Review: the Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife wants you to know about death

“Death? What do y’all know about death?’

In the classic 1986 Oliver Stone film Platoon, the vicious Staff Sgt. Bob Barnes (played by Tom Berenger) famously asked his resentful, belligerent, pot-smoking Joes, “Death? What do y’all know about death?” after catching them talking about fragging him. Prominently displayed on the left shoulder of his M1956 Load-Carrying Equipment harness is a push dagger: The Cold Steel Defender, which is a knife from a company that wouldn’t exist until 1980. Anachronisms aside, the unsettling tension of this scene comes to a head when Pvt. Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen) ends Barnes’ soliloquy by rushing him and attempting to bash his head against one of the supporting beams of the bunker. Quickly, Barnes overpowers Taylor, drawing his push dagger and threatening to stab him with it, bringing a sudden end to the fight.

Review: the Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife wants you to know about death
Staff Sgt. Bob Barnes in Platoon (YouTube screenshot)

The Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife is simply the latest iteration of this concept, being a similarly T-shaped dagger that fits a more no-nonsense user. This knife doesn’t try to present itself as some sort of “seatbelt cutter” or “multipurpose utility knife.” The purpose of the 36ME is simple: If someone attacks you, and they’re in such close quarters that you can’t use a firearm or another melee weapon, you draw this dagger between your index and middle finger, find an open area, and beat on the threat until neutralized. This is entirely a purebred, purpose-built weapon.

Blade length: 4 in

Weight: 7.6 oz

Material: 52100 high carbon steel

Unboxing

The 36ME comes in a black cardboard box that prominently features the Cold Steel logo, a photo of the knife, and some of the relevant stats. Inside, the knife is accompanied by the Secure-Ex sheath, and nothing else, which is in line with Cold Steel’s generally utilitarian, no-frills design. The first thing that struck me about the 36ME was the size, because for some reason, the “4-inch blade, 6-inch overall length” didn’t translate properly in my head. This thing is a whopper, weighing in at nearly half a pound of solid steel, and the blade adding a considerable blade length to the front of your closed fist.

Cold Steel 36ME  Drop Forged Push Knife
The Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife (Matt Sampson)

The dagger itself is completely plain steel, with only a mild coating to keep the corrosion off of the high-carbon 52100 steel blade. There’s no sort of grip or padding, and the handle is hollowed out on either side, ostensibly to save on weight. The handle also features a small hole, either for a lanyard of some sort, or to start a gutted paracord wrap to improve comfort. The dagger features an extremely sharp spear-point edge that runs down the entire length of the blade, featuring plain black text that tells you who made it, where it was made, what it’s made of, and what it’s called, which is to say that it’s made in Taiwan of the aforementioned drop-forged 52100 steel. The included Secure-Ex sheath is made of two molded plastic halves that are joined by seven rivets along the edge, and two large screws. The sheath also features an Ulti-Clip retention clip that allows you to use a cam-tightening feature to secure the sheath into your pants, with or without a belt. This type of clip is good for people who tend to wear a lot of sweatpants, leggings, or gym shorts, as it securely grabs the waistband even on the thinnest of garments. 

The problems with the dagger generally fall into three categories: choice of steel, sheath construction, and user comfort. The choice of 52100 steel is an interesting one, given that it’s usually used as a ball bearing steel, or to be used in high-impact tools. This makes sense given that this is supposed to be a dagger used in an explosive punching motion, where you’d want the small carbide size to ensure resistance to fracturing, should you strike anything hard on your target. However, this also lends itself to corrosion, which is a very real problem with a knife that’s meant to be carried close to the body or inside the waistband. This means that the sweat from your body, especially in the hotter months, will infiltrate the sheath and sit against the untreated edge, causing rust even after very short use. The 52100 steel is ideal in applications where corrosion is less of an issue, and where you want to prioritize edge retention and toughness at a lower cost. 

The second issue, the sheath, is one that Cold Steel has anecdotally struggled with for some time. Even in Platoon, SSG Barnes had his sheath buried under a mountain of tape to keep it attached to the straps of his harness. In the case of the 36ME, the issue that I’ve found with the sheath is how the Ulti-Clip joins with it. The clip doesn’t secure to the sheath in anything resembling a sturdy fashion, and I can pull it out simply by pulling on it. User comfort is an issue that isn’t apparent until you actually try to use it, due to the fact that the dagger is made entirely out of steel. The handle isn’t comfortable at all, with any kind of lateral motion forcing the grip of the blade against your fingers. Actually trying to stab something with it causes you to feel every bit of impact shock through the solid chunk of metal. Wrapping this grip is a must, whether you use tape, paracord, or something else.

How we tested the Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife

Cold Steel 36ME  Drop Forged Push Knife
The Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife (Matt Sampson)

The first test was to carry it around for an entire day while doing various tasks, for the purpose of assessing comfort. The weight of the dagger definitely pulled down the waistband of my gym shorts when I carried it while wearing those, and overall the dagger was slightly too long to sit comfortably. In addition, the included sheath rides slightly higher than I would like, causing the handle to dig into my stomach when I bend over.

The second test was my affordable version of the Cold Steel classic test of just stabbing and slashing random things with the product to show its strength, with the “affordable” part coming from the fact that I didn’t have an entire side of meat lying around to flay for the purpose of testing my knife. However, I was able to get a stab pattern by stabbing the dagger through cardboard, which yielded a clean, diamond-shaped incision. 

Cold Steel 36ME  Drop Forged Push Knife
The Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife (Matt Sampson)

I also tried to stab through a watermelon rind, but the thickness of the blade simply split the rind as soon as the blade entered the watermelon. One of the interesting observed effects was when the dagger was slashed through the rind in a sweeping motion, to use either edge to cut through the rind. This caused a relatively clean split, allowing me to easily chop the piece of rind into small pieces. Obviously, this isn’t a slicing weapon, but the fact that both edges are very sharp is something that I don’t often see in daggers meant for stabbing.

For the third test, I rapidly jabbed the dagger into an old Century bag glove that I had lying around, and then finally braced the glove against something and drove the dagger through with as much force as I could manage. The 36ME achieved full penetration with very little additional force, and then upon exit, I did the latter two steps of “stab, rip, pull” where I used one of the edges to slice through the medium of what I’d just stabbed, before pulling the knife out. This yielded a nasty slash through the leather coating of the glove, the foam core, and out the other side, only stopped by the rubber cylinder in the palm of the glove that’s used for a novice boxer to close their fist around.

Cold Steel 36ME  Drop Forged Push Knife
The Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife (Matt Sampson)

As a final test, I locked the blade into a pair of vice grips, put on some safety glasses, and with a claw hammer, repeatedly bashed the knife for roughly a minute, which caused sparks, some paint chipping, but no actual damage to the blade steel or bending of the knife. In fact, striking the raised edges of the handle left dents in the striking head of my hammer, as it’s made of a softer steel. A relevant test that I was unable to do due to cost prohibition would be to see how this blade would perform if used to stab through heavy clothing or a Kevlar soft armor vest, because while neither of those are rated to protect against stab threats, they certainly will slow down an unskilled or glancing stab.

What we like about the Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife

Cold Steel 36ME  Drop Forged Push Knife
The Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife (Matt Sampson)

This thing is brutal. It’s a solid steel dagger that is sturdy, well-made, and wickedly sharp. The 36ME carries no pretense of being used for anything other than close quarters combat, and every frill that wouldn’t aid in that has been stripped away. Rather than having a partial tang and a molded plastic grip like other Cold Steel offerings, this dagger is forged from one continuous piece of steel, which stood up to what can only be described as atypical abuse. Even at its retail price of roughly $60, the combination of quality construction and good materials means that this is another bargain from Cold Steel, and at $25 on sale from Botach, I just had to have it.

What we don’t like about the Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife

It’s a unitasker, first and foremost. This is a knife that has no other utility besides inflicting serious wounds on an attacker, and is not something that most people will ever use for its intended purpose. At best, it’s a curiosity piece, and at worst it’s something that could legitimately get you in legal trouble, should you choose to carry it, depending on your locale. The blade steel rusts easily, which makes no sense for a knife that’s meant to be carried against the body, and while it does improve the toughness of this dagger, I’d have preferred something a little less maintenance-intensive. The included sheath and clip are probably the weakest points of this entire package, being flimsy, somehow both too deep and too high, and overall very much in keeping with the tradition of wonky Cold Steel sheaths.

Verdict

More than any other knife I’ve tested, the Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife is a niche blade. It’s brash, aggressive, and savagely designed, with one purpose in mind: this is a knife for stabbing, and nothing else. While this does limit the utility of this knife to most people, for those who actually need something like this, it’s a great choice. Additionally, it’s a great curiosity piece to have, especially at this price, especially if this is the only push dagger that you’ll ever buy. So let’s call this one an acquired taste for sure.

Saved rounds/Test notes 

Due to my location, when I tested the carrying experience of the 36ME, I had to do it on private property, as the local laws prevent you from carrying fixed blade knives of any kind concealed while in public. Regarding my tests, I didn’t feel the need to do a dedicated corrosion test, since I noticed surface rust even from just walking around while wearing it on a hot day, which while easily fixed with some solvent and a cloth, was still enough to get me to call off other tests. As for the hammer test, that was done to simulate the shock of striking something metallic or similarly durable while stabbing with the dagger, to see if it would break or chip easily. As for the tests with cardboard, leather, and watermelon rind, that was mostly to test how good the factory edge was, since we’ve all seen the Cold Steel videos of them destroying some animal carcass.

FAQs about the Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife

More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief. 

Q: How much does the Cold Steel 36ME Drop Forged Push Knife cost?

A: $24.95 from Botach, while supplies last.

Q: What is 52100 steel?

A: 52100 is a very old ball bearing carbon steel, first introduced in 1905. It features one percent carbon and 1.5 percent chromium, which gives it good edge retention and toughness, but can make it difficult to heat treat. It lends itself particularly well to forging, which could be why Cold Steel chose this alloy for their drop-forged offering. As mentioned above though, it’s not very well-suited for corrosion resistance, and so upkeep and cleaning will be essential.

Q: Are push daggers Illegal?

A: Many countries explicitly ban the possession, sale, or carriage of push daggers, and many states in the U.S. do the same in some regard. Above all else, know your local knife laws, and if there’s any question about legality, talk to an attorney

Q: What do you know about death?

A: Nothing. I’m a POG.

Got questions? Comment below & talk with T&P’s editors

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Matt Sampson is an 0861 in the Marine Forces Reserve and a Virginia native. In his past life, he worked in tactical gear retail and is an avid firearms enthusiast. The farthest the Marine Corps has sent him from home is Oklahoma.

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