This is a very unusual review. Its a confession more than a review. Here is the truth--I got this knife wrong. I have owned this knife for a long time, two years, and in that time I went through three distinct phases with this knife. Originally, I was enamored with it and all of its traditional-knife charm. After that I just carried and used it without much thought for what it was and how it worked. Then, after more than two years, I have soured on the design and the steel. In all, my opinion has changed pretty dramatically. I like this knife. I REALLY want to like this knife. But in the end, over time, I am not particularly enamored with this blade.
I am also wary of publishing this review because of how intense the love is for GEC stuff. Old guys love them because they bring back found memories of youth. Young guys love them for their character and charm (and, probably their slicing ability). But if I merely repeated what the IKC as a whole said or wanted to hear, this site would have almost no utility.
Furthermore, it is important to note that this is a case where I got a knife wrong. Here is my AllOutdoor review. Here is my Gear Junkie review. Both were written in the honeymoon phase. Even then I knew there was something weird going on, but now, having lived with the knife for 2 years, I am convinced that those opinions were incorrect. I could spot the errors, but I didn't appreciate how big they were. So, think of this as a mea culpa--I got this one wrong.
Long term carry and use of this knife, more than anything, proved why we have moved on from these materials, designs, and steel. Yes, Slipjoint Paradigm folks (and Grayson), this is a kinda negative review of a GEC. Again, my apologies.
And here is the review sample:
Twitter Review Summary: We have moved on for a reason.
Warranty Note: When I got the #25 a few years ago for Christmas, I carried it for a while and then, about two months later I noticed that the ebony scale had cracked completely through from the tail end of the knife up to the first brass pin. It was bad. The split made it possible to move the scales with your finger. Not good. I contacted GEC and they told me they'd fix it but that it might take a while because they don't have a dedicated warranty department. No problem, I thought, and I sent the knife in. About six or eight weeks later I got a package from GEC. Inside was a knife. It was fixed. It just wasn't MY knife. In fact it wasn't even a #25. I contacted them and I sent someone else's knife back to GEC. Eventually I got my knife back and the scale was fixed, but the blade was filthy and there was a heavy layer of gunk in the nail nick. After some serious maintenance I got the knife back to an acceptable appearance, but this is about as bad a service experience as one could have, short of the company just losing your knife. I get that every company makes mistakes and every company has problems with materials, but this is not just "natural materials move." This is "we accidentally shipped you someone else's knife." Really not good.
Its small, its rounded like a river rock, and it has a classic look, so why the 1? The rear tang here is pretty offensive. Its just too pokey, like striker-for-a-firesteel pokey. And as the Canal Street Cutlery Boys Knife shows, it doesn't need to be. In the end, this is symbolic of my entire beef with this knife--it has problems that even other traditional knives have fixed. The design seems to be more concerned with fidelity to some mythical notion of what old knives were like than it does with actually being a good knife. Compare this, not to the CSC Boy's Knife (which is still one of my very favorite traditionals ever made), but to the AG Russell Medium Barlow. There you get the same traditional knife feel but with actual innovations (like the ability to open the knife one handed). For me, knives aren't props for reenactment--they are tools and to that extent the Small Jack #25 comes up a bit short.
The proliferation of pins, shields, and bolsters on the the #25 also bothers me a bit. There is just too much going on for such a small, and in theory, simple knife. It kind of reminds me of when you go through Amish country and see tail lights or reflective signage on a horse drawn buggy. All of this busyness, disrupts the design here and seems oddly anachronistic. Something like the Queen Cutlery Copperhead or the Smith and Sons Mudbug have a much cleaner, more traditional look to them. And who knows, maybe old traditionals did have this many pins, shields, and bolsters. I don't know and I don't particularly care. What does bother me is the fact that it doesn't look right for a knife this small.
The performance ratios aren't bad, simply because this is a reasonably sized knife. The blade:handle is: .70. The blade:weight is 1.20. I'd like a better blade:handle, but the blade shape makes the cutting edge seem even smaller for reasons I will lay out below.
Fit and Finish: 1
This is probably the 6th or 7th GEC that have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with and something is just different. The TC Barlow I owned was a gleaming spectacle of beauty. In the Beer Scout I own (which I gave to my grandfather before he died and then inherited), everything is smooth and clean. Here, nothing is terribly bad, but there are bunch of little issues.
First, I find it odd that they didn't make all of the pins flush with the body of the knife. I can't imagine that would be all that difficult to do, given that they are just brass rods. But on both sides the front and bottom pins are little divots in an otherwise smooth knife handle. Similarly, the transition between the ebony covers and the bolster fails the fingernail test. Its odd though because the shield does not. The shield is perfectly flush and smooth. Finally there is a bit of messiness around the blade stop/ricasso as if the grinding wheel or blade cutter couldn't quite get to where it needs to be.
This is a nice knife in the hand. Its rounded shape and natural wood cover does well in cutting tasks, and the pokey tang hides well. Even for a small knife its not too cramped, especially because, without a lock, your not going to be really pounding on this thing.
I feel bad for dinging the knife for the exposed tang again, but this really one of the worst I have dealt with in a long time. Dropped in a pocket or the coin pocket of your jeans, the knife disappears, weight-wise, but it scrapes the hell out of other things in your pocket. It also makes the knife hard to retrieve.
A single bladed traditional has long been my favorite traditional knife. The utility of multi-bladed numbers has been lost on me, especially when you consider their additional weight. All of those blades may have been necessary when steel was so soft that it would dull during one long task, but with the advent of modern steel, the extra blades were just extra weight. And so, I have reviewed single bladed traditional knives almost exclusive.
This, however, is only my second such knife with 1095 and like the first, the Smith and Son's Mudbug, this knife in this steel has proven to be a disappointment. I had a very large box to breakdown for recycling and I decided to test the 1095 on the #25. Now I expect some edge degradation of course, cardboard is a brutal cutting medium, but this knife's edge just died about halfway through the process. Instead of slices or cuts I basically tore the cardboard with the knife. And after that I had a very hard time getting the edge back at all.
Its not that 1095 isn't hard enough, it certainly can be made hard enough, but it has a lot to do with how 1095 was implemented here. I don't know who does GEC's heat treat, but it was clear that this is not a 1095 designed for cutting chores beyond a bit of food prep. The Rowan-treated 1095 on my ESEE did fine with this, as does the Ka-Bar 1095 on my BK-9. But for whatever reason, the 1095 used on this knife and the GEC-produced Mudbug just couldn't hold and edge and it took a lot of work to get one back.
I don't know what the issue is, but this is the second GEC knife I have had with his same problem, so I don't think it was a lemon.
Blade Shape: 1
This is a very good blade shape, but the small size of the knife makes this hard to really work. I'd prefer a drop point in a knife this small.
This isn't the worst thing in the world, but its just not ideal. I constantly felt like I needed a bit more belly than this knife gave me. I am not sure how they could make a drop point fit in this handle, as the only patterns out there are a wharncliffe and this spearpoint.
For all of the beefs I have with this knife, the grind isn't one of them. The grind is spectacularly thin and incredibly slicey. Slicey grinds are exactly why you buy a traditional knife and the #25 is no disappointment on that front. I am still unconvinced that 1095 is the best steel in this situation, but the grind here is immaculate.
Deployment Method: 2
The walk and talk here are really exemplary. The idea with walk and talk is interesting because there is an inherent tension between the two. "Walk" references how smooth the blade is to open. "Talk" references how strongly the blade snaps closed. Obviously both are a function of the rear tang of the knife and the backspring. You can get good talk by cranking up the tension on the backspring, but that requires the rear tang to be expertly finished to avoid an overly hard walk. Here, I feel like GEC, got the design just right. The blade is smooth without being floppy and it snaps shut with convincing authority. The nail nick is also nice and easy to grab, though I do have to point out that I sent the #25 away for repairs with a gleaming, clean nail nick and it came back to me dirty. Try as I might I couldn't get it back to its original bright finish.
Retention Method: 2
The decision to omit a clip isn't really much a decision on a GEC--their desire to stick close to the original means that none of their knives have a clip. That could be an issue with especially large blade, but here, on a knife the length of two quarters laid side-by-side, that decision is certainly the correct one.
The backspring, as I discussed above, ain't no joke. It is stout and snappy. I used this knife, even in heavy cardboard, without fear that it would collapse on my fingers. It is a tough little knife.
Add to that the half stop, you get about a safe a knife as you can find (that doesn't include a lock). The handle is a bit cramped in closing, so you want to avoid a bite from the blade snapping closed, close this knife with two hands, avoiding the blade path.
Overall Score: 14 out of 20
At some point we have to realize that design progresses. In the same way that the best baseball players of yesteryear would probably not be that good today, designs from the 30s and 40s, without some thoughtful upgrades, just aren't that good today. Mickey Mantle, noted Yankee slugger, stood 6'0" tall and weighed 198 pounds. Giancarlo Stanton, noted Marlins slugger, stands 6'6" tall and weighs 245 pounds. One limped through a good portion of his career because of booze and a bum knee. The other is a chiseled specimen that looks like a bodybuilding competitor. Baseball has gotten better as the players improve and technology improves. Knives have as well.
Here I just can't shake the notion that this knife's main design goal was to remain faithful to knife designs of yesteryear, as opposed to making a good knife. The design isn't terrible. Its not like they copied a bad knife, but even traditionals can use a bit of sprucing up. There is just too much competition, even in this niche of a niche of a niche of the knife world (knives:folders:traditionals), to have such an old fashioned design stand out. The rear tang is a real problem, especially you carry this guy in a pocket with anything else. The steel, as I have found in other GEC-produced folders, is not great. And the blade shape is more irksome than useful.
I know its heresy. I know people will be mad (Grayson forgive me). But the GEC Small Jack #25 could stand to be re-examined. There are dings that didn't drop the overall score and the service was a mess, so I could have fairly given this knife a lower score, but I feel like 14 is just about right.
The problem here is that there is too much competition in this part of the market. Between some gems from AG Russell, the amazing Case/Bose series, and the CSC blades (RIP CSC), GEC's stuff is long in the tooth. I would take my Boy's Knife everyday over this blade. Alas, the Boy's Knife is OOP. The Case/Bose knives are not and they are clearly more refined, running modern steel and better design touches (love the Zulu blade shape on the most recently released knife). This says nothing for some of the new crossover designs--knives that live a bit in both the modern knife design world and the traditional world. The Spyderco Roadie is simply a better knife in every way. The Benchmade Proper is way better. The Lionsteel Roundhead as potential too. In short, there is no way to make a list of traditionals where this knife is at the top.