All of the great blades throughout history have one thing in common: they have great stories attached to them. From the katana sword of Japan to the Bowie knife of the Wild West, getting to know the history of your blade is one of the most satisfying parts of owning one.
The kukri is no exception. One of the most unique and instantly recognizable blade styles ever created, kukris have a fascinating backstory that takes us back over a thousand years.
Just as impressive as the history of this blade style is that it’s just as widely used today as it has been at any point in history. Let’s take a deeper dive into where kukris come from, why they’re so well-regarded, and whether it’s the right blade for your needs.
What Is a Kukri?
A kukri is a multipurpose blade somewhat similar to a machete. What makes it stand apart is its instantly-identifiable recurve blade, which bellies outward in a smooth, graceful bulge toward the point of the knife before sweeping inward toward the handle.
Size, weight and blade thickness of kukris vary considerably. Most models designed for everyday use have a 10 to 15 inch blade, and measure 16 to 18 inches in overall length.
Traditional kukris have handles made of bone, wood, or ivory, with a flared butt that helps keep the handle secure in the user’s grip. Contemporary versions of this knife may have a handle made of more modern materials, like carbon fiber, Micarta or G-10.
Used throughout history as weapons of combat as well as utility tools, kukris also vary quite a bit in their design. Some are quite short, and feature a deeply recurved blade, while others are longer, more slender, and have a more gentle contour rather than a strong S-curve.
Where Do Kukris Come From?
The Kukri—also known as a khukuri—originated in the Indian subcontinent. Its oldest documented use dates back to the 7th century, though precise origins are unknown. The western world became acquainted with the kukri around 200 years ago, when the British East India Trading Company ran afoul of the Nepali-speaking Gurkhas of Nepal.
Ghurkas wielding their traditional kukris were fierce fighters and formidable opponents, as the British learned during the Gurkha War of 1814 to 1816. To this day, the Kukri is the national weapon of Nepal, and an iconic weapon of the Nepalese Army.
No one knows exactly how long kukris have been used, or how they developed. The details have been lost to history, but there are many theories.
Some speculate that the kukri developed from an ancient Indian saber known as the nistrimsa, which was itself likely inspired by the Greek kopis, which Alexander the Great’s forces brought to India in the 4th century. It’s also entirely possible that the kukri originated from the people of Nepal and evolved over time, shaped by the unique needs of the people and the demands of their landscape.
Uses for a Kukri
Few blades are designed to be as versatile and adaptive as the kukri. While it’s a highly effective weapon—one that is still a staple of various regiments and units within the Indian and Nepalese militaries—combat is only one function of the kukri.
The kukri is a widely-used multipurpose utility tool in homes and farms throughout Nepal, and its popularity has spread to similar applications all over the world. Its unique shape makes it excellent for chopping firewood, digging, building, preparing meat and vegetables, hunting and slaughtering animals for food.
It’s also adaptable to a host of agricultural uses, which is how many western kukri owners find themselves using their blades the most. Much like a brush machete or bolo sword, kukris are well suited to slashing and clearing brush, cutting and harvesting crops, and all kinds of tasks associated with farming, gardening and landscaping.
What Makes the Kukri Special?
The recurve blade of a kukri isn’t just for show. It’s an essential part of what makes the kukri such a uniquely effective weapon and tool.
The blade’s curvature makes it very weight-forward, which allows it to bite even deeper when used for chopping. That curvature also carries materials along the cutting edge when a slicing motion is employed, allowing deep cuts with great ease.
This all adds up to chopping and slicing power that is disproportionately great when compared to the kukri’s relatively short length. This is simply a blade that hits well above its weight class, and in a fight it can do a shocking amount of damage.
But as devastating as kukris can be as combat weapons, these same features also make them adaptable to all sorts of outdoor uses. The recurve blade slices through plant materials with just as much ease as it does through flesh, arguably making it an even more effective brush tool than a classic machete.
At the same time, the convex portion of the blade close to the handle allows a great deal of control for fine tasks like shaving and whittling. A good kukri is also sturdy enough for truly heavy-duty tasks like chopping, breaking down kindling and batoning firewood.
Who Should Get a Kukri?
Having a kukri handy is like carrying a machete, a bushcraft knife and a hatchet all in one. This is a great option for anyone who works or plays outside and needs a well-rounded blade that can perform a wide range of tasks effectively. It’s ideal for campers, survivalists and bushcraft enthusiasts, as well as those who make their living in landscaping or trail maintenance.
Aside from those who are in military units where carrying a kukri is standard issue, most of us never use our blades for battle. Still, it’s comforting to know that the tool you’re carrying is also effective for self defense, should the need arise.
And hey, there’s also something to be said for owning a blade with a lot of fascinating history attached to it. Today, a wide variety of contemporary kukris are available in an equally wide range of shapes, sizes and styles ranging from the traditional to the modern, and they’re absolutely blades worth considering for real-world applications.
Blair Witkowski is an avid watch nut, loves pocket knives and flashlights, and when he is not trying to be a good dad to his nine kids, you will find him running or posting pics on Instagram. Besides writing articles for Tech Writer EDC he is also the founder of Lowcountry Style & Living. In addition to writing, he is focused on improving his client’s websites for his other passion, Search Engine Optimization. His wife Jennifer and he live in coastal South Carolina.