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Unusual Suspects: Wharncliffe to the Rescue

The Wharncliffe is an ancient style of blade that, at least in principle and shape, dates to the Migration Period in Europe (300-375 AD) when it was known as the Seax. The blade style and shape were single-edged, sometimes with a point, but often without it.

Seax may have been the Old English word for “knife” and how the Saxons gained their name, but the style wasn’t called a “Wharncliffe” until the early 19th century when the first English lord of that region, James Archibald Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie, had the royal cutlers, Joseph Rodgers & Son, make a blade of a similar shape and crafted into a small slip joint pocket knife. It was cataloged as the Wharncliffe soon after, and the name has been with us for close to 200 years.

The design became popular with most working men who needed a simple and effective knife for common cutting chores. Sailors particularly loved the Wharncliffe because if a ship were to lurch, the blunt tip wouldn’t penetrate a sail. Likewise, if a swabbie were to drop his knife while up in the rigging, it lessened the chance for injury to shipmates below.

Another advantage of the Wharncliffe is the spine of the blade tapers to meet the cutting edge of the blade at an acute point, giving you full power with every cut.

Today, the Wharncliffe can still be found in various slip joint and stockman-type pocket knives, but it has become more famous for its use as a rescue knife. The blunt tip allows a rescuer to free a victim from a locked seatbelt, tangled web gear, or even rope bindings without causing injury. It can be inserted flatly between the bindings and turned with the edge to the material to cut away time and time again.

Even if you don’t care to use a Wharncliffe as an EDC blade in your pocket or on your gear, it makes a lot of sense to keep one in your vehicle for use in an emergency.

Make: CRKT
Model: Bear Claw Blunt Tip
OAL: 5.75 inches
Blade Length: 2.375 inches
Blade Material: AUS4
Weight: 3.4 ounces
MSRP: $50

Russ Kommer designed this model years ago as a custom self-defense knife for women that would be lightweight, easy to access, and control. It turned out to be a better knife for rescue, and kayaking — commercial fishermen in Alaska loved it. CRKT ran with this design, crafting an emergency cutting tool for anyone who needs to quickly cut rope, webbing, or netting, especially if their life depends on it.

>Very light and easy to carry as either a neck knife or clipped to your belt, pack, or gear.
>The finger hole gives an amazing sense of control with the blade.
>The low price means you can stash one in every vehicle for emergency use.

>AUS4 isn’t the greatest steel, but serrations make up for it.
>The factory sheath isn’t very intuitive if you’re left-handed.
>The blunt tip and serrations may be a bit too specialized for some people.

Make: TOPS Knives
Model: Little Bugger
OAL: 5.75 inches
Blade Length: 2.38 inches
Blade Material: 1095 carbon steel
Weight: 2.4 ounces
MSRP: $120

Designed by Matt Graham, a survivalist, martial artist, and triathlete who wanted a sharp, full-tang fixed blade that can be carried when everything else is left behind. TOPS made full advantage of the strength of the Wharncliffe design and added a Scandi-grind to it.

>The light weight of the knife and sheath let you take it anywhere, even if you’re just wearing shorts and a tank top.
>Fits in the hand well, and the canvas Micarta makes for great comfort when using the blade for cutting.
>The Scandi-grind may be the first we’ve seen on a Wharncliffe.

>The sheath clip doesn’t work well with MOLLE.
>1095 is a carbon steel that’s prone to rusting if it’s not regularly oiled.
>The Scandi grind may take some getting used to for some people.

Make: Cold Steel
Model: Tuff Lite
OAL: 6 inches
Blade Length: 2.5 inches
Blade Material: AUS-8A stainless steel
Weight: 2.5 ounces
MSRP: $51

The Tuff Lite illustrates the virtues of the Wharncliffe, as a knife this small is packed full of cutting power all the way to the tip. The blade’s profile transfers its energy into whatever you’re cutting. Its small size ensures you can carry it comfortably almost anywhere.

>This is a very short knife that anyone should be able to carry regardless of their wardrobe.
>The blade is AUS-8A stainless steel, which is sharp and corrosion resistant.
>Whether it’s a knife this small or a hand and a half sword, Cold Steel builds knives that last.

>It can be a tough knife to close due to its size.
>Hard use can take a toll on AUS-8A, so you’ll have to sharpen it more often than most other knives.

Make: RMJ Tactical
Model: Coho
OAL: 6.5 inches
Blade Length: 3 inches
Blade Material: 52100 carbon steel
Weight: 2 ounces
MSRP: $190

The Coho is a compact Wharncliffe fixed blade, designed by a salmon fisherman and named after the Coho salmon. It excels in an everyday-carry role and is truly tactical in that you can take it out in public and not alarm people. The blade has a tungsten Cerakote finish for corrosion and glare resistance. The beveled and contoured G10 grips feature diagonal texturing for a slightly aggressive but secure grip.

>Very comfortable in the hand
>The blade is a strong carbon steel with a very good coating that has stood up to all the abuse we threw at it.
>It takes an edge well and seems to maintain it for a longer period of time than most knives.

>The loops on the sheath are excellent when securing it to a pack or vest with MOLLE, but sometimes have a bit too much movement with belt carry.
>The factory edge could’ve been a bit sharper.

Make: Spyderco
Model: Enuff FRN Black Sheepfoot
OAL: 6.75 inches
Blade Length: 2.74 inches
Blade Material: VG-10
Weight: 4 ounces
MSRP: $180

Spyderco made some of the first purpose-built folding knives designed for rescue back in the early 1980s. The spirit lives on with this dedicated fixed blade version. The Enuff is more of a sheep’s foot type blade with a blunt tip and fully serrated edge. It comes with an injection-molded polymer sheath and is made in Seki-City, Japan.

>The blade is made from VG10, meaning it’s tough, laser sharp, rust resistant, and sports an easily maintainable edge.
>The FRN (fiberglass-reinforced nylon) scales are contoured and bi-directionally textured.
>High-quality construction

>The injection-molded sheath is well made, but the clip placement causes the knife to ride high.
>A fully serrated Wharncliffe-style knife isn’t for everyone. The serrations may be a bit much for fine cutting chores.

Make: Reno Guns and Range and Walker Knife Works
Model: SFM (Strength From Me)
OAL: 7.12 inches
Blade Length: 2.87 inches
Blade Material: 1095 carbon steel
Weight: 2.4 ounces
MSRP: $190

This knife was designed by Ken Crawford, a martial artist and firearms trainer who had some very specific ideas for a utility blade that could function as a fighting knife as well. The sheath is handcrafted Kydex by LAG Tactical, and each knife is individually fit. This is more of a Midtech type of blade with a lot of custom tuning.

>The hand-fitted sheath means this one won’t come out unless you make it.
>1095 is one of our favorite steels, and this one comes razor sharp.
>The scales are aggressively jimped for a secure hold.

>1095 steel is a carbon steel that’s prone to rusting if not regularly oiled.
>The blade is a bit on the thick side.
>Wait times can be long to get your hands on one of these knives.

Make: Emerson Knives
Model: SARK (Search and Rescue Knife)
OAL: 8.2 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Material: 154CM stainless steel
Weight: 4.1 ounces
MSRP: $225

Emerson Knives built its reputation by making knives for U.S. Navy SEALs. After a call from the Navy for a new search and rescue knife following a disastrous helicopter crash in 1999, Ernest Emerson designed and built a working prototype of the SARK within 24 hours. The SARK has a true Wharncliffe blade with a blunt tip. Made in the USA, with and without serrations.

>The blade is made from 154CM, so it’s tough, laser sharp, rust resistant, and easily maintainable.
>Emerson’s wave-shaped hook allows for a lightning-fast draw, opening the blade as you draw from the pocket.
>The G-10 scales are rock solid and very comfortable to hold.

>The blunt tip keeps it from being stabby. For a more defensive-oriented design, look to the Emerson P-SARK with a pointed tip.
>The plain edge cuts fine; however, Emerson offers serrations.



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