Many pop-culture elements throughout US history have originated from the United States military. The Ka-bar knife is one such icon that became a favorite of adventurers, survivalists, and knife collectors.
Are Ka-bar knives still issued?
No. The Ka-bar is not issued anymore. The OKC-3S bayonet manufactured by the Ontario Knife Company is the fighting knife currently used by the USMC. Even so, the design of the OKC-3S is inspired by the original Ka-bar.
So, what makes the Ka-bar a familiar name even 80 years after it was first issued in the USMC?
Let’s find out.
The History of the Ka-bar Knife
It all began with a general dissatisfaction about the World War I-era knives like the Mark I trench knife used in hand-to-hand combat.
Here are the reasons.
Firstly, manufacturing the Mark I trench knife was expensive. Secondly, the brass knuckle guards made it unsuitable for a comfortable grip while fighting. Also, the relatively thin blade of the Mark I was prone to breakage while using it as a utility tool. Quite simply, it wasn’t designed for activities like cutting wires or for opening crates.
The military sent a request to the top knife makers for a design that would serve as a fighting and utility knife. On December 9, 1942, Union Cutlery submitted the Ka-bar to the United States Marine Corps.
To make the blade longer and stronger the original design was extensively modified. The handle was also redesigned to offer a better grip. 1219C2 was the name of the initial prototype and it underwent extensive trials. The Ka-bar was officially adopted by the USMC on November 23, 1942, as the USMC Mark 2 Combat Knife.
And the legend was born!
The Ka-bar went into mass production and it was used in the US army, navy, and the coast guard as well. After the second world war, its popularity rose due to the combat experience of the veterans and the positive field reports. The knife was also produced for the civilian market and became immensely popular as a hunting and utility knife.
Subsequently, it was used in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Iraq War. The legends of the Ka-bar’s unfailing performance in brutal combat scenarios survive even today.
Originally, the production of the knives was through various companies. The Camillus Cutlery Company was the first manufacturer. Other brands like Union Cutlery Co., Robeson Cutlery Co., and PAL Cutlery Co. also produced the knife.
However, the Ka-bar trademark was used by Union Cutlery Company in 1923. The brand’s history goes back to 1898 when Tidioute Cutlery Company started selling cutlery in Pennsylvania. In 1909, it was renamed Union Cutlery.
Image Links: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ka-Bar_USMC_fighting-work_knife_(4121915791).jpg
How did the Name “Ka-bar” Originate?
The official story behind the name “Ka-bar” is related to a letter and a Kodiak bearskin that the company’s President Wallace Brown received in 1923. It was from an Alaskan hunter. The hunter thanked the company for producing a knife that allowed him to kill a wounded bear that attacked him.
This gave the management an idea to reflect the special craftsmanship and strength of the knife in its name. The Kodiak is one of the strongest bear species and the word bear is often produced as “bar”. The resulted in combining the two words together and creating the trademark name Ka-bar.
Another legend associated with the knife states that the term BAR is a short form of the Browning Automatic Rifle. So, the term ka-bar stands for “Knife Attachment, Browning Automatic Rifle”. Even though this legend isn’t supported by any facts, some people still believe this legend.
How the Ka-bar is Made?
The knife is made through a series of special processes. Check out some of the steps below.
- The blade of the knife was punched out from a larger metal piece by the process of blanking. In a heavy-duty blanking press. In later stages, metal was also laser cut to give it the right shape.
- The tang of the blade is stamped to mark the manufacturer’s name, country of production, and a unique item number.
- The blade passes through a special heat treatment process by placing them over a heat-treating belt oven.
- The final stage of the heat treatment process involves tempering. This is done in a walk-in oven for several hours to toughen the blades.
- The blades are grounded based on the purpose of use. The flat blades have sharper edges while hollow ground blades can withstand more lateral stress.
- The handle is specially finished by compressing the leather washers in the tang. Then they are shaped and colored. Finally, the butt cap is fastened on the washers.
- Each knife undergoes a series of testing processes to check its hardness and perfection. Vigorous field tests are also conducted before introducing any new designs in the market.
Image Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/capcase/43573035881
Are Ka-Bar knives still good?
Make no mistake about it. The original Ka-bar is still a great knife for cutting or hacking through almost any obstacle.
However, the 7-inch blade length isn’t a practical option for a modern utility knife. Most outdoor knives come with a shorter blade length of around 3.5 to 5-inch. They are lighter and easier to handle.
Note, the Ka-bar is a fighting knife by design. The clip point blade makes it an effective weapon for slashing and stabbing. So, it isn’t the best option as a survival knife.
One of the main reasons is the leather handle. Since leather isn’t durable, the handle will deteriorate with prolonged outdoor use.
Besides, Ka-bar uses a partial tang or narrow tang. Since the tang decreases in width after the blade, it’s not as robust as a knife with a full tang. That limits its use as a utility knife.
However, there are a few modern versions of the Ka-bar that have overcome the limitations of the original model. They are a more practical choice as an outdoor utility knife.
While the Ka-bar isn’t the best choice as an EDC tool, it’s a legendary warfighting weapon. Many modern knives follow the basic design patterns of the Ka-bar.
If you want a fit-for-all combat survival knife, the Ka-bar won’t disappoint you. Just make sure that you keep its limitations in mind.
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