Review: Great Eastern Cutlery Small Jack #25
Tony Sculimbrene 09.22.16
As a knife knut, it is impossible to root against Great Eastern Cutlery (GEC). As a fan of American manufacturing, its hard to root against them. And as a fan of history, GEC has to be a favorite. I am not, generally speaking, a proponent of brands, but even I, the brand nihilist, have my heartstrings tugged at by the GEC story. Once you know it, it’s hard not to be taken in.
In the 80s and early 90s, a veritable legion of American cutlery companies died out. They were making traditional patterns when Spyderco and Benchmade and KAI USA were booming. Their two handed knives with the same old same old steels weren’t selling well. Sure, Case, with its perpetual fan base, and Queen were surviving, but many companies died, or more accurately, were zombified remains of what they once were. Schrade, United Cutlery, and many others, facing extinction, sold their intellectual property and their name to an overseas company and shut down their American plants. These knives, into the future, would be made overseas.
This wiped a lot of the old guard, centered around upstate New York and Pennsylvania, specifically Titusville. There were a lot of companies gone, a lot of great old machines left to rot, and a bunch of highly skilled craftsman out of work. The companies, machines, and people were making things people no longer wanted.
But in August of 2006, surrounded by the detritus of industry, Great Eastern Cutlery dusted off the machines, scrounged up some patterns, and even got a few ancient brand names trademarked. Then they set about making some damn fine knives. In the past ten years, knife knuts have come back to the traditional blade, and it’s good thing. They make excellent tools. And GEC’s mix of old charm, special limited editions, and impeccable craftsmanship, as I said at the beginning, make then a hard company to root against. With all that said as a way of demonstrating potential bias, here is a review of the GEC #25 Small Jack.
For all of the love GEC engenders in knife knuts, it is important for me to tell you that they aren’t perfect. The handle cover on my knife cracked about week after I got it. I just woke up one day and noticed it had split. I sent it in as the crack got larger over time. They said they could fix it but that it might be a while as GEC has no repair or warranty department. Fine. I can be patient.
Well, after the time they told me it would take I got a package from GEC. Inside was a repaired knife. It just wasn’t MY knife. It wasn’t a #25 at all. I contacted them and they agreed to take it back and send me my knife. And again this took some time. Everyone makes mistakes, so I will chalk this up to that, but boy was it annoying to get someone else’s knife.
The GEC #25 Small Jack has about a dozen variations. The product page can be found here. As with most GEC’s, the knife comes in a million or so handle covers, is a slipjoint, and runs 1095 steel. It is also an exceptionally small knife, with a closed length at exactly 3″ and blade of 2 1/4″ (as a good rule of thumb, a blade on a folder is almost always between 1″ and 3/4″ shorter than the handle unless the dimensions are purposely skewed).
My review sample ran ebony wood, which is a very dense, very tight grained wood. There are few species, but GEC merely specifies “ebony wood.” The knife has a bolster and a shield. My variant is a Tidioute brand blade, one of the handful of GEC sub-brands. Finally, my #25 has a single spear point blade with a nail nick for ease of opening.
Because of its size and 100% non-threatening appearance, I carried the #25 in my pocket for about three solid months at the beginning of 2016 (it was a Christmas present). It did all sorts of chores: grape slicing (a good task if you want a force a patina, BTW; it got that smoky gray almost instantly), apple cutting, sandwich severing, breaking down boxes, opening packages, the regular pocket knife gamut. It is important to note that the #25 once again reminded me of the biggest benefit in carrying a slipjoint: social acceptance. Nary a raised eyebrow was sent my way, even when I was knife dadding open a Hot Wheels as I exited Target with my two boys.
The design of the #25 is really great: a simple elongated oval. It looks stunning and warm, almost cute given how small it is.
The blade shape is also non-threatening but still useful. A very fat and wide spear point looks as menacing as a cotton ball.
It also has a bunch of features that make me think of my grandfather: the bolster, the nail nick, the shield. It hits all the points that traditional knife knuts like, and it hits them hard. This is a lovely knife to carry with you and do the daily tasks that require matter separation.
GEC makes a fine blade, no doubt about that. And for the price it is excellent. But it is not QUITE in that top tier. For example, the bolts on the handle scales on by Canal Street Cutlery Boy’s Knife are 100% flush. Not just flush, but fingernail flush. Without looking you could never tell where the brass pin ends and the G10 begins. Not so here.
In fact, two of the bolts seem to stand out from the handle, maybe even on purpose. And the blade finish, while a nice satin, is not the same as the mirror finish on the CSC Boy’s Knife. In all, I found the #25 to be very good, but just outside the pinnacle of the production market.
This is a great knife, a fun knife, and a socially acceptable knife. I love its charm and it is feel. It’s well made and the materials, given the traditional knife context, are nice. There is very little bad to say about the knife. Focusing on its few foibles misses the point entirely. This knife is a companion, a small, unobtrustive companion that will be there for you when you need to cut stuff and make you smile when you pull it out to do so.