What should be the proper definition of "Bowie" ?

Discussion in 'Custom & Handmade Knives' started by shqxk, Mar 30, 2020.

  1. shqxk


    Mar 26, 2012
    I always curious what make a knife "Bowie" ? Does it really need to be clip point? can a drop point or harpoon or persian style qualified as Bowie knife? Does a clip point kitchen knife count as bowie?
    HSC /// and Hengelo_77 like this.
  2. Man with no name

    Man with no name

    Jun 24, 2015
    By the middle of the twentieth century, it was associated with a more specific design: a large sheath knife with a "concave clip point, sharp false edge cut from both sides, and a cross-guard to protect the user's hands"
  3. AVigil

    AVigil Adam Vigil knifemaker working the grind Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Platinum Member

    Feb 17, 2009
    The original Bowie knife was like a large Butchers knife with no clip and no guard.
    Bigfattyt and Dawkind like this.
  4. i4Marc


    Oct 19, 2011
    Here we go.........:cool:
  5. Kevin Jones

    Kevin Jones

    Oct 28, 2006
    An early frontiersman once described the Bowie Knife as:
    "A Bowie has to be sharp enough to use as a razor, heavy enough to use as a hatchet, long enough to use as a sword and broad enough to use as a paddle". ;)
  6. brownshoe

    brownshoe I support this site with my MIND

    Sep 6, 2002
    I always curious what make a knife "Bowie" ? Big fixed blade unless it's a vest pocket bowie :)

    Does it really need to be clip point? No

    can a drop point or harpoon or persian style qualified as Bowie knife? Yes. But in general Persian styled blades are just that.

    Does a clip point kitchen knife count as bowie? No, it's a kitchen knife, that's why it's called a kitchen knife :)
  7. SharpByCoop

    SharpByCoop Enjoying the discussions Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 8, 2001
    More importantly: How do you pronounce "Bowie"?

    Mark Zalesky says down south they call it "boowie". Here in the Northeast I call it "bOwie". He would cringe. ;)

    Best definition? 'It depends.'
  8. Kevin Jones

    Kevin Jones

    Oct 28, 2006
    Vest "pocket" Bowies as they are fairly often called is a misnomer as even the shortest of Bowies are too long to fit in any kind of a vest pocket.
    "Vest Bowies" were typically shorter bowies that gentleman (particularly gentleman gamblers) would tuck down the front of their trouser waistband where their "vest" flap
    would conceal the bowie's handle.
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  9. Mecha

    Mecha Titanium Bladesmith Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 27, 2013
    The people from where the knife originates call it a BOO-wee. Note the huge concentration of that pronunciation around Washington, DC.

    This map is also correlates with the notion that people from South Florida are not Southerners, to which some South Floridians take offense.

    SharpByCoop likes this.
  10. not2sharp

    not2sharp Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 1999
    A Bowie knife is any large fixed bladed outdoors knife.
    eric brinkerhoff likes this.
  11. Jason Fry

    Jason Fry KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 5, 2008
    Definitely Boo-ee. Bow-ee, not so much.

    If David Bowie owned it, it would be Bow-ee's Boo-ee.

    This is a can of worms, and there's no "agreed upon" standard definition. Look up the "Best Bowie" threads in Custom and Handmade forum.
    Man with no name likes this.
  12. john april

    john april KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 27, 2006
    there are several bowie knives in museum's. each claims to be the original one. no one really knows. what i do know is bill bagwell's bowie knife book is really good and if you like big knives you should read it.
  13. Kevin Jones

    Kevin Jones

    Oct 28, 2006
    AG Russell defined the Bowie as below and if that was good enough for AG, it's good enough for me.

    A large knife with a blade that might range from 6 to 14 inches; the original had a blade that was probably 9 inches long with a sturdy guard projecting from both the top and bottom of the knife between blade and handle. Invented by Rezin Bowie and made famous by his brother James, who died at the Alamo.
  14. not2sharp

    not2sharp Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 1999
    Late 19th century knives.jpg

    The original knife used by Bowie at the sandbar fight, probably looked more like the bottom knife shown above. It has a tapered blade and a false edge along the clip. This one is marked Smith Biggs & Co. of a Kansas and probably dates to the late 19th century. (the top knife is a well worn lamb splitter made by Village Blacksmith ~1906 to pre-WWI).

  15. black mamba

    black mamba Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 21, 2009
    One thing that I would take issue with in AG's description is the guard. All the earliest examples I've seen had no guard.

    RogerP, Man with no name and 3fifty7 like this.
  16. Spalted

    Spalted My name is Britt Askew I like making knives

    Dec 9, 2010
    It was made from a piece of steel that fell from the sky and by a man that couldnt see good,just like me. I saw the movie.
  17. Kevin Jones

    Kevin Jones

    Oct 28, 2006
    I agree in that practically all very early "bowie knives" looked more like kitchen knives than anything else. But think that most of us agree that there are definite advantages to a bowie knife having a guard.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2020
    Man with no name likes this.
  18. deadzonepatrol


    Apr 11, 2019
    The first "bowie", according to Rezin Bowie, was a knife that he had made by blacksmith Jesse Cliffe from an old file. Rezin's description of that knife was printed numerous times in old newspapers from a letter that he sent. It had a 9 1/4 inch blade and had a straight back.

    Other than that, pretty much anything and everything can be called a bowie knife, as the way people used the term developed over the years and decades. I think most people would reserve the term to a knife that is (1) large, at least a 9 inch blade; (2) has a full guard; and (3) has a clip point.

    In my book, a bowie knife is any large knife that is made for fighting or self defense as one of its primary duties, even if it doesn't have a guard or a clip point. The modern bowie has developed without a guard or clip point. Check out the new Jack Hammer 10 by Busse Combat. That is certainly a bowie knife, in my opinion. TOPS has many large knives without guards or clip points that are also bowies.

    To answer the OP's questions:
    Clip point necessary? No.
    Drop point, harpoon, persian style? Yes, certainly can be. It's in the eye of the beholder.
    Clip point kitchen knife? If the maker went to the trouble of making a clip point (a classic bowie hallmark) on a kitchen knife, I'd say that's definitely a bowie, especially if it's at least a 9 inch blade.
  19. Ebbtide


    Aug 20, 1999
    Clip point: yes, cuz Rezin said so.
    Guard: either
    Drop point: no, maybe later in California, see below
    Harpoon: definitely no, that's new in the last 10 years and an internet thing
    Persian: no, its a Persian
    Kitchen knife: no
    Butcher knife: yes. One of the eye witnesses at the duel described the knife as a "large butcher knife" Post 14 has a large butcher knife on the bottom, much like today's cimiter, which is very different from a chef's / kitchen knife.

    As to styles and sizes.... when? Right after the brawl at the sandbar? Right after the Alamo? Civil War? California Gold Rush era?
    Cowboy westward expansion era?
    Where? The west? The east? The south? England?

    It's an onion with many layers.
    Maybe it's like chili, it's not an exact recipe, but a state of mind.
    Kevin Jones likes this.
  20. Lorien

    Lorien KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 5, 2005
    the only time this question matters in any way at all to me, is during the annual Best Bowies thread, and I use the above as my north star for casting a vote

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