If I am in a survival situation and can only have one edged tool, which is more important the hand axe or the knife? Today, this is the start of long and sometimes heated discussions around a campfire. In this article we will look at the attributes of each and try to formulate an answer based on knowledge.
The hand axe from its beginning was used as a chopper to remove large pieces of meat from harvested game and get at bone marrow, needed for its nutrients. It was probably used to chop wood and numerous other tasks. The earliest examples of hand axes were just a stone with one or more sides that were sharp. In the truest sense a hand axe has no handle and is the oldest tool of man.
For the last 6,000 years the hand axe and axe have been hafted, handle attached, and the head has been made of metal. Technological advances have improved their power, efficiency, durability, and transportability, but altered their purpose minimally.
Today, hand axe is a general term used for short axes. Hatchet and tomahawk are names of hand axes with specific design characteristics, but are sometimes mistakenly used as the general term.
The knife has been in existence for about 21/2 million years. Many scientists consider it as the oldest tool of mankind instead of the hand axe. A knife can be an edged tool that has a handle or has no handle.
A knife’s primary purpose is for slicing or light cutting. It cuts smaller pieces of meat, hide, sticks, vines, etc. A knife may be as short as about 1 inch and as long as 4-5 feet in the case of some swords. This diversity of size allows the knife to be used in a variety of ways and instigates the argument of importance.
Small to medium, 6 or 7 inch, knives are ideal for gutting, skinning, and slicing bacon or vegetables. Large knives are ideal for cutting larger pieces of meat and wood and used as weapons. Machetes and swords are the heavy cutters of the knife world.
With the exception of the bolo machete, a knife generally has its weight balanced between the blade and the handle. The bolo is weighted forward to increase the force delivered with each stroke for heavier cutting.
A hand axe concentrates most of its weight in the head for optimum power. A longer handle on a hand axe increases the mechanical advantage and the resulting power. A knife and hand axe of equal weight and length will not have equal striking force because of the differing concentration of weight. Therefore, the hand axe will always be superior when chopping large or tough substances.
A knife can be used to cut large pieces of wood by utilizing a baton, a large piece of wood, to strike the back of the knife which increases the force applied. It is labor intensive, however. In a survival situation where food is scarce or non-existent the increased expenditure of energy could result in exhaustion and ultimately death.
Most hand axes are bulkier than a knife and do not have as sharp an edge. The Firestone Belt Axe may be the exception. Due to the extra bulk and duller edge, it is difficult to perform tasks such as opening the body cavity to remove the guts of game. Small game or fish intensifies the difficulty.
It has been shown that the hand axe and knife were developed for very different tasks and remain so today. Therefore, an answer to the question of which is more important will depend on temperature, vegetation, and game present in the survival location. A hand axe might be relatively useless in the desert. However, a knife could not provide enough fuel to stay alive in the forested areas of the mountains and northern climates during much of the year.
An in depth look at the attributes of the hand axe and knife has shown us much about their capabilities, but still does not give us a clear answer alone. Geographical concerns are as important as the attributes of the tools. I can’t answer for you, but I will carry both almost always since I consider each unique and of equal importance.