The James Brand’s knives aren’t known as affordable; not, at least, next to the blades you might pick up at a gas station or hardware store for $20. So when we say that the company’s new knife, a folder called the Carter (no relation to Jay-Z), is the best value the company has created in a pocket knife yet, you have to remember that its flagship knife, the Chapter, costs $300. You also have to remember that cheap knives are made of cheap materials, and The James Brand has no desire to utilize them (take its titanium key carabiner as an example).
All this is to say that even at $139, the Carter is a bargain — once you look underneath the hood. It comes with machined G10 or Micarta handle scales, a clip that thoughtfully positions the knife low in the pocket — plus an included loop if a lanyard is more your style — and a simple sliding lock mechanism that, until recently, was inaccessible to knife makers because Benchmade owned the patent to the Axis Lock.
But it’s in the blade, the core of any knife, that the Carter makes its case. “We spend a lot of time looking at the trade-off in steel upgrades and what they’re going to mean to folks in terms of performance and cost,” says Ryan Coulter, The James Brand’s founder. “We try to focus on actual use.”
That’s how the team landed on a Japanese steel called VG-10. While it’s still more affordable than very high-end knife steels, VG-10 exhibits a high grade of corrosion resistance. In Japan, it’s commonly used in chef’s knives because of that very element, which helps blades stand up to the corrosive environment of cuisine commonly characterized by saltwater and seafood. VG-10’s high edge retention is equally important in the kitchen (think: slicing fillets and chopping bone) and translates fluently to the needs of everyday carry users.
You can’t get a VG-10 knife for $20, plain and simple. And certainly not one that’s bolstered by all of the other elements The James Brand packed into the Carter. So if you’re used to $20 pocket knives, or even $50 pocket knives, you have to look at the Carter (and any other high-end knife) through a different frame. Think of it as an introduction to premium knives — a gateway knife, if you will.