Knife Review: Case Trapper (Pattern 54)

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The Case Trapper shows that you can still find a few surprises in a knife which has barely changed in almost 100 years. I own a lot of knives, but this old gentleman now spends a lot of time in my left back pocket.

An Iconic Design

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The ‘Trapper’ name describes a slip-joint pocketknife with clip and spay blades opening from the same side. The design evolved from an earlier pattern called the Dog-Leg Jack, which was commonly used by ranchers and trappers. The Trapper’s ‘master’ clip-point blade was useful for overall utility and hunting chores, while the round-tipped secondary spay blade excels at skinning game animals and (as the name suggests) castrating livestock.

W.R. Case & Sons have been making quality American knives since 1889. Definitive records don’t seem to exist, but Case’s Trapper pattern seemed to first emerge just before the Great War. According to the wonks at Blade Forums, the early Case Trapper wasn’t much of a success for them until after our boys came home from the next World War in the late 1940s.

Since then, of course, the Pattern 54 Trapper has been one of Case’s most beloved knives. A quick skim through the W.R. Case & Sons website shows, well, lots of Trapper models in the current catalog. A search for ‘Trapper’ yields 27 pages of results, and I didn’t take the time to count all of them. I gave up at fifty.

The Trapper Today

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

This knife is a standard-sized Trapper with jigged blue bone scales, nickel silver bolsters, and Case’s Tru-Sharp stainless steel. I know that Case’s non-stainless CV steel is the choice of Case purists, but my test knife was bound to spend a lot of time in my back pocket and I didn’t want to worry about corrosion.

The full-size Trapper is a fair-sized fistful of bone, brass and steel. It’s 4.125 inches long closed with 3.25-inch blades, and it weighs a stout 4.2 ounces.

Fit And Finish

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

As nice as the fit and finish of the classic Buck 110 Folding Hunter was, this Case Trapper is even more refined. A two-blade jackknife has a lot of parts, and they all fit together like a handmade English shotgun. This photo begins to show the beauty of the jigged bone scales.

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The frame, spacers and backsprings are perfectly aligned and polished. and there are no proud rivets or burred swedges to be found anywhere.

Blades

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The Trapper’s ‘master’ blade is this 3.25-inch clip point. It’s called the master blade because it’s the first one your thumbnail will find as you reach to open it. The tip may appear bent in this photo, but it’s not; both blades have a distinct final taper in the last 1/4″ near the tip.

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The secondary spay blade is 3.25 inches long with a very straight profile, and no belly except at the very tip. It’s not the most versatile blade shape, but it’s good for not stabbing yourself and it’s easy to sharpen. And I’m sure it’s been used as a pocket straight razor by more than one outdoorsman over the years.

My only criticism of the Trapper’s blade design is that the blades are a little too long to allow the very finest control. With a slightly smaller knife you can lay your finger along the spine out to the tip. This is great for opening boxes that have soft contents (and gutting out game animals) because it prevents you from puncturing or cutting too deep. The full-size Trapper is a little too big to do this with my hands, but the slightly smaller Mini Trapper ought to be perfect for that use.

Steel

Case blades are made from either CV steel or Case’s proprietary (and metallurgically unspecified) Tru-Sharp stainless. According to A Pocket Guide To Knives (a great resource, BTW) Tru-Sharp is believed to be either 425M or 420HC stainless, hardened to a fairly tame 56-58 HRC.

I’m prepared to be unimpressed by any proprietary steel of unknown composition and rather vague documentation, especially when it’s described as ‘surgical stainless steel.’ Tru-Sharp fits all three of these categories, but I’ll describe its blade performance a bit later on.

Ergonomics

This knife pattern doesn’t have G10 scales or finger grooves, but it has been tested by time and countless hands and it has not been found wanting. It only occurs to me to mention its handling characteristics because they’re very different from more modern knife designs with one-handed openers and locking blades.

Since the Trapper has no blade lock, the blade backsprings have to be rather stiff to hold these long-ish blades open. They both open from the same pivot, and the spay blade has to have its nail nick very close to the tip. This feels a bit strange, and I actually cut myself once as the blade snapped open a little harder than I expected. This was, need I say, embarrassing as well as a bit messy. You’re not keeping track, but this is precisely the third time I’ve nicked myself writing for this site.

The Trapper doesn’t give you as many carry options as smaller or more modern designs. There’s no pocket clip (duh) and it’s too long for front-pocket carry unless you’re a behemoth. This basically means that for daily carry you can carry it in a belt sheath (not for me, thanks) or alongside your wallet in your back pocket. Happily, my Levi’s pockets and my wallet are just the right size to leave a perfect Trapper-shaped space for it to ride in.

When you’re cutting things with the Trapper, you’ll never really mind that it doesn’t have textured G10 scales or blade jimping. It was still comfortable all the way through the cutting tests, even while my left hand was cramping like a monster from holding all that cardboard.

It might get a little slippery when wet, but tens of thousands of dressed-out and skinned deer, elk, beaver and foxes agree: the Case Trapper is very well designed for its job.

Cutting Performance

Newsprint:
The Trapper’s blades were functionally sharp out of the box, but not enough to shave newsprint. This was quickly remedied with the trusty Sharpmaker, and Tru-Sharp’s slightly softer HRC made it easy to sharpen up. After the routine sharpening that most factory-new knives need, the Trapper was slicing hanging newsprint like a charm. I never got it quite sharp enough to shave the ultra-delicate Shotgun News newsprint, so it earns an A-.

Manila Rope:
I had low expectations for the Trapper in this test, since 3-inch plain blades are seldom very good at cutting tough rope. The Trapper was a pleasant surprise in this regard, and its blades could pull through a loop of 3/4″ manila with moderate effort. They weren’t very good at sawing through the rope on a cutting block; the clip blade required several push or pull strokes, and the spay blade was almost hopeless because it has no belly except for the very tip. Grade: B-.

Box Cardboard:
As I said, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Tru-Sharp stainless. After all, it lacks the exotic formulation, high-tech German or Swedish manufacture and astronomical HRC numbers of the fancy supersteels. So…how long could it hold that sharp edge against the mineral-inclusion grinding medium of corrugated box cardboard?

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

Staggeringly long: 160 feet. The first 50 feet of cutting were a breeze, and didn’t even steal the blade’s newsprint-shaving sharpness. After that it just kept going and going and going, to 150 feet and a bit beyond. Once it was done, though, the blade was done. It couldn’t even slice copier paper afterward.

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

160 feet of cardboard left their mark on the face of the (once) finely-polished blade as well, as this picture shows. The edge was dulled but not completely trashed: it only took a few dozen honing strokes on the fine Sharpmaker ceramics and it was tuned back up again. If this test is any guide, Tru-Sharp steel is nothing to sneer at. Grade: A+.

Only the Zero Tolerance 0350  and the super-expensive Chris Reeve Sebenza cut more cardboard without getting dull, and they’re both made from S30V. Both of them retained more of its useful edge afterwards, but both were much harder to resharpen afterwards.

Ease Of Sharpening

I’ve pretty much covered this already, but Case’s Tru-Sharp stainless is pretty forgiving if you get it dull. It sharpens easily, and seems to take a slightly toothy edge that tears the hell out of cardboard and newsprint.  Grade: A.

Durability

I can’t really say I’ve carried or used the Trapper long enough to predict when or how it might eventually wear out. It didn’t develop any blade play through the cutting tests, and except for the cardboard abrasions on the spay blade it still looks brand new.

The Trapper’s nickel-silver bolsters are still brightly polished, but yours probably won’t stay that way for long if you carry and use the knife frequently. If they get scratched you could probably polish them bright again with a buffing wheel, but that’s a lot of bother if your Trapper is a working knife.

Summary

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

When you pull an old-time knife like a Trapper from your pocket and deliberately open it with both hands, it draws a completely different kind of attention from the type of looks you get when you flick out your Griptilian or Tenacious. Even non-knife people remark how handsome it is, instead of wondering if they should be standing so close to you.

Although it’s fairly large and quite capable, the venerable Case Trapper is anything but a beast. It’s a fine old workhorse, who pulls all day long without complaint. If all Case knives are like this one, then all those thousands of Case knife collectors are on to something.

Favorite Features

  • Traditional styling and solid workmanship.
  • Surprisingly good blade performance.

Least-Favorite Features

  • The blades are just a smidge too long for my tastes.
  • And Case has an app for that: it’s called the Mini Trapper.

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Styling: * * * *
Still turning heads after almost 100 years.

Blade: * * * * 
Good sharpness and excellent edge retention from old-school stainless; just a hair too long for my tastes.

Ease Of Sharpening: * * * *
Unlike some supersteels, it’s much easier to sharpen than it is to dull.

Ergonomics: * * * 
Not quite a glove-like fit to the hand, but good enough to still be around after almost 100 years.

Ruggedness/Durability: * * *
No problems so far, but its thin blades and easily-scratched materials will show their age if you use them regularly.

Overall Rating: * * * * 
A lovely, capable and truly classic pocketknife for $50 or less. A lot of Case knives sit in collections and never get used. That’s a pity, because they work really well.

Specifications

  • Length: 7.375″ Open, 4.125″ Closed
  • Blade Lengths: 3.25″
  • Blade Thickness: 0.09″
  • Blade Material: Tru-Sharp Stainless Steel, HRC 56-58
  • Blade Styles: Plain-Edged Clip Point, Spay Point
  • Blade Grind: Shallow Hollow Grind
  • Handle Thickness: 0.55″
  • Handle Material: Bone
  • Weight: 4.20 oz.
  • Opener: Nail Nick
  • Lock Type: Slip Joint
  • Origin: USA
  • Street Price: $35-$55.

comments

  1. jwm says:

    Yep, pretty representative of what my grandfathers, uncles and old man carried. Country folk and hunters all. Deer, rabbit, squirrels, pigs, cows, chickens etc. got processed with them and very little else. Ax and saw served as backup on pig and cow.

  2. Larry says:

    I love mine.btw it’s Spey ,not spay .

  3. Paul B says:

    Yep. Good knives.

    Second on the spey. Spay is how you neuter female pets.

    1. Billy says:

      Spaying is what the blade was designed for.

  4. Chris Dumm says:

    I found it was spelled both ways when referring to the blade style, but I admit to the wisdom of crowds. Spey it is.

  5. tbhride says:

    I’ll third on the spey.

    I love traditional patterns and have a few. The first knife my father gave me was Camillus BSA Whittler with delrin handles meant to look like jigged bone. Holds a special place for me and is the one knife I will absolutely never get rid of.

    I have a Case Mini-Copperlock that I like when I want to carry something that is non-threatening. I’ve got a nice scar on my right index finger where a slipjoint closed on me once, requiring stitches. Nowadays I don’t like to carry a knife without the safety feature of a locking blade.

  6. I_Like_Pie says:

    The butterbean has been found by me as my favorite traditional knife.
    The heft of this one, but more reasonable blade lengths.

  7. Nick says:

    I can’t find this style of the blue bone trapper with this certain shield like yours. What exact design is this?

  8. Lars says:

    An excellent review, and I applaud Chris Dumm for both the writing and excellent photos. I also praise him in his handling of the spey blade dialog and it’s spelling. In the spirit of Chris’ intention to inform, I would like to add to the spay/spey discussion.

    As pointed out, to spay is to remove the ovaries of a female animal. Although both spellings are used to describe this style of blade, Spey is the official term by WR Case in it’s knives (regardless of frame style or size), and it refers to fly fishing. Specifically, it is a fly casting technique named after the Spey river in Scotland (http://www.rioproducts.com/spey-central/what-is-spey/).

    From a design perspective, the spey point blade is ideal for skinning animal hides from furry animals and is most frequently used by trappers, as it is less likely to puncture the skin while skinning the animal. Could one use this blade to spay an animal? Probably, but I am not certain that was the main intent.

    It boils down to context actually, as both spellings are accepted in the greater world of general knife blade discussions. However, when discussing Case knives specifically, spey is the more accurate and correct spelling.

  9. warriorcycles says:

    case should take the name case off the knife to give it class

  10. warriorcycles says:

    the name would never fall out the knife would be better looking and better made .a quality anything needs no intro.

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Knife Review: Case Trapper (Pattern 54)

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