A cutting implement was one of humans’ first tools. It was probably right after they discovered fire that they found slicing their mastodon meat was better than just gnawing chunks of it off the bone. The tool was also handy for removing animal skins and fashioning them into primitive clothing as well as cutting open foraged wild edibles.
Over the millennia that followed, that simple piece of chipped obsidian or bit of broken shell evolved quite a bit. The first enhancement was probably a handle of some sort. Later, bronze and then steel was used in place of stone. The design of the cutting tool was refined and became more nimble, more precise. Various blade shapes and profiles were developed to meet a multitude of diverse and specific needs.
“The karambit, for example, is one of the most well known ring-handle knife styles. It was originally a tool used for planting rice or raking roots in Southeast Asia, particularly the region we call Indonesia today.”
As was often the case throughout history, farming implements were adapted and modified into weapons as needed, necessity being the mother of invention and all that. The karambit, for example, is one of the most well known ring-handle knife styles. It was originally a tool used for planting rice or raking roots in Southeast Asia, particularly the region we call Indonesia today.
From China and Japan to the Middle East to Celtic regions and beyond, knives bearing ringed pommels were developed. Some of them were merely some sort of aesthetic enhancement or perhaps an easy way to attach a handle covering like woven leather straps. Many times though, the ring served one or more functions with the use of the knife.
Many users have found that ring-handle knives are easier to pull from the sheath than their plain-handle counterparts. Thread an index or pinky finger into the ring, and the knife slides out fast and easy. This can be important in situations where your hand might be wet, making a standard handle a little slippery, or if you’re working in cold conditions and your hand isn’t quite as flexible as normal.
The ring also allows the knife to index quickly in the hand. Keep your finger in the loop as you draw it out, and the knife automatically seats itself in your grip. This can be crucial in a defensive situation. When your adrenaline is flowing and your pulse is racing, anything approaching delicate maneuvering with your hands is going to be difficult if not impossible. Gross motor movements are going to be your best shot.
Get a Grip
Retaining the knife in your hand is made easy with the ring. If your hand is wet and slick, the ring will help keep the knife secure, regardless of how smooth the handle material may be. In fact, you don’t even need to be using the ring for it to aid with retention. Because of the handle shape that results from incorporating a ring, there is a natural swell at the pommel. This combined with the texture of the ring itself will help you keep the knife in your hand even if you’re wet or cold.
The other thing the ring allows you to do is put the knife down without actually dropping it. For example, you’re in a defense situation and were unable to draw your firearm due to that arm being pinned. You’re able to hook your knife and use that to convince your assailant that he should roll off you. Rather than sheath the knife or, worse, drop it where someone else could grab it, you can draw your pistol as you transfer the knife to your off hand. The knife can then dangle from your pinky while you achieve a proper grip on your handgun.
“The design of the cutting tool was refined and became more nimble, more precise. Various blade shapes and profiles were developed to meet a multitude of diverse and specific needs.”
The same technique can be used in noncombat scenarios too, of course. If you’re processing wild game, the knife can be kept looped on a finger, then rotated into your palm as needed. There are many models of bird and trout knives made specifically for this purpose.
Take a Pounding
Some knives incorporate what has been often referred to as a skull crusher-style pommel, a crenelated butt cap of some sort that is designed to inflict a serious amount of injury when it is forcefully introduced to an assailant’s face or other bony area of the head or body. Provided the knife is well made, the ring can be used in a similar fashion. This brings a little bonus to the festivities, as it were.
However, it is imperative that the knife be sturdy enough to handle that sort of use and abuse. If the material or the design aren’t strong enough, slamming that ring into a hard surface like a skull could result in you suffering just as much injury, up to and including earning a new nickname of Niner.
What Goes Around Comes Around
That ring, for all its usefulness, could end up getting you into trouble if you’re not careful. For starters, if the knife gets caught on something and forcefully pulled in the wrong direction, you could get a crash course in what it means to deglove a finger. Pro tip: That’s not a good thing and it will require far more than rubbing a little dirt on it to get you back in the game.
“Large knife or small, though, the ring requires a finger most of the time for the knife to be deployed properly, and if your hand is too wide or too narrow, it won’t be comfortable.”
Even if the knife isn’t pulled away from you, an attacker could use it as leverage, inflicting a great amount of pain with a joint lock on your finger, possibly even dislocating it without a whole lot of effort.
Another consideration is that if you’re in a situation where you need to drop the knife in a hurry for some reason, that might be easier said than done. If you’re wearing gloves, such as during cold weather, this could be even more problematic.
Ergonomics Might be Tricky
The comfort and feel of any knife are important to the user. If the knife handle is too long, short, thin or thick, they’ll find reasons to leave it at home. If the knife is too heavy, it’ll be tiring to use for extended periods. Too light and it might not be capable of doing the work required of it.
When you add a ring to the mix, you’re kind of locked in as to where your hand is able to be positioned on the handle. It is difficult to choke up on the blade to do precision work, for example, as the handle can make that sort of thing awkward. With larger knives, that’s less of an issue than with the more concealable models.
Large knife or small, though, the ring requires a finger most of the time for the knife to be deployed properly, and if your hand is too wide or too narrow, it won’t be comfortable. The size of the ring itself is important as well. If it is too narrow, you could easily develop hot spots on that finger while you’re cutting, chopping or carving. Also consider whether the interior edge of the ring is radiused or not. If it has a sharp edge, it won’t be fun to use for any reasonable length of time. If needed, this can be remedied with the use of a Dremel-type tool or a half-round file for a few minutes to round off that inner edge.
Ring-handle knives have proven popular throughout history. As with most things that have that sort of staying power, there’s a reason they’ve persisted. It is a design that has distinct advantages over many other models and blade profiles. However, those advantages don’t come without cost. The user needs to be aware of the risks involved with using such knives and be prepared to mitigate them through knowledge, skill, practice and experience.
Using a knife for defense isn’t often the best approach. Every weapon has a certain range of efficacy, and a knife’s range ends at your hand. Sure, you could throw the knife, but odds are all you’ll accomplish is losing a weapon and possibly arming your attacker.
What this means is that in order to use the knife against someone, you’ll need to be up close and personal. Which, to be quite honest, is the last place you really want to be, all things considered. If you’re close enough to use a knife, that means they are close enough to grab you, use a similar weapon against you or take yours away. That’s just one of the reasons a firearm is a much better defensive weapon. A handgun allows you to put holes in your attacker from a safe distance away.
That said, a well-rounded defense plan is always best, so it wouldn’t hurt to explore training in the use of edged weapons. One of the best martial arts for studying and learning this area of defense is Sayoc Kali.
There are several ring-handle knives on the market today. While the designs might have been inspired by ancient weapons, they are all constructed with modern materials and with an eye toward real-world use.
Bark River Knives Donnybrook
This knife from Bark River Knives takes its name from an Irish fair that had a reputation for fighting, excessive drinking and debauchery. Eventually, the name became synonymous with brawling. Should you find yourself in such a situation, this knife would likely prove exceptionally useful. It is slim, light and fast in the hand. The Donnybrook has an unsharpened false edge along the top that serves to narrow the tip to a strong needle-sharp point. It comes with a sturdy, well-made leather sheath.
- Overall length: 8.31 inches
- Blade length: 3.82 inches
- Weight: 2.7 ounces
- Steel: CPM 154
- Handle: Black canvas Micarta
TOPS Knives C.U.T. 4.0
Joshua Swanagon, noted authority on knives and survival, designed this knife in conjunction with the folks at TOPS Knives. C.U.T. stands for Combat Utility Tool. The goal was to have a knife that could bridge the gap between combat and field utility. The drop-point blade profile is extremely practical for a wide range of tasks. The curved handle is comfortable, and the ring is wide enough for just about any user, even while wearing gloves. It is a larger knife but the Kydex sheath carries it easily.
- Overall length: 8.5 inches
- Blade length: 4.25 inches
- Weight: 6.3 ounces
- Steel: 1095
- Handle: Tan canvas Micarta
Flagrant Beard HAVOC
This may very well be one of the best “Get off me!” tools on the market today. It is very thin and weighs just a few ounces, so it won’t weigh you down. The design is very straightforward and while it could serve as a utility blade in a pinch, it really shines as a defense weapon first and foremost. Its solid, one-piece construction means there’s nothing to come loose. The modified tanto blade profile is perfect for penetration. It comes with a Kydex sheath that can be carried on a belt or around the neck.
- Overall length: 6.625 inches
- Blade length: 2.375 inches
- Weight: 3 ounces
- Steel: 1095
- Handle: Skeletonized and recessed
TOPS Knives Quickie
The smallest of the lot, the Quickie is a backup to your backup, a last-ditch weapon to help you gain separation and distance from your attacker. Unlike most other ring-handle knives, this one is what they call a “three-finger” karambit, meaning it is your third finger, not pinky, that fits into the ring. It was designed specifically to allow the user to still draw and fire a handgun without dropping or sheathing the knife first. It is tiny enough to conceal just about anywhere, yet the blade is sharp enough to cause real damage if needed.
- Overall length: 5 inches
- Blade length: 1.63 inches
- Weight: 1.2 ounces
- Steel: 1095
- Handle: Skeletonized
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.