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Bladeology
Today's Western Knives
February 2017
Dan Martinez


 
Two modern Western fixed blade knives in the rain:
Left: 100th Anniversary Western 9¼” Skinner, and;
Right: Western 9” Crosstrail

Today the famous Western knife company of the mid-20th century is no more. In 1984, Western Cutlery became part of the respected Coleman outdoor products company. Under Coleman, most of the classic Western knife patterns continued to be produced, and some new knives were introduced.

In 1991, Camillus, one of the oldest knife makers in the U.S. purchased Western Cutlery from Coleman. Many of the Western knives from the Coleman era continued to be produced, but cost cutting measures became evident.

In early 2007, Camillus declared bankruptcy due to overseas competition and from poor management. Camillus’ bankruptcy was the end for the classic patterns of Western hunting and outdoor knives.

In late 2007, the Acme United Corporation purchased the trademarks and brands of Camillus, including Western. In 2009, Acme United re-launched Western knives as a sub-brand under Camillus. Today Western knives are a sister brand to the Les Stroud brand of survival knives and other Camillus brands. The new Western knives have no real relation to the classic Western Cutlery knives.

Product lines are always changing, but as I write these words, Camillus lists 14 knives branded as Western knives. I have picked up a few examples of these knives due to my interest in the historical Western knives. As usual, this is not a comprehensive look at these modern Western knives, as I only acquired the ones that caught my eye.

Fixed Blades

 
Classic Western L39 fixed blade hunting knife
Out of all Acme United’s Western knives, the 100th Anniversary Western Skinner comes the closest to a classic pattern from Western’s heyday, the L39.

The L39 pattern is characterized by an upswept blade with quite a sharp piercing point. The deep curve of the belly of the knife made it a perfect skinner and it was one of the most popular patterns in the classic Western knife lineup. Western Cutlery also made a slightly smaller version of this basic shape, the stacked-leather-handled L40 and the model 640 which had a Delrin imitation jigged bone handle. Our buddy Wade owns a model 640.

Introduced in 2011 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Western Cutlery, another feature of the Western Skinner that harkens back to the originals is the pronounced thumb ramp with traction grooves, known in the knife world as “jimping”. This aids fine control of the knife in use.

Instead of Western’s classic split-tang construction, the 100th Anniversary Skinner employs full tang construction and brown Micarta handle scales. The pommel mimics the profile of the classic aluminum saddle horn pommel. The blade is made of .145” thick 1095 high carbon steel. To prevent rust, the blade is coated with some type of a black finish. Of the modern Acme United Westerns, this is the only one made in the U.S.A.

The knife comes with a high quality pouch style leather sheath that swallows up about one-third of the length of the handle. Western’s classic rope-script logo is embossed into the leather near the top. This is a beautiful, top quality knife that comes from the factory extremely sharp and it is one that I am proud to own.

I picked up one other modern Western fixed blade knife, the 9” Crosstrail. This is a thoroughly modern knife that owes nothing to the Western knives of old. It is made of “Titanium Bonded” 420 stainless steel. This is what Acme United/Camillus says about that:

“Titanium Bonded is not painted or plated, but an application of a unique formulation of titanium and chromium nitride to the surface of cutting blades that actually penetrates and treats the metal to create a permanent bond. The patented Titanium Bonding process provides the following benefits; corrosion resistance, adhesive resistance and the process itself makes the stainless steel 3x harder than untreated stainless providing a blade that stays sharper longer.”

I don’t know how much of that is truth versus marketing hype, but there it is. It is apparently not a very expensive process, as the Crosstrail can be found most places at a price under $20.

The blade profile is a broad drop point design with a full belly and is hollow ground. It may be a better skinner than even the 100th Anniversary Skinner because as a drop point, it lacks the sharp piercing point that is the hallmark of the L39 profile. It is less likely to inadvertently poke through the hide during a skinning operation.

This knife is also full tang in construction and features faux stag Delrin handle slabs. What is interesting about the slabs is that they vary noticeably in thickness to mimic natural handle materials.

There is another version of this knife that features a gut hook on the back of the blade. Then there are two other versions that use the same blade blanks, guthook and non-guthook, but with black rubber grips. These knives use the name Black River instead of Crosstrail. I was drawn to the stag handled Crosstrail as it seems more classic.

The Crosstrail comes with an attractive, but inexpensive woven nylon sheath, backed with stiff plastic to give it shape. The sheath features a slash of thin leather wrapped around the middle embossed with a new Western logo and the word “TITANIUM”.

It seems like a fine sheath until you realize that the snapped keeper strap that goes around the handle does not do the job of keeping the knife in the sheath. The knife can be pulled straight up through the snapped strap without much resistance at all. That is mainly due to the fact that the knife lacks any kind of a finger guard in its design that would catch on the strap if it was there.

The back of the knife above the handle features jimping, but no thumb ramp. The blade thickness is the same as the 100th Anniversary Skinner at .145”. Overall, it is a very nice knife, quite sharp out of the box. If you’re looking for a decent fixed blade outdoorsman’s knife at a good price, the Western Crosstrail deserves a look.

Folders

 
Left: 7” Western Pronto; middle: 8” Western Pronto;
and right: Western Granpa Trapper
The 7” and 8” Pronto folders are very similar in blade and handle shape to the Crosstrail fixed blade knife, but in a folding design. Like the Crosstrail, the blade is a broad hollow ground drop point. Both knives feature thumb jimping on the backs of their blades. The handle is an open-back design, which denies pocket fuzz or anything else a place to collect. Each features a lanyard hole at the pommel end of the knife.

These are definitely modern EDC knives. Nudge the blade open using the ambidextrous thumb stud, then a quick flick of the wrist throws the blade open where it locks by the engagement of a liner lock. Each knife also features a pocket clip as most modern folders do these days.

If it seems silly to offer two pocket knives so close in size to each other, you will find that it definitely makes sense when you have them both in your hands. Besides being shorter, the 7” Pronto is also skinnier, less bulky overall. It is the better knife to have on you in the course of a typical day. The 8” Pronto is more the size and bulk of a Buck 110, but a bit less heavy. Either could be used as a hunting knife, but the bigger one is probably the one you would choose for such a task.

Like the Crosstrail, both of these have sister knives with black rubber grips instead of Delrin stag. These rubber gripped folders go by the name of BlacTrax.

The final Acme United Western knife I have is the Granpa Trapper. I mentioned that the product line is under constant change. This knife appears to be already discontinued, but old stock is still available online from a number of suppliers. It is a classic two-bladed Trapper with blades about 3¼” long with Delrin stag scales.

Because they are imported, each of the four Delrin stag handled Westerns I have discussed are around $20 bucks or less, yet are very nice in quality. Check them out.

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