All of us get into a rut in our thinking from time to time. Myself, I have fallen victim to following the crowd a bit too much when it comes to serrated knives in the outdoors. From my experience, the vast majority of outdoors folks don’t like serrated blades. But, after getting another perspective on the issue and also trying out the Spyderco Jumpmaster and the Spyderco Assist, I’ve got a new take on the subject.
I’ll just get this out of the way from the jump. When we received these two knives for review, I wasn’t sure how we were going to do the articles. Since this is an outdoors gear site rather than a tactical or survival site, serrated knives aren’t real popular and tactical knives aren’t really appropriate for our audience. As much as I might like them, it’s tough to justify doing reviews on them. But, a couple of things changed my thinking a bit. One was a post on a forum about fuzz/feather sticks and the other thing was using the Assist for a little bit and seeing all of its features.
Recently, someone posted about using serrated knives to make feather sticks. They pointed out that when using a straight edge blade, you sometimes run out of material to bite into once you’ve peeled away a good bit of the wood. After a while, it gets nice and slick with the work you’ve done. The poster talked about how you were still able to get a good bite into slicked, rounded wood with serrated blades even if the plain edge wasn’t getting it done. Huh, I hadn’t really thought about that. I was too busy eschewing serrated knives for woods use because of what I’ve been told, when I should have been experimenting a bit more with them on my own. So, that’s what I did once the Assist arrived. It should be pointed out that the Assist is billed as a tool for rescue personnel such as Fire/EMT and other emergency workers. But, once you get your mind thinking outside of the box (it took me a while), you’ll find that it fits a number of other roles as well.
The Assist is a bright orange FRN handled folding knife with a 3.68 inch serrated VG-10 blade. Well, let me correct that point. About 80% is serrated. The other 20% is a razor sharp plain edge located near the tip of the blade. That portion of the blade is useful for cutting through material like clothing. The Assist is a very beefy knife, not so much in weight, but in size. It was built to be used and easily manipulated by personnel wearing different types of gloves including leather gloves, surgical gloves and the like. And, since its main function is as a rescue style knife where you might be cutting away webbing or clothing from a victim, the point of the blade is actually rounded like a sheeps foot design to keep from cutting the person you’re rescuing.
To make the knife easier to use while wearing gloves, Spyderco included what they call a “Cobra Hood” that sits directly above the trademark Spyerco hole in the blade. This cobra hood makes it easier to catch and open the blade with one hand, and it also gives more real estate for the user’s thumb to get that extra bit of leverage during a tough job. Admittedly, it did make it a lot easier to manipulate and deploy the blade, and using it as a thumbrest was very comfortable. I’ve pressed down on some spine jimping in the past that has been quite unpleasant during tough cutting chores, so the feel of the cobra hood was a real pleasure. However, I would encourage you to check the tightness of fit to the spine. The model we received had a loose screw that was holdign the hood to the spine so it was tipping up away from the spine. This certainly could become more of an issue after using the cobra hood to open the blade time and again. That was rectified with some tightening and a drop of Loc-Tite. I haven’t had any issues with it since, but still worth remembering and checking every so often.
As mentioned earlier, the Assist can fill a variety of roles aside from just a tool for rescue professionals. For folks that work around water or are out hiking the woods, the Assist can be an invaluable tool for them as well. Besides the sheep’s foot point and the serrated blade, the Assist also comes with a whistle built into the handle. That’s a great way to signal others whether you’re drifting on the water in a fog bank or sitting under a tree waiting for the SAR team to locate you. It’s not the loudest whistle in the world, but I was surprised at just how loud it actually was. With a forceful breath behind it, my ears were ringing a bit when I was done giving it a workout. That’s actually a pretty nifty feature and great for someone who forgot to bring along their survival kit–which I’m sure has a whistle in it.
Another feature that I almost overlooked is the glass breaker that’s built into the handle. At rest, the glass breaker is actually inside the handle. To deploy it, you close the knife, and then squeeze the spine of the knife down forcing the knife a little deeper into the handle. As you do this, the glass breaker comes out of the handle. But, you need to keep the pressure on the squeeze while you’re using the glass breaker, otherwise it retracts back into the handle. This feature, along with that razor sharp edge would also make the Assist a great tool for the average person to keep in their automobile. You can make quick work of the seatbelts if necessary, and you’ve got a tool to help punch your way through a window as well. The clip will let you keep it attached to your sun visor where it’s out of the way until it’s needed.
Now, along the lines of woods work, I was able to make good use of the Assist in that vain as well. One of the first things I tried out was the trick the guy was talking about in his forum post about making a feather stick. I’ll say that he did have a point. Once you worked off the first bit of the surface wood and it started to get slick, the serration did help to bite into it a bit more than my straight blade. It wasn’t the prettiest work, but that’s not what matters. And, besides “feathering” the stick, I was able to get a good amount of shavings for tinder. I noticed while doing this that the slivers I got were a bit finer using the Assist. The serrations helped to keep down on the size and the bulk of the shaving so it was easier to get some finer tinder to use while getting the fire started.
Other than the difference with the feather stick, to be honest, the Assist doesn’t do anything else in the woods that a straight blade can’t do just fine. But, for those on a limited budget, the Assist does provide you with a tool that can serve double duty in the woods and in your home/ or automobile with the various rescue/emergency tools we talked about previously. You might not be a fireman or an EMT, but there are quite a few of us that make plans and take steps to deal with emergencies in our own way and the Assist is a great tool to have around to make those plans come to life!
A lot of the things we talked about with the Assist also hold true for the Jumpmaster as well. However, rather than being a folding knife, the Jumpmaster is a rather substantial fixed blade that’s capable of handling just about any tough cutting job you can imagine. Originally, the Jumpmaster was designed as a tool for the 82nd Airborn as a solution to help take care of problems that arise during parachute jumps. Personnel can get tangled in lines and equipment can fail, so there needs to be a ready solution to the problem so the rest of the jumpers can keep on with the excercise. Spyderco looked at the specs requested by the 82nd Airborn and the Jumpmaster is their answer to the question.
The blade on the Jumpmaster is completely serrated and runs 4.5 inches in length, making the overall length right at 9.5 inches. One advantage that the Jumpmaster has is the rustproof H1 steel used for the knife. H1 is a premium steel designed specifically to stand up to corrosion under the harshest of conditions. We did a previous review of an H1 knife and conducted our own test by allowing it to sit in saltwater for an extended period. As most of you are aware, seawater is one of the most corrosive things you can expose your tools to, and if you’re not diligent in their care, you could quickly end up with a rusty paperweight. However, the knife we tested in salt water sailed throught the experiment with flying colors and showed no evidence of corrosion in the least. And, from various reports from across the net, H1 is turning intro a real boon for users who demand extreme performance from their tools.
The tip of the Jumpmaster is a sheep’s foot design making it easy to work around personnel and also making it a great choice to work around materials in a maritime enviornment. Couple the sheep’s foot with the serrations and the H1 steel and you’ve got a tool that’s just as home on the water as it is in the sky–probably even more so. Just like the Assist, the Jumpmaster makes quick work of cutting through any material where serrations really shine as the choice. Whether it’s nylong webbing, tubing, canvas, or various kinds of rope, the Jumpmaster slips through the work effortlessly. Along with the Assist, I used the Jumpmaster to cut a variety of materials just to get an idea of its performance. The first thing I did was pick out a couple of types of nylon webbing straps and went to work. I’d cut through once, double it over, cut through again, double it over, and cut some more! You get the idea. I just kept folding the webbing over on itself as I made the cuts until I was cutting through 8 layers of webbing at once. No problem!
At this point, I was actually surprised by well the Jumpmaster cut through all these layers. I didn’t need to tie the straps to anything to get some tension. I could just hold the layers in my hand and simply cut throught the straps while they were basically free-hanging on one end. Like the expression goes, “Like a hot knife through butter!” After that, I used the Jumpmaster and the Assist to cut through some 3/4 inch polyethylene rope to again get an idea of performance–especially to compare the two side by side. This type of rope is more likely to be encountered around water sports rather than the tactical enviornment for which the Jumpmaster was actually designed, but the Jumpmaster didn’t know the difference.
Naturally, there was a little more resistance with the rope. Both the Jumpmaster and the Assist chewed right through it with no qualms whatsoever–provided the right leverage was in place. To be honest, I felt like the Assist was more comfortable to use while cutting the rope and that’s because of the palm-filling, rounded handles. The Jumpmaster cuts like a champ and feels great when you hold it in a regular edge (serrations) down hold. But, when I was cutting through the rope, It was a little different experience.
I would fold the rope in half and hold the knife with the serrations skyward. When the blade met the resistance of the rope it caused the bird’s beak at the end of the handle to dig upward into the heel/palm of my hand. Probably not a big deal when making a cut or two, but after making a bunch of cuts in the rope this way, I was really beginning to feel it digging into the heel of my hand. This is something to keep in mind. If you’re cutting something that’s got tension to it and is attached to something else, and you’re holding the Jumpmaster in a regular grip to cut through it, you’re going to blaze through whatever it is with no issues. If you’re hand-holding the material to cut and slicing with the serrations facing up, you might not like the feel of that bird’s beak pressing into the heel of your hand. Not having worked in a tactical style environment, I can’t see what percentage of cuts would be made this way. So, I suppose this is something that will have to be considered by the end user.
Like the Assist, the Jumpmaster utilizes FRN for the handle material. FRN makes the handle grippy especially with the aggressive texturing Spyderco uses in its design. Even so, it’s still relatively comfortable and I didn’t experience any twinges or discomfort while using either the Assist or the Jumpmaster over an extended period of time.
One of the things that makes the Jumpmaster scream “Tactical” to the chagrined woodsman is the polymer sheath that’s designed to be carried either on the calf or against the body. With its two straps to help keep it in position, there’s no question for which market this knife was designed. There are also several different holes built into the sheath to open up your attachment options to allow the user to customize the way they want to carry the Jumpmaster on their person. The sheath itself is curved a bit on the side worn against the body to help it conform to the user and to get a more comfortable fit.
During my “younger” years, I had a few pocket knives, but they were more of the hardware store variety. The first quality pocket knife that I acquired was a Spyderco Endura way back when. Since that time, I’ve never been dissatisfied with the performance of any Spyderco knife that I’ve carried and used. The Jumpmaster and Assist both carry on that tradition with aplomb! That said, I’m going to speak with candor here. While the Jumpmaster is an excellent knife for the purpose for which it was designed, I actually think that the Assist folder would be a better choice for most of our audience. The Assist is easier to carry, and it has a variety of tools that even the rank novice would have no issues employing if needed. With the emergency whistle, the glass breaker, the high visibility scales, and the portability of the Assist, I just think it would make the better tool for the outdoorsman. The Jumpmaster is an extremely robust, purpose-built tool that falls within a narrow niche of uses. Now, if you’re going to be doing some tactical work where this kind of knife is needed or if you need something engineered for extreme work around the water, I don’t think you’d find a better tool on the market. So, it’s all going to come down to the question of your own personal needs.
As long as you know exactly what your needs are and you pick the right tool for the job, I think you’ll be happy with either of these two great knives. Both of them offer quality features specifically designed for the roles each knife is destined to play. With a little sniffing around on the internet, you can find the Assist for between $68.00 and $80.00, and the Jumpmaster can be had for around $150.00 to $170.00. I think both prices are pretty reasonable for what each knife offers in its own right. And, for those of us that don’t like sharpening serrated knives, or at least can’t do a very good job at it, Syderco does offer complimentary sharpening for $5.00 per knife. That’s more than worth it from my point of view since I have a hard enough time sharpening a straight-edge knife.
If you’re in the market for the kind of features that you’ll find in either the Jumpmaster or the Assist, I’d encourage you to give them a close look. Both exhibit the same quality and innovation we’ve come to expect from Spyderco in the past, and can be put to use in ways that a lot of us haven’t really considered before. I know I’ve started to rethink the utility of serrated knives in the bush. Maybe you’ll come up with some different uses you haven’t considered either!