My Problem with Traditional Knives

I got my best friend one of these for his birthday, a Case Texas Jack

I got my best friend one of these for his birthday, a Case Texas Jack

Let me tell you right from the start: I do not hate traditional knives. In fact I like them quite a bit. But to me they are not useful. Here’s my reasoning . . .

I absolutely love the craftsmanship that goes into traditional blades, from the standard Case line to the custom blades that go for a few hundred bucks each. I do not doubt their cutting performance. They are still around for a reason. If they couldn’t cut then they would not have sold back in the day. I am not worried about the slip-joints closing on me. Using a knife properly would not cause it to fold towards your fingers, except in extreme circumstances.

Definitely gonna get me some of these. (Taken from Knife Rights' giveaway page)

Definitely gonna get me some of these. (Taken from Knife Rights’ giveaway page)

The one thing that keeps me away from using traditionals is that they take a long time to open. In my job I can’t fiddle around with my knife. I can’t take the extra time to dig it out of my pocket and open it two handed. My boss would probably tell me that it’s a waste of time and force me to use my box cutter. There are other times when I simply can’t use two-handed openers. Sometimes I’m on top of a step stool (okay, a milk crate) and holding the box I need to cut. Sometimes I’m in the freezer with gloves on and can’t use a nail nick. It is simply impractical for me to use traditionals in my job.

Knife-gasm! (Taken from Knife Rights' giveaway page)

Knife-gasm! (Taken from Knife Rights’ giveaway page)

Again, I’m not hating on traditional knives, just explaining why I don’t use them. One day I want to build up a collection of traditionals, but right now I have to focus on users. Feel free to comment below on your love (or hate) of traditional knives.

Editor’s Comment: I have the privilege of weighing in with my own comment first, so here it is. One-handed openers are the best tool for most jobs, but in other circumstances a slip-joint pocketknife with a nail nick fills the bill perfectly.

Just yesterday my 20-year-old SAK spent the afternoon doing perhaps the quintessential Swiss Army Knife task: it sat on a picnic table, slicing cheese and sausage and opening bottles while my EDC knife never saw the outside of my back pocket.


  1. Colby says:

    Nathan, for the tasks you have mentioned that you normally perform, I agree that most traditional knives are of limited utility for you. But if your duties changed, you might find yourself in a situation where some traditional knives might present some real advantages. I am not saying that the conclusion of your article is wrong. But perhaps the premise of the title is a bit overly broad. It might better be titled “The Limited Utility of Traditional Knives in My Life.”

    I find that supplementing my EDC with a traditional “trapper” style knife is often very beneficial, depending on the tasks I anticipate performing on any given day. I am a lawyer by day, but I also help out on a cattle ranch on occasion. Now, as a preliminary matter I always have a main EDC folder like a Spyderco Delica, Buck Vantage, or Cold Steel American Lawman clipped in my pocket. But for some tasks I often supplement my EDC by slipping a trapper style knife into my pocket.

    The blade on a trapper that I use the most is the “sheeps foot” or “spey point” blade. That style of blade comes in very handy when performing tasks like castrating calves, or when I have to cut something while I am mounted on a horse, the blunt profile of those blades helps mitigate the risk of getting accidentally stabbed as a result of any unforeseen movement by the animals I am working with. The small pocketable size of the overall package of the trapper style knife also means cuts down on bulk. I could carry a full size EDC style knife with a sheeps food blade, but then I would have two large folders in my pockets which tend to get crowded with other items like gloves, pliers, ear tagging tools, veterinary tools and supplies, etc. So the most advantageous solution I have found is to have a compact trapper type pocket folder stuffed deep into a pocket, along with a clip knife riding high on the top of my pocket in case I ever need to deploy it quickly to cut someone free of a rope or something.

    As a lawyer, the trapper style knife also possesses an advantageous measure of discretion. I work in the courthouse which, even in Texas, is an unnecessarily hoplophobic environment. The mere sight of a pocket clip knife is enough to make bedwetting bailiffs, judges, and other people at the courthouse, well, wet their beds. I usually carry my EDC where I can, but when I feel like my wardrobe won’t cover the clip, or if I anticipate being around a particularly frady frady-cat, I leave my EDC in my desk but keep the trapper tucked down deep where nobody can see it. Yeah it is unnecessarily slow if I needed to deploy it in a self-defense situation, but a knife I have on me is better than one that I don’t.

    Thanks for the article Nathan, you do a great job putting your knives to the test to give us valuable feedback on their performance. It’s greatly appreciated.

    1. Nathan says:

      Thanks for the feedback. I agree that I may find them more suitable in the future. In fact my career goal is to be a prosecutor, so I’ll keep this in mind

      1. Colby says:

        Hey, I’m a prosecutor. If you can see what email I’m using to post, feel free to use it to contact me some time if you need any info or encouragement related to that career path.

        1. Chris Dumm says:

          Small world: I’m a former prosecutor myself. If you can land a job after graduation and if you can survive the sometimes-cannibalistic office politics of the DA’s office, the profession could use more right-minded folks like you.

        2. Nathan says:

          Thanks guys

  2. Jon says:

    I usually keep my Buck Cadet in my pocket as my everyday small EDC knife and then I have my CRKT Fire Spark tucked away IWB for self defense if ever needed

  3. Aharon says:

    Nathan my friend you don’t know what a traditional knife is really about. A real traditional knife is a sharp edged rock attached to an antler horn with deer sinew.

  4. knightofbob says:

    My first knife was a big Case toothpick. I found it in the garage in the bottom of a waterlogged box. I was nine or ten, it was orange and scaly. My dad told me that if I could fix it, I could have it, as long as I never took it to school. Warts and all, it was a great piece. I still have the scar from when I had to open it left-handed. I didn’t throw it away or anything, but that was the last slipjoint I ever carried. Gave it back to the original owner.

    A few years later, I had a friend who used nothing but Buck copies, cheap and made in China. He was rather accident prone, and had a tendency to not come home with the knife he left with. I always thought he would if it was worth half a damn, but what do I know? Anyway, I watched the backlock on one of those fail one day. My amateur teenage forensic analysis found some disturbing factors: the contact points between the lock and the blade had rounded each other off. Yeah, it was cheap steel, but that just means it failed sooner rather than later. My dad has a sixties or seventies Solingen lockback that he doesn’t carry anymore, and when I looked at that, the contact points are similarly rounded. I don’t trust that lock style, either.

    And then there’s multiple blades. I honestly don’t get it. At the end of the day, isn’t it just more sharpening? I liked the two-blade Old Timers we had in some of our Air Force toolboxes, because no one ever used the sheep’s foot so it was always sharp. Even then, though, I preferred the issue single-edge razor blade or my personal carry.

    I’ve also known a LOT of bow hunters. I don’t see the appeal there, either. Just because I don’t understand it doesn’t make me right. I actually worked with the son of one of the designers at Darton. He loved bow hunting, but never used any of his dad’s products. He preferred recurve over compound. It was one of the first things we agreed on.

    I don’t want to seem too down on traditionalists, though. At the end of the day, I think the knife in your pocket or on your hip should be the one that makes you smile when you remember it’s there. Whether it’s your father’s Buck or my Griptilian doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it works, it’s safe, and it feels right.

    To go back to that old Case: it probably shouldn’t have been recoverable. It looked like it was made out of rust. I’m not sure that the jigged bone handle was supposed to be red. But it was a summer project. I stopped using it because it snapped shut like a mousetrap if it was less than three-quarters open, and I didn’t trust myself with that. It says amazing things about the craftsmanship, though, that a boy who had barely hit his double digits and had access to only the most basic tools could clean up a lost cause like that to be not only usable, but as good as it was out of the factory. If you don’t count the stains.

  5. JoshuaS says:

    I can open a traditional slipjoint knife with one hand quite easily. Always had a Victorinox swiss army knife in boy scouts. Always opened it one handed! I have little other choice, as I am handicapped. But it isn’t hard with a little practice. I may carry a SOG Trident EDC…but sometimes I want the Swiss Army Knife, with its bottle opener, scissors and screw driver. Okay…less for the knife….

  6. jwm says:

    The one point I find that traditional pocket knives excell at is fine work. The more modern types like my Kershaw assisted opener seem to be built on the premise of working and combat knife. Self defense and box cutting is well handled by these types. But when I strip insulation off a wire I reach for my SAK or buck traditional folder. Overall they are less clumsy for small work. Still another reasonfor carrying more than one knife.

    1. Nathan says:

      I’ve stripped some wires with my Griptilian, Buck Vantage, and even my ZT 550. I think it depends more on the knife, rather than saying all moderns are bad at it

  7. PubliusII says:

    I agree with the lawyer-(rancher?) who posted first. If you’re going to be around ordinary people — those who have been conditioned to see “modern style knives” (you know which ones I mean) as threatening — then a traditional folder is ideal when you need to deploy a knife for a mundane task.

    In fact, the older and more pocket-worn (= time-hallowed) it looks, the better. A well-patinated carbon steel blade doesn’t hurt either.

    Look, the entire world is all about image-management. That’s how the mainstream media achieve their agitprop goals in support of the State taking over your life. You can’t fight this unless you withdraw from all of society. What we need to do is to slowly renormalize the carrying of ordinary-looking cutlery for small everyday purposes.

    I understand the urge that drives some folks to carry aggressive-looking knives as a way to proclaim “I’m not one of the sheeple.” But that’s defiance, not persuasion.

    This may be heresy, but I suggest — gently — to people that the most useful knife to carry is the plain-jane Victorinox Classic. It comes in a thousand (well, dozen) colors to coordinate and accessorize. And it’s an item anyone will use several times a day, if it’s in your pocket.

    1. Nathan says:

      This inspired me to write a different article

  8. QuasPrimas says:

    I prefer a traditional knife. I am never in such a frightful hurry that I can’t take about two seconds to open my knife two-handed. Neither am I accustomed to hacking through jungles, or slicing great quantities of belts, hoses, or cardboard. Nor am I a Special Forces “tactical operator,” who might have to eviscerate a few terrorists before lunchtime, before using his knife as a pry bar in the evening to effect an escape from a burning building.

    I sit at a desk. My knife is used to open letters, the occasional package, recalcitrant shrink-wrap on a new DVD, and very occasionally to slice an apple or some salami. It is, at the same time, elegant and aesthetically pleasing, not over-large or heavy, does not unnecessarily frighten anyone, and can still function quite well on the off-chance that I may actually need to field-dress an animal, cut ropes, etc.

  9. Pat says:

    The 3 to 3 1/2″ stockman style slipjoint is small and useful for detail work. Three different shaped blades. Carry a modern folder clipped to your side and have the little guy in the bottom of your pocket.

  10. Billy801 says:

    A slip joint can do anything a tactical can do, unless you really are in special ops, and do it with style and class. As far as I am concerned, tactical knives don’t even exist. And when you tactical owners realize what you are missing, please buy an American made slip joint and not some importation. I thank you along with this nation’s economy.

    1. John Wright says:

      Well said.

  11. John Wright says:

    OK, so use your tactical knife gizmo on your job and off the job put the foolish thing away and carry a slip joint.

  12. My biggest issue with EDC’ing a traditional slipjoint is the fact that my pockets are full of other EDC items, and i prefer the fact that my Leek or other folder is clipped to my pocket and exactly where I want it to be.

  13. Scott Olson says:

    Try a Case Trapperlock or a Russlock. Deployable with one hand, and many now come with a pocket clip so they don’t get hidden behind something else in your pocket. Both have good size blades, and the myriad of options to choose from for scales is where the traditional folders really shine.

  14. Bill says:

    OK, this is an old thread, but I think it is still valid.
    I have carried a either a medium stockman or a SAK in my pocket daily for over 50 years. I also carry an assist open with a pocket clip most days. The main reason for the 2 (or more) knife carry is that each knife has a purpose. Back before about 1990, I carried a Buck 110 daily with the medium stockman. Sometimes the different blades on the stockman work better than the larger blade, plus nowadays people freak out at big knives, even here in the lower midwest. I have cleaned a lot of game and fish with both. The stockman or SAK have been used almost daily when i worked in the medical field.
    Now I work as a maintenance man in my mobile home community and still use the stockman most days while the AO sits in my pocket. BTW, for rough work like boxes, insulation and other blade killing tasks, I use a one hand opening utility knife.

  15. tim d roberts says:

    that is and always has been the problem that as the job and expectations on performance plus safety issues the utility knife has evolves (razor knives r for those that cannot sharpen knives HA)
    at age 52 i v gone like others who can to a small stout fixed blade which is traditional if u will but some see it as tactical
    me i see it as the knife i can use
    had lots of varieties used em all taught cqc for a bit( i m selective on that subject)
    but all that aside don t forget legal issues for those that like ti whine cause u know how to use a knife lol tim

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My Problem with Traditional Knives

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