[This article was brought to you by JTF Awesome member Daniel Defense. In case you have been living in a cave or communist country: they’re the semi-subtle-yet-totally-baller AR manufacturer that the free world knows and loves]
Monday Night Knfie Fights- The Khukri
One of the first “real” pieces of weapon-steel I ever bought was a khukri I purchased at auction back in 1997, with wages from my first real job. It was a WW2-era Gurkha blade and was only listed as in “good” condition, but that was good enough for me!
The khukri is a traditional knife design from Nepal, where it is as much a piece of farm equipment or household knife as it is a weapon. It fills the same niche as the machete does in the Americ’s or Africa. It’s a simple, uncomplicated blade that is up to the task of rugged, daily rural use.
Designed primarily for chopping, the forward swept head and thick spine are the principle characteristics that make it one of the more easily identifiable blades around. The first one I bought (on the right) has a highly polished blade and a lighter coloured wood handle.
The second khukri I added to my collection was pre-WW2, and features a darker, hammer-mark pitted surface, and a darker aged wooden handle.
The overall shape varies a great deal from quite straight to highly curved with angled or smooth spines, depending on the age, or region of manufacture, but the two examples I have are very similar in design.
The flared handles keep the knife firmly seated in the hand and do not feature a guard, at least in the Western sense. The notches at the bottom of the blade, called alternately karda, kauda, kaudi, kaura, or cho, have a variety of explanations, from being practical in that that it gives blood and sap a place to drop off the blade rather than running onto the handle and hand, to ceremonial with either religious or superstitious explanations.
Both of my khukris weigh just about 500g (1.1lbs) and measure just around 40cm long (16″) and 42cm. They really feel good in the hand, and the forward sweep of the very broad head of the blade really feels weightless.
Because the blade angles towards the target, you don’t need to angle your wrist to make the chopping, slicing action, which “breaks” the force you are putting into the cut. Unlike a straight-edged sword, the center of mass combined with the blade angle allow the kukri to slice as it chops, more like an axe than a knife.
I have taken my khukri camping, for some campside bushcraft, and also had it handy when I’ve felt the need to put the maximum hurt on in close quarters. Thankfully I’ve never actually needed to do so, but they are no-nonsense tools to get the job done.
The two khukris I have are very similar in overall size and design, though the older one has distinct hammered fuller lines, and the newer of the two has very subtle dishing in the spine to give you that same stiffening ridgeline, plus weight redistribution. Very simple blacksmithing, for a very effective blade.
The thick spine gives you a very solid and inflexible blade, which is coupled with the broad depth of the blade gives you a cutting tool of exceptional force.
The hammered down blade and hand-ground convex edge edge slides across the target’s surface while the center of mass maintains momentum as the blade moves through the target’s cross-section during a cut.
The combination of stiff spine, fine edge and mechanics of the forward-sweeping blade gives the khukri a penetrative force that some might think disproportional to its length. The design enables the user to inflict deep wounds and penetrate bone, as proven by Nepal and the UK’s Gurkha troops in fields of combat throughout their history.
While most famed from use in the military, the khukri is the most commonly used multipurpose tool in the fields and homes in Nepal. These are bush tools, and get used from everything to butchering animals to chopping fire wood, and even as a digging tool.
I don’t have much need or desire to take my antiques out to dig holes and slaughter goats, but I know if I wanted to I certainly could. Much like your M1’s or 1911’s, they are just as effective now as the day they hit the line, and just need to be maintained appropriately.
I’ve done my WW2 blade some early disservice with some over enthusiastic but not especially clean sharpening, but I’ve also buffed out some damage it had when it came to me.
They still work just fine and in fact, effortlessly bit into this beam, and I felt that in five or six chops I could have parted it. Typically khukri’s have a partial tang, which is burned into the wooden handle and glued in with pitch. I can tell you that at 60+ years old, this blade was hungry for chopping, with not a wiggle or shake.
The leather-wrapped wooden scabbards, however, haven’t traveled the last 60+ years as well. I treated them as best I could, but old leather just has not traveled well. I’ve bound the oldest with old bootlace, and the WW2 blade with old belt. The two little maintenance blades (one missing from each of my khukris) only barely hold in place. It’s pretty sad, and is one of the main reasons these beauties don’t get much more regular use.
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