Are you tired of sequels? Well, Spyderco isn’t. It seems like they make a CQI (constant quality improvement) variant of a knife, a sprint run, a dealer exclusive, or a different color of an existing knife on a weekly basis. All the while, leaving many of their greats behind in production. But, luckily for all of us, they have recently brought back production of the Gayle Bradley 2.
It wasn’t discontinued, like they do with many, many of their best knives, but was just missing from their production for some time. So, now we can all get a chance at the great GB2, with it’s beautiful blade, carbon fiber handle scales, and Taichung manufacturing plant quality. But was it worth the wait? Was it worth missing the 49th Paramilitary 2 for? The newest Spyderco Shaman sprint run? Or the dog-shaped Pochi? Let’s discuss.
Key Specs: Spyderco Gayle Bradley 2
The Gayle Bradley 2 has one of the best blades on a folder I’ve ever used. And it looks really, really good, too. Utilizing CPM-M4 blade steel, one of my personal favorites, it’s not a blade that will hold up to corrosion all too well. For me, living in a desert climate, that’s not much of an issue. And, even if I had the blade patina or lightly corrode, I wouldn’t care much. But, this is a preference, and some users may prefer to make sure their blades stay clean, and with a little oil and maintenance, CPM-M4 should be fine for most.
In sharpening, M4 takes one of the most aggressive edges attainable of any steel, and holds that edge for quite some time. It also has high toughness, an attribute less often needed on a folder, but a nice bonus in losing the corrosion resistance. Spyderco and Gayle Bradley have put together an incredibly well done blade here, keeping the hollow grind from the original Bradley Folder, one of my all time favorite knives. They stretched the blade out to 3.6” over the original model’s 3.4”, and changed the blade stock thickness from .13” on the original to .12” on the new version.
A hollow grind, with a satin finish, and alternating grind directional lines on the upper flat portion of the blade, make for a real looker. The primary hollow grind keeps the vertical grind lines, and the secondary flat bevel puts the grind lines in a horizontal fashion. It’s a subtle detail, but it sure helps make this blade stand out when admiring it in good lighting. Spyderco did a great job making sure the edge was fairly thin on the GB2 (Gayle Bradley 2), and with subsequent sharpenings, should retain or even improve that edge thickness as the blade gets more narrow the further up the spine you get. Of course, at some point, you’d run back into a thicker part of the grind in sharpening away the majority of the blade, but that would take so many years of use, it would be pretty tough to argue this as a real issue.
Next to the opening hole, is the familiar Spyderco logo. Near the base of the blade is the “Spyderco” wording, and just under that is the “CPM-M4” blade steel wording. On the opposing side of the blade, at the base of the blade, the only text is “Taichung, Taiwan”, of course indicating the knife’s manufacturing origin. Next to the opening hole on this side of the blade is the Texas state logo, for Mr. Bradley’s home state, and surrounding that logo is “Gayle Bradley” above, and “Weatherford” under the Texas logo. Sounds like a lot of billboarding and logos on the blade, but the font is small, and placed well enough that it’s not too bothersome or attention-grabbing.
Deployment / Lockup
Deployment of the GB2 is as predictable as any Spyderco folder, and is handled via the round opening hole found on the blade. This gives the blade an ambidextrous nature, although the liner lock says differently. A “reverse” or “spydie” flick is my personal favorite way to open Spyderco folders, since this puts the hand right where I want it for use after deploying. Unfortunately, the GB2 has a fairly light detent. The blade doesn’t move while in the closed position or anything, but it does come out of the closed position very easily. A very light shake of the handle when the blade is closed allows the blade to come open about half way to it’s fully open position. This is likely not a big issue for those who carry the knife properly, with the blade up against a pocket seam, but it is a bit unnerving in my opinion. This also causes the knife to not fully deploy using my usual opening method, but this is admittedly a nitpick that doesn’t exist when opening the blade in a normal, slow roll style. And, as usual, Spyderco’s Taiwan plant gives the GB2 an incredibly solid lockup.
Liner locks, also called the Walker liner lock, was originally designed and used in the late 19th century. Michael Walker, in 1990, patented the use of the name “linerlock”, and added a detent ball to the liner and a stop pin for the blade to rest against. The liner lock on the GB1 (the original Gayle Bradley folder) was well known as overbuilt, with a thickness close to a standard frame lock knife. The GB2 thinned out the liner lock significantly, likely to reduce the weight down to 4.4 ounces, from the original’s 5.5 ounces. I doubt many people will benefit from the original overbuilt thickness of the GB1 liner lock, so the thinner lock is a welcome change for the common user. I still use and carry my personal GB1, but I’ll admit, it does take time to build up a thumb callous to unlock the knife easily. The GB2 still retains a slightly hard-to-reach liner lock, by design of Gayle Bradley, to prevent unintentional unlocking of the blade in twisting type cuts. And some more ginger-handed users may find the lock uncomfortable. I have no issues with it, using my hands for work on a regular basis, but it is a bit hard to reach in the right conditions.
A large stop pin assists the blade with the liner lock in locking the blade open to it’s rock-solid position. Thick (thicker than Spyderco’s USA built knives) phosphor bronze washers allow the knife to open with buttery smoothness, and keep the pivot from having deployment issues, even with some moderate dust and debris from dirty pockets or cutting tasks. Unlocking takes a little effort as previously mentioned, but closing the blade is just as smooth as opening. Again harping on that detent, I just really wish Spyderco had taken the time to dial it in better, to be more along the lines of the classic Paramilitary 2.
Features, Fit and Finish
The GB2 uses the same handle scale construction found on the GB1, which is a method I don’t find any issues with, but do often hear complaints of from keyboard warriors. It’s a carbon fiber overlay on top of G10 scales, sandwiched between stainless steel liners. “I just wish they had used solid carbon fiber”, is the common phrase I hear. I understand that would lighten and strengthen the handle scales on the knife as a whole, but it seems pretty negligible and probably wouldn’t be noticed in real world use. And, on all four corners of these carbon fiber overlay scales, are clip hole locations, for tip up or tip down, left or right handed carry. And the pocket clip on the GB2 is more interesting than some may describe it as. It has the same standard hole configuration and overall style as Spyderco’s Golden, Colorado plant, but the clip finish is where the magic lies. I believe I found the information on the finish to be a “black chrome”, which is far more durable and even looks better than the USA made black painted clips. Seems like a small detail, but it makes a big difference in a long term carry knife. I’ve carried my GB1 for years, and other than a few deep scratches, it still looks close to new.
Taichung’s manufacturing for Spyderco folders has had the legacy for having Spyderco’s best fit and finish out of all their plants. I generally agree with this, with one caveat. I really wish they put a little chamfer on the opening hole, and spine jimping. They’re just plain sharp. Sharp enough that there are many users who say they’ve had minor finger cuts arise from the opening hole. Some say that this kind of finish is appreciated with some manufacturing processes, so although I many not know the details of this kind of potential purposeful finish, a pocket knife should only have one sharpened spot; the edge of the blade. Fortunately, Spyderco does put a very, very nice and sharp edge on their knives, and the GB2 is no slouch. With a couple swipes on the balsa wood strop with diamond spray compound, this knife was whittling hair right out of the box.
The Gayle Bradley 2 uses a standard D-shaped pivot, 3 body screws with standoffs, for it’s base construction. The 3 body screws at the bottom of the handle seem over-built, but it sure helps keep the handle scales feeling like one solid piece of material. An interesting choice on the part of Spyderco, who seems to put huge lanyard holes in all their knives, the GB2 is void of a lanyard hole altogether. I suppose you could wrap a lanyard around the bottom standoff, like the Chris Reeve Inkosi, but it’s an ironic fact nonetheless. The one and only feature of the GB2 blade I don’t like, is how close it sits to the opening at the bottom of the handle scales when the blade is closed. It’s close enough to poke through to skin when pocketing the knife or grazing your hand past your pocket; trust me, I did it more than once. If they had just chosen to make the blade 3.5”, or terminate it just a tad lower on the center line of the blade, this wouldn’t be an issue. And, a 3.6” blade technically takes the knife out of the running for those who comply with knife blade length laws, when the 3.5” is the legal limit. All other fit and finish of the knife is great, screws sit flush with the scales, scales fit perfectly within the proud liners, and everything is tight and without rattles or odd creeks and squeaks.
Spyderco says they “refined” and “lightened” the GB2 to be a better knife all around than it’s predecessor. I’ll give them that, they did do a great job making it better in those ways, although I prefer the GB1 over the the newer variant overall. But, how is it to use the GB2? Well, it’s great, I’m glad you asked. A curvy handle, but one without direct finger grooves, is one that can be considered neutral and comfortable in almost any and every grip, which is exactly how I’d describe the GB2 in use. Reverse grip (blade facing me) is great for pull cuts on heavy rope, saber grip is great for tabletop cuts or long draws through cardboard, and the full hammer grip is comfortable for hard push cuts through wood. It’s not just a jack of all trades, it’s a master of all.
The hollow ground CPM-M4 blade just cuts. I’ve used and tested so many knives from so many makers, and Spyderco just knows how to make a knife that works. The edge bites into material with conviction, separates cardboard or wood or foam, and cuts all the way through just about anything without hanging up or binding. This seems so trivial to mention, so obvious. But it honestly isn’t. Spyderco truly brings the best cutting performance for the price of any folder around, and the Gayle Bradley 2 is at the top of their list of performers. The GB2 carries well too, and although it weighs over 4 ounces, it doesn’t feel heavy in the pocket (or the hand). I think this is partly because it’s a long knife, and the weight is spread out evenly. The black chrome pocket clip keeps the knife tightly in place, and although it doesn’t carry very deep in the pocket, it’s not too “loud” and visible with it’s dark color scheme. Just watch for that pesky blade tip from snagging your finger, or pushing into your thumb when putting the knife back in your pocket.
The Gayle Bradley 2 stands alone in its unique style, hollow ground CPM-M4 blade, and sub $200 price tag. I’d recommend the Gayle Bradley 1 as a similar alternative, but it’s long been discontinued. Same situation with the Gayle Bradley Advocate, another CPM-M4 bladed Spyderco, with a flipper and frame lock, is also discontinued. So, we must choose something that Spyderco still makes, that’s relatively easy to find, that comes in a tool steel. So, for $140 (compared to the GB2’s ~$200), the Spyderco Endela in K390 is a great choice.
It’s also made at Spyderco’s Taichung plant, comes with a high wear resistance tool steel, and is made to cut like the Dickens. The Endela uses a 3.4” blade, and has a .12” thick stock, just like the GB2. The blade is a drop point, flat ground variant, so it’s not exactly the same as the GB2, but it has enough similarities to make a good contender. Using a back lock, the Endela has the same opening hole as most Spyderco’s, as well as phosphor bronze washers, but uses FRN handle material (Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon) over stainless nested liners for it’s handle construction. Also, don’t ever try and take an Endela apart unless you’re good with small parts; that back lock is pesky to get back together in my experience.
And Benchmade’s Adamas line has sure taken the folder world by surprise this past year. The Adamas (and Mini Adamas) stepped up their game with a flat ground, CPM-Cruwear blade this past year, and made some minor changes to the knife as a whole. With a 3.3” blade in a tool steel, the Mini Adamas pits itself well up against Spyderco’s old school GB2 (it was back logged in production for some time, but has recently gone through a couple production runs). The Mini Adamas will run up over the $200 mark, at $212 retail, again compared to the GB2’s $200.
Benchmade does have a better warranty than Spyderco, with their “Lifesharp” service where they’ll sharpen and even recondition some knives within reason of warranty. But, this has been long known as the “butterfly tax” (with Benchade’s butterfly logo from their origins of butterfly knives). They seem to charge a bit of a premium for their knives over the competition, although they do keep all their production within the USA. The Mini Adamas also comes in two colorways, an FDE and green, and a black and gray model. Their evergreen Axis lock is utilized here once again, for easy one handed deployment and use. It’s a heavy little knife, at 4.3 ounces, and uses a much thicker .14” blade stock thickness. Benchmade sure seems to have gotten the heat treat right on this knife though, touting 63-65 HRC, which puts Cruwear in a special place to us steel nerds. It’s a great knife that competes well with the GB2.
The Spyderco Gayle Bradley 2 is a great modern folder, with nice materials, great blade steel, unique styling, and refinement over its original version. It’s priced somewhat high for the sum of its parts, but has been engineered and executed in manufacturing with precision and high performance cutting at its core. Spyderco could do a little better with the deburring and chamfering sections of the blade, especially at a nearly $200 price tag. The GB2 fits in the hand like a glove, with neutral grip lines, proud liners that create less of a flat feel in the hand, and no protruding hardware on the scales. It cuts like a beast, looks like an beauty, and will hold up for a lifetime. It’s one of Spyderco’s all time greats, and should be a staple in any collector or user’s folder lineup.
- Great hollow ground blade in CPM-M4, unique styling, durable, great cutter, refined over the original
- Not stainless, rough edges on the blade, liner lock can be hard to disengage