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Briar Patch Outdoors

The Versatile Scout Knife

by George Hedgepeth

Old fashioned it may be, but the scout pattern knife is a piece of gear that is too useful to be dismissed. For generations they have been tried and found practical for woodsmen, soldiers, and even Boy Scouts!

Although it has been surpassed by "cooler" designs in popularity, the familiar Boy Scout folding knife is still a very versatile and imminently practical design. It can handle a huge number of tasks while still being small enough for daily pocket carry. The style's rounded bolsters also make it easy to pocket carry. If fact, it is one of the best choices one can make in picking a tool for everyday activities in the field or even at home.

The key to the utility of this design is that, although it has only a limited number of blades (4 in the classic version), each of these are useful for multiple tasks. Modified scout patterns may add or change a blade or two, and these also tend to be pragmatic choices. The classic scout pattern includes a main blade, a bottle opener, a can opener, and an awl. Also, they feature a bail attached to one of the bolsters.

The Main Blade: This is generally a relatively broad, flat ground, spear-point. The point is rather abrupt, and is often a bit low of the blade's centerline. This shape is useful and not delicate. The length of the blade in this pattern averages about 2 3/4" and about 5/8" across the widest portion. This provides adequate length for most chores required of a folding knife. Also, it will spread peanut butter quite well!

The shape of the blade is non-specialized, and there are few jobs that it will not handle. It makes a surprisingly effective tool for cleaning small game, and it is even up to the task of field dressing deer.

The Bottle Opener: In this age of twist-off tops, this feature may be arguably obsolete on a scout pattern knife. That being said, it also provides a large screwdriver. This is indeed a very useful feature. It is a very good size for adjusting telescopic sights for hunters.

Another less obvious feature of this tool is the value of the notch in the bottle opener for working with wire. A piece of heavy-gauge wire, such as old fencing, can be positioned in the notch and the knife can be used as a wrench to produce precise bends. This is useful for making pot bails, blanket pins, and pot hooks in the field.

The Can Opener: Although fewer people back pack with canned goods than in the past, the ability to open a can of beans can still come in awfully handy. Beyond this, there are quite a few other jobs the claw-shaped can opener can do very well. It is very handy for lifting a boiling can off the fire. It can be used, if sharp, like a burin for graving bone, slate, and other hard materials.

If, like most, it is not provided with a sharp edge, it is still very useful. The can opener can be user to scribe folding seams when working bark, rawhide, or even thin sheet metal. It is a handy pick for worrying the meats out of hickory nuts. The premier use of this tool is in busting apart knots. It works like a powerful finger nail, digging into knots and loosening them even when the rope is very tight or wet. One can often avoid cutting valuable cordage by using an unsharpened can opener to undo knots without damaging the fibers.

The Awl: Awls are under-appreciated in the modern world. In the wilderness, they are a desired item indeed! Awls were one of the most common trade goods listed in the records of European and later American merchants doing business on the frontier. Today, a lucky woodsman can have an awl available at any time.

The awl on a scout knife is typically rather short and sturdy, with a sharp point and a single beveled edge. It can poke holes in canvas, leather, and bark. If rotated, it can bore a hole through wood quickly. If the awl has a hole through it (like most of the Swiss army knives) then it can be used for heavy duty sewing. The single bevel can be used for wood or bone work or with a metal match. Lastly, the smooth side of the awl works very well as a hone to restore tool edges or to burnish wood or leather. There are far too many needs that an awl fills to not have one available.

The Bail: The bail of a scout knife really only has one purpose - it is present to allow a cord to be fixed to the knife. Usually, this means a lanyard that is also tied to the knife’s user to prevent loss. By attaching the lanyard to a belt loop and stuffing the length of cord into the pocket in which the knife is carried, it is rendered both secure and unobtrusive. This is particularly useful when working around deep water or in heavy brush.

A long piece of light cord can be attached to the bail to allow the knife to be used as a weight for throwing the line over a branch or across a stream. The light line can then be used to haul a heavier rope to the goal. This can be a handy trick, but should be used with caution- throwing away a knife is rarely a good idea!

- Woodsrunner Tips -

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Send an email to georgehedgepeth(at)hotmail(dot)com

Briar Patch Outdoors
219 Holmes Street
Durand MI 48429
(989) 288-0168

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