Review: Cold Steel’s Recon Tanto San Mai III


Review: Cold Steel’s Recon Tanto San Mai III

I consider Lynn Thompson of Cold Steel to be a real innovator. I give him credit for modernizing the Japanese Tanto blade design, and I like to say that he set the standard for super-sharp knives out-of-the-box. After Cold Steel starting producing knives with a hair-poppin’ edge, many other major knife companies had to jump on board and start putting a better edge on their cutlery.


There aren’t too many Cold Steel products that I haven’t owned or tested over the years, and the Cold Steel Recon Tanto with San Mai III laminate steel has always been on my wish list. There are many “super steels” on the market these days, and many (most?) of them are outstanding in all respects. However, the cost of these steels can drive the price of a blade so high that many people simply can’t afford it. Lynn Thompson created his San Mai III laminated steel when he went looking for a way to offer a stronger, tougher blade that would hold an edge but would still be easy to re-sharpen.

Without getting overly technical (not that I could), a laminated blade consists of several layers of steel. In the case of the San Mai III laminate, there are three layers of stainless steel. On the inside of the “sandwich” is hard, high carbon steel, and forge-welded to either side are lower-carbon steels.


If you take a close look at a Cold Steel San Mai III blade, you’ll seen a fine line on either side near the cutting edge. That’s where the sides of the “sandwich” end and the harder center portion begins. These knives are popular, which is proven by the fact that they always seem to be on backorder.


Thompson tested a variety of steels to come up with the best steel for his San Mai III blades, and he came away with VG-1, which is what he uses for the center of the blade (which forms the cutting edge). I’m not at all sure what this steel is, but I know from experience it is a high-grade blade steel that works.

I received my Recon Tanto San Mai III sample after waiting several months, and it was well worth the wait. The blade is 7 inches long and has a modified tanto point; it’s an armor-piercing point that can even be driven through the hood of a car without damage to the blade. We’re talking tough! The overall length of the knife is 11-3/4″, the blade is 3/16″ thick, and it weighs 8.5 ounces.

The handle material is checkered and made of a polymer called Kray-Ex which really gives you a great hold on the knife. The sheath material is called Secure-Ex, again another tough polymer.

There is just something about all of Cold Steel’s Tanto knives that I never could put my finger on, but these knives just feel great in my hand no matter what grip I use (fencing, ice pick, etc). And they always balance nicely.

Many martial artists, like myself, love a tanto-style blade for knife fighting/self-defense. There’s just something about a tanto blade that allows it to penetrate easily, and it is super at slashing, too. It seems to grab whatever material you are slashing into, and it cuts deeper than other blades.

The tanto blade is first and foremost a fighting blade design, and I consider any other use beyond that as just an added benefit. I used my Recon Tanto to slash and puncture rubber tires, and it easily penetrated the steel belts. I could easily stab the blade to the hilt into stacked cardboard. I even used the knife around the kitchen.

I tested it as a survival-type knife, chopping on dead fallen trees, and the 7 inch blade did a lot better than I thought it would. I have no doubt that it would excel as a hunting knife, too. I tried using it as a throwing knife (I didn’t expect it to stick and it never did), which really abused the blade when it bounced off of a tree and onto a gravel driveway. The only damage was a few small scruffs on the blade. I never once had to re-sharpen the blade, although I tested it over a period of several weeks.


If you’re in the military and are looking for a fixed blade combat knife, you’d be hard pressed to find much better than the Cold Steel Recon Tanto San Mai III.

Now for the good news: the Recon Tanto San Mai III fixed blade knife is only $209.99. That might sound like a lot of money at first, but you are getting a custom-quality fixed blade knife with San Mai III laminated stainless steel. You can shop around for custom fighting knives (and you can pay a heck of a lot more for one of them),  but you won’t get one that’s any stronger than the San Mai III blade on this Recon Tanto.

Personally, I think it’s a bargain. So if you’re in the market for one, make sure you’re on the waiting list at Cold Steel. You won’t regret it.

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Pat Cascio is currently a writer for AllOutdoor who has chosen not to write a short bio at this time.

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