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Survival gear: Add a high efficiency carbon steel paring knife to your kit

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My sister, Karla Moore, is a one of the most knowledgeable homesteader-types I know. Her go-to knife for most tasks is a three-inch Ontario Old Hickory paring knife. Here’s why you need one.

by Leon Pantenburg

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All Pantenburgs are cutlery accumulators. It’s genetic. Maybe because of ancestors who were butchers and blacksmiths, that causes us to love cutlery in any shape and form. There is a heavy emphasis on usefulness. If a knife doesn’t work for its intended purpose, it’s gone.

old hickory paring knife

The Ontario Old Hickory three-inch paring knife

In 1980, I set out on a end-to-end canoe voyage of the Mississippi River. My sister Karla, brother Mike and friend Al Johnson went along for the first week and about 100 miles. All were experienced campers (another Pantenburg pre-disposition) and I had to laugh when I saw Karla’s choice of a “survival” knife. It was an Ontario “Old Hickory” three-inch paring knife, carried in a plastic toothbrush holder.

Over the next week, Karla, as self-appointed camp cook, used her Old Hickory for everything, from peeling potatoes to whittling wiener sticks to cleaning fish. I went from amusement to wondering if I should get one for the rest of the trip.

A carbon steel paring knife is an everyday tool for Karla, whether she is making soap, carding and spinning wool, canning or processing meat.

Here’s the stats on Karla’s favorite three-inch paring knife:

  • Made with 1095 carbon steel, fully heat-treated and tempered.
  • Fitted with a hardwood handle branded “Old Hickory”
  • Secured with brass compression rivets
  • Flat blade grind

Here’s why you should consider getting a few Old Hickory paring knives.

Cost: Karla bought six Old Hickory paring knives for $5 each a few years back. You can get the knives for about $8-$9 at about any hardware store. Get a plastic toothbrush holder for about a buck, and you have a very practical and useful “survival” knife setup. Check out thrift stores and garage sales, and you may get even better deals

The four-inch Old Hickory resembles my favorite Mora knife.

The four-inch Old Hickory is similar to a Mora-style knife.

Versatility: Karla uses an Old Hickory for just about any task. A three-to-four inch blade is about right for most of what you’ll need a knife for. Personally, I like the four-inch blade better, because it resembles very closely my favorite go-to Mora knife.

Edge-holding: Any Old Hickory knife is made of high carbon steel which holds an edge and is easily sharpened. Most of the time, a few swipes with a butcher’s steel is enough to restore a razor edge. Clean and dry it after use and rust shouldn’t be a problem. After some serious use, the steel will develop a nice black patina.

Design: Karla does large batches of canning from her garden and orchard, and an Old Hickory does much of the work. The handle is comfortable for extended peeling and slicing. It is also a great design for small game processing or all-around camp use.

Do you need one – I think so.

They’re inexpensive enough that you can buy several. They are versatile enough to handle most of your camp knife needs. They’re easy to sharpen and use. And they are just flat-out handy to have around.

And that’s high praise for any knife.



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