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Read about bushcrafting or survival knives and you’ll surely come across a concept called “batoning.”
Many knives, including some on Know Prepare Survive, are rated by how well they can baton wood.
What the heck is batoning?
Why should you learn this survival skill?
Should you even baton in the first place?
All of these questions (and more!) will be answered below.
So, let’s get started!
What is Batoning?
Batoning is a method for splitting wood.
Specifically, you stick the blade perpendicular to the log with the tip and heel sticking beyond the wood.
Then, you bonk the blade with another piece of wood on its spine to force it through the wood, along the grain, splitting apart the fibers.
This is typically done to process pieces of wood into firewood, especially turning logs into kindling.
Okay, but why would you want to do this when you could just split wood with an axe or hatchet?
Why Learn How to Baton?
Tools can get lost or damaged. Or, you may find yourself lost in the woods with naught but a knife.
Then you find yourself needing to build a fire. But there’s no kindling around!
Hopefully, you know how to baton.
Some people also like using a knife to baton smaller pieces of wood because it requires less accuracy and much less space than splitting a two-inch-wide piece of wood with an axe.
You can also baton wood to a much smaller diameter than you can split that wood with an axe.
Batoning is also a good method for crafting purposes, such as ensuring you get a straight cut of wood to turn into a bow drill.
Finally, batoning lets you use a knife to cut away wet wood to get to the dry heartwood underneath in case you need to start a fire with wet fallen lumber.
It’s a slow and controlled technique that cannot fully replace splitting but is a good adjunct to other woodworking and survival skills.
How to Baton
Batoning is a simple process once you understand the basics.
You only need four things:
- A good batoning knife
- A piece of wood to baton
- A second piece of wood to use as a club
- A safe location to baton on, such as a stump
Once you have those items, here’s how to baton:
- Square off the top and bottom of the wood you want to baton
- Place the wood on your stump, standing up
- Plant the long side of your knife into the top of the wood as if you were trying to split the wood
- Make sure there’s plenty of tip forward of the wood (at least 2-3 inches)
- Strike the knife’s spine with the baton to drive it deeper into the wood while holding onto the grip
- Push down with your hand on the grip to try to keep the blade as perpendicular as possible
- Hit the blade’s heel if the knife goes too far from perpendicular
Just a handful of strikes will drive the knife through your log, providing you with dry heartwood or a straight wood piece!
Easy enough, right?
There are a few more details you need to know before putting this technique into practice…
What Wood Should You Baton?
You shouldn’t baton every log you see.
The biggest consideration is the log’s width. It should be about half as wide as the blade is long.
You don’t want to break off your knife’s tip so make sure there’s plenty of blade hanging outside the wood!
Oddly enough, you can baton longer pieces of wood than you can split with a hatchet.
Also, you want to avoid batoning through tough hardwoods woods, especially ones full of knots.
Don’t try to baton through green resinous wood, either, as the sap may trap your knife!
In short, if the wood feels like it’s tough, don’t risk your knife.
The Best Knife for Batoning
You don’t want to use any old knife for batoning.
If you try it with a folding knife you may break the locking mechanism.
And don’t even think of using a cheap knife because you may shatter the blade!
What to Look For in a Batoning Knife
A good batoning knife has a long and durable blade made from high-quality modern steel. A full tang is preferred.
The long blade lets you use your knife with more sizeable logs.
Remember, you need at least two inches of blade, preferably three, extending from the wood. So, to baton through a 3″ log, the blade needs to be 5″-6″ long.
Durability is necessary because batoning is a stressful activity.
A good, modern steel will handle this stress without complaint. Cheap steel may not2.
You want a full tang because you’re also pushing down on the grip while hitting the blade so there’s some force transferring through the point at which the blade meets the hilt.
Smaller tangs will concentrate the size of this point and increase the chances of failure.
Oh, and a straight edge works best.
These features all come together to result in a heavy yet durable knife.
Pick a chopper, not a skinner!
My Favorite Batoning Knife
My favorite knife to baton with is the ESEE-6.
It’s a fixed blade knife with a full tang and a 5.75″ long cutting edge that terminates in a strong tip.
This gives me the ability to baton the blade through relatively thick logs without worrying that it’ll snap.
There are other good batoning blades out there but the ESEE 6 has performed well for me. It’s proven to be a versatile survival knife in other ways as well!
Batoning Tips and Tricks
- Avoid batoning on the ground because rocks and pebbles can damage your knife’s edge
- Don’t hit the tip with your baton! Thwack the spine close to the log you’re batoning through
- Make sure your knife is straight up and down and you’re hitting it directly downward else you may twist and damage your blade
- Straight pieces of hardwood make the best batons
- Resist the temptation to use a rock or another piece of metal as a baton because either of those will damage your knife
- Don’t forget to reposition the blade in the wood if you’re splitting a long piece of wood
- You can also use the batoning technique to cut a piece of heavy rope by placing the rope on a stump, positioning the knife on top of the rope, and hitting the spine to drive the blade through the rope
- Another technique is to alternate hitting the blade on one side of the wood then the other to keep the blade straight the whole way through
Finally, keep your concentration on your task because you are applying kinetic energy to a bladed weapon.
Distractions can result in a misstrike, causing injury!
Splitting wood by hitting a blade with another piece of wood is a crude yet effective bushcrafting technique.
Not every survivalist likes the technique. However, it’s still a good skill to learn, and can help you prepare firewood when your hatchet has deserted you.,
All you need to baton is a chunky knife or machete, two pieces of wood, and a safe backstop to hit with your blade.
My favorite batoning knife is the ESEE-6.
What’s your favorite batoning knife?
Can You Baton Wood with a Folding Knife?
Well, no, but actually yes.
You do not want to baton with a folder because applying any force through the lock (such as when you’re pushing down with your hand on the grip) can damage the folding mechanism.
However, if your folder has a long enough blade (2″-3″ on both sides of the wood) it is possible to baton with a folding knife. In this case, you will alternate striking each side.
Is Batoning Bad for Your Knife?
Batoning a properly designed knife through the right type and size wood is not bad for your knife.
Cheap knives can break when struck, though, potentially causing injury!
The biggest dangers are external problems that can be avoided, such as hitting the fragile tip with your baton or driving the blade into gravel.