Handy-half dozen


- Credit: Archant

Knives are simple tools but choosing the right ones takes knowledge, as Phill Price tells us

It’s no secret to anybody who knows me that I find knives fascinating. I’m endlessly impressed by the creativity of knife manufacturers to add diversity to something which is, in essence, such a simple tool. It’s a sharp edge that separates the molecules of the thing we want to make smaller. We use them every day, in the kitchen, at work and out hunting. The press would like to demonise them and every time somebody accuses me of being dangerous because I own a knife I ask them how many they have in their kitchen. Five, ten, more? Of course, everybody owns knives: they’re just part of our daily life.

Choosing the right one for the airgun shooter is an interesting challenge and one that I’ve changed my mind about in recent years. The law has been tightened to try to stop criminals doing what criminals do, and unfortunately, law-abiding citizens could be affected by this. The rule for me is to lock my knife in the boot of the car every time I travel with one and then I’m happy that I won’t break the law.

Not so small

I always used to use the smallest knife possible so that if I was ever asked by a policeman why I was carrying it, it would look inoffensive, but today I avoid carrying one in a public place unless I’m going shooting or will be on private land. Because of this, I’ve see the advantages of using slightly bigger knives, that in many cases do a better job. Not too big, mind you. Huge, Rambo knives are no use to anybody, but a 3 to 3 1/2”-long blade is a better cutting tool than a 2” in any tough or tiring job.

A handle that fills your hand fully allows a more relaxed grip than a short, skinny one.

When we’re doing summer night rabbit clearances, gutting over 100 rabbits isn’t unusual and my knife hand can become very tired, and that’s when accidents can happen. Texture and perhaps some finger grooves can add security, as can a guard that stops your index finger from slipping onto the blade and these can make all the difference when your hands are cold, wet and bloody.

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Blade shape has a strong impact on the way the knife cuts and the control you have. I always use drop point blades for game preparation because the deep belly helps controlled slicing motions and minimises piercing of things such as rabbit guts. There’s a find line between a drop point and a modified spear point so that there’s actually little difference in field performance.

The steel you choose has a bearing on whether you’ll love your knife or not. If it’s too soft or has poor wear resistance you’ll spend half your time sharpening and the other half with a blunt knife. Dull knives are dangerous because you’ll tend to use a lot of pressure to make the cut, so if it goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way. A truly sharp edge slices through with little pressure and much more control. The best steels are hard enough to hold a fine edge for a long time, yet aren’t too difficult to re-sharpen.


Sharpening is a whole subject in its own right, but suffice to say if you do it well with the right equipment you’ll get a better edge and your knife will last longer. I like to clean and sharpen my knives after every hard day in the field because it takes just seconds to keep the edge in good condition, whereas if you allow it to get really blunt it will take a long time to recover and you’ll have to remove a lot of steel to get there.

Locking knives (and any blade over 3 inches), are, in the eyes of the law, prohibited for everyday carry, which is another good reason to keep them in the boot while you’re going to your shoot. However, I consider a lock to be an absolute must.

A blade that folds shut on your finger is a surefire recipe for a nasty cut, so I only use fixed blades and lockers. Liner locks are ultra-popular and are my favourite. They’re strong and simple and can be easily cleaned to prevent dirt, blood, fat and fur building up inside, a problem that can prevent them holding securely.


I’ve picked a few of the models I like best from the Enlan range that’s imported by Blades and Bows to show a few great choices for the everyday airgunner’s needs.

They’re all liner locks with open frames, except the EL-04 which uses a variant of Benchmade’s Axis lock. The blade steel is 8Cr13Mov which is a thoroughly modern stainless steel that holds a good edge and won’t corrode easily. I mostly chose synthetic handles because they can take all kinds of abuse but I put a couple of wooden ones in for those who like a bit of tradition. n