Ontario Knives RAT-7

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Mar 7, 2005
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This is a review I wrote a while back, it has been posted on some other forums, and I thought some people here might like to read it. It was written a while ago, and I have not really reviewed it in detail, so there may be things that are outdated. As well, with the passage of time, my views of knives and thier uses changes and evolves, so my opinions as expressed in the review may or may not hold 100% true today.

The Ontario Knife Company RAT-7
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Background

“Randall’s Adventure & Training is a professional survival training, expedition guiding, and outdoor gear research and design team based in Alabama and conducting operations in Latin America. RAT is the only legal U.S. representative of the Peruvian Air Force school of jungle survival - ESSEL (Escuela de Supervivencia en la Selva), and holds legal documentation and contracts with the Air Force of Peru.” (source RAT website)

The RAT line of knives is a collaboration between Ontario Knife Company and the Randall’s Adventure & Training team. The collaboration between RAT and Ontarion began in 2002, when Ontario introduced the production version of Jeff Randall’s RTAK knife. Designed for jungle use, the RTAK fit between a machete class knife and a large belt knife in size, and quickly gained a reputation as being a premier knife for military jungle operations.

After the success of the RTAK, Ontario and RAT introduced the TAK-1, a 4.25” fixed blade knife. The TAK features a very nice set of canvas micarta grips (in the 1095 version) and a full flat grind for maximum cutting efficiency. The TAK was designed as a utility knife, large enough to handle many field tasks yet small enough to be easily carried. The TAK has proven itself in the field, most notably at the hands of Biologist, Wilderness Skills Guru and Writer, Dr. Terry Trier, whose article on the TAK was published in Tactical Knives magazine.

Fitting nicely between the RTAK and TAK is the RAT-7. Designed as a full size wilderness survival and utility knife, the RAT-7 ideally suited to military personnel deployed in a variety of Areas of Operation. Before production of the RAT-7 began, Jeff Randall sought the input from a cadre of military personnel, law enforcement officers and outdoorsmen. With their input, some minor changes and tweaks were made to perfect the design. From the deserts of Iraq to the jungles of South America, the RAT-7 was designed to be a capable, dependable and high performance cutting tool that a soldier, outdoorsman, or adventurer could depend upon to meet all their cutting needs and bring them home alive.

Having read Jeff Randall's excellent articles in magazines and conversed with him on his disccusion board, I was excited to try this blade out. From my perspective, Jeff Randall and I have many things in common when it comes to what we like in a knife.

Specifications

That RAT-7 features a 7 inch blade and an overall length of 12 inches. The actual cutting edge is 6.5”, with the first ½” of blade being a nicely sized choil. The knife is ground from 3/16” stock with a full flat grind. There are two versions offered, one in 1095 high carbon steel, and the other an upgraded model in D2 Tool Steel. Each of these version is available with a partially serrated edge.

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The 1095 model features nicely textured green canvas micarta handle scales and a zinc phosphate finish. The D2 model features rather smooth black linen micarta handle scales, a grey powder-coat finish and the RAT logo nicely etched into the side of the blade.

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Both of the steel choices offered are excellent ones. D2 is an almost stainless, air hardening, highly carbided tool steel. It offers excellent edge retention and aggressive cutting performance. The 1095 steel, used for decades to make millions of knives, is a good simple steel. It is tougher than D2, which means it is less likely to chip out under hard use, and is much easier to sharpen, due to being simpler (less carbides) and it is heat treated softer (about 56RC vs about 59Rc for the D2). However, 1095 steel will readily stain and rust if not cared for. The Zinc Phosphate finish does provide some corrosion protection, but as with any coated blade, the most important part of the knife- the cutting edge- is not protected. A little staining is no big deal to me; I would not buy a knife of this class for cosmetics. Using the knife frequently, as well as sharpening it and wiping it down with an oily rag from time to time should be more than adequate to protect the knife from rust.

Initial Impressions

For this review, I chose the 1095 version. For my uses, 1095 is the better steel for a field knife, primarily for its ease of sharepning, but also for its toughness. The 1095 knife came decently sharp from the factory, but it was not quite shaving sharp. I steeled it for about 45 seconds on a grooved Henkels kitchen steel, and it would shave hair from my arm. In contrast, the D2 version came with a hair popping edge from the factory.

The knife is well finished, especially the tang to scale fit. The grinds are even and the zinc phosphate finish evenly applied. The traction grooves along the spine are well formed and even. The is a small amount of tang expossed at the pommel, with a laynard attachement hole. The handle is a very ergonomic shape, offering comfort and security in a wide rangle of positions. It fits my rather large hand like a glove.

The knife same supplied with a Spec. Ops. Nylon sheath with a kydex liner. Because the RAT-7 sheaths are being upgraded to an even higher quality model, I have not focused much of the review on it. I do however, like the sheath, it is well built and offers a variety of attachment points.

Given the intended role of this knife as a wilderness survival, utility and combat knife, I used the knife much harder than I normally use a fine cutting tool. For many portions of this review, I used the knife side by side with a K-BAR Next Generation knife. I thought this was a fitting choice for comparison since they are both designed to fill the same role. As well, many people reading this review will be familiar with the performance of the K-BAR.

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Kitchen Work
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Chicken Stir Fry ala Chad

As always, I began by using the knife in the kitchen. I find that kitchen work provides me with a lot of feedback on how a knife will perform in general (low stress) cutting tasks. Since getting the RAT-7, I have prepared numerous meals with it. Although it is much thicker than is optimal for a kitchen knife (I usually use knives that are about 1/16” thick with full flat grinds and very thin edges), the full flat grind allows it to perform well for a knife of its size. The knife was very secure with wet, soapy or greasy hands, because of the excellent ergonomic shape of the handle, and also due to the texture of the canvas micarta handle.

Comparison to K-BAR: Though they are the same stock thickness, the RAT-7 is much more efficient in the kitchen. The short saber grind of the K-BAR does not allow it to cut though vegtables without splitting them. A well, the RAT-7’s excellent handle makes it more comfortable in a wide array of grip positions, and the choil allows me to choke up on the blade for more control in fine cutting tasks.

Splitting Wood
For me, any hard use outdoors knife has to be able to split wood. When there is three feet of snow on the ground, the only way to get dry wood is to take down dead standing wood, knock off the portions that are saturated and split the rounds into easy to burn thickness. As well as a suitable splitting tool, a good saw is an essential wilderness comanion for me, especially in the winter.

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The RAT-7 performed very well at splitting wood. The 7” blade allows wood up to 5 inches to be split with ease. The handle was very comfortable, and remained secure, with no vibration issues that can sometime happen when splitting wood with a full tang knife. Here, the toughness of the 1095 steel really shines. After being pounded through enough wood to get a nice blaze going, it was still sharp enough to scrape hair of my arm. There were no flat spots, no edge rolling and no chips.

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In terms of real world utility, after spittling the wood, the knife was stil sharp enough to fuzz up sticks to begin the fire making process.

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Comparison to K-BAR: Though the KBAR was easily tough enough to split wood, it was not nearly as eficient as the RAT-7. This was primarily due to the sharpened swedge along the top of the blade near the tip. The swedge would imbed itself into the baton, drasticlaly reducding the amount of energy transferred to the actual splitting. On average, on wood that wood take the RAT-7 five baton strikes to split, it would take the K-Bar about seven hits, as well as time wasted freeing the swedge from the baton.

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Sharpening

I chose the 1095 steel for its ease of sharpening, it is soft enough to be readily steeled in the field. When I was done with the splitting work, I set about sharpening the knife with my Edge-Pro. To be clear, the knife was not dull by any means, I just wanted to thin the edge a bit to make the knife perform the way.


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I used a three stage sharpening process, applying the first edge at 18 degrees per side, then 15 degrees per side to “knock off the shoulders” of the grind (AKA add a back bevel), then added a 20 degree per side micro bevel. For each stage I used the Course stone to set the edge, the worked through the 220, 400 and 600 grit stones.

The very edge of the knife is not dramatically thinner, but with the shoulders removed from the edge the cutting performance was noticeably better, while still allowing for a high degree of durability.

For wood work, a more polished edge is ideal, however for kitchen wok and general utility tasks, which are the majority of my cutting needs, I prefer the tootheir, more aggressive edge that a slightly courser stone leaves. If wood working was on the agenda, I could have used the Ultra-fine stones, or even the polishing tapes to produce a mirror polished edge.

Back to the Kitchen

With the edge thinned out a bit, I went back to the kitchen. I used the RAT-7 to prepare a number of meals, cutting all sorts of meats, fruits, vegetables and breads. There were no dings or rolls in the edge after accidental glances off bone and ceramic plates. Quartering roasted chickens, cleaving through the breast and back bones, as well as using the tip to pop the thigh joints showed me the edge was easily tough enough to handle the work I would expect of it.

On a cold Winter day, there are few things more comforting than a hot bowl of heart soup. A good one for Michigan Winters is Bean Soup ala Chad.

Soak an assortment of beans overnight and drain. Pick out any that have not swelled. Also make sure there are no rocks mixed in with the beans

Chop up a couple onions, some garlic, celery, carrots and left-over ham. If you want more soup, chop up lots. If you want to make less, don’t chop up so much.
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Add stock to cover, bring to boil, then reduce to a low simmer for a few hours.
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Serve with a crusty loaf of bread, a nice red wine and enjoy with someone you love.

Sometimes, a simple repast can be the finest, and one of my favorite light meals is fruit and cheese.
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Utility Work

I used the RAT-7 for a number of utility taks, both because I had things that needed to be done, and to get a feel for how the knife cuts. Cutting cardboard, the Rat-7 performed well, and held its edge for longer than I expected. In comparison to the K-BAR, the RAT-7 required much less force to push through the cardboard.

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I also used the RAT-7 to cut through a number of zip ties. I tend to zip tie many bits of equipment when packing forthe field to keep it secure. I have found that cutting through the hard plastic can be damaging to an edge. Here, this was not an issue, the RAT-7 pull cut through zip ties after zip tie without effecting the edge at all.

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Tip Strength and Handle Security Under Extreme Use

After a cold spell, I found that our Koi pond was frozen over, despite the bubbler that keeps the water flowing. The fish need a hole in the ice to allow for gas exchange or they will die. Given the price of nice Koi and my daughter's affection toward them, I am vigilent in keeping a breathing hole open.

Usually I use an old drywall hammer with an edge ground on it to so this, but since I had the RAT-7 on me, I used it instead. Using an icepick grip, I hammered the tip into the 4” thick ice, breaking out an opening. The integral guard provided excellent security, my hand never budged and given the force I was stabbing the ice with, it was not uncomfortable. The tip was uneffected by this use.

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Conclusion

The RAT-7 lives up to its heritage in an excellent line of knives. It is an extremely cohesive design, providing good cutting performance, durability, ergonomics and security.



Resources:

The Randall's Adventure and Training website, which includes an informative discusion forum can be found here:
www.jungletraining.com
 

JTC

Joined
Dec 22, 2002
Messages
1,394
Thanks for such an informative and insightful review. It's really nice when people with talent for such things take time out to do it. I really enjoyed reading it. The Rat-7 is on my short list of knives to get.
 
Joined
Mar 7, 2005
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Thanks for the kind words.

The baton splitting was bit of a suprise, as I have found that saber ground knives often split wood faster than full flat grinds.

In this case, the sharpened swedge on the Kbar was very mucha liability. Of course, such a swedge has uses outside the self defense realm, as a scraper, cutting through dirt covered roots, and otherwise perserving the fine main edge.

Notable is that Kbar swedges are often shaving sharp, or at most a few swipes away on a fine stone, from the factory.

I have been thinking of taking that Kbar, grinding it to a spear point (and lose about an inch and half of overall blade length), and give it a full flat grind. I have been thinking that would make a useful outdoors knife.
 
Joined
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Nice work. Where would you prefer the Ka-Bar?

-Cliff

Well, the Ka-Bar is very corrosion-resistant stainless steel (440A or 12c27, I don't recall off hand), so obviously for use in wet conditions, it has an advantage there. Not because of rust on the body of the blade (which would basically just be cosmetic, and thus of no consequence), but rather on the edge. As seen in many bodies of work and reviews (including your own), rust on the edge quickly leads to crumbling and degradation of the edge, and thus dramtic loss in cutting performance.

Additionally, the Ka-Bar handle has a fully enclosed tang, better for really cold weather.

As well, I think the Ka-Bar was less expensive. Also, I carried a Ka-Bar as a field knife for much of my teen age years, so it does have some sentimental appeal. I have a scar on my left hand from being careless with one. That was an original 1095, leather handle, etc.

The Ka-bar may be a better "fighting knife", but I am about as tactical as a gold fish, so I really don't have the knowledge to evaluate that, nor do I really care.

IN general, I think the RAT-7 is a direct improvement over the Ka-Bar. The handle is about perfect. The only changes I would make to the design would be to eliminate the lage riccasso/ finger notch and run the blade all the way the handle, and grind it a tad thinner (which I will eventually do).

Although 1095 is a good choice, I would proabably have picked L6 for this knife, were production considerations not an issue.
 
Joined
Apr 8, 2006
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Between D2 and 1095, I´d have gone for the 1095 too.

Though the KBAR was easily tough enough to split wood, it was not nearly as eficient as the RAT-7. This was primarily due to the sharpened swedge along the top of the blade near the tip. The swedge would imbed itself into the baton, drasticlaly reducding the amount of energy transferred to the actual splitting.
That mirrors my experience with knives that have these false edges at the spine.

Great review. Detailed, without getting overly technical.
 
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Thanks, after reading it again, I have to say my typing skills suck. Perhaps a spell checker would be a good idea for me :)
 
Joined
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As a RAT fan, I always enjoy rading reviews on their products. Thanks for the great review and excellent pictures. It would be interesting to know how of if your views on the RAT7 have changed.
 
Joined
Oct 23, 2006
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107
Great review and so valuable given I am about to buy this blade and I have been on a very lengthy hunt for a reasonable priced field/camp and survival knife. I am also going for the 1095.
 
Joined
Jun 4, 2007
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First of all, thanks for a great review. posts like that are one-in-a-million online these days, I'm glad to see people still take time to fully share their experience with others. On to my second point, a question. I live in Portland, Oregon, an area classified as a "temperate rainforest". With that in mind, I've been looking into a RAT-7 to compliment my RTAK-II; it would serve as a knife I could always depend on and be able to carry more easily than a behemoth like the RTAK-II. So, should I go with D2 for its increased stainless qualities (because I'll frequently be in a damp environment), or 1095 because it seems to be a better steel for the types of things (wilderness survival, backpacking) i would be using the knife for?
 
Joined
Jun 19, 2007
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Great review. I haven't had my Rat-7 long enough to give it hard use yet so it's good to know it can handle it.

I'm from Michigan also and I'd really like that recipe for "heart soup" sounds great!:D
 
Joined
Jun 17, 2007
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yip i just got mine today, i know it will live up to the camp chores i willl put it through this weekend.
 
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May 20, 2007
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Thanks for the review. I've been researching the RAT 7 and this thread has really helped seal the deal for me.

Now, I just need to find where to get it!:)
 
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Dec 4, 2005
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...So, should I go with D2 for its increased stainless qualities (because I'll frequently be in a damp environment), or 1095 because it seems to be a better steel for the types of things (wilderness survival, backpacking) i would be using the knife for?

Well, as the resident RAT-7 D2 defender of this and a number of other forums I read, I have to say that I love my RAT-7 in D2. I've read so many times it's nauseating how D2 isn't good for big knives, how it's not tough, how it's so hard to sharpen that it's pointless, blah blah blah. I'm sure 1095 is a good steel, but after extended use I'll take D2 anytime.

Here's my take: when I got my RAT-7, the edge was ground off-center and it wasn't very sharp at all. I was disappointed, but figured this was a good time to learn some sharpening skills. Starting with a diamond hone, I worked that blade for a couple of hours, off and on, trying to get the edge where I wanted it. This I can report: D2 is VERY wear-resistant steel! After I'd worked at it long enough, I ended up finally getting a power bench grinder from Home Depot and very carefully nudging the edge (really don't want to mess up that heat treatment) until it came down to where I wanted it.

Finally, I used my diamond hone again to get the edge fairly sharp. It wasn't until I bought a Spyderco Sharpmaker and learned to use it that I got my edges truly remarkeable. Now I can chop like mad with my RAT7 for hours at a time, then use the Sharpmaker for 5 minutes and have the edge easily shaving hair again.

As for toughness, I've chopped dry wood, green wood, plants, limbs, food, cardboard, paper, more wood, and shaped some pretty cool walking sticks with it. Not a chip, bend, or problem of any kind. Since D2 is 12% chromium, it's almost stainless which is really nice. I did find a bit of rust on the edge one time the morning after some kitchen use, so it's not perfect. That hasn't happened again, partly because I'm careful to wipe it dry and then wave it in the air before I re-sheath it.

Until someone takes a D2 and a 1095 RAT7 and abuses both of them, we're probably not going to validate the toughness/rustproof debate.

I say get the D2, and don't worry about how tough it is. Mine has done admirably through the worst I could throw at it! It's a great companion for any trip to the woods, feels great in the hand, and the longer I have it the better I like it.
 
Joined
Sep 13, 2014
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I know this is a very old thread and I am likely never to receive a reply, but I have to agree with Mountainman. D2 is excellent steel, especially here in east Canada's frequently damp climate. It takes less maintenance to keep it rust free than 1095. I end up resharpening my 1095 blades at least once when butchering a deer. I can butcher several deer with a D2 blade and it's still going strong. I have noticed that many folk in this forum are almost religiously 1095, though. There are other good steels out there. As for D2, it sharpens up just fine on Japanese water stones. It takes a little more effort but the results last and last and last and . . . The trick is, just like with my farrier tools, hone them often. Don't let the blade go dull. Then all you usually ever need do is strop on a 4000 stone or a leather with some chromium oxide. Done!

Finally, I used my diamond hone again to get the edge fairly sharp. It wasn't until I bought a Spyderco Sharpmaker and learned to use it that I got my edges truly remarkeable. Now I can chop like mad with my RAT7 for hours at a time, then use the Sharpmaker for 5 minutes and have the edge easily shaving hair again.

As for toughness, I've chopped dry wood, green wood, plants, limbs, food, cardboard, paper, more wood, and shaped some pretty cool walking sticks with it. Not a chip, bend, or problem of any kind. Since D2 is 12% chromium, it's almost stainless which is really nice. I did find a bit of rust on the edge one time the morning after some kitchen use, so it's not perfect. That hasn't happened again, partly because I'm careful to wipe it dry and then wave it in the air before I re-sheath it.
 
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