8 Ways to Use a Bushcraft Knife to Survive in the Wild

Getting by in the wild without a knife is almost impossible. It’s the backbone of any survival kit. From chopping wood for fires to building shelters, a good bushcraft knife can make life in the woods much more comfortable. But if your only experience with a knife is smearing peanut butter and jelly, you won’t get much out of it in a survival situation. The following tips will help you get the most out of your blade.

What to Look for in a Bushcraft Knife

The Bushcrafter Benchmade 162

The Bushcrafter Benchmade 162. Benchmade

The following features make it a knife well suited for carpentry, as well as field dressing a deer.

  1. Blade: 4 to 5 inches.
  2. Spine: Flat for hammering with a truncheon, without upper finger guard and ground with 90 degree sharp corners.
  3. To manage: Rounded and smooth and provides good grip with gloves. A tang that extends through the handle for added strength is a good feature. However, there are knives, like the Mora Bushcraft, without full tang that will work well.
  4. End: Made from unbreakable material.
  5. Grind: Scandinavian, otherwise known as the “scandi” grind, or flat grind.
  6. Steel: One that resharpens easily, like 1095 Cro-Van or carbon steel.
  7. Sheath: It is very important that your knife has a good sheath that locks the knife when not in use. Loose sheaths can lead to injury and increase the risk of losing your knife. If your knife doesn’t come with a sturdy sheath, have one made.

Eight Ways to Use a Bushcraft Knife

1. Cut down a tree.

If you can double a sapling with one hand (soften it up by bending it back and forth several times), you can cut the trunk in half by applying downward pressure with an angled cut. The sapling should be green and pressure should be maintained evenly throughout the cut, although with larger trees it may be necessary to rock the blade. Support the young tree when the trunk weakens. It will be impossible to complete the cut if the wood splinters.

To fell softwood trees (poplar, birch, some conifers) up to 6 inches in diameter, drive the knife into the tree at a right angle to the trunk, then shake it sideways or smash the spine with a stick (a hard stick used as a club) to work the blade back and forth and widen the cut. Repeat the process around the trunk. —Keith McCafferty

2. Use the “chewing beaver” method to cut precise lengths of wood.

A knife cutting a branch with a beaver's bite.
Work around the stick making small cuts. Matthew Every

Building shelters, crafting tools, or crafting traps sometimes requires specific lengths of wood. Without a saw, doing these specific lengths is more difficult, but still doable. You can search for the appropriate pieces and maybe get lucky, or you can use your knife and the beaver’s chew method to cut them. —Matthew Every

A branch of wood broken in half.
After cutting around the stick, break it in half. Matthew Every

Start by measuring where you want to cut. Then place your knife at a 45 degree angle against the stick. Use your thumbs to push on the back of your knife and take small bites of the stick while spinning it. Once you’ve gotten around the stick, it should be weak enough to snap cleanly to the proper length. -ME

3. Cut an animal skin into strips to make cordage.

Rope is a primary survival tool, essential for crafting bowstrings, tie-down gear, and reinforcing suspenders for shelter. Skin from almost any animal can be cut into strips using a circular cutting technique. Press the tip of the knife into a flat wooden surface, then pull the skin into the spiral blade to make a long strip. A guide pin driven into the wood maintains an even cut. —KM

4. Make a feather stick to light the fire.

A wooden carved quill stick.
Feather sticks will start a fire like a piece of newspaper. Matthew Every

If you can’t find dry kindling to start a fire, you can use your knife to make some in the form of a feather stick. Lay the end of a large stick on the ground, then shave down to lift the curls of dry wood. At the end of each stroke, pry the blade outward to spread the feathers apart. The end result will burn easily. —KM

5. Light a ferro rod to start a fire.

In my opinion, ferrocerium rods, or ferro rods, are essential tools to bring into the woods. They are lightweight and can start countless fires no matter how wet they are or how cold it is outside. The small particles of an iron rod ignite when scratched quickly, and there’s no better tool for the job than a good piece of steel. You can spark a ferro rod with the edge of a blade, but it will dull your knife. A better approach is to flip the knife over and use the spine. -ME

Carry a ferro rod with your knife to start fires in all conditions.
Carry a ferro rod with your knife to start fires in all conditions. ysbrand via depotphotos.com

A good bushcraft knife will have a square spine specifically for this task. Simply lay the spine on the ferro rod and angle it so one corner contacts the rod. Then quickly rake the corner on the rod. This should create a spark, and if you have tinder to catch it, you’ll be starting a fire in no time.

If your knife doesn’t have a square back, you can modify it with a file or sandpaper and a hard surface. Do not use power tools as this will affect the heat treatment. -ME

6. Beat a blade for splitting wood.

A knife spends a measly second to an ax as a chopping tool, but when hammered with a stick, a small blade is perfectly capable of splitting small to medium sized logs or making dry splits from blocks of wood. Striking the knife with a stick, split a thin shingle from the side of a block of dry wood. Sharpen the edges of the shingle to make a wedge, insert the wedge into a crack in the wood (or make a crack in the wood with the blade), then hammer the wedge with a stick to split the wood for a fire. Using a series of wedges, you can split a section of log lengthwise. You can also use a stick and blade to split the chest cavity of an elk or moose. Keep one side of the sternum for an easier cut. —KM

7. Use the chest lever cut for better control.

When you’re down to your latest M&M, counting calories takes on a whole new meaning. Wilderness survival is all about saving energy. Although it seems like you have to pull yourself out of a disaster, the less you move your body, the better. The breast lift cut makes the most of the few calories you have left by leveraging your back and shoulders to make short, strong cuts. It is also very safe.

The breast lever cut is a safe and easy way to make cuts.
The breast lever cut is a safe and easy way to make cuts. tedodeh via depotphotos.com

Bring your knife and the piece of wood you are working on up to your chest and lay the blade on the wood. Grip the knife firmly like you would a hammer. Keep your arms tight, in a kind of chicken wing position, and pull across your shoulders and arms to pull the blade into the wood and away from your body. This fit is strong and allows you to safely apply a lot of pressure. It’s a great cut for making picket stitches or cutting smaller sticks in half with one stroke. You can also slow it down to make precise, tightly controlled cuts. -ME

Read more : Bushcraft Knives vs Survival Knives

8. Master the push cut and the stop cut.

A branch of wood with a push cut and a stop cut carved into it.
Push cut and stop cut are essential for notches, hinges and toggles. Matthew Every

If you want to make traps and seesaws, you’re going to need some good solid nocks. Two essential techniques for scoring wood with a knife are the stop cut and the push cut. First, make a stop cut by applying pressure to the heel of your knife at a 90 degree angle into a stick. You can lightly bludgeon the back of your knife or use your thumbs. Then make a push cut at a 45 degree angle about half an inch from your 90 degree cut and take small bites from the stick towards it until you reach the desired depth. The push cut ends at the stop cut, leaving a perfect notch. -ME

Six knife safety tips to remember

It goes without saying, but as easily as a knife will cut through a piece of kindling, so will your skin. Cutting yourself in a survival situation will reduce your chances of getting out alive. No matter how proficient you are with a blade, it’s important to practice these basic knife safety tips when you’re away from help.

  1. Think a step ahead of your cut to avoid cutting yourself. In other words, ask yourself: Where will the blade end up after making the cut?
  2. Don’t run with your knife.
  3. Don’t catch a falling blade.
  4. Always cut away from your body.
  5. When you are not using your knife, keep it in a secure case.
  6. Your first aid kit and your knife go hand in hand. Don’t go into the woods without packing both and stocking your kit with enough bandages to fix a nasty cut.


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