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I like tactical knives. They have a nice clean look and are handy to have around. However, depending on what level of state, federal, or general media outcry you’re looking at, the idea has come up more than once to try to limit or ban the use or sale of tactical knives here in the states. I began to ponder the subject in some depth.

To get a bit smarter about the situation at hand, I first wanted to know what the exact definition of a tactical knife actually is. Herein lies the first issue — there isn’t a hard and fast rule on what makes a TAC knife. One group seemed to think the blade shape was the determining factor; others thought size and handle material was the ticket and one very confused group seemed to state that anything black or camo-colored was lumped in the tactical group as well. This is a small problem.

The closest and most reasonable statement I could find on the subject was the American Knife and Tool Institute (AKTI), which broke the definition of TAC blades down like this.

“… this term is really a broad description of any straight knife or folding knife in a variety of handle materials, blade shapes, blade edges and opening mechanisms.”

That’s pretty broad for my tastes but largely true as far as I can tell. Of course, that encompasses almost every knife I can think of. They went on to lament that about the only thing everyone involved can agree on is that tactical knife is any style or blade that isn’t a sword or a multi-tool. That narrows it down to about half the knives not found in a kitchen or hanging from a suit of armor.

Why all the fuss? Because someone put together a detailed study or two about knife-related injuries and linked a high percentage of stabbings and knife fights to Tactical knives, which I’m sure is completely accurate from a clinical numbers perspective. The question I found myself asking is, “Were those injuries really the knives’ fault or the person wielding them?” It’s here we really begin to get down to it.

I own several “tactical” knives myself and though they aren’t my favorite daily carry blades from a subjective taste perspective, they are cool looking, but the most harm any of them has done is cut a bit of rope or wire. There was the time I used the tip of one to unscrew a battery terminal on a truck but that’s about as exotic an operation I have to pull from. I don’t use them to hurt people so they will never be an unholy threat to anyone.

Others don’t agree; they see the capability of harm as an undue risk to society in general. To be completely fair there is weight to that argument as well. TAC knives can hurt or kill folks if the right person is behind the action.

In my own opinion, that is exactly the point: the entire question of tactical knives lies in the hands of the person holding them, not the knives themselves. These aren’t weapons of mass violence but tools — and almost any tool can be abused or mishandled into becoming a weapon. What do you think? Are tactical knives a significant danger or a tool that a few bad apples give a bad name to? Let us know in comments.

Note: You can also find a great deal more information about current legislation proposals related to knives and knife education in general at the AKTI website.

American Knife and Tool Institute [Website]
Street Pricing [Google Products]


31 Responses to Hot or Not? Tactical Knives

  1. FFS says:

    Oh, please. You’re going to get exactly the same flamewar you’d get if you brought up gun control. Much heat, no light. Complete waste of bandwidth. Driving hits, I guess?

    That having been said, my Kershaw Scallion is one of the finest tools I’ve ever owned. If you think half-serrated blades are goofy, just try one; you can effortlessly cut rope and other stuff that was a hassle before. You’ll find it indispensible. Likewise assisted/one handed opening: A whole class of annoyances just vanishes. These are hugely practical features for a tool. Maybe it’s a “weapon” too, but so’s a hammer.

    One point worth making: There’s more than one assisted-opening mechanism. Don’t buy a knife you haven’t handled, not even a top-notch one, because what suits me may not suit you. I can’t operate a Spyderco to save my life, but others swear by them. Find what works for you.

    The only issue with the Scallion is the stupid faddish colored anodized aluminum scales. Looks great in the store, but the color wears off in your pocket. In two weeks, my new $65 knife looked old and battered. Still by far the best knife I’ve ever had, but it looked like crap. That colored aluminum garbage is everywhere right now, iPods, cameras, Leathermen, you name it. I can’t wait for it to go out of fashion. It’s junk. I give it a year until everybody notices how poorly it holds up in use.

  2. Chris says:

    Banning “tactical knives” seems about as logical as banning walking canes or baseball bats. At some point, you have to draw the line between “things that serve no purpose but to kill people” and “things that could be used as weapons by people who are intent on killing”. Someone who is determined enough to commit murder or grievous bodily harm is not going to care what tool they use to accomplish that task, and if they have to knife-fight with Leathermans and Gerbers, I don’t think that’s going to stop them. (Banning switchblades and butterfly knives hasn’t exactly stopped people from acquiring them, either.)

  3. Carl says:

    How about we ban people who have forgotten that this country is about freedom?

  4. Brian Dolge says:

    I say NOT
    simply because any decent Swiss Army style knife or multitool will supply all the blade most people will ever need plus a dozen other tools better fitted to doing whatever than using “the tip of one to unscrew a battery terminal” AND do so without attracting the interest of anyone but a TSA guard. Big blades with macho decor are pointless unless you spend a lot of time in the woods (or combat). I get a lot more use out of the phillips head on my Victorianox than I would from any six inch blade, but then I am a city boy. But then, since you’re reading the internet, odds are so are you. “Tac knives” are totally a subjective (read marketing) category, but let us agree that rugged, large, single bladed knives designed for ease of handling in poor conditions are excellent tools for warriors and backwoodsman. I just don’t believe that most readers of this blog fit those terms.

    As too the obvious flamebait about efforts to restrict such blades, I agree that such efforts are foolish, but the manufacturers have to shoulder some of the blame. I once saw one of these knives advertise it’s ability to “cut through Police body armor”. What would make me think this was being sold as a murder weapon?

  5. Dan says:

    Knives are useful tools as is anything that makes the comforts of modern life possible. Politicians polarize this issue (and guns, and almost everything else) because it garners votes and allows them to go “See! I did this and that!” A tactical knife can not be misused any more than a kitchen knife can be misused (mind you, kitchen knives and silverware sets are regulated items in Britian now; you have to be 18 to buy a silverware set).

    Honestly, I’m more concerned about a madman behind the wheel of a Buick with a full tank of gas because he’s going to be able to do a lot more damage in a populated area with that vehicle than he can do with any knife or gun.

    That said, ToolMonger is a great site about TOOLS. Please, let’s keep it that way.

  6. Cody says:

    Dan, knives are tools

  7. Toolhearty says:

    That colored aluminum garbage is everywhere right now…

    Not all aluminium coloring is created equal. Type III Hard Anodizing is amazingly tough stuff. I have an aluminum-bodied AAA flashlight in my front pants pocket that’s been beaten up by the other stuff in my pocket for the last two years. If I take a damp cloth to it, it looks almost like new.

  8. To judge from the chisel-tipped, 1/2 serated blade of the leatherman skeletool I carry whenever I’m not at the airport, I’m thinking the “tactical” line is a bit blurrier even than you think.

  9. Sean O'Hara says:

    For what its worth I didn’t write this post to start a bunch of hoopla. I was interested in two things. One, what the actual definition of a TAC knife was and two what guys who carry them everyday think about them.

    Rest assured TM will never be a political showcase, were much more interested in tools – and knives are tools. Some of the first tools mankind ever managed to make so we will always be interested in them.

    Rock on.

  10. Tetsubo says:

    I’ve been carrying a knife everyday for the past thirty-three years. I consider them the most basic and useful tool. All knives are tools. Some are just sillier then others. 🙂 I own tactical knives and mostly just keep them around because they look cool. My current edc is a Junkyard II with the composite blade.

  11. Aaron J. says:

    The idea of banning knives bothers me on many levels. A knife is a basic survival tool and imperative for primitive survival. I find it nothing less than hubris to assume that in our modern society we will never find ourselves needing such a tool again. At the very lease guns can be replaced with bows and spears and such if we really needed a weapon and didn’t have guns anymore, but what would you replace knives with?

    Part of finds this as silly as if the government we to say, “look we made you all sidewalks, now turn in your shoes because (insert lame excuse here) we’ll take care of you… promise”

    As inventive as inmates can be when they want to stab someone I find it hard to believe that even if we could make all knifes disappear tomorrow there would be any less violence.

    What next, we ban weight lifting because people with big strong muscles can hurt people?

    Life is the number one cause of death.

  12. Beaver says:

    My dad is into knives. He reviews them and is pretty active in forums. He falls somewhere in the middle, he doesn’t like “scary knives.” He understands that a sharp edge is a sharp edge but his main concern is how threatening a knife looks to law enforcement. He leans towards “lets be practical and not put blood grooves into pocket knives.” I know I would be much less scared of an old school pocketknife, 3″ blade with carved antler handle than a matte black double edged Out The Front spring knife. But in reality a steak knife and a tactical knife are both same when it comes down to it. If you stab someone with a steak knife you get in just as much trouble.

    It just seems so pointless. I could choke someone out with my laptop bag strap… but they aren’t marketed for their killer looks.

  13. Doofus says:

    Tactical is just a buzzword to sell stuff. If there is a single definition it means black/polymer/makes Nancy Pelosi cry.

    My EDC knives all tend to be small (3″ and less) assisted opening partially serrated or plain blades with metal or G10 scales. Are they tactical? No. Were they sold as tactical? Some of them. Do I give a tinkers kiss? No.

    Tactical is just the same as “assault weapon” and “gunshow loophole”: BS coined by some slackwit at CNN to make people pay attention for a minute.

  14. tmib_seattle says:

    I almost always have my Leatherman Crunch on me- very much NOT a tactical knife, but one I use daily.

    Being at scout camp for the last few weeks, I started carrying my Schrade “Uncle Henry” as well, since I found the larger, non-serrated blade was useful for a variety of other tasks that the small serrated blade on the Leatherman wouldn’t do as well. (cleaning trout for example)

    One advantage a “tactical knife” would have over the Schrade is an assisted opening mechanism. It’s not often I need 1-handed opening, but I can see where it would be handy- particularly in regards to fishing.

  15. Ted says:

    I carry a Benchmade 707 as my everyday knife, decent size and heft without being so big it gets you strip-searched.

    I find it a lot more useful than a Swiss Army knife, the axis lock is great, opens instantly, locks solid and doesn’t raise the ire of LEO’s who seem to get cranky when they see an “assisted” opener. Benchmade uses half-decent steel in their blades so they hold an edge for a long time if you don’t abuse them.

    This one is a non-serrated model, serrations are fine on a cheap throwaway knife but make sharpening a pain for a “keeper”.


  16. Old Donn says:

    Around here, any blade over 3 inches gets the attention of the local LEOs, so a TAC for every day carry is pretty much out. A Kershaw Scallion or Spyderco Delica goes with me every day augmented by a decades old Swiss Army.

  17. browndog77 says:

    I carry a folding utility knife in my back pocket about 75% of my waking hours. I install appliances, and I need to get them out of the box somehow, so I guess that would be my tactic, therefore making it a tactical knife. Sometimes I wear tactical boots while doing my job, and my cell phone has a tactical coating so I won’t drop it. I have a well rounded collection of firearms, but none considered tactical. I’m confused!

  18. steelstr45 says:

    What is the point of banning tactical knives? How many murders or attacks occur with tactical knives to want to ban them?

    You want to know the truth? Murders are a hell of a lot more likely to just use some kitchen knife than they are to go out and spend tons of money on a special tactical one.

    This is just another stupid political move. The politicians go around finding things that will “sound good” to the regular dumb sheep people (since they are the majority), and try to carry them out.

    Just in the past year at least two major news stories featured someones life being saved because someone had a knife on them. You don’t hear any stories about murders going around with GI Tanto blades killing people stealthily with their blacked out stealth blades.

    I mean really, this is absolutely one of the most retarded things I’ve heard.

    Anyone who is for banning these things should just go live in china where their every move will be watched and controlled. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t seem like the US is far behind.

  19. rg says:

    My guess is that “tactical” is just a marketing term for people who’ve seen too many Rambo movies, or something. If you really went berserk enough to kill someone, you could just as easily stab them in the throat with a ballpoint pen, James Bond style, which would be like 100 times more awesome!

    I always say, “Knives don’t kill people — ballpoint pens do.”

  20. Shopmonger says:

    A combat knife (also commonly called a fighting knife or tactical knife) is a knife designed for military use. A common misconception is that “combat knives” are specialized for close combat, whereas since the end of trench warfare, military knives have been primarily designed for utility/tool use (clearing foliage, chopping branches for cover, opening ammo crates, etc). An example of a knife designed for close combat is the trench knife.

    Ignorance breeds fear………..

    Too many ignorant people trying to make decisions for the rest of us….

  21. CyberKender says:

    Watch out RG. The California knife laws are so broad, that they cover your standard disposable Bic pen. Unless it is something specifically banned, e.g. ‘switchblade’ knives, a “ready cutting or stabbing weapon” can be illegal. I think of a lot of things that can be used as such, but are not inherently weapons. As I understand it, a lot of Cali’s original knife laws were put on the books in the late 1800’s to restrict Chinese immigrants from having weapons, and have remained so because there isn’t an organized lobby group, like the NRA, working to change them. There’s been a little change, in that you can transport almost any weapon, not specifically banned elsewhere, to and from a historical reenactment event. I’m okay with banning some sorts of weapons. Auto-opening knives, assault rifles, and things like that, but that’s because I question the need for one in the first place. (Until deer start wearing kevlar, you do *not* need an AK-47 loaded with armor-piercing bullets.) However, I also know things like that out of all crimes committed with guns, less than 1% of them are committed with ‘assault weapons.’ Intent and use should come first, the weapon/tool itself, second, imho. Oh, and carrying a baseball bat around, other than to and from a ball game, is technically illegal in California.

    I agree with much of what’s been said. A knife is a tool, ‘tactical’ is a marketing term, and the topic is a potential flame war. Seriously, that boning or butcher’s knife in your kitchen, it was designed to be very sharp, easy to hold and use, and *specifically* for cutting meat. If that’s not as good or a better weapon than any of the ones pictured above, than what is?

  22. Big Dave says:

    I don’t think there is one, universal definition of a “tactical knife”. I think that term needs to be broken into two categories; “tactical combat knife”, which would be a weapon; and the other would be a “special tactical knife”, which would be a technical type of knife for performing specific tasks, such as electrical work in the field, or a survival knife that can saw wood, gut a deer, remove a fishhook, etc..
    The word tactical, in general usage, refers to a skill or action, usually military or paramilitary which requires special training, and is intended to accomplish a specific, as opposed to, a general objective. In knifedom, the archetypical tactical fighting knife was the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife used by the SAS and other WWII commandos. To merit the tactical combat definition, such a knife requires arduous training to use it as an effective and silent weapon without the danger of stabbing yourself or your compatriots to death accidentally. In other words, you need to acquire a skill to use it right.
    A “special tactical knife” might not require training for safety, but would benefit from some personal practice. Thus, a swiss army style knife would be a special tac knife while a ka- bar would definitely be a combat tac knife. I mean, you COULD use it to open a letter … I bet John Wayne did. 😉

  23. flarney says:

    CyberKender did you even think when you posted??? I hate people who try to be sooo reasonable and agree with stupid laws so as not to offend the ignorant or foolish. Why should auto opening knives be banned? I use one at work, its quite handy. And yes you can use an AK for deer hunting, it hits like a 30-30, but the main reason you’d have one is for self defense. I seem to recall a riot a few years ago where having one would’ve come in handy. How dare you assume to tell me or any other law abiding person what we may or may not need?

  24. Jim says:

    England is considering banning pointed kitchen knives due to the number of stabbing injuries they see. Some companies are already producing round nosed knives with a little spur near the nose to perform the tasks often done with a point.


  25. Tetsubo says:

    I saw that British absurd knife idea and I thought, “Britain doesn’t have cleavers?”

  26. rg says:

    Next the UK will have to ban bench grinders, just in case anyone gets the idea to “illegally modify” a knife. Then again, they are also now going to install CCTV cameras in the homes of bad parents. Double Plus Good!

    CyberKender –
    At the risk of fanning the flames (this isn’t a very appropriate forum for the discussion), I have to repectfully disagree with you on a major point. Your anti-weapon argument seems to rest on having to demonstrate a “need” for that weapon to obtain permission for ownership from the authorities. That is a very odious requirement. Unless I have a felony record, I shouldn’t need anyone’s permission to own whatever I want.

    It’s a bit ironic that I, a Canadian, am lecturing you, an American (I presume), about personal freedoms. Canada has arguably the most onerous firearms laws in North America. If you think your philosophy doesn’t have any practical consequences, you’ve never had to sit through a 12-hour federally-mandated firearms course before you can even legally purchase a .22 cal rifle (which will then be registered in a federal database, at additional taxpayer expense). Apparently 12 hours is how long it takes to explain that shooting another person is against the law.

  27. Zathrus says:

    Well, just to make the obvious reductio ad absurdum argument, where do we draw the line on legal firearms then? If fully automatic weapons are reasonable, then why not other military weapons? Grenades? RPGs? .50 calibur sniper rifles?

    There’s got to be some reasonable middle ground.

    Depends on if you include Mexico in “North America” or not… if not, well, then of the two countries in “North America”, Canada wins. Otherwise Mexico does — there’s exactly one legal gun shop in Mexico, in Mexico City. Getting a permit generally takes a year or so, and IIRC there are only 9 legal firearms, with the largest being .38 calibur, and none are hand guns.

    As for knives — carry my Leatherman Wave daily. It’s at the point where I have to remember to not take it to places where it would be a bad idea — like my daughter’s school (she started Kindergarten this year), airports, etc. It’s a very useful tool though, and Iagree that the restrictions are just silly.

  28. Shopmonger says:

    Free Country =========

    Right to arms…

    Arms= armaments……
    armaments = any weapon

    welcome to our country – if you don’t like it you are “free” to leave

    live in Canada they have strict laws fro firearms and are “relatively free”


  29. Davo says:

    I have one…it looks cool, but I don’t carry it around with me, because I don’t want to alarm people.

  30. Choscura says:

    Lots of comments. I’ll keep mine short.

    As a weapon, anything works as well as you make it work. To this end I’d rather have my leatherman than any rambo knife.

    As far as knives being tools and weapons, I’d be much more concerned about somebody who’s carrying a retractable box cutter, the kind with the blade that sticks out six inches, it just makes more sense as a murder weapon than a 300 dollar seal pup knife would- it’s harder to narrow down. and you can open boxes with it and not feel like an idiot.

  31. The navy seal pup is super hot!

    The Media too often associates Knives with criminal acts and terrorism. like the switchblade knife is beat down to be stereo typed as the “Punks” knife.

    but in the end its not the knives that kill people, people kill people.

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