Exploring The Bowie Knife: 12 Examples Of The World’s Most Famous Knife

I always have a bit of a hard time with these best of style articles because there are so many great knives out there and only so much room in a post! I am going to include a variety of knives at various price levels so there is something on this list for everyone.

To find out the current price for each knife please click on the link. I do not like to list exact current prices in articles like this because costs can go up and down. If you are reading this post 4 months after it is published the price may be a bit different or you may get a better deal following our link due to a sale going on.

So what is a Bowie Knife?

The Bowie knife style is a popular fighting knife style that has a lot of other practical uses as well. It is one of the most easily recognized styles of knife in the world.

Jim Bowie was a Louisiana planter that was famous for knife fighting and being one of those that perished at the Alamo. While Jim didn’t make the knife himself, he made it famous through dozens of bloody altercations over the years. These fights were widely publicized and made every frontiersman yearn for a knife like his.

It is widely debated who the actual knifemaker was that created the first Bowie knife. Some claim it was Jim’s brother while others credit a New Orleans knife maker in the early 1800s that was simply know as Pedro. The truth is that no one really knows. I think it was likely a design that has evolved and perfected into the knife we know today.

Things to Look For In A Bowie Knife

Is it full tang or not?

I usually don’ want any Bowie knife that is not full tang construction. You need to know your knife is not going to break and fail where the blade and handle meet. There are exceptions in the world of knives like the Hen and Rooster in this post which I know has held up over the years.

Carbon Versus Stainless

Carbon steel is easier to sharpen and holds an edge for longer than Stainless but you have to be willing to take care of it, or you are just wasting your money. On the other side of this is the fact that stainless steel has come a long way and some of it is better at keeping an edge and easy enough to sharpen with a diamond sharpening stone.

Origin of Metal

Decent metal can come from a variety of places. If I see USA, Japan, Germany, Thailand, Spain, or see Damascus steel, I know that there is a good chance that I am getting decent quality metal. Stainless steel is harder and more brittle which means it holds an edge better but is harder to sharpen. High carbon content steel is popular due to its ease of sharpening and the slight “give” it has rather than being brittle.

Note on listed weights and country of origin

There are knives on this list I had to research on several sites in order to find a weight. Sometimes Amazon either leaves the weight out, or the weight is simply inaccurate. I have tried to offer you an accurate weight but if anything is ever off in one of my posts please let me know in the comments. Some weights listed were not even available on the manufacturer website so I was forced to use info from a reseller.

Country of origin should be accurate, but I have found some sheaths are made in a different country than the knife they are designed for.

Knife manufacturers, please do us all a favor and list an accurate weight on your site instead of no weight at all!

Materials

The handle material is an important choice and contributes to the price you are going to pay for your knife. Stag handles, rosewood, and leather are all great, but plastic is going to be less expensive. Match the materials to the circumstances you foresee yourself using this knife in.  There are advantages and disadvantages to any handle type.

Size

Bowie knives come in all sizes so make sure you get one that is comfortable for you. If buying as a gift, consider that person’s size. A knife should be comfortable to use. We are lucky to have so many choices today.

Rockwell Hardness Levels

The Rockwell Hardness test is an industry standard for metal hardness. I am going to try to include these levels when I can find them, and you may run into a knife with this listed. I wanted to explain the Rockwell scale to those that are just getting started out in the world of knives.

A lot of the knives in this post do not have this hardness included, but you may be able to find it or ask the manufacturer. It may be important for you to know just how hard the steel is. If you find a knife you like that is not on this list, you may also wonder how it compares to the Rockwell Averages Chart shared below.

The Rockwell Test is a measure of the penetration of a diamond-tipped indenter under a high-pressure load. Generally speaking the higher the hardness number, the harder the steel is. Harder steel keeps an edge longer but is also more brittle. This is why some people like a high carbon content blade. The more carbon, the easier your blade is to sharpen, but it also will get dull quicker than a hard blade.

Many knives have a small indent called a proof mark that is seen as evidence of the Rockwell test being performed on the knife you are purchasing.

Below is a chart courtesy of AG Russell listing the common Rockwell Hardness Test averages for different types of knives.

 

Average Rockwells for Knife Categories

Puma

It is hard to beat a Puma. Don’t think that you have to buy the most expensive Puma to get a great Bowie Knife. There are Puma’s around or under $100 that are great Bowie knives that will stand up to daily use and wear and tear no problem. At the same time, there are some Puma’s that are fabulous knives, but it is hard to bring oneself to buying a knife for over $100 and then putting it through the wringer.

Puma SGB Bowie Stag Hunting Knife with Leather Sheath

Overall length:11″

Blade length: 6.1″

Weight: 7.2 oz

Made in China Using German Steel

For fans of stag handled bowies, this is a knife that will not disappoint. The Puma SGB is a genuine stag handled knife, not bone made to look like stag. Brass bolsters and pins combine with the antique medallion and lanyard hole to make this a knife that is both beautiful and functional.

The 1.4116 German Cutlery Steel Blade is tested to meet a 55-57 Rockwell hardness and proof marked. For a bowie that measures 11″ long, this one is amazingly lightweight, making it a good choice for regular carry and service.

If you are on a budget or don’t care about genuine stag, look to the Puma below for a great alternative. The specs are the same except for the handle which is Delrin Stag, a synthetic plastic polymer material. Many people choose the Delrin handle for everyday service use. For more info on Delrin check out this link.

Puma SGB Bowie Commando Delrin Stag Hunting Knife with Leather Sheath

Overall length:11″

Blade length: 6.1″

Weight: 7.2 oz

Made in China Using German Steel

Cold Steel

A classic company with a great reputation. Cold Steel makes affordable quality knives that are made to perform not just look pretty in your collection. Cold Steel has a wide variety of knives, so I encourage you to explore their brand to make sure that you get the knife you want.

I am going to share one of the budget friendly Cold Steel’s as well as one of their higher end knives that get a lot of good feedback overall.

Cold Steel CS16JSM-BRK Trail Master Bowie

Overall length: 14 1/2″

Blade length: 9 1/2″

Weight: 17.4 oz

Made in Japan. Cold Steel makes knives in several countries so don’t assume what you are buying is made in a certain country without checking descriptions.

This is a hefty and solidly built bowie. The Trailmaster is a premium bowie knife with a price tag to match at around $240 at the moment. The large size may be too much for some, so I advise getting out the tape measure to get an idea of the size if you are new to Bowie knives. The 17.4 oz weight means it is more than twice as heavy as a lot of Puma bowie knives.

The Trailmaster features a 9.5″ VG-1 San MAI III blade with a thickness of 5/16″. The handle is made of Kraton and measures 5″. I did a little research to see what people had to say and the consensus seems to be that this is one of the best noncarbon steel big bowie knives out there so if you want a great stainless blade with a synthetic handle for heavy use, this may be one to save up for.

 

 

Marttiini Condor Bowie Knife

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Overall length: 9.5″

Blade length: 4 7/8″

Weight: Under 6 oz

Made in Finland

This is my favorite budget knife brand. This is an amazing knife for under $30, and it comes with a sheath. Matt and I have used this knife to butcher a lot over the years, and it has always worked like a champ. If you want to get someone a great knife for the holidays, but you are on a budget, this is the knife to choose!

The blade is 420 stainless steel and keeps an edge exceptionally well. There are times when we butchered hogs that I used this knife more than any other.

You get a leather sheath with the knife, but it is very basic with no snaps. The textured polymer handle offers superior slip resistance. I know this because I have used this knife a lot under wet and slimy conditions and never had one slip up!

Ka-Bar Becker BK9 Combat Bowie Fixed Blade Knife

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Overall length: 15.”

Blade length: 9.”

Weight: Just over 1 lb

Made In the USA

Black epoxy powder coated 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel blade

The Ka-bar makes the list for being one of the more popular Bowie knives in the country. Ka-bar is brand a lot of combat troops generally carry. The materials are good, and the price is right. The coated blade resists rust and stays sharp and ready to go. The Swiss-made Grivory handle is made of glass-fiber-filled nylon for strength and durability under trying circumstances.

This is a larger Bowie knife. A 9-inch blade length is pretty huge. At right at a 1lb this is not the lightest knife out there, but the weight is good for the size you get. The handle is longer than some comparable bowies by a full inch, so if you have big hands, then the Becker is an option.

Ontario Knife 8684 SP-10 Raider Bowie 9.75 in Plainedge with Nylon Sheath

Overall length: 15 1/8″

Blade length: 9 3/4″

Weight:18 oz

Made in the USA

Ontario Knives is amazing. While they have plenty of pricey knives, they also have exceptional quality budget friendly knives that are still made in the USA. If you are on a budget or want a knife that can hold up to heavy use without concern for messing up an expensive knife, then consider the Ontario Raider Bowie.

The blade is made of 1095 Cro-Van Carbon Steel. As far as the weight goes, I tried to find a valid weight, but some customers claim it weighs as much as 24 oz. Perhaps they include the sheath in that weight?

The handle is made of Kraton. For those that are unfamiliar with Kraton, it is designed to be a synthetic replacement for rubber. It holds up extremely well under wet conditions and offers the user a good solid grip that makes it comfortable to use.

KA-BAR Full Size US Marine Corps Fighting Knife, Straight

Overall length:11.875 inches

Blade length: 7″

Weight: 11.2 oz

Made in the USA, however, the included leather sheath is made in Mexico

I know that Amazon has a lot of shoddy reviews, but with 89% of the nearly 2000 reviews being five stars, I have to say I am impressed. Customers had a lot of positive things to say about this knife, and I know from experience that “knife people” can be pretty harsh if something doesn’t pass their tests.

The 7-inch blade is made of 1095 Cro-van steel. The blade must be stout because happy customers and ex-military professionals report that they have used the knife as a hammer, pry bar, digging tool, screwdriver and throwing knife and it is still going strong despite being more than 20 years old. There is a prominent blood groove in the blade that helps balance the knife.

The grooved leather handle is a classic and offers a good grip while channeling away water.

Overall length: 12″

Blade length: 7 3/8″

Weight: 8.3 oz

Made in the USA

This knife has a lot of fans and for good reason. The 420HC Steel Blade offers excellent strength and corrosion resistance. A substantial blade guard helps with safety and comfort.

Full tang construction and an easy to access yet secure snap fastener sheath makes this a great knife for everyday use. The clip blade is designed to help make deboning easier for when you are in the bush and are getting a meal ready for the fire.

This knife comes to you very sharp. I saw at least one review where someone failed to realize just the type of knife they were dealing with and had the bandaged hand to prove it! That tells you that you will not have to immediately get out the sharpening stone when you get yours in the mail.

Buck has a sterling reputation and loyal customer base. This is something that stands out to me in a world of cheaply made knives and how quick knife aficionados are to point out flaws!

Overall length: 14.25″

Blade length: 9.5″

Weight: 20 oz

Made In The USA

I don’t have any major experience with Case Bowie Knives but a lot of people like them. The first thing I noticed was the handle. The blade guard is quite large, and I think this is a good idea considering the type of handle on this knife. It seems a bit slicker than I would like but since it has a stop on the end as well as a blade guard, perhaps this is not as much of a problem as I think.

This is a very heavy and sharp Bowie Knife. I think this one, although very high quality, is best for bigger individuals that don’t mind the 20 oz weight and 14.25″ length. I am 5’7 and have big hands. An 11-inch overall length seems to work best for me.

Overall length:12.1″

Blade length: 7″

Weight: 10 oz

Made In the USA

This knife is a less expensive version of the classic Ka-Bar Marine Fighting Knife. The handle is Kraton, and it features an epoxy textured powder coated high carbon steel blade.

It is a bit longer overall than the Ka-Bar and regardless of being about half the cost, features full tang construction.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41l1uUwdAQL.jpg

Overall length:11 1/8″
Blade length: 6″

Weight: 6.2 oz? ( It is difficult to find accurate weights for some knives. The shipping weight is listed as 11.2 oz)

Made in Spain

My husband has this knife, and he likes it. For the money, it is an exceptional knife. Although it is not full tang, I have to say he has owned this knife for many years. The knife is made in Spain but using German Steel that is listed as 440 Stainless.

The black rubberized handle is so comfortable to use, and it does not slip even during the worst of the worst wet and slimy conditions. If you want a knife that doesn’t cost a lot and will stand up, then this may be the Hen and Rooster for you!

Ontario Knife Company 8680 Sp-2 Survival Knife with Black Nylon Sheath

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/31t2SXBIVQL.jpg

Overall length: 10.6″

Blade length: 5.5″

Weight: 8.9 oz

Made In the USA

This is a very close knife to the SP-1 I described. The main difference is the lengths and the addition of serration on the side of the SP-2. Look back at my description of the SP-1 for reference if you want. This is another Ka-Bar copy but a high-quality one with added serration.

Do you own a bowie knife? What is your favorite overall? Have you experienced positive or negative results with any of those I have mentioned in this post? Did I miss a great one?

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected].

  1. I have never used the Ontario Bowie, but know a couple people who love them. Same goes for the big Beckers. They are tough, reasonably priced, knock around knives.

    I’m not a big fan of Bowies in general. I’m not a knife fighter, and I find them both too big and too wedgy for camp kitchen use, and too small for more general camp or yard use.

    If I was a knife fighter, I might have a very different opinion, but I’m not.

    I have a couple of the Ka-Bar Cutlass Machetes, which are basically VERY big Bowies without a clip point or guard, and love them for general camp chores.

    Unlike most Bowie’s, they are heavy enough to be excellent choppers, but short enough (11 inch blade) to actually wear around. They are excellent for batoning small logs into kindling, and will take down a six or seven inch tree without any trouble.

    While I’m a believer in a three knife set (chopper, chef’s knife, Swiss Army knife), if I had to make do with only one camp knife, it would be a Ka-bar Cutlass machete because it does the heavy stuff a big knife like a Bowie won’t do, and would be at least barely adequate for camp kitchen duty. However, a proper kitchen knife or two would make life a lot easier, as would a good Swiss Army knife.

    In a fight, which really is the Bowie’s purpose, the Ka-Bar would be both a fearsome weapon and a seriously intimidating one to face. If you aren’t a trained and practiced knife fighter, I doubt that the fighting advantages of a Bowie would make any difference at all.

    The Ka-Bar sports a 1085 carbon steel blade which is easy to sharpen with a file, takes a good edge, and holds it well (as do the blades on any 1085 or 1095 Bowie).

    Sheaths are a common weakness in knives and the Ka-Bar is no exception. The sheaths are adequate, but the stitching tends to come apart. A few small rivets will cure that.

    You can find them on Amazon for less than fifty dollars.

  2. It was not the knife that was so deadly as it was Jim Bowie. In most of his knife fights he did not have a so called “B0wie” knife. He would have been deadly with a butter knife if you were if a fight with him. But he was also a sociopath killer too!

    I inherited a Buck General and have always found that knife to be to big to the point of being clumsy. I have several Cold Steel knifes and found them to be excellent knifes. They hold a very good edge and the handles are very good non-slip when your hands are wet and cold. I don’t not own any of there full size “Bowie” knives.

  3. I own one of the Case 14 inch Bowie’s, I’m not going to quibble over .25 inch.
    It is extremely well balanced. The point of balance is one inch ahead of the
    blade guard, just in front of the Manufacturers Logo. This makes it very easy to
    handle and the weight is not difficult to manipulate. The handle is sized just right and makes the whole design work very well ergonomically. Mine has the white handle and is as pretty as a Texas Country Girl on a Saturday Night. Therein lies
    it’s only drawback. You don’t want to mess up her hair. She’s so pretty, I don’t
    want to use her for a working knife but if I was going to a Knife Fight you can bet
    your petootie she’d be in my left hand with a gun in my right. She is very intimidating and will definitely make any opponent say “Ok. let’s just calm down and talk about this, for a minute.” That’s what gives her real value and you can quote the Duke of Texas on that. I may have to get one with the black handle as
    a working blade.

  4. Awesome Job, you really did your homework. would add Bokker and Gerber, but ONLY if they’re 20 years old or so. The old Gerber Mark I and II would prop up a car if need be, but I wouldn’t trust a new Gerber to prop up a window. In the 82d in the 70’s it was buck folders. I bought a Puma. Still have it. A guy asked to borrow it, and used it to short the starter in his jeep to start it. Put a big fat weld mark on it. I put a big fat mark on his face….

  5. The Bowie knife is primarily a fighting blade. A “true” Bowie knife has a blade that has a cutting edge on both sides of the point of the blade. The cutting edge and the “clip” area above the point is sharpened so you can cut from a slash both coming and going without having to reposition the knife or changing your hand position. For years until recently Bowie knives were illegal in Texas. I suspect that the wall hangers and style knives were overlooked, but if you had the clip of the knife sharpened as a cutting edge and carried it on you, then you were fair game for an arrest and appearance in front of a judge. However, many parts of the Texas knife laws have been changed in recent years.

    Back in the 1830’s many a duel was fought with knives in New Orleans. If your knife fighting skills were lacking you would demand a fight at night in an enclosed deserted cotton warehouse. This was the equivalent of fighting blindfolded which diminished the advantage of the more skilled knife fighter.

    I remember reading one account of Jim Bowie where he recalled being caught up in a knife fight where the only blade he was carrying was a folding knife. He said he was damn near killed before he could get the knife out of his pocket and open. After that he always carried a fixed blade.

    You have to remember that before the revolver and lever action repeating rifles (brass case cartridges), you had only one shot out of your muzzle loading rifle or pistol. In the heat of battle, your speed reload was your Bowie knife or tomahawk.

  6. If you are interested in doing a little more research into the Bowie knife and its origin you may try to locate a copy of Norm Flayderman’s book, (The Bowie Knife Unsheathing an American Legend). Also of interest would be Dr. James Batson’s book, (James Bowie and The Sandbar Fight). Both of these books contain well researched material and dispel many of the legends that are attached to the name Jim Bowie. A local library would be a good place to try and locate these books. Both, I think, are out of print at this time and copies are expensive.
    Also, higher carbon does not necessarily translate to easier sharpening. Rockwell hardness will determine the ease or difficulty of sharpening. The heat treatment of the blade will determine rockwell hardness.

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