Prior to writing any reviews of the knives that I carry or recommend, I felt it important to post a knife safety reminder for old-timer woodsmen and a primer for the newcomers to the backcountry.
We woodsmen are a bit prone to exaggerate, brag and speak profusely of our wilderness skills. In view of this knowledge, I am writing this post based upon my own careless mistakes and errors. I’ve carried a knife since I was a very young man but I am still capable of making critical mistakes that could lead to life or death situations in the wild.
1. Keep focused on the task at hand. This is perhaps the most important and most logical safety tip concerning knives (or any other dangerous tools or activities.) Keep in mind that you are not only holding a tool, but a deadly weapon. As you spend more time using knives, it’s easy to get careless or less attentive to cutting, slicing and stabbing. Even to the most experienced woodsman, accidents do occur. Even if a quick trip to the emergency room remedies the knife wound, the injuries to the male ego may not be so easily treated.
2. A sharp knife is a safer knife. Both of the knives in “The Duncan Trio” are razor sharp. However, the Spyderco I carry daily is about as dull as elevator music. An old police lieutenant once told me “the only thing more embarassing than a man who doesn’t carry a knife is a man who carries a dull knife.” Although his statement was purely male bravado, it was still incredibly good advice. Sharp knives provide two levels of safety. First, sharp knives cut easier. They require less pressure which lessens chances of a blade slipping from its intended surface and into an unsuspecting woodsman. Second, sharp knives make cleaner cuts. If you are a victim of an accidental stab or slice, the wound will typically be less damaging if the blade is sharp. Dull knives tend to tear and pull as opposed to straight clean cuts.
3. An exposed blade is a dangerous blade. During my last solo backwoods adventure, I caught myself walking from my campsite to the river with my hunting knife unsheathed and fully exposed. As my foot slid about an inch on a wet rock, I was quickly reminded that such careless actions could leave me bleeding severely and miles from help. Keep your fixed blade knives sheathed and your folding knives closed until they are actually needed.
4. It’s OK for a knife to fall to the ground. Even though I recommend keeping your knife out of the dirt (it quickly dulls a blade), if you accidentally drop your knife, allow it to fall. Several times, due to natural reflexes, I’ve tried to catch knives as they fell. Fortunately, I stopped myself before accidentally grabbing the blade and ending an outing earlier than planned.
5. As often as you can, cut away from your body. Pushing the knife blade away from you allows an accidental slip to simply be recovered and continue cutting. However, a slip towards your body could quickly become an emergency situation that we want to avoid.
6. Always hand a knife to another with the blade pointed towards you. You can keep positive control of the blade and allow the recipient to assume control of the knife with the handle – much safer than trying to take possession of the blade. Many times, I have turned down a friends’ knife as it was being passed blade first towards me.
7. Don’t put “sharp knives” in the kitchen sink. Don’t load knives in the dishwasher with the blade pointing upwards. Although these aren’t outdoor knife safety tips, they are still relevant. If you’re like me, I practice knife skills in my kitchen. Nearly every knife that I own began the testing process cutting potatoes, onions and steak. Injuries can happen at home just as likely as in the wild.
8. If you are injured, seek medical attention immediately. Swallow your pride and err on the side of caution. Better to end an outing early and visit an emergency room as opposed to not properly attending to a wound and losing life or limb.
If you have any additional knife safety tips, please feel free to comment as I am always willing to accept and share advice.