By Matthew L.
I’ve carried a knife around constantly since about age twelve, and have always appreciated the utility and function a good blade has to offer. I’ve switched blades through the years, of course, but my knives have all been great tools—helping me out whenever I needed to open a box, cut some rope, or do anything else where a good, sharp blade came in handy. But that was more or less the extent of my appreciation . . .
On the other hand, about midway through my teenage years, I found my way into the world of firearms. Before too long, I was hooked—reading gun magazines, shooting in USPSA and IDPA matches, learning about gun law, and getting involved in the political fight to preserve the Second Amendment. Custom competition “race guns,” gunsmithing work, the history of guns, and just about anything related to the development or mechanical intricacy of firearms fascinated me.Guns weren’t just tools to me; they were works of mechanical art, statements of independence wrought in steel and wood. They were much, much more than the sum of their parts.
The knife riding in my pocket, though? That was just a simple tool. And that’s how I continued to feel for the longest time, carrying a succession of inexpensive knives. In fact, the one I carried for the longest time was a one-dollar folder from Wal-Mart. It was inelegant, but it did get the job done. And I thought that was all that mattered.
Until, that is, I found a job at a knife store. It was (and continues to be) an eye-opening experience. During my first few days on the job, I still didn’t “get it.” But later, after handling everything from a $400 Chris Reeve Sebenza to an $1,800 Benchmade butterfly knife to all manners of folding pocketknives and sheath knives, I think I might be. Knives are tools, sure, but they’re also so much more.
A knife can be a touchstone for memories of times that have long since passed away. Take the Marine Corps’ World War Two-era Ka-Bar fighting knife. It’s hard to look at one and not think of times long gone, of classic war movies and the Greatest Generation. It’s the blade that saw the USMC through a brutal campaign in the Pacific theater, a tool and a weapon they trusted with their lives.
A knife can be a memento of an anniversary, or a treasured gift passed down through a family. It can be a symbol of one person’s love for another, engraved with a simple set of initials. It can bring to mind the distant days when its owner’s grandfather taught him how to whittle. And even if that grandfather has passed away, the knife is a touchstone for the wisdom he passed on, and a lasting sign of his presence on the earth.
A knife can make a statement, too. The jeweled William Henry folder a gentleman keeps clipped to his pocket shows his appreciation for true craftsmanship and the finer things in life. The assisted-opening folder carried by a young woman states her commitment to self-defense and independence. A fixed-blade knife in a Kydex sheath attached to the owner’s 5.11 pants tells you of his commitment to all things tactical… and that a knife probably isn’t all he’s carrying.
Or a knife can simply be a sturdy blade that has given its owner years of service. Just two days ago, I spoke with a customer whose Spyderco folder had been his constant companion for the last two decades. It had traveled with him to at least a dozen countries, and probably had more miles on it than just about any car in North America. Unfortunately, its end was less than dignified: it was confiscated at an airport checkpoint. And there was EMOTION in the owner’s voice when he talked about the blade he had been forced to sacrifice to the TSA’s security kabuki.
So while knives are, essentially, extremely versatile tools, they’re not just that, either. They carry memories with them. Those can be of people or times long since gone, of a loved one, of places traveled to, or any of a hundred other things. Just like a surplus Mauser rifle or a hunting shotgun passed down through generations of sportsmen, a knife can transcend the metal, wood, and plastic that it’s made of. It can tell a story. And even as it does so, it can be a useful tool and a means of self-defense.
But it’s not all about the memories a good blade can carry, either. The world of knives is just as complex and fascinating as the world of guns—whatever you want a knife to do, there’s probably a specific metal suited to the task. From basic stainless to some exotic compound denoted by an eight-character alphanumeric string to Damascus steel, you can find something for just about any job. Different styles, sizes, and materials suit different purposes and styles of dress.
But despite all of these differences, the sheer versatility that almost any knife can provide is astounding. It can be used to cut rope when tying a mattress down to the back of a truck, slice an apple, help its owner get out of a burning car, drive a screw, or serve as a weapon. Arguably, a knife isn’t just A tool; it’s THE tool.
So knives are tools, and damned good ones at that, but they’re also far more. Having had the opportunity to understand and appreciate that, I’m now proud to count myself as a “knife guy” as well as a “gun guy.”