In the first article of this series, Defensive Knife Design: The Blade, we covered the business end of the knife as a defensive tool. For many people logic dictates that the blade is the most important part, but this is where we disagree. Ergonomics play a much bigger role than you might think and are arguably more important than the actual blade. Here’s why…
The simple fact is this: You can have the best, most sharp, most durable blade in the world, but it means absolutely nothing if you can’t hold onto it.
The way our hand interacts with the knife is of paramount importance, and this is determined entirely with how well the handle is designed. Ergonomics refers to the study of how our hand’s interact with tools, and while we make no claims about being experts in this field of study, many of our customers remark about how well the knife fits into their hand upon receiving it.
We spend a lot of time trying to perfect this particular element of our designs, and getting that “like a glove” feeling in a knife handle is incredibly satisfying to us as makers, but also incredibly important for our users.
For those of us who have trained extensively in knife based Combatives the benefit of a carefully considered ergonomic handle are obvious. Loosing your grip on your knife can happen for a lot of reasons, entanglements and close combat produce a myriad of issues which can impact on our grip. Some of these issues can only be fixed by training, but it helps to start with a tool that doesn’t disadvantage you from the outset.
Most people think of the “grip” of a knife purely in terms of the material that the handle is made from, and how smooth or textured it is. While this is a consideration it’s really only a small one. By far the biggest contributing factor to ergonomics is the profile of the handle. This directly impacts how your hand will close around the shape. If the handle’s profile is an odd or weird shape, you are going to compromise your grip.
The reality is there’s only so many ways the human hand can interact with tools. Our hand hasn’t changed functionally for thousands of years – it stands to reason then that tools which have been used for thousands of years likewise haven’t really changed a whole lot in terms of how we hold onto them. If you are designing a defensive knife which someone’s life may depend on, it really doesn’t pay to be creative with the ergonomics. It does depend largely on what the knife is designed to do, but if we are talking in the realm of defensive knives, you want the handle profile to be just the right thickness, with little to no hot spots that could become snag points, especially when accessing. You also want to consider some kind of retention point like finger choils or recesses which will help prevent forward or backward sliding within the user’s grip.
When it comes to the material the knife is made from, it is almost entirely an aesthetic choice. If a handle is properly profiled it will offer the retention the user needs for the task. The handle material however can influence grip if the handle is too thick or has any hot spots (sharp edges) which could influence the user’s comfort and thus, their grip. Making a handle too thick will result in the user being unable to properly close their hand and their grip will be compromised as a result. A good general rule is that the finger tips should be just about able to to touch the palm when fully close around the handle. If the handle is too thin it will also create a problem in the user being able to close their hand enough to actually grip it.
Texturing on the handle material itself is really just an aesthetic consideration. A good ergonomic handle with a smooth scale will trump a badly designed handle with aggressive texturing every time. Texturing can contribute to very fine motor movement, such as with your finger tips, but if you have your hand closed in a fist around the handle, the texture is doing very little at that stage. Likewise jimping is typically not going to offer a whole lot of grip. But can be a useful addition for indexing when accessing. That is, it can be helpful for the user to provide tactile feedback to let them know their hand is in the right place on the handle.
We mustn’t forget as makers though that aesthetics are also important. There’s nothing wrong with making design choices that are good looking, but when you are dealing specifically with knives and tools that are life preserving instruments, we need to have the responsibility to subdue our creativity for function. Or at the very least ensure that the aesthetics don’t over ride performance.