In Praise of Pointy Things

The gifting of a knife is the entrusting of a reliable tool, perhaps the most useful one that humans have invented and can own.


To judge by conversations with friends and acquaintances over the years, my family isn't the only one to treat the gifting of a knife as a rite of passage. It's an acknowledgment that the recipient has passed a milestone, having become sufficiently familiar with spatial relationships and mortality to avoid severing anything too terribly important from themselves or others. It's also the entrusting of a reliable tool, perhaps the most useful one that humans have invented and can own.

I no longer have the first knife I received—a somewhat unwieldy device that included a fork and spoon—but I still own the Colonial Forest Master camp knife that I bought on an elementary school field trip to Bushkill Falls ("the Niagara of Pennsylvania"). My classmates and I pretty much cleaned out a box of them in the gift shop as our teachers patiently waited for us to snap up our souvenirs. The little folder is a bit worn these days and the blade has a few chips out of it. That's because it was put to hard use over decades of whittling, repairing, cutting twine, and opening packages.

People are skittish about knives these days. Government officials in the United Kingdom have moved on to restricting blades after discovering that gun control wasn't the crime eradicator they'd imagined. Now the Brits are seriously considering banning points on kitchen cutlery. The assumption, apparently, is that nobody will rediscover the lost art of scraping hard objects against abrasive surfaces to reshape and sharpen them.

The fact is, it's not too difficult to make knives from scratch, as anybody who has seen History Channel's Forged in Fire knows.

"Let me show you this," my dentist said to me a year or so ago with a big grin. In the middle of my exam, he pulled out a shaving-sharp, fixed-blade knife that he'd made himself. For fun, he installed a forge in his workshop and has developed a truly dangerous set of skills (and fingers perhaps a bit larger than you might want to encounter during a dental exam).

My nephew doesn't forge blades, but he frequents junk shops and flea markets looking for old steel files and rasps that he can grind to a fine edge. Originally self-taught, he's picked up pointers from a knifemaker.

In both cases, they're following in the footsteps of craftsmen who've created some of the most sought-after tools ever. How sought after? Early hominids were making chipped stone blades—called Oldowan tools—about 2.6 million years ago. Folding pocket knives date back at least 2,600 years to the Hallstatt culture of Central Europe. Pretty much any material that can hold an edge has been put to that purpose at one time or another.

People put in the effort to manufacture sharp edges and points because they're useful for skinning animals, cutting food, trimming cloth, splicing rope, stripping insulation, and a host of other purposes, including self-defense. Sometimes a specialized tool might do a job better, but knives can handle a host of tasks in one package. That's why they've held their place through all the changes in culture and technology that mark the evolution of human civilization.

Of course, any tool can be put to good uses, bad uses, or uses that are inconvenient for our would-be masters. Anticipating modern British officials, King Louis XIV of France banned the carrying of pointed knives in 1669 out of fear that his subjects were too dangerous (and indeed they were—to his deposed descendant, Louis XVI). He wasn't the first to make that effort, and I doubt today's London politicians will be the last.

Never mind the restrictionists. My son's collection of knives—like nearly all collections of knives—has grown since he received his first one as a gift; one of them is on his person pretty much all the time. Maybe his cousin or our dentist will give him a custom blade and he'll pass it on, along with the tradition of gifting a blade as a rite of passage. Like all good tools, knives aren't going anywhere so long as they prove their worth.

NEXT: Brickbat: Burn It Down

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  1. I carry a knife every where. Have several Kershaw’s.
    Their my favorite. Although my chef’s knife gets more
    use. More then ever now a days.

    1. I’m also never without my pocket knife. Doesn’t seem to be common anymore though, I can’t count the times someone needed to open a box, cut some twine, perform a task that required a knife and I was the only person who actually had one.

      1. I have an old Ka- bar double folder I got from my grandfather that I carry everywhere. Best damn knife I’ve ever owned.

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      2. I used to carry a pocket knife all the time. When they stopped letting you travel on an airplane with a pocketknife after 9/11, i broke myself of the habit – it just wasn’t worth the hassle of accidentally showing up for a flight with one in your pocket.

        1. I’ll take the risk, and it’s cost probably 5 or 6 knives. Just too useful day-to-day to let that keep me from carrying one.
          And to be honest, it’s like the current PANIC!!!: I’m trying not to let cowardly pieces of lefty shit direct how I live my life.

        2. I try to remember not to. But I’ve accidentally carried one of my small pocket knives to the airport three times. When I’ve gotten to the scanner I’ve just tossed it in under my keys and wallets. So far they haven’t caught it. I’d hate it if they did, but so far their competence level is lower than my memory.

        3. I’ve stashed knives on top of vending machines or in flowerpots in airports and picked them back up on my return trip.

          I also gave one nice folder and a business card to a random person coming OUT of security rather than surrender it for TSA disposal. He didn’t mail it back, but after some months he mailed me a gift card for a fair chunk of the value, and a note that said it had become his EDC.

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    2. I usually have two. I have a Benchmade that has a rescue hook and window breaker on it. My commute (when I used to have a commute) took me over a lake every day. I figured it would be good, in the unlikely event of a water landing, to have the means to escape the vehicle.

      The other knife is on the Leatherman I also carry. It’s also nice to have a couple screwdrivers, a pair of scissors, a can opener, a bottle opener, etc. and with all that comes a knife as well.

    3. Me too. Since I was in elementary school.

      I’ve had people ask why I carry a knife. I don’t even know how to answer that. Why would you not carry a knife?

      1. “To cut things.”

        1. “To do knife things.”

  2. “Now the Brits are seriously considering banning points on kitchen cutlery. ”

    How about points on forks or outdoor yard tools ?

    1. What about fresh fruit? And poin-ted sticks?

      1. Icicles hardest hit.

    2. There was a story last year with a photo of “knives” confiscated by London Police. The photo included several serving and/or carving forks. Don’t give them ideas.

      1. “…The photo included several serving and/or carving forks…”

        Dumb cops stealing apples; what do you expect?

        1. A pile of mostly oranges. 🙂

    3. Gonna end up having to call the constable to come over and cut your meat.

  3. I usually carry two. One a fixed blade used for most work and a Swiss Army knife for the tasks it is good for. But then I have a farm with livestock. I prefer a fixed blade because it only needs one hand to use.

    I’ve carried a knife since my father gave me one when I was eleven. Luckily I grew up when you could even have one at school.

  4. My favorite is simple and cheap. I carry an Opinel No. 8. I’ve found I use it far more than a Swiss Army knife. It’s a simple, but great knife. I did splurge on an olive wood handle. But I also have a No. 6 and a No. 2. The latter is ridiculously tiny, but still usable. I had a No. 10 but gave it to my brother-in-law because it was just too big for my mitts. My sons both want th No. 13 which is a freaking machete in folder format.

  5. I also have a walnut and brass Gerber I I hero yes from my father. I keep it sharp and if we are out an restaurants, I use it to eat with because restaurant steak knives are jokes.

  6. One fun thing to rember it was the banning of knives in China that gave martial arts it’s first big boost.

    1. Will reason ever give us a edit button?

      1. We’re not sharp enough – – – – – – – –

      2. You need to get you’re remarks right the first time.

      3. Measure twice. Cut once.

  7. Hmm, maybe a knife as metaphor: a physical tool for hands-on activities, something with risk that we can master, and only useful for those who do things for themselves.

    In other words, representing ideals that contradict those of modern sophisticated people.

  8. I used to carry a swiss army knife with me everywhere, since I was a teen. But after having to mail it to myself for about the fifth time from an airport, I said “the heck with this” and stopped carrying one. I still miss the thing, it’s useful in all kinds of unexpected circumstances.

    Yeah, the TSA knife ban may have had a bigger impact on my personal life than anything else that came from 9/11. There have been many times when I wished we would return to the days when pocket knives could be freely carried on planes, without security so much as batting an eye.

    1. The TSA (and the flight attendant’s union) got it backward. Every male between the age of 16 and 65 ought to be required to carry a knife with a 4 inch blade to be allowed on a plane. (Older men and women are welcome to carry also, but I expect men to behave as such.) The knowledge that about half of the passengers on a plane were armed, and a sizeable fraction of those would likely step up to plate when the need arose should give any would-be terrorists something to consider.

  9. I might point out that it is legal to open carry a sword here in Texas.

    Texas, making the renaissance great again.

    1. Swords are legal to carry in Wisconsin as well. Along with automatic knives (aka switchblades) and gravity knives. The law says we can carry openly or concealed.

      1. Here in Indiana we can even legally carry a discreet cane sword.

        1. All of that is legal in NH too. Several years ago they just repealed all of the laws against carrying bladed weapons. I carry an automatic knife. Just need to remember to swap it out when I go out of state.

          1. Here in California, when you’re waiting for the Light Rail a notice comes up that guns, explosives, knives and anything else you might use to defend yourself if forbidden on public transit and in public transit facilities. That’s why robbing people on BART is so great. You know everyone’s defenseless.
            As far as I can tell, this means that if you don’t own a car, you have no Second Amendment rights here.

  10. With the proliferation of 3D printing, CNC machines, and the like I anticipate an influx of home forgers to give the Appleton family a run for their money.

  11. Every time we go to the Philippines I try to pick up a working, native bolo knife in a different style. I have almost a dozen now. This are not the “tourist knife” you can find, but come from the back hill craftsmen who supply the local working man. As such, they are a tough as can be as these people can’t afford to replace a shoddy or weak knife. Somewhat ugly in looks but beautiful in function. They are used for everything from bringing in the harvest, pig butchering, coconut and pineapple prep, and home building. TSA has never batted an eye when I pass thru going back home with two or three killer weapons in the checked-in luggage.

  12. Day to day at work (labwork) it’s a nice stainless Buck “Exec” burnished with years in the pocket. Only about 2 inch blade, but enough to cut fruit, open a box, all the usual stuff. But being an instrument lab, I have tools for all sort of mayhem if the need arises!

  13. …fingers perhaps a bit larger than you might want to encounter during a dental exam

    Just be glad he’s not your proctologist.

  14. You can thank for the repeal of draconian knife restrictions in many states. Consider joining.

    Spyderco knives caught my fancy 30 years ago and have been clipped in my pocket since then starting with a Spyderedged Endura. Now a ClipiTool Standard with a 3.5 inch blade, small and large screwdrivers, a can opener, a wire stripper and most importantly a bottle opener is my EDC.

  15. I wish to share a very old Spanish tradition I inherited from my parents via Cuba. A knife must never be given to the recipient because the bond may be cut. It must always be sold or bartered. I love to see that I am not alone in following the custom of giving blades as awards and to mark milestones. But it must be sold or bartered. Any coin in exchange will do, even a nasty old copper Penny in exchange for a thousand dollar hand made blade.

  16. I carry a knife every day (and often a small multitool as well). They are so useful, for a variety of tasks throughout the day, that I can’t imagine not having these things on me. And a really can’t imagine people willingly giving up their ability to carry simple, useful tools out of ‘fear’ or a ‘need for security.’ Beware the paternalistic government that says it’s taking things away from you “for your safety.”

  17. How do I go about the “gifting of a knife” — breath my nous into it? The word is “giving.” Sheesh.

  18. Just remember that any tool can be put to good uses, bad uses, or uses that are inconvenient for our would-be masters. contractors rochester mn

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