Comparison of the Rambo IV Replica Knives
In 2008, the fourth "Rambo" movie, titled "RAMBO" was released. The knives used in the Rambo movies have become almost as iconic as the character "Rambo". Arkansas knifemaker Jimmy Lile made the knives used in the first two Rambo movies. For "Rambo III" and the newest installment "Rambo" Sylvester Stallone called upon master knifemaker Gil Hibben to create the knives.
In the newest movie "Rambo", the title character played by Sylvester Stallone is pressed back into service to rescue a group of missionaries being held captive by Burmese soldiers. Having earlier thrown away his knife from "Rambo III", Rambo forges a new knife in a crude jungle foundry.
Stallone gave knifemaker Gil Hibben a basic idea of what he wanted and told Gil "It has to be brutal". Gil made several prototype designs and Stallone finally agreed on the heavy chopping blade as seen in the movie. The massive 18 inch knife was made from 1/4 inch thick D2 high carbon steel. The blade was flat ground and in keeping with the idea that the knife was quickly and crudely forged, it was marked with hammer depressions. The handle was wrapped with military paracord over leather pads and covered with black grip tape.
According to the movie script, Rambo still had his old sheath from his previous (Rambo III) knife. Without time to make a new sheath, he cuts the end off the old sheath to allow for the larger, wider blade.
Gil Hibben made over a dozen handmade copies for use in the movie. He also makes limited edition handmade copies for sale to collectors. Gil licensed his design to United Cutlery to make factory made replicas. Master Cutlery and their partner, Hollywood Collectable Group are also selling knock-off copies of the knife.
Below is my comparison and review of the replica knives. I obtained a handmade Gil Hibben copy of the knife he made for the movie, a Master Cutlery / Hollywood Collectables Group Standard Edition replica, and a United Cutlery "Hibben IV" for comparison. The knives were purchased anonymously to insure that I would receive a representative off-the-shelf example and not one "cherry picked" for review.
Although I will freely admit my bias against Master Cutlery/HCG for making unauthorized knock-offs, I will do my best to provide an honest comparison and review of the knives. My photos are unaltered except for cropping and adjustments for brightness and contrast to show detail.
Gil Hibben Handmade Copy
Both knives are exact copies of the movie knife except for the makers mark and the JR2 comes with a black sheath and the choice of black or cammo handle wrap. The original J.R. copy number 2 of 100 is shown for review.
This is an exact copy of the knives Gil made for use in the movie. These are entirely made by hand in Gil's Kentucky shop. All are made to the exact dimensions of the movie knives. Since these are handmade, there will be some variations in appearance such as the hammer marks and coloring of the blade.
It should be noted that the movie prop department made at least one aluminum copy for safe use in filming close contact scenes. They sent the aluminum prop to Gil for evaluation. He laid the prop knife on top of one of his knives to make sure they were exactly the same size and dimensions, which they were. He did suggest a couple of cosmetic changes.
I had the opportunity to watch the entire process of the development of this knife from the first sketches back in October 2006 to the knife seen in the movie in January 2008. You can see more of the development of the knife on THIS PAGE. I watched Gil make several of these knives entirely by hand.
Although the majority of these were purchased as collectables, like all of the knives that Gil makes, they are properly heat treated, hardened, tempered, ground and sharpened as fully functional knives.
Due to a licensing dispute regarding the use of the name "Rambo", Gil Hibben's knives are not marked with the "Rambo" name.
The knife is flat ground from 1/4 inch thick D2 carbon tool steel. It is then heat treated and semi polished. The handle is made up of 2 leather pads wrapped in nylon military parachute cord and then covered with cloth grip tape. The leather sheath is handmade and custom fitted to the blade. The sheath is open-ended as in the movie and the retaining strap has been removed as it serves no function with this knife design.
As with every Hibben knife that I have ever seen, the blade grind is perfect making a smooth seamless transition from the edge to the thick spine. The blade has a rustic gray/black coloring from the heat treating process but has no flakes of scale. There are a few random hammer marks to make it look like it was crudely hammered out as seen in the movie.
The knife is made from D2 tool steel. This is an extremely tough steel that is almost a stainless steel which makes it a good choice for the humid jungle environment for which it was designed.
This is a massive chopper. With an overall length of 18 inches and almost 2 .5 pounds in weight, this knife was designed to deliver powerful blows. The knife is designed to be blade heavy but it still has a good feel and balance and is surprisingly comfortable in the hand even with the rather primitive handle.
The sheath fits the knife very well, being a snug fit without being so tight that it is difficult to draw. There is no retaining strap but the sheer size and weight of the knife is more than enough to keep is securely in place in the sheath. The sheath is open-ended to emulate repurposing of a previous sheath and the thickness of the handle wrap acts a stop when inserting the knife into the sheath.
The backside of the blade is etched with the Hibben Knifes logo and the spine is marked with Gil's signature, the serial number and the initials "J.R.". The sheath is embossed on the back with the Hibben Knives stamp and it is hand signed by Gil. The knife comes with a very nice 8.5" x 11" hand signed and numbered certificate of authenticity printed on parchment paper and a custom padded storage pouch.
Length Overall: 18 inches
If you want an authentic replica of the knife used in the "Rambo" movie, this is THE one. You can't get more authentic than a knife made by the master knifemaker who made the actual knife used in the movie. Gil Hibben's 50+ years experience as a knifemaker shows in everything he makes. The craftsmanship is impeccable. Even in a case such as this where the knife is intended to be crude looking, the quality of the workmanship is clearly evident.
There is something magical about holding this impressive blade. The sheer size and weight of it give you a feeling of power and bravado. I think the design was a perfect and realistic choice in keeping with the movie script.
Master Cutlery / Hollywood Collectables Group
Models available from HCG:
Standard Edition - Unlimited -
$149.95 (This is the model reviewed).
Master Cutlery and HCG have begun shipping the "Standard" version and plan to offer a "Signature" edition in the near future. HCG is selling the unlimited Standard version for $149.95 and the limited edition of 10,000 Signature Edition knives will be $159.95. The knives are identical except for a "John Rambo" signature on the blade.
The knife comes with a brown leather sheath and is supposed to include a Certificate of Authenticity but I did not find one in my package.
NOTE: Hollywood Collectables Group (HCG) purchased the rights to use the "Rambo" name on products they produce but they did not obtain the rights to reproduce Gil Hibben's knife design. They are making the knock-off knives against Gil's wishes, without his authorization or input, and they pay him not one penny of the profits they make from his work.
Although the box shows this as a "John Rambo Individually Numbered Signature Edition" "Item # MC-RB4S", there is no signature or serial number to be found on the knife.
The first thing that strikes me is that the proportions are wrong. While keeping the correct overall length of the knife correct at 18 inches, they made the handle longer and the blade shorter. The handle is about 1 inch longer and the blade about 1 inch shorter than the movie knife. You can clearly see that the "V" notch in the ricasso is too far forward. The blade is also considerably narrower and the angle of the tip is different from the movie knife.
The photos below show the Master Cutlery/HCG knife laying op top of the Hibben handmade knife to show the differences.
I have heard the claim that this knife was modeled after the aluminum prop knife made by the movie prop master for close combat scenes. This is untrue as the Master Cutlery knife had to be in production before the prop knife was made. Further, the studio sent the aluminum prop knife to Gil Hibben for evaluation before filming and he found the it was the exact same dimensions as his handmade knives. I don't know in what scenes, if any, that the aluminum prop was used but my guess would be that it would have been the scene at the end where "Rambo" disembowels an enemy soldier. It would have been dangerous to the actor to use one of the real sharpened knives in that case.
The blade is 1060 carbon steel. The blade finish is rough and covered with scale.
Rather than a flat grind blending all the way to the spine, there is a pronounced grind line the length of the blade.
"RAMBO" is stamped into the ricasso on the back of the blade. The handle is wrapped with what appears to be thin leather. The thickness of the handle is accurate.
The sheath is brown leather but the quality is unimpressive. It just does not have the look and feel of quality top grain leather and I wonder if it might be reconstituted. Rather than an open-ended sheath like in the movie, they have the end sewn shut. The knife is a very tight fit in the sheath and that coupled with the rough blade finish makes it hard to draw the knife.
I also notice that the snap is missing. According to the movie script, Rambo modifies the sheath from his old knife to fit the new one. On the original sheath that Gil Hibben made for the movie, the retaining strap was removed as it was not needed but the snap is still in place.
"RAMBO" is embossed on the front of the sheath. This stitching looks good but there are rather deep indentations on the backside from the stitching machine.
Length Overall: 18 inches
As with most knock-offs, close but no cigar. The 1060 carbon steel is a better choice than most of the cheaper knives of this type available but as a replica of the movie knife, it misses the mark. Anyone who has not seen the real knife would assume that this is a faithful reproduction but it is not an accurate replica. The prolonged handle, narrower blade and incorrect angle of the tip stand out.
As for quality, the poor blade grind and finish coupled with a mediocre and inaccurate sheath make this a poor choice in my opinion.
United Cutlery Hibben IV Knife
UPDATE: October 2008. I just received one of the factory production run knives.
The first batch of factory knives had very sticky tape on the handles. The factory wrapped the handles with tape, coated the whole knife with rust inhibiting oil, wrapped the knife in plastic, packaged it, and then it went into an overseas shipping container for the trip across the ocean by boat. This resulted in the handle tape becoming very sticky in your hand.
United Cutlery has changed to a leather wrapped handle for the next run of knives due in less than 30 days. If you received one of the first run knives and are unhappy with the handle wrap, United will exchange it for one of the new leather wrapped knives as soon as they arrive. To be honest, the handle on this knife was sticky, not terrible, but sticky. I really feel that the stickiness would go away with a little handling or use.
Inside the package you with find the knife, sheath and a certificate of authenticity. The knife and sheath are individually wrapped in plastic.
As previously mentioned, the handle wrap is very sticky and the plastic has stuck to the handle but I had little trouble removing it.
The knife came heavily oiled to protect against rust. Remember that this is a 1090 high carbon steel blade and it WILL rust if not kept clean, dry and/or oiled. Originally, United planned to make the knife with 1060 carbon steel but later decided to upgrade to the higher quality 1090 carbon steel.
A quick wipe-down with a paper towel cleaned it right up. The United Cutlery replica has a dark gun-blued finish which is a little darker than the actual movie knife but I doubt anyone would ever notice since the knife is never seen in a good close up in the movie.
Compared to a Hibben original, the United Cutlery replica stacks up very well. Both United Cutlery and Master Cutlery closed the end of the sheath for safety and liability.
United did a great job replicating the movie knife and I am pleasantly surprised at the accuracy and the quality. The blade is semi-polished like the movie knife and the flat grind is smooth and even with a seamless transition to the thick spine. There are some subtle "hammer marks" to replicate the hammered hand forged blade as in the movie.
The United Cutlery replica is actually just a little larger, thicker and heavier than the original movie knife.
At 0.354 inches thick at the spine (almost 3/8"), the blade is actually more than 1/16 inch thicker than the original movie knife. It tapers slightly to 0.319 inches near the tip.
The knife is a movie accurate 18 1/2 inches long overall with a 5 1/2 inch handle.
This blade width is actually a little wider that the original at 2 3/8 inches wide at the hilt and 2 3/4 inches at the widest part of the blade.
The knife weighs in at a whopping 3 lb. 3 oz without the sheath and 3 lb. 12 oz. with the sheath. That is 12 ounces heavier than the original movie knife and more than a full pound heavier than the Master Cutlery knock-off. I was really surprised as how heavy it is. It is very close to the size of the original movie knife but the added thickness of the steel really makes a difference.
The sheath is black reconstituted leather sheath. Reconstituted leather is real leather that has been ground up and reformed into larger pieces much like particle board. Although it is still over 90% leather, it does lose some of the characteristic pattern of natural top grain cowhide. This is not to be confused with "pleather" which is 100% manmade.
There is a snap but no retaining strap. Again, this is movie-accurate because according to the story, Rambo modifies his old Rambo III sheath to fit his new knife The strap was removed as it serves no purpose with the new design.
People who buy the knife as a movie replica should appreciate that the logos are embossed on the back of the sheath leaving the front unmarked.
For safety and liability reasons, both the Master Cutlery and United Cutlery replicas have sheaths with the tip sewn closed rather than the exposed tip as seen in the movie.
The knife does come with a certificate of authenticity.
Length Overall: 18 1/4 inches
Overall, I am very pleased and impressed with the United Cutlery replica knife. They were pretty accurate and true to the movie knife. The knife is slightly larger, thicker and considerably heavier than the original movie knife but it is much closer than the Master Cutlery knock-off version. Being a one-piece full tang design, there really isn't much fit and finish to consider but the quality of the blade is quite evident. The sticky handle issue is disappointing but it is being addressed. Gil Hibben also said he is very pleased with United's efforts and cooperation. This is a very good replica at a good price.
Blade Width at Widest Part
Width at Blade Hilt
Gil Hibben's movie knife copy balanced in the center of the
blade approximately 3 1/4 inches in front of the handle.
United Cutlery's replica balanced just above the center of the
blade approximately 3 1/4 inches in front of the handle.
replica balanced in the center of the blade approximately 2 inches in front of
the handle indicating less weight in the blade.
As with my review of the Rambo III replica knives, if you want the most authentic and best quality that you can get, the only real choice is a handmade Gil Hibben knife. However they are limited in quantity and rather expensive.
My second choice is clearly the United Cutlery replica. It is an accurate full size replica in scale. The quality is honestly better than I expected. That comment is not to knock United Cutlery products but I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of this knife for the low price. The sheath is not that impressive but it was a good move to emboss the logos on the back to preserve a more movie accurate look. The sticky handles will not be acceptable to some but the second release with a leather wrap should solve the problem although it does stray from movie accuracy. Of course, one can always re-wrap the handle very inexpensively.
The Master Cutlery replica, besides being a knock-off, it not accurate in size, weight or appearance. Since they did not have the cooperation of Gil Hibben, they simply took too many liberties in guessing at the details. The finish is poor and the elongated handle just does not look right especially when coupled with the too narrow blade. Personally, I will not spend money with companies that rip off knifemakers and designers as this practice has become far too common for some companies.
In my opinion, if you are going to buy a factory produced replica, save yourself $38.00 and buy the better quality and more accurate United Cutlery replica.