New KA-BAR Folding Knives


by Greg Quinn

photography by Greg Quinn

December 21st, 2004




KA-BAR has established for itself a fine reputation for building a high-quality, inexpensive knife that works well, has good utilitarian design, and holds up under tough field conditions.  KA-BAR is one of many US knife manufacturers to provide edged weapon products to our US Military, and for this effort Gunblast salutes KA-BAR.  Anything good enough for our military is worthy of me and our Gunblast readers carrying in the woods or on the street. 

I have been only a recent fan of KA-BAR knives (since SHOT 2003).  Although I had seen KA-BAR knives before, I had never actually owned one.  There was nothing beyond utility functionality that drew me to KA-BAR products, so they were never on my list of desirable knives.  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.  When I investigated the quality program that undergoes the development of each knife bearing the KA-BAR name, I paid more attention to this manufacturer’s products.  Over the past year, I have carried and used KA-BAR products in various field conditions, and I have not had one fail me yet.

KA-BAR sent us some of their "new for 2004" products a few months back, and I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with these products.  A knife, as my brother Jeff quickly points out, is “but a tool”.  This “tool” however is one that is very handy to the tactical professional, hunter, handyman, or whittler.  These new edged tools provided for test have been functional in design and have performed flawlessly over the past few months.  We have no doubt that they will hold up well over time and continuous use in demanding situations.

The KA-BAR MULE is a big, solid lockback folder.  I’d like to say that this knife was named after our youngest brother, lovingly referred to as “Mule” since junior high.  Don’t ask how he got that name, but it’s not as he would like you to believe. 

The MULE is KA-BAR’s answer to a folding version of some of their very popular fixed blade fighting/utility knives.  Resembling a folding version of the 1256 and 1257 (Serrated) fixed-blade knives (see previous Gunblast tests of these products), the two MULE knives tested are big, heavy folders meant for serious use.  Each MULE weighs in at half-pound dry, and have a closed length of 5 ¼”.  Their open length is 9 1/16”.  Both knives have a clip point blade shape, and both are hollow-ground black-coated AUS 8A stainless steel.  The 3050 is a straight edge, and the 3051 is identical except for a serrated edge covering the back half of the blade’s cutting edge.  Both feature a tough Zytel handle with rubber inserts for easy gripping. Both are manufactured in Taiwan.  Both knives have a double thumb stud for ease in opening.  The release is a rugged and familiar location on the top of the handle, like the good ol’ Bucks we used to carry.   Suggested retail on the MULE is around $60.

The MULE’s lock system is tough and durable.  It opens and closes efficiently, but doesn’t feature some of the “easy opening” systems we have become accustomed to over the past couple of years.  The lock is tight and stays tight even with repeated opening.  KA-BAR tries to break their lock systems in their rigorous testing, and so did I.  It is a practical and tough system. 

This is a big lockback, and not one to be carried clipped on the pocket or inside the pocket.  The MULE is designed for carry like a fixed-blade tactical knife, and I have found its functionality similar to those of a heavy-duty fixed-blade, except with the convenience of a smaller size on the belt.

I really like the MULE sheath system.  A rugged nylon sheath, it is designed for horizontal or vertical mounting on a belt or tactical system.  It has both a Velcro and a snap-closure; I wish more manufacturers would use this double-secure system.  While a tight fit for the big folders until loosened up a bit with use, I really grew to love the MULE sheath.

I wouldn’t use the MULE as an everyday carry knife.  It is too big and heavy, and I’m accustomed to some of the lighter, smaller, fast-opening knives with the convenient pocket clips.  That, however, is not its design.  I would recommend the MULE as an alternative to a bigger fixed blade knife, and on a belt it is great.  This would be a great “cop knife”.  This knife is quality built, and has a big heft to it most often associated with fixed blade tactical knives.  For a folder alternative to a solid fixed-blade tactical knife, the MULE is a good choice.

Another thing I like about KA-BAR “black” finished knives is the durability of the finish; they use a tough Teflon based finish.  While really rough use scratches or mars the finish, it has not peeled or cracked as evidenced with some coated blades under tough usage.  The Zytel grips, while not as “tacky” as some others I regularly use, are tough, light and easy to handle.  I especially like the rubber inserts on the MULE grip system.

The other new KA-BAR knives tested were the new line of folding Bob Dozier-designed lockbacks.  These 4 new knives feature AUS8 stainless steel blades and a custom design by well-known knife designer Bob Dozier.  These knives consist of model 4065 Folder with Thumb Notch; 4064 Folding Clip Point; 4063 Folding Skinner; and 4062 Folding Hunter.  All are 7 ¼” open and 4 ¼” closed.  They are lightweight at 2.24 ounces each. All are have a reversible pocket clip, reversible thumb stud (except for model 4065), hollow ground blades, have a Zytel handle, a lanyard hole, and are made in Taiwan.  Suggested retail is around $27.

The Dozier folders seem to be a quality inexpensive knife.  While not as impressive as the Kershaw I carry around daily, it is about one-third the money.  These knives would make a very effective everyday carry edged tool, and would even be effective in dressing small game.  Two of these knives were designed for hunting purposes, but all would be equally effective to that end.  If it were season for rabbit hunting, I’d rather have one of these lightweight and durable knives clipped to my pocket for cleaning small game than a bigger, more bulky fixed-blade hunting knife.  Even though I did not use one of these knives for cleaning big game like deer, I’d personally feel better with a bigger fixed blade hunting or skinning knife in my hand for that purpose, perhaps even an example from the KA-BAR Precision Hunter fixed blade series (we have not yet tested these knives).

I would consider the Dozier folder as a good single-blade pocket knife, either inside the pocket (with clip removed) or clipped to the outside of the pocket as popular nowadays.  The stainless finish won’t be marred by coins, and the light weight and safe lockback design makes it an excellent mid-sized pocket knife.  And, the Zytel handles are tough.  Plus, and most importantly, the blade has a good design and is tough and holds an edge fairly well.

KA-BAR knives have proven themselves tough, a good value, durable, of good utility design, and with good lock systems.  The blades are good, the finish is good, and the knives hold up to tough use.  They are also inexpensive, due largely to Taiwan manufacture.  I’m a die-hard “buy American” guy, but I also recognize that US-made knives of this quality would sell for a lot more money.  For someone looking for a quality knife for not much money, these new KA-BAR knives deserve a good look.

Greg Quinn

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Pictured with a vintage 1972 unfired Ruger Super Blackhawk are some of the new folding knife offerings from Ka-Bar (left to right): MULE Field Folder (3050) and MULE Field Folder/Serrated Edge (3051).




A superb tactical setup: Sig P229 .357 Sig, Rock River Arms Elite Commando .45 ACP and new Ka-Bar knives (clockwise from top): Dozier-designed Ka-Bar 4065 Folder with hole, 4064 Folder clip blade, 3051 MULE Field Folder/Serrated Edge, 3050  Field Folder, another MULE 3051, 4063 Folding Hunter Skinner, 4062 Folding Hunter drop blade, another 3050.




Surrounding the awesome Sig P229 in .357 Sig are new tactical folders from Ka-Bar: MULE 3050 and 3051/Serrated folders.




One of the author’s favorite autopistols, the Springfield TRP in .45 ACP, surrounded by new Ka-Bar tactical folders MULE 3050 and 3051/Serrated.