This is our list of the best knives ever made. Many of the knives here—like the Swiss Champ and the Leatherman Wave—are readily available online. Others, such as the D.E. Henry Bowie and the George Herron Model 6, are either out of production or made by the best custom knife makers in the world. 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—the very best handmade 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 best 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.
1. The Marble’s Ideal
It’s difficult to imagine a more classic-looking hunting knife than this one. DLT Trading
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. —D.E.P.
2. Russell Canadian Belt Knife
This fixed-blade knife does it all—gut, skin, cape, you name it. Grohmann Knives
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 hunting 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. —D.E.P.
3. 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 handmade knife nuts know his name, but you and I are still benefiting from his genius. —D.E.P.
4. Ka-Bar Marine Corps Fighting Knife
This 7-inch Bowie-style knife is one of the most successful items of military gear ever. Amazon
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. —D.E.P.
5. 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 (show above, middle) is a good one. —D.E.P.
6. 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. —D.E.P.
7. Emerson CQC-7BW
This folder—one of the coolest knives out there—opens at crazy-fast speeds. Emerson Knives
Developed for elite fighting units, Ernest Emerson’s custom CQC (Close Quarters Combat) tanto-bladed folder helped kicked off the knife world’s tactical revolution. One of his most famous design features is the Emerson Wave, a protruding notch on the blade spine that, when caught on the corner of a pocket as the knife is drawn, allows for nearly instantaneous deployment. —T. Edward Nickens
8. Busse Battle Mistress
The Battle Mistress is not a radical knife 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. —D.E.P.
9. Loveless Drop Point
A knife this beautiful does not come cheap. Expect to drop nearly $1,000 for one. A.G. Russell
In the late 1960s, R.W. Loveless had the knifery world standing on its ear. Loveless, one of the best custom knife makers at the time, 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. —D.E.P.
10. 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, all of the best knife makers 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 custom knives that were emulated. If it is not the most imitated knife in the world, it’s close. —D.E.P.
11. 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. —D.E.P.
12. 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. —D.E.P.
13. 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 folding knife 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. —D.E.P.
14. 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. —D.E.P.
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15. Spyderco Salt 1
You really shouldn’t let a nice knife rattle around in the boat bilge, bathed in saltwater for weeks on end. But you could with Spyderco’s Salt series. The blades are made of H-1 steel comprised of .1 percent nitrogen instead of carbon, so it is nearly impervious to rust. The Salt 1 sports a bluntish tip to protect waders from gashes, there’s an oversized thumbhole so you can open the knife with gloves, and the metal fittings are treated for rust prevention. And the trim folding design fits in wader pockets. $125; spyderco.com —T.E.N.
16. DiamondBlade Goddard Traditional Hunter
If it were not for the way in which it’s forged, this would just be another well-designed drop-point hunter. But it is like no other. In 2007, Charles Allen, DiamondBlade founder, introduced a series of hunting knives tempered by a process called friction forging, which he adapted from welding technology. The process brings steel under tons of pressure and thousands of degrees of heat, resulting in a blade that is harder, sharper, and tougher than anything else. The knives are so sharp that the original sheaths had to be redesigned to keep them from cutting through. This particular knife was designed by master smith Wayne Goddard, and it is a revelation. —D.E.P.
17. 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. —D.E.P.
18. Nessmuk Knife
Nessmuk was the pen name of George Washington Sears, a diminutive man who canoed the Adirondacks and wrote about it in the 1880s. Sears was probably the first outdoor writer to pay serious attention to the development of light gear, and the tools he carried reflected it: a small, double-bitted hatchet, a two-blade jackknife, and a fixed blade of his own design that has forever taken his name. It’s a thin 5-inch blade with a pronounced skinning curve and a dropped point, no hilt, and an antler or wood handle. If you’re looking for a good one, the Bark River Lil’ Nessy (shown), available through A.G. Russell Knives, is a splendid example of Nessmukery. —D.E.P.
19. 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. —D.E.P.
20. Kershaw Blur
One of the world’s best knife designers, Ken Onion, created a new one-handed opening system that involves a thumb stud and torsion bar designed under tension, which allows the blade to open instantly once the thumb stud or flipper is pushed. The Blur now comes in numerous blade shapes and a bewildering array of handle colors and materials. The guts of the system remain the SpeedSafe opening mechanism, which opened a new world of assisted opening knives whose outer limits has yet to be reached. —T.E.N.
21. 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 6 ½-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. —D.E.P.
22. The Buck Model 110
Buck has sold millions of the Model 110 in the 50-plus years since it was introduced. Buck Knives
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 lock-back 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. —D.E.P.
23. DiamondBlade Summit
DiamondBlade builds knives through a proprietary forging methodology it calls “friction forging,” using D2 steel that is differentially heat-treated so the spine has a Rockwell hardness in the 38-42 range for toughness, while the edge is super-hard at a Rockwell of 65-69. The Summit is a 3.75-inch drop point blade with a bit of a belly for skinning, and it is not easily surpassed as a hunting knife. —T.E.N.
24. Morakniv Bushcraft Black
The Swedish knife maker helped set the bushcraft knife standard with this capable, affordable beast. A 4.3-inch-long blade of black DLC coating is 3.2 mm thick, so it’s tough enough to drive through sheet metal, baton through a hickory sapling and still carve a finely figured feather stick. The handle is a super grippy textured rubber, and the blade spine is ground for use with a ferro stick. The only knock is that it lacks a full tang, but this is still one tough knife. —T.E.N.
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25. 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. —D.E.P.