Gear | June 2, 2021 12:10 pm

Review: The James Brand Barnes Knife Is a Stunning Integral Folder

If a knife is worth making, it's worth making well. Really, really well.

The James Brand Barnes Integral Knife
The Barnes
The James Brand

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I find myself handling more pocket knives than I care to admit. They arrive at my door unexpectedly, often from brands I’ve never heard of. And truth be told, most of them are terrible. Some are fashioned with cheap materials, while others are too dull to cut butter. But every now and then a pocket knife crosses my desk that grabs my attention. That’s what happened when the James Brand released The Barnes earlier this year.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a soft spot for the James Brand. Maybe that’s because I admire their dedication to quality and simplicity, or instead, because I know the exact location of their top-secret Portland design studio (and no, I’m not telling you where it is). But sentiment aside, the Barnes is a beautiful integral folder unlike any I’ve seen before.

Design and Materials

In order to understand why the Barnes is so unique, look no further than the design. While most folding pocket knives feature a handle composed of two scales with enough room in the middle for the blade, integral handles come from a single piece of material. Or in this case, The James Brand mills the Barnes’ handle from a single piece of titanium. It’s then textured to deliver grip when you need to cut with confidence.

The blade, meanwhile, is made from Bohler M390 steel, which is widely revered as the best all-around knife steel. It’s incredibly tough, corrosion-resistant and designed to hold an edge through endless use. The pocket clip, an essential feature found on the best EDC pocket knives, is also made from titanium. Ceramic bearings allow the blade to open smoothly, and the knife’s hefty liner lock makes a satisfying click when the blade locks in place.

Though it isn’t a feature of the Barnes, I really admire the knife’s overall weight at 132 grams. It’s heavier than I anticipated, but the added bulk delivers a lot more confidence in hand. And the 3.5-inch blade is just short enough to keep me out of trouble, especially in a city where law enforcement has a shaky history with folding knives.

In the box you’ll also find a coin with an arrowhead on one side. The arrowhead represents the name Barnes, which comes from a style of projectile point fashioned over ten thousand years ago. The coin itself represents an old superstition which states that money must be exchanged when a knife is given as a gift. Gifting a knife without exchanging money will cause the friendship to be cut by the knife.

The James Brand Barnes handle close up
Handle and clip detail on the Barnes
The James Brand

What We Like

  • Attention to detail. From the packaging to the raw materials, no stone was left unturned. This knife is as much a conversation piece as it is a rugged tool.
  • Blade size. The 3.5-inch blade is ideal and perfectly sized for most users. And it’s legal to carry in most states.
  • Reliability. You’re getting not only a knife but also the same American-made craftsmanship you’ve come to expect from The James Brand. It’s worth every penny.

What We Don’t

I may be of the minority, but I don’t like thumb studs. They look good, but I prefer a feature like Spyderco’s round hole design for fast action. It’s easy to use with one hand and offers improved reliability. That said, the Barnes isn’t designed with room for a hole, and the studs are still suitable for regular use.

Should You Buy It?

Integral folding knives are expensive (if you don’t believe me, just look at Spyderco’s Paysan and Benchmade’s Anthem). For that reason, most everyday carry enthusiasts won’t cough up the money for a knife that’s ten times the price of the one in their pocket. But for collectors and those that have the means, the Barnes is as good as it gets. From the polished materials to the superior build quality, this blade will last for years to come.