Cut to the Chase

The many uses and personalities of knives. 

Ask someone to borrow a knife these days and nine times out of ten they won’t be packing. It’s damn near impossible to find a blade in public, even here in Montana, where there’s all kinds of stuff that needs cuttin’. But it wasn’t long ago that personal knives—pocket knives, penknives, multitools, and rancher’s blades—were as much a part of everyday life as a watch, wallet, or purse. Moreover, these tools once represented independence, self-sufficiency, and practical utility in our Western culture. So, I ask, where have all the knives gone?

For Christmas last year, I bought my girlfriend a large knife. Okay, fine, it was more of a machete. But I bought it for her to fend off grizzly bears and creepy, baby-faced men who wear “product” in their hair. Nevertheless, her friends reacted as if I had given her chlamydia. “He gave you what? Why? What’s wrong with him?” But that blade has proven immensely useful—we even used it to hack our Christmas tree into tiny, disposable bits. It’s a new holiday tradition.

My point is that sometime in the last couple of generations, knives have gone from being traditional symbols of strength and power to perhaps the ultimate symbol of crazy. Don’t deny it; if you see a guy wearing a knife on his belt at the grocery store, you automatically lump him into one of four categories: survivalist nutjob; cult nutjob; redneck nutjob; or ninja. You know you do.

Maybe the prevalence of hand-softening office jobs like mine have rendered knives—arguably the oldest and most influential tool in human history—obsolete. Maybe “Tear Here” packaging, pop-top soup cans, kid-proof scissors, and prepackaged-for-your-convenience lifestyles have replaced resourcefulness and the once ubiquitous pocket tool. Maybe our litigious American fear of all things remotely dangerous, threatening, or fun has wrenched our knives away in the cursed name of political correctness. Maybe so few people have to kill anything before they eat it anymore that knives have lost their warrior appeal. Hell, maybe it’s simply that the despots at the TSA have confiscated every knife in the country in the name of national security—I know they currently have a half dozen of mine.

So, in protest, I propose a reintroduction of knives into the wild (pockets) of Montana. It’s just going to take a little effort; we need to reimagine our lives—with knives. Toenail clippers? Bullshit; flip open that jackknife blade and get to whittling those little piggies. Box cutter? Maybe—if you’re a communist who insists on using a dressed-up razor blade rather than an All-American Bowie knife. And if the first thing you thought when I said “Bowie” was an aging rock star with an obnoxious British accent, that is further proof that you are, indeed, a filthy communist. Scissors? Pffffft. Remove the pivot and you have two perfectly good throwing knives.

I’ve personally used a pocket knife to gut hundreds of fish, sharpen the bitchin’-est hot-dog stick ever, dig Bridger Bowl rock shards out of the bases of my skis, shave my beard (granted, it resulted in a full-face razor burn rivaled only by the effects of napalm), intimidate people at the coffee shop by cleaning my fingernails, spread at least five gallons of peanut butter, carve my girlfriend’s name into an aspen tree, recarve my girlfriend’s name into another aspen tree (spelled correctly this time), and cut the cheese. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Our modern lives may no longer require us to carry a personal knife for dining or defense (unless, perhaps, if you live in Browning), but the necessity of knives hasn’t disappeared. I am of the opinion that we’re all just a bunch of namby-pamby, overly politically correct, convenience-softened pushovers who need to be reminded of the intrinsic value, basic usefulness, and yes, sexiness of carrying a good blade. So please, dear Bozemanites, reimagine your life—with a knife.

What Your Knife Says About You

You can tell a lot about people by the blades they choose to carry. It’s kind of like a personality indicator, or even a mood ring—that also doubles as a lethal weapon. Here’s a primer on blade psychology.

Multitool: This person is practical, level-headed, and likely works with his or her hands either professionally or as a serious hobby. Not likely to be aggressive, but can probably drink more beer than you—and will likely buy the first round. This definitely is NOT the only knife this person owns; it’s just the only one needed on a daily basis.

“Assisted-open” lock-blade: This person is a “techie” and prefers titanium and composite to steel and bone. May be legitimately aggressive personalities, but may also use the knife as an intimidating front. Other objects of interest include iPads, Mountain Khakis, custom fly rods and skis (both made of carbon), and expensive, difficult-to-obtain IPA beer.

Bowie knife: Depending on the size of the blade (bigger = crazier), the Bowie represents a wide range of personalities. On the smaller, more practical end of the spectrum, the Bowie is likely carried by someone with a mustache or has worn spurs in the last six months. On the more Rambo-esque side of the spectrum, the Bowie is likely carried by someone with a personality disorder, a tattooed forehead, and/or tiny genitals. These qualities are not mutually exclusive and often overlap.

Penknife: A vanishing category of knife, the penknife was once primarily used to sharpen quills for writing. Now, these small, sharp, folding blades are most often reserved for the corduroy jacket pockets of college professors (especially adjunct professors) who wish to appear academically antithetical, and, equally, the purses of old ladies.

Boy Scout knives: With a simple single-edged blade, a fork, a spoon, and a can opener, the folding “boy scout” knife is a camping classic and is most often carried by boy scouts. That’s it. I know it’s not that funny, but it’s unrealistic to expect every sentence to entertain. It’s not about you.

No knife: This person leads a predictable and routine existence devoid of meaning and excitement. Probably uses scented hand lotion regularly and sometimes plays one of those “fireplace” DVDs on a flatscreen to simulate a campfire. Either that or the TSA took this person's knife.—Drew Pogge