You know, this job has a lot of questions that come along with it. Part of the territory. A question that actually gave me pause the other day seemed like it would have such a simple answer that I actually started to doubt myself on my confidence. So, I did some research to make sure I was on the right trail so I could answer their question with accuracy a shot from the hip just doesn’t allow for.
“What question?” you ask. Well, it’s one that’s beautiful in both its simplicity and in how something like it threw me so hard for a loop that I had to study for a bit.
Why do they call a sheepsfoot blade a sheepsfoot?
The answer wasn’t anything convoluted, no deep metaphor or revelation. It’s called a sheepsfoot for a simple, understandable reason: the blade has a similar shape to a sheep’s hoof when you look at it from below due to its toes.
Yep. Kind of a letdown on my end, to be honest, was hoping it’d be a bit more anecdotal, have a tale behind it, but like the Rolling Stones say: you can’t always get what you want.
On the bright side, the origin was kind of nifty at least, and thought I might as well share it with you all: it was originally designed for sailors, who would need a good knife for cutting on the rough ocean. Originally they tended to use more along the lines of fixed blades and pocket knives with traditional pointed tips, but safety became a concern when sudden waves would have the sailors lose their grip and have their knives drop. The sheepfoot was a good counter to this worry, with it still housing a great cutting edge, but by effectively removing the point of the blade, it lowered work accidents on the high seas. Which was a good thing, of course, as workman’s comp cases were notoriously difficult to settle during the age of exploration, what with everyone getting scurvy and peg-legs, so one less worry for the captain was awesome when he went to file his paperwork.
Though on a more serious note when it comes to the sheepsfoot, nowadays it’s used by a lot of carpenters, both for the reason of it being safer if dropped, and also because the tip of the blade has a lot of strength in it, making it ideal for notching in wood or stripping away parts of material. It’s a fantastic working edge used in quite a few modern knives as a secondary blade, such as the medium stockman or sowbelly, I’d highly recommend it!