May 13, 2022
Gun guys are generally knife guys. I’ve been an avid knife collector, and user, since before I was old enough to own guns. I own a first-generation A. G. Russell Sting, Cold Steel Tanto, and Gerber Mark II. I’ve dug meat out of a campfire with a USMC Ka-Bar. I own a custom folder handmade by Allen Elishewitz. I remember when Spydercos, the first factory one-hand-opening folding knives, came out. Thirty years later Spyderco is still selling the same $30 knives…only for five and ten times as much, trading on their name recognition. So, I understand quality, as well as getting what you paid for.
Looking for affordability? Here are three great knives under $35
I carry a pocket knife every day. I use it (and my flashlight) on a daily basis as there always seems to be something that needs to be cut. But on that note…folding knives are convenient, but inherently weaker than fixed blades. It is a compromise for their concealability. Some knifemakers (Ernest Emerson, famously) did their best to develop hard-use folders, but they are not small, and still, they are less durable than a fixed blade. Which brings us to T. Kell Knives, and their Raider—a fixed-blade EDC knife.
Fixed blade knives aren’t as common for everyday carry simply because they’re larger than folders, so the trick is to design a knife that’s big enough to be useful, but small enough to be carried comfortably every day. The Raider, which was T. Kell’s first and still best-selling design, sports a 3.25-inch sharpened length (3.5-inches total length past the grips), and a 7.25-inch overall length. The grips (at most) are half an inch thick. The knife weighs 5.3 ounces, and the sheath adds less than two ounces to that. Which means if you regularly carry a spare pistol magazine on your belt, you’re used to carrying something bulkier and heavier than the Raider.
Pay attention to those dimensions above—because it is a fixed-blade, you may think it’s bigger than what it is. This isn’t a giant tactical crew-served pigsticker, it is sized for EDC. In fact, it is the same length (blade/overall when opened) as the folder I’ve been carrying for the previous six months…but infinitely stronger.
Tim Kell is a Marine Corps veteran, and the Raider is named after the USMC Raiders. It is not specifically designed to be a “tactical” knife, but rather a do-it-all EDC knife. While there are versions of this knife with different blade designs, the original and (I think) most functional is the drop-point blade, which you see here.
Before we dive into the details of the blade, let’s look at the grip, as I think that’s just as important. It is just as big as it needs to be and no larger. Because of its design, the curve at the back, no matter how large your hands you should be able to get your entire hand on the grip, for increased comfort and control. And the grip does feel excellent in your hand.
There is a front finger well on the grip that allows you to choke up on the blade without worrying you’re going to cut yourself. The taper at the back of the grip seems to work well, matter no matter the size or shape of your hand.
The most popular grip panel style is the grenade-pattern, which sports deep cutouts in the sides for increased traction. The grip panels are G10, although at first glance you might think (as I did) that they are micarta, as there is a tiny texture machined into them which provides additional grip even when wet. The grip panels are easily removable, and replacement ones are just $20 apiece if you want to change out the color/texture.
The blade itself is 0.156” thick, and it is a full-tang design for the utmost in strength. The knife blade is wide/deep for its length; from sharpened belly edge to the spine where you’ll likely place your thumb it is 1.25-inches. Knives are the original multi-tools, and unlike most folders, you won’t be worried you’ll break this knife if you have to use it to pry. The edge is flat ground.
Many custom knife companies are using high-tech steels in their blades. These add significant cost, but to be honest the difference between steels are lost on 98% of customers—as long as it keeps an edge, and is strong without being brittle, that is all most users want. And so Tim Kell’s choice of steel is interesting, as is his treatment of it.
For his blades Tim Kell uses old-school 1095 high carbon steel. This is the same kind of steel as found in the Marine Corps Ka-Bar. 1095 steel can take a razor edge, and is very durable, able to bend a little without breaking. However, it isn’t “stainless”—but hold on.
Kell wanted to use 1095 because of his personal Marine Corps connection to the Ka-Bar, but then maximize the performance of that old-school blade steel. He does the heat treating himself. He subjects the steel an extremely precise and lengthy heat-treating process, including a salt bath and a triple temper. Then he subjects it to another high-tech treatment method I’ve only heard of being done to precision rifle barrels to increase their longevity and accuracy. When complete this treatment greatly increases the strength and wear life of the blades, so that at the end, the average 1095 steel has been turned into something exceptional—without the accompanying price tag. This treatment brings the 1095 hardness up from the traditional 55 HRC to 57 HRC.
Normally, because it isn’t stainless, you’d want to keep a blade of 1095 steel oiled, and that’s not a bad idea anyway, but the blade of the raider comes with a “Battleworn” nickel boron (NiB) coating. In the firearms world NiB is most often used to coat moving parts (such as AR-15 bolt carrier groups). The coating is both highly corrosion-resistant and lubricious—it feels slick under your fingers. And the Battleworn aspect of it really gives it a great look, like worn gunmetal.
Provided with the Raider is a very low-profile polymer sheath, into which the knife clicks in and out. It comes with a belt clip for horizontal carry, but you can get a clip for vertical carry, and that might be the way to go if you’ve already got a few things cluttering up your belt.
As I write this I’ve been carrying the Raider for a month. Like most pocket knives everywhere, it hasn’t been used for fighting but rather daily cutting tasks, and for that it has excelled. Opening boxes. Prying a stuck .22 LR cartridge case out of a chamber. Even chopping some vegetables. You can choke up on it for detail work. The deep belly works well for slicing.
Apart from a few shiny spots on the grip from it going in and out of the sheath, it looks brand new. This is a knife built to provide a lifetime of use.
T. Kell Knives are warranteed for the life of the knife, which is a heck of a guarantee. The Raider starts at just $200.00 which, if you know anything about custom knives, is shockingly affordable, as are all their products. Check them out.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.
About the Author:
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.