Big Knives

Ka-Bar Video: A History Of Ka-Bar

Image courtesy Ka-Bar Knives

As if you needed another reason to want a (another) Ka-Bar, the famed knifemaker has been producing a lot of slick, high production-value videos on YouTube lately. Their ‘No Ammo Required’ vid had a creepy, post-apocalyptic tint, and their newest release is a little vignette of Korean War history.

But this video from last year is a lot more informative. If you own a USMC Ka-Bar, what do you think of it? It’s definitely on our short list of classic knives to review.

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Discussion

13 responses to ‘Ka-Bar Video: A History Of Ka-Bar

  1. Chris, thanks man. This post and the video of Ka-Bar manufacturing is my favorite post yet at TTAK. The classic Ka-Bar is a great multi-purpose knife and it’s a great value for the money. During WW2 the French Foreign Legion used a similar version (made by Camilus) to the US Marines Ka-Bar knife. The classic Ka-Bar’s tang is a rat-tail secured with leather washers. The back of the knife is not ideally made for pounding in tent stakes or other frequent high impact use though some users have reported using it for such work. Ka-Bar has a great rep among blademen for their quality control and heat treating process.

    The name Ka-bar was taken from a letter received by the company in the 1800s from a man , I believe a hunter, with poor grammar and penmanship who wrote to Ka-Bar thanking them for the knife which he used to save himself and killing a bear. The employees could barely make out his written words though they could understand the context. Thus was born the name Ka-Bar.

    I own two knives by Ka-Bar. One is the Becker BK5, and last week I received the BK15. The BK5 knife was designed by legendary bladesmith Jerry Fisk and the handle by Ethan Becker. The BK15 is essentially a smaller version of the BK5.

    • Camillus made most of the issue Ka-Bar style knives. They were actually a co-developer and the original contractor. The United Cutlery models were produced later and in lower numbers, but were generally considered more desirable (I’ve heard a lot of stories from guys who served in the South Pacific, ranging from the genuine “Ka-Bar” being easier to sharpen, to it just having a catchier name.) You’re more likely to find an actual antique stamped “Ka-Bar” than Camillus for a few reasons, not the least of which being Marines would toss their issue blades away in favor of personal purchases, unless they were lucky enough to get a fabled Ka-Bar. I’ve also heard that Ka-Bar stamped knives had better handles, but I have my doubts; I’ve seen Camillus handles with water stains but otherwise intact, and I’ve seen Ka-Bars with obvious mold damage.

      I don’t mean to sound overly critical, though. My second ever blade purchase was a new made USMC Ka-Bar. I still think it’s something you should have if you want to consider yourself a knife guy (I hold myself to a higher standard, I won’t feel initiated until I order a Randall Model 1.) Just checked, the box still has “$41.59” Sharpied on it, I think I talked the guy down to $30. I never wanted it to do anything more than sit in a closet or look pretty in a China cabinet, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use it in a pinch.

      Also, I just realized I’ve had that knife sitting in its original box for almost twenty years. I’ve got less than five years to get a Randall and a Harley before I need to start re-evaluting everything…

      • Bob,

        Thanks, that was interesting. Each time that I consider buying one of the now numerous Ka-Bar traditional knives something else pops up that I want or need more. Last week I received the Ka-Bar made Becker BK15. Now, I’m researching tomahawks.

        • There’s something about the compressed stacked leather handles on the traditional models that just feels right to me. And they look good, too.

          I’m with you on the want/need issue, though. I’m actually in the market for a good sheath knife, since I moved back to a dagger-unfriendly state and almost everything I have is double-ground. Plus, they’re not always the most practical. I went to a show a few years back with $150, intending to find a quality single edge to take into the woods with me, walked out with a Nagant. A spike bayonet is a less than ideal camping tool.

  2. I carried a kabar while in the service. It was a good solid piece of gear that did the job without a lot of flash. It was stolen out of my car after my discharge while I was on a road trip.

    Years later I bought another, new kabar and it was taken over by my son. He thinks it’s a great knife also.

  3. As a former infantry Marine, I had plenty of opportunities to play with KaBars, but I never warmed up to them. They just never felt very good in my hand. But they get a lot of love on the ‘net, so one day I may give ’em another shot.

        • Mark,

          You’re welcome. I am also interested in the BK7.

          I love my Camp Magnum BK5! I use it almost daily in the kitchen it not being a knife just for the outdoors. Martial artists have also chosen the BK5 as their fighting knife. The BK5 knife was actually designed by master blade maker Jerry Fisk. The handles were designed by Ethan Becker.

          My BK5 has had the original grips/scales replaced with micarta handles which help provide better gripping than smooth plastic if water or blood get onto the surface. The blade has been stripped of the black coating and a forced patina using vinegar put onto it. Lastly, a friend made me a kydex sheath for my BK5.

          Warning: once you buy a Becker you are probably going to want to buy more.

  4. I’ve had one for 20 years now and use it as an all propose camping knife. Other than the quillion being a bit thin and bendable it is a solid knife that has never failed me.

    I made the mistake of getting the partially serrated version though. Once the serrations dull that portion of the blade is useless and hard to sharpen. One of these days I’ll replace it with a non started version, but even with the useless serrations there is plenty of normal useful blade left, so I haven’t gotten in a hurry.

    • DMT has a folding narrow conical sharpener that may do you some good. Also, Spyderco’s triangular ceramic sharpeners.

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