26 October 2013

More American Exceptionalism, Craftmanship & History

Every man should own one.

How the knife got its name:
Our name dates back to the early 1900's from a fur trapper testimonial. He wrote that while trapping, his gun jammed leaving him with only his knife to kill a wounded bear that was attacking him. He thanked us for making the quality knife that helped him to kill a bear, but all that was legible was "K a bar". Honored by the testimonial, the company adopted the phrase KA-BAR as their trademark.


ropelight said...

Yes, the Ka-Bar is still a good knife, it was a great knife when it was introduced in the early '40s as a replacement for knives left over from WW-1. The Ka-Bar served our troops well and earned it's fine reputation.

I traded with a bosun's mate for my first one in 1965, it came with a Navy gray hard shell fiberglass sheath and was considered about the best a boy could do at the time. The UDT divers used them and that was a good enough recommendation for me.

Although no Ka-Bar ever let me down, as I aged and learned more about knife construction, I began to lose confidence in the Ka-Bar. It's stick tang hidden inside the leather handle is only about a third the width of the blade which creates a potential weak point at the join between blade and handle especially when used for prying.

Today, manufacturers of quality hidden tang knives usually apply overlapping bolsters at the join to compensate for the inherent weak point, my stag handle 5" Randall is just such a blade. Even so, I now buy only full tang knives.

And, at $80 bucks and up the Ka-Bar is way overpriced. About half that is about right and includes a generous premium for a no-frills 1095 carbon steel knife made in America.

Better knives are available these days at much better prices if it's a functional blade you're looking for, but as an historical item the Ka-Bar is an iconic knife, it doesn't rank with a Confederate sword, but given time the Ka-Bar will occupy an even higher place of honor.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks for sharing your expertise Rope. Yes, I looked at some Randall's the other day on the internet after listing to this great song:


ropelight said...

Thanks, but I'm no expert. Jay Fisher's web site is the place I go for insight into knife design and modern material choices.

He may not know everything but he sure knows one heck of lot more than I do.

ropelight said...

Additionally, many manufacturers of hidden tang knives claim they make full tang knives, which is deceptive weasel wording.

Like the Ka-Bar hidden tangs can run from point to pommel, or the full length of the knife yet be so reduced in width at the shoulder as to create a significant weakness at the join between blade and handle. Especially if cut at sharp right angles, which is both where and why the Ka-Bar breaks. (See video at 23 seconds)

These hidden tang (stick, or rod, tang) knives, as popular as they are, aren't as strong as full tang knives and never will be. And, it's easy to tell the difference a full tang is clearly visible running completely through the handle, top to bottom, stem to stern. It's obviously much stronger as anyone can see for themselves, if they're willing to look.

And, even the full tang knife should be strengthened with bolsters at the join of handle and blade, and at the pommel.

Modern high quality super stainless steels (440C, ATS-34, CPMS154CM, and new ones) are both exceptionally hard and exceptionally tough, the holy grail of knife blades.

They're hard enough to hold an extremely sharp edge for and extended period of demanding use, and they're tough enough to bend without breaking. Qualities which are mutually exclusive in nearly all other steels, stainless or carbon.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Rope - thanks for the education. I've always avoided stainless due to the fact it doesn't hold an edge well.

r said...

That was true when SS knives were introduced and it's still true for the vast array of cheap SS knives imported from Japan and China, which can suddenly cost a bundle after they arrive here. Even the new SS Ka-Bar, and Buck Knives, and a great many others are made in 420 (420HC and 420-J2) which doesn't hold an edge well at all.

These knives look pretty good and enjoy highfalutin if undeserved reputations for quality, but the manufacturer's choice of substandard steel is based on low cost and ease of fabrication, and 420 does take a nice shinny polish, but has to be resharpened much too often to be used in quality knives.

However, these knives can be OK if you only need a blade once or twice a season and will never have to actually depend on it. $10 or $15 bucks tops and that's with a hard sheath that will protect you from inadvertently being carved up.