Gear loadout is nearly at the top of the list when it comes to mission planning. You check the board and see when you muster, what you are assigned to and what gear you are required to bring. Even before that a lot of thought is given to what type of personal gear to include in your kit.

Knives are one of the items that is sometimes overlooked by some. Most are comfortable with the equipment that they are issued and some do function well. Most times though, items are purchased out of pocket to fill in the gaps. Now with the popularity of Tier 1 operators and their equipment, a lot of focus and interest has been placed on what makes up their kit, especially what types of knives are chosen and why.

Nowadays, there is a plethora of knives to choose from. Some are from reputable companies like Gerber, Ontario and Buck. There are of course knock-offs, rip-offs and just plain stupid-offs.

Daniel Winkler is an American award-winning custom knifemaker based in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, USA. Winkler is a certified Master Bladesmith with the American Bladesmith Society and has designed and built the knives and tomahawks for the 1992 motion picture: The Last of the Mohicans.

Considered by most knife aficionados to be one of the Top Ten custom bladesmiths in the U.S., Daniel Winkler has been forging custom made knives and tomahawks for over three decades.

Winkler Field Knife
Winkler Field Knife

I happened to come across his work a few years ago while I was working at a F.O.B outside of Kandahar, a BLUE member was eating chow and I saw what looked like a antique bowie on his belt. I asked him about it, thinking he would tell me that it was handed down to him from generations starting from his great-great-great grandfather, or that he picked it up at an antique shop somewhere. What he did tell me is that he had Daniel Winkler make it for him. Interesting.

Of course I asked for more info and he just took it out and let me inspect it. I immediately noticed its weight, not too heavy but it had a “meaty” feel to it. I felt this was more of a tool than a blade for show. It had a very sharp edge and my new friend said that it keeps its edge for quite awhile.

I was intrigued and I wanted to know more about this guy. I viewed his website and his hand forged knives are wonders of great craftsmanship and art, my research led me to know that his knives are a sought after pieces and to own one is fortunate.

Winkler Spike
Winkler Spike

In 2006 he started his Winkler Knives II series. These knives and tomahawks are not hand forged, but are water-cut from solid 52-100 and 5160 steel. (A few of the specialty items may be cpm3v or H 13, depending on the primary purpose).

The whole process takes up to 42 steps, including cutting, grinding, tempering, quenching in salt pots (a technique used to create an oxygen free atmosphere), and more grinding.

I asked him how did he come up with his series. He told me that he was asked by individual guys in DEVGRU and CAG to make them a usable blade that can survive severe wear and tear, make it during the riggors of being in the field while still maintaining its cutting edge, the issued ka-bar or dive knives are not ‘cutting” it.

He then chimes in and says, “Of course! Those are massed produced and the blade geometry and heat treating is different. What I do is make sure the correct heat-treating is done after all the grinding is complete. Heat-treating prior to grinding is a common practice of mass produced knives.”

So what makes a top quality knife? Physics, geometry and chemistry. Everything has to come together just right to reach near perfection. It cannot be too soft or hard, so technique is essential. Each knife is custom made and tiresly worked to come up with a finished product for the individual customer. One of my favorites is his “SPIKE” model, this taken from his website:

Reports from the field often relate how knives are used for chores other than cutting in emergency situations. Glass breaking and prying seem to be recurring “non-intended use” situations, thus the development of the Winkler Knives II Spike. As a conventional knife, Spike is made of 3/16″ 52-100 steel that sharpens easily and holds its edge well. The drop point design means that the blade’s energy is centered, thus minimizing drift. Handle contours make it possible to comfortably reverse grip when utilizing the spike for its intended uses. Blade length 5 1/4″ – Overall length 10″ – Weight 5.5 oz. – 6.5 oz. depending on handle material chosen.

The demo shows him smashing in a front windshield using the spike end, pretty gnarly.

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His shop is capable of producing 10-60 blades in a session, but that is dependent on the customer. Some may order a lot, a few or just one, It all depends on when you want it. He will not sacrifice quality for speed, you get what you want but be patient.

His pride is reflected in his work. Each knife and axe style is tested before it is sent out, cutting rope, smashing car windows, breaking cinder blocks, etc and they STILL maintain their function as intended. All of his blades have that S.F. mentality, K.I.S.S.

What you will not see on a DW is shiny metel with knuckle rings, swoopy Klingon looking monstrosities. Shop for tactical knives and you know what I mean. It seems that tactical knives are used for combat, I have never heard a knife being used as a primary weapon of choice.

What you will get from a DW knife is quality, anything that you will go thru sure as shit a DW knife will survive. He takes a hunk of steel and makes a workable, dependable tool that will slice meat paper thin.

I asked him if he has ever put on a uniform, he replied humbly that he didn’t have the honor of doing so. I told him that for the guys who own and are using his knives and tomahawks I don’t think that matters, he is doing a fine job for the boys these past years. He chuckled and said that is great to hear, and is proud to help out anyway he can…even giving a 25% discount to military members. Check it out for yourself lads.