In it’s simplest terms, the boot knife is an edged blade that can be fit into the boot, concealing it’s presence from the world around you. But the iconic boot knife is much more than that.
When the boot knife was first popularized the fashion of the times were high boots worn to protect the individual from the dangers of unpaved roads.
Today few men or women wear high boots on an everyday basis and because of this the classic boot knife is more likely to be worn up the sleeve, in a pocket, on a belt, or even on the shoulder.
Boot Knife Basics
Because a boot knife is meant to be concealed, it must be shorter than a traditional fighting blade.
For example, the traditional bowie style fighting knife will be found with a blade length of about seven to nine inches while the extremely effective boot knife boasts a blade length of two and a half to six inches.
Boot knives can be found in a number of different blade shapes. Some of the most desirable shapes include the Vendetta dagger, or cruciform shape. While not the most common, this is a very desirable shape for the collector of boot knifes.
Another common blade shape is the tricorner or triangular boot dagger. This particular boot knife shape takes it’s inspiration from the Renaissance era cannoneer stilleto. Another famous example of this shape is the WWI Model 1917 trench dagger.
The triangular design offers support allowing for a super sharp point perfect for penetrating layers of clothing and even leather. These particular blades are extremely devastating as they produce a wound that is very hard to dress. The primary downside to the tricorner dagger is that it lacks a good working edge.
A great blade shape that offered both penetrating strength and a working edge was the New Yorker boot knife. It offers a flat side as well as a half diamond side. This shape is quite similar to older Persian blades.
One of the most popular boot knife blade shapes is the Arkansas Toothpick, aka the V point. This style offers exceptional penetration ability but does lack tip strength which can lead to breaks. This blade type is easy to sharpen and it is very popular due to it’s elegant yet strong look.
Finally, one of the most popular traditional blade shapes is the two edged stiletto. These offered a more rounded tip for added strength. Some models have a rounded belly and a cut out near the knife guard.
Some very popular knives in this shape for collectors come with ivory handles. The blades of these vintage knives offer exceptional strength and are some of the best looking boot knives around.
The Cooper Boot Dagger is a traditional blade design that was once popular with law enforcement. These blades were once commonly carried by even the FBI. They were also very popular with hunters as they provided an exceptionally strong and sharp blade perfect for the needs of the avid outdoorsman.
Maybe the most iconic boot knife shape is the clip point blade. These often came in the traditional bowie knife shape meaning they offered both strength and penetrating ability. These were found both flat ground and hollow ground on one or both sides.
While you can find boot knives in any handle shape imaginable, the most common is straight in line with the blade (the perpendicular boot knife handle is traditionally classified in it’s own category).
Of these handle shapes, the most common you will encounter are the commando, coffin, and cylinder handle.
Commando handles have a bulge at the guard while the coffin shape has a traditional pine box shape that was first introduced back in the 19th century. And the cylinder shape offers a barrel or a flattened tube like handle.
Handles come in a great variety of materials. When looking throughout the history of boot knives you can find examples utilizing everything from cast brass, aluminum, steel, ebony, ivory, stag, wood, micarta, bone, plastic and other synthetics.
Old clip point boot knifes are often found in hunting style handles made of micarta, bone, or stag. These are very popular with collectors.
The primary way boot knife sheaths are classified is the manner in which they are attached. Traditional sheaths were sewn into the boot of the owner. Historically, a sewn in sheath was not ideal as it left stitch marks that could give away that you were carrying. Because of this, wool lined sheaths were velcroed to the inside of the boot to eliminate the appearance of stitching.
Modern clips and and harnesses are now offered for concealing the boot knife under clothing. But the most common placement for a boot knife today is on a sheath attached directly to the belt.
The classic boot knife was designed as the last line of defense and was intended as a fighting blade meant to save your life. They were needed when you were attacked without a gun or larger fighting blade.
They were designed to be comfortably worn yet still concealed so that attackers would not be tipped off that you were well armed and prepared to defend yourself.
Boot knives have a long and storied history. From early colonial times to WWII and beyond these knives have saved the lives of countless men who would otherwise have been completely defenseless to their attackers.