3 Survival Knife Skills You Should Practice

| January 29, 2014 |

A survival knife is one of the most useful tools to have with you in a survival situation. A good knife can mean the difference between comfort and discomfort, between life and death. However, it’s not enough to have the right tools. You might have the best survival knife in the world, but without the skills to use it, it’s nothing more than a toy.

Once you’ve got a knife, it’s a good idea to get out in the woods and practice some basic bushcraft skills to make sure you’re prepared for the unexpected. Whether an emergency leaves you trapped at home or in the middle of nowhere, having these skills under your belt will make the knife in your belt worth more than just a paperweight.

Skill 1: Splitting and carving wood


Batoning is an extremely useful way to split wood. By splitting wood into smaller pieces, you can create kindling and pieces that are easier to burn with a small fire. In addition, if your firewood is wet on the outside, you can access the dry inner wood by splitting it up using this method.

How to baton a piece of wood:

1. Take the piece of wood you want to split and stand it on end, holding it steady with your dominant hand.

2. Take your knife in your non-dominant hand and place the blade on top of the wood, applying just enough pressure to keep the wood from falling over.

Make sure the wood is touching the blade close to where the handle begins (not near the tip of the blade).

3. Take another piece of wood in your dominant hand (the baton), and use it to tap on the spine of the knife blade, driving it into the wood and splitting the wood.

Make sure to keep your knife parallel to the ground. It will probably change angles as you tap through the wood, but move it back, keeping it as straight as possible. If it’s not parallel to the ground, it will be transferring force unevenly into the wood you’re trying to split.


Truncating is a way of cutting a piece of wood into shorter lengths, or of chopping down a small tree with your knife. The technique is very similar to batoning, but while batoning is used to split wood lengthwise, truncating is cutting it crosswise.

Here are the steps to truncating a piece of wood:

1. Start by laying your log or stick down on a hard, flat surface.

2. Then, place your knife on the wood, parallel to the ground, just like you did when batoning.

Before going any further, let me give a word of warning: when you are gripping the knife in one hand and hammering the blade with your other hand, there is the danger of pinning your knuckles to the surface underneath, whether it be the ground, a rock, or whatever hard flat surface you’re using. Make sure to keep your fingers up and not let them be crushed.

3. Use the baton to tap on the spine of the blade, driving the blade into the wood until it’s in about an inch or so.

4. Pull the knife back out of the wood, and position it at a 45-degree angle, just to one side of the cut you made in step 3.

5. Tap on the blade again until you’ve cut diagonally and met your original cut, slicing a “wedge” out of the wood.

6. Pry the wedge loose, and then repeat the process until you’ve cut your way through the entire log.

This process can also be done on a sapling that’s still standing. However, only cut down trees that are already dead, or if you have to cut a live tree, do so in a place where it’s competing with other trees for sunlight. Make sure that cutting down a tree is legal in your location before doing so.


Carving wood is sometimes necessary for creating kindling and fuzz, carving the wooden pieces of a snare, or crafting a fishing spear (I’ll be discussing that a little further down). These methods are designed to help you conserve energy by using your back muscles and body weight to help you carve, rather than expending a lot of energy doing everything with your arms.

Here are two variations on a carving method to conserve energy:

1. Hold the stick you are carving vertically and press it into a hard surface (like a stump, a rock, or hard ground). Then stand overtop of it, extend your arm, hold your knife against the wood, and bend at the waist pressing down. This allows you to use your abs, back, and body weight to assist you in carving.

2. Hold the knife in your dominant hand, then extend your dominant arm and lock your elbow. Next, hold the wood in your non-dominant hand and pull it towards you, using your back muscles. This way, the knife remains stationary and the wood moves. This prevents the knife from flailing around and I’ve found it to be easier to create fuzzies and small kindling this way.

Skill 2: Sharpening your knife in the bush

Some survival knives come with a sharpener built into the sheath, or perhaps you carry a small sharpening stone with you. If a normal knife sharpener is not available, however, you’ll need to know how to sharpen your survival knife with objects you can find.

The two most important things to keep in mind when sharpening your knife are:

1. Pressure: Keep it light

2. Angle: Keep it consistent (about a 20-degree angle will work for most knives)

Sharpening your knife will involve placing the blade at an angle against a surface of some kind, then pushing the blade away from you as you sweep the blade across the surface. Make sure that the entire blade comes in contact with the surface.

A 20-degree angle should work fine for most knives. If you’re not sure what this angle is, start with a 45-degree angle (halfway between vertical and horizontal, and then reduce the angle by half.

Use a car window

If you have a nearby car window or any piece of glass with a smooth edge, this can be used to sharpen your knife. To begin, roll down the car window at least half way (or hold the piece of glass steady), and then place your knife blade against the edge of the glass using the angle described above.

Apply very light pressure, keep the knife at a constant angle, and sweep the blade across the edge of the glass, making sure that the entire blade comes in contact with the glass.

Use a flat rock

If you don’t have a nearby car, get two rocks that are as flat as possible. However, avoid sandstone, as it will tear up your blade. Rub the two rocks together to get them as smooth as possible. Next, take the flatter of the two rocks, and pour a little water on it. Hold the rock in one hand and your knife in the other. Carefully run your blade along the stone to sharpen the blade.

Use another knife

If you have a second knife with a flat, smooth spine, you can use that as a sharpening surface. Simply place the blade that you want to sharpen against the spine of the other blade, angle it, apply very light pressure, and run your blade along the spine.

Use a leather belt

To use this method, wrap a belt around a small tree and put the belt through buckle. This will allow you to pull hard on the belt in order to create a lot of tension. Dampen the belt with water, and then put some fine dirt on the wet belt and rub it in to make a paste. Rub off any excess dirt and small rock fragments that may damage your blade. Finally, swipe the blade along the belt to sharpen.


Remember, the most important things to remember when sharpening your knife are 1) to use only a very light pressure, and 2) to keep a consistent angle of about 20 degrees.

Skill 3: Creating a fishing spear

Disclaimer: Spearfishing may be illegal in your location. Don’t fish without the required license(s) in your location, and be extremely careful. You should always follow local, state, and federal laws.

If you’re in a survival situation for a week or less, food should probably not be your first priority. You can survive without food much longer than you can survive without water, heat and shelter, so only worry about food once those issues are taken care of.

There is a good bit of detail that goes into making a fishing spear, so rather than turn this article into a book, I’m going to summarize the method and then include a video explaining the process.

  • Find or cut a straight rod, about 7-9 feet tall.
  • Whittle one end of the rod down to a narrow point (not too sharp yet, just narrow)
  • Use a batoning-type method to split the narrow end in half. Drive the knife in until the rod is split about 6-7 inches in from the end.
  • Take one of the two halves of the end that you just split, and split it in half again. You should now have three “prongs” on the end of your rod. Work your blade in between the three prongs to separate them a bit, but be careful–don’t pry them so much that they split farther down or break off.
  • Sharpen each of the three prongs to a sharp point.
  • Harden the three points by holding them in a flame.
  • Take a small piece of wood and wedge it in between the three prongs of your spear to hold them farther apart (without breaking them).
  • Take a short length of paracord or strong string (2 feet or so) and bind the pronged end of your spear, tightly holding the prongs against the wedge. This will keep the prongs from being too close together or too far apart, and can help prevent them from breaking off when you spear your first fish.
  • Take a length of paracord or strong string and tie it to the unsplit end of your spear. You might want to carve a notch in this end of the spear to prevent the string from slipping off. This is the line that will allow you to pull the spear back in after attempting (successfully or unsuccessfully) to spear a fish, so make sure it’s a good 6-8 feet long or so.

Go out and be prepared!

It’s time to start practicing your wilderness survival skills! Begin by choosing a quality, versatile survival knife, and then start practicing basic skills like these and expand from there. By having both the right tools and the right skills, you’ll be in good shape when the unexpected strikes.

Category: Supplies, Survival Guides

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Comments (3)

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  1. Brandon says:

    Very interesting. I hadn’t thought about sharpening a knife on a car window. I’ll have to give that one a try. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Kurt Adam says:

    I’d better start practicing the knife skill now before doomsday comes. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Dave says:

    Ditto, Brandon, on the car window idea. And I can totally relate to the knuckle pinning while gouging logs (no injuries yet, however). I also really like the fact that the author is using a Cold Steel GI Tanto — a very affordable knife that I put through some paces a few years back (I have a soft spot for that knife, even though it has a tanto point & a double guard; it’s a fun chopper with a strong point — bonus that it’s fun to throw too!)

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