(This is a reader submission from Chris Francis. We at TTAK are always happy to accept outside writing from our readers for consideration for publication. Please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Knife Reviews: Spyderco Assist and Spyderco Atlantic Salt
by Chris Francis
If one is fortunate enough to live where you can legally carry a concealed firearm, there are a few other items to consider carrying besides the gun. In my case, I have a Spyderco Assist rescue knife in my everyday carry (EDC) gear.
I carry this knife clipped in a pocket of my dungarees every day. It’s not a tactical knife – that’s what you have the gun for – right? We carry the gun for “exigent circumstance” and hope we don’t have to use it. That is the same philosophy I have for this knife.
A few years ago, near the end of winter, I hit black ice on my way to work and rolled my pickup truck. I ended up in someone’s driveway, upside down, with the tail of my truck perched on their mailbox. I had just filled the tank, and gasoline was gushing out of the filler cap. Suspended in my seatbelt, I put a hand to the roof to break my fall, undid the buckle and tumbled out of harness. I looked for a way out and, luckily, the passenger side window had smashed as that side of the roof crushed. I wriggled through the opening and quickly backed off from the vehicle, knowing that it could suddenly burst into flame, with all that gas on the loose.
After the accident, I took to carrying a rock pick (a prospector’s hammer with a pointy end) in my truck. I realized that I had been lucky that a) I had a fast way out and b) fire didn’t happen. We couldn’t get those doors open even after the truck was turned upright. What would I have done if the glass was still intact? Would I have been able to get out in time if it started burning? I used to wedge that hammer between the seats so it would hopefully be where I could find it if I needed it.
Some time later, I found a better solution, in the Spyderco Assist rescue knife. This is used by professional first responders and features a glass-breaker and a blade specially shaped to cut seatbelts safely.
I have helped people a few times at car accident scenes. The first time was when I was a teen and a guy had run off the road one night near my home. He seemed kind of out-of-it (or drunk) as he got out of the car, but seemed OK. But then I realized there was a baby strapped in the back seat. The driver was no help as he wandered around the car worrying about the damage. I had quite a time getting the straps un-done, the smell of petrol upping my adrenaline. Got it handled, but it would have been handy to have a knife like this – except that was a bit before Spyderco got started!
Spyderco has many knife designs, most of them folders, featuring their patented thumb-hole, for one-handed opening.
The Spyderco Assist has some unique features compared to other models: The handle is larger and thicker, with pronounced scalloping. This gives enhanced gripping qualities, including handling with thick gloves.
This blade has a blunt tip for safe insertion behind a seat belt or other material, to cut someone free. The cutting edge is about 3 1/8” long, with a short straight edge near the tip and the rest is wicked sharp serration.
The thumb-hole on this blade has an added shelf on the outside (called by Spyderco, the “Cobra Hood”). This is to help position the thumb accurately for opening, and I find it definitely helps when wearing gloves. The Cobra Hood is affixed to the back of the blade, apparently, by one screw. This doesn’t look like much to hold it on, but I see no sign of it working loose in a year of daily carry.
The steel used for the blade is VG-10. As I’m not a steel aficionado, I’ll quote directly from Spyderco sources here, for the more technically oriented: “…a Japanese steel developed for the horticulture industry by Takefu, often hardened around the RC60 range. Reported to have better corrosion resistance but slightly less edge retention than S30V. Appreciated for taking an extremely fine edge, and being extremely easy to sharpen, while still holding an edge well. Used in most of Spyderco’s Japanese-made knives.”
On the back of the blade are scallops like the ones on the handle. When the blade is closed, it is squeezed against the handle to deploy a glass-breaker spike, made of tungsten carbide. (this tip is also replaceable). The blade has a semi-open notch, where it can be used in a scissor-fashion, for cutting rope and such. In this mode the scalloped handle helps hold the rope as it is being cut.
The clip on this knife is different from the usual Spyderco type. It is of stainless spring wire. This allows for a large, wide clip for excellent retention without adding weight. The clip can be set up on either side of the handle. The handle itself features an especially aggressive gripping texture, and incorporates a signaling whistle.
As I said, the best scenario is not ever having to use this tool, though I carry it every day. To test its effectiveness, I asked the cooperation of a local auto salvage dealer. He let me and my assistant go to work on one of the junk cars in his lot, with my Spyderco Assist knife.
The glass breaker worked with surprising effectiveness. One has to remember to hold it in the right direction, though. After hammering on one window and not breaking it, we realized that the butt end of the handle was being used, not the glass-breaker. This also goes to show how tough auto glass can be to break if you don’t have the right tool.
Seat belts were cut quickly and easily, with a slight sawing motion of the blade. Those deep serrations really grab and bite into the material.
This knife, for me, is a specialized rather than general use knife. I want it to be always there and always sharp, so I rarely use it as a utility knife. At work and home I have other knives that I use for other tasks. That being said, I have used it occasionally for cutting plastic strapping on crates and cases, which the serrated edge handles effortlessly. The very short straight section of blade (only ¾” long), is hampered by the beak which overlaps the profile of the blade end. The beak is an important part of the design, in not stabbing the person you are trying to rescue. There is no doubt a rationale in the design for this short straight section, however, I’d be just as happy with a full serrated blade.
Spyderco Assist Orange Handle Rescue Knife
Blade: 3.69” long, partially serrated, made from VG-10 steel.
Handle: Orange fiber-reinforced nylon
Special Features: retractable glass-breaker; extra gripping and opening surfaces; blade designed for safe cutting of seatbelts and other constraints; extra-large clip; emergency whistle.
Rating (out of five stars)
Cutting:***** Wicked sharp and deep serrations handle belts, rope etc. fast
Glass breaking:*****very effective (but remember to use the right end)
Grip:***** extra scalloping and large, thick handle makes for sure grip, even with thick gloves
Durability:***** I’ve carried this knife daily for nearly a year and it still looks like new. No corrosion despite humid conditions. Slamming the ends of the handle against safety glass has had no visible effect on it.
Ergonomics: **** In use, the extra gripping surfaces are practical, but it is on the chunky side for everyday civilian carry. I carry it in the tool pocket on right leg of my pants, which works for me, but perhaps not everyone.
Salt Water Challenge:
My sister in-law works on a fishing boat in Oregon. She’s always carried some kind of folding knife for emergencies – you don’t want yourself or a crew mate going over the side with a crab pot if they get tangled! She was complaining, though, that her knives always rusted up in the salty, wet work environment. So I sent her a Spyderco Atlantic Salt folding knife, made from H1.
The main feature of the Salt is the special steel it is made from, called H-1. My main takeaway on this material is that H1 uses nitrogen instead of carbon, and nitrogen does not react in salt water and thus rust the way that other steels do. However, for the sake of completeness, I’ll once again quote the technical source:
“H1, is ideal for marine applications, because it substitutes nitrogen for carbon and thus is nearly rust-proof in any normal environment such as salt water exposure though can still oxidize if exposed to extreme heat and chemical attack. It grinds, scratches and has edge retention similar to the low carbide steels such as AUS-6. It is a precipitation hardening steel, which is a particular type of heat treating where the hardness and microstructure is formed through an extended soak.”
Aside from this special steel, the Atlantic Salt is similar in size and shape to several other Spyderco models. It has a fully serrated blade; slim, textured handle, and belt clip that can go on either side. The handle is bright yellow, suitable for an emergency tool, but it can be had in black as well.
Rebecca has been using the knife for 12 months now. We met at a family gathering recently and she showed me the Spyderco. Despite being grungy and the finish worn off the clip, there was no sign of corrosion and the knife opened smoothly as it did when new. The knife is kept clipped inside the bib pocket of her rain gear which Rebecca wears on deck. When she finishes a trip, the gear just gets bundled in the trunk of her car until she goes out next. This knife does not get pampered or even basically looked after, yet has handled it well.
Every other knife Rebecca had turned to rust in a few months, but this one has stood the abuse. Rebecca likes the thumb-hole opening, which she can easily do with gloves on, and the reassurance of having it to hand for an emergency. She plans to get one for her boyfriend.
We did some tests with rope cutting and the knife went through lickety-split, courtesy of the excellent Spyderco serrated edge.
Similar to my Spyderco Assist knife, Rebecca keeps hers specifically for use in an emergency. Depending on the rigging and the catch, she uses other task-specific knives and tools in her work day, and leaves the Spyderco Salt in its pocket, so it will be there if needed for a non-routine event.
Now that Rebecca has the Spyderco Salt, in H-1 steel, she doesn’t have to worry that it might be rusted and unusable from the salt water, when she reaches for her rescue knife.
Spyderco Atlantic Salt
Blade: 3.69” long, fully serrated sheepsfoot style, H1 steel.
Handle: Yellow fiber-reinforced nylon.
Rating (out of five stars)
Cutting: ***** Full serrated blade ideal for cutting cordage
Durability: ***** Holds its edge, and most important, does not rust in salt environment
Ergonomics: ***** Usable with gloved hands, slim and lightweight to carry, lanyard hole provided for extra security