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This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Collection of Interesting Knives

My friend Charles Riggs (whom I know mostly from email, having met him only once) recently sent me a heavily insured package containing five knives from his collection.

He wrote, "You'll have something to occupy your martial mind for awhile with these, I think. All but the Crowell/Barker are FIGHTING knives, but very different expressions of very different techniques and philosophies. The Steele knife is suited to a soldier, the Mamba to someone fighting Filipino style, the Hissatsu excellent against heavy clothing and armor and the Bowie? Well, it can be any damn thing it pleases at that size!"

Alas, they are not mine to keep, but only to fondle for a while and return. I am an honorable man and Charles is a formidable one so of course I will do so.

Charles is very knowledgeable about knives and I am reprinting his comments from his cover letter. I don't have much to add, but I put my impressions in italics.

1. Hissatu
Weight: 8 oz
Blade Type: Trailing point
Length Overall: 12 inches
Blade Length: 7.25 inches

The Hissatsu is based on what is most likely the most ancient design, being the brainchild of the owner of the Bugei Trading company, James Williams and taken from Japanese traditions. If you haven't already looked at his bio and web site it's worth a reading. The knife features a blade made for slashing, but the tip is very strong for thrusting against hard surfaces because of the manner in which the spine reinforces it. This version is an inexpensive one made by CRKT, but usable nonetheless.

The appeal of a knife is totally subjective. This is a practical knife but it just doesn’t excite me.

2. Crowell/Barker Competition Knife
Weight: 1 lb, 1.6 oz
Blade Style: Hollow ground, drop point
Length Overall: 15 inches
Blade Length: 9 inches

The Crowell/Barker Competition Knife is expressly made for slashing bundles of manila/sisal rope in cutting competitions. You can see demos of these cuttings on the Cold Steel web site. These competitions haven't really taken off or attracted too much public attention, but the knives are interesting. The guys who designed this are two champions who collaborated on it for Browning. While it might not be the best fighting knife of the bunch, it allows the user to focus great cutting power and might be likened to an American Kukri. I sent it because it's another unique expression of the large knives that have been used in the USA since the 18th century. Like many well-designed large knives, its size makes it fearful but it's far quicker than you'd think.

It doesn’t have much personality, but it’s well balanced, well made, and packs a lot of power. Considering that it's available from Amazon for under $100, it's well-worth consideration for anyone in the market for a heavy duty chopper.

3. Blackjack Mamba
Weight: 9.9 oz
Blade type: Hollow ground, swaged, spear point
Length Overall: 13 inches
Blade Length: 7.25 inches

The Blackjack Mamba is a classic collectible, made when the company was still in the USA and turning out high quality knives. The design's features are obvious, especially the belly of the blade that allows the knife to dig in as it's drawn back or across in a slashing attack. It's very light, almost too light, but that makes it fast in the hand and dangerous if the user has the reflexes to guide it quickly. Both it and the David Steele knife came out when Soldier of Fortune was pushing a new surge of interest in edged weapons in the 1970s. The sheaths aren't much, but I'm going to get Kydex made for them someday. I would also tell you that there are some new US-made Blackjack knives being sold at gun shows now, but the quality control of the knives I've handled is only so-so and I wouldn't bother with one.

I agree with Charles that this knife seems too light for its design. The original version was two inches longer and probably heavier.

4. Fer-de-Lance
Weight: 9.9 oz.
Blade type: Double-edged hollow-ground spear point
Length Overall: 12 inches
Blade Length: 6.25 inches (5.5 inches sharpened)

The David E. Steele-designed and Balisong-produced Fer-de-Lance is a pure fighting knife, much in the same vein as the Applegate-Fairbairn dagger of WW2. It's a utilitarian design cut and ground from bar stock, but the handle scales are nicely shaped and when you spend time holding and working with it, its attributes become apparent. It's also very collectible, so don't let it out of your hands. It's another knife made by a company that's shifted around their production, this one being from the higher quality stuff coming out of Japan in their early years.

The designer, David E. Steele, has written a lot of articles on knives as well as the book Secrets of Modern Knife Fighting (1975).  I like the look and feel of this knife a lot—it’s my favorite of the bunch. It’s light and lively in the hand. If it were mine I’d want to dehorn the sharp edges of the quillions.

5. Hell’s Belle
Weight: 1 pound, 0.4 oz
Blade Type: Hollow ground, clip point with sharpened false edge
Length Overall: 17 inches
Blade Length: 11 inches

The last knife is for you to compare to your Cold Steel Bowies. It's a "Hell's Belle" made to stringent specs by Ontario and no longer in production, carried in a "Southern Comfort" Kydex sheath made by River City Sheaths. The Bowie knives designed by bladesmith Bill Bagwell are meant solely for fighting, based on the research that he did in New Orleans in the archives of old fighting schools from the French tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries in that era when a gentleman was expected to know how to duel. They're not camp or utility Bowies, and they have blades that appear much more slender than most of the commercial designs that one finds turned out these days. But when you see the thickness of the spine you'll appreciate that these knives have great power when wielded strongly, and the tips aren't fragile. The sharpened 'false' or top edge allows you to make the snap cut which is part of the Bagwell Bowie repertoire, and that works, believe me. The hilt allows you to trap an opponent's blade, and if you're really good the Spanish notch allows you to break a blade or wrest it from him. The long haft allows for a sabre grip that can be shifted to place the butt in the base of the wielder's palm to allow a thrust that gives the fighter an extra 2-4 inches of reach when done properly in the classic fencing style. The coffin shape gives a good hold without being abrasive to the hand. It's almost more of a short sword in some ways, but it can be carried concealed quite handily in that sheath by simply slipping it into your waistband, and letting the stud keep it from slipping down too far. I'll be interested to see what you think of it versus the Natchez or Laredo Bowies. I have a shorter 9 1/2 inch "Gambler" Bagwell/Ontario Bowie that's expressly intended for concealment, but I thought you might get more of a kick out of this one.

This is an excellent bowie and the sheath too is top quality. Of the bowies I own, my favorite is the Cold Steel Laredo, but I have to admit this feels livelier in the hand. I’m skeptical about the utility of the hooked quillions, though they might prove of some use in a knife duel. (I’m doing my best to stay out of knife duels.) As far as the Natchez, that's just too heavy for me to wield comfortably. I should have done more weight lifting in my youth.

Thank you, Charles!


  1. Awesome Post Thanks for this post!!!

  2. Great read and well laid out...Thanks!!

  3. The folding knife is the most easy to carry tool for everyday outdoors. I always carry some sought of folding knife for my EDC.