The Legendary KA-BAR USMC Knife – Sliced, Diced and Reviewed

My first exposure to the glory of KA-BAR was almost twenty years ago. A friend of the family was cleaning out her garage and found her husband’s old knife from his time in the Marines. She offered the old blade to me and I gratefully accepted it.

What would any sensible thirteen year old boy do?

That knife lasted through the entirety of my rough and tumble teenage years and into my early twenties.

It unfortunately was lost about ten years ago over the side of a boat, but I’ll never forget the abuse I put that thing through and how it always seemed to be asking for more.

Specs and Buying Options

Total Length: 11.87″ | Blade Length: 7″ | Blade Thickness: 1.65″ | Steel: 1095 Cro-Van Steel | Weight: 0.7lb | Made In USA

Ka-Bar Full Size US Marine Corps Fighting Knife, Straight
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Build Quality

Quality is key when purchasing a knife, and KA-BAR does not cut corners. Pun intended.

The knives are produced in Olean, New York (you can visit the production factory) on a world famous production line.

Metal blanks for these knives are punched from high quality steel. The USMC KA-BAR is produced with 1095 Cro-Van steel.

Before knives leave the factory they undergo a series of tests to guarantee they will meet the standards that KA-BAR demands.

 

My Experience With the KA-BAR

The guy I inherited the knife from was a Marine, a hunter, and a craftsman. He used his USMC KA-BAR exhaustively for a lifetime, but he expired before the knife did.

When I acquired the knife its handle was black from sweat, oil, and god-knows-what-else. The leather had been worn to a smooth finish but the grip of it was heavenly.

Besides the overall quality and durability of a knife, the handle is the most important feature for me. If I can’t maintain a good and secure grip, I can’t feel comfortable wielding a razor-sharp blade.

This is where the USMC KA-BAR really shined. It fit my hand perfectly and felt balanced during use.

 

Impressive Blade

Ka-Bar Blade Tip

Blade quality is excellent, the steel is 1095 Cro-Van Steel (different but not worse than actual 1095 steel) it goes through a one-hour heat treatment and is then tempereded in a walk-in oven.

The blades are ground next to get their edge; the USMC KA-BAR has a flat grind which makes it better able to handle stress.

Its blade can be plain edged or half serrated, and my experience was with the plain edged variant.

The blade required minimal care while in my use. An occasional sharpening, some oil here and there, and it was good to go.

If I had a complaint about the steel it was that it rusted fairly easily. It’s probably my fault for abusing my KA-BAR with a demented intent to test what it was capable of.

The rust was easily removed with a bit of baking soda paste, steel wool, and elbow grease, but it was still prone to accumulating the stuff.

 

Bomb Proof Handle

USMC Handle grip

The handle of this knife is probably my favorite feature of the KA-BAR. It’s a bunch of crafted leather washer’s fitted together on the full-tang blade, compressed to a solid and tight fit, then sanded to a perfect grip.

The leather has grooves cut into it and is then dyed.

I did have an issue with the eventual degradation of the handle. I know, I was just going on with how much I love that handle but stay with me here! 

About five years after the knife came into my possession the leather washers started to feel a bit loose. They would slide and bend individually before eventually crumbling in my hand. That’s probably my fault; after all, that knife put up with the worst of my wild and careless teenage years.

USMC handle endOver a few months the leather washers completely degraded and crumbled into loose pieces.

I was left with the literal skeleton of a knife beaten and broken from (mis)use.

Now keep in mind, this isn’t a handle that failed after a short period of use.

This was a period of at least four decades of daily use that finally succumbed to the effects of old age.

That’s not a failure, that’s a beacon of quality.

I started with some carefully wrapped yards of paracord to serve as an improvised handle and had marginal success. I moved onto rolls of duct tape until I decided the sticky, tacky feeling of the tape as a handle was a no-no.

My time with this knife was before widespread internet use. I don’t want to date myself but I remember the vile days of Archie being liberated by the freedom of Yahoo!’s search engine.

It took some time but I learned that I could replace the leather handle myself, or ship the blade to a craftsman who would do it for me.

After a few weeks but the blade was returned to me with a wonderful new handle. The leather washers were cut from an old belt of mine I included when shipping it out.

 

Disaster Strikes

And then I went fishing with a few friends on the Susquehanna. I had my KA-BAR on-board, went to cut some fishing line that was tangled… and the boat hit a rock.

We were all thrown to the side and I watched with wide-eyed terror as my beloved blade went over the side of the boat and down into that muddy river.

If you’ve never lost anything over the side of a boat, let me assure you the heavy “plunk” of your most cherished possession breaking the water’s surface and sinking speedily to the bottom of a river is a heart breaking moment in your life.

 

Retrospection

I loved my USMC KA-BAR. It was a dependable, durable, and familiar item to keep at my side for a fondly remembered period of my life. I’ll miss it more than I’ll miss the memory of my first kiss.

I think there are better knives out there when it comes to the “use it and abuse it” mentality, and the large size of this blade can make it unwieldy in some applications.

But if you need a juggernaut, this is the blade for you.

However, if you’re looking for a tool for more delicate purposes, the KA-BAR should be looked over for something else.

It wasn’t long before I bought a new knife to replace the old, and although it’s responsibilities are shared with a new favorite, I look forward to decades of use with my KA-BAR.

Specs and Buying Options

Total Length: 11.87″ | Blade Length: 7″ | Blade Thickness: 1.65″ | Steel: 1095 Cro-Van Steel | Weight: 0.7lb | Made In USA

Ka-Bar Full Size US Marine Corps Fighting Knife, Straight
Check On AmazonCheck On BladeHQ


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Matt Suwak

Born and bred in rural Pennsylvania, Matt embraced the backwoods lifestyle. An early exposure to knives, firearms, gardening, and foraging developed him into the outdoorsman he is today.

Matt is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce. Learn more about Matt here.

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