A Bowie knife today refers to almost any large, wide-bladed knife with a curved and sharpened tip. The fancy presentation blades often carry some reference to Jim Bowie, who was famous as the designer of the original knife. Not only are such knives decorative in nature and appearance today, but they are also an efficient and comprehensive tool for the outdoorsman, hiker, camper or anyone who hunts recreationally or for food.
A number of features help to make this style of knife perhaps the most famous of any type of knife in the history of the United States, at least. The first element is the size of the knife. It typically has a blade that is at least six inches in length and may extend to a foot or more. In fact, at this size, it resembles a short sword more than a knife. The length of the knife is matched by the width of the blade - usually from one and a half inches to two inches in width. The wide blade makes it usable as a small hatchet or machete for the hunter who needs to chop some wood to get a fire going or to clear a spot for a tent or other shelter for the night.
For those who hunt, a Bowie knife's curved tip is ideal for the more delicate work of skinning out an animal while the guard protects the hands. Anglers use the curved tip for cleaning fish and preparing the fillets for a quick dinner over a campfire. Hikers and backpackers appreciate the fact that the Bowie knife is multidimensional in its uses, so that additional tools are unnecessary, thus reducing the weight of the backpack or hiking pack. At the same time, the fact that the knife is not double-sided provides for more safety in carrying and using the knife.
Another positive feature of today's Bowie knives, just as in the originals made during the 1800s, is the quality of the steel used in the blade. These knives typically use a high carbon steel that provides both the ability to not require repeated sharpening in order to maintain the cutting edge and the flexibility to not snap with the stress of everyday use.
While the qualities of the steel are critical in the reputation of the Bowie knives throughout their history, this is one area where modern science has not yet caught up with the secrets of the original makers. Black, the blacksmith who is credited with producing the original knife carried by Bowie and made famous during his lifetime, died before sharing his secrets for the blade strength, and his process has not been duplicated even with modern means.
Today's Bowie knives tend to have more elaborate handles and decorative touches, but the balance and clean lines have not changed much since the originals. High carbon stainless steel blades are joined with composite handles, of sometimes bone, wood or metal in order to create a beautiful and utilitarian product. Handles are even embellished with brass, silver or gold decorative elements.
There are several companies out there who produce both inexpensive and high-end bowie knives for collectors and users alike. Bowie is a name outdoorsmen can count on for quality and usefulness no matter what the need.