Fighting vs Survival knife??

Feb 4, 1999
I have been reading over at the knife forums how many people clearly define the role of the Black cloud FB's as pure fighting knives. Going so far as to say "this is not a survival knife" Now they may be great fighters but my problem is how can you say that a 1/4 thick sharpened piece of steel cannot due duty as a survival/camp knife. What am I missing. Is it kind of like you wouldnt use a Ferrari to move furniture. Is it just so good at its intended purpose that using it for something else seems silly. Help me out. What make a maddog a survival and not a BK.
It is all in the mind.

I think the "not a camp knife" thing is ,largely, a sales pitch aimed at making the potential buyer feel that he is looking at knifedom's version of a full-auto firearm.
Owning it makes you "dangerous".

No offence intended

Brian W E
ICQ #21525343

My opinions are based on information available to me. Don't attack my opinions....give me more information.

Seven things I can think of off the top of my head, in no particular order:

1) The tip on a "pure fighter" might be too slender for heavy prying or digging. Compare the tip on, say, a Busse Battle Mistress or a Mad Dog TUSK (classic "heavy utility knives") to a Black Cloud fighter, a Mad Dog Shrike, an F/S commando dagger, or similar.

2) A fighter should be balanced close to the hilt to make changes in blade direction faster...but that reduces "chopping power" on wood or whatever.

3) A fighter's larger guards can "get in the way" of more delicate work.

4) A fighter might be just plain too big. I keep hearing from deer hunters that a proper deer gutting/skinning knife is about 4", absolute max 5", and can be as little as 3" or a hair under.

5) Double edge can be bad from any utility point of can't grab the spine and do sideways skinning, you can't use it as a log splitter and pound the spine with another bit of wood without that coming apart, etc.

6) Controversial point: the steel on a "pure streetfighter" need not be as Godzilla-tough as that of a dedicated wilderness survival knife.

7) Some designs are so "crazy-radical" that utility use pretty much got ditched along the way. The Fairbairn Cobra and my own Outsider are near-gonzo examples...

That said, it's possible to balance combat and utility usage. I feel the Mad Dog ATAK comes as close as any, and deserves an honored place in the list of "all time great knives" for that reason alone.

Jim March
Related to what Brian said, it allows them to make knives of much lower standards.

While its true as Jim said that many fighting knives have designs that are not especially great for field work, any piece of steel 1/4" thick should be able to withstand just about anything you can throw at it (short of a fully body press) without gross damage. If it can't then someone went wrong somewhere.

Not all makers hide behind such claims, for example look at some work by Walter Brend who uses many design elements common in pure fighters such as double edged grinds, but yet his knives are sold with no reservations about tough use.

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (With apologies to Shakespeare.)

I'm reminded of the Gerber catalogs I used to pore over back in the early 1980's, when I first became a knife nut. They listed their fighting knives, such as the Mark I and the Mark II, under a "Survival Knives" heading. (Perhaps they still use that designation; I haven't checked recently.) Both of these knives would be poor choices for one-and-only survival-knife applications, as their double edges and cross guards are simply too specialized for efficient use in normal cutting tasks (i.e., whittling sticks and processing game animals). But the semantics of the "survival knife" label did not bother me particulary, since it all depends on what you're trying to "survive." Self defense is definitely a survival situation. But then, so is making a midnight snack in the kitchen, if you think about it. And I understand the logic of wanting the more benign label from a public image standpoint. People who need such knives generally know what they are good for, regardless of the labels. On the other hand, some less knowledgeable folks are likely to be misled into thinking a particular knife is good for tasks it really was not designed for. When I bought my Gerber Mark I at a typical sporting goods store, the salesman tried to tell me it would be great for skinning deer. Yikes. I guess it would be good for poking a hole in a deer, and maybe that's a good start. In a pinch, anything is better than nothing, right?

David Rock
I think it all depends on your personal definitions of "fighting" and "survival" and the design and quality of the knife in question. For example I think a BK 4th gen. fighting bowie would do better in the "survival" field than a WalMart "Survival Special" with the hollow handle and useless serrations. It just may not be an ideal purpose built piece. For example my EDMF 12" Trench Bowie is primarily a fighter. The blade`s 3/16,has a sharpened false edge,and it has a big D guard. It`s pretty fast for it`s size and not *real* blade heavy. Lousy "survival knife" right? Well...not really. The wide 3/16" blade is a spring steel similar to L6 and darn near unbreakable,the false edge is only a pain when you`re trying to beat the spine of the blade through a log with another log,then you have to move down the spine a ways, and the D guard is actually nice when chopping as it holds the knife in the hand well and protects fingers. It chops well due to it`s massive size and good edge goemetry,slices well because of the fairly thin edge and a huge amount of belly and it even hammers pretty good with it`s thick steel butt cap and D guard. So what may at first appear to be a "pure fighter" may in fact have attributes that make it a good survival tool as well. It`s just that it`s been optimized for one and not the other. I know I`d sooner have a BK Bowie than a lot of other knives if I were stranded in the wilderness. Of course as David said daggers and such are a different story,the more specialized something is the worse it is for general use. Marcus
It is the old right tool for the right job issue. You don't take a formula one racer to the Paris-Dakar rally right?

Jim March nailed everything, right on the nose. There is only one point that I would take exception with and that is his point about steel toughness. A fighter wants to be the same carefull balance between toughness and edge holding as any other blade.

I would add that a fighter may be sharpened to a finer edge to optimize cutting efficiency over durability. That can be easily changed though, either way.

An ultimate fighting bowie should be double edged for the most part, and you couldn't very well split a chunk of wood by pounding on a sharpened spine with another piece of wood, now could you? I have a 10" Black Cloud FB3 that I have been wanting to press into service as a camp bowie because it is much heavier than my FB4s, and it is a fair chopper, but the tip 4" or so is thinner than 3/16" because of the sharpened, double-ground clip. So even though there is plenty of spine to pound on, I wouldn't want to seriously pry with it.

You can make the argument that a big stout combat knife like the Mad Dog TUSK is a great fighter, and it will puncture and pry an ammo can to pieces to boot. True, but a TUSK will never be as fast as a Panther, and in fighting, speed is life.

If you ever held a dedicated fighting bowie like the Black Cloud in your hands, and compared it to say a Cold Steel Trailmaster, you would know the difference right away. Its like the difference between a Greyhound and a Malemute. Do you wanna' catch a rabbit, or do you wanna' pull a sled?


[This message has been edited by Steve Harvey (edited 08 February 1999).]
I mentioned that the "less tough fighter" theory is controversial. Remember that a Black Cloud FB4 in ATS34 *is* weaker than, say, a Mad Dog Panther or probably even the Super Shrike. Is it "too weak to use as a fighter", even though His Angry Canineness wouldn't plant his seal of approval on such an "inferior" steel?

Hell no. *That's* mainly what I meant by "a fighter doesn't have to have ultra-steel" - a well-executed ATS34 piece is almost certainly adequate. The Outsider is ATS34 heat-treated with Ernie Mayer's recipe so it oughta be pretty close to the toughness of a Black Cloud...which is acceptable.

Newt Livesay understands this, and makes affordable custom 1095 fighters that are a *superb* value and functional as hell.

There are those that feel otherwise, Kevin McClung included...otherwise we'd have seen Panthers and other cool Mad Dog fighters in, say, uniform D2 that are adequate steel for "pure streetfighter" as opposed to the "battlefield grade monsters" Kevin specializes in. God bless Mad Dog for "unwavering quality", he sets a hell of a high standard and he sells every piece he makes...but I'd buy a D2 Panther for $400 in a heartbeat. I can't, and I'm not complaining...but thank god Ernie Mayer, Newt Livesay and others are around too.

Jim March
While there is no one saying that a knife designed for "fighting" would be the best design for field use, if I had a "fighting" knife that would fail under field use I would quickly get another "fighting" knife.

Combat conditions can be rigerous enough to be just or ever tougher than field use. Fighting knives should be able to stand up to impacts and torques much the same as field knives.

The much often remarked weakness of false edges grinds is a red herring. Strength is roughly proportional to steel cross section, now while the cross section decreases when you put a false edge on the knife it does not drop down to like 10% of what it was.

Lets say the drop in strength is 20%. Well if the strength is 80% of what the knife is without the false edge ground then it should not be a cause for worry. Why? Because any maker with any sense will not leave a knife so weak that if it was 20% weaker it would crack off. The variation in strength from person to person is much greater than that so he has to overbuild his knife, he can't make it for an "average person" as a fairly strong guy would mangle it.

And as for hiting the spine, sure you can. Just you a really hard piece of wood or strike to hit a knot etc. Anyway the primary grind is usually much thinner than the false one so you will still be able to drive it in with no problem even if your makeshift hammer digs into the false grind.

As an example I know a guy who owns a Panther, and while it would not be my choice of a field knife, he likes it and does rigerous chopping, splitting and hacking with it.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 09 February 1999).]
Most people carry rifles into combat these days. Fighting knives are for street fighting, and you don't need to be able to pry apart a log cabin with one.

Fighters are optimized for speed and balance, not blade mass and lateral strength. It is as simple as that. That is why Mad Dog makes the TUSK and the Panther. That is why Ernest Mayer of Black Cloud Knives says his fighting bowies are not camp knives.

Ernie will make you a camp knife if you want one. It will be made from the same steel, with the same optimum heat treatment, and it will be strong as heck. But it will have a smaller, single, lower guard, and it won't have a 2/3 length, double ground clip... on mine anyway.


[This message has been edited by Steve Harvey (edited 09 February 1999).]
If its the same steel with the same heat treat how much weaker is the fighter going to be than the camp knife?

The false edge does not weaken a knife that much, lots of people use false edge or even full doubled edge knives for heavy field use. I would heavily bet if I could break one of Ernies fighting bowies then I could break his camp knives unless there is more difference that you are describing.

The question was not are they the best designs for field use but can they be used as such, big difference.

OK, Cliff, you certainly out-flanked me there. Ernie Mayer and Kevin McClung are just putting something over on us by making different models for fighting and "combat" missions. They must think it quite funny.

I thought we were talking about the difference between a fighter and a survival knife. You can certainly use one for the other, and you can even make a good compromise, such as the Randal Model 1 and model 16, the Brend Model 2, and so on. But if you set out to make the best knife for each mission, you certainly wouldn't make them both the same.

As I mentioned, I have a 10" Black Cloud FB3 that I have been thinking of using as a camp knife. The distal three or four inches of the blade are about 5/32" thick, max. If you stuck two inches of that in a crack in a piece of firewood and torqued, you would be a fool. If the same blade did not have a swedge, I would try it, because Ernie gets as much or more performance out of a uniformly tempered piece of knife steel as anybody in the business.
Steve I was not debating the issue that the two types of knives are equally suited for each others tasks, they obviously are not.

However, some people are too quick to throw out fighting knives as unsuitable for field use because they are too weak. The it has a false/double edge arguement specifically. That does not have the dramatic effect that people seem to think it does in regards to strength. Well it depends on the way that its done of course, but I can't imagine grinding one that reduces the strenght by 90% say.

As an example take my afck with the double ground tip. It can take enough strain on prying with the blade near the tip to cause the handle to distort and I would bet that the handle would pop before I would crack the M2 blade in half. However I am not really willing to give it a go, maybe after I get the fixed blade from madpoet out of D2 as I won't be using the AFCK any more ...

In regards to the Brend #2 specifically I went over this point with Les specifically and in more detail in email than on the forum. I don't intend to baby it and made it quite clear to him, he was not concerned about it.

Anyway, usually the double/false grinds are not going to drop a knife by an amount of toughness close to the variation in strength in the customer base. Therefore if the "fighting" version cracks odds are the field version will not survive either.

Cliff, the actual false edge or double edge sometimes matters less than attempts at weight savings out near the goal of a fighter is to have it balance as close to the guard as possible to allow fast direction changes. The resulting distal taper of some pieces may matter more than the actual upper edge sharpness in reducing tip strength.

Or at least, that's one style of fighter. Other types like the Khukuri, some big Bowies and Fairbairn Cobra and others use "tip-heaviness" to get extra power and as a side effect can be excellent heavy utility knives. Fuzz's "Juggernaught" was headed down that path...

Jim March
Sorry, Cliff. I completely misunderstood you. I thought when you wrote "...Related to what Brian said, it allows them to make knives of much lower standards", and "Not all makers hide behind such claims..." you were slamming Black Cloud Knives Fighting Bowies. But now I see that you are saying that they are really much better survival knives than Ernest Mayer was suggesting. Is that right?

[This message has been edited by Steve Harvey (edited 11 February 1999).]
That's it exactly Steve. While its not the design I would pick, different strokes for different folks and all that.

Jim I realize what the merits of the design are, I was only commenting on what its faults were not.

Anyway not all khukuris are balanced the same as the very top heavy Ang Khola. For example an 18'th Century actually has the blade hollow ground above the sabre grind in order to move the center of gravity back towards the grip for the reason you note, its a fighter not a utility based piece. The Sirupati and WWII model are similar but not as neutrally balanced, but still much more so than the Ang Khola.


I posed this same question on the MAD DOG forum. The answer I received from Kevin
was simple and to the point. Fighting knives are not survival knives and vice versa.
Comparing the typical survival tasks like chopping and splitting, my ATAK our performs
my Panther. While the ATAK is wonderful to hold and move, the Panther is a far superior
fighter. Words cannot describe the oneness you feel with this blade. Until I had the
opportunity to play with both knives, I did not really understand. In retrospect it seems so

Regarding the question of steels, just like a survival knife, if you are going to use it then
your life depends on your fighter. To compromise the steel when a differentially tempered
state of the art O1 blade is available does not make sense. Kind of like buying a cheap
motorcycle helmet. How much is your head worth?