Massdrop 101: Intro to Knives
An essential survival tool, the knife’s origins date back over 2 million years. Created out of necessity to meet the needs of the hunter, the fisherman, the soldier, and others working with their hands, the knife remains a trusty accomplice for both avid outdoorsmen and everyday people.
A Material Evolution
The first knives were carved from flint stone, and only roughly resembled what we commonly use now. Over time, as newer, stronger, and more advanced materials were discovered, knives grew more reliable and capable of withstanding repeated use. First came copper, then iron, then steel—the primary material used in knives today. As materials improved, so did the capacity of the knife. It has evolved from the jungle to the battlefield to the kitchen to the pocket, and drastically progressed along the way.
These days, many people still rely on knives to accomplish a wide range of tasks. For the most part, there are a few key styles of knives, and each is used for different types of work. Let’s take a look at some of the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of some of the most common types of knives used today.
For thousands of years, the only type of knife in existence was the fixed blade. Constructed without moving parts, the fixed blade does not slide or fold. The blade is made with a single piece of metal that extends into the handle. How far it extends is known as the blade’s “tang.” A full-tang knife is made with a large piece of metal that is sandwiched between two pieces of material that form a handle. A half-tang knife extends the full length of the handle, but is only half the height, meaning it’s not quite as strong.
Because it contains no moving parts, the fixed blade is the strongest style of knife. It’s typically used for harsh outdoor tasks like hunting, camping, and bushcraft. One of the downsides of the fixed-blade knife is its lack of portability. Due to the exposed edge, fixed blades must be carried with a sheath or holster to protect the blade and keep it from accidentally cutting something while in transit.
The folding knife contains one or more blades that fit snugly inside the handle—a design that was popularized in the 1700s, and still remains a widely used option for everyday carry.
The original design of the folding knife used friction between the handle and blade to create tension strong enough to hold the blade in place. Using a simple pivoted blade, they allow a knife to rotate open and closed freely, with no backspring, slipjoint, or lock. Only recently did the folder emerge as a prominent EDC tool.
The slipjoint knife is made with one or more blades that fold in and out of the handle. Created as a more convenient and portable alternative to the fixed blade, the slipjoint has a blade that’s held in place by tension from a backspring. Most slipjoints are opened with two hands by pulling the knife apart with a nail nick cut into the blade. Once opened, the blade can be tucked back into the handle by simply pushing and overcoming the tension. The slipjoint design is frequently implemented in Swiss Army knives and pocket tools.
The Locking Folder
In the mid-20th century, the folding knife became much more popular when large manufacturers started producing it on a broader scale. Companies like Buck, Kershaw, and Gerber created knives in bulk, making them more accessible to the masses. In addition to mass-producing knives, these companies started producing them with a locking mechanism to secure the blade. Many folders today utilize a bar, liner, or push button to physically restrain a knife once it has been opened. To close it, the user must push, press, or slide something to overcome the lock. This type of design adds strength and security, making the knife much less likely to fail during hard tasks.
Although folding knives are generally strong enough for everyday tasks like opening boxes and packaging, and cutting through rope, they’re still not nearly as strong as fixed-blade knives. But what they lack in strength, they make up for in portability. Most typically come with a pocket clip to clip onto a pair of pants or a pack, a convenient alternative to carrying a sheath. They tend to be smaller than fixed-blade knives, too, which adds to their appeal for many people.
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