Knife/Gun Contest Entry: My Knife History

SAK Mechanic

By David A.

My first pocketknife was a cheap lockback that my cousin gave to me. It was dull, and it taught me a valuable lesson about knives. I attempted to demonstrate how dull the knife was by running my finger along the edge. To my surprise, it cut a slit in my finger, and I learned not to treat even apparently dull knives so carelessly. I believe I lost that knife on a backpacking trip shortly after joining the Boy Scouts . . .

My next serious knife was a Swiss Army knife, a Victorinox Mechanic, given to me by an adult friend. I favored the SAK as my primary knife when I entered Boy Scouts, but I found its weakness on my first scout campout. I left the knife with my stuff on the sandy bank of the Red River when we went swimming and the sand found its way into the SAK’s inner workings. Cleaning that grit out was not easy. On that trip, I also learned that it is better to put on sunscreen before swimming than it is to rub a mixture of sand and sunscreen onto sunburned skin (Ouch!).

My early Boy Scout experiences would largely determine my choice for my third primary knife. My patrol leader introduced me to “real” knives when he snapped open his with flick of his wrist. It had a single locking blade that could be opened and closed with either hand, and a pocket clip. This knife style was popular among the boys in the troop, and my struggle cleaning the SAK biased me towards a simpler design. As with most fun purchases that I make, I systematically researched the features available in pocket knives in order to select the perfect knife for me.

Gerber 3.50BBS


The knife had to be big because 1) big knives are cool and 2) bigger is better for food preparation. The laws in my city restricted my blade length to 3.5 inches which seemed sufficient. I selected 440 stainless steel, a drop point blade, and a liner or frame lock for one handed operation. The knife I selected had all of these features; it was the Gerber AR 3.50.

I am not sure whether I decided to get the fine or serrated edge, but the knife that showed up under the Christmas tree was serrated so I opted not to complain. The AR served as my primary knife for years. It was big, comfortable to hold, durable, easily cleaned, and cool looking. With a little practice, I learned to flick it open like the other boys. I remember that most of the scuffs on the blade coating came from a time when I used the knife to open a can.

Over the years, its shortcomings became apparent though. Though big, the knife was still too small to cut vegetables well and its thickness (and serrations) made it a poor slicer. The large size meant that I had to leave the knife behind when traveling in states with more restrictive knife laws. Most of my cutting could be described as quick slices through thin materials, and the short fine edge made these cuts more difficult than they had to be.

In addition, I had a hard time putting a sharp edge on the fine section, because of my poor hand sharpening skills and blade geometry that made the knife hard to fit into my sharpening guide the way I liked. Finally, the blade tension was a continual source of annoyance. If the pivot screw was to tight, the knife was a pain to open, and if it became loose, the blade almost fell out under its own weight. The latter condition concerned me because I learned that state law defined a knife as a switchblade (and thus illegal) if it opened by gravity or centrifugal force. I had little fear of being prosecuted, but I prefer to follow the letter of the law if possible.

Despite the negatives of my Gerber, I never seriously looked for a replacement. I considered purchasing a smaller knife to take with me on out of state vacations, but never searched earnestly. Then one day while at REI, I decided to check out a few of the knives in their display case for fun. One of them, a Buck, quickly caught my interest.

Buck 327 Nobleman

The smaller knife felt great in my hand, like it was designed with me in mind. I noted the model number and later researched the knife online. The Buck 327 Nobleman seemed like the perfect knife for my needs. As I was now too old for Boy Scouts, vegetable preparation was no longer a mission parameter, so a large blade was unnecessary. The sub-3 inch blade was legal almost anywhere; the fine edge would be perfect for slicing, and the blade would easily fit into my sharpening guide. Eventually, I received designated Christmas money which I used to purchase a new Nobleman from eBay. I selected the plain stainless version because it was the cheapest and I figured that it wouldn’t scratch much.

The Buck is my current carry knife and is in my pocket as I write this. It is basically the perfect knife for me. The smaller blade size has not handicapped me, and I am loving the smooth slicing of the fine edge which I can easily sharpen with my Smith’s sharpening system (think Lansky system but cheaper). The blade is easy to open and close, and locks firmly in place in either position. Its cons are few. The stainless finish in fact does scratch, and the solid steel handle makes the knife heavier than it needs to be, but these are minor considerations.

What will my future carry knife be? I have never had an affinity for multitools. I recently found an almost new Leatherman Sidekick at a campsite. I would have gladly returned it to its owner, but as that was not practical, the multi-tool became the newest member of my knife collection. I carried it for a little while, but never had use for its plethora of tools so its extra complexity and weight are not offset by any advantages for me.

 Leatherman Sidekick

I do have a dream knife, the Benchmade Mini-Griptillian. Seriously, I didn’t make that up just for this contest. I have long wanted a Benchmade for the sake of owning a Benchmade just because they are so cool. The name Benchmade is cool, American-made is cool, the really sharp edge and quality workmanship are cool, and even the butterfly emblem is (suprisingly) cool. I mean seriously, who would have thought that a serious boy-toy/tactical company could get away with using a butterfly as its logo?

As for the Mini-Grip itself, it seemed to be a popular design and my research indicated that it would work well for me. It fit well in my hand, and I like the smooth action of its AXIS locking mechanism, however I have never considered spending that much money when my cheaper blades serve me so well. So it seems that my Buck will serve me long into the future. Unless I win this contest, of course….


  1. PubliusII says:

    That Buck Nobleman is made in China by an excellent knife company, Sanrenmu. They sell it as their #723. Check their web page: You can order directly or chase them down on eBay where there are several sellers based in China — just search on “sanrenmu”. (Keep a millimeter/centimeter scale handy; not all dealers translate into inches.)

    As for ordering, I have bought more than a dozen Chinese knives from dealers over there (via Paypal) and never had the slightest problem. The knives are sent with China Post tracking (!) and arrive in about 10 days. You’ll also see US-based dealers who can deliver a knife faster for a slightly higher price from stock on hand here in the States.

    Other good Chinese knife brands to check out are Bee and Enlan (again, start with ebay). I have a Bee L04 (ell-zero-four) with a green/black pakkawood handle. It is one handsome piece of cutlery. Go here to see it:

    Anyway, China’s knife-making industry right now spans the gamut from truly awful to very fine. They don’t always use the highest quality stainless steels, but they can do excellent work when the manufacturer (whether Chinese or US) insists on quality. And you can get trashy crap, too, of course. A lot of people here dump on them for being low-cost, imitative, junky — the same things they said about Japanese goods circa 1960.

    Looking at it as an evolving snapshot in the history of cutlery manufacturing, I think the Chinese have some of the most interesting items on the market. and Sanrenmu is no slouch outfit.

    1. Tom says:

      Buy a Chinese made knife, NEVER!

      1. PubliusII says:

        Your choice of course. But even if the manufacturer is US (or let’s say Western), check carefully because a good number are making knives in China. That Buck Nobleman is an example, and I have a nicely made Canoe pattern from Buck that’s Chinese manufactured (don’t know by whom).

        It’s perfectly justifiable to boycott such goods. But increasingly that decision will mean that future purchases are going to be higher in price and more constricted in regard to design.

        Me, I’ll buy US-made by preference. But the country of manufacture won’t stop me from buying a knife I like if the design and price come together in the right way.

        Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice.

  2. aaroneous says:

    For the love of everything sharp and that goes bang, give this man the Grip and Gun!

  3. A-Dog says:

    Agreed, this man deserves the prizes.

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Knife/Gun Contest Entry: My Knife History

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