It’s generally agreed that you should have some means to cut rope in an emergency circumstance. There is much debate about what such an emergency consists of, what is the best way to tackle an emergency, when to cut, when not to cut.
My opinions on this subject can be found on my blog but regardless of your view one thing that cannot be denied is that you should have the best equipment possible to cut should you need to.
I believe that you should only use tools that are designed for this job and not to make do with some inappropriate tool pressed into service. The products reviewed below cover a range of costs from only £5 to £70 (approximate at the time of writing) and so even the most expensive of them are within the price range of anyone.
Emergency cutters fall into three broad categories, Shears, Hooks and Knives but they all have one common feature, that they are all designed not to cut into a person, that is they do not have sharp tips that can stab into someone making the emergency worse rather than better. They are designed to cut rope, clothes etc. not into the flesh of the person in need of rescue.
Shears can vary enormously in quality and price. At the lower end of the spectrum are the very cheap £3 EMT-like shears all the way up to the Robin safety shear at around £70. I say EMT-like as they are of a poor quality and would not be used for the purpose their name suggests.
And “decent quality” safety shear should do the job you want but make sure that they are of a decent quality. They should not bend easily, the handles should not slip past each other, the blades should not be able to bend away and they should be tightly riveted so that there is no play in the shears causing the blades to part.
Remember that EMT shears are designed to be used and thrown away, they’re not meant to be used as general shears for years on end. At this point I must say however that the Kretzner shears are incredibly well made and resilient to wear and I would expect never to have to replace them and only to have to have them sharpened after seriously heavy and prolonged use.
Rescue hooks have become the new black of safety cutters for rope bondage. In some circumstances the right rescue hook can be ideal but in some instances their small throat size can make cutting multiple ropes hard going where shears or a knife would not have had a problem.
Having said that some are amazing cutters. The benchmade 8 for instance had no difficulty even when dismembering an old pair of heavy leather work boots which would have been hard going with EMT shears though the Robin shears would still have made short work of them.
One thing that a rescue hook can do that shears cannot is draw a continuous long cut, though this is not really relevant when considering cutting rope.
Some people have used tools that are not ‘rescue hooks’ as such but ‘gutters’ that house Stanley-knife blades. These have advantages and disadvantages over a standard safety hook. Their large throat size means that multiple ropes can be cut simultaneously. The blades can be replaced whereas a rescue hooks are difficult to sharpen and it’s often best to replace them or send them to the manufacturer for sharpening. Another thing to watch out for is that the blades are only strong when pulled on straight, if you pull at an angle the blades have been known to shatter. Also be careful near fingers. Purpose made rescue hooks have deliberately small mouths with rounded edges near them to allow them to be used safely against skin. Again this is a swings and roundabouts affair as the small mouths can mean you can only cut one rope at a time.
Rescue knives get a bit of a bad press when it comes to rope bondage safety. A lot of the time this is justified due to the type of knife people have been using. The right kind of knife however can be an ideal tool and are certainly an option.
The fire fighters rescue knife is the one I would most recommend. Be careful however as there are many different knives marketed as firefighters knives. The ones that are best for removing rope are the ‘karambit’ shaped rescue knives (karambit’s have the cutting edge on the inside of the knifes curve and are blunt on the outside of the curve).
Karambit rescue knives share a common feature with EMT shears in that they are designed so that they can be slipped between the thing you want to cut and the thing you don’t want to cut safely. Often the blades are serrated for better cutting effect and may have rip or hook tips.
Whichever safety cutter you choose for emergency cutting I’d offer the following advice.
Keep your emergency cutter for emergencies only. Blades blunt with use, and I would heartily recommend that you do not have a blunt cutter if the urgent moment comes that you have to use your emergency tool.