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February 23, 2009 Comments (0) Blades & Tools

Spyderco Barong Review

"Beware the man with one gun, because he probably knows how to use it well."  An oft repeated axiom among the outdoors crowd, this old saw might also apply to the world of bladecraft as well,  and to the man with just one knife.  There have been many cultures in our world where one tool was used for home life, agriculture, and as a main weapon during times of war.  One such example is the Barong.  The Barong is a tool with a blade length between a knife and a short sword.

It was developed and popularized in the Southern Phillipines where it is still produced to this day.  It has a wide, leaf-shaped blade that is extremely efficient at chopping chores whether for vegetation or warfare.  There are stories of the Barong’s cutting power on the battlefied ranging from tales of chopping through the muskets of Spanish soldiers to stories of a man being cleaved in two with just one blow.  It has gained respect throughout history as a fierce fighting tool, and its distinct heritage and unique design could be a couple of reasons that that Ed Schempp designed the new folding-knife iteration of this famous blade—the Spyderco Barong.

Ed Schempp is a multi-facted individual with skills that extend from knife design to making Damascus steel, and even to wheat-farming.  He has spent a good amount of time designing knives with distinct ethnic origins including the new Spyderco Khukuri, the Spyderco Persian, and even the Spyderco Rock Salt.  Though the Rock Salt isn’t intended as a direct replica of a Khukuri, it’s profile and recurve blade certainly draws upon some of the best features of that particular blade style.   He did the same thing with his conception of the Spyderco Barong.

Like its namesake, the Spyderco Barong has a wide, leaf-shaped blade as well.  However, it works nicely as a folding-knife because it allows ample room for the trademark Spyderco opening-hole, but still closes compactly enough for easy pocket carry.  Its 1/8 inch thick blade with its full, flat grind stays true to its predecessors and makes the Spyderco version a fantastic knife for slicing chores.  The blade is constructed of the popular VG-10 steel which is easy to maintain and is corrosion-resistant.  But, what really makes the Spyderco Barong stand out is the handle design that wraps around the blade when closed.  The handle has the same contours as a traditional Barong, along with a slight hook-back pommel which helps to secure the frame to the hand.  It’s a nice fit and make the Barong feel like a natural extension of the user’s body.

The grib slabs are made of Foilage Green G-10 which is a nice complement to the outdoors feel of the blade, but can make it tricky to find if you drop your knife in the bush.  The Spyderco Barong is easily adaptable to left or right-hand carry with screw holes for the pocket clip on either side of the handle.  It is worn in the pocket in a tip-up carry position and can be quickly deployed as a defensive knife if needed, though you might want to check your local laws since the blade is just a hair under 4 inches long.  I know one of our local jurisdictions (city) frowns on anything over 3.5 inches.  But, if you can carry it, the Spyderco Barong would make an outstanding defensive weapon.

What I like about the Spyderco Barong’s design is that there’s a slight forward lean to the blade (less pronounced than a Khukuri) relative to the rest of the knife.  Some call that an "ergonomic" profile.  Either way, it allows the user to begin the cutting task before they typically could with a straight blade.  For me, it allows for more power to be transferred to the blade since the point is leading the rest of the knife into the cut.  It’s a hard concept for me to explain.  You just have to use these blade styles to gain a full understanding of how it works and feels to the user.  This "feel" holds up in the Spyderco version as well, even if it is actually a miniaturized version of the Barong style blade.

As mentioned earlier, the Spyderco Barong is an excellent slicing tool and it was good for finer work since the handle shape allows the user to get a firm grip on the body for more surgical cuts and delicate work.  I took the Barong with me out into the woods for a day not too long ago and used it for multiple tasks including making fuzz sticks, a spear, and splitting pieces of wood for kindling to get a fire going during the late afternoon.  All in all, I enjoyed using it very much.  I’ve read in different discussions how responsive a traditional Barong is because of its handle design relative to the length of the blade.  I would say the same holds true for the Spyderco Barong as well.  Once seated in the hand, it moved naturally in the hand and felt as though it was "flowing" through whatever task I threw at it.  It’s just a great user’s that can be relied upon to get the job done.  Its nimble nature also inspires confidence with regard to its ability to use this as a defensive tool.  Additionally, the profile of the blade will allow for deep, shearing cuts (relative to the knife’s size) during such use.  This style of blade has stood the test of time for offensive and defensive use on the battlefield.  There’s absolutely no reason to believe it won’t perform just as well in this day and age–even if you do clip it in your pocket.

The one thing that I had an issue with during the use of the Spyderco Barong was the bottom portion of the handle that hooks back where the user’s little finger would lay.  When I was doing work that caused the little finger to push down into the handle (such as cutting pieces off for the spear or light chopping), I could feel the sharp edges right around the the first corner at the bottom of the handle digging into my finger.  This isn’t felt with forward-pressing tasks such as thrusting or stabbing, but it happens where the hand is pulling down into the bottom of the handle.  I’ve heard horror stories about people who mess up their guns or knives with a Dremel tool, but this might just be one occasion where I would want to radius the two opposing corners just a bit and bevel the frame edges in the curve just a hair to keep that bite off the skin.  Aside from that one little thing, I think the Spyderco Barong does just about anything you could ask out of a folding knife.

Throughout the years, I’ve had numerous Spyderco knives including a Delica, Endura, Police, Paramilitary, Clip-It, a couple of Militarys, a Moran Drop Point and a Chinook III.  There’s a reason I keep picking up Spyderco knives, and that’s because they work.  Each one is superbly designed for the task for which it was intended, and all of them have held up to years of use.  However, this is the first time I’ve used a Spyderco knife that was built solely to represent a unique, ethnic blade style.  And, once again, Spyderco did not disappoint.  I like the aesthetics of the Spyderco Barong and I really respected its usefulness for every day tasks in spite of its exotic appearance.  Even out on the trail, the Barong not only kept up, it took the lead in everything that had to be done.  For an all-around folding knife that might be used as a utility tool, a camp knife, a defensive weapon, or an every day pocket knife, I think the Spyderco Barong is a dead-bang match.  And, you also get sex appeal and a history lesson to boot!  What could be better than that?

For more information, visit:  www.spyderco.com  

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