The tools on a Swiss Army Knife sometimes end up performing tasks you never imagined! A few months back I went to unlock my front door, only to have the entire barrel of the lock detach and come away with the key! The metal file/saw proved to be ideal for reaching to the back of the lock and turning the bolt.
My girlfriend’s son had asked me why I always carry my SAK. Exactly for times like the above!
The Early Years
For the first few years of my early adulthood I carried a Chinese-made version of a Swiss Army Knife. I vaguely recall there were actually two, although I do not recall why I had to replace the first. To be fair, these were quite nice knives, with a good assortment of tools. The only problem I actually recall is a time when the corkscrew straightened out as I attempted to open a bottle of wine.
Back in those days, they were all I could afford, and they served well.
Once I had some money, I invested in a genuine Victorinox Swiss Army Knife (aka SAK).
The model I selected was called the “Champion”, not to be confused with the “SwissChamp” that had become available a few years previously. The longer named Champion was less bulky than the Champ, lacking the pliers.
The seven-layer Champion was about the ideal maximum size for a SAK, and had a really useful selection of tools.
Sadly, my Champion was lost in an unfortunate chain of events that do not need to be told here. Even worse, the Champion had been discontinued, so I could not buy a replacement.
There was no ebay back then, so little chance of locating a second-hand one.
Rise of the Ranger
As a replacement of the Champion, I selected a Ranger model. The most obvious difference between the two was the Ranger lacked a magnifying glass, fish scaler and Phillips screwdriver:
• The Phillips screwdriver had proved useful at times.
• I don’t recall ever using the fish scaler/ hook disgorger, at least not for its intended purpose.
• I didn’t make much used of the magnifier either, although now that I am older and more decrepit, I suspect it might prove more useful. As an aside, the magnifying glass on the Champion was very cleverly thought out. Its focal length was the same as the magnifying glasses’ height. In other word, if you placed your knife on a map, the detail under the magnifying glass would be in focus. This may have been the case for other models that had the magnifying glass. I wonder if the same applies to the newer pattern of magnifier?
Since I wear glasses, an early addition I made to both the Champion and the later Ranger was to add the mini-screwdriver that fits into the corkscrew. Originally this tool was only included with the SwissChamp. They were sold as spares, however, so I acquired one. This has proved very useful over the years, often coming to the rescue of companions rather than myself. Half a lifetime ago I repaired the glasses of a grateful Swedish beauty in old Jerusalem.
Victorinox now offer three alternate tools, each with a different coloured end.
I have carried the Ranger for many decades now. The lack of Phillips screwdriver is compensated for by the Leatherman Squirt mini-tool I also carry. If you are in the market for a medium-size (91mm) model SAK, the Ranger must be one of the best options. The Huntsman model is a good choice, but I have often found uses for the file/metal saw of the Ranger.
Some interesting information on how to use the various tools, and some applications for them you may not have known. My Ranger had a Phillips screwdriver all along and I never knew! I discovered that the tip of the can-opener is actually intended for use with Phillips screws as well as slot.
Adding a Pin to a SAK
The original reason I have been thinking about Swiss Army Knives recently is that I came across a blog post discussing the pin carried in the handle scales.
Below is a video on possible uses for “needles” [sic pins]. The channel has many other videos on various features of Swiss Army Knives.
Even before I watched the above video, I was thinking about adding a pin to my Ranger. I own a number of very fine drill bits, so creating a channel for a pin would not be too difficult. I could probably add a pair.
I have lots of cheap pins. I decided to try and find the pins actually used, since they were probably better quality and the head looked a little wider.
A number of ebay vendors offered replacement pins for Swiss Army Knives. The one I chose got my money since they offered another idea. Included with the five pins was a small magnet. This magnet was sized to fit in the can-opener. With such a magnet, a pin could be magnetized as a compass needle.
The bits arrived this morning.
Fitting the Magnet and Pin
The 5.8mm magnet was a perfect fit for the can-opener. The vendor included the advice that the tool next to the can-opener usually needs to be opened before closing the can-opener with the magnet stored in it. If this is not so, the magnet tends to pull out of position, attracted by the neighbouring steel. Although stainless steel, the blades of a Swiss Army Knife are magnetic.
Finding a drill bit small enough for the pin was not a problem. Problem was most were too short to drill a channel as long as the pin. The other problem was my Ranger has solid scales. It lacks the airspaces found on some newer and alternate scales.
Drilling a channel deep enough and straight enough proved problematic, and inevitably the very fine drill curved and the channel exited on the inner side of scale. This actually proved to be fortuitous, allowing me to file a notch on the inner side for end of the pin to rest in.
I settled for adding just one pin for now. Most of the alternate positions for a pin are obstructed by the rivets the scales snap on to.
Incidentally, the back scale of my Ranger has two additional non-standard features.
One is a chip, where an idiot friend used my knife as a bottle-opener without using the bottle-opener! I could fix this damage, but it is a useful reminder to be more cautious of whom I trust.
More useful are a series of three notches. The second is five millimetres from the first, the third 57mm for the first.
The first and third notch are used to draw a circle of 57mm radius. The first and second are used to mark the circumference in five millimetre increments. Each millimetre of the circumference closely approximates one degree. Such a compass face can be used with various improvised modes of navigation.
The pectoral position is a very useful position to carry a knife. It is accessible with either hand, and if the wearer is seated or prone. It can be readily utilized to cut a jammed seat harness, or when rolling on the floor with an aggressor.
This topic came up in one of my discussions on soldier’s load. Modern servicemen have a lot of gear to carry, and many do not believe carrying multiple knives is warranted. If you are going to carry a single fixed blade knife, then the weak-side pectoral position is a good place to place it. This influences the form of the “pec-knife”. Pec-knives are discussed in “Survival Weapons”, and their use in “Crash Combat”. The more general discussion of knife use for defence in “Attack, Avoid, Survive” are also relevant.
You sometimes see quite large knives carried in this position, but for most of us an overall length of less than eleven inches is more practical. There is a wide choice of fixed blade knives in this size range. Harder is finding a knife of sufficient thickness and robustness. If this is going to be a soldier’s primary blade then it must stand up to some rough treatment.
A few weeks back I encountered the Gerber Strongarm. This just seemed to shout “I will be a great pec-knife!” Just before Christmas I got an email telling me the variant I wanted was back in stock. Money was short, but I had had a rotten day and a few minutes before midnight I gave into temptation and ordered a Strongarm. It helped that the price listed was about 30% less than most other stockists! Would you believe it? I looked the next day and the price had jumped a big chunk. I had ordered just in time! A few days later the Gerber Strongarm arrived. I wish I had had the money for another, but as it is I may run out before the end of January. Buy books please, people!
The Sheath and Extras
An important component of a potential pec-knife is the sheath. This mode of carry is most convenient with the knife inverted and the pommel downwards. Obviously it is necessary that the knife is fully secure in this position, but still capable of being easily drawn when needed in a hurry. The sheath of the Stongarm has a large clip that engages a depression on the hilt. Note that this releases with an audible click, which may affect your tactics in some scenarios. In addition to the clip, the smaller-width hanging strap has a retention strap with a popper. The latter feature is one of the few I have issue with. This is a little tight, the slight increase in grip width my lanyard has added making it sometimes fiddly to close. The length of strap past the popper is also on the short side, and may be difficult to pull on if wearing some gloves. It may be necessary to sew an extension onto this part.
An important feature of this sheath is that it is ambidextrous, so the knife can be inserted securely with the edge either to the left or right. This is useful for a pec-knife, it being considered to be prudent to carry your knife with the main edge outwards, away from your throat.
A couple of accessories are included in the box. I have already mentioned that the smaller-width belt hanger has the retention strap. This affixes to the sheath by a strap and popper. A larger width belt hanger can be attached to the smaller by poppers. Both belt hanging loops have poppers, making the easy to detach or attach without rethreading a belt. A device that allows the sheath to be mounted horizontally is included, as is a device allowing easy attachment of the sheath to MOLLE/ RALS systems.
The knife itself comes with either a semi-serrated or plain edge, and is available in either black or a more practical coyote brown shade. The blade is 4.8 inches long, and 3/16th thick. Overall length is 9.8 inches and weight is given as 7.9 oz. Blade material is 420HC stainless steel with a dark grey coating. Grip is a rubber coating over glass-reinforced nylon. There is a resemblance to Gerber’s LMF II knife. The LMF II is heavier (c.12 oz) and costs more. I have not handled a LMF II, but the Strongarm seems a better choice for the pec-knife role.
The butt of the Strongarm ends in a blunt triangular point that might serve for applications such as window breaking. This feature is thoughtfully provided with a lanyard hole. I know I have said this before (yesterday actually!) but it really is surprising how many expensive knives are not provided with provision for a lanyard or other features to reduce the chances of loss.
Making a Chest Rig
There are plenty of good reviews of the Strongarm out there, so I will concentrate on specifics of rigging it as a pec-knife. This is actually very simple. Obviously, you can mount the sheath directly on your webbing, but what if you are not wearing such? The Strongarm is potentially a very useful knife, and you may want it when you are not in full tactical gear. I have seen the Strongarm described as a “cross-over” knife, good for urban and wilderness.
Take about two metres of paracord. I know frugality is a virtue, but it is prudent to have a little too much rather than start again. The Strongarm sheath has a number of “screwholes” down each side. Pass one end of your paracord through a hole near the sheath mouth, and the other through a hole on the opposite side, second from the end. This should be made clear from the photos. Experiment with what arrangement suits you personally. Pull both ends of paracord so the middle makes a snug length across the front of the sheath. Now take both lengths, hold them together and tie a single knot in both. This can be an overhand knot but a figure-eight may be more comfortable when worn. You should have created a large loop with the knife sheath threaded on it. This loop should be large enough to pass your weak-side arm through, the knot sitting somewhere between your shoulder-blades. Take the long, free ends and form them into a second loop using the knot I call a “slip-bend” in my free book on knots. Place your other arm through this loop and tighten it by sliding the two parts of the slip-bend apart. The Strongarm sheath should be hanging just before your weak-side armpit. If you have the small-width belt hanger still attached this may be used to anchor the sheath to a belt, if you wish. Note the snap-link, added by a magnus-hitch. The lanyard can be attached to this when greater security is wanted. It also proves useful for holding other items. I later relocated the snap-link to below the sheath, where it helps keep it in position.
A chest-rig for a knife can cost tens or hundreds of dollars. This one is simple, lightweight, comfortable and costs just a couple of metres of paracord. If you like this, throw some of the money you have saved this way!
Sometimes a diversification can let us view a topic from another direction, casting new light on it.
The last blog made it clear to me that the many medium-sized (6 to 8") general-purpose knives that I have do not really have a role. That includes my beloved Buck 119 and the various five to eight inch kukris that I have acquired. If SHTF or TEOTWAWKI occurs, I will be reaching for one of my larger blades and complementing it with one of my puukkot (plural of “puukko”). I have my favourite ten-inch sirupate kukri ready to go on a belt alongside a Mora Companion. A small pouch on the belt contains a fire kit and Lansky multi-sharpener. Nearby is my barong-handled machete and a crowbar, ready to be added to the rucksac. Already on my person I have my Swiss Army knife and mini-Leatherman, along with other items.
If you are planning to spend good money on survival knives, the sound advice is to “go big” and “go-small”. Buy yourself a good chopper that can produce a fire and shelter with minimum effort when they are most needed. Get a good fixed blade small knife that can handle more intricate duties. Puukkot are hard to beat for value and quality. Get what folders you want for EDC.
Another topic I touched on was that most of the original Bowie knife designs were designed to be primarily weapons. This can be seen in the shape of their point profiles, which are often combined with a long false edge.
With the above in mind, I will share a passage I came across in “Gun Digest Book of Knives, 4th Edition”, p.111-113:
“Another category of knife is the hybrid Bowie…The Bowie/Machete is made by Collins Machete, Case Knife, Western Knife and Legendary Arms.
Bowie/Machete came about when a South American customer went to Collins and wanted a machete made like a Bowie knife.
The result was a wonderful knife. It is one of the finest large skinning and butcher knives ever made. It is one of the few knives that can hold its own with a commercial slaughterhouse curved skinner and large butcher knife. These purely single-purpose knives are hard to beat at their specialities, but the shape and curvature of the Collins design is a most useful compromise of their features in a large knife.
The oversize butcher knife shape with the Bowie clip blade has a deep enough belly and enough sweep at the point to approximate the sweep of the professional skinning knife. In the hands of an expert, it is the best knife for skinning and butchering large game. For use as a small machete, the deep grind employed on these knives allows the same cut a much thinner machete would make. While a little light and short for heavy woodcutting. this is still a practical short machete knife.
For a working knife to carry in South America where it was intended, or anywhere else for that matter, this is a hard one to beat. When used as a fighting knife, it is an excellent chopper, while its broad blade produces more damage on thrust than lesser knives…
It should be noted that the simple tapered grip with the pronounced neb to anchor the hand found on these is an elegant masterpiece of a functional grip in its own right. These knives feel good in the hand where they lock in and go to work naturally. The hand is positioned for proper leverage with a heavy double guard to bear against at the front and a neb at the rear similar to the grip taken with an Indian Talwar sword. It is most effective for a working knife and far better than gimmick grips on some custom knives. Remember. everything possible with knives has been tried. This is an old, standard, elegant solution to the grip. Like the rest of the knife. it is conservative and effective all the way through.”
This sounds interesting! No image of the “Bowie/Machete” is in the book. There is a photo of a Legendary Arms Bowie that it might be, but unhelpfully the blade is in its sheath! Websearching on “Bowie/Machete” proves useless. The Cold Steel design of this name post-dates the book, and it is evident from the shape that the Cold Steel offering does not have the features described.
The Bowie/Machete Identified?
Eventually I pieced together enough clues to suspect that the model described is the Collins & Co. Machete No.18. Not actually a machete as most of us understand the term these days, but that was how the company designated it. In 1942 the 10-inch Collins was adopted for survival kits of air crews operating in the Pacific, including at Guadalcanal Canal. The marines took notice, and the model was widely used by the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. Maj. James Roosevelt, son of the then President, was involved in their procurement, and carried one numbered “30”. One of my references (“Fighting Knives. An Illustrated Guide to Fighting Knives and Military Survival Weapons of the World” by Frederick J. Stephens p.67) confirms that wartime production of this model was also undertaken by Case Cutlery, Western Cutlery and an Australian source. “Knives of War” by Hughes, Jenkins and Buerlein adds a company called Kinfolks Inc to the list. It is from Case that the frequently used, but incorrect designation “V44” or “V-44” seems likely to have been acquired. (The V42 discussed in the last blog was a Case design.) Knives of War p.68-70 calls it a “Gung Ho Knife”, “Survival Bowie” and mentions an aviator’s example labelled “9-inch machete”. Actual dimensions are given in Knives of War as a blade of 97⁄8" and 2" at its widest. Total Length is 14½". I believe the blade was ¼" thick. Minor variations between manufacturers can be found, variations including grip shape, grip construction and whether the false-edge was sharpened. Some Collins examples had a grip of green horn, which has a very attractive camouflaged appearance. Some sheathes had the tip cut-off to improve drainage.
Knives of War p.69: Former Marine Raider Rosenquist reports: “It was a real good, multi-purpose knife. We used it for opening ration cans, coconuts, cutting fire lanes, etc. It was handy as a small hatchet for cutting small trees and coconut-log bunkers and in combat as an effective fighting weapon.”
The No.18 Today?
This is a Bowie design with a proven record of survival utility, not to mention it might also find its way to certain kitchens or meat-packing plants. As well as its practicality, it has historical connections. Many people understand the value of preparedness, and Americans love Bowies, so you might think a number of companies would be offering “Gung Ho/ No.18 Survival Bowies” and they would be flying off the shelves!
Well, I have not had much luck locating any! There is a reproduction “V44 Raider Bowie” (above). This is apparently low-quality steel, since it is intended to sit on a shelf rather than be put to use. Note that it is not a particular accurate reproduction, the blade having a single broad fuller rather than to two narrow fullers of the actual No.18.
Legendary Arms offers a Bowie and a “Throwing Bowie” that has some resemblance (above), but note both have a short bevel grind rather than the blade section of the originals.
Western Cutlery is now Western Knives, with production in Asia. Their W49 (above) is/was not their version of the No.18. Dimensions are slightly smaller and the blade has a short bevel.
Best candidate seems to be the Ontario SP10 “Marine Raider” (above). Despite the name, the blade form is different. The SP53 is probably closer to the No.18 in spirit, but is not a Bowie. Most obvious difference for both of these is the grip. I quite liked the machete-style grip of the original Collins. As regular readers will appreciate, a flared or hooked grip is a very good feature for a chopping knife.
Ideally, someone would bring out a nice No.18 Bowie blade blank that I could fit with a grip.
If anyone has been inspired by this to bring out a modern day No.18 Bowie, I would suggest having a good look at the modified original shown below. The upper quillon has been removed and the lower bent so that it is out of the way when the strongest part of the blade is used for tasks such as batonning through material.