by Levi Ethan Groenendael
Many go immediately to simplistic, tried-and-true answers (“Getcherself a 440 stainless steel 8” blade Bowie Knife!”) but bluntly, the right choice will vary from person to person, circumstance to circumstance.
For me, a burly 6’2, 300lb+ guy with meathooks for hands, I can heft a Gerber LMFII without a second thought. A recent acquisition, a Gerber Strongarm (which has other perks for being in my stable of bladed tools) is, frankly, a bit small for me, and pretty much ANY Swiss Army Knife (I have this one) feels like a toy in my hands.
Fit-to-Hand, however, is only one consideration – and frankly, it isn’t necessarily the most important. When choosing a knife, you should ideally be considering several factors:
Size of Haft
Does the knife fit your hand comfortably? Can you use it without having to engage in manipulation acrobatics?
Size of Blade
What do you expect to use the blade for? Think up the main three or four reasons, and consider what the blade length, width, height need to be for those reasons. Consider, too, that sometimes one knife won’t do it – you’ll need more than one. That’s okay; just apply the same reasoning to each purchase.
This might seem kind of silly, but the shape and style of blade can often make a big difference in how you use it.
Quality of Manufacture
This one’s a little harder to quantify for measurement purposes, but a good rule of thumb is "Don’t buy Asian". I’ve nothing against our brethren to the east, and sometimes you WILL see good products coming from there, but generally, knockoffs from Asia are not to be trusted. Don’t believe me? Go watch 127 Hours.
This one gets ugly, and fast! Some people swear by one kind of steel, some by another… Some insist on Damascus because of its extreme resiliency, some claim it’s too shoddy and won’t withstand heavy use – both are correct, but from different perspectives. Look for a steel that will withstand the kind of use you expect to employ it for – cutting cordage, paper, and cardboard is a far cry from cutting open cans of food or cutting firewood.
Whenever I look to buy another knife, I try to look over reviews from various sources: knife forums, YouTube, Amazon, the manufacturer (if they offer a review system). While the “good” reviews are nice, I tend to look at the negative ones, more, so that I can get a feel for any sort of common problems that might be the case for a given blade.
This one might seem obvious, but I’m not just talking about how much money you’re going to fork over for the knife. I’m talking about the contrast of cost against material/manufacturing (don’t spend extra for a name, and conversely don’t trust the brand if it’s severely under-priced – reference my earlier comment about knockoffs!), but also consider that a lower price might mean you can replace it without too much heartache or frustration. I have a $600 custom blade that holds a surgical edge after being used to cut through a stack of pennies, which is great... but I’m not about to use it like I use some of my other edged tools!
As with any of your gear selection, don’t just take some arbitrary comment from another person as gospel; what’s right for one person with one set of circumstances at one point in time will not necessarily be right for you, in your circumstances, at your present moment in time.
I’m happy to flesh this out further; if there's sufficient interest, ask Erin Palette and she’ll bug me for a follow-up article.