From Issue Seven of Gear Patrol Magazine.

The knife was among the first tools created by man. Early versions were rudimentary — all that’s required is a handle and a cutting edge — but the knives we own and use today are complex devices machined for a range of purposes. Materials like wood, steel, titanium, bronze, bone — along with the keen eyes and attention to detail employed by a group of highly-specialized individuals — are what make up knives today. Over the past 40 years, the following designers have ushered in a new era in the evolution of the pocketknife, and they’re only getting started.

Chris Reeve – Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza 21

Ask a pocketknife enthusiast for a list of the best folding knives in production today and Chris Reeve’s Sebenza will likely top the selection. Reeve brought the earliest version of the blade to market in 1987, two years before relocating from Durban, South Africa, to Boise, Idaho. The Sebenza is aesthetically uncomplicated and demonstrates the qualities that Reeve is best known for: precise attention to detail and a preference for the best materials available. The knife employs CPM S35VN steel, which Reeve helped develop with Crucible Industries, and the Reeve Integral Lock, a locking mechanism he invented that’s used widely by pocketknife manufacturers everywhere.

Michael Walker – The James Brand Folsom

The custom knives that Michael Walker creates today are works of art that you’ll find in galleries, not gear stores. Walker estimates that collectors will wait five or more years for one of his blades, of which he makes only six each year. This, however, doesn’t mean that his designs aren’t apparent everywhere in the world of pocketknives. Walker has created over 30 blade-locking mechanisms, the most famous of which, the Linerlock, which is used by the James Brand’s Folsom and countless other knives, has become so prevalent that you’d be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer that doesn’t use it. The mechanism allows for one-handed opening and closing by using a spring-loaded lock bar that juts up against the tang of the blade to hold it in place when it’s open, and can be easily maneuvered out of the way for closing.

Ken Onion – Kershaw Leek

Inspired by an issue of Knives Illustrated that he found in a drugstore, Ken Onion began his career in 1989 as an unofficial apprentice to the revered custom knifemaker Stan Fujisaka and begun forging his own blades two years later. Since then, Onion’s name has become a familiar signature on production blades as well as on his own custom projects. One of Onion’s major contributions to knife design was the invention of SpeedSafe — a fast and smooth assisted-opening mechanism that offers an alternative to often-illegal switchblades. It’s by no means his only notable invention, however. “I’m not really married to any certain style, materials or any way someone thinks I should make knives,” says Onion. “I think that open slate serves my creative process and ultimately my designs very well.”

Sal Glesser – Spyderco Mantra Titanium

It’s easy to spot a Spyderco knife — a circular hole at the top of the blade gives it away long before the buggy spider logo. Sal Glesser, who founded the company with his wife, claims the signature cutout as one of the many innovations he’s contributed to knife design. Function was its impetus — Glesser sought a one-handed opening method that didn’t rely on springs or buttons — and simplicity was the result. Spyderco’s first pocketknife, the Worker, was the first to exhibit the brand’s trademark feature. The Worker was also the first knife to include a pocket clip, which is now an essential component on many everyday pocketknives.

Dmitry Sinkevich – Zero Tolerance 0456

On a spectrum that places pure function at one end, Dmitry Sinkevich’s knives would exist far on the opposite side. That’s not to say that utility isn’t at play in the knives he designs for the likes of Kershaw and Zero Tolerance — it’s the foundation of all of the Belarusian designer’s blades — but that he has a penchant for added flair. Exaggeratedly curved handles, unlikely inlays, progressive blade shapes and colorful finishes are all reasonable and frequent in Sinkevich’s designs, lending subtle and at times flashy truth to his belief that knives can be art as well as tools.

Jens Ansø – ORSO

Danish knife designer Jens Ansø claims inspiration from mid-century Danish furniture design and traditional Japanese carpentry. How does this translate to pocketknives? “I like to combine simplicity and functionalism with some very strong yet subtle details,” he says. It’s an idea that might materialize in the straight lines of a utilitarian folder or in the unpredictable grooves of a handle. “I have had periods where my designs were extremely curvy and out there,” Ansø adds. “Now I’m more focused on refining and simplifying the lines of my work while adding details, hidden or in plain sight.” Ansø’s work may be difficult to define, but when you see his signature, you can trust that you have quality in hand.

Jesper Voxnaes – CRKT HVAS

Jesper Voxnaes simplifies his name to just “Vox,” and he follows similar conventions for his knives: minimalism, simple lines and small details are their defining qualities. His roots in rural Denmark contribute to this tendency — Vox cites woodworkers and glassblowers as examples of craftsmen that inspire his own work, along with the guiding principles of Scandinavian design. Vox’s utilitarian blades have been produced by a host of well-known companies including CRKT, Boker, Fox Knives and more.

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