View Full Version : What is 'tactical'...???

09-08-2001, 08:48 PM
Les (and others),

I am new enough at collecting, and at knives in general that I am perplexed by the whole tactical scene. I'm not even sure I know what the word 'tactical' means in relation to knives. I understand it has given new life to Custom Knives. I don't 'get it'.

Some questions:

What started this trend and what were the earliest knives and makers?

Why are most of the blades tanto cut?

Black and dull finishes, plastic/composite handles--why?

Besides collectors, who are the purported end users?

Some of these questions may seem explanatory, but I'd like to hear from others.

Clueless in CT....


10-08-2001, 01:36 AM
Hey Les,

This looks like homework!!


Usual Suspect

Les Robertson
10-08-2001, 01:29 PM
Hi Ed,

I wish I hadn't thrown away that article Blade did on "what is tactical". You know it was a good article because the first two words were "Les Robertson"!

Just updated the web site so things are a little hectic here. Two orders from England this morning!

Ill get back to this one.


Dana Acker
10-10-2001, 02:59 PM
It will be interesting to see where this goes. In my mind, I always thought of a tactical knife as one specifically designed for tactical ie., Spec Ops, military, police, etc., field applications--what we used to call combat knives. The feudal Japanese blades, the Roman short sword, the Bowie, the WWI U.S. "Trench knife" (with the brass knuckles,) the Ka-Bar, the Randall Model 1 and others down through the ages all have enjoyed proven tactical usage. But as the style became more popular, and adaptable to folding designs, the designs and materials got hotter and more adventuresome. Then the "look" seemed to play just as big a part in what defined a tactical knife as did the application. Eventually, in my opinion, "the look" basically won out as far as what defines a tactical knife to most people. That's not by any means implying that knives with the tactical look cannot be worthy field pieces, or that some of what constitutes the look doesn't contribute to its effectiveness--ie., cutting down on light reflection. But I'm relatively sure the military and law enforcement users evaluate the worth of a tactical knife and define it quite differently than the wannabe's who want to carry a cool and/or intimidating looking knife, or the collectors who appreciate the originality and craftsmanship of certain maker's work, not to mention the worth. Maybe the style has developed its own inherent qualities--one might not know what constitutes the be all end all tactical knife, but one sort of knows one when one sees one.

10-10-2001, 09:33 PM
Here I'll save Les a little bit of Typing.......
I save all the interesting things I read on the forums, I guess I must have found this interesting :)

I'm not sure where it was posted, here or elsewere :rolleyes: : but this was originally posted by Les

" When I was interviewed by Blade Magazines a few years ago, this is what I told them a tactical knife possessed.
Better than average blade steel. Example today would be, BG-42, 440V, 420V, Stellite, Talonite.
On folders, the frame should be titanium, the bolster and pocket clip should be as well. The back strap should be removed and replaced with titanium spacers (this lightens the knife up as well as allows dirt, etc. to fall through.
The scales should be micarta (preferably linen, although rag can be utilized for extra grip. It works best if you bead blast the material), G-10 and the handle material of preference is carbon fiber. Both for asthetics and strength. Thong hole, serrated thumb ramp and ambidextrous thumb stud.
Some like to bead blast, however I prefer a 3M Scotchbrite finish on the titanium as the new owner can bring the finish back to new without aid of machinery or a knife maker. Additionally, I recommended satin finish on the blade, as a bead blast finish encourages rusting.Blade design should be appropriate for the intended job of the knife. Again, the grinding should be applicable to the intended job.
Fixed blades, again nature of the job and type of carry. Neck knives should feature BG-42, excellent steel, great for rust resistance. The bigger the blade the more impact and wear resistance is needed. This is why the trade off for this with rust resistance occurs. 4-6 inches you will notice a trend towards 5/32nd stock, for 6" blades 3/16th" 440V and 420V. As the blades get bigger 1/4" 7-10 inches D-2 and 3V are now the steels of choice. A-2 much like ATS-34 is last centuries technology and no longer provides the best results. Fixed blades should also be cryogenically treated for optimal results.For smaller blades, they should always be double edged. More than likely they will double as self-defense knives. If you don't know how to use a knife properly, then don't carry one or learn how to use it. A single edge tactical fixed blade is like a revolver with only 3 bullets in it.Larger blades should feature at least some part of the secondary edge sharpened. This will aid in removing the blade from an object should it go in so deep as to become "stuck". The sub-hilt on larger knives is useful for this as well. Additionally, the sub-hilt can be used to provide additional blade control for a larger knife. Of course a larger knife should have a thong hole. The maker should consider "indexing" points on the knife as well.
Guards should be either titanium or 416SS. Single guards are fine on smaller knives, however, in lieu of a secondary guard, there should be thumb serrations on the top part of the tang. Double guards should be on larger knives especially if they are double edged. Again, I prefer about a 400 grit satin finish on my blades. Choils are a good idea on larger knives as they allow the user to "choke" up on the blade. Remember, a big knife can do small knife chores, but a small knife cannot do big knife chores.
Carry systems have one thing in common...NO LEATHER. Someone spoke of elite units. When I was in the 101st Airborne a memo came down that you could no longer jump or rappel with a leather sheath. Of course anyone who has worked in extreme environments knows leather is worthless as a sheath material. It holds moisture (along with tanic acid), it stretches and cannot stop a blade from penetrating it.Kydex and Concealex are now the standards for today. Smaller knives will feature kydex or Concealex with a multiposition clip attached. This allows the owner several carry options.For larger blades, Kydex lined Cordura nylon sheaths. This will feature the SAS drop down style sheath. Multiple attachment points for military style LBE, and a thigh strap. There should also be a pocket on the front of the sheath, primarly for a smaller knife. This will afford the user an all encompassing package.
Gentlemen, tactical knives are not a fad and they are not going away.
Today's tactical knife has the "look". What is the look? I have just given you some of the basics of what should be included to give the knife the "look". Knives that have the look:Kit Carson Model 4 folderWalter Brend Model 2 FighterGreg Lightfoot 460 or 458 Magnum RJ Martin Quickening FighterBob Terzuola ATCF FolderRob Simonich ChinookAl Polkowski Kasper Pug, Companion or ScorpionJim Hammond Seal-TACThe list is long, but those above are some of the "classic" tactical knives. Guys I have spent years designing and using tactical knives. It's much like hunting knives. There are many different styles, however, there are really only a few that everyone agrees on that fit into the category with no debate. You can make any knife look like a tactical knife. Will this make it a tactial knife, technically yes. In the world of custom knives, no. How do you know if it is or isn't. One way is to see how quickly you get a year behind in orders. "

Hope It was ok to post this....


10-11-2001, 07:50 PM
Now I'm starting to 'get it'! :/

Thanks to Dana, Eric, and, of course, Les for the clarifications. I guess I was/am surprised at how powerful this segmented class of knife has dominated in the knife world. It's an aquired taste that I am starting to get a feel for. If what Les has said about the benefit of custom knives overall, because of this style, I'm pretty happy for it.


10-12-2001, 11:52 AM
Coop, I would say that the "tactical" segment was at the right place at the right time. The use of micarta, g10, carbon fiber and high quality steels allows these knives to be cheaper than their art knife brethren. These same knives made from Damascus and ivories. With factory knives hitting the $150-$200 and production house customs (like Sebenza's) hitting $275-$400 suddenly the $350-$600 dollar tactical is no longer priced so far away. For many it makes more sence to ante up the extra $150 and go from factory to custom.

Les Robertson
10-15-2001, 07:34 AM

Thank you for re-posting my thoughts on tactical knives.


You of course are again correct. Tactical folders in particular, at a less expensive (never say cheaper, nothing cheap about custom knives :D ) price. Allowed many new collectors the opportunity to purchse a custom folding knife.

While working on my MBA, I saw a commercial for Saturn Car Company. Their whole marketing campaingn was that they did not negotiate price. They had one price for each car and that was it.

As a dealer, negotiating the price was a part of almost every sale. So I had to figure out a way to sell at the makers price and at the same time eliminate the negotiations.

I was able to do this by placing large orders 5-10 knives at a time to get a discount. At the same time I was truthfully able to tell clients that I my agreement with the makers was that I would not sell below their retail price.

This form of business was adopted by most tactical folder makers and most of the dealers who sold the tactical knives.

This in turn stablized the market. Each tactical knife had an established retail price. So when it came time to re-sell or trade the knife, most custom knife people knew what the value was. This was especially true on the very well known models.

With Damascus and Ivory/Pearl, the price range for the materials alone can make it difficult if not impossible to create a "model" that sells for the same price each time.

That is why you need to do your homework when it comes to these materials. If you know what you are looking for you can find some real bargains out there.


Im glad to see you are developing a "taste" for these knives. Tactical knives are here to stay. Some people put too much emphasis on the fact I am so high on tactical knvies, due in large part to the fact that I am considered by many to be the largest custom tactical knife dealer in the US.

People forget that I had been a knife dealer for 9 years before I started selling tactical folders. Matter of fact prior to Septemeber 1995, you could count all the folders I had ever sold on one hand.

Tactical knives appeal to people on several levels. They are some of the most sought after knives in the custom knife market today. They are affordable.

In conjuntion with the factory who now seem to know how to only copy what the custom knife makers are doing. They are being introduced by the factories to a market that custom knives could have never hoped to penetrate on their own.

Couple that with retail prices in excess of $200-$400 for a factor

More buyers are coming to custom knives than ever before. With most leaving factory knives behind after they purchase their first custom knife.

The current issue of Blade Magazine has a article on the review of the Guild Show. Steve Shackelford interviewed me for that article. At the end of the interview he said to me "I keep hearing that the tactical knife craze is over, what do you think?".

I told him, first the guys that are telling you that are not making tactical knives. Consqeuntly, since they are not in the market on a daily basis their oppinion means nothing.

Next, what you are seeing is an optical illusion. When you go to my site or look at my table it appears that tactical knives must be slowing down as there are fewer and fewer tactical knvies available.

This is because the majority of the makers I work with have delivery times ranging from 9 months to not taking orders. Consequently, if I get 10 knives from Greg Lifghtoot or Kit Carson or Rob Simonich, etc. Eight of those knives are pre-sold and when I put the other two on the web site, they only last a few days.

Example, RJ Martin shipped 8 knives to me about 10 days ago. It only took 5 days and all of them had been sold.

Tactical knives are hear to stay. With the current world events, tactical knives will once again show why the continue to command center stage in the custom knife world.

Dana Acker
10-15-2001, 09:48 AM
Tactically speaking, what is the difference between "tacticals" and "fighters?" Some still distinguish between the two. Is the difference primarily looks? Looks and materials used? Are we (the knifemaking community) splitting hairs here?

For my own curiosity, could, for instance, the new Kabar combat knife be considered a tactical? Why or why not, in your estimation? Does the US military issue a tactical knife to any of its troops, elite or regular? Thanks for your answers--I'm sure they will help clear up some issues I've been pondering.

10-15-2001, 12:17 PM
Dana, we have to get into definitions a bit.

Tactics is "the science of maneuvering military and naval forces in accordance esp. with reference to short-range objectives" def 1 from Webster's New World Dictionary. It's been applied to a genre of knives the same way the word "custom" has been applied, it gives you a feeling for what they are trying to say, but the actual definition is not met. A simpler way to put it is "Strategy" is trying to win the whole war, "Tactics" is just trying to win that little bit that you are presently involved with.

In this case a "fighter" is a specialized knife designed for only one purpose, to dispatch the enemy. Can you use it to open a can or cut a line, sure, but that's not what it's designed for. A fighter is designed for balance and speed and to protect the hand welding it. A tactical knife is more of a utility piece, should you be able to use it to defend yourself, again, sure but that's not what it's designed for (well partially it is) but a tactical knife is really a camp knife gone military.(that's not entirely correct, but it's a fairly good analogy) It has to be able to do all the chores that a soldier or sailer may have to do. In addition, it has to be able to defend that person. So a tactical knife may vary by it's owners occupation. A fireman or EMT looks for something different than an LEO. Military Special forces can also break down their knife needs. Seal's want a waterproof knife. LRRP's or Ranger's may want a sentry removal tool, EOD nonmagnetic.

A Ka-Bar is a tactical knife.

10-15-2001, 12:55 PM
Good definition Jerry. That clears it up quite bit for me regarding tacticals as opposed to fighters.

Les Robertson
10-15-2001, 01:59 PM
Jerry has hit the nail on the head. The word "tactical" much like the word "custom" now describes an entire market.

It is no longer a mission specific term. Fighters can be tactical, but they can also be meerly a fighter.

Tactical refers more to the "look" and possibly the materials used.

Although, more and more makers are finally leaving 440C and ATS-34 behind for some of the more advanced steels as well as carbon fiber.

Tactical knives do not have the following:

Wood, Pearl, Ivory or other natural materials for handles.

Shiny blades

Damascus or Mokume

Non-Utilitarian file work

Ornate leather sheaths.

This is a good topic to re-vist. I guess because I have been around custom tactical knives for the last 18 years, I sometimes forget that not everyone knows what they are.


Currently, there is no custom knife that I know of that is being issued to any US Military unit. The main reason is, the Military will seldom go above $60. Think about the custom fighters you have seen for $60.

This is not to say that a unit does not get together and place an order for a specific custom knife. This is however done with the money for the individuals and is not an "issue" knife.

You have to remember, most guys in the military (elite units or not) do not know much about knives. Very few no anything about custom knives. This is due in large part due directly to the low pay military people receive.

Few if any can afford a really good knife.

Also, when you are carrying a M-16A2 and a .45, have 40 trained killers backing you up. These guys either have M16A2's, M203's or a M60. You have mortars and on call artillery. Not to mention at times you can have off shore artillery or close air support. Yes, at one time or another I called in all of this munitions.

You realize that if you have to use a knife for "fighting" something has gone really wrong!

The definintion for a fighting knife or a survival knife is...the knife you have in your hand when the fight starts or you enter a survival situation!

I can kill you just a dead with an Ice Pick, Cork Screw, #2 Pencil, Chop Stick, Scissors or a Screw Driver as I can a (Fill in the blank of your favorite fighting knife).

Remember it is not the instrument or utensil, it is the individuals ability to use that object that makes it leathal.

10-15-2001, 06:52 PM
Never when this vein of information opened, did I imagine the ore to be so rich!

It's all making sense. I'm thankful to all, for all the commentary. I'm now ready to subscribe to 'Soldier of Fortune'....;)

Les, you're right. There are many of us 'newbies' out here who needed this type of info. I'm one.


Les Robertson
10-15-2001, 08:39 PM

First, get a subscription to Tactical Knives not SOF. The issue that comes out in December will have an article on my new Vangaurd Knives! :D

Nothing wrong with being the FNG. Just try and learn from the mistakes of others or you may find yourself walking point, saying hello to "bouncing betty" and finding your self FUBAR. :eek:

If you don't understand what I just wrote, now get yourself a copy of SOF!

10-16-2001, 10:19 AM
now I'm scared, I understood all that :lol:

Terrill Hoffman
10-16-2001, 02:48 PM
Tactical is taking your wife out to dinner in time to get back for the start of Monday night football.

10-16-2001, 03:29 PM
Strategy is convincing her that monday is not the day to go out (at least until football season ends) :)