Down & Dirty ZT Mudd Knife | Tactical Knife Review

Grant and Gavin Hawk created a ‘true grit’ tactical knife that shines under the most extreme conditions!

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Back in the late 1980’s a well-known cutlery company introduced a large “tactical folder” they stated had been designed with the assistance of the Army’s SERE (Survival-Evasion-Resistance-Escape) school. Supposedly, this knife was going to be issued to instructors at the school. While the massive folder was extremely well made, I had some serious questions as to why it would actually be superior to the standard issue “pilot survival” sheath knife for military use.

im_a0007.gifFor starters, the military had purchased thousands of the older model at a price of under $10 each. The new folder was priced at more than $200. Granted, cost shouldn’t be the first consideration when picking survival gear, but I questioned whether the new model offers that much of an increase in performance for the price. Obviously, the fixed blade didn’t require opening and was generally stronger than any folder design. It also weighed less than the oversized SERE folder, a major consideration when putting together a survival kit. My last point was that all lockback folders are very vulnerable to even small amounts of sand, dirt, sawdust, and plant residue in their hinges. A lockback that doesn’t lock when you open it can be a life-threatening hazard in itself.

To prove my point, I drove to a local Pacific beach and buried the folder in the wet, salty sand. Not too surprisingly, just a few grains of beach sand were all it took to prevent the knife’s blade from locking in place. Without access to plenty of fresh water, it would be hard to even clean the wet sand out of the knife in the field. The sea salt didn’t do the locking bar and blade any good either as “stain-less” steel means just that. My military experience with tactical out-of-the-surf, over-the-beach landings is fairly limited, but I’ve done enough to know there is a very good chance everything you are carrying will end up coated with wet sand. 

Grant and Gavin Hawk
Which brings us to Kershaw’s new design project with the father and son team of Grant and Gavin Hawk. Both members of this family are well known in cutlery circles for being willing to think outside the box. In fact, they very seldom do anything that even comes close to being “conventional.” A few years ago they started working with Kershaw Knives on production versions of some of their more interesting design projects. The most recent is a folder called the 0500 “Mudd Knife” for Kershaw’s elite Zero Tolerance line. 

What makes the Mudd Knife unique is that both the pivot and the lock are protected by polyurethane seals designed to keep out mud, sand, fine dust, and moisture. The seals are also resistant to petroleum products and are built to withstand a wide range of temperatures. To increase all-round strength, the blade turns on an oversized 5/16-inch pivot shaft. The 3-5/8-inch long blade is ground from 154CM stainless and is coated with tungsten DLC for added corrosion resistance. The handle frame is 7075 aluminum with black G-10 scales. As can be expected from this design team, the blade is secured open by means of a “Hawk Lock” that functions on a sliding button on the side of the handle. Oversize ambidextrous disks at the base of the blade provide easy one-hand opening even with gloves on and a large steel carry clip allows the user to position the folder wherever best suits his needs. The suggested retail price is $180. 

The blade pattern of this knife is relatively unique. For lack of a better description, I would call it a “double clip-point.” The spine forms a straight angle, starting a short distance from the one-hand opening pegs, that slants toward the point. At a spot about 1 inch from the end of the blade, the spine drops to a second, steeper angle. This makes for a very strong point that is still acute enough to be useful for piercing chores. 

Think Field EDC
While this isn’t an overly heavy knife (4.9-ounces), its 3/4-inch thick handle frame makes it feel fairly massive in the hand. One thing is for sure, this isn’t an urban, white collar EDC kind of pocket knife. Think uniforms, outdoors jobs, survival, backcountry hunting, and construction sites. I’ve been carrying the evaluation knife for several months now around the homestead, on various day hikes, and a couple of camping trips. It has also been in my pocket while I was felling alder for our winter firewood supply. Running a chainsaw almost always fills my clothing with wood chips and sawdust, so that seemed like a particularly realistic field test of the seals. 

The Wet Sand Test
Not having had the sawdust in my pockets to create any major problems with the mechanism, I decided it was time for some more serious testing. Going down to the small river that forms our west property line, I dropped the knife in shallow water. Once I had it well soaked, I dug a 6-inch hole in the bank sand, buried the knife, and then dug it back up again. The wet sand stuck to every surface of the Zero Tolerance folder including the tang around the pivot pin and in the locking mechanism. Frankly, I had my doubts whether the Mudd Knife was going to do any better than conventional designs with that gritty sand on it. Much to my surprise, even though I had made no effort to shake off the sand, the knife opened and locked in position with complete reliability. Just to make sure this wasn’t just luck I buried the knife several more times in the sand. The result was the same every time. Grant and Gavin Hawk’s new seals really work!

Reliable 154CM Blade
Despite all the “flavor of the week” steels popular with the web set, 154CM is still one of the better stainless alloys available for cutlery and it is American made. In fact, all of the Kershaw Zero Tolerance knives are 100 percent American made. I found the test knife held an edge right up there with the best of them. The basic edge geometry of the blade seemed to be of the steeper angle favored for combat/survival knives that are expected to stand up to hard use. Because of this, even with the blade honed shaving sharp, manila rope slicing wasn’t a practical test for the folder. On the other hand, I never had the knife fail to perform on anything I tried to cut in the field.

The only real problem I had with the Mudd Knife is pretty much just a southpaw thing. Carried in a left front pocket, the oversize thumb studs of the knife occasionally catch as you draw the knife, flipping the blade open. Suddenly having an open knife in your hand can be kind of surprising if you aren’t expecting it. Of course, as all us left-handers are constantly reminded, right-hand people constitute the vast majority of the population. 

If you are still riding the fence on buying a Mudd Knife, let me give you one more reason. Kershaw donates a portion of the sale of every Zero Tolerance knife to Paralyzed Veterans of America. This organization advocates veteran’s healthcare with a special emphasis on spinal injuries.

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