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.
Military 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.
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.