Canal Street Cutlery Knives
By Gary Zinn
In 2004 Imperial Schrade Corp. went out of business. Within a year, master cutlers Wally Gardiner and Joe Hufnagel formed a new company, Canal Street Cutlery Company, LLC (hereafter CSC). They acquired a portion of the old Schrade facility in Ellenville, N.Y., formed a team of master cutlers and soon began production of a line of custom grade knives.
CSCC’s business strategy is summarized on their website as follows: “By using the finest materials available combined with the skill of years of experience, Canal Street Cutlery is committed to fulfill our promise to our customers of providing the finest US manufactured product available today.” Their knives are hand assembled and finished, i.e. bench made, with high attention to fit, finish and detail. I infer that the Schrade refugees who formed CSC are now making the knives that they wanted to, but couldn’t under Schrade’s failing business situation.
This strategy dictates that CSC’s production runs of specific knife models (combination of pattern, blade steel, hardware and handle material) are limited. The largest specific model run I have seen quoted was 400 pieces, though I can’t swear that they have not done larger runs of some models. The combination of carefully hand made pieces and limited production runs suggests that CSC knives will receive much attention from collectors, but they can certainly be used if one is willing to pay the price for a hand made knife and then work it.
To get an idea of CSC’s current offerings, I surveyed their direct marketing website, where they list fifteen separate patterns, including seven slip joint folders, three locking folders and five fixed blade sheath knives (as of March, 2013). MSRPs range from $95 for the 3-3/4 inch Half Moon Trapper to $375 for a 9-1/4 inch D’Holder Bowie Hunter. D2 or 440C blade steels are used for the majority of offerings, but three models feature 14-4 CrMo. steel and two use 19C27 Sandvic. A variety of top-notch natural and synthetic handle materials are used, but no Delrin or celluloid, thank you.
Besides direct marketing, CSC vends knives to a limited number of on-line knife marketing businesses, which typically sell them at a modest discount to MSRP. I don’t personally know of any over-the-counter retailers that market CSC knives, but there likely are some out there.
I have followed the CSC saga casually since I became aware of them a few years ago. I have read a number of articles about the company and reviews of specific knives, but before I could do a legitimate review of my own, I needed to get my hands on one or more of their products. As it worked out, I ended up with two. I own my share of fixed blade and locking folder knives, but at heart I am a slip joint folder guy, so it was natural that I would choose this type of knife for my first CSC acquisition.
The CSC Serpentine Stockman
The stockman is my all-time favorite knife pattern, so maybe it was inevitable that this would be my first CSC knife. After I had browsed websites and catalogs for some time, I realized that one particular knife had grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. This was an A.G. Russell Knives offering with a unique handle scale material that really caught my eye, so I ordered one.
The package arrived. When I opened the CSC box therein, I was confronted with a jewelery pouch. Opening the pouch revealed a tissue paper wrapped object. (This is killing me). Then, when I unwrapped the paper and finally beheld the knife, I thought, “Hello, Beautiful!”
The handle material exceeded my expectations. CSC and A.G. Russell call it “white buffalo mica pearl” and A.G. Russell describes it as, “Mica Pearl, a unique resin based handle material, was developed to be an alternative to Celluloid. It is 100% stable, it will not burn or change color with age. Each color is developed in an atmospherically controlled environment, poured and controlled so each handle scale pattern is unique with a blend of black, gold and white.”
To my eye, the scale colors on the knife I received are more ebony, amber and silver gray. Whatever, the handle material is absolute eye candy and the image above doesn’t do it justice.
What about the blade steel, frame and furniture? After all, a Corvette body with a lawn mower engine won’t serve. No inadequacies here. The blades are 440C stainless, flat ground with a satin finish and very good factory edge. The liners are stainless steel and the bolsters nickel silver. A brass “CS” logo disk is embedded in the tang mark side of the handle. The knife is four inches long closed, with clip, sheepfoot and pen blades.
Blade pattern (length): clip (3”); sheepfoot (2-1/4”); pen (2”)
Blade steel: 440C stainless (Rc 56-58)
Handle material: mica pearl
Bolsters: nickel silver
Liners: stainless steel
Weight: 3.4 oz.
Closed length: 4 in.
2013 MSRP: $130.00
A custom grade knife should show top notch fit and finish and my new stockman didn’t disappoint. Fitting of the handle scales to the bolsters and liners is spot on; ditto the fit of bolsters to liners. The satin finish on the blades is even, smooth and very consistent among the three blades. The backsprings sit level and flush, both when the blades are closed and open. Spring tension against the blade tangs is firm, but the blades open and close very smoothly, which tells me that the springs and tangs are properly mated and smoothly finished. (I keep using the word “smooth,” don’t I?)
I award this knife a ZFFS (Zinn Fit and Finish Score) of 95%, because of two small blips I found. First, there is a one-fourth inch area on the spine of the sheepfoot blade that didn’t get polished as much as the rest of the blade. It’s not an irregularity in the line of the blade spine, just a place that doesn’t reflect light like the rest of the blade. Second, there is just a hint of a scratch, again no more than one-fourth inch long, on one of the bolsters. These two slight imperfections don’t ruin the knife for me; Cindy Crawford has a mole at the corner of her lip and I don’t know anyone who thinks less of her for it.
Incidentally, I recall reading on one blog or another that a couple of people bought CSC knives that had problems. They wrote that they had returned the knives to the factory and received prompt and courteous service that resolved the issues. Good to know.
The CSC Cannitler
This pattern is a CSC original that blends features from two venerable patterns, the Canoe and the Whittler. (Hence the hybridized name “Cannitler.”) As is clear from the image above, the knife has the handle shape and full bellied, spear point main blade of the typical Canoe pattern, but with the smaller coping and spey blades usually found on the Whittler. To me, this is an appealing combination from both the stylistic and usefulness perspectives.
Besides the pattern, the other thing that drew me to this knife was the rare handle material. It is reclaimed American Chestnut wood (salvaged from an old barn) that CSC acquired and has applied to this pattern and a few others. A blight virtually eradicated the American Chestnut tree during the period between the World Wars, so knives with handles in this wood are quite unique. Besides, I’m a sucker for natural wood handles in general. I bought mine from Derrick Bohn (knivesshipfree.com).
Blade pattern (length): spear (2-3/4)”; spey (1-1/2”); coping (1-3/4”)
Blade steel: D2 (Rc 59)
Handle material: reclaimed American Chestnut wood
Bolsters: nickel silver
Weight: 3.2 oz.
Closed length: 3-1/2 in.
2013 MSRP: $160.00
There is something interesting about the design of this knife. Before ever getting my hands on one, I had figured out that the main blade rests between the secondary blades when all are folded. I assumed that there would be three springs, one for each blade. However, there are only two springs! The trick is that the tang of the main blade is built wide, so that it rides against its end of both springs, while the secondary blades ride against one spring each. This is not only a neat design trick, but it also means that the main blade can be, and is, built a bit beefier than is usual for a multiblade knife of this size (3-1/2 in. closed). The handle is still relatively slim, because it has to contain the width of only two springs. It’s a win all around: robust main blade secured against a double spring, two small blades good for delicate work, all packaged in a compact and comfortable handle. I really like the Cannitler design.
The fit and finish was as immaculate as the stockman. There are only three differences worth noting. First, the D2 steel blades of the Cannitler are mirror polished on the tang mark side and satin finished on the off side. However, the difference is hardly noticeable. Second, I was on edge about how the handle scales would be finished. I was afraid that they might be coated with some sort of glossy polyurethane or shellac finish, which would be ghastly. Not to worry. With a little more research, I found that CSC says that they have “stabilized” the wood, without revealing the details. (It is likely a resin infusion process). Whatever, the wood has obviously been treated, but just enough to make it machine well, feel smooth to the touch and show a subtle sheen in direct light. Thank goodness, it doesn’t look “plasticized.” Finally, there was one very small blip in the fitting: when the coping blade is opened, the spring it works against remains slightly raised (about the thickness of a piece of paper). Deducting for this, the knife earns a ZFFS of 98%.
Documentation for Collectors
CSC does several things to document key facts about individual knives. This information is useful to anyone, but especially to collectors. First, the model number of each type of knife (CSC calls it an “Item #”) is really a code that summarizes key features of the knife. For instance, the Cannitler I have is Item # 313124. Each of these sequential numbers has a meaning, as follows: 3 = # of blades; 1 = nickel silver bolsters; 3 = D2 blade steel; 1 = natural wood handles; the final two numbers, 24 = Cannitler pattern. Pretty neat.
Next, there is a number stamped into one of the bolsters. This is the serial number of the individual knife within the model run. My Cannitler is #174 and my stockman is #198. The stockman was from a 200 piece production run made exclusively for A.G. Russell, so I have one of the very last ones. The Cannitler production run is ongoing, so the jury is not in on how exclusive my knife will be in its context. The model and serial number of each knife is printed on a label on the knife box, plus there is a slip of paper in the box that again lists the item number, description of the knife pattern, year it was completed, handle material and blade steel and finish. Also, in the Cannitler box was a note summarizing the provenance of the reclaimed American Chestnut handle material. The key to the Item # code can be accessed via a link on CSC’s website, or you can mail in a form included in the knife box and they will send you a copy of the key.
I’m not really a serious knife collector (my wife says I’m more an “accumulator”). However, the CSC stockman will go to first place in my modest group of collectible knives. I thought that I would also reserve the Cannitler as a collectible, because of the handle material, but now I’m torn, because this knife begs to be carried and used. What to do?
In any event, it’s almost certain that I will buy more CSC knives. I’m simply not going to be able to resist the draw of the beauty and immaculate workmanship of these products. There’s a fixed blade model called the Catskill Hunter that keeps invading my dreams. Plus, CSC may come out with another innovative pattern adaption, as they did with the Cannitler. I can, for instance, envision a knife with a back lock main blade and a liner lock secondary blade.
It’s good to know that there is a new American company making a top quality product at an accessible price point. May they prosper.
Copyright 2013 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.