The Most Helpful Tool You Can Own

A pocket knife is an act of kindness. Really.

Person using pocket knife to peel apple skin.
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

I am a firm believer in the altruistic tool — the object you always have handy for other people as much as for you. I once wrote about the impeccably clean hanky. This time, it’s the folding pocket knife. Next time, I’m thinking it will be the wallet Band-Aid.

Whenever I pull my Benchmade 940 pocket knife from my right front pocket, my kids roll their eyes and say, “We know, we know: Always carry a knife.” They say it all the time because I say it every time I use my knife, and I use my knife all the time.

But, really, everyone should have a knife handy—especially at home. For you and for everyone around you.

Illustration: Ross McCammon

Get a good-quality knife, and keep it sharp. You will use it at least five times a day. I recommend a four-inch folding knife with a blade about three inches long. It should have a clip attached, because when you need a knife, you need a knife to be in exactly the right place. If personal style and clothing design allow, keep it clipped to your front pocket (the knife body should be inside your pocket, with only the clip visible outside, so it stays both secure and discreet). It should be easy to open with one hand. There are two factors here. One is a thumb stud, which allows you to effortlessly swing the blade open with your thumb. The other is smooth pivot action. It should open easily — and stay open.

Is the type of knife I’m recommending optimized for cutting rope and various outdoor tasks? Yes. Will you use it mostly for everyday, indoor things? You will. The reason you want to carry a substantial, technical knife for small tasks is the same reason you want a chef’s knife for cutting scallions: control and precision, which ultimately mean safety.

You’ll also use it for: opening clamshell packaging, cutting pieces of paper in half (happens more often than you think), screwing and unscrewing tiny screws like the ones used in eyeglasses, sharpening pencils, miscellaneous whittling.

And other people will use it, too. Because here’s the thing: When someone unexpectedly needs a knife — for opening a box or cutting a loose thread from clothing — they really need a knife. And when you instantly produce one (or a hanky, or a Band-Aid) to someone in need, you’re not just helping them do whatever it is they’re trying to do; you’re also addressing the vulnerability that need creates. It’s a practical kindness, but it’s also more than that.

Keep your knife close. You won’t be the only one who’s grateful that you do.

[Note: Please abide by your local knife laws. If you’re not legally able to carry a three-inch-long folding blade in public, then please only do so at home, which happens to be where you’ll use it the most.]

Author, Works Well With Others: Crucial Skills in Business No One Ever Teaches You // writing weekly about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way

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