Know Your Knives: The Sailor’s Knife

 Image courtesy Landfall Navigation

I like to throw you some really obscure special-purpose knives once in a while, but this one really isn’t that hard to recognize. The marlinspike gives this one away as a sailor’s knife, with blades and tools specifically adapted for marine rigging.

These knives must be corrosion-resista, rugged, and not too easy to stab yourself with. Like many sailor’s knives, this example from Gill is all stainless. The grips have a little bit of extra grip from the engraved logo, and the blades are all titanium-coated for extreme corrosion resistance.

All traditional sailor’s knives have a sheepsfoot blade and a marlinspike, and this one also includes a shackle opener. Shackles, in this case, are the threaded D-couplers used to connect nautical rigging. The threaded bolts have flat keys on the ends instead of hex heads, and the tapered shackle opener can twist many sizes of them open or closed. The aperture in the shackle opener is also useful for splicing smaller lines, although that skill probably isn’t as common among sailors as it used to be.

Do I have a sailor’s knife? I don’t. I probably never will, since the only boat I use much is a canoe. The blunt-tipped sheepsfoot is among the least versatile blade shapes (although the serrations help) and marlinspikes and shackle openers have few uses ashore.

Most sailor’s knives, including this sturdy example, cost about $25.


  1. Aharon says:

    It can be interesting to see obscure knife designs that are used for work not usually or ever experienced.

  2. Matt in FL says:

    Splicing rope is one of the skills I possess that I wish I had more reason to use. That’s true for knotwork in general. If you know what you’re doing with a rope, you can do some awesome stuff that can surprise and amaze other people. But if you have no real call to do it, it don’t mean much.

    1. jwm says:

      Useless skill number 44.

    2. Roger says:

      You may consider volunteering with local kids groups. Just last week I showed a local troop of boy scouts how to maintain tools and then I was asked to show off my leather craft skills which hasn’t been scheduled yet. Kids can get a good kick out of learning things. Even things that are only marginally useful.

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Know Your Knives: The Sailor’s Knife

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