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  1. #1
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    Three French Knives

    Following on from some recent posts about Laguiole knives, their provenance and the discriminations between various manufacturers' products, I thought that you might like a quick show around three currently available mid-priced French knives.

    The whole question of the authenticity of French regional cutleries is a fraught one, with many niggling doubts about who manufactures what and where. None of which should detract for a second from the fact that this type of affordable knife represents an equable relationship between bang and buck. It’s not as if you are seeing unseemly bargains with such items, just that they are extremely well designed, know their market and function, and are priced exactly fairly for the kinds of thought, tradition, materials and finish you would hopefully expect from a practical, daily working knife of acceptable quality.



    There are three knives here. These are an Issard Violon, a Laguiole of G. David’s Arbalete brand and a Nontron #22 Sabot. All obtained from Couteaux Courty, Paris. They may be available more cheaply elsewhere, but Courty (like Heinnie Haynes) are reliable and courteous in their dealings, as well as being able to showcase a reasonable and well-chosen range of examples from the national product – mind you, you wouldn’t necessarily want to purchase a Spydie or a Fallkniven from them.

    1


    The first here, the Issard Violon, is bosom buddy to the Le Crosse (pictured below), produced also by Issard. It is a slip-joint with pressed horn scales, an 80mm near-flat, convex ground, spearpoint blade (of 2mm stock) in their excellent XC75 carbon steel. This stuff sharpens with wonderful ease. The bolsters and pins are in stainless steel.


    (more pics here: http://www.britishblades.com/forums/...ghlight=issard)

    This is a very versatile, principally culinary folding knife. The simply shaped handle allows for considerable flexibility in use. It slices like a laser guided guillotine, although doesn’t have quite the same qualities as the Le Crosse. It can slice finely and accurately, but not with the same speed the Le Crosse allows. With an 80mm blade length, this doesn’t count as unconditional edc in the UK, but my guess is that you would talk yourself out of any embarrassment with ease. It looks and feels like a practical working knife. I’d say that it also had a good outdoorsy competence, too. You wouldn’t necessarily want to be whittling seasoned burr with it – but filleting and other jobs are a breeze. The knife sits unobtrusively in the pocket, and has no boo-face for those skittish about knives with anything other than blunt blades and red plastic handles.



    At €50-ish, the standards of fit and finish are fine, and certainly beyond reproach in terms of longevity for a knife which is after all designed for its use value, not its ornamental charms. It doesn’t come with a sheath or slip case, but in many regards isn’t conceived as the kind of knife that requires dressing in that way. It is light and strong, and perfectly capable of surviving the most shrapnel laden pocket.



    I like it a lot – but have yet to give it the exercise required to discover how it lives outside the shadow of the supremely able Le Crosse. It’s most obvious advantages over the Le Crosse lie in its size (it is considerably narrower), and in the details of its useful in-line spear point.

    2


    Of the Laguioles presently buyable in the €50-70 range, those from G David are the most convincing. I have owned and used a number of laguioles from different manufacturers, and find that G David’s appeal in terms of their well considered, conservative design, the materials used and the execution of their pieces. They'll charge close to €300 for a three piece ivory scaled number, which is fine I suppose for a fine knife. But if you were going to go that way, I’d go the whole hog and approach Fontenille Pataud for such a luxury. You can see from the images below that the standards of craftsmanship at Fontenille Pataud are much higher that G David’s. Just look at that filework!


    (more pics here: http://www.britishblades.com/forums/...ght=fontenille)

    On the other hand, of course, even at the lower end of the materials range (wood and horn scales) FP still charge a premium. Whereas, for such an everyday knife, G David will supply an eminently able thing, for markedly less pain in the Euros. This 12cm 3-piece in carbon steel and lovely grey pressed horn was €68. The handle is a delight; extremely well moulded around where the fore and pinkie fingers would be expected to lie in ordinary use, and allows a kind of deftness with which a person might surprise themself. It has even greater bandsaw cutting prowess than the Issards, and is as much at home pushing peas onto your fork as it is slicing a prodigious roast or undoing large fish.



    Laguioles are the go anywhere, do anything practical cutlery of French culture. Used for all tasks, they are comfortably capable of most, and will make a fair fist of even jobs that usually demand specialised items. They will stand up to brutal misuse, well at least good ones will. They are designed to be easily sharpened, and are so.



    From these images, you can see that the G David is well enough made, as mentioned. With all components out, it may appear as ungainly as a drunken and promiscuous mantis, but, taken individually, those same elements appear graceful, yet uncompromisingly functional. I have a number of knives with awls of different kinds, designed for different uses. The one on this might not be the very best reamer you can lay hands on, but if you want to poke a hole in anything – this is the girl for the job. My sole complaint is that there are only four turns on the corkscrew worm; I like five. That said, this one has opened very many bottles and shows no sign of forgetting how.



    The laguiole is the knife you keep on you when you go to do dinner at someone’s house and find they have only flippant cutlery, its the knife you want for barbecues and all impromptu picnics. You have boxes to open, she’s there. Green sticks to put a point on, similarly. Battening, no. Prising hubcaps, also no. Nevertheless you have a substantial blade, and absolutely no possibility of scaring people. Even the 13cm model, which I sometimes find myself preferring, simply provides the most compelling and exemplary argument for the traditions of knife use. The laguiole just makes anyone who argues against the practical necessity of decently scaled folding cutlery look foolish . I love ‘em!



    3
    Finally, we have here an item which has somehow been able to take on a near magical character through its marketing. But, to say this makes things sound as if fraud is afoot. Apparently Nontron knives have been made in the same way since the torrid adolescence of Adam, and are marked with enigmatic runes, whose significance is known only to French druids, and the unmentionable pagan allies of mediaeval saints. Well, that’ll be the familar boxwood patterns who have all that going for them. These appear in a small range of styles including the violon (w/spring), boule and sabot (w/locking ferrule), more often than not in this same charmingly useable XC75 steel.



    This particular model is a #22 sabot in ebony – sans rune – and a stainless steel blade. It is a very light, strong and elegant knife. Delicate and refined, it is nevertheless completely obstinate when it comes to bowing to the travails of life. Very Jean d’Arc. The blade is thin. Not as thin as an Opinel’s blade, but you should be thinking in that territory.



    The blade has fully bellied edge, which is to say it bellies at the hilt and tip. It is astonishing what a difference this makes to the capacities of a knife; offering, as it does, a long rolling edge for cuts toward as well as away from the body. At €44 this isn’t going to break the bank, but, as mentioned, the characteristic of these knives is that you shouldn’t perhaps expect more than what such a sum will command in terms of materials and assembly. However, this is a design that seems to have formed dew-like from the habit of ages. It is very practicable.

    This particular Nontron has what look like nylon pads involved in the pivot mechanism to aid a fluid opening and closing (which work, I must say). And the locking mechanism, a barrel lock, is nicely composed. The materials of this knife sing very harmoniously, and I can’t get over the joy of using it. It is so light, so rich and warm – more giving than anything in carbon fibre or G10 could dream of. Look at how the tail of the handle has been made. It is smooth and slender; crisply incised, and the knife looks pretty and inviting when folded in repose. I gave it to a friend recently, to slice up lunch. She was almost giggling with happiness. I wasn’t at all surprised.



    Anyway, there you go. No history of the variousness of French regional cutlery. No remarks on the religious, economic or cutural conflicts in which such pieces were forged. Not a word on how French cutlery is capable of re-educating your hands, or giving glimpses of the better life. These little lovelies, in their own self effacing ways, do all that stuff too – whilst still being thoroughly competent in a modern world. They exemplify all the best arguments against our current paroxysms over the most essential of tools.
    Last edited by Noddy; 20-10-08 at 03:24 PM.

  2. #2
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    Re: Three French Knives

    Nice stuff. I kinda like these french folders. I prefer wood over horn for the handles.



    Kind regards,

    Jos
    I have the right to eat bacon!

    Blastmaster1972's Knife Talk

  3. #3
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    Re: Three French Knives

    Excellent.

    Eloquent.

    Romantique.

    Thanks Noddy for the great tribute to French knives.



    superb use of wood and horn (becoming a favourite of mine) for scales.

    thanks for a great review.
    Carver of bowls, always looking for bits of tree...
    Collector of American slip joints.

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    Re: Three French Knives

    Brilliant post, Rob. Thanks.
    "Actually, I was looking to gain an edge." - Lone Watie

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    Re: Three French Knives

    Great post Noddy!
    I myself ran a few posts recently asking about such knives and have found your review very helpfull!

    Cheers.

    Chris.

  6. #6
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    Re: Three French Knives

    Excellent stuff, though over 3" usually so that dinner party had better come with embossed invitation cards.
    I keep finding excuses not to buy any more of these, though I do have a nice one with buffalo horn scales floating around at home, somewhere.
    Ruin is the Devil's work, consecutive and slow
    Fail in a moment no man did
    - Emily Dickinson (who wrote it first)

  7. #7
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    Re: Three French Knives

    Thanks all. I could NOT get to sleep last night - jetlag flashback and no volume of booze seemed to help - voila, a review

    I do so like little French knives though

  8. #8
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    Re: Three French Knives

    Thanks for the interesting review and great looking knives Noddy and Blastmaster. Here are a few additions.

    This is the sweetest smelling knife I have. I think the scales are juniper wood. Very smooth action on this one.



    This is a common French pattern. The top has faux stag scales. The horn-handled knife seems especially well made and has milled brass liners for an extra touch of class.


    s-k
    Rust Never Sleeps

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    Re: Three French Knives

    Very interesting and informative, thanks.

    Danzo

  10. #10
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    Re: Three French Knives

    Love that honey bone Faget - s-k!

  11. #11
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    Re: Three French Knives

    Quote Originally Posted by Smiling-Knife View Post
    Juniper is smelling very nice indeed. Nice folder!

    Kind regards,

    Jos
    I have the right to eat bacon!

    Blastmaster1972's Knife Talk

  12. #12
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    Re: Three French Knives

    And those Chambriard Le Thiers jobs are razorish, too

 

 

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