Selecting a Handgun

When choosing a handgun it is easy to be swamped in opinion. If you wish to be logical about your choice, there are several strategies that you can adopt.

Choice of Model

Hollywood, video games and even some writers often tell us one model of pistol has a superior performance to another, despite that in real life the two may use the same ammunition! The chambering of your handgun is probably the first aspect that you should consider. Once this decision is made, you can select a model based on size, mass, capacity, budget and other factors.
Ideally, you want an automatic pistol of about 7″/ 180mm overall length. As a primary weapon for concealed carry, you want a weapon of small bulk. As a secondary weapon for overt carry, a weapon of low weight is desirable, since you probably have a rifle or shotgun and enough other things to carry. Hence the recommended handgun is of compact/ sub-compact size.


If you are shooting someone in defence of your life, you want to make a big, deep hole in them. Yup, size does matter!
The optimal pistol round for this is the .45 ACP. The .45 ACP is compatible with a semi-automatic action, allowing for easy and fast reloading. There was a time when it was hard to find a .45 that was not a large, single-action weapon with a single-figure magazine capacity. Now we have a variety of compact and sub-compact double-action weapons, with useful magazine capacities. Thanks to US military aid, .45 ACP ammunition is reasonably easy to find in many parts of the world.
The standard load of the .45 is subsonic, making it a good choice for general military applications that may include the requirement for weapons to be suppressed. A .45 round that fails to mushroom will often make a wider wound channel than many 9mm and other medium-calibre rounds that do mushroom. .45s that do mushroom make very big wound channels.
The Textbook of Small Arms, 1929 notes:
“Rapidity of fire is an essential in pistol shooting, and though the double action of a revolver may well be ignored when it is considered as a target arm, it is of the highest importance when the pistol is considered from the active service point of view as a weapon…
“The value of the calibre of self-loading pistols and revolvers has been much obscured by theory, but practice of recent years has amply proved that small calibre plus high velocity, although developing many foot-pounds of energy, yet lacks stopping or shocking value. There have been many attempts to substitute a high-velocity cartridge of ·38 calibre, as a Service equivalent to the traditional ·455. In practice it has been found that the small calibre sometimes fails to stop its man and that the large-diameter leaden plug of the ·455, moving even 300 or 400 feet a second slower than the high-velocity, small-calibre projectile, is yet far more effective. Recent experiment has, however, developed a new experimental ·38 cartridge [.38/200 of 200gr] whose efficiency is, so far as ballistic tests can ascertain, not less than that of the ·455.
A hit with a ·455 anywhere literally [sic] knocks an adversary over. This quality of efficiency depends to some extent on the massive soft-lead bullet and the relatively low velocity rather than on any inherent magic in the calibre, for the ·455 or ·45 self-loading pistol firing a lighter nickel-covered bullet at a higher velocity cannot be depended on to produce equal shock effect.
The efficiency of the ·455 revolver cartridge is due to combination of the large calibre with the soft material, the mass, and the relatively low velocity of the projectile. These combine in such a way that the adversary experiences in his body the maximum development of shocking as distinct from penetrative effect. This is just what is wanted in an active service revolver. ”
It is interesting that nearly a hundred years later, this passage remains a good account of the issue, superior to many things written since. I am well aware some readers will get distracted by the semantics of some of the terminology used. Perhaps the most significant change since this was written has been the creation of jacketed hollow-point (JHP) ammunition that will feed reliably through an automatic. This has narrowed the gap in terminal effect between large-bore revolvers and self-loaders. Advances in bullet design intended to improve the performance of light, medium calibre, high-velocity bullets are even better applied to heavy, large-calibre rounds.


You may regard logistic considerations over effectiveness. The most common combat pistol round is the 9mm Luger, also known as the 9 x 19mm or 9mm Parabellum. This is the NATO standard pistol round, but its military and civilian use dates back to the 1900s. It was the round of the German, and other armies, for two world wars. The majority of sub-machine guns are chambered for this round. There are very few countries in the world where 9mm Luger cannot be found.
The medium-calibre 9 x 19mm is not as effective as the large bore .45, although many try to convince themselves it is. If you have very small hands, a 9mm model may offer a slimmer grip without compromising magazine size. Guns like the Berretta M9/92 are too big for roles other than as a primary overt weapon. As for 45s, a compact or sub-compact model is preferable.
In nations that have received Soviet or Chinese military aid, the 9mm Makarov round, aka 9 x 18mm, may be more readily found than the 9mm Luger. The 9mm Makarov is designed to be the most potent load that can be accommodated by a light, blowback-action pistol. Velocity and bullet weights are lower than the more powerful 9mm Luger. The 7.62 x 25mm round may also be common in countries that use Soviet or Chinese weapons. Most Soviet sub-machine guns, and their Chinese copies, are chambered in this round. In handguns, it is usually found in the TT33 Tokarev/ Type 51/ Type 54 and a few other Warsaw Pact designs, such as the Czech vz.52. Some of these weapons are still in use in certain parts of the world. The round is effectively identical to the 7.63mm Mauser round, so may be encountered in countries where the C96 Mauser “Broomhandle” was popular. The 7.63mm Mauser/ 7.62 x 25mm/ 7.62 Tokarev is a high-velocity round noted for its high penetration and flat trajectory. The small calibre creates a narrower wound channel than many other combat pistol rounds. W.E. Fairbairn was familiar with the round from his time with the Shanghai police. He suggested that the round was more effectively used if aimed at shoulder level, where the high-velocity round was most likely to shatter bones and create secondary missiles. This is fairly good advice for any pistol round.



The gun you have with you will always been more effective than the one you left at home because the latter was inconvenient to carry. There are some lightweight, low volume automatics in 9mm Luger. The 9mm Luger round requires a locked breech. Many smaller automatic pistols are simple, blowback weapons and therefore use cartridges other than the 9mm Luger. If you opt for a pocket automatic, the best choice is a weapon in either .380 ACP or 9mm Makarov. Pocket pistols in 9mm Makarov are fairly rare, but many duty weapons, like the Makarov PM/ Type 59, may be compact enough. A wider choice will be found in .380 ACP, also known as 9 x 17mm, 9mm Short or 9mm Kurtz. The .380 is slightly weaker than the 9 x 18m. Like the Makarov round, it is well suited to small, blowback pistols and is a better choice than smaller calibre options such as the 7.65mm/.32 ACP and 6.35mm/.25 ACP. Having less energy and momentum than a 9mm Luger or .45 ACP, hollow-point ammunition in .380 or 9 x18mm may be less reliable. 


Many small-frame models of revolver such as the Smith & Wesson J-frames and Colt Detective weigh under a pound, but only have five or six shots. Small medium-calibre revolvers in .38 Special, .357 Magnum and 9mm Luger are preferable to smaller-calibre weapons in .32 or .22. The 9mm Luger has the edge over the .38 in velocity, but the merit of revolver rounds is that they can use rounds that would not reliably feed through an automatic. The .38 and .357 cases can be loaded with wide-mouthed, soft, malleable, hollow-points, ideally of 200gr or more, that are likely to be more effective than any medium-calibre round an automatic can fire. If fired in an emergency from within a pocket, a pocket revolver has no slide to catch in the pocket lining. For similar reasons, models with concealed or internal hammers are preferable.

Special Purpose

.25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9 x 18mm and .45 ACP are all subsonic in standard loadings. The smaller rounds are sometimes preferred since they allow the use of a smaller weapon and suppressor.
Most .22 rounds are subsonic when fired from pistols, so are also suited to suppressed applications. .22 weapons are useful for target practice or for foraging. .22 revolvers often offer the option of switching between .22LR and .22 Magnum by exchanging cylinders. Some .22 revolvers can chamber more than six rounds.


Other than the exceptions already suggested, revolvers are not recommended. After more than a century of military service it is finally being accepted that claims that revolvers are more reliable than automatics are more theoretical than practical. Possibly, only in the instance of a misfire, does a revolver offer an advantage. This is offset by the greater ease in reloading and the usually larger ammunition capacities. For a given calibre, an automatic tends to be lighter and more compact than the equivalent revolver. You may be adept at quick wheel-gun reloads on the range, but under the stress of real combat it is better to keep dexterous actions as simple as possible.
Rounds such as the much hyped .40 S&W, .375 SIG and 10mm Auto are not recommended. These are all medium-calibre rounds, most loads trying to emulate the performance of the .357/125gr. Essentially just faster 9mm Luger. Unsurprisingly, performance is inferior to the .45. Logistically, ammunition in these chamberings may be difficult to find outside the US.
If a big deep hole is better, why the .45 ACP and not rounds such as the .44 Magnum or .50 AE you may ask? The answer is that we need control as well as power. For many shooters a quick follow-up shot with a .44 Magnum or similar may be difficult. No round can be guaranteed to always neutralize a threat first hit, or to always hit, for that matter. Another reason for using the .45 ACP is that most of the loads that exceed the .45 ACP in power are primarily revolver loads. For many reasons, not least its mass and bulk, the Desert Eagle is not recommended as a defence gun. The .45 Long Colt and .44 Special are more manageable, but usually found in revolvers, so the .45 ACP remains the best choice.
Both “Attack, Avoid, Survive” and “Survival Weapons” have advice on the use of firearms.


Recently I have been reading about the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union. Finland could muster around 300,000 soldiers, while the Red Army was to commit more than a million men. The initial assault of roughly 120,000 infantry supported by 1,500 artillery pieces, 1,400 tanks and roughly 1,000 aeroplanes was faced by Finnish forces amounting to 26,000 infantry with a mere 71 artillery pieces and 29 anti-tank guns.
Finland had 32 tanks and 114 aircraft, which like their artillery were mainly aging and obsolete. Some of the Soviet equipment was equal to any in the world. The Red Army expected operations to last ten to twelve days. The Finns had other ideas. As one Finnish soldier astutely summarised the situation on the eve of the war: “We are so few and they are so many. Where will we find the room to bury them all?” (Finland in the Winter War 1939-1940 by Nenye, Munter and Wirtanen p.64
The following may interest readers.
The caption reads: “A Finnish patrol resting in Viena (White Sea) Karelia. The men have built a traditional rakovalkea. This kind of fire is made from two long, deadwood trunks, which are placed on top of each other. The fire is then kindled in between the two logs. This helps to keep the fire off the ground, and provides intense, near smokeless heat for hours with no need to add more fuel. (SA-kuva)”

Pec-Knives and the Gerber Strongarm


The pectoral position is a very useful position to carry a knife. It is accessible with either hand, and if the wearer is seated or prone. It can be readily utilized to cut a jammed seat harness, or when rolling on the floor with an aggressor.
This topic came up in one of my discussions on soldier’s load. Modern servicemen have a lot of gear to carry, and many do not believe carrying multiple knives is warranted. If you are going to carry a single fixed blade knife, then the weak-side pectoral position is a good place to place it. This influences the form of the “pec-knife”. Pec-knives are discussed in Survival Weapons, and their use in Crash Combat. The more general discussion of knife use for defence in Attack, Avoid, Survive are also relevant.
You sometimes see quite large knives carried in this position, but for most of us an overall length of less than eleven inches is more practical. There is a wide choice of fixed blade knives in this size range. Harder is finding a knife of sufficient thickness and robustness. If this is going to be a soldier’s primary blade then it must stand up to some rough treatment.

Gerber Strongarm

A few weeks back I encountered the Gerber Strongarm. This just seemed to shout “I will be a great pec-knife!” Just before Christmas I got an email telling me the variant I wanted was back in stock. Money was short, but I had had a rotten day and a few minutes before midnight I gave into temptation and ordered a Strongarm. It helped that the price listed was about 30% less than most other stockists! Would you believe it? I looked the next day and the price had jumped a big chunk. I had ordered just in time! A few days later the Gerber Strongarm arrived. I wish I had had the money for another, but as it is I may run out before the end of January. Buy books please, people!

The Sheath and Extras

An important component of a potential pec-knife is the sheath. This mode of carry is most convenient with the knife inverted and the pommel downwards. Obviously it is necessary that the knife is fully secure in this position, but still capable of being easily drawn when needed in a hurry. The sheath of the Stongarm has a large clip that engages a depression on the hilt. Note that this releases with an audible click, which may affect your tactics in some scenarios. In addition to the clip, the smaller-width hanging strap has a retention strap with a popper. The latter feature is one of the few I have issue with. This is a little tight, the slight increase in grip width my lanyard has added making it sometimes fiddly to close. The length of strap past the popper is also on the short side, and may be difficult to pull on if wearing some gloves. It may be necessary to sew an extension onto this part.
An important feature of this sheath is that it is ambidextrous, so the knife can be inserted securely with the edge either to the left or right. This is useful for a pec-knife, it being considered to be prudent to carry your knife with the main edge outwards, away from your throat.
A couple of accessories are included in the box. I have already mentioned that the smaller-width belt hanger has the retention strap. This affixes to the sheath by a strap and popper. A larger width belt hanger can be attached to the smaller by poppers. Both belt hanging loops have poppers, making the easy to detach or attach without rethreading a belt. A device that allows the sheath to be mounted horizontally, as is a device allowing easy attachment of the sheath to MOLLE/ RALS systems.

The Knife

The knife itself comes with either a semi-serrated or plain edge, and is available in either black or a more practical coyote brown shade. The blade is 4.8 inches long, and 3/16th thick. Overall length is 9.8 inches and weight is given as 7.9 oz. Blade material is 420HC stainless steel with a dark grey coating. Grip is a rubber coating over glass-reinforced nylon. There is a resemblance to Gerber’s LMF II knife. The LMF II is heavier (c.12 oz) and costs more. I have not handled a LMF II, but the Strongarm seems a better choice for the pec-knife role.
The butt of the Strongarm ends in a blunt triangular point that might serve for applications such as window breaking. This feature is thoughtfully provided with a lanyard hole. I know I have said this before (yesterday actually!) but it really is surprising how many expensive knives are not provided with provision for a lanyard or other features to reduce the chances of loss.

Making a Chest Rig

There are plenty of good reviews of the Strongarm out there, so I will concentrate on specifics of rigging it as a pec-knife. This is actually very simple. Obviously, you can mount the sheath directly on your webbing, but what if you are not wearing such? The Strongarm is potentially a very useful knife, and you may want it when you are not in full tactical gear. I have seen the Strongarm described as a cross-over” knife, good for urban and wilderness.

Take about two metres of paracord. I know frugality is a virtue, but it is prudent to have a little too much rather than start again. The Strongarm sheath has a number of “screwholes” down each side. Pass one end of your paracord through a hole near the sheath mouth, and the other through a hole on the opposite side, second from the end. This should be made clear from the photos. Experiment with what arrangement suits you personally. Pull both ends of paracord so the middle makes a snug length across the front of the sheath. Now take both lengths, hold them together and tie a single knot in both. This can be an overhand knot but a figure-eight may be more comfortable when worn. You should have created a large loop with the knife sheath threaded on it. This loop should be large enough to pass your weak-side arm through, the knot sitting somewhere between your shoulder-blades. Take the long, free ends and form them into a second loop using the knot I call a “slip-bend” in my free book on knots. Place your other arm through this loop and tighten it by sliding the two parts of the slip-bend apart. The Strongarm sheath should be hanging just before your weak-side armpit. If you have the small-width belt hanger still attached this may be used to anchor the sheath to a belt, if you wish. Note the snap-link, added by a magnus-hitch. The lanyard can be attached to this when greater security is wanted. It also proves useful for holding other items. I later relocated the snap-link to below the sheath, where it helps keep it in position.
A chest-rig for a knife can cost tens or hundreds of dollars. This one is simple, lightweight, comfortable and costs just a couple of metres of paracord. If you like this, throw some of the money you have saved this way!

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 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 puukot (plural of “puuko”). 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. Puukot 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.

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.”

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!
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.
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.
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.
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 batoning through material.

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.


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.


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.


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.

New Machete Grip.

Surprisingly, machetes have featured infrequently in this blog. Possibly this is because much of what could have been said is already covered in “Survival Weapons” and “Crash Combat”.
One of the virtues of machetes is that they are mass-produced in their thousands, allowing you to acquire a reasonable quality tool for a very modest outlay. Sometimes the sheath costs more than the knife! Some auction sites that no longer sell “knives and bayonets” still sell machetes. A typical machete may be a fraction of the price of a smaller survival knife, yet prove more capable and more useful. In addition to new items, you may find some bargains second-hand or army surplus. Certainly, there are machetes being sold for hundreds of dollars, but it is unlikely that ten times the outlay will get you a ten-times better tool. The price of machetes is such that you may find yourself owning several, and distributing them among various kits and caches. You may have one in your garden shed, another with your bug-out bag, and one with your vehicle, plane and/or boat. If you are a bit of a kit tinkerer, this gives you an excuse to try out a variety of models without wasting large amounts of money.

Adding a Barong Handle

I have spent the last couple of days fitting one of my machetes with a new grip. The new grip is modelled on that of a couple of barongs that I have.
Machetes sometimes attempt to escape their user! You might cut at a springy branch placed under tension by other growth. Such an event can knock a machete right out of the user’s hand and send it flying into the brush. It is rather surprising that more machetes do not feature retention features such as knuckle bows and wrist loops. Many models don’t even have a hole in the grip for fitting the latter!
The barong-style handle is functional as well as cosmetic. The bird’s head shape facilitates both retention and manipulation.
My grip is made from teak, which once served as a chunk of laboratory bench top. It was shaped with a variety of hand-tools, with the occasional use of a Dremel-tool and an electric drill. Once the sanding was complete it was treated with several applications of linseed oil. The metal collar was made from a strip of soda can. Just above the machete you can see one of the original handle halves. The only modification made to the blade was one corner of the tang was reduced and rounded.
Flip-side view: Some dust still in need of cleaning off. I changed the cord for a longer piece with an extra knot, allow use as both a wrist loop and a thumb loop. The grip part could be slimmer, but I err on the side of caution when carving.

Sharpening a Machete

Currently I am sharpening this up, and it now has a reasonable edge on it. Most newly purchased machetes need some sharpening. You will be tempted to try sharpening it with a Dremel or bench grinder, but it is possible to overdo this. Machetes are made of softer metal than most smaller knives, and do not need a fine edge. The “micro-serrations” of the edge actually help the machete bite on vegetation. This means all you really need is a medium-sized “bastard” file. A round file is useful for major work on tools with a concave edge, such as kukris and billhooks. In the field you can maintain the edge with your usual sharpening tools. My EDC includes a diamond-impregnated card, and my kukri has a chakmak and small stone with it. If planning a trip where you expect your machete to see lots of use, it is worth packing a file in your camp gear.
Hold the file at an angle of around 22.5 degrees (for example) to the blade flat and push away from the spine. The noise the file makes on the steel will give you clues as to which parts of the edge need more work. Sharpening sometimes involves touch, sound, and/or sight. Half a right angle is 45 degrees and 22.5 half this again. Fold the corner of a piece of paper twice and use this to check your angle.
I have been sharpening with the machete across my knees, edge away from me. You could probably make a rig with a couple of supports at 22.5 degrees. The width, flatness and relatively straight edge of a machete favour this arrangement. With the machete resting on the ramps, edge up, a file held horizontally will be at the correct angle. Now I have an edge at the correct angle it is easy to file either side while holding the blade vertically. 

Musketeer Cloak for Survival.

Another night where the only good stuff on TV I have seen before. I remembered that the BBC series “The Musketeers” had been added to box sets. I think I had missed the early episodes when they were first shown, so I downloaded episode one and started watching.
As it turned out, I remembered quite a bit of the first episode, so must have started watching part way through the first one. Good fun, however.
According to some sources, a cloak with arm-vents is called a “mandelion”. This is often also defined as being waist-length. The cloaks in the series appear to be around knee length.
The costumes of the musketeers in this series is interesting. It features a pauldron on the right shoulder and is mainly leather. Think “Mad Max” meets Dumas! No idea as to the historical accuracy, but looks good. I wonder how uncomfortable it was in the sunnier scenes.
What did grab my attention this watch through was the design of the cloaks worn by the musketeers. According to some web-sources there were at least two different cloaks used. A lighter weight, light blue cloak was used in “parade” scenes, a heavier, darker blue in other scenes. In some scenes the cloaks appear to be hooded. In the episode set in the “Court of Miracles” Portos wears a brown cloak sharing some design features with the musketeer cloak. Cloaks with similar features appear worn by other characters in later episodes.
The distinctive feature of the cloak is that it has two long arm vents so the cloak resembles a long tabard. These are usually shown open, but the long line of buttons suggest they can be closed so the cloak can be worn in a more conventional fashion. Presumably these slits can be partially unbuttoned too. Unlike the tabard, the cloak has a full length opening down the front. This too has a long line of buttons, and the fold-over of cloth suggests when closed it may share some of the features of a double-breasted greatcoat. While it is hard to make out, the rear part of the cloak may have a waist-height buttoned vent for use when riding. As one might expect, the collar of the cloak is substantial and can be turned up to protect the neck. In warmer conditions the cloak is shown worn on the left shoulder, with a cord passing under the right armpit.
Some patterns. I suggest the rear side of the side pieces be sewn to the back part. The wearing of a rapier seemed to necessitate a second side vent. A cloak could be constructed by joining a semi-circular back piece to a rectangular front section. In such an instance it may be prudent to continue the top of the front section back to create a vented yoke, rather like a trench coat.
The merits and possibilities of a cloak for survival have been discussed on previous posts. One advantage is that it is sufficiently roomy that any of your other cold weather items can fit beneath it. For a modern version two-way zips might be utilized. For the arm vents I would suggest poppers be used, allowing a closed vent to be more easily opened. Seventeenth century clothing often featured closely spaded buttons, so a modern cloak may need less poppers than the buttons used on the costume items.

Help for Time Travellers.

In my novella, “Anatopismo”, one of the characters expresses surprise that a community has electricity. The other character is surprised by this reaction and responds “Why not? It is just wire and magnets.”
I was reminded of this passage since I have started reading “How To Invent Everything: A Survival Guide For The Stranded Time Traveler” by Ryan North (2018, Riverhead Books) ISBN 978-0735220140. A common theme that occurs in this book is that many of humanity’s inventions and discoveries could have been made centuries or even millennia before they were. Sometimes an idea was adopted in one field, but it was a considerable time until it was applied in others. For example, wine was being pasteurized centuries before it was applied to other foodstuffs, such as milk.
How To Invent Everything will probably prove interesting to many readers of this blog, but particularly those interested in long term scenarios. It is packed full of diverse, useful information in an easily readable style. There are a few points of contention. The beer recipes given are rather vague. The comments made about the cloudiness Egyptian-style beer are probably out of date. Staphylococcus are not necessarily harmless. The author also describes yeast as “animals”, which is a pretty basic, avoidable mistake, and makes me wonder about other inaccuracies. You should probably double check any facts from the book before you get into any arguments, but that is a sound policy anyway.
On the topic of verifying information, the book is worth reading just for the comments on the scientific method:
“This is the more accurate theory of combustion that we still operate under today, but we could still be wrong.
Or, more likely, we could still be more correct.
Here’s how you produce knowledge using the scientific method.
An example: maybe you notice (as per step 1) that your corn didn’t grow well this year. For (2), you might ask, “Hey, what the heck, everyone, how come my corn didn’t grow well this year?” You might suspect the drought affected the corn’s growth (3), and so (4) decide to grow corn under controlled conditions, giving each plant different amounts of water but equal amounts of everything else you can think of (sunlight, fertilizer, etc.). After carefully doing that (5), you might conclude (6) that a precise amount of water grows the best corn plants, and (7) let your farmers know. And when your corn still doesn’t grow as well as you want, you might explore (8) and wonder if there’s more to growing great corn than just making sure your corn isn’t thirsty.*
The more ways a hypothesis has been tested, the more likely it is to be correct, but nothing is certain. The best case you can hope for by using the scientific method is a theory that happens to fit the facts as you understand them so far: science gives you an explanation, but you can never say with absolute certainty that it’s the correct one. That’s why scientists talk about the theory of gravity (even though gravity itself clearly exists and can cause you to fall down the stairs), theories of climate change (even though it’s obvious our environment is not the same one our parents enjoyed, or that you’re enjoying right now), or the theory of time travel (even though it’s a fact that you’re clearly trapped in the past for reasons that cannot have any legal liability assigned).
Note that the scientific method requires you to keep an open mind and be willing—at any time—to discard a theory that no longer fits the facts. This is not an easy thing to do, and many scientists have failed at it. Einstein* himself hated how his own theory of relativity argued against his preferred idea of a fixed and stable universe, and for years tried in vain to find some solution that reconciled them both. But if you succeed at following the scientific method, you will be rewarded, because you will have produced knowledge that is reproducible: that anyone can check by doing the same experiment themselves.
Scientists are often seen as turbonerds, but the philosophical foundations of science are actually those of pure punk-rock anarchy: never respect authority, never take anyone’s word on anything, and test all the things you think you know to confirm or deny them for yourself.”


The Soft Core Bag.

Today I am going to introduce what I call my “soft core bag”. This is not a “bug-out bag”, although it could be included in the contents of one.
I have a number of bags and rucksacs, and there are certain items that I would invariably want in one of I was carrying it. Stocking each pack with necessary items is not economically practical, however. Perhaps, I thought, I should have a box containing the necessary items and potential alternatives. This was part of the solution, but I quickly realized many items could be packed together so they could easily be grabbed in one go.
I drew on the lists given in the previous post to select the current loadout.

  • Top left: A small first aid kit. This supplements the items I carry in my skin-level EDC.
  • Directly below the first aid kit in a dark brown camouflage bag is a rain poncho.
  • The white plastic bag beside the poncho contains a toilet roll.
  • Middle top can be see a bag of boiled sweets and a pair of warm gloves. These are sitting on top of a dark green all-weather blanket. You can see some of the shoelaces that are tied to the grommets of this. I intend to add a pair of silver space blankets.
  • Top right, a red and black shemagh. This is a spare/ additional shemagh since I am often wearing one these days.
  • Bottom centre is my Advantage-camouflaged boonie hat.
  • Sitting on the boonie hat is a plastic bag carrying a small fire kit. This has two butane lighters, two nightlights, a 35mm film container filled with Vaseline-soaked cotton wool and a Fresnel lens.
  • Below the fire kit and to the left is an ACU-patterned headover which can serve various roles including as warm headgear.
  • Bottom right is a one-litre Playtpus waterbottle. Sitting on it are a shoelace, hank of general purpose string, hank of green paracord and some braided fishing line wrapped around a piece of plastic (yoghurt carton).
  • Not shown: two supermarket carrier bags. I wear photochromic spectacles. If you do not, a pair of cheap sunglasses may be a prudent addition.

The whole collection packs into a draw-cord bag, as shown. Note snap-link added to one carrying cord. This bag is lined with another plastic bag to provide better water resistance. The headover is folded into a pouch and used to contain some of the smaller items. This pouch, in turn, is placed inside the boonie hat. Most of the pack contents are soft and crushable so no great genius at packing is really needed. Put the blanket in first and add the other contents. Put your water-bottle away from your back and ensure your poncho rides near the top of your bag.
Packed, but without water, the soft core bag weighs about 1.3 kg. The volume of water I will carry and which water-bottle I will carry will vary with climate and anticipated conditions.
The soft core pack is easily stuffed into a larger bag, immediately adding a collection of very useful items. On its own, it is a good bag to have for trips where you do not want to be bothered by a bag. It is light and low-density, and makes a pretty good pillow.
A quick glance inside the first aid kit. Items in this kit are consumed in preference to those in the skin-level EDC. Vaseline is good for chapped lips and other ailments.
The soft core bag probably has more cordage than it needs, but I had some hanks already made up. This is a nice example of paracord carried using hojo-jitsu configuration.