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WesternHunter's picture
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Ka Bar

I've been a knife enthusiast as long as I've been a gun fanatic. Owning a genuine reproduction Ka Bar that I bought in the summer of 1987. I also own a current government issue Marine Corps fighting knife (MIL-K-20277H) as manufactured by the current contractor, Ontario Knife Company. It's the USN/USMC Mark 2 pattern (so-called Ka Bar pattern). It's all black, resin coated/impregnated weatherproofed disk leather handle with phosphate parkerized blade, crossguard, and pommel. Both the Genuine Ka Bar and the Ontario Mark 2 combat knives are great utility and camp knives.

One thing that has really struck me is how all USN and USMC Mark 2 pattern knives are always generically refered to as Ka Bars regardless of the many different contractors who have made the Mark 2 pattern issue fighting knife during WWII on through to today. In fact Ka Bar, Olean, NY (old Union Cultery Co) still misguides people into believing that their knife has been carried regularly by troops in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan despite the fact that Union Cutlery Company (Ka Bar) of Olean, NY has not made government contract knives for the military since WWII. In fact genuine Ka Bar marked fighting knives (as made by Union Cutlery) were no longer made from the end of WWII until the mid 1970's. While I have absolutely no doubt that many WWII era genuine Ka Bars made their way into the Korean War (as did much WWII military gear) I do doubt that many genuine Ka Bars made it to Vietnam and especially later wars. Though I have heard that a limited small number of genuine WWII era Ka Bars we still in circulation in the marine corps early in Vietnam. The vast majority of issued combat knives carried by Army and Marine Corps troops in battle since Korea were in fact Mark 2 pattern fighting knives as made by Camillus, Conetta, Utica, Robeson, Ontario and others and are generically refered to as Ka Bars.

Since the late 1960's both Camillus Cutlery Co and Ontario Knife Co have been the primary contractors to make and supply the knives. While the Camillus contract ended shortly before Desert Storm and Camillus recently went out of business I've heard that there is still a good number of Camillus Mark 2 Combat knives still in Marine Corps service along with the Ontario Mark 2 knives.

While the current Ka Bar knife company can lay genuine claim to being the original Ka Bar Mark 2 pattern I think that their claim to their knife still being used by the marine corps troops is the company's way of making a lot out of very little. The fact is that Ka Bar of Olean, NY still makes an excellent high quality knife today as they did in WWII. And that is just it, their knives are way too nice to carry into battle or use as a camp utility knife. Most folks who buy the genuine Ka Bar buy them as a collection piece. There is much hand fitting and honing that goes into the production of both vintage and current Ka Bars. Also Ka Bar made their reproduction WWII Ka Bar knives to near exact WWII spec only from 1977 un until around 1991. Since about 1992 the new Ka Bar knife is much too commercialized, has much too highly polished leather handle, and all steel parts are deep black semi-gloss epoxy powder coated. I don't believe that epoxy powder coating existed in the mid 20th century. The original WWII Ka Bars and the first reproduction knives until 1991 or so used oil impregnated compessed leather disc handles, steel parts were never polished, but sand blasted, and finished with a phosphate zinc parkerizing on all the steel parts (blade, guards, pommel) giving them a very distinctively matte appearance and noticeable dark gray color finish as opposed to deep black smoother semi-gloss finish of the newer current Ka Bar blades.

I think that the current issue Marine Corps fighting knife as made by Ontario Knife Company and the older reproduction Ka Bar are knives that folks are issued or buy to actually use. The Camillus and the Ontario is the knife that the Corps currently issues to go into battle with. It is a rougher more utilitarian type knife in addition to being less expensive than the newer genuine Ka Bar. I could not imagine actually using a new Genuine Ka Bar for battle or camp chores. Though I have and still used my older 1987 KaBar, it's simply too good of a knife not to.

bitmasher's picture
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Ka Bar

Interesting read, thanks for the info.

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