Hands On: James Brand The County Knife

Geared toward creating functionally sound items that are also style-forward, The James Brand first stepped out into the spotlight with The Chapter knife. And that knife – its traits a melding of utility and form – stood out amongst the vast array of knives whose designs were merely a symptom of function, rather than an intentional decision. This Portland, Oregon-based brand has since come out with their next pocket folder – The County – which serves both as a second act and a counterpoint to their flagship knife.

Harkening back to what is, in essence, a right of passage for many present-day everyday carry enthusiasts, The County Knife is the James Brand’s reimagining of a classic pocket knife – you know, the kind you might’ve found amongst your Grandpa’s effects or received upon becoming an Eagle Scout when you were a young boy. And if you think that’s a big thing to live up to, you’d be right. We’ve taken a long hard look at the execution of this undertaking and have put together our thoughts on The County Knife in the following review.

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Campsite Class

While not directly related to the quality of this knife, we’d be doing the James Brand a disservice if we didn’t at least mention their packaging. Calling it well-thought-out is an understatement. Between the cleanliness and warmth of the branding and its clever engagement (the external sleeve calls to be cut open by the knife within to reveal hidden company information and care tips), these folks certainly have the market cornered on excellent brand-aware packaging.

Our first impression of this knife is that it is quite small. Closed it measures up at just 3.5 inches in length and only about 0.75 inches at its widest point. And the weight – under 2 ounces – matches accordingly. Having said that, the small stature of this knife is hardly a drawback, considering its spiritual predecessors. Sure, this style of knife may have felt hefty in the hands of a child, but we’ve since grown up and had no expectation of this kind of tool growing with us. In fact, there’s a feeling of respect to James Brand’s choice of keeping this knife small that has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

And it isn’t just the size and appearance which echo the form and craftsmanship of the past. When open, it handles well and feels as though it is soundly constructed. Though it is lightweight and modest, it does not give the sense that it might break – which is an exceedingly important feeling for it to impress as a tool whose intention is to be used. It is handle heavy, but that fact is hardly noticeable in this pocket folder. Overall, this knife looks and feels very good.

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Short Cut

Extending from the handle via a nail nick on its front end – sorry lefties, this is a right-handed knife – the ‘modified straight back blade’ takes a little extra effort to open (a possible symptom of it being a non-locking, slipjoint style knife) but it feels secure. Resembling an extremely subtle drop-point, the flat-ground blade is made of 12C27 Sandvik stainless steel, which is a very well-rounded alloy that holds an edge well, does not easily corrode, and is quite durable. It is fairly sharp out of the box, but we wonder if the edge could be made a bit finer. In any case, it’s ground well enough for the kinds of tasks one might expect out of an old style pocket folder.

Despite the shortness of the blade, the styling has not been sacrificed. The back of the blade features jimping for added thumb grip and the front has possibly the smallest choil we’ve ever seen. And while these fine points were not at all necessary to the quality of construction, it’s the minuscule design details that make all the difference with a knife like this one.

Ore & Timber

Comprised of walnut and 416 stainless steel, the styling of this knife’s handle is impeccable – offering the kind of attention to detail associated more with high-end luxury manufacturing than knife making. And it is impressively understated, for being such a well-considered object. The walnut appears textured, though it is smooth to the touch, and the steel highlights – from the back quarter of the handle, to the hardware, and even the lanyard hole liner – give this knife a unique look without overdoing it. The best feature in our opinion, however, is the tiny James Brand symbol carved into the handle on the back end just above the lanyard hole.

Technically, The County is a very sound slipjoint folder, it not a little rigid. Overcoming the spring tension either opening or closing the knife must be a deliberate action, as the joint is very sticky and stiff. Hopefully the swivel of the blade will loosen up without sacrificing the strength of the spring, though only time – and a little extra care – will tell. On the positive side, that means the same apprehension and fear of potentially closing it on one’s fingers felt with most slipjoint knives is absent with this one. We’d happily take it to task as we would with any locking knife.

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Whittled Down

This knife is like a time capsule from our childhood. Though, rather than digging up a dingy old tin from under some ancient oak tree only to find an old rusted camping knife, it’s like it came with us, growing into something a little more refined – more adult. And although it is beautiful, it’s also a functional tool and beckons to be used, to further age, to continue on as a part of daily life. As a love letter to its ancestors, this knife succeeds tenfold.

If that seems a bit overly sentimental to you, it may very well be. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least in our minds. It’s good to have a reminder of where things came from when so much of life is focused so intently on racing forward. It may just be a pocket knife, but – like so many small heirlooms – if it stays with you, it can end up meaning much more. So long as you know what to expect – a utilitarian, small-scale, reimagined classic, slipjoint pocket folder – The County Knife delivers it in spades.

Purchase: $150

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