It takes a special kind of tool to find its way into the hands of a superhero, even an anti-hero like Marvel Comic’s gritty and ultra-violent Punisher. When the latest installment of Marvel’s crime fighter saga was slated to appear on the big screen, its producers knew that they’d need just the right piece of cutlery to place in the Punisher’s calloused, death-dealing hands.
Dan Certo, of Relentless Knives, evolved the M4X knife through a series of designs going back to his M4 Fighter circa 2005. Some changes to the grind and some other tweaks brought him to the M4X model, which was presented to the producers of the Punisher: War Zone movie in 2007. John Barton, of the Gunmetal Group, a consulting firm to Hollywood on all things military, approached Dan and asked him to submit one of his knives to the film’s producer, Lexi Alexander. Dan did so and his M4X ended up being picked over 30 other models from various makers and manufacturers to be the knife used in the film.
The Relentless version of the M4X was first handmade in Dan’s shop and they carried a suitably high price tag. A limited run of 100 of the Relentless knives, coinciding with the Christmas 2008 release of the Punisher: War Zone movie, sold for $1,800 each. He wanted to offer a more affordable option to folks who could not, or would not, spend that much on a handcrafted knife and, thus, the TOPS version was born. TOPS had come recommended to Dan from other knife makers as the company to do his collaboration with, and an important part of that decision was the fact that TOPS products were 100% American made. Dan said he could have taken production overseas, but he was committed to having anything associated with his name be an American-made product.
TOPS M4X Report
The TOPS M4X is true to the Relentless Knives design in dimensions, but it’s a production version of the blade. It differs also in materials. Whereas Dan uses 5160 carbon steel, or CPM S30V stainless steel on his custom versions, the TOPS M4X is made of 1095 high carbon. The movie knife and special edition models from Relentless will have polished blades, while the TOPS versions have a powder-coated tactical gray finish of a hybrid epoxy/polyester. Overall length is 13 ½ inches, with a broad, 2-inch wide, ¼-inch-thick blade, 8 ½ inches in length. The handle scales are hand-filling gray canvas Micarta with attractive, yet subtle, red liners. The TOPS M4X comes with a sturdy nylon sheath with a hard insert in it. It holds the knife in place with a Velcro strap that snugs down over the handle. It will work on a wide web belt or attach directly to MOLLE gear.
Dan describes the edge on the M4X as being a “tri asymmetrical grind,” which he says creates a triangle along the spine of the blade. It’s a patent-pending design and is supposed to significantly increase the blade’s ability to withstand lateral force. Dan told me in an interview that it’s similar to what was used on the very first M-9 bayonets made by Phrobis. The spine houses a 3-inch serrated section for sawing and notching. The M4X sports two different sized holes near the pommel to give you some options in how you attach your lanyard.
Punishing the Punisher
Right from the start, I realized that I was going to be a bit rougher on the M4X than I might normally be with a knife. First off, it has a reputation to live up to as the Punisher knife! Yeah, I know, it’s just a movie. But we expect big things from stars of the silver screen, be they actors or pieces of guest star cutlery! From a more practical perspective, I recalled my discussion with Dan Certo about tactical blades. While knife buffs know that knives were never intended for digging, prying and bashing, it seems that when you talk to guys in the field, be they ground troops or SWAT operators, they tend to dig, bash and pry with the things! So, although I cringed a bit at doing it, I did things with the M4X that I might not normally do in my field-testing.
My field-testing actually started well before I got into the field. Being that it was just after Christmas time when I was working with the M4X, it just so happened that my wife had a monstrous ham that she needed cut up for soup. There was still a lot of meat on the bone, so I took the bulk of it off with the M4X and then proceeded to cleave through the bone and take it down to a more manageable size for the soup pot. I went through a bone about 2 inches thick in three places to break things down to where my wife wanted them. It took two blows from the M4X at most to sever them, and I was going a little bit easy since I was in the middle of the kitchen and the kids were hanging around. I suspect that if I’d have taken the bone out on my chopping block I could have sheared through it with one blow. There is nothing dainty about the M4X Punisher and it is capable of delivering tremendous cleaving blows.
I thought to myself about the kind of things I might want to do if I were the Punisher. I figured Frank Castle probably wasn’t going to be making tent stakes or be doing much bushcrafting. So, I decided to make myself some punji stakes and dig a punji pit! I hacked up some old dry cherry from a brush pile and sharpened the stakes on both ends so that I could insert them into the ground. Then, I set about clearing a patch of ground and digging myself a hole. The M4X’s broad, blunt blade worked well for clearing groundcover and hacked through roots without issue. Being careful not to grab the blade’s edge or catch my hand on the spine serrations, I was able to get a two-hand hold when needed on the M4X, and tear through soil. The blade performed well going through the top soil layer and didn’t really slow down until it hit the harder clay, which was nicely frozen in the 20-degree-or-so temperature I was working in. Things got a bit more difficult then, but I could still hack at and remove pieces of clay to finish my hole. Honestly, I would rather have had a shovel, but the M4X did the job and I wasn’t worried about snapping off the tip of the blade as I dug into the hard, frozen earth.
I tried the serrated spine of the blade a bit while I was making my punji stakes, as well. The serrations worked well for notching and would be just fine for that task. I wouldn’t rate them as a truly efficient saw, though. If you need to cut through something, flip the knife around and hack through it with the main edge.
Interestingly enough, both the edge and the blade finish held up extremely well during my testing. I hacked, sliced, and chopped, but very little seemed to affect either one. I really expected to see some nicks or chipping between the ham bones and the digging, but I couldn’t find any obvious damage. The finish showed some slight wear from chopping bone, but it didn’t go all the way through to bare metal. Chopping wood and digging didn’t have any effect at all. I washed the blade up with soap and water afterwards, dried everything off, and it looked practically new.
The TOPS sheath supplied with the M4X is a good piece of gear in its own right. It’s sturdy and well laid out for belt or pack carry. Considering the size and weight of the M4X, I’d probably be inclined to lash it to my pack or use the MOLLE attachment to affix it there or somewhere on a tactical vest. The front utility pouch on the sheath is good sized and will fit a spare pistol magazine, a tactical light like the SureFire 6P, or a decent-sized folder or multi-tool. I’d probably opt for the latter since that would give you some versatility for smaller, detail-oriented work. The M4X is a brutal, powerful beast. It will take on the big jobs with gusto, but it isn’t going to do so well at getting out splinters or doing delicate detail work. It would be nicely complemented with a good multi-tool or folder.
Whether you’re a Punisher fan and are looking for a blade with celebrity ties to the War Zone movie, or you just need a tough, brutal, battle beast capable of shrugging off abuse and coming back for more, the TOPS M4X Punisher can deliver. Its $269 retail price will make it a lot more available to most folks than the Limited Edition models by Relentless Knives, and rest assured, the TOPS M4X isn’t just another pretty face out of Hollywood!