Made in the USA by Great Eastern Cutlery
Knife enthusiasts with an interest in vintage-style pocketknives are experiencing a surge in opportunities to own some of the highest-quality knives ever made. One of the reasons for this happy circumstance is the birth of a new American knife company named Great Eastern Cutlery.
Great Eastern was founded in 2006 by master cutler William Howard and business entrepreneur and National Knife Collectors Association board member, Kenneth Daniels. Their goal was to produce traditional knife styles that weren’t being provided in the same variations by existing knife manufacturers. Both men are passionate about producing quality cutlery with uncompromised excellence in fit and finish.
Howard is senior partner and company president. Knife industry insiders know Howard because of his long association with Queen Cutlery. He is the source of design expertise for Great Eastern knives. Howard is an iconoclast. He has his own standards of production excellence that result in the creation of knives with consistently tight tolerances and high degrees of polish. Most knife models are produced in limited serial numbers.
It is intimidating to pick up a beautifully polished knife that is only one of 50 and start using it as a working cutting tool. No matter how much aesthetic pleasure these knives give with their looks, some will give just as much cutting satisfaction with their performance as working knives. These knives provide the looks and the performance of others that cost a lot more money.
When I first approached Howard about getting knife samples being produced by the brand-new company I was primarily interested in comparison cut-testing the two different (440C and 1095) blade steels being used. At the time, Howard told me that he couldn’t see any advantage to providing me with samples of knives to cut-test. I made the assumption that the knives were being made strictly as collector pieces and lost interest in testing the brand. It wasn’t until a year later that circumstances put me back in contact with Howard to photograph a Great Eastern knife as an example of its genre that he gave me his blessing to cut-test the knife I would be photographing.
The 1095 carbon-steel blade of the Tidioute Model 53 Cuban Stockman I tested exhibited superior cutting endurance. That experience encouraged me to develop an immediate affection for this new knife brand. It also opened my mind to the usefulness of traditional-style multi-blade pocketknives.
The test knife used in this article measures 4 1/16 inches closed. The pattern is called a Cuban because it resembles a Cuban cigar. My particular Stockman has a California-clip main blade just less than 3 inches long. Adjacent to this main blade is a 2 1/8-inch coping blade. Hinged from the opposite handle end from the coping blade is a 2-inch spey blade. The handle scales of my test knife are acrylic in a swirled green and black color designated Kryptonite. Handle liners are brass, and the double-ended bolsters are nickel silver.
While the company produces more than 20,000 knives per year, small production runs use different handle materials, which are the source for a knife collector’s interest. Acrylic scales are used in a multitude of colors and pattern blends. Bone is used in a variety of colors and jigging patterns. There will be exotic materials in higher-priced variations of the knife models. Each serialized pocketknife is etched on the main blade with how many just like it were made; the serial number is engraved on the bolster.
A Standard Stockman pattern provides three different blade shapes and sizes. The main blade and one of the two smaller blades are hinged from the same handle end. The third blade is hinged from the opposite handle end, which is nested in the same handle blade slot of the other smaller blade. This pattern is called a Stockman because the use of knives similar to this was closely associated with cutting tasks performed by people working on ranches and in livestock yards. The spey blade was kept sharp and used for neutering livestock. The coping blade was used for detail carving and inletting tasks. The main blade was used for piercing, rope cutting, opening feed sacks and boxes, and other utilitarian tasks.
I usually carry a single-bladed one-hand opening knife with a locking blade for my everyday carry uses. However, the multi-blade knife offers the advantages of different blade shapes for different cutting tasks and the possibility of immediately switching over to another blade if the one in use becomes dull in the middle of a task. Because of these advantages—and the fact that I invariably carry two pocketknives—I have adopted a strategy of usually having a traditional multi-blade pocketknife on me. Since adopting this strategy, I have noticed that non-knife people don’t seem as threatened by the idea of a traditional-style two-handed opening knife in my pocket when circumstances reveal me as the only adult equipped with a needed cutting tool.
To a discriminating knife user, cutting capabilities of multi-blade knives can be a mixed blessing. The different blades are usually produced in batches at different times. Even though the blades may be made of the same steel alloy designation, they may be produced from different production lots of steel. There is even a possibility that blades could be produced from steel made by different steelmakers.
While the blades may be heat-treated and tempered identically, different production lots of steel can produce discernibly different cutting performances by different blades in the same multi-blade knife. One blade might be chosen for more frequent use, and another to require sharpening more often to get the desired cutting performance. The pocketknife uses of most pocketknife users won’t be so intensive that variations in cutting performance may even be noticed. But I have noticed that different blades of some multi-blade knives can distinguish themselves on tasks as simple as opening letters and packages.
The reality of cutting performance for individual blades of multi-blade knives is the same as comparing performance between single-blade knives made by the same knife producers at different times. All knife blades may not cut the same, even when the same maker makes them with the same procedures. With a multi-blade knife you have more chances of find a good working blade with the handle of your choice.
The Tidioute Stockman was impressive because all three of its 1095 steel blades have scary-sharp edges and demonstrated cutting endurance in the top 20 percent of all knives I’ve tested. Collectors and enthusiasts of traditional-style American-made pocketknives may take pride in knowing the carbon-steel blades from Great Eastern–produced knives I tested can favorably compare with the latest and greatest super steels. The company produces knives with 440C stainless blades, but they comprise less than 25 percent of total production. I have not yet tested a 440C-bladed Great Eastern knife.
The majority of knife blades I test show a directional “tooth” to the cutting edge. This means the edge might dig into a cut more aggressively when it is stroked through the cut in one direction (i.e. from tang to tip) than with the reverse cutting stroke. I have seen confirmation of the directional cutting tooth of knife edges in a majority of examined test graphs recorded by CATTRA cut-testing machines. It was very interesting to me to find the directional tooth of all three of my Stockman’s blades ran in the same direction. This might indicate a very high degree of uniformity and predictability in blade production by the factory.
Great Eastern knives are distributed with that name, as well as with the Tidioute and Northfield UN-X-LD brand names. There are currently (as of this writing in September, 2008) four pocketknife frames being used. The Cuban model 53-inch frame is used for a jackknife, muskrat- and moose-pattern models, along with the Stockman style I tested. Remington-pattern models in large- and medium-frame sizes are produced in both single-blade and two-blade trapper configurations. There is a small barlow-style frame that is being produced with a variety of blade shapes and styles.
When you combine the different blade shapes and combinations in each frame style with different bolsters and a growing number of handle scale jiggings and materials, there is an astonishing amount of model variability in each of the frames.
Since each of the pocketknife models is produced in small production runs, there is limited opportunity to acquire any individual model. There are even fixed-blade hunting knives that have been produced, but they were only made to date in a single production run.
The limited availability of individual models can be a mixed blessing. It can enhance upward appreciation of individual knife value as collector interest grows or it can frustrate new buyer involvement when individual knives are unavailable. Limited availability has usually worked to enhance collector interest in quality cutlery. These knives exhibit outstanding quality and performance. If you get the chance to check them out, I recommend you do so.
Contact sales manager Ryan Daniels at (740) 418-0142 if you would like more information about this line of knives. Arrange a tour of the factory by calling (814) 827-3411. Visit Great Eastern’s Web site at www.greateasterncutlery.net to see more examples of their knives or make online purchases from the factory store.
By Michael S. Black