Knife Design Manifesto

Knives With Purpose: by Jared Corry, June 2010
This endeavor has consumed a good part of my life since 1996.


My life since age three has been largely affected by knives and cutting tools of all sorts. My first major cut was self inflicted with a 20 machete that my father had made from an industrial hack saw blade. I was perhaps 6 or 7 years old and thought that surely I would die from the wound. Instead, my dad sewed up my hand in the bathroom using topically applied Novocain and sutures borrowed from my uncle who is a veterinarian.

2 years later, on a birthday, I suffered another cut requiring stitches on the same hand. This time caused by pure stupidity and a very sharp skinning knife. My brother helped me bandage my hand this time, and I wore the bulky, misshapen dressing until dad came home to stitch me up again.

Since then, I have suffered no other cuts requiring stitches, though superglue has proven itself invaluable as a 1st aid tool. My experiences in the woods, in the garden, on the job site, and in normal daily life have allowed me to fully appreciate the necessity for a good knife. I have owned many, and found only a few to be truly worthy of uninterrupted residence in my pocket or on my belt. Some have singular purpose, and others can accomplish many tasks with adequate efficiency. My hobby of custom knife-making has spawned into a seemingly endless quest to discover the perfect design; one that can be deemed “essential.”

Target Acquisition: Designation of user and tool

Those people who have physical purpose in life and who define themselves through action are those for whom this is written.

Ignorance is a perfect excuse for picking the right tool. One may not recognize a need for a tool until shown how a tool can make their lives easier. Refusal of education, however, is active stupidity.

In order to choose the right tool, one must evaluate the job at hand, and analyze the intended tool to determine if it is suitable for the application. In order to draw conclusions, we must delve into specific chores, understand the physics of cutting, and the anatomy of connection between user and tool.

Eventually, we will discover the definitive characteristics and features that make a knife design exceptional.

Essential Cutlery:

It has been universally accepted that it is impossible for one knife to do all the cutting jobs that may come up in life. It requires little common sense to realize that an axe is not fit to accomplish kitchen chores, nor is a paring knife suitable for felling trees. As one searches for, and sorts through the thousands of daily use knives available today in the commercial and custom markets, one must keep in mind that there has been no state of the art discovery or improvement in hand operated cutting tool technologies since the invention of steel. Specialty blade steel has come about through simple experimentation of alloying elements.

Even if technology had kept up with the times, one can easily see how a light saber would have limited application. Did you ever see Luke Skywalker blaze a trail on Endor, or peel a potato in the deserts of Tattoine? One can assume that he reserved his battle weapon for its intended purposes, and resorted to simpler, more efficient means to carry out typical cutting chores.

Assigning tasks to specific cutting tools is simple when one can afford and maintain a drawer full of cutlery. In the knife-making world, artists seem to specialize so that their work may stand out from all others. Because being the “first” typically creates a fresh market, thereby stimulating sales, there is a continuous flow of “firsts” to tempt the pocketbooks of collectors and users alike.

At SRE, we are of a mostly practical mind when it comes to design. Our ambition is to build the best, purpose-driven designs to serve hands that will actually use them on a day to day basis. We integrate geometry that will provide multi-functionality, while adhering to proven principles of ergonomics. Simple economics suggests that success is attained readily through the intelligent use of tools which magnify human energy to the utmost level. Those who wish to succeed will understand the inherent value of a fine tool and put it to the test; accomplishing tasks with efficiency, taking to the field with a greater sense of security, performing all foreseeable tasks with precision and accuracy, while all along knowing that their tools have no equal.

We know from experience that working individuals will improvise their own tools and methods, believing their own way to be the best. While we respect each working man’s opinion, we must acknowledge our devotion to practically perfect knife design, and put our faith and pride into our own work. We believe that our designs can be deemed “essential,” and will prove their merit in the hands of men and women from all walks of life.

Let’s identify all conceivable cutting chores:

Daily exercises of a typical pocket knife:
Trim and/or clean finger nails
Sharpen pencil
Trim sheeting such as tar paper, plastic or tyvek
Pry up staples
Scrape paint or shave caulk around windows and in corners
Cut zip ties, plastic strap, bailing twine
Open boxes, cut flaps off boxes
Strip electrical wires
Open a beer/soda bottle
Trim branches or flick through green plant stems
Whittle marshmallow roasting sticks
Survival tasks:

Make Shelter:
Cut 1-3 saplings and branches or saplings for structural members
De-limb trees felled with a saw (use a saw sparingly since it’s difficult to sharpen)
Whittle tent stakes and poles for space blanket/tarp shade/shelter

Make Fire:
De-bark a tree to access dry fire tinder
Whittle or scrape shavings for fire tinder
Cut dry wood for bow drill, spindle, receiver and hand piece
Split larger pieces to get to dry wood inside

Get Food:
Make traps from saplings, i.e. triggers for snares, catch baskets
Make bow and arrow for larger game
Make a fishing pole, net, spear
Carve a digging stick to harvest tubers
Carve a throwing stick to bludgeon rabbits, birds and squirrels
Process wild foods (skinny blade for dressing game, wide blade for plants)

Culinary tasks:
Cut up raw foods so they can be easily cooked, or served raw
Tomato (the ginsu test)
Potato (best done with a 8”-10” chef’s knife)
Fish fillets

Self defense: Intimidate, Fend off, wound, or kill attackers
Instant access from sheath with effective hand/blade position
Standard grip, Ice-pick grip, Snap-cutting grip, Thrusting grip
Weapon retention
Effectiveness of blade geometry to reach vital anatomy

Now you have a starting point for selecting a blade:

At this point, being aware of the majority of cutting tasks, one might make an educated guess about a knife available for purchase in a catalog, internet store, or local shop. Trial and error is a basic and expensive way to start the search for the best tool for your hand.

In order to discover the best possible tool, one must test, test, and test some more. Inherent weaknesses in a design may be found instantly, while more subtle nuances may require days, weeks, even months of use to be revealed. For those who don’t have the time, energy, or finances available to test innumerable subjects, read on, and research elsewhere for more data and opinion.

Mass Manufactured Options:

Often, commercially manufactured knives are put to market by those who have never spent a day in the field, who design and produce strictly for monetary profit, not intending their products for any particular function. There are many gimmicks and fads that ebb and flow within any consumer driven industry, which play to the appeal of fools and those of less critical minds.

Looking to the custom/semi custom market for quality, thoughtful design, and pride of craftsmanship will provide a knife shopper with a head start over the majority of consumers. Consider a knife as a tool upon which life depends daily, understand the amount of thought and craft that is put into a custom knife, and decide only then if you will put your trust into a less expensive, mass produced widget.

Specialty Materials:

Material science is a big deal for a lot of industry. In the knife business, many manufacturers and custom makers have been using high performance stainless steels, tool steels, laminated combinations and many others. These specialty steels increase the initial cost of the knife and provide some improvement over high carbon spring steels. For all intents and purposes, the performance of a knife steel comes down to toughness and edge holding ability. Corrosion can be controlled with proper maintenance, or with protective finishes. In a folding knife that has moving parts and wear surfaces within its mechanism, it makes perfect sense to use highly corrosion resistant materials since protective coatings may wear through with normal use. For large fixed blades requiring a relatively large amount of steel for construction; the cost savings provided by simple high carbon steel is considerable. A comparable amount of specialty steel can cost 20 times more. Understanding the benefits of specialty blade steels and weighing economy against maintenance and performance should lead a knife shopper to consider less expensive materials to accomplish the same tasks with seemingly negligible differences in cutting performance.

When shopping for a knife, it’s important to stay away from non-descript steels. Surgical Stainless is a widely used terminology in low quality cutlery to dupe ignorant shoppers. High carbon spring steels vary in carbon content according to their AISA number. 1055 has 0.5% to 0.6% carbon, and 1095 has 0.9% to 1.0% carbon. Carbon is the element that allows steel to be hardened. Spring steels with less than 0.5% carbon will not have the capacity for hardness necessary for cutting tools.

Narrowing down the search:

A knife is a simple tool; don’t consider styles and designs with too many whistles and bells built in. Function and reliability are the most important aspects of any tool that a life may depend on. Attend a knife show to see all that the industry has to offer. We are a nation of inventors, craftsmen and laborers. Our combined experience has led modern knife makers into an age of innovation and efficiency. Try not to get carried away in the decision making so you can spend more of your life out there enjoying it instead of shopping.

Sheaths and Holsters:

Having an efficient means to carry a knife is nearly as important as the knife itself. It should be secure, easy to access, and not draw too much attention or look too menacing (unless that’s the look you’re going for). Light weight and durability are also important factors to consider. If you really want to carry a blade with you all the time, you may want to consider consulting with a professional sheath and holster maker to help put together a system that works best for your individual purposes. It’s easy to get fancy, although a simple, functional design can look just as classy. If you consider that most high quality firearms holsters will cost about 1/5 as much as the guns they carry, you’ll get an idea of what might be a reasonable amount of money to spend on a sheath.

Major Wound Update and Gallery (because when I originally wrote this, none of the leg wounds had happened yet):

During the Thanksgiving holiday of 2011, I stabbed my leg doing something unsafe with a sword. (The video I posted on Youtube in which my dad squeezes a hematoma out of my leg is our most viewed of all of our videos)

Then in April 2014 I put the same leg through a windshield during an obstacle race that required competitors to jump over cars. This didn’t require stitches, and I still finished the race.  I now refer to my left leg as my “sacrificial limb”; perhaps I should get some shin guards.

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