A Rant About Knives, Cheerleaders, And “Bushcraft”
I am 42 years old. I have spent extensive time in the outdoors since infancy. My first sleeping bag was an REI Little Tahoma. I was raised in a home without electricity and my parents heated our house with a woodstove and nothing else during the -40 degree Northern New York State winters of my youth.
When I was 11 or 12 I collaborated with my younger brother in the construction of a small log cabin in the woods near our house. We used only hatchets. The cabin had a rooftop entry, an elaborate blowgun-based defense system, a treetop lookout tower was accessed by an elevated catwalk from the cabin roof. Exiting the treetop was accomplished by a rudimentary zipline.
I have slept outside in the Adirondack winter at 25 below zero. I have roasted freshly killed snowshoe hare over an open fire in the snow. Backcountry skiing through the untracked woods under the full moon was a common entertainment for my family. Back in the mid 1980’s, though, we just called it cross-country skiing;)
I have climbed cliffs, hunted elk, skied up 13,000 foot peaks, fallen down ravines, made fires in the pouring rain, backpacked in the rugged, root tangled wildernesses of the Northeast and the wide open rocky West. Many cuts have graced my hands, many winds have seared my face.
Dad gave me my first knife when I was barely able to walk.
Now has been uttered a keyword of my jeremiad. Knife!
I do not claim to be a wilderness expert. All of the above raving was only to help establish that I have some level of outdoor credibility.
And yet, never once in all those years have I found it necessary to “baton” with a knife.
Now the meager readership of my blog may divide itself into 2 camps:
1) Those who say “What does he mean by ‘batoning’ with a knife?”, and 2) Those who ruefully shake their heads while declaiming, “He doesn’t know how to baton! How could he be so ignorant about elementary bushcraft?”
To the first camp I reply: “Yeah, sounds like something that a cheerleader would do, right?”
To the “bushcrafters”, I respond thusly: “If you had not read on some useless internet forum run by a bearded, beer-bellied wannabe about the vital necessity of having a knife that you can ‘baton’ with, you would not be doing it!”
The concept of “batoning” with a knife is explained here. The idea is that you hit the spine of your knife with a piece of wood (a baton, get it?) thus driving the blade into another piece of wood and effectively using your knife like an axe or hatchet. A few questions arise:
1. If you are so bent on doing this in a “survival” situation, WHY NOT JUST GET YOURSELF A HATCHET?
2. How do you obtain the “baton” in the first place? If you used your knife to make it, why not just use your knife to make whatever it is you are planning to “baton” into existence and save yourself the trouble of making the cheerleading implement in the first place?
3. Is it really necessary?
4. Have you done it other than for the YouTube video that you posted about how to do it and why it is such an imperative skill?
If you try to do some online research regarding the quality of a knife, you will inevitably find some “expert” who stretches the stomach of his camouflage t-shirt with a windy exposition as to whether it can “baton” wood or not. This task for which a knife is not designed then becomes the sole criterion for determining it’s quality, durability, and fitness for “bushcraft” (Yes, that is another modern internet-fomented term that I am coming to loathe. Although if you are Ray Mears, I like you and it’s OK to say “bushcraft” :))
These cheerleaders for knive “batoning” generally also have an unhealthy fascination with paracord. (Is it genuine 550? How many “survival bracelets” should I make with it? etc. ad naseum)
But I digress. A knife is a fine and beautiful tool. It is made for cutting, paring, slicing, shaving, whittling. I have never had to “baton” with a knife. I have never seen my father or other experienced real outdoorsmen and hunters do it either.
I think that the real reason that it has become such a trendy little notion is because keyboard survivormen with minimal outdoors experience and a penchant for large blades have miraculously managed to popularize the idea.
All of this is not to say that the concept could never have a useful application, however, my 4 decades of outdoors experience have taught me not to judge a knife by it’s “batoning” ability.
UPDATE: I batoned some wood just because. My opinion has not changed. It worked passably well to split some pieces of wood for a fire I lit in a friends’ woodstove. It was indoors in a civilized environment. A hatchet would have worked better, but at least I now have some cool scrapes of the powder coating on the spine of my Kabar Necker Becker. Maybe I’ll look more bona fide now. (can you sense the sarcasm?)