A lot of things have changed in the kingdom of kids since I passed through that short, happy phase, but I suspect that one of the main rites of passage remains the same: the day a youngster receives his or her first knife.
Mine was a small, folding blade Case knife. With it, I became a proficient whittler. No one made better toothpicks. As knives are prone to do, each one I owned taught me a good lesson. That first knife taught me not to pull the blade toward me. No matter how many times I’d been told the same thing, none of the words carried quite as much weight as the long, shallow slice across the heel of my hand and up my wrist. You know the cut, the one that happens so quickly you cover it with your other hand and hope it didn’t really happen.
Over the years I also learned not to set my knife down in a public place, not to use knives as screwdrivers or prybars and especially, to carefully clean my blade after gutting fish and before slicing lunch meat. Bad things happened when I didn’t.
Later, I drifted toward bigger knives. My heart went pitty-pat when I was given a Marine Ka-bar knife with a seven-inch blade. The proper designation for the knife was the USMC Fighting Utility Knife. It was massive and heavy and well designed for knife fighting, opening cans and chopping down small trees. Large trees took a little longer.
It wasn’t much use for an outdoorsman though, unless you needed to fight a bear so I began looking around for different models. I tried a few smaller sheath knives and they were fine but I was looking for a knife that could do anything, from working around camp, to skinning out and breaking down an elk carcass. I hope I’ll never need a fighting knife; if I do, I intend to bring a gun.
I finally decided on a Gerber model 650 ($33), a folding knife with a 3¾ inch blade and a no-slip, hard rubber handle. Using it alone, I’ve made numerous large animals small, including elk, deer, bear, caribou, sheep and goats. It handles skinning as well, though when removing a hide I want to save, I use a blade specifically designed for the task, my favorite being the Buck Skinner 103 ($62), or for more detailed work, the Buck Caper ($18).
Both the Buck and Gerber knives use good steel but need sharpening while working a large animal into its component parts. And for the last 12 years I’ve entrusted that job to an EZE-LAP M quarter-inch round diamond sharpener ($34).
You can find more expensive tools than the ones I’ve described above, but I doubt you’ll find more value for the money and any of them will make a great Christmas present for your resident outdoorsman.
Outdoorsman or not, everyone needs a pocket knife. During my time with the Red Cross in Puerto Rico I fell in love with a Kershaw 1620 ST ($37), a small folding knife with a 2½ inch blade. Every day I was opening hundreds of boxes to pass out food and the quick opening blade was easy to deploy and use. It’s a perfect gift for your favorite adult.
But if you’re buying for an eight-year-old, I’d recommend one of those slow opening Case knives. And don’t forget — remind them to carve away, and not toward, their bodies.
Author’s note: I receive nothing in return for my recommendations. I simply share information about products with which I’ve had good luck. They are all available locally or online.