THE reality of the “global economy” marketplace has pulled a lot of U.S. brands offshore for production. This can be good or bad for the consumer. There are quality offshore makers for most products, if you link up only with quality manufacturing partners, but quality inspectors in many offshore factories could use a good kick in the pants.
Some old-line American makers have vowed to always maintain their American production to preserve the U.S. industrial base, the historic quality of their products, and American jobs.
To make a sweeping generality, American-made cutlery always has been and still is equal to any and better than most. American cutlery design is unequaled. A lot of offshore production—good quality or not—comprises slavish copies, and the flood of pirated or outright counterfeited designs and even trademarks is essentially unfettered by U.S. Government efforts.
From a consumer standpoint, as long as you stick with the good brands coming via importers who have a name and reputation to protect, the quality/price ratio can be favorable, even for cutlery made in the Far East.
W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company, a textbook example of an old-line American company, has opted to still make all their core legacy Case knives in Bradford, Pennsylvania, but have taken intelligent advantage of overseas market realities by introducing a new “Tec X” house-brand line of cost-effective folders of quality Chinese manufacture. It looks like they hold the inspector’s feet to the fire.
The ones I tested compare favorably at their price point with similar blades made anywhere. I dealt with ordinary shelf samples and could not find any flaws. This eclectic procurement approach may represent a workable plan for preserving American production while taking advantage of offshore prices to make available a “working man’s price” product that is of assured quality.
The Tec X knives are sold under Case’s limited lifetime warranty, and the four I tested gave no indication you’re likely to need that. But if you do, W.R. Case will be around to make it good. The guy at the flea market will not….
I think this adjusting to the realities of the marketplace is a better idea than some American brands that just gave it up and prostituted a good name with bum offshore production. The resulting quality of some such unfortunate decisions has been of benefit neither to the brand nor the consumer. This doesn’t appear likely with Case. After all, their Tec X economy line still has to compete with the relentless quality control of American Case-branded knives.
I tested three Tec X liner locks and one lock-back. All were equipped with stainless pocket clips of suitable shape and tension. All had blades of AUS-8 or 440C stainless. All opened smoothly with comfortable thumb studs, locked up precisely, and showed no signs of loosening after tests. Liner-lock models had open architecture, which I favor for easy cleaning.
All were evenly finished and sharp out of the box. All were assembled with Torx fasteners that would allow dismounting or blade-tension adjustment, although they all came welltuned. The knives kept a satisfactory edge during the usual tasks of a medium-sized folder, including cutting cordage, textiles and cardboard, wood and tin cans. All touched up quickly on a diamond slip, although they didn’t really need it.
How fast a blade dulls and how readily it resharpens are fair user indicators of a manufacturer’s attention to heattreating. I do not find all thumb studs facile, but the thumb studs on these four folders were just right for me—a smooth nudge and the blade can be flicked fully open one-handed.
The model you might pick depends on your preferences for aesthetics and the job(s) you anticipate, but all these folders are good to go and represent value for your money.
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The Tec X Inceptra features a 440 stainless drop-point blade with a fine edge, precisely hollow ground. The model I examined had a black anodized aluminum handle, with other models available in red, blue or titanium grey. It has solid stainless steel liners and is liner-locking. It locks up positively and tight but is readily unlocked and closed with one hand. The blade rotates on synthetic washers, and the tension is adjustable. In addition to the pocket clip, it has a detachable hanging clip. Slots at the butt will also accommodate a lanyard.
The blade is 31/8 inches, the knife 71/8 inches open and 4½ inches closed. It weighs just over four ounces.
The X-Alt is an attractive folder featuring an AUS-8 drop-point blade with partial serrations. It has a carbon-fiber handle over stainless steel liners, and it also is liner-locking. It has an open-architecture, stainless-forward bolster and stainless pocket clip. The carbon-fiber scales are drilled and tapped so you can move the clip for tip-up or tip-down carry. It has a lanyard hole at the butt. It has a 3-inch blade, is 71/8 inches open and 4¼ inches closed. It weighs four ounces.
The flat-ground blade rides between synthetic washers, and tension is adjustable via the Torx-screw axis pin. Like the others, it was perfectly tuned out of the box and did not change during the break-in period.
The X-Pro features a drop-point, partly serrated blade of 440 stainless, hollow ground, and a swedged false edge. The handle is glass-reinforced ABS over hidden stainless liners, and it is liner-locking. Opening and locking were effortless and positive with one hand. The blade is 3½ inches, 77/8 inches open, and 4½ inches closed with a weight of 3½ ounces.
It has a stainless pocket clip and narrow lanyard hole that would be about right for a camera strap, but maybe a little tight for 550 cord. With the clip removed, it would be an easy carry for pocket or purse.
The TK-1 was the one back-lock tested, and it opened a little snugly at first as the 440 stainless blade rotates between the stainless liners, but it broke in quickly and a drop of oil had it smooth as glass. It locked up solidly from the git-go, of course. It has hidden stainless liners between glass-reinforced ABS handles, stainless pocket clip, and lanyard hole at the butt. The fine-edge, hollow-ground drop-point blade is 31/8 inches long, 75/8 inches open, and 4½ inches closed. It weighs just a tad over 3½ ounces.
Nearly 30 variations are cataloged on the Tec X site. A side benefit is that if yours takes legs or goes astray, it’s replaceable with none of the angst of losing your Grandfather’s heirloom Case XX.