this thing's incredible

I’ve Had This Dinky Swiss Army Knife for the Past 20 Years, and It’s the Most Useful Item I Own

Photo-Illustration: retailers

Gifts for teenagers are traditionally tricky, and gifts for the moody, confused, and disenfranchised teenager like I was, even more so. But on my 13th birthday, some unknowingly wise person took a chance on giving me a small penknife. This was an unusual gift from the other things I received that day, many of them still pink and frilly. Not only was I pubescent but I was also ready to take on any of the challenges that life might throw to a girl entering womanhood, providing they could be solved with tweezers, a knife, a pair of scissors, and a nail file, a combination of tools which, frankly, cover a lot of ground.

Although it’s only 6cm long, my penknife–key ring is tiny, but it is also one of the most useful items I have ever owned. Mine might be pushing 20 years old, but the blade is still sharp and the tweezers still pointed. If only I could say the same for myself. As a teen I used it to carve my initials in every surface that crossed my path, in my 20s I used it to delicately slice off festival wristbands from one friend and suture them onto another’s wrist. Those days are largely behind me, but it still dangles from my keys, and gets opened up for the most mundane of tasks. I’ve even used it in situations that could be potentially lifesaving — if you include removing a sewing needle from someone’s foot in that category.

I’ve never had any problem getting it through security at gigs or festivals, but I have played it safe going through customs, unclipping it from my keyring and leaving it at home while I travel (although I recognise my privilege in this, and on the whole topic of owning and carrying a penknife–key ring with ease.) Unlike the bulkier Swiss Army knives that have a full repertoire of sharp tools, screw drivers, and various pokers, each of the five miniature tools on the key ring are considered and tucked away. The blades are razor thin and equally sharp still, after all this time, and the nail file doubles as a screwdriver. At the bottom sits a toothpick (although there is also a pen option) and a pair of tweezers.

Though my pocketknife was gifted to me in the mid-’90s, its style has proved to be eternal. The Victorinox Small Pocket Knife, to give it its proper title, is still immensely popular. From the outside, all folded up, it looks like a tiny version of the classic Swiss Army Knife, but now there are other variants on the tool — one comes with a blade and a USB drive, others a bottle opener or a torch. Modern problems need modern solutions.

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I’ve Had This Dinky Swiss Army Knife for the Past 20 Years