The Ka-Bar Tanto. It’s like two legendary fighters decided to have a baby. The lore surrounding the tanto blade design, its roots in the mystical oriental warrior life of old, combined with the industrial know-how of an American centurion. I have my hands on one, so let’s do a review!
Ka-Bar Tanto Price
As we can see from the camelcamelcamel.com price tracking graph for the Ka-Bar Tanto, its price has been in a good strong up trend since the end of 2009. While in the last five years, the price occasionally dips into the US$50 range, this is becoming increasingly uncommon. You can find the Ka-Bar Tanto at the time of publication in the mid US$60 range, plus shipping. As always, past performance doesn’t guarantee future gains, and Ultra Survivalist accepts no liability if you decide to go long on a million units in some bizarre commodity fund of Ka-Bar Tantos for your retirement.
Ka-Bar Tanto Design & Construction
The Ka-Bar Tanto is made from high carbon 1095 steel, with a black powder coat finish to keep the partial tang blade safe from the ravages of humidity. For more information on blade steel and design, click through to The Ultra Survivalist’s Guide To Survival Knives.
The tanto point is a western adaptation of the blade point found on Japanese katana and wakizashi. At the tanto’s point, the spine is clipped slightly. The edge and belly form an obtuse angle, both of which are sharpened. The belly and clipped spine meet at a sharp point, designed to focus stabbing force into a tiny area. The tanto point is known for its armor piercing abilities.
The Ka-Bar Tanto features a “combo edge”, with a length of serrations from the guard, which is followed by a plain edge for the rest of the blade’s edge. The serrated area is useful for quickly cutting through ropes or belts. The grind of the blade is a hollow grind – an easy to maintain grind type that won’t have you sharpening the knife for weeks without getting anywhere.
The knife has a partial tang, meaning the blade and handle are the same single piece of steel. The steel in the handle is slimmer than the blade itself though. Around the tail of the tang, Ka-Bar have wrapped a kraton handle and capped it off with a powder coated steel butt cap. Great for hammering!
Included in the box
- Ka-Bar Tanto
- Kydex sheath with belt loop.
Ka-Bar Tanto Look
To be honest, this is a fearsome looking knife. Especially so when you first draw it from its sheath. The tanto point gives the knife a striking look, and the black powder coating makes it look very stealth. It’s something an assault ninja would wear. You will similarly feel as though you are that same assault ninja, if you wear this knife. This knife basically looks like a weapon. You would have a very hard time explaining it to police if you had carried it into a shopping mall or cinema. Some knives can be excused as tools, while others cannot. This one falls into the latter category.
Ka-Bar Tanto Feel
The Ka-Bar Tanto feels very good in the hand. Very good indeed. The handle is grippy, with four deep grooves running around its diameter. The whole knife has a solid weight. A heft. Everything on it has been put together with very tight tolerances. I really like the solid steel finger guard. It’s a great design inclusion that will really serve to protect the knife user’s fingers if they decide to put the knife to the test against a car door or something.
The knife is also very quick in the hand. It feels “wieldy” (my invented antonym to “unwieldy”), probably due to the balance of knife. Most of the Ka-Bar Tanto’s weight is in its handle, so whipping the blade around is easy. Given the look of the knife I’d say it’s more designed for whipping around (in a fight) than for chopping veggies into a mountain goat stew.
Using the Ka-Bar Tanto is like
This is the hard part of the review. Let’s get down to brass tacks – the Ka-Bar Tanto is a “fighting” knife. I put fighting in inverted commas because we’re using the word “fighting” euphemistically, to avoid saying that it’s a killing knife. A killing knife is what it is though, with 5cm of a rope cutter on its inside edge. I am not a US Marine, or a knife fighter, or a killer of any kind. This limits the scope of what I could practically use this knife for. Yes, I feel better that it is sitting on my desk. In a home invasion and if my life were on the line, I know that even if there were a car door between me and my opponent, this knife could reach him. But most of my life is not fighting or dealing with home invasions.
That said, this knife is built for a specific purpose and there’s nothing wrong with being specialised. My lack of need for a fighting knife doesn’t impact on your needs. And if your need is for a fighting knife, this is a good one, for an acceptable price, as long as you can accept a few caveats.
Firstly, the knife doesn’t arrive sharp. I’ve read other reviews that praised the sharpness of the Ka-Bar Tanto, but I’ve read numerous other reviewers complaining of dullness and it’s my experience as well. With disbelief, I have pressed my thumb down and run it along this blade. My thumb wasn’t cut, because this knife isn’t sharpened in the factory. I’m not joking when I say that it arrives dull. You may need some knowledge of knife edge restoration, reprofiling, and sharpening if you want to buy this knife. In truth, you need to know how to sharpen if you own any knives anyway, so this shouldn’t be a major issue. The immediate need for restoration is surprising though. Looking at the grind of the Ka-Bar Tanto I have, I can see it’s uneven. Should a factory really be sending out unevenly ground blades when they charge $60 each? We’re not talking about a junk store knife here. Ka-Bar is a big brand, and their customers depend on the quality of their products. The unevenness of the grind on the Ka-Bar Tanto I have is such that on one side, the edge is ground to approx 1.5mm, while the other side looks to be about half that. The lack of effort in the grind comes out when I try to cut with the knife, only to find it’s not sharp at all. Yes, it will still work as a weapon. So would a chopstick though.
As a value experiment, I went looking for a bar of 1095 steel large enough to make my own knife. Out there, such a bar will cost you nearly as much as a Ka-Bar Tanto. For retail customers like you and I, this makes the Ka-Bar Tanto a bit more excusable for its lack of sharpness. After all, I couldn’t heat treat, put a handle on, grind, and then sharpen a bar of 1095 into a knife by myself for $60 – $70. This makes the asking price understandable, but I still scratch my head at the dull blade.
The sheath gets complaints in other reviews for feeling cheap and scratching the protective powder coating off the blade. I found that not to be true with my copy of the knife. I appreciate that things often do come down to budget, and the Ka-Bar Tanto is not a hundred dollar knife. I think the sheath shows good design considerations. For example, the way it clamps the knife in. There are a couple of plastic teeth that stick out and, once the blade’s guard has been pushed past them, hold it securely with an easy to hear “click” sound. Once it’s sheathed, it won’t come out even if you do a triple somersault. The sheath has plenty of eyelets around its perimeter for lashing the knife into your webbing or mounting it somewhere handy. It’s a good sheath.
- Well built
- Arrives dull with a stunningly poor grind.
- Hard to think of uses for this knife beyond killing.
Ka-Bar Tanto Review Conclusion
I know how to sharpen a knife. Do you? If you do, then the Ka-Bar Tanto is a decent value knife. Other reviewers haven’t had the same experience as I did, so I can’t claim absolute authority here. My experience is that this is a solid knife that’s well built, but needs to be sharpened when it arrives.
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