Great Eastern Cutlery
By Gary Zinn
Northfield UN-X-LD #82 Dixie Stockman Knife. Image courtesy of knivesshipfree.com
Great Eastern Cutlery (www.greateasterncutlery.net) is a new firm that makes old style knives. GEC has only been in business since 2006, but has quickly gained interest from those who collect, use and review traditional knives. I picked up on this buzz while doing some unrelated research and decided to take a closer look at the company and its products.
GEC was established by Bill Howard, who was chief designer for Queen Cutlery for many years. The new firm that Mr. Howard formed is located in Titusville, Pa., only a few blocks from the Queen Cutlery facility. Historically, Titusville is best known as the cradle of the U.S. petroleum industry, but the area also has a long history of knife craftsmanship. Queen Cutlery has been in business since 1902 and GEC has adopted Tidioute as one of its brand names, to recognize that the nearby town of that name was also a significant knife making center in the early 20th Century.
GEC began production in 2006, though indications are that the first knives made did not actually reach the market until early 2007. During the years since, the company has produced a surprising number of knife patterns, although mostly in small production runs. Besides making knives for sale under their own brand names, GEC has done a number of special order runs of knives for a handful of speciality or collector knife marketers.
The Company and its Brands
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 mirror polished. Bolsters are coined and typically decorated with dimples, lines and angled cuts. Handle covers (scales) are processed on site, from upscale materials including India Stag antler, Mammoth ivory, Cocobolo, Snakewood and North American cattle shin bone. These are limited production knives, with a portion of each run serialized. The image above is of one of these premium knives, the pattern #82 Dixie Stockman with burnt stag handle scales.
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 blades of 1095 carbon steel, but handle scale materials are less exotic and bolsters less detailed than on the Northfield knives. These knives 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 and back springs. These knives are, "as All American as possible." American cattle bone, elk antler and American hardwoods are used for handle materials. They are easily recognizable with the Great Eastern Cutlery acorn shield.
Farm & Field Tool: This is a no-nonsense line of sturdy utility knives, featuring steel frames, solid delrin handle scales and reinforced pins. Currently, there are four patterns in this brand, three of which have carbon steel blades and the other with 420HC stainless steel.
By the way, GEC has a straightforward repair or replace warranty covering defects in materials and workmanship. The warranty does not cover damage from normal or abusive use of a knife, of course, and does not cover natural handle materials after the knife has been used.
GEC Knife Families
GEC is first and foremost a conventional folding knife maker, with 46 factory patterns listed on the company website. Only a few of these will be in production at any given time, but the number of patterns that GEC has in its arsenal is impressive for such a young firm.
Six fixed blade patterns are also listed, but these are produced only in intermit, small runs. Fixed blade knives are definitely a secondary product line for GEC.
The Farm & Field Tool line is a recent venture, with four patterns, as noted above. Three of these are single blade folders, two slip joint and the other a lock-back. These feature 01 tool steel blades. The fourth pattern, with 420HC stainless steel, is a two blade folding fish knife. There is also a variant of the lock-back model, called the Wall Street, that uses upscale natural materials for handle scales, with 1095 carbon steel blades. These deluxe knives bear the Tidioute or Northfield brand names.
The #15 Factory Pattern and Knife Models
The knife that I chose for a full (separate) review is built on GEC factory pattern #15, called the Huckleberry Boys Knife pattern. What GEC has done with this pattern is an object lesson in how folding knives are designed and made.
Stated simply, pattern #15 sets the dimensions (length, width and shape) of the handle section of the Huckleberry Boys Knife. The key to this is the geometry of the bolsters, since the size and shape of these dictate the ultimate length, width and shape of the knife handle. The bolster size also sets upper limits on the length and width of the blade(s) that can be used.
This factory pattern yields a knife that is 3-1/2 inches long (closed), 1/2 inch wide at the front (blade pivot) end and flaring evenly to a width of 11/16 inch at the widest part of the handle. The handle has a smoothly rounded butt section and will hold one or two blades, with the main blade up to 2-3/4 inches long.
The GEC identification system moves from factory pattern numbers directly to knife model numbers. My sample knife is model #151214, which is stamped on the main blade tang and tells much about the knife. The first two digits (15) identify the pattern, the next digit (1) says that the main blade is a clip point, the following digit (2) denotes a two-blade knife and the final two digits (14) denote that the knife was made in 2014.
The model number is also written on a label on the tube the knife is packed in, with a letter code added, STL in this case. I found no explanation for the letter code, but my guess is that it is a production or inventory code.
I looked up the production records for 2014 on the GEC website and found that my specific knife was one of 60 identical knives made with antique yellow jigged bone handle scales. All together, there were 204 pieces of model 151214STL produced, using a total of four handle treatments.
The pattern 15 saga does not end there. In 2014, GEC produced eight different knife models based on the #15 pattern, for total production of about 1450 pieces. For instance, 270 pieces were made of pattern 152214, which has a spear point main blade, a pen secondary blade and small decorative bolsters on the butt of the handle. Pattern 152114 is identical, except that it has a single spear point blade, with 160 pieces made.
The point of the last two paragraphs is to illustrate how a multitude of specific models can be built on a given factory pattern. Changing the main or secondary blade, using one blade instead of two, or adding rear bolsters or a lanyard hole all create a "new" knife model and this does not even include using different handle materials. The bottom line in this case is that GEC shows 69 specific examples of knives built on the #15 factory pattern on its website.
The knife market is highly competitive and volatile, so making predictions about a firm engaged in it is probably silly. For instance, just a few years ago I was convinced that Canal Street Cutlery was an up-and-comer, but that has not happened. That said, I am going out on another limb to suggest that Great Eastern Cutlery shows signs of being a success story in the industry.
The GEC production records show that in 2007, its first full year of operation, the firm produced about 7300 knives from eight factory patterns. By 2011, production had increased to 15,600 pieces, using 22 patterns. In 2014, total production was 18,500 pieces from 27 patterns. GEC is not resting on its laurels, either. Their website notes that they just finished a run of a new pattern #83, called the Tascola lock-back. This is a 3-3/8 inch single blade lock-back knife, with either a clip point or drop point blade. The initial run of the new pattern was done using about a dozen handle treatments.
My point is that the company has shown solid growth in volume and variety of production over just a few years, and they are still adding new patterns. Further, their products are of high quality, if my lone opportunity to obtain, inspect and review a GEC knife is an accurate indicator. I am planning to obtain and review more of their knives and will report what I learn.
Copyright 2015 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.