Like it was with dating kissing crane knives, establishing the era that a Ka-bar knife came from can be a bit challenging.
In fact, I believe that learning how to date a ka-bar knife requires more attention to detail and a couple of more moving parts than when we were dealing with the Kissing Crane knives. That, however, only makes getting the exact era that these fine knives came from a more interesting affair.
Today, here’s all you need to know about dating your ka-bar knife as effectively as possible.
History of the Ka-bar knife
Most people only know the Ka-bar knife to be a mainstay during WWII and a collector’s item today, but there is little to go on regards where it came from or how it has moved through time since.
With areas like Germany, Italy, China, and the rest of the world getting the praises for coming up with truly timeless knives, the USA takes the glory for this one.
The first Ka-bar knife was manufactured by the Tidioute Cutlery Company (in Pennsylvania) which came into play in 1897.
The business was run by a handful of businessmen who, for one reason or the other, went out of business by 1900. For a company that produced such a knife that seemed in high demand, they must have been poor at the business management side of things.
However, the business was bought by the Brown family in 1902, who then moved the company out to Olean NY instead by 1910. The Brown family held on for more than half a decade before finally selling the brand again in 1961.
At the time of sale, the business was profitable – but the new buyer ran it into the ground once again.
Already bankrupt, the brand’s assets were bought by the Robinson Knife Company who flipped the assets to Cole National in 1966. Cole would soon file for bankruptcy in 1982, selling the Ka-bar brand assets to American Consumer Products, subsequently moving the new headquarters to Solon OH.
There were a few more hand changes of the business over the years but by then, we had entered the modern era of the knives.
Challenges of Dating a Ka-Bar knife properly
Before you go dating your ka-bar knife, I think you might want to know some of the challenges that you could encounter, and why.
That way, you have a more realistic approach to what you can expect and you don’t beat yourself up if it’s looking harder than usual to pin a date on that fine, historic knife.
Time in the Market
Ka-bar knives are not made like they used to be anymore. For a knife that has been around for more than 120 years now, you also know that it would have changed hands a lot of times.
Today, we keep finding fewer and fewer people who fought in WWII around. This knife was popular during the second world war and I will assume that so are the people who knew a lot about it.
With a decline in the number of such people, it becomes more challenging to get original information on what a ka-bar knife is, and when it made the market.
Change of Manufacturers
Each manufacturer would like to put its spin on things. Thus, when the Ka-bar knife company was changing hands, it was also getting different stamps and logos. While the true nature of the knife remained the same, the naming system and stamp models were not the same anymore.
To put things in context, it is estimated that there have been, at least, 200 different Ka-bar knife stamps in use since the late 1890s. That is surely a lot of information to keep track of.
Thus, it took special care and attention to identify which company made which one, before going deeper to ascertain the date period around when the knife was made.
Loss of Catalogues
Dealers and retailers of the knife usually let older catalogs rot, lost them, or simply misplaced them when a new batch of Ka-bar knives came in. Otherwise, it would be much easier to go through their files to find out which Ka-bar knives were made when.
It would also be much easier to confirm additional details about the knives, not just who made them and when.
Ka-bar did not just make straight knives or folding knives. They got into every kind of game – and having different manufacturers along the line meant that they all didn’t have to stick to the same design philosophy.
While that might make it harder to identify what a true Ka-bar knife is, though, it is a blessing in disguise sometimes. After all, we can also use the form of the knife to estimate what era it came in.
Multiple Methods to Dating a Ka-bar Knife
Try any of the methods above to identify the ka-bar knife you have, and provide a very good estimate of the date when it launched also.
Method #1 – Identify the Logo/ Tang Stamp
Due to the change in ownership of the brand, and the fact that we have some information on what the changes happened, we can use the tang stamps to know when the knife was made.
Below are some timelines for you to explore:
|Tang Stamp||Stamp Design||Extra Markings||Date|
|Union Cutlery Co., Tidioute, Pa; |
Union Cut. Co., Tidioute;
Union Cut. Co., Olean N.Y.
|Straight line||Nil||1897 – 1909|
|Union Cut. Co., Olean N.Y.||Straight line||Nil||From 1909|
|Union Cut. Co.||Arc-shaped||USA, or Union; Stainless||1912 – 1925|
|Tidioute CUT. CO||Straight line||OLEAN, N.Y, and USA.||1912 – 1920|
|UNION CUTLERY CO.||Straight line||OLEAN, N. Y||1912 – 1930|
|UNION||Round rectangular box||Nil||1914 – 1926|
|KEENWELL CUT CO||Straight line||OLEAN, N. Y||1920 – 1930|
|KEENWELL CUT CO||Straight line||OLEAN, N.Y; Ka-Bar; Model number||1928 – 1932|
|KA-BAR||Straight line||USA`||1930 – 1940|
|OLCUT||Straight line||Stainless Steel; or UNION CUT CO. & OLEAN, N. Y||1935 – 1945|
|Kabar||Straight line||Unfilled star||1950 – 1970|
There are a lot more than that, but the table above is a great place to start.
If you don’t find your stamp and logo from there, use the official stamp/ logo guide from the official Ka-bar website as seen below:
Method #2 – Checking the Knife Markings
There is a lot that you can tell about the Ka-bar knife from the markings on the blade. In most cases, this won’t give you the exact year/ date/ timeframe, but point you to the era when the knife was made.
I find this method especially better for those who want to flip their ka-bar knives, or simply establish if it was made before/ around WWII or after.
Follow these steps to date the Ka-bar knife this way:
Step 1: Identifying the Markings
Look around the knife for markings on the body. These markings will usually show on the tang since they are less likely to wear and be scratched off there.
Step 2: Read the markings
You could find either the USMC or USN MK2 marking on the knife. The former refers to the knife being a normal US army fighting knife, while the latter identifies the Ka-bar knives issued to the US Navy.
Step 3: Naming the Era
Now that you have established the ka-bar knife and got the markings to know what kind of issue it is, how about knowing if it is a WW2 knife or not?
On the WW2 knives:
- The stamp font is thin and shallow, compared to the non-WW2 options
- The blade has a darker patina rather than being powder coated
- WW2 knife pommels are peened on the knife, not pinned
- If it comes with a sheath, there won’t be a factory embossed stamp on it.
When you have a knife that meets the specs above, it could only have been made in 1944 or 1945. These are the true originals that went to the war – and every other one after that was made after the war.
Also, note that not all old Ka-bar knives were used in the war. Some had been made before the time, and they don’t have the exact specs as above. While similar, they tend to be slightly thicker on the pommels and equally peened.
PS If you buy the knife today, the seller might include a newer sheath just to promote better knife safety for you. I would, thus, rather you look at the knife itself rather than trying to use the sheath to make a judgment.
Method #3 – Check Serial Numbers
Not all Ka-bar knives will have a serial number, but checking this fine detail would make sense where possible.
Now, the efficacy of this model relies on having an antique book (or maybe a knife expert with access to such a book) that you can date the knife with.
Otherwise, the serial number might not be able to do so much for you.
Method #4 – Look for Older Catalogues
One of the challenges in dating a ka-bar knife that I mentioned above is the loss of original catalogs which these knives were sold with.
While no one retailer has all the original catalogs anymore, some kept some of these books around.
If you have a collector around, check with them to see if they had kept such catalogs. The same is true for family businesses that have been selling knives for generations as they tend to have such literature lying around.
Method #5 – Go to an Expert
After all, that is what they practically do for a living.
Don’t expect to find an expert that will date your knife for free. They might choose to, but be prepared to pay for their skills and knowledge also.
Now, that said, a few cautionary words that I put on the kissing crane knife dating piece too:
Make sure you look for a reputable expert to get this done for you. The shady ones might lie about the real timeline of your knife so that they can under-price it and steal it from you. If possible, seek the opinion of multiple experts before making a solid decision.
Likewise, don’t just take their dates for it. Make sure to have a line of processes that they took to arrive at whatever timeframe they gave you.
Wrapping It Up
If you have also been stuck on how to date a Kabar knife properly before you landed on this piece, I believe you must have all the information you need right now.
From DIY approaches to unconventional models and even taking the knife to experts, one of these methods will get you a proper timeline of your knife.
If there is anything else you want to know which I missed, do let me know in the comments section – or reach out via the contact page.
Till then, ciao!
My name is Steve and i live in Australia..
I have recently started collecting knives from the Vietnam era..
I just purchased 1 on ebay but the more i try to confirm the sellers claim the more i become frustrated and confused…please help me.
Apologies for the late reply.
I’m happy to see that you’re entering the world of knife collection. I have sent you an email to see how I may be able to help. Thanks for taking the time to read
So I’ve read that one way to tell a WW2 Kabar is the pommel will be pinned from both sides as well as peened. But your saying the WW2 knives dont have pins at all?, just peened?
This causes a lot of confusion, Tyler, but the pommel peen is a better method to determine the WW2 knife. I don’t believe they were pinned in that era
That is some inspirational stuff. Never knew that opinions could be this varied. Very creative, one of the nicer sites I have seen today. Keep up the great work.
You ought to take part in a contest for one of the best sites on the net. I will highly recommend this site!
Thanks, Dwain. I appreciate the vote of confidence 😀
My friend and I were just talking about this specific subject, she actually is normally attempting to prove me completely wrong! I am about to show her this blog post and additionally rub it in a little!
Your guidelines seem to contradict themselves:
The knife has a thin, pinned pommel
WW2 knife pommels are peened on the knife, not pinned
Which is it: they are pinned or they are not?
Please let me know, than you. [email protected]
Thanks for letting me know that, Murphy. The first bullet point was in an initial version of the article. Must have forgotten to take it out when I updated the piece with the second bullet point