Knives are considered one of mankind’s best piece of technology. And with reason: the concept of the cutting edge has remained unchanged for millenniums! The knife industry has prospered throughout history and is still incredibly active today. Here are 16 of the most iconic historical knives that are still used and produced today.
Higonokami knives were created in Japan around 1896. The decrease of the Samurai caused a lowering demand in sword, and smiths were struggling to profit from their work. The name of the knife directly translates to ‘Lord of Higo’, which was used as an honourable name for a Samurai. This type of pocket knife became very popular in Japan during the 20th century.
The blade is usually made out of steel and the handle is formed from a folded over sheet of metal. Higonokami knives usually have no locking mechanisms, and as rather referred to as a friction folder, where the friction of the swivel or the pressure of the user’s thumb on the lever – the ‘chikiri’ – kept the knife from folding during use.
Higonokami knives are relatively safe, cheap and easy to use. They are very practical as survival knives and their design resembles that of the iconic samurai sword. There are several traditional manufacturers that are still in activity today, and produce handmade higonokami knives. You can buy such a knife from amazon here.
The name of this very peculiar knife comes from the Inuit word for ‘woman’s knife’. However, this knife was used in a variety of tasks, including home activities such as cutting hair, skinning animals, cutting food, but also in hunting, fishing, igloo construction. It was also used as a weapon if necessary.
Oldest ulu knives are dated back to as early as 2500 BC, which definitely ranks it as one of the most iconic historical knife types today. It was believed that the ulu knife formed part of the owner’s spirit, and hence these were passed down from generation to generation.
Traditional ulu knives had a slate blade (copper was also used in some areas) and a handle made out of caribou antler, musk ox horn or walrus ivory, sometimes out of carved bone. Today, ulu blades are usually made out of steel, but the unique design has stayed the same.
Personally, I am fascinated by Ulu knives. I bought one with a bone handle when I was about 9 or 10, but didn’t take care of it and lost it once when I went camping. However, I’m trying to get my hands back on one. The one I had was very similar to this one on amazon, although I bought it second hand.
You might be surprised to see Opinel on this list if you live in the US, but Opinel knives are one of the best-known knives in Europe, and its 137-year-old history surely places it among the top historical knives still produced today. Joseph Opinel started making knives back in 1890 in Savoie, France. His simple knives proved very popular among local farmers. In 1897 he launched a series of series of twelve sizes, numbered 1 to 12. He built the first Opinel knife factory in the early 1900’s, and his industry prospered enormously over the years.
By the start of World War II, about 20 million Opinel knives had been sold. Today, the myth states that one Opinel is sold every 10 seconds.
The Opinel knife has a very simple design, with a beechwood handle and a high-carbon XC90 steel blade. Other handle materials include rosewood, oak, or cowhorn, and blades are either ‘inox’ (stainless steel) blades or carbon blades. The opinel knife has a very safe locking mechanism, which was implemented about 60 years ago by Marcel Opinel. The size range differs slightly from the 1897 release: the available sizes are now 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, and 13. The most common ones are the No.7 and No.8, although No.4 and No.10 are also quite popular. Other variations include the outdoors knife and the pruning knife, but these are not as widespread as the classic design.
Being born and having lived in France for an important part of my life, I can clearly confirm the popularity of Opinel in France. Most of my friends own an Opinel knife. It is the ‘default’ tool for Boy Scouts. Personally, I own two classic Opinels: one No.7 with an ‘inox’ blade, and one No.8 with a carbon blade. I am very pleased with both of these, and they can prove very useful in all types of situations, whether it be woodcarving, bushcrafting, ropework, fishing or cutting food.
The carbon-blade one is easier to sharpen and is very nice to work with. However ‘inox’ knives require less maintenance than carbon knives. I personally recommend the No.8 Carbon Steel Opinel. You can check out irs price on amazon here.
Swiss army knife
Probably the most famous pocket knife in the world, the Victorinox swiss army knife was born in 1891. The Karl Elsener company (to become Victorinox) and the Paul Bochéat (to become Wenger) company both won the contract to produce Modell 1980 knives, which were to become the official knives of the swiss army soldiers. These knives had a single blade, a reamer, a can opener and a screwdriver.
The two companies continued to produce knives separately, although both used the cross and shield logo, until Victorinox acquired Wenger in 2005. Nowadays, our swiss army knives are recognisable by their red color and their distinctive logo. (There are many fake ones out there, so make sure the large blade always reads “Victorinox Swiss made” before your buy it).
Today, about 34 000 swiss army knives leave the Swiss factory of Ibach and 90% are exported to over 100 countries. Today, there are also over 100 different Victorinox pocket knife models, to satisfy the needs of all pocket knife enthusiasts. The Huntsman version of the pocket knife is one of the most popular.
I own a Victorinox Huntsman knife, which I bought 7 or 8 years ago in Chamonix, in the French Alps. You can also purchase it from Amazon by clicking this link. I think that it is the right size for a utility, multi-tool pocket knife, and has enough tools to perform a variety of tasks, but not so many that it becomes too big and too heavy. The knife’s blade might not be the best, and may not perform large tasks as well as fixed-blade knives, but the swiss army knife is definitely a great asset when it comes to everyday and outdoor activities.
If you want to learn more about Victorinox pocket knives, here are 26 things you didn’t know about the swiss army knife.
Mikov Fish folding knife
The one is clearly a bit different from the others. The Czech Mikov company has been around since the 18th century. They started producing their Folding Fish knives in the early 1900’s. This is not so much a survival knife, but I still wanted to include it on this list because of its awesome design. Have you ever seen any other knives like that?
These knives are quite cheap, you can buy one from Amazon for under $10. The knife is simple, and just consists of a 2-inch stainless steel blade, with a chrome handle sculpted in the shape of a fish. Not the knife you’d probably use to hunt or survive in the wild alone, but it does an amazing job for mushroom picking. Plus, it looks so cool !
Scandinavian Leuku – Helle Lappland
The scandinavian Leuku is the traditional knife of the Sami (or Saami) people in Northern Europe, particularly Finland. It is also called the Sami knife. These knives were designed to be an all-purpose knife, capable of fulfilling a variety of tasks from chopping firewood to elk-hunting. Leuku knives are more than 1000 years old.
It is a very wide-bladed tool, which can be used as a machete, a hatchet and a butcher knife. It can be considered as the textbook definition of a survival knife, since it is an all-in-one tool for surviving in the harsh, cold forests of Northern Europe. A good example is the Helle Lappland knife on amazon.
The handle is traditionally made out of birch, and most blades, nowadays, are stainless steel. It comes in a variety of sizes, some being as small as pocket knives, ranging all the way to ones which as basically small swords. I would recommend a 7 or 8-inch blade since it is close to its traditional size, and it the optimal range for its traditional uses. For more detail on the Leuku knife, follow this link to our detailed review.
Mercator K55K Black Cat
The Mercator K55K “Black Cat” model is a type of folding pocket knife which has been in production in Germany since 1867. It can be considered as the German version of the French Opinel, due to its simple design, low price, and widespread use. The K55K model became very popular in the United States after the Second World War when American soldiers brought them back with them from Germany.
In design and construction, the Mercator knife is very similar to the douk-douk, since it consists of a black-painted folded-sheet metal handle engraved with a leaping cat and the label K55K (with the second ‘K’ written backwards), and a blade that is either stainless steel or carbon-steel. The difference between the Mercator K55K and the douk-douk, however, is that while the douk-douk is a slipjoint knife (no locking mechanism), the K55K is a lockback knife, and the blade locks when in the upright position.
Today, these knives are still produced in Germany, the market being led by the Otto-Messer company. The Mercator K55K can also be found on Amazon by following this link.
This one is a bit different knife the others since Morakniv is the name of a Swedish knife-making company, rather than a specific knife. Like the Opinel, the Morakniv products are not very popular in the United States, but rank at the top in Europe. Unlike many other low-price knife, the Mora knife is very good quality, can be be used as a heavy-duty, multi-purpose utility tool in the outdoor environment.
The name of Mora knives is a generic term for a Scandinavian knife of the Middle Ages, but it was mainly since the Mora of Sweden company started crafting these, that the Mora knife became known as the reference bushcraft knife. It has grown very popular over the approximate 100 years of its existence, and is very common in the bushcraft world as it is durable, and has a very simple design, making it easy to use.
Many companies have tried to replicate the Mora knife, but the quality ones were always made by the Morakniv company. I decided to include two of the most famous Morakniv knives: the Classic Mora and the Companion. The Classic Mora has an ergonomic, wooden handle, making it very safe, and the go-to knife for woodcarving and general outdoor activities. You can get one such Morakniv Classic on Amazon here. The Mora Companion is made of a plastic handle with a useful grip, and a heavy-duty blade made of hardened 12C227 stainless steel. It is generally a very versatile knife for those who love camping and bushcraft. You can check out the Mora Companion from Amazon by following this link.
Old Timer OT8 Senior Stockman
For most knife lovers worldwide, the engraving “Old Timer” on their knife handle is synonymous with quality and precision. The Old Timer family by Schrade is a series of knife that one cannot ignore. Schrade was created in 1904 by George Schrade, but it was only in 1958 that the Old Timer brand was launched. The OT8 Stockman was not only the second Old Timer knife produced, but arguably the most iconic in the history of Schrade.
The OT8 was designed to be a new and advanced knife, and although its appearance is slightly old-fashioned, it was surely a revolution in the knife industry. The three blades of the knife allow for a diversity of uses, making the OT8 a knife of choice for casual and hard-core knife users. The knife has no locking mechanism, but similarly to the Swiss army knife, relied on a systems of back springs which give security to the user.
Schrade closed its doors in 2004, and many thought that the Old Timer would be forever lost. Fortunately, Taylor Brands LLC picked up the old Schrade trademarks, Old Timer, Imperial, and Uncle Henry, and thus revived the momentum behind Old Timers. Such Old Timers can be bought on Amazon here.
We’ve seen several old knives so far, but not many are as venerably old as the Nontron. 500 years! Can you believe that? Although it has fallen out of fashion, outcompeted by more recent brands like Opinel and Laguioles, I felt that it would be unfair not to add the Nontron to this list, since it clearly deserves its place among the top historical knives. These amazing-quality knives, after 500 years, are still handmade in the same region they originally were: Périgord, France.
The characteristic shape of its handle and blade, and the safe brass locking mechanism make the Nontron an ideal knife for outdoor use. The handle is traditionally made out of boxwood with a XC75 carbon steel blade. The Nontron has a higher price than the more famous Opinel, its main similar competitor, but I think that this is justifiable, given the methods of production. You can ckeck out its current price here on Amazon.
The Nontron knife has an incredible precision, and I find it really sad that such an iconic, quality knife has been completely outcompeted by larger, industrialised brands, mainly due to a lack of advertising, which makes it now not much but a relic of the past.
I however highly recommend Nontron knives as they are very high quality (a friend of mine owns one and is still amazed by the exceptional precision) and have a very unique style and edge, combined with an incredible history. .
Buck Model 110 Hunter
Compared to most other knives in this list, the 55-year-old Buck 110 Hunter is a youngster. However, the fame and momentum that it built during this short time is phenomenal, and so it was necessary to include it as an iconic historical knife. Buck was created in 1902, but the 110 model was what truly made it famous and acclaimed worldwide.When the company introduced the 110 Hunter in 1963, little did they know that it would completely revolutionize the world of hunting knives.
The knife was mainly designed for hunting and skinning game, but it soon gained popularity among casual knife users and collectors. Its surprisingly large blade (3.75 in) proved very useful, and the recognisable handle, made out of a woodgrain handle and brass bolsters gives it a true American style. The Buck 110 model ranks among the best-selling knives in the world, with more than 15 million sold since its launch in the 1960’s.
There have been 4 main revisions of the 110 model in the last 50 years, with the aim to make it stronger, slimmer, and sleeker, simply to provide the best to all outdoor enthusiasts. Another reason why the Buck 110 is one of the best-known knives in the world is that it was one of the most copied ever made. All of these copies sold under the name of ‘Buck knife’, which also contributed to the original knife’s popularity.
You can check out get the Buck 110 on Amazon by clicking this link.
The Gurkha Kukri knife
The Kukri knife is symbolic of the Nepalese nation and its Gurkha army. In late 1850’s, the Gurkha were allied to the British army in an attempt to maintain control of India during the 1857 Indian Rebellion. The Gurkha quickly gained reputation as fearsome soldiers, and their skill with the Kukri knife became so well known that the British later used the symbol of the Kukri as propaganda in the Falklands conflict.
The actual Kukri knife is usually about 16-18 inches long, so it is more of a machete than a knife. It was originally used as a utility tool by farmers in the Himalayas, but rapidly turned into a powerful weapon. One important feature of the Kukri knife is the notch in the curved blade, near the grip of the handle. This was designed to made sure that the blood on the blade didn’t ripple onto the handle. Kukris are still commonly issued to the Gurkha troops, and are also used in many traditional ceremonies and rituals.
One fantastic story involving a kukri knife is that of Bishnu Shrestha. A Gurkha retiree, he was travelling on a train when it was attacked by a group of robbers. With his kukri, he single-handedly fought off the group of 40 train robbers who tried to rape an 18-year-old virgin after stealing all the passengers’ belongings. Such a story simply proves the bravery and strength of Gurkha soldiers and contributes to giving the Kukri its glorious reputation.
Kukri knives are still handmade in Nepal, and a traditional Kukri would have probably looked like this one from Amazon.
Mark 1 M1918 Trench knife
Trench knives were very widespread during both world wars, and mainly the First one. While German soldiers relied mainly on their Nahkampfmesser for close-quarter combat in the trenches, the US developed their own tactical trench knife: the Mark 1 Trench knife.
The M1918 Trench Knife had a double-sided flat blade with a spiked knuckle duster on the handle, usually made out of brass. The knuckle duster not only improves grip, but was a useful asset when it came to close combat in the shallow trenches. A third feature of the M1918 was the large nut at the bottom of the handle, usually used as a skull hammer. These three modes of attack provided a very diverse close-quartered fighting technique.
The best representation of an M1918 trench knife that I found can be bought on amazon here. However, the M1918 was not set as the standard World War II knife (The KA BAR USMC took over). An ‘update’ came with the Mark 2 knife, issued to US troops in the Vietnam War. This knife was, however, very different from the original Mark 1 Trench knife.
KA BAR USMC Utility Knife
You’ll all agree that this knife definitely has to be on this list of the most iconic historical knives. This is probably the most famous military utility knife ever produced. This knife was designed specifically for the USMC (US Marine Corps) as a fighting and utility knife during the Second World War. It was issued to the troops by 1942, so it is about 75 years old.
It can be considered the successor to the Mark 1 M1918 Trench knife, used by American troops in World War 1. However, unlike the M1918, which was only designed for fighting, the KA-BAR Utility knife was designed as a utility tool for soldiers. The cool design of the knife and its use in history makes it the most well-known combat combat knife.
The knife has a long, 7-inch blade made of 1095 Cro-Van Steel, which confers it an extraordinary strength and durability. It also has a comfortable, leather-washer handle, and a steel butt cap, for extra grip, making it an easy and satisfying knife to use.
Its popularity became such that the Navy, for example, made their own variant, the MK-2. The air force also took it to create their own official knife. To this day, after 75 years, KA-BAR Marine knives are still a first choice for both men and women in the military, and are still made in Olean, New York City.
This USMC Utility knife can be bought through this link to Amazon. If you wish to learn more about the KA-BAR USMC Utility Knife, I strongly recommend reading our review.
The douk-douk can be considered one of the most famous tactical knives in recent history. This colonial knife was widely utilized in terms of lethal application, giving it a bloody history and reputation. Douk-Douk knife production started around 1929, and still takes place in Thiers, France.
Originally used as a tactical weapon in French Oceania, the Douk-douk was widespread throughout French-colonized Northern African territories, and became synonymous with knife.
Essentially, it is a very simple folding knife, consisting of only 6 parts. A carbon-steel blade, a folded-sheet metal handle, a strong backspring, to compensate for the absence of locking mechanism, two rivets to hold the handle and blade together, and a lanyard loop. In that sense, the douk-douk is very similar to the Japanese Higonokami.
The knife in itself was designed for workers in the French colonies of Northern Africa (Algeria, Morocco…). But it rapidly turned into a lethal weapon, particularly during the 1954-1962 Algerian revolt. It was a tool of assassination and terror.
The douk-douk got its name from a Melanesian spirit incarnation, which is also represented on the handle of the knife. This and represents the God of death and destruction – quite relevant when you see how the knife was used… Douk-douk knives are still made today in France; you can get one here from Amazon.
Similarly to the Swiss Army knife, pretty much any of the Case knives could have made it onto this list. However, we found that the Trapper was probably the most iconic of them all. Case was created in 1889, and introduced the Trapper model in the 1920’s. The Case Trapper is still, to the day, Case’s most iconic and popular knife.
The Trapper has two folding blades, a skinning blade and a trapping blade. This allows this knife to be very versatile, compatible with many outdoor and everyday activities and necessities. It is generally a good multipurpose knife to carry around.
The Case blades have traditionally been made from Chrome Vanadium (CV) Steel. This makes them easy to sharpen and durable. For more information about the Case Trapper, don’t hesitate to read our in-depth review, or check the price here on Amazon.
Do you feel that I missed something? Was your favourite iconic knife not included in this article? Feel free to let us know in the comment section below. We look forward to hearing from you!