10+ Things That Make a Tactical Knife From Guns & Patriots by Ernest Emerson 02/01/2011 What is a Tactical Knife? Every Company seems to make them. Everyone seems to carry them. Or do they? Well, first let me say this: I’ve heard some people (Knifemakers/Knife Companies) say the following, that there’s no difference between a “regular” knife and a “Tactical Knife.” I ask them this question: Is there a difference between a “Combat Handgun” and a “regular” hand gun? Damn right there is. But unless you know what those differences are, you probably can’t tell the difference. It has a barrel, a handle and it shoots, just like every other gun. However, there are differences and to the educated or experienced, these subtleties can literally spell the difference between life and death. There is also a difference between a “Tactical Knife” and a “regular” knife. Let’s take a look. 1. Design When NASA asked me to design a knife for the International Space Station they gave me a list of tasks the knife would be used for, including some that were very specific and unique. I designed the knife from the very start, to fit those needs. When the US Navy asked me to design a rescue knife for their special boat units (SBU), they gave me a list of tasks the knife would be required to perform. I designed the knife specifically to address those tasks. The request for this knife came as a result of a tragic accident in which a number of U.S. Marines drowned in a helo crash. The rescue knives the SBU units had were “regular” knives that literally self destructed as they were trying to cut the trapped Marines free. 2. Purpose of the knife The purpose of the knife will dictate what knife you should get. A door kicker will need a different knife than a detective. What is a tactical knife? Let’s ask. Is the knife a weapon? Is the knife a utility tool? Is the knife an emergency rescue tool? Is the knife an entry tool? Depending on your job requirements you may need two or even three knives - not to carry, but as part of the gear you need for specific operations. These are some of the questions you should ask yourself before making your decision and purchase. An undercover officer going into a potentially hostile environment will have completely different requirements than a SWAT officer. I have made several knives for undercover agents that used turquoise and pastel greens for the handles, so the knives did not have a “cop” look to them. In a couple of instances, the bad guys didn’t even take the knives away after patting the cops down. Were these “tactical” knives? Ask the agents. 3. Ergonomics Ergonomics is one of the most important aspects of Tactical Knife design. Without getting too technical, knife ergonomics are simply this: The knife must feel comfortable in your hand. Now, I’ll get a little more technical. It must feel comfortable when you use it and handle it under stress. There must be no pinch points, sharp corners or unnatural feel to the handle. Now, it must feel that way in both a forward grip (blade coming out of the top of your closed fist) and in a reverse grip (blade coming out the bottom of your closed fist). This is where we separate the knife designer from the graphics designer. There should be no convoluted contours or sculpturing of the handle. Watch out for over-pronounced finger grooves which will force your hand into a pre-fixed position. There should be a place for the fingers to go that should not force them. In addition, the knife should not be too large or too small for your hand, but should be just right. A good designer can do this. Another option is to make small, medium and large versions of a particular knife model. The bottom line is that your knife should feel like it fits you, in size, shape and weight. One of the greatest compliments I get is when someone picks up one of my knives, smiles and says “It feels like it was made for me.” 4. Size As I have already stated, any design must be purpose driven. Therefore, the size of the knife should be reflective of the task it is designed to do. All too often I have seen knife makers make what they believe to be the “Ultimate Cop Knife.” Then proceed to show me a 15 inch long Bowie knife with a leather sheath the size of Tennessee to carry it in. The whole rig weighs in at least two pounds or more. “It’s got a steel butt so they can hammer with it.” Nice knife, but it’s either going to sit in a locker or on the officer’s mantel. The size of the knife has to be such that the officer will feel comfortable carrying it. Then he will carry it. Giant folding knives or humongous fixed blades may indeed have their place, but a cop’s never going to use it if every time he puts it on, it causes him to tilt to one side. My recommendation for general use and carry? A folding knife with a blade 3 to 4 inches long and an overall length of 8-9 inches. 5. Materials There are two categories, blade and handle. Starting with the blade, I would recommend a good quality stainless steel. What is good quality? Quite frankly, the knife industry is so competitive that any reputable knife company is now using good to high quality steel. Just avoid any knives that have Pakistan or China stamped into the blade and don’t go for cheap. If the knife is only $3.98, it’s made in Pakistan or China, no matter what it says. One last word on steels. Forget the hype about Super Steels. It’s just marketing spin to convince you one company is better than the other. Remember, I’m an industry insider. The best knife steel ever used is plain old W1 tool steel and it’s been around for a couple of hundred years. It’s the stuff your files are made of and they cut other steels. Bummer is that it rusts.