Ernie Mayer's Black Cloud FB4 Bowie

Oct 19, 1999
Greetings All!

Several weeks ago, a fellow forumite E-mailed me after reading my review of the Ontario Bagwell Hell's Belle Bowie and offered to send me his Ernest Mayer Black Cloud Fourth Generation Fighting Bowie(FB4) in A-2 steel to evaluate, just to see how it would stack up. Ever ready to lend a hand
, I naturally accepted.

Once the blade arrived, I put it through my usual battery of tests. The FB4 performed very well in several tests, but suffered significant rolling and chipping of its edge against both the De Cuerda(hanging rattan pole) and the Leg of Lamb.

I advised the owner of my results, and he informed me that his particular FB4 was one of the first made when Ernie was just starting his shop. The owner was certain that at that time, Ernie was still sending knives out for heat treatment, rather than treating them himself. If this was so, then I felt that it would be extremely interesting- as well as fair- to compare how well an A-2 FB4 that was heat treated by Ernie did against my dense targets.

After some searching and a little help from friends, I was able to get in touch with Ernie Mayer. I explained what had happened and what I wanted to do. Ernie confirmed that the FB4 that I had tested was an early one that was not heat treated by his proprietary process. He readily agreed to send me the latest A-2 FB4- heat treated in house- for testing and review.

I have to tell you all that Ernie has been very open and forthcoming through all of this, eager to get my results and use them to improve the performance of his blades. As he puts it, "Good enough is just not good enough." He encouraged me to test the knife hard and review it honestly, come what may. So here goes...

First, a picture. Please go here:

She's a beauty isn't she?! Terrific lines. The false edge or swedge is fully sharpened. Notice also the clever integral double guard and the distinctive Mayer handle with its dorsal thumb hump to facilitate a secure saber grip, and the downward curve to the handle from guard to pommel(which flares out dramatically laterally). These two details function to prevent the knife hand from slipping off the back of the handle during high speed maneuvers such as backcut flows.

The Stats:

Steel- A-2, 1/4" stock, proprietarily heat treated to a uniform 60-61 Rc. Cryogenically stress-relieved.

OAL- 17".

Weight- 17 oz..

Blade Length- 10" to the ricasso. Flat ground with a saber ground false edge. Primary edge- 9 1/2". Secondary edge- 4 7/8". Edges are of the secondary bevel type at approx. 25 deg..

Point of Balance- At the guard.

Handle- Full tang with contoured walnut scales; SS allen head screws; lanyard hole.

On to the Testing
...Oh, please note that other than where indicated below, both FB4s performed identically.

Feel and Maneuverability:

The FB4, despite its 17 oz. wt., is very well balanced, making it feel quite fast in the hand. The handle shape with its dorsal thumb hump and flared out pommel is comfortable and secure in both hammer and saber grips through all high speed maneuvers, including backcut flows. The knife also reverses to icepick grip easily.

Impact Resistance:

Edge of Desk Impact Test- I struck the flat- including just the tip- of the blade very hard several times against the edge of an oak desk. There were no signs of stress whatsoever. The blade has a nice tight springiness to it.

The De Cuerda Test- This is the test where the edge of the first FB4 I tested rolled and chipped badly. The second FB4 had no such problems. It performed fantastically against the rattan.

I executed full speed, full power witiks, snap cuts, backcuts, stops and parries with the primary and secondary edges, as well as the flat and spine of the blade. The FB4 sustained no rolled edges, no chips, no scratches, nothing. Plus, I felt no stress to the blade at all during this test. The The FB4 moved very quickly in the hand against the de Cuerda, changing directions easily and was a pleasure to use against it. The shape of the handle makes it easy to index the primary and secondary edges at all times. The blade bit into the rattan very well- many knives just bounce off. An excellent result

The Training Dummy Test- Knives often have serious problems with my training dummy's thick duct tape "skin" during full speed attacks, bouncing or sliding off it rather than cutting through it. The Black Cloud FB4, on the other hand, performed fantastically against the dummy- beautiful, clean cuts with either the primary or secondary edge deep through the dummy's skin and dense foam "flesh" down to its wooden core. Witiks, backcuts, slashes, and thrusts all penetrated extremely well. The FB4 cut into the Dummy as well as any knife I've tried against it. Very impressive! And no damage to the tip whatsoever from repeated full power thrusts. My hand did slip forward a little on the handle on hard thrusting, but was stopped by the guard.

Cutting Tests:

Hanging single sheet of paper- clean cuts, perfectly straight, transecting the paper at any angle.

Hanging sheet of 1/4" cardboard- Again, the FB4 cut cleanly the entire length of its primary or secondary edges- nice straight cuts. Accuracy is excellent during thrusts as well. I can hit within a 1/4" of Sharpee dots on a spinning sheet of cardboard.

Hanging roll of exam room paper- The FB4 cut through the dense paper roll and sometimes its cardboard core down to the rattan pole beneath, especially with backcuts- which, as with other classic bowies I've tested, were particularly effective. Thrusts were awesome as well, with no damage to the tip. Absolutely terrific cutting.

The Leg of Lamb Cutting Test- The leg of lamb I used was very large and mature, shall we say, measuring 18" long by 8" wide by 5" thick. It still had 1/2 the sternum and some ribs at the top. The femur bone was quite thick, measuring 1" in dia. at the distal end and almost 3" at the proximal(hip) end, with fully a 1/4" thick rim of dense cortical bone around its edge.

The femur lay under 1" of fascia and muscle at the hip, then quickly centering itself in the thigh as it traversed downward toward the knee.

I first took a #3 forehand horizontal slash through the lower third of the shank. The FB4 cut cleanly through 2" of muscle and fascia and through the 1" dia femur and stopped there. It did not continue to cut through and out the other side. This result was reproducible.

Next, I took a #1 forehand diagonal slash through the thickest section of the shank. The FB4 cut cleanly and with very little resistance through 5" of flesh and bone and 1/3 way through the femur- about 1" in.

Next, I came in from the bony side of the thigh just below the hip joint with another #1 slash. The FB4 cut the 1" of fascia and muscle and again through 1" of the femur, stopping there.

These results were reproduced several times.

For those of you who may think these results disappointing, let me assure you that they are actually very good. This was a very hard femur bone for a leg of lamb. It reacted much more like a beef bone. Even my Hossom Bowie- which I use as a benchmark in all my Leg of Lamb Tests, and which had easily transected every leg of lamb to this point- was itself only able to cut completely through the entire 2 3/4" of bone on this leg of lamb(coming in from either the meaty or the bony side of the thickest part of the thigh) and only a little further into the muscle on the other side, but not completely transecting the thigh as usual.

Next, I threw several #1(vertical) and # 2 and #3(horizontal) backcuts into the thickest section of the thigh. The backcut wounds were awesome, extending the full 5" of the sharpened swag and even cutting into the femur about 1/2" consistently. Once again, these bowie backcuts are amazingly devastating.

Finally, I threw several thrusts into the leg of lamb, and the FB4 thrust easily to its hilt. I purposefully hit the bone a couple of times and the tip did not bend or suffer any damage whatsoever.

After all this cutting, the primary edge had rolled slightly in a couple of places...several swipes with my DMT diamond hone got it looking like new again. The secondary edge remained perfect throughout. So, clearly, Ernie's proprietary heat treatment acquitted itself extremely well against a very tough leg of lamb.


Ernie Mayer and Black Cloud have created a terrific performing bowie here. It feels great in the hand, moves beautifully, cuts very well, and stands up to impact well.

The Negatives:

The handle slipped some in my hand during hard thrusts in hammer grip, but the guard protects the fingers from sliding onto the blade. This problem does not occur in saber grip with the thumb butted up against the thumb ramp of the upper guard. Many bowie players prefer saber grip, so this is not really a problem.

The edge of the second FB4, although it withstood impact much better than did the edge of the first FB4 I tested, did still roll some against the lamb's femur(while the Hossom's and the Rinaldi's did not). Clearly, Black Cloud's proprietary heat treatment can still be improved upon somewhat. Ernie tells me that he will go back and review the entire heat treating process to ensure better quality control. He intends to send me other blades to test once this is done to make sure that they pass the De Cuerda and Leg of Lamb Tests with perfect scores.

Bottom line? I really liked the FB4's clever design and execution. It is an excellent true bowie with full double guard and sharpened swag. It was a pleasure to use against all targets and cut very well with both primary and secondary edges. It backcuts like a demon. Clearly, Ernie Mayer learned his lessons well at Jim Keating's Riddle of Steel in order to produce a bowie like this
. Bravo!



Tuvo muy mala callo en mi cuchillo.

[This message has been edited by Gaucho (edited 05-09-2000).]

[This message has been edited by Gaucho (edited 05-09-2000).]

[This message has been edited by Gaucho (edited 05-09-2000).]
Concerning the edge rolling as compared to Hossoms and Rinaldi's, is the edge on the FB4 convex or flat? Did you notice the edge damage to the Mayer blade right away after the first cut or was it the result of many cuts? Did you do a similar amount of work on this leg of lamb with the Hossom or Rinaldi blade? You noted that with regards to thrusts you had some slips, did the cuts into the lamp produce any similar motion or was the grip as rock stable as Hossom's in this regard?

Concerning the flat grind of the Mayer blade vs the deep hollow on the Hossom one it looks like when coming to bone cutting that Hossom blade performed significantly better. Could you notice any difference in resistance during the cuts through the flesh?

Nice work as usual.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 05-09-2000).]

Greetings and thank you!

The edge of the FB4 is flat.

The edge rolled with each slash into the thickest part of the thigh(and femur).

I performed virtually the same # of cuts with all three blades.

The FB4's handle did not slip during thrusting into the leg of lamb.

There was somewhat more resistence cutting through the flesh of the leg of lamb with the FB4 with its flat ground blade, as opposed to the Hossom with its reinforced- edge hollow grind, but the FB4 cut the flesh cleanly and straight.



Tuvo muy mala callo en mi cuchillo.


Since I know that you- like myself and others on the Forums- are interested in blade steels and heat treating, I thought that I should clarify that the Hossom Millennium Bowie is in ATS-34 steel, heat treated by Paul Bos, while the Rinaldi Tempest is in A-2 steel, again heat treated by Paul Bos.



Tuvo muy mala callo en mi cuchillo.

Gaucho, good review. Nice looking blade, but I have always liked the looks of the Black Cloud knives.

How do you feel about the handling characteristics of this knife versus the bagwell hells bells? The handle seems a bit more ergonomic.

Boludos no somos

Awesome signature
! Are you Argentine?

Anyhow, the handle of the Black Cloud is definitely more ergonomic than that of the Bagwell. The Black Cloud's handle, if you were to cut it coronally from the spine to the finger side and look at it on end, is actually trapazoidal to match how you grip something.

Make a loose fist, as if you were holding a knife, and look down at the tunnel created by your thumb and fingers- the outline of the tunnel is a trapazoid with the wide side being the webspace between your thumb and forefinger, and the point being the angle created by the bend of the second knuckle of your forefinger. Ernie obviously made his handles to match this gripping shape of our hands. Thus, his handles feel very comfortable.

Other good points about the Black Cloud FB4 handle are:
1. The pommel flare really helps keep the knife from pulling out of your hand during rapid swings.

2. The flatish sides of the handle make it easy to index where the edges are at all times.

3. The dorsal thumb hump makes saber grip more comfortable and secure.

Downsides to the handle:

1.With little palm swell and no pinky or forefinger groove, there is only the thumb hump to keep your hand from riding forward during a hard thrust in hammer grip- which I prefer, and why this happened to me. Saber grip, as I stated above, prevents this from happening.

2. Ernie's handle shape really works best in a bowie sized blade. I had a chance to play with one of his Sharktooth double edged fighters that has a scaled down version of the same handle and the feel is no where near as good- all the humps and flares seem to be in the wrong places, for my hand anyways.

I hope that this helps.



Tuvo muy mala callo en mi cuchillo.

Interesting results, on the edge rolling. The first thing I thought of was that the convex bevel on Hossoms 57-58 RC ATS-34 blade was the reason it would be more resistant to rolling even though it is softer than Mayer's A2. However at a given RC ATS-34 could be stronger than A2, it would be interesting to see the tensile strengths. Hossom bowie thread :

But the Tempest comparision doesn't have nearly as many variables and the ones that do exist seem to favor the Mayer blade in terms of rolling resistance anyway. The Tempest is 59-60 RC, A2 with I think a flat edge (correct me if I am wrong here) :

So basically Mayer's A2 compared to the A2 in the Tempest is just as hard or harder (spec'ed at 60-61 RC as compared to 59-60) and is just as obtuse or more (25 vs 20 on the Tempest), but is taking more damage rolling wise which means the edge is not as strong - which is odd as the geometry and RC would indicate otherwise. Basically he is making the steel harder with a more obtuse profile and getting more rolling. Does Mayer do a cryo on his A2?

The other thing I would consider is that the cutting efficiency is significantly lower than the Hossom bowie. If the Mayer blade is coming to a more abrupt hault on the cuts then the force it will feel will be more. The handle also strongly influences this which is why I asked. The greater the control you have the more durable the edge will be - however you noted that you had no problems with the Mayer blade in this regard. How does it cut in these two aspects as compared to the Tempest on the lamb?


Good morning! I think that the big issue with Ernie's blade may be more uniformity of the heat treatment throughout the blade- or quality control, as he called it. Otherwise, you are correct that his blade should have performed as well as the Rinaldi given the Rc and the edge geometry. The blade grind of the Mayer is more obtuse than that of the Rinaldi, so it does produce more resistence behind the edge at impact.

I agree that the handle may play a part here. Even though the FB4's handle felt comfortable and secure during cutting, it certainly didn't 'lock' my hand into position as do the Hossom and the Rinaldi with their finger grooves, pinky hook, etc.

Oh, almost forgot. Ernie does cryogenically stress relieve his blades.



Tuvo muy mala callo en mi cuchillo.

[This message has been edited by Gaucho (edited 05-10-2000).]
try his " little sister " knife.made for concl.carry,fast,quick & handles like a dream.i'll say hi to VINCE for you!REALLY
enjoy all your reviews!!
If I remember correctly from Ernie's description of his sharpening procedure, he grinds the main bevels on a slightly slackened belt, and then polishes them, making them somewhat parabolic.

That's interesting, Steve. The two FB4s that I tested really appeared to have flat secondary bevel type edges rather than Moran type edges- which I am familiar with. Maybe these two were exceptions.



Tuvo muy mala callo en mi cuchillo.

Does black cloud work with any other steels? The designs are great and would be really interesting in a steel like 3V.

As for your question;

Un pelotudo no es el que tiene las bolas mas grandes

I've forwarded your question to Ernie. I know that he works in ATS-34 and in A-2. I'm not sure if he has started working in CPM 3-V yet.

BTW, I've been trying every which way I know how to hyperlink the Black Cloud Website for you guys and I think that I finally have it figured out. Try clicking on the address below. Otherwise you can just type it in yourselves on your computers and it will get you there.



Tuvo muy mala callo en mi cuchillo.

If the handle is not as secure then the edge will not be as strong. The more focused the cut the more the edge will see a compression rather than a bend, the latter is much easier to do than the former. As an example I chopped through a finishing nail a few days ago while chopping up some scrap. The blade, a #7 Basic, suffered only a small indent (sub mm, around .2 - .3). I then took the TOPS Steel eagle and turned the wood on its side and loosely chopped at the nail. I used a very loose grip and the blade was not stable upon impacts. As a result the edge broke away in pieces much larger than the damage to the Basic. However the Steel Eagles edge is just as durable as the Basics - it was just seeing a very different stress.

Does Mayer have a RC tester on hand? It would be interesting to see a full spread right along the edge. Are Mayer's edges highly polished as compare to the Tempest and the Hossom bowie? This as well will greatly influence edge strength. You could also be seeing differences due to other facets of the sharpening process.

It will be interesting to see the results of any other blades that Mayer sends you.