I have a small confession to make. Though my articles may not reflect this, I have a crippling addiction to Great Eastern Cutlery knives. For every modern knife in my collection, there’s a traditional knife (often in matching or complimentary colors), and I fear it won’t be long before the old timers actually outnumber the fresh blood. The latest addition to my little menagerie is the Great Eastern Cutlery #66 “Calf Roper” in olive drab canvas micarta. It’s far from perfect, but at the same time it’s often the first traditional knife I reach for before leaving for work.
You may be asking yourself why I don’t review Great Eastern Cutlery products more often. The problem with reviewing their knives is twofold: one, they sell out quickly, and two, all of their knives are produced in batches. If a run of their knives is sold out, it may be years before they make another version; even if they do, there’s no guarantee that they’ll use the same blade configuration or handle materials. So before we get into the meat of the review, a word of advice: if you’re interested in it, go buy it. You can finish the review afterwards.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Great Eastern Cutlery #66 “Calf Roper” weighs 2.57 ounces and measures at a hair under 3.5 inches in the closed position. This particular version of the #66 has three blades: a clip point blade 2.5 inches long, a sheepsfoot blade 1.9 inches long, and a spey blade 1.8 inches long. If the #66 had just a single blade and weighed this much, it’d just be average, but as it packs three blades into the frame it’s nothing short of fantastic.
Of course, if those blades never get used, they might as well not be there. The clip point is the easiest to justify: it’s popular on single and multi bladed traditional knives alike. It offers plenty of straight edge for push cuts, but has enough belly to be the all-star of a picnic lunch. Consider it your go-to blade for most tasks. The utility of the sheepsfoot blade is similarly obvious: a short, straight edged blade is perfect for opening packages and breaking down boxes. Really, the only inclusion that I haven’t found an explicit use for is the spey blade. It’s fine as a pen blade, but otherwise is just a holdover from days when animal husbandry and horticulture was more common.
I’m a junkie for thin grinds, and the Calf Roper delivers that in spades. All three blades start as thin stock and are brought down to a fine working edge. The grinds are clean and even, though the cutting bevel itself is pretty narrow. While I don’t have any complaints, apparently enough people do that there’s a robust market for reground GEC knives.
The #66 features 1095 steel on all three of its blades. 1095 has been a staple of American cutlery since the early 1900s, though now it’s seen primarily on traditional pocket knives and large fixed blades. It’s a carbon steel, so without care it will rust, but there are steps that can ward that eventuality off. You can clean the blade off after use and keep it well oiled; or (my preferred method), you can use your knife on a lot of fruit and produce and let it build up a protective patina.
Edge retention on the #66 is passable. Great Eastern runs their 1095 at a Rockwell hardness of 57-59, which is a bit harder than the steel on Victorinox (Swiss Army) knives. In practical terms, this means that any blade getting regular use should be touched up on a leather strop two or three times a week. If pressed into work cutting cardboard or other abrasive media, more care will be required.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Carry
The #66 “Calf Roper” is listed as a Serpentine Jack; to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why. Given the blade configuration, most companies would list the #66 as a Stockman variant. My suspicion is that A.G. Russell cornered the market on the “Serpentine Stockman” quite awhile ago…but that’s just speculation. Regardless of the nomenclature, the handle is pleasantly simple. It’s a simple cigar shape with a subtle curve. Nickel silver bolsters pair well with the brass liners, both of which are given a brushed finish. A plain oval shield ties it all together. As this is Great Eastern, it should go without saying, but the handle is immaculately constructed. Using my fingernail, I can hardly tell where the bolster ends and the micarta begins.
If you follow me on social media or have read past articles of mine, you might have guessed that I have a small fixation with micarta. It is – bar none – my favorite handle material. Why shouldn’t it be? It’s light, strong, grippy, and has an organic quality rarely found in G10. The olive drab micarta on the #66 is perfectly implemented, left just rough enough to have some texture, but still smooth enough to not feel out of place on a traditional knife. Of course, if micarta isn’t your thing, the #66 is also available in ebony, acrylic, stag, and two variants of jigged bone.
Sadly, the ergonomics aren’t as good as the handle would suggest. While the handle shape is great, the sheepsfoot blade adds a sharp hump right where your fingers go if you’re using the clip point or the spey blade. Neither of those blades causes a similar problem when the sheepsfoot blade is in use. It’s not a crippling issue; you’d have to be gripping the handle pretty tightly to generate real discomfort. All the same, I can’t help but wonder how much better the #66 would be if the spey blade was removed so the sheepsfoot blade could ride lower in the handle.
At a closed length of 3.5 inches, the #66 is one of the most pocketable knives produced by Great Eastern Cutlery. Between the serpentine handle shape, the generously chamfered edges, and the modest size, it’s easy to carry the #66 however you’d like. It’s a touch large for smaller coin pockets, but only just. I carry mine in a leather slip, as I do with most of my traditional knives. A slip distributes the weight more evenly, and prevents the knife from rolling to the bottom of your pocket and generating discomfort. Is it necessary? No, but I’d recommend giving one a shot if you haven’t already.
Deployment and Walk and Talk
There’s no two ways about it: compared to modern folding knives, any traditional knife is going to be less convenient to pull out and use. Before I can actually use my knife, I have to pull the slip out of my pocket, pull the knife out of the slip, put the slip down (or back in my pocket), and then use two hands to open whichever blade I need. In the office or around the house, those extra steps aren’t an issue. When I’m in the field, I want quick, convenient access to a blade that I know won’t close on my fingers if I torque it in a weird way. I still carry a traditional at work, but only so I have a knife on me that I know won’t frighten anyone.
There’s no grit in the action, and the blades snap crisply into place, whether in the open or closed position. None of the blades have any side-to-side play or worrisome wiggle. The pull on the clip blade is about as strong as it is on a Swiss Army Knife, while the spey and sheepsfoot blades only need about half as much effort to open and close. A half stop would be a welcome addition, but isn’t a necessity.
Great Eastern Cutlery #66 “Calf Roper” – Final Thoughts
Even accounting for the vestigial spey blade, the funky ergonomics, and the lack of a half stop, the Great Eastern Cutlery #66 is a personal favorite of mine. It’s handy, pocketable, and beautifully finished, with subtle touches of modernity that grant it a timeless appeal. The only competition that comes to mind is the aforementioned A.G. Russell Serpentine Stockman, but I don’t know if that comparison is entirely fair. The Serpentine Stockman is a fine knife – I owned one – but it’s larger and made with cheaper materials. Between the two, I’d pick the #66 every time.
If traditionals don’t interest you, I don’t know if this should be your first. Single bladed traditionals are often a better way to test the waters. That said, once this run is sold, it’s unclear when Great Eastern will produce another run of the #66. If you like the design, or even think you might like the design, pick one up. They’re easy to sell on the secondary market should you be disappointed. Clearly, I’m not.
GEC #66 Calf Roper – From $109.00
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