Cold Steel Master Tanto Knife Review

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Cold Steel, Inc. was founded in 1980 as a company dedicated to making the strongest, sharpest, knives in the world. Over the last three decades, Cold Steel has been at the forefront of many innovations that have helped to define the knife industry as a whole.

Progressive accomplishment, including the introduction of the checked Kraton handles, and the American Tanto point blade styles have gone from curiously interesting features to industry-wide hallmarks of quality and sophistication.

New ground was also broken with the introduction of unique new blade steels like San Mai III as well as the “Tri-Ad Lock” locking mechanism for folding knives. For instance, the Tri-Ad Lock has never been equaled by any of Cold Steel’s competitors and nothing they have produced yet has been proven to outperform it. Of course Cold Steel will always look to the future; constantly striving to make the world’s strongest, sharpest knives and the Cold Steel Master Tanto is a prime example of this type of progressive thought and design.

In fact, according to Cold Steel’s web site, “There isn’t a person working in the knife industry today that knows more about the Tanto than Cold Steel does. It was, after all, Cold Steel who invented and popularized this knife style in the early 1980’s. We have spent well over a million dollars persuading the public, both through advertising and live or videotaped demonstrations, of the Tanto’s many advantages.

We have been producing Tanto’s for more than 25 years now, and there is still no factory or custom knife maker around making a Tanto that can approach the cutting, slashing or piercing power of one that is manufactured by Cold Steel.” Unfortunately, to me, this sounds suspiciously like the original (and successful) campaign by DeBeers to convince the public that diamonds the most sought after gem stone in the world even though there are other gemstones that, in my opinion, are far more beautiful and far more rare and such is the case with both survival and tactical knives as well.

Therefore, although the Cold Steel (Americanized) Master Tanto may very well be a superior tactical knife, I have some rather strong reservations about its efficiency as a survival knife. However, since any knife is better than no knife in a survival situation, I would rather have a Cold Steel Master Tanto at hand than a sharp rock (unless it was a properly shaped flint or obsidian knife!).

Therefore, while this knife is obviously designed to be a tactical weapon and not a dedicated outdoor survival tool, when it is examined through the eyes of an experienced outdoor survivalist, it does have at least some positive qualities that are useful in an outdoor survival situation (after all, it is a knife!).

For instance, it features an overall length of 11 1/2″ with an (Americanized) Tanto blade measuring 6″ in length that is made from 3/16″ VG-1 San Mai III stainless steel (Rockwell hardness unknown) with an extremely high, hollow ground, bevel and a deeply checkered Kray-Ex grip with a stainless steel bolster and a single quillion and it includes a finely crafted leather sheath. In addition, the VG-1 stainless steel used in this knife is somewhat unique among knife steels since it is constructed (rather than smelted and forged) by laminating a layer of hard, high carbon, steel between two layers of softer, but tougher, stainless steel.

Thus, its construction is similar to, but reversed from, the original folded Japanese blades which were made with core of softer steel contained inside of a sheath of high carbon Tamahagane steel which was then differentially hardened to form the Hamon. Therefore, not only will this knife hold an extremely sharp edge due to the high carbon steel core, it is also exceptionally tough due to the laminated stainless steel layers and consequently, it is likely to withstand most any task you would normally perform with a dedicated survival knife. Also, the oval shape and reverse taper of the Kray-Ex grip does provide the user with an ergonomic and positive griping surface that prevents the knife from twisting or slipping while in use.

On the other hand, while the long, straight, edge does provide enough length for carving, the acute angle on the belly and the almost vertical sweep at the tip of the blade are not very useful for skinning and butchering harvested game animals. Also, the large ricasso located at the back of the blade reduces the amount of leverage the user can apply to the blade when carving because it places the back of the edge farther from the hand and thus, it increases the length of the Moment Arm.

So, as I mentioned previously, while I believe that the Cold Steel Master Tanto would make an excellent tactical knife, I do not believe that it is particularly well suited to the purpose of outdoor survival for the reasons mentioned above. Consequently, while this is not a knife design that I would choose to carry into the wilderness with me, if I were to suddenly find myself in a survival situation, I would certainly rather have a Master Tanto available than a mere folding pocket knife or even worse, no knife at all!

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