Rambo Returns | Rambo Knives Review

The hand-forged knife Rambo IV that John wields in his final blockbuster ain’t pretty, but it’s deadly as hell!


While many cutlery writers have taken great pains to ridicule the entire series of “Rambo” movie knives, I actually tend to like the basic concepts behind them. For starters, how many in that group actually carried and used an original Jimmy Lile custom “First Blood?” The maker loaned me a sample of the first model Rambo almost two decades ago and I did my best at the time to realistically field test it. It was obvious Lile used the Vietnam period Randall Model 18 as his inspiration. Despite all the bad press hollow-handle survival knives have received, I’ve never heard anyone say that a Randall failed them in a tight situation, nor have I heard of a Lile not giving good value.

rambo2.gifMilitary Survival Knife
If you start with the premise that military survival knives are tools designed to do many tasks adequately rather than one well, either of the first two Lile Rambos was a very good design for those that needed that in a blade. I’ve frequently heard people claim that the Rambo knives were too heavy to carry, but I never found the Lile custom particularly cumbersome for its size. Not everyone actually requires this type of knife, but for those that do, the original Liles are an excellent choice.

Bigger is Better in Hollywood
One of the basic problems facing the Rambo movie directors was making sure “the knife” showed up well in the scenes it was critical to. As some have probably noticed, John Rambo’s blade grew ever larger in each successive film. By the time Rambo III was released, the knife had taken on the proportions of a short sword. Of course, in that film John Rambo was spending more time fighting Russian troops in Afghanistan (that does seem a bit ironic now, doesn’t it?) than surviving in the wilderness. Make fun of it if you like, but if I had to go “H2H” with a squad of Russian Spetsnaz troops, the Hibben III version of the Rambo knife is just the blade I would want to have in my hand. 

So who would have believed 20 years later we would be watching yet another movie in the series? The new international bad guys for John to wreak havoc on are the barbaric troops of the Myanmar (Burma) dictatorship right off the cover of last week’s newspaper. While as a civilian, I had a limited need for past Rambo knife models, the latest chopper looked like it might actually be useful around my tree farm. Basically, this one is kind of a generic Southeast Asian parang/golok machete. In the movie, John personally hand-forges the knife before going on “the mission.” In real life, custom knifemaker Gil Hibben created a series of prototypes for the movie, with what was probably the roughest looking one picked for actual use. 

While a good case can probably be made for the Chinese made replicas of the first three Rambo knives being better collector pieces than users, I think the Rambo IV knife is a different story. Basically, the new knife accurately follows the story line of the movie, as in a 11-3/4-inch x ¼-inch thick slab of plain carbon steel that looks like it might have been forged in a backwoods blacksmith shop. Again copying the movie, the handle is cord wrapped with a layer of black tape over the surface. Though that may sound pretty basic, it is actually very comfortable. The knife tips the scales at a fairly substantial 30 ounces. Each knife comes with a heavy leather scabbard. The suggested retail of the knife is around $150. 

While not dull, the factory edge on the Rambo IV knife is ground more like an axe than a machete. My first chore for the knife was to clear the edges of an old roadbed through our timber so that I could drive a tractor and Brush Hog down it. I quickly found the knife was better suited to chopping tree limbs than for slashing through soft vines. Alder, maple and hazel limbs were easy; blackberry vines and salmonberry canes were more of a challenge but not impossible. 

Thinking about that axe grind gave me another idea. My favorite outdoor cooking accessory is an old heavy-duty Char-Broil CB940 barbeque that I burn our homegrown hardwood in. Part of the fun with this cooker is splitting small chunks of wood and feeding the fire at just the right rate for whatever I’m barbequing. The Rambo IV knife proved ideal for splitting rounds into cooking wood for the CB940 and there is a lot more room for error in your aim when compared to using a hatchet. 

Subsistence Gardening
Being a “semi-organic” gardener (I compost and grow green manure crops as much as possible but I still use pesticides when there is a plague of insects and commercial fertilizers when I feel a particular crop requires it to produce well), I find many uses for a large chopper around our truck patch. This year I planted a very large sweet corn plot. To make sure the stalks are well composted by next spring, I have been chopping them up into small pieces as each ear is picked. The same goes for any oversize zucchinis. With a little fall tilling, these will all be broken down to a useful soil addition by next planting season. The Rambo IV jungle chopper is ideal for this type of subsistence farming just as the original designs do in Southeast Asia.

Rambo III Signature and 20th Anniversary Editions
Master Cutlery also sent along both their serial numbered “Rambo III Signature Edition” ($165) and their “Rambo III 20th Anniversary Edition” ($175). As far as I can tell, the only difference between the two knives is the inscription on the blade. According to their website, a standard edition will also soon be offered. One thing is for sure, at 13 inches in blade length and .25-inch thick, this is one huge knife. The 5-inch handle fits the hand reasonably well but, like I said earlier, this is more of a short sword than a utility knife. 

First Blood Editions
The “Rambo First Blood 25th Anniversary Edition” ($150) model that Master Cutlery submitted is a very close copy of the original Jimmy Lile custom I field tested many years ago. In the sheath, the 9 inches long x 1.5 inches wide blade knife tips the scales at 21 ounces. This includes a pre-packed plastic tube of survival items in the hollow handle. I don’t consider that excessive bulk for the overall size of the knife. 

Master Cutlery’s “Rambo First Blood Part II Numbered Signature Edition” ($150) is a replica of the Lile custom used in the second movie. The blade was increased to 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. Naturally the weight increases, too, but at 25 ounces in the sheath, not as much as you might think. Both the First Blood and the First Blood II feature cord wrapped handles that can be removed in an emergency for fishing line, snares or other survival uses. 

I didn’t really try to “field test” the Rambo I through III models as all of the versions sent by Master Cutlery were commemorative collector items rather than working blades. A few years ago Tactical Knives did wring out the Hibben-designed Rambo III replica and it was found to be very useful for its primary purpose, an oversize, close-combat knife. The Rambo IV, on the other hand, was put to much heavier use, as I see it as the most practical of the four knives for civilian carry. One look at my photos will probably tell you that this Rambo IV has had to earn its keep in real-life situations. While all of these knives are great collection fillers for the person that can’t afford examples of the customs, the Rambo IV is my pick for actually transitioning from Hollywood fantasy to working tool.

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    yeah you are right I believe they are the same man, the guy with the mullet he was good to watch he was fast and lethal. you couldn’t see kicks or punches he was that fast. I saw him fight at the old lion hotel and at lenny’s at Glenelg. but what a top bloke glad I didn’t have him knocking or kicking my front door. I wonder what ever happen to him I hear his name around the traps. and people with different stories.no one ever knew his real name. D.DEWER

  • GARY .L

    hey mad dog.. I know of this man with the mullet this is one guy you didn’t want to fuck with. just last week I had a phone call from him saying this is my 1st call and last call.. and told him like you did told him and go and fuck yours self stupid & to stick his friendly pone call up his arse and told him does he know he calling and who my brothers are and told him to back to the fuckwit that gave him the job. now he not getting his money now.. and his watch back. and he laughed at me & said he doesn’t give a fuck who my brothers were and don’t think your untouchable that week the mullet man got into my house. made a sandwich a glass of milk and got a chair and sat next to my bed watch us. while my wife and I was sleeping ate halve a sandwich drunk bit of the milk and left it my side table. he was like a fucking shadow didn’t hear a thing. dont know how he got in. he proved to me like he said I see you but you wont see me and I be a foot away from you and missus.now I know what he meant by what he said. who know what he was going threw or how long he was sitting there watching the 2 of us. I went to my brothers and we found out who the man with the mullet was that all he said on phone who he was, once they found out the mullet man was Rambo but he has another aka name roundeye me bros told me for rambo to be in your house you fucked some one over. and who ever owe the money 2 get it sorted. because this one man we don’t want to fuck with and nor do you… and with that the debt got sorted for the $$$ borrowed and couple good hits that knocked me out. never told the wife we had a real life Rambo sitting at the bed she would have freaked. and he said next time have fresh milk .what was with that comment.. .. sleeping with one eye open.. G.L.

  • mad dog

    watch out for the man with a blonde mullet .. this one guy that I wished I never in counted or crossed his path I thought I was all that and could handle my self over the years. and made a name for myself,, been in & out of goal and no one fucked with me.. that was to the day I pulled a knife on the guy with the mullet which later I found out later his name… that came knocking at my door for a debt that was owed to a 3rd party and told him if he don’t fuck off I knife him and make him cripple.. wrong choice of words he threw me of the top balcony and now im in a wheel chair and I am the cripple … I was living in group of 2 story flats in kilburn I knew I should have taken one of the bottom flats.. it been five years now.. and if you readers are wondering!!!! if I still had to paid the debt????? yes I did.. once I found out who I had on my front door and THE ONE THAT THREW ME OFF the balcony. it had to be this fucking dude that goes by the name RAMBO and none off my mates or brothers I hung around with didn’t want to get caught up this because of who he was … my Harley and chev was sold while I was in hospital. and debt paid.. and he kept my bowie knife… think twice readers if you going to stand over some one.. that person mite just know the mullet man.. mad dog.

  • thebeast

    I don’t really like the knife used in the new Rambo movie. To me, the knife in all of the movies, from the very first one, First Blood, through to and including Rambo 3, have been actually just as important of a character as the John Rambo character himself.
    I just don’t feel like the machete style knife in Rambo 4 reall fits in line with the others. I mean, in reality there’s nothing special about the knife. Rambo could have just gone to the local Burma hardware store and bought a $20 machete that would have done the same thing, but easier to get. The First Blood and Rambo 2 knives stood out due to the serrations. Before First Blood, I don’t think anyone had ever seen a knife made like that one before. So it was barbaric, schrewd, and intimidating. Same with Rambo 2. But Rambo 2 would have been better, in fact R3 also, had the First Blood knife of just been carried over and used for all the films.
    Not sure the meaning of using the different knives. I just think it would have been much better and more meaningful for the weapon of choice, the knife, if the same one, had been carried over and used. Still, it is what it is and the first 3 knives used did blend in with the movie’s series. But not the new machele knife. It just didn’t really do the movie justice, in my opinion.
    Now I hear that Stallone is going to make Rambo 5. I think a very good part of the movie would be where Rambo is home, opens a package from the Hope Sheriff’s Dept that has been sitting there all these years, and it is the knife from where he used it in First Blood, that had been returned to him. And then, the movie can carry on. But I just think that if they added that part in the new movie, man would that be just awesome!! This part in the movie, where John Rambo gets back his Vietnam knife of so many years ago, and uses that knife in the movie, would be a badass meaningful part! And what a way to Finally end the Rambo story! Knife in the beginning…same knife returned to him in the end…! Awesome!!

  • how much did you pay for it-and is it for sale?

  • Brian W


    I happen to bought the First Blood knife that is one of the very first replicas made by the very first and much betetr company than Master Cutlery, which was United Cutlery. These UC version Forst Blood and Rambo knives were made in Taiwan, and while not at all like the Lile originals in quality, I read and also have experienced my UC version FB knife to be very useful when using it for cutting and basic camping. When it comes down to it, any knife you have at the time of need is a good strong survival knife, no matter what. But also, I lucked out, and about two weeks ago I came a cross a First Blood knife on Ebay that is one of a kind. The Seller listed it as being very sharp very high quality and coming with a superb handmade leather sheath, and he was right on all accounts. I happen to have been the winner of the knife, and upon arrival as well as comparing the pics of it to my UC version, it is totally different. First of all, the blade and pommel on it is fully bead blasted. The blade in it is also much heavier and thicker at the tip of it than the UC and MC ones. And where my UC First Blood knife has minor imperfections in the cutting of its serrations, this knife has not, and it has precise dynamic cuttings that could Only be done by hand or manually. Also, the handle is a bit thinner than the UC one I have, but the actual metal of it is thicker and has that dull matte real steel-and-not aluminum look to it. And I know they are different because the butt cap on both Are Not interchangeable. This FB knife is most definitelky one that is made for hard survival use. it is very solid feeling and gets extremely sharp, and it holds the edge very well. I did a little more checking into this FB knife, and what I found out is that the blade is definitely handmade, and while the bead blast prevents my friend, who knows all about different steel and knives, from knowing for sure, he does feel that the blade is made with either D2 or SK-5 high carbon steel, or it is made with the awesome 440C stainless steel. He is leaning more towards the 440C stainless steel. he also said that the handle is handmade as well, and he is positive that the handle is either 316 steel or 440C steel as well. The butt cap is also made different because it is also heavier and appears much betetr quality via its compass, than the one on mt UC version First Blood knife. My friend did s strength and retention and spring resistance test on the blade, and the tests were so high that he said I would have No Problem At All with putting this FB knife to some very hard survival use. Still though, and just as I would if I bought a $3500 Lile First Blood original knife, I am going to take very good care of it, as I do with all me knives! I have always, always wanted a good high quality First Blood knife, and now I got one. Another thing, and this is something that even the Seller missed, but under the pommel, when looking at the knife, I noticed what looked like cracks in the pommel. But due to the cord handle covering part of it up, I wasn’t sure what it was. I got a small magnifying glass and looked closely at the supposed cracks, and instead of them being cracks, it is definitely someone’s initials, very faint and very hard to see unless right up close, but the initials read RM. And so with the build of the blade and handle, there is no doubt in my mind that this knife is not handmade. What my knife making friend thinks is that the previous owner of the knife handmade the blade and handle, but used a pommel that is made for the uC/MC version knives in order to save time. He said that the owner probably ordered the premade pommel and, since it is made with the same material as most pommels, even handmade ones, he just ordered and used a premade one to save time and money. I also found out that many knifemakers, even experienced ones, are doing that. Anyway, I know that the MC version Rambo knives, all of them, ar made with such poor quality that you can even bend their blade with your bare hands. However, I guaran damn tee you that no one can bend the blade on my new FB knife, nor can anyone really bend the blade on my UC version FB knife! And that is the rap. Thanks for reading!

  • anthony

    Where’s the factory of Master cutlery? i’ve heard that the factory was in China? if its true, then these R IV knives were China made?