel form characteristic of the late medieval era prior to the renaissance. While it is the most expensive so far on the list, it is right in the same price range as most common dirks. If you prefer this look over the more classic Scottish design, this is the one for you.
The Assisted-Opening Knife Is A Powerful Type Of Pocketknife Beloved By Blade Lovers Around The World. These 12 Stand Out From The Pack.
There are quite a few minor differences that separate various types of knives that are otherwise visually or externally indistinguishable. In the same vein as a sword is a sword or an axe is an axe, many people treat knives simply as a variation on a basic theme. In the case of assisted-opening knives, this has led to a great deal of confusion, and for the most part, a large amount of legal misunderstanding.
ORIGINS OF THE ASSISTED-OPENING KNIFE
The foundational designers of the assisted-opening knife modeled their mechanisms along very similar lines—mostly based on motorcycle kickstands. BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Ken Onion is a well-known knife designer and was among the first to arrive at a mass-produced design.
While Onion was not the first, his basic design set the stage for what we have today. Before him, Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Blackie Collins arrived at a design that was successful. There is a distinction at this point. Some assisted openers are described as “gravity knives” or “flick knives” and this is both true and false.
Some of the first successful gravity knife designs required the user to open the mechanism and the blade would slide down without spring assistance. Flick knives are generally undefined, but in general, require a flick of the wrist to deploy the blade either out the front or from the frame.
One of the most widely issued versions of this is from the Nazi German Air Force, where most aircrews in the Luftwaffe were given a type of out-the-front gravity knife. These became popular bring-back trophies and were oftentimes miscategorized as automatic or switchblade-style knives, and as flick knives.
The original German models never had a spring inside the mechanism. If they had, they would have qualified under modern law as an out-the-front automatic. This knife does deploy extremely quickly, often as fast as a spring-loaded variant.
These incorrect terms are bundled and grouped into the broad ‘bad knife’ generalization. The mechanical function of the assisted-opening knife is to finish opening the blade, not to deploy the blade on its own. This may seem like a minor thing but it is very important legally.
IS AN ASSISTED-OPENING KNIFE REALLY A SWITCHBLADE?
A relatively confusing aspect of this topic is what exactly constitutes a knife that falls into the dubious “switchblade” category, and what is an assisted-opening mechanism. The casual observer may not notice any difference in terms of function. In most cases, it appears that the blade simply pops out on its own from the handle.
The primary difference in this is that an automatic knife is self-actuated, usually with the push of a button. A knife that operates via an assisted-opening mechanism requires a person to start the opening process before the blade actuates and finishes opening itself.
This may seem like a trivial difference, but when it comes to skirting or working around restrictive laws, there is a great deal of importance that is occupied in that slight separation. We tend to see this in many cases where even cosmetic details can determine legality.
In 2009, there was a federal effort to clearly define and limit the number of restrictions that could be placed on knives that were determined to be of the open-assist and one-hand-opening variety, as opposed to those categorized directly as switchblades. 15 US Code 1224 Exemption 5 states that:
“A knife that contains a spring, detent, or other mechanism designed to create a bias toward closure of the blade and that requires exertion applied to the blade by hand, wrist, or arm to overcome the bias toward closure to assist in opening the knife.”
In other words, this defines an assisted opener as a knife that is designed to remain closed until acted upon, whereas a switchblade could thus be assumed to be a knife that is biased to remain open unless retained. These small variations in legalese are all we have that draw a line between what constitutes a legal assisted-opening knife and something reputedly “more inherently dangerous.”
HOW DO ASSISTED-OPENING KNIVES WORK?
As mentioned above in the legal definition of an assisted opener, the preeminent design feature is that the blade remains closed under a given mechanism until a force is applied to it. The mechanism necessary for a knife to accomplish this is quite complicated.
Not only must the blade be able to interact with an internal spring, but that spring also needs to generate enough pressure on a very small rotational axis to extend it to its final position and provide the energy to bypass the locking feature. This could be a linerlock or any number of locking mechanisms.
Because there are a tremendous number of functions being asked of this mechanism, they tend to become quite intricate, and for the most part, should not be disassembled by the owner. If something goes wrong with any type of assisted-opening knife, the owner should contact the manufacturer and get it repaired at the factory. Many of these mechanisms share more in common with watches and other fine pieces of machinery than they do with other knives.
There is a wide range of variation in terms of design from company to company. As a result, you will tend to see that, while assisted-opening knives are a general category, most manufacturers prefer to put their own spin on the terminology used to describe their product.
There isn’t a functional difference between what a company calls its design and what it accomplishes. What matters at the end of the day with assisted-opening knives is that they produce the same end result preceded by meeting the legal requirement of being an assisted opener. It doesn’t really matter if the mechanism is actuated by a thumb peg, flipper tab or wrist flick, the end result is the activation of the spring override forcing the blade to lock into the open position.
The basic design of most assisted-opening knives requires the blade to be manually opened at least 1/4-1/3 of its total travel before the spring takes over and opens it the rest of the way. This can be accomplished through numerous designs. The most common relies on an internal spring in the mechanism that resides on a cam, the latter interacting with the geometry of the rear of the blade surrounding the hinge pin.
Past a certain point, the shape of the parts allows the spring-loaded cam to interact with the gradual, declining angle of the back of the blade, thus forcing it open against the tension. Of course, this is just one way to describe how this works, and individual designers and companies will work around existing patents and models to create new ways to get the job done.
ARE ASSISTED-OPENING KNIVES LEGAL ACROSS THE BOARD?
The short answer to this is, yes, and no. In some states, it matters more how you carry the knife than what type of knife you were actually carrying. Michigan, for instance, allows the open carry of most knife types, regardless of features.
When it comes to carrying concealed, there are some murky definitions. In general, if a knife is visible, at least partially, such as in a front pocket, it is considered open carry. The vast majority of states allow everyday carry for assisted-opening knives. In fact, many states also allow the carrying of automatic knives as well.
Best Assisted-Opening Knives For The Money
While assisted-opening knives may not be for everyone, they are incredibly popular and made by manufacturers around the world. These dozen show off the breadth of models available on the market today.
Kershaw Cryo II
The Cryo II is a very clean, basic carry knife that features a smooth, curved edge without separation. The knife is slab-sided without texture; it can be slippery in the hands if wet or sweaty. The framelock mechanism is very strong and should provide years of reliable service for a very modest price.
The Kershaw Barstow is a very affordable knife at a suggested retail price of under $40. It features a spearpoint blade and a black-washed finish. For being as inexpensive as it is, it is a true assisted-opening knife and affords the owner a great deal of function at a very low price. While not the highest-end model out there, this low-profile knife will be sure to please.
This attractive and very affordable knife bears the Smith & Wesson logo. Its sheepsfoot blade has a clean, straight edge. Despite its low price, this knife has a great degree of utility and is a welcome companion in the pocket or work bag. The blade profile lends itself to general work, and it shouldn’t draw attention when out in public.
The ‘Amazon Special’ is fashionable and quite affordable. The tanto-style blade comes in serrated and plain-edged varieties. For being as inexpensive as it is, it has an impressive number of features that are extremely well thought out. The handle has an anti-slip texture and is machined from durable G10. The blade pivots on ceramic ball bearings. For being a Chinese import, it punches above its class.
Moving up quite substantially in price is Benchmade’s 495 Vector. This is a symmetrical pocketknife that simply bleeds quality while being fairly low profile at the same time. If you prefer to carry a top-of-the-line design without drawing unwanted attention to yourself, this is going to be a top choice.
Another top-shelf choice from Benchmade, the Barrage has an aggressive, tactical look that features a plain-edge blade. While it certainly has that bad boy look, it is quite functional in terms of features and utility for cutting tasks at a relatively high cost compared to other assisted-opening folders. If you want top quality and want to look good doing it, this one is hard to beat.
P.S.D. stands for Particle Separation Device, and CRKT’s folder certainly lives up to the futuristic nomenclature. While the materials used in the construction of this knife are becoming more commonplace, it is hard to find them for this price point, and the PSD delivers a very nice, clean appearance for a relatively low cost. CRKT is well known for the quality and affordability of its edged tools, and the PSD is sure to be a favorite come the holidays.
The Gerber Highbrow is ambidextrous and features an easy-to-use sliding lock just under the spine next to the pivot. The edge is plain with a distinct, drop-point profile. At a price of around $50, it is affordable and makes for a good gift for that someone who is worth the extra few dollars around the holidays.
Boker Plus offers the Kihon designed in conjunction with custom knifemaker Lucas Burnley. Lucas is a hot tactical maker whose Japanese-inspired designs have garnered him worldwide acclaim.
The Kihon’s modified clip-point blade is a little over 3 inches long and made from D2 tool steel, long known for toughness and impact resistance. The blade is flat ground for exceptional cutting through a variety of media. A machined recess on the spine serves as a thumb rest to apply pressure and more control. Ambidextrous thumb studs double as the blade’s positive stop when open. A flipper tab offers quick, easy one-hand opening. Caged bearings in the pivot ensure smooth blade rotation.
The handle is a hybrid construction of a stainless steel framelock side mated with a textured OD green G-10 scale for weight reduction and grip enhancement. Gold-colored collars provide a classy visual touch to the pivot and handle screws. A large standoff is also anodized gold to match the other accents.
The lock side features a lockbar stabilizer disc to prevent blade overtravel. A neat wire pocket clip carries the closed knife blade tip up. The blade and steel lock side have a black stonewash finish for low glare and added corrosion resistance. However, the clip is not reversible for lefties. Milled-out oblong cavities in the handle’s lock side reduce weight.
The Kihon is a great EDC. The thumb rest relief helps control the blade, which provides enough length and belly to do most cutting chores. The action is smooth and predictable. Press the flipper, feel the tension load up and the blade propels to the open and locked position.
The assist mechanism performs like the Kershaw SpeedSafe originally designed by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Ken Onion. If you own any SpeedSafe knives then you know how the action is, and the Kihon is very similar in feel. There are no problems with handle comfort, either. The knife is easy to hold and there are no hot spots.
You may snicker at the Oxcart moniker but once you see the knife, you will clearly understand the name. The new entry from CRKT is somewhat of a dichotomy—the handle slab and blade stock thicknesses are what you would normally find on a large, heavy-duty folder, while the Oxcart is compact and slender.
Knifemaker Robert Carter is the designer. He is the son of maker Joe Pardue and grandson of Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Mel Pardue, so the pedigree is impeccable. The modified clip-point blade is hollow ground from .16-inch-thick AUS-8 stainless steel. The blade is 3 inches, ideal for an EDC work knife. Large dual thumb studs provide purchase for rapid opening, and an extended flipper tab quickly deploys the blade. The blade rides on the Ikoma Korth Bearing System (IKBS) for ultra-smooth action.
The stainless-steel handle is .15 inches thick—about as thick as the blade. Drilled holes reduce weight and enhance aesthetics. A sturdy framelock secures the blade open with bank-vault lockup and zero play. A stabilizer prevents blade overtravel.
A large finger recess enables you to index your grip. The butt tapers to fit the heel of your palm. All handle edges are rounded for further comfort. The deep carry pocket clip positions the closed Oxcart blade tip up and is reversible for lefties. While the heavy-duty build gives the knife impressive heft at 4.7 ounces, it doesn’t weigh you down in the pocket.
As a work knife, the Oxcart shines. The hollow-ground blade bites hard and deep. It is a very efficient cutter. It’s so sharp we had to guard against nicking the wires inside the casing when stripping electrical wire. Due to the extra width of blade and handle, the Oxcart can be used hard without worry that the blade will break or the tip will snap.
One minor complaint with the compact grip: I found myself wanting a bit more to grasp when bearing down to cut through tough materials. However, it being a “compact big knife,” that would ruin the design philosophy. The assist mechanism is CRKT’s multi-wave torsion bar design that provides firm, fast action, with excellent detent closure. A semi-solid push on the flipper overcomes the detent, sending the blade to the locked position in one swift motion.
AUS-8 steel is well known in more moderately-priced knives as having a good balance of edge holding and ease of maintenance. No problems with the steel—it’s a solid performer. I also like how positive the framelock engages, so there are no worries about accidental unlocking. It’s very tight but easy to unlock when needed.
The Camillus Arvo is the most value-conscious of the test group. The 3-inch drop-point blade is made from 420 stainless in a nice satin finish. The blade is utility friendly, with a defined tip for scoring tasks and a belly for most general cutting chores.
The flipper tab extends far enough to function equally as well as a single guard. The sole method of deployment is the flipper; the blade is devoid of thumb studs or discs for a streamlined appearance.
The handle features a typical construction method for tactical folders with dual stainless liners and scales of brown linen Micarta® for strength, high rigidity and dimensional stability, regardless of the elements. The linerlock release has a series of notches for purchase with your thumb when the blade is unlocked. A heavy-duty steel clip provides deep pocket carry of the closed knife in the blade-tip-up position.
The Arvo’s price point is very affordable, which appears to have resulted in a few “oversights.” First, the scales were not finished as smooth as I would have liked. The surface had a texture like peach fuzz from the linen in the Micarta. Don’t get me wrong—having a rougher finish on Micarta isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the rougher texture aids in grip traction. Nonetheless, the surface finish could be improved.
Second, the edges of the blade spine and flipper tab are crisp. If you are into bushcraft knives, you know that a 90-degree spine is good for striking with a ferro rod to make sparks for fire. However, a 90-degree spine in an EDC folder creates unnecessary sharp corners. Luckily, these can be easily remedied with a metal file and gently rubbing the corners to soften them.
Finally, most flipper folders have the tab with traction notches on it for purchase. The Arvo has no such notches. Otherwise, the knife is a great size for EDC and the handle design is good and comfortable. I love the integral guard formed by the front of the handle at the pivot.
The assist mechanism works very well. Again, judging by the action, I’d say it’s similar to the SpeedSafe torsion-bar type. Deploying the blade is fast and easy. The action is smooth and swift, with the blade riding on Teflon washers. There are no bearings.
The low-end 420 stainless blade steel doesn’t hold an edge nearly as long as even the mid-grade stainless steels such as AUS-8, 8Cr13MoV and VG-10. However, the tradeoff is it’s easier to resharpen. Out-of-the-box sharpness is just OK. I’ve seen better on budget knives and I’ve seen worse. When I put my own edge on it, that’s when performance improved.
At its price point, the Arvo serves well as a work knife. It’s a great alternative to Zytel-handle locking folders and you get upgraded handle material with the Micarta. The hollow grind allows the blade to slice effectively and bite into materials easier. The edge dulls quickly depending on what you’re cutting, so you might benefit from carrying some sort of compact sharpener. And if you end up losing the Arvo, you can buy another one without breaking the bank.
The only thing I found as a slight issue with this particular sample is the blade was off-center a bit when closed. Given the low price, I am more forgiving of such things. However, it has no bearing on the action or cutting performance. The lockup is firm and sure.
There’s a lot of features going for this knife for the price: Micarta handle, deep carry pocket clip, flipper tab, assisted opening and open handle spine. Many of these features are found in knives priced way higher.
Pro-Tech TR-5 SA
Known widely for autos, Pro-Tech offers an assisted opener with the TR-5 SA. Essentially a scaled-down version of the company’s TR-4, it has tactical styling, superior materials and a distinctive spring-assist mechanism.
The 3.25-inch blade is CPM S35VN high-performance stainless. The modified drop-point pattern has flat-ground main bevels with a swedge added for a bit of attitude. A single thumb stud helps open the knife. The blade comes in a nice stonewash finish that hides scratches and helps resist corrosion.
The handle features rounded ends and a tapered design from pivot to butt. Several large finger grooves help seat your hand securely, along with a series of traction notches following the three finger grooves.
On the handle spine, traction notches are milled into the thumb rest for a non-slip grip. The handle spacer is milled from 416 stainless and also has traction notches to enhance grip. The end of the spacer protrudes a bit at the butt, forming a skull crusher pommel.
The handle slabs are T6-6061 aluminum given a Type III hard anodized black coat for scratch resistance and aesthetics. A deep carry pocket clip presents the closed knife blade tip up. When clipped in the pocket, none of the knife protrudes above the seam.
The handle feels very comfortable and instills user confidence, with no hot spots. Pro-Tech’s high standards for manufacturing excellence carry over into its base models with plain aluminum handles such as this one. The pivot screw and lock button sport spun finishes that reflect light in a refined manner. It’s such nice little touches that set Pro-Tech apart.
The assist mechanism is different from other assisted openers. For starters, it uses the same coil-spring design that drives the company’s automatics. If you’ve handled a Pro-Tech auto, you know it has a strong spring and a nice recoil. The same goes for the TR-5 SA.
There’s an additional component to the mechanism designed by award-winning maker Matthew Lerch: an unusual spring-loaded detent that holds the blade closed. The result is a strong detent that requires a firm push of the thumb stud to overcome; from there the coil spring takes over and drives the blade open. As a result, you get the legendary Pro-Tech action for those who cannot legally buy autos. The action is indeed the fastest of the featured assisted openers and, I believe, the fastest on the market.
Micarta Is One Of Many Materials Used For Blade Handles. Used For More Than A Century, Micarta Continues To Be Incredibly Popular.
Micarta is not a new material, in fact, it has been used for over 100 years. Unlike naturally-occurring materials, Micarta offers properties other materials don’t. We’re going take a look at what Micarta is and what makes it probably the best material available for making knife handles today.
What Is Micarta?
Micarta is the name of a commercially-owned product, and isn’t just a generic material. Micarta is a durable type of composite made of a base material suspended in epoxy resin. Norplex Inc. owns the trademark on the term.
The material is compressed under heat and is classified as a thermoset product. The main name associated with the invention of Micarta is George Westinghouse. During his life, Westinghouse never stopped creating new things, and the first developments of what we know now as Micarta occurred somewhere between 1900 and 1910.
Because of the way that Micarta is made, it has extensive applications for insulation in electrical systems. It is unknown when this material became a popular knife handle option, but it is safe to say it’s never been more popular than today. Like many materials of the era, such as Bakelite and Celluloid, Micarta found its way into craft use.
How Is Micarta Made?
It’s hard to pin down Micarta. In the old days, fabric and paper were used as the base material, but today we have a wide variety of other types that exist, including carbon fiber and glass. Knife handles are actually a fairly narrow category of end-use for Micarta.
The process by which Micarta is made is relatively simple. Materials are soaked in whatever type of thermoset is going to be used, and, once impregnated by the resin, it is subjected to intense heat and pressure which causes a sheet to be formed. Decades ago, Micarta was also made in large blocks.
These large blocks are a favorite for revolver grips and other large, three-dimensional forms. There are people that shop garage sales and estate auctions looking for fixtures or items made using these older types of Micarta. The most prized is a type of paper Micarta that is about the closest thing to elephant ivory in terms of texture and color that grip makers can get.
Who Uses Micarta?
Mini knife makers that work with the material end up ordering large quantities to their specifications. Smaller companies tend to work with what is available through existing supply chains, which is a large reason why you end up seeing very similar colors across the board.
It is possible to get Micarta in custom colors and textures, though you may have to spend thousands to get it. If you find that you are looking to put a nice handle on a knife, it is a good idea to call around and see if any companies have scrap that they are willing to sell.
Micarta Vs. G-10
True Micarta is not the same thing as G-10 or other types of thermoset laminates. Many people tend to use the terms interchangeably, but in a strict manner of speaking, true Micarta will be made using paper, burlap, canvas, or linen set in resin. G-10 is different in that uses glass cloth, a type of material made from carbon fiber filaments.
Micarta is usually heavier than G-10 and carbon fiber laminates, but, in terms of knife handles, the difference is negligible and is not too far apart from the weight of standard hardwoods. Bakelite, while common on a tremendous number of products and weapons, isn’t the same type of material as Micarta even though it occupied many of the same roles.
Comparing Micarta To Other Handle Materials
As Micarta has become more popular, more companies have offered it as an option, but sometimes incorrectly. A true Micarta material is not quite as durable as G-10, but it is going to hold up better than wood or leather. G-10 is an essentially absorption-proof material. Most handle materials out there, Micarta included, will absorb a degree of water, sweat, or blood.
Though it is unlikely to permanently stay in the material, it is recommended you keep Micarta clean. Usually, hot soap and water does the trick, and, while you can get oil on it, expect it to stain a bit. This has to do with the fact that the materials in Micarta are either paper or fabric, and many of these materials are exposed, though fully impregnated by resin.
Wood handles are subject to small problems, and if installed incorrectly, they can split or crack quite easily. Wooden handles are not especially great for heavy outdoor tasks, such as chopping or batoning. Wood also has the problem of absorbing ambient moisture. In especially humid environments, handles can swell and crack on the pins. Micarta has no grain in the way that wood does, although it is typically applied to knives along its length.
When comparing Micarta to carbon fiber it comes down to durability and weight savings. Carbon fiber is not an especially durable material, though it is very lightweight. As far as knife handles go, carbon fiber is excellent for inlays and panels, though it is not as good of a material for making full scales. When compared directly to Micarta or G-10, carbon fiber is harder to shape and is more difficult to apply a working textured finish.
Best Knives With Micarta Handles
Linen and canvas Micarta is my hands-down favorite material for knife handles. The reason I find these types of Micarta the best is that they provide the greatest degree of function in the hardest environments. I like G-10, but I have found it too slippery across the board when covered in blood and fat out hunting and it becomes ice cold to the touch very quickly. While it is a very durable material, it feels much more like plastic than Micarta and, for lack of a better way of saying it, never develops the character like wood, leather, or Micarta.
Linen or canvas Micarta offers the texture I want on a grip across the board, and I have put several products through an insane amount of daily use without any negative effects. Each of these knives I list here I have used for months or years, and I can strongly recommend them.
Winkler Utility Knife
The utility knife was the first Winkler I ever owned, and it is still a constant companion. I have used this knife extensively for everything from opening paint cans and cutting heavy-duty straps to prying apart pallets and even building out countertops and interior demolition.
I have logged hundreds of hours with this knife in hand and it has been extremely comfortable the entire time. The green Micarta handle has held up extremely well, though it now has some gouges from use. It is not on the cheap side, retailing at $450, but it has been worth every penny.
A collaborative project between Case Knives and Winkler, the recurve utility No.6 is a heavy-duty knife built for some of the hardest projects. I have taken this knife with me out to the field and have also lent it out as a skinning knife for deer hunting.
Due to its deep, recurve belly it is exceptional for chopping tasks and is just as good in the kitchen as it is blasting through small limbs. While no longer available on the Case website, my version has a tan canvas Micarta grip and it has held up exceptionally well. While it’s not contoured exactly to my hand as I have experienced with knives direct from Winkler, it feels good in its own right and will provide a lifetime of use. The MSRP is $430.
White River Knife And Tool FC7
An extremely attractive, large knife, the FC7 is my go-to hunting knife for deer. While it may seem like a large knife, my experience in the field has taught me that it is probably the best big-game knife money can buy today. It is gorgeous to look at and the orange liners on the green Micarta definitely add to it. I see no reason why I will not continue to get years and years of use out of this product. The MSRP on the FC7 is $330.
White River Knife And Tool Exodus 4
The Exodus 4 is the knife that I use in the kitchen every day for almost all tasks. It is probably the most washed knife on this list. It has been constantly exposed to soap, oil, and all other manner of kitchen materials. It makes an excellent carrot peeler using the square edge of the spine.
My version has black Micarta panels, and they have held up extremely well to the constant washing and use. This knife and its grip have arguably been exposed to more caustic materials across-the-board than any of the other products, it was even put through the dishwasher several times by accident. The Exodus 4 is easy to hold even while in the direst of kitchen nightmares. The MSRP is $175.
ESEE Camp Lore RB3
The knife itself had some shortcomings. The steel is sharp but requires maintenance, and it is not very resistant to blood. My original version of this knife has been discontinued, Esee has a dimensionally identical, but cosmetically different, version for sale now. The MSRP on that knife is $190.
I don’t remember what the Camp Lore version cost many years ago, but it has held up to my abuse. The grip panels are Micarta, and they have seen more than their fair share of punishment. The blade shape was less than ideal for working on four or five deer in a night, and I quickly learned my lesson and moved to a bigger knife. I will say that in the years that I used this knife, it was a good friend for the field, and I look forward to passing it on to my kids when they are older.
Knives Are Becoming More Multidimensional Every Year. These Sporty Kitchen Knives Are Ready For The Cutting Board Or The Campsite
When many of us blade enthusiasts think kitchen knives, we don’t necessarily associate them with outdoor or sport use. Likewise, many of us would not consider bringing our hard-use blades into the kitchen for prep work. Nonetheless, there are a few knives that have a broad range of uses in both the kitchen and camp.
I tend to see a knife not just by the edge but by its blade thickness. While there is a utility to extremely thin-edged knives with thin spines, such blades are almost always designed for secondary or finishing uses. In my opinion, the thicker the spine the more utility a knife has for crossover work between kitchen and field.
On the other hand, the thicker the spine gets, the harder it is to use for fine work—it can even be dangerous. Thinner blades are much better in the kitchen. As far as field use goes, they are pretty much only for light work and very small amounts of game processing. I’ve seen many thin blades break while working on deer. Some of these have resulted in injuries to the user.
Best 3 Sporting Kitchen Knives
There is a sweet spot for crossover, though, and the test knives fit the mold. None would be my preference for dressing a whitetail, but all certainly would be at home in camp or the kitchen after the heavy lifting has been accomplished.
The TOPS Frog Market Special test knives could be used as skinning knives, as could the White River, but the main enemy of any thin blade is going to be breaking and edge chipping. Of the test group, the White River is the only one thick enough to be a primary use hunting knife, but it is a rather small knife with a slender handle. On small game it will work, if it’s not a bit obtuse in spine thickness, though when moving large amounts of muscle and skin, the hand would fatigue.
So, if we tend to think of a kitchen sporty as a secondary tool, a wide number of its features become handy that would not be so great on a primary field knife or even a primary kitchen knife. The first is the ease of cleaning and the ability to hold an edge.
I put the review knives to work quite extensively in the kitchen, doing everything short of fully deboning large game. All were used on cuts of meat, to cut vegetables, peel apples, cook over an open flame, and as eating knives at the table or camp. In the process, I learned a few things about each one.
White River Exodus 4
Of the test group, the White River Exodus 4 is probably the most well-rounded for field and table use. A relatively small knife, it is very slender in overall profile, both grip and blade. For general use, it is extremely functional. I found it suitable for virtually all small game, able to process a whole chicken and an excellent skinner.
It could be used for slicing vegetables, chopping onions, and cutting many other types of fruit and produce as well. The edge profile does not lend itself to fine cuts. For presentation or fancy plates, it tends to split rather than give clean cuts, especially in apples and things like cucumbers. This is not a major concern, just something to note.
The Micarta® handle is contoured superbly and cleans easily. It isn’t slippery when wet. Notably, it’s a full-tang blade that’s extremely strong. Despite its size, it has a blade profile thick enough for baton work on small pieces of wood, though it would not be my first choice for such a job. The blade spine has a sharp 90-degree profile excellent for use with a ferro rod.
There aren’t many if any, downsides to this knife. It can be used in just about any setting and will not look out of place if you take it to town for dinner. You also will not look like “that guy” if you use it to cut a sandwich in half or an apple for your kids in public. Note: The sheath is a bit stiff when you first get it but it breaks in fairly quickly. The knife was very easy to keep clean and sharp.
TOPS Knives Frog Market Special
I’ve used the Frog Market Special (FMS) models by TOPS Knives for a couple of years. They’ve given me a long time of service in the kitchen as well as around the campfire. They’re available as individual pieces or a set. If you get the set, it comes with a piggyback sheath. The sheath is very nice and has a belt clip.
Steven Dick, U.S. Army ranger veteran and editor of the old Tactical Knives magazine, based his design for the FMS on knives he saw on a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. He watched butchers and fishmongers using knives of a pattern he’d never seen before. They prepared meats and fish of many varieties easily using the blades.
I’ve done just about everything you can imagine with my FMS knives in the kitchen, and also processed dozens of deer with them. They maintain their edges very well and required only occasional resharpening. Because of the unusual blade shape, the knife can cut just about any type of meat and vegetable, including slicing, chopping, and in a rocking motion. They’ve replaced several other knives in my kitchen and serve as my go-to set.
While they have a large, deep-bellied profile, the FMS knives aren’t especially durable for field use. I have not used them to break down large game for the same reason I would be afraid of breaking any thin-spined knife. They excel for chicken and duck, as well as other small game. The Micarta handle is very comfortable and slip-resistant.
I’ve had an extremely good time with these knives but they have a downside—the blade finish. I’ve had excellent luck with all my TOPS knives, though I’ve never been a fan of the finish. I prefer knives that are bare metal. I don’t like it when the coatings begin to chip away. In a couple years of use, the finish has begun to flake and the metal underneath has become discolored, even with oiling and care. While it is a minor gripe, for knives used to process food I don’t like the idea I may also be eating blade coating. I would like to see this profile in some sort of stainless, or perhaps a slightly thicker spine in a tougher steel.
MSRP: $375 for the set
Spyderco Utility Knives
Spyderco offers some very affordable and high-performance knives that are at home in the kitchen and easy to clean and maintain in the field. The company sent me its 4.5-inch Utility Knife with a serrated edge and red handle, as well as a plain edge 6.5-inch model in black.
The first thing about these knives is they are extremely slender and likely would not be suitable for hard field use. However, if you are already at camp, these are exceptional for end processing and cooking. I used them for weeks straight for all my cooking and they never dulled or chipped. They were both so sharp at the end of the review that they could still cut paper-thin slices of tomato, a hard feat for most knives.
One of the most important parts of these knives is they are essentially foolproof. Even after cooking with them for several meals a day for a long time, I cleaned them without issue and returned them to the knife block. The fact they are so easy to clean and stay sharp for so long really makes them worth the already low price. You don’t really have to worry about oiling them or keeping them in a special container.
In a pinch, the knives can be used for striking on a rod, though I would not recommend it long term. Their utility in the field is very limited, though when it comes to fishing or pursuits that don’t involve moving large animals, they’re just fine. I would not replace my fillet knives with either of these, though they certainly work for the task.