I first became aware of the Douk-Douk, a French knife steeped in history, around a decade ago. A box full of used knives at a military surplus store caught my attention. I thought the Douk-Douk was rather interesting, but didn’t buy it. In recent years this knife has been making a comeback. A number of up and coming online vendors have brought this forgotten relic of the French Colonial era back into the forefront of not only EDC culture, but also knife collecting.
The Douk-Douk, as it’s known, has origins that lay in the central French town of Thiers. It was created by the firm Gaston Cognet & Co. in 1927 as a cheap and economical folding knife. To this day the Douk-Douk is still made by Gaston’s grandson Pierre Cognet, who is now the director of the factory. Gaston’s son, Guy Cognet, also assists. He oversaw the operation for decades. Like the other unofficial pocket knife of France, the Opinel, the Douk-Douk is beloved inside and outside France. It was outside the borders of France that the Douk-Douk gained it’s fame and name.
Thousands of the knives were made for the former colonial areas. It was in French Polynesia that the god of chaos and doom “Douk-Douk” became the official and unofficial name for Gaston Cognet’s creation. The knife also made it’s way to North African countries. In several of the countries the name “Douk-Douk” is often synonymous with “knife.” In North Africa, the character of “Douk-Douk” on the handle is sometimes replaced with that of “El Baraka” and in Oceania a “Tiki” character. In France, a squirrel is on the handle. The knife has been used successfully by native tribes such as the Pygmies as well as French Foreign Legionnaires working in Africa.
The success of the Douk-Douk comes from it’s simplistic and strong design. It was and still is marketed as an inexpensive knife. This is achieved thanks to its simple design. With only six parts (two rivets, a blade, a folded steel handle, backspring and bail) there is little that can go wrong. The unique blade design of scimitar-meets-bowie creates a unique blade profile. The 1075 steel is drop forged and hollow ground. Each Douk-Douk, despite it’s industrial manufactured look, still are made by hand and inspected by hand. Its slip joint design makes it in essence internationally legal. All for around $25 U.S. Dollars. A true bargain.
Quite recently I decided to purchase a Douk-Douk. I chose the ferro-blackened model featuring Douk-Douk himself. For $25, when it comes to pocket knives, you cannot expect much. I must admit that I was quite wrong. Within the first five minutes of using the knife I instantly understood why it has been popular and beloved for nearly 90 years: it’s simple. It’s strong. The rivet work is as tight as any Victorinox. There is not a single bit of blade wobble. The back spring is perhaps the strongest I have ever seen. I am finding myself wishing I had picked that first Douk-Douk up years ago.