Production knives with custom quality and Special Forces design.
Al Mar Eagle, SERE and Operator
By: Tactical Response Staff
Based in Oregon, Al Mar Knives is a production knife maker with a reputation for innovative tactical knife designs. Mar was a First Group Special Forces officer who served in Vietnam prior to 1960. After serving in the Army, Mar earned a Masters Degree in Industrial Design and by 1968 became the head of knife design for Gerber Legendary Blades.
In 1979, Mar formed his own company. Knives of his design were manufactured in a 1,000-year-old sword making facility in Seki City, Japan. Al Mar passed away in 1992 and was inducted into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame in 2009. Mar is widely considered the father of the tactical folder. He pioneered the trend of using custom quality and design in a mass-produced knife.
As a lifelong martial artist with black belt rankings in judo and kendo, and his service as a Green Beret, the majority of Al Mar Knives early knives were designed for the military and police use. For example, Al Mar’s SERE™ folder was designed by Al Mar and Special Forces Colonel Nick Rowe in the 1980s. This was the first knife accepted for use by the Army’s SERE (Search Evasion Resistance Escape) Instructor School at Camp Mackall, N.C.
Al Mar Knives makes dozens of different fixed and folding knives. Three of these are perfect matches for three different aspects of law enforcement: admin (everyday carry), patrol folder, and tactical fixed.
Eagle Heavy Duty
The Eagle Heavy Duty™ is the answer for a thin, light, low-profile, “everyday carry” folder. It goes equally well with in a business suit, jeans or off-duty BDUs. The Eagle HD is an upgrade to Al Mar’s well-established Eagle Ultralight™ and Eagle Classic™.
All of the Al Mar’s Eagle™-series use 4-inch-long, 0.100-inch thick blades. Known for these long and slender blades, the Eagle Classic knives are available with either the Classic blade (full faced with nail nick opening) or the Talon blade (false edge with dual thumb studs). The better-known Eagle Ultralight knives all use a dual-thumb stud opening, but are available with either a full faced or false edge blade.
The Eagle Heavy Duty is for the officer who carries the Eagle Ultralight but wants a more robust knife. The brass liners from the other Eagle knives are upgraded to heat-treated stainless steel. The Micarta® (epoxy-bonded linen) scales from the other Eagle knives are upgraded to G10 (epoxy-bonded fiberglass).
CALLOUT: Al Mar is the father of the tactical folder.
The Eagle HD is a heavier-use folder than the Ultralight but weighs just one ounce more. In the Eagle HD, you have a locking folder with a long blade to handle ratio that weighs a mere 3 ounces.
All Eagle series folders use the Front Lock action design where the lock-back releases well forward, above the index finger groove. These Ultralight and Eagle HD folders use the Al Mar Pro Clip, a reversible / removable pocket clip that attaches through the lanyard hole. The low-profile Eagle Heavy Duty has an MSRP of $210.
The Eagle series of folders use an AUS-8 blade, a stainless steel roughly equal to 440-C. AUS-8 is an economical grade of stainless steel that is very corrosion resistant and sharpens to a razor edge. However, for 2013, the Eagle HD is also available in ZDP-189 stainless.
Eagle HD ZDP-189
To meet competition, knife makers occasionally offer a slight up upgrade in blade steel: from AUS-8 (or 440-C) to 154CM (or ATS-34). Perhaps the slight upgrade is from 154CM (or VG-10) to S30V. However, Al Mar’s jump from the common and workhorse AUS-8 alloy to the custom and fully-exotic ZDP-189 alloy is the biggest leap in alloy quality in production knife making history.
ZDP-189 is the Ferrari of blade steels. ZDP-189 is a powder metallurgy stainless steel made by Hitachi Metals. The Al Mar ZDP-189 blades are laminates with a ZDP-189 core sandwiched between a 420 stainless steel exterior.
CALLOUT: ZDP is one giant leap for the Eagle folder.
ZDP-189 is a blade steel of extremes. The first extreme involves carbon, the element that turns iron into steel. Common knife alloys like 440C, 154CM and S30V have carbon contents between 1 percent and 1.5 percent. ZDP-189 has 3 percent carbon. Carbon adds hardness, edge retention, and tensile strength. But too much hardness used to lead to brittleness, which is why most steels stop at 1 percent carbon. ZDP-189 changes all that.
The other extreme involves chromium, the element that turns steel into stainless steel. Common knife alloys have 14–17 percent chromium. ZDP-189 has 20 percent chromium, again, an amount virtually unheard of among blade steels. In addition to corrosion resistance, chromium adds hardness and most importantly, toughness.
ZDP-189 has a hardness of 64 HRc, which is extremely high for any stainless steel. ZDP-189 has as much of an advantage in wear resistance (edge retention) over ATS-34 / 154CM as these identical alloys have over 440C stainless. ZDP-189 is not just slightly superior to ATS-34 (154CM), it is much superior. In round numbers, ZDP-189 can do 10 times what 154CM and ATS-34 can do.
The title of “ultimate blade steel” is a moving target. That title has passed from 440C to 154CM to S30V and now to ZDP-189. As of June 2013, the Al Mar Eagle Heavy Duty becomes a mainstream, production folder with this custom and exotic blade alloy. Yes, this is the best knife steel ever. ZDP-189 is difficult to machine, which means knives with this alloy are a bit expensive. The Eagle Heavy Duty ZDP-189 has an MSRP of $300.
The SERE 2000™ is the answer for a patrol tactical folder. The basic SERE design dates back to Al Mar and Nick Rowe co-development for the Army’s SERE School. The acknowledged granddaddy of tactical folders, the SERE was given to operators graduating from the elite SERE training.
The SERE uses a 3.6-inch-long blade made from a billet of VG-10 stainless steel with a hardness of 59-60 HRc. Again, VG-10 is a tough and durable, hard-use alloy equal to ATS-34 and 154CM. These alloys strike an ideal balance between durability, toughness, edge retention, corrosion resistance…and cost. Frankly, the function of the knife is determined by the blade steel. For police use, patrol or tactical operations, that blade alloy should be at least ATS-34, 154CM or VG-10.
CALLOUT: The SERE folder was designed for graduates of the Army’s SERE School.
The blade is 0.150-inch thick, which is considerably stronger than wannabe tactical folders with thinner blades. The Al Mar Knives are only available in a plain, straight edge. Among knife purists, the use of a partially serrated blade is hotly debated. The only knife with a serrated edge in the entire Al Mar product line is a kitchen bread knife. The SERE 2000 blade is available in either matte satin finish or with Al Mar’s new matte-black ceramic coating. This optional black ceramic is extremely corrosion and scratch resistant.
The original SERE folder has been upgraded with thicker liners, which makes a stronger overall knife with a stronger lock-up. Following the same rugged, no-nonsense theme, the SERE 2000 uses G10 scales. The rough texture G10 has arguably the best overall grip surface for police-grade knives. This tactical folder uses the reversible, Al Mar Deep Pocket Clip. The SERE 2000 folder uses a traditional liner lock. The SERE 2000 has an MSRP of $330.
To make a tactical knife for the load bearing vest, Al Mar Knives made two fixed blade versions of their SERE folder. The SERE Operator™ has a 5-inch blade while the Mini SERE Operator™ has a 4-inch blade. We tested the full-size version.
The SERE Operator uses VG-10 hybrid stainless steel. Comparable to ATS-34 and 154CM, VG-10 is a tough and hard stainless with excellent edge holding ability. Other fixed blades marketed to tactical operators should have a blade steel this good.
CALLOUT: The SERE Operator is a fixed blade version of the SERE folder.
The SERE Operator uses a beefy 0.140-inch thick, full-tang blade but does not have an exposed pommel. The SERE Operator handle uses low-profile, twin finger grooves and a subtle palm swell. It has a good, confident feel. It is large enough for even big hands yet the handle is not so aggressively defined that some hand sizes don’t fit. The SERE Operator uses Micarta® handles, which is epoxy-bonded linen. The handle surface is quite smooth; we would have preferred significant texturing.
The big knife has three large (3/8-inch diameter), stainless-steel lined holes in the handle, in addition to the smaller lanyard hole. The large holes serve a number of purposes. They lighten the knife and give it a better blade-oriented balance. The large holes also serve as handle grooves, improving the grip on the knife under heavy pressure, especially with a gloved hand. These holes will also allow the knife to be lashed or otherwise attached or secured in field ops.
Speaking of tactical-practical, the SERE Operator Kydex®-lined, nylon sheath should fit any end use. The fixed blade is secured by a single snap. The sheath has a wide variety of belt and vest mounting options, including a tie down and steel loop. The SERE Operator has an MSRP of $335 for the 4-inch blade and $420 for the 5-inch blade.