Steve Shackleford Blog

Tactical Knife: Definitions and Origin

Buck Metro keychain knife

The Wall Street Journal even referred to the Buck Metro keychain knife as a tactical knife.

Exactly what constitutes a tactical knife has been addressed in BLADE®, other knife magazines—one of which was even called Tactical Knives—KnifeForums and other knife discussion forums, social media, books, the national media and elsewhere. Some originally described it, and still do, as a folding or fixed-blade knife with a non-glare blade and black synthetic handle ideal for any number of utility purposes, including combat. There are other qualifications but these three seem to universally apply to tactical knives.

As noted by many, BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member and Spyderco founder Sal Glesser once said a tactical knife is any knife you have with you when you need a knife. Such a definition also would seem to apply to an everyday carry (EDC) knife. The Wall Street Journal once even referred to a Buck Metro keychain knife as a tactical knife. Go figure (though, technically, the Buck Metro would seem to fit both Glesser’s definition and the EDC comparison and, thus, the definition of a tactical knife). Others insist the term tactical knife is no more than a marketing gimmick.

As for who the father of tactical knives is, that is a question guaranteed to spark healthy debates. Some say custom knifemaker Bob Terzuola made the first tactical folding knife, while others say custom knifemaker Ernest Emerson did. Some say any number of other makers made the first one. The argument even can be made that the original popularizer of the term is Greg Walker, editor of the now-defunct Fighting Knives magazine, who wrote extensively about tactical knives during FK’s run in the 1990s. Some say the original tactical knife is the Buck 110 folding hunter, which was introduced in 1964 and used by many American GIs in the Vietnam War. Of course, if Glesser’s definition holds true, then the first knife fashioned by early man from a bone, rock, obsidian or what have you many millennia ago is the original tactical knife.

Whatever the case, tactical knives have been hot for over two decades with no end in sight. Observers have predicted the end of the tactical knife phenomenon any number of times, with the knife and its spinoffs enjoying almost as many popularity spikes as the predictions of its demise. About the only thing that seems certain about tactical knives is that such forecasts will continue until one of them actually comes true.

Then again, who really knows anything for sure when the subject is tactical knives?

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4 thoughts on “Tactical Knife: Definitions and Origin

  1. Guntalk

    Wow, man. If you are going to borrow the idea, structure, and even the examples for your article from a recent release by Doug Ritter and Knife Rights, at least have the integrity to give credit.

        1. Steve ShacklefordSteve Shackleford Post author

          Yes, Doug and I both wrote stories way back in 2006 when the Wall Street Journal came out targeting the Buck Metro as a “tactical knife.” In fact, Doug later cited my story in BLADE® (“They Are Coming After Us,” page 10, November 2006 issue) in some of his literature for Knife Rights. As for his latest story and mine, they both include info about the Buck Metro and tactical knives, yes, but that’s where the similarities end. His story is a retrospective of the WSJ story and how it helped inspire him to start Knife Rights. My story is about tactical knives, their definition and their origin.

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