The men’s style section of the New York Times just ran an article about city slickers carrying pocketknives. It’s a trend, apparently. Which knives do they feature and how do they perform? Let’s analyze it.
Yes, that’s me up top. They sent a photographer over who asked me do some stuff with a knife and I guess they ended up choosing a shot of me batoning a piece of firewood on my front porch. Yes, my DPx HEST/F really can handle that just fine. But no, it’s not really a great idea or the best tool for the job. By beating on it with a log, you’ll eventually wear down the back of the steel blade where it meets the titanium frame and the end result will be a little wiggle between the two. Not the end of the world, but not nicest thing to do to your $250 knife either.
You already know that I carry that DPx Gear blade everywhere that doesn’t involve airport security. I do that because I consider a knife to be a vital component in my ability to fix things, respond to emergencies and because I’ve taken it on myself to be the guy that helps people out when they need it.
No, no one needs a $250 pocket knife, but this one was designed by one of my favorite authors, Robert Young Pelton, so I like that back story and I enjoy the knife’s clever design, indestructible feel and added features like the glass breaker and beer opener are actually handy to have. This particular blade is made from super-hard D2 steel, which I found impossible to sharpen until I picked up a powered Ken Onion Edition Knife & Tool Sharpener. Now that I can actually put an edge on the thing, it holds it very well and makes a much better tool.
Elsewhere in the article, other interviewees recommend a Chris Reeve Sebenza, a Spyderco Chaparral and a humble Swiss Army Knife.
That Sebenza (above) is another pricy knife, but also one that merits its price through quality and performance. To the best of my knowledge, it was the first “frame lock” knife, a design which is both incredibly strong and super simple.
Here you can see the DPx HEST/F’s frame lock folded in to hold the blade open. Its frame lock is supplemented by an additional rotating lock that locks the frame lock in place. That’s overkill. The carbide glass breaker in the pommel and beer opener on the top of the blade are incredibly useful though.
Having a knife blade fold onto your hand while applying pressure to it is bad. It will cause injury and it may even cause you serious trouble. All this sorta compounds as you look at a knife as critical tool for using in dangerous situations. If you’re using one to deal with a life threatening situation and it fails to do the job, while cutting your fingers all to hell, well, a bad situation just got even worse. That’s what makes modern, quality folding knives like this one actually safer to use than a humble Swiss Army Knife or that bullshit slip joint the fashion photographer is displaying in the article.
So, the idea with Reeve’s frame lock is to make the frame out of a strong material like titanium, then fold a portion of it inwards as the knife opens to prevent the blade from folding back. That ends up being the strongest possible locking mechanism and one that’s since been emulated by many knives, including my DPx. The Sebenza itself is also an elegant, slim knife that’s perfect for carrying day-to-day.
The Chapparal (above) that’s also recommended is another “Gentleman’s Knife,” a category of blade that prioritizes ease of carry and subtle good looks over overt size, strength or aggression. This one has a relatively small, 2.8-inch long blade with a pronounced leaf shape that’s nearly as tall as it is long. This shape maintains good strength while optimizing slicing performance by providing a long distance for the edge to taper up to its full width at the top. It also allows your thumb or whatever to remain in contact with the blade as you slice through thicker materials.
This is an older design of knife that, while it uses a fancy carbon/G10 material for its handle scales, still relies on an internal “liner” to give the knife strength. In comparison, my DPx is able to use G10 on one side and titanium on the other, with no liner, for a simpler construction that’s actually stronger. This Spyderco also uses a “back lock” which is decent, but simply not as optimal as the frame lock of the other two knives we discussed above. So a good knife, but you can do better at the $195 price point. There’s nothing this knife does that the $60 Spyderco Delica 4 FFG doesn’t do as well; I just bought one of those for my girlfriend.
But Swiss Army Knifes can be even cheaper. No model is specified by the Times, but let’s just assume they’re talking about a prototypical design like the $30 Victorinox Alox Cadet (above). Why not just carry one of those? They’re great knifes actually, so long as you only want to use them for small jobs like slicing and prefer the included tools over just carrying a separate multitool with more/better options. But, without a lock, any big jobs that see you needing to put any sort of pressure on the blade should be avoided for your own safety. Counterintuitively, Swiss Army Knives are actually more difficult to carry too, since they don’t have a good pocket clip. Still, these are great options, particularly if you find a larger folding knife to be too aggressive in appearance.
We’ve addressed it before, but why not just carry a multitool that includes a blade? Well a big advantage provided by a quality folding knife is the speed with which you’re able to deploy it, while doing so one-handed. Dedicated knives also provide grippier, more comfortable, more ergonomic handles and tend to employ higher quality steels and better blade shapes. Knives also take up less space in your pocket and are more easily carried thanks to the variety of pocket clips available. I do also carry a separate, small multitool on my keychain though, along with a few other critical tools.
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