The Coolest Damn Blades Money Can Buy
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because a good blade bespeaks class and capability.
By Ian Graber-Stiehl
What the hell happened to the gentleman’s knife? There’s been a lot of hemming and hawing since 2016 over how to reconnect to Middle America and country folk. Want to know how to connect with a man in Michigan or Louisiana? Flip out a nice blade — because the tradition of judging a man by his knife’s sharpness never died.
Taking pride in a good blade is an anachronism worth bringing back. So, for all of you awash in shit steel, here’s your starting guide to the coolest damn knives money can buy.
All types of steel are a compromise between hardness (edge retention, but inclination to chipping) and toughness (disinclination to chipping, but easily dulled). DiamondBlade uses friction forging, a heat treatment based on a nearly 30-year-old welding technology still used in spacecraft, ships and Teslas. This not only hardens the blade edge well beyond even most modern “super steels”; it also shrinks its microscopic grain, leaving it resistant to chipping — unlike your friend’s precious ceramic knife. “It’s the sharpest, toughest, longest-lasting edge,” says founder Charles Allen. I’d agree.
… a slim, gentlemanly brick in a carbon-fiber dress.
“We cut our teeth on overbuilt folders,” says Zero Tolerance’s director of sales, Thomas Welk, about the company’s early built-like-a-boulder (thicker, stronger) folding knives. Founded in 2006, ZT now collaborates with custom makers on limited-edition blades and gentleman’s folders. However, with solid titanium locks, smooth actions, idiosyncratic styles (especially its recurve blades) and easy customization with aftermarket hardware, these knives have developed a cult following. I’d recommend the 0920 for an ergonomic workhorse and the 0452 for a slim, gentlemanly brick in a carbon-fiber dress.
The closest most have come to hearing of Knapp, who is self-sequestered in Alaska, is his appearance on battle-of-the-bladesmiths TV series Forged in Fire. Knapp works with Native American tribes — the only people allowed to harvest semifossilized ivory — to create knives fitted with the most dazzlingly kaleidoscopic natural handles: scales of musk ox, stripes of mammoth tooth, bolsters of mineralized walrus penis-bone, you name it. Strange, yes, but every handle is a masterpiece.
Perfect mirror-finished blades, swaddled in unique engravings and stone hilts — these are the hallmarks of Jay Fisher knives. Fisher is one of the only living bladesmiths carving handles from gemstones; he’s even developed his own high-speed sheath for military clientèle. But what sets him apart is his penchant for education, giving metallurgical lectures at colleges and maintaining a comprehensive website that helps knife novices to learn shit from steel.
“Chinese steel” has long been tantamount to “cheap” among blade obsessives — an indictment of blades with crappy steel and worse heat treatments. WE knives, forged from an array of high-quality steels, eschew the strict American obsession with black, blocky, tacti-cool (looks tactical for no good reason) tools. Instead, these meld longstanding Western knife materials like carbon-fiber and titanium handles with colorful Chinese aesthetics and blade designs. The end result: competitively priced premium knives that whip out with all the reserved flamboyance of Prince in a suit.
Keeping Your Blade Sharp
- Diamonds are the hardest abrasives in the world. That means they can sharpen today’s often rather hard knife steels faster than any other type of stone. DMT has the most versatile array of diamond stones on the market.
- Sharpeners are the best tool for quickly putting a pro edge on any blade. Angles are set mechanically, making it harder for you to screw up. They’re not cheap, but they’ll enable you to charge your friends for sharpening their kitchen knives. If you’re going to drop a new knife’s worth on one, I’d recommend the Edge Pro for its versatility.
- Ian Graber-Stiehl, OZY Author Contact Ian Graber-Stiehl