I’ve carried a pocketknife since the 1980’s. I wasn’t like most people, who pick up the habit from their dad or grandfather. I think (based on no real data) that carrying a knife is more prevalent if you grew up in a mechanically-oriented family, especially from the US South or Midwest. So for a boy from California, from a white-collar family, it didn’t come “naturally.”
I carry a knife because of my friend Jim Ayres. He grew up in farm country in the Midwest, and has been, at different times in his life, a businessman, soldier (US Army, 82nd Airborne and Green Berets), importer, world traveler, fashion designer, and writer. Jim has always carried a knife, and when we met, he seemed vaguely puzzled that I didn’t, in the “doesn’t everyone?” fashion. We became friends when he came into the computer store I worked at in LA, when he bought his first Mac. Shortly after that, we started a business together, that made management software for garment manufacturers, who at the time still used the most unbelievably clunky paper spreadsheet system to order clothes from factories. It was a problem begging for a database solution, and with an additional partner, we created software we called MacRag. That business eventually went belly-up, but Jim and I remain friends, and one of the many things I’ve learned from him is the value of a pocketknife. Jim really knows knives well. He’s written books about them, such as the excellent The Tactical Knife.
[Edit, March 31, 2016: I can no longer wholeheartedly recommend this book. Recent Facebook comments made by the writer’s wife, who has been the principal photographer for his books, imply that “product reviews” were routinely and actually made on a “pay to play” basis, in exchange for some sort of compensation from product manufacturers directly to the writer. I don’t know the exact nature of this compensation, but since this is so far out of mainstream journalistic practice, it requires a reader warning. I am comfortable recommending the writer and his opinions as a subject matter expert, but this news renders the product reviews suspect.]
A knife is an incredibly useful tool to have with you all the time. I use mine constantly. Opening envelopes and packages. Cutting food (sometimes in restaurants, where sharp knives are as common as the Holy Grail). An emergency screwdriver and tool to pry things open (but do try not to break off the knife’s point, he says from practical experience!).
Something about pocketknives: a stunning amount of people, despite using knives every day of their lives at the dining table, see a knife come out of a pocket and instantly think “Weapon! Aieee!” rather than “tool.” I don’t get it. When I used to work at the community TV station I helped build here in town, I’d use my knife and would sometimes be told that just having the knife on me was a problem, because the station was on the grounds of the local high school. As if the knife would fly out of my pocket and start indiscriminately slashing people. Of course, I could have used a box cutter or scissors from the front desk with no problem. When I see those stories about children being arrested at school because they brought a butter knife from home, it pisses me off to no end. Common sense, people. Tool. Weapon. Not the same thing.
And so it begins
My first pocketknife was this lovely Al Mar Eagle Talon, which was quite expensive for a first knife. That’s what happens when you’re getting your recommendations from an expert. Versions of it are still being sold; you can get one for around $200. It’s brilliantly sharp, opens easily with one hand thanks to its thumb stud, and feels great in your hand. I keep mine in my office, always near to hand, kind of like a keepsake or memento. Or maybe even as a talisman, which is an odd thought for an essentially non-spiritual guy.
I carried the Al Mar for a few years, but eventually stopped, mainly because of its 4 inch blade length. Basically, I’d take it out of my pocket in a public place, open it, and people would freak the fuck out. When we were in business together, some weenie once asked Jim in a fearful hushed voice, “Did you know Tom carries a huge switchblade?”* It got so I’d open it under the table just so folks wouldn’t flinch when I used it to open a box, or cut some string in the office, or something. At an overall length of 9 inches and a weight of 5 ounces, it was a little too big as an everyday knife for me.
* It’s not a switchblade, of course; this guy had never seen anything other than a Boy Scout knife, so using a thumb stud to open a knife one-handed made him think it was a switchblade. And also: Me? Tom Negrino? An object of fear because I carry a weapon? Snicker.
Dori’s got the bug
Turns out Dori has always carried a knife (see? soulmates). She beats me, in that she regularly carries two in her purse: a small Swiss Army knife for general utility and this pretty Spyderco Cricket, in stainless steel, both of which are on her separate Keychain of Useful Stuff that’s easily left behind if we’re traveling and likely to encounter TSA.
This knife isn’t big (blade length is less than 2 inches), but especially in stainless steel, it’s sweet-looking and is wicked sharp. Dori got it as a gift.
I’ve had many knives over the years that I’ve rotated in and out for (as the Kool Kidz say) my EDC (Every Day Carry). For years I carried a Spyderco Delica. Between the “right” blade length (I decided that around 3 inches was my EDC sweet spot), it’s available in either straight, serrated, or combo edges.
I’ve moved away from serrated edges over the years; I find straight edges are way easier to keep sharp, and I hardly ever need that hacking motion that goes well with a serrated edge. Straight edges are also way easier to keep clean, in case you ever want to use your pocketknife for food, as mentioned above.
The latest crop
A few years ago, Amazon offered me a good deal on this Kershaw Drone, which seemed to be discontinued shortly thereafter. It’s a great knife. Fabulously sharp, of course, has a little more heft in the hand than you would expect, which makes it easier to use.
That point is excellent for slicing things open (like, say, Amazon packages), and besides the thumb stud near the base of the blade next to the logo for one-handed opening, see that bump on the bottom of the blade, right under the fulcrum? That’s part of Kershaw’s SpeedSafe “assisted opening” system. Press the bump (with your forefinger or thumb) to push the blade out about 30 degrees, and it overcomes the resistance of a torsion bar, making the knife snap open the rest of the way by itself. It’s super-convenient, yet virtually impossible to open accidentally (at least, I’ve never had it happen to me). I love it; certainly the best $21 knife I’ve ever bought. Utility and cheap, that’s me!
Last year, I bought two tiny Kershaw Hawk folding knives on sale, and gave one to a good friend. It’s in the category of “gentleman’s knife,” which makes me grin. The blade is 3 1/8″, and the overall knife is only 3 7/8″, so it slips terrifically in your pocket, especially if you take off the pocket clip.
Currently, I’ve fallen for this ridiculously pretty Kershaw Scallion Rainbow knife. It gets the color from a titanium oxide coating they apply.
The Scallion isn’t a big knife. The blade is only 2 1/4″ long, with the overall length being 3 1/2″. It has the SpeedSafe opening system, as well as the thumb stud. But because of the coating, it never fails to elicit a comment when it come out of my pocket. After a little shopping, I found it for under $70. Maybe it’s a little too garish for some, but for now, it’s the right pocketknife for me, and fun to carry.