Friday, May 30, 2014

Bruins, Old and New

Most everyone I knew, in the olden times, was a Schrade guy and carried mostly Old Timers.  The difference between an Uncle Henry and an Old Timer is that an OT had “saw-cut delrin” scales where a UH has the imitation stag scales.  Up on the shelf here is an Uncle Henry large, two-blade folding hunter that I bought for my father sometime back in the early ‘70s.  It is displayed right in front of a picture of Dad with some of his hounds.  He always said he wanted me to have that knife when he was done with it.  I’d like to imagine that, some years in the future, the knife and the picture will sit on a shelf in the home of one of my grandkids.    

In the late ‘90s, I bought an Old Timer Bruin lockback.  This was before Schrade closed down their factory in Utica, NY and went out of business.  Taylor Brands bought up the Schrade trademarks and designs and started making Old Timers and Uncle Henrys in China.  The last Old Timer I have with “USA” stamped on the tang was given to me by my granddaughter for my birthday sometime around 2003 – her dad may have picked up earlier.  I figured that was the last Schrade I would ever have.    

Times do change, though.  I kept looking at those Chinese Old Timers offered by Smoky Mountain Knife Works, thinking that they look a lot like the originals, which included some pretty neat designs.  So, finally, I broke down and ordered three.  One of those three is a Bruin, like my twenty-year-old USA Bruin – model 5OT.

After having mostly regular carbon blades in their knives when I was a youngster, Schrade started using what they called “Schrade+” steel, which was a stainless.  I don’t know for sure, but it seems like a 440 steel – maybe 440C.  It’s pretty good stuff, taking an edge with less effort than Buck’s proprietary 420HC, and I always thought it held an edge fairly well.  Part of the Schrade secret, if you will, was always, in my opinion, the flat grind.  A flat grind with a less acute bevel is easier for me to sharpen, and it seems to stay sharper longer.    

The Chinese version of the Bruin has a stainless steel blade.  Obviously, it is not very high-end steel, but it has the flat grind.  Subjectively, comparing it to my old American version, the quality of the steel is not all that different.  Both of them are kind of like kitchen knife stainless.  They’ll sharpen up, and they will cut.  If you want to take out a screw or cut through those straps Home Depot uses to tie up their lumber, you’re probably going to need to touch up the edge, but you’re not really going to hurt it.  And who cares if you do? 

This is a knife you can give your kid or your grandkid who is prone to lose things and not have to worry about it.  You can stick this in the pocket of your jeans or dress pants where it will ride unobtrusively to work, out on the town, or to church, and if you snap the point off trying to use it as a pry bar, you’re not going to cry.  These are not disposable knives, but they are useable knives. 

As far as the fit and finish, the old green Bruin has a better “feel” in my hand.  The Chinese version has more abrupt edges.  My old knife got carried a lot, like constantly, for several years, so I’m not sure how much of the difference is due to wear and how much was built in.  Except for that, the Chinese Schrade is a quite acceptable, cheap, mass-produced pocketknife.  The bolsters and the lock-up are solid and as strong as one could expect in a folding knife, especially one costing less than $20.    

Keep in mind that these knives are anything but tactical-looking.  Though I am not particularly dexterous and have average stubby fingers, I can open and close the Bruin with one hand, something I always liked about this knife.  There’s no thumb stud.  No one is going to accuse a person carrying a model 5OT of having a switchblade or a gravity knife.  It’s not big and intimidating or scary, but it will cut when you need it to.  The blade shape is utilitarian, practical, and not very aggressive.  It will peel a tater, skin a squirrel, or clean a fish.  I’ve skinned out whitetail deer with similar knives.  I have never had to try one of these out as a self-defense weapon of last resort, but I think I could do worse if it ever came to that. 

My nephew’s comment about the Bruin as well as the other two Old Timers was that he does not like knives with a single blade.  My reply was it doesn’t matter so much if you have more than one knife.  These are inexpensive, compact knives that you can put in your pocket and forget about until you happen to need it.  When you need it, it will cut. 

I’m glad that Buck and Bear and Sons are making reasonably priced knives here in the States.  But if you need to save a few bucks, or just save your Buck, there’s nothing wrong with adding a knife like this OT Bruin to the accumulation. 

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