06 May 2009

EDC Knives: Tactical Makers III

Gerber: Gerber Legendary Blades is another Oregon knife maker, owned since 1987 by the Finnish cutlery company, Fiskars. But Gerber has a long and distinguished history. It was started in 1939 by advertising man Pete Gerber, who began by reselling the famous knives of custom maker Dave Murphy. This is thought to be the first custom/commercial knife maker collaboration. Gerber has continued to work with custom designers throughout its long history. My first quality knife, purchased as a teen, was a brass-framed Gerber Folding Sportsman I, designed by Al Mar and based on the Ron Lake Interframe. I still have it, in fact.

Gerber Folding Sportsman I

Gerber has always done a very good job of staying relevant in ever-changing markets. Recently they have done this though innovation in multitools. They are the second leading seller of multitools after Leatherman. They also continue to market a range of knives, including many tacticals. The most famous is probably their folding version of the Applegate-Fairbairn combat knife, though their knives tend to be more sportsman-tactical in design than combat-tactical. Their products vary in price and quality, but overall they are good, if not exciting, knives. However, most current Gerbers do not stir enthusiasts much, due to their use of inexpensive (or at least anonymous) steels and other materials, as well as quite conventional designs.

Ka-Bar: Like so many venerable companies, Ka-Bar has long since been swallowed up by a large conglomerate, in this case Cutco. If you know anything about Ka-Bar, you certainly know their most famous knife, the Ka-Bar USMC fighting/utility knife, over a million of which were made and distributed to troops during WWII. It was introduced as a hunting knife in 1898 and was literally picked out of a catalog by the US military to replace the inadequate knives that troops originally entered that war with.


Ka-Bar still makes the USMC in Olean, NY, but it also manufactures several models of tactical folders in Asia that are highly regarded as excellent values. Their Warthog looks stubby and ill-proportioned, but in fact is highly functional, with good mid-grade steel and excellent G10 scales. For $18 retail, it is an amazing value. Ka-Bar’s Dozier, named after its famous designer, is also a great value and comes in a large range of colors and blade types. It is a classic, basic EDC knife. Many a knife enthusiast, when he needs a knockabout user, will reach for a Warthog or Dozier.

Kershaw: Kershaw Knives was started by former Gerber Legendary Blades salesman Pete Kershaw in 1974. Early knives were all produced in Japan and in 1977 Kershaw was acquired by Japan’s KAI Group. However, most of their knives are now produced in their Tualatin, Oregon, production facility.

Kershaw really did not become a major player until it introduced its first Ken Onion-designed models in 1998. These continue to be its best-loved knives, which is amazing longevity for a tactical knife model. The Onions are assisted opening knives, one of the first, and Kershaw bet big on their Speed-Safe assisted opening design. It was a very savvy move. Assisted opening knives have become hugely popular and their early commitment to this design has put Kershaw in an industry-leading position. They have continued to innovate and produce first-rate knives, from their least to most expensive models.

Award-winning Kershaw 1850 Tyrade with a bi-metal blade, combining the optimal qualities of tough 154CM steel for the spine and hard CPM D2 tool steel for the blade edge.

Next up: Tactical Makers IV