Traditional Pocket Knives

Grandpa’s Choice and Still Great!

The best way to describe a traditional pocket knife or folding knife is to think of the knife that your father or grandfather used to carry. It was probably a moderately small to medium size, two- or three-bladed knife that he carried in his pocket (or watch pocket maybe) and pulled out to peel apples, cut string, carve wood or do any assortment of odd jobs. For many men of that generation, it was all they used for hunting, camping, work, or anywhere they had a need for a knife.


Traditional pocket knives by Case Knives

Traditional Pocket Knives by Case Knives Source: jhritz


Traditional knives are the pocket knives that have been around for the last 200 years or so in a reasonably similar configuration. Similar knives have been in existence for 2,000 years, but our modern traditional folders are around 100-200 years old. Barlow knives, a style popularly known by its mentions in such books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, are still in common usage today.

What Makes A Traditional Knife

Traditional pocket knives have certain characteristics in common, including the following:
1. Traditional handle materials such as wood, antler, or bone. There are some exceptions, such as Case’s popular yellow-handled series.
2. A nail nick cut near the upper edge of the blade used to open each blade. They do not have means for one-handed opening.
3. Each blade is held open by springs that run down the back of the handle without an extra lock. There are a few exceptions to this, such as the Douk-Douk, but even these do not lock like a modern tactical knife.
4. It was intended to be carried in the pocket, not clipped onto a pocket.
If a knife has assisted opening, fancy locks, or a pocket clip, it probably isn’t a traditional knife.

Popular Traditional Patterns

Popular patterns in traditional pocket knives include the trapper, stockman, peanut, sodbuster, congress, copperhead, canoe, and whittler.  There are seemingly an endless number of other lesser-known, but still common, patterns.  The trapper model has two blades, a clip blade and a spey blade, both of which originate from the same end of the knife.  A full-size trapper is about 4″ long closed.  The stockman is probably the most popular traditional style pocket knife.  It has three blades including a clip blade, a spey blade, and a sheepsfoot blade, each intended for different uses.  The peanut is generally the smallest traditional folder available and has two blades.  Peanuts are small enough to be carried in the watch pocket and many people who carry larger knives use a peanut in public because of its harmless appearance.

Among the best companies making traditional pocket knives are Case Knives (or Case XX Knives), Buck Knives, Queen Cutlery, Mooremaker, and GEC (Great Eastern Cutlery). Some decent, but cheaper and lesser quality traditionally-styled knives are being manufactured by Rough Rider, Steel Warrior, and Remington.  Winchester also makes traditional knives, but you should avoid them if possible.

The stockman, trapper, and sodbuster are still popular for hard-use knives among workers, ranchers, and outdoorsmen. Newer knives are making inroads, but the old knives are still good for the same purposes that they have always been used for, and will always be an excellent choice. They also, as well as such models as the peanut, and copperhead, make great general pocket knives or gentlemen’s knives, for those who prefer to carry a more socially acceptable, but still effective, pocket knife.

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