Great Eastern Cutlery Northfield #48 Improved Trapper Knife
By Gary Zinn
Image courtesy of Collector Knives.
Great Eastern Cutlery (www.greateasterncutlery.net) has been in business for barely a decade, yet has gained a position of prominence among the firms that make pocket knives. The GEC formula for success is simple. They produce traditional styled knives, using quality materials and with meticulous workmanship. Then, they price them realistically, given the quality components and careful handwork involved in making their knives.
My latest GEC knife, a Northfield #48 Improved Trapper, is a case in point. This knife caught my eye while I was browsing the GEC website, where a production run of the model was shown. The run used the #48 factory pattern for nine single blade knife models, called the Weasel, and seven two blade models, called the Improved Trapper.
After browsing the specific knife models and handle treatments in the run, I settled on the knife pictured above, which GEC produced as a SFO (special factory order) for Collector Knives (www.collectorknives.net), one of their internet distributors.
This is a handsome knife. On first inspection, my eye was drawn to the pleasing contrast between the highly polished nickel silver bolsters and the rich dark color of the handle scales. The second thing that struck me was the slender, serpentine shape of the handle. Finally, I noted that there were subtle design and finishing details that indicate this is a premium product.
Fit, finish, and function
There are many opportunities for small irregularities in the fit of parts in a multi-blade knife. None of these were evident in my Improved Trapper. All parts of the closed knife matched up perfectly; there were no gaps or misalignments anywhere between the liners, bolsters, and handle scales; nor between the liners, back springs and center cut. The back springs were totally level with the liners when either blade was opened.
Besides the flawless fitting of parts, I noticed the small brass nails that secure the handle scales to the liners are countersunk. This is the first of several subtle quality details I found in this knife. Others include the full sized center cut between the blades and the grooved front bolsters.
There were two listings of this knife on the Collector Knives website, with a $12 price difference between them. The lower priced knife was listed with the condition notation "New/EDC (cosmetic flaw)." This was the knife I opted for, given that I plan to carry and use it, rather than treat it as a collection or display item. I paid $90, rather than the $102 retail price for an unblemished knife.
I found two very small flaws in my knife. The first was a tiny nick on one edge of the secondary blade tang. The second, which I did not find until the third time I inspected the knife very closely, was a scuff on one of the front bolsters, so small and superficial that I only see it when the light catches the bolster surface just right. I could likely polish this out, but doing so would be pointless, since the bolsters will surely get scuffed when I carry and use the knife.
It says something that Collector Knives proprietor Mike Latham and his staff inspect knives so closely before posting them for sale. This gives me confidence in the information they post about the products they sell.
Beyond the two tiny cosmetic flaws, the finish of the knife is immaculate. The blades are evenly polished to a high satin luster, just short of a mirror finish.
I am especially pleased with the handle scales. I was unfamiliar with African Blackwood, but I like it. It is very fine grained and quite smooth, but not slick. The coloring has a chameleon quality. It looks almost black in low light, but appears more like dark chocolate with a burgundy undertone in strong light, with slightly lighter and darker woodgrain layers. It is one of the more interesting natural handle materials I have seen.
Turning to function, the blades cycle smoothly, with a firm half stop, which is top dead center on both blades. A folding knife that half stops is desirable, because the half stop adds a measure of control, especially when closing the blades. Half stops are a feature of well designed, high quality, slip joint knives.
GEC knives are sometimes criticized as having a hard pull. I would call the pull of this knife firm, but not hard. A firm pull is indicative of strong back springs, which is good. If the pull is light, the spring is too weak and will only get weaker with time and use. Conversely, if the tangs and spring ends are well polished and properly mated, a strong back spring is no problem, because the blades will move smoothly. This is exactly what I feel when I open and close the blades on this knife; i.e., firm but smooth blade movement.
The frame of this two-blade knife is 1/4-inch thick and the handle scales add enough bulk to bring the overall handle thickness up to about 1/2 inch. The 3-7/8 inch long handle is adequate for me to get a full grip on it.
The muskrat blade is the main blade, in the sense that it is on the front (shield) side of the knife, with the Wharncliffe blade behind it. The kick on the Wharncliffe blade is slightly longer than that on the muskrat blade, so that the Wharncliffe sits a bit higher when the blades are closed. The significance of this is that the nail nicks are cut at exactly the same distance from the tangs and sit one above the other, far enough forward on the blades to give good leverage for opening. This is another nice design touch.
The blades are flat ground, with the spines lightly swaged from the tip to about 5/8 inch in front of the tang. This swaging is another quality touch that shows attention to detail and adds class to the knife.
I have a qualitative ranking system for describing the sharpness of knives. My ranks are NS (not sharp), SE (sharp enough), VS (very sharp) and ES (extremely sharp). Out of the box, I expect the factory edges of most knives from reputable makers to be at least SE, with an edge keen enough to do routine cutting tasks.
The factory edges on my Northfield knife (formed by a very narrow micro bevel) were Very Sharp (VS), totally adequate for any cutting task I would normally do with a knife of this type and size. I have not used the knife enough to challenge its edge durability, but I have other GEC knives with 1095 steel, which hold their edges well and are a snap to sharpen. I do not anticipate any edge retention deficiencies or sharpening problems with this knife.
In summary, the Northfield #48 Improved Trapper is a high quality production knife. The design is excellent, the materials used are proven, there are many small details that enhance quality and the workmanship on the knife was impressive.
The GEC tang stamps and product lines
GEC uses four brand names to differentiate among its product lines. These are Tidioute Cutlery, Northfield UN-X-LD, Great Eastern Cutlery and Farm & Field Tool. The distinguishing characteristics of the brands are as follows.
Northfield UN-X-LD: This is the premium line of GEC knives. All are built around blades and back springs of 1095 carbon steel, with all blades stamp marked and highly polished. Bolsters are coined and typically decorated with dimples, grooves, or angled cuts. Handle covers (scales) are processed on site, from upscale materials such as India Stag antler, Mammoth ivory, Cocobolo, Snakewood and North American cattle shin bone. These are limited production knives.
Tidioute Cutlery: GEC says the Tidioute line of knives are, "good enough to collect, but our emphasis with this brand is with function and performance rather than cosmetic beauty." Like the Northfield brand, Tidioute knives feature 1095 carbon steel blades and back springs, but handle scale materials are less exotic and bolsters less detailed than on the Northfield knives. The majority of GEC production runs are Tidioute knives. These may not be as upscale as the Northfield brand knives, but they are far from mediocre. (See Tidioute #15 Huckleberry Boys Knife for a full Tidioute knife review.)
Great Eastern Cutlery: The major thing that distinguishes this brand from the Tidioute line is that GEC brand knives are made with 440C stainless steel blades. These knives are, "As All American as possible." American cattle bone, elk antler and American hardwoods are used for handle materials.
Farm & Field Tool: This is a no-nonsense line of sturdy utility knives, featuring steel frames, heavy duty synthetic handle scales and reinforced pins. Currently, there are four factory patterns in this brand, three of which have 1095 carbon steel blades and the other with 420HC stainless steel.
GEC also makes infrequent runs of fixed blade hunting knives, using one or more of a half-dozen factory patterns. The firm produced 424 fixed blade knives in 2016.
Great Eastern Cutlery founder and president Bill Howard and his team are making traditional style production knives that are, dollar for dollar, as good as any and better than many. At any given time, the company will be making production runs using one or more of a library of five dozen slip joint or lock back factory patterns, typically with several choices of handle material and number or pattern of blades. In 2016, GEC used 21 factory patterns to make 269 knife models, with a total of 23,330 pieces produced. Total production in 2016 was the most in the company's history.
Anyone who wants to see what is in production or check recent releases can do so by browsing the GEC website. The website also contains a list of the distributors and dealers that market GEC knives.
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