A push dagger (alternately known as a punch dagger, punch knife, push knife or, less often, a push dirk) is a short-bladed dagger with a "T" handle designed to be grasped and held in a closed-fist hand so that the blade protrudes from the front of the fist, either between the index and middle fingers or between the two central fingers, when the grip and blade are symmetrical.[1][2]

It originated as a close-combat weapon for civilians in the early 19th century, and also saw some use in the trench warfare of World War I.[2][3]


The 16th-century Indian katar (कटार), or punching sword, has been compared to the push dagger.[1][2] This weapon is analogous, or a remote predecessor at best, as the katar is gripped by two close-set vertical bars, while a push dagger uses a T-handle and a blade that protrudes between the fingers when properly gripped.[1]

American push dagger

The push dagger appears to originate in the 19th-century Southern United States.[3][4] Politicians wore them into state and federal buildings, even the United States Capitol.[3][4] As a concealable weapon, the push dagger was a favorite choice of civilian owners requiring a discreet knife capable of being used for personal protection.[3] Before the development of reliable small pistols such as the derringer, the push dagger was especially popular among riverboat gamblers and residents of the larger towns and cities of the Old Southwest, particularly gamblers and émigrés from the city of New Orleans, Louisiana.[5][6][2][7]

The New Orleans-style push dagger was known as the gimlet knife.[5] The gimlet knife had a short two-inch (50 mm) blade with a "gimlet" or T-handle.[5] It was a common weapon in the city during the 1800s and was usually slipped into a boot or concealed inside a coat sleeve or else hung on a waistcoat button by a strap attached to the knife's leather sheath.[8][5] The gimlet knife was used in so many riots, fights, and murders in New Orleans that the city passed an ordinance in 1879 prohibiting anyone within city limits from selling, offering or exhibiting such a weapon for sale.[9][10][5][6]

The push dagger also was a favorite weapon in 19th-century San Francisco, California.[11] The San Francisco style of push dagger tended to have a slightly longer blade than that of the gimlet knife and was most often equipped with a T-handle made of walrus ivory.[11]


During the latter half of the 19th century, the push dagger also enjoyed a brief period of popularity in Britain and Central Europe, particularly in Germany, where it was called the Stoßdolch or Faustmesser, meaning "push-dagger" and "fist-knife", respectively. The weapon is thought to have been introduced there in the mid-1800s by foreign sailors visiting North German ports. German cutlery makers began to manufacture domestic versions of the design, often set in nickel-silver mountings. The Stoßdolch was sold primarily as a self-defense weapon for travelers, salesmen, and others who required a compact, concealable weapon. Push daggers continued to be sold in Britain and Europe through the end of the 19th century, when the combination of more effective police forces and the availability of inexpensive small handguns caused a substantial decline in sales and usage of push daggers and other types of specialized fighting knives.[citation needed]

World War I

A Dudley push dagger

The reality of static trench warfare in World War I created a need for short, handy close-combat weapons that could be used in the confines of a trench. With pistols in short supply, a variety of knives and other stabbing weapons were created or issued to troops serving in the trenches. Originally most of these weapons were fabricated in the field from readily available materials such as metal stakes, but soon factory-made examples of knuckle knives and push daggers appeared at the front, and were used by both sides in the war. In Britain the Robbins-Dudley Co. of Dudley, Worcestershire, a metalworking company, was one of the first commercial producers of specialized wartime knuckle-knives and push daggers for private sale to individual soldiers and officers.[12] The typical Robbins-Dudley push dagger – referred to as a 'punch knife' by its maker – utilized an aluminium "knuckle"-type handle cast onto a 3.625-inch (92.1 mm) heat-treated steel dagger blade or alternatively, a 5-inch (130 mm) metal spike, which was subsequently blackened to prevent reflections in moonlight.[12][13]

World War II

The push dagger re-emerged during World War II, where it was first issued as combat weapon for British commandos, SAS, SOE, and other specialized raiding or guerrilla forces requiring a compact and concealable weapon for sentry elimination or close-quarters fighting.[14]

Contemporary designs

During the 1980s, several new versions of the push dagger concept were produced by a variety of specialty cutlery manufacturers, and were sold primarily as "tactical" or self-defense weapons, particularly in the U.S.


The sale and possession (or possession in public) of a push dagger with blade perpendicular to the handle is prohibited in some countries, such as the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and Canada although if the edge is parallel to the handle they are legal.[15][16][17] The laws of many countries and several U.S. states and cities prohibit or criminalize to some degree the purchase, possession, or sale of push daggers or knuckle knives.[18][19][20][21]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Harding, David, ed. (21 August 2007). The new weapons of the world encyclopedia. St. Martin's Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-312-36832-6. New York: Diagram Visual Information Ltd.
  2. ^ a b c d Martin, Dennis. "Maximum Thrust: The History and Usage of the Push Dagger". Archived from the original on 8 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d Peterson, Harold L., Daggers and Fighting Knives of the Western World, New York: Dover Publications Inc., ISBN 0-486-41743-3, p. 68.
  4. ^ a b The Wilson-Anthony Fight Archived 2011-09-28 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Arkansas-Heritage, retrieved 1 August 2011: In 1836 a knife fight broke out between the Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, John Wilson, and Rep. Joseph Anthony in the middle of a contentious legislative session; Anthony was killed, while Wilson was expelled from office and later indicted for murder.
  5. ^ a b c d e Secret Arms, The Saturday Review, London: Spottiswoode & Co., Vol. 77 No. 2,002' (10 March 1894), pp. 250–251.
  6. ^ a b Use of the Army in Certain Southern States: Sworn Testimony of Leon Voitier dated September 15, 1868, Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, Second Session of the 41st Congress 1876–1877, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Edition Vol. 9 No. 30, p. 315.
  7. ^ Alvarez, A., Poker: Bets, Bluffs, And Bad Beats, San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, ISBN 0-8118-4627-X (2004), p. 35.
  8. ^ Williamson, Bill. "The Bowie Knife's Origins". Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
  9. ^ Jewell, Edwin L., The Laws and Ordinances of the City of New Orleans: Title 16, Police Regulations, publ. Edwin L. Jewell (1882), p. 326: The punishment was thirty days' imprisonment and/or a fine of US$25.
  10. ^ The Amelia Blanche Murder, New Orleans Times Picayune, October 23, 1874.
  11. ^ a b Flayderman, Harold, The Bowie knife: Unsheathing an American Legend, London: Andrew Mobray Publishers Ltd., ISBN 1-931464-12-X (2004), p. 185.
  12. ^ a b Flook, Ron, British and Commonwealth Military Knives, Howell Press Inc., ISBN 1-57427-092-3 (1999), pp. 24–28.
  13. ^ Stephens, Frederick J., Fighting Knives: An Illustrated Guide to Fighting Knives and Military Survival Weapons of the World, Edinburgh, UK: Arms and Armour Press, ISBN 0-85368-711-0 (1985).
  14. ^ Melton, H. Keith, Ultimate Spy, New York: DK Publishing, ISBN 0789404435, pp. 174, 185.
  15. ^ Equality, The Department of Justice and (25 January 2019). "Frequently Asked Questions". www.justice.ie.
  16. ^ "Selling, buying and carrying knives". www.gov.uk.
  17. ^ "Canadian Criminal Law/Weapons - Wikibooks, open books for an open world". en.wikibooks.org.
  18. ^ "Prohibited Knives: Current Legislation For 2011". The Official British Knife Collectors Guild. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
  19. ^ "Die Rechtslage – WaffG und Messer" (in German). Archived from the original on 2 September 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
  20. ^ Canada Criminal Code (R.S. 1985, c. C-46), Subsection 84(1) – (Prohibited Weapon, defined); S.O.R./98-462 Regulations, Section 4, Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted; S.O.R./98-462 Regulations, Section 9, Part 3, Schedule to the Regulations.
  21. ^ Wong, David, Knife Laws of the Fifty States: A Guide for the Law-Abiding Traveler, AuthorHouse, ISBN 1-4259-5092-2 (2006).