How you hold any kind of hand tool – be it a paintbrush or a pocketknife – will have a huge influence over your control of that tool. When using a pocketknife, a suitable grip will make safe and effective cutting greatly easier.
Your exact grip will differ depending on the size, handle shape and blade shape of your knife, and the relative size of your hands, or if you are wearing gloves, etc., but the grips listed here are ones I use regularly outdoors.
A very strong and secure grip for occasions when extra force is required. ‘Choking up’ on the blade (moving your hand as close to the edge as possible) reduces the twisting force on your grip, allowing greatest power to be transferred from your arm to the material being cut.
– A good grip for push cuts in hard materials, such as trimming or sharpening wooden stakes.
Placing your thumb on the back of the blade – especially if the knife features jimping and/or a thumb ramp – increases control over the blade tip, but does reduce the overall power you can transfer (depending on how strong your thumb is).
– A good grip for slicing cuts in softer materials, such as preparing fruit and vegetables , or cutting down cardboard boxes.
Placing your index finger along the spine of the blade gives maximum control of the very tip of the blade. However, depending on the length of the blade, this grip can make maintaining a secure hold on the handle – without your middle finger coming into contact with the blade edge – very difficult.
– An ideal grip for fine, delicate work, such as removing a thorn or splinter, or unpicking stitching.
The same as the hammer grip, but with the blade edge facing toward you, rather than away, for situations where a cut will be made by pulling rather than pushing.
– A good grip for cutting cordage or rope.
Hammer Grip with Thumb Lever
Using the thumb of the other hand to reinforce the cut by pressing on the spine of the blade, increases control when making cuts in harder materials.
– A good grip for wood carving and trimming.
Reverse Grip with Chest Lever
Bracing the workpiece across your chest allows you to apply lots of extra leverage to a cut, increasing power while still maintaining very good control. Both arms are used to apply force to the cut in opposite directions, while expanding the chest at the same time.
– A very powerful cutting method, ideal for trimming, shaping and sharpening wooden stakes, pegs, staves, etc,
Gripping the knife with the butt of the handle in the palm of your hand – as you would a screwdriver – allows force to be directed down the length of the blade and straight out of the tip, with minimal leverage acting against you.
– A good grip for making ‘drilling’ holes or recesses, such as when making a the socket on a bowdrill fire board.
In the same way that gripping a hammer by the end of its handle allows you to swing it with much greater force than if you gripped it right next to its head, increasing the distance between your hand and the blade edge of a knife increases its effectiveness when making chopping or slashing cuts. This is one situation when adding a lanyard or fob to your pocket knife really helps keep a secure grip.
– A pocketknife with a short, light blade will never be much good at chopping hard materials, but I have found this grip very useful for clearing errant bramble bushes from public footpaths.
The knife used in these photos is a Spyderco Paramilitary PE. Many thanks to my cousin Ed Coleridge for his help with taking the photos.