According to KnifeArt.com’s Larry Connelley, Bill Ruple (firstname.lastname@example.org) is one of the leading names in custom slip joints. Ruple’s “Acorn” single-blade trapper features a CPM-154 stainless blade and an amber-bone handle. Closed length: 4.25 inches. KnifeArt.com’s (www.knifeart.com) list price: $1,100. (KnifeArt.com photo)
One of cutlery’s oldest designs, the slip joint is also one of its hottest
By Pat Covert
Long ago, someone added a spring to the back of a pocketknife to prop the blade open and enable it to shut with a snap—and what is known by many knife enthusiasts today as the slip joint was born. While locking-liner tacticals dominate much of the folder arena, the relatively new genre has a lot of catching up to do if it plans on eclipsing slip-joint sales.
Like many sectors of the cutlery market, there are two basic customers for slip joints—users and collectors—with some overlap to be expected. So what would cause a knife user to carry a slip joint over the more modern fare? “Tradition,” KnifeArt.com’s Larry Connelley states simply. “Slip joints are built with traditional patterns or modifications of a traditional pattern from the early 1900s. Slip joints are easily carried and perceived as an American tradition. Many knife owners first owned a traditional slip joint.”
From a practical standpoint, slip joints make excellent pocketknives, playing the same role they have for generations. “Slip-joint folders are used for cutting almost everything imaginable, such as peeling apples, skinning game, opening boxes, opening letters, and a myriad of other uses,” observes Kenny Wilson of Sooner State Knives.
Josh Terryah of Knife Country USA says both tradition and everyday service play a role in the slip joint’s popularity. “Slip joints are great utility knives, and who doesn’t like to carry something around that reminds them of their granddaddy or father?” he opines. “Who would ever think a knife could bring back memories of being a kid on the family farm?”
Though hard to quantify, another likely reason for the slip joint’s surge in attractiveness and popularity among users is the oppressive anti-knife laws and/or improper labeling of legal one-hand-opening and other knives as illegal by law enforcement, district attorney’s offices and local governments in some areas. In other words, the DA’s success rate in prosecuting someone for carrying a traditional peanut or stockman pattern is lower than for a one-hand opener.
Selection Never Better
Selection has never been better for factory slip-joint fans. Companies such as Buck, Boker, Case, KA-BAR, Queen and others long have produced and/or offered traditional slip joints. Outfits like Canal Street Cutlery, Columbia River Knife & Tool, Fallkniven, Great Eastern, Spyderco and more have joined/rejoined the slip-joint sweepstakes, and brands such as Schatt & Morgan (Queen), Tidioute and such (Great Eastern) and others have been revived. Better yet, a plethora of classic patterns is available in the midst of such healthy competition. These range from common patterns such as trappers, barlows and sunfish to more specialized ones like the melon tester and cotton sampler.
On the other hand, some things never seem to change.
“Case remains the most collected knife in the world. One reason for this is the detailed dating system Case uses,” Wilson notes. “But, I believe Canal Street is currently building the highest-quality traditional slip-joint folders. They simply spend more time to get the details right during production and assembly to ensure that everything fits as it should.”
Terryah says not only has he seen an uptick in sales of traditional slip joints, but some of the more modern styles are selling as well. “I would have to say the Spyderco and Fallkniven slip joints are the hottest new models [for us] right now,” he offers. Wilson says Case’s traditional two-blade trapper (4 1/8 inches closed) is the best seller at Sooner State Knives. “Next would probably be the [Case] 3-inch tiny toothpick,” he advises.
The custom market long has had a clique of makers who keep the traditional patterns alive—Tony Bose, who also has designed some knives for Case, and Bill Ruple among them. In the past few years there has been an increase in custom makers joining the fray, adding even more fans to the slip-joint market.
“Slip-joint collectors tend to be men in the 40-to-60-year-old range. They’re the classic baby boomer demographic. These customers appreciate the high level of fit and finish,” he says. “There are many sub-groups of slip-joint collectors, from the patterns to the number of blades on a folder.”
According to Connelley, the best-selling slip-joint pattern at Knifeart is, once again, the trapper. He says some of the hot knifemakers (and their knives with Knifeart’s list prices in parentheses) are Don Morrow (two-blade stag trapper, $750), Bill Ruple (stag or bone two blade, $1,100), and Hiroaki Ohta (single-blade stag folders, $500). “Tony Bose is hands down the most popular,” Connelley opines. “His knives command a premium on the secondary market which, unless you are really lucky at his BLADE Show lottery, is the only place to buy one.”
The materials offered in a knife are always a key consideration. “Most collectors seem to prefer stainless steel blades over carbon steel,” Wilson notes. “That said, many older buyers still prefer carbon steel in the knives they carry, and a few younger buyers prefer it because of their fathers and grandfathers.
“The misconception seems to be that if a blade doesn’t rust, it won’t hold an edge. They don’t realize cutlery companies have kept up with the times and that new blade steels are constantly being introduced.”
Among handle materials, Wilson indicates due to the variety of colors, jigged bone is his most popular but stag, mother-of-pearl and wood still move as well.
On the custom side, Connelly says stag is the most popular, followed by traditional jigged bone. “For blade materials they prefer high-quality stainless steels such as CPM-154, ATS-34 and CPM-S30V. We occasionally see high-quality damascus on an upscale slip joint,” he adds. It is interesting to note that damascus is wildly popular in other genres such as fixed blades and locking folders, but it does not seem to translate well into traditional fare.
Given the increase in custom makers joining the party and the extremely large number of factory pocketknives on the market, traditional slip-joint lovers will have fat pickings for a while. Whether you prefer production or custom knives, there are affordable options for everyone. Custom slip joints typically range from $250 up and factory pocketknives can be had for as little as $25 for models produced offshore—with stag handles, no less!—to $150-$200 for top-shelf limited editions.
In essence, with the exception of some of the more rarified custom artisans who can name their price, it is a buyers’ market that shows no sign of slipping.
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