Best Knife For Batoning Wood – How to, and What for…

knife for batoning wood
(image: Dave Canterbury)

Some knives are better than others for batoning wood.

Batoning Wood – What does it mean?

It’s the action of splitting wood while using a baton and a knife. In the bush, a baton is typically a makeshift heavy ‘stick’ serving as a hammer of sorts.

There’s a technique to batoning wood. It’s the process of holding a knife blade to the end of a smallish diameter piece of wood while using the baton to strike the knife’s spine. This forces the knife edge to split / cut the wood. It can also be used to chip into the sides of wood (typically at an angle).

“Why would I use a baton and a knife for splitting wood?”

Building a Fire
Batoning wood is useful to split wood into smaller pieces.

Wet wood
Batoning wood is especially useful when it is raining, winter snow, or just plain damp wood. It exposes the inner dryer wood for kindling or simply to ignite much faster.

Making Shelter
Batoning wood may also be useful for cutting down saplings (young, small diameter tree) for building a shelter.

Serves as an Axe
Because you might not have an axe or a saw with you. While an axe will split larger diameter wood, a baton and a good knife will do surprisingly well.


Why not use an axe or a hatchet?

Why not just buy a light hatchet rather than risking a main survival tool by pounding on it?

If you can afford the additional weight and space in your pack or kit, yes a small hatchet is great! A hatchet can be batoned too and it is built to take the abuse.

Though it’s still good to know the batoning technique with a knife – in case you don’t have an axe and need to split some wood for a fire.

One difference with a knife and baton versus a small hatchet: You can place the knife directly on the wood with precision and hit it with a baton. A hatchet has to be swung and hope it hits the mark you want. Small diameter limbs are harder to hit precisely.

Dave Canterbury apparently influenced Morakniv to design a full tang model with specific features for batoning wood:
Morakniv full tang knife for batoning wood
Morakniv Garberg Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife


‘The Baton’ For Batoning Wood

The baton is simply a makeshift hammer – a piece of wood heavy enough to get the job done.

The baton is ideally from a hard wood (heavier, more dense, less effort to ‘baton’), and several inches in diameter. It’s essentially your ‘hammer’ used to strike the back of the knife blade (spine).


Full Tang Blade For Batoning Wood

Knives will have weaknesses inherent to their design. For example some knife blades do not extend far enough into the handle for sufficient strength. If the blade itself attaches to the handle as a separate piece, there will be a weak point. Same with a folder knife.

If using a knife for batoning, a full tang knife is stronger. The steel blade and the handle are all one solid piece and extends all the way into the handle.


Batoning Tips


Hard wood vs. Soft wood

If you’re batoning (splitting or cutting) hard wood, there will be more stress put on the knife than soft wood.

Dead wood vs. Green wood

Similarly there’s more stress on the blade while batoning green wood versus dead wood.

Where to strike the knife

When batoning wood, strike the back of the knife (it’s spine) further out and away from the handle of the knife.

The grain of the wood

When batoning (cutting) a sapling, do not cut directly against the grain (it’s the hardest part). Instead place the knife at an angle (about 45-degrees). Make a cut on all four sides, then pull the sapling over.

Be careful

Batoning wood is risky (cutting yourself) so be especially carefully during this process (as you should be anytime while using a knife)


What’s The Best Knife For Batoning Wood?

Dave Canterbury says, “The best knife or tool you can have is the one that you have when you need it…”

With that said, he evidently likes the Morakniv Garberg (made in Sweden).
Morakniv Garberg full tang knife
Morakniv Garberg Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife

Sandvik Steel Blade: 14C28N steel provides razor sharpness, high hardness, exceptional toughness.

Ground Spine: The spine of the Garberg blade has been ground especially for use with a fire starter.

Scandi-Grind: Edge designed to bite into the surface of materials and keep the knife from slipping.

Related: Scandinavian Grind is Best Edge for a Bushcraft Knife

Related: If you could only buy one survival knife, what would it be?


Other Knives

There are plenty of good knives suitable for batoning wood! It’s largely a matter of preference and budget. The classic KA-BAR comes to mind!

KA-BAR knife used by the Marines
KA-BAR Full Size US Marine Corps Fighting Knife

The following video from Dave Canterbury is very informative.
How to baton wood:

Read more: Sharpening Knives – 101
Read more: Survival Knife with Fire Starter & Sharpener

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when camping i carry schrade schf9n and a mora the schrade is a cheapish work horse and is used for all rough work the mora is used for the jobs that need more fineness . but i try to avoid bat-toning where ever possible . ( and yes both knives are illegal to carry with out a good reason in the uk .)

ken the whole set of restrictions put the onus on the individual to prove they have a legit reason to carry an over sized blade camping seems to be acceptable and work related use is generally accepted . as to your personal incident with a blade flipped it open big no no , if it locked total no no if it was 3″ or longer no no if all 3 jail time lol

Too late, The queen now has you on her no fly list!

I noticed the same thing when in China last summer. I took one of my Leatherman Wingman’s with me. We were doing a little project and needed to cut something. I pulled out the Wingman and opened the knife part. They stared at me like I grew a second head. Later, we needed to tighten something and I folded out the pliers and they just stared in amazement at how cool that thing was. So, I learned that if around people other than family, don’t use the knife. Just use the other implements. My wife was not phased by me opening the knife since she saw my knives and firearms (which were lost in a boating accident) when in the US.

lex inuista non est lex

I just love my Kabar BK22 for this task, absolutely bullet proof. Full tang 1/4″ thick spine, you simply can not beat it.

Ka-Bar BK-22 Becker Companion Fixed Blade Knife

Also, as the article says, a small hatchet works better if you have the space. I have taken to using a roofers hatchet, short handled, light weight and multipurpose, has an actual hammer head, and a notch for pulling nails as well.

I have never done this, usually have the proper tool for splitting wood if i need to, but if i had to i think i would prefer my M9, its stout and i know wont break when wacking on it, if im heading into the weeds i have it on me somewhere, either that or a Strider fixed blade that is similar to the M9 but does not attach to things, and has a lower profile blade, i would rather not beat on a knife with a piece of wood honestly,
Any of you ever see a knife snap off because the crystaline structure of the steel had a flaw from a glitch in heat treating? It happens, it could happen to even the best knives, to me having a broken knife from abusing it is just as good as no knife

Ontario Knife – M9 Bayonet & Scabbard

Bought an Ontario RTAK. Haven’t tried it batoning wood yet. It is a large knife almost like a thick machete.

Ontario RTAK II Knife

Some twenty+ years ago, out of boredom and my love for making things with my own hands, I made a heavy duty knife out of an old lawnmower blade. My thinking was that if that blade, which had cut probably in excess of a hundred acres of grass, hit innumerable sticks, fallen tree branches, rocks, and gravel, should hold up to most tasks I would use it for. Knife making experts scoff at using lawnmower blades, saying they are made of inferior steel.

I was in no hurry, took my my time, cutting and shaping the blade using my Dremel tool, sharpening it in stages using files and whetstones. I polished to a high sheen using a polishing wheel. I finished it up with hand carved cocobolo wood handles. I ended up with a 12″ overall, 2 1/2″ deep, full tang knife, heavy enough and sharp enough to take small limbs off easily with a single stroke. I hand stitched the scabbard using water buffalo hide. It ended up being the most utilitarian knife I own. I have to disagree with the experts. I believe it next to impossible to bend or break this knife, and it has held it’s edge remarkably well. Could be this was good ol’ made in USA steel, so I can’t say that the made in China blades would give the same result.

I’ve never “batoned” wood with a knife. Never found that necessary, as I always find an abundance of small cured limbs scattered around when I need them. I have, however, been known to tap the knife using a chunk of wood to assist splitting the rib cage on a deer. That never caused any damage. Would advise using a metal object, unless you don’t mind some character marks on your knife.

Ha! You reminded me of the first knife/sword I made as a kid. From a reel type lawnmower blade. Broke the rivets holding the blade on with a cold chisel I made in shop class. Went through two propane bottles slowly heating and bending that blade straight. Ground, with much trouble, the tip to a slant. Fashioned a handle for it. Think it was about 24″ long. I used it extensively when I was climbing trees to prune them for the neighbors. Held an edge like nothing else. My own home-made machete. Somewhere in all my moves it was lost, but have thought many times of making another. Maybe I need to make another trip to scrap yard this spring and see what I can find. Thanks for the reminder.

Some folks call it a sling blade. Now hamme them mashed purtatoes. Mmhrm.

Half Life Knives out of Mustang Oklahoma but I’ve had very limited use for ever really doing it. Frog gig making or handle for stuff other than that I’d rather juts feather out kindling and then find appropriate stuff to build on.

The only other knife I’ve ever batoned wood with was a Gerber Bear Grylis survival knife. I tested one much harder than any normal use. I even used a rock to hit it. It did very well with only minor dings. The edge held up.

Ive got one of those, great knife!

Ok, time for NRP to get yelled at again.
No disrespect meant towards Dave Canterbury, or Ken for the article……

Honestly I can’t think of a good reason to beat the crapo out of a good $100 knife with a hunk of wood trying to split a log into pieces…. Ok there I said it.

Sure if, “and I do mean IF”, you have lost everything you are supposed to be having in a GHB, Vehicle, or ‘wherever’, are out in the middle of ‘Bing-Fort-Egypt’, and the only item you have left is a knife, and HOPEFULLY a way to start a fire, one might need to go into the firewood business, but seriously, if there is a log sitting there, I’m betting $$$ to Doughnuts there are a whole bunch of smaller twigs and sticks laying around also. I’m wondering how one found correct lengths stick & Log to Baton in the first place without a saw? Heck; even look at the article picture, see all that stuff lying about, even if damp; one better know how to start a fire with it.

Plus have ya ever taken a 2” limb and smack it upside something (Like my hard head) that sucker will splinter sure as I’m storing TP.

I’ll be darn if I’m going to take that very last tool I have to skin and gut a Rabbit, cut some Para-Cord, (or whatever) and take the chance to break it, EVEN if it’s the “Best” knife to ‘Baton’ with.

IMHO there are a 100 better ways to get smaller hunks of wood, like a Hatchet or even the edge of that Folding Shovel you SHOULD have around. Arn’t we supposed to be somewhat “Prepared”? How about a road flare that will light a full sized log into a heck of a fire.

One last thing;
“One difference with a knife and baton versus a small hatchet: You can place the knife directly on the wood with precision and hit it with a baton. A hatchet has to be swung and hope it hits the mark you want. Small diameter limbs are harder to hit precisely”
I disagree, in using a Hatchet OR even an Axe, I have often set the Hatchet directly on the hunk of wood and smacked it with another limb, much the way as one would Baton with a knife. BUT one is using the “right tool” for the job, Knives are not made to chop firewood with.

BUT, I regress, the skill of beating a knife to death with a stick, “Batoning”, is a good skill to know in case you have no other way to have ‘small’ wood aka kindling.

Ok, y-all can yell at me now, I said my 2¢ worth.

Hence my “regress”, Batoning is a good skill to know and yes like many of great items you present, may be life saving.

My point is this not something one would want to do on a regular practice with a high$$$ hunk of hardware.

Ken, NRP,

Us old [email protected] sometimes suffer a condition that causes us to think that “everybody knows that” or that it’s second nature to improvise when faced with a task and not having the proper tools. More and more I’m discovering, a lot of folks don’t operate that way. Maybe it’s a years of experience thing, maybe some folks are just wired differently.

Another trick I’ve used is breaking longer limbs that are too thick or strong to break over your knee. Look around for a double trunk tree, lay the limb between the trunks, then you can use your whole body weight and strength to break it in half. Of course it only works with drier, brittle wood. Of course, there is nothing wrong with feeding a longer limb into the fire slowly, or burning it in two, then stacking the end pieces into the fire.

I guess your right, Old-Man syndrome I’m thinking. And yes this is an educational Channel.
I had to laugh at the limb between two trees, remember tying that with a green limb…. landed right on my azz and my Dad laughing his butt off at me…. Good Memories. I have wised up, and don’t go looking for “Snip” anymore either.. LOLOL

As far as a good/great knife, I still vote for the good old Leatherman Wave, you can beat the heck out of it, even Baton with it, and if you do break it, send it back to Leatherman and they WILL replace it no questions asked…. Go ahead, ask me how I know…. hehehe

Agree on the Leatherman. Got mine back a couple weeks ago from warranty repair. Broke the file/blade screw driver blade trying to pry open an ice covered outside breaker box to get the generator going after losing the grid. Told the the customer service lady what I had done, and fessed up that it could be called abuse. She said that it didn’t matter how I broke it, they would fix it. Cost me $5 to ship it to them, they handled it from there. More than satisfied.

“I’ll be darn if I’m going to take that very last tool I have to skin and gut a Rabbit, cut some Para-Cord, (or whatever) and take the chance to break it, EVEN if it’s the “Best” knife to ‘Baton’ with.”

I can just picture myself standing there looking at the two pieces of my knife after busting the nose off it or having it crack off right at the thumb guard, and thinking to myself, now that was stupid!

Wow Ken. At $70 mora knife?? I can only afford the ones that are about $15, but they hold up well. As for Batoning, I have done it to split wood, but only occasionally. My biggest use of Batoning is to split a deer or an elk right down the middle of the backbone.(maybe NRP has done this, or maybe he eats them raw in place). Either way, a good skill to remember.

– I have never used a knife to Baton wood. In fact, I thought bad things about myself for using a machete to cut a 3-inch tree I was standing on. I was just too lazy to walk a quarter-mile to go get an axe. I would have to agree with NRP, never with my only knife except in the direst extreme! That said, I normally have several when I am out in the boonies. It’s not that I wouldn’t, I just can usually find a better way.
– Papa S.

– OBTW, I have seen a G.I. break a good issue E-tool trying to use it for a hatchet. It is one of those”Thanks, but no thanks,” things in my book.

That old-tech “classic K-Bar” has a rat-tail tang, weak for batoning.
And that stacked leather handle and sheath can mold and rot.
I’ll say it again- you guys are cordially invited to enter the 21st century… 😊

– Just piddling around on an rainy day; read the article and comments here, including my own. When I took DW and the boys out camping this past Mother’s Day, I did not take a hatchet and had only my 5″ Ontario “Air Force Survival Knife” (M-5) and my SAK with me.
When it was decided (by DW) that we needed a fire to cook hotdogs/marshmallows/S’mores on, being in a state park and cutting your own firewood being illegal, I had to buy a $10 bundle of semi-rotten oak for the purpose. Since there was very little tinder available off of the ground, I did baton a small piece into a lower common denominator of small bits. (Both sons-in-law were able to observe and comment, but were not too willing to assist. Oh well, LOL)
The fire did start nicely, no smoke to speak of, but I was annoyed at using a good knife this way. Still not a favored way to do this, but yes, it does work. I already knew how to do it, just when I was younger, I didn’t know what to call it. Thanks for the reminder, Ken.

– Papa S.

– Correction, brand name is Camillus. Bothered me after I went to bed.


Good class on a general purpose outdoor topic, similar to what you might receive in Army or Marines. Funny to read old coots below arguing about minutiae. This is an annoying feature of many survival forums today.

Another annoying feature is inexperienced whippersnappers with unwarranted self-regard.