I live in the suburbs. I work in an office. I have a tool chest full of luxury goods that I call my knife collection. I have grown accustomed to the lifestyle that only a little bit of age, experience, and savings can provide. I like to spend time outside, quality moments with my wife, running around with the kids, or throwing a summer barbecue. I love the great out of-doors, but to be clear, I am no Daniel Boone. But I, like other men and women, have the simple need to protect my investment and keep nature at bay. I do it with knives.
Knife collecting has always been a thing for me, but only after getting hooked on the vicarious outdoor adventures of Nutnfancy’s YouTube videos and cable survival shows did I get a sense for just how practical knives can be as all-around outdoor tools. Now you might quip that I have a “keen grasp of the obvious,” but as a result of this revelation, I can now (after years) allow myself to have fun doing yard work. Everybody wins.
Real bushcrafters have real skills with knives. It’s not anything carving a wooden spoon from scratch or crafting a clever trap or a sturdy shelter. These are very handy skills that may, in some cases, save your life in the wilderness or at least make it easier to stir your pot. Recognizing that my lifestyle may be on the mild end of things, I call what I do backyard bushcraft, a style honed for the suburban survival experience. It’s a very particular set of skills that may save you from an invasion of vines, a party without a fire pit, or a summer with nothing to do.
Backyard bushcraft comprises several loose categories: vegetation abatement (or as I refer to it, fighting the Hydra), firepit prep, and special projects. This style of bushcraft may not be as hardcore as what you see on the survival shows, or do around your own campfire, but it keeps this place habitable and provides an excellent opportunity for my knives to prove their worth.
FIGHTING THE HYDRA
Grapevine. Virginia creeper. English ivy. Poison ivy. All of it. Everywhere. All the time. A literal web of vines undergirds the grass of our backyard. To pull on one is to pull on them all. Climbing the fence, slowly breaking it down, reaching for the house intent on destruction through attrition. Vines are the number one enemy. Cut one and seven more pop up in its place.
When I test out the capabilities of a new knife, cutting vines and ivy in the backyard is usually the first test I put it through. Vines are tough and fibrous and prove a great medium to test blade geometry, edge quality, and pivot strength. “Pivot strength?” you ask. “Shouldn’t you be using a fixed blade for that?” Maybe so, but I’m not always up for carrying a belt knife when I’m out in my suburban Eden, and there are some spectacular folders that get the job done.
For years I was using an XL Cold Steel Vaquero for de-vining in the backyard. Its sinuous, 6-inch, serrated blade made short work of anything it came near and was especially useful in a pull-cut against a web of vines. Recently though, I have been branching out.
In addition to vines, we have these weird, wiry weed-trees that seem to pop up overnight right up next to the fence, where the Vaquero, due to its size, is not an option. I am very partial to serrations in fighting fibrous vegetations, so lately the task of cutting them at the root (as they are too deep to pull) has fallen on the diminutive Spyderco Delica Serrated Wharncliffe.
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September - October 2020