Founded by Ryan Coulter, The James Brand is a Portland-based everyday carry outfit that first came on the scene in 2012, aiming to disrupt the pocket knife and EDC spaces with a range of design-conscious pieces of gear — like the Duval and Carter knives — that beautifully marry form and function. And while there’s absolutely no denying the fact that the PDX EDC purveyor has absolutely nailed its elevated, fashion-forward design aesthetic, the company’s products have at times left something to be desired in terms of craftsmanship and overall fit and finish.
And after a decade of cutting its teeth, The James Brand has now formulated an answer to its critics with the all-new Kline knife, revising its modus operandi to deliver a purpose-built EDC workhorse that sees style and aesthetics take a back seat to raw utility. Wanting to discover how this new model actually performs in the real world, we’ve been given early access to TJB’s latest everyday carry blade and have spent the last few weeks putting the Kline through its paces, extensively field and torture testing this high-performance folder to deliver this hands-on review of The James Brand’s The Kline Knife.
At A Glance
The James Brand Kline Knife Specs
Blade Material: CPM MagnaCut
Blade Shape: Drop Point
Blade Length: 3.40”
Blade Thickness: 0.12”
Handle Material: Micarta
Locking Mechanism: Slide-Lock
Total Length: 7.8”
Our First Impressions Of The Kline
We’d already seen pictures of The Kline prior to one showing up in our mailbox a few months ago, and as such, we thought we’d have a pretty decent sense of how it would look, feel, and perform. It quickly became abundantly clear, however, that, the only way to fully appreciate The Kline is to get it in hand, as the knife is brimming with minor elements and design decisions that not only speak to the highly calculated nature of The Kline, but together, collectively make for an incredibly high-performance workhorse of a blade.
Spanning 7.8” in total — the same length as The James Brand’s Carter XL model — The Kline is a full-sized folder that feels solid in the hand without being overly cumbersome at just 4oz even. Its minimalist, utilitarian design leaves no doubt as to the work-focused nature of the knife, though in typical TJB fashion, Coulter’s company has still managed to deliver a handsome-looking knife that retains a myriad of The James Brand’s signature design cues. Alongside its use of unmistakably premium materials, another major aspect of The Kline that instantly jumps out at its user is the knife’s build quality, with TJB’s latest folder boasting an extremely rugged and well-constructed feel that’s much more on par with that of a small-batch, boutique-made knife than a mass-produced item — though we’ll be delving into that more below.
The Kline’s Handle & Blade Constructions
One way in which The Kline doesn’t deviate from TJB’s traditional MO is the knife’s use of premium materials. The knife starts with a set of contoured and textured canvas Micarta scales that are mated together via a Micarta back-spacer, a stainless steel liner, and solid hex screws. Despite its shape, The Kline’s handle is shockingly ergonomic, affording excellent grip — an area furthered by the texture of the Micarta and the jimping along the liner’s spine. Fully ambidextrous, the three-piece Micarta handle set has also been paired with a pressed steel pocket clip and an integrated lanyard hole drilled into the bottom of its scales.
Mated to The Kline’s handle is a 3.40” (0.12” thick) drop point blade with a 3.375” cutting edge and either a black or stonewashed finish. And while The James Brand is certainly no stranger to utilizing advanced powder metallurgy blade steels from Crucible Industries, for The Kline, the Portland knife-maker opted for Crucible’s latest CPM steel, American-made MagnaCut — a next-gen “super steel” with exceptional toughness and edge retention that’s still fairly easy to service and resharpen.
The Kline’s Precise Tolerances & Craftsmanship
A pivotal part of what makes The Kline so special isn’t merely its high-end blade and handle materials, but also its overall construction. Taking its name from a series of early Holocene-era arrowheads discovered archaeologically in the Delaware River Valley, The Kline is manufactured in America, in small batches, using wildly precise tolerances that are backed by an extremely meticulous quality control process. In fact, it’s beyond evident that The Kline clearly benefits from lessons that The James Brand learned when developing The Barnes — an ultra-top-shelf billet titanium integral folding knife that required insanely tight tolerances to bring to fruition.
Everywhere that you look on The Kline boasts impressive tolerances and stellar craftsmanship. From the centering of the MagnaCut blade in the Micarta handle to how smoothly the lock sets to side-to-side play to blade rock to pivot lash to the action itself, every aspect of The Kline has been perfectly dialed in. What’s more, just as much attention went into the development and execution of The Kline’s blade, which scored just as highly as the rest of the knife after examining the smoothness of its edge, its apex, its geometry, its grind and edge bevels, and of course, its factory sharpness. These areas play a crucial role in The Kline’s overall quality and performance — though also undoubtedly contribute to its steep MSRP.
The Kline’s Deployment
Action & Locking Mechanism
For its first true workhorse, The James Brand appropriately selected a thoroughly tried and true Slide-Lock locking mechanism. Capable of easily withstanding several hundred pounds of force/pressure, this type of ultra-sturdy locking mechanism was previously exclusive to Benchmade knives, though after the fairly recent expiration of Benchmade’s patent, this style of lock has been adopted by other various knife makers — including fellow Oregon-based outfit The James Brand. In addition to locking the open blade in place, this lock also keeps the blade firmly seated when not in use, though doesn’t provide enough pressure to rob the knife of a smooth action.
The Kline’s blade is deployed via an ambidextrous dual-thumb stud setup — though can also be flicked out if the Slide-Lock is pressed — and guided by a set of metallic phosphor bronze bushings. Also benefitting from The Kline’s ultra-precise tolerances, the knife’s (opening) action is buttery-smooth, and, in our experience using it, its Slide-Lock fully engaged every single time we deployed it, without fail. In fact, the action is so effortless, that even performing ring-finger openings is a breeze.
Elevated Everyday Carry
What We Liked About The Kline
Until actually getting The Kline in hand, it was extremely difficult to determine if The James Brand had legitimately turned over a new leaf, or if they’d simply delivered more of the same with some revised marketing strategies. And after getting acquainted with The Kline, we can confidently report that it’s 100% the former. The extremely precise tolerances and improved quality control have allowed TJB to set its highest benchmark to date. The use of top-shelf materials further this area.
It isn’t only The Kline’s materials and tolerances that allow it to shine, however, as the knife’s design plays just as crucial a role, with a myriad of subtle features that hugely elevate the knife’s performance. Though it admittedly looks fairly boxy, the Micarta handle features rounded edges and contouring that allow it to perfectly fit in the hand. What’s more, we had originally viewed The Kline’s pressed steel pocket clip as a strike against it — initially wishing TJB had opted for a more high-end clip like a machined billet item — however, after performing hard work with The Kline, it quickly became clear that the clip was another highly calculated decision as it practically disappears when in use, being so thin and low-profile that it barely creates any hot spot whatsoever — whether held normally or in a reverse (upside-down) grip.
The blade’s 0.12” thickness also makes it robust enough to handle the vast majority of hard work and EDC uses without being so thick that it mitigates its slicing abilities. Another great feature of The Kline is where its thumb studs are set in the blade. Rather than sitting beneath the spine, about a third of the thumb studs sit above the spine, allowing them to act as a thumb ramp. And, just like the liner above the Slide-Lock, the thumb-ramp created by the thumb-studs sports machined jimping that enhance grip — even in wet conditions or when wearing gloves.
Premium Slicing, Premium Pricing
Our Gripes With The Kline
As per using when testing out a new blade, we expected to uncover a handful of shortcomings and downsides to The Kline over the weeks we spent putting it through its paces and using it as our primary everyday carry knife. The truth is that The James Brand has damn-near achieved perfection with The Kline — at least from a design and utility standpoint, less so in regards to value and price. While it wouldn’t have any noticeable or measurable impact on performance, we would have liked to see The James Brand opt for some more high-end constructions for the $349 knife’s ancillary components, such as titanium for its pocket clip, hardware, liner, locking mechanism, or backspacer.
When paying north of $300 for a pocket knife, we expect every single aspect of it to be thoughtfully considered, well-crafted, and made from top-shelf materials — and in this vein, The Kline came up short. So, while it may be its one and only Achilles heel, bang for your buck just isn’t The Kline’s strong suit. Even when you consider its premium handle and blade construction, the fact that it’s made in America, and its stellar and ultra-precise tolerances, The Kline just doesn’t offer the same level of value as some of the other high-end USA-made workhorses on the market. In fact, all of our gripes pertaining to The Kline stem from its $349 MSRP, as we wouldn’t otherwise be scrutinizing minor areas such as pocket clip and liner material if it weren’t for its objectively exorbitant price tag.
Our Final Verdict On The Kline
All in all, we’d give The James Brand Kline high marks across the board — with the exception of value and price. The company has undeniably learned from its previous mistakes and problems to produce an exceptionally well-crafted, high-performance workhorse of a folding knife that’s been engineered to offer years of hard use and utility. The use of high-end materials coupled with a plethora of minor yet game-changing design decisions collectively make for what’s our favorite TJB knife to date. If you can afford — or stomach — its $349 price, The James Brand Kline Knife is unequivocally one of the best and most capable American-made EDC workhorses on the market — and one that makes us that much more excited to see what TJB has up its sleeve for its future knife releases.
Note: The James Brand will be releasing The Kline knife on December 6th.
The Boutique Knife Brands That You Should Know
For a look at an additional array of EDC blades with stellar craftsmanship and precise tolerance, be sure to check out our guide to the best boutique knife brands for a hand-picked selection of independent outfits meticulously producing small-batch blades and accessories.