Kabar BK&T Knife Review
Is This the Right Survival Knife for You?
In previous articles, we discussed choosing a fixed blade survival knife:
A knife is one of the more important pieces of equipment you can have with you in a survival situation. As such, a good, survival appropriate, fixed blade knife is your best choice for inclusion in a survival kit or BOB (Bug Out Bag) or equivalent, and/or to be strapped on when an emergency is likely. In this article, we will consider a contender for “Best Survival Knife”.
As mentioned in the general articles, there are two classes of fixed blade knife which can be appropriate for survival scenarios, the “bush” (medium) knife and the “field” (large) knife. This knife belongs to the field class.
Why Did I Consider the Kabar BK&T Machax?
Ethan Becker is a famous chef and cookbook author, and outdoorsman, who externalized his interest in outdoors knife design through his company called BK&T, or Becker Knife & Tool. His concept of survival knives was that they should be “a sharpened crowbar”. Perhaps the ultimate knife of this philosophy was the Becker Brute. But Ethan decided to close down BK&T. Some of Becker's knife designs were available through Blackjack and then Camillus until they shut down. Some designs are currently licensed to Ka-Bar. Recently, he collaborated with Doug Ritter on the “ultimate” bush class survival knife, the RSK Mk 2 (review coming), which is manufactured by Rowen and sold by KnifeWorks.com.
Ka-Bar has been around “forever” (or at least since 1898), and are known for their quality. Their USMC Ka-Bar is one of the icons of knife history. Thus, at least some of the Becker designs live on.
A while back we looked at one of Becker's bush knives. the BK-2. I've been looking for a deal on a Becker field knife, and this one was the first I found on which I got such a deal.
|Blade Length||9 3/8″||Overall Length||14 5/8″|
|Blade Width||2″||Weight (Knife Only)||15.7 oz|
|Blade Steel||1095 Cro-Van||Grip Material||Zytel|
|Blade Shape||Kukri||Guard Type||Half, Molded into the grip|
|Blade Grind||Saber||False Edge||Yes|
|Blade Thickness||0.188″||Spine “Jimping”||No|
Special Features: Black textured blade coating
The name kind of indicates the intended purpose of this blade – Machax = Machete + Ax. It is rather similar to the Kukri style blade. It should be quite good at chopping, with that huge belly and a balance 1 1/4″ in front of the guard. The bend in the blade seems to reduce the sense of “oddness” a blade forward balance tends to provide. Or maybe it just masks it, providing its own sense of oddness. Still, it feels good in the hand.
The grips are the same as the grips on the BK-2 (fairly smooth, and not as slip resistant as I would like; dry, wet or oily, the grip did slip enough to be of concern). I would definitely look into replacing or enhancing the grips; a task which will be helped considerably by their easy removal and availability of custom grip panels. I immediately wrapped the grip with grip tape, since I found that to be beneficial during the BK-2 testing. The grip is very comfortable and secure in the hammer and Filipino grips, the most useful with this style of blade. It is also comfortable and secure in the saber, upside down and ice pick grips, although it is not clear how useful these grips are with this style of blade. The sideways grip is a bit of a problem; it could be improved with custom grips which are thinner at the pommel. The saber grip would have been improved by some jimping (grooves or scallops) at the rear of the spine/front of the grip, but since I'm not clear how that grip would be used with this type of blade, I don't consider the lack of jimping here a problem.
The edges of the spine are not particularly sharp and have a coating, so it is unlikely they will be useful
The blade coating is aesthetically pleasing and does not reflect light.
The lanyard hole is quite large, but the edges are not rounded, so check your lanyard for wear every so often. Since the hole is through the grip panels, it should be easy and worthwhile to chamfer the edges of the lanyard hole.
The end of the tang is exposed and flat, perpendicular to the grip, so it might serve as a make-shift hammer.
The false edge is fairly severe, making the tip rather thinner than I like. If the tip was in line with the grip, I'd say this false edge was “too much”. Since it is NOT in line with the grip, which discourages use for standard tip tasks, it should be ok. Just keep in mind that the tip may be weaker than we usually prefer in a survival knife.
The sheath is a nylon or equivalent, dangler style. The belt loop is a length of webbing, and appears like it may be a problem when wearing it on your belt. It is set up to also carry a BK-13 “Remora” (not included), a small, skeleton handled fixed blade knife, useful for utility purposes, but by no means a substitute for a bush knife.
Based on history, specs and appearances, I have high hopes for this knife, but fear the sheath may not be adequate.
1095 Cro-Van is a workhorse Carbon Steel, commonly used for knives because it is easy to shape and heat treat. And fairly inexpensive. As such, it is a decent choice; durable except rather susceptible to rusting. The coating should help protect the steel from rust, except for the edge and the logos engraved on the blade. And any place where the coating is worn or scraped away. It would be wise to treat these areas with a rust inhibiter, preferably a dry one. And protect the knife from moisture as much as practical, and when it does get wet, dry it off as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Note that since the grips are removable, you should check under them when practical after use. I found goo (water? oil?) under there after testing the BK-2 and another knife with removable grips. I haven't taken off the BK-4 grips yet, because of the grip tape wrapping. But will remove the tape and do so after testing is complete.
The knife came with a razor edge and entered the competition to be the second sharpest knife I've encountered (3 way tie so far). After fifty slices through cardboard, it no longer qualified as a razor edge, but it still sliced paper well. Attempting to resharpen the blade to razor sharpness was not successful with my Pocket Pal; although my old “Brass Rat” managed to get close. Obviously it is possible to get a true “razor” edge on this knife with a top notch sharpening system, it appears that this is not practical with a field sharpener (or at least one that I have). This is usually not a problem for a field class knife.
To summarize, it appears that the steel has low rust resistance (compensated for somewhat by the blade coating), high strength, very good edge capability, good or better ease of sharpening, high resistance to chipping and good edge holding capability.
- Cutting cord – This is often necessary during construction of shelter, fishing, sewing and making snares and traps, as well as other times. Since this is not a major task for a field knife, I only tried the toughest I have on hand, 3/4″ Sisal. This knife went through it better than many knives I've tested.
- Making notches in branches – This could be required for shelter construction and making snares or traps, as well as other times. The knife does this adequately, using the part of the edge right in front of the grip for control. In this mode, the balance is not a distraction.
- Trimming/Sharpening/smoothing branches – This would be for shelter construction, as well as making arrows, spears, stakes, walking sticks and even bows. Again, using the edge right in front of the grip, this knife performs well at this task.
- Pounding in stakes – This could be required for making shelters, snares and traps. Although this has a flat on the pommel perpendicular to the grip which MAY serve as an emergency hammer, it is too narrow for safety, si I did not try it. The last time I tried this with a very similar pommel, I ended up with a hole in my little finger. Although the heaviness of the knife may help with the hammer function, the blade NOT being in line with the grip/hammer face may reduce the effectiveness for this task.
- Use with a magnesium bar or ferrocerium rod is not an option using the edge of the spine. Use the edge; it does not cause any visible damage. Or use the striker which came with the rod, since this blade shape may be less convenient for this task than a straight blade.
- Making a “featherstick” with small curls with this knife is fairly easy, unlike many of the field class knives I've tried. It is particularly important to use the narrow part of the blade, near the grip.
- Drilling a hole (for a fire drill) was more difficult than usual, due to the angle between grip and blade, although the results were just fine. The tip is a bit thin, so try to avoid extreme stress on the tip.
- Batoning for access to tinder or making kindling from logs did not go well at all. The geometry of the blade encourages batoning with the blade touching the wood at only at one point, which leads to a lack of stability. The wood did not split straight or easily. This is the same wood I've used in all tests so far, so that was unlikely to be the problem; by modifying the position so the blade touched at two points it was able to do this adequately. There were marks in the blade coating after this test, but they seemed to mostly scrub off.
- Not really appropriate tasks for a field knife, so I didn't bother testing it. It is not balanced for these tasks, so in combination with the blade length and angle, as well as the tip configuration, it would be inconvenient at best for these.
- Sticks or fronds – For shelter and other construction, splints and firewood. This is the major task for a field knife, and this did quite well at it. Make sure to use the “belly” near the tip for chopping, and save the blade near the grip for other tasks.
- The grip is not the greatest for combat, but it is adequate and the blade length is formidable. The bent blade will probably be a challenge to use effectively in combat unless you are familiar with a style of combat based on the Kukri blade shape, focusing on slashing, chopping and hooking more than stabbing. Why? On the one hand, the blade tip is quite wide, which would tend to impede stabbing, but the false edge may make the tip thin enough to compensate somewhat. The angle of the blade will reduce the force behind the tip over that of a straight blade and affect the aim unless you are used to this. And the textured coating may have an impact. There is, of course, little protection from your opponents blade, and the stock grips are not great at preventing your hand from sliding onto your own blade. This could possibly be considered a combat knife, but only for those trained in an appropriate style of fighting.
The sheath is a basic stiffened nylon or equivalent dangler style. The problem is, the handle is at an angle to the blade, and the belt loop, with two snap closed straps, is designed to follow the handle. Thus, when the knife is sheathed and on a belt, the belt loop is pulled at an angle, contacting the belt only on one edge, which seems like it could cause problems long term.. Furthermore, although the draw is adequate, returning the blade to the sheath is a problem. It seems to take two hands and a lot of messing around to get the grip straps refastened. And at least one must be, since there is no retention provided by the sheath itself. The original (BK&T) sheath just had a diagonal strap across the guard, which appears like it might possibly be much more usable than the current style. It is not clear whether this was changed because that original option did not work well, or for other reasons.
With the two grip straps closed, retention is pretty good. The belt loop appears to be two layers of 1 1/4″ webbing, so is stiffer than some similar belt loops, but still not optimal. Below the belt look dangler ring is a Molle attachment strap. The blade guard appears to be thick enough and well enough anchored. It is not fitted (much, if at all) at the bottom, and because of the non-linear blade shape, can't be fitted at the top. Thus there is significant rattle. Fastening the grip straps cuts the rattle down a little. Any fitting at the bottom handles the blade reversed just fine, so a left hand carry is supported. There is a Velcro flapped pocket on the front, and inside that pocket is a second blade protector for the optional accessory knife. Note that there is nothing preventing the accessory knife from being inserted between the blade protector and the nylon, which means that significant care must be taken when sheathing the accessory knife. As seems to be common, the flap normally rides about one inch above the pocket; the Velcro can get that almost down to a half inch to reduce the chances of stuff falling out of the pocket; it can also be adjusted up to over two inches to allow for a knife handle or other long contents. There are two grommets at the bottom for a leg tie; unlike most sheaths I've seen of this style, this area is not flimsy at the bottom.
From Ka-Bar, you can get replacement grip panels in various colors, and in micarta. Aftermarket, there are custom grips, stainless grip attachment hardware (a good idea), and sheaths.
Price and Availability
The list price of the BK-4 Machax appears to have been reduced to $93.57; it is unknown how long this will continue. You can usually find them new on eBay for $75 or so.
The link to the company is: www.kabar.com
and the link to this knife is: Machax
It is listed as being in stock at the company, and there are several people selling it on eBay, although some seem not to have got the memo about the reduced price. Amazon seems to have them at an even better price ($61), and it is on the Prime program, but tax will be added.
This is an adequate field knife. It chops very well, and does at least adequately at tasks which do not require the tip; it probably will not be effective for skinning or field dressing game. Be aware that if batoning, the blade must meet the blade at more than one point or the results will likely not be satisfactory. This one definitely requires a bush knife or at least a good pocket knife with it. It might be effective for defense against a wild animal, but not so much against a reasonably skilled person, without significant training in fighting with a Kukri. As a chopper it is quite good; for everything else, there are better choices.
The sheath is a problem. It carries the knife with adequate retention, but makes restoring the knife to the sheath impractical in some cases. A custom Kydex sheath would seem to be the answer, except that they are not cheap. I would say the most thorough “fix” would be to make a “belt loop panel” which would be wide enough that the grip straps could be fastened at the bent location, so the sheath would hang straight down and the straps could be fastened without fighting the alignment of the grip and the grip straps. This would discard the ability for ambidextrous carry. I was thinking a simpler modification would be to cut off the existing grip straps and add a new strap to the sheath itself, going across the guard to hold the knife in the sheath, but with the side to side play at the top of the sheath, this would be difficult to do reliably, and would also remove the ambidextrous carry option. Carrying the sheath attached to a Molle pack may also work; especially if you figure out a way (zip ties perhaps) to fasten the belt loop at the correct angle for securing the grip straps.
I don't care for the specified accessory knife; the grip is too short for me, and the steel used is a low grade stainless. I might try to find a “better” knife which would fit, or just forget it and carry a good pocket knife. If an accessory knife is to be carried in this sheath pocket, I would squirt some tough glue between the blade protector and the covering nylon to make it harder to “miss” the proper slot.