Before we look at the knife in question for this review we have to step back in time a bit and look at where it comes from; i.e. the works of Col. Rex Applegate & Lt.Col. W.E. Fairbairn. Parts of these roots have already been described in the article The KA-BAR and the Fairbairn-Sykes: two fighting children of different philosophies.

Col. Rex Applegate (1914-1998)

applegate

Col. Rex Applegate

Col. Rex Applegate was an American military officer who worked for the OSS, teaching and developing close quarters combat to commandos at Camp B (now Camp David) and at Camp X, in Ontario, Canada. Applegate would later also become friends with actor John Wayne and in addition to teaching Wayne how to shoot, Applegate served as a technical advisor on the set of The Alamo. Applegate at one time also served as body guard to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and was said to be the source and inspiration for several of Ian Fleming's characters in the James Bond novels. After the war he spent some 15 years advising the Mexican government being awarded the title Honorary General for his efforts.

applegate-and-fairbairn

As described already in the previously mentioned article: Being a student (and employer) of famous British Lt.Col. W.E. Fairbairn, and Eric A. Sykes, Col. Rex Applegate continued working on spreading and developing the teachings of Fairbairn and Sykes in his own teaching of OSS operatives at Camp X. It is during this time he writes and publishes his famous knife fighting manual "Kill or get Killed", a book which is reprinted and revised for civilian context with the addition of riot control several times throughout his life.

Quite naturally his and the American close collaboration with Fairbairn also led to the OSS's own version of the Fairbairn-Sykes combat knife, the OSS Stiletto, a knife also used in Applegate's manual.

However, Applegate sought to improve on the dagger design developed by Fairbairn, since the American version of it, the US Marine Stiletto, had design and production flaws that made it weak and brittle. Thus, and in an often claimed but disputed collaboration with Fairbairn he set out to design a knife that was more durable and would eventually end up with a design more similar to the Shanghai knives that had originally inspired Fairbairn & Sykes in their design of their famous British dagger. It would take him several decades to reach this design though, presenting it properly only in the late 80's.

Like the Shanghai and Fairbairn & Sykes daggers, the A&F fighting knife was a double-edged dagger, but while the handle and blade profile was more similar to the former, it would end up with an innovative handle design that had adjustable lead weights which could be used to change the balance of the knife.

Applegate decided to contact famous knife maker Bo Randall to present his design and a handful of prototypes based on his Model 2 dagger was prepared and sent to soldiers for testing in the field. However, response wasn't very positive and Bo Randall declined to continue beyond these prototypes.

A Shanghai knife

A rare believed genuine Shanghai Knife, designed to be carried hanging upside-down and used by the Shanghai Municipal Police.
Photo courtesy of Gota Vapen

Various design prototypes were made all through the 70s and 80s and in the late 80s T.J Yancey introduced his version which received a lot of praise as a truly innovative fighting knife, with articles in Soldier of Fortune, FirePower, American Rifleman and Knife World Magazine.

AFK-Prototype-1977-78

Prototypes by Castle Knife Company from 1977-78

However, the price was deemed too high by customers and by 1984 Applegate realized that this would not be the hit he was hoping for. He now turned to Bill Harsey, a local machinist that over the years have become a legendary knife maker, and also contacted Al Mar, hoping to be able to offer a quality fighting knife at lower cost with these two in collaboration. However, various decisions made in order to lower cost also affected quality negatively with rather fragile plastic handles and shortened tang leading to breakages. With Al-Mar's death in 1992, and the standstill of Al Mar Knives, the A&F fighting knife almost completely seized to be produced for a few years. Applegate however, continued to work on finding ways of having his knife produced, eventually working together with several manufacturers.

In 1994 Col. Applegate was inducted into the Cutlery Hall of Fame by Blade Magazine, in recognition of the impact his designs and teachings have had on the cutlery industry.

In 1997, Boker USA began its licensed production of the standard A&F fighting knife. It rivals almost all of the best of what was produced before them, and the quality is quite high adhering closely to what Applegate hoped for. Adding to the standard version of the A&F fighting knife, Böker has also added special & anniversary editions of the knife, as well as their Applegate mini-Smatchet and their interpretation of the OSS Stiletto (the V-42 Combat Knife). Former Applegate associate knifesmith Bill Harsey has also collaborated with Böker with a modified A&F Fighting Knife called the Böker A-F 5.5, which according to Böker is in current use by several elite units around the world.

The year after, on July 14 1998 in San Diego, USA, Col. Rex Applegate died at the age of 84. Shortly before he had held a scolding speech before US police firearms trainers, harshly criticizing the 15% hit rate of police shooting incidents and blaming the use of the "competition derived" Weaver two-hand grip which he saw as near useless in actual firefights, instead pushing for a return to instinctive shooting with single-hand grip.

He finishes the speech by saying

... wake up and smell the roses, before more dirt covers police caskets. To some of you these statements may come as a rude shock, and I do not expect to be overwhelmed with applause at the end of this session. However, I ask you to grant me the courtesy of your attention.

... Thus staying true to his beliefs and opinions to the very end, with little regard for popular views and established "truths".

Now, let's turn to the manufacturer and the designer behind this particular version of the Applegate dagger.

Böker Cutlery

boker-knivesThe Böker family traces its tool making roots all the way back to 17th century Remscheid, Germany. The factory is known to have been fronted by a huge chestnut tree (as seen in the image on the right), and a chestnut tree is therefore also the symbol which company has been using for a logo for the last 150 years, in various forms, as seen below.

tree

In 1829, due to political unrest and a growing demand, Hermann and Robert Böker decided to start producing sabres and already in 1830 they had a weekly production of 2000 sabres with 64 smiths and 47 grinders in addition to all labourers.

boker-knife-manufactory

The Solingen factory

Following an ambition to expand, Hermann Böker emigrated to New York, while the younger Robert established his company in Canada, and in 1865 also in Mexico, under the name of Casa Boker, a company which is still a market leader to this day.

Meanwhile, Heinrich Böker crossed the river Wupper, moving to Solingen where the cutlery & tool industry was taking off, thus forming Heinrich Böker & Co together with Hermann Heuser in 1869 and this is also the official year of the founding of Heinr. Böker Baumwerk GmbH. Of course, Solingen was already in medieval times associated with bladesmithing but the city experienced a boom with industrialization and it is still called the City of Blades to this day, similarly to Sheffield in England, Maniago in Italy and Mora in Sweden.

The US market quickly became the most important for Böker and already in the early 1900s Böker was producing pocket knives, scissors and razors in in Solingen, shipping them to America. Eventually the demand grew so big that the New York company started producing their own pocket knives, thus offering a second "brand" of Böker knives in America; Boker USA.
Naturally with WWII contact with the USA suffered and as a result of the war the Solingen factory was completely destroyed. With peace the factory and business were both eventually revived and soon orders were coming in at an even higher rate than before.

In the 60's Boker USA was sold to well-known scissor manufacturer Wiss & Sons. In the early 70s Wiss & Sons was bought by Cooper Industries, which led to a proper restoration of the brand. Cooper Ind. however, stopped making knives in 1983 and Boker USA bought back their brand, shutting down the New York Factory and instead establishing a factory in Denver, Colorado in 1986. Together with the Solingen factory it today mainly produces folding and outdoor knives, but Böker also offers kitchen cutlery and razors. The company is currently divided into four branches:

  • Böker Solingen offers handmade knives from Solingen, including collector's items.
  • Böker Arbolito offers handmade knives from Buenos Aires.
  • Böker Plus offers knives for professional users, designed by Böker Solingen, but manufactured overseas.
  • Magnum by Böker offers knives designed by Böker Solingen, but manufactured overseas.

Jürgen Schanz - messerschmied

juergen-schanz

Knifemaker Jürgen Schanz

The Knife maker behind the design of the Böker Plus Schanz dagger, Jürgen Schanz comes from Stutensee, near Karlsruhe. He finished his journeyman test as a cutler apprentice by making a Malaysian Kris in 1991 at the age of 21. With this he won a price for "Best final examination for journeymen in Germany" and already three years later he was a master cutler.

He is today one of only 70 worldwide members of the German Knifemakers Guild and has a reputation worldwide as an excellent bladesmith, in fact so far reaching that he even received a letter and a flight ticket from the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, asking him to come to London to discuss the making of knives and swords as gifts of the state of Bahrain. Four months later he met the king in Bahrain and went home with more than 20 orders.

Hr. Schanz creates more than 200 knives and a handful of swords every year, some of them sold for as high as 50,000€. He still works on his own without apprentices.

***

With this we now turn to the actual knife for review.

The Böker Plus Schanz Dagger Integral

boeker-plus-schanz-dagger-integral

Product Data

Manufacturer: Böker
Designer: Jürgen Schanz
Manufactured in: Taiwan
Overall length: 29,5 cm / 11 5/8"
Blade length: 17,5 cm / 7"
Blade thickness: 1/4"
Weight: 397 g / 14 oz
Blade material: 440C
Hardening: HRC 58
Tang: Full
Handle material: Micarta
Sheath: Leather
Warranty: Limited Lifetime guarantee on material and workmanship.
MSRP Price: 174,95€

Shanz's take on this dagger is reminiscent of the UK Special Forces Knife, designed for the British Elite Special Forces, but with a broader and smoother grip and a blade designed so one can "thumb" the flat of the blade comfortably in front of the guard, a feature which the UK-SFK lacks, instead being designed for thumbing the broad fingerguard.

Blade & Tang

The dagger is drop-forged out of one massive piece of 440C stainless steel, a procedure which is said to guarantee "a maximum in stability". The double-edged 7" blade is quite strong and has a very keen edge and point with an integral finger guard that is smoothly shaped for comfortable use. All of the steel is also coated with grey titanium nitrite to eliminate glares and prevent corrosion. Basically it is one solid and strong, sharp and pointy piece of steel.

The blade is 2.5cm longer than that of the standard Böker A/F Combat II, and in total the knife weighs about 150gr more, making it quite hefty. It has a double-bevel grind, sharpened all the way up unto the "thumbing" area, so one can also comfortably put the index finger over the fingerguard when carving. This particular area is about 5mm thick, thus making the knife stronger and less prone to breaking.

The "full" tang is 6mm wide and the fingerguard is one piece, integrated with the blade & tang, meaning the knife should be damn near unbreakable in the tang. The blade is perfectly symmetrical without any discernable flaws at all, even after close examination of the ridge and edge.

The sharpening is even and good and it can easily slice paper and even shave the hairs off of your arm, straight out of the box.

Grip & Hilt

The grip is sculpted out of smooth green canvas Micarta and provides a good grip even when dirty or wet. Furthermore, since Micarta doesn't grow or shrink with temperature or humidity and since it is extremely durable and resistant to wear, it should hold up well even in harsh conditions.

Unlike the original A/F fighting knife and the Böker Standard A/F fighting knife, the Böker Schanz dagger does not come with removable handle sides or adjustable steel weights in the handle. Instead the handle is permanently epoxied and peened to the sides of the tang.

The handle has a waist and flares towards the back and is gently square in shape. It is symmetrical and thus equally comfortable in hammer or icepick grip. The fingerguard is curved almost equally to the front and back as well as to the sides, meaning it is also quite comfortable to grip over, push or pull against using various grips.

The flared back end of the knife carries the only manufacture flaw I could find and it is a very small one indeed. Despite all other parts of the knife being perfectly symmetrical the end of the tang is actually slightly assymetrical by a couple of millimetres and consequently the micarta handles haves also been shaped to follow that, thus giving them an ever so slight difference in shape. This is a very minor flaw however that requires very close examination to even see and it has no effect on the handling or feeling of the knife.

Sheath / Scabbard

bo02bo180series-1-of-4-300x283The black leather sheath is very simple but seems to be of reasonable quality even if the leather is at the thinner end of the scale. The stitching is also solid and the sheath is quite snug, holding the knife in place quite well even without it properly secured.

The design is again quite simplistic with a single belt loop and no other loops, holes or straps, just having a simple buttoned flap to secure the dagger with. This flap also unbuttons very easily thus risking opening when carrying. The design doesn't really work well for field use as it isn't attachable to anything but a belt in standard hanging position. It should also be noted that the sheath has received a fair amount of criticism from customers in their reviews, being the only aspect of the package that is commonly criticized.

There is little more to say about it, but I will return to it in the final comments.

Handling & Use

The handling is interesting as despite its considerable weight, almost twice as heavy as their standard A/F dagger, and with almost all of the weight put into the handle, it feels quite light in blade, just as Applegate (and Fairbairn) originally intended. The balance point is just behind the finger guard, closely mimicking the original.

It can be comfortably gripped both with the thumb against the blade, similarly to the F/S 1st pattern dagger and the V-42 Stiletto, and with the thumb held at the back of the grip, pressing against the curved fingerguard.

This knife really only has one real use: fighting. Although it can be used for cutting and carving, it is clearly best at stabbing and slicing. Being a dagger it is of little good for other uses in the field. It is thus a quick and agile dagger that still packs quite a punch, making it easy to both stab and slice with. Think Muhammed Ali rather than Mike Tyson. Strong, agile and elegant.

Maintenance & Durability

The steel used is American stainless 440C hardened to HRC 58. This type of steel is commonly underestimated but of high quality and is still one of the most common for knives, being both wear and very corrosion resistant, of course also dependant on the hardening. The same type of steel is also used in many of Böker's other knives, including the Applegate/Fairbairn variants. As the steel is quite hard, it keeps its edge well, but is still reasonably easy to sharpen with a diamond sharpener. As always, it is a question of balancing good edge retention vs ease of sharpening and also a matter of personal preference.

Final comment

For some this knife will feel a bit too heavy, while for others, like me, the noticable weight and heftiness is a good thing that attracts us to the knife. It feels about as solid as a crow bar, as agile as a stiletto and as sharp as a razor. It is not a knife you will forget holding, but may well forget when moving around, as contradictory as that may sound.

Personally, I would have liked to see a more elaborate sheath offered as an alternative with it. A MOLLE-compatible sheath would seem like a good idea for a knife intended for combat. As it is, the included sheath can only be worn hanging from a belt with no alternative fastenings to packs nor for horisontal or up-side-down fastening. This is a bit surprising as by comparison the Böker A/F Combat II comes with a Kydex sheath that offers good alternatives for carrying and the Böker A/F 5.5 comes with a tactical sheath made by Spec-Ops Brand. The latter ought to fit the Schanz dagger and would be my prefered choice, making it a real killer.

The explanation for the simple sheath is of course a concern for price. Adding a more elaborate sheath would add some 25-30€ to the price and that might break it for some customers. However, I think it would add quite considerably to its attraction value and usability, at a fairly low increase in price compared to the overall price.

Considering the very high quality of the knife itself, and considering that it can be found for very good prices, it really is a bargain if you are in the market for a distinct and reliable combat knife. Spend a few bucks more on a Spec-Ops Brands sheath or a SOG P37 sheath and you are all set with an amazing dagger meant for and quite capable of serious business in a way that seems well in line with the hopes and intentions of Col. Applegate.

Roger Norling
Roger Norling is an instructor on Joachim Meÿer's Halben Stangen (Quarterstaff) with the Gothenburg Free Fencer's Guild (GFFG).

Starting with the Gothenburg Historical Fencing School in 2008, he is since 2015 a member of the GFFG. His main focus in his research is the "Kunst des Fechtens" and primarily the longsword, dussack and polearms. He has been focusing on the works of Joachim Meÿer since 2009. In this he has enjoyed collaborating with the Meyer Frei Fechter Guild and in May 2013 he became a Fechter of the MFFG.

Currently, he is writing on several books which will explore the teachings of Joachim Meyer, as well as on pedagogics for teaching martial arts.

He is the creator behind the three sister sites HROARR.com, Water on a Rock, an online journal on philosophical ponderings, and Northernbush.com and shares his experiences and knowledge in articles on both sites.

He regularly lectures on topics related to HEMA, and teaches workshops on Meÿer quarterstaff, dusack and longsword at various HEMA events around the world. For more about this, read his instructor's profile.