A Good Knife for an Ex-Military Character to Do Some Serious Damage

TLDR: The military uses many kinds of knives, but few can match the iconic KA-BAR USMC.

BJ Wolf is a crime writer (check out her website here and follow her on Twitter here) working on the first in a trilogy of novels featuring detective Karen Yellowtail. She sent me a note looking for some feedback on assigning an ex-military character a knife for some unsavory work.

Specifically, this character needs to butcher humans at some point in the story. Wolf originally asked whether the knives on this site would make the cut, so to speak. They probably would, but one model in particular popped to the front of my mind as soon as I read Wolf’s message.



The KA-BAR USMC is sometimes written in reverse as “USMC KA-BAR.” “KA-BAR” is also written as “Ka-Bar” or “Kabar.” Its formal name is the “KA-BAR USMC Fighting and Utility Knife.” However, this particular knife can be referenced as just the “KA-BAR” or “Ka-Bar.” Lots of choices with this one, and none of them are incorrect so long as you pick a style and stick to it. (Unaltered photo by Rich Bowen via Flickr. License notes)

From December 1942 through today, the KA-BAR USMC is the iconic military knife. That’s the one I’d assign current or former military characters.

Different branches of service use different knives depending on what needs to be done, but the USMC stands head and shoulders above everything else. It’s an iconic fixed blade knife that was introduced to the Marine Corps in 1942 and never went out of service. A character wouldn’t have to be a Marine, though. All branches of service used the USMC in some respect.

Why? The design is extremely rugged and reliable, which is why many service members keep them after returning to civilian life. (The USMC is available on the civilian market, too, so anyone could buy one.)

When writing the knife, it could be referred to as the “KA-BAR” (or Ka-Bar, just pick one) without even mentioning the USMC model name. It’s so iconic that it’s subject to the Kleenex effect.

It’s this legacy and durability that makes it a great pick for Wolf’s ex-military character.

Need to Butcher a Character? Fixed Blades > Folders

Even if Wolf’s character doesn’t go with the KA-BAR USMC, I’d still recommend sticking with fixed blade knives (i.e. the blade doesn’t move) for that kind of gutting and butchering. Folding knives can become irretrievably jammed with gore, whereas the cleanup on a fixed blade is a lot easier. Folders can also close unintentionally onto fingers during hard use. This is why my primary hunting knife, especially during deer season, is a fixed blade.

I hope this information helps Wolf and any other writer out there with that question. If you’re curious to learn more about the KA-BAR USMC, head to a sporting goods store and check it out for yourself. Chances are good the store keeps a couple in stock.

Want to Win a Knife? Folders > Fixed Blades

Win Knife and Book

Click to enter.

I couldn’t make a post like this without mentioning the knife I’m giving away to celebrate the publication of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons. This folder is a one-of-kind model designed by yours truly. The winner will also receive an autographed book. Keen! Enter daily here through Aug. 31, 2015.

* Must be 18 and a U.S. resident to enter. See entry page for more details.

4 thoughts on “A Good Knife for an Ex-Military Character to Do Some Serious Damage

  1. If the character’s background is anything other than USMC I’d recommend a different fixed blade. (Many of us are turned off by the logo when we go to select a knife for our kit.) When I was a young enlisted grunt I carried a Cold Steel SRK, and as an officer it was a custom-made fixed blade that came as a gift from my athletic team at West Point. Just my $.02.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terrific point, Baloo. Each part of the military has its own traditions and gear, and service members tend to give some good-natured crap to other branches. One of my friends from my childhood is in the Army, and every now and then he’ll give some shit to the Marines on Facebook. For what it’s worth, the Ka-Bar USMC is still popular on the civilian market, but I can understand why a character with a different experience might choose something else.


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