|Shadow Tech's Karambit may have a curved blade, but it isn't what you would call a utility knife.|
In 2012, Ernest Emerson addressed the tactical knife largely from the police user point of view. To a large degree their needs are not too different from the civilian. Here’s Ernie.
1. Design: When the US Navy asked me to design a rescue knife for their special boat units (SBU), they gave me a list of tasks the knife would be required to perform. I designed the knife specifically to address those tasks.
2. Purpose of the knife: The purpose of the knife will dictate what knife you should get. Is the knife a weapon? Is the knife a utility tool? Is the knife an emergency rescue tool? Is the knife an entry tool? An undercover officer going into a potentially hostile environment will have completely different requirements than a SWAT officer.
3 Ergonomics: Ergonomics is one of the most important aspects of Tactical Knife design. It must feel comfortable when you use it and handle it under stress. There must be no pinch points, sharp corners or unnatural feel to the handle. There should be a place for the fingers that do not force them to a specific location. In addition, the knife should not be too large or too small for your hand, but should be just right. The bottom line is that your knife should feel like it fits you, in size, shape and weight.
4. Size: As I have already stated, any design must be purpose driven. Therefore, the size of the knife should be reflective of the task it is designed to do.
5. Materials: There are two categories, blade and handle. Starting with the blade, I would recommend a good quality stainless steel. The knife industry is so competitive that any reputable knife company is now using good to high quality steel. If the knife is only $3.98, it’s made in Pakistan or China, no matter what it says. The best knife steel ever used is plain old W1 tool steel and it’s been around for a couple of hundred years. It’s the stuff your files are made of and they cut other steels.
6 Handle: Handles can be made of a variety of materials from plastic to G-10 and from Titanium to Stainless Steel. What you want in a handle is something that is stable. What I mean by stable is: It won’t shrink, check or crack. Stabilized materials are generally waterproof. They shouldn’t absorb sweat, water, gasoline, or oil. Checkering or a textured surface of course will always give you extra traction, especially if the environment is wet. Bare in mind though, materials do not make the knife. Design makes the knife. A bad knife with good materials is still a bad knife.
7. Blade Design: The blade should have a cutting edge and a point. It’s really that basic. More specifically, I like a good strong thick point. If I have to poke or dig into something, that could damage or break a delicate needle-like point as found on some knives. A couple inches of cutting edge is plenty. Curved cutting edges cut cloth and webbing very efficiently, i.e. seat belts. Blades should be a minimum of 1/8 inches thick up to 3/16 thick, for lateral strength; I recommend a hardness of 57-59C Rockwell. At 57-59 C Rockwell, the blade has some inherent flexibility. After all, a dull knife is still a knife. A broken knife is . . . well, expensive crap. One last word on blades. Always, repeat always, get a serrated blade. They always cut, even when dull and they blow through a seat belt like something vulgar through a goose.
|Spyderco's Dominio has almost all the desired attributes of a tactical/utility knife except for price!|
8. Locks: I don’t get too spun up about locks. A folding knife folds. Get it? Never depend on the lock. It is not a fixed blade!
9. Fixed Blade or Folder: A fixed blade is inherently stronger than a folder (no moving parts). So it comes down to this: What are you going to use the knife for? Some cops who prefer fixed blades carry a much smaller version. These knives which are the same size as an opened folding knife are very usable, efficient and are compact enough to be carried on a daily basis. The choice between a folder and a fixed blade should be driven by use first and preference second.
10. Carry Options: Pick a place to carry your knife and always carry it there. There is no right or wrong about how you carry your knife. It must be easy and clear to access and it must be in the same place all the time.
11. Reputation: This is one of those intangibles that’s hard to describe, but I’ll give it a try. Your knife may break or need service at some point. Will the maker of your knife guarantee their product and honor their guarantee? Get your knife from a company that cares about its product and takes pride in what they make. They are out there – you just have to look.
I have a slightly less verbose set of defining principles for the tactical knife that differ from both Bob Terzuola or Ernie Emerson.
The perfect tactical/utility knife should:
- Fit the individual and be comfortable to hold when open and in use.
- The blade should be between 2 and 4 inches, but equally important, legal to carry.
- The blade locks open and remains that way until we decide to close the knife.
- Knife can be opened with one hand, either hand.
- The knife should be stay were we put it, not calling attention to itself.
- The blade should have a strong general purpose, partially serrated blade and be able to perform functions from sharpening a pencil, preparing dinner and opening a package. None of these functions should preclude self-defense. The blade should be able to stab and cut with efficiency.
- The handle should be a durable material, resistant to solvents, water, mild acids and bases and robust enough to hold the blade securely when open or closed
- All metals have a heat treatment that produces the best compromise of strength, flexibility and edge retention. These conditions should be met. You should be able to sharpen it with a stone you can buy at Wal-Mart.
- The knife should be manufactured by a reliable company and be of a reasonable cost and good quality. I may have to lose the knife and it shouldn’t cost me a days pay.
- The knife should be capable of assisting me with my daily chores so I have it on me when I need it.
Summary: The primary task of a tactical knife is dealing with the mundane chores of daily life, opening items, cutting cord, ties, and tape, cutting food, brush and all the impediments we deal with. It is only the seldomly used reserve function of physical combat or survival that the knife manufacturers address their marketing and design.