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Spec-Plus Survival Bowie review

Mar 2, 1999
Hi all,

As promised, here is Part I of my review of my newly purchased Spec-Plus SP-5 Survival Bowie. I'll be concentrating on aesthetics and workmanship as well as general comfort and feel. I haven't had a real opportunity to test it out, but will post more as I go. I'll warn you all now that I'm a little picky about workmanship, but that you should bear in mind that we're talking a $45 knife here.

My opinion is that these are designed to be 'using' knives, not 'viewing' knives. My vendor describes the SP-5 as a 10" bowie made of 1/4" 1095 steel. My vendor retailed it for $35 plus $10 shipping, NIB.

On first taking the SP-5 out of the box, I have to say that the overall heft and look of the knife is impressive. The handle is described by the vendor who sold it as Kraton and has a very slightly spongy feel to it. All in all, very comfortable. I like the placement of the lanyard hole. Also, the knife has a balance to it that I like.

The grind profile definitely leaves something to be desired, however. My SP-5 came with a grind that I'd describe as passable for a using knife, but poor for a presentation-quality knife. My blade has digs in it near the tip, and the grind of the false edge isn't centered and creates a bowing look. I've seen other SP-5s that were more poorly ground, creating a bowing look on the spine. These imperfections could, in my opinion, affect performance during heavy use; but this still remains to be seen in my case. The blade is coated with a black epoxy, according to my vendor. This finish appears even and looks decent, but does not cover up the grind imperfections. I should note here that I have seen Spec-Plus tantos with very good grind profiles, so I wonder if the imperfections I've noticed are unique to the 3 Survival Bowies I've seen, the SP-5 model or what.

The edge on the SP-5 out of the box is fairly decent. It's not razor sharp, but is passable and could be easily used for chopping as-is. It's a coarse hone on the edge. For finer work, a better hone would not hurt, though. Measuring the thickness of the blade, it appears to be closer to 7/32", a little shy of 1/4". I don't consider this to be a big deal.

The sheath provided looks like leather on one side with cordura on the other. The leather is on the outside. It's supported by a leather belt strap and a steel ring swivel which I didn't like at first, but which is growing on me. The blade at first is a tight fit into the sheath and needs to be worked in. It'll probably get better with time as it wears in.

All in all, I'd have to sum the SP-5 up as knife with a good overall feel to it. If you have the option to 'look through the pile,' you probably stand a chance to get one with better workmanship, if that's importatnt to you.

I have the 10" tanto spec plus. It has been a real pleasure to use. Because of the price, I have not hesitated to use the heck out of it. It has held a serviceable edge through some fairly tough use (whacking through branches, chopping up some packing crates) The blade finish has held up well also. The only problem I've had is in sharpening the thing. I believe that this is because I'm not used to such a long blade. I'm sure I'll eventually get it right though. as with the spec plus line in general, this is a great knife for the price (even for more money it would be a great knife!)


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I think that for $40 odd dollars I can live with and modify edge grinds if the rest of the knife is good. Between your review and Cliffs review of the same knife sent to him by Rusty, we should have some descent info on the Ontario products worth.
Nice detail in the review Michael. I wish more internet dealers would put as much into their descriptions. The grinds are what I would expect for the price. If they effected performance I would be concerned otherwise not. By the way there are a lot of dealers that will look through their stock for you if you go into detail about your concerns. James Mattis for example will go beyond that and even did lock tests on the Military I bought from him awhile ago.

Could you expand a bit on:

Also, the knife has a balance to it that I like.

Where is the balance point on the Bowie?

I havn't put my review up as I don't have the knives yet. Mail is fairly slow getting here, especially when its knives. I think they are a bit wary of coming out of the box.


Sorry for the lack of clarity. With respect to the balance, I wasn't directly referring to the center of gravity or balance point on the knife. I was referring to the 'front-heavy' feel when I held it. The front has a tendency to want to droop when hold it as if I'm going to chop. I attributet it to the blade thickness, which gives the knife the weight. I'd expect this behavior in a big chopper because I'm partial to thicker blades, and I consider that a plus.

Excellent, that's just the way I like them too. For lighter work I like the knife to be neutral, but when it comes to heavy choppers I want them blade heavy.

Thanks, everyone for your feedback.

Canis, I've only seen one Tanto, but from what I saw of it, you're right: it's a great deal for the money.

Cobalt, I'd agree that having to make minor modifications on a low cost 'using knife' is not to be unexpected. To correct the grind on my SP-5 would likely involve stripping off the finish, some re-profiling and various grades of sandpaper to smooth down the digs. If you liked the epoxy (and I do,) you'd have to redo it. For some collectors, I'm sure that rework of the lower cost 'using knifes' is part of the collecting fun. I'd also like to think, though, that if enough people commented on the things that they'd like to see improved, that the vendor would listen. It's good customer service, no? Either way, the SP-5 is still a decent 'using knife.'

Cliff, I look forward to seeing your reviews.

Cliff - you said that on heavy honkers you like a blade-forward balance. Could you expand a little on this - is more forward better? If used for chopping I'd think, right offhand, that the farthur forward the better, but I haven't had that much experience with brutes (I'm trying to improve that situation with Mel Sorg's assistance - even now designing a little 18" toothpick of CPM 3V - as a warm-up for a SERIOUS hunk of metal!).


[This message has been edited by Marvin Edgeworth (edited 11 April 1999).]
Marvin, you will find this covered in great detail on the HI forums both hear and on KnifeForums. Cobalt has posted some very nice technical reasons why blade heavy knives perform at chopping related tasks so well.

Basically what happens is that if the weight is upfront significantly then you can chop much harder and feel far less feedback than if it was neutral. This can be shown with a little math but the easiest way to get a feel for it is to take two similar knives of equal mass, one with a neutral balance, and one with a blade heavy balance and do some heavy chopping. What you will find is that there is a spot on the blade heavy knife that you can chop with that makes it bite really well and you get almost no feedback at all impacting on your hand. What is happening is that the blade heavy aspect is creating a torque that forces the knife further into the wood and at the same time counter-acts the rebound force of impacts. The blade heavy balance also tends to make the knife rotate more when you are swinging it. This rotational aspects also increases impact energy and thus penetration.

By the way, 3V, excellent, definately let me know how that performs.

Marvin, Cliff is right, the blade heavy gives an incredible amount more power over a more neutral balanced knife. For example, I can take one of my bowie blades, which are heavy, and compare to an H.I. khukuri, and there is no comparison, as a chopper and lopper, the khukuri outshines the bowie because of the extra mass out front. I would assume that a bolo would do the same, and even the hatchet does this. The bowie compared to other knives is also blade heavy and performs better than the average knife. Even my tanto's with their blade heavy reinforced point tend to do this, but the khukuri is far better than all of them.