The Make-It-Yourself Copperhead Survival Knife

These instructions will show you how to make a knife that can handle the toughest of outdoor challenges.

| September/October 1983

My first "copperhead" survival knife was born of necessity and chance—with, perhaps, just a little assistance from ingenuity—back in 1977. At the time, I was repairing and replacing cable along a railroad. In order to get to that heavy wire—which, for the most part, was buried under crushed stone and cinder—I had to make my way through the roots, limbs, and thorns of the abundant trackside brush.

As you can imagine, the insulation used on the cable had to be pretty sturdy to survive in that setting, and I needed a tool that could strip off the insulation when I had to make a connection, and that could also cut through the briars and such surrounding the cable. Furthermore, since all of the cutting would be done very close to the wires that I was repairing, a chopping tool was out of the question. What I needed, it seemed, was a good, sturdy blade for stripping the cable and a small saw to clear the way, and they both had to be able to tolerate getting jabbed into the gravel every now and again.

As it happened, chance stepped in. While I was walking along the track, I came across a broken power hacksaw blade, discarded, no doubt, by a rail repair crew. Its teeth were in good shape, and the hard steel cut through saplings and roots easily, without seeming the worse for the abuse. It did, of course, need a handle. And I thought—as I headed home that evening with my find tucked in my back pocket—that if I could also give it a sharp edge for stripping cable, I'd have both of my "dream tools" in one.

I made the knife that same evening. It did the jobs I'd hoped it would, too. What's more, though my railroad repair days are over, I still get a lot of use from my copperhead. I've toted it along on fishing, backpacking, and prospecting trips and found that—in addition to being suited for the tool's original uses—the saw edge makes a darn good fish scaler, and the hard steel blade is more than adequate for prying an occasional "promising" rock from the ground.

Shaping the Blade

In order to make your own survival knife, you'll need a broken or used power hacksaw blade that's at least 10 1/2” long (check with machine shops, railroad repair gangs, or steel suppliers), about 2 feet of 3/4" type M soft copper tubing, about 3 inches of 1/2" type M soft copper tubing, a 3/4" "sweat type" copper cap, some soldering flux and solder (either 50/50 or 60/40), a supply of steel wool or emery cloth, a few wire coat hangers, and a little shop time (I'd figure on about two hours).

First of all, you'll have to use a portable or bench grinder to shape the knife. Begin by drawing the grinding lines on the saw blade with a soapstone or wax pencil, following the pattern. Do note, too, that I shaped the blade in such a way that the rake of the sawteeth is toward the user. Some may take exception to this feature, but—believe me—I'd rather be pulling away from, and not pushing into, this tool in the event of a slip! You can save a considerable amount of grinding time if you just score along the outline of the blade with the edge of your grinding wheel, and then snap off the unwanted sections. (When shaping the blade, be sure to quench it often in a bucket of water, to avoid overheating the metal and removing its temper, and when grinding, hammering, or soldering, always wear safety glasses or goggles.)

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