As a professional edged tools instructor, I am often asked, “What should I look for in an everyday carry (EDC) knife?” To help you decide, the better question is, “What are you going to use the knife for?”
Form fits function. Suppose you’re going to use it to dig holes in the ground; then you’ll need something along the lines of a crowbar with an edge. If you’re going to use it for skinning a deer, you should look for scalpel-like performance. The same tool is not best suited for both purposes. Suppose you plan to open letters and packages, plus pick dirt out from under your fingernails or chop off a chunk of beef jerky. In that case, you’re probably not going to use that same crowbar with an edge.
Starting with the basics, you need to decide between fixed and folding. The advantages of a fixed blade are that it doesn’t have any moving parts and is simple to use. The downside is that they are, for the most part (and depending upon size), a bit heavier, require a sheath (with a fastening and retention device), and generally take up a bit more real estate on your body than a typical folder.
Depending on the building material, the folder is generally lighter, takes up less space, and is usually more concealable. The downside is that although it doesn’t require a sheath, it needs to be unfolded from its inside-the-handle closed carry position. Regardless of whether fixed or folding, your EDC should be carried comfortably, easily accessible, and conform to any applicable state laws and policies set by your employer.
Do you wear a suit all day? Cargo pants? A dress? An issued uniform? Clothing also plays an important role in the selection process. What would your co-workers think if they saw you with a 12” Bowie knife blade strapped to your suit pants?
Suppose you’re looking for a folding blade. In that case, you want to carry a quality blade with a strong and reliable locking mechanism. So, moving further down the EDC rabbit hole – steel type and handle materials for your folder should be your next consideration. There is an endless selection of blade steels ranging from very soft to very hard – all with their respective pros and cons. Each blade steel offers differing characteristics in edge retention, strength, toughness, and corrosion resistance. Some blade steels will hold a sharp edge for a long time, but such steels also tend to be very difficult to sharpen in the field. You might not choose such a blade steel if you find yourself deployed to a remote region for an extended period. Other steels may be strong and tough on one hand but have poor resistance to oxidation and chemical attack on the other. You would not want to use such a blade steel in salt water or other corrosive environments. The dizzying plethora of handle materials can also make you throw your hands up and yell,” Which one?!”
Luckily, there are plenty of charts and graphs on the web for you to peruse the good, the bad, and the ugly of blade steels and handle materials. An abbreviated generic reference can be found at Midway USA.
Next is the blade edge – serrated, non-serrated, or partially serrated. The answer to this is yet another question: “What materials do you plan on cutting?” Suppose you have a fully serrated edge and start cutting material like rolled-up 100% cotton t-shirts. In that case, it’s only a matter of time before scraps get caught in the teeth and the serrations fail. If you’re trying to cut a thick piece of manila rope or tree bark with a non-serrated edge, good luck with that! I recommend half-serrated if you’re looking for an overall multi-use utility blade.
Opening mechanisms (what makes the blade move from its carry position inside the handle to the open position) vary from manual to assist, partial assist to full auto, and in every imaginable configuration – you could spend hours at your favorite knife dealer exploring the varying options.
Choosing an opening mechanism will directly affect the ease and speed of opening your knife. Can you open it with one hand and one motion? Do you have a disability or limitation in dexterity necessitating a knife that opens with the simple push of a button? And once open, how easy is it to close? Auto and assisted opening knives open fast and easily, but being spring-loaded requires two hands to close. Locking mechanisms (what keeps your blade locked in the open position so it doesn’t close on your hand when you use it) vary. Still, the basics are liner locks, back locks, axis locks, button locks, and frame locks.
In addition to all the above is blade shape and grind. The blade shape is the geometric shape where, again, function dictates form as each blade shape has a pro and a con based on what you plan to do with it. The most common are Drop Point, Clip Point, Spear Point, Sheep’s Foot, Tanto, and the curved blade. Grinds can include flat, beveled, chisel, and hollow.
Last but certainly not least is the initial cost and overall cost of ownership. What is the life expectancy of your choice? How often will it require maintenance, and what level of customer service do you expect/desire from the manufacturer? How much you’re willing to spend on your EDC can determine your quality range, including materials and functionality. Best bang for your buck? Do your homework online first, and then get to a dealer. Nothing beats feeling how well it fits your hand, the comfort of usage, and that overall cool guy factor!