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Ka-Bar BK9 Combat Bowie Review

Not being in the habit of using knives with much more than a four inch blade, the KA-BAR BK9 is not one most that know me would expect to see me using.  However, I have been on a quest to find a “big” knife for certain “situations.”  To me, a 4 inch blade is getting big, and although I use them a lot, I much prefer to use a 3 ½ to 3 ¾ inch blades that are thin–somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/8 to 3/32 of an inch.  I can baton a 2 inch diameter section of deadwood to get to some dry tinder with my little knives, and I can cut a somewhat larger sapling for shelter-building tasks.  If I had to do a lot of that–section larger logs or build a more permanent shelter–it might be prudent to own at least one good chopper.

In the context of an always on your person survival knife, the little ones get the nod, in my opinion, and I do always have at least one on my person.  In terms of bush-living, camping, or when it is likely that I will stay out overnight, intentionally or otherwise, a tool more on the industrial level makes a lot of sense.

I have tried the small hatchets and a couple of tomahawks, but having swung a full-sized axe since the early seventies, I have never been completely comfortable with the short-handled axes.  The axis of the handle of an axe can produce a counter-torque which would make a glancing blow that much more likely – and the shorter handles put the axe’s head that much closer to my own.  Having much less mass than a full-sized axe-head, it is not going to bite like one either.  A small consolation if we’re talking about our shins or skulls, but a contributing factor to the likelihood of the glancing blow with respect to wood.  Call me ineffectual, but you will not induce me to argue that point of safety – they are not for me.  The search continues.

I have a machete– a 12 inch Tramontina–which was a gift from a friend who has considerable experience with them.  I am just learning how handy the shorter ones can be as I have used it comfortably and to good effect, finding it to be light, accurate and effective.  If I need to split wood, I am not swinging it, rather using a baton, which provides greater control and allows me to safely produce smaller kindling.  I tried a Golok design and found the mass-to-length ratio, in particular, to make me even less comfortable than the short axes do.  The handle was yet another thing that did not fit me well at all, especially for swinging a blade.  I can’t say a thing bad about this tool, but I would not subject it to regular or prolonged beatings in hardwoods, particularly if they were especially dry.

Putting things into perspective, the BK9, as a wilderness tool, looked like it might fit into this niche of a brutish, but handy cutter.  The one I used for this review is actually a refresh of the design since Becker Knife and Tool begain working with Ka-Bar Knives in releasing this product line.  It is a substantial knife with a large and comfortable handle, shaped appropriately to keep it under control without fatiguing the user.  There is just enough mass ahead of the handle so that it can contribute to effective cutting without feeling as if it could easily get away from me.  While it is considerably thicker than the Tramontina, that additional mass seems to make up for the reduced length.  It is not laborious to lift the knife repeatedly to chop, and its mass works well with gravity by helping to impart more downward force.  It is actually quite effective.  I would not want to have to chop above chest-level, however, or in any position where I were not borrowing from gravity to add to the blade’s momentum.  Don’t get me wrong – I intentionally use the word “mass” so you are thinking in terms of how physics is helping do the work and not about how much it “weighs” on your hip or pack.  At 16.8 ounces, it is about 35% heavier than the Tramontina but 29% lighter than the Wetterlings axe shown.  Even as I loosely use physics terms to rationalize my thoughts on and preferences toward the BK9, much of what I have stated so far is still subjective.  I love my little Wetterlings.  It’s cute as a button and does good service.

In short, I really like the BK9.  Not being terribly interested in big knives previously, I am a little surprised at just how much I like it.  It is well made and nicely finished.  It has several useful features that makes it one tough tool.  In a bit of a chopping test, I took a dozen easy swings with each of the aforementioned tools on the same log and got basically the same results.  The Tramontina used more wrist than arm during the strike, and the Wetterlings required more force from the arm.  The BK9 fell between the two previous techniques.  Nothing was really better or worse about either–just a bit different.  I would not, however, try to use the Wetterlings or the BK9 to slice a trail through green vegetation nor would I use the Wetterlings to make 8” wide shakes.  In looking at the BK9, I believe its ideal environment is in deciduous forests or similar environments north of the Equator.

The BK9 measures 14 11/16 inches overall with about 9 and 3/16ths of an inch from the point to the handle–very little of which is not sharpened.  The handle is just about 5 ½ inches long with a  nicely-contoured and hand-filling grip.  The pronounced beak at the butt is a boon in terms of keeping the knife under control while swinging, but I would ask for a forward lanyard hole to keep it from rotating free of your fingers in case of a miss or a “cut-through”.  The lanyard hole is conveniently large enough for a loop of paracord, allowing quick removal or replacement without untying a strategically placed knot that is already just right.   

Using a micrometer at several points I measured the blade at .190 inch thick, coating and all.  Descriptions on seller’s sites claim a “quarter inch,” but happily it is not, as it would then be too heavy.  The blade is just shy of 1 7/8 inches tall.  The flat grind goes about 1 ¼ inches up the face of the blade and starts with a somewhat robust secondary bevel.  The secondary bevel seemed rather coarsely ground but I could detect no degradation of the edge through use, and I inadvertantly stuck it in the mud several times while working with it.  The clip-point is not hollow, providing for a strong tip, even with the swedge.  There is a flat-topped bolster protruding from the butt which could be used as skull crusher or a baton boss, but I used it as a baton boss for this review.  The blade material is good-ol’ 1095 Cro-Van steel.  In my opinion,  1095 is an appropriate steel for just about any knife–particularly for a big one such as the BK9.   

The scales are a solid, hard plastic or polymer dubbed “Grivory” by Ka-Bar, which appears to be embedded with a fine substrate–possibly glass fibers.  They are very comfortable, appropriately smooth,  and not tacky or textured, which should prevent blisters or hot spots form forming.  The scales are held on with cap screws and captive nuts set into hex-shaped recesses.  In essence, the grip set-up is uncomplicated and robust.

The sheath is a woven synthetic, possibly nylon and is well-stitched and seemingly durable.  Inside is what looks like a polypropylene liner.  The sheath has several eyelets, a belt loop and loops on the back for Alice or malice clips.  The front pocket is roomy and has an elastic compression band on it with a hook-‘n-loop-secured flap.  Inside a secondary pocket I found a 5 ¼ inch long skeleton-handled knife which I did not have the time to really look over, but I would be stuffing the pockets with a small diamond hone and other goodies anyway.  The overall appearance of the BK9 is very nice with no irksome little burrs or cosmetic flaws anywhere.  The price for the package is very reasonable and presents a good value, in my opinion.  Granted, the Tramontinas are very inexpensive and my Wetterlings are about half the cost of the BK9, but I think the BK9 brings something to the table the others don’t—the ability to serve multiple functions with one tool.  

I slung the BK9 with a Baldric rig made by my good friend John.  He is a bit larger than I, so the fit wasn’t the same for me as it was him, but the setup seemed to be the way to go.  The knife slapped my knee a bit, but choking up the Baldric would have prevented that.  I tested the knife on a bit of blow-down from a recent storm.  In conjunction with a decent baton, one could easily chop and hew a permanent shelter from what was available on the ground.  This is a tool that one might take along if on a longer-term wilderness outing or keep in camp or on the homestead for heavy chores.  As large as it seems at first, it actually handles well and is quite portable for the amount of work it can do.  After chopping some “vees” in the downed log, I drove it point first through and batoned along to the next notches.  Further hewing to level the flat I had just cut offered good control while allowing me to remove some sizable chips quickly and accurately.  I did not attempt any “detail” work, but believe that with the shallow flat grind and a bit of effort focused on refining the edge, it would do just fine at typical notching and fuzz stick making.

I would not attempt a spoon with it but would not hesitate to carve out a canoe paddle with it, starting with sectioning a plank from a 6” diameter log.  One could conceivably use it as a froe and split off enough shakes to make a shelter roof without wearing out knife, baton or user.  With the spine against one’s knee, and moving the work-piece, it is very handy, as is driving the point into a log and dragging inner bark across the edge.  Using the spine to pound fibers loose is about like having a hammer, so learning a few other new techniques appropriate to the 9” blade would be a worthy investment of time.  I don’t know how it works at removing the lids from 55 gallon drums or breaching doors,  but I will say that it is a worthy wilderness tool based on my experience with it outdoors.

Becker Knife and Tool has long been a recognized and respected name in the knife-making industry, as has been Ka-Bar Knives.  It’s good to see such venerable forces in the industry come together to re-introduce the BK line of knives back to the market.  The various models have always been well received by outdoors people, and I believe with some of the improvements that have been made since the original line, they will be even more appreciated.  The new Ka-Bar BK9 Combat Bowie certainly lives up to the reputation of the brand by offering a strong, robust tool with great edge geometry for various tasks.  The girth of the handle slabs has been reduced slightly, allowing for a full and positive grip on the knife. The knife handles well and has no problems tackling large jobs, yet is light enough not to become a burden on the trail.

The BK9 has an MSRP of about $115.00 (U.S.), but with some judicious shopping, you can pick up a new one for around $75.00.  Throw in the lifetime warranty, and like other Ka-Bar offerings, the user gets an extreme amount of value for their dollar.  With Ethan Becker’s design experience and Ka-Bar’s execution of that design, however, you get more than just good value.  You get great performance hard to beat at any price!!


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