Awww geeze, not another blog!

Welcome to A Fine Blade!

This blog will focus one of my lifelong passions and one of man's most basic tools - the knife!

As time and events permit we'll tiptoe into other territory where we can use the knife as a metaphor in discussions about current events and have a little politically incorrect fun.

Because you see, knives rank just below guns as the most politically incorrect subject on the web today.

Guns & Knives = Bad. Gay Marriage & Recreational Drug Use = Good

We'll see if we can't have some fun with that.

So stay tuned, and welcome aboard!

Thursday, October 6, 2011


"I command you to bring me skeleton knives!"

It's almost Halloween, so let's have some seasonably appropriate fun!

Knives without handle scales - what are commonly called skeleton knives - are an interesting niche in the knife world.

Seems every knife maker feels compelled to have at least one, and often several, skeleton knives in their lineup.  The outdoorsy survivalist hunter-gatherer crowd has 'discovered' skeleton knives and has taken to them in a big way.  To hear them talk you'd swear nobody ever thought to make a thin, lightweight knife out of a single piece of steel until they came up with the idea.  Well, I've been around long enough to know that everything old is new again.

Over 30 years ago my Dad has a nice little Browning skeleton knife, a drop point skinner, that he carried now and again while fishing.  (Hey Dad, what ever happened to that knife?)

About 20 years ago I was carrying a nice little skeleton knife made by Gerber.  It had a wicked serrated edge and was designed specifically for white water rafters and kayakers.  It was intended to be used to cut free of any entangling rope or webbing and was carried in a neat little plastic sheath designed to be snapped onto a flotation vest.  I carried it while serving as a jumpmaster in the Army, strapped either to my load bearing rig or to my rucksack.  Its only purpose was to cut parachute static lines in case I had a towed jumper.  I thank God I never had to use it, but I have no doubt it would have done the job.

And that's just it; a successful skeleton knife tends to be a small, purpose built object.  The format, an all steel knife with no handle materials, introduces some interesting design challenges and restrictions.  The very minimalist nature of the skeleton knife means it's hard to get right and easy to get wrong.

Thankfully we've got a number of knife manufacturers putting out some really nice skeleton knives these days and for the most part they are getting it right.  Let's have a quick look at some.

Buck Knives leads off today first because I like 'em and second because they've got a really good lineup of skeleton handled knives, perhaps the largest in the industry right now.

Buck 140 Packlite Skinner and 136 Caper
The Buck 140 small Packlite Skinner and the 136 Caper are the two best models in Buck's lineup of skeleton handled knives.  They shine because of great handle shapes that make them comfortable to use and overall excellent balance.  The 136 Caper, in particular, is a delight in the hand and makes a great general purpose small knife.  I think a half dozen of these would make a really unique steak knife set.

Next up is the big brother to the 140, the 141 Packlite Skinner.

Buck 141 Packlite Skinner
The 141 is simply an upsized 140.  It too feels good in the hand, but the handle is getting a little large-ish to be considered truly comfortable.  Still, it is a very good mid-sized blade.

Next up is the Buck 143.  As far as I can tell this knife is only sold in Wal-Mart stores since that's the only place I've ever seen it for sale.  The 143 is the classic example of how small changes can have huge impacts on how a knife can feel in the hand.

Buck 143 Pakliite Skinner

The 143 sports a larger blade that is roughly the same size as the 141.

Buck 141 (top) and 143 (below)

But the handle is the same size as that found on the 140.

Buck 140 superimposed on the 143

Now, the combination sounds good, and to the marketing guys at Buck and Wal-Mart it must have seemed a winner.  In reality, however, it feels terrible in the hand.  The elegance of the comfortable handle from the 140 is ruined by the awkward transition to the larger blade.  The thumb ramp gets in the way and the whole knife feels awkward.  To make matters worse Buck has done no corner rounding of the metal handle and it is just uncomfortable to hold.  This is a Frankenstein's Monster that just doesn't work.

The sheaths that come with the Buck line of skeleton knives are nothing fancy, but they hold the blades safely and securely.

Buck 140 with sheath

The street price for any of these knives does not exceed $20.  In fact the Buck 141 goes for about $19.20 on right now, and it is the most expensive of the bunch.  The Models 136, 140 and 141 are great knives and well worth a look.  Take a pass on the 143.

Let's move on to my other favorite brand of knives, Becker Knife and Tool (BKT) made by Ka-Bar.  Becker Knife and Tool is really a one-man show, Mr. Ethan Becker.  Ethan is one of those guys who does it all.  He's a professional chef, writer, outdoorsman, and has been designing knives for over 30 years.  Currently Ka-Bar manufactures his designs and they do a great job.  BKT has three skeleton knife designs in its lineup, the BK-11, 13 & 14.

From top to bottom, the BK-14, BK-11 and BK-13

The BK-11 and 14 both share the same blade design - they are identical and they use the same sheath.  The BK-11 (in the center in the above photo) is wholly Ethan's design.  Ethan likes to eat and drink, and he wanted a small, handy knife that incorporates a bottle opener.  The BK-14 came about just a few years ago when a member on the BKT group on decided he was going to marry the blade of a BK-11 with the handle of another extremely popular skeleton knife, the ESEE Izula.

ESEE Izula

The guy was a professional welder and did a great job, and the knife generated a lot of interest.  So much so that Ethan and Ka-Bar approached ESEE about copying their handle design.  The result was the BK-14, which is stamped with both Becker Knife & Tool/Ka-Bar and the ESEE logos.

(This BKT - ESEE mashup reflects the common relationships that exist in the American knife industry these days.  Knife manufacturing is a tight knit industry and there is a lot of cross-fertilization of concepts and designs between knife designers like Ethan Becker, custom knife makers and large volume manufacturers. The end result of all of this is that the American knife buyer has access to great knife designs for very little money.  This is truly the Golden Age of knife manufacturing in the US.)

Regardless of the handle design, the BK-11 and 14 are both great knives.

BK-14 with sheath

And what about that teeny little guy in the bottom of the photo, the BK-13?  Seems the BK-13 was designed as a knife that could be easily carried in an accessory pouch on the sheath of a larger fixed blade knife.  In fact, the sheaths for Becker's BK-7 and BK-9 knives include an accessory sheath designed specifically to take the BK-13.  By itself it's a good little blade.

BK-13 with sheath

That's about it for now.  Have I reviewed every skeleton knife available?  No, not by a long shot.  I've only reviewed those knives that have caught my fancy.  As more cross my path and catch my interest (and wallet) we'll take a look at them down the line.  

Stay sharp!


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