Fire-starter knives make sparks when you need them most.
Bushcraft skills have grown immensely in popularity in the past few years. It could be the slew of TV shows promoting survival situations or just perhaps an interest in self-sufficiency. What is true is that the knife industry is playing catch-up to the bushcrafting market, and many new products pop up that have features dedicated to keeping you alive and warm in the woods.
Fire Starting Knives
Recent years have seen an influx of knife features deemed ideal for use with another essential tool—the ferro rod striker. Ferro rods are made of ferrocerium, an alloy consisting of several base metals and magnesium. Magnesium is highly reactive and generates showers of sparks as it is scraped against steel. Think of it as a more modern version of flint. Ideally, the ferro rod is struck against a sharp, acute surface. Many people use the blade’s edge for this, though this is not recommended as dull spots can emerge quickly.
As time passed, people began sharpening the blade spines to 90 degrees, making a hard, sharp angle that is not on the cutting edge. Still, others find this feature annoying, as it is fully possible to injure your hand on a squared spine. I know because I’ve done it.
As a remedy, people started cutting in little semi-circular cutouts into the spine that still retain a square shoulder, thus allowing for safer handling when striking. Both a fully sharpened spine and the sharpened cutout are valid features; it depends on what style you prefer.
The smaller cutout is really just a striking feature but the fully sharpened spine can be used for a number of other ends, most notably an easy and effective means of peeling carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables for the camp kitchen. Many top fire-making knives have sharp-angled spines and cutouts ideal for striking.
Some bushcraft knives have bow drill divots in the grips. No less than 10 knives I’ve tested in the past year have the feature and I’ve yet to master its use.
A bow drill is a very primitive means of starting a fire with friction. It takes about forever and even then is not a guaranteed success. In terms of time management and the amount of calories used in a survival situation, I really don’t think it is worthwhile, though it’s nice that the feature is there.
The bow drill is basically a stick you press down on while at the same time you spin it with a bow (a stick with string wrapped around it) to create an ember. The idea behind a knife with a divot on the handle is it allows you to make kindling and all the tools you need to make a basic fire. You can use the knife to make the string (plant fiber), the drilling board (piece of dry wood) and bow/drill (stick).
BLADE® Editor Steve Shackleford asked me to test the knives in this capacity as long as it didn’t detract from the other standard knife testing. “Skip it if it’s too much,” he stated. “I don’t want to wear you out.” However, in the spirit of making the story as detailed as possible inside the 1,500-word limit, I tried the TOPS and White River knives with the handle divots to see if I could, in fact, start a fire using the bow drill.
I was unsuccessful with both but did end up getting a fire going with a cheap bow drill kit from Amazon. No matter how you slice it, using a bow drill is just a huge pain in the keister and I’d rather stick a standard lighter in every pocket of my gear and an extra one in my boot than have to resign myself to using a bow drill.
A large reason why I really didn’t like using the divot features was that they really require you to keep the knife in the sheath. Otherwise, you’re just sitting there putting pressure on a knife with the edge floating out in space. It is easy to get into a trance while using a bow drill, and I found myself not paying attention at several points—not a safe situation.
Holding the knives in their sheaths is not very comfortable as they are hard Kydex. There was no real comfortable way to put pressure on the drill while gripping the sheath. Eventually, I gave up and decided if I ever did have to use a bow drill, I’d just find another piece of wood and carve a divot with the knife instead.
White River Knife & Tool FC-PKO
White River Knife & Tool makes excellent knives. In fact, they are some of the most well-laid out and functional I’ve tested in my time with BLADE®. I have used the company’s larger FC7 as my main deer hunting knife in camp and have, between myself and my friends, packed out no less than 50 deer with it. I was happy to review the smaller FC-PKO, sort of a little brother to the FC7.
The FC-PKO is a modified puukko style with a Scandi grind and a ring pommel. The Kydex sheath is low profile. My initial impressions were that the knife is small, thin and razor sharp. I immediately thought it would be a perfect knife for pheasant or duck. I found it a champion at cutting tinder and kindling, but not up to larger work. The knife is an end-stage tool in that it can readily start fires, but lacks the strength and blade thickness to take down anything more than sticks. You’ll need a larger tool to actually prepare the wood prior to using the FC-PKO.
As far as fire-making ability, it is a solid performer. The knife has a small notch on the spine that ignites the ferro rod easily. The edge can trim extremely fine curls of tinder. Where I ran into problems was the ring pommel. I have large hands and long fingers, so this may not be an issue to everyone, but I found my pinky largely just floating in space. I couldn’t get comfortable with the ring. That said, it is overall a great knife that will ultimately see years of service on my belt.
White River Knife & Tool FC-PKO Specs
Knife Type: Modified puukko
Blade Length: 3.7”
Blade Steel: CPM S35VN stainless
Blade Grind: Scandi
Blade at Thickest: .125”
Handle Material: Micarta® w/orange liners and bow-drill divot
Weight: 4.6 ozs.
Overall Length: 8.1”
Sheath: Black Kydex w/striker loop
Striker: Included, basic rubber grip
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
TOPS Knives Fieldcraft
The TOPS Knives Fieldcraft by Brothers of Bushcraft is a beast of a knife that weighs nearly a pound and is built like a tank. The edge is razor sharp despite the steep grind and can split medium-size firewood easily. The handle is thick and robust and you can really get a grip on it. I find large knives like this almost too much for regular use, but this one fits into the niche of being large enough for constant use and not too big to be a burden.
The knife has a striker cut in the pommel as opposed to the blade spine. That said, you can order it with a sharpened spine if you wish. I wanted to test the base model to get an idea of what the average owner would experience. If I want to add a sharp spine, I can do so on my grinder or have TOPS do it. The pommel striker is not easy to get used to—you have to find a safe direction to point the blade, which can be difficult. That said, you can leave it in the sheath for this part—just be careful not to launch it out while striking. The cutout is effective once you get used to it.
TOPS Knives Fieldcraft Specs
Knife Type: Full-size bushcrafter
Blade Length: 4.75”
Blade Steel: 154CM stainless
Blade Grind: Modified Scandi
Blade at Thickest: .19”
Handle Material: Tan canvas Micarta® w/red liners and bow-drill divot
Weight: 14 ozs.
Overall Length: 10”
Sheath: Black Kydex w/striker loop
Striker: Included, basic aluminum grip
Knife to Know: There are numerous other Fieldcraft models available in different materials and colors
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Casström No. 10 Swedish Forest Knife
The classic-looking Casström No. 10 Swedish Forest Knife is reminiscent of such Scandinavian knives as the puukko. It is not a traditional puukko but rather a somewhat modern take on the longstanding Nordic tradition of general-use fixed blades. Many American knives in the bushcraft world have a somewhat gritty, tactical feel and a somewhat industrial appearance. The No. 10 is not terribly exciting in looks but hides its function under a gentle exterior. It was my favorite knife in the review, which may surprise you. It has everything I like and nothing I didn’t—not too big, not too small and pleasant to look at.
The knife has a smooth grip—be careful if you’re not wearing gloves, it can get a tad slippery—and a plain, graceful blade. The angle of the spine is sharpened but not so aggressively that it would risk injury. It is not a particularly thick blade but can handle some medium-to-small splitting work if you’re careful, and makes kindling and scrapes tinder well. The knife strikes easily anywhere on the spine and offers a great deal of control. Of note, the sheath is leather and has a ferro rod with a matching green/black Micarta® grip. As a set the knife and rod look very nice together. The rod was also the easiest to hold onto thanks to it having the largest grip area.
Casström No. 10 Swedish Forest Knife Specs
Knife Type: General-purpose Scandi
Blade Length: 3.75”
Blade Steel: Sandvik 14C28N stainless
Blade Grind: Full flat
Blade at Thickest: .13”
Handle Material: Green/black Micarta® w/black liners
Weight: 5.75 ozs.
Overall Length: 8.6”
Sheath: Black leather w/striker loop
Striker: Included, matching green/black Micarta handle
Knife to Know: According to the author, the knife has the most user-friendly sheath of the test bunch
Country of Origin: Sweden
MSRP: Approximately $200
Fire Starter Knife Final Cut
Starting a fire can be a challenge, especially in adverse conditions. Considering just how cheap common lighters and survival matches are, knives like the ones in this article should probably not be your primary means of starting a fire in an emergency. These knives are capable tools that provide a level of redundancy to your kit in some very good, non-obtrusive ways. The base-level skills needed to start a fire can be obtained with each of these knives with relative ease, but you will still need to make sure to have the skills necessary to maintain a fire in the wilderness.
Always be sure that you are not making a bad situation worse with fire, and make sure you’re not using a knife under less-than-ideal conditions. If you have a lighter or matches, use them first, especially in the dark.
More Wilderness Knives:
- Best Bushcraft Knife: When Steel Meets The Woods
- BEST SURVIVAL KNIFE: These 10 Blades Could Save Your Skin
- Last-Ditch Survival Kits
- Is The Scandi Grind The Best For Bushcraft Knives?
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