Heavy Duty Survival Knife.
Chopping, splitting, prying, digging, fire making, woodcraft, hunting, field dressing, food preparation, cutting, slicing and self defence are some of the possible tasks for a survival knife. The design concept is relatively new, originating from twentieth century military aviation. Marble were the first to develop hunting and survival knives but their core business would remain focused on tang rifle sights.
Bo Randall became known as maker of high quality Bowie hunting knives in the 1930's. He was flooded with demand for his #1 when the United States entered WWII. The #1's performance in the field assured steady custom for the next 40 years. Randall's #14 was developed for the Korean War and considered the epitome of a combat survival knife. Supplemented with a Swiss Army knife, it was prolific among forward operating military personnel in Vietnam. The #14 is the template that current designs are based upon, carbon steel, fixed blade, sabre grind, .25" spine, full tang, pointed tip, synthetic grips and multi-position sheath.
BK-2 Design Features
1: High Carbon Steel
Carbon steel has significantly more shock resistance than stainless steel, particularly in freezing temperatures. The original #14 came in O2, a hard tool steel with excellent edge retention. Contemporary mass produced survival knives use 1095 or 1095 Cro-Van. It has adequate edge retention but the softer steel is quicker to sharpen, the edge will roll rather than chip and the blade will bend rather than break, ultimately delivering superior durability under extreme use. Unfortunately, new Randall Model 14's are geared toward the display and collector market and only available in stainless steel. Proven survival knives like the BK-2 take up the slack.
2: Sabre Grind
Both flat and sabre grinds are prolific in survival knife design. A flat grind's primary bevel tapers from the blade spine to the edge. A sabre grind's primary bevel tapers from the middle of the blade to the edge. While flat grinds have an advantage in slicing and splitting, the sabre grind retains more material along the blade, which strengthens against lateral load when prying or encountering knots during batoning.
3: Pointed Blade Tip
A Swiss Army knife is preferred for delicate work but the survival knife can be pressed into service. Drop or clip points can pick, notch and skin using a pinch grip on the spine. The blade choil lets us safely choke up on the edge, for better balance and control when carving. Sharpness mitigates a large blade's clumsiness during precision tasks. It's easier to touch up the edge little and often. Survival knives are biased toward utility but also serve as slash and thrust weapons for hunting and self defence. A clip point's false edge tapers from broad blade to narrow tip helping the blade to penetrate to arteries and vital organs. The BK-2's drop point is more robust but requires more force to penetrate.
4: Synthetic Handle Scales
Synthetic knife handles are more resistant to chipping, cracking and swelling than wood. They can be divided into three basic categories. Materials like Zytel and Grivory are essentially thermoplastic under proprietary branding. They are durable but their smooth finish makes them slippery when wet. Kraton is a soft rubber that provides excellent grip at the expense of durability. Micarta and G10 are composite materials where linen or fiberglass is impregnated with resin. This results in an extremely durable textured material that provides grip in wet conditions. Contemporary survival knives employ bolts to secure their handles rather than epoxy. Micarta grips are a popular and simple aftermarket upgrade for BK-2 owners.
5: Blade Length
Squaw and twig fires are preferred in survival situations, chopping and splitting firewood expends valuable energy. However, in very wet conditions, a split wood fire may be necessary. Logs of dead wood with a girth of 2" to 4" are processed into kindling by splitting them in half to expose dry combustible wood. The blade tip should protrude from the log during the splitting process. This enables the blade to be hammered through the center of the log by a piece of dense green wood. This improvised mallet technique is referred to as batoning. The BK-2's wedge-like cross section excels at this task.
Batoning requires a minimum blade length of 5". Longer blades offer more performance. However, an overall length of 12" is a critical constraint of survival knives, thus a maximum blade length of 7". Any additional length degrades practical carry on our person. Larger tools will be stored behind a seat or on our pack but have a higher probability of loss. Many pilots found Randall's model 14 attack to be cumbersome in the cockpit. Bo shortened the blade design to 5.5" and designated it the model 15 airman. If logs of a larger girth is all that are available, a 5" blade may be used as a chisel via point first batoning. The BK-2's thick spine and exposed tang pommel support this technique. Point first is also useful for pulling chunks of fat wood from pine logs, to assist ignition in wet conditions.
6: Thick Spine, Full Tang
Batoning is also used to cut thick branches and small trees for shelter making. Chopping is quicker and more enjoyable but fatiguing and risky; the blade can bounce back or the hand slip forward. A lanyard twisted tightly on the wrist protects against loss of control when fatigued. The BK-2 is static and more controllable when batoned. Binding is less likely when circumcising with a series of "V" cuts, rather than hammering the knife all the way through. Combining a .25" thick spine with full tang provides the structural strength to prevent snapping at the hilt when knots are encountered.
Partial and rat tail tangs can develop stress fractures at the 90 degree interval from blade to tang. This is where the knives break in half. A full tang is visible from the top and bottom, the BK-2's handles only cover the sides. Never use rocks or metal objects to baton a knife. If you are going to hammer with a knife's pommel, don't support the object with your other hand. A deflection may leave you a few fingers shy.
Most knife manufacturers devote minimal attention to sheath design. Randall's C sheath, was designed under the auspices of the Marine Corps. Holes were located on the belt loop and tip of the sheath, for attachment to vests and webbing via leather thongs or paracord. The leather keeper secured the knife in vertical, inverted and horizontal carry. Rivets provided additional security if stitching rotted. The leather was often impregnated with wax to help repel moisture.
Currently, survival knife sheaths are available in leather, Zytel, Kydex and nylon fabric with hard inserts. People consider Zytel sheaths inferior because of their low cost. It reality, they offer the best overall performance. They don't retain moisture like leather, become brittle in freezing temperatures like Kydex or rip like nylon fabric. Kydex is popular with knife collectors because of its perceived quality but Fallkniven switched to Zytel due to the failures experienced with Kydex in extreme cold. The BK-2 ships with a Zytel sheath. Once modified as discussed below, the sheath is extremely functional.
8: BK-2 Functionality
Bo Randall's original design objective was to produce an indestructible tool with practical dimensions, to address the extreme demands of combat survival. Strength and ease of carry are less critical to the camper or bushcrafter, who will often favor a combination of axe, utility knife, saw and spade. However, the survival knife is suited to off trail backpackers, explorers, adventurers, hunters, pilots and soldiers where maximum performance is secondary to portability and practical performance and the potential for abusive duty. The BK-2 is amazingly versatile in this regard, handling everything from fuzz sticks and figure 4 traps to splitting logs. The only criticism is wafer thin slicing, due to the stout blade. It's a non-issue for a survival knife but something to consider if purchasing as a camp knife.
TV shows not withstanding; survival training stresses a practical, risk averse approach to resolving challenges. Core strategies being advance planning, preventing injury, conserving energy and equipment redundancy. Getting separated from our pack is far from impossible; a good survival kit is effectively a miniature backpack, providing means of shelter, water and fire. The BK-2 can be thought of as a back up for the survival kit, being capable of making shelter, water containers, fires, and traps. Although not nearly as rugged the BK-2, the Swiss Army knife has these capabilities too, giving triple redundancy.
The blade itself is excellent but there are a few niggles that need to be addressed for owners to get the most from their BK-2. It comes down to the handles and the sheath. The three bolts that secure the handles can come loose with vibration. An application of blue Loctite eliminates the issue. The Grivory handles absorb vibration well but their smooth surface makes them slippery when wet. Four options are available, fit a section of 1 3/8" bicycle inner tube as pictured above, spray the detached grips with truck bed liner, crater them with a soldering iron or substitute the Micarta handles pictured earlier.
The sheath is particularly vexing to owners. The first generation sheath would loosen with use. An upgraded model resolved that but retained the nylon web frog, which makes the 1 lb knife flop about when carried on the belt. Its lack of rigidity prevents a one hand draw. To fix, separate the carrier and sheath by unscrewing four connecting bolts. Crimp the three connecting rivets with pliers to detach the frog from the carrier. The carrier's three holes align with large Tek-Lok belt clips (pictured earlier), delivering a smooth one hand draw, comfortable vertical or horizontal (scout) belt carry and MOLLE compatibility. Some owners find the sheath initially dulls the blade; sharpening the knife a few times or expanding the blade channel with a diamond file usually resolves the issue. The smoother draw provided by the Tek-Lok also prevents the blade's edge contacting the sheath.
Ethan Becker named the BK-2 the 'Campanion' but 'Survivor' would have been just as fitting. It has been in production since the mid 1980's and proven itself in extreme survival conditions. It simply refuses to break. When manufacture switched from Camillus to Ka-Bar the 1095 Cro-Van (Sharon Steel 0170-06) received an upgraded heat treatment and even greater strength. The difference between 1095 and 1095 Cro-Van is in tensile strength rather than edge retention.
Before CAD and fly by wire came into existence, aviation design engineers used to apply the axiom of "if it looks right,
it will fly right". The BK-2 is as streamlined as a DC-3 but it's more a case of "if it feels right, it will work right" with
respect to knives. Critical to its versatility, the BK-2 feels like a natural extension of your hand, similar to gripping
a P-35, CZ-75B or P226. Fair warning, if you hold one of these in your hand, there is a good chance you'll end up
buying one, just because of how it feels. Some knife enthusiasts ponder upon the utility of the BK-2. Bushcraft and camping won't require your knife to pry open doors, dig rooted ground or pound through
green wood in freezing temperatures but survival doctrine does. The versatility and sheer strength of the BK-2 enable
it to excel in survival duty.
Questions & Feedback.
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Ian ST John.
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