Stockman Pattern Pocket Knives
By Gary Zinn
Case Model 6318 SS Medium Stockman. Image courtesy of casexx.com.
I consider the stockman to be one of the two greatest American pocket knife patterns. The other I have already discussed in Trapper Pattern Pocket Knives. Here is my similar exploration of the stockman.
The stockman is a three-blade knife. Typically, the main blade will be a clip pattern, with sheepfoot and spey secondary blades. The most common sizes of stockman knives are 3-5/8 to 4 inches closed length, although there are smaller and larger sizes. It is common for smaller sized knives to have a pen blade in lieu of a spey blade. The prototypical stockman body has a subtle S-shaped profile, which leads to the pattern sometimes being called a serpentine stockman.
The history of the pattern is so obscure as to be nonexistent. I am only guessing when I suggest that the stockman is a contemporary of the trapper pattern, developed circa 1900 and becoming well established and popular by the 1920s. I can definitely say that the stockman was much in evidence in rural West Virginia in the 1950s, which is where and when I grew up.
For instance, my brother-in-law was a livestock farmer and there was always a stockman knife in his pocket. However, he had to buy a new one every several years, because he flat wore them out. He used those knives for everything short of major farm machinery overhauls. If anyone wonders, yes the spey blade, honed very sharp, was used for the purpose the name implies.
Stockman knives are very versatile, because of the three distinct blades they carry. For instance, I have used them a lot for cleaning small game. The spey blade is well suited for skinning, while the clip blade is just right for gutting small game.
Someone unfamiliar with these knives may be puzzled by a particular design feature often seen in the classic stockman design. When the blades are closed, the spine of the sheepfoot blade is more exposed than the others. This is purposeful and practical, for that blade can be pinched between the thumb and finger and opened easily, even when one is wearing work gloves. Most people who use stockman knives utilize the sheepfoot blade frequently, partly for this reason. I have done so many times.
I did considerable browsing on the internet to get a current picture of the availability of stockman knives. I consulted the catalogs of knife makers, where available, and supplemented this by searching the websites of major internet vendors to confirm what knives are on the market. Here is a summary of the significant makers of stockman knives and what they offer.
W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co.
Case lists over 80 specific models of stockman knives in their 2015 catalogs. These come in four sizes, 2-5/8, 3-5/8, 3-7/8 and 4-1/4 inches closed length. The majority feature stainless steel blades and dyed and jigged bone handle scales. However, there is a reasonable selection of models with carbon steel blades, plus a variety of other natural and synthetic handle materials are available on selected models. Liners are brass, bolsters are nickel silver and pins may be either of those materials.
Over two-thirds of the offerings are in the popular 3-5/8 inch length, which Case calls a Medium Stockman. The knife pictured above is one of these. I own this exact knife and to me it represents just what a stockman knife should be. It is large enough to do good work, but compact enough for handy pocket carry. The knife is quite handsome with its jigged amber bone handle scales.
I did what amounts to a mini-review of this knife in an earlier article, Case Pocket Knives (Down the Rabbit Hole With Alice). It is one of four pocket knives that I keep in a tray on my dresser and it is the one I am most likely to grab whenever I am going out to the shooting range, to work in the shop, or yard. I got it a few years ago and it is beginning to get that nice pocket worn look from frequent carry and use.
Case also offers a few knives in a stockman variant generally known as a sowbelly. The sowbelly pattern has a robust, exaggerated serpentine body shape. Case sowbellies feature the traditional clip, spey and sheepfoot blades, in 3-7/8 inch closed length and various handle scale treatments. Case knives are made in the U.S.A.
Hen & Rooster
I identified two dozen stockman knife models sold under the venerable Hen & Rooster brand name. These are available in 2-3/4, 3-3/8, 3-7/8 and 4 inch sizes. All feature stainless steel blades, nickel silver bolsters and brass liners. Handle materials include stag horn, jigged bone, Corelon and celluloid.
Hen & Rooster makes a half dozen sowbelly knives featuring large and small trailing point clip blades along with a spey blade. These are available in 3-1/2, 3-3/4 and 4-1/2 inch sizes with stag horn handle scales. Most Hen & Rooster stockman and sowbelly knives are made in Germany, with the 2-3/4 inch models made in Spain.
Queen catalogs fifteen stockman knives. These include five sizes, ranging from a petite 2-5/8 inch gentleman's knife in the premium Schatt & Morgan line to a 4-1/2 inch brute. The majority feature stainless steel blades, with a handful in D2 tool steel. Handle scales are mostly of natural materials, with feathered water buffalo horn being the most exotic. Buffalo horn is ebony in color with fine ivory colored streaks, giving it a different look from other handle materials.
Most notable in the Queen stockman lineup are three patterns that are serious working knives. These are the 3-3/4 inch Railsplitter with extra wide blades, the 4-inch Cattle King and the 4-1/2 inch Stockman. These patterns are robustly built to stand up to anything a sane user would tackle with a slip joint folder. Queen Cutlery knives are made in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
A Boker Tree Brand stockman with carbon steel blades was the first pocket knife that I bought with my own money, when I was about ten years old. I used it for many years, until I totally wore it out. It was a very good knife, so I have kept general track of what Boker is offering.
Currently, Boker offers fourteen stockman models in four sizes, from 3-1/4 to 4 inches closed lengths. I counted ten models with stainless steel blades and the other four with carbon steel. Dyed and jigged bone is the predominant handle material, with one stag horn model and a couple each with wood or synthetic handle scales.
I have not bought a Boker knife recently, but I would expect their German made products to still be of solid quality. However, four of the stockman models I found are made in China. I note this as a word of caution if shopping for a Boker knife, because I am not high on Chinese made pocket knives. Most of those I have seen in recent years had poor fit and finish of parts, rough blade cycling and cheap handle scales. Regardless of brand name, if a knife has an unusually low price point, there is probably a reason. Be aware when shopping.
Bear & Son Cutlery
Bear & Son lists thirteen stockman knives in 3-1/4 to 4 inch closed lengths. Handle materials include stag bone and stag horn, walnut, desert ironwood, delrin and G10.
The majority of these knives have 440 stainless steel blades. However, five stockman knives in the Bear & Son 4th Generation series are distinguished by 1095 carbon steel blades and traditional handle materials. I reviewed one of these knives in Bear & Son 3-1/4 inch Heritage Walnut Medium Stockman Mini Review. Bear & Son makes all of its knives in its Jacksonville, Alabama facility.
Besides the brands covered above, there are a handful of other reputable knife makers that offer at least a couple or three stockman patterns. Listed in no particular order, these include Canal Street Cutlery, Utica Cutlery, KA-BAR, Buck Knives, Remington Knives and Great Eastern Cutlery. I know I am ignoring a few other makers that produce a model or two of stockman knives from time to time, but I have to stop this survey somewhere.
I consider the stockman to be the most useful and versatile of all slip joint knife patterns. It is versatile, because of the three distinctly different blades, which among them are suitable to any cutting chore within the capability of a light to medium duty slip joint knife. Smaller sizes make for very comfortable pocket carry, so can always be at hand for small everyday cutting jobs. Larger stockman knives have blade sizes and overall robustness that make them capable of serious work.
I am into my seventh decade of experience with stockman knives. I consider them practically perfect pocket knives. I say practically perfect, because if I were to design my own stockman knife, I would substitute a finely pointed Wharncliffe blade for the traditional sheepfoot blade. That would be perfect!
Copyright 2015, 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.