General Purpose Knives – An Opinion

Posted at AP* on 13 Apr 19.

*Originally posted with a pic of my Wall Model 18, which offended the sensibilities of a couple readers.  Maybe the Randall will assuage their angst.

While reading this piece, keep in mind the DTG definition of ‘General Purpose’:  Does does many things very well, some things good, and only a few things poorly.

Here’s our specs for a general purpose knife:

  • Full Tang (must)
  • Blade 6 to 9 inches – 8 inches is optimum:  Longer blades can do almost everything a small blade can do, but small blades can’t do half of what large blades can do when it comes field work.
  • Blade Style – Bowie clip or Drop Point (if clip point, false edge sharpened)
  • Blade Thickness – 3/16 to 3/8 inches (1/4 inch is the ideal, steel dependent)
  • Full Hilt – Provides good protection for the user’s hand – a lot of folks don’t care for them, but they do serve a very good purpose
  • Butt – Any butt that can be used for hammering on occasion
  • Grind – Scandi or Hollow (do not recommend convex as field sharpening is ‘problematic’)
  • Brand – Your call on that, but remember you generally get what you pay for.

For the budget minded, who just can’t afford a Randall, Wall, Black Jack or Bravo series, there are the Case XX, Kabar, Camillus, and Ontario USMC Combat Knife/Bayonet on ebay.  YMMV.  If you’re one of the folks just starting out learning field craft, they’re great general purpose blades that can withstand about 99% of the use requirements training in the bush will come up with as well as the abuse new users will inflict on their knives.  I carried a Camillus version for many years on active duty, and it served me well.  Once I learned how to properly sharpen a knife, it also stayed razor sharp.  In the 80’s we had Gerber Mk II’s, but they weren’t general purpose, so I’m not going to go into them here.  I finished up my career with a ‘real’ Kabar and put it on my hunting rig after retiring.  This Kabar is now carried by my son in law, and before I gave it to him, I literally gutted and quartered a rag horn Elk with it (had no choice; but that’s another story) and a good sized river rock in he Queen’s River drainage in Idaho.  It worked, but I wouldn’t recommend it as bone saws, hatchets, and drop point hunters do the job a lot easier.  The knife performed well; the finish on the butt was marred, but the edge held through it all.  Digression complete.

My first ‘step up’ in the ‘general purpose’ category was a Blackjack reproduction Randall Model 1 , which I really liked, until I got my first Randall 1-7 about 6 years after I retired.  Economics have a lot to do with our choices of knives, which is why I had a Randall 12-9 with a 14 grind made, and gifted the Model 1 to a favored family member after a surprise bonus.  Now I carry a Randall 1-8 from time to time.  It’s a hybrid, technically speaking, as Randall describes it as a ‘product improved Bowie’ and it was designed for troops to use in combat in WWII.  The 12-9 is now with another family member.  On my ‘go to’ SHTF harness, I carry a Chris Reeve ‘Green Beret’ knife.  In my SHTF survival set up, a Wall Model #18 with a 7 inch blade.

On the ‘Green Beret’ knife, some years back, ‘Weaponsman’ (deceased 18 April 2017 – former Green Beret) who had a great blog and shared his experiences and knowledge, wrote a post on ‘Legendary Knives of SF’ and described the current issue Reeve’s made SF knife, the ‘Yarborough’ named after its designer.  Civilians and non-SF military can’t get one – only graduates of SF qualification can.  However, Reeve’s made a very similar knife for civilian/non-SF military purchase – ‘The Green Beret’ and I started saving my pennies because of the construction (bomb proof), the design (sublime, in my opinion) and materials used.  It even came with a Spec-Ops type sheath with the plastic sleeve felt lined and the keeper fitted to the knife.  I’m not a fan of hybrid plain & serrated edges, so I chose the plain edge.  My multi-tool has a fully serrated blade if I need one, but that’s my preference.  Yours may be different.  All in all, the Reeve’s ‘Green Beret’ fits DTG specs for a GP knife….and then some.  We’ll see how she works in the field one day soon.

The reason for all of the above is to illustrate that If you are looking for a general purpose knife, get the best you can afford – a GP knife is not something you want to skimp on.  Stay away from ‘specialty’ blade shapes and points, such as the tanto, dagger, or saw backed blades because they are not great designs for general use as a tool.  They’re great for what they were designed for, but not typical field work, which is why, in my own day, my unit carried at least five edged tools/weapons with us to do those things our GP knives could not do as well:

  • USGI Issue ‘Boy Scout Knife’ – A great tool for opening ‘c’ rations and other small chores.  (We also had a ‘john wayne’ or P-38 strictly for can opening, too.) The one below is a Camillus model made in 1978, about the same year I was first issued one.

  • M-7 Bayonet – Something to sharpen and carry if you didn’t have anything else; a lot of times used for opening ammo and ration cases.
  • Cammilus ‘Combat Knife’ – General purpose blade kept sharp and carried primarily for survival uses.  Took quite awhile to get an edge on it because the grind fights getting/keeping a good edge.

  • Gerber Mk I ‘Boot Knife’ – Last ditch weapon carried in a manner that allowed access from just about any position.
  • USGI E-Tool – Filed edge basically for digging in and chopping wood (if the edge was sharp enough) – team boxes always had a few medium and fine files for this purpose.
  • USGI Machete – Team tool for clearing areas to bivouac in, typically inside the perimeter.

The reason I stated five, and then listed six, is that not everyone had a boot knife, Cammilus, Machete or E-Tool.  The boot knife and Cammilus were private purchases (tacitly approved for use in the field) and the machete and E-Tool were typically ‘buddy team’ items, with each member of the buddy team carrying one.

Today, teaching survival or any skill within SUT, I typically carry a small e-tool on my ruck, a small tomahawk, a ‘GP combat knife’ on my LBE, a multi-tool, and sometimes a small folding knife as a back up.  So that’s 5…even today.  This image is from the company I purchased mine from, which, for a time, was ‘product improving the hawk by dyeing and permanently affixing the head to the shaft and wrapping the handle with US made 550 cord.  I never go to the field without it.  Makes building shelters and other ‘camp’ chores a breeze.

So, back to knives.  There’s a very important thing that must be done with your knife, once you select and purchase it – remove the factory ‘wire’ left on the blade from initial edge sharpening.  Easily done in a few strokes with a very fine stone and a very light touch.  Understand that the burr or wire, is sharp, but your blade will be sharper if you remove it.  You’ll know it’s there by rubbing your finger crosswise against the edge (it doesn’t feel ‘smooth’).  Be very careful when you do this so you don’t end up needing a suture or two.

Digression on sharpening technique:  A good way to see if you’re following the factory edge angle is to take a sharpie type pen and color a small section of the edge, maybe an inch.  Then stone it.  If you’re taking the color off evenly, you’re right on the money.  It’ll take a few strokes to do this, but it’ll pay off as you learn how to keep the knife ‘factory’ sharp by using the same edge angle to touch up the blade.  Doing this by hand is an art that has to be learned with patience and repetition.

Next, for your newly acquired GP knife, USE it for it’s intended purpose.  Carry it on your gear, whether it’s civilian hunting or SHTF kit.  Just like carrying a rifle all day and making it an extension of your body, you need to do the same thing with your knife.  One way is to use it as a camp knife when you’re out on weekend camping trips or attending classes to increase your expertise.

A caution here:  Do not abuse your knife.  Well, you can, if you can afford to buy another, or are doing it purposely to see how much it can take (all knives have their failure point), but you really don’t need to torture test a well-branded knife that has a great reputation.  An example:  A folding knife I carry from time to time in my hunting set up is a Buck 110.  Bomb proof knife.  Has a good edge and keeps it.  Great choice for a folding GP knife.  However, I don’t play ‘mumbly peg’ throwing it into the ground or a tree or otherwise abuse it.  I clean it after I come out of the field (just like a rifle/pistol), make sure it gets a drop or two of lubrication after being out in wet weather or if it gets submerged for one reason or another.  It’s a flat-good knife that I help stay that way.

So, there you have it.  General Purpose knives – specs, and a bit more.

Feel free to leave a comment on your choice of a GP knife and why you chose it.



2 thoughts on “General Purpose Knives – An Opinion

  1. anonymous

    I’ll leave the same comment I did on the original post – A good heavy duty full size folding knife is the EKA 92 – Normark Super Swede. I believe it is now discontinued, but can still be found for sale at ebay and other locations. Not many knives can be taken down for more complete cleaning – this one can.

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