Sunday, May 1, 2016

Perceval Le Francais Review

It's hard to get a comprehensive base of reviews of knives.  It's relatively easy to provide critical feedback about the "mainstream" brands like Spyderco and Kershaw, but if you really want to have a wide range of knife reviews, you have to branch out.  This review is me branching out.

Like law and politics, all knives are local.  Local environments, plants and animals necessitated different knives in different places when knives were tools that everyone used one or two centuries ago.  Even today, in a globalized marketplace, there is still a lot of local designs.  I found an old asparagus knife in my basement when we moved in ten years ago and I assumed it was something like a snake killing device.  Color me surprised when it turns out that the knife is actually for cutting asparagus stalks under the ground.

So when I first saw a Perceval knife in a review, tip of the hat to the always excellent Stephan Schmalus, I knew I needed one.  It was so radically different from what we see in America--natural materials, uber simple designs, and unusual proportions--that it's hard to categorize what their knives really are.  The company is more straightforward: Perceval is a knife company based in Thierrs, France, one of the hubs of cutlery in Europe.  They produce knives in a very old fashioned way--by hand.  The bulk cutting is done using machines, but then the cutlers at Perceval finish everything by hand, from grinding the blades to fitting the locks.  In some circles of the IG and Internet community, this means they are "custom" knives, as a lot of the new generation of custom makers do the exact same thing.  I don't really care so much about the label, but the result of this process is a knife of unquestionable quality. 

But quality is one thing and utility is another.  This is a knife that I have mixed feelings about--it's not exactly like an EDC knife and it is not exactly what I look for in knives.  But over the months of use I have come to realize this is because my taste in knives is immature and stunted by the same same offerings we get by the mainstream production companies.  It was a challenge to carry this knife everyday, not because it was bad, but because it was so different than normal.  The reason is simple--this is basically a folding kitchen knife.  It is immaculately ground to an edge so thin it literally disappears from the naked eye.  It doesn't have a flashy deployment method or a "name brand" steel.  It's hard to fidget with and it lacks a clip.  In short, it is the anti-knife of today's IG-obsessed ADD knife fidgeting world.

Here is the product page, though be warned--ordering is a nightmare as you are going through a British site which is, in turn, relying on the original French site.  There are a variety of handle materials available and the Juniper on mine is one of the cheapest versions.  The knife cost $170 but the price fluctuates with the exchange rate.  Higher priced versions come with carbon fiber handle scales or even tortoise shell, which I find to be exceptionally beautiful.  Here is Stephan's review, which, of course, is enchanting and informative.  There are no written reviews.  There is no US distributor, so no affiliate link, though there is a British distributor (also Best Made has some Perceval knives every once in a while, over MSRP, of course).  Here is my review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary: Really damn good at doing knife things.

Design: 2

In many ways the Le Francais is hard to categorize.  It is not a modern folder by any means.  It is exceedingly simple but with quite a few modern conveniences missing.  There is no brand name steel or flipper.   As a folding kitchen knife these missing elements don't matter too much.  As an EDC it's a bit old fashioned.  I don't mean old fashioned as a proxy for bad--I can do without a clip and without one hand deployment--but buyers should know, this is basically a traditional knife.  But in that world you expect a few things--bolsters, shields, certain handle materials, and most importantly an historically informed design (a pattern).  There is none of that here.  In short, the Le Francais is so different from what we in America expect in a knife that it's taxonomy is a bit hard to pin down.  I feel like the biologist that first inspected a platypus--lots of familiar elements unified in an unfamiliar way.  

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But taxonomy aside, this is a few solid design.  The handle is excellent and simple.  The blade is clean and functional.  But there is not much to fidget with here.  It is so unknife-like compared to say, a ZT, that I had trouble wanting to carry it during the testing period.  I loved USING it, it was the first knife I ran to when I needed to do stuff in the kitchen or outside (if it was not fixed blade work), but actually dropping it in my pocket for a day was something I had a hard time doing.  Knives have become so much more than just things that cut for me.  This isn't a knock on the knife though.  It is more a knock on me.  

The performance ratios are very good.   The blade:weight (3.54 inches to 2.46 ounces) is 1.44.  The blade:handle (3.54 inches to 4.29 inches) is .82.  Its not quite Al Mar Hawk stuff, but, boy, is it good. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The fit and finish of this basically handmade knife is exceptional.  Everything is perfectly aligned, smooth to the touch and gleams with the warmth of a knife made by a person and not a CNC machine.  There is literally nothing I can complain about here.  This is one of the best made knives I have reviewed, on par with a Chris Reeve knife or an Al Mar. 

Grip: 2

The elongated oval shape of the handle, along with the smooth, but not slick juniper scales make the Le Francais good in the hand.  The length of the handle is also nice, giving you tons of grip options.

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It's not like this thing has a Becker handle, but given the likely tasks it will be doing, what's here is very good.

Carry: 1

This seems like as good a place as any to mention it, so here goes--I love the look, feel, and elegance of juniper handle scales but the smell is overpowering.  I have had this knife for more than 4 months and even now, it is still a strong whiff.  My Gerstner chest that I use to store my gear smells like juniper.  My other knives stored in different drawers smell life juniper.  And my pants and hands smell like juniper if I carry this knife.  I don't actually mind the smell itself, it's quite nice.  But here it is overpowering.  I get that it is a very stable wood, resistant to rotting, and very beautiful, but when your iPhone smells like gin it's a bit weird.  

Other than smell, the knife carries like a dream, even without a clip.  It's just the right length and thickness to make things very comfortable.

Steel: 2

19C27 is not some fancy steel.  It's not a powder steel.  It's traditionally a razor blade steel and in this role it is excellent.  It has more carbon than the other Sandvik steels (13C...and 14C...obviously) and  can get very hard (around 60-62 HRc), though Perceval, like Chris Reeve with his steel, leaves it soft around 57 HRc.  It's an uncommon steel too.  This is my first 19C27 knife.  But the steel just kills it as a slicing steel.  I realize that this is primarily a function of grind, but there is zero to complain about here.

Blade Shape: 2

Dead simple spear point.

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Excellent penetration, plenty of belly, and man does it look good.

As my review library approaches 300 reviews it takes an awful lot to stand out from the crowd.  Some stuff is good and some stuff is very good, but it is rare to find something that is so much better than everything else, when you have reviewed as much cutlery as I have.  It is simply a matter of math--the more you see, the bigger the sample size, the less likely you are to have something outpaces the crowd.  The cutting performance on the Le Francais is way at the tail end of the bell curve.  I doubt anything will come close for a long, long time, if ever.       

Grind: 2

Ah...the secret sauce of the Le Francais's insane performance--the grind.  This is a very mild convex grind and the grind is so well executed that the cutting bevel is almost invisible.  This is a slick knife with an edge like no other I have ever reviewed.  Sharp does not begin to describe it and it is because the thickness of the blade just behind the cutting bevel is really slim. 

In use I have found no knife, kitchen or otherwise, that sliced, cut, and carved with the grace of the Le Francais.  Frankly, it breaks the scoring system right in half.  The grind is so perfect, so immaculate, that I really have had to recalibrate what I expect from knives.  How often is it that you encounter a familiar object so far superior to its counterparts that it requires you to re-evaluate how everything else works?  Not often.  Let me put it another way--if I would have reviewed this knife as my first review, no other knife would get a two for grind--it's that good.  SOG's grinds are nice and clean.  My customs have had great grinds.  But nothing, nothing, is even close to this knife.

Deployment Method: 2

The nail nick (note the editorial/style change: "knick" to "nick"; research into the origins of the phrase, thanks Allusionist, has shown me that the likely correct term is "nick," as in a nick in the blade...) works here.

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This isn't a blade needs a quick deployment and the nick works thanks in part to an extra smooth pivot.  You only encounter resistance when the detent ball hits the blade.  Nice, clean, and smooth--what more could you ask for from a knife?

Retention Method: 0

Okay, this knife is big enough that a clip, especially a cleverly designed one like a spine riding clip, would be a welcome addition.  In the past I have given clipless knives a 2 here when the design calls for it.  Usually they are small knives, but here, this is actually a knife that is quite big.  It might not be the best thing for the grip of the knife, but that is always part of the push and pull of knife design when it comes to the question of a clip.  Heck, I even thing those cumbersome clip cases, like you see on some smaller fixed blades and on some William Henry stuff, would work well here.  There is a case, but it is sold separately and doesn't include a clip.  Bottom line--if the knife is this long, even if it is slender, the maker should really consider how it will be carried.  Perceval probably thinks this knife will drop into a pack or a picnic basket (BTW: can you even type the work "picnic" without thinking of Yogi Bear's pronunciation in your head?) and so a clip or case is unnecessary, but that is more a sign of how different the French knife market and the US knife market are than any design consideration.  This is a good EDC knife and a clip would help.  Honestly I could have gone either way here, but the knife is bigger than the traditionals I have liked without a clip.     

Lock

I was surprised at just how good the liner lock was here.  It was strong, stable, thick, easy to engage and disengage and quite nice.

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It slides in and out of the locked position with a clean click.  I liked it a lot and it goes to show how much fit and finish matters in locks.  Good fit and finish almost always equals good lock.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

The Le Francais is a beautiful cutlery tool.  It is superbly finished, ranking next to some of the best knives we in the US are more used to, but with a different feel.  I would not recommend the juniper handles as they overpowering, but there are bevy of other options.  My big issue, more with me than the knife, is the fact that it was not as fun to fidget with as other equally nice, but different knives.  If you don't carry about that or you want something completely different than a SpyKerMade offering then you should look at Perceval's stuff.  It ranges from the nice, mid priced knives to the insanely expensive tortoise shell handled blades.  And if you are a picnic, wine-and-cheese type then you have no choice--this is the best knife possible for that option, unless you want a knife with a cork screw.  Great, different, and slices like God's Sword.  

9 comments:

  1. I have one of these (easier for me as I live in Europe) and I have bought a couple more for friends and family. I find that 19c27 is incredibly easy to sharpen on a sharpmaker, even though it might not have the best edge retention, but that's more a function of the cutting tasks.

    One thing I just love to do is get it absolutely ridiculously sharp and then go out for steak, the bigger the better.

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  2. Good and interesting review. The Le Francais reminds me a bit of the Boker Urban Trapper - unusually straight, sleek pieces in a market that equates longer knives with broad, thick blades and handles. I honestly hate nail nicks (2 handed vs 1 handed is a large difference to me, as I tend to have one hand already occupied when I need my knife) but the L-10 model with the straight razor style tang for deployment is very alluring.

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  3. Tony, I've been checking this site over and over since Friday waiting for you to post this review, for exactly the reasons you've mentioned - this is a very different knife that reflects a tradition that I wasn't as familiar with. Not being an American and not currently living in America, I'm perhaps more acutely aware than most that the reference points used in the EDC community are particularly American: the desire for innovative locks, for quick-deploying knives, for cutting-edge steels (ha ha lame pun).

    I love reading about EDC knives, but even in a relatively knife-friendly jurisdiction, reading about ZT and Cold Steel and even Spyderco knives is really just an intellectual exercise for me. If I pulled out a ZT0566 here, people would feel threatened because it reads like a military or LE knife; if I pulled out a Para 2, they'd probably be confused because it reads like an outdoors knife and I live in a concrete jungle. If I pulled this knife out of my pocket, they'd understand this as a daily-use, metropolitan tool - the wood scales, the straightforward blade shape, the simple handle. And yet, for most urban dwellers, it does everything as well as or better than what we think of as the "typical" (American) EDC knife.

    I have an Opinel No 8 that, for the money, also slices like a dream. It's very different from the Perceval, but reading this review reminded me of the Opinel in a lot of ways - the Sandvik steel, slight convex grind, rounded wood handles, simple blade shape seem to me to reflect a common knife heritage.

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  4. Great review, and an interesting knife. LOL @ "SpyKerMade". If only the three of them formed some sort of collaboration and called it that...

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  5. It's gorgeous. I just don't know if I can use it as EDC without a pocket clip. I see the Boker Zinker urban trapper as a modern version also Emerson a 100, with respect to form--simplicity..

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  6. Great review! I have had my Le Francais for well over a decade and it is still one of my knives I regularly carry. Lacking all the modern tinker factors I think is one of it's strengths. The scales are nice and worn but the knife still cuts like a dream! As for the steel, even with minor maintenance it has so far not developed any spots or anything else. Quite impressed by this.

    As foor the shape of the knife; I've read somewhere that the knife is patterned after a 17th century fixed blade that people in Europe would care as their own personal tableknife; this could explain the fact that it really performs really well in the kitchen and on the table.

    I was really happy to read a review of a knife that does not conform to the image of the American EDC and hope there are much more to follow! Hint: check out the work of Roland Lannier, he designed most knives at Perceval and now started his own company, I am carrying his "Why so serious"-knife ( folding steakknife with handmade micarta) and I am very impressed. ( Check out the video of Stefan Schmalhaus on Youtube)

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  7. If anyone is after a locally sourced Perceval, Beat Made Co have this knife in a different wood and also a friction folder

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  8. What a beautiful blade. If only their friction folder was 3" or less, I'd buy one in an instant as otherwise it's perfect. Though for the full French experience I should probably get the one with the corkscrew :)

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  9. BRING ME A PERCEVAL THAT SMELLS LIKE ANCHOR STEAM

    /R.D., a little toasted tonight

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