Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Demystifying a Swiss Knife

If one object can be named as an extension of my limbs then that would be a Swiss Knife (SK). To me it is not a lowly knife but a life saving device, exactly what the manufacturers Victorinox claim it to be. Over the years I have used many models and varieties of SK and currently I have 6 different models at home including the ubiquitous Swiss Champ with which you can literally dismantle a space shuttle or disarm a nuclear ballistic missile. Any one or two of these SK would always accompany me in all my travels, adventurous or not, and they have literally saved my life on numerous occasions.

I am often asked by people to recommend a SK for their use and that is the key to buying a SK; what are you going to use it for; some use it as a keychain, some to impress, some to cut vegetables at home, some to climb Everest and then some to just hang it on the wall of their sitting room. If you visit the Victorinox website or a showroom you would be completely baffled and boggled by the range they have. And it is often a puzzle for most as to what all the functions are for and how they can use it to the optimum. Attractive colours, prices and salespersons (both male and female) often leads one to buy a SK which they don’t need or one that they would never use to the fullest. So this post is about demystifying this amazing device called SK and to share with you more common features that can be used in our daily lives and also high up in the mountains or the wild outdoors.

To Read more please click on the title

It all began in 1884 in the Swiss Alpine meadows by Charles and Victoria Elsener who started making multi tools and cutlery. In 1891 they got the first contract to supply soldier’s knives to the Swiss Army and shortly thereafter Charles Elsener patented the ‘Officer’s knife’ that made the house of Victorinox what it is today.

Every SK comes with a life time guarantee on material and workmanship that is covered worldwide. And in most cases a SK does exceed the lifetime of the user. If you own a genuine SK and if it goes bad due to the material or any workmanship failure, even if it is few decades old, you can take it to the nearest Victorinox service centre and get it repaired or replaced free of cost anywhere in the world; no questions asked. You don’t need to produce any receipt or billing vouchers etc. Every SK product has a genuine and unique number etched inside the handle that the service centre verifies and once that is done he would replace your product or repair it if possible. I don’t think there’s any other brand or product in the world that comes with such a guarantee. It’s no wonder that SK and Victorinox is one of the most recognized and sold brands in the world.

Please refer to the accompanying picture, as I have explained the name and function of the parts according to the corresponding numbers. The model in the photograph is called ‘Huntsman’ and the product code is 1.3713. The popularity of ‘Huntsman’ can be gauged by the fact that Victorinox product catalogue 2011 features this model on its cover page. Ideally I should have shown the model ‘Mountaineer’ with product code 1.3743 but then I have a reason for not doing so, moreover there’s just one difference between these two models and I think ‘Huntsman’ is more applicable to general life. Now let’s get on with our demystification:-

1 – Tweezers: function: excellent for taking out thorns embedded into skin, picking up tiny pieces of paper or leaves or anything too small for fingers, eyelash pruning for ladies and some men

2 – Toothpick: function: picking tooth, extracting objects from tiny fissures. It’s made of tensile plastic so handle carefully

3 – Large blade: function: cutting or peeling or chopping vegetables and fruits, murder / assault or self defence, carving wood, digging earth, using for leverage into tiny rock cracks

4 – Wood Saw: function: sawing wood (I have had to cut woods several times to span wild raging mountain rivers), sawing through cloth, etc

5 – Cap lifter with screwdriver and wire stripper: this particular part has three devices, the wire stripper being the tiny notch at the bottom: functions: cap lifting from misc bottles, screwdriver, stripping the outer insulated sheath of metal or electric wires, it can also be used to bend thick metal wires in case you don’t have pliers

6 – Scissors: function: cutting papers, cloth, trimming moustache, making holes into paper or cloth or tent repair fabric

7 – Small Blade: function: same as large blade with lesser lethal power, anti eve teasing device too

8 – Key Ring: function: to put a safety line through the SK, hanging it from your trousers belt loop, hanging it on the wall, for any kind of hanging purpose

9 – Reamer and Punch: function: as you will notice this device has a sharp edge and a hole like a needle in the centre. It looks like a flattened needle. It is primarily used to make holes or enlarging an existing hole through fabric, leather, etc and the hole is used to put thread through and sew up big objects like hiking boots or canvas tents. I have also used it to extract juice out of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons.

10 – Corkscrew: function: lifting any cork from any bottle, mostly used to open champagne or wine bottles at the end of a successful expedition where no one died. Make sure you are with a French or Russian team.

11 – Multipurpose hook (parcel carrier): function: this hook has to be used by taking it out at a right angle to the SK red body and then curling your fist around the body with the hook sticking out between the index and middle fingers. Best used for lifting or pulling of heavy weights like sacks, parcels, gunny bags, etc. I have used it to hang my hammock too

12 – Can opener with small screwdriver: function: this part has two devices together: function: opening any tin can of tuna, meat or vegetables, screwdriver for small cuts

For nearly 15 years I held perhaps the best model of SK ever made in terms of functionality and compactness. It was a gift from a dear friend who died in an avalanche the year after he gave this precious SK to me, which by then he had used for over a decade. This particular model, which Victorinox doesn’t make now (currently product code 1.3405 comes closest to it or product code 1.3705.AVT which has additional features like barometer, thermometer, etc; and how I wish someone would present these ones to me now), had in addition to the above: pressurised ball point pen, mini screwdriver, and a stainless steel pin, making it the most versatile SK I have ever used or known. Amazingly even after 25 years of rigorous use the ball point pen ink hadn’t dried. Unfortunately I lost it due to my own carelessness in Kenya earlier this year.

Now to wind up, if you wish to know which is the ultimate Swiss Knife model one can have; then I would be diplomatic enough to say that it depends on the individual and what you wish to do with it. Going by the functions offered, then of course the hands down winners are product codes 1.6795 (Swiss Champ), 1.6795.XLT (Swiss Champ XLT) and the mind boggling model with 80 features 1.6795.XAVT (Swiss Champ XAVT). I already have the original legendary Swiss Champ and I don’t really need any of the other two versions since they have functions I rarely or never would use in the wilderness. But yes, given a choice I would certainly like to own one day the model that comes loaded with 41 features including a sharpening stone 1.8741.AVT (Expedition Kit). In terms of extreme expeditions be it anywhere in the world from the Poles to the top of Everest or from Alaska to Antarctica, be it inside the deepest caves or deepest oceans, this is one Swiss Knife that would get you there and bring you back in one piece.

Seriously a Swiss Knife cannot be improved, it is perfect but even then I would like to wrap up with one wishful thinking. If ever Victorinox is going to add a feature to its products, then I would want them to add a nail cutter. Since its inception and well over few hundred products there is not a single SK ever made that came with a nail cutter. When we go to outdoors, for months on end, our nails do grow in the most unruly fashion, which is not only unhygienic and unpalatable to view, especially when in women’s company but for climbing we absolutely must cut our nails regularly. Since Swiss Knives don’t have one, I always have to carry this additional gear, a nail cutter and over the years have lost scores of them on various mountain ranges across the world. I hope Victorinox is listening and will soon add a nail cutter.

I guess that covers it all as for this post. But now I can see some more questions in some of you reader’s eyes, as to the purpose of the smiling red lady bug that sits at the top corner of the picture accompanying this post. What’s she doing here!

Hmmm even I am not sure and for now let’s keep that a mystery to be demystified later, if ever at all. But then it is said that lady bugs are harbinger of extraordinary luck and so does a SK and for the life I lead, I need both or rather all the three: lady bug, SK and extraordinary luck. In that way, the lady bug certainly has a connection and place in this post as much in my life.

Now my friends go out and grab your Swiss Knives from the nearest store, wherever you may be in the world. I am going to get another one for sure, of course would surreptitiously ask one of my friends to present it to me, since till date I did not buy any of the SK’s that I have owned or presently use. I believe that if I buy one then it won’t bring me luck. A Swiss Knife to me can only come as a precious friend’s precious gift and only then would it be my life saviour. Amen!


  1. ... and there is only one person in this entire world who can shower you with all the luck possible, satya :-) so may lady luck always be with you.

    Thanks for everything. You totally deserve all the love and luck that comes your way.

  2. That's a useful little story! And yes, I've often wondered why there's no nail-cutter...

  3. You can use the scissors to cut your nails.. That's what I do when I'm out in the wild or even at home if I'm too lazy to search for the nail cutter..