Ye Olde "Weapon vs. Tool" Argument

Discussion in 'American Knife & Tool Institute' started by James Mattis, Aug 8, 2000.

  1. James Mattis

    James Mattis

    Oct 3, 1998
    Here is a thread on the main Blade Forum on how to deal with the fact that a good working knife and a good defensive knife are frequently the same knife.

    This is a core issue for AKTI.

    - JKM
    AKTI Member # SA00001

    [This message has been edited by James Mattis (edited 08-08-2000).]
  2. James Lechago

    James Lechago

    May 23, 2000
    Hello James. I had been studying anthropology at the University of Houston for several years. Unfortunately a move to South Carolina put an end to that. However I still study that discipline and have some interesting insight into the use of knives well before there was any form of written word. Did you know that the first knives made were never even considered for fighting? Never. It would have been like taking a knife to a gunfight. Knives were far too important to even consider using for this. Back in Prehistoric America ( all of it) , a knife was much too valuable to consider fighting with, not to mention inefficient. Imagine, Some very frightened but agressive men wielding clubs and or spears being ambushed by a band of men attacking them with knives in their hands. Not very smart? Spears and clubs were always the weapon of choice until the bronze age. During the bronze age men developed the axe. this is a devastating weapon in comparison to either of the other two because for the first time there is a weapon that can stop a man or a wild animal with only one blow. Neither the spear or the club can do this with any degree of certainty. Do you remember "Iceman" discovered on the border of the Swiss and Italian Alps? They found a bronze axe among his effects. Someone in the anthropological community suggested that this was used to cut down wood for making fires. Apparently not too many anthropologists go camping. To use this blade on wood wood have been to destroy what was probably the man's most prized posession. This was used for one thing only. To defend himself from wild animals and from gangsters. Thats right gangsters. The man had tatoo's whos' only purpose was to identify his affiliation with another tribe, so that any violence against him might bring about retribution if discovered. Sound familiar? That's because not alot has changed in over five thousand years. The blade became justified as a weapon when the first copper knives were made. These would not have been good for much more that stabbing. Only after the introduction of iron did a knife have a legitamate use a a weapon. Think about it this way, knives have been used as tools exclusively for far longer than than where has existed a written history. There may have been singular incidents in which a knife of stone was used to defend one's life but that is why it is a singularity. If the need to defend oneself someday is eliminated knives will still be carried if only to pick out splinters or perhaps to open the box that our computer came in but it will still be around as a tool. It is hard to think of it as anything but a tool first. Knives designed purely as fighting knives are, in my way of thinking simply knives that are too inefficient to use for practical purposes. This is the hazard of specialization. If you've read this far then I must thank you for your patience.
  3. James Mattis

    James Mattis

    Oct 3, 1998
    I read that far, and we're on the same frequency!

    For more thoughts along the same line, take a look at Daithi's Knives and Humanity essay, which originated in a thread a few years ago on the rec.knives Usenet news group.

    I believe a knife, a dagger, and a sword originate as three separate and distinct primitive tools/weapons, and only become the same technology in the iron age.

    Knives begin as stone knives, for cutting things, too brittle and valuable to use as serious weapons.

    Daggers begin as short pointed sticks (or suitable bones, sharpened), with longer pointed sticks being known as spears.

    Swords begin as clubs - a big stick (or suitable bone), used as a clobbering tool. Some wooden war clubs in low-tech cultures were made with flat cross-sections, to concentrate the blow on the edge. With bronze, and later iron, you can really concentrate the blow.

    And a big steel "Bowie knife" is all three.

    - JKM
    AKTI Member # SA00001
  4. SDouglas


    Jan 6, 1999
    I carry my knives as tools.

    If I am ever forced into a Self-Defense situation I will use anything and everything available to me in order to gain and advantage.

    AKTI Member No. A000370
    Email: [email protected]
  5. James Lechago

    James Lechago

    May 23, 2000
    James, you are right. A bronze axe cannot be used to cut down a tree just because it is an axe, and a stone knife does not make a viable weapon just because a steel one does. Some of the earlier anthropologists made assumptions as to the use of certain artifacts based on modern use of the same type of tools. We know now that this was a big mistake. Unfortunately the dicemination of this misinformation occured because it was taken as fact. Many people still believe it. All it takes is a little common sense, but for some it is difficult not to take the 'expert's word' as the truth. Back in time when people relied on their few simple tools for their survival and the survival of their community there were no experts. The club the spear, and later the stone axe in their multivarious forms were the tools of choice when confronted with danger whether from animal or from man. In the hands of the non-expert today I believe that the same tools are still superior to the knife when confronting danger. Fortunately on of the best tools for (restoring harmony in ones environment) is still legal to have in social envirionments. The club. In its simplest form it was probably our first tool. The walking stick or cane is legal everywhere in the world as far as I know. I carry mine as well as my knife when in public. My cane is in plain view and my knife is in my pocket. My stick gets little or no attention. There would be a great deal of difficulty in outlawing its use. By the way, the African bushmen still carry clubs along with their spears and knives when they hunt. A good example is made in the movie, 'Ghost and the Darkness". The bushmen in this movie were not a depiction, but were played by real tribesmen. They were consulted as to how they would be portrayed , participating in a lion hunt. They were shown carrying their spear at the ready in their strong hand and the club in the other with their knife at their belts.
  6. cerulean


    May 26, 1999
    Well, I don't want to go too far off topic, but the Iceman's axe was clearly not just a weapon. It was a multi-purpose tool that was also used to chop wood, among other things.

    If the Iceman didn't use his axe to chop wood, then what tool did he use to chop wood? He was making a bow out of yew right before he died. How did he chop a suitable piece of wood out of the yew trunk and work the wood into a bow shape? He couldn't have used his stone knife for this.

    A metal blade is vastly superior to a stone one. The Iceman would be using his axe constantly.

    ( Here's a page on the Iceman. Includes pics of his axe and knife )

    Anyway, to address the weapon vs. tool issue... Someone would have to define the term "weapon" before we can say whether or not a knife is a weapon. I think a good definition for "weapon" would be something like "A tool; the primary function of which is to injure and/or kill living things."

    Under this definition, something like a sword or a gun would be considered a weapon, while a cane or baseball bat would not be. Of course, you can use a baseball bat to beat someone to death, but that's not its primary function; it's primary function is to hit baseballs.

    So is a knife a weapon? I don't think so. Knives are so diverse that they don't even have a clearly defined primary function. Could a specific knife design be called a weapon? Probably. But knives in general are just tools, not weapons.
  7. James Lechago

    James Lechago

    May 23, 2000
    Cerulean, you are right about the axe's purpose. It would probably have been use more than as a weapon. One thing that is not well understood is who the iceman was. However one thing is clear and that is that he was nomadic. He was found in the middle of a mountain range and was probably caught in a blizzard. The axe would not have been used to make any sizable construction, therefore he never used it to cut trees down. Few prehistoric people used wood construction unless they were settled. This didn't happen until the advent of agriculture. As far as collecting firewood. Most suitable wood for burning can be collected easily without having to cut it because it is dead and dry. As far as the bow is concerned. It was probably cut when green and was thin enough that he might even have simply broken it off at the base. There is very little work done to the bow that could not have been done with scraping with a stone. This would have been an effective method of removing the softer outer layer and tapering the ends. Don't forget that the bow is just a straight length of wood until it gets strung.
    The axe itself was actually not copper as was originally thought, but had enough alloying material to be considered a low alloy bronze. Even though bronze is even harder than copper it is a very poor choice for an axe to be used mainly for chopping wood. This doesn't mean that he didn't cut his yew with it. It just means that he probably didn't do it every day. Every tool can be used to do something for which it was not designed and that is how the evolution of our tools occures. By the was the tool of choice for cutting a tree down would probably have been a stone axe. This would have been a large heavy stone that hade been chipped on one side to form a wedge shape. This was held directly on the hand and was used to tap at the trunk, removing small chips of wood at a time.Swinging too hard would have risked breaking the stone. This would have been tedious but also the only viable method , and in the area where he was found there would have been no shortage of suitable stones for the job.
    As you stated before any tool may be used as a weapon but bot everything designed to defend oneself is an effective tool for anything else. This doen't mean that in a pinch it can't be used that way. I think that the knife falls into the tool that can be used as a weapon catagory. The bronze axe, I believe fell into the weapon that might be used as a tool (every once in a while) catagory.

  8. alansattik


    Jul 5, 2000
    In searching for knife laws in Utah I found this definition of what constitutes a "weapon"

    "Dangerous weapon" means any item that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. The following factors shall be used in determining whether a knife, or any other item, object, or thing not commonly known
    as a dangerous weapon is a dangerous weapon:
    (i) the character of the instrument, object, or thing;
    (ii) the character of the wound produced, if any;
    (iii) the manner in which the instrument, object, or thing was used; and
    (iv) the other lawful purposes for which the instrument, object, or thing may be used.
    (b) "Dangerous weapon" does not include any explosive, chemical, or incendiary
    device as
    defined by Section 76-10-306.

    I'd like to thank AKTI for thier help in my education on knife related laws and ect.

    The most dangerous knife is a dull one,

    [This message has been edited by alansattik (edited 08-17-2000).]

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