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Photos by John Schwartze
Imagine yourself in a no-sh*t survival situation and the knife in your hands is rusted, bent at the hilt, and the edge is chipped to hell. Any experienced blade snob will tell you it’s useless and you may injure yourself trying to use it. But is there any truth to that assumption? Maybe it became that way because you were lost in the woods and found it like that. Maybe you inadvertently damaged it. Or maybe any number of unpredictable scenarios left you with a knife that’d seen better days. Whatever the case, let’s just say this is the only tool you have to depend on in an outdoor survival situation. You need a cutting implement to create firewood, build a shelter, defend yourself, filet fish, and perform other tasks. So the question is, how do you survive with a damaged knife? Will it still perform?
I was curious about that myself and decided to torture test a knife to see how well it’d perform some of these tasks. What better test subject than a $300 TOPS Knives SXB — EJ Snyder’s Skullcrusher X-Treme Blade. Now, here’s the problem I have with knife reviews — a great many of them seem to be the same and don’t involve any substantial use. The manufacturer sends the reviewer a badass, ultra-sharp, brand-new knife, and guess what? They all work great. Imagine that, a brand-new knife sent by a company to a reviewer who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford the knife thinks it works great. It does everything! It slices, dices, chops, feathers, and notches. By golly, nothing negative to say about the knife and the reviewer almost always gets to keep the knife, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s still in pristine condition.
Many of the designs coming out these days are very similar, and the Skullcrusher looks very familiar, like Tom Brown Jr.’s squabble with Beck knives over the movie The Hunted familiar. When I first saw this knife, I thought it was the most bat-sh*t insane-looking knife I’d ever seen. It weighs almost 2 pounds and is massive. This thing looked like it would cut and kill everything! And then I thought, of course it will — it’s heavy, sharp, and brand new. But what if it were jacked up? Rusted, chipped, bent … how well would it work then?
Humans have to endure survival situations with the odds stacked against them all the time — and EJ had to do it naked (see our interview in Issue 24 of this magazine). When you go into a tough situation, your gear has to hold up to your pace; otherwise you might be screwed. Of course, a brand-new knife is the best for a survival situation, but since nothing is ideal in real survival, I set out to take this knife and beat the ever-living hell out of it — and then test it out. Oh boy, a guiltless little pleasure, to take a free knife and do whatever you want with it. Have you ever thrown a $300 knife at a target and watched it bounce off a rock?
Above: We wanted to see how well a damaged knife would perform normal tasks after it was deliberately banged up. We simulated this by throwing it at a tree trunk.
One of the most destructive things you can do to a knife is throw it. Let’s face it, the idea of knife throwing is cool as hell, but it’s also highly impractical. Most knives aren't made for throwing, and those that are are typically intended to be disposable. But it’s lots of fun and a great way to jack your knife up for an unorthodox gear review! Twenty throws in, most stuck to the trunk of a tree with a few bounces. Ultimately, the knife did what one might expect — bent from the hilt.
Above: As you can see, it didn't take long for us to significantly bend the blade, because all that energy has to go somewhere. Now let's see if it'll continue to perform the other tasks a survival situation may call for.
Keep in mind, I have yet to see a knife that didn’t bend with this kind of abuse. If you ever watch slow-motion video of a handle of a knife once it’s stuck, the handle wiggles a lot on impact — hence the bending at the hilt. All that energy has to go somewhere, and it completely throws the blade off kilter. The throwing and bouncing also produced a few nice chips in the blade, which came by way of hitting rocks and hard surfaces. Then, I left it outside in the rain for a few days … just because. So after a massive amount of throws, abuse, and complete disrespect, it was time to put
it to the test.
Above: No knife is really designed to withstand this kind of punishment and we're by no means recommending you use your own knife this way.
Last summer, I took the family camping in the Sierra mountains, and we collected firewood off the ground. I brought my Gränsfors Bruk hatchet to compare with the Tops Skullcrusher SXB. Typically, I’d choose to carry a hatchet rather than a large knife any day of the week. Generally speaking, a hatchet’s lighter, better at cutting, and with practice can be used like a knife for chopping, feathering, and notching. I use it to clean trout all the time. Finally, a hatchet can break down a tree with less effort than a usual knife. Not the Skullcrusher though!
Above: Even though the blade was bent and the edge was chipped, the SXB was still able to chop through old logs and remove tree limbs with ease.
Keep in mind, the comparison was between a razor-sharp GB hatchet and a bent, chipped, and dulled SXB. Before I start raving about this knife’s performance, I must say that I began this test with apprehension. After all, my initial impressions were that it was an eccentric tacticool blade and ridiculously impractical. However, it looks like ol’ EJ has some Ranger tricks up his sleeve that this Marine wasn’t prepared for. In fact, when I received the knife, I immediately did a live video in which I called out EJ. Being the good sport that he was, he said, “Challenge accepted, brother.”
Above: The blade's edge remained sharp and feathered with no problem. So far, we're impressed.
During the camping trip, I tested the knife by de-limbing branches of trees, batoning wood to split, hacking away at logs, and overall generally abusing a knife for a standard camping trip and backwoods survival situation. Throughout these tasks, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and feeling. The knife has an industry-standard Micarta handle, and I loved the grip style, called Rocky Mountain Tread. It didn’t cut up my hands, provided a great grip, and really stuck to my gloves well, allowing fantastic control.
Above: The sawback on the spine was able to cut through logs and branches with ease.
The batoning test worked as I figured it would. As many of you know, batoning isn’t just a function of the blade, but the force at which you baton. Some blades that are lightweight have a tougher time making it through. The heaviness of the SXB, regardless of its condition, worked very well, making its way down the grain. While knots are usually detrimental to the blade, it made short work of them too. My preferred technique for batoning is to keep the hilt of the blade close to the edge of the log and to point the handle in a slight downward direction, to maintain control of the blade going down the log as you strike it with a baton. The SXB’s blade is so large that you can attack wider logs that wouldn’t be possible with other knives. A downed pine tree served as the test for de-limbing purposes. It’s easy to clear branches and limbs when you have a sharp knife. With the weight of the beat-up SXB, it only took one to two chops on branches thicker than 2 inches in diameter.
Above: Notching was another task the damaged SXB tackled with no problems. Shucks, we're really starting to admire this knife.
The last test I performed was to cut through a dry tree with both the GB hatchet and SXB. I went at it the usual way — cross strikes to create a V shape in the log and working around the cut for a 180-degree V. The hatchet did a quicker job than the knife, but I feel I put in a similar amount of work, with the hatchet being just slightly more efficient that the SXB, but not by much. In all fairness, the hatchet was designed for this type of work. So it’s impressive that the SXB functioned as well as it did.
My initial assumptions about the knife were both wrong and correct. Correct in that it’s indeed a bat-sh*t crazy knife — but it’s a very useful, durable bat-sh*t crazy knife. I abused the hell out of it, yet the blade stood up. It chipped a little, but not much, and still managed to make short work of tasks. Some may question my methods and techniques, and that’s fine. Although deliberately abused, I have a knife I can still use and knowing its capabilities means more to me than a pristine, free knife. Frankly, I feel this is the best way to test equipment — see how it'd hold up after sh*t hits the fan. I only trust those who go through hell with me and come back standing, so why shouldn’t I think the same with my gear? Great knife, EJ! Your challenger proved to be a worthy opponent.
1095 RC 56-58
Black linen Micarta
Brady Pesola is an out-of-the-box style writer and tester when it comes to gear reviews. As a former Marine, he’s frank and to the point but writes with fairness and integrity. Brady teaches outdoor education in San Diego and is working on redefining the way survival is taught and viewed. He also runs a non-profit focused on getting veterans outdoors. sandiegosos.com