A knife question for my readers

As part of a forthcoming book, I’m trying to describe a knife that will play an important role in proceedings.  It needs to be distinctive and easily recognizable, so I’d originally planned to have its blade in a sort of karambit style, with its tip curving down rather than up.  There are many such blades in numerous cultures.  For those who may not know what I’m talking about, here are a few examples.

Milwaukee Fastback hawk bill folding utility knife:

Cold Steel Tiger Claw folding karambit knife:

Gurkha Aeof Kukri fixed blade knife from Nepal:

The problem is that I’m writing a description, rather than showing a picture.  Words aren’t as clear as images to someone unfamiliar with what I’m talking about.  What’s more, the book will be read by people in various countries and parts of the world.  I might understand the term ‘karambit’, but someone who isn’t interested in knives, or hasn’t been exposed to a ‘knife culture’, won’t.  In the same way, terms such as ‘jambiya‘ or ‘khanjar‘ (both of them curved daggers) are not familiar to many in the USA.

Therefore, my question is this.  Is there a ‘standard’ or ‘universal’ name that anyone, from anywhere in the world, who’s somewhat knowledgeable about knives, would instantly recognize as meaning a knife with a downward-curving point?  Is there a name for such blades that transcends a particular culture and is commonly understood around the globe?

There may not be a universal descriptor, of course.  In that case, I’ll have to change my approach and use a more conventional knife that doesn’t appear too exotic, and therefore doesn’t need a lengthy description.  However, I’d like to make the knife a prominent feature of the book, so I’ll be grateful if any of you can help me out here.  Thanks in advance.



  1. I've heard them referred to as "hawksbill" blades, which is pretty evocative.

    But, I think Keyser Soze has the right idea – a good prosaic description, perhaps accompanied by some exposition on how the character came by the blade, would do better than an obscure knife smith term-of-art.

    Even if there were a foreign blade style that described it – it might seem somewhat anachronistic in context.

  2. My initial thoughts were of the Gurkha "machete".

    Size makes a difference. Around here, the smaller "hawkbill" knives are known generically as "linoleum knives"

    Biblically, the term "pruning hook" has widespread acceptance.

    Anybody who was alive before 1990 (the dissolution of the USSR)knows what a sickle looks like.

    Good luck, sir

  3. "… a blade shaped like a minature boomerang with its inside honed to a razor edge. It was made for grabbing, slicing and not coming back when thrown… Hopefully."

    First post felled by typos.

  4. Pruning knife. I've an old one from my great grandfather somewhere a bit over a hundred years old, originally made from half a drawknife. Still sharp enough to shave with, if you're fool enough to try. Far heavier duty than it needs to be for just a pruning knife, but I'd imagine it would be a "use what you've got" thing. The backwoods of Appalachia weren't exactly the back-of-beyond, but poor is universal in its ingenuity.

  5. The only terms that I think non-knife-folks would instinctively recognize are "claw" or "hook". And, of the two, I prefer "claw".

    I think that terms like "Kukri" and "Karambit" are going to go over most peoples' heads, because I know a several knife-loving folks who were completely stumped when I showed them a Karambit a couple of years ago. I think that we tend to forget just how small our "enthusiast" milieu can be when it comes to knowledge of foreign blade types.

  6. Instead of a universally known name, it could be a custom blade made by or for the character. Use a name given it by the the maker. If it is to have a major role in the story, give it a description worthy of that status.


  7. I'm not really a knife person. If I were reading a book and saw "pruning knife" I wouldn't have any idea what blade shape that would be. If I saw "hawk bill" or "talon", I'd have an idea.

  8. I've always heard them called linoleum knives, but who lays linoleum nowadays. Case calls them roofing/carpet/linoleum knives, but hawk's bill is descriptive.

  9. I'm not a big knife enthusiast, but I sure didn't know what a Barlow is.. and doing a google search on images didn't yield anything that looked like what Peter is trying to do.

    Agreed with those who suggest "talon" or "claw" or "hawks bill", and also, if it's possible to get a nice rendering of it on the cover somehow, that'd be very helpful.

  10. As many others have already stated that particular blade style has always been referred to as a "hawkbill knife". It's been around for along time, far longer then the Spyderco's and like brands. http://lansky.com/index.php/blog/knife-blade-profiles-and-uses#.WBIWuoWcFjo
    I've also heard them referred to as a pruning knife in some cases. As the Lansky link indicates the blade design affords protection from stabbing oneself and helps minimize accidental cuts due to increased control of he cutting blade. So for period correct story purposes calling it a hawkbill knife is self explanatory.

  11. Any chance you could get the knife on the cover of the book, so readers have an image to look at?


  12. Apparently, the ancient name is kopis. It is much like a hefty scythe blade or a sickle and just like a corn knife. Unfortunately, I doubt any of those names are universal. I would expect an agricultural name might be more universal, but then in this modern world of power farm equipment most people would have lost that name as well.

    Here is Lindybeige discussing the kopis. His description of it's functionality might give you ideas for a good description.

  13. Bram Stoker armed Jonathan Harker with a Kukri and Quincy Morris with a Bowie- might see what he had to say about them. The knives played a dramatic final part.

  14. Hawk bill, carpet, linoleum knives are all tools in the Karambit style, with a hooked point and concave curved sickle edge.
    The Ghurka Kukri also has that inward curve, but includes a convex belly and a point sufficiently in line with the axis to allow for thrusts.
    Point being, staging an attack with a karambit one would want to perform a raking or slicing cut. With a Kukri you have the option of either thrusting or slicing and with a full size kukri given the weight distribution you essentially have an axe like weapon at hand for effective chopping.

  15. Keyser Soze got it. Just call it a bear claw. Side scales on the handle made from the thigh bone of the bear what caught him out. 🙂

  16. Eventual LT Faith Marie Smith, USMC, gets a lot of use of her kukri blade in John Ringo's zombie series, Black Tide Rising. Hand removal seems to be the favored use, overall.

  17. If you look at some of the old halberd pole-arms you will see a large version of what you are talking about. In fact IIRC they were referred to as "hook-bill".
    And somewhere I have an old African knife-thing(my daughter used to collect sharp-pointy-things)I bought that looks like a small sickle with a couple of blades tacked on the outside of the curve.

  18. I have a folding one. It was sold as a "linoleum knife."

    I've also seen them described as "stockman's knives." Googling the term just turns up conventional three-blade folders. The stockman's knives I'm thinking of were used for gelding cattle, etc.

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