Randall Made Model 23 Gamemaster Knife
By David Tong
Photo by David Tong.
One of the most storied makers of hand-built custom knives has to be Randall, of Orlando, Florida USA. William “Bo” Randall started the company in 1938 and steadfastly refused to sacrifice custom quality, even when mass production seemed to make sense.
Their first use of note was during the Second World War, when their Model 1 “All Purpose Fighter,” the Model 2 “Stiletto” (a variation of the Sykes-Fairbairn British Commando knife) and the Model 3 “Hunter” were purchased by American servicemen on their way to nasty places and used with mostly unknown but very much appreciated success in close quarters combat.
The Company's relatively rapid rise to prominence created their first back log of orders in 1953 and the backorder situation has continued to this day. The Randall currently offers over two-dozen different designs and lengths of blades, with handles of stacked and polished leather washers, linen Micarta, or stag horn.
One little known knife was developed for NASA, as an astronaut survival tool. This was the Model 17 Astro, whose final design was by Astronaut Gordon Cooper. These were made for the original seven Mercury pilots between 1960 and 1963.
Company founder Bo Randall passed on in 1989 and his son Gary and his sons now run the company. New employees are added only occasionally, because it is difficult to find people willing to engage in the long process of apprenticeship required.
All blades start out as a billet of high carbon tool steel or special high carbon (1%) stainless steel. They are forged by hand, ground to rough shape, heat treated by oil quenching, ground to contour, sharpened and polished. A brass hilt of 1/4 inch stock is silver soldered to the blade and the full length, rat tail tang secures your choice of handle, which is sandwiched with a polished duralumin end cap that may have either a stainless acorn nut or flush nut holding it together.
A top-grain leather sheath with hilt stop (so the point cannot penetrate the sheath), fold-over belt loop and a snap enclosure for the included sharpening stone rounds out the usual package. Randall sheaths are individually made for each knife.
Knives can be ordered with a maximum of five chargeable features. (Dozens of extra features are available, but the limit of five on any one knife is to help control backorder times.)
In addition, the company offers some 17 custom, non-catalog knives, but no customizations are available on non-catalog knives. All Randall knives are built to the same quality and style standards.
My own personal example, a Model 23 Gamemaster, was made about 1992 with a black Micarta handle. (A leather handle is standard on the Model 23.) The hilt is brass and the butt cap is duralumin. It took approximately eighteen months for delivery after ordering.
The main cutting edge is honed at a 20-degree angle for cutting skin and flesh. Randall blades hold their edge very well and the shape allows sharpening with conventional whetstones. A hard Arkansas stone is ideal for touching-up the edge. (Never use an electric knife sharpener on a fine blade or, heaven forbid, a file!)
An interesting feature of the Model 23, unusual for a hunting knife, is its approximately 2-1/2" long top cutting edge. This is intended for heavy duty cutting and honed at a wider angle. The top of the blade in front of the hilt is notched for non-slip thumb placement, a standard feature on the Model 23, but an extra cost option on most Randall models.
Model 23 Gamemaster Specifications as Reviewed
(Note on specifications: Due to the handwork involved in construction, measurements are inherently slightly vague)
One of the problems with having a knife of this quality is that I am reluctant to use the thing for fear of scarring it up. I am sure that the company is aware that many, if not most, of their wares are going to collectors rather than users and I must admit that I bought mine simply to pay homage to history. It remains in essentially new condition and while I would use it on hunting trips, it is my desire to keep it that way.
Backorder time as I write these words (2015) is approximately four years. Orders placed with a non-refundable deposit are guaranteed to ship at the current price upon order. While those prices may appear somewhat breathtaking, they are not out of line for a custom made knife of such high quality.
Note: A review of a Randall Made Model 5 Small Camp and Trail Knife can be found on the Outdoor Accessories page.
Copyright 2013, 2015 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.