Knife Review: Gerber Strongarm

Gerber’s latest incarnation of the military/tactical survival knife has taken its evolution to another level. Paring down each element of the design to provide the essential functions without any excess bulk has resulted in a tool that works with you and remains totally reliable.

 photo 00 Strongarm feature P1190485v2.jpg

The Blade and Handle Geometry:

Most knife specifications have a basic description of the blade geometry, but in this section I will be taking a more detailed look at geometry and balance.
 photo 47 Strongarm grind P1200587.jpg

Using a set of gauges and precision measuring equipment including a Vernier protractor, callipers, fixed radius gauges and the unique Arc Master adjustable radius gauge (the one that looks like a crossbow).
 photo Knife measuring P1180483.jpg

These measurements have been tabulated and are presented along with a few reference blades (8″ Chef’s Knife, 5.5″ Santoku and the popular Fällkniven F1).

Key aspects such as the primary bevel angle, grind type, blade depth, blade thickness, length, weight are detailed, along with balance information.

The ‘Balance relative to the front of the handle’ tells you if the knife will feel front heavy, or if the weight is in your hand (a positive value means the weight is forward of the front of the handle). The ‘Balance relative to the centre of the handle’ indicates how close to a ‘neutral balance’ the knife has in the hand.
 photo 46 Strongarm balance P1200560.jpg

In the case of full convex grinds the approximate centre of the grind is used for the primary bevel angle estimate.

 photo 51 Strongarm Parameters.jpg

The blade is made from 420HC steel.

Explained by the Maker:

The reasons for certain design choices may not be clear when simply looking at an object, so this section is intended to give an insight into the thinking behind a design by speaking to the designer themselves.

Unfortunately I can’t always get time with the designer so will use this section to include relevant information about the knife and its designer.

The Strongarm is the result of an evolution of Gerber’s survival knives which I can trace back through several models. In this section I’d like to share a personal perspective of the evolution that has lead to the Strongarm. This might not be how Gerber would chart its development, but is based on my own knives and experience.

As any child of the 80s will know, the 1982 film ‘Rambo – First Blood’ has been one of the most influential films in terms of interest in survival and in knife design at the time. With Lyle knives way out of reach, I ended up owning some of the rather nasty cheap hollow handle Rambo style knives. There were other more serious designs available but pricing also made them out of reach.

Still hankering after a decent and stylish blade I was struck by the appearance of one in another film from 1988 staring Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger – Deadly Pursuit (Shoot to Kill). In this film Tom Berenger’s character is carrying a Gerber BMF (Basic Multi-Function) in its original pattern with 8″ blade, and this was the saw back version that wasstill in fashion at the time. I loved it and knew this was the knife I had to have. Unfortunately with the UK market starved of this knife I had to wait for one to arrive, and when it did changes had been made to the size and grind. It now had a 9″ blade and the one I found didn’t have the saw-back. It was still a meaty solid knife, so had to do. The BMF was produced by Gerber between 1986 and 1998 and had several ‘updates’ during this time.

In the following evolution photographs is the original pattern BMF I eventually found only a couple of years ago (and this one has been on active duty in war zones).

The sheath is as important as the knife in providing the overall package, so starting here we can see all the knives in this evolution in their sheaths. The knives shown are the BMF 8″ saw-back, then a LMF, the LMF II, a Prodigy and finally the Strongarm.
 photo 41 Strongarm evolution P1190818.jpg

With the BMF (first made in 1986) being a big knife there was demand for a similar design but smaller. In 1988 Gerber released the LMF (Light Multi-Function). In its first year the LMF had a full flat grind, but from 1989 onwards (until 1997 when it was discontinued) it was the style shown here. The original LMF had the bias towards blade length as a proportion of overall length. After a few years, the LMF was reborn in May 2005 as the LMF II designed specifically as a military survival knife. Becoming known as the standard by which all survival knives should be judged, many found the LMF II a little too big, so a smaller alternative was made with the name Prodigy. Working hard to make this knife all the more versatile, Gerber designed the multi-mount and tweaked the design further to create the Strongarm.

 photo 43 Strongarm evolution P1190839.jpg

Following the evolution series you can see how blade and handle lengths changed over time.
 photo 45 Strongarm evolution P1190832.jpg

A few more details:

Both the plain edge and part-serrated version were provided for review, hence the two boxes.
 photo 01 Strongarm boxed P1190423.jpg

A cardboard insert keep the knife in place and prevents the striker pommel breaking through the outer box.
 photo 02 Strongarm unboxing P1190424.jpg

Fresh out of the box, and as well as the sheathed knife there is the PALS webbing clip, a horizontal belt loop adapter and the instructions.
 photo 03 Strongarm unboxed P1190431.jpg

It is immediately obvious how much more streamlined Gerber have made the Strongarm compared to earlier knives in the line.
 photo 04 Strongarm sheathed P1190440.jpg

The moulded plastic sheath is suspended by a webbing hanger. For those sharp eyed readers you might notice that only a single press-stud is used for the hanger loop on the sheath, but even if this were to become un-popped, it cannot come out of the sheath while the knife is in the sheath.
 photo 05 Strongarm hanger P1190443.jpg

These are the parts of the sheath hanger/belt loop.
 photo 06 Strongarm hanger parts P1190445.jpg

To replace the belt loop, lay out the hanger strap as shown. (The cross piece is a knife retention strap for added security)
 photo 07 Strongarm hanger parts assemble P1190449.jpg

Fit the belt loop in place with the single press-stud on the underneath.
 photo 08 Strongarm hanger parts assemble P1190452.jpg

Close the belt loop with its two press-studs.
 photo 09 Strongarm hanger parts assemble P1190455.jpg

Then lay the hanger strap over the top and secure the two press-studs.
 photo 10 Strongarm hanger parts assemble P1190457.jpg

Taking the hanger off for clarity, here we are looking at the moulded sheath’s PALS fixing.
 photo 11 Strongarm PALS P1190460.jpg

Once in place over the PALS webbing you slide the locking bar through the loops to attach it.
 photo 12 Strongarm PALS P1190463.jpg

The PALS fixing can also be used to fit the horizontal belt loops.
 photo 13 Strongarm horiz Belt P1190466.jpg

Despite the blade being stainless steel, and having a black ceramic coating the Strongarm arrived with an oiled blade.
 photo 14 Strongarm oil P1190468.jpg

Each knife has a serial number and “Made in USA Portland, OR” proudly inscribed on the blade.
 photo 15 Strongarm serration back P1190472.jpg

The ceramic coating seems to have a slight non-stick effect as the oil beads up on it.
 photo 16 Strongarm serration front P1190481.jpg

You might also note that the length of the serrations is less than one third of the blade’s cutting edge.
 photo 17 Strongarm angle P1190484.jpg

The grind provides a powerful and strong point to the knife.
 photo 22 Strongarm tip P1190724.jpg

Despite the grip looking quite flat when in the sheath, you can see there is a definite palm swell.
 photo 23 Strongarm swell P1190725.jpg

The full tang protrudes from the handle providing a lanyard hole and glass breaking point.
 photo 24 Strongarm glass breaker P1190728.jpg

There is a rubber over-mould on the glass-filled nylon handle which has a diamond-shaped raised grip pattern.
 photo 25 Strongarm grip P1190735.jpg

Keeping the blade strength to the maximum the plunge line is a smooth curve transitioning from cutting edge to ricasso.
 photo 26 Strongarm plunge P1190738.jpg

Looking at how the cutting edge terminates for the plain edge version. I shall probably be adding a sharpening choil myself to this one.
 photo 40 Strongarm plain edge P1190804.jpg

As you would expect, when sheathed there is no visible difference between the plain and part-serrated versions.
 photo 28 Strongarm both P1190763.jpg

Let’s have a quick look over the difference between them.
 photo 29 Strongarm both P1190768.jpg

Starting with a simple side-by-side.
 photo 30 Strongarm both P1190770.jpg

Of course, the blades are made from exactly the same blade blank.
 photo 31 Strongarm both P1190771.jpg

Having that part-serrated edge always seems to make that version look as if it has more ‘belly’ near the front of the blade. This is because the serrations have to be cut quite deeply into the blade due to being a single bevel grind.
 photo 32 Strongarm both P1190774.jpg

Now we have had a good look over the Strongarm, it is time for that PALS attachment. Thanks to the secure retention system in the sheath, the knife can be happily mounted tip up or down.
 photo 18 Strongarm PALS P1190716.jpg

When PALS mounting you remove the belt loop and use the hanger strap to keep the handle from flapping. This hanger strap has one press-stud to secure it to the webbing and the rest of the strap needs to be tucked out of the way.
 photo 19 Strongarm PALS detail P1190713.jpg

The plastic sheath fits into the PALS webbing like this.
 photo 20 Strongarm PALS detail P1190710.jpg

A very neat PALS compatible system and far more compact than the LMF II or Prodigy.
 photo 21 Strongarm PALS detail P1190706.jpg

What it is like to use?

I’d like to start this section with a little comparison to its most closely related sibling, the Prodigy. I really like the LMF II and Prodigy, so if there are any comments that sound anti-either of them it is only by way of saying how the Strongarm has improved on them.

The most obvious difference is the size of the sheath and the retention tab. The new retention system is secure, but much easier to use. Overall the force required to remove the knife is slightly less with the Strongarm, but still plenty strong enough to keep the knife in place. There are also two thumb tabs moulded into the sheath to give you a leverage point for bringing the knife out of the sheath under much more control than just pulling it out. The streamlining of the sheath makes a huge difference to the apparent size of the knife when carrying it.
 photo 33 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190778.jpg

Once the Prodigy and Strongarm are out of their sheaths they are more similar in appearance but with several key differences that we will take a look at.
 photo 34 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190784.jpg

The area of the handle where the retention system holds the knife is quite different. For the older Prodigy, the normal moulded guard is gripped by the sheath, but in the Strongarm a clearly dedicated section of the guard is specifically shaped for the sheath to click into. In this way, instead of the sheath needing to grip the ‘normal’ handle, the new Strongarm has had the retention system designed into the knife handle making it much more precise.
Also of note is the handle texture on the Strongarm; while the Prodigy feels very comfortable and has good grip, the grip pattern of the Strongarm makes it feel rough and like it is positively holding onto you.
 photo 36 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190789.jpg

The part-serrated portion of the blade on the Strongarm has been reduced. This is most welcome as the serrated part of the Prodigy blade did seem to dominate it.
 photo 37 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190792.jpg

Two features we can notice here are the position of the striker on the pommel, and the grip length. The striker on the Strongarm is more central than on the Prodigy making it more natural to strike on target. Though the handle itself is the same overall length, the grip hook has been pushed further along the handle effectively making the grip longer giving more room for a gloved hand.
 photo 38 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190794.jpg

Finishing up in this comparison with an overhead shot which shows how similar the overall dimensions are to the older Prodigy.
 photo 39 Strongarm prodigy compare overall P1190801.jpg

In the Strongarm, Gerber have pitched the size bang-on for an easily carried but still capable survival knife. For reference, I take XL size gloves. Personally I prefer a little more body to the grip, but this does need to work well for the average hand and I can still get a good grip without it feeling too small.
 photo 27 Strongarm in hand P1190747.jpg

I don’t have the facilities to test the Strongarm in an escape/rescue/breaching scenario so instead have to focus on more of the survival and camping aspects. Both the plain edge and part-serrated version are on test, and personally I favour the plain edge as a general working tool, but do see a place for the part-serrated as a backup tool. One of the reasons I don’t like the part-serrated blade is for the wood preparation and carving round the camp. As shown here the serrations make significant shaping in those power cuts carried out close to the handle. It certainly cuts well, but serrations cuts best when slicing and not so well in push cuts. Also if your uses are for cutting a lot of fibrous material and ropes/cords, then the serrations are going to be a real boon.
 photo 48 Strongarm whittle P1250185.jpg

Thanks to the thick blade stock, the Strongarm’s blade has enough weight in it to work on its own hacking into branches. Here is a rather untidy job on some dormant wood and is my first attempt while I was getting a feel for the best grip to use (two or three finger).
 photo 49 Strongarm hack P1250188.jpg

So even before you have found yourself a baton, it gets through some smaller branches easily enough. More fatiguing than a bigger heavier knife, but it will do the job.
 photo 50 Strongarm hack P1250198.jpg

Having followed the evolution of the Gerber line to the Strongarm, there isn’t a single feature I would undo and want to revert to an earlier version. I still like and use the earlier knives, but the Strongarm is an improvement over them in every way, not least the ease of carry. Remember the ‘best’ survival knife is the one you have on you, so where I might not carry the LMF II, I would carry the Strongarm.

Review Summary

The views expressed in this summary table are from the point of view of the reviewer’s personal use. I am not a member of the armed forces and cannot comment on its use beyond a cutting tool or field/hunting knife.

Something that might be a ‘pro’ for one user can be a ‘con’ for another, so the comments are categorised based on my requirements. You should consider all points and if they could be beneficial to you.

_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Things I like What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Simple and effective blade retention system. Retention strap press-stud was initially too stiff and caused fraying of the strap.
Part-serrated and Plain Edge versions available. Blade a little too thick for good food preparation.
Multi-mount sheath with belt, horizontal and PALS options.
Full Tang.
Ambidextrous sheath.
Enough weight in the blade to chop.

 photo 42 Strongarm evolution P1190841.jpg

 

Discussing the Review:

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