Notes on blade design: Bowie, Kukri & Hand Axe.

Notes on blade design for knifemakers:

Bowie, Kukri & Hand Axe.

Your bladed tool should be:
1.  Legal in your area for its intended purpose.
2.  Practical for use in the 99% of the time you will not be using it for self defense.
3.  Have features that will help in a self defense situation, while not making the knife look like a “fighting knife.”

More on point 3. Names such as Bushcraft, Camper, Hunter, Survival are a bit safer than Fighter, Attack, Combat, Assassin.







Professional big game hunter and writer Robert Ruark said “Use Enough Gun”. When it comes to big blades, I would recommend “Use enough handle.”

One of the pet peeves of mine is when a modern knife manufacturer puts a short handle on a large knife. While a handle that’s too thin can be fixed by wrapping it with grip tape; there is no easy way to make a short handle longer.

Questions to ask about your handle design:
1. Does your handle impede a secure grip: such as being tapered towards the blade, but has no guard (such as a Finnish Puukko).

2. Does it taper towards the butt with no swell or hook at the butt end (such as some older Cold Steel Tantos),

3. Have finger grooves that limit grip choices. Conversely, does it have a round grip, which hinders awareness of where the cutting edge is?

4. Have a historical or traditional handle, but you are selling the tool to modern customers with larger hands.

 5. Are your customers unfamiliar in using the style of grip (as specifically the case of the Khukuri/kukri for most of the world outside of Nepal.
According to antique arms dealer Matt Easton, some early kukris handles were long enough for a two handed grip by small Nepalese hands of the 17th century. This would facilitate its use as a tool.

The reverse of this is an easy problem to fix. If a handle is too long for you, a well designed handle will allow for an adjustment of hand placement far easier than would a wide hand trying to fit on a short handle.

Here are some sample ways to do this:
1.  Have a straight handle but wrap it in the style of a Japanese sword.

2.  Have a straight handle with very positive, physical stops at the top and bottom.



3.  Have a palm swell at the center of the grip.

4.  Have an hourglass grip, with a slight reduction in the center and a widening at each end. This is done subtlety on the kriton handle on the Cold Steel Trailmaster.

5.  Have a combination of palm swell and end flairs, as found on the Cold Steel kukris.

6.  Have ONE finger groove at the start of the grip.

7.  Start the handle narrow behind the guard, then gradually widen towards the butt.  

Blackjack Hunter






Bowies: Straight vs trailing clip point.

Trailing Point, Possible Origin and Uses.




Find a balance between large enough to protect the hand and catch his blade; with small enough not to snag on clothing or get in the way of cutting. A longer handle, combined with a cross guard gives you some "stand off" area below the guard for your hand to keep away from an opponent's blade.


Note: Khukuri is the Nepalese word for this tool, while Kukri is the Hindi/Indian word. We in the west are more familiar with the Indian word because of the involvement of the British in India.

Kukri: notes on the notch. Religious design. Acts as spring, Helps prevent the focus of torque on the thin cutting edge. I would leave out the center post, so it can be used with a Fire steel. (and mount a firesteel that fits it right on the sheath)


Matt Easton on antique Kukri design:


A sixty minute documentary about the thirty year quest by Christian Cranmer owner of International Military Antiques to rescue the contents of the Royal Arsenal of Nepal and over 300 years worth of Antique weapons.


Antique Khukuri Repair at KHHI 2017



You'll find 19 useful videos explaining the many uses of the kukri for Bushcraft and Survival on this playlist from Blackie Thomas:


Axes and Hawks:

BOWIE VS KUKRI VS HATCHET/TOMAHAWK: Comparing the three in use. (with pros and cons of each)



I tell my Pekiti-Tirsia FMA students that just because you have training in techniques designed for a straight blade, does not mean you can transfer all those techniques automatically to all other edged weapons. It will take some adjustment, as I discuss briefly in this video. When asked which I would take into a survival situation, I usually reply “That depends what I am trying to survive.”
If I was trying to move through or around obstacles in an urban environment, then I would want an all steel tactical tomahawk. (The CRKT Kangee T-Hawk is what I keep in my car emergency bag.)

If I was trying to survive in the wilderness, then the kukri gives you many of the functions of both a hatchet and a machete. Conversely, if I needed a melee weapon, (such as trying to escape a riot, where I have time for only one cut per opponent), then the kukri hits harder than the bowie knives I own, while being far less likely than one of my tomahawks to get stuck in a target. I own a Ontario OKC kukri, as it’s a great camping tool, but would prefer the Cold Steel Gurkha Kukri Plus, if in the riot scenario I spoke of.

If I was trying to survive a knife fight against a well trained, single opponent, (and was limited to the three choices given here), then I would choose a bowie knife because of its maneuverability and its better thrusting ability than the other two weapons.

BOWIE VS KUKRI: Comparing angles on thrust.

You will find the Learning Through Comparisons series and other videos for sale on this page of the PTI web store:


Bill McGrath