The concept of a Gentleman’s Folder is simple – smaller knives that focus on quality of materials and a dressy ‘public-friendly’ look that pairs equally well with your suit or jeans pocket. Tacticool has no place here, these knives are not intended for gutting deer, piercing body armor or accompanying mall-ninjas. Gentleman’s knives are purely small, simple and stylish. Here are some of the best.
Chris Reeve Mnandi
If you wanted a list of gentleman’s knives with only one entry… it would be the Chris Reeve Mnandi. Named after the Zulu word for “very nice,” the Mnandi is a 2.75” semi-traditional folding knife with a focus on high end materials – and a pricetag to match. Opening is done by a nail nick – with practice it can be done with the side of your thumb, but the Mnandi is primarily designed to be a two hand opening knife. The pocket clip is a beautiful 3D machined titanium clip held proud of the scale with a round standoff – which can be removed so you can carry the Mnandi in a leather slip case if you prefer.
Unlike a lot of traditional knives, the Mnandi uses a stout framelock to secure the blade in place – so there are no worries about the blade closing on your hand. And considering Chris Reeve is the father of the modern framelock, you can be confident it will work properly in this generation and the next.
Simple ergonomics and a small clip point shaped blade don’t make for an exciting knife – it’s the materials that are the Mnandi’s calling card. Basic Mnandis come with a satin finish blade in CPM S35VN – Chris Reeve’s collaboration steel with Crucible foundry – and there are also a variety of Damascus pattern blades from Devin Thomas. All models use a titanium frame covered with wood scales – from dark, smoky Gabon Ebony wood to bright, beachy Box Elder Burl.
Slim, light, classy, a great cutter, and non-threatening, the Mnandi may just be the definitive traditional Gentleman’s folder, whether you prefer pocket or slip carry. But if you want something a little different, you’ve got other options.
Spyderco has a long history of making practical and beautiful gentleman’s knives. It’s hard to pick – there’s the Sage line, which uses the same handle and blade shape but showcases different handle materials and lock varieties. The Kopa is out of production now but featured a variety of beautiful handle materials. But the Chaparral is their flagship gentleman’s knife. Like the Sage, the Chaparral series all have the same handle shape and the same 2.8” drop point blade made from Carpenter CTS-XHP – a modern high-end powdered metal steel. At under 3”, it’s non-threatening and legal in a majority of locales, but big enough to be useful – a common thread with gentleman’s knives.
The appeal to the Chaparral is the handles – the Chaparral 1 uses Spyderco’s carbon fiber laminated G10 scales like the Gayle Bradley folder, but newer models are a calling card for the impressive work that Spyderco’s production facility in Taichung, Taiwan can do. The Chaparral 2 “stealth” titanium model is a flat titanium handle that has a differential textured pattern in it giving it the impression of being different shades. The real star is the Chaparral 3, with a milled pattern in the handle called stepped titanium. Radially spiraling geometric patterns cut into the titanium give the Chaparral some visual depth, almost like an MC Escher painting – there is also a two tone blue and silver version as well.
New for 2017, the Chaparral 4 is available with a handle material called Raffir Noble which uses bronze and brass mesh waves cast into clear acrylic epoxy resin – giving a unique 3 dimensional look to the scales. Regardless of which handle material you pick, any Chaparral is sure to deliver top notch ergonomics, build quality, fit and finish, and a unique look and feel – in addition to being a useful tool for whatever situation you find yourself in.
Boker Mini Kwaiken
The Kwaiken – a Lucas Burnley take on the traditional “Kaiken” Japanese style blade – has been an enormous success for Boker in the enthusiast knife market. It’s a refreshingly clean design in a world full of Emersons – a blade that is completely hidden when the knife is closed, the spine level with the handle scales, the only protrusion being the flipper tab. Riding on IKBS bearings, the Kwaiken is a superlative flipper, with a satisfying “snap” when opened. The Mini Kwaiken disappears into the pocket – with a 3.00” blade and a 4.25” closed length, its thin profile makes it the perfect minimalist carry.
There are three versions currently made – black contoured G10 over stainless liners weighing in at 3.26 ounces, a titanium version which is actually just titanium handle scales over stainless liners at 3.89 ounces and a carbon fiber version at 3.15 ounces. All have a dual-finish hollow ground VG-10 blade – satin finish on the titanium, stonewashed on the G10 and smokewash on the carbon fiber, befitting the respective character of the materials. There is also a new version of the Mini Kwaiken coming soon: a “tuxedo” mini kwaiken which has a two tone finish on the blade (satin grind, stonewashed flats) that’s exclusive to BladeHQ.
The Mini Kwaiken – like the full sized version – is a knife that values smooth operation and slick looks over “tactical” concerns, and could be the perfect daily carry for the office for you!
Al Mar Hawk Classic
Since the late seventies, the Al Mar Hawk has been a popular gentleman’s carry and for good reason. It’s well sized, well made and looks the part. If you’re not familiar with Al Mar, they’re a US company based in Oregon but production takes place in Seki City, Japan. Al Mar produces a number of impressive EDC’s including the Osprey, Eagle and Falcon but it’s the Hawk which impresses us most as a pure gentleman’s folder.
The Hawk Classic is a small ‘backlock‘ knife, with it’s 2.5″ blade and weighing in at only 1.5 oz. The blade is made from AUS-8 steel, a Japanese version of 440 steel that’s broadly comparable with 440C. It’s not a premium steel by today’s standards but will take a very sharp edge despite the fact you’ll need to touch it up somewhat regularly to keep it hair-popping sharp. Sure I’d prefer something a little higher on the scale like VG-10 or S30V but it’s not a deal-breaker.
The styling is just the way we like it…simple and elegant. What’s more there’s a plethora of flavors when it comes to the handle including abalone, white/black micarta, black pearl, cocobolo, jigged bone, mother of pearl and good old stainless steel. No pocket clip but you really don’t need one on a dainty knife like this.
But wait, there’s more. Just when you thought a 1.5 oz knife wasn’t light enough…the Hawk also comes in an ‘Ultralight‘ model weighing only 1.0 oz! The ergos are good and everything is put together very nicely as you’d expect from a brand like Al Mar built on a reputation of quality.
The design of the TiSpine comes from Robert Young Pelton, the head of DPx Gear, whose folding knives are produced by LionSteel of Maniago, Italy. The design is actually licensed to LionSteel – who make the TiSpine, but they also produce same knife for DPx to sell in limited quantities only from their website under the Aculus name.
The Aculus and the TiSpine differ pretty much only in branding and blade steel. The Aculus uses Niolox – a high speed tool steel similar to D2 but with better edge retention and corrosion resistance. The TiSpine uses Bohler Elmax, a more well-known high performance powdered metallurgy stainless steel that’s also a favorite of ZT knives.
The calling card of the Aculus/TiSpine is its integral construction. LionSteel has been a pioneer of this difficult manufacturing technique, where the handle is machined from a single piece of titanium instead of being bolted together in two halves. This theoretically gives you a stronger handle and thus a safer lock; not particularly relevant on a gentleman’s knife, the big draw is the striking smooth look. The “normal” TiSpine is machined with a pattern of radial lines, and the Aculus has a diamond texture grip, but limited edition TiSpines also have the same grip.
With a 3.35” blade and stretching to 7.68” when open these twins may stretch the definition of a “gentleman’s knife”. It’s important to remember that these aren’t so much traditional gentleman’s knives so much as they are Robert Young Pelton’s idea of a gentleman’s knife – a set of circumstances that probably doesn’t exist for most people, but it sure is glamorous to look at and use.
James Brand Chapter
The James Brand is not a well-known entity in the knife market – yet. They’ve only been around since 2012, with a core lineup that has recently expanded up to three knives. The most well known of their line is the Chapter knife – a simplistic titanium framelock folder with a variety of handle colors and blade finishes. The blade is a 2.75” hollow ground drop point style made from D2, an old-school non stainless tool steel that’s known for its toughness and edge retention. The wide pocket clip is mounted for right-hand tip down carry, providing a sure grip on the pocket.
The handle of the Chapter is the definition of simple – box shaped with a slight swell towards the pivot and a cutout for the thumb stud. The Chapter Knife’s calling card is its vibrant green thumb stud – a color James Brand calls “electric moss.” It certainly stands out in a sea of black and gives the Chapter a lighthearted feel. You can get one with an uncoated handle in either a satin finish or a Damascus blade, or a black coated handle with satin or black coated blades. The “white bone” finish handle are sadly no longer available – but may be worth seeking on the secondary market.
There’s also the Swell, which was a limited edition version of the Chapter made in collaboration with Discommon, a low-production design firm that makes high end men’s accessories. The display side is an intricately machined 3D pattern shaped after the swell of a wave, cresting around the thumb stud cutout. A bright blue anodized thumb stud sets the swell apart from the other Chapter knives.
The Chapter knife doesn’t offer cutting-edge materials or a crazy lock or anything like that – it offers polished construction, a classy appearance, and a blade that’s big enough to be useful but small enough to be appropriate in most situations. James says about the Chapter – “This is the knife we wanted to carry every day – so we made it.” Isn’t that what it’s all about?
William Henry E6
William Henry knows all about gentleman’s knives – it’s all they make. The problem is that most of them are more for… well, looking at than using for cutting stuff. Damascus blades, exotic wood, mother of pearl inlays, weird pirate skull shaped clips, intricate engraving and inset jewels are fancy and impress some people, but knife nuts want to focus on how stuff works and the beauty that is derived from said function. That’s why a PM2 is a sexy thing and hordes of lime green zombie killer knives are flea market fodder.
So it’s weird to see a genuine capable user blade from William Henry, with usable materials and an ultra-high-end blade steel. The E6 is aimed at the premium EDC market, with a high flat ground drop point 2.75” blade made out of Bohler M390, a modern steel comparable with CTS 204p or CPM 20CV at the top of the heap for full stainless powered metallurgy steels. The lock is a right-handed button lock positioned along the spine, much like the Hogue Knives we’re fond of here at Knife Informer, as well as Freeman knives. Normally used in automatic knives as a release and a lock, the button lock provides a high fidget factor as well as a closing line safe from accidentally cutting fingers. The E6 is secure in pocket by a long, slender stainless deep carry pocket clip that mounts to the butt of the knife.
The E6 has gone through a series of revisions in its lifetime. Early models (The E6-2, E6-10, E6-8, and E6-9) all use black-coated D2 steel – which makes sense, seeing how D2 is a non-stainless tool steel. The newer versions have switched over to Bohler M390 – The E6-1 which has contoured cocobolo wood, and the E6-3 which has a slick piece of carbon fiber in its place.
Regardless of which version you pick, the E6 gives you the best of what William Henry does – attention to detail, jewelry-quality hardware, and expert fit and finish – without all the weird pearl inlays, dragons, and the sort of form-over-function malarkey that drives knife nuts… well, nuts. If you can find one, it’s a rare diamond in the rough.
Budget option: CRKT Eros
And last on our list is an affordable option from Columbia River Knife & Tool, designed by perhaps the most well-known name in knife culture- Hawaii’s own Ken Onion. The Eros is referred to as a “gentleman’s tactical” knife, which is a phrase that makes no sense – like “sports car pickup truck” or “diet hamburger”. Regardless of what CRKT calls it, the Eros is one cool knife – as pretty much anything penned by Ken Onion is. The father of the Leek, Shallot, Chive, and Blur – as well as a pile of other big-selling names for Kershaw, his organic styling and ergonomics are easy on the eye and comfortable in hand.
The Eros, much like the well-liked Swindle (also an Onion design) is sold in two “quality” levels, as well as two sizes. The small Eros comes in at slightly under 5” overall length with a 2.03” blade, while the large Eros is just shy of 7” overall length with a 2.84” blade. The blade on both sizes is a long, slender hollow ground drop point with a fine needle tip for piercing. The clip is interesting – it’s a wide split clip that spans the pivot and the contact point is actually a circle, giving it strong tension without being overly long.
As mentioned above, the Eros comes in two versions – the standard Eros has flat bead-blasted stainless steel handles and an AUS-8 blade – 1.50oz and $40 for the 2” version, 2.80oz and $50 for the 2.84” version. The new upper level Eros features an intricately 3d-machined titanium handle, fine detailing on the pocket clip, and a blade made out of Acuto+ (Or Acuto 440, depending on where you read). This is a high-grade Japanese steel from Aichi, comparable to 440C or 154CM but with increased amounts of Vanadium in its composition to aid in corrosion resistance and edge retention. The small Titanium Eros weighs in at 0.70oz(!), while the larger Ti model weighs in at an incredibly light 1.4oz, both just over $100.
Regardless of whether it’s the standard or high-end variant, all Eros use the IKBS (Ikoma Korth Bearing System) pivot, a ball-bearing replacement for standard washers, paired with a flipper tab for incredibly smooth and fast deployment. CRKT’s implementation of IKBS frequently shames the action of folders costing multiple times their price tag. The swift “snick” of deployment and the classy organic lines match perfectly with CRKT’s stated “gentleman’s tactical” mission for the Eros. The Eros strikes a rare balance – equally at home in a suit, or in a pair of Carhartt’s – truly a do-it-all design.
Traditional Option: GEC #47 Viper
Great Eastern Cutlery, or GEC, is one of many companies cranking out a staggering variety of high-end slipjoint blades with a traditional styling yet aimed at modern knife enthusiasts. I’m not a huge fan of multiple blade patterns (except for my Tidioute Beer Scout!) so for me a perfect traditional slipjoint EDC needs to have one good-sized blade.
The Viper (or Pattern #47) is a swayback – meaning, don’t hand it to your friend that doesn’t know knives or they’ll grab it backwards, try to cut something, and close the blade on their hand. The blade is a downward sloped wharncliffe, and the handle sweeps upwards towards the palm, which in the hand focuses pressure downwards towards the tip – making the swayback a great knife for detail work, like cutting through packing tape without damaging packaging, trimming strings, and other day-to-day tasks. At 3” it’s small by “modern tactical knife” standards, but large by traditional slipjoint standards. Like all GEC’s, it’s made out of 1095 high carbon non-stainless, one of the oldest steels used in cutlery. It will take an immediate patina if used on acidic food (like an apple) but it sharpens up to razor-sharp in no time and holds an edge well without chipping.
#47’s are available in a variety of different handle materials – Micarta, Rosewood, stag handles, and others depending on availability. At around $80, it’s harder to actually find one for sale than it is to find the money for it! Definitely worth a try if you’re craving something more traditional.
So there you have it. The very best gentleman’s knives for you to get your James Bond on…