Archive for April, 2016

My New EDC Knife: Review of the Benchmade 551BK-1 Folder

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Before I get into the actual review of the knife I really wanted to quickly provide some context and background about what knives I currently carry as an every-day carry knife and where this knife fits into that.

When it comes to daily carry there are two knives that I will choose on a regular basis, and depending on where I go that day determines which knife I ultimately carry with me.

The two knives are the Doug Ritter RSK MK1 (made by Benchmade) or the Hissatsu folder that I reviewed in a prior article that you can find here.

Why I switch off between these two knives is because of their differences in terms of utility. The Doug Ritter knife I used primarily for every-day carry in the rural town that I live in and if I visit the surrounding areas. It’s an excellent survival type knife and if you notice the blade profile pictured below (with it’s wide blade and drop point) it’s perfectly suited for survival types of activities like making bow drill sets, skinning animals, making primitive traps or simple carvings and even light splitting of smaller pieces of wood using the baton technique. All in all it’s very strong and is an excellent every-day carry survival knife.


The downside to the Doug Ritter knife is that due to its wide profile, using it as a self-defense knife would be not ideal because it would be difficult to penetrate into someone — especially when encountering ribs or a threat who’s wearing heavy winter clothing or a leather jacket.

Compare that with the profile of the Hissatsu Folder whose primary purpose is for self defense and is clearly intended to for stabbing and penetration as seen by the blade profile in the following photo (As a side note, I was able to easily penetrate this knife into and through a wood board as you can see at the end of this video I put together):


However, it functions poorly as a survival tool because of its steep blade angle, lack of drop point, and thick spine which prevents it from easily slicing into wood and overall, making bushcraft activities a difficult process.

Up until now, anytime I’m local or head into the bush, I have the Doug Ritter, and those times I’m heading into the city, or a strictly urban area, I will primarily carry the Hissatsu folder with me, which brings me to today’s review…

For the longest time now, I’ve been looking for a knife that could really serve both purposes — it would work great as a survival knife but at the same time you would have the proper blade profile to function as a self-defense tool.

Enter the Benchmade Griptilian 551BK-1 knife…

Review of the Benchmade Griptilian 551BK-1


Benchmade 551BK-1 Review

The Benchmade Griptilian 551BK-1 knife was designed by custom knife maker Mel Pardue.

Mel has been around the knife making seen for over 25 years now and is well known for his elegant style and his simplicity in design. He’s collaborated here with Benchmade to offer an excellent knife I’m happy to review for you guys.

Locking Mechanism

The locking mechanism of this folder leverages the proprietary Benchmade Axis Lock System.

You might be asking what the big deal about the Axis Lock System is and why you should care so let me just explain here for a little bit:

The fact is, locking mechanisms for folding knives have been and still are in many cases far from reliable.

Older designs like the lock back or the liner lock designs are some very common ones where the mechanisms don’t always keep the blade in the lock position. This can inadvertently lead the knife to fold back into one’s fingers as you’re gripping the knife’s handle

Bench made’s axis lock is a proprietary mechanism that is probably my favorite locking mechanism. It’s easy to use with one hand but also it’s completely ambidextrous if you happen to lose the functionality in one hand and are required to use the other.

Axis_Lock-System Benchmade

Here’s how it works: The lock is really a bar that’s under spring tension that slides back-and-forth along the track that is cut into the handles of the knife.

The butt end of the folding blade itself has a flat spot that allows the spring tension bar to lock into place when the knife is open.

To close the blade all you have to do is pull the bar backwards and then using one of the thumb studs (again these are on both sides allowing for ambidexterity) to fold the blade shut.

Opening the blade does not require any manipulation of the locking mechanism. All you need to do is manipulate the thumb studs like many other folders and open it that way.

See the following video for an example of closing and opening the 551BK-1 knife:

The Blade


The blade is premier stainless steel that is been coated with a black non-reflective coating and a plain edge that lends itself to a large variety of every-day uses.

For you steel hounds out there who care about the details (like me), the steel has been upgraded from Benchmade’s current M390 steel to this CPM–20CV steel. The upgrade in steel offers better edge retention but it is not quite as tough to resharpen as the M390.

In all honesty I prefer the S30V steel that the Doug Ritter survival knife has over the 20CV steel because it has less carbon, is less prone to chipping and it’s all-around just a little bit tougher.

Still, with that being said, the blade profile ultimately what won me over to this knife.

If you compare the picture below between the Doug Ritter and the 551BK-1 you can see that it will perform a lot better as a self-defense tool due to it’s narrower profile but at the same time, still still work well as a survival tool.

Again now comparing it with the Hassatsu Folder, while it doesn’t have the extreme self-defense profile it is nonetheless a great midpoint between the two.


The Handle

While the blade profile design is enough to sell me on this knife, the excellent handle was just icing on the cake which lead me to want this to be my every-day carry.

The handle features the well-known Griptilian diamond texturing for grip and comfort. Gray G10 forms the basis of the outer handle with blue G10 accidents inside. In addition there’s some partial stainless steel liner is to support and house the locking mechanism.


As with other Benchmade knives, the construction will provide for easy disassembly, cleaning, and overall maintenance.

As a side note, the combination of the handle size and locking mechanism lends itself well to working with gloves on during colder temperatures.

Price and Where to Buy

The retail price for this knife goes for $225 and can be found in most knife stores online. If you’d like to get a discounted price for this be sure to check out this knife at where you can purchase it currently for around $40 off the list price (these knives are popular and sell out quickly so be sure to get them while they’re still in stock).

Mental Games to Improve Your Survivability

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

The following post has been contributed by Jake Roberts


You have prepared your food, water, shelter, and security, but have you prepared your mind?

There are many people who may have taken the time and effort to prepare all the “stuff” but when the SHTF they will freeze or fall apart because they haven’t taken the time to prepare the most important thing. Their mind.

Resilience is basically a persons ability to bounce back or to handle the stressful situations in their life. The clinical reason that has been discovered for why some people have great resilience and others don’t has to do with brain connections. People who do not have good resilience are those who have weak or few connections between the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain responsible for higher functions and the Amygdala or the part responsible for the visceral emotions of fear and aggression.

The Importance of the Mind in Improving Survivability

The main factors that determine a persons ability to bounce back are several. One factor is that of your environment, the family you were born into, where and when you grew up. How many resources were available to your family? These environmental factors do seem to play a part in a persons ability to bounce back. These are what I believe the more important factors of Psychological and emotional factors.

I tell my kids all the time, you don’t get to choose often what happens to you, or what people may do or say, you do have control over how you respond and the attitude you have. People with a positive attitude and optimistic outlook tend to have better resilience than those with a cynical attitude or those plagued by depression.

Other things researchers have identified as negatively affecting a persons ability to cope or bounce back are things like experiencing consistent loss and failure, an unwillingness to ask for help, and a lack of problem solving skills.

So I am doomed you say.

No the great thing about this is there are things you can do to increase your resilience. This is where we answer the question of mentally preparing for SHTF. Doing mental exercises can help you to prepare for TEOTWAWKI, or smaller things like the loss of a job, loved one, or being in an airport when bad people do bad things.

How to Improve Mental Strength

Spiritual Meditation

The first thing I do to develop mental strength is I spend some time everyday in meditation. For me this is thinking about the Word of God as given in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. I spend time reading and thinking about these things for about 30-60 minutes in the morning and evening. The majority of humans spend very little time thinking. When you engage in thinking you begin to flex and work the greatest resource you have, your brain.

Mental Games to Improve Survivability

The next thing that I do to help develop the mental ability and thinking skills of my family is to play games. Yes we play games. But not just any games, we play games that force the players to grapple with the “What if”. This is the same thing that military and intelligence community do all the time. And there is a reason they do it. By playing “war games” it fosters the critical and creative thinking needed by our military people to win a complex campaign or our IC to give us advance warning of imminent attack.

Scenario-Based Games

You can purchase some games like Persian Incursion which is a game used for these purposes. Playing these games is like receiving an intelligence briefing and will help you to gain the skills you need and are better in my opinion than the wildly unrealistic zombie games out there.

Most in the prepper community are aware of the card game Conflicted. This is a game that helps you to begin to think ahead of time what you will do in a given situation. While you may never face the given scenarios what I feel the real benefit of this game is in the building of descion making muscles, using your brain to come up with real answers to questions quickly, and also reveals to you your real values and beliefs.


To combine mental and physical preparing my boys and I play paintball. Paintball is a great way to teach team tactics, quick decision making skills, It allows us to practice what we might do in a given scenario. When we play we have different objectives for each team, designed to present real possibilities on our property. It also helps us learn where weakness in our security may be, and it the real world application of the board games we play putting to use the critical and creative thinking we have been fostering.

Situational Awareness (Kim’s) Games

The final area that will help you in SHTF or everyday is situational awareness. We hear a lot lately about situational awareness in the preparedness community. But how do you develop it? Are there things we can do to? I will never forget the time a guy that spends time around my kids school comes up to me and says what are you teaching your kids? I’m like, huh? He then proceeds to tell me that my 12 year old son had said to him earlier that day, “I can see your gun” This guy did not believe my son, who then told him where he had his concealed weapon.

“So what are you teaching your kids?” he asks. I tell you I was proud of my boy. He had learned how to see the print of a concealed weapon. We did have a conversation later about this, fortunately this guy is someone who I trust and know. He Later came to me and seriously asked how I was training my kids.

I told him about another game we play called “the Play of the Jewels” or Kims game. Taken from the 1901 book KIM by Kipling it is a great game that can be played anywhere. See the following 3 minute clip from the movie “Kim”:

The basic way to play the game is to take a group of items, observe the items for a set time, then after covering the items or removing them from the players sight, try to list more observations about those items than your opponent can.

The great thing is you determine what counts as an observation and how the points are determined. As you increase in your ability you can do things like increase the amount of items, reduce the time to observe the items.

You can play this game anywhere because we spend a lot of time in our car, a hazard of living 30-45 minutes from anything, we play this game while driving. We might say okay look out the drivers side of the car for the next minute, then describe anything you have observed. 1 point for each observation made.

Or sitting in the car waiting for my wife at the store, we will say okay look out the window observe the next ten people who walk out of the store. Then state back the observations. You can pass a lot of otherwise lost time playing this game and at the same time teach your children how to be aware of their surroundings.

My kids now play this game without my prompting. A similar twist on this is the old, find the letters of the alphabet game, where you have to find the letter of the alphabet in order on various signs, license plates etc.

Sometimes I will test the kids when they don’t know they are playing. I will say give me your observations of the last five people you saw walk past us. Or while walking in our neighborhood I will have them to tell me the things they observed about the house we just walked past.

Body Language

As the kids have grown I have begun to teach them about body language, we will watch videos of crimes just to see how people act before they commit crime. I remember about a year ago flying out of Africa from a trip, I said to my wife, “that couple is up to something” She said how do you know? I began to point out behaviors all the way from Africa through Europe and into the US. Obviously someone else had noticed because as we arrived in the US waiting at the bottom of the stairs were a couple of guys with a list of names, you’ll never guess who I saw pulled aside.

Given the recent events in Europe and the amount of travel I do, I am increasingly aware of how important this skill set is for me and my family.

I hope you might take sometime and play some games with your family. It might just save your life!

How to Tan Rabbit Hides

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

This is final part of a 3-part series on raising, butchering and processing rabbit for meat and fur.

This article has been contributed by Anne Marie Duhon. Anne Marie is a wife, mother of six and a full time off-gridder. She and her husband currently live in a totally off grid 200 sq foot “tiny home” and are in search of (again) that elusive perfect spot to call home. Besides being a wife and mother she, and her family, have raised many different animals on their various homesteads and have lived and loved being off the grid and many miles from the nearest paved road. She would like to share her first hand experiences and help others to learn to live and love living off grid and being as self reliant as possible.

How to Tan a Rabbits Hide

Tanning the hides is the final step in totally using the rabbits you have so lovingly cared for by not letting any part of your animal go to waste.

The reward for all your hard work is a beautiful, warm soft hide that could be used for anything! While these “directions” say rabbit it will work on any fur-bearing animal, just adjust according to size of the hide/pelt. There are several tried and true methods that will be discussed here, none of which call for expensive equipment or supplies.

Step One: Skinning and Fleshing the Hide

The first step is to skin the rabbit. This process is best done by peeling (not cutting) the hide off the animal as demonstrated in the following video:

After securing the hide (cutting out the head if necessary) scrape off every bit of meat and fat from the hide with a knife.

If you have the time, you can begin the tanning process immediately or you can store the hide until you have a quantity to do at one time. To store the hide, coat the flesh side liberally with plain non iodized salt, roll up flesh side in and freeze. This first step is the same no matter what solution you use to tan the hide.

Step Two: Prepare the Hide for Tanning

Soak the hide(s) in water in a plastic bag or bucket until it softens, changing the water often. This rinses off the salt also. Once the hide is soft drain and scrape the hide back and forth either over a 2 x 4 on edge or with a DULL knife or other bladed instrument. This is to break down the skin but do not scrape so much as to expose the hair roots or put holes in the hide.

Step Three: Tanning the Hide

Now here is where you have a choice. The most common method of tanning a hide is the alum and water method but there is also the traditional brain tanning method or bark (tannic acid) method. Those three will be covered here…

Option 1: Alum and Water Method

In using alum and water you first have several (5 or so) hides ready to be tanned then dissolve 2 ½ pounds of salt in 4 gallons of water in a garbage can. In a plastic bucket, dissolve 1 pound of ammonia alum in a gallon of water. Slowly pour the alum solution into the garbage can, mixing thoroughly. Soak the skin for four days, occasionally stirring to make sure the hide is well coated. Rinse thoroughly with running water.

Option 2: Brain Tanning Method

Save the brains from whatever animal hide you are tanning. There is a saying amongst tanners that each animal has enough brains to tan its own hide. So if you are doing a batch of rabbits save all their brains in a bucket.

Prepare the tanning solution by combining 1 pound of brain with 2 gallons of warm water. For best results, use rainwater. If you do not have access to rainwater, purchase bottled spring water at your local grocery store. Water treated with chlorine may reduce the effectiveness of tanning solution.

Soak the hide(s) overnight in the brain solution

The next day remove the hide from the brain solution and drain by wringing GENTLY until most of the solution is removed.

Nail the hide(s) to a flat surface, or stretch in a frame. A smooth tool like a wooden spoon or axe handle can be used to work the hide. The hide should be worked by pushing and stretching it in a stroking motion until it dries.

The final step for brain tanning is smoking the hide. Brain tanned hides are most durable if they are smoked for several hours in a smokehouse. However, be careful not to heat the hide too much. Use dry, semi-rotten wood to produce lots of smoke and low heat.

Option 3: Bark (tannic acid) Method

This method is labor intensive and takes a long time but can be done with stuff found in nature!

I found an old U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (1884) publication Home Tanning of Leather and Small Fur Skins and have summarized the basic steps for tanning a cow hide with tannic acid from bark: For rabbits just tan 10 or more hides at one time.

  1. Make bark liquor – 30-40 lbs. of finely ground (particles no larger than corn kernel) oak or hemlock bark.
  2. Boil 20 gallons of pure water (rain water is best)
  3. Mix in barrel (do not use iron container) and let stand for 15-20 days, stir occasionally
  4. When ready to use, strain off the bark by pouring through a sack
  5. Add 2 quarts vinegar
  6. Hang sides (of cow hide) from sticks in the bark, the less folds the better, move around often to insure even coloring
  7. As soon as sides are soaking in the bark liquor mixture, make another batch of liquor mixture
  8. After 10-15 days, remove about 5 gallons of mixture from the barrel with the hides, and replace it with fresh bark mixture from second batch, and add 2 quarts of vinegar.
  9. After 5 more days remove another 5 gallons of mixture and replace with 5 gallons of the fresh mixture (no more vinegar needed)
  10. Repeat twice more every 5 days – check hide by cutting a sliver from an end piece to see how much the hide has been penetrated.
  11. Then take another 40 lbs. of bark and moisten with water, add bark directly to the sides and bury them in the bark for 6 weeks.
  12. After 6 weeks, check of hide should show tanning spread nearly to the center – pour out half of the old bark liquor water and fill the barrel with fresh bark – shake the barrel from time to time, add bark and water as needed to keep hides covered – checking hide should reveal all tanned, no white or raw streak – if not complete, leave in the mixture and add more bark and water to keep covered. At this point leather to be used for harness or belt leather should be done, but leave for 2 months longer if leather is to be used for shoe soles or other uses that require a more pliable skin.

Step Four: Finishing the Hide

For any of the above methods the hide(s) need to be finished. Here is how that final step is done:

  1. Tack the hide, hair side down, to a piece of plywood.
  2. Partially dry it in a sunless place, then rub in a coat of fat liquor oil (3 ½ ounces of neat’s-foot oil combined with 3 ½ ounces of warm water and 1 ounce of ammonia). Work in half of this mixture, allow it to stand for an hour, and then repeat.
  3. Cover with plastic overnight. Remove the tacks, dampen the hide with a wet cloth, stretch it, and then rub it back and forth over a sawhorse or a 2 x 4 placed on edge.
  4. Redampen it and repeat, applying additional fat liquor sparingly.
  5. When the hide is perfectly supple, smooth the surface by chafing it with fine grit sandpaper.
  6. To clean and brighten the fur, tumble it repeatedly in dry, warm (preferably hardwood) sawdust. Bran or cornmeal may also be used.
  7. Clean the particles out of the fur by gently shaking, beating, combing and brushing the fur.

Now your hide is done and ready to become whatever you wish it to!