From Concept To Combat: Ontario’s SP16 SPAX | Military Issue Knives

The question, “How does an item become a piece of…

The question, “How does an item become a piece of official issue gear?” often comes up in cutlery circles.

There are many paths an item can take getting to “issue” status, but the process is almost always initiated by a specific need. When we think of “issue knives,” bayonets and fighting knives are usually the first to come to mind, but there are also knives designed for survival, rescue and utility use. In fact, the soldiers and marines I talk to on a regular basis are much more comfortable carrying a well-designed utility edge that can be used for a myriad of tasks, rather than a poorly designed bayonet. This brings us to the survival axe featured in this article: the Ontario SP16 SPAX.

ontario2.jpgThe SP16 originally began as one of Ontario’s Spec Plus items—basically a small fire axe with a weight reduction hole in the center of the head. After its introduction in 1996, various fire departments began doing extensive testing on the SP16. During its testing phase, the SPAX was used to smash glass, deflate tires, chop through cars, rip tile, egress from a burning building, pry rebar, cut wood, break locks, go through doors and open manhole covers. The tool also saw use during cleanup at Ground Zero and more recently was used for search and rescue operations shortly after Hurricane Katrina. It also gained “fame” from being carried on HMX (Presidential) helicopters as a crash axe.

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  • Ian Forrest

    I have one of these, my father was a tail gunner in the RAF , flying in Lancaster bombers in WW2.
    He brought this back after the war. The rubber handle says tested 20,000 volts patent no. 515467. Blade says CHILLINGTON 1941, 21F/1, then a crown and A. M. for Air Ministry.


    Ian Forrest

  • Denny

    SPAX= Spanner + Ax

    The hole referred to is a derived from a Spanner wrench used on hydrants.

  • CP

    The “weight reduction hole” you speak of is actually for firemen’s use to shut off utilities and use on hydrants.


  • Tim Kaspar


    I would like to purchase a copy of the above referenced September 2007 issuse of Tactical Knives containing the article on the SP16-Spax. I could not seem to get the link for back issues to work from this computer. Please advise. Note: I am a 30 year professional firefighter and have been working with the SP16-Spax Firefighter edition since its inception. The tool has served me well. I have distributed and sold them to numerous firefighters, law enforcement, and military personnel as well as hunters, campers, fishermen, and fourwheelers. I know it has been to Iraq, used in Marine training, the Navy, and Forrestry Firefighting. I think it is still somewhat of an unknown, but it certainly performs when called upon. With this tool and a Leatherman multi-tool, you can pretty much get it done! Thanks.