Survival Gear Review: Solo Scientific Solar Knife

Can your knife light a fire? I'm not talking about a detachable spark rod that you pull from the handle, or the Zippo that you duct taped to the sheath. I'm talking about a built-in feature that actually produces a fire. The newest member of my knife collection is also a fire starter (at least when the sun is shining). It's the Solar Knife from Solo Scientific.

The folks at Solo Scientific seem to share one of my obsessions: fire building. Having had very favorable results with two of their other products, the Aurora fire starter and the Hot Box fire starter, I was eager to see their latest design: a knife that starts fires by concentrating sunlight.

It was a sunny afternoon when the package arrived, so I wasted no time and ran outside to try it (read: didn’t read the instructions). The medium-size fixed blade knife was snug inside its tan leather sheath. I opened the container of char cloth (burned cotton) that was enclosed in the set. Being familiar with optical fire making, I knew that all I had to do was line up the flat side of the shiny, shallow parabolic mirror so that it was perpendicular to the setting sun. I set a tuft of char on a nearby stone wall and rotated the knife handle until I saw a brilliant spot of light on one of the stones. I carefully moved the bright spot over the char, which in turn began to smoke immediately and effusively. I was thrilled! I felt like I was back in my unsupervised childhood torching ants with a magnifying glass. The reflective surface on one of the knife’s handle scales is able to focus the sun's energy to a blinding pinpoint of light, which is more than enough to ignite combustible materials, especially dark-colored ones like char cloth. As a bonus, the blade is of good quality steel with a full tang and a keen edge right out of the box. After reading the instructions, the small hole in the handle made more sense. It’s designed to hold a stick onto which you affix your tinder, making fire starting even easier.

Here are the Solar Knife's specs:
Blade Length: 4 in.
Overall Length: 8.5 in.
Weight: 7 oz.
Metal: 420HC stainless steel with coated aircraft aluminum handle scales
Leather belt sheath, char cloth, leaf tinder, and instructions included
Made in the USA with a full lifetime warranty
MSRP: $59.95

If I could change anything about the knife, I’d add some texture to the non-reflective handle scale. You need the mirrored side to be smooth, but the opposing scale is flat, smooth aluminum. I found it a little slippery. Other than that, no gripes.

When I called the company to verify that this knife was American-made, I had the opportunity to speak to the knife’s inventor, Andy Putrello. He explained to me the importance of standing behind their products, and making them in the U.S. A passionate outdoorsman himself, I asked him about the science and engineering behind their unique line of products. Putrello said “We try to make the products both fun and functional. We try to make people think.” Yes, folks, he’s having us use science and geometry to start fires, and I’m OK with that. Because at least there’s always a fire at the end of our homework.