Today's Vitamin D: The Gentleman's Penknife

by Dane Huckelbridge


Once a month, author Dane Huckelbridge gives us a nourishing dose of useful (for the most part) knowledge. In today's post, he takes on penknives. 

No, today I write not of Bowies and butterflies, nor clippers and cleavers. But rather something smaller, more functional, and far more elegant: the gentleman's penknife. Once upon a time, the penknife was as indispensable as a hankie or a pocket watch, as memories of fathers and grandfathers can surely attest to. In fact, the earliest known pocket knife dates back to 500 B.C., when it was no doubt used by some Bronze Age Boy Scout to open an exceedingly stubborn package of beef jerky. Today, the lithe little knives of yore may no longer be so crucial or so common, but a decent penknife or small pocket knife is still not a bad thing for a fellow to have. Granted, you'll want to be careful where you take yours and when you use it (be sure to check local laws if you plan on keeping it in your pocket), but a sharp, reasonably-sized folding knife is a useful and stylish part of a gentleman's kit.

But what type to get? There are tons out there, but here are a few ideas of smallish, useful penknives and pocket knives that, if you don't want to carry around with you, at the very least you can keep at your home desk as top-notch pencil sharpeners. See what you think.

The Laguiole

This isn't a specific brand, per se, but rather a type of knife made popular by shepherds in the Southwest of France. The best ones are still from there, so beware of cheap imitations. A real Laguiole is made in France. They are pricey, but rest assured it will last you a lifetime. Just be sure to get a smaller one. The large ones favored by French outdoorsmen can be a little intimidating.

The Opinel

If you like the idea of having a french knife, but don't want to break the bank, you can't go wrong with an Opinel. With their signature wooden handle and razor-sharp blades, they're very functional knives you can have for about the price of a take-out dinner. I use mine for picnics, and they do short work of French saucisson.

The Sodbuster Jr.

Made by Case Cutlery, this knife is an American legend. It has some sturdy heft too it, but still can be carried quite easily in the pocket. This knife is made in the USA, and it's affordable. And if you prefer a stainless steel blade that won't tarnish, this is it.

The Swiss Army Knife

You know the name, but they still work as well as they ever did. Go with a Victorinox, and you'll have a useful tool on your hands. Just be careful to avoid the ones with tons of little blades. They'll be too fat to fit comfortably in your pocket. A blade, a corkscrew, and a can opener is probably enough.

The Barlow Knife

Like the Laguiole, this is a type of knife rather than a brand, but it's steeped in American history. You can spend a small fortune on a top-notch American knife by Canal Street Cutlery, or go cheaper with a foreign-made Schrade. Tom Sawyer probably would have liked both.

The Buck Knife

Buck makes some of the best pocketknives in America, and they've been doing it for more than a century. The blades are top-notch, and will keep their edge. The knives they're most famous for are their larger outdoor models, so unless you're planning on cleaning fish with the old man, you'll probably want to stick with one of their smaller pocket folders.

The Sebenza

Warning: unless you're ready to drop some Benjamins, this probably isn't the knife for you. But if money is no object, these blades are simply the best around. Made in Idaho by cutlery legend Chris Reeve, this is a connoisseur's knife, but honestly, there isn't much better out there.

Make sense? Good. Peruse the internet or swing by a cutlery shop, and see what works best for you. Your grandfather would be proud.


Dane Huckelbridge is the author of Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit. Follow @huckelbridge for a daily dose of Vitamin D.