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Nestled among towering Douglas Firs and lively waterways is the city of Portland, Oregon. Some know it for world-class breweries and others for colorful residents hellbent on upholding the “Keep Portland Weird” epithet. But Stumptown is also home to a throng of industry giants that include Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Intel, Adidas and Widmer Brothers. So too is the city a haven for the biggest names in award-winning knives that are built for everyday use.
Coast Cutlery was one of the first knifemakers to establish itself in the City of Roses back in 1919. Decades later, Joseph R. Gerber formed Gerber Legendary Blades, a brand that found a home in what would become the suburban town of Tigard. In 1974, a Gerber employee by the name of Pete Kershaw left to form his own knife company, Kershaw. And, in 1994 Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) was established by Paul Gillespi and Rod Bremer, both former employees of Kershaw. Knife companies gave rise to more knife companies over the years, and today the city accommodates the highest concentration of blade and hand-tool companies in the country (19 to be exact).
The current lineup of legendary knifemakers doesn’t consist solely of startups. As parts suppliers and machining companies played upon the opportunities, so too did other established names relocate to the land of razor-sharp prosperity. Benchmade, for example, relocated to Oregon in 1990 even though it was established in L.A. Others, like The James Brand, have design studios and partnerships in Portland where creativity reigns supreme.
At the end of the day, there is no substitute for a reliable pocket knife. Even though we have our favorites, a vast roster of blades that deserve recognition remains. Below, some of the Portland-designed knives we hold dear and the talented craftsmen that build them.
The Griptilian isn’t one knife, but a family of knives that come in a range of styles, colors and materials, which makes it one of the most customizable blades Benchmade offers. First released in 2001, this 21st-century classic folder is incredibly lightweight yet equally durable, plus it comes in a mini version that’s admired due to its compact size.
The James Brand the Chapter
The James Brand may be a newcomer to the knife scene, but the brand’s artists know a thing or two about iconic, award-winning designs. We fell in love with the Barnes earlier this year, but the Chapter remains a standout thanks to high-quality materials and a unique form factor. Find it in four different styles and two blade shapes.
Some consider the Leek to be Kershaw’s most iconic knife. First introduced in 2000, it remains in production despite the fact that its designer, Ken Onion, left Kershaw years ago. The three-inch blade’s wharncliffe shape creates a razor-sharp tip and pairs with a slim handle to excel as an everyday carry knife. Countless iterations of the Leek give us more reason to love it year after year.
Sure, Gerber builds a long list of tools we love, but the Portland company stands out for its military-grade gear that began production in 1968. The StrongArm is a modern take on the brand’s original survival knives from back in the day. Its fixed-blade status is indeed formidable, but the robust injection-molded handle also provides a confident grip during heavy use. Unlike other fixed blades, it also employs a modular sheath that secures it to a belt or pack.
As its name implies, the Squid is a rather small and simple blade that’s ideal for everyday carry. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in versatility. The spear point blade and frame lock construction blast through almost every task, while spine jimping adds grip to the effortless design. It’s also incredibly affordable, which gives you a little more bang for your buck.
Leatherman Free K2
It wouldn’t be a roundup of our favorite Portland blades without Leatherman. The brand synonymous with multi-tools also lays claim to one knife, the Free K2, that pairs a 3.3-inch blade with a seven-in-one multi-tool handle. The heavy-duty aluminum grip offers surprising ergonomics and the design comes with a 25-year warranty that ensures this blade will last forever.
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