Design Trends

Feb 25, 2001
I just have a quick question for some of the more experienced (read old fart) knife collectors. It seems like everybody is concentrating on tactical styled knives right now. Some have been made to look nice, but they all have that basic combat look to them. Is this just a trend, or has the tactical style proven itself as so advantageous, that this is the future of knives?

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a cool look, and like the feel in my hand, but I’m a mountain man at heart. If the handle doesn’t have an appreciable amount of wood, I don’t get that “this is the perfect knife for me” feeling. I’d REALLY like to see more wood on the performance folders, without having to shell out for a custom.
We've talked about this in the past, and as I recall, some knowledgeable people felt it was a coming trend, and others felt it was a fad that would be short-lived. Regardless of who ends up correct, it appears as if this particular trend of dressed-up tacticals is continuing to pick up steam. If it's a fad, it hasn't peaked yet.

DeltaZ makes good use of wood, stag, and bone on their folders, many of which have 'tactical' opening studs.
We can at least ask for less black. I think the new EDC folder from Camillus is a nice high-tech look with some bright appearance and very practical size and features.

My weakness for handle material is stag. Nothing says quality to me like stag. It even provides a fairly practical grip.
Back in the '70s the Buck 110/112 was considered to look "combative". Take any black handled folder and put a brighter colored handle on it. Kinda changes things, doesn't it?

I totally agree about the looks of the EDC. I almost hit the celing when I saw a magazine add for it. If it looks half as good as the pic, it'll be a real beauty. I ordered one this weekend.

Now if I could just afford the Darrel Ralf anodyzed version.....
Here is my $0.02

The current mix of tactical folders represents the combination of two seperate trends.

If you would recall, we first started thinking about tactical knives in a big way during the early eighties. The Rambo movies and their like had spawned a movement to "Survival Knives". This promoted the use of dull non-reflective blade finishes and a trend towards metal, or micarta handles, rather than wood, stag and other natural materials. Most of this had been done before but now it was much more pervasive. This is when we became accustomed to dull, black tactical knives, and attracted to new man made materials.

A seperate trend had started during the 1960s with the launch of the Buck mod 110. Its enormous success led many knife companies to create their own version of the knife, and many of these flood the market during the early and mid 70s. By the 80s we have companies like Al Mar, Pacific Cutlery (now Benchmade), Gerber, and an ever growing number of custom knife makers trying to develop new folder designs to distinguish themselves from the traditional 110 design. First on the scene are the beefed-up lockback designs like the original Al Mar SERE, the SOG Tomcat, and the Lakota.

But, others are experimenting with more innovative designs. Butterfly knives become popular, Gerber tries the Paul knife, Bench Mark has a Rolox, Spyderco does its first clipit, and eventually we get to the liner lock.

By the end of the eighties and early 90s we are tiring of Rambo-like survival knives; but we still percieve value in the tactical finish and materials. Our folders start to become more tactical looking, and the number of people and companies producing folders expands greatly. Increasing environmental concerns and urban sprawl reduce our interest in camp and hunting knives and we now tend to prefer folders over fixed bladed knives.

This continued to grow through the late 90s
until the market again felt the need to differentiate, and basic black started to become a little bit more colorful. We can only hope this continues.

Just an old fart knife collector

[This message has been edited by not2sharp (edited 03-14-2001).]
Less black is definitely the new wave hitting the tac market, and I think that people will be buying small fixed blades to replace some of those folders for EDC. The real tactical market, however, will not change like this. I.e., I doubt that strider will go with fuschia g-10 on their knives to hit the female market!!

"Come What May..."
Excellent thread, Buzzbait. Some real thought provoking stuff here.

not2sharp -- I particularly enjoyed your post. Have a couple questions to direct to you or anyone else, primarily raised by your post rather than teh original.

Just out of curiousity, do you think that Vietnam possibly had some influence in the growing interest in knives back in the 80's? I know that my K-bar changed my idea of what knives were all about. Had carried a jacknife since age 5, and had a pretty poor little hunting knife I grew up with. But, asside from cleaning rabbits, squirrels, and assorted whittling/carving uses, hadn't really put a knife to use as tool before joining that party over there.

Along similar lines, do you know anything about subscribership to the knife mags during the decades in question? If so, how much in the way of surveying readers has been done, along socio-economic, maybe political lines?

In a bit different direction, do you think that the media hoopla and politician gassing about guns, combined with the lower safety level of many American streets could be related to particular interest in knives? If so, seems to me would help explain the vast popularity of tacticals.

Lastly, it seems to me that the knife world could easily be perceived as a conglomeration of niche markets. Yet, can't help but wonder if the pervasiveness of tacticals hasn't either homogenized a great many users/knuts, or that those buying tacticals are not an enormous, relatively new, niche? Given what I see on the net knife sites, and in the magazines, I'm doubtful that the tactical niche will ever shrink very far. I've used and liked knives all my life, but knutdom began when I held my first tactical, my m16-14 from CRKT.

I just really wish I knew who "we" are, in terms of what prompted our enthusiasm for knives in general, and specific genres, the most interesting to me being the tactical group.


[This message has been edited by Bugs3x (edited 03-14-2001).]

Knifenuts are a very diverse group. From previous threads we have found that about half of us are or have been gun enthusiats. Perhaps an equal number enjoy camping, hiking and other outdoors activities. And, many/most of us started playing with knives at an early age (about 6-10 years old). A smaller percentage started collecting knives later in life as a form of self defense, and others as an offshoot of doomsday survivalist interest - a major force for many during the height of the cold war. There are even smaller niches that are into knives as art, knives as an investment, or knives as historical relics.

About the only thing we can be sure of is that we all find knives to be very interesting and useful tools. There are any number of variable that influenced us in our personal knife preferances and that have had an impact on the industry as a whole.

Yes, certainly Vietnam had an impact. But many of the folks on this site are from other countries. Also, when we look back to the development of the modern knife industry we see that custom knife makers really start to become a force during the 1970s. That's when we start to see the development of the first knife shows, and magazines, and guilds.

And who had the buying power during the late 60s and early 70s? It wasn't the Vietnam Veterans; most of the wealth would have been with the generations from the Korean War (then in their 40s), or WWII (then in their 50s).

The rebirth of the American knife industry during this period can be an interesting subject. Probably, the single most influential factor was the passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act. I am sure that the passage of this law in the US motivated many gun collectors and dealers to diversify their collections and businesses to include a few more knives.


I HATE the term "TACTICAL FOLDER". The knife industry is setting itself up for "ASSAULT WEAPON" hysteria.
to paraphrase:

tactical: "Pertaining to the technique or science of gaining objectives."

tactician: "One who utilizes devices or expedients to attain a goal."

When I pick up a knife, I usually have a specific goal I want to achieve. It's not always related to offense or defense, except in those cases where the reinforced packing tape on that box is driving me nuts!

In a sense, aren't fillet knives, bread knives, carpet knives, butter knives, linoleum knives, and oyster knives "tactical" (designed for the specific task at hand - giving the user a better chance at gaining his or her objective)?


Tom Anderson
Hand Crafted Knives
Tom, though I think that in the broad sense of the word tactical, you are correct. I think that the term tactical as pertaining to knives comes more from tactical weapons, meaning weapons used on the battlefield.

I also do not think that tactical knives are a trend. They have been here a long time and I do not see them disappearing in the near future. IMO they will evolve, but they will stick around.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Buzzbait:
I’d REALLY like to see more wood on the performance folders, without having to shell out for a custom.</font>

Do you own a Benchmade 690 yet?

--Bob Q
Try replacing "tactical" with "sensible" or "hard use" and I think we see why this type of knife has outlived its bad boy fad period...6 months ago I'd have said the dressed up tactical is the way of the future, but now I reckon people will fall for bead blast and G10 all over again
"Tactical" means "Practical"; A basic solid no frills using knife.

I hope we can replace the word, eliminate the martial overtones, and focus on saying what we really mean.