This review is actually long overdue. If I remember correctly, I received my khukuri some time in September 2013; so it's been well over a year at the time of this writing, closer to 18 months. Even so, I'll call it a year in review for the sake of consistency.
For myself, when it comes to large knives, I'm a khukuri man. That's about as simply as I can put it. There are plenty of big knives out there: the ESEE Junglas, the Buck Hoodlum, the Cold Steel Trailmaster, and the KABAR Becker BK9 all come to mind. And there are a number of modernized, "tacticool" production khukuris out on the market, like the Ontario Kukri Machete, the KABAR Combat Kukri, and Cold Steel's line of various khukuris, ranging from machetes to all-out combat knives. But in my humble opinion, nothing can quite top a hand forged, semi-traditional khukuri.
(I say semi-traditional here only because of the tang, which in this case is a full exposed, double riveted tang design known as panawal; khukuris traditionally do not have exposed or riveted tangs, but instead are pinned at the end with a buttcap after the tang has been heated and fitted into the handle.)
There's so much a good khukuri is capable of in the woods - whether you are in a survival situation or more of a bushcrafting environment, the khukuri can pretty much do it all. There are numerous advantages to carrying a khukuri as part of your loadout, and if you already carry a large knife (by which I mean a knife of maybe 8 inches or more in length), like a Junglas or BK9, then you probably already have an idea of what some of these advantages are. However, there are also advantages that are more specific to the khukuri rather than to large knives in general. I'll cover a few of them briefly.
1. Versatility - a reliable one tool option
Form follows function. A khukuri is not an axe or hatchet, but nor is it simply a knife. As far as chopping knives go, the khukuri likely outshines many or most of them, if not all of them, ceteris paribus. But the khukuri, if properly sharpened and maintained, is capable of not only chopping but also slicing, carving, splitting, and many other tasks. This is due to the unique shape of the khukuri. The lower portion of the edge, below the inward curve of the belly, is usually much sharper (or at least can be more finely sharpened and more easily kept sharp) than the rest of the knife and can be used for things like notching and carving feather sticks, while the upper portion of the edge can be used to split and chop. Every time I pick up my khukuri I'm surprised by what it can do. When carving my longbow, I used my khukuri in lieu of a drawknife; I've felled small trees with it, split thick logs, batoned through knotted oak, and used it to shave and debark limbs. However, because the khukuri is a tool of such incredible versatility, it is not clearly superior to a more function-specific tool in any category. Can you chop and split with a khukuri? Absolutely, but maybe not as quickly or efficiently as you could with an axe. Can you carve with a khukuri? Absolutely, but not as finely as you could with, say, a Mora. The khukuri is the Jack of all trades that is a master of none - but this makes it an incredibly reliable one tool option.
2. Blade shape - capable of chopping, carving, and combat
The unique blade shape of the khukuri is its primary advantage when it comes to chopping, splitting, and batoning tasks, and it is what allows the khukuri to be so versatile. The famous forward curve of the blade was designed and refined over countless generations to be used in the jungles and forests of Nepal and northern India, as both a general utility knife used for agricultural and domestic tasks as well as a combat knife - and it still serves both of these functions today. The physics of this forward curve allow the user to perform more powerful, stable strikes, as he does not have to angle his wrist while striking, allowing for greater rigidity in the arm and wrist upon impact. This makes the khukuri a powerful stabbing and piercing instrument as well. The design is thought to have been based on the Greek kopis or the Macedonian makhaira, which was carried by the troops of Alexander the Great when he invaded northern India in 326 BCE; though the exact origins of this blade shape with all its particularly south Asian characteristics (such as the hoof-shaped notch, or kaudi) are unknown.
3. Aesthetic - Old World style, classical tradition
This may not really count as an advantage to some people, but in my opinion the overall aesthetic of the khukuri makes it stand out among modern knives, which have a tendency toward less attractive tactical designs and materials. The khukuri is an attractive tool as well as a functional one. Just as the aesthetic of a Gransfors Bruk or Wetterlings axe makes it that much more appealing to the woodsman, so too does the natural, traditional appearance of the khukuri increase its appeal. This is merely my opinion, of course, and those who may find the khukuri funny looking or who prefer tactical style gear are entitled to their opinion; but there's something about using a classic hand forged knife in the woods that adds a sense of realism and adventure. It is also important to me that I am supporting true craftsmen and artisans with my business, and KHHI is very transparent about their workforce. Each purchase comes with an official letter proclaiming their factory to be free of child labor, which is excellent, and they recently updated their website to include personal profiles of all of their kamis, or smiths. I'm glad to be supporting the work of people who need and deserve my business.
So that's my proverbial two cents on the topic of khukuris (though I could probably write several more cents' worth). There are many who will share these views, and many who will not - and that's fine. The diversity of styles, techniques, and tools is part of what makes bushcraft interesting.
Now, let's jump into this review. Here are a few basic specs for the KHHI Panawal Dotted (Supreme). Some of this information was borrowed from the Khukuri House Handicraft Industries website and some of it is my own measurements.
Overall length: 38.1cm (~15 in)
Blade length: 25.4cm (~10 in)
Cutting edge: 22.9cm (~9 in)
Weight with sheath: 950g (~2.1 lbs)
Weight without sheath: 675g (~1.5 lbs)
Spine thickness: 10mm (~.4 in) (!!!)
Blade width: 5cm (~2 in)
Blade style: khukuri
Grind style: saber
Tang construction: full exposed
Handle scales: double riveted & epoxied
Handle material: Indian rosewood
Blade material: non-stainless, high carbon spring steel, unknown grade
Rockwell hardness: unknown
Like the Churi, I do not know what kind of steel this khukuri is made from, exactly. I know that the steel KHHI uses in their knives is usually scrap suspension leaf steel from old trucks, but the quality of the steel is high. Their khukuris are differentially heat treated to produce durable, flexible blades with hard edges that are easy to maintain and softer spines to allow for flexibility when striking.
I absolutely love this knife. I find it effective and easy to maintain, beautiful in its construction, and of high quality. Unlike the Churi, which has an asymmetrically ground bevel, I have been unable to find any imperfections or asymmetries in the edge geometry of the Panawal. The knife is comfortable in the hand and does not slip easily, but it requires a firm grip when chopping. With a spine of 10mm, nearly twice the thickness of the already massive ESEE 5, it batons like a beast. I really don't think there's a whole lot I couldn't baton through with this khukuri, and I have absolutely no fear at all that it will snap.
For finer work (yes, the khukuri is capable of fine work!), the top of the handle has nice slopes, much like on a traditional bushcraft knife, and so it is easy to choke up on despite its size. There is no finger choil, but the ricasso (or ghari in Nepali) just beneath the kaudi is dull and cannot cut you, and makes for a comfortable place to put your finger when trying to do more guided and deliberate cutting tasks.
One frustration that I have with this khukuri - and with all khukuris, really - is that they are very difficult to sharpen on a conventional whetstone. The curvature of the edge does not lend itself to that style of sharpening very easily, and it is my preferred style of sharpening. The chakmak which came with the khukuri does a decent job of keeping the edge straight and free of burrs, but it does not sharpen the edge well. To get the edge truly sharp, a pocket diamond stone, diamond rod, V-sharpener, or even a file is necessary; but once a nice fine edge has been applied, it is surprisingly easy to maintain with just the chakmak or some leather.
The khukuri really is a fantastic multi-purpose tool, and the Panawal Dotted from KHHI is a marvelous example of high quality and craftsmanship in such a tool. I strongly encourage those who may be interested in buying from KHHI - whether it's a khukuri or some other type of knife - to go ahead and pull the trigger, because it's very much worth your time and money to own a tool as fine as this.
"Better gear than good sense
a traveler cannot carry."
My name is Alex. I grew up in the Houston area of East Texas, behind the Pine Curtain, running around barefoot in the woods, playing with sticks and rocks, and eating wild blackberries. I currently live and work in the great city of Austin in the Central Texas Hill Country.