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Evaluation of Tom Johanning’s TAC-11 knife

Oct 6, 1999
Evaluation of TAC-11 survival knife

I recently had opportunity to put Tom Johanning’s TAC-11 knife to use, and what a knife it was.

I am a Special forces soldier and was looking for a good knife to take to SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape) school with me. My prior knife was a casualty of a harsh environment so I was looking for something as close to indestructible as I could find. When I saw the add with a knife going through plate steel I figured that this was what I was searching for. I contacted Mr. Johanning and offered him an honest evaluation with improvement ideas for use of his knife. He agreed and soon thereafter I received the knife.

Right out of the box the I sensed power and strength in this knife. Both heft and balance of the TAC-11 are excellent. Totaling 11 inches, with a blade 6.5 inches long and 3/16 of an inch thick it looked tough. The black canvas micarta handle seemed (and later proved) indestructible. The finish was a dull one thanks to an excellent bead blasting job. I myself prefer this to any applied finish, which will later scratch and flake off from use.


The TAC-11 came with a pretty good edge on it that was upgraded to an extremely keen razor edge with a Lanskey sharpener set to 25 degrees. I went out and chose a pine branch that was about 8 inches in diameter to hack through. This was green wood, not some rotten log. 127 chops and I was through, no blisters or hot spots. The hook on the end of the handle worked great to help me keep control of the knife, although, I would like to see another inch added onto the handle. The edge was still very sharp and shaved hair off of my arm effortlessly. I continued for another hour, hacking up 2x4's and triple strand nylon rope. The knife kept on shaving hair. I next focused on point strength. I stabbed into a thick oak plank as hard as I could (no hand slippage) and pried out the tip using firm lateral pressure. This produced a large divot of wood. I repeated this 15 times and was rewarded with 15 large oak chunks. On try 16 the tip broke, not much, about 1/8 of an inch. Not bad seeing how that type of use would kill most other knives. I used this opportunity to improve upon the basic tip design. I ised a DRemel tool to grind the tip down to a drop point. This turned out to be a much stronger tip and has yet to show signs of damage. (Even after 75 more pryouts and a bunch of hard field use).
The TAC-11's blade strength is nothing if not remarkable. I have split 2x4's, 4x4's and 60 or so 10' diameter cedar logs (pounding the knife through with a big rock) with no damage to the knife. I was able to place my entire body weight of 200lbs on the knife and use it as a step-up after pounding it about 4 inches into a tree. I tried this with an Air Force survival knife once and snapped it in half. By this time I was truly in love with the knife.


At SERE school SF personal undergo extensive survival training. There the TAC-11 was put to the challenge on an hourly basis.Cutting down saplings, clearing brush, doing delicate carvings (fishing lures), and also digging, cleaning and dressing a goat, 3 rabbits and a chicken. The TAC did great! It did dull a bit but consistently remained the sharpest, strongest knife in camp. I watched as other soldiers broke 2 K-Bars and many pocket knives trying to copy what I was doing. The knife did suffer a 1/2 mm chip when quartering the goat, but had no problems other than that. This knife soon became known, only as "The Tool". Everyone wanted to use it. Another week of this abuse and it was time to sharpen, that took about 10 min to restore the razor edge on it.I did quite a bit of work in the rain and had absolutely zero incidences of rust, very impressive. The Kydex sheath was only doing so, so. By this time one of the retaining straps broke off and was lost to the woods. In the future I would recommend that a sheath from Blackhawk industries or Eagle industries be used. The A-8 steel's ability to sharpen quickly and maintain an edge are wonderful things. I opened an entire house's worth of cardboard boxes, cut them up and had no degradation of the edge.


This is a wonderful, functional knife! Yes, $375 is quite a bit of money for a knife, but well worth if you're going to base your life upon it in the woods. Improvements I'd like to see are:
Make the tip a drop point, much stronger.
On the knife's spine, extend the grooving another inch towards the handle would be helpful.
Make those indestructible Micarta handle slabs removable, that would make it easier to lash to "things".
Add an inch onto the handle.
Different sheath.
Drop the price so everyone can own one of these.
If a military model is produced, do not include the USA on the pommel. As patriotic as it is, advertising you are American overseas is a good way to become a target for a bad-guy.
And that's it! The Tac-11 is the strongest knife that I have ever used. It holds its edge better any knife I have ever used. I certainly would entrust my life to this knife. Tom's web site is http://www.survivalknives.com/ I suggest you visit it.

[This message has been edited by Javahed (edited 02-21-2000).]

[This message has been edited by Javahed (edited 02-21-2000).]
Javahed :

Both heft and balance of the TAC-11 are excellent.

Where is the balance point of the TAC-11?

On try 16 the tip broke, not much, about 1/8 of an inch.

Roughly how much penetration were you getting into the plank on those stabs?

The A-8 steel's ability to sharpen quickly and maintain an edge are wonderful things.

On Tom's site he mentions the steel is "modified", do you know what he means by this? How hard does he heat treat the A8 steel to?

How is the blade ground? Is is sabre or full, hollow or flat?

Nice performance chopping on that 8" pine log by the way especially considering the relatively small blade length.

The Balance point is right under the hilt, exactly where my index finger is when I hold the knife. I was getting about 3/4 of an inch to an entire inch into the wood when the tip broke, and about the same after I modified the tip. I am uncertain the exact treatment of the steel but will forward that question and the blade grinding questions on to Mr. Johanning and post them as soon as I get a reply.

i hope you don't mind if i answer the questions directly. as you know A-8 is an air hardening tool steel. modified A-8 for the most part is the same except it has 8% chromium versus 5% in standard A-8,it has a good combination of wear and shock resistance. my knives are vacuum heat treated to 57-59 Rc and deep frozen between temper cycles. the bevels are flat ground. thanks
Dan, thanks for the details. That is very strong penetration. It must have taken a fair amount of effort to pop the wood chunks out considering it was oak. Did you see any blade flex while you were doing this? I am going to have to try this and see on various woods with similar levels of penetration.

Tom, have you worked with A2?

i have used A-2 extensively for industrial type knives but not for my knives. A-2 is slightly better for edge wear but A-8 is better for edge strength, shock and corrosion resistance. i doubt any normal user would see the differance. since i am concentrating on survival knives i think A-8 is the best choice especially as long as we have guys like Dan out there.
I saw a little bit of flex but not alot, I'd guess around 3 degrees. I'll be trying out some more of Tom's knives soon and I'll have a digital camera to record the testing. I do have some scanned pics of the original TAC-11 (before and after type) if you are interested.

Tom, that is a very interesting point of view. About how long a wait do you currently have?

Dan, I certainly would be interested as I am sure so would others. If you don't have any web page to put them up there are lots of places on the web that will host pictures. Check out www.photopoint.com for example.

for my standard tac 11 (the one Dan tested) about 2 weeks with either leather, kydex, or tactical nylong. we are also offering coated blades.
Titanium Nitride-gold finish with minimal corrosion resistance, mostly for aesthetics.
Titanium Corbonitride-black finish, corrosion resistant. coating adds hardness to the surface of the blade & reduces friction to the side of the knife therefore prolonging the need for resharpening.
Chromium Nitride-silver finish. provides corrosion resistance to saltwater, blood, & sweat. coating is extremely hard (90Rc). best rust inhibitor available. won't rub off.
Chromium Carbide-pewter to black finish. same properties as chromium nitride.
we have been really happy with early results. all the coated blades are $495.00 with choice of sheath. these run about 4 weeks delivery. thanks
Very Impressive Knife and an excellent review.

I saw the adds and read some articles about it, but somehow posts here usually make me trust the info more. funny, isn't it?

any comparison to the Busse line?


Thanks for the compliment, I always feel better when I get info from an unbiased source also. Sorry, I have not yet had the chance to get my hands on any Busse knives, Anyone at any time can feel free to send me one to try

Tom's knives are great. I havent had a chance to use one yet but I handled a few at the knife show a few weeks ago. The knife gave me a good feeling when I picked it up and it had a very solid feel, with nice fitting micarta handles. Like to have one. Tom was nice too. Later, Jeff