Collectibles

Classic Knife Review: Camillus Model 1760 “Demo” Knife

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

No, it’s not bent: it was just weird lighting.

We expect a lot from modern pocket knives, like supersteel blades, grippy Micarta or G-10 scales, sturdy blade locks, discreet carry and instant one-hand opening. Oh yeah: they also need eye-catching good looks.

The Camillus ‘Demo’ knife is not a modern pocket knife. If it were a person (or a corporation, after the Citizens United decision) it would be drawing Social Security. It has none of these things. But if you’ve got a “beauty is as beauty does” aesthetic and a soft spot for history, you’ll dig it anyway. 

A Demolition Knife By Any Other Name Would Still Cut As Cleanly…

This handy and indestructible pocket knife has been carried by literally millions of soldiers and airmen, sailors and Marines. (The Corps got their own version marked “USMC” and called the Model 1763, but otherwise identical.) Production was farmed out to many manufacturers including Case, Ulster and Western. Ontario makes them now, but a Camillus Demo knife is considered the ‘real’ Demo knife by collectors.

Today’s military gear is often referred to by model numbers or acronyms, but in my grandfather’s day GIs just gave their gear handy nicknames. Birth control glasses, 100-mph tape and John Wayne crackers were never ‘approved’ military terminology, even though every service member below the rank of General or Rear Admiral used them too.

Early military folklore had it that the Demo knife was designed for use by demolition and combat engineer units, because it was made of a special nonmagnetic alloy. This was total hogwash: it seems to have been designed as a general-issue field tool, and its stainless steel is emphatically not non-magnetic. The name ‘Demo’ knife is thus a misnomer, but like many of them it stuck anyway.

Design: The Original Leatherman?

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The Demo knife was the Leatherman Tool of its day, back when rifles were made to be disassembled without wrenches or punches, and even tinkerers didn’t have to fret with 23 different sizes of Phillips, Allen and Torx fasteners. MacGuyver could save the world with one of these.

The Demo knife design seems to date back to 1945, although even the former Camillus company historian can’t pinpoint it for sure. It specs out like a fairly typical mid-century 4-bladed camping knife with a 2.75 inch spear point blade, can opener, screwdriver/bottle opener, and awl.

What made the Demo knife different was its all-stainless steel construction and recruit-proof ruggedness. At 3.6 ounces it’s not in the lightweight division, and that all-stainless construction provides incredible durability. You could drown it, drive over it or drop it in a campfire, because there’s nothing in it you could likely break without trying.

With one exception. The Demo knife was designed to be used one tool at a time, because the backsprings can weaken and eventually break if both of the blades on each spring are opened fully at the same time.

And How Does It Work?

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

My example is a gift from a friend who carried it through his Airborne career in the 1980s. It was made by Camillus in 1980, and it’s in excellent condition for a utility tool that saw rough field use for several years. The blades are still shiny and rock-solid in the frame (no wobble) and the backsprings are still very strong but not quite fingernail-breakers.

I hope you’ll forgive me for not running through the entire ‘rope, paper, cardboard’ testing routine with a classic old knife that’s becoming a low-cost collectible. It sharpens very easily to a nice edge that will easily slice hanging paper, but not reliably through newsprint. It was a decent cardboard-slicer, but like most small plain-edged blades it was pretty hopeless on 3/4″ Manila rope.

The blade steel isn’t specified, but it’s not terribly hard. One reviewer compares it to 420HC, but I’m not sure I agree: it’s nowhere near as hard as the Paul Bos 420HC that Buck uses in their knives.

The diamond-checkered steel frame slabs don’t give you the most precisely ergonomic grip, but then again neither do SAKs that still sell by the millions each year.

Collecting?

These knives were never expensive: around $10 in Vietnam, and less than $30 today. So many of them were made for so many years and by so many different manufacturers, that you’d think they were as collectible as used Orville Reddenbacher popcorn boxes.

Despite this, the humble Demo knife is starting to become collectible anyway. Many collectors are former service members who fondly remember this unassuming piece of field kit, and others are former boy scouts who started their collections with their fathers’ hand-me-down Vietnam era Demo knives.

And don’t think these common knives can’t become collector’s items. Recall that lowly Mosin-Nagant rifles sold by the crate less than ten years ago, with unit costs as low as $65 each for unissued M44 carbines. Now those same M44s, built by the millions, will bring in as much as $350 each.

Deservedly A Classic

The Demo knife is has been overtaken by more modern multitools and pocketknives, but it’s still as solid, simple and useful as it was in a grunt’s field pack in Vietnam. If you’re a knife guy, this classic knife might be too affordable and historic not to add to your collection.

 

For more information, read Ken Cook’s excellent article The Demo Knife.

Discussion

21 responses to ‘Classic Knife Review: Camillus Model 1760 “Demo” Knife

  1. The Demo knife or SAK has a place in everybodies knife drawer. These type of knives are incredibly handy and versatil without the bulk and weight of a multi tool. Over the years I’ve found that the most used features of my tool/knives are the screw drivers, can opene5rs and bottle openers.

  2. What it is, is a stainless steel version of the Boy Scout knife (my BSA knife is carbon steel from the mid-’50s). My wife was issued one by the AF–she was in maintenance. I wasn’t.

  3. Got mine at FT Bragg in 1970, the belt sheath looks like the one in the photo sans flap, and has an 80 lb test square braid lanyard. My first multitool. As an SF weapons specialist that knife has helped take down more guns than you can believe. From BARs to AKs and Tommy guns and even the Sten and Danish Madsen. Mine is a Camillus dated 1969, my date of entry. Still tight and sharp.

  4. Say, what was the function of the little “peg” on the screwdriver/cap lifter? That got dropped from the design in the early 1970s, I think. Something to do with the M-1 (Garand) or M-14?

    As for snapped backsprings — never let two blades on the same spring be half open at the same time. Stresses the spring too much; it’ll likely snap. Open one blade all the way, then open the other.

  5. Well, I can state that the first one I saw was in a standard issue demolitions bag, and yea, when I turned it in the knife had to be in it. TO&E turn ins always sucked.

  6. And in the interest of full disclosure! Not a multi-tool kinda guy. In my right leg utility pocket I carry a 4WR visegrip, a mini 4 way screw driver and 3 inch tac light. Along with Buck 110, Kershaw Vapor, nail clippers ringed to P38, 2 inch hex tube bubble level, lighter, backup mag and pistol in other pockets and on belt. Yes, I have to de-metal to get through any security checkpoint. Oh, well.

  7. Hey thanks so much for this post. I kinda skimmed over it a couple of times but then finally broke down and read it and when I did I saw the second jpeg with the “US” in the handle and thought to myself that I think I have one of those. Well sure enough, I dug through my meager collection of questionable knives and found it – 1982. Still in good shape. Now that I know it has something of a pedigree it will assume a place of honor next to it’s larger, older brother – a Camillus Grandaddy Barlow.

  8. Living in Switzerland, close to the Wenger factory, which by the way will cease to sell under their own name by the end of this year, I own folding knives of several armies, and started to systematically compare them. Among those I have US made by Camillus and Imperial. With knives from Victorinox and Wenger, besides their other qualities, mostly admired might be their excellent finish. This being identical with the (genuine) soldiers knives (in Swiss Army designation the obsolete model 65 (red, later colorless aluminium), and present model 08 (green polymer handles). As a firm believer in true value engineering, hardly influencing their inherent quality, this finish in military use seems to me to be a waste of resources. Until recently I thought, that the Camillus 1760 et alia was a better design in this respect: Good design, materials and workmanship, but no unnecessary money spent on finish. But researching recently on the internet, I was rather surprised to learn, that after about 60 years and about 13 million items production, the US military folding knives still seem to suffer from relative frequent spring breakage, now at a price equaling that of the comparable swiss soldiers knife model 65. With the (genuine) swiss soldiers knives, and the (so called) swiss army knives I never came along such a problem.

    • Thanks for this comment. I had forgotten about having to get a demo knife replaced, I believe in ’81, for a broken back spring. Supply Sgt wanted to write me up for it, I told him I took it out of the demolitions bag I was issued for a field training exercise and it was broke, I never even opened the blade.

      Over the years I have known a couple of people who had to send Camillus folding knives back to have back springs replaced, perhaps an ongoing issue with materials. I own a couple of Wenger folders and a Swiss Army that I got when I was 10, they are all drawer occupants. I bought my son a new Swiss Army which he keeps with his collectibles, preferring his Leatherman Sidekick for his EDC.

  9. Concerning the U.S. Military utility (Demo) knives which are all dated. I know that they began in 1957, but I am not sure what the last year of production was. Camillus went out of business in 2007, but I do not think they made that knife as late as that. Does anyone know the last year of production?

  10. Since the utility knife really is not non-magnetic, does anyone know if there really Az a demolition knife? Perhaps the TL29?

  11. We were reminiscing about dad (AF PJ ..paramedic back then.. And found one in a shoebox. Dated 1949, and yes it does indeed have brass sleeves. Don’t know what it is worth, but it is priceless to go along with his PJ stories…Ham’ wish I had met you sir! Hope you and dad are still picking fights with the Princess Pats in heaven. God bless all past and present SF’ers.

    That others may live!!

  12. I bought 2 of these at an estate sale a month ago for $1.00 each. They are in pretty good shape, one (1969) has some small peck marks on the back where it was used to hammer something, and the other (1966) is missing the thumb stud.
    I have a third one that I found in a chimney back in the 90’s, both springs are broke and the can opener is mostly rusted away, always meant to fix it but now I guess it will be a parts knife.

    I always wanted one of these, all of my NCO’s and team leaders had them.

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