It’s a blistering day on the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania, and I’m in the middle of a 21-day extreme survival challenge for the Discovery Channel’s first season of Naked and Afraid. With my bare feet torn up, I was in desperate need of a pair of sandals that would last longer than the bark sandals I had been making. Equipped with only a combat fighting knife in one hand and a fire-hardened caveman club in the other, I was vigorously batoning through a piece of wood when the distinct sound of broken metal hitting the rocky ground rang out.
My only survival tool had broken.
Having your only survival tool break in a survival situation can leave anyone with a very uneasy feeling; for me, this was especially perturbing, because I was only halfway through the challenge. True, I was using the knife harder than it was intended. However, for me—a hardened combat vet and avid survivalist—that just doesn’t cut it.
When you rely on your gear to get you safely off the battlefield, why shouldn’t that be so when you are in a survival situation? When your life is on the line, second-rate, unreliable and weak gear can mean the difference between living and dying. I swore at that very moment that this would never happen to me again … ever.
And that’s why, along with TOPS, I designed my own knife.
I successfully made it out of Tanzania a changed man and in one piece, but etched on my brain was that ringing sound of the metal pommel hitting the deck. Because I was also upset that my chosen knife had come up short on so many survival tasks, I was determined to find that one knife or tool that I could rely on to help get me out of any situation, even if I were left out in the middle of nowhere.
I spent over a year testing many different blades, knives and tools trying to find my replacement knife. I met with many of my custom knife-making buddies to learn about what it takes to design and craft a great knife, get familiar with what they do and grow a deeper appreciation for the art of knife-making. I then immersed myself into to the study of steel, itself, so I could fully understand the differences and qualities of each kind of steel used in knife-making. I spent hours researching and conversing with knife enthusiasts with backgrounds in the outdoors, military, survival and hunting to see what their likes and needs were. After all this, I figured out one thing: I would never be able to create something that would please everyone, and that settled it. I would design a knife that would please just one person: me.
In the meantime, I had settled on a great knife to carry for a short while. I still keep it on my go-bag, but it wasn’t my complete vision. What I needed was someone to believe in me and my design, perhaps someone who constantly inspired many great knife-makers and was influential in the knife community. I did not want to merely redesign or improve on any one already-existing blade; instead, I wanted one that would fit my needs, its function and fill the void in my sheath.
SXB Is Born
At Blade Show 2014, Mike Fuller of TOPS Knives approached me with the offer I was seeking: to collaborate on a great knife design. We sat down to exchange ideas and, a month later, with the help of TOPS Knives’ chief knifemaker Leo “Polo” Espinoza, I had the prototype in hand. At that time, it was called the SBK-9 Survival Battle Knife. I wanted to return to a Bowie-sized knife that could function as a combat knife for the soldier in me, as well as a survival knife for the survivalist in me.
After a month of testing, it was clear that it was all wrong. Its weight, the nonfunctional gut hook, its look and most all the ways it functioned were wrong. In addition, it simply just didn’t feel right when I held it. I sent back my review, and two weeks later, I had another prototype in hand. As soon as I grabbed it, it just felt right, and it also didn’t take long to see that what was wrong with the SBK-9 was very much corrected in this new beast. Immediately, I tried to find the right name for it but, in the end, only one name fit: The SXB—Skullcrusher’s Xtreme Blade.
Off To Colombia
I carried and tested the SXB over the next six months to make sure it was exactly what it needed to be. But one final test remained—the badlands of Colombia. Thrust into another extreme survival challenge for the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid XL, I was pitted against the Colombian jungle for 40 days and 40 nights, again with only one tool. It would be another test for me but possibly the first time ever that a knife would go through its final test on national television. They called it “marketing and knife-design suicide” for TOPS Knives, but I knew what I had designed was right. As a result, I was unafraid as I stepped into the jungle arena with all the confidence in the world by my side … the SXB.
“The SXB and I have continued to perform well as a team, and we beat down the badlands of Colombia together.”
The SXB was asked to perform a multitude of survival tasks during my 40 days and nights in the Colombian jungle, and it performed well above expectations for me. It was an excellent chopper for cutting down trees during the construction of shelters and other needed survival items that had to be built. It excelled at cutting branches for firewood. Notching was a quick snap with the TOPS Knives signature saw teeth. The false edge on top was a great comfortable spot to hold onto for any scraping I needed to do. With the baton edge’s careful placement, it made batoning very easy.
The drawknife functioned well, smoothly and with no interference. Feather sticks could be made easily, cutting when needed was a cinch, and shaping almost became a fun task. When it came to skinning, gutting and filleting, it couldn’t be beat. The SXB easily smashed the things it needed to, and my hand never tired while using it, even for extended periods of time. The blade proved to be durable, reliable, tough, sturdy and unbreakable through very rough and rugged use in the jungle. It was tested alongside many other fine knives out there, and the SXB proved most impressive.
“The SXB easily smashed the things it needed to, and my hand never tired while using it, even for extended periods of time.”
Teamwork Does The Trick
As I successfully dominate the Naked and Afraid XL arena, I knew TOPS Knives and I had built something very special. I also knew that if the SXB pleased me, it would please many other knife enthusiasts, as well. The SXB and I have continued to perform well as a team, and we beat down the badlands of Colombia together. I discovered—and proved— that “xtreme” situations require an “xtreme” blade.
Overall length: 16.75 inches
Blade length: 10.38 inches
Cutting edge: 9.75 inches
Blade thickness: 0.250 inches
Blade steel: 1095 RC 56-58
Blade finish: Black traction coating
Handle material: Black linen Micarta
Handle style: Rocky mountain tread
Knife weight: 26 ounces
Sheath material: Black ballistic nylon
Sheath clip: Molle backing
Designer: E.J. “Skullcrusher” Snyder
Story by E.J. “Skullcrusher” Snyder | Photography by Henry Z. De Kuyper
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.