CONCEALMENT 12 Striking Distance: The Ultimate Blackjack Weapon Buyer’s Guide Chad McBroom When you're within striking distance, use a blackjack weapon to put the smackdown on your opponent. Here is RECOIL's Buyer's Guide to Blackjacks and saps! Warning! The blackjack weapon and devices shown here are subject to various, capricious local laws and regulations. Before acquiring any one of these devices, confirm you aren’t breaking a law by owning, possessing, or using one. Does anyone even read these things? What is a Blackjack Weapon? A blackjack weapon or sap refers to a group of weapons that are short, concealable, and weighted (usually filled with lead powder, molded lead clay, or lead shot) to constitute an effective bludgeoning device. The terminology used to refer to these weapons can be very imprecise depending on the period. Whether it’s a sap, blackjack, slap jack, beavertail, cosh, slapper, jacksap, slap-stick, or any one of the nearly three-dozen names for this unique weapon, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Although their recorded tale is murky, confusing, and all but lost, the one thing that remains perfectly clear is that these weapons hold an iconic position in America’s rough-and-tumble history. These strange fighting implements were embraced by police officers and gangsters alike and could be found in the pockets of soldiers, sailors, cowboys, miners, duelists, bouncers, bikers, prostitutes, and common folk. Blackjack weapons appeared in movies, plays, and literature, and even graced the cover of the very first comic book. The origins of the blackjack weapon can be traced back to Renaissance-era fighting manuals, which depict the use of the sand club. Slungshot war clubs like those used by the Apache bring us even closer to our modern form. Blackjack Weapon History The sap and jack as we now know them began to take form in the 1800s. Just prior to the Civil War, President-elect Abraham Lincoln was escorted to the nation’s capitol by his friend and fellow lawyer Ward Hill Lamon, whose personal arsenal consisted of two pistols, a pair of brass knuckles, a large Bowie knife, and a blackjack. The (unofficial) adoption of the sap and blackjack by American law enforcement began in the mid 1800s with the creation of the first professional police forces in Boston and New York, and peaked in the 1960s. As the 20th century progressed, these weapons began to fall out of favor with police administrators and were banned by most departments. Many states and municipalities passed laws prohibiting their possession, many of which are still in effect. By the 1980s, the sap and jack were relegated into obscurity. However, a recent surge in interest has begun to lift these tools out of the darkness and back into the limelight. Whether it’s for nostalgia’s sake or their true self-defense value, demand for the blackjack weapon is on the rise and only grows stronger as more and more craftsman of these weapons surface. To help you with your own search for a handcrafted rendition of this iconic weapon, we’ve put together this sap and blackjack buyer’s guide. Foster Impact Devices Blackjack Weapon Foster Impact Devices has been producing custom saps and blackjacks since 2004. Brothers Scott and Todd Foster inherited some of the tools of the trade from their grandfather, who had been a security officer for the railroad during the 1960s. Their fascination with these tools and the lack of available quality pieces led them to begin making their own. Today, they offer handmade reproductions of the most popular models of the old Bucheimer and Jay-Pee saps and blackjacks. Midget Sap fosterimpactdevices.com Weight: 8.7 ounces Dimensions: 6 by 2.5 by 0.5 inches MSRP: $60 to $85 Notes: The Midget is a reproduction of the Bucheimer Midget flat sap. This compact beavertail sap has a basket-weave texture and an integrated leather hand strap. The rigid handle and lead-weighted head give it a substantial amount of mass for its small size. Pros: – Solid leather construction – Compact size makes it easy to carry and conceal. – Integrated retention strap keeps it secure in the hand and allows for open-handed grabs and controls. – Strap can be held with the fingers to deliver whipping strikes. Cons: – Compact size reduces striking range to extreme close-quarters. – Retention strap extends deployment time when not pre-staged. Convoy Blackjack Weapon fosterimpactdevices.com Weight: 13.5 ounces Dimensions: 9 by 1.5 inches MSRP: $60 to $85 Notes: The Convoy shown here is the blue line edition of the original Bucheimer Convoy blackjack weapon. The blue accents represent the thin blue line of the law enforcement community. The jack has a lead head and coil spring handle wrapped with braided leather. A woven leather hand strap connects at the bottom of the handle and at the base of the head. Pros: – Weighted coil spring design reduces the potential for causing lacerations. – Wide retention strap increases retention and protects part of the hand. – Increased range due to the length Cons: – Larger size and weight make it harder to conceal and more cumbersome to carry. – Overt nature of the design makes it harder to disguise as a weapon. Mean Gene Leather Gene “Mean Gene” Higdon is a leather maker who shifted his talents toward the tactical nylon gear industry in the mid ’90s while making knife sheaths for a couple of U.S. Marines. Word quickly spread among the ranks, and Higdon began working on ghillie suits, packs, and other tactical gear. After helping his wife and a business partner establish High Speed Gear, Inc. in 1999, Higdon eventually returned to his leather-making roots in 2013, with a new focus on tactical leather goods. Hot Tamale V-1 meangeneleather.com Weight: 3 ounces empty Dimensions: 10 by 3 by 0.25 inches MSRP: $35 to $50 Notes: The Hot Tamale V-1 coin purse sap has a canoe paddle profile. When filled with loose change, the weight of the sap is increased significantly (up to 8 ounces), allowing it to strike with authority if used as a self-defense weapon. The V-1 has two directional security snaps that allow it to be folded in half and worn inconspicuously over a belt for convenient access. Pros: – Compact and easily concealable – Coin purse design makes it less conspicuous as a weapon. – Flexible handle increases the whipping factor when delivering strikes. – Economically priced Cons: – Flexible handle doesn’t allow for edge strikes or thrusts. – Lighter than a traditional sap of similar dimensions – Less consistency in weight Hot Tamale V-2 meangeneleather.com Weight: 4 ounces empty Dimensions: 7 by 5 by 0.25 inches MSRP: $37 to $52 Notes: The Hot Tamale V-2 coin purse sap has a less traditional, geometric shape that resembles a wallet and makes it less conspicuous as a weapon. A rectangular cutout on the back flap forms the handle when used as a sap. The zippered coin pouch can be filled to increase the weight of the sap to up to 13 ounces. Four DOT Durable fasteners secure the V-2 in place when folded over a belt. Note: Not a blackjack weapon, but a sap. Pros: – Coin wallet design allows the sap to be carried where other weapons might be prohibited. – Handle design improves weapon retention and increases whipping action. – Significantly weighted when filled to max capacity – Economically priced Cons: – Nontraditional rectangular shape limits the sap to the use of slap strikes. – Double snaps increase the potential for hang-up during deployment. Lake City Tactical Lake City Tactical out of Watertown, South Dakota, might be known for their concealed carry and defensive handgun training courses, but they’re also the home of Old School Saps. Old School Saps are hand-stitched and tooled with in a classic basket-weave pattern and are available in hand-strap and pocket-clip variations. If one of their saps is ever used in a legal self-defense situation and is confiscated for evidence by the police, they’ll replace it in exchange for the story. OSS-1 lakecitytactical.com Weight: 7.5 ounces Dimensions: 9 by 2.5 by 1 inches MSRP: $65 Notes: The OSS-1 is a club-shaped sap with a leather hand-strap. The head is shot-filled roughly 2.5 inches just above the hand-strap fasteners on the solid leather handle. A hand-tooled basket-weave pattern adds texture and character to the hand-cut and stitched leather. Note: Not a blackjack weapon, but a sap. Pros: – Hand strap provides extra retention and protection. – Flexible leather handle reduces the risk of excessive injury during less-lethal encounters. Cons: – Protruding hand strap makes concealment more challenging. – Hollow handle reduces the effectiveness of thrusting strikes. OSS-2 lakecitytactical.com Weight: 10.6 ounces Dimensions: 8.5 by 2.25 by 1 inches MSRP: $65 Notes: The OSS-2 is similar in size to the OSS-1, with more of a spoon-shaped design and a more subtle flair at the bottom. The entire length of the sap is lead-shot-filled. A deep pocket clip is attached to the backside, along with a steel lanyard ring. The display side is decorated with the same basket-weave pattern. Pros: – Pocket clip allows for convenient carry and deep concealment. – With a lanyard attached, the sap can be deployed quickly and used as a slungshot. – Shot-filled handle fills the palm for a better grip. Cons: – Lead shot is less rigid than a steel shank and tends to give more. – Length of the sap requires a deep pocket for pocket-clip carry. OSS-3 “The Don” lakecitytactical.com Weight: 14.5 ounces Dimensions: 7.25 by 3.5 by 1 inches MSRP: $75 Notes: The OSS-3 is the beefiest and smallest sap in the Old School Saps lineup. This short, beavertail sap boasts a hefty 14.5 ounces of lead shot that fills its entire hand-stitched leather body. The Don has a deep pocket clip on the backside and the same basket-weave pattern as its Old School Sap siblings. Note: Not a blackjack weapon, but a sap. Pros: – Overall dimensions and deep pocket clip make it very concealable. – Heavy shot load offers substantial impact potential. Cons: – Short handle limits use to extreme close-quarters. – Weighing just a couple ounces shy of a subcompact handgun, this sap isn’t for the dainty user or the scantily clad. Bad Love Leather Bad Love Leather is owned and operated by leather craftsman Travis Poole, who makes just about everything but shoes and clothes. Poole put his company on the map with his wet-formed leather valet trays, which are basically EDC dump trays for storing and displaying everyday carry items. He began making saps about two years ago at the request of some of his customers. After extensive research and development, the Bad Love Leather Sap was born. Their unique design and custom tooling make them some of the most aesthetically pleasing saps on the market. BLL Sap facebook.com/BadLoveLeather Weight: 10 ounces Dimensions: 9.75 by 3 by 0.5 inches MSRP: $80 to $150 Notes: The Bad Love Leather Sap has a 10-ounce solid lead patty inside the spoon-shaped head. The handle, which flairs slightly at the bottom, has a spring-steel core and a riveted lanyard hole. Each leather-wrapped sap is hand-stitched and stamped with the year and serial number on the back. A handsome skull and the BLL initials adorn the top. This standard model is available in plain leather, textured leather (shown here), and elephant. Some beautiful custom-painted versions are also available. Pros: – Forward weight of the head increases kinetic impact potential. – Spring-steel core adds to handle rigidity for edge strikes and increases snapping action when using the flat. – Weapon retention capability is increased with the use of the lanyard. – Overall size and weight make this piece a substantial force multiplier. Cons: – Length of the sap makes discreet carry more challenging. Conclusion Choosing a sap or blackjack weapon is a highly personal and intimate process, perhaps even more so than choosing a handgun or knife. Find the one that best suits your needs regarding size, weight, flexibility, retention, carry method, and local laws. Purchase from a reputable maker like the ones listed here and avoid the Internet knockoffs. If you’re going through the trouble of carrying a huge chunk of leather-wrapped lead, then you’ll want one that’s reliable and performs when called upon. Editor's Note: As part of his research for this article, the author used background information from a book titled “Saps, Blackjacks, and Slungshots: A History of Forgotten Weapons” by Robert Escobar. For those interested in a deeper look at the history of the products featured here, Escobar's book is a good resource. Be sure to check out our Holster Options guide Corey Graff contributed to this article. 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