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Artisan Cutlery Traditions Knife Quick Review

I’m always looking at new items for the store (or maybe my personal use) and this week I brought in a couple of knives from Artisan Cutlery.  Very honestly, I’ve not been a huge fan of knives coming out of China. From the little reading I’ve done and a few comments I’ve heard, I decided it might be worth taking a look at Artisan Cutlery anyway.

Two Artisan Cutlery knives arrived yesterday, a Tradition (entry level linerlock) with a D2 blade and a larger Tradition liner lock with an S35VN blade.  So far I’ve spent most of my time going over the D2 entry level model first.  With a retail price of around $45 my expectations weren’t real high.

Artisan Cutlery D2 OD Green
Artisan Cutlery Tradition Specs

Out of the box the first thing to catch your eye is the quality of the packaging.  The two piece box is heavy enough to handle the roughest handling in the post office.  Inside the box is the kraft colored tag with the specs of your knife printed on one side and care and handling instructions on the back.  The knife is inside a plastic sleeve in a black drawstring bag.  For the cost of the knife, Artisan Cutlery did it up right making a positive first impression.

Artisan Cutlery Tradition

It’s a typical flipper type knife that is smooth on opening, with a perfectly centered blade that’s tight on lockup with no sideplay.  The overall length closed is 4.125″, blade length cutting edge is 3″ and the weight is 3 oz on the nose.

Artisan Cutlery Tradition
Artisan Cutlery Tradition

The liner lock is pretty standard and provides a positive lockup.  One thing I noticed is a small detent on the side of the lock contacting the blade that imparts a minor ‘kick’ to the blade on opening.  When you release the liner lock and start to close the blade, the blade contacts the detent and you almost get the feeling of a minor half stop.  It was a bit distracting at first but after a few minutes manipulating the lock I didn’t notice it.  On the upside, when you close the blade it gives you a feel where the blade is and reminds you to keep your fingers clear.

Artisan Cutlery Tradition Liner Lock

I am a fan of D2 and prefer it over 1095.  The Artisan Cutlery Tradition I tested has a D2 blade and I’ll commend them for a superb job of sharpening and honing the edge.  One of the things I like about D2 is what I call a toothy edge when sharpened.  When I sharpen D2 I tend not to polish blade with the Edge Pro using more then a 600 or possibly a 1000 grit stone.  My D2blades tend to cut aggresively, almost like a micro-serrated blade.  The Artisan Tradition is honed to a fine razor edge and easily sliced hair thin strips of paper.

Properly honed D2 Blade

The assembly of the Tradition is held together with Torx T-6 and T-8 screws.  Pretty straightforward and easy to tighten things up if the need arises or you want to change the pocket clip to a left hand carry.

I have to say for the money I am impressed.  While I haven’t had the time to actually put it to use, its got the promise of being an excellent EDC at the price point.

The only thing that raises a concern to me is the lack of any contact address, name or warranty info anywhere on or in the packaging.  A little online research shows that the importer/distributor for the US is based out of Chino Hills, CA.  You can download their electronic catalog but there’s still no stated warranty.  I’m sure there’s some sort of warranty but I wish they’d state it.

I’m going to do a little follow up and try to get a bit more info but for now, that’s going to hold me up carrying them in the store.  It doesn’t change my impressions of the knife but I would feel more comfortable knowing someone is standing behind their product.

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Blackjack 124 in the Field

I finally got a Blackjack 124 into the field this week and actually go to use one a bit.  There are lots of ways to ‘review’ a knife and for me, getting it out on a field trip beats sitting in the office looking at it.

Here’s the specs.  The Blackjack Classic Knives is a US high quality knives coming out of Bark River Knife and Tool.  In brief, here’s the details on the Blackjack 124:

Overall Length: 8.25 Inches
Blade Length: 4.125 Inches
Steel: A-2 Tool steel @ 58rc
Blade Thickness: .215 Inch
Weight: 5.8 Ounces

Blackjack 124 Stag
Blackjack 124 Stag

It’s a midsize, fixed blade knife with the capability of doing a good job on small ‘projects’ and totally capable of heavier duty tasks including large game dressing.  The fit and finish are flawless.

The first thing I appreciated was the generous handle which gave me plenty to hang onto.  On lighter duties like kitchen detail, a small diameter, shorter handle is fine.  For heavier duty (which the 124 is capable of) I want a knife that gives me something to hang onto.

Blackjack 123 Stag Handle
Blackjack 124 Stag

In addition, the ricasso between the front of the guard and the sharpened edge gives me plenty of room to get my index finger in position to give better control for more delicate work.  So often the larger knives don’t leave enough room to manuever.

I really liked the profile of the blade.  The thickness of the blade near the guard provides plenty of strength for a little prying and twisting.  As you move toward the tip there’s a noticeable thinning of the blade giving you the ability to make finer cuts.  While I didn’t split any firewood with it, I have no doubt it would work fine on smaller pieces.  I’d prefer to use a knife with a longer blade that carries that thickness farther down the blade for any serious batoning.

124 Spine
Blackjack 124 Spine

For a knife this length, it has a nice heft to it with the balance point behind the guard, just behind the first finger on the handle.  It felt really comfortable with the weight shifted into my hand.  The feeling of control was centered in my hand, not out in front of it.

Blackjack 124 balance point
Balance Point

On smaller belt knives like the Trestle Pine Buddy, I’m not a fan of the sheath retaining straps.  They just seem to get in the way.  The sheath of the 124 has a strap and it holds the knife firmly in place.  In fact the first few times the strap was snapped shut, it was a bit of a chore to pull it over far enough to get it to snap.  After a weekend of taking the knife in and out of the sheath and re-snapping the strap, it got easier to snap without losing its tight retention.  When it’s snapped in, the 124 doesn’t move….at all.

Snug fitting sheath

Convex ground edges are the rule on most of the Bark Rivers as well as the Blackjacks.  I’m a huge fan of the convex grind and the Blackjack 124 is typical of convex edges.  They like to cut.  The edge bites in and just wants to keep on going.  I didn’t use the knife enough to take the edge off but my experience with the Bark River A2 Steel makes me confident the Blackjack will perform similarly.  It holds an excellent edge and doesn’t require a machine shop setup to dress the blade.

Blackjack 124 Edge

Over the years, I’ve had an opportunity to pick out what I feel are the best fixed blade knives for my personal uses.  I’ve added and deleted according to my needs and likes.  This will give you an idea of my regulars.  I’ll admit I’ve got a few more that go in and out of rotation, but these are my current regular ‘go to’ knives.  There’s a mixture of blade steels including 1095, A2, Maxamet, S4V, Laminated VG10, each having their own merits.

My choice fixed blades

I had four days to cut, chop, split, slice and just get a feel of the Blackjack 124.  In brief, I like it.  A lot.   It’s definitely going into the current rotation and fits that mid range size perfectly.  If you use a knife in the field and want one that works and looks good, I highly recommend the Blackjack 124.

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A Quick Look at the New S&M #3 EXP Mountain Man

In the last couple of days, I’ve had the opportunity to take a look at the new S&M #3 EXP Mountain Man.  While I’ve had no practical experience actually using one, I have taken the time to give it a good lookin’ at.

The #3 EXP’s I received included a number of one of a kind and very low run pieces.  Here’s a group of 4 that I believe were the only ones made that now reside in a pretty impressive and complete collection of #3EXP and #71’s.

Four Rare Handle Options for the #3EXP Mountain Man

There were also more Shockwood handles like the Silver Shockwood pictured below.  As I’ve said before, the Shockwood is really a great looking handle material particularly on a larger knife like the Mountain Man and the John Henry Auto’s.

Silver Shockwood

For the first time, there is also a jigged bone handle which I hope we’ll see more of in the future.

Worm Groove Jigged Bone

When you compare the original John Henry 71 Express with the #3 EXP Mountain Man, the size difference is pretty obvious.  I always felt the Mountain Man was a pretty big knife, but handling it alongside the John Henry…. it feels pretty slim and trim.  In fact, it feels very comfortable in hand.

#3 EXP (L) and #71 John Henry (R)

The locking mechanism on both knives is identical in design and function.  The release button is situated as such to make both of these knives a right handed knife.  For the southpaw, either will be awkward to use at best.

Release Button

The only comfortable way to deploy the blade is by holding the knife in your right hand …

using the tip of your right index finger to depress the release.

The force required to depress the release is noticeably less the that required on the 71 John Henry.  Smaller blade, smaller (shorter) spring, less effort.

Once released, the blade swings open with authority.  If you’ve handled the 71 John Henry you know there’s a fair amount of torque created when that big blade swings open.  The #3 EXP is much more civilized upon opening.  There’s plenty of spring tension to open the blade and lock it up securely all the while letting you feel secure you’ve got control of things.  The blade design is in keeping with the original Mountain Man.  A reasonable length clip blade made of 1095 steel.

The fit and finish of the #3 Mountain Man is in my estimation better then the #71 John Henry.  I get the feeling that the Mountain Man was an opportunity to refine some of the same/similar processes used to build the John Henry.  Even the later runs of the John Henry were more refined then the first run and it seems like the #3 takes it a step further.  Over all, nicely done.

From the feel of the knife in hand and fundamental similarity to the Mountain Man can only lead me to believe it would make an excellent full size work knife.  I’m not accustomed to using a larger knife in my day to day routine and while I don’t envision carrying a #3 EXP, if I had a need, I see no reason why I wouldn’t!

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Weekly Update 4.9.16 ~ Camp Knives Review

The weekly update is a little late once again but a few more GEC Camp Knives arrived and I thought I’d bring you up to date with a quick review.  I really like this knife and while I don’t see myself carrying or using one, it’s definitely built to be a workhorse.

98 Camp Knife
98 Camp Knife Kingwood Handle

The Kingwood handle material is really stunning.  Some of the nicest grained Kingwood you could ask for.  I’ve gotten really fond of wood handles and this is a gem.

It fills the average sized hand and should feel comfortable for anyone with the largest hands.  I wouldn’t be afraid to take on cleaning most big game as the blade is stout and the handle provides a more then adequate area to grip.


I’m unable to explain the coloration on the concave surface of the Awl.  It almost appears to have been cold blued and the coloration is more uniform on some then others.  I sent an email to GEC this afternoon and hope to get an answer next week.  I’m assuming it’s intentional albeit a bit distracting.  The steel isn’t ‘burned’ as the opposite side has been nicely polished.

98 Camp Knife Awl Coloration
98 Camp Knife Awl Coloration

I really like this knife and I sincerely wish the run would have been bigger so I hope no one gets a knot in their shorts when I point out a couple other observations.  NONE of these are issues that bother me in the least, but based on experience, I’m sure a few cutlery connoisseurs may take issue.  If minor details bother you…caveat emptor.  These aren’t design flaws, signs of poor workmanship or anything other then just being the nature of the beast.

IF you have a problem with the back of the blade not being flush with the springs be advised.  The blade tends to sit about .050″ below the spring and that’s pretty consistent with the secondary blades as well.  This isn’t anything I find to be of a concern but recently had a GEC returned for a step small enough it couldn’t even be accurately measured.

Blade sets below the spring
Blade sets below the spring

Second thing is the point of the blade can definitely be felt rubbing a finger tip over the end of the knife.  This isn’t a design flaw either in my estimation but rather unavoidable with so much steel between the liners.


The blade sets low between the liners but it doesn’t take much downward pressure to make contact.DSC_2152

Another minor issue is the bails are attached tight enough to rub the bolsters and mark them.  They’re coming out of the tube like this so don’t be surprised.  If it bothers anyone, it’s incredibly easy to buff out the marks with a little green polishing compound on a cotton rag but they’re gonna come back.

Bail rubs bolster
Bail rubs bolster

I’ve found a few of the knives don’t have real sharp edges but it’s pretty unusual for me to find a factory traditional folder with what I consider a field ready edge.  And the edge on the awl could be cleaned up a bit for a nice smooth cut.  It definitely cuts leather but leaves things a bit shaggy.  I don’t think it really matters as I don’t see too many folks using it as it was intended anyway.

The Camp Knives rank up there close to the Lumberjack and a few other ‘oddities’ we used to see on a semi regular basis.  And I like it.  I only point out the above ‘issues’ as I don’t want anyone tripping over themselves to buy one without knowing this isn’t your average ‘pocket knife’.  This is a large working tool made for anyone that wants a heavy duty knife meant for heavy duty use.


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Queen City Yankee Muskrat Review

Steve D was the recent winner of one of the Queen City Yankee Muskrat knives and promised to do a review on said knife.  Here’ his impression of the knife:

First off, thanks to Greg Holmes of TSA Knives for offering this knife in the giveaway drawing, which I was thrilled to win! I was actually planning on buying this particular knife, as I have always been fond of the full sized muskrats with square bolsters.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The first thing I noticed was the OUTSTANDING quality of the frame & handles on this knife. Especially when considering the retail price of $59.95. I was expecting a few gaps perhaps, between the springs and/or the handles & bolsters. Not so with this particular knife anyway. The color & jigging of the bone is visually striking & offers a pleasing grip, with no sharp or harsh edges anywhere. Queen did an excellent job on hafting this knife, and it is just about the same quality as the average GEC knife, with a glassy smooth finish along the bottom of the knife, and perfect transitions & seams throughout. I score the frame of this knife a 9 out of 10, but only because it has a glued in shield, which is perfectly fit and flush, and no excess glue to be seen anywhere.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I really like the shape of these muskrat clip blades better than most others, due to the nice deep forward belly along the cutting edge, instead of the overly shallow/skinny blades found on many muskrats. The blades on this knife will simply last longer in addition to being excellent for slicing & skinning. The 1095 carbon steel makes them very easy to take a keen razor edge. Because this is priced to be a user, the main blade grinds are not perfect, but I have seen much worse on other blade grinds. Queen equipped this knife with stainless steel back springs, which is a real plus for a true working knife. You won’t ever have to worry about these springs rusting inside the knife due to using it around a wet environment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The walk & talk of the blades are not “butter smooth”…… but the action, blade lock-up and snap closed is strong. These blades will not fold up very easily on accident. The walk & talk is about what I would expect from such a knife priced as a true “user”, so I have no real complaints there, and I’m glad that is has these strong dependable stainless springs. If there is one thing I cannot stand, is wimpy springs on a slip joint. The pull weight is about a 7 on both blades……..far from being a nail breaker, but very snappy & strong.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Both blades came with a slight blade rapping issue, but sharpening the knife solved the problem, and I also tend to hang onto my blades & assist them closed versus allowing blades to snap shut. The great custom knife maker Tony Bose actually closes his own personal knives this way, and not allowing them to simply snap shut. Many folks may not know this, but by NOT allowing your blades to snap shut at full force will definitely preserve your beautiful bone handles, as they can start developing cracks at the pins due to vibration from years of snapping blades shut. Just a little lesson from us “old school” guys and something to consider for all your classic slip joint knives. As another example, when visiting a knife show, it has always been advised for a person to close blades gently on knives you are simply sampling and not buying from any of the sellers at the tables.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       This muskrat is 3 7/8″ long closed……..not 4″……..but that’s no deal breaker, it is a perfect size for EDC, and if you’ve never tried a true serpentine handled muskrat folks, you don’t know what your missing. These muskrats have the best ergonomics of ANY 2 blade or multi-bladed slip joint ever made. The handle shape is amazing, strong & comfortable, and unlike all other knife patterns, you can NOT feel the opposing blade that is shut in the knife handle when using the other blade. Try any quality made serpentine muskrat, and I challenge you NOT to fall in love with this pattern. And when your out in the field using it, if the first blade dulls, no problem, you have a 2nd identical full sized blade to switch over to. You can get twice the work done before re-sharpening or touching up your edges. Because of this feature, BOTH of your blades will actually enjoy extended life. All the above reasons are why the Yankee Muskrat is one of my all-time favorite slip joints. All these young guys who complain about “feeling the other blades in a multi-bladed slip joint knife” have not tried a muskrat!!!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           To sum it all up for this offering by Queen City, if you plan on actually USING this knife, I say it is a real winner, especially for near half the price of a comparable GEC knife. If you like GEC knives, like I do, but are afraid to put them to hard use, due to the higher price and “being so nice”……THIS KNIFE IS FOR YOU!!! You are getting a knife that has such a gorgeous frame & handles, like that of a high-end collector, yet it is geared towards the user market. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a flawless GEC for example, I rate this Queen City Yankee Muskrat a solid 7.5………and when considering its low price……….I give it an 8.5 for overall strength, usability and value. And that ain’t bad at all. Thanks Greg!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      -Steve D-

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Fallkniven HK9 Cowry X Review

Not too long ago I mentioned a customer had purchased one of the Fallkniven HK9 Cowry X knives.  I made a point of mentioning it because not only is it at the upper range in price for a ‘production’ knife, but the Cowry X steel in a Damascus is something we don’t run across on a regular basis.  The information I found left me pretty impressed and curious whether it was really all it claimed to be and was the Fallkniven HK9 Cowry X really worth the money.  If you care to read my initial comments, here’s a link to that post:  Fallkniven HK9Cx Wow!

Our friend Dave from Knife Leather Traditions was the customer and he’s been gracious enough to allow me share some of his emails to me regarding his impression so far.  For those of you that have communicated with Dave by email, you know it’s always fun to ‘read him’ as he does a fantastic job putting his thoughts into words.  I’ve posted some of his emails with only a minimal amount of editing of some info that might be of a personal nature.  There will be additional installments, so to start it off , here  ya go and thanks for sharing Dave!!

Fallkniven HK9 Cx Damascus

Fallkniven HK9 CX
Fallkniven HK9 Cx Damascus

“……… all started with a “Clean out and organize the garage” project early last month.
I spent a solid week going through every shelf and container, sorting, cleaning, organizing.  I had a trash pile, a keeper pile, and a take to the local swap meet pile.  At the end of the week the biggest pile went down to the local swap meet and I came home with $200 and pocket change, proving once again that anything will sell if it is priced cheap enough.
Then it was the guns and ammunition that I no longer use or “need”.  That cleaned out a ton of space and brought in a few more dollars I didn’t have previously. 
After that you tried out the Fallkniven U2, which reminded me of how much I enjoy the three Fallknivens you got for me and how superior they are to anything I had in knives.  I looked in the knife cabinet and decided I would really rather go with quality rather than quantity, and that was where the HK9cx came in as well as the U2……”

Two Days Later………

“It is here!!
I didn’t expect it until tomorrow so I never checked the mail until after afternoon.

This knife is so incredible, in so many ways, I don’t know where to begin.  I will try to put down my initial thoughts on it either later tonight or tomorrow, but all I can say right now is that it is even more than I expected.  This knife has to be taken in hand to be fully appreciated.  The balance and “feel” is amazing.
It would be a total shame not to use and enjoy such a knife, which I fully intend to do.

Even if one could not afford the HK9cx, the HK9 in 3g steel would be one heck of a working knife and a knife that would last a lifetime.  I will add more later but I just wanted to let you know it is here and I am more than impressed.”

Two HOURS later……

You are right.  I have been carrying it and handling it all evening and it just gets better.  I too am glad they did not try to make a $2.00 whore out of it with paint and pimping.  It is as it should be, an honest working knife for someone who appreciates such a thing.   There is so much to say about this knife I really don’t know where to begin.  The only sad thing is: why didn’t you and I have such a knife available when we were both in the hunting stage of our lives?  Wouldn’t it be fun to use it on game?  Even so, it is going to be one heck of an all around camp and trail knife.  I can’t wait to take it out.
When I first held this knife I was reminded of a favorite knife I got back in 1966 or so, just after I got out of the Army and was working on the old Milwaukee Road out of Montevideo, MN.  I got the knife from Eddie Bauer, back when Eddie Bauer sold real outdoor equipment and when you wanted “the best” you got out the Eddie Bauer catalog.  The best goose down parka I ever owned came from Eddie Bauer at the time.
Anyway, the knife was a part of a series made especially for Eddie Bauer by Gerber, again, back when Gerber was producing first class knives using some really good tool steels.  Al Mar was working at Gerber then, before he went on his own, and I used to correspond with Al, a gentleman of the first order and a really swell guy.  I always wanted to meet him but unfortunately never got the chance.  The knife had a 3/16″ thick blade, like the HK9, and also like the HK9 was ground to a fine working edge.  I don’t recall the blade steel but I do remember it was very hard, took and held a beautiful edge.  It was a substantial knife and made to be used.  Had a Stag handle and a butt cap.  Perhaps you remember the series.  The sheath was one of the best and well designed leather sheaths I have ever seen.  Just one heck of a knife.  I used that knife in the woods a lot and really enjoyed it.  For one reason or another I let it go and I always wished I had it back.  The HK9 reminds me of that favorite knife and brings back a lot of good memories.
This is just one very incredible knife!!  I don’t know what else to say………… 
Did you happen to notice that you can see the strip of Cowry X steel sandwiched in the center of the blade along the spine and tang?  It is quite thin but adequate for the edge, pretty much no matter how you sharpen it.  Interesting to be able to see it.  And as you know, it is shaving sharp right out of the box!”

Two Days Later…..

I am impressed with the sheath.  Probably the first thing I tend to look at in a sheath knife.
Very well made for a “factory” sheath.  Good quality, heavy leather, well designed, and the knife locks in solid with no danger of falling out.  I find it very serviceable and I am not intending on replacing it.  I just finished sealing and burnishing the raw edges and will put my usual wax finish on it, but other than proper hand stitching I could not improve on it too much.  For me that is saying a lot.  I am very pleased with this sheath.

At first I thought the knife was “heavy”, but in use and practice it is not.  Instead it is very well balanced so that only wrist action, combined with the natural balance and weight of the knife, does the work with a minimum of additional effort.  The knife practically works by itself so to speak.  A lot of thought and design went into it no doubt.

I tend to choke up on my sheath knives when slicing or fine cutting, laying my thumb and forefinger on either side of the blade just ahead of the guard, as in holding a chef knife.  This puts the end of the handle on the HK9 right up against the heel of my hand, just where it should be.  Therefore, the handle is correct, even for my size large hands.  The knife just seems to lay naturally in the hand and seems comfortable in any position held.  An extension of my hand rather than a separate object.  Pretty impressive really.

I am having a lot of fun with this…………..”

I have no doubt we’ll hear again from Dave.  I’m particularly interested to hear what he has to say about the quality of the blade steel once he gets a chance to really use the knife in the field.  The Fallkniven HK9 Cowry X has a great reputation but it’s always good to get some feedback from someone you know and trust with first hand experience.  Thanks again Dave!