A Brief History of the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife
by William L. Cassidy
In the late 1970s, whilst concluding my researches, I was struck by the fact that Fairbairn never made a dime from his design. Accordingly, I put together an investment and management group and formed the Castle Knife Company, in San Francisco. I thereafter purchased the production line at a Sheffield factory and personally supervised a run of 1,100 blades. I took exclusive license from the Estate of W. E. Fairbairn to use his name, and paid his surviving child a royalty on each knife sold.
I purchased a special melt of class 410 oil-hardening cold work die steel for the forgings, and sample tested them at random throughout the run. As hardened, the blades ran between 65-1/2 to 66 Rockwell C. After tempering, all blades sampled ran 57-1/2 to 58-1/2 Rockwell C.
As military specifications call for a bending test, this test performed with the following result: the sample was bent under heavy load through an angle of 50 degrees before breaking. The two broken pieces had taken no permanent set and showed a fine, silky fracture. Military specifications merely call for a 30 degree angle. All testing was done under the personal supervision of the Senior metallurgist of the British Cutlery and Allied Trades Research Association (CATRA).
I retained the recurved quillions of the first mass-produced model, and turned my attention to the grip. Special tooling was designed and built which allowed the knurling to be run on in one operation: fourteen lines to the inch, coarse, and extending to the guard, exactly as per the OSS grip. Grips are cast in best quality statuary grade bronze, and will take on a pleasing patina with age. I next hired workmen that crafted the original Fairbairn-Sykes for Wilkinson's; some were quite literally brought out of retirement. The knife was ground, finished, and hafted entirely by their hands. I brought the knives to America in small lots of fifty, and etched them with the original F-S mark on every blade. To distinguish them, I also etched on the Castle Knife Company logo. We sold them for $75. each, $80. for the "sanitary" model with no etching.
Production stopped in 1979 and will never be resumed.
The above venture was, in the end, a money-losing proposition, but we did not do what we did for money. We did it to honor Fairbairn and Sykes, and the men and women of the silent services. It is my honest belief that we produced one of the better Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knives ever made.
I will end this brief account with one final touch of history.
At London's Westminster Abbey, just to your right as you enter the doors, a few feet from Britain's tribute to Winston Churchill and close by the Unknown Soldier, is a memorial to the British Commando, established by the Queen. Her Majesty had wished to symbolize the fighting spirit that lighted England in her darkest days, and to commemorate the brave men who paid the highest price.
F S Fighting Knife Commemorative
During the late 1970's, W.E. Fairbairn's daughter authorized a Commemorative 2nd Pattern Commando Knife bearing her father's signature.
Production was by the Castle Knife Company and limited to 1,000 knives.
This knife was made in Sheffield, England, by some of the same workmen who crafted the original Fairbairn-Sykes for Wilkinson's Sword Company.
The knife was ground, finished, hafted, acid-etched, and sharpened entirely by hand. The bronze hilt is knurled, 14 lines to the inch, coarse, and extending to the guard exactly as per it's original OSS grip.
Obverse (left) and reverse (right)
Length: 11 3/4" Blade: 7"
Forged Steel, 57-58 Rockwell C.
shown here comparing the normal logoed version with the sterile prototype