Welcome to The Truth About Knives Gerber Week. It has been several months since we asked the question: “What’s the deal with Gerber?“, and received a reply from the company. We were concerned with the noticeable decline in quality control and the perception that Gerber is more concerned with celebrity marketing than it is with making quality products. This led to our opening a dialogue with Gerber, and their sending us 4 of their Portland, OR made knives to test.
We will be running each of the 4 knife reviews on 4 consecutive days, beginning with the Strong Arm today, the Ghostrike tomorrow (David), the Gator S30v Wednesday (Nathan), and finally my review of the Propel Auto on Thursday.
I chose to keep the Strong Arm for testing myself for two reasons. First, because Andrew Gritzbaugh, the Gerber Marketing Manager with whom I had been conversing really liked it and it would be a good reference point on his priorities. Secondly, its niche is survival/camping, and it seemed like a good knife to carry while guiding this summer. It saw a good deal of food prep, wood processing, and even dressing out a few fish along the way.
The Strong Arm is a full tang construction with an exposed point on the pommel which can be used as a glass breaker in an emergency.This tip protrudes from what is otherwise a glass-reinforced nylon handle with a rubberized diamond texture to the grip.
It is 9.8″ in overall length with a 4.8″ blade. I like this size in a woodcraft blade. It balances the handle nicely, both in weight and usability but also in the look of the knife. The roughly equal proportions between the handle and blade are aesthetically pleasing.
The blade is 420HC, with a “half-flat” grind. That is the primary grind climbs roughly halfway between the blade and spine. The spine is finished cleanly enough to do an excellent job scraping a ferro-rod.
There is a black ceramic coating which has a smooth finish and is very durable. It began to wear off a bit during the batoning test. It seems to be more durable than the similar coating on the Ontario TAK.
The Strong Arm comes with Gerber’s Modular Sheath system. The knife clips into a plastic sheath with reasonable positive retention. This then can be carried multiple ways. For belt carry, there are nylon straps that attach to the plastic with snaps. The carry position is lower than I like, but it is comfortable.
The problem lies when I try to draw the knife. The positive retention is strong enough that there was about a 50% chance that I would break the snaps loose before the knife would draw clear of the sheath.
The straps are also used when mounting the sheath to MOLLE gear. This worked better for me in a testing sense, as the sheath could be more firmly anchored to the pack, and thus the snaps hold better (no slack/stop transition) However, since my fishing pack does not have MOLLE attachments this was not a practical application for me.
The third option, meant for horizontal belt-carry proved to be the right answer for me. As designed, a bracket attaches to one’s belt, and then the sheath is attached to that bracket with an included plastic plate.
It is an acceptable option for belt-carry, but I think it is by no means a streamlined carry option. However, for me it was an ideal option for my fishing pack. Instead of horizontally on my belt, I mounted the bracket on the bandoleer-strap on my pack. This would leave the knife comfortably tucked out of the way underneath my armpit, or would rotate around to the front when I access my pack.
If I had one complaint about the Strong Arm, it is the handle ergonomics are a little funky. I have medium-sized hands at best, and I found the handle to be little on the small side. I am not sure if it is because the handle is small in absolute terms, or rather because the small double guard.
When I grasp the handle in a hammer-grip, it is relatively comfortable. However, if I want to place my thumb along the spine for finer control (aka the saber grip), it is blocked by the rear guard and is an awkward position for me. Since so many knives have jimping in this very location, I know for certain I am not the only one who finds this to be a useful way to grip the knife.
If you want to use the knife for defensive purposes (check your local regs) there are thumb pads on the sides. Ostensibly, these are the recessed portions that click into the sheath providing positive retention, but are useful for a horizontal, thrusting grip. Functionally similar to the pads on the v42 commando dagger.
Otherwise, the knife has a good balance. The rubberized handle coating is both durable and grippy. It didn’t give me hot-spots.
TTAK Testing Protocol:
I put the Strong Arm through the TTAK battery of tests. It sliced newsprint with just a little work on the Sharpmaker.
It did a pretty good job at the cardboard slicing. The first 50 linear feat were like butter, and it held its own for another 100 feet. By this time my hand was getting tired from the slightly odd grip. It was still functionally sharp, though it was beginning to consistently tear on at least one point in most slices.
I clamped some static 1/2″ climbing rope in the vise and easily cut a taught rope in a single slash. I then did the same thing for 3/4″ sisal. Again it cut in a single swipe. 1″ sisal took 3 swipes, but I must confess I think my technique was a bit sloppy.
I know that cutting competitions and the ABS tests use hanging 1″ rope, but those are specialty blades in both instances. Plus, I can’t waste 6′ pieces of 1″ sisal on every test.
All in all, the Strong Arm performed quite well on our test protocol.
I used the Strong Arm for many culinary tasks, including one big pile of chicken wings. It does a really solid job in many vegetables and meats. It makes translucent slices of garlic, disarticulated the wings well, and glides through steaks or chops.
Apples always pose a unique challenge for camp knives. The best apple peeling knives feature a thin blade with a narrow profile. This does not describe the Strong Arm. It won’t peel an apple like an Opinel, but did an acceptable job.
The relatively thick blade had a tendency to split pieces of apple rather than slice them cleanly. The results won’t win you a cooking competition, but did just fine for an apple crisp.
While it isn’t the most technically challenging task I can put a knife through, it is one that is directly applicable to a certain end-user writing this review. If I am going to carry a knife while guiding, dressing out a trout is a job requirement.
The Strong Arm did a great job on several fish over the course of this summer. Thing 1 and I enjoyed eating them thoroughly.
Wood processing is a good test for both a knife’s emergency utility as well as its overall durability. Lots of knives can split dry oak, but I tested the Strong Arm in some seriously gnarly beech.
I was able to break the log into kindling-sized pieces. It took a while, and I even broke a couple of my wooden batons. It wasn’t pretty. I beat the tar out of the knife to force it through. The grain was really twisted. The knife took it just fine. Only a slight ding to the handle-rubber from an errant re-positioning tap that missed the pommel.
A similar test on my Ontario TAK led to a slight tweaking/rippling of the edge. No such malformation occurred with Strong Arm.
In the course of my summer’s guiding, I cut down countless branches with the Strong Arm to retrieve my client’s flies. This is really the most common reason I unsheath my knife on the river. Unfortunately, both of my hands are occupied when I do this, so it isn’t something I can photograph. I will say that the Strong Arm does every bit as good of a job as my Mora Bushcraft.
- Blade material: 420HC
- Handle material: glass-filled nylon with rubber overmold
- Blade length: 4.8” (12.2 cm)
- Overall length: 9.8” (24.8 cm)
- Knife weight: 7.2 oz (204 g)
- Overall weight: 10.9 oz (309 g)
- MSRP: $86
Ratings: (out of 5 stars)
Nothing remarkable or groundbreaking, but the knife has a classic, well-proportioned look about it. I like the two-tone version I was sent for testing.
The 420HC performs well. The half-flat grind is a good balance of the ruggedness of a scandi-grind, without grinding away all the strength as can be the case in a full grind knife.
The ceramic coating wears off with extensive hard use, but not any worse than expected. It does no worse than any other knife I have tested, and better than many.
I don’t have huge hands, yet the handle feels lightly small. This is due in large part to the raised bolster, which makes finding a good place for my thumb awkward.
This is a solid knife that should stand up to any common task you throw at it. I have a slight concern that with use and the passage of time the rubbery coating might break down.
Overall Rating: ****
I carried the Strong Arm for most of the summer. Perhaps the greatest endorsement I can give this knife is the fact that I left the sheath bracket on my chest pack after I was done testing. There have been several times when I have just clipped it to the my pack and gone with it. I still use my Mora or another knife that I am testing, but if I don’t have something particular in mind on a given day I found myself defaulting to the Strong Arm.
Other than the difficulties I had with the belt-sheath arrangement and the slightly awkward grip position, this is a great knife. It is tough enough that it survived plenty of batoning, branch shearing, and other rough tasks, yet has a responsive hand-feel and can perform surprisingly delicate culinary work as well.
I think Gerber did an excellent job with the Strong Arm. If you are a Gerber-skeptic, which I certainly understand, the Strong Arm might be a good choice to give them another chance. It really is a solid knife and should not disappoint you.
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