Randall Made Model 1 "All Purpose Fighter"
By Chuck Hawks
Illustration courtesy of Randall Made Knives.
W.D. "Bo" Randall wrote these words explaining how his knife making avocation became a business:
"Then, World War II began. A young sailor asked me to make him a knife for use in man-to-man combat. When his friends saw it, they placed orders, and their friends placed orders, and my knives were used in combat, and a reporter wrote a story and . . . All hell broke loose. Suddenly, unexpectedly we were in the knife business, as envelopes addressed simply to "Knife Man, Orlando, Florida" arrived on the doorstep."
The knife that figured so prominently in the beginning of the Randall Made story became the Model 1, a semi-Bowie style knife that is still being made, still popular and still used extensively by knowledgeable servicemen around the world. It is probably the best and most famous fighting knife ever made.
The Randall Model 1 that is the subject of this review was acquired through an estate sale. It appears to be of recent manufacture, never used and was purchased "as new." A good thing, or this review would have been impossible, as the current delivery time for a new Randall knife is about 5-1/2 years!
Fortunately, since I am not a knife fighter and have no illusions or aspirations along those lines, the Model 1 also has application as a heavy duty camp and house knife. Sure, it is overkill for such purposes, but Randall knives, first and foremost, are designed to be used. Sadly, today, most are scarfed-up by collectors and never used at all, just like the test knife.
The Model 1 is a beefy knife. It is made from 1/4" stock, either high carbon (approximately 1.0%) stainless steel (440B), as in the case of this review knife, or O1 carbon tool steel. If stainless, an "S" is stamped on the blade next to the "Randall Made, Orlando FLA" stamp. Either way, when new the blades are highly polished.
According to Blade HQ, "O1 tool steel has good edge retention, because it is hard material. Its major problem is that it rusts rather quickly if it isn't maintained. It has a carbon content range of .85-1.00%." O1 is hardened using an oil quench. (The "O" in O1 stands for oil.) It has better wear resistance than other carbon steels and is used in applications where alloy steels do not provide sufficient hardness, strength and wear resistance. Heat treatment is crucial to O1 blade performance and Randall Made O1 knives are hardened to RC 54.
Randall estimates their O1 blades hold an edge about 10% better than their stainless steel blades and states they are much easier to hone. On the other hand, Randall describes their stainless steel as more impervious to corrosion and staining. They recommend it for use in humid and salt water climates. They suggest, "Consider how frequently you'll use and hone your knife and where you'll use it--then decide which material is best for you."
Grade 440B stainless steel (sometimes called "razor blade steel") is a high carbon martensitic stainless steel with good strength, moderate corrosion resistance and the ability to obtain and maintain wear resistance. Randall chooses this steel for its toughness and ability to stand abuse, rather than maximum edge holding. (Some other current Randall knife models use 440C or ATS34.) Randall 440B stainless steel blades are hardened to RC 57-59.
This makes a great deal of sense for a fighting knife, or any knife that will receive hard use. As Randall repeatedly states on their website and in the catalog, Randall Made knives are designed to be used!
The Model 1 is offered with blades of 5", 6", 7" and 8". The blade is hollow ground with a 20 degree micro bevel cutting edge. Randall states that 20 degrees is their preferred compromise for cutting flesh, muscle and skin. Any cutting edge angle must be a balance between its potential for attaining a keen edge and holding that edge. If you want to cut a harder material, such as bone, Randall recommends a 30 degree micro bevel. Better yet, use a belt saw.
My Model 1 has a 7" blade. These knives are entirely hand made, so there are slight variations in shape, length, etc.
Handle lengths are from 4-3/4" to 5". The standard handle material is leather, but as with any Randall knife, a wide selection of handle materials are available. There is a brass double hilt (finger guard) and the leather handle terminates with a Duralum butt cap secured with a nut on the threaded end of the rat tail tang. The handle shape is Randall standard.
The list of options is extensive for any Randall knife. You can order different handle material and shape, different butt cap material and shape (or none at all), provision for a wrist thong (a hole drilled in the butt cap), different color handle spacers, and so forth. A complete list of possible options (there are many) can be found on the Randall website: www.randallmadeknives.com.
Except for its stainless steel blade, the knife reviewed here is the standard catalog model, as pictured above. The only other extra is the wrist thong option. The base price with a carbon steel blade and no wrist thong is $405.00 and this includes the standard sheath for the model.
The Model A is the standard sheath for the Model 1 knife and the sheath is stamped on the back for the blade length. Randall sheaths are absolutely top quality. They are hand crafted of the finest oil tanned saddle leather and hand stitched. There is a three ply spline around the sides to protect the stitching and designed so the point cannot pierce the stitching. A small hone in a pocket is included with the sheath. A keeper with a snap secures the knife in the sheath.
This Model 1 knife weighed 10.1 ounces on my digital scale. In its heavy duty sheath it scaled 16.4 ounces.
The leather handle is constructed of top grade sole leather. It is laminated with waterproof cement and tightly compressed between the brass hilt and butt cap. I happen to like the look of properly constructed leather knife handles and this was one of the attractions of the review knife. An occasional treatment with leather dressing will prevent the handle from drying out. I use Harley Davidson leather dressing (used on H-D saddle bags), which works fine.
The brass double hilt needs an occasional polish to look its best. I use Never-Dull, because it is convenient, but any good metal polish will do. It is best not to store any knife in a leather sheath, as the tanning chemical residue in the leather will eventually stain a carbon steel blade and turn a brass hilt green. The sheath is for carrying the knife, not long term storage.
The balance of this knife is perfect in the hand. Balance and proportion are among Randall's design priorities. They state their various knife models:
". . . have been developed over a period of 80 years from personal experience, extensive research and the study of hundreds of designs submitted by individuals around the world requesting custom-made knives. We have incorporated the best of many designs, and we believe that almost any need for a knife can be met with one of our 45 plus models."
"Each of our models have been thoroughly field-tested and have proven to be properly shaped and designed for its particular use. Occasionally we receive requests for longer, shorter, thicker or thinner blades and/or handles. In almost all cases the knife would be thrown out of balance or proportion, while our models have been carefully designed with all of these factors taken into consideration."
Guns and Shooting Online's Cutlery Editor Gary Zinn has a knife sharpness scale: NS (not sharp), SE (sharp enough), VS (very sharp) and ES (extremely sharp). (See Knife Sharpness, Sharpening Methods and Tools for more on this subject.)
I would describe this knife as very sharp when I got it, as it had never been used. It made quick work of opening and dismembering cardboard boxes and slicing paper.
When I was finished cutting up whatever I could find, I touched-up the edge on my Lansky Master's Edge Sharpening System (ceramic crock sticks). Just a half dozen swipes on the gray sticks, followed by a half dozen swipes on the white sticks was all it took to achieve what I would call a VS+ edge, meaning almost sharp enough for shaving.
Although Randall states their stainless blades are more difficult to hone than their O1 tool steel blades, I did not find this stainless blade difficult to sharpen. As with any high quality knife, the main thing is to not let it get into NS condition. Touching-up a good blade frequently is much easier than totally resharpening it.
To own a Randall Made Model 1 knife is to own a piece of history. Used by GI's in WW II, Korea, Vietnam and every conflict since, it is a classic fighting knife. It is also a useful knife for heavy duty civilian cutting chores. Its 2018 base price of $405 is more than reasonable for a potential family heirloom.
Copyright 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.