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The year is 2020. There are flying cars. People are fitted with microchips under their wrists, and their every move is recorded on their personal cameras, embedded in their contact lenses. Most people have resorted to their online life, in VR mode in dark bedrooms. Food is mostly non-existent, and humans obtain sustenance from bottles of murky green liquid, fortified with life sustaining nutrients. Oh, and pocket knives cost $1,000.
The Norseman is a true “grail knife” for many collectors, and even some users, for good reason. Can anyone just go out and buy a $1,000 pocket knife? Sure, but justifying it is hard to do. So most people save over a period of time, then buy something as prized and unnecessary as a Norseman. But there are reasons this knife costs what it costs. With hours of machining, and most of it’s hardware made in-house, the Grimsmo brothers put hands on every knife they make and sell. And it shows.
Key Specs: Grimsmo Norseman
The Norseman has a blade that is truly unique. It has a profile that looks like nothing else. Technically speaking in terms of defining its blade shape, it’s a tanto at heart. But with a hollow grind, CNC machined horizontal stepping, a rounded spine, and a blade steel comprised of RWL-34, it is remarkably unparalleled. No other tanto looks like this. No other knife has this level of precision in machining a blade with three different grinds, all adjoined in harmony to create a look that is unlike any other. It shows skill, high end machine work, usability in design, and creativity unlike any other knife.
The crowning on the spine, or rounded surface, is extremely smooth. Just after the jimping on the spine, the crowning begins, and feels like the edge of an oily glass table. It is slick to the touch, and the first signs of something special is presented. And the jimping is great, too. It has that great feel of smoothness when pushing down on it lightly, but has decent traction when pushing harder. The belly of the blade is a recurve, and it has great functionality at heart. It drops down running toward the tip, comes to a mild point, and curves upward to create that rounded tanto tip.
The rounded tanto tip is the part of this blade I wish I could revamp. It’s not that the Grimsmo brothers should be told what to do, or that this knife needs to change. But for me, more of a standard drop point seems much more useful in real world use. The thickness of the blade is only 0.12”, a very average and useful dimension, but the tip is so thick, it’s hard to penetrate cutting medium with. Sure, it’s a durable shape and grind at the tip, to resist breaking, but I don’t think very many Norseman owners are prying 2×4’s apart or twisting their knife into drywall.
The flipper tab on the blade is also rounded, with two gentle grooves for traction. We’ll get into the sweet deployment a little later, but as far as the blade is concerned, it’s another extremely well executed portion of the blade. And when the blade is open, the flipper tab transfers itself to the front of the handle, becoming the blade guard for safety. There are some other high end flippers, specifically the Hinderer XM-18, that could take notes from the Grimsmo’s here. The reason for the smoothness of the flipper tab being a consideration, is that when you’re gripping the knife tightly, that smooth texture up against your index finger feels very comforting, rather than destructive like on the Hinderer.
The RWL-34 is a blade steel you don’t see too often. It is comprised of 1.05% carbon, 0.2% vanadium, 14% chromium, 4% molybdenum, and traces of manganese and silicon. This all translates to a fine grain, stainless steel, and when paired with a nearly perfected heat treat, it’s a fitting steel to match the high end usability of the Norseman. It’s used in Damasteel’s core in many higher end Damascus blades, and is extremely similar in composition to CPM-154. The edge retention is fairly average, which has the positive antithesis of somewhat easy sharpenability, and good toughness for any standard pocket knife affair.
Deployment & Lockup
When handling a high end knife in this price range, there is a level of smoothness and friction-less action that is expected. And the Norseman generally sets the bar for all other folders to be compared to. With a dual option deployment method, a flipper tab or thumb stud, the blade sits solidly within the detent when the blade is closed. Utilizing either deployment method will kick the blade out from its closed position, and send the blade snapping into the open position in a downright satisfying manner. And the sound… oh that sound. For those interested in a $1,000 knife, it eases the mind a little knowing the sound the Norseman makes when it snaps open is industrially angelic. The sound of this knife opening is like closing the door to a Bugatti Veyron. It is so positive and slides into the “clink” of being locked, you know this blade is prepared to cut.
Once deployed, the lockup of the Norseman is standard affair, with one notable problem. Lockup looks to be in the 50% range, meaning about half of the blade is covered by the lock bar. In my estimation, that’s a perfect lockup. It has the ability to wear down a little further with continued flipping and usage, but won’t typically slip out of position. Typically. But, with this knife, I found the blade far too easy to accidentally become unlocked. Of course this is not related to it’s lock interface, rather the tension on the lock bar. Giving the handle a very light twist into a zip tie, proved the blade far too easy to unlock with the fat of my index finger. That’s a problem. Flat out. I don’t see how it can be argued differently. A locking, folding knife has one job outside of being a cutting tool; keeping the user safe. And I truly believe it fails in this particular regard.
To continue the argument of lack of safety, the blade is fairly heavy, and with the smoothness of this knife overall, the blade falls dangerously fast. This part of the deployment is what many buyers in this price range are looking for. A blade that literally falls shut, the second you let go of the lock bar. It demonstrates precision in manufacturing, and it scares the hell out of me. Do I want my blade to drop smoothly? Sure, that’s a great feeling in a mechanical piece of hardware. But for it to literally fall down in a guillotine-like manner is terrifying. Can one learn to get the fingers out of the way before the blade falls on them? Of course. But this blade falls so fast, it bounces off the internal stop pin when closing. Is it just too smooth? Too frictionless? To me, yes, absolutely. But that’s subjective. It’s like having a supercar with so much stopping power, the moment you touch the brake pedal, the wheels lock up and you slide to a stop with smoking tires at every red light and stop sign. Are powerful brakes a good thing? Sure, but there has to be a middle ground. And this knife could use a little less speed on dropping shut.
Features, fit and finish
The list of features on this piece could go on for pages. But lets summarize with brevity for ease of reading. An internal stop pin, installed inside the handle’s surface, stops the blade from over-opening. From both an aesthetic and functional standpoint, that’s a great feature. It keeps the look sleek on the outside, while retaining just as much strength as external stop pins. Some knives use a rear stop pin, some use blade stud stop pins, and this internal stop pin is the most concealed, eye pleasing choice.
Our particular Norseman is #880, and is made from a stonewashed titanium lock side, silver titanium honeycomb show side, and blue hardware. As a whole, this particular example closely resembles a Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza, with the titanium and blue accent look. I personally love this look, and of course this Norseman shows itself off well. The pocket clip is not integral to the handle, but is screwed into place from the inside of the lock side scale, leaving the clip with only the Grimsmo emblem visible to the user. The screws that hold the clip in, although hidden inside the handle scale, are still finished the same way the rest of the screws on the knife are finished. Anodized to match the selected color of the rest of the knife’s hardware, all the screws on this knife are blue, with a (oddly sized) Torx T9 head. And the screws also have symmetrical stippling around the head, for a classy touch that puts the Grimsmo name above many others.
The fitment of the hardware, as well as the blade to the handle, is incredible. It all fits tightly, with no wiggle, rattle, or play. Nothing is loose, rough, or forgotten. Every edge, every piece of hardware, and every surface is smooth, finished, and glassy. There is no blade play with the knife open, or closed. Thanks to a flat detent ball, the blade is held closed with confidence, and snaps out of position with force.
The more recent builds of Norsemans have a slight contouring to the scales, however this particular model does not. Made in June of 2018, this example is a flat scale version. It’s still chamfered around the edges, but is definitively flat from top to bottom, and side to side. The thickness of the knife overall is a slim 0.40”. That is considerably thinner than many other production folders. And I love it. I’ll take a relatively slim, flat titanium handle (with exquisite contouring on the lock bar) over a fat, contoured handle. On a fixed blade knife, sure, you’re looking for something resembling a well shaped hammer handle. But on a folder, slim is great. It helps the knife carry well, keeps the weight down (which is modest at 4.9 oz), and feels great to hold and use.
Using the Norseman is a pleasurable experience. In the apple test, which gives a good estimation of the knife’s blade geometry, it performed surprisingly well. The point from the tanto tip meeting the recurved belly actually bites into the apple easily, and slices through it without introducing any cracks in the apple slice whatsoever. Pulling the blade through the apple is effortless, with the mildly stonewashed blade, and average blade stock thickness. This blade has one of the most unique shapes and grinds I’ve ever seen or used, and it works well.
Continuing with my custom three part test is the cardboard cut test. Of course, the Norseman proves it’s worth once again here. Cutting cardboard with the recurved portion of the blade is a pleasurable experience. It bites the material easily, and soars through the medium with ease. The Norseman may not be the thinnest behind the edge of any available knife, but it works great without any complaints. But, try and pierce a box with this knife, and you’ll be met with a little resistance. It’s not impossible, but definitely feels like pushing a stick from the back yard into a box rather than a knife. It’ll do, but it’ll do it a little less readily than the likes of the Spyderco Paramilitary 2, or just about any standard drop point blade.
Now to shave down a little wood. This part of the testing was great. Making little feather sticks is easy with the nice thin grind on the belly. Digging a little deeper into some pine is not a problem, either. I confidently and readily chewed up some bits of wood with this luxury piece with no problems. I mean, there’s no way in hell I’m taking this knife with me on a camping trip, but if it’s all you had, the knife could handle it.
Carrying the Norseman is pleasurable. The pocket clip looks awesome, and has great retention. The semi-smooth titanium slides in and out of the pocket with ease. The slim profile of the knife carries easily. It doesn’t disappear in the pocket by any means, what with a 5 oz weight and 5” handle length, but it rides along in Levi’s like it wants to stay with you. Pulling the knife from the pocket, flipping it open, using it, and putting it back in the pocket, is a process that’s somewhat thoughtless, save for the guillotine-like blade closing.
And in sharpening, well, I didn’t even try. This knife potentially has the most difficult blade shape imaginable for sharpening. It’s a nightmare. You’re looking at a recurved belly, a tanto profile, and a tip that’s not just perfectly married to the belly in a secondary point, but is also a convex edge. It indefinitely demonstrates some intense skill from the Grimsmo brothers in their production of this blade, but I cannot imagine attempting to sharpen it without some serious time behind a guided sharpening system, with specialty stones and hones. The RWL-34 steel is apparently fairly pleasurable to sharpen, but with this blade shape and its nuances, I just can’t imagine tackling this beast.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.To start, comparing the Norseman to the only other available Grimsmo knife, the Rask, is a logical place to begin. It’s comparably priced, made by the same duo, made with the same blade steel, same components, and looks like a much better cutting tool. We reviewed the Rask some time ago and we’re very impressed at the time. The Rask is significantly lighter, at 3.0 oz, and is a more traditional style drop point blade. It shares the homemade ceramic bearings used on the Norseman, and is a flipper style deployment as well.
The Shirogorov Neon (AKA NeOn Lite) is another knife that comes to mind when pondering comparable alternatives to the Norseman. Not because they look similar, but they both occupy the same monetary level. Russian made, rather than Canadian made, the Neon is potentially closer to the Rask than the Norseman, but the latter of the two is just so unique, we have to open our minds to some similarly priced pieces. The Neon is 3.0 oz, just like the Rask, and utilizes a blade comprised of CPM-S90V steel. But it is indeed another titanium based flipper, bordering on the midtech or custom field of knives, and can be considered a worthy contender to the Norseman.
And although Craig Brown’s LHC model is priced under the other two we’ve spoken of here in the alternatives, it is an offering that seems to be shadowed in the knife world by the Norseman moniker. Brown’s knives are not being produced in quantity like the Grimsmo brothers have been able to work up to, but when they become available, they sell quickly. Even on the secondary market. CPM-154 is the selected blade steel for Brown’s offerings, but another ball bearing flipper with a titanium frame lock is presented for your choice of high end knives to drop money on. Although, Brown’s knives do have two features the others don’t; a steel lock bar insert, and the DRB (dual row bearing) pivot system. And, the Servo model features an overtravel stop. Small changes when comparing the feature set to the Norseman, but worthy of noting nonetheless.
I know we’re late to the Norseman party and the majority of the knife community has already took upon itself to worship this knife with cult like enthusiasm. The hype train is without doubt travelling at full speed here. Still, we have to put all that to one side and stay true to our brutal honesty here at Knife Informer. Look, the Grimsmo Norseman is a great, weird, grail knife for many knife lovers. But I really don’t love it. It’s not to say that it’s a bad knife. I fully comprehend the time put into each of these knives, the machining skill, the quality of the in-house manufacturing of all the components, and the action that has set the bar for other makers to be compared to. But it just doesn’t make sense. Why does the Japanese tanto/recurve/convex tipped blade have to be so odd? Is that what makes this knife what it is? Is that why is costs nearly $1,000? Or maybe it’s the extreme fall-shut action, riding on ceramic bearings, with an internal stop pin for aesthetic, eye pleasing styling.
But if that’s the case, why is the blade so heavy that it slams down into the handle scale openings with so much force that it bounces out of position? The thin overall profile is something I truly enjoy, but aside from that, I’m afraid to carry and use this knife. That free falling blade, that weird blade shape that can’t decide what it wants to be, along with a price tag that’s twice what Chris Reeve Knives sell for, just add up to a summation of parts that don’t make sense in terms of a useable knife.
But, maybe that’s a good thing. Does every knife have to have a direct purpose, an obvious design philosophy, and follow the rules? Absolutely not. And that’s where the Norseman really starts to sound at home. Landing somewhere between modern art, proof of concept, skill in machining, and some decent usability along for the ride, maybe the Norseman isn’t supposed to be another knife you compare directly to anything else. In this realm, does the Norseman’s price tag make sense? Sure it does. You figure a mechanic charges an average of $100 per hour of labor. Does the Norseman take more than 10 hours to make? Probably. Between the machining, research and development in past years, purchasing machines and learning how to use them, making every part of the knife inside and out, maybe it’s a steal at this price. This is a knife that is not for everyone. But it’s not supposed to be. A truly unique piece that is executed with absolute precision, the Grimsmo Norseman is an amazingly weird knife.
- Truly unique design, outstanding machine work, amazingly smooth deployment, top notch materials.
- Expensive. Odd blade shape may present challenges for some, lockup can be unreliable, fall shut blade may not be to your liking.
Reviewed by Mason Ball