What’s the Best Boot Knife for a Post-WWII NYC Detective?

Note from Ben: While I haven’t posted a new article in some time here, I will share interesting questions as they come in from time to time. I have no intentions of shuttering this site. It and the accompanying book are here as resources for writers.

Also, I’ve got a new, non-fiction outdoors survival book out today. I’m sure there’s no correlation whatsoever.


I’d like your advice on selecting a knife for a character in a historical detective novel. It’s set in 1948 in NYC, but I’m not particularly worried about knife laws. (My P.I. takes an “easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” approach to weapons laws in general.)

I’m aiming for a fixed blade knife he keeps strapped in a sheath on his ankle as a last resort/surprise defense weapon. His skill level is intermediate; a knife isn’t his go-to, but he knows how to use it. The F-S, KA-BAR, and Randall Model 1 you list in your guide all seem like nice (and iconic) choices, but given the overall length of about a foot plus the sheath, I’m not sure if they’d be too bulky for a guy that spends a lot of time on foot.

I realize I could just write around it and say he’s carrying a switchblade or boot knife or a combat knife, but my character is a tech junkie type when it comes to weapons, and I think it’ll be more fun for the reader if they can visualize the model. Thanks for any help you can give me, and thanks for the guide.

~Thomas Meister


The good news is that your novel is set after World War II, which means there are loads of knife options. The backbone of much of the commercial knife industry as we know it today was formed during the first half of the 1940s. Military boot knives were available on the U.S. civilian market, and they mostly would’ve originated from the U.S., British, German and Japanese militaries.

In World War II, when these knives were strapped against the ankle, they were worn primarily by pilots and airborne units for jumps because, as you pointed out, walking long distances with a foot-long knife strapped to your ankle isn’t comfortable. The knives were either strapped to the outside of the ankle or slipped into a sheath secured against the leg. These public domain images demonstrate those styles:

Allied soldier boot knife

Fairbairn-Sykes boot knife World War II

For your detective character, either method of wear requires some thought about access and discretion. Keep the character’s pants loose enough so the sheath doesn’t print against the fabric, and also so that the detective doesn’t need to stop and roll up the pant leg to get at the knife. (Those could be cool details to include in the story for a shot of realism, too.)

For what you’ve described, one knife model comes to mind more than any other: the Fairbairn–Sykes British Commando knife.

Fairbairn Sykes dagger

The slim profile of the Fairbairn-Sykes combat dagger makes it an ideal boot knife for this time period, even if by modern standards it’s too large. (Wikimedia image)

This dagger was not only used as a boot knife in World War II, there’s a good chance a U.S. civilian would’ve encountered one for sale in post-World War II NYC.

Yes, there were other boot knives along similar lines, but the F-S is the perfect fit for that time period and came in multiple variations. You can use the latter to your advantage. Make the overall length as short or as long as you need it to be, because that version was probably produced during the war (just don’t go too small, like less than 6 inches end to end). I hope that helps with the issue of your character’s comfort while walking around.

One final note: the F-S is not a glorified letter opener. It’s the real deal, as this video will tell you:

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3 Common Weapons Mistakes Writers Make – And How to Fix Them

Fiction writing tips for guns and knives

I’m happy to report that my guest post at Fiona Quinn’s excellent ThrillWriting website is now live. I review the three most common biffs fiction writers make when depicting firearms, knives and other weapons. Then, I berate you for making those mistakes as a show of my intellectual superiority without offering any ways to improve. Finally, I suggest that you never write fiction again, divorce your spouse out of shame, promptly renounce your citizenship and move to Antarctica.

Nah, I’m kidding. You’re great, although in all honesty you probably could find a distraction-free writing environment in Antarctica. I just never quite fit into the “know-it-all expert” T-shirt, despite the evidence. There’s always, ALWAYS, more to learn and discover. I see myself more as a communicator of this information than someone on the same tier as Massad Ayoob or Jeff Cooper.

Head over here to read the post, How to Avoid the 3 Most Common Weapons Mistakes Writers Make. I promise you’ll come away with more than just a literary guitar solo.

Symbolism and Weapons in YA/Children’s Stories

young adult fiction writing tips weapons

This guest post comes from Megan Robin, someone I first met at the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference. I’m glad I did, because not only is she a terrifically talented writer, she pitches blog posts about weapons in children’s stories. What’s not to like about that? Enjoy!

~Ben Continue reading

Give Characters a Full Ensemble of Weapons to Handle Any Situation

Michael Connick returns for another terrific post, this time focusing on real-world inspirations for his characters’ weapons. Enjoy!


Writing weapons fiction

Fiction writing tips firearms tactics shooting raids

Connick’s books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all other fine book retailers. His website is MichaelConnick.com. (Image provided by the author)

Above is a picture of what I typically carry with me each day. My decision to carry these items is based on over 35 years experience with firearms and self-defense, so it’s no surprise that my fiction reflects this practice. I think it’s important to give characters a full ensemble of weapons to handle any situation. Continue reading

On Writing Fiction: Knife Sheaths Hidden Inside Bras?

In the spirit of the Flashbang holster for firearms, I present to you the Just In Case Bra by Booby Trap Bras. Whereas the Flashbang hides a handgun inside a brassiere, the Just in Case Bra conceals a knife. Here’s a pic:

Bras for knives

A knife or other accessory is inserted into the bra’s built-in sheath for easy access in a pinch. (Image via Booby Trap Bras)

Continue reading