I am not sure what got me interested in kukris. I've known about them ever since I was collecting knives, but somehow never really paid attention. Eventually in may
2003 I started researching kukris seriously, to get one for testing. Choosing the source was not difficult. Himalayan
Import is definitely major supplier of genuine Nepalese kukris to US market, and on top of that HI has one of the most informative and friendly forum on bladeforums - check HI forum here. Bill Martino, or uncle Bill as everyone calls him is a true
gentleman and always helpful with any questions that you might have, whether choosing your 1st, 10th or whatever kukri, or how to treat your last kukri. Also, HI stands 100% behind
their products. Which is real important for such heavy duty use knives.
For the reference there are several other companies out there who either produce various kukris here, or in Taiwan, Japan, etc, or import them from Nepal. For the first kukri I wanted to have the original thing, and I choose HI, because it has own shops in Nepal, and kukris are made by the best kamis. Also, I've read comparative reviews of HI and other kukris, all the reviews favored HI kukris. Those were the reasons that determined my choice. As for the imported kukris you have to be careful, because some of them might be rather decorative blades, not the real users, and with HI I knew for sure what I was going to get.
Choosing my first kukri was much harder. There are so many different models, in different sizes. Considering that generic kukri is a large blade, I wanted to get something I could handle more or less acceptably. For the reference the largest knives I've been using so far were 9" long blades from Busse Combat. Now compare that to "small" kukri which is "only" 12 inches long, and you get the idea. In reality the cutting edge is always longer, because of the curves, the measurement is from the handle to the tip, straight line. Average, or usual kukri is somewhere between 15-17 inches long. And those blades are thick, 3/8 is the thin one! Larger kukris are from 1/2 up to 5/8 thick. That gives considerable weight to it. 2-3 lb, and over 4 lbs for 20 inch kukris and larger. Obviously it requires certain level of skills to use a knife of that size and weight without inflicting excessive damage to own self and environment :). After 2 week long research I choose 16.5" WW II model. It's quite popular, perhaps due to its versatility, as a tool and weapon. Not too heavy and not too big.
General- Kukri came in standard setup - Kukri, sheath, karda and chakma. Both blades (kukri and karda) and the chakma were covered with thick layer of some grease, to prevent rusting, as the steel used in kukris is not stainless. After wiping blades clean I've obviously inspected kukri first. Nice forged blade, with very good mirror polished finish for completely handmade knife. As far as I know kamis don't use buffing wheels or any modern tools. There were two problems with this kukri, one was the rough edge. Interestingly it was different on the tip and closer to the handle. I got the impression that it was used because of the dents and minor rolls on the tip. Closer to the curve the edge was not convex edge, rather very rough V grind. To be fair I have to mention that after contacting uncle Bill he immediately offered a replacement, no questions asked, but I choose to keep the blade, mainly because I was interested in sharpening kukri. The second problem was small gap between the handle and the brass buttcap. Which as I have learned little bit later is a common issue, due to climate change from very humid Nepal to hot and dry in Reno. Initially I've ignored that mess than 1 mm gap, but it reminded about itself later once I've started chopping, but about that later.
Karda was shaving sharp, with nice convex edge. This small, companion knife is very useful it kukri is the only knife you're carrying in the field. When you need something for fine cutting 16 inch long blade is hardly a good choice, here's when karda comes handy. As of the chakma, once you use your kukri you'll appreciate it fully. I've mentioned in my other reviews the importance of aligning the blade, and it's even more important for kukris. During the heavy use the edge takes significant impacts, and the steel no matter how tough and hard will still roll. Hence, depending on the job you'll have to burnish your kukri more or less frequently.
Blade- 16.5 inch long, curved blade features convex edge and looks quite menacing. It has nice mirror polished finish, which is a lot easier to clean than any coated blade. 5160 spring steel is not stainless, so greater care is required. However, it's an excellent choice for large, heavy duty blades. Balance is forward heavy, which is obvious considering kukri geometry, although it's not as pronounced as in 18" AK. That is no surprise as well, considering that WW II was issued as a combat blade, it would've been used as both tool and a weapon if necessary, while AK is primarily a working (chopping) tool.
Sharpness and Sharpening- As mentioned above, NIB sharpness was not good. So, I've proceeded with sharpening. Which at some point was desired, because knowing that I have to maintain my kukri I was interested in its sharpenability as well. Using mouse pad plus sandpaper method I've spent well over 4 hours total to get the edge I wanted. First I've used chakma to align the edge properly, but not 100%. Then I've started sharpening with 320 grit sandpaper, until the edge was completely restored and reground to nice convex edge. By the way, have to note, the steel was quite wear resistant during all this ordeal. After 320 grit, I've continued with 600, 1000, 2000, and then polishing tape. Technically the later two could've been avoided, but it was not taking much time compared to initial sharpening, so I've decided to take it as far as I could for the following tests. Considering that polished edged chop better and resist chipping better it was not totally futile effort ;)
The main problem with sharpening was the size and the weight of the knife. Swinging back and forth 2 lb, 16 inch blade for hours is quite a workout. I could feel my right shoulder next day. On the other hand it was my own mistake, to sharpen kukri using mouse pad method. Later I've learned that I had to use sanding block. In that case you hold the knife blade up and move the sharpener, which is a lot easier :). Anyway, in the end I've had highly polished, shaving sharp edge. I was ready for the testing next day.
Heavy duty use, Part I- For starters I've picked some cardboard and sliced it up with kukri. It went surprisingly well. At least for the knife that is 3/8 inch thick it was real good. I guess thanks to all the curves in kukri too. After cutting approx. 100" cardboard I've decided to stop, as I already got the idea how kukri would perform for me in that role. Edge inspection showed that the edge degradation was practically nonexistent, as I was using all of it. Next I've tried some wood whittling, for experimenting. To be precise it was rather small stick sharpening job. It can be done, though I'd rather use karda for that :) And finally I've proceeded with major task for the day, clearing some seasoned brush in my backyard.
In the beginning I was chopping higher parts of the brush. As expected it was no problem for the 16.5 inch long blade. However after few dozen chops I've realized that the side of my palm was real irritated. Examination showed that my skin was not in the best shape at that place. Lots of small abrasions, no blood, but the skin was damaged. I've checked the handle and realized that because I was not holding the kukri firm enough with every swing the buttcap would come in contact with the side of my palm. Remember the gap I've mentioned above? Brass buttcap had some sort of the edge, and it was tearing the skin during chopping, as the contact was rather harsh. After realizing all that, and noting that it was not a good idea not to have a firm grip during any chopping, I've paid more attention to my grip. I didn't use glows intentionally, to make sure my grip was the problem. After almost an hour of intense chopping my guess proved right. I didn't have any further problems with that buttcap, once I got the firm grip.
Now back to kukri. Hardest part was chopping the roots. Seasoned roots, they are no joke even if you chop them on the log. But, this time they were in the ground. Basically I was chopping very close to the brush base, to get those roots. Inevitably I was hitting the soil quite frequently. Obviously more experienced user wouldn't have this problem as often, but anyway, regardless the skill it's going to happen. Overall I've spent around 35-40 minutes chopping those roots. Kukri took over 50 heavy impacts with the soil including rocks of various size. However I was able to finish the job successfully.
I've cleaned the blade afterwards and examined it visually, then with the loupe. Interestingly there were no chips on the edge, only dents and rolls. Rolls were aligned using smooth steel, though I was unable to align it 100%. The tip was completely dull, which is first 4-5 inches. Ostensibly that's the most effective part for chopping and gets used the most. However, despite of heavy workout kukri received I was able to restore shaving sharp edge in half an hour, using the same mouse pad/sandpaper method. If I was using the right tools for sharpening I guess it would've been much faster.
Overall, my conclusion is that kukri is an excellent chopping knife. It is designed to be used hard and can take very significant abuse, still staying functional. Chopping-wise I don't think I have a blade that can surpass kukri. To be precise non kukri blade. Obviously 18" Ang Kola will chop even better compared to 16.5 WW II model, but that's more specialized kukri after all. In short kukri does have its pros for heavy duty work. Sure, it has it's cons for light work, but then again, that's why it comes with karda :) If you don't like it you can always pack your favorite small blade with your kukri and you're good to go.
I'll post updates on sharpening once I get the proper equipment, which is mainly the sanding block.
- Blade - 317.50mm(12.5")
- Thickness - 6.35mm
- OAL - 419.10mm(16.5")
- Steel - 5160 steel at 58-60HRC
- Handle - Wood
- Acquired - 06/2003 Price - 60.00$
Last updated - 09/01/11