Scout’s Honor

An envelope or postal package taped up tight, a thread hanging from the cuff of the shirt, a piece of fruit that needs to be peeled or sliced – these are the day-to-day moments that call out for the sharp blade of a folded knife kept handy in a pocket. Pocket knives are a useful tool for everyone at some point or another. I’ve had none in my pocket since I was a seven-year-old cub scout.

Folding knives have been around for a long time. They have a history that dates back to the early Iron Age, 500-600 BC. Nowadays there are some twenty-two different styles of pocket knives including the dog bone, sow belly, lady leg, canoe and hawk bill. And that isn’t even taking into account the multi-tool versions like the Swiss army knife or the lock blades like the folding buck knife.

Pocket knives are often referred to as pen knives, harkening back to the days when a small knife was a literary accessory that allowed its owner to fashion ink-dipping pens from feather quills. These days they’re more likely to be called “jack-knives,” something you can use to transform a small branch into a fishing rod prop that can double as an improvised fish stringer.

I’ve got a drawer full of pocket knives, but only two that I carry with any regularity these days. That drawer is a show and tell history of my relationship with jack-knives. They go all the way back to the Boy Scout knife I had in my pocket as a kid. It had a large blade, a small blade, an awl, a bottle opener/screwdriver and a can-opener. I used it to sculpt bars of soap and play mumblety-peg. Then I graduated to a heavy, two-bladed Barlow. Like the Case jack-knife I once owned, it was a good work and wood whittling knife. And from there it was the Swiss Army Knife with all its various tools, everything from screwdrivers and scissors to a corkscrew.

Nowadays I have two active pocket knives, one larger than the other, both similar in appearance and function. The larger “Old Timer” jack-knife has three blades, the longest being two and a half inches. It goes in the pocket of my blue jeans whenever I go fishing. It’s just the right tool for cutting fishing line and cleaning fish. In a pinch I can dress out a deer with this knife. I know because I have. It was a gift from a friend in whose wedding party I served thirty-something years ago.

The smaller “Old Timer” was a gift from another friend. It has two blades, large and small, the longest being an inch and three-quarters. It’s the perfect size for day-to-day wear. I’ve had it for somewhere around a decade now. I can’t tell you how many times it’s been just the right tool at the right time.

These Schrade “Old Timer” pocket knives have been popular for generations. They feature saw cut bone handles, high carbon stainless steel blades, nickel silver bolsters, brass pins and heat-treated back springs. And, like most pocket knives, the blades have fingernail slots to make it easy to unfold them.

The only drawback to these two and most other pocket knives is they don’t have locking blades, which means they aren’t suitable for stabbing cuts, since it’s possible for the blade to fold back on the fingers. I never use my pocket knife in this manner, a lesson I learned a long time ago. People who are slow to learn this are better off having a folding Buck knife with a single locking blade.

These days a problem with pocket knives is that certain people, like court bailiffs and TSA airport personnel, seem to think these are potentially deadly weapons and are happy to hold onto them for you, perhaps forever. There’s definitely a good time to leave your pocket knife at home or in the glovebox of the car.

Here’s a word of warning about pocket knives. At some point in time you’ll be tempted to use the blade of a pocket knife as a screwdriver. Don’t do this. A couple of the jack-knives in that storage drawer of mine are missing the tips of their blades for just that reason.

And if you happen to know someone who has one of those pocket knives with a broken tip, then you know someone who will appreciate a new pocket knife as a gift.