7 Star Cutlery Jimmy Lile L2 Hunting Knife
By Chuck Hawks
The late James B. "Jimmy" Lile (22 Aug 1933 - 5 May 1991) "the Arkansas Knifesmith" was one of the premier US knife makers. He made his first knife as a child around 1941, but did not become a full time professional knife maker until 1970. By that time he had been a part time bladesmith for many years and had earned an enviable reputation for the design and quality of his folding and fixed blade knives. Lile was also known for the Cherokee style, fitted pouch sheaths used for many of his hunting knives, which were inspired by his Indian grandmother.
As the fame of his knives grew, Presidents, Kings and many celebrities acquired or were presented with Lile knives. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and the King of Sweden all received Lile knives. Several Lile knives have been used in movies, the most famous celebrity knife being the survival knife Lile designed for Sylvester Stallone and used in the first two Rambo movies.
As well known as Jimmy Lile became for his presentation and special knives, he mostly designed and hand crafted practical working knives. These include Lile Lock folders, bowie pattern knives, survival knives and the models 1, 2 and 7 hunting knives, among others. A Lile Lock folder is on display in the Smithsonian Institute of Technology.
Jimmy Lile received many honors as a knife maker. He was the first handmade knife maker to be voted into the Cutlery Hall of Fame. He served three terms as President of the Knifemakers Guild, on the Board of the Guild and also on the Board of Directors of the American Bladesmith Society, serving as a liaison between the two groups.
Jimmy Lile was apparently a genuinely nice guy and a true Southern gentleman, beloved by friends, associates and fellow knife makers. Today, original Lile knives typically sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
"James B. Lile" was stamped on some of his very early knives. Most Lile knives produced during Jimmy Lile's lifetime were simply stamped "Lile" on the blade.
After Jimmy's death in 1991, Lile's wife Marilyn ran the business for four years. In 1995, Jacque and Lynn Weir (Jacque Weir had worked with Jimmy since 1974) took over the shop and continued manufacturing Lile knives for about the next 10 years. Knives produced after Jimmy's death were stamped with a dot over the Lile name to differentiate them from knives of identical pattern made during Jimmy's lifetime.
At some point, 7 Star Cutlery was licensed by the Weirs to import handmade reproductions of Models 1, 2 and 7 Lile knives. It is one of these 7 Star Cutlery Lile Model L2 knives that is the subject of this review.
These Model L2 knives have a circle around the name Lile stamped on the blade to differentiate them from previous Lile knives. There are no other markings on the knife. A leather sheath of the Cherokee type was included with the L2 knife, along with a printed handout, "The Legend of Jimmy Lile," written by Jacque Weir.
7 Star Cutlery's Lile knives were sold with a Lifetime Guarantee stating:
"Your 7 Star Cutlery knife designed by Jimmy Lile has been handmade by our craftsman to the highest standards available. This knife should last a lifetime. If for any reason this knife should fail under normal cutting conditions, simply send it back to the address below and we will replace or repair the knife and send it back at no charge. We do not replace knives that have been used as pry bars."
The L2 is a drop point, full tang, medium duty hunting knife in the Lile tradition. Jimmy designed it with a rather complicated blade shape that has an upswept back spine to a beveled drop point. The blade is curved for its full length and is hollow ground.
The handle scales are polished, laminated Brazilian hardwood secured by two large brass rivets and there is a brass lined lanyard hole. (See photograph at top of page.) It is a sophisticated and functional design suitable for field dressing and skinning big game animals. A heavy duty, Cherokee style, leather sheath was included with L2 knives.
This is an attractive, very nicely finished and polished hunting knife. Although intended to be sold at a considerably lower price than the Lile knives produced in the Arkansas shop by Jacque Weir, it retains the look of a hand-built and carefully finished knife. The wood to metal fit of the scales is perfect and the handle's glossy, dark gray finish is attractive and completely fills the pores of the wood.
Although it has no separate finger guard, the ergonomically shaped handle is designed to keep fingers from sliding forward onto the sharpened edge of the blade. The handle is smooth in all planes. I found it comfortable in the hand, whether the knife is held with the cutting edge down or up. It allows considerable leverage to be applied to the cutting edge of the husky blade. The Lile L2 balances nicely in the hand, very similar to the considerably more expensive Olsen OK, Randall Model 5 and Spyderco/Moran hunting knives of similar size I have reviewed for Guns and Shooting Online.
The blade is made from 420J2 steel and I would estimate the cutting edge is ground at an angle of about 20-degrees. 420J2 is an inexpensive, tough, strong, low carbon stainless steel produced by various manufacturers in Japan and Taiwan. It is roughly equivalent to US 420B and Chinese 3CR13 steels. It is used for knife blades, scissors and some surgical instruments, as well as (due to its toughness) impact cutting tools like axes, hatchets and machetes.
420J2 has very good corrosion resistance, is hard to break, holds an edge fairly well if properly heat treated and is easy to resharpen. For use in knife blades, 420J2 can be hardened to Rockwell C 52-55. Hopefully, L2 blades would have been hardened to the upper end of that range. (420J2 stainless is used in many very cheap, imported knife blades, where it is unlikely to be optimally hardened, thus degrading its performance.)
The sample L2 knife showed no evidence of use, but was only medium sharp. I took a few minutes to sharpen the edge on a hard Arkansas stone, followed by a few swipes on Lansky's crock sticks and a couple passes over a butcher's steel. The 420J2 blade was, as advertised, easy to sharpen and took a keen edge, easily capable of slicing fine curls from note paper and passing other simple tests. I have not done any field dressing or skinning with the L2, so cannot comment on its edge retention in the field.
The L2 is a very well designed, good looking, hunting knife. It is what I consider to be just about the optimum size for a working hunting knife. Being a 7 Star licensed reproduction, these knives are far less expensive on the used market than a Jimmy Lile Model 2 knife made in his Arkansas shop. (Of course, Jimmy Lile was not using 420J2 steel for his blades!) This is my first review of a Jimmy Lile design and now I understand why they are so highly regarded.
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