Mammoth ivory or wood? How to pick a pocket knife for life

  • Living
  • Wednesday, 24 Jun 2020

Even pocket knives go through trends, one of the current ones being a smooth wooden shell. — Victorinox AG/dpa

A pocket knife can come in handy in all sorts of situations: cutting a chunk of cheese, fashioning a walking stick, cutting through some clingfilm or loosening a screw.

You can use it to file your nails or gut a fish you caught yourself and even rescue the picnic when someone forgot to bring a bottle opener for the wine. And then there are some that let you saw, write or light up the darkness with a built-in torch.

Whether at home or on the move, it’s a multi-tool for all occasions. But do you want the full-blown Swiss Army variety with toothpick and corkscrew or just a simple folding knife?

Specialists generally agree, don’t buy a bulky knife. The most practical are the smallest ones because the smaller they are, the more likely you are to take them with you, on a key ring for example.

“But bigger models with lots of functions are also popular, ” says Carsten Kulcke who works for the Swiss manufacturer Victorinox, widely seen as the original Swiss Army knife manufacturer.

“They’re kept as little toolboxes – in cases on belts, in the glove boxes of cars and in rucksacks. They’re also useful to have at home.”

True to the cliche, it’s mainly men who like to have a pocket knife, according to Hajo Wilkes from the German manufacturer Boeker. “It’s an emotional subject, ” he says. “A small boy remembers the first pocket knife he’s given. It leaves an impression.”

Some people keep their knives for years; others have to have a new model several times a year. And that’s not just for practical reasons, when a manufacturer comes up with a new function or use. A pocket knife is often also a piece of designer kit and in some cases it’s even an investment.

Pocket knives with handles of mammoth ivory are considered trendy collector's items at the moment. Photo: Stefan Schmalhaus/dpa Pocket knives with handles of mammoth ivory are considered trendy collector's items at the moment. Photo: Stefan Schmalhaus/dpa

“Handles made from mammoth ivory or mammoth teeth are very popular at the moment, ” says specialist journalist Stefan Schmalhaus. “The mammoths, which died out, are seeing daylight again because the permafrost in Siberia is thawing.”

Unlike elephant ivory, it’s legal to make things with mammoth ivory. The material is stabilised with artificial resin and is therefore robust and fine for everyday use.

“Aluminium and wooden scales are also trendy, ” according to Kulcke. “Collectors especially want limited series, for example with blades made from damask steel. For them, it’s about the perfect balance between colour, surface structure and materials.”

Pocket knives have become lifestyle accessories, and there are even ranges aimed at women. There are those that encase a manicure set, for example, or those that are especially made for peeling and cutting oranges while on the move – and that’s just to name a couple of examples.

Even when you don’t see them – because as the name suggests, if you’ve got a pocket knife with you, it’s usually in your pocket – pocket knives belong to what are now known as “everyday carry” items.

“That means all the things that people carry around with them everyday: smartphones, watches, keys, pens and pocket knives, ” says Wilkes.

Nevertheless, if you try and name someone from your family or in your social circle who always has a pocket knife with them, you might not come up with that many names. Because between bulging wallets and increasingly large smartphones, who wants more stuff in their pockets?

That’s why Wilkes advises that the “knives that people take with them must firstly be practical and made for the actual needs of their owners”.

Those who want a multi-tool with things like pliers, screwdrivers, nail files or saws should

think more carefully about which of those functions they really need and limit themselves to those tools.“The more functions a pocket knife has, the heavier and more difficult to use it is, ” says Peter Baruschke, an editor at the German DIY magazine Selbst ist der Mann.

He advises holding a knife in your hand before you buy it, to see how easily the different tools open and close. “You can test the sharpness of the knife by cutting paper, ” he adds. “Just hold [the paper] with one hand and cut down with the knife.” – dpa

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