Back in the mid-'70s, the Buck 110 folder was considered a rather radical accessory. "Why the hell do you need that on your belt?" was the typical reaction of grizzled police vets upon seeing the innovative folder on the belt of younger officers. They would then pull a Stockman, Canoe or more often than not, a Barlow or electrician's knife from a pocket. Usually the knife was well worn and the blade was stained and showed many visits to a pocket stone.
But the concept of the folding tactical knife was here to stay, and design improvements came quickly, When Sal Glesser put a hole in the blade of a knife and Spyderco was born, things changed seriously. Until then, Buck, Puma, Victorinox, Wenger and a small handful of others reigned supreme in the "working" knife department.
The one-handed opening feature of the original Spyderco "Clip-It" was astonishingly simple. Prior attempts to accomplish this feature most often consisted of sheaths that kept the blade open slightly and "automatically" opened the knife when it was drawn. They were mostly pretty scary to use and there were lots of bad cuts among cops as they learned to use them. They were finally labeled "Verbotten" for duty use. Spyderco's groundbreaking design made us realize there was a different way to think about the concept of a truly one-handed knife.
The Tactics Of The Knife
A tactical knife is one that can be put to use quickly and will perform mightily in its intended role of "separating" one thing from another. Usually, this feat is accomplished with one hand.
We're not going to spend too much time on the specifics of too many of the breed, but rather concentrate on the "whys" and "what fors" of the family. It would take a book to cover what's out there, even if we just stuck to "what's new." Suffice to say that if you pay your money (between $50 to $250 or more), you can pretty much get something that will keep your kiester out of hot water. Also, they're all so damn sharp these days you 11 probably cut yourself while you're fiddling with it. Be advised.
In addition to the one-handed opening innovation, Spyderco did something else that rocked the boat -- Glesser put a pocket clip on that same funny knife with the hole in the blade. Amazingly, the force shifted significantly and everyone in the blade industry was left in the dust.
Suddenly you could lay your hand on your knife quickly and easily, open it and put it to work just as quickly, all with one hand. Sounds pretty "tactical" to us. All those Buck 110 folders quickly became antiques.
Fixing The Problem
Is a fixed blade knife a "tactical knife"? We'd say yes. Perhaps one of the original tactical knives is the Marine KaBar knife.
Are bayonets tactical knives? Perhaps not, but then a Ka-Bar was made for one thing -- to cut, and cut it did. A generation of Americans relied on their Ka-Bars to save their collective bacon, and the spirit of that knife has generated a slew of new ideas.
Look at any "tactical fighter" today and you can see some history behind it. Lots of times that history might be a Ka-Bar. But the only problem is, in today's world, it's not socially acceptable to carry 7" or 8" of fixed blade on your hip unless you want people to stare and cops to meet you at all hours of the day and night.
We must broadly interpret the idea behind the term "tactical knives," because what might be "tactical" for a schoolteacher might not be up to the job for a Navy SEAL or a beat cop in the "bad" part of town.
The knife industry is currently in the midst of a renaissance. There was only a small handful of quality factory makers to pick and choose from 30 years ago, but today, well, hold on to your wallet. Chances are pretty good if you can think it up, someone is making it and probably in several models, to boot!
From O1 or D2 tool steel, bone, antler, ivory, wood and micarta we've progressed all too quickly to a rash of numbers that are difficult to comprehend. "CPM440V, 410, G-10, 6060T6, Titanium and 440C" all describe fairly common knife components.
Tactical usually means high-tech, which means "highly technical," and for once the term is probably right. Steels, handle materials, blade materials and methods of heat treating, manufacturing and fitting are so far from the technology of only 10 years ago that to say we have a new generation of knives is to understate the obvious by several levels.
Today's knives, both folders and fixed blades, are the most rugged, bulletproof, ergonomically-designed tools that have ever been manufactured. For sheer value, money plunked down on a quality folder or fixed blade tactical knife from the likes of SOG, Kershaw, Al Mar, Gerber, Buck, Emerson, Spyderco, GT, Cold Steel, Camillus, Columbia River Knife and Tool, Microtech, Mission Knives, Meyerco, Randall, Benchmade or Timberline (to name just a few) will make you a happy person and the envy of all who see that cool tool riding in your pocket or on your hip. Not to mention it just might actually become indispensable in your daily life.
Recently, Gus Grissom's Mercury space capsule, "Liberty Bell 7," was raised from the deep after a 40-year sleep 15,000 feet down on the ocean floor. Inside it they found his Randall knife (the No. 17 Astro). After being cleaned up it was found to still be serviceable.
An astronaut might have used his Randall knife to pry his way out of his capsule, survive on a desert island or open his space rations -- all of which sounds pretty tactical. Perhaps this particular Randall No. 17 (one of two made) might rank as one of the most famous "tactical knives."
The moral of the story is that it's best to not get caught up in the term "tactical," but focus on the needs involved. If a 50-year-old Marbles Game Getter is your idea of the perfect knife, then it's pretty tactical for you. If your tastes run a bit more "new millennium," check out the newest offerings available over the counter. You're sure to find more performance than you could ever need.
Five Tips For Picking The Right Tactical Knife
With the trainload of choices out there it can be tough to choose just the right knife for your needs. In order to manage the chore, start by asking yourself. "What is the job at hand?" If you are honest with yourself, you'll often find you need much less knife than you might imagine.
The Working Knife
Looking for a daily, "working" folder to clip to your pocket, ride at your waist or drop into a purse? Perhaps something to open boxes at work, trim that recalcitrant plant by your front door or cut that old fan belt off the '63 Chevy.
What's your price range? For $40 to $50, peace of mind is available in the form of a Spyderco Delica. The stainless blade and synthetic handle make this knife virtually impervious to the elements. If you opt for the serrated blade, you could cut one of the Queen Mary's mooring lines if you had to -- all the while feeling quite tactical.
Rough And Tumble
Got more money to spend and maybe your line of work runs more toward the rough and tumble? Plunk down $50 to $150 and you'll find yourself with a Kershaw Blizzard, Black Out or Whirlwind, all with Ken Onion's "Speed Safe" opening feature. Once again, with high-tech steels and handle materials like Polyamide, these knives are tough as nails, perfect for use as hard-cutting tools.
Just as tough, or maybe even more so, might be a Cold Steel, Benchmade or Emerson tactical folder. Cutting-edge designs, serrated edges, curves and non-slip handles have created a family of folders suited to be at your side as you patrol the streets, open a parachute, dive to 120 feet or just open your mail.
Let There Be Light
Is lightweight your fancy? Al Mar's "Ultralights" define the breed. Weighing around 1 to 2 ozs., these slender, pocket-friendly folders have pocket clips, easy one-handed opening and are classically styled. Looking almost like fine jewelry, their good looks hide their tough demeanor.
Traveling is always a with knives. A standard-looking, classic folder without a serrated blade most often survives airport security checks. A bone-handled Case or Buck knife looks friendly to the uninitiated but can still handle serious cutting chores of the tactical variety.
A word of caution, however: Think hard before you take your 4" $200 tactical folder to L.A.X. assuming that you'll be catching that plane with it still in your pocket! The "less-than-4" blade rule" is not consistent. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. We lost a Spyderco Cricket to an airport cop who thought the serrations made it a "deadly weapon."
Don't Pick The Low Bidder
Whatever you do, don't scrimp. Foreign-made rip-offs are just that, and simply because it looks like a Spyderco doesn't mean it is. Especially if it's only five bucks!