“The man who carries a weapon intended to crush the skull of his adversary,” wrote Fred Rexer in 1978, “is probably a lot closer to the men in bearskin breech clouts than he would like to think.” Rexer was talking about the sap or blackjack, a rounded leather shell filled with lead powder, lead shot, or a molded weight, with or without a spring steel shank to increase the tool’s response on impact. While the sap is compact and simple in design, it is also remarkably powerful when used to strike a person. The author of The Brass Knuckle Bible went on to claim, “A skinny kid can tear a person’s jaw completely off his face or render an opponent dead with one blow from a blackjack.”
That was more than thirty years ago and, despite Rexer’s hyperbole, there’s no doubt the sap or blackjack largely fell out of favor with citizens and law enforcement alike because it was deemed too effective. Where once many police officers’ uniform slacks incorporated a pocket just the right size to carry a sap, few citizens today have even heard of it (outside of novels featuring hard-boiled detectives). Those law enforcement supply companies that did produce saps no longer do, and many municipalities outlaw the possession and carry of blackjacks.
“Most of the companies, like Bucheimer, stopped producing saps in the mid seventies to early eighties,” explained Todd Foster, when I originally interviewed him for Tactical Knives magazine. “I bought a cheap sap in an Army/Navy shop in 1996 and carried it for a few years before losing it. I really couldn’t find one I liked to replace it.” After much trial and error, he successfully reverse-engineered his own saps.
I first interviewed Todd several years ago for Tactical Knives, but producing a subsequent review for this page proved a little challenging. That’s because saps and blackjacks aren’t legal in my home state — a fact that forced me to conduct my evaluation, and take my photos, in another location where it was legal to do so. I was not disappointed. These are incredibly well made saps that exhibit beautiful craftsmanship and attention to detail. These photographs do not do them justice. Foster saps are the standard by which modern saps and blackjacks should be judged.
Foster, who lives in High Point, North Carolina, has been a butcher for two decades. Over those years he has been a part-time leather worker. Since 2004, he has been producing custom leather, machine-stitched saps for law enforcement, military personnel, and private collectors.
“All my saps are hand cut from bull hide for the most part,” Foster explains, “and hand finished and stitched on a old Tippmann sewing machine. The ‘load’ or ‘frame’ of the sap is solid cast lead [incorporating] a half-inch tempered steel flat spring.” The result is a superbly crafted, top-quality leather pocket club that exhibits the richness of custom leather work and a surprising heft in the palm.
Foster’s soft shot-filled saps are all hand made in the United States and include his popular coin purse model. The coin purse sap is unique in that it is not heavy until filled with change, which increases its weight significantly.
The little coin purse strikes with authority and can give even the largest man pause. I first tested these for the magazine and now, years later, I can say that Todd’s work (which was excellent then) has only improved with time. He continues to turn out incredibly well-crafted pieces that are executed flawlessly.
There’s good reason for this. Todd stresses that his products are a labor of love. “I make all my own molds for each model sap and cast the lead in house,” he says. “Saps can be made with or without the flat spring. Without seems to hit a lot harder.”
Hitting, and hitting hard with very little effort, is what makes the sap so powerful. Even someone with relatively little strength in their shoulder, arm, or wrist can swing the sap with sufficient force to deal real damage when they make contact.
One very easy method for deploying the sap is to smack the flat of the tool on the opponent’s temple or the side of his face. It’s very easy to give someone a concussion this way. If the sap is swung with great force, it can even open lacerations using the “edge” of the leather. While striking to the lower torso is of relatively limited value (just as punching to the gut is not as effective as punching the head), striking to the clavicle or shoulder can stop an opponent in his tracks or drive him to his knees.
There is a revival, of sorts, where interest in saps and blackjacks is concerned. Prominent among these is the Facebook group Blackjacks, Saps, and Knuckledusters. Not surprisingly, Todd’s work figures prominently there.
“Saps make great tools for self defense,” Todd explains. “Being flat, they are easy to carry in a back pocket or inside the waistband. They’re basically force multipliers. You can go ‘light’ on someone to soften them up to get away, or go full steam ahead. Saps work great when targeting large muscle groups for limb destruction by attacking the arms and hands.”
While saps are legal to own and collect in Foster’s state of North Carolina, he points out that they are illegal to carry on your person. “The main reason most states frown on the carry of saps is that they are very effective tools,” he says. “Most police departments stop carrying them and went to [collapsible] batons for that reason.”
One alternative that may (I stress may) be legal where you are is the pocket stick. Also known as a kubotan or yawara (the former a brand name and the latter the Japanese term for a small dowel), the pocket stick is an extremely portable, effective impact weapon that concentrates the force of your strike into the tip of the stick.
Todd sent out a six-inch aluminum pocket stick that is as simple and elegant as it is effective. It’s an aluminum rod with a metal pocket clip that is perfect for those situations in which a pocket stick sends just the right message. Fit and finish are, of course, excellent. The stick is light, handy, comfortable to hold, and authoritative in use.
If you are one of those fortunate citizens who live in an area where saps are legal to possess, do not overlook this practical, reliable, and eminently powerful weapon. Todd Foster can be reached online a www.fosterimpactdevices.com.