Gerber Gator Premium Clip Point Folding Knife
By Gary Zinn
The Gerber Gator knife models have been popular for some 25 years. I can understand this, because I bought an original model Gator folder with clip blade soon after it was introduced. I still have and use it and it has given me excellent service, both in the field and around the house and shop. I consider it to be as good a modestly priced, lock back, hunting and general use knife as any ever made.
The lineup of original design Gators is well-rounded, with five full size (3-3/4 inch blade) folding models, a smaller folding Gatormate (three inch blade) and a pair of fixed blade hunting knives. Now, Gerber has added to the Gator family by introducing the Gator Premium knife line, including two each of folding and fixed blade models.
Blade, handle and sheath
The big news with the Gator Premium knives is the S30V blade steel. Previous Gator models used 420HC or 154CM stainless. I have used a lot of knives with 420HC and always found it to be quite serviceable, but S30V is certainly a higher performing steel. Here, in condensed form, is what Crucible Materials Corp. says about their S30V steel:
"CPM S30V is a stainless steel designed to offer the best combination of toughness, wear resistance and corrosion resistance. It offers substantial improvement in toughness over other high hardness steels, such as 440C and D2, and its corrosion resistance is equal to or better than 440C in various environments. The CPM process produces very homogeneous, high quality steel characterized by superior dimensional stability, grind-ability and toughness compared to steels produced by conventional processes."
Crucible puts "Long-Wearing Specialty Cutlery" at the top of their list of recommended uses of S30V. Their recommended heat treatment yields a tempering of 58-61 Rc. Crucible also asserts that annealed S30V machines much like D2 tool steel.
Gerber states the blade length as 3.6 inches. I measured 3.5 inches of total length, but the sharpened edge is only 3.125 inches long. Together, a small kick (similar to a quillon on a fixed blade knife) and shelf at the base of the blade account for this difference. The kick is functional, for when the blade is closed the kick contacts the lock bar stopping the blade, so that the sharpened edge does not bottom out on anything inside the handle.
The unsharpened shelf forward of the kick is messed up. Either the grind plunge should take out this shelf, which would add about 3/16 inch to the total sharpened edge, or there should be a small choil between the front shoulder of the kick and the heel of the sharpened edge. As it is, it looks like someone forgot to finish grinding the blade. This is a small detail, but it is sloppy.
Maximum width of the blade is 1.125 inches. The spine is 0.118 inch (3mm) thick. The blade is sabre (not hollow) ground, with a clearly visible secondary grind which creates the actual cutting edge. The long clip point is swedged and there is jimping on the flat portion of the blade spine. The blade has a nice, polished finish.
One thing that designers of modern style, single blade folders seem obliged to include is a thumb stud, hole, or flipper spur to assist in one-handed opening. True to form, the Gator Premium folder has a large, triangular thumb hole milled into the blade.
This is, in reality, more show than go. The knife has no opening assist mechanism, so the user has to supply all of the force needed to open the blade. In addition, the tang has a half stop that creates additional resistance when one attempts to use the thumb to open it. The result is that trying to open the blade one-handed, using the thumb hole, is an iffy exercise.
Things are much easier if I open the Gator Premium as I do its ancestor, by holding the handle in the strong hand, pinching the blade between the thumb and fingers of the off hand, and rotating the blade open. No fuss, no muss.
The general size and shape of the Gator Premium and original Gator handles is the same, which is a good thing. The new handle is five inches long, one inch wide at its narrowest point and a palm filling 7/8 inch thick at the middle.
I get agitated about knife handles that are too short, too thin, or not shaped to fit the hand. The Gator handles, old and new, soothe my nerves. They are among the best to be found on production knives suitable for hard work.
The handle has enough weight that the open knife is neutrally balanced in the hand. This is a good thing for comfort and security when one is using the knife.
Glass-filled nylon is a proven handle material for working knives and that is what is used in the molded handles of both the old and new Gators. Both the original and Premium Gator handles are over-molded with a grippy rubber compound that Gerber calls Gatorgrip. This makes the knives both more secure and comfortable in the hand, so it is a welcome feature.
The most apparent difference between the original and Premium Gator handle is that the latter has a cast steel bolster at the front of the handle, which is lacking in the original Gator handles. Logically, the bolster makes the new handle stronger in the blade pivot area. My original Gator has seen considerable and sometimes hard use and the blade pivot area shows no signs of wear or failure. The steel bolster on the Premium models is probably not necessary, but it functions as a finger guard and adds a bit of punch to the appearance of the knives.
Too often, knives are supplied with poor sheaths. Gerber did not make this mistake with the Gator Premium line. The folding knives come in very nice belt pouches, made from 2mm thick leather, dyed black. Seams are neatly double stitched. A strip of leather sewn onto the back of the pouch forms a belt loop which is large enough to work with belts up to two inches wide, as long as they are not too thick. The leather strip also forms a flap which folds over the handle of the sheathed knife and is closed with a sturdy metal snap.
Fit, finish, and function
I can cover fit and finish quickly. The blade of my knife fits securely into the handle, with no play or slop (closed or open). The blade is immaculately milled and the polished finish is better than that normally found on medium priced working knives. There are no stray bits of plastic or other molding glitches on the handle.
I rate the function of the knife excellent. The blade cycles smoothly and locks open with a reassuring click when the back lock engages. To unlock the blade takes noticeable force, so there is no worry that one will accidentally unlock the deployed blade.
I commend Gerber for milling the tang of the folding Premium knives with a half stop. Half stops add a measure of safety when closing folding knives and I am glad to see them appearing on more slip joint knives, and now even on single blade locking folders.
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. It is not a shock, though, to find some that are NS; i.e., needing some work before the edge is acceptable for normal cutting tasks.
The factory edge on my Gator Premium was Very Sharp (VS). I saw no need to touch it up in any way before diving into a series of basic cutting tests. These included slicing coated paper and corrugated cardboard, whittling wood, pruning shrubs and cutting rope and webbing. I generated a substantial pile of debris from these cutting tests, and the edge on my new Gator did not dull, as far as I could tell.
Sharpening S30V knives
There is a rumor going about that S30V is hard to sharpen. Well, it can be hard to sharpen any knife by hand if one does not use the proper tools and techniques and exercise some patience. Given those ingredients, though, I find S30V no more difficult to sharpen than any other blade steel that is on the high end of the Rc scale.
I own two knives with S30V blades and one thing I have learned is that S30V holds an edge extremely well. I have not needed to sharpen my Gator Premium at all, for it is still VS after several weeks of use. I have had the other one, a White River Sendero Pack Knife for about a year and it has needed nothing more than touching up on an extra fine diamond sharpening plate, followed by honing on crock sticks and a butchers steel, to keep it in VS to ES condition.
The Crucible fact sheet on S30V notes that it has, "a very refined grain microstructure with very evenly dispersed Vanadium Carbides allowing the steel to take a very fine, consistent edge." My experience with touchup sharpening confirms this. I find it easy to get a uniform, keen edge on S30V.
S30V is not going to dull rapidly, unless badly abused. It gives plenty of notice when the edge begins to fade, which is the time to give it a touchup sharpening, as I did on my Sendero. A touchup sharpening of a just-beginning-to-dull edge is much easier and quicker than is a complete rebuilding of a badly blunted edge. This is true no matter what the steel.
Do not be afraid of S30V because of the hard to sharpen rumor. Anyone who is reasonably competent at hand sharpening knives should be able to sharpen an S30V blade. I recommend using diamond sharpening plates for bench sharpening, or diamond sharpening heads if using a guided sharpening system. Hone the sharpened blade on crock sticks and butchers steel, or by stropping.
The Gator Premium family
Gerber launched the Gator Premium line with four models. Joining the model reviewed here is a fixed blade model with a four inch blade, plus both folding and fixed blade knives with gut hooks milled into the spine. (I am not high on knives with gut hooks on the spine, but hunting knife makers keep offering them, which implies there must be a demand.)
I would not be surprised to see additional models added, such as folders with drop point and partly serrated blades, and perhaps a skinner pattern fixed blade knife. It also occurs to me that the Premium folder handle could be a platform for a good, interchangeable blade, folding knife.
Everything considered, I give the Gator Premium, as reviewed, a grade of B+. What keeps the knife from earning a solid A is the useless thumb hole in the blade and the weird shelf at the base of the sharpened edge.
I have been underwhelmed with some of the new products introduced by Gerber in recent years. The Gator Premium knives, though, are a positive step for the company and I hope they will introduce more updated or new knives that are as well done as these.
Copyright 2017 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.