Saved By: A Knife

Where there’s a blade, there’s a way. Use these techniques to carve, chop, scrape, and signal your way out of trouble.

Photo by Louisa Albanese

Carve a fuzz stick

Increasing a stick’s surface area helps it grow a small flame. Snap a dead, thumb-thick branch off a downed tree. Listen for a cracking sound, which signals the branch is dry (touch the broken end to your lips to confirm). Starting from the bottom, carve in at 30 to 35 degrees to peel back shavings of wood, creating an umbrella effect. Continue until the entire stick is fuzzed.

Make a weapon

To fashion a spear, use your knife to split an inch-thick stick about 6 inches at one end, then tie your knife into place with cordage. Style points: Fasten the knife perpendicular to the stick to make a tomahawk.

Make a bow

To make a primitive bow strong, you must follow a single growth ring for the entire length. (Crossing the wood grain weakens the bow.) For that you need a planing technique. Try this: Hammer a plug of wood onto the point of a fixed-blade knife. Using both hands, draw the knife toward you carefully at a 90-degree angle to the wood to refine imperfect branches into bows, arrows, or snowshoes.

Scrape out a bowl

Use hot coals to burn a bowl out of a log. Hold your blade at 90 degrees to the work surface and scrape out the char to finish your vessel.

Process firewood

Use a full-tang fixed blade–one where the metal extends through the handle–to chop logs into firewood. Place the knife atop a log and, using a softwood mallet, hammer the knife’s spine near the tip to bisect the wood. Avoid pitch-hardened knots, which can chip your blade.

Signal help

Spit-shine your blade as clean as you can and buff it until it gleams. To aim, create a V with the fingers of your outstretched, non-dominant hand and center your target (aircraft, ground searchers) in the V. Hold the knife close to your chest, playing with angles until you catch the sun. Now, flash the target in the V of your fingers (the V gives you visual confirmation that your effort is working).