The Bowie is the only knife ever created that penetrates as well as a dagger, slashes as well as a razor, and chops as well as a cleaver or kukri. A dagger stabs very well but has no slashing, cutting, or chopping ability. A razor or kitchen knife slashes and cuts well, but has no chopping ability. A cleaver or kukri is devastating on the chop, but has no penetration or back-cut ability and is clumsy to use for cutting tasks. The Bowie is unique in the knife world because it is the only knife that will make all of the cuts and chops, and it will make them as well or even better than the specialized tools do. A proper Bowie will penetrate as well or even better than a double-edged dagger, and the Bowie even has greater tip strength and creates a larger wound than the dagger. The Bowie will slash every bit as well as a razor because of its shallow grind and the leverage provided by its long blade. Severing a free-hanging 1" manila rope is child's play for a proper Bowie. The Bowie will also chop as well as a cleaver or kukri, yet provide a faster recovery because of its better balance. A proper Bowie will easily easily cleave a 1' long section of 2x4 lengthwise in two with a single chop. And unlike the cleaver or kukri, the Bowie can perform the very effective back cut. The Bowie is not a "jack of all trades, master of none". Rather, the Bowie is unique among cutting implements in that it performs all of the various cuts and very well at that.
The Laredo Bowie is a very large knife. The blade measures a full 10.5" long, the handle is 5" long, and the overall length is 15.5". The Laredo Bowie makes even the Cold Steel Stag Trail Master appear small by comparison. John previously used his Stag Trail Master as his field knife but has since retired it and replaced it with a Laredo Bowie. While longer than the Stag Trail Master, the Laredo Bowie feels lighter, faster, and more lively in the hand than does the Stag Trail Master. The Laredo Bowie provides better balance and feel and provides another inch of reach over the Stag Trail Master yet is far from clumsy or overlong like many other large knives. The Laredo Bowie's concave clip point is also more effective on the back cut than the Trail Master's straight clip point.
The Laredo Bowie absolutely dwarfs the Benchmade 710 AXIS Folder, which is large by tactical folder standards.
The heart of any knife is the blade. The Laredo Bowie's blade is made from a SK-5 high-carbon steel. SK-5 is the Japanese equivalent of American 1080, a high-carbon steel with carbon between 0.75%-0.85% and 0.60%-0.90% manganese. As quenched, it has a hardness near Rc 65 and produces a mixture of carbon-rich martensite with some small undissolved carbides. The excess carbide increases abrasion resistance and allows the steel to achieve a balance of very good blade toughness with superior edge-holding ability. Due to these characteristics, this grade of steel has been used traditionally for making a variety of hand tools, including chisels and woodcutting saws, and has stood the test of time and use over many years in many countries. No stainless steels need apply for a proper field knife, as they are all not strong enough for a proper Bowie and do not cut as well as a proper carbon steel blade. Carbon steel will rust if not properly cared for, but is such a superior material for knives that it must be employed on any serious cutting implement.
The Laredo Bowie's balance point is about 1" forward of the guard, which gives the Laredo Bowie a very lively feel. Like all good knives, the Laredo Bowie seemingly moves without conscious effort and handles very easily. Indexing the edge or the tip is very intuitive and easy. Part of the reason for this ease is the design of the handle, which is covered below. However, the excellent design of the blade and its weight also contribute to the lively feel and superb balance.
The Laredo Bowie features a concave clip point that is sharpened. Thus, the Laredo Bowie is capable of the very effective back cut. Single-edged knives are incapable of performing the back cut and even double-edged daggers are not capable of an effective back cut.
Here is a view of the clip point's concavity. The concavity is not pronounced and is subtle so as not to weaken the tip. The concavity is why the Laredo Bowie's clip point is more effective than the back edge of a double-edged dagger. On a double-edged dagger, the tip is a trailing edge. The slight concavity of the Bowie's clip point makes the point a leading edge and draws the object being cut into the clip point to be cut rather than skip or skate across the surface of the clip point. If you doubt this, try slashing at a piece of thick cardboard with the primary edge and again with the concave clip point. The difference is dramatic. Straight clip points can be effective back cutters, but are not as effective as concave clip points, though they may be just as sharp. This is one of the many reasons the Bowie is so overwhelmingly superior to the double-edged dagger. Not only can the Bowie perform powerful slashes and chops (which the dagger cannot because of its steep cutting angles and poor balance), the Bowie produces a superior back cut. Furthermore, the Bowie's tip is substantially stronger than the dagger's tip.
The Laredo Bowie comes from the factory with a very sharp edge.
The blade's spine is a full 5/16" thick for strength.
The sides of the Laredo Bowie's blades are flat ground and very shallow so as to produce a very shallow angle for effective slicing and chopping with the primary edge. Unlike the razor, the Bowie is capable of very powerful chopping blows. In antebellum New Orleans, where multiple duels were waged on a daily basis, it was very common to witness entire limbs severed and skulls cleaved wide open with the Bowie, which was the weapon of choice. Such is the chopping power of the Bowie. And yet the Bowie is a very effective slasher and stabber as well. The Bowie does it all, including the very effective back cut.
The Laredo Bowie's handle is thoughtfully designed to provide maximum feel and performance, and is as effective as it is beautiful.
The Laredo Bowie's guard and bolster are solid brass.
Here is a side view of the Laredo Bowie's handle. Note that the handle is not straight in configuration but rather tapers slightly from back to front.
Here is a top view of the Laredo Bowie's handle. Note that the handle is very slightly tapered on the sides. The Laredo Bowie's handle is tapered on all four sides. These four tapered sides combine together and have a synergistic effect. They provide maximum control, even though the angles involved are very slight and the handle does not feel overly tapered or non-alluring to the hand. When one is using the Laredo Bowie to deliver a powerful slash, cut, or chop, centrifugal force generated by the swing wants to pull the knife from the user's hand. To prevent the knife from flinging from the hand, users of other handle designs must resort to gripping the handle more tightly. This is not a good thing. Tension in the hand robs the arm of power, and the result is a weak slash, cut, or chop. Tension also prevents precision in the delivery of the blow. The Laredo Bowie's tapered handle lets the user maintain a relaxed grip and lets him deliver the blade with maximum force and control. Angles of attack can be changed more easily in fluid motions if the hand and arm are relaxed. This principle is easy to illustrate. Look at a boxer before he punches. His hands are loose during the punch and clench only at the instant before impact, and then so only by reflex. If the boxer's hands were tight before and during the punch, then his punches would be weak. The same is true for the knife user. The Laredo Bowie's handle permits its user to remain limber and be effective.
For slash cuts, the user can maintain a light and lively grip before and during the swing. This permits him to arc his wrist backward before the swing and even pivot the handle within the hand. The instant before impact, the user can snap shut his last three fingers (where the Laredo Bowie's handle is widest and most angled) and flick the blade through the target to multiply the force applied to the target. The same principle applies to heavy chop cuts. The user cannot perform these power enhancements if he is forced to use an inferior handle design that requires him to hold the handle tightly. The Laredo Bowie's handle permits him to hold it deftly and perform these power enhancements easily.
There are no finger grooves or brass knuckles on this handle. Checkering, knurling, stippling, and other grip enhancements that abrade the hand are not required at all on this handle design. Also note that the Laredo Bowie's handle is not round but is flatter side to side than top to bottom. A round handle does not give the user immediate indexing of the blade's direction. The Laredo Bowie's handle does. As soon as the user grabs the handle, he knows immediately how the blade is oriented. The rectangular handle shape also keeps the blade oriented properly during heavy use such as parrying or chopping. There is no need to maintain hard hand pressure to prevent the blade from turning within the hand during use. Again, tension in the hand creates tension in the wrist and arm, and prevents dexterity and performance while robbing power. The handle shape also permits the user to rotate the blade as necessary for parrying or changing the angle of attack and still know exactly where the edge is pointed and how the blade is oriented.
The handle is bolted into the blade's tang for permanence.
The handle is made from laminated hardwood for maximum strength. Unlike solid wood, laminated hardwood is almost completely inert and does not warp, crack, or split as easily as solid wood. While other materials like polymer, steel, or aluminum may be stronger, wood is most desirable because it provides good grip even while wet and it does not stick to the hands in freezing conditions. Polymer handles feel naturally slippery and are not desirable. Many other knives today come with black Kraton rubber handles similar to the hard rubber Pachmayr pistol stocks, but this is not desirable either. Rubber provides a firm grip but absorbs recoil. To deliver a powerful slash, cut, or chop, the handle material cannot absorb recoil. If it does, then the handle will also absorb the energy of the slash, cut, or chop.
We are big fans of ergonomic handles made from softer materials. For example, our entire line of Knipex Ergonomic Pliers features ergonomic handles with a two-piece material construction. The blue material is softer than the red material but not spongy so as to decrease feel or make the pliers clumsy to use. These types of handles make eminent sense on a plier, which is not an impact device. The cushion material on the ergonomic handles makes the pliers more comfortable to use but does not rob the pliers of power.
Similarly, most of our screwdrivers, ratchets, and other hand tools are the soft-grip variety. Tools like these Snap-on soft-grip ratchets and ratcheting driver are easier to use, as well as provide superior grip and comfort.
We even like to add rubber sleeves like these Hogue HANDALL Tool Grips to our power tools. These tools come from the factory with hard and slippery aluminum handles, and are uncomfortable and slippery during use. The Hogue HANDALL Tool Grip cushions tool vibration and insulates the user from the heat generated by electric tools. Hogue's proprietary Cobblestone texturing, finger grooves, and palm swells provide additional adhesion and grip indexing, so less grasping force is required to retain and use the tool and the tool is easier to use, especially with wet or greasy hands. Power tools are not operated by the user and thus their effectiveness is not compromised by fitment of a rubber handle that absorbs recoil.
The same is not true, however, for our percussion tools like this Blue-Point hammer. A wooden handle on a percussion device like this hammer delivers a stronger blow because the wooden handle does not absorb recoil. Thus, the user can hold the hammer lightly and yet deliver powerful and accurate blows. If you doubt this, try wrapping the handle of a hammer with rubber and see what kind of results you get on nails. You will not be pleased. Wood does not absorb recoil and delivers all of the energy of the blow to the target while permitting maximum indexing and precision. A Bowie knife is a percussion tool. It can deliver very powerful chops that can cleave 2x4's in two. Until a superior material becomes available, a proper Bowie needs and deserves a proper handle made from wood.
In fact, this Blue-Point hammer features an excellent handle design not unlike the Laredo Bowie's handle. This hammer's handle is made of hardwood, octagonal in shape, taller than it is wide, and tapers slightly from back to front. Thus, the handle does not stick to the user's hands in cold weather, does not absorb recoil and delivers a powerful and precisely controllable blow to its target even when held lightly, permits the user to know exactly where the head of the hammer is pointing at all times, permits the user to change swing directions and angles of impact very precisely, prevents the hammer from turning within the user's hand on mis-hits, and permits the user to maintain a light and lively hold while swinging the hammer for greater impact force and dexterity.
The Laredo Bowie's handle is properly shaped so as to be compatible with all of the various grips. The Laredo Bowie's handle is very compatible with the saber grip, which gives the user a long reach with the blade. The saber grip does, however, provide less security on a hard parry, and also exposes the thumb.
The modified saber grip, with the thumb moved over slightly to the 11 o'clock position, is very comfortable on the Laredo Bowie's handle. The modified saber grip gives more security than the saber grip and reduces the chance of dropping the knife during parrying, while sacrificing very little in terms of reach. Many Bowie users use the modified saber grip for most of their tasks. The last three fingers provide the most pressure and the thumb and index finger are used primarily for indexing.
During a wind-up, the user can even let his last three fingers let loose slightly and then snap them shut and simultaneously flick his wrist the instant before impact to multiply the force applied to the target. This movement is not as difficult as it sounds, and comes naturally with the correct handle configuration, which the Laredo Bowie possesses.
The hammer grip is very comfortable on the Laredo Bowie's handle. The hammer grip provides maximum security against losing the knife but sacrifices reach and a little dexterity. Again, a lighter hammer grip can be employed with the Laredo Bowie because of its tapered handle design, and the gripping hand, wrist, and arm can remain relaxed for employing the knife effectively.
If you're into such things, you can employ the Laredo Bowie using the reverse hammer grip.
The coffin shape of the Laredo Bowie's handle is also very conducive to letting the user cap the pommel with his thumb for tasks that require maximum thrusting power while minimizing hand slip.
If you are looking for a field knife for your expeditions or just for your vehicle's field tool set, you can do no better than to acquire a proper Bowie. If you are looking for knives with saw teeth on the back of the blade, or a hollow handle for storing fish hooks within, or a compass in the pommel, or slingshots on the sheath, or a spring-loaded blade that shoots forward at the press of a button, you will have to look elsewhere. If you desire such features, the Laredo Bowie is not for you.
The Laredo Bowie's sheath is just as thoughtfully designed and well executed as the Laredo Bowie itself.
The sheath is constructed from cowhide leather and is riveted and sewn together. The quality of the sheath is very high. All hardware is solid brass.
The sheath features six rivets at strategic points to maximize the longevity of the sheath. The tapered tip of the sheath is riveted so as to prevent the Laredo Bowie's tip from poking through on a very hard frontal or side impact to the sheath.
The sheath fits the Laredo Bowie very well. Unlike other generic sheaths, the Laredo Bowie's sheath is only slightly larger than the Laredo Bowie's blade. Unfortunately, the sheath is not suitable for use by left-handed users.
The rear of the sheath features a brass belt peg.
When the sheath is slipped through the belt, the frog stops the sheath from going too far and locates the sheath properly.
Most will wear the Laredo Bowie in this fashion but larger users may insert the sheath inside the trouser waistband. The Laredo Bowie is worn very easily and unobtrusively in this fashion. Unlike other sheath designs, the Laredo Bowie's sheath carries the large knife at an angle. Pulling the Laredo Bowie's long 10.5" blade from the sheath is very intuitive and easy. There is no need to suck the entire knife length up to the arm pit to release the knife from its sheath as with other designs. The weight of the knife and sheath are also not carried low, where the knife constantly bangs against the thigh in an annoying manner.
Take your field knife use to the next level with the Laredo Bowie.
Also available from Cold Steel is the San Mai Laredo Bowie.
The San Mai Laredo Bowie is identical in dimensions and design to the Laredo Bowie, but differs in materials.
The San Mai Laredo Bowie's blade is constructed of San Mai steel rather than SK-5 steel. San Mai means "three layers". It's the term given to the traditional laminated blades used by the Japanese cutlers for swords and daggers. San Mai's laminated construction allows different grades of steel to be combined in a single blade. A simple way to think of this type of construction is to imagine a sandwich: The meat center is hard, high carbon steel and the pieces of bread on either side are the lower-carbon, resilient side panels. The edge of the blade should be hard to maximize edge holding ability, but if the entire blade were hard it could be damaged during the rigors of battle. For ultimate toughness the body of the blade must be able to withstand impact and lateral stresses. Toughness is generally associated with resiliency and flexibility in steel, so that, surprisingly, if a blade is made "tough" the edge won't be hard enough to offer superior edge-holding. San Mai provides a blade with hard steel in the middle for edge-holding ability and resilient steel on the sides for resistance to breaking.
This layering is visible in the finished blade.
The San Mai Laredo Bowie's handle shape is identical to that of the Laredo Bowie's.
The handle material, however, is different. Rather than laminated hardwood, the San Mai Laredo Bowie uses black G10 Micarta for the handle.
G10 Micarta performs similarly to wood, but is stronger. G10 Micarta is a "hard" material and does not absorb recoil.
G10 Micarta is the handle material used on a majority of the Benchmade AXIS Folders.
The San Mai Laredo Bowie's handle is smooth, without finger grooves, checkering, stippling, knurling, or other grip enhancements. They are not required on this handle design.
The San Mai Laredo Bowie's sheath is identical to the Laredo Bowie's sheath, but is black in color rather than brown. Like the Laredo Bowie's sheath, the San Mai Laredo Bowie's sheath features stitched and riveted construction and is fitted with a brass belt peg.
At twice the cost of the Laredo Bowie, the San Mai Laredo Bowie is not twice the knife. The Laredo Bowie's excellence is such that any any improvement to the Laredo Bowie will be slight. However, the San Mai Laredo Bowie is a legitimate improvement upon the Laredo Bowie.
The Laredo Bowie and San Mai Laredo Bowies are big knives. This book measures 8.5" x 11" and looks small beside a Laredo Bowie.
The Natchez Bowie is even larger than the Laredo Bowie and San Mai Laredo Bowie.
The Natchez Bowie is named after the riverfront district of Natchez, Mississippi, where duelling with Bowies was common in the 19th Century. Line-bred for duelling, the Natchez Bowie is the definitive fighting Bowie.
The Natchez Bowie's razor-sharp 11.75" long blade is perfectly shaped for strength, reach, and leverage, and its 20 oz. heft is flawlessly balanced, giving it unparalleled liveliness and velocity.
A sharpened concave clip point facilitates the very effective back cut.
Here is a view of the clip point's concavity. The concavity is not pronounced and is subtle so as not to weaken the tip.
Like the San Mai Laredo Bowie's blade, the Natchez Bowie's blade is made of VG-1 San Mai III laminated steel.
The San Mai blade's layering is visible in the finished blade.
The Natchez Bowie's handle design plays a big role in the overall performance. The black G10 Micarta handle is fitted with a double-quillion guard, bolster, and pommel made of highly polished 300 series stainless steel. The handle shape will easily accommodate a wide variety of gripping methods.
The Natchez Bowie's handle design differs from the Laredo Bowie's handle design in that there are swells in the middle of the handle. But the overall design that tapers from back to front is still there.
There are no finger grooves or brass knuckles on this handle. Checkering, knurling, stippling, and other grip enhancements that abrade the hand are not required at all on this handle design. Also note that the Natchez Bowie's handle is not round but is flatter side to side than top to bottom. A round handle does not give the user immediate indexing of the blade's direction. The Natchez Bowie's handle does. As soon as the user grabs the handle, he knows immediately how the blade is oriented. The rectangular handle shape also keeps the blade oriented properly during heavy use such as parrying or chopping. There is no need to maintain hard hand pressure to prevent the blade from turning within the hand during use. The handle shape also permits the user to rotate the blade as necessary for parrying or changing the angle of attack and still know exactly where the edge is pointed and how the blade is oriented.
The modified saber grip, with the thumb moved over slightly to the side, is very comfortable on the Natchez Bowie's handle. The modified saber grip gives more security than the pure saber grip and reduces the chance of dropping the knife during parrying, while sacrificing very little in terms of reach. Many Bowie users use the modified saber grip for most of their tasks. The last three fingers provide the most pressure and the thumb and index finger are used primarily for indexing.
The hammer grip is very comfortable on the Natchez Bowie's handle. The hammer grip provides maximum security against losing the knife but sacrifices reach and a little dexterity. A lighter hammer grip can be employed with the Natchez Bowie because of its tapered handle design, and the gripping hand, wrist, and arm can remain relaxed for employing the knife effectively.
For slash cuts, the user can maintain a light and lively grip before and during the swing. This permits him to arc his wrist backward before the swing and even pivot the handle within the hand. The instant before impact, the user can snap shut his last three fingers (where the Natchez Bowie's handle is widest and most angled) and flick the blade through the target to multiply the force applied to the target. The same principle applies to heavy chops. The user cannot perform these power enhancements if he is forced to use an inferior handle design that requires him to hold the handle tightly. The Natchez Bowie's handle permits him to hold it deftly and perform these power enhancements easily.
The Natchez Bowie's handle is also suitable for use with the reverse hammer grip,
as well as the modified reverse hammer grip, with thumb capping the pommel for tasks that require maximum thrusting power.
The Natchez Bowie comes standard with a black leather sheath.
The sheath is stitched and reinforced with nickel-silver rivets.
The sheath is also fitted with a nickle-silver belt peg.
The Natchez Bowie represents Cold Steel's top of the line in Bowies.
If you want to learn more about what makes a Bowie so superior, check out Bowies, Big Knives, and the Best of Battle Blades by Bill Bagwell. As the author of Soldier of Fortune magazine's controversial "Battle Blades" column from 1983 to 1987, master bladesmith Bill Bagwell was considered outrageous and revolutionary at the time for his advocacy of the large Bowie for combat and field use. Bagwell's convictions on knife design and blade technique, however, have stood the test of time, gaining validity in the industry and earning the respect of even some of his strongest and vocal critics. This book binds the timeless observations and invaluable insights of Bill Bagwell under one cover for the first time, giving readers an unprecedented opportunity to study Bowies and other knife designs, and learn which blades and techniques stand up to both the rigors of use and the test of time--and which ones do not. Bowies, Big Knives, and the Best of Battle Blades is an in-depth look at the characteristics and features that make a true Bowie so dominant in the world of edged weapons combat and field use, and shows the Bowie for what it is: a brilliantly engineered implement.
For keeping your Bowies razor sharp, we recommend the Edge Pro Knife Sharpening System. The Edge Pro Sharpening System gives your cutlery you a precision edge that cannot be achieved using other sharpening methods. Edge Pro edges are even, exact and free of burrs, consistently, quickly, and easily every time. The Edge Pro's patented knife guide system does not clamp the blade like inferior sharpening systems, so the Edge Pro will easily sharpen any blade length or blade shape at precisely the same angle every time. Bevel angles are adjustable from a steep 35° to a razor-thin 10°. The effort to resharpen an Edge Pro'd knife is considerably less than with any other sharpening system, and the amount of material removed to achieve a razor-sharp edge is dramatically reduced compared to conventional sharpening systems. We use nothing else on our personal and shop knives.
The Edge Pro's patented knife guide system does not clamp the blade like inferior sharpening systems, so the Edge Pro will easily sharpen any blade length or blade shape at precisely the same angle every time. Here are some of our shop knives. From left to right are the Laredo Bowie, Cold Steel Stag Trail Master Bowie, two Henckels kitchen knives, Benchmade 710HS, Benchmade 710, and Victorinox SwissTool RS. Each of these knives presents various issues to sharpening, but the Edge Pro handles them all easily.
For example, this is John's personal Laredo Bowie. John reshaped the handle slightly so that there is increased concavity at the bottom edge of the handle so that it will better fit his hand. John then refinished the laminated hardwood handle with gunstock oil to seal it against the elements. Both the main edge and the concave clip point are sharpened with the Edge Pro. The cutting edges appear to be polished in this photo, but John finished them with the Edge Pro 600-Grit Ultra Fine Water Stone only and did not polish them with Edge Pro Polish Tape. Getting a perfect edge, even from front to back and side to side, is easily achieved with the Edge Pro.
Sharpening the Laredo Bowie on the Edge Pro is not a problem at all, as the knife is simply moved along the edge of the Edge Pro's blade table. There is no clamp on the Edge Pro system, so it is easy to move the Laredo Bowie's large blade along the blade table during sharpening.
Even the small-radius convex edge is evenly sharpened. From the rear of the blade to the very tip, the bevel angle remains perfectly consistent.
For maximum performance, the Laredo Bowie's concave clip point should be razor sharp. Concave surfaces are not a problem at all for the Edge Pro.
The Laredo Bowie is a working knife, and thus should be sharpened with a steep edge to prevent chipping or rolling the edge during hard use such as cleaving or chopping. The Edge Pro accommodates all edge angles and easily sharpens steep edge angles. Most knives with edge bevels this steep would not be sharp and would not slice well. John's personal Laredo Bowie, however, is shaving sharp. The edge bevel is steep but the edge is finely honed to its very edge. Only the Edge Pro can do this.
Above are John's personal Laredo Bowie and Stag Trail Master Bowie. Both have Edge Pro edges. The edges are very sharp and will easily slice paper and shave, yet have steep angles to resist chipping and rolling of the edge during cleaving or chopping. Both the concave clip point of the Laredo Bowie and straight clip point of the Stag Trail Master Bowie are sharpened as well. Giving these already-excellent knives an Edge Pro edge only makes them better.
The Laredo Bowie is a very large knife is that more suited for field use than for everyday carry in urbanized America. For an excellent EDC knife, we recommend one of the Benchmade AXIS Folders like this Benchmade 710HS. The 710HS features a 3.9" blade made from M2 tool steel, and is our highest and best recommendation for an EDC folder.
If you are looking for an excellent multitool, we highly recommend the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit. The SwissTools are to multitools what Benchmade AXIS folders are to pocketknives. Both represent the best of their type and are without peer.