Testing a Khukuri         Back to Main FAQ Page

With some practice checking out a khukuri and many other blades for that matter can be done quickly and easily. I have had a little experience doing this but anybody can learn to do it very quickly. Here's how:

Visual inspection

This is what we all do first -- look at the knife but all this does is tell us how it looks to us and that's it. It tells us nothing about quality, performance, strength, durability or anything else. And looks can be deceiving as we all know. A beautiful art knife can be terrible in every category above and an ugly village khukuri can perform like a champion and last for years. Don't expect that by looking at a knife you can learn anything beyond just that -- how it looks.

Checking lateral blade strength

This is important when checking large knives such as the khukuri because big knives are often called upon to do more than chop or cut. Leroy Thompson in his article for SWAT, for example, used his 15 inch Ang Khola to pry a padlock off a door. This is the test I run first. If the blade takes a permanent bend or breaks it tells me either the steel is poor, the heat treat is poor -- or both -- and there is little need for continued testing. The knife has already failed.

There are many ways to check lateral blade strength (well secured vice, fork in a tree, etc.) but I try to do it the easiest way I can find. I have an old telephone line cable spool which has a center hole of maybe 2.5 to 3 inches. I stick the khukuri into the hole and lean on the handle just about full weight (190 lbs) as the picture shows (15 inch Ak is getting the test). If the blade doesn't come out of the hole the way it went in the knife is a reject. This test requires less than a minute and tells a lot.

Checking blade quality and hardness

A quick test that will tell you a lot is this. Check carefully the sharpness and edge condition of the blade first and then simply give a piece of fairly hard wood (seasoned oak, purple heart, etc.) a few full strength chops. Check your edge again and see if it has changed. If the edge is pretty much the same continue your test. If it has changed noticeably you can stop testing. The steel is poor quality, heat treat is no good, or both, and you have a reject.

If the knife passes the chop test above I use an old finishing file to further check hardness because I am familiar with the file and it tells me a lot. I run it along the length of the blade. If the file drags the blade is too soft. If it slides easily along the blade the hardness is around mid to upper 50s Rc, maybe even higher, and that's enough for a khukuri. If the file drags a bit near the tip and cho that's fine -- these areas are usually a little softer. You can get pretty good at this file test if you check some known Rcs with your file and either note or remember how the file behaved on various Rcs.

I also use a stone in the same manner. This is an old, well worn stone that has been used on everything ranging from Rc 28 or 30 to Rc 68 or 70 and what the stone does to the metal tells me a lot. Practice checking what the stone does to various Rcs and it will become a valuable tool in testing.

Here is the sum total of the tools I use -- file, stone, and section of well seasoned oak 2x6. Please note recycled khukuri handle put on file by Kami.

Extreme testing

I sometimes test a blade to see if it chips, fractures or deforms when put to extreme use. I know that I am going to damage the blade so if you are not prepared for blade damage don't do this test. I chop nails and bolts, usually, to see what happens. If the blade chips out or fractures I have usually damaged the blade beyond repair and I really hate to see this. If the blade deforms and can be put back to near original condition with a little work I am much happier. This is what I want to see on the HI khukuris and how they almost always perform.

Hope this info might help in checking out your knives.

Bill Martino

Copyright (c) 1999-2001  by Howard Wallace / 2002-2003 by Himalayan Imports,  all rights reserved. maintained by Benjamin Slade.
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