Saturday, February 28, 2009

United Cutlery Undercover Karambit, under $15.00 USD!?

I felt like kind of a D-Bag buying a United Cutlery product. They are an American manufacturer/importer based in the South, everything being made in China or Taiwan. United is the company responsible for the ubiquitous and ridiculous Gil Hibben Fantasy knives, and countless poorly made movie replica swords. They are the responsible party for the original Rambo movie knives. When I worked in retail cutlery, United products sold well to people who don't know a functional knife from their a**hole. That being said, I'm a big fan of the general karambit knife concept, and $11.95 felt like a great deal. I thought if the Undercover Karambit really sucked, I'd give it away, or modify the grind and/or throw some Krylon spraypaint tiger stripes on it.

Much to my surprise, I opened the Knifecenter UPS box to find a very well designed weapon. United, like 99% of manufacturers who utilize Chinese factories, uses 420J stainless steel for nearly everything they make. It's cheap, and while not outstanding, it's not a terrible steel, and it least it has a name, no "Surgical Stainless Steel" here. Over the last 5 to maybe 8 years, we've seen numerous karambit designs pop up here and there, and they were the flavor of the month in the industry for a bit. Emerson makes some great karambit designs, and you'll find karambit-inspired custom knives all over the web. I guess I had karambit fever recently, because in addition to the UC Undercover Karambit, I obtained (and paid too much) for the Smith & Wesson folding Extreme Ops Karambit. You can find the thing online for well under $25.00 USD, but I did a "PJIB" (Poor-Judgement-Impulse-Buy) at a branch of my former employer's shop and paid full retail, around $35.00. But that's a karambit, and a tale for another day....

So the United Cutlery Undercover Karambit can be comfortably held in reverse or standard grips. I have large hands with inflated knuckles and the UC UK still felt nice in my hand. The sheath is Kydex-esque plastic, probably not even FRN or Zytel, but a cheap black plastic with a slightly abrasive texture. There is a belt-clip style attachment which can also have a belt threaded through it. All in all not the worst carry-system for a knife of this type, but not fantastic either. The UK is difficult to remove and reinsert into the sheath with any sort of speed. The unique signature karambit blade shape and the sheath don't allow for any super-smooth action. Not a big deal, though functional, to me this knife is more of a novelty, it's unlikely I'll ever need to "dispatch" an armed "sentry" in Stealth Mall Ninja fashion.

In either grip mode, there is a nice kind of treaded section of jimping where your thumb ends up resting, providing a secure grip. The primary inner curve portion of the blade was almost shaving sharp out of the box, and it should be mentioned that this knife was literally dripping with oil when I removed it from the plastic bag in its box. It's no secret that knives with gray bead blasted finishes are rust magnets. Basically, it's my understanding that bead blasting almost "opens the pores" of even stainless steels and allows pre-rust to form easily. Every knife I've owned with a gray bead blast finish has acquired spots of pre-rust very quickly. I take care to never carry such a blade during summer or vigorous activity, as I sweat profusely.

The Undercover Karambit has the typical finger hole at the butt, but also one up front positioned for the index finger, when held in a standard grip. It's surprisingly comfortable either way, and the outer curve "back" of the blade is also sharpened, but not really sharp, because of the width/thickness of the grind. It could be made sharper, but I'm not going to mess with it. I do think this little K-Bit would look cool with some sort of coating applied, if only for aesthetic purposes. I may tape it up with various stripey designs and trick it out with flat black spraypaint, or apply some glow-in-the-dark powder covered by a clear nail polish, to give it a creepy and tactical night-mode look.

So, after shipping, this knife still ran well under $20.00 and I'm pretty impressed. A company known for its dorky, cheaply made, hype-driven wall hangers has turned out something that approaches a usable and user friendly self-defense design at an unbelievably low price. I'm sort of embarrassed to admit it, but I actually just ordered another United Cutlery piece, the Elite Forces Recon Push Dagger, which was even cheaper than the karambit! I'll give my impressions on that Chinese-made gem when it arrives on my doorstep.

Check out some of United's cooler stuff at

the Glow Cobra lanyard I added to the rear ring is my favorite design from Scott at The Lanyard Zone. It's a high quality Cobra Stitch lanyard with a super bright glow in the dark zipper pull fob woven into the tip. Scott's lanyards are the best I have ever seen or used, and he hand crafts them all up in Canada. He's known for his unique trademark Skull Lanyards with glowing eyes. Very cool stuff, just what this cheap knife needed to make it look like it's in a class above its pedigree.

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