Knife Review

A day in the woods with the KA-BAR BK 29 (and Ethan Becker)

The KA-BAR BK 29 is a bit of a happy accident. It was designed by KA-BAR in-house designer Jason Moses, and due to a miscommunication between Ethan, Jason, and KA-BAR, roughly 500 these were produced in place of the Ethan Becker-designed BK 20. They were shelved to focus production on the BK 20, but have just been released recently for sale. They are calling it the “Moses Bowie” in recognition of its designer.

Ethan invited me over (he lives a little more than an hour from me)to come try one out and after a couple of weather cancellations we made it happen today. Before I get into field testing in Ethan’s woods, here is a bit of detail on the knife and sheath.

Top: Western W49, Middle: BK 20, Bottom: BK 29

Ethan describes the inspiration for the 20 & 29 is a combination of the Collins #18, the original Marine Raider knife, as well as the Western W 49 bowie. He had read an article by Bill Bagwell on modifying the Western to make them better soldier knives by removing the top guard, shortening the bottom guard, and reshaping the handle. This makes them more useful for the 99% of the time the knife is being used for campcraft and not stabbing one’s enemy. These modifications are present in the BK 20&29.

The sheath is fully modern cordura, with an accessory pouch on the front. It hangs comfortably, but the most useful feature is the extra flap of material that covers your belt and separates it from the velcro and snap of the belt-loop. It allows the BK 29 to hang on your belt as if it had been a thread-through loop rather than a flap.

The knife itself has a forward balance, just ahead of the handle.

Becker-designed knives are known for lending themselves to forward, “choking-up” grip for precision work. This is present in the Moses-designed BK 29. The balance point is exactly where you place your thumb on the spine.

The handle is smooth, with a pronounced knob on the handle. This proved indispensable when chopping, as the knife wanted to shift forward in my hand, and I found myself actually locking my pinkie around this knob – essentially “choking-down” on the knife.

The blade is 1095, and holds a great edge. This knife had been turned over to around 30 “Beckerheads” at their last gathering, and was used extensively for an entire weekend. It certainly could have used touched up, but was still sharp enough to shave my fingernail.

Ethan describes how this same steel and heat treat on a BK 15 was used to fully butcher 2 elk, a mulie, and 3 antelope on a friend’s trip to Wyoming, and this knife looks to have similar attributes.

On to the woods…

Ethan fired up his Quad and we drove back into the woods in search of suitable testing material. Before long we found a small tree that had fallen across the trail and I took a literal whack at it.

Even in its less than perfect state, the edge bit deeply, and I quickly hacked through. I turned my attention to a nearby tulip poplar, which I cut down in less than a dozen strokes, and then chopped into pieces to throw in my truck.

I have been looking for some green poplar to turn into spoons, and so I thank Ethan for letting me harvest this sapling.

Finally, we made a couple of tent stakes. Ethan considers this the perfect test for a bushcraft blade, as it combines several chopping and shaving techniques.

Ethan critiqued my efforts, and explained where I could be much more efficient. One technique in particular I wanted to highlight. He will sometimes use a reverse-grip and lever the blade against his abdomen for a strong and controlled shaving cut.

I tried this myself, and am glad to be adding it to my repertoire.

All in all I could not be more pleased with the BK 29 and the day in general. Following our trip to the woods, we returned to Ethan’s house for a wonderful lunch of roast pork (remember that Ethan is also the Editor of the Joy of Cooking). Lively conversation about history, knives, politics, and other topics rounded out the day, and the time for me to go pick the kids up at school came far too quickly.

But you all don’t care about that. You care about the knife. Other than its tendency to creep forward in my grip, I really loved using the BK 29. Were I to own one I would probably add a wrist lanyard to the hole in the pommel, but otherwise this knife’s ability to perform both brute force and delicate cutting make it a great tool.

As I said, the BK 29 is a happy accident, but it is representative of KA-BAR. While their bread and butter KA-BAR knife outsells all their other offerings, they are always looking to innovate. They recognized the quality of design in the BK 29 and brought it to market. Ethan even admits that it outperforms the BK 20, much to his chagrin. I found that the BK 20 feels more like a small machete, where the BK 29 feels like a really big knife. You can tell the difference in your hand.

Even if the 29 edges out the 20, Ethan bears no grudge. He describes KA-BAR as “the finest group of folks I have ever worked with or for” and this knife is a quality manifestation of a quality company.

Thank you Ethan for having me over to play.

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