Remember that old timey pocket knife your grandpa carried? You know, the one with the worn down darkened blades, the nail nicks you had to open with two hands, and the gnarly bone handles? That was what's called a traditional knife, often referred to contemporarily as a "slipjoint" because of its non-locking mechanism. In this article I'm going to convince you that you should try carrying (and using!) one of these traditional knives from an outfit called Great Eastern Cutlery.
Now, the knife market drifted away from traditional knives for a few decades, specifically the 80s through the 2000s. The reason for this shift probably has to do mainly with two things: the rise of the tactical or modern one hand opening knife, and the decline of manufacturing standards for traditional knives. To be frank, some of the larger makers of traditional knives, like Case and Queen, seemed to relax their manufacturing and quality control standards during those years. At the same time, the modern knife industry was booming with innovations in opening methods, locking systems, and blade materials. However, in the last decade or so there has been an undeniable resurgence in the market for and appreciation of traditional knives, and it can be attributed to one company: Great Eastern Cutlery, often referred to as GEC.
GEC is a newer company within the knife world, having began production in 2006, but don't let its newness fool you into thinking it's lacking in experience. William Howard (he goes by Bill), the President of GEC, brings with him a wealth of experience in the cutlery industry. Bill worked at legendary cutlery outfit Queen as a young man, eventually working his way to Master Cutler. In that capacity, he raised the bar of quality at Queen while maintaining their traditional manufacturing processes and styling. In 2006 Bill decided to make his own go of it and started Great Eastern Cutlery. Due to his experience in the industry and undeniable passion for making pocket knives the right way, Bill led GEC on a quick rise to prominence within the traditional knife community. However, it didn't stop there. Due to the massive increase in popularity of their knives, GEC spurred a change in the whole knife industry. Since the boom in popularity of GEC's traditional knives, other knife companies (such as Benchmade, LionSteel, Chris Reeve, WE, and many more) have begun to incorporate slipjoints into their product lines.
So what is it about GEC knives that have made them so sought after and such a market disruptor?
1: They're just dang well made. Bill Howard and everyone at GEC pride themselves on making the highest quality production pocket knives in America. They make sure to consistently produce a knife with incredible fit (transitions between materials / handle pieces, blade centering, lack of blade play, even and thin grinds, etc.) and finish (handle and blade finishes / polish, blade etches and stamps, etc.). It's something that's tough to describe and better experienced by looking one over in person. A good comparison may be the difference in feeling between a good normal production modern knife and a Chris Reeve Sebenza.
2: They're surprisingly practical. I know, you're probably thinking "Why would I want a knife that doesn't have a pocket clip or lock and needs two hands to open?". While flippers are fun and frame locks add the feeling of security, those features are often more of a luxury than a practical necessity. Don't get me wrong, I love a good flipper, Spyderco Round Hole, or Emerson Wave and there's nothing like the feel of a sturdy lock. However, most of the cutting we do isn't done in an emergency that requires quick one hand opening, and isn't strenuous enough to need a bank vault lock. Most of our cutting is best done with a nice thin blade that has a tried and true design; GEC excels at making classic blade shapes ground for cutting.
3: They're imbued with history and nostalgia in a way that makes them a joy to carry and use. Great Eastern Cutlery knives are made based on historic knife patterns and models, which means the knife you buy very well could be the spitting image of the one your grandpa carried. They make all kinds of patterns, from small pen knives to large hunting knives. These patterns come to us through years of refining and have stood the test of time for good reason. They attach their handles with pins instead of screws for a traditional and more smooth aesthetic. They use natural handle materials that have been around forever like all kinds of wood and bone, as well as some synthetics like micarta and acrylic. They do make some stainless steel knives, but the majority of their knives use classic 1095 carbon steel, which means they hold an edge and are easy to sharpen and will show more and more character as they patina (check out this link for tips on carbon steel care). Their knives are made largely by hand, with over 200 individual processes in many cases. They even still use some historic manufacturing equipment (though they have gotten some modern equipment to help keep up with demand. Their bone handles are dyed and jigged in-house, in proprietary processes. Actually, the dyeing and jigging are the only parts of the knife making process that they don't show off; if you visit the factory in Titusville Pennsylvania they're happy to give you a tour showing the production process. You can check out a video of that tour at this link. All of this culminates into knives that just glow with 150 years of American cutlery tradition.