Ka-Bar USMC Survival Knife Modifications

“Shawn” sent this in…it’s a great example of some of what you can do to customize a knife to make it fit the survival/hunting/shooting skills that you have.  Thanks Shawn!  


KaBar Modifications  


Pictures  1
and 2 show the Kabar in and out of the sheath.  You’ll already
notice differences, mainly the lanyard coming off the handle.




Picture 3 shows the protractor and sundial on the right side of the blade.  The very last picture shows how the sundial works. The protractor is used in a similar fashion.  Example: If you want to know how tall a tree is, step away from it, until you are measuring 45 degree’s to the top. Then count your steps back to the tree.  That will be how tall the tree is.  





Picture 5 is the notch I cut into the top of the blade, to use the gauges. I just use a piece of dental floss (white on black is easy to see), with a crimped fishing weight attached. Hold it in the notch from either side, depending on which gauge you are using. 



 Picture 6 shows the eyelet I drilled into the top guard. This is used for the gauges, holding the knife up so that your eye is just above the butt of the handle. 



 Picture 7 shows how I drilled through the handle first to wrap the handle and then to Create the loop. 



 Picture 8 Shows how I tied off the wrap, before running it through the holes. 



 Picture 9 Shows the handle wrap.  This wrap is 550 grade monofilament.  Can be used for traps, snares, multiple uses, and this keeps it handy and ready to go. 



 Picture 10 shows you how to tell if a handle fits your hand. Your fingers should just touch your palm, or be just slightly off of it. This way your whole hand is gripping the knife.  Even with wet hands, you’ll find you have an excellent grip!! 



 Picture 11 Using the wrist strap, how to hold the handle to use the end as a hatchet.  A spinning object goes faster, the farther it is from the center point. This extends the knife out approx another 4.5 inches, you’ll be amazed at how much more torque and speed the end of your knife will have when chopping down small branches, etc. 



 Picture 12 You can see by using this method, first if I have the wrist strap on during a fight, it can’t be taken away from me, nor can I drop it. 



 Picture 13 the sharpened edges. I sharpen this section at about a 25 degree angle.  This Is great for cutting branches, rope, etc, without undue wear and tear on the edge. It Will last for a long time. Its also the majority of the blade, as it will do most of the work.  



 Picture 14 the front I taper from 25 degrees down to about 10 degrees.  This can and will be sharp enough to shave with, but mainly for skinning, and cleaning game, it’s the part that will come into contact first, open the skin and allow the back working section to enter easier.   
Its also the section that in a fight will be the closest to an opponent, so should he try to grab your knife, wrist, or anything else, they’re very likely to lose it. 




Picture 15 Also with the handle being wrapped, you can now hang your kabar upside down on a tactical  vest or what have you, and it stays in place.  



Picture 16 shows the eyelet to both tips. This was done so that if the front tip ever broke, It is still functional. And then the angle at which the gauges are based off  of. This is Why they are at an angle to the top of the blade.  




The sundial works by measuring the top of the sun, to the horizon. As the world is 360 degrees around, and the world rotates that distance every 24 hours, that means that the sun moves in the sky 15 degrees every hour.  

If you measure the top of the horizon, say in this case it came in at 1 hour on your gage, and the top of the sun came in at 3 hours.  Then you’d subtract the top of the horizon from the sun measurement, 3-1=2 or 2 hours before sundown.  If the horizon is flat, you’d have 3 hours.  

Sharpening: I use a 1000 grit wet stone to put a clean fresh edge on it. I do this whenever it is necessary.  If I was using it on a daily basis, I’d say no more than 3 or 4 times a year.  Right now maybe once a year.  


Also the upper back portion of the leather sheath is an excellent strop!! This is why its designed the way it is!!  


Again, thanks, Shawn!  Shawn wants input on the modifications that he’s done.  Are they something you are going to go out and do?  Have you done other, similar modifications?  Let us know by commenting below.  





















About David Morris

David Morris is the creator of the Survive In Place Urban Survival Course, the Fastest Way To Prepare Course, Urban Survival Playing Cards, Tactical Firearms Training Secrets, and other books, courses, and articles on preparedness, survival, firearms, and other tactical topics. He lives with his wife, 2 boys, and 2 dogs.


  1. Shawn,
    One more thought – maybe offer to collaborate with Ka-Bar to design and manufacture a “factory” knife with all of your modifications? Just a thought…

  2. I want to thank all you guys for your fine knife comments.
    I love the idea of a clock on my knife.
    Another way to consider it is that the sun moves it’s own diameter every eight minutes.

  3. Shawn M says:

    Hi Chris!

    Been awhilie since I visited here, so didn’t see your question until now.

    Another use for the full protractor is use the “tree” idea sideways. If you can see a tree across a stream or river, mark your area, then move until that same tree is at 45 degree’s “roughly” either direction. Then count your steps back to your starting position, and you’ll have how far across it is.
    I found this to be more accurate if I stick it in the side of a tree parallel with the river/stream.

    This will help you decide the best way to get across, floating your gear on a raft for example, or inflating your pant legs (tied off of course) to make a temporary buoy.

    Nice to have if/when you ever need it. And doesn’t take that much more time to do the whole protractor rather than just half of it.

    Good Luck!

    Shawn M.

  4. I’m curious, what is the point of the full protractor? With the separate marks for the sunset thing, you only mention a use for the 45 degree mark.

  5. david fitch says:


    this is a knife and survival site I have followed for a number of years.
    Twitter Battledoc

  6. Hey Lonnie,
    Well, the only problem with having the pivot point at the corner, is you wouldn’t be able to use the whole protractor, just 1/2 of it.

    I like the rounded jewels file idea, I’d go with the smallest I could find, so it didn’t have too much “sag” tipping up or down.

    Like I said with this one, it was my first one, but as its been over 20 years I’m not too concerned with it breaking. Although I could see where that could happen if it was hit at a 90 degree angle.

    Although its hardened steel, I used to work in a machine shop years ago, and with the right drill bits, if they can drill through stainless steel, I’d bet they could get through this. Haven’t tried it though. The good thing with it being on the spine, and not the blade is it is cooled slower so its not as brittle, but its softer too.

    As for getting upset, lol, no, I don’t get upset. We don’t learn if we don’t share what we know. And no one can know everything. The one thing I learned long ago is the best way to grow idea’s are to share them!!!

    Shawn M.

  7. Lonnie Williams says:

    Shawn & David, glad I didn’t offend with my comments. You’re both on track with the drilled hole idea. Radiused shapes don’t concentrate stresses like “V” bottomed cuts do. The problem is that once steel is hardened, it doesn’t like being drilled at any speed. Again, annealing the spine would help, plus give the knife more abuse resistance, (called differential tempering). Because you need a notch for the plumb line, how about just having it on the corner of the spine above the scale since its only function is to snag the line to form a pivot point. You could also use a small, round jeweler’s file instead & probably effect the integrity of the knife even less. Shawn, you’re right about finding a GOOD saw-back knife. Very few of them actually “saw” anything. Keep up the good work guys, we’re all indepted to you for your efforts & shared knowledge, Lonnie.

  8. Hey Lonnie!
    I’ve often wondered about that. Although after over 20 yrs, I’ve kind of stopped worrying about it.
    As you’re more knowledgeable about that area than I am, what effect would “slow” drilling a small hole through the back of the spine be? I say slow drilling, so as not to heat up the metal as much to avoid changing the temper as much as possible.

    The other alternate I’d suggest is if you can find a good one, buy a knife that already has the “saw back” on top of the blade, and just mark one of the teeth to be the marker.

    Shawn M.

    • Hi Shawn:
      You can cause the same effect as slow drilling by dribbling water, or annointing the drilled area with “Cutting oil” and making sure it stays wet. The theory is that the heat causes the water or oil to evaporate at a lower temp than is critical for the steel, thus using up or carrying the heat away.

      If allowed to say so, I wnce made a knife which included “Saw” teeth along the back of the forward taper. The tip of the knife promptly broke off at the first tooth. I then decided that saw teeth on a knife were fine for Rambo movies, but not very effective on a knife that might be used to pry kindling from a log, chop a bone from a boar or deer, or pry a door open. But your small notch is further back on the stronger part of the knife. Just keep it small.

      Oh, and if seeking one of those electric pencils that mark names on tools, find one that has a carbide tip. They do exist, I bought mine at Sears thirty years ago.

  9. Lonnie Williams says:

    Loved Shawn’s modifications. There’s nothing wrong with making a tool more versatile. He’s done some thinking outside the box for sure. However, be forewarned that filing a right-angle notch, especially in the spine area, will create what is known as a “stress riser,” not what you want in a knife that will be subjected to impacts such as batoning. Worse yet, prying, (another emergency scenario), will focus stress in the notch area, inviting a catastrophic failure (breaking). I’m a custom knife maker (16 yrs) and maintained band saws in saw mills for 25 years & this condition, actually called the “notch effect,” is the number one cause of cracks & breakage in hardened steel. May I suggest annealing (softening) the spine to guard against this. Sorry for the negative slant but seems like a a big trade-off for having a sun dial and inclinometer on a knife.

  10. Now this is quite the knife. I like all the extras with it. I never knew all that stuff. I just guess what time it is and when the sun sets and check my watch for accuracy. I’ve been doing this all my life and pretty close. The only problem is when they switch the time or different time zones. My internal clock has to reset. I have never been trained in the USMC or other branches for this living outdoors and surviving. So, all this is very helpful. Thanks

  11. Something I thought I should add.

    When making the modifications, cut the notch first, once you’ve determined where you have the room to do it. Once you’ve determined your angle off of the “eye line” (eye loop to blade tip), To make sure your measurements are accurate, move the protractor down so that the bottom of the notch is the center point on the protractor!!
    Otherwise you’re measurements will be off.

    Good Luck!
    Shawn M.

  12. What about the finger method for estimating sundown? Is it a bunch of BS or just good for the last hour before sunset?

    • Dale,

      Once you get used to your own hand, yes it will work, but not everyone’s hands are the same size, So saw at 2 hours before sunset, might be 2 fingers to you, 3 to someone else, and maybe 1 or 1.5 to someone else.

      This will work for anyone that picks up the knife.

      Shawn M.

    • Hey Dale,

      I’ve been using my fingers for estimating sundown since my dad taught it to me when we were hunting as a child. I happen to have the right arm/finger perportions to make it work…and it has worked for me since I was in grade school. Keep in mind that you can play with this technique to make it work.

      What I mean is this…if your torso is perpindicular to where the sun will set and you put your hand up and the sun is 2 fingers above the horizon but the sun sets 3 hours later, then it means that your fingers are too big in relation to your arm length for this technique. You can fix this by “blading” your torso to the horizon, or even holding your arm straight out to the side as you look to where the sun will set. This will get your fingers further from your eyes and make them smaller in relation to the horizon.

      By experimenting with this, you will find the angle for you that provides the best WAG. (wild assed guess) Remember, this isn’t scientific…but it will help you know when you need to get busy with fire, shelter, water, & food most ricky tick.

  13. Oh, and Dr,

    The inside half curve, the sundial, is marked SS for sunset, which is set to a flat horizon, or which should be equal to 90 degree’s on the protractor below it.
    Then every 15 degree’s I put a mark, and made them 1 thru 5, for 1 hour up to 5 hours.

    Shawn M.

  14. old news former green beret don paul writer everybodys knife bible

    • Hi Cey,
      Yup, a lot of the idea’s are from him, and others……I’m just showing how I got them to work on a Ka-Bar. I never said these were all my ideas. Actually, I said they weren’t, but that got edited. Just good information that I think everybody should have.

      Shawn M.

      • Shawn, thanks for the information…and I wouldn’t even bother with that dude, his pointless comment spoke for itself. I just recently ordered the Ka-Bar knife my husband has been wanting and I sent him this link so he could get some ideas on what to do with this particular type of knife. He’s done some para-cord wraps on some of his other knives so I’m sure he’ll be interested in checking out these modifications. Thanks for spreading the knowledge for those of us that haven’t gotten to read the “old news” yet. 😉

        • Thanks Veracity!!

          I’m not too worried about him :) Just wanted to make sure he didn’t think I was trying to copy someone else. Being in the Marines, some of these idea’s I picked up there, others from books I’ve read, like he mentioned.

          Good idea’s always get around, especially in the military!!

          Thanks again!!
          I know you’re hubby will LOVE his Ka-Bar!!!

          Shawn M.

  15. Re: the Protractors, do you have the line drawings of he increments used? I can’t make out the values from the pictures.

    Also how did you make the markings- get them to go through the Parkerizing?


    • Hi Dr!

      The markings are at 10 degree’s each. It LOOKS wrong because of the way I did the “180”, if you count it looks like it should be 170. 180 is really the top of the blade, Again it is slanted to be able to use the eye loop. If you count down from the 0 – 360 you’ll see each mark is 10 degree’s down to the 90.

      I just used one of the small round cutters on my dremel tool. I always thought that if I was going to do it again, or if/when I need to redo it, I’d get one of those electric “etchers” from the hardware store. The ones used to put your name or a number on metal plates.

      I first took a piece of string off the tip of the blade, aligned it with the back tip of the upper blade, back to the guard. Marked this and drilled my hole. Then I ran a piece of string through the hole to the tip, and taped that in place, and just placed a protractor on the blade that was aligned with the string. I used a pencil to free hand the curve, and mark the 10 degree marks. Then just went over it with the dremel.

      Good Luck!!
      Shawn M.

      • Hello again Shawn,

        Thanks for the explanations, they were a great help in back figuring what was done.

        One other mod I have found handy and makes handling the knife more comfortable and safer, is to use a belt sander or Dremel tool to take the leather washers form a ‘O’ shape to an Oval shape, it’s quite an improvement. With the nylon cord wrapping the way you did would add a bit more grip surface while keeping comfort factor up there.

        A Katana wrap or weave wouldn’t add much more thickness and triple the cord yardage. Just a though.

        Thanks again,

        • Hey Dr!

          I’d thought about that, but the reason I didn’t is, in an emergency if I DO have to use the cord….I still want a knife that I can function with. That would make the handle too small for my hand, Unless I had a point of, Unwrap to here, and no farther!! Not a bad idea to add more line, I’ve thought about making a loop the size of the back of the sheath and then hot glueing it in place. Should remain solid, until you wanted to pry it off.

          Good Luck!! And send your Mod’s to Dave too when you’re done!!

          Shawn M.

  16. Lorenzo Poe says:

    Oh, hell yeah. Gonna fix up the old sheath knife this weekend.
    Good stuff.

Speak Your Mind