The Care and Feeding of the Swiss Army Knife

How to maintain the handiest pocket companion you can carry, the Swiss Army knife, including how to buy a genuine swiss pocket knife and keeping blades sharp.

| July/August 1986

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    My favorite Swiss Army knife is the relatively simple Camper model by Victorinox, which has two blades, a corkscrew, a can opener, a bottle opener, and a "punch" (actually a single-blade reamer).

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I'll admit I laughed long and loud the first time I saw a Swiss Army knife. To me (and, mind you, I've been using pocketknives ever since I was old enough to wear pants with pockets) the very sight of all those gadgets protruding from a single handle was just too much! Besides which, the blades were made of stainless steel, and "everybody knew" that stainless — because of its inability to take and hold a proper edge — was suitable only for household cutlery. And, besides that . . . the knife in question had a chintzy-looking red handle that made me think it'd been made especially for the "toy-knife" set.

Well, the passage of time has proven me wrong on all counts. Because today, the Swiss Army knife is probably the most popular folding knife in these United States . . . and deservedly so. It is, after all, more than just a pocketknife: It's a pocket-sized assortment of tools!

Many Models of Swiss Army Knife to Choose From

Swiss Army knives come in many models, with various combinations and quantities of attachments. The simplest versions have as few as three accessories and weigh only a couple of ounces . . . while the grand-deluxe models may sport eleven or more fold-out tools and weigh more than a quarter pound!

My favorite Swiss Army knife is the relatively simple Camper model by Victorinox, which has two blades, a corkscrew, a can opener, a bottle opener, and a "punch" (actually a single-blade reamer). It also features a lanyard loop. All-up weight: a smidgen over two ounces, or roughly half the heft of a super-deluxe model.

Another — and very similar — Swiss Army knife comes with a Phillips screwdriver in place of the corkscrew . . . a substitution I dislike for two reasons. First; unless the Phillips is used with adequate pressure in clean screws of the proper size, the tip will unavoidably be damaged. Second, it's impossible — for all practical purposes — to repair a damaged Phillips tip by regrinding (as is customarily done with ordinary screwdrivers). Let's just say, then, that I much prefer a corkscrew which works to a Phillips that doesn't (or that soon won't)! [EDITOR'S NOTE: A letter from reader Boyd Hill, of Honolulu, Hawaii, appeared in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 44 suggesting that "the Phillips-head screwdriver can be improved by filing about one millimeteroff the point. This permits the fins to force their way down into the screw slots for a secure match."] 

How to Buy a Genuine S.A.K.

You'll find that Swiss Army knives — even of identical brand and design — vary considerably in price. For example, four years ago, my friendly local hardware dealer was selling Camper model Swiss Army knives for $11.40 each. That seemed a bit much at the time, so I stopped by the Sierra Designs store on my next trip into town and bought the identical model for a more reasonable $7.75. The moral: It pays to shop around. [EDITOR'S NOTE: These days, Victorinox Swiss Army knives retail for from $10 to $40.] 

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