The Battle Wagon Knife

Where Halsey and Halyards Meet
; .

The Battle Wagon and its yet-unnamed sister knife. The D2
stainless steel rigger blade profile is unique but the real claim
to fame is the handle material — made from reclaimed teak
deck from the USS New Jersey battleship.

How many knives can legitimately claim a possible physical participation in four active conflicts — WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Lebanese Civil War — along with supporting some of the most legendary admirals in American military history and at least one U.S. President? If you add in the countless unknown sailors, marines, soldiers and secret-squirrel-types who are part of its amazing backstory, you have a noteworthy cutting tool.

Let me introduce you to the “Battle Wagon,” a semi-custom knife built from D2 steel and history.


Anchors Aweigh

My new knife isn’t for sale (unless we come to some simply ridiculous financial terms) but if you’re the “crafty” type, you can build your own version — or whatever else your abilities and creativity can achieve. I’ll explain in a moment.

Our featured knife is a semi-custom blade built from a high-quality stainless steel knife blank designed by Mike Johnson of Amarillo, Texas and purchased from Payne Brothers Custom Knives. The knife was actually assembled and finished by our own Roy Huntington. The 3″ sheepsfoot-profile full-tang blade is intended for utility and rope work, especially around boats; making it was a natural choice for this project. The blunt point is perfect to avoid accidentally puncturing things like sails or epidermis while cutting a rope under tension.

However, a great blade and quality craftsmanship aren’t the most noteworthy aspect of the knife. Its claim to fame is the handle material, made from reclaimed teak off the deck of the Battleship New Jersey. Roy discovered the museum ship is replacing worn teak from the 53,000 square foot deck and bought a supply. When he offered to build me a knife from the wood, I jumped at the chance and had him build a second, slightly more eye-catching version for my brother, a major naval history junkie.


The knives above were built by Roy Huntington using a full-tang knife blank designed by Mike Johnson of Amarillo, Texas and purchased from Payne Brothers Custom Knives. D2 is so hard Roy needed a cobalt drill bit to open the tang holes!

History Comes Alive

To get a sense of the age and history of the teak adorning my knife, I reached out to Ryan Szimanski, the Director of Curatorial and Educational Affairs for the Battleship New Jersey Museum & Memorial in Camden, N.J. You might also recognize Ryan from the museum’s popular YouTube channel.

According to Szimanski, the reclaimed wood is from a variety of vintages but all of it has been witness to some important moments in naval history.
“About half of the deck seems to have been replaced in the 1980s, near the end of the ship’s service, but we definitely still have some original wood from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” Szimanski said. “We can tell, based on the type of bedding compound, type of caulk and type of fasteners or studs used to attach the teak to the deck.”

It’s difficult to know exactly where each specific piece of wood came from, but some bear marks that help date it. “My favorite pieces are the areas around the ship’s 5″ guns. The wood still has the crescent-shaped divots from the 7-lb. brass shell casings being ejected out of the back of the guns,” the curator said. There are plenty of dents because he noted during Vietnam, the New Jersey was the only battleship still in active service in the world and fired more rounds off the coast of ’Nam than during its WWII and Korea service combined!

Though the available wood is a mixed bag, it’s all historical. “Some of the important people to walk on our teak include Admirals William F. “Bull” Halsey Jr., Raymond A. Spruance and Chester Nimitz, as well as President Reagan,” Szimansky noted. In my case, I choose to believe they all trod repeatedly over “my” personal piece of knife handle. There is also the fact the wood has seen, at minimum, shots fired in anger off the coast of Vietnam and Lebanon, if not also Korea and WWII.

Pretty heady stuff for a utilitarian knife primarily intended to shorten an errant mainsheet! Actually, since I don’t sail very much, the Battle Wagon will spend more time cutting super-braid fishing line than anything else — but now I have a great story to tell whenever it leaves the sheath.

For those interested in acquiring their own reclaimed teak decking for a project, it is still available through the website For the less-mechanically-inclined, there are also products made by museum volunteers available for purchase. Szimanski notes one volunteer is currently crafting a guitar from the teak.

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