Anatomy of a Fixed Blade Knife

Fixed blade knives don’t fold or contract, like other types of knives. Fixed blades are perfect for nearly any use—they are carried by sportsmen, hunters, campers, and more.

Anatomy of a Fixed Blade Knife
What to look for:

  • Full Length/Width Tang: I consider this to be one of the most important attributes of a survival knife. A full-tang knife’s handle is the tang itself and is usually wrapped or covered with some material to make it more comfortable to carry and use. Since the handle and the blade is one integrated piece, the chances of it breaking are very minimal.
  • Fixed Blade: Although there are numerous folding knives which do an excellent job in a survival situation, if there were to be an ideal knife you will want to have a fixed blade knife. That basically means that the entire knife is integrated with the handle and cannot be folded shut.
  • Reasonably Sized: I realize that ‘reasonably sized’ is a very relative term. What I mean here is that it should be small enough to do most intricate camp work (trap making, notches for bow drill hearths, feathering sticks etc.) but large enough to do heavier tasks like splitting small logs. This ideal is obviously different for different people, but in general it falls between a blade that is 4-6 inches long.
  • Handle Scales: Although handles made of bone, non-stabilized wood stacked leather or antler may look good, they are not very practical in a survival situation. These sort of handle are more for displaying or for light use rather than hard almost abuse in a life or death survival situation. Look for knives with handle scales made from materials such as G-10, Micarta, stabilized wood or polymer (polymer is not cheap plastic as you might think, it is much more durable). Non-stabilized wood handles may warp, crack or rot if exposed to moisture. Bone, antler and stacked leather washer handles may also rot or become brittle if not cared for properly (remember, in a survival situation, you might not be able to wax, polish or clean your knife handles).
  • Good Quality Steel: Make sure the knife is made from a high quality stainless steel or a high carbon stainless steel. Knives made from plain carbon steel are not recommended as if you find yourself in a saltwater environment, they will rust if not cleaned thoroughly after use. Some high quality stainless steels include: 440A, 8Cr18MoV, AUS 6, AUS 8 and 12C27. High carbon stainless steels contain a higher amount of carbon than average stainless steels. These steels include: 420HC, 9Cr19MoV, AUS 10, 440C, 154CM, ATS 34, CPM S35VN, S30V. If you really want a knife made from carbon steel, make sure that it has a protective coating on the blade to protect from corrosion. The 10 series (1095, 1050, 1075, 1095 CroVan etc.) are all great carbon steels to look for.

Some features to avoid:

  • Narrow Tang: If you were to take off the handle of a knife, the tang would be the part that extends from the base of the blade onward. Narrow tangs are fine for the purposes of a kitchen knife, but when put up to the rigors of survival/outdoor activities (chopping wood, pounding the blade for splitting small logs etc.) they are susceptible to breakage.
  • Folding Knives (including multi-tools): Folding knives are alright for light use, but they may break at the hinges which are a weak point if they were used for tough work. A folding knife is great for EDC, and if you happen to end up in a survival situation, you would be fine with it, but a fixed blade would be ideal. Take, for example, you were in an urban disaster, and you needed to get out of a building, but all the doors were jammed. A small folding knife just won’t cut it, so you would be much better off with a 6 inch long quarter inch thick blade to pry those doors open. I am not saying don’t get a folding knife – get one as a backup or for EDC, but you need a fixed blade knife too.
  • Huge Knives: Hollywood is to blame for filling up our minds with pictures of survival knives being these huge monstrosities (Rambo, Crocodile Dundee etc). Although you could slay a crocodile with one mighty thrust, the larger the knife the more difficult it is to do the intricate work that a survival situation requires.
  • Hollow-Handled “Survival” Knives: While there are exceptions to this (see some of the Schrade knives) most hollow-handled survival knives that house a small survival kit in the handle are two-pieced and more for gimmick than they are useful. Their two-piece design -  like the almost non-existent tang - can easily break when splitting wood or doing heavy work.

Common Blade Alloying Elements:

Carbon (C)

  • Increases edge retention and raises tensile strength.
  • Increases hardness and improves resistance to wear and abrasion.
  • Reduces ductility.
  • Provides hardenability.

Chromium (Cr)

  • Increases hardness, tensile strength, and toughness.
  • Provides resistance to wear and corrosion.
  • More than 11% makes it “stainless”, by causing an oxide coating to form.
  • Carbide inclusions reduce wear, but bulk material is softer.

Cobalt (Co)

  • Increases strength and hardness, and permits quenching in higher temperatures.
  • Intensifies the individual effects of other elements in more complex steels.

Copper (Cu)

  • Increases corrosion resistance. (?)

Manganese (Mn)

  • Increases hardenability, wear resistance, and tensile strength.
  • Deoxidizes and degasifies to remove oxygen from molten metal.
  • In larger quantities, increases hardness and brittleness.

Molybdenum (Mo)

  • Increases strength, hardness, hardenability, and toughness.
  • Improves machinability and resistance to corrosion.

Nickel (Ni)

  • Adds toughness.
  • Usually improve corrosion resistance.
  • Reduces hardness.
  • Too much prevents hardening.

Niobium (Nb)

  • Restricts carbide grain growth.
  • Increases machinability.
  • Creates hardest carbide.

Nitrogen (N)

  • Used in place of carbon for the steel matrix. The Nitrogen atom will function in a similar manner to the carbon atom but offers unusual advantages in corrosion resistance.

Phosphorus (P)

  • Improves strength, machinability, and hardness.
  • Creates brittleness in high concentrations.

Silicon (Si)

  • Increases strength.
  • Deoxidizes and degasifies to remove oxygen from molten metal.

Sulfur (S)

  • Improves machinability when added in minute quantities.
  • Usually considered a contaminant.

Tungsten (W)

  • Adds strength, toughness, and improves hardenability.
  • Retains hardness at elevated temperature.

Vanadium (V)

  • Increases strength, wear resistance, and increases toughness.
  • Improves corrosion resistance by contributing to the oxide coating.
  • Carbide inclusions are very hard.
  • Expensive.
  • Chips frequently.

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