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!
Cold Steel SRK San Mai III Review
The Cold Steel SRK San Mai III (Survival Recon Knife) was first survival knife I ever bought. It’s a hell of a name, and on paper it seems like a hell of a knife. I read countless reviews and forum posts before deciding on it. I even nearly decided against it, having come across some forums that were highly critical of Cold Steel as a company. I read that their quality had disappeared after they became popular. I read that they were better at marketing than they were at making knives. All of this made me a little dubious of Cold Steel. In the end I reasoned that the only way to find out was to get one for myself.
The best delivered prices for the Cold Steel SRK San Mai III are usually from Amazon, but delivery can be tricky if you’re outside of the US. At the time of writing, Amazon is selling the Cold Steel SRK San Mai III for a fair price, but I’m in Australia where customs don’t need to give any reason for seizing your imported goods. Even a vegetable peeler can get you on a terrorism watch list over here. In fact, writing the words “terrorism watch list” on the internet could probably get you on a terrorism watch list. So yeah…there’s that.
I digress. I got lucky and picked up my Cold Steel SRK San Mai III on eBay for AU$132 shipped. A fine price indeed, given that shipping prices sometimes get out of hand on eBay.
Update 7 July 2017 – I can no longer find the Cold Steel SRK San Mai III on Amazon, which is a shame because it’s a fine knife. Only one eBay seller has one, at this link. Besides this, you’re probably down to local stocks in individual local stores, which makes buying recommendations difficult.
Included in the box
Design & Construction
The Cold Steel SRK San Mai III is
- Fixed blade – no moving parts or articulation
- Full tang – One piece construction. The handle and the blade are the same piece of metal. No seams or joins.
- Hunting type blade – The belly of the blade curves, making it better for work like skinning, cutting, or slashing. A curved blade makes the cutting edge longer because mathematics. The point of the blade is a clipped point with a swage. The swage refers to the upper edge of the point, which has been ground to two angled edges. This brings the point of the blade lower, making for a more acute point on the tip. A more acute tip penetrates more easily in a stab (please don’t stab anything with your lovely SRK SM3).
- San Mai 3″ steel – which is a marketing name for the three layered laminate steel used for the SRK SM3’s blade. The core layer is a harder steel, which on its own would wear poorly or maybe even crack due to being too brittle. The outer layers are softer steel, giving flexible support to the core layer.
- Kraton handle – This is a nice firm type of rubber with a grippy pattern all over it.
- Kydex sheath – More marketing names, this time for the plastic the sheath is made from.
For more information on blade steel and design, click through to The Ultra Survivalist’s Guide To Survival Knives.
The Cold Steel SRK San Mai 3 definitely looks the business. Besides the marketing names for the materials used in construction, it is a very no nonsense knife. No tacticool, no bling, just a tool made of the bare essentials for doing what it does.
In a word, solid. The Cold Steel SRK San Mai 3 is very well made and its price is justified in the build quality. It’s a very tight package.
In the hand, the knife has a reassuring weight. It’s not as heavy as a Becker Bk2, and you’ll probably feel grateful for that. I wouldn’t mind a more substantial finger guard before the blade. That would inspire a little more confidence with stabs and whatnot. The handle is a rounded-off square shape which could have had some more substance. I mean, a hundred something dollar knife deserves to feel a bit nicer. In truth, I have a $5 knock-off Global santoku that feels much better in hand than the Cold Steel SRK San Mai 3. The kraton grip is very good though, and even cuts down slipperiness in the wet.
I have to admit that I was taken by the (admittedly compelling) marketing of Cold Steel. Their flashy videos made it seem like I was buying an atom bomb in the shape of a knife. I was a little taken aback then, when I unboxed it and used it for the first time. It cut the paper I held, sure. And true, it went through the cardboard too. But it wasn’t smooth, perfect, falling through matter as if it parted it on a molecular level. To be honest, the factory didn’t send it out with arm-shaving sharpness. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t try to catch the SRK SM3 as it falls. It would still teach me a good lesson if I tried, as it is most certainly cutting-sharp out of the box. But I will have to spend some quality time with this knife and my sharpener before its cutting abilities can really wow anyone.
Edge retention is good – after doing some batoning I still could cut paper as my video shows. That’s a strong plus.
- A feeling of security that comes from having a solid knife with one’s self
- Reasonable price
- Standing up to punishment
- General cutting (duh)
- Fine work
- Coming out of the box with a hair popping razor edge (as advertised)
- Using as a shovel (digging will dull any edge, fast)
- Using as a pry bar
- Carry on luggage
- Wearing in shopping centres
- Baby’s first knife fight
- Anything else that knives are bad for.
Cold Steel SRK San Mai III Review Conclusion
Ultimately I think that as long as you’re not going too far above the $100 mark, the Cold Steel SRK San Mai 3 a great knife. Good enough to be the only one you take out. It has the reassuring build quality, the edge retention, and the no nonsense design that most are going to need in their adventures. Expect it to lose a lot of razor sharpness if you use it for jobs that knives are generally not meant for. On the other hand, it will really stand up to anything you do to it without complaining. Given its best competitor (the Fallkniven A1) starts at more than twice the price of a Cold Steel SRK San Mai 3, I’m betting on this knife being all the knife you need. Just remember to give it a sharpen before you head out 😉
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