For centuries, the Roman Army issued its Legionaries a dagger called a pugio, which was highly useful for stabbing people but not much else. That’s why the rusted-out remains of folding knives have been found in Roman Army camps that have not heard the tread of hobnailed sandals for two millennia. A good-sized folding knife takes care of the everything else. While at the SHOT Show I came across a pair of full-sized folders that are as unlike each other as it is possible to be, yet both are terrific in their own way.
I wrote about the Silver Stag Large Notch Folder in a previous post, and since then I’ve been using one to slash and slice. It’s a big slipjoint of a style (no lock on the blade) that used to be quite common in our once-great land. The 4-inch drop-point blade is made of D2 steel and features a big nail nick that goes all the way through and makes opening easy even for someone with arthritic hands. The blade is notably thin, and you can get a fearsome edge on it.
D2 is a die-making steel that’s been around a long time and is highly popular for knives that receive hard use. It’s rust-resistant (not proof), very tough, and holds an edge very well. Don’t let it get dull because getting the edge back can be work.
The SSLNF’s handle is 5 inches long, ergonomically wonderful, and available either in cocobolo or elk antler. The liners and handle pins are brass. It walks and talks (cutlery speak for opens and closes) with great firmness and authority. It’s worth noting that Brad Smith, who makes Silver Stags, is a fanatic about American manufacturing, and when he found that the steel hinge pins he was using were made in China, he threw them out and started making his own, which were better anyway.
So far, I’ve cut everything from bubble wrap to rolls to cardboard with the SSLNF and its performance is exemplary. It weighs only 6.5 ounces, will work nicely as a hunting knife or in the kitchen, and will do anything you want except clean your guns. Just remember that it’s not a screwdriver or a pry bar or a metal punch. It’s for cutting, period. Treat it with respect. The price is $135. A sheath, which you should get because the knife is way too big to carry in your pocket, is extra, and it’s a nice one. Silverstag.com
At the other end of the spectrum is the Firstedge TrackLock folder. Designed by SEALS as a backup knife, it is the very apogee of both high tech and toughness. There are three flavors: the Model 1250 opens manually via a thumb stud; the 1350 is an assisted-opening knife (You get it started and the knife takes over; you only need one hand.); and the 1450 is an automatic. Lockwork aside, everything else is identical.
What the SEALS specified was ELMAX stainless steel, hardened to Rc 60-61, which is plenty hard, and a 3-inch blade with a tanto point. Japanese swordsmiths developed the tanto point for penetrating laminated-silk armor, which is very tough. Because the point is short, and because you can keep a lot of steel in it all the way to the tip, it’s stronger and pierces better than anything else.
FirstEdge went a couple of steps further. Because the weak point in any folder is its hinge, the company developed a new locking mechanism that relies on a hardened steel pin that is seated transversely in the base of the blade and “travels” with it as the blade pivots. When the blade opens all the way, the pin locks into the handle liners, which are 440C steel. Unlike other locking mechanisms, which rely on friction and can be defeated with enough force, Tracklock is pretty much indomitable.
The SEALS were also concerned about the handle holding up. (God knows what these people do to knives, anyway.) It’s a sandwich of 440C and G-10, which is a super-tough synthetic, and the SeaAirLand folks said they wanted something that would stand 50 pounds of lateral force applied to the mid-point of the handle. When tested on a stress machine, a Tracklock took 582 pounds before it gave.
Unlike the Silver Stag folder, which is quite handsome, the Tracklock knives are utilitarian, drab, and military. They are also overbuilt to the nth degree, and if you want to use one to pry, pound, screw (screws, that is) or sever the occasional subclavian artery, it will hack it with no problem. Prices range from $275 to $325, depending on the opening system. firstedgeusa.com.