Livesay RTAK

Mar 20, 1999
I ordered an RTAK about 3 weeks ago. Newt told me on the phone that he wasn't sure if I'd get one out of "this next batch" but he would try.

I got it on Thursday afternoon.

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OAL - 17"
Blade length - 10" or 10 3/4" depending on how you measure. If you count the unsharpened part of the blade, it's 10 3/4".
Blade material - 3/16" 1095 tool steel
Handle material - black linen Micarta
Sheath material - black Kydex and OD Nylon webbing.

First impressions are important, and this is a concept that Newt apparently understands.

Fit and finish on the knife are excellent.
There are no gaps or high or low areas between the Micarta scales and the tang of the knife. You can't feel the transition from scale to tang with your fingers. The knife feels like one solid piece.

The blade is flat ground and the spine of the knife has been nicely rounded. These are suprising features these days and are areas where Newt could save time and money, but answers to a higher calling than his wallet.

Blade grinds are even and the knife was hair shaving sharp upon arrival.

The black oxide (Parkerized) finish on the knife looked almost like a baked-on epoxy coat when I first got the knife. I can't believe how well the knife looks after 2 days of hard use.

The sheath is well formed and sturdy.

Friday, I trimmed some lower new growth branches off one of the apple trees, hacked some old blackberry out of a fenceline, took out a few feet of trumpet vine, and cut a few pieces of rope. The edge didn't shave when I was done and the knife looked beat. A quick wipe down with oil took most of the crud off the knife. I used plain soap and hot water in the shower to clean the rest of the blade. (For those of you who are asking - YES! I did shower with my knife.)

After the shower, I dried the knife well, grabbed the Lansky ceramic stick "V" type sharpener and used the medium (grey) rods only. The knife was back to shaving hair in no time.

I sat at my computer last night thinking, "TOMORROW, THE REAL WORKOUT BEGINS!!!"

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I got up this morning, strapped the RTAK to my hip, went outside, and commenced to cutting again. Today, the planets must have been lined up right because I had a hard time dulling the knife. I chopped more apple branches, small saplings, maple branches (some as thick as 3"), old dry blackberry, and more trumpet vine. I was really pounding away and twisting the blade out of some of the branches. Then my eyes fell upon the barn. There is a pile of SEASONED wood (pine and oak) next to the barn and I thought, "Hmmmm......" I went over and found old 4x4 pieces and started hacking into the sides of them. Not a problem for the RTAK! I was even splitting some of the old pieces lengthwise like kindling. My wife even joked that I should make her a bunch of woodchips for the flower bed. There was no stopping the knife!

Next to the wood pile there is an old tractor tire. I started hacking and slashing at it. The RTAK just chewed away and begged for more. Then I did something stupid. I decided to stab through the tire. I hit the tire over and over with good solid thrusts, but the RTAK's point would only penetrate about 1/4" into the decades old cord reinforced rubber walls of the tire. Of course, my wife and kids had to be standing by watching when I flipped the knife into a reverse grip, grabbed the handle with both hands, raised it above my head, and with a mighty bout of cranial rectumitis, rammed the knife home, breaking the grip of my left hand and running my pinky finger over the edge of the blade.

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If my finger hadn't been curved around the edge, I would have severed one of my tendons. As it is, the cut only took 8 mattress stitches (equal to 16 single stitches).

For those of you who want a closeup click here.

I think it's a tribute to the edge holding ability of this knife that I didn't feel any pain. It's been about 13 hours since it happened and I still don't feel much, just a little soreness.

After I got home from the hospital, my buddy Dave and I went back outside with the RTAK and started chopping again.

More saplings fell, more wood blocks were chopped, and finally we took turns whacking the old barn itself. We made hard, straight cuts, not angular chops, into the 1x6's on the side of the barn and we were prying boards off the barn and chopping old electrical wire. The RTAK was steadily chewing everything up.

Dave commented that he would like to carry a knife like this into battle. I think it might be a little big for a "battle knife," but wouldn't mind having one if I were stuck on an island somewhere. I'd take one to the swamps, jungle, or the back 40 with me anyday. I have dubbed it my new offical yard work knife.

The only potential problem I can see in this knife is the handle. Although comfortable, the handle seems a bit large. Dave says the handle IS too big for him. So, if you have smaller hands, you might want to talk to Newt before ordering one.

I think I am going to be looking at the HKR next.

Visit Joel's Place
"You ought to weigh everything that's proposed by the government...against the loss of personal freedom." -- Ronald Reagan

My wife saw the picture and commented that this sounds like me.

I saw the RTAK at the gun show and I think that if there ever was a good cross between a machete and a big knife, this is it. A good combo for the bush as well as utility chopping. The one I held felt relatively light and quick. I was not to impressed with the finish on the two that I saw, but it that may have been only those two. I have not seen any other Livesay knives to comment on them.
Cobalt, I am a decently big guy (5' 11" / 250lbs) and I do not find the RTAK to be light or quick. You must be a monster.

I have ruined numerous machetes, saws, and cheap hatchets out here. I've been impressed so far with the RTAK, Cold Steel's Kukris, and the Ontario Survival Machete thing I used to have although it was pretty much just a sharpened prybar.

I live on the better part of the landlord's 400 acres and we have lots of stuff to chop. Any of you guys near northwest Indiana or Chicago want to come by and test a blade, you are more than welcome. Free iced tea and peanut butter sandwiches. (I have 4 kids, peanut butter is a staple!)

[This message has been edited by the4th (edited 05-01-2000).]
After looking on Livesay's site, the two that I saw were actually RCM's, not RTAK's, sorry for the confusion. The RCM is longer. As for the lightness, compared to the Battle Mistress, Himalayan Imports Khukuri's and even the TOP's Anaconda that I held at the gun show, those RCM's felt very light. More of a Beefy machete is what I would call the RCM's.
The RCM is very light compared to a Busse Battle Mistress, it feels weightless compared to one of the larger khukuris. It however feels heavy compared to a 1/16" machete.

As for finish, I was very surprised at the finish on my RCM, I had expected a rough working knife and was prepared to take the edge down. This was not needed and overall the finish was very high. As commented on in the above, the rounded spine really surprised me. I wish my Battle Mistress was like that and will eventually grind it similar.

I have handled the Busse Basics 9 and found it to be a good feeling knife. I didn't realize the Battle Misstress was advertised at 5 ounces heavier than the Basic. I've been eyeing a BM for a while and if the smaller Battle Mistress is heavier than the RTAK, I don't think I'll order one after all. Not until I grow some more muscles!

I've also been looking at some of the larger Kukri knives. Now I'm wondering about the fatigue factor.
My Battle Mistress was 700 g, I don't know how much an RCM weighs but there is a huge difference in spine thickness. My RCM was about .17", the whole blade was actually ground down from the 3/16" stock of the tang. The BM is .275" . The two of them side by side shows the BM as being obviously much thicker. As for fatigue with the larger khukuris it depends on what you are doing with them. For what they are made to do the fatigue is low as the ability is high.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 05-02-2000).]
As soon as I figure out what a "g" is, I'll try a conversion and see what that weighs in English.

Cliff, did you do an RTAK vs. Battle Mistress comparison? I'd like to see the results if you did. It seems to me the .275 blade thickness on the BM would be a bit of overkill.
Wow this is a great review. I have an RTAK coming in the next week or so and I just can't wait. The only problem is I'll have to write a review AT LEAST as good as the4th! Hopefully I won't slice my hand up though

"Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n"
John Milton
There are only two types of people; those who understand this, and those who think they do.
If you had to pick between a RCM and an RTAK for general utility use, which one you you choose and why?
Is that question for me or Cliff?

I would prefer the RTAK for general utility as it's thicker and shorter than the RCM. There are some times when a longer knife (ie: machete, sword, pole arm) would be better out here for chopping some of the dense stuff, but by far most of the chopping chores can be done with RTAK. I am thinking of getting a CS Bushman and a long stick for areas where I need a little more reach.
The only real pain from the injury will be felt when the hospital bill arrives. I once got a bill for over $600 for 2 stiches (Ek M-5 induced). I think they put me on the "gold plan".

It was for anyone who feels like answering. My concern with the RTAK is that it has a blade that is almost 2" shorter than the RCM. Most of what I would be using it for would be chopping stuff and a shorter blade means I have to bend over more. How much of a difference is there in chopping and/or cutting effectiveness between the two? I don't thing that a bushman would be that effective of a chopping tool mounted on anything longer than a foot long or so stick.

"Gold is for the mistress, silver for the maid,
Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade.
Good! Said the baron, while sitting in his hall,
But Iron, Cold Iron, is master of them all." - Kipling
The4th, the weight of the BM does make most light brush work fatiguing, but then again it is not really intended for that. The extra weight does enhance the ability for heavier work and of course gives it enough strength for heavy prying. The edge profile is rather thin (more acute than the RCM) so it in general carves and slices well.

It would be interesting to see if the thinner profile of the RTAK allowed it to outchop the BM on light to medium wood, the RCM could. Concerning your comment about the relative thickness of the RCM vs RTAK are you sure they are different? I know Newt has two versions of the RCM, one suited for jungle work (I think influenced by Randall) and one slightly thicker.

One ounce by the way is 28.349 g .

Based on the published specs, the RCM is only an inch longer than the RTAK. I understand that it is quite a bit thinner though and would probably cut lighter vegetation better.

I've not handled a Bushman yet, and was working from pics. Looking back at the knife design, I see where the "one foot" stick recommendation would come from. It doesn't look heavy enough for something longer. Think I could push the handle length to 15 inches? Maybe a nice heavy piece of hickory or oak? That might make a good working blade for around here.

There was a question asked of me via e-mail about my hand placement on the RTAK at the time of injury. Here are some staged photo's and explainations.


Were you clumsy in holding the knife as you thrust it into the old tire?


Apparently, but I think it was more clumsy of me to be stabbing a big giant tractor tire that has been hardening in the sun for 10 years.
Photo 1 - Knife was held over my head in a two handed reverse grip. I was squatting next to the tire.
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Photo 2 - I rammed the knife downward into the tire. I wasn't paying attention to where I was aiming and caught the thick, hard tread of the tire. The tip penetrated about 3/8"
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Photo 3 - My not paying attention to where I stabbed + the sudden stop in the forward travel of the knife caused my grip to break and my left hand slid forward onto the edge.
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If you draw the same reversed S on your pinkie, you can close your hand and see how the cut got that shape. (If you can't, then you drew wrong.

Here's another question from the e-mail.


Is it [sic] structural defect on the handle construction of the knife?


It should be noted that my right hand DID NOT slip at all from the handle. Perhaps Micarta is grippier (is that a word?) than human skin and that's why my left hand slipped. Another thing that should be noted is that, IMHO, this isn't a hard target thrusting weapon, it's a chopping or smashing tool.

Although the handle may be a bit big, I don't think the design is flawed. The bump in the middle may cause a hot spot for some, but I have a callous on that part of my finger anyway. I may do some grinding on the handle so it will fit MY hand better. If I do take on the task, I will cut higher into the handle so there is more of a guard effect on the fore part.

Additional comments on the RTAK were as follows:

1) Handle design of RTAK has a sliding curve at the front that almost align to the blade.

Not really. There could be more of a guard there though. (If you are going to use it to thrust with.)

2) Blade design has a pronounced swedge giving the assumption that it is designed also for thrusting as well as for chopping.

That's what I originally though.

3) If it is so, I think the handle design is wrong for the use the knife is designed for.

IF. Once again. I don't think it's a thruster unless you are using it against soft targets. (If I say that enough, I will remember it!) Perhaps the swedge on this knife is just another asthetic bonus.

4) When I took a look at other knives in this category I find that safety of the knife user is a big consideration in the overall design and the relation of the handle to the blade.

Again, I don't feel the knife was unsafe here. It was the user who was unsafe. I used the knife in a manner that had I actually thought once about, I would have thought twice about.

5) I placed this in a private email so as not to create a stir for I know that there are huge fans of Livesay knives out there, I for one.

I can't think of a bigger Livesay fan than myself. But Newt's man enough to take criticism (if there is any here), comments, recommendations, and praise well.

When I first started filing grip serrations on my Woo and making "improvements," I sent an e-mail to Newt to show him what I did. He didn't pout that I didn't like his design, he didn't yell at me for ruining "his" knife, he didn't call me a stupid SOB and tell me I voided my warranty, he said, "Great minds must think alike, another one of my customers out in California wants that done to his Woo's. I think I will start having the serrations lasered in. I'll send you a free one when they come in and you can tell people it was your idea." (It wasn't really MY idea.) Customer input is important to Newt. Good or bad. (By the way, the free knife did come and my little brother in Texas carries it.)

I am going to drop Newt a line about the Kukri he wants to start making. I think 5160 might be a better steel than 1095 for the job. Newt may differ in opinion, but I guarantee the man will look into it and check to see if there is any validity to the recommendation. He is constantly trying to make his product, his company, and himself better.

Cliff, I thought that Jeff's testing of the RCM in Peru is what brought about the RTAK. I didn't know there were 2 versions out. See, there's another example of a maker changing his products for his customer's needs! Ya gotta love that. Which version were you testing?

(Sorry about splitting this up into 3 pieces, BF kept choking if I didn't.)
I had the thinner model, it is what you get by default. I didn't know there was a choice when I ordered it. The heavier model is made from slightly thicker stock and is ground to a more obtuse edge.

Thanks for the details on the stab, you would need a very large guard indeed to prevent a double grip from failing. Personally I don't regard that as a failure, if you had used a one handed grip though and a similar thing happened it would be different.

The following is a quote about the RTAK from a post on Newt's forum by Jeff Randall.

The handle on the RTAK was designed around my hand :-(

Actually the larger design comes from work in the jungle. Most of this work is on thinner vegetation where hard chopping is not required. When you're swinging and moving fast a larger handle gives you more control. The large surface area also makes for a better grip when your hand's sweaty or it's pouring buckets of rain.

A lot of people don't really understand this blade and what it was designed for. Sure you can 'bushwhack' with anything from a club to a cheap machete like I've heard on other forums, but when you're traveling low and fast through flooded jungle, you have to have a blade that will take out headbanging vines and black palms in a hurry, or else you either end up being clotheslined, impaled, wipe you and your gear out of the boat, or four and a half million fire ants that were nested around the vine come tumbling into the boat with you. This blade was designed as a special purpose blade for moving rapidly and efficiently. The shorter design coupled with cutting efficiency keeps the safety factor in the blade since team operations usually have close quarters in jungle watercraft. I've seen the damage of fast movement coupled with the point man's long machete completely follwoing through on to the man behind him. Due to this design, there's several spec ops guys and a few narco police using this as their primary bush machete now....and there's more signing on. All in all, this is a true special operations it's not a Hollywood warrior's knife, but literally designed around special tasks.

I've heard a few comments that the blade has a tendancy to bind up a little easier in heavy chopping. This is true, but for jungle work and vegetation it will walk circles around the thicker blades. For its designed purpose, I'll put it up against anything on the market. As far as cutting efficiency in heavy vegetation, the only thing that comes close is a well sharpened Ontario 18" machete.
Concerning large grips and heavy chopping, that is exactly what I would prefer for most of the reasons Randall describes with the addition of the fact that a larger handle promotes more of an open grip which is much less fatiguing.

As for his comments about the cutting ability of an 18" Ontario, while that is a decent blade, it is far from top of the line. There are lots of blades that will easily out cut it and some like Ross Aki's fully convex 1/16" machetes are not even in the same class. Get Ed Schott to make a large machete out of 3V and see how it compares to the 18" Ontario for an even bigger performance difference.

As for an RTAK vs Battle Mistress, I would not bet it to be a direct blowout for a lot of cutting chores. The edge grind on the Battle Mistress for one thing is probably thinner, it was so as compared to the RCM I had. While the stock is thicker, the edge grind is of primary importance for a lot of things, and critical for everything else. I reprofiled the edge on my Basic #7 and it made over a 100% improvement in most cutting chores.

Interesting comments about group and boat work.