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You know the saying, “when all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail?” I feel the same way about knives. If you always have one, it seems like you constantly encounter uses for one!
I’ve been a fan of knives for as long as I’ve been allowed to carry them. I started with the simple old school pocket knives, but my first favorite knife was a military-style Ka-Bar knife, which I bought because both for the historical value (I was a big WWII buff) and because it looked awesome. I carried that knife on my belt whenever I was camping, hunting, fishing, or otherwise exploring the outdoors (I didn’t believe in hiking for hiking’s sake back then), and used it for everything. It was an incredibly solid knife with a steel butt that I could even use as a hammer.
But once I was no longer in school, and could carry a knife daily, a foot long, fixed blade knife was obviously impractical and tended to attract attention around the office, so I switched to more advanced folding lock-blade knives. First the Spyderco Endura, which I carried almost every day for almost 20 years, and now the Gerber Fast-Draw knife, which is my every day knife today. It has a spring-assist that makes it very easy to open one handed, and is always accessible with the pocket clip.
I also like the multi-tools and survival knives. I always wanted one of those cool Rambo knives that had the fishing line, matches and compass hidden in the handle, but since I already had the Ka-Bar, I didn’t really think I needed it. But I do have a Gerber Multi-Tool in one car and a Leatherman Multi-Tool in the other, and generally carry one of those in my backpack if I’m on a serious expedition and might need more than just a knife. I even have a miniature multi-tool I keep on my key chain–the classic mini Swiss Army Knife.
All of which is a long way to say that I may have an unhealthy fondness for knives, so when we received an e-mail from the Swedish Company “Light My Fire”, asking if we would be willing to test their new fire-starting knife, it was an enthusiastic yes! Furthermore, my fondness for fire is even unhealthier than my fondness for knives, so I was really looking forward to this assignment. I was previously unfamiliar with the company, so I did some research while waiting for the knife to arrive, and found that they produce a range of interesting and colorful lightweight, but durable gear for hikers and campers, including sporks, spice tins, and even a full mess kit! But they got their start making steel and magnesium fire starters and tinder sticks, and recently combined that experience with their first knife, built in partnership with Mora of Sweden, a company that has built knives for over 100 years.
The FireKnife is a very cleverly designed knife with a fire starting striker hidden in the pommel. When it first came in the mail, I confess I was a bit concerned. It had a bright blue handle in a blue plastic sheath that looked a lot like my dive knife, and quite honestly is not a color I personally would wear on the trail (it would clash with my earth tones, dontchaknow…). Other color choices include red (no thank you), orange (negative), bright green (possibly) and black (yes!), so there are some different choices available to the fashion conscious survivalist over on Amazon, and the colors really would match a lot of the backpacks and windbreakers that are on the market very well. These colors would also be very visible if put down on the ground, making losing the knife much less likely than smaller grey or black knives would be (like mine).
When I took it out of the box, my concern continued–it was so lightweight, that I feared it was a toy that would be easily broken with heavy use. Lightweight is a great benefit on the trail or when backpacking, but fragile is not. This knife is definitely not as heavy duty as the Ka-Bar, and I probably wouldn’t use it as a pry bar or a hammer, but at about 4 ounces (1/3 the weight of the 12 oz Ka-Bar) and 9 inches (3 inches shorter than the Ka-Bar), it is much more practical to carry on a belt or backpack strap, and is therefore much more likely to be there when you actually need it. And for a knife sheath without a retention snap/strap, it seems to hold on to the knife tightly enough that I wouldn’t worry about it falling out of the sheath on the trail, though regular hard usage might make it looser on down the road.
Despite the light feel, it is in fact a full tang knife, meaning the metal that the blade is made of continues through the entire handle of the knife, which is critical for a knife that you intend to put to serious use. Knife blades that are attached to the handle tend to snap where they are joined together, while full tang knives do not.
The blade itself is three inches, a half inch longer than the blade on my Gerber folding knife (though nearly identical in weight), and reminds me in shape of a large paring knife, though much more durable (made of Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel, if that means anything to you). The point is sharp and the edge feels sharp, but I didn’t really have a way to test it effectively against other knives. The handle is a hard rubber material that makes for a very comfortable, non-slip grip, but there is also a lanyard attached to the handle/flint piece, which you could use for even more security in wet conditions or if using it somewhere you couldn’t afford to drop it.
But the feature that will drive people to purchase the knife is the fire-starting capability. The pommel of this knife actually can be removed, revealing an inch and a half long “FireSteel” (magnesium, I’m pretty sure) starter, that creates 3,000 degree Celsius (5,400 Fahrenheit!) sparks when used with the back of the knife. For comparison, a standard match burns at about 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
Starting a fire this way is not as easy as it looks on television. Just for fun (see comment about fondness for fire above…), and completely coincidentally, my son and I have previously played with a variety of fire starters in the past, including the really old school flint rock and steel kits and the standard magnesium starter kit you can get in almost any sporting goods store. The flint and steel was a disaster, and the cheapo magnesium kits through some decent sparks, but it was very difficult to get a fire started with it, especially since it is hard to get a good hold on the small pieces.
Using the back of the knife blade in this kit makes it much easier to comfortably strike the FireSteel piece, and that piece is also molded to allow a decent finger hold, though I recommend you use the lanyard as well for a better grip. I don’t know whether it is the quality of the FireSteel, or simply that the grip makes it easier to properly use, but it seemed like the sparks we got were better than what I’d gotten from the stand-alone kits I’d used before.
We were able to light a propane stove fairly easily, though you have to get pretty close to the burner to do it, leading to potentially singed hairs on the hand, but probably not any real danger if you’re careful.
Our teenage son was able to light the propane stove with the knife, with some effort.
I lit the stove very quickly–beginner’s luck?
We also were able to start regular fires, though we did have to cheat a bit at times. I was legitimately able to start a fire with some dried pine needles and no added assistance, and later was able to ignite some toilet paper. While my 14 year old son could light the stove with it, he was not able to get the paper or leaves started up until we added charcoal starter fluid to the mix, and neither of us could get wadded up newspaper to start until, again, we squirted some “Boy Scout Juice” on it.
You can see the sparks are good, but it is hard to light the newspaper–we were striking to hard and fast, and not close enough to the tinder.
Sure, we cheated with starter fuel here to get the fire started, but we did start a fire without it, too–we just didn’t get it on video. I’m still striking too fast here, btw. A slower scrape works much better.
Through trial and error, we learned that it was much more effective to slowly scrape the blade along the FireSteel, rather than striking it, though we kept slipping back into quick strike mode by habit. We used the knife a lot, and wound up with black marks all over the blade as a result, but they washed off quite nicely.
If I were doing the test again, I probably would have obtained some actual fire tinder like the one sold by Light My Fire, or similar waxy or cottony fire starting aids. Of course, being able to start a fire using those sorts of easy flaming tinders means you have to actually carry those tinders with you in the field. I do always carry toilet paper with me in my backpack and the back of the truck, and generally carry other forms of fire starter as well, plus waterproof matches, and usually a lighter.
Would I carry the FireKnife and leave my waterproof matches or survival lighter at home? Probably not, though I always carry a knife in the field, and generally only carry the fire starting gear if we’re doing a back country hike, so on the “it only helps if you have it available” principle, the knife could come in handy if fire were needed on a day I didn’t have my fire starting kit with me. Furthermore, I’m a big fan of redundancy, and if my lighter or matches were wet or weren’t working, this knife would make a good back-up plan that isn’t susceptible to moisture (though the tinder still would be).
As a knife, it has a lot to offer as well. It is a convenient size, very lightweight, and quite durable. I could easily see strapping one to my backpack to have available. For me, for now, I’ll likely stick with my Gerber folding knife, but I could definitely see my wife carrying it if we were backpacking and she wanted a knife of her own. It’s size, feel, and look would likely appeal to women more than a knife shoved in the pocket or a giant Ka-Bar would.