SHORTY KA-BAR U.S.M.C. FIGHTING KNIFE, shorter version of the legendary Ka-Bar, 51/4" blade, 91/4" overall, leather sheath MUST BE 18 OR OLDER!!
When it comes to combat knives, high-tech is not a requirement. Hard-core, however, is a must.
For nearly 70 years, the king of battle blades has been the World War II-era Ka-Bar.
“It’s the ultimate field utility tool,” said John Stitt, Ka-Bar Knives Inc.’s president and chief marketing officer. His storied company — then known as Union Cutlery — produced more than 1 million Ka-Bars during World War II alone.
“It’s not modern by any stretch, but Marines, soldiers and sailors still love it, buy it and use it,” Stitt said.
That’s not just corporate pride talking. The iconic Ka-Bar is arguably the finest fixed-blade combat knife in the world, experts and aficionados agree.
Weighing in at 0.7 pound, with a menacing 7-inch, straight-edged, clip-point blade made of 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel, the Ka-Bar is virtually indestructible — if a tad unwieldy.
It features a distinctive, oval-shaped leather handle that’s formed by stacking 22 slotted cowhide leather washers over the knife’s rectangular tang and separated by five grooves. The discs are placed under pressure to produce a solid, shockproof, slip-proof unit that’s fastened with a pinned-on butt cap.
Stamp the letters USMC and Ka-Bar on the blade and you’ve got a true American legend that’s good for chopping, hacking, digging, pounding tent stakes, driving nails, skinning and, oh yeah, destroying your enemy.
“It worked in World War II and, by God, it still works today,” Stitt beamed.
But while Ka-Bar owns the brand, the knife design belongs to the government. Stitt said that in 1942, just after the start of the war, Ka-Bar submitted a fighting knife design to the Marine Corps in hopes that it would become “general issue.” The World War I-era trench knives then in use were deemed unsuitable to the demands of Pacific island-hopping Marines.
Ka-Bar’s initial design was rejected and modified, and the knife later was enthusiastically approved by the Marine Quartermaster Department.
Production quickly got underway, and as the war raged on, demand for the new knife was insatiable. When Ka-Bar couldn’t keep up, the government assigned several companies to create similar knives as “supplemental pieces,” Stitt said, adding that the Army, Navy and Coast Guard also soon adopted the knife.The combat/utility knives became so popular — and prevalent — that virtually everyone attached the “Ka-Bar” name to the knife pattern, regardless of who made it.
“All of them became known as Ka-Bars,” Stitt said.That’s been a source of pride and problems for the company ever since. Over the years, several manufacturers have produced Ka-Bar-like knives for the government, including the Ontario Knife Company, today’s producer of the government-issued Marine combat knife.
“It’s funny. Marines who served in Vietnam will tell you straight up that they were issued Ka-Bars during that conflict,” Stitt said. “They were … World War II surplus.”Ka-Bar hasn’t produced a gov¬ernment-contracted blade since 1945. “We have a quality level we want to maintain,” Stitt said.
“We’re not trying to get the low-bid business.” The company is still churning out its legendary blade, reintroducing production of the Ka-Bar in 1975 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Marine Corps and since producing hundreds of thousands, Stitt said.
That includes commemorative models used in ceremonies, such as retirements or promotions. Marines and others shell out up to $100 to own one.The reason is simple: The Ka-Bar is dependable, indestructible and good for just about any task demanded of it.
And it scores lots of swagger points.
Chris Lawson is a former Army Times managing editor and now works as a civilian communications specialist for the Army.
- You’ve no doubt heard of the Ka-Bar’s “blood groove” channel that runs halfway down the blade. Despite what your fire-breathing first sergeant told you, it’s not “to help release the vacuum caused by plunging your knife deep into the enemy’s chest.” In fact, it’s a “fuller,” used to lighten and strengthen the blade.
- Ka-Bar got its name thanks to a testimonial letter sent to the company by a fur trapper in the 1920s. The trapper wrote, in very broken English, that he’d used a Union Cutlery knife to kill a wounded bear after his gun jammed. All that was legible of his scrawled writing was “k a bar,” Stitt said. So honored were corporate executives that they used the phrase as their trademark, Ka-Bar. In 1952, the Ka-Bar name had achieved such fame that the company changed its name to Ka-Bar Cutlery.
- Before storing your Ka-Bar, company officials say, treat the blade with a light coat of oil to ward off rust. Try neatsfoot oil, honing oil or boot oil.