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Unusual Suspects – Tanto Blades

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When shopping for a tactical knife, most pick one with a tanto blade, according to knife-maker Allen Elishewitz, whose designs have been produced by companies like CRKT and Hogue: “I'll admit, a tanto looks sexier. It looks like it could do some damage.”

It's not hard to see why. In slashing, the blade shape excels. The tip edge may be ground at a steeper angle, making a beast that can punch through chain mail. The tanto got its start in feudal Japan, where it served as the backup knife to the backup sword of the samurai. This genre experienced an explosion in popularity stateside in the 1980s when its historically smooth lines gave way to straighter, more angular blades.

But there are disadvantages. Sharpening takes longer. And when it comes to stabbing, notes Elishewitz (a former U.S. Recon Marine), the tip is often off center. If there isn't enough momentum, the heavy tip can be bogged down when cutting through, say, a leather jacket. As an everyday carry, the tanto wastes valuable real estate where a clip-point or drop-point blade utilizes every inch of the blade. “My personal carry? Very rarely will it be a tanto,” says Elishewitz, an accomplished martial artist. “I want to use 100 percent of that blade.”

That being said, choosing between tanto blades requires weighing all the pros and cons of the profile. We reviewed seven to help you on your way.

SOG Specialty Knives Targa

OAL: 7.88 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Material: VG-10 stainless steel
Weight: 3.1 ounces
MSRP: $140

The SOG Targa is built in the country where the tanto design was born—Japan. The blade made of VG-10 steel makes a silky-smooth pivot on plastic washers. Ambidexterity is the name of the game, with a thumb-stud on the blade and arc lock in a thin, thin handle. The clip can be repositioned on either side for tip-up carry.


  • The lines of the blade are a joy to behold.
  • The jimping on the spine is surprisingly comfortable.
  • Its thin design and deep pocket carry makes for an unobtrusive blade.
  • The knife opens smoothly with the thumb-stud.


  • The clean, dynamic lines in the blade disappear in the handle. It's not what you'd expect on a $140 knife.
  • Handle's thin almost to the point of being flimsy
  • The clip juts out and can scratch and snag.

Kershaw Lifter

OAL: 7.9 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Material: 4Cr14 stainless steel
Weight: 5.7 ounces
MSRP: $30


After a simple press of the flipper, Kershaw's Lifter decisively springs into position thanks to its assisted-opening mechanism. Kershaw describes this blade with the stonewash finish as a modified tanto, with the concave curve of the main edge and a shallow belly. It's a frame-lock knife with clip to carry the knife deep within the pocket. It's made in China.


  • Quick and easy opening with the assisted-opening flipper mechanism
  • With the pre-worn blackwash finish and $30 price point, it's a knife to be used hard.
  • Clip is strong and easy to slip into pockets


  • Metal is not the most secure or insulated handle material.
  • It's heavier than most knives its size.
  • The curved edge combined with the tanto blade makes this knife difficult to sharpen for most users.

Columbia River Knife & Tool Tighe Tac Two

OAL: 7.94 inches
Blade Length: 3.32 inches
Blade Material: 8Cr13Mov stainless steel
Weight: 3.4 ounces
MSRP: $60
URL: www.crkt.comunusual-suspects-tanto-blades-crkt-tighe-tac-tanto-001

At the 2016 Blade Show in Atlanta, the Tighe Tac Two won the Best Buy of the Year Award. Brian Tighe designed the two-knife series, one a clip-point and the other this tanto. Opened with a thumb-stud or flipper, the blade rides on a ball-bearing pivot. Press a button lock and the knife falls closed into the glass-reinforced nylon handle.


  • You'll be carrying an edgy design from a custom knife-maker.
  • The pocket clip is springy and smooth.
  • The obtuse angle at which the two edges meet helps the knife become better suited for everyday tasks.


  • The push-button lock doesn't seem as strong as other locks.
  • The tines of the clip started to deform.
  • Tip is thin and the base's steeper grind affects cutting.

Emerson Knives CQC-7BW Flipper

OAL: 8 inches
Blade Length: 3.3 inches
Blade Material: S35VN stainless steel
Weight: 5 ounces
MSRP: $260

The Emerson CQC-7 is one of those iconic tactical folders. A variation of the knife was reportedly carried by a SEAL when DEVGRU dispatched Osama Bin Laden. This CQC-7BW Flipper opens three ways: a thumb-stud, Emerson's patented wave opener, and a big ol' flipper. The blade's chisel grind is in S35VN steel and a titanium linerlock holds it in place. Made in the USA.


  • It's easy to get this knife open and ready for action.
  • It can be taken apart with simple screwdrivers.
  • The steep bevel plus good steel equals an edge to handle muscular tasks.


  • The knife can be adopted for left-handed carry – but will cost $25 extra.
  • The aggressive grip of the G-10 eats blue jeans for lunch.
  • Slight oxidization at the tip indicates the knife got hot when it was sharpened, possibly affecting heat treatment.

Gerber Gear Edict

OAL: 8.5 inches
Blade Length: 3.6 inches
Blade Material: 154CM stainless steel
Weight: 3.6 ounces
MSRP: $80


Gerber said it designed the Edict specifically for military and law enforcement in mind. A push on a thumb-stud opens the 154CM blade away from the rubberized handle. It snaps into place thanks to its lock-back mechanism. The edge, tilted forward from the handle, gleams from the black ceramic-coated blade. The Edict is made in USA.


  • 154CM steel is a good step up from the metals often found on lower-end knives.
  • The tip is ground at a steeper angle, making it stronger.
  • The tilted blade pushes out the “secondary tip” where the two edges meet.


  • The rubber portions of the handle became sticky in heat.
  • For its only way of deploying the knife, the thumb-stud is kinda sharp and uncomfortable.
  • The handle's glass-filled nylon and rubber make it appear cheap.


Steel Will Knives Apostate 1113

OAL: 9.61 inches
Blade Length: 4.13 inches
Blade Material: S35VN stainless steel
Weight: 6.35 ounces
MSRP: $175

At first, the flipper seems too small for the 4.13-inch blade. But the ball bearings in the pivot send it circling, and the titanium framelock makes a hollow click behind the 0.16-inch-thick blade of S35VN steel. One scale of the handle is machined from titanium, the other G-10. The knife comes with a certificate of authenticity.


  • The handle comfortably fills out the hand.
  • Flat-ground blade puts more metal behind the edge than a hollow grind.
  • When pulling it out from a pocket, G-10 provides grip while titanium smoothness against cloth.


  • You can't open the Apostate by pushing on what looks like a thumb-stud.
  • The squared-off flipper was rough on the hands.
  • Using the edge was like driving through Kansas—a little too long and flat.

Magnum by Boker Sierra Delta Tanto

OAL: 9.88 inches
Blade Length: 5.13 inches
Blade Material: 440A stainless steel
Weight: 7 ounces
MSRP: $70


With its swept-back blade, the Sierra Delta Tanto features a modern take on a traditional tanto. Its blade is hollow ground and dark, seemingly left that way from the heat-treating process. The handle is made from G-10 and machined into a design that resembles tsukamaki, the Japanese art of handle wrapping. It comes with a Kydex sheath and is made in Taiwan and China.


  • Traditional blade profile is better for slashing than the abrupt angles on other modern interpretations and has more metal at the tip.
  • Full-tang knives are the strongest because it's one hunk of steel from tip to hilt.
  • No moving parts to break


  • The shallow finger groove isn't the best at stopping the hand from sliding during forceful stabbing.
  • Knife sharpened at a high angle impedes cutting ability
  • Sheath comes with only a belt clip, limiting carry options.




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