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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Wales, llandudno
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    The Mk2 Ka Bar comparitive review

    I have been using and testing three Ka Bar knives, I use the term Ka Bar though two come from the company Ka Bar and one from Camillus. So to make this more easy on the brain, I will try and avoid confusion!

    The three knives are, the D2 Ka Bar by Ka Bar, the Marine 1095 Ka Bar by Ka Bar and the Ka Bar by Camillus! I will call the two 1095 steel blades the Marine knife and keep the two as seperate paragraphs. The D2 blade I will discuss seperatly as well.

    The Ka Bar Marine knife has an interesting history. Some time in 1942, around the time that America was gearing up for war, United Cutlery submitted a design intended for the United States Marine Corps. This knife however was not accepted by the Marines. Camillus were at the same time making a fighting knife for the Navy, called the Mk1 knife.

    United and Camillus basicly worked with this design and with imput from the USMC made several changes and thus the Mk2 knife was born. Camillus made the knife for the Navy and United for the Marines. This knife (the Mk2) is commonly seen as the Ka Bar fighting knife, the Marine and Navy versions were at the time different in only two respects. The Marine version was marked USMC and was made by United, while the Navy version was marked respectivly and made by Camillus. It is noteworthy that demand for said knives has resulted in many companies making the Mk2 patten knife over the years. Ka Bar, Ontario, Camillus, United to name the main producers.

    As time went on, this knife was adopted by other military branches of the United States Military as were appropiatly marked. Several improvements were made to the design over the years, most significantly the way the butt cap was attached to the tang of the knife. This was greatly strengthened on later models to reflect the practical use of soldiers in the field. Origionally the butt cap was screwed to the tang, while later versions were pinned and had a larger, thicker butt cap.

    One thing is true of the Mk2 knife. The use of high carbon steel. Not stainless or similar. This is perhaps surprising considering its marine envivoment usage as well as the conditions in the Pacific. However in the day, stainless steels simply did not perform as modern stainless steels do and even today, it is unlikely that a modern stainess steel would be as easy to sharpen in the field as well as be tough and hold a good edge. The steel used is commenly accepted to be 1095 carbon steel. It was usually hardened to a Rc of between 56 and 58. This makes it a very good choice of steel when you want a soldier proof knife that must be able to withstand digging, cutting and opening ration cans in the field without breaking!

    I would like to talk about how I preped these knives for cutting testing. Firstly, I wanted to make sure the tests would be fair on all the knives. So to start with all the knives were sharpened to the same 20 degree angle on a Sharpmaker. This took a lot of time on the Camillus blade as it came noticably less sharp than the Ka Bar brand knives. Then I sharpened the swedge on each knife. Again to a 20 degree angle. The blades were finished on the flats of the white sticks on the sharp maker and I was very careful to avoid a wire edge and make sure each blade was shaving sharp. The Ka Bar brand knives did not really need this sharpening, but I wanted all three blades at the exact same angle and level of polish edge wise. Also I wanted fresh steel at the edge. As the D2 model knife has serrations, I taped all three blades so as to limit them to a 5" plain edge for testing. I did not want the serrations to play an unfair part in the tests.

    Well, lets talk about the knives under review.

    First off the bat we have the Mk2 Knife made by Camillus. As you can see, this has the brown leather stacked handle (though black is available) is 1095 steel and has a black phosphate coated blade. It has of course a plain edge format and a nice leather sheath with the USMC logo on it. The blade came with a very durable edge angle of about 25 degree's per side and the swedge is semi sharp. This knife would not shave hair out of the box.

    Secondly we have the Ka Bar made Mk2 knife. Very similar to the Camillus model, but you do notice several differences right away. Firstly the blade has a nicer finish to the blade, Ka Bar uses an epoxy powder coating, rather than the phosphate coating of Camillus. This has a couple of noticable differences. The Epoxy finish is more pleasing to the eye, it looks more uniform and looks much better when new. However it does show scratches up very easily and looks a right mess when the knife gets hard use. It is not very durable, but does offer a good level of rust resistance reduces reflections. The phosphate finish is rather more durable and is better for a dull non reflective finish than the epoxy finish. It does however look very rough and ready out of the box.
    The Ka Bar Mk2 has the same leather stacked handle desgin as well as the same 1095 steel blade. The knife came with a very very sharp edge. It easily shaved hair and was around 20 degree's per side. The swedge came semi sharp like the Camillus.

    Lastly we have the D2 Ka Bar knife. There are a number of obvious differences, but let me point them out anyway. Firstly the blade has 2" of serrations near the guard, secondly there is no longer a top guard, thirdly, the handle is no longer a stacked leather handle, but rather a Kraton G. The guard and pommel are now made from powdered metal for added strength and the blade steel is the semi stainless D2 steel. You will also notice the Eagle industries sheath, rather than the leather pattern sheath.


    The Mk2 Camillus.

    Once this blade was sharpened, It cut very nicely. In fact it was able to shave hair with ease! I started with the sort of test every field knife must perform. I cut wood in the woods. I chose some dead branches and started hacking away with the knife. Chips of wood flew and after 5 mins exactly I stopped and looked at the edge. No damage visable, though in a couple of spots the edge would only roughly shave hair now. The chopping test was a bit of a let down as it did not perform even close to other blades I own in the same weight and class. This basic design is simply not as good for chopping as I thought it might be. The blade is quite light for the job really. The handle made chopping very comfortable on the hand and wrist though.

    The second test was battoning. I made sure the tip was pointing upwards slightly to reduce the stress on the tang and battoned some 3" thick branches, using a large branch to hit the spine. No problems here, in fact this knife battoned very very well. No edge damage was evident

    The next test was feather sticks for my fire. I cut ten feather sticks and proceeded to feather them. The knife was more than sharp enough to perform this task, though I noted that a larger blade like this was perhaps a bit of overkill for this task. I was able to do all ten feather sticks with a little more care than usual due to the size of the blade. At this stage, I had not noticed any drop in performance and the edge was holding up just fine, in fact it still shaved hair, though to be acurate it was scrape shaving rather than hair popping now.
    I then used the blade to remove bark from a tree for tinder, I was very careful not to cause too much distress to the tree and the knife did this with ease. Then I used the knife as a draw knife on a dead log and proceeded to create nice wide shavings of wood for the fire. Again the blade held up just fine and did this with ease. At this point I would warn users about the swedge... I did sharpen it and its my fault! It bit me at this part of the test. Be careful!

    That was it for the edge testing in the field, so I finished by stabbing the knife into the dead log and mildly twisting it out. This popped wood chips all over the place after doing this ten times. The edge was undamaged and the tip was still very sharp. No bending was evident.

    After all this work I wiped the blade with a cloth, put a little oil on it and returned it to its sheath.

    The Mk2 Ka Bar

    This knife was also hair poppingly sharp, so I began with the chppong on the dead branch test. I again timed myself to 5 mins of chopping and to be honest the results in using the knife were pretty much identical while using the blade. Performance was reasonable, no better or worse than the Camillus blade. The same limitations apply to this knife and that is no surprise really as they are almost identical. However, edge inspection did show up a couple of surprises. Firstly the edge was slightly more dulled, in fact it would no longer shave hair in one section of blade (the area most used) and there were a couple of dings on the edge. Nothing serious, but impact damage none the less. I was in two minds at this stage, I had brought a steel and Spyerco ceramic stick with me, and in field use would certainly have used them right now to minimise further edge damage. However if I did this, this would not be a fair test. So I decided to continue without further thought.

    I moved on to do some battoning again with the same items and it performed very well. The edge showed no further damage from this test.

    Next I went on to do the feather sticks, again the size of the blade made this a bit of a chore, but while it performed to an acceptable level, I noticed it was a bit harder to do than the Camillus knife and the couple of dings in the edge were having a small effect on the task. Sometimes you would feel the wood "catch" on these dings and it was a bit disconcerting to say the least. I did all ten sticks and looked at the edge. The dings had become slightly more noticable and a couple of white lines were now visable on the edge. This indicated that the knife was dulling a little bit. I tried to shave and to be honest this was now simply not possible.
    I next went on to use this knife as a draw knife and was quite surprised as it did this with ease. I used the knife to remove bark from a tree and to shave wood from the same log. It did this without a problem, though it felt a little less sharp than the camillus blade.

    I went onto the tip test and the blade performed exactly the same as the Camillus blade, no damage and an impressive result.

    I cleaned the blade, oiled and returned to sheath. The finish on this knife now looked like crap, badly scratched and worn looking. Surprisingly the clean and oilding made it look a lot better than I thought it would.

    The Ka Bar D2 Next Generation

    Lets remember that the serrations play no part in the like for like testing with this knife. The knife was understandably hair poppingly sharp from the start of the test! I proceeded to do my five mins of chopping and I must confess was getting a little bored and tired with this task. The knife however did perform at least as well as the other two, but this knife was stll not the ideal design for a chopping knife. The edge showed no damage at all and shaved hair with only a tiny tiny reduction in performance. This was in fact quite hard for me to judge, it just felt...slightly duller than before I started. I might be wrong as it still popped hair and was showing no signs of damage.

    Batoning proved to be just as easy with this knife as the others, no damage resulted to the edge.

    Next we have the feather sticks test, this again went as expected, though the edge was still hair shaving sharp at the end of the ten sticks. I began to notice that this test showed that this knife seemed to have a bit more...bite? Than the other two blades. It seemed to make a more deep cut for the same level of force and was just more pleasent to use. I also appeciated the lack of a top guard and the handle was a little bit more comfortable in my hand. At this stage I also noticed that my wrist and hand felt less shocked from the chopping work and I surmise the Kraton was better for shock reducing.
    I again used the knife to remove bark and to draw shavings from that same dead log. At this stage the performance was beginning to be noticably better than the other two knives, it pulled shavings of wood and curled them with authority, it was a pleasure to use and was really starting to feel a fair bit sharper than the other two blades at this stage. I was actually beginning to enjoy myself with this knife and thanked myself for leaving this knife till last to work on. I was still able to shave hair at the end of this test, though it was approaching scrape shaving.

    The tip strength test proved this knife was the equal of the other two, though it seemed to penetrate a little deeper than the other two. I would not like to swear to this though.
    I cleaned and oiled the blade. The blade finish was on a par with the Ka Bar Mk2, it looked like crap till I cleaned and oiled it, though a few deep scratches still marred the finish.

    I was more than a little surprised with the D2 Ka Bar, it really did out perform both the 1095 steel blades in wear resistance and proved to be equally as tough if not more so. This did again surprise me as I would not have thought D2 would have been as tough as 1095. I think heat treat is a definate candidate for this here. I also noted that while the fit and finish on the Camillus Mk2 knife were inferiour to the Mk2 Ka Bar knife, I found it held a better edge and would certainly be my choice over the two 1095 steel blades. My thoughts here again are that the Camillus blade had a better heat treat over the Ka Bar 1095 steel blade.

    When I got home I decided to see how much work would be required to get the blade right back to shaving sharp. I steeled all three blades and the following resulted. The Camillus blade was a lot sharper, but still not hair popping sharp. The 1095 Ka Bar really thanked me for the steeling as the dings almost vanished completly and the noticable white lines (when you look at a blade edge at the right angle in light conditions a dull section of blade reflects the light showing up as a white patch of edge) had been greatly reduced. This tells me the edge had rolled rather than chipped out. This is a good thing. The steel had no noticable effect on the D2 Ka Bar.

    I next performed 10 swipes on the white flat spyerco stones on my Sharpmaker per side at 20 degree's. All three knives were now hair poppingly sharp, though the 1095 Ka Bar looked like it needed a little more work as a couple of tiny sections of blade were slightly dull, a further 20 swipes on the stones removed this.

    I would note with regards to the sheaths that I really liked the Eagle sheath that came with the D2 Ka Bar. It had a pocket for a stone or pocket knife/multitool, far more carry options, was very well made and would not rot in wet conditions. I like a nice leather sheath, but would certainly choose the Eagle sheath over the leather ones given the choice.

    The D2 Ka Bar is the better knife of those here, once I removed the tape on the blade I tested the serrations and found them to be one of the best serration patterns I have used. It glides through material and would have been very good at a multitude of tasks. I tried it on man made and natural rope and it cuts like the dickins! However the D2 semi stainless Next Generation knife is a LOT more expensive than either the Camillus or Ka Bar Mk2 knives. It is also in no way authentic to the Mk2 pattern design.

    Of the two Mk2 knives, for a user I would recommend the Camillus knife without hesitation. It just seemed to perform better than the Ka Bar knife, however there was not a huge difference. Both were dulled and worn at the end of the test, just one more than the other. I would also like to note that there is a real chance that I may have hit a knot in the wood an that would explain the greater damage to the Ka Bar knife. I don't claim that this was a very scientific test and would not want people to think there was a massive difference in performance between the two 1095 blades. The D2 blade however did (in my opinion) offer a greater level of performance that really did make a difference that would be noticed in use. I really don't think the markedly greater results were a fluke or represented a difference in usage, I really think the better steel decided this contest.

    Hope you enjoyed the long read!
    Last edited by The General; 28-03-05 at 01:02 AM.



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