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A True Survival Bowie?

Sometimes a diversification can let us view a topic from another direction, casting new light on it.

Size Matters

The last blog made it clear to me that the many medium-sized (6 to 8″) general-purpose knives that I have do not really have a role. That includes my beloved Buck 119 and the various five to eight inch kukris that I have acquired. If SHTF or TEOTWAWKI occurs, I will be reaching for one of my larger blades and complementing it with one of my puukkot (plural of “puukko”). I have my favourite ten-inch sirupate kukri ready to go on a belt alongside a Mora Companion. A small pouch on the belt contains a fire kit and Lansky multi-sharpener. Nearby is my barong-handled machete and a crowbar, ready to be added to the rucksac. Already on my person I have my Swiss Army knife and mini-Leatherman, along with other items.
If you are planning to spend good money on survival knives, the sound advice is to “go big” and “go-small”. Buy yourself a good chopper that can produce a fire and shelter with minimum effort when they are most needed. Get a good fixed blade small knife that can handle more intricate duties. Puukkot are hard to beat for value and quality. Get what folders you want for EDC.
Another topic I touched on was that most of the original Bowie knife designs were designed to be primarily weapons. This can be seen in the shape of their point profiles, which are often combined with a long false edge.

The Bowie/Machete

With the above in mind, I will share a passage I came across in “Gun Digest Book of Knives, 4th Edition”, p.111-113:
“Another category of knife is the hybrid Bowie…The Bowie/Machete is made by Collins Machete, Case Knife, Western Knife and Legendary Arms.
Bowie/Machete came about when a South American customer went to Collins and wanted a machete made like a Bowie knife.
The result was a wonderful knife. It is one of the finest large skinning and butcher knives ever made. It is one of the few knives that can hold its own with a commercial slaughterhouse curved skinner and large butcher knife. These purely single-purpose knives are hard to beat at their specialities, but the shape and curvature of the Collins design is a most useful compromise of their features in a large knife.
The oversize butcher knife shape with the Bowie clip blade has a deep enough belly and enough sweep at the point to approximate the sweep of the professional skinning knife. In the hands of an expert, it is the best knife for skinning and butchering large game. For use as a small machete, the deep grind employed on these knives allows the same cut a much thinner machete would make. While a little light and short for heavy woodcutting. this is still a practical short machete knife.
For a working knife to carry in South America where it was intended, or anywhere else for that matter, this is a hard one to beat. When used as a fighting knife, it is an excellent chopper, while its broad blade produces more damage on thrust than lesser knives…
It should be noted that the simple tapered grip with the pronounced neb to anchor the hand found on these is an elegant masterpiece of a functional grip in its own right. These knives feel good in the hand where they lock in and go to work naturally. The hand is positioned for proper leverage with a heavy double guard to bear against at the front and a neb at the rear similar to the grip taken with an Indian Talwar sword. It is most effective for a working knife and far better than gimmick grips on some custom knives. Remember. everything possible with knives has been tried. This is an old, standard, elegant solution to the grip. Like the rest of the knife. it is conservative and effective all the way through.”
This sounds interesting! No image of the “Bowie/Machete” is in the book. There is a photo of a Legendary Arms Bowie that it might be, but unhelpfully the blade is in its sheath! Websearching on “Bowie/Machete” proves useless. The Cold Steel design of this name post-dates the book, and it is evident from the shape that the Cold Steel offering does not have the features described.
Cold Steel Bowie Machete

The Bowie/Machete Identified?

Eventually I pieced together enough clues to suspect that the model described is the Collins & Co. Machete No.18. Not actually a machete as most of us understand the term these days, but that was how the company designated it. In 1942 the 10-inch Collins was adopted for survival kits of air crews operating in the Pacific, including at Guadalcanal Canal. The marines took notice, and the model was widely used by the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. Maj. James Roosevelt, son of the then President, was involved in their procurement, and carried one numbered “30”. One of my references (“Fighting Knives. An Illustrated Guide to Fighting Knives and Military Survival Weapons of the World” by Frederick J. Stephens p.67) confirms that wartime production of this model was also undertaken by Case Cutlery, Western Cutlery and an Australian source. “Knives of War” by Hughes, Jenkins and Buerlein adds a company called Kinfolks Inc to the list. It is from Case that the frequently used, but incorrect designation “V44” or “V-44” seems likely to have been acquired. (The V42 discussed in the last blog was a Case design.) Knives of War p.68-70 calls it a “Gung Ho Knife”, “Survival Bowie” and mentions an aviator’s example labelled “9-inch machete”. Actual dimensions are given in Knives of War as a blade of 978” and 2″ at its widest. Total Length is 14½”.  I believe the blade was ¼” thick. Minor variations between manufacturers can be found, variations including grip shape, grip construction and whether the false-edge was sharpened. Some Collins examples had a grip of green horn, which has a very attractive camouflaged appearance. Some sheathes had the tip cut-off to improve drainage.
Knives of War p.69: Former Marine Raider Rosenquist reports: “It was a real good, multi-purpose knife. We used it for opening ration cans, coconuts, cutting fire lanes, etc. It was handy as a small hatchet for cutting small trees and coconut-log bunkers and in combat as an effective fighting weapon.”Marine Bowie Horn handled Bowie Horn handled Bowie Black handled Bowie

The No.18 Today?

This is a Bowie design with a proven record of survival utility, not to mention it might also find its way to certain kitchens or meat-packing plants. As well as its practicality, it has historical connections. Many people understand the value of preparedness, and Americans love Bowies, so you might think a number of companies would be offering “Gung Ho/ No.18 Survival Bowies” and they would be flying off the shelves!
Raider Bowie replica Raider Bowie box
Well, I have not had much luck locating any! There is a reproduction “V44 Raider Bowie” (above). This is apparently low-quality steel, since it is intended to sit on a shelf rather than be put to use. Note that it is not a particular accurate reproduction, the blade having a single broad fuller rather than to two narrow fullers of the actual No.18.
No.18 Bowie Throwing Bowie
Legendary Arms offers a Bowie and a “Throwing Bowie” that has some resemblance (above), but note both have a short bevel grind rather than the blade section of the originals.
W49 Bowie
Western Cutlery is now Western Knives, with production in Asia. Their W49 (above) is/was not their version of the No.18. Dimensions are slightly smaller and the blade has a short bevel.
Ontario Bowie
Best candidate seems to be the Ontario SP10 “Marine Raider” (above). Despite the name, the blade form is different. The SP53 is probably closer to the No.18 in spirit, but is not a Bowie. Most obvious difference for both of these is the grip. I quite liked the machete-style grip of the original Collins. As regular readers will appreciate, a flared or hooked grip is a very good feature for a chopping knife.

The Future?

Ideally, someone would bring out a nice No.18 Bowie blade blank that I could fit with a grip.
If anyone has been inspired by this to bring out a modern day No.18 Bowie, I would suggest having a good look at the modified original shown below. The upper quillon has been removed and the lower bent so that it is out of the way when the strongest part of the blade is used for tasks such as batonning through material.
Horn handled No.18 Bowie
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Phillosoph

Fighting Knives in a Modern Context

The other day I found myself thinking about the variety of weapons taught by many martial arts. When these arts were created, most of these weapons were relatively common place. The battlefield, and the street, have changed since those times. You are unlikely to fight with a sword, a knife or machete being more probable. The entrenching tool is more likely to be to hand than an axe or mace. Your spear or staff will seldom have to deal with a horseman, and is much handier if its length is less than your height. The stick remains a useful weapon, but nowadays will often be wielded with the intention of not seriously injuring a foe.
Those of you that wisely have invested in a copy of “Crash Combat” will recognize the above as the arsenal of modern weapons included in the course.
The above reflection melded with a question my subconscious had recently posed to me: “Does one need a combat knife?” Some authors use the term “combat knife” or “tactical knife” to mean a variety of multipurpose knife. In this blog I am talking about specialist designs that have the primary role of use against two-legged predators.
Certainly, it is prudent to have a knife that one can fight with, but what are the merits of spending good money on a knife that is primarily designed as a weapon? And what form should such a knife take? There is a baffling variety of supposed combat or fighting knives.

Context

To answer that last point, we must return to the theme noted in the first paragraph. We cannot really consider a fighting knife without also considering context. The requirements of a fighting knife have changed as the nature of combat has changed. In the Middle Ages, for example, it was desirable that a blade be stout enough to deal with body armour, yet narrow enough to slip between plates or through a visor. Jump forward to the age of the rapier and a dagger might be required to serve as a main gauche. The Bowie knife provides us with another illustration. The Bowie blade shape is commonly used for survival knives, which tends to make us forget the original Bowie knives were primarily fighting weapons. The Bowie came into fashion in an era when pistols were generally single-shot. The Bowie was a handy alternative to a sabre or smallsword. The fighting Bowie was at least eight inches long, with examples longer than twelve inches by no means unusual. A blade might be a quarter of an inch thick and broad enough to look like a pointed cleaver, which essentially was what it was. It might be used against other knives, or longer edged weapons. The usefulness of the Bowie waned with the increasing availability of mass-produced revolvers. Apparently many volunteers in the War Between the States invested in impressive Bowies, only to discard them once the wisdom of a lighter marching load became apparent.
There seems little point nowadays in carrying a large fighting knife such as a Bowie or smatchet. Many large utility knives, billhooks and machetes can defend our person equally well and prove far more useful for other, more likely tasks. You probably also own entrenching tools, hatchets and tomahawks that would also be superior weapons.

The Modern Fighting Knife

Let us assume that you want a fighting/ combat/ tactical knife, on the basis that you may one day perhaps need it. The fighting knife will be carried in addition to more general-purpose blades, so cannot be too large or heavy. If a fighting knife has a place in our arsenal, then logically it must be because it can meet a requirement or scenario better than our large survival knives and other tools. Large knives are not particularly concealable. While it is possible to thrust effectively with a machete or kukri, it is not the ideal shape for use against thick clothing and a hypothetical “take out the sentry” application. This narrows down the form that a modern fighting/ tactical knife should take and what we should be looking for when making our selection. This is best illustrated with some examples.

Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife

No discussion of modern fighting knives would be complete without mention of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife, aka “The Commando Knife” or F-S. If fighting knives are mentioned, this is most likely the image that popped into your head.
At the start of his book “Combat Use of the Double Edged Fighting Knife”, Rex Applegate gives a nice summary of desirable features for a modern fighting knife:
“The heart of the fighting knife is its blade. It should be 5 to 7 inches in length, double-edged, and wide enough to be razor sharp on both sides all the way back to the cross guard. The point must be sharp enough to penetrate and thick and tough enough to withstand side pressure.
The blade should provide slashing, ripping, and thrusting capabilities. Stainless type steel, correctly tempered, with a dull finish is preferable. The blade should be tempered to hold an edge as well as being easily sharpened and, at the same time, not brittle.
The oval-shape handle should fit the palm of the hand and be designed so that the edges of the blade can be immediately, and automatically, located in dark or light conditions. A nonslip surface is another feature that should be incorporated. The handle should not turn in the hand (sweaty palms, etc.) when the blade strikes resistance. The knife should be handle heavy with relation to balance. Nothing in the design should limit its possibilities for use as a weapon from any position or either hand. The overall length should be approximately 10 to 11 inches; anything longer makes it too unwieldy and cumbersome to carry. The weight should be in the 1/2 to 3/4 pound range.”
Applegate’s earlier work, “Kill or Get Kill”, has a similar description, although includes the suggestion that the blade be no more than an inch across at the guard, and that the handle have its largest diameter at the centre and taper towards both the guard as well as the butt.
Contrary to what you may often see claimed, the F-S is not the “Ultimate Fighting Knife” [ignoring that this is not what “ultimate” actually means!]. Comparison to Applegate’s description quickly illustrates why. The grip of the F-S is round in section, rather oval. Being of cast metal, the grip is difficult to modify or replace. While the balance point is in the grip, the cast grip possibly contributes some unnecessary weight. Oddly, my F-S seems heavier than my M3, but is actually half an ounce lighter. If you own an F-S, you will know that it is very difficult to get a sharp edge on it. Common advice on the net is to regard the F-S as a thrusting weapon only, and steel the edge at an angle of about 40 degrees. The “razor-sharp commando knife” is a licence of the novelist who has never owned one!
Some of these features seem to have been the result of wartime mass-production, which have persisted. Fairbairn’s writings on how to use the knife include illustration of cuts and slashes directed to the forearm and inside of the elbow, although how practical this would have been against a woollen greatcoat or tunic is debatable. Incidentally, the ancestors of the FS were the Shanghai Fighting Knives, which were made from obsolete double-edged Lee Metford 1888 bayonets. In his own words:
In choosing a knife there are two important factors to bear in mind: balance and keenness. The hilt should fit easily in your hand, and the blade should not be so heavy that it tends to drag the hilt from your fingers in a loose grip. It is essential that the blade have a sharp stabbing point and good cutting edges, because an artery torn through (as against a clean cut) tends to contract and stop the bleeding.

Boker Applegate-Fairbairn

Following World War Two, Applegate collaborated with Boker to produce a knife that met his requirements, called the Applegate-Fairbairn. I have no personal experience of these, and they are likely to always be beyond my price range.

Gerber Mk II

The Gerber Mk II answers many of the complaints that can be made about the F-S. While it is called the “Mk II Survival” this is primarily a fighting knife. Mine has taken a fairly respectable edge. The bad news is that the Mk II tends to have a higher price tag than one might wish for a knife that will not be your primary survival tool.

M3 Trench Knife

Shown with my FS and Gerber is my M3 Trench Knife. The M3 was also produced in German as the “NATO combat knife”. A nice design feature is the asymmetrical guard, allowing the user to find the orientation of the main edge even in the dark. While the M3 was designed as a utility knife, its configuration makes it a pretty good choice for a fighting knife. Personally, I do not mind that it is not double-edged. The false edge comes already sharpened, and the balance of the knife is about an inch behind the guard, just where you would want it. If you shop around, you can find reproduction M3s for a reasonable price. Try websites that cater for WW2 re-enactors. Take a look at German trench knives while you are there. In “Kill or Get Killed”, Applegate suggests “utility knives” can be reground into fighting knives, and shows a knife so converted. Presumably he means the M3, although he at one point claims that the utility knife has its weight too far forward in the blade.
The M3 as it comes is a pretty good fighting knife, with the option of serving in utility roles in an emergency. Ideally a fighting knife should only be used for its intended role, to keep it sharp. Price of a reproduction M3 makes it a good basis for a custom project. Blade blanks for M3s or the related bayonet models may also be found. As Applegate suggests, the top edge can be extended, and if you have a belt-grinder adding a hollow grind is relatively simple. Tapering the blade may be more challenging. The grip of leather washers is probably simple to reshape or remove. Grip tape may prove useful here. The metal butt-plate may be more problematic.

The V42

The V42 is another wartime design of fighting knife. The skull-crusher pommel is a nice feature, although probably larger than needed. My main complaint about this knife is the guard could be narrower and the blade somewhat broader.

Smaller Fighting Knives

As implied above, your fighting knife should be chosen so that it can be carried in situations you cannot carry a larger survival knife. With this in mind I will present two smaller examples of what can be considered fighting/ tactical knives.
The larger knife is a Smith and Wesson 820. The false edge is not sharpened, but the main edge has sharpened up to a very sharp edge. Very impressive, and a very reasonably priced knife with most of the features you might wish for.
The smaller knife is a CRKT version of the AG Russell Sting (as favoured by a well-known literary figure!). Small, but very solid and sharp. Note that both knives have lanyard holes, a feature that would be welcome on the larger knives. Adding wrist loops is on my to-do list.
These are some of your off-the-shelf options, illustrated with examples I have to hand. Later blogs will cover other options.
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Phillosoph

Fruit Juice and Knives

A friend of mine has warned me she intends to bring me a knife for some attention. It needs sharpening, but also has some marks. Too much touching the blade and not enough (if any!) oiling.

Gentle Rust Removal

If you paid attention in Science class you will know that you can remove rust with acids such as vinegar. Often this leaves a discolouration, however.
An interesting technique I have used is to remove rust with pineapple juice. Pineapple juice is a very mild acid. If you soak a blade for a few days it gently removes rust patches, leaving much less discolouration. Something like a vase is ideal. Just submerge the blade in juice to the depth required. If you lack a vase then the juice carton itself may be a suitable shape. You may have to brace it so the weight of the knife does not cause it to topple over.
I have only ever used pineapple juice for this, but other fruit juices should work. I suspect grapefruit juice may be too strong, but that is just a guess and I may be wrong.

Fruit and Bread Knives

I was watching a movie recently and a character makes a comment about the wisdom of cutting tomatoes with a bread knife. I guessed this may have been due to most people not having genuinely sharp kitchen knives, but I ran the idea past a chef friend.
My chef friend agreed one should cut tomatoes with a bread knife, and that it should also be used for other acidic fruits such as lemons and limes.
His explanation was that the acid of the fruits prematurely blunted other types of kitchen knife. The serrated edge of a bread knife was less affected by this. He did note that many chefs he had worked with were unaware of this.
So, if you are cutting acidic fruits in your kitchen, reach for a bread knife or serrated blade, preferably one of stainless steel.

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Pull-Sharpening

My recent project with the machete has spurred me to sharpen a few of the tools I have around.
In my book, “Survival Weapons”, I devote an entire chapter to the topic of sharpening. That chapter remains a useful guide to a topic that can sometimes seem cryptic.
At this point I should explain that one of my “virtues” is that I am lazy. According to admiring colleagues, I can be usually be expected to find the simplest, most stress-free method of getting a job done. Over the last week or so have I noticed that how I sharpen some tools now varies somewhat from the techniques described in the book.
Regular readers will know I own a number of kukris, as well as other large blades. There was this period of ill-health where I spent my holiday budget on swords instead! Probably safe to say I have more large blades than the average prepper. Some of these have concave or convex edges, or in the case of kukris, both. Some of the techniques for sharpening you will see on some websites are not ideal for such tools.
I have, over the decades, acquired a large number of sharpening systems. The one I have found myself using the most recently is shown above.
I inherited this stone from a deceased colleague. It is most likely an Arkansas stone. The stone itself is about three inches long and a little under an inch wide. It is firmly mounted (glued?) to a wood tray about four and a half inches long by an inch and a half wide. This provides a very nice handle when using the stone. Beneath the base is the matching wooden lid. The stone has just been cleaned. I used a little washing-up liquid and some water to remove most of the grime. A little bathroom cream cleaner took of the remaining residue.

The Angle-er

The device below I call an “angle-er”. Having this nearby helps you visualize the correct angle while sharpening. This particular example has angles of 22.5, 15 and 30 degrees, which are pretty good choices for general usage. Some may prefer 17 or 20 degree and 35 degree angles. Once you have your tool close to the correct angle it is easy to vary it a couple of degrees if desired.
The beauty of this Arkansas stone is that I can move it instead of the blade. Unlike a larger flat stone this one is narrow enough that it can follow a curved edge, rather than attempting to grind it straight.
The method I use is essentially the same as was described for sharpening a machete, only instead of using a file I use a suitably sized stone.

Sharpening Styles

There are a number of ways that a stone or file can engage a blade. In the movies you often see a stone being dragged down a sword edge. Looks good but I have my doubts as to how useful this would be in the real world. Usually we want the sharpener to pass down the edge with some movement across the edge too.
The sharpening technique most often seen in “how to” guides is what may be called “push-sharpening”. If you were using a large, flat stone, you would move the blade as though you were attempting to shave the surface of the blade.
You will also see “push and pull” sharpening where the blade moves back and forth across the stone. I personally don’t use this method much and would not recommend it for the novice. Keeping the angle constant over the different strokes requires skill and it is easy to over-do things. If you can maintain an angle it is useful for quickly establishing a secondary edge.

Pull Sharpening

These days I tend to use pull-sharpening techniques. As you might expect, the blade moves in the opposite direction to push-sharpening. One of the advantages of pull-sharpening is that it is easier to move the sharpener across the blade edge, rather than moving the blade. This is useful when working on large or awkward blades but can be applied to small blades too. One does not need a workbench or similar for pull-sharpening. I usually sit on the sofa, watching the telly and using the advert breaks constructively.
Pull-sharpening is a good technique to use with small triangular-section sharpening stones. It is also suited to the oval stones sold for sharpening tools such as scythes.
When you use a leather strop you are using an action like pull-sharpening. If you did not you would cut the leather! If you are sharpening a tool using a high-speed device you should be using a pull-sharpening technique. This is so that if the high-speed wheel or belt snags the blade it will throw it away from you rather than at you!
One reason I like pull-sharpening is it is easier to view the angle of contact that sharpener and blade make. It is also easier to give both sides of the blade similar treatment without trying to use your non-dominant hand or run around the table.

Lubrication

Generally, I do not use lubricants such as oil, water or spit, for sharpening. An article I read, written by a professional sharpener, claimed that his experiments had concluded dry sharpening produced superior results. Much to my surprise, this article can still be found on-line! Generally I only apply water if a stone or sharpening system is particularly crumbly or high friction.

Pull Sharpening Technique

For example, hold your blade with the edge to the left. Place your sharpener at the desired angle, and push your sharpener right to left, moving it away from the blade spine or centre. A “pass” starts at the heel of the blade and moves towards the tip. A pass may take several strokes, depending on blade length and sharpener size. Make three to five passes on a side, then change. For the other side, you have two choices. You can flip your blade over so the edge is to the right and stroke the edge left to right; or you can turn the blade upside down and stroke the other edge right to left. Use whichever technique you prefer and better suits the tool being sharpened. Keep changing every three to five passes, reducing the number of passes as your tool approaches the desired sharpness.
Pull sharpening is a good technique if you are not that confident about your sharpening skills. It is easy to check and maintain the desired angle. It is also not a particularly aggressive technique, so you are unlikely to damage your edge. In fact, I recommend you try a very light touch as you make you strokes and passes. Let your stone trace the curves of the blade rather than trying to remove them. You will find that as the edge geometry takes shape, you will be able to feel when the stone or file is at the correct angle. Light pressure also lets your feel where sections of the edge have irregularities and need more work.
So far, the only problem I have had with pull-sharpening was with a particular multi-tool where the blade was unlocked and rather loose in the open position. Pull-sharpening tended to pull the blade closed. This would only have been a danger if I had wrapped my fingers around the grip while sharpening, rather than holding the back of the blade.
Pull-sharpening is a useful technique to add to your repertoire. The knives in my kitchen are kept sharp mainly by a butcher’s steel and a set of crock-sticks I have in a cupboard there. I maintain my assertion that crock-sticks (ceramic rods) are a very good way to teach yourself the fundamentals of sharpening. Crock-sticks are a form of push-sharpening, but pull-sharpening has improved my technique in using these too. Rather than just slicing down, I now use a lighter touch and let the stick surface trace alone the curve of the edge, keeping contact to the very tip and engaging the edge at a better angle throughout its length.