KA-BAR Tactical Knives


by Greg Quinn

photography by Greg Quinn

January 28th, 2004




What drew me into the KA-BAR booth at SHOT Show 2003 was overhearing a discussion of tactical knife fighting by one of KA-BAR’s consultants, Kevin Martin.  Kevin, an “Edged Weapons Specialist” is the Chief Instructor at Military Weapons Specialties in Athens, Ohio, and a consultant to KA-BAR.  Kevin and I had a very good conversation about the rigorous testing that goes into each KA-BAR tactical knife, and the demands he puts on edged weapons in his training and assisting in testing and development for KA-BAR.  Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to get into a knife fight with Kevin!

That said, any knife product that one can entrust their lives with certainly meets the criteria of a tactical knife.  KA-BAR has been developing fine cutlery products for years, and their entry into tactical edged weapons is deliberate and long-standing.  They make a fine tactical knife product.

I’ve known about KA-BAR’s “Precision Hunting” line of knives for some time, and have used a KA-BAR skinner successfully for years.  Until 9 months ago, I had never used a KA-BAR tactical knife.  Over the past 9 months, I have used a couple of their products and find them to be very well made, very tough, and perform well in real-world situations.

When I opened the box from what Jeff calls the “Big Brown Truck Of Happiness” (our friendly neighborhood UPS man), the KA-BAR products I found inside were a Black KA-BAR Tanto and a Black KA-BAR Kukri Machete.  “Very utilitarian”, I thought at first glance, and the Kukri was just plain funky looking.  Upon close examination, I discovered the “fit and finish” of these two knives to be exceptional.  The black finish on both products was well executed.  The handles were round and comfortable.  The design of both knives are effective for “social work” if so required.  Handling these new knives for the first time, I reflected back to Kevin’s discussions of how he’d use these products in guerilla warfare.  One can certainly see the military application in the design of both products.

The Tanto has an 8” blade of tanto design (hence the name).  With an overall length of 12 7/8”, the Tanto is an effective-sized tool for tactical use.  It is a well-made knife of USA heritage (most KA-BAR products are made in the good ol USA, but a few are made in China, Taiwan, Japan, and Italy).  All but 4 fixed blade knives are made in the USA (4 machete models are made in Taiwan), and many of their folders are made overseas (go with the Italian folders over their Chinese counterparts; while I didn’t get to test one they were quite impressive at SHOT).  The Tanto is made of 1095 steel with both serrated and smooth blade edges, hollow-ground, and with a Kraton G polymer handle (quite comfortable in about any tactical situation).

The Kukri machete features the unique “kukri” blade shape.  To appreciate its design, you need to hear Kevin talk about how this design was created to effectively lop heads off enemies, as well as cut brush or just about anything else in its path.  Enough said.  The Kukri has a blade length of 11.5 inches, and an overall length of 17”.  It weighs in at about one and one-quarter pounds.  Its blade is of 1085 steel, stamped in Taiwan, hollow-ground, with a Kraton G polymer handle.  The finish on the Kukri was quite beautiful for a utilitarian knife; while not as polished as the Tanto, it is still a great finish for a tactical machete.

Both KA-BAR knives had very good edges, and these edges held up surprisingly well in tough testing situations.  While I was a bit easier on the Tanto, I decided to really attempt to destroy the edge on the Kukri.  While our Gunblast testing is more practical than military (Jeff wouldn’t let me lop off his head, although some might have paid me to do so), we were about as tough on the Kukri as anyone would be on a machete.  Both knives came with well-crafted sheaths; the Tanto with a nice Kydex sheath and the Kukri with a leather/Cordura sheath.

The Tanto exhibited excellent penetration and slicing qualities, much because of the excellent Tanto design, and also due to the execution of this excellent design by KA-BAR.  I fell in love with the tanto design when I saw and later bought my first Cold Steel Tanto Hunter, still one of my favorite blades.  As a tactical knife on the side of a soldier, or used in any tactical situation, one could not go wrong with the KA-BAR Tanto. 

As unusual as the shape of the Kukri was its effectiveness.  From slicing melons, to cutting rope, to chopping tough roots, to prying up rocks, to chipping at rocks, this machete performed very well.  I used it for a full day doing “gardening” chores at my mom’s, cutting down a huge overgrown bush and cutting its thick roots out of the ground.  I cut rocks at first by accident, and then to see what would happen to the blade, on purpose.  Having passed this day of testing, I continued to use it whenever practical in a variety of chores.  It works well as a hoe, digging in the dirt.  It is very effective at prying big rocks out of hard clay soil.  I banged it on concrete.  I threw it at trees and stuck it in the ground.  It’s great at cutting cane and tough weeds and bushes; one swipe from a sharp Kukri blade and the cane fell.  While I didn’t have one of KA-BAR’s bending presses to test pressure to bend a blade, I can tell you that 200 pounds of Tennessee boy couldn’t bend it beyond use.  So, after 9 months of use, even though the edge is a bit worn and chipped in places, the KA-BAR Kukri hasn’t outlived its effectiveness.  I consider it a very effective utilitarian tool, and it will long maintain a place of importance on my Kawasaki ATV.

I’m looking forward to SHOT 2004, and seeing what other new blade products manufacturers like KA-BAR have in store.  If their new products are as tough as their Tanto and Kukri, I look forward to trying them out.

Check out Ka-Bar's line on the Web at: www.ka-bar.com.

Greg Quinn


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This photo shows all one needs for serious tactical applications.  Pictured clockwise from top:  Colt Match HBAR .223, KA-BAR Tanto, Federal Hydra-Shok .45 230 grain JHP, Springfield Armory TRP .45ACP, KA-BAR Kukri Machete.



If the above didn’t do it for you, add a couple of excellent folders and a Glock .45!  The Glock 21 in .45ACP, the SOG X-Ray Vision folder and the Spyderco Police make excellent additions to the KA-BARs for serious duty.