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Of Japanese Barlow knives

Here we see a little pocket blade I like to carry from time to time, making a cameo on an outing for some California roll at the local sushi bar.

The higonokami ,also referred to as the Japanese carpenter’s knife, was born in 1896 in Meiji-era Japan when a man named Tasaburo Shigematsu brought back a knife from the Kyushu province and asked a knife maker named Teji Murakami from Hirata in the Miki region to manufacture it.

A blacksmith is said to have added a simple lever (the chikiri) to a minimally-designed pocket knife to aid in opening and closing the blade and to set it apart from other knives. “Higo no Kami” in Japanese means, “Lord of Higo,” in honor of the Lord of the Kyushu area of Japan, where the knife originated.

The legit ones are trademarked and come in the slim gold and blue box seen here. The paracord was added aftermarket.

Higonokami proved to be successful and a tradesman’s guild was formed to oversee the manufacture of the knife– akin to the Barlow in popularity in the U.S.– marked with the name of the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Once a staple of every youth and tradesman in the Empire, their popularity has waned.

Trademarked higonokamis such as this one, were last made by Motosuke Nagao, established in Miki, descending from four generations of blacksmiths. Today the last of the guild in business is Nagao Seisakusho who sell these knives through Iwachu primarily for export these days.

The knives share a common characteristic:

– A handle made out of a folded sheath of brass stamped with kanjis detailing the name of the maker and the steel of the blade: a sanmai with an aogami edge (blue paper steel), very much like a “reverse tanto” in profile.
– The presence of a chikiri (the lever) on the blade, to open the knife.
– The lack of a locking system.
– The fact that the blade, Warikomi steel, entirely disappears in the handle when the knife is closed.

The characters on this example say “Registered Trademark : Sword Master ‘Miyamoto Musashi”‘

It is very much like the classic German Solingen Mercator “cat” K55K knife, known for the image of the running feline on its folded sheet metal handle. Like the Higonokamis, these have has been around for over a century and are currently made by Otter-Messer.

Getting Kiffe

Here we see a rundown of the standard bayonet fare for U.S. military rifles from the early 20th Century through the early days of the Vietnam conflict.

From top to bottom: an M1905 sword bayonet with a 16-inch blade on the M1903 Springfield rifle, an M1 bayonet on an M1 Garand, a chopped down bayonet (10-inch blade) made from the legacy M1905 pigsticker redesignated M1905E1 on an M1 Garand, and finally an M4 bayonet on M1 Carbine.

The M4 is very interesting in the respect that it originally wasn’t suppose to exist, and then went on to be both widely used and extensively cloned.

Initially, the M1 Carbine did not accept a bayonet. However, beginning in June 1944, the front band included a bayonet lug. Most earlier carbines were subsequently retrofitted with the bayonet-lug front band. Most U.S.-made M4 bayonets were produced by W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co., Turner Manufacturing Co, Imperial Knife Co., Conetta Manufacturing Co, and Bren-Dan Manufacturing Co. using the M8/8A1 sheath, and ran into the early 1960s at least.

Early models used the leather washer handles while post-WWII production shifted to hard rubber or plastic grips. Standard blade length on military spec models was 6.5-inches, overall is 11.5-inches. The M4 bayonet blade even went on to form the pointy end of a later Korean-era M1 Garand bayonet, the M5A1, which replaced both the M1905E1 and M1 bayonet.

The M4 model I just picked up is a Kiffe made in Japan, which would obviously make it a Post-WWII variant.

Though the company was founded in New York in 1875 by Herman H. Kiffe and remained in operation through the 1960s, they contracted their M4 bayos to unknown Japanese makers in the 1950s.

Not meant for military contracts (at least from the U.S.) these were popular with new civilian buyers of surplus M1 Carbines which were widely available for a song at the time. These new bayonets sold for $3 at the time via mail order– about $23 in 2017 greenbacks, which is a deal both then and now.

1967 ad for Kiffe, note the “M8 Bayonet” in the top right with “self-sharpening plastic sheaths” (!)

Overall length is 11.25-inches, while weight is 8.6-ounces, in each case without the scabbard.

The blade is marked simply “Kiffe Japan” as is the hilt.

While not a true martial bayonet, it is beautiful and this specimen is very minty– no doubt because it was purchased during the Atomic-era as a keepsake to complete a privately owned M1, rather than for field use. At 50~ years old, it looks great and I think it will hold up for another 50 with no problem.

Working on the old rusty sword

Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria goes in-depth on cleaning and restoring an antique cavalry officer’s sword blade and scabbard. In this case a 1821 Pattern Light Cavalry Officers “pipe back” with a three-bar hilt that has probably been in storage for generations and is mega filthy with old oil that has long lost its viscosity. The neat thing about the blade is that it is East India Company-marked and Bengal cavalry-issued.

All you need is some Ballistol, brushes, Brasso, green pads, and sweat.

A look at a half-dozen fixed blade carry knives ‘in the rotation’

That’s pretty stabby

On the cutting board, I give you six sub-$125 (most sub-$50 if you shop around) light fixed blade knives that are small enough to carry every day (depending on clothing options) while still being able to along with you almost everywhere in an urban or suburban environment if needed while remaining nominally concealable. Besides typical chores in daily life, they should also be strong enough to fill a foray into the woods or camp, capable of light bushcraft.

From left to right: A Kershaw 4007, CRKT Mossback, Cold Steel Spike, CRKT Obake, Tops Mountain Spike, and a Benchmade SOCP 176. All in current production

More detail on each, with plusses and minuses, noted in my column at Tac44.com.

New skins for an old warrior

When my grandfather joined the National Guard at 17, but before he headed off to war on active duty, he bought a “fighing knife” from a local hardware store as any strapping youth in olive drab needed just such the item.

It was a PAL RH-36.

The PAL Cutlery Company of Plattsburgh, NY. was established in 1935, specializing in kitchen implements. The company was a merger of the Utica Knife & Razor Company of Utica, NY and the Pal Blade Company of Chicago, IL. Pal used both the “Blade Company” and “Cutlery Company” monikers interchangeably during the next two decades until they went out of business in 1953. They purchased the cutlery division of Remington in 1939, along with all of their machinery, tooling and designs and soon began production in the old Remington owned factory in Holyoke, MA.

The design of the RH-36 came from that Remington acquisition, as the designations meant “Remington, Hunting, Pattern 3, 6” blade”. These were one of the most common US fighting knives of WWII, these were bought by all branches during the war, often with unit funds, and were also available as private purchase knives– such as my gramps.

Overall length is 11-inches with the razor-sharp blade just over 6, thus balancing well. Though some blades were parkerized, this one is bright though there is some patina. The old “PAL RH-36” markings are clear on the ricasso. The leather washer grip with red spacers is still tight, though dark. The pommel and guard are still surprisingly tight after more a half-century of use.

It has been sharpened and resharpened perhaps hundreds of times and was used by my grandfather overseas until he left the military in 1974, then sat in a box until I recently inherited it. The original sheath has long since broken, and subsequently discarded, leaving the blade naked.

Now, with the help of my friend Warren at Edged Creations who handcrafted the new sheath with three layers of leather, hand stitching and copper rivets, it should be good for another 70 years.

Thanks, Warren!

That kukri, though

The above video starts off a bit silly but shows the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas performing the traditional Khukuri Dance at the Last Night of the Proms Concert at the Royal Military School of Music recently.

“The dance is a combination of patterns of drill, where the dancers demonstrate their skills of handling the Khukuri knife. It is believed, the dance was derived from the occasion of celebration when a soldier returned from war with the glory of victory.”

Sure, it is a dated weapon, but don’t doubt that you could drop those four guys off somewhere behind the lines with just their kukri and they wouldn’t beat you back to base with a host of trophies.

 

5 Decent tactical folders I’ve found useful for under $50

A good tactical folder for the purpose of this installment is a knife that can accomplish all your classic “penknife” or “pocketknife” tasks– cutting a thread or cord, trimming fingernails, touching up a shave in a pinch, cutting an apple, and box cutting and opening mail– while still being available as a fast and earnest edged weapon if needed. As such, they need to be at the fast ready, have a sufficiently long blade, be capable of one-handed opening, be strong enough to take real abuse, and, to prevent cutting off one’s own fingers in such a situation, lock upon opening.

Five “budget” tactical folders under $50 (if you shop around) that get the rotation in EDC: Ontario Knife Company’s RAT1A, a Spyderco Tenacious, Matthew Lerch’s CRKT Argus, Ken Onion’s 1660 Kershaw Leek, and a Gerber Applegate–Fairbairn Mini Covert.

All are used and have spent their time in pockets, clocking in as needed. The Leek even survived the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina with me in my pocket– and I was glad to have it several times in that week. As such, any spots, dings, scratches or mars on the blades or scales are honestly earned and not the fault of their maker.

Why the $50 benchline? Bottom line is, sure you can carry your Chris Reeve Sebenza 21 or really nice ZT, Benchmade or Microtech– and I have a few of those– but if you were to have one of these upper shelf blades pull a pocket jump without your knowledge while you are in your travels, you are going to be out a lot more than $50.

Of course, as with anything, your mileage may vary and by default, the best knife you have is the one you have on you.

I do a mini-review on each in my column over at Tac.44.com.

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