The 20 Best Knives Ever Made | Field & Stream

The 20 Best Knives Ever Made

Roughly 2 million years ago, a particularly bright specimen of Homo habilis needed to cut something and decided to invent the knife. We've come a long way since then. And for the last 40 years we've been experiencing something of a boom in the development of ever better knives. Here are 20 knives that I consider great - head and shoulders above the competition. —David E. Petzal

Busse Battle Mistress: The Battle Mistress is not a radical design. It has a conventionally shaped 10-inch blade, but it is nearly 2 pounds, and quite literally as sharp as a razor. This combination of weight, strength, and extreme keenness makes it unique. Do you wish to behead a hippo? Would you like to chop down a telephone pole? Perhaps you yearn to slice a redwood into sections? If you have the Mistress and a strong arm, you can.

Nate Matthews

Russell Canadian Belt Knife: In 1958 Dean Russell, a Canadian cutlery-store owner, designed a knife, and he chose Grohmann Cutlery in Pictou, Nova Scotia, to make it. His creation had an elliptical blade and a slightly offset, slender rosewood handle. He called it the Canadian Belt Knife, and it was pure genius. Russell's knife could gut, skin, or cape. It was comfortable in any hand and could be held in any position, and its pouch-style belt sheath moved with you. There are all sorts of copies of the Russell Canadian Belt Knife, mostly bad. But none of them are better than the original - a true work of edged inspiration.

Nate Matthews

The D.E. Henry Bowie: In the early 1960s, Daniel Edward Henry (like other smiths) began making reproductions of the Bowie knives that were produced during the mid 19th century. What was extraordinary was the quality of Henry's work. He was light-years ahead of everyone else in his grinding and polishing, fit, finish, and grace of line. Today, only old knife nuts know his name, but you and I are still benefiting from his genius.

Nate Matthews

Ka-Bar Marine Corps Fighting Knife: In 1943, the U.S. Marine Corps issued a knife to its fun-loving members. It was made by Camillus Cutlery Co. and stamped with their Ka-Bar trademark. Its equipment number was 1219C2. The knife had a 7-inch Bowie-type blade, a leather-washer handle, and a steel butt cap. It was one of the most successful pieces of military equipment ever. The Navy had its own variant called the MK-2, and envious soldiers tried to steal both.

Nate Matthews

The Leuku: One of the traditional knives of the Saami people who inhabit the northern forests of Europe, the leuku is a wide-bladed tool designed to serve as a hatchet, a machete, and a butcher knife. The handle is invariably made of birch, and the sheath swallows almost the entire knife. The leuku hasn't changed in a millennium. Kellam Knives' 7-inch carbon-blade version is a good one.

Nate Matthews

Leatherman Wave: The idea of the multitool is an old one, but it always involved attaching gimmicks to a knife, which resulted in a poor blade and a mediocre collection of tools. Tim Leatherman reversed this 25 years ago, using folding pliers as his platform and installing tools in the handle, creating something new and terrific.There are all kinds of Leathermans, but my favorite is the Wave. I keep one in my range bag and wear another on my belt. It's hard to list the jobs it can't do, and the knife does a dandy job of gutting a deer.

Nate Matthews

Loveless Drop Point: In the late 1960s, R.W. Loveless had the knifery world standing on its ear. Loveless had been making knives for money since the 1950s, and he eventually developed a model called the drop-point hunter. This small knife (the blade was under 4 inches) with a small hilt and subtle lines revolutionized the craft. The point was lowered, or dropped, below the spine, which made it easier to gut an animal without puncturing the innards. Up until then, knife makers used unsophisticated steels. Loveless selected a steel called 154CM, which was developed for use in jet-engine exhausts. Tough and almost rustproof, it took a fearsome edge that held forever. Within a few years Loveless supplanted Randall as the main force in custom knife making. The Bob Dozier-designed drop point (shown) is one of many Loveless-inspired designs.

Nate Matthews

Randall Model 3: Founded in 1937, Randall Made Knives is the largest and most famous custom cutler in the world. More than 20 Randall models exist, but W.D. Randall, who started the enterprise, always considered the Model 3 to be his best all-around design. During the early days of the custom knife boom, every aspiring smith copied the Model 3 for two reasons: It's more fun to re-create something beautiful than something that's ordinary, and Bo Randall's shop put out a lot of knives that were emulated. If it is not the most imitated knife in the world, it's close.

Nate Matthews

Ron Lake Folder: Compared to making a folder, building a fixed-blade knife is a walk in the park. Folders are the true test of a smith's skill as a machinist and designer. For over 30 years, Ron Lake has been one of the premier makers of folders. He developed the Inter-Frame concept: A steel frame surrounds the handle scales, enabling him to use relatively fragile materials like sheep horn without any fear of chipping. Lake knives also employ a Tail-Lock, a protruding lever at the rear end of the handle that locks the blade in place and then releases it. A great many Lake folders are fancy; all are tremendously strong, and the workmanship of them is unsurpassed.

Nate Matthews

Marble's Ideal: Webster Marble introduced the Ideal Hunting Knife in 1899, and it was arguably the first knife designed for the sport hunter. Marble's Ideal was, in fact, ideal, and made of excellent steel. Marble utilized a wide fuller, or groove, in the blade to save weight. The Ideal was around for a long time. It was made on and off from 1899 to 1974. Then it went into eclipse until 2007, when it was reintroduced. Old Ideals in good condition and with their original sheaths can be worth a lot of money; collectors will pay you $10,000 for some examples - not bad for knives that originally sold for $1.25.

Nate Matthews

The Ulu: The ulu is a distinctive knife of the northmost-dwelling Native Americans. It's a terrific chopper, scraper, and skinner. The crescent-shaped blade is 3 to 4 inches, and the handle rides directly above the cutting edge. Once you get used to it, you wouldn't trade it for all the blubber in Alakanuk. A lot of the commercially made ulus are souvenirs and aren't really working knives. If you want a genuine working ulu, get it from Knives of Alaska.

Nate Matthews

Schrade Uncle Henry: The Uncle Henry line - named for Henry Baer, Schrade's president - appeared in the 1960s. There were all sorts of Uncle Henry knives, but the one that won my heart was a three-blade folder of the type known as a premium stock knife. It had a saber, a sheepsfoot, and a spey blade made of stainless steel. It's one of those wonderful tools that works all out of proportion to its price and size. Until they closed their doors in 2004, Schrade backed its Uncle Henrys to the hilt. If you broke one or lost it, they would replace it. I lost about three a year but never had the heart to take Schrade up on its offer. I would just buy another.

Nate Matthews

Victorinox Swiss Champ: With 30 tools in its handle, the Swiss Champ is the ultimate evolution of the Swiss Army knife (the original had four blades). I've carried one for years, and I have used just about all its tools. People make fun of it until the day when they sheepishly ask to use it. Years ago, my car was broken into and the thief left a negotiable check untouched - but he took my Swiss Champ.

Nate Matthews

George Herron Model 6 Drop Point: George Herron began in the early 1960s as a Randall imitator, changed over to Loveless-style knives, and eventually developed a style of his own - which is imitated by everyone. What Herron brought to the game besides practicality was immaculate workmanship and a matchless eye for lines. The Model 6 is Herron's version of the drop-point hunter. You can see the Loveless influence, but the Model 6 is slimmer and far more graceful. While the quality of Loveless's work has varied, there's never been a Herron knife that wasn't perfect.

Nate Matthews

Schrade Uncle Henry: The Uncle Henry line - named for Henry Baer, Schrade's president - appeared in the 1960s. There were all sorts of Uncle Henry knives, but the one that won my heart was a three-blade folder of the type known as a premium stock knife. It had a saber, a sheepsfoot, and a spey blade made of stainless steel. It's one of those wonderful tools that works all out of proportion to its price and size. Until they closed their doors in 2004, Schrade backed its Uncle Henrys to the hilt. If you broke one or lost it, they would replace it. I lost about three a year but never had the heart to take Schrade up on its offer. I would just buy another.

Nate Matthews

Lone Wolf Knives Harsey T3 Ranger: I've never been a fan of folding knives for hunting. Very few of them are big enough, strong enough, or easy enough to clean to do much good, compared with a fixed blade. But this one is different. The drop-point blade is nearly 5 inches long, and the handle is big enough to make even me happy. The hinge is massive, and it comes in the most overengineered tactical belt sheath on the planet. If you have one of these, you don't need a fixed blade.

Nate Matthews

Schrade Uncle Henry: The Uncle Henry line - named for Henry Baer, Schrade's president - appeared in the 1960s. There were all sorts of Uncle Henry knives, but the one that won my heart was a three-blade folder of the type known as a premium stock knife. It had a saber, a sheepsfoot, and a spey blade made of stainless steel. It's one of those wonderful tools that works all out of proportion to its price and size. Until they closed their doors in 2004, Schrade backed its Uncle Henrys to the hilt. If you broke one or lost it, they would replace it. I lost about three a year but never had the heart to take Schrade up on its offer. I would just buy another.

Nate Matthews

Woodsman's Pal: This odd-looking tool goes back to 1941, when Fredrick Ersham put it on the market after 10 years of development. The original had a leather-washer handle and a D-ring guard like a cutlass. The modern version utilizes a hardwood handle and no guard; otherwise it is unchanged. You can use the Pal as a brush hook, machete, knife, shovel, and axe. There's little you can't do with it. It's affordable, light for its abilities, and indestructible. It and I are about the same age. I think it will outlast me by quite a margin.

Nate Matthews

Knives of Alaska Brown Bear: Technically, the Brown Bear is a cleaver, not a knife. Whatever. You can use it as a knife, or a cleaver, or an axe. Its 61/2-inch blade has a couple of ingenious touches: The front is rounded and sharp, and ahead of the grip is a hole for your index finger that lets you choke up on the blade. Stick your finger through the hole, and the front edge becomes an ideal skinning knife.

Nate Matthews

The Buck Model 110: Knife expert Bernard Levine put it perfectly: "The Model 110 was the design that would make [Al Buck's] knife company world famous and the trade name Buck Knife just as familiar (and as often misused) as Kleenex or Xerox." The 110 appeared in 1963 and was an instant sensation - a brass-framed, Macassar ebony-handled lockback folder that was strong enough to do the work of a fixed blade. Buck sold it with a black leather belt sheath because it was too heavy to carry in a pocket. Since its debut, there have been four major revisions to the Model 110, mostly to make it stronger, slimmer, and sleeker. In the past 45 years, Buck has sold 14 million.

Nate Matthews

Many of the knives in this story—like the Swiss Champ and the Leatherman Wave—are available in stores. Others, such as the D.E. Henry Bowie and the George Herron Model 6, are either out of production or custom-made. And you'll have to wait for yours or do some work to get one. There are older Randalls out there that you can see at Knifemakers Guild shows, or buy on eBay.

For the really scarce stuff—knives that came out of one-man shops—you are going to have to dig. The way to get one is to call as many custom-knife dealers as you can find on the Internet, tell them what you want, and see if they can find it. They can often pry a knife loose if the price is right. And that price will be fierce.

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