Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Praxis: "and Knife to the Hilt."

My son Matt, fresh back from his second tour of Iraq, is looking for a good practical combat knife. Dr. Enigma referred me to "The Old Knifefighter" who sent this email to Matt. It is an excellent discussion of fighting knives from an expert. Enjoy.

Sergeant V,

First of all, please call me, (redacted). I appreciate your courtesy, but it makes comm a bit easier for me to be a bit more on the familiar side.

I checked out the video on the Tom Brown knife. I also looked at other videos on this knife, too. It's quite a piece! It's what we in the "old school" would call a "specialized hunter". It's great to have in your personal collection, and you could easily depend on it for a variety of scenarios, but if you're looking for a war knife, though, I would not recommend this from what I've seen for several reasons:

The relief on the edge (that portion of the blade ground from the flat to the sharpened edge) is very, very blunt, which tells me that keeping a usable edge on it is going to be difficult (the more blunt the relief, the more blunt the sharpened edge, which, with any use, becomes dulled more quickly).

There are two separate grinds for the edge. A nightmare in the field to maintain (field meaning military applications..).

Length of blade: Us old farts like a blade between a very, very minimum of 7 inches and a maximum of about 10 inches. A large knife can do everything a small knife can do, but a small knife can't do near the things a large knife can do. Personally, my combat blade is a Randall Model 12 with a 9 inch blade ground as a Model 14 Attack knife. You can find them on ebay to see what I have....the short name is a Randall 12-9 w/14 grind. It doesn't take a lot of effort to learn to use a bigger blade, either.

Utility: Most knives that make the grade for general use/combat are simple, well-built, somewhat hefty knives. While this one certainly exceeds the "hefty" criteria (looks damn near indestructible!), it's not what we call "general purpose", meaning, it can do most things extremely well, some things well, and just a few things, "ok".

No hilt: A good, general purpose knife (for combat and survival) is going to have a hilt to protect the user's hand (even if just from the user himself!). It keeps the hand from slipping up onto the blade (more probable than many believe!) as well as from other things from sliding down the spine of the blade onto the holder's hand.

I mentioned sharpening in the field earlier and I do again, because it's so important (to me). I look at a knife as to how much of a pain it is to sharpen in field conditions. A straight edge without serrations is the best bet for fighting, surviving, or chopping up stew ingredients when you're in garrision and get fresh meat. Especially if you have a knife with proper relief! Easy to maintain and get sharp in just a few minutes and the edge remains sharper longer, all things being equal.

Price wise, there are several options. I present these in no particular order:

Ek PB5 'Bowie": Good general purpose knife. A real one will run a few hundred dollars, as they're no longer made but can be had on ebay. Advantage: Handle wrapped in 550 cord and can be unwrapped for survival use, very very good "holdability" (meaning it won't slip out of your hand when it's bloody), the hilt will come off after unwrapping to use the entire shaft as a spear head if you need it. Easy to put an edge on (good relief, but not the best). A bit short though on length (6.5 inches). We use these in conjunction with a combat master sheath and a Leatherman multi-tool (Wave is my choice) to have on our person at all times for "what if" situations.

Any Randall #1 configuration with an 8 inch blade provided you keep a two sided hilt. Randall 12-9, 14 grind, Randall M-14 (a bit heavy, but still superb).

Ka-Bar standard plain edge knife (sand the leather stacked handle down about a half inch and wrap w/550 cord for some real "holdability"!)

Cold Steal Trail Master (San Mai steel): If you get one with the rubber/kraton grips, cut it off and wrap with 550 cord. Blade is about 10 inches long, good, light knife for the length. Hilt is questionable.

As to your final choice, make sure you're absolutely comfortable with whatever knife you get. The steel has to be strong enough to puncture anything on an opponent, the blade design strong enough so it's not brittle, and the edge needs to be ground properly so it will stay sharp enough to shave a woman's legs after several uses.

Thanks for asking for an old fart's opinion....

Well, I don't want to keep you all day with my banter.

I'd be interested to know what kind of knife you decide on.

I have one that I keep for sentimental reasons; it belonged to my grandfather who fought under Patton in Europe. It's an LCF Trench Knife (brass handled knucke knife with a dagger blade). Hell of a weapon...too bad they don't let you boys have those things anymore. The blade is a bit on the weak side: should be two inches longer and a half inch wider. Personally, I'm not a fan of double edged blades unless they're boot knives for back up purposes).

Take care.

(Name redacted) aka The Old Knifefighter


tom said...

My two cents:

I like a 7-8" drop point single edge and I make mine for myself. High carbon, not stainless, as they sharpen easier, and the edge is designed to be sharpened easily.

Old car leaf springs make a good starting point.

If you can't butcher a deer with it, hammer a nail with the hilt, cut tree limbs, and fillet a fish for grub, it's not going to be my sole carry knife. Don't care about hollow handles and escape kits in the handle, I carry a compass anyway.

Those are MY requirements for a survival knife. Nice if you can carry three or five knives but if you can only pick one, that's what I carry.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!! This is the kind of advice that people really need. People who have used them in the real world and learned from experience what works and what just looks 'cool'.
A lot of years ago, I made knives for a while as a hobby ( just stock reduction and such, no fancy forge work) and I learned what worked in a regular 'work' knife, or a camp knife, but a combat knife is a whole 'nother animal. And indeed, the Ek blades were fine and affordable, which some of the Randalls were not. On the other hand, back when Nam was in full swing, Randall and Ek both offered special discounts to active service members, although the wait on a good Randall could be three months...
Likewise, today you can find some Busse and Mad Dog blades that are very nice and again, nearly indestructible unless they take an RPG hit, but if you can't justify using most of your month's salary for one, then you end up leaning more toward those Kabars or Cold Steels.

tom said...


I make my own and I paid a month's beer money and a wood stove for a Mad Dog.

Never looked back nor had a regret. It's a better battle knife than my hunting oriented designs although less of a general utility knife as there's always a compromise.

Try different ones under different conditions and see what actually works for YOU. That's the most important thing.

Too bad they don't let you test drive knives and rifles (unless you're buying from a friend like I did with the Dog).