Thursday, May 5, 2016

Happy birthday Ka-Bar!


Fixed Blade Ka-Bar
Nice sheaths!  Leather doesn't make any noise when it catches on a thorn or bramble bush.
It’s been pointed out to me that this is Ka-Bar’s 118th anniversary.  In a world where planned obsolescence is the goal, it’s hard to believe any company could last so long.

It was a Thursday, April 29 1897, in Pennsylvania, that a small company called Tidioute Cutlery came into existence.  That was the birth of Ka-Bar.  Several years later its assets were sold to start another company.

The buyer, Wallace R. Brown was the grandson of JR Case.  As with many of the traditional companies, Ka-Bar started with a different name and changed hands many times.  Starting as Union Razor Co., friction folders were made stamped with “Olcut” or “Keenwell” as well as “Ka-Bar”.

Almost all knife collectors have read or heard the story of the semi-illegible note received from some mountain man trapper who “kil a bar” with his knife.  The trademark KA-Bar soon became so famous and in such demand that the Union Cut Company changed their name to Ka-Bar.  During WWII, fighting knives were in demand.  With a little advice from the Marines and a little retooling, KA-Bar won a contract to make a general utility/fighting knife. 

Sargeant Dave E. Werner at Phu Bai.  Note the unstrapped Ka-Bar on left shoulder.  

The big beefy blade was attached to a rattail tang, which became the backbone of the stacked leather washer handle.  Even today, hunters of men and animals swear a leather washer handle works the best when your hands are covered in blood.

During WWII, I’m told, the knife had detractors claiming if you slapped the knife sideways you could snap the blade free of the rattail tang.  These detractors fail to mention we were also making ships that suddenly cracked for no apparent reason.  Metallurgy was just starting to make progress with metal processing and heat treatment and was still poorly understood.  They also don’t mention the relative short expected life span of the newbie in combat.  The cost accountants in the government were not about to give a $25 knife to man with a 12-minute life expectancy.  If you lived long enough you could always get a new knife off of someone who wasn’t a fast learner.  Today’s metallurgy turns 1095 carbon steel into a tool you can depend on when life is on the line. 

If the Buck 110 folder is the quintessential American locking folder, the Ka-Bar fighting/utility knife has fills that role for a fixed blade. 

You should own one.  One with a leather sheath, because it is quieter in the bush.

Aside:
Over 20 years ago Soldier of Fortune claimed you could safely conceal 12 inches of fighting knife in your waistband under a sport coat.  Might be time to start thinking about that again.  



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