Last updated: August 10, 2021

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Bowie knives are extremely sharp knives with a powerful blade. Bowies owe their fame to the US pioneer James Bowie, who won several tricky knife fights in the Civil War with his said knife. One of the most striking features of this type of knife is the distinctive blade shape. With the characteristic clip-point blade (also called: pike blade), the back of the blade is concavely curved towards the tip of the knife. The blade guarantees excellent control of the knife, which is why it is very suitable as a hunting and combat knife.

With our big Bowie knife test 2021 we want to help you find the best Bowie knife for you. We have compared Bowie knives made of stainless steel, carbon steel and damascus and listed the advantages and disadvantages of each. This should make your purchase decision as easy as possible.




The most important facts

  • A Bowie knife (short: Bowie) is a very sharp fighting or hunting knife, which consists of a mostly impressive blade and a handle. Often the knife is complemented by an "S-shaped" - hand guard, which connects the blade and the handle.
  • One of the most serious features - apart from the size of the blade - is the shape of the blade. The characteristic pike blade (also: clip-point blade) is a knife blade whose blade back is concavely curved towards the tip of the blade.
  • Bowie knives are known for their enormous resilience, durability and sharpness and are therefore considered excellent working knives.

The Best Bowie Knife: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a Bowie Knife

What is a Bowie knife?

Bowie knives are impressive knives with a large blade that belong to the heavy working and combat knife class.

They are named after the US soldier James Bowie, who was involved in numerous stabbings in the American Civil War in the early 19th century. Originally, they were used by cowboys and buffalo hunters.

Even then, the knives were designed to be used as field knives, as hunting knives, but also as fighting knives. The most common form of Bowie knife has a blade of at least 15 cm. There are often notches or a thin layer of soft metal on the back to better intercept enemy knives in combat.

The connection between the blade and the handle is usually a large parrying element made of non-ferrous metal for better protection of the hand. After the US Civil War, the production of the Bowie knife declined considerably. Nowadays it is often used as a piece of jewellery or as a status symbol for the owner.

Bowie knives are still among the legends of the Wild West. They became famous through The Expendables and the Rambo films.

Who is a Bowie knife suitable for?

Whether just as a souvenir or for actual use, a Bowie knife is suitable for a variety of purposes. We have listed the most common uses today here:

  • Souvenir
  • Hunting knife
  • Outdoor knives (working in the garden or forest)
  • Survival knife
  • Fishing knife

How much does a Bowie knife cost?

There is a wide price range between the different Bowie knives. Depending on the quality and type of blade or collector's value, the cost varies.

The range for commercially available Bowie knives is from about 10 to 850 euros.

Unique specimens and collectors' items can cost considerably more.

If you use a Bowie knife regularly or want to buy it as a souvenir, the prices for Bowie knives seem reasonable to us. We would recommend a Bowie knife in the middle price range.

What material is the blade of a Bowie knife made of?

Basically, Bowie knife blades can be divided into three categories according to their material:

  • Bowie knife with stainless steel blade
  • Bowie knife with carbon steel blade and
  • Damascus Bowie Knife

Stainless steel is usually extremely resistant to rust. Especially the so-called universal steel (=440 steel) is used for the production of Bowie knife blades. A distinction can be made between the steel types 440A, 440B and 440C. If the manufacturer only specifies 440 steel, it is very likely that 440A or 440B steel was used. Because 440C would definitely be a selling point. 440C stainless steel is the highest quality stainless steel for Bowie knives. It looks good, is very robust and has a long life expectancy.

Carbon steel is not as resistant to rust as stainless steel, but is more robust and resistant to cutting.

Bowie Messer-1

Bowie knives with blades made of damask are particularly popular as souvenirs because of their pattern. (Image source: unsplash.com / Yaroslav Korshikov)

Damascus Bowie knives have a blade that is composed of several types of iron and steel. When polished or etched, a clear structure of alternating layers of different materials is visible. Nowadays, the term Damascus steel is mainly understood to mean welded composite steel, which is enormously popular because of its decorative pattern.

The knife not only convinces with its beautiful patterning, but also with its particularly high quality in terms of sharpness, handling and durability. You should note, however, that Damascus blades are not dishwasher safe and also not stainless.

What are the alternatives to a Bowie knife?

Since the Bowie knife was originally used as a hunting and fighting knife, the pointed double-edged dagger is an adequate alternative. The dagger is a stabbing weapon with a mostly symmetrical handle. Unlike the Bowie knife, which was mainly designed for opening, gutting and skinning game and large fish, the dagger is designed more for direct stabbing.

Because both sides of the dagger blade are sharp, the cutting angle is up to 2 times greater than a single-edged Bowie knife with a similar blade width and thickness. However, daggers tend to be blunter than Bowie knives.

What Types of Bowie Knives are there and which is the right one for you?

If you want to buy a Bowie knife, there are basically 3 alternatives to choose from:

  • Bowie knives with stainless steel blades
  • Bowie knife with carbon steel blade and
  • Damascus Bowie Knife

The handling, care and use of the three different categories of Bowie knives each have advantages and disadvantages. Depending on what you prefer and what you want to use the Bowie knife for, a different type is suitable for you. In the following section, we would like to make your decision easier.

What are the characteristics of a stainless steel Bowie knife and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Stainless steel is normally extremely resistant to rust. Especially the so-called universal steel (=440 steel) is used for the production of Bowie knife blades. The steel types 440A, 440B and 440C can be distinguished. If the manufacturer only specifies 440 steel, it is very likely that 440A or 440B steel was used. Because 440C would definitely be a selling point. 440C stainless steel is the highest quality stainless steel for Bowie knives. It looks good, is very robust and has a long life expectancy.

Advantages
  • Appearance (shine even after years of daily use)
  • Do not discolour with acidic foods
  • Virtually rust-free
Disadvantages
  • Needs to be resharpened more often
  • Not as robust as knives made of damask

What distinguishes a Bowie knife made of carbon steel and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Carbon steel is not as resistant to rust as stainless steel, but it is more robust and more resistant to cutting. In addition, carbon steel can be lubricated more thinly and sharpened well. It should be noted, however, that acidic foods can cause the steel to tarnish.

Advantages
  • Easy to resharpen
  • Sharpness is generally retained for a very long time
  • Impressive cutting performance
Disadvantages
  • Susceptible to rust
  • Discolours with acidic foods
  • Appearance (blade looks somewhat "dirty")

What distinguishes a Damascus Bowie knife and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Damascus Bowie knives have a blade that is made up of several types of iron and steel. When polished or etched, a clear structure of alternating layers of different materials is visible. Nowadays, the term Damascus steel is mainly understood to mean welded composite steel, which is enormously popular because of its decorative pattern.

Advantages
  • Beautiful patterning / optics
  • Extremely sharp
  • Very beautiful to look at /convinces collectors
Disadvantages
  • Not dishwasher safe
  • Not stainless
  • Very expensive

Buying Criteria: These are the Factors you can use to compare and evaluate Bowie Knives

In the following, we will show you which aspects you can use to decide between the many possible Bowie knives.

The criteria you can use to compare Bowie knives include:

In the following paragraphs, we will explain what is important in each of the criteria.

Blade size

Bowie knives are usually equipped with a blade of at least 15 cm. However, individual Bowie knife blades can also be longer than 30 cm. The most common Bowie knife blades are between 17 and 25 cm long. The width of the blade is usually between 4 and 5 cm and the thickness between 5 and 6 mm.

One of the largest Bowie knives in the world is "The Alamo Bowie" by Lindner, which was made in 1979 with a blade of about 40 cm. There are also exceptionally small Bowie knives, so-called Nano Bowie knives, which have a blade length of just over 5 cm.

Which blade is right for you personally depends on the purpose for which you want to use your Bowie knife. As a souvenir, most people prefer a large blade, and as a hunting knife you should also choose a large blade. However, if you only use your Bowie knife for fishing or as a survival knife, a slightly smaller blade will suffice.

Overall length of the knife

The overall length of a Bowie knife is the length of the blade and the length of the handle. As described above, the blades of the usual Bowie knives are between 15 and 30 cm long.

As a rule, Bowie knives are between 30 and 40 cm long overall.

The length of the handle is usually proportional to the length of the blade. As a rule, the handles of Bowie knives are between 10 and 20 cm. long.

Of course, there are always exceptions. The longest knife in the world is often called "The Alamo Bowie" by Lindner. It is an enormous 59 cm long.

When looking at the overall length of the knife, make sure that the length of the handle is proportional to the length of the blade. If this is the case, you can be sure that it is a handy Bowie knife.

Material of the handle

Normally the following material is used for the production of Bowie knife handles:

  • Wood
  • Horn
  • Ivory
  • Metal
  • Leather

When it comes to the material of the handle, many users decide according to the look. However, the enormous price differences between a Bowie knife with an ivory handle and a Bowie knife with a wooden handle should also be taken into account. Ivory and horn are among the most expensive materials for commercially available Bowie knives. It all depends on your personal preferences.

Bowie Messer-2

Many love Bowie knives for their unique patterns. (Image source: unsplash.com / Andrew Lancaster)

Robustness

In general, the more robust Bowie knives are made from one piece ("full tang"). In this case, the blade is seamless from the tip to the end of the handle. If the handle and blade are made separately and only joined at the end, the robustness of the knife is somewhat lost. Breakage could occur later at the point of connection. These Bowie knives should be checked carefully for their robustness before buying.

Weight of the knife

Depending on the material from which the blade and handle of the Bowie knife are made, a Bowie knife including blade and handle weighs on average between 400 and 650 grams.

Hand guard

The hand guard is there to protect your own hand from injury. Often the hand guard is made in the characteristic "S-pattern" and thus manages to protect your fingers and increase the defence potential considerably.

As the Bowie knife was originally often used as a combat knife, the hand guard was extremely important. Nowadays, not every Bowie knife has a hand guard.

Again, it depends on the purpose for which you prefer to use your Bowie knife.

Facts worth knowing about Bowie Knives

How do I sharpen a Bowie knife?

One of the most important features of your Bowie knife is its sharpness. If the Bowie knife is dull, you should sharpen the blade. If you want to resharpen the blade of the Bowie knife, you must first be aware of this:

Prerequisite for sharpening the blade Measure
Time! You must take your time to sharpen the blade.
Stay away from miracle tools Never use "miracle tools" that promise a sharp blade right away.
Practice! The process of sharpening requires practice.

Grinding restores the angle at which the two sides of the blade meet at the cutting edge. This thins the cutting edge.

Bowie Messer-3

To maintain the sharpness of your knife for as long as possible, you should care for it regularly. (Image source: 123rf.com / Standret)

If you want to sharpen your knife, you need materials that are harder than the steel of the knife. This is where a water whetstone comes in handy. This is how you sharpen your Bowie knife:

  1. Hard stone: Draw one side of the knife over the hard stone at a fixed angle until a ridge forms on the top.
  2. Second side: Then sharpen the other side in the same way.
  3. Soft stone: Repeat the whole process with a slightly softer stone, but increase the angle a little in the process.
  4. Cleaning: Then clean the knife and whetstone before alternately dragging each side of the knife over the whetstone with light pressure in the cutting direction.

If you do not have the confidence to sharpen your knife, there are nowadays also mains-operated knife sharpeners. These devices automatically sharpen the knife in 3 stages: Pre-sharpening, sharpening and honing.

How do I avoid an accident with a Bowie knife?

Knife accidents with corresponding cuts are one of the most reported accidents. To avoid accidents with your Bowie knife, you should pay attention to the following things:

Cause of accident Precautionary measure
Lack of user practice Be careful at the beginning and feel your way around your new Bowie knife first! Don't get distracted when you have your Bowie Knife in your hand!
Slipping on the knife handle Clean your hands before use, greasy hands are slippery.
Incorrect transport of Bowie knives When buying, make sure you have a suitable sheath so that you can safely put your knife away. Always carry your knife with the sheath down!
Wrong position of the blade always keep the blade away from your body! Also when cleaning and sharpening.

How do I care for a Bowie knife?

The following tips will help your Bowie knife last longer:

  1. Hand cleaning: Always rinse your knife by hand.
  2. Quick cleaning: Clean your knife immediately after use.
  3. No acids: Avoid contact with acidic foods.
  4. Dry storage: Keep your knife in a dry place.
  5. Sharpening: Sharpen your knife regularly.
  6. Knife = knife: Do not use your knife as a can opener, screwdriver, etc.

Image source: Randyleeknive11/ flickr.com

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