The popular Bowie knife was first used as a weapon for self-defense by Jack Bowie in the infamous Sandbar Fight on September 19, 1827. Though Bowie was not scheduled to participate in the duel that faithful day, the knife of his own design amazed onlookers and was critical in saving his life. These long sword-like knives have remained popular throughout the years and are now used not in duels but for hunting, camping, knife throwing practice and collecting. Buyers interested in acquiring a Bowie knife should know what to look for and how to care for their investment.
A potential knife buyer needs an idea of what attributes will fulfill their needs. What uses does the buyer intend for this particular knife? One person may need a sword length knife such as the Bowie original, while a hunter may require a smaller version for quick cutting and animal skinning. Collectors may be less picky about what a knife can do as long as they display well inside a collection or have an interesting history.
The material that each blade is made of is one important purchase consideration. Bowie blades were originally forged out of carbon steel. While collectors may still want an original carbon-bladed Bowie, advancements in technology have lead to many choices in blade material construction. Materials such as steel alloy make a better choice for hunting, camping or other personal use.
Blade length is another consideration. Bowie knives are usually characterized by their long, sword-like blades, with the original versions being a standard 9.5 inches long. Modern Bowie knives are still no less than 5 inches. The exceptional length sets these knives apart from traditional pocket knives in terms of power, and make for beautiful collection displays. The overall size of the entire blade will also vary, and a buyer must know if they will require a large knife for hacking weeds and trimming trees or a smaller blade for hide-skinning and other tasks of precision.
After length and overall size, buyers should think about the shape their ideal blade. Bowie knives are characterized by their clip-point blade. Clip-points are thin and very sharp, making them light-weight and ideal for general camping activities, knife-throwing practice and hunting.
The length of the blade’s pronged connector to the handle, known as the tang, is another important consideration for buyers. Some knives feature a partial tang, where the steel connection inside the handle stops about halfway up, or what is known as a “rat-tail” tang which is simply a thin piece of steel running up the length of the handle. Buyers looking to put their Bowie knife to heavy use should seek a full tang. Some well-made partial tangs can be almost as strong but still will not compare to the strength of a full tang.
The knife’s handle is another variable to decide on. Natural bone, antler or stacked wood feels great in the hand, especially under cold conditions. These are often the most pleasing to the eye in a knife collection as well. However, for hunters with knives that will be wet from blood, weather and outdoor elements, synthetic blend handles of modern design such as micarta, rubber and kraton polymers offer durability and strong grips. It is also important to simply test how a knife feels to the intended user: does it fit comfortably in the hand? Does the weight feel balanced? Is this a knife that can be used comfortably and safely? Often this part cannot be decided until the potential buyer has the knife in-hand.
For collectors, it is important to have a plan for a collection in general, and for the specifically desired knife. If an antique Bowie is of interest, the buyer should know the definition of antique (100 years old or more) versus a collectible that is simply “old.” Buyers should do their research until they are able to visually distinguish between the two, and have an idea what a particular knife is worth. There are many resources available for knife collectors, including textbooks, dedicated magazines and online communities.
Once a buyer has decided on the attributes of their desired knife, based on intended use, there are many Bowie manufacturers and styles to choose from. Here are three popular options to help narrow down the choices:
1) Szco Supplies Damascus Brass Guard Bowie Knife: With its’ antique appearance and functional design, the Damascus Brass Guard Bowie Knife is a great marriage of usability and style. They feature long, 11-inch Damascus steel blades with handsome, genuine stag handles. These Bowies also include a leather sheath to safely and attractively care for your investment.
2) Ka-Bar Bowie with Black Finish: The Ka-Bar Bowie is intimidating and generally used for protection. These fixed, 14 inch blades are made of carbon steel and finished in black epoxy coating from point to butt. A favorite of soldiers and law enforcement officers, these heavy knives feature sturdy handles and are sold with leather belt sheaths.
3) Puma Bowie Fixed Blade Knife: While they are often sold as collector’s knives, the Puma Bowie is a German designed knife that is being reinvented for the modern hunter. They feature a 6.1 inch, 440c stainless steel blade. This type of blade is rust-resistant and does not dull quickly. The Puma usually has a stag handle and comes with a leather case that can be worn on belts or around the ankle.
Once a buyer has picked a knife, caring for it properly will be the key to optimal usage and longevity. A quality knife-sharpener should be the first investment for this purpose. This is the best practice for safety as well, since a dull knife is liable slip and cause injury to the user. New knife owners should also make sure to get a designated knife cleaning cloth and some metal rubbing paste to clean the Bowie carefully after each use. Finally, knives should always be kept sheathed or inside secure displays to ensure both safety and optimal performance.