Traditional knives, or knives with history.
August 7, 2014 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm searching for traditional knives, or knives with a well-regarded history. Knives in the first group would be puuko knives, hori hori, kukri, and higo knives. Knives in the second group would be opinel, douk douk, victorinox, and laguiole knives. (Some of these are knife makers and some are unprotected names.) Nothing is too big or too small. I prefer knives that are just knives, but things that are also tools would be cool to see. Respected makers of traditional knives would also be appreciated.
posted by OmieWise to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Bowie knife.
posted by procrastination at 7:23 AM on August 7, 2014


I also like the Japanese scimitar. I used to have one of these and it was super easy to fold out and use for utility purposes.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:37 AM on August 7, 2014

Sardinian resolza
posted by neroli at 7:40 AM on August 7, 2014

Finland's Puukko.
posted by pullayup at 7:40 AM on August 7, 2014

posted by misteraitch at 7:49 AM on August 7, 2014

posted by mumkin at 7:59 AM on August 7, 2014

For the first variety, may I direct you to the American slipjoint knife? They have a number of traditional patterns that are still being made by Case, Great Eastern Cutlery and smaller bespoke knifemakers as well as huge Chinese manufacturers like Boker or Rough Rider (who puts a very sharp edge on their ludicrously cheap stuff). I carry either a GEC EZ-Open sunfish in bloodwood or Rough Rider XL Sunfish in polished bone daily. (They both require some maintenance - the GEC to maintain the carbon steel blade free of rust and tarnish, the Rough Rider to keep it from falling apart. Youtube videos on slipjoint repair and restoration are fun to watch.)

More, expensive, finely crafted slipjoints are made in traditional patterns local to knifemakers in France, Italy, Germany, England and Spain. It's a pretty deep rabbit-hole to fall down into.

As to the second variety - the Mercatur Black Cat is an inexpensive and iconic "trade knife" like the Douk Douk and Opinel, made in Germany and largely unchanged for more than 75 years. Also check out the (carbon steel and wood-handled!) Aitor Castor from Spain.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:29 AM on August 7, 2014

Liccasapuni (traditional Sicilian folding knife).
Fairbairn-Sykes (Not "traditional", but famous).
posted by agentofselection at 8:47 AM on August 7, 2014

The Okapi is made in Africa now, but was originally made in Germany. They are hard to get in the states these days. They are best known as the ratchet knife of the Jamaican rudeboy but they are considered a slipjoint knife but they seem to me to be more of a locking blade design. I would say they are both traditional (though more recent) and well-regarded.

Cold steel made a knock-off called the Kudu with a plastic handle. I have no idea why. It generally cost a bit more and had a stainless blade and plastic handle, as opposed to the carbon blade and wooden handle of the Okapi.

The Okapi has a pretty thick blade (compared to, say, an Opinel) so it takes a little more to put a good edge on it the first time. But after that, great knife that sharpens easily and holds an edge well.
(If anyone knows where to get one new for a reasonable price in the states, please let me now!)
posted by Seamus at 9:25 AM on August 7, 2014

posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2014

Uluit are traditional Inuit knives - very cool and as a bonus, are supposedly very useful to have in the kitchen as well (I've never tried one myself).
posted by randomnity at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're going to have sgian dubh, you also have to have the dirk. The latter's the main weapon, but the former was the last resort, hence the dubh name.

The Sabatier cane machete is a phenomenal work knife for heavy brush clearing; they sometimes come up on clearance/surplus. Not one to be seen carrying, though. I'd also say that a billhook (with all of its traditional patterns) is a heavy utility knife, albeit now specialised for hedge laying. It was once a fearsome weapon in English battles, most notoriously at Flodden.
posted by scruss at 9:59 AM on August 7, 2014

Opinel knife
posted by Jahaza at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2014

there is the saxon/germanic Seax

the greek Kopis ( borderline sword/machete). The version used by the phalanx would be more used as knife/utility blade as much as sword.

I am not sure if it qualifies but the tomahawk is classic blade form that often got used in the same way machetes and smaller blade forms did. It apparently seeing widespread use again by US armed forces, and it really isn't much different from Franciscan axe or viking axes.

I find the bolo knife more generally useful than a kukri
posted by bartonlong at 11:04 AM on August 7, 2014

Himalayan Imports makes a good khukri. Here is a link to their sub-forum at Blade Forums:
posted by anansi at 3:07 PM on August 7, 2014

Story knives.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:33 PM on August 7, 2014

I love knives and own a bunch of them. What do I use the most:

Opinel number 8. Unless you live somewhere tropical, get the carbon steel version. Easy to sharpen, takes a great edge and is cheap as chips.

Svord Peasant Knife. Again, great steel and cheap as chips. You might need to spend a little time touching it up when it arrives, because the fit and finish can be a bit haphazard, but hey, it's only $15

Mora Companion. Everyone needs a fixed blade. Again, I prefer the carbon steel version, $10 will get you as good a fixed blade as you're likely to need, but you can always upgrade to the robust version for $15, or if you really do have problems with rust, you can always buy the Bushcraft Black with one of those really hard black finishes -- not the type that just scrapes off as soon as you touch it to something.

If I was gonna spend a load of money, I'd go with a Bark River. I like the Loveless Hunter and the Gunny Hunter but you'll find something for your likes. But you're talking about $200 now. Gorgeous knives though, with a convex edge and a lifetime guarantee.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:56 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and think about the cost of maintaining whatever you buy as well. A blunt knife is pointless (no pun intended), so you're gonna need a method of sharpening/honing.

At the least, you'll want a strop and some compound for stropping. Perhaps a dual sided waterstone for sharpening. A lot of people like the Spyderco Sharpmaker, but they're expensive.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:01 PM on August 7, 2014

I believe Dexter-Russell still makes their Green River knives, which are very traditional American fixed blade knives, often available often as blades only (no handles) in carbon steel, through vendors that specialize in Native American/frontier re-enactor stuff, and knife maker suppliers.

Czech manufacturer Mikov makes a small humble slipjoint knife with a handle in the shape of a fish. They are pretty decent users, seem to be a fairly old and distincive design, and are available very inexpensively in the US from various internet/ebay sources.

The regular slipjoint knife has European roots, but is very traditional in the US, too. There are many different "patterns" to choose from, meaning shapes of handles, sizes, number of blades. A slipjoint pattern like the Barlow is a very common traditional model that seems to go back a few centuries to England, and is characterized by an oblong, symmetrical handle, and a single bolster supporting the blade's pivot. Rough Rider brand makes very good inexpensive ones from small (3" closed) to large (5" closed) with single or double blades, mostly slipjoints. Case and GEC make nicer ones for the more discriminating user. And many other companies make, or have made the pattern.

I think the Buck 110 lockback is pretty much regarded as a traditional design these days. When I was a kid, everyone just called it a "Buck Knife", and everyone wanted one. Endlessly copied to this day. A single clip point blade, brass bolsters, dark wood scales. They're still available. Looks like the're a tiny bit dolled up for 2014 50th anniversary.

The American "Demo Knife" and the British military "clasp knife" are traditional. The Demo knife is a simplified American camper type pocket knife. The British Clasp knife seems to be of more nautical roots. Traditional, though I wouldn't say they were particularly great knives. The Demo knife is kind of like a clunky knock off of a Swiss Army knife, and I've probably come across just as many with broken springs than not. The British clasp knife is heavy duty, sometimes to the point of being unusable, and Sheffield's attention to quality has seen better days.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:13 PM on August 7, 2014

A relatively recent tradition, but all graduates of the Army's Green Beret program are issued a Yarborough knife made by Chris Reeve.
posted by Capa at 12:01 PM on August 8, 2014

For well-regarded kitchen knives, look at Shun and Mac (both live in my knife kit and have for years), and Global.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:27 AM on August 9, 2014

The santoku. It is a traditional Japanese kitchen knife, and is becoming pretty popular with Western cooks. In fact, all the knives you typically find in Western kitchens - paring, filleting, chopping, and so on - come down to us from a long tradition.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:43 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If we're going into traditional cooking cutlery, we might be here a while... but my favorite is the gyotu, which is an east-meets-west Japanese interpretation of the French chef's knife. The Richmond Artifex is made here in the USA from a high-quality razor steel (AEB-L).
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:59 AM on August 11, 2014

Cliff Stamp isn't a fan of the Artifex.

I understand he's a somewhat controversial commentator on knives and steel, but he definitely knows more about the subject than I do.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2014

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