Gerber Folding Sportsman II
ŠPaul M. Alvarez 2008
As they say in the news media "In the interest of full disclosure" I want to state up front that I believe that the Gerber Folding Sportsman II is one of the finest mass produced folders of all time. Sure, you have your synthetic handled wonder knife that snaps open instantly and will cut through two moose, a griizzly, and 17 fifty gallon drums without sharpening. I've got a few of those myself. And, I do like the custom made knives but can't afford many as I still owe the bank for the house and gas prices, being what they are, set me back the cost of a good quality knife every week. However! I am an old geezer and I have a predilection for natural materials in my human/knife interface (i.e., the handles).
Now back in "the old days" in those prehistoric times before thumb studs, pocket clips, holes in the blades, the deluge of cheap Chinese knives, and "assisted opening" our choices were pretty limited. For what we call today "tactical" purposes (we used to call it self-defense) you picked yourself up a Buck 110, a Schrade LB-7, or the Gerber FSII to wear on your belt as they were all rather large knives. The FSII, though, had a much thinner cross-section through the handle than the other two and could be carried in the pocket relatively unobtrusively while still having a similar blade length. If you were really on top of things you added a CKC Flicket to open it one handed.
I bought my first FSII in about 1972. It was the standard model shown above with the wood inlays in the handles and cost some $30, a substantial sum for a knife at the time. It lay flat in my pocket, was always at hand, and served me well until I lost it under "unfortunate circumstances", which will go un-described for now, sometime around 1976. Being somewhat more flush at the time, I chose to replace it with the stag-handled version which I still own ($60, ouch!). Another Flicket rounded out the package, this time ground down to a more reasonable size. Several of my jeans had wear holes in the pocket from the Flicket wearing though them.
I carried it for some 25 years until I discovered that, unlike myself, it had become collectible and was worth quite a bit more than I had paid for it. I retired it and carried a variety of other cutlery for a while; Cold Steel, other Gerbers, Bucks, and several others including the CRKT M-16-03Z shown in the photos. They all, however, left something to be desired and now I have come full circle and obtained another Folding Sportsman II in the wood handled version as I originally had. And the more I use it, the more I like it. It just seems to fit my hand better and is like reuniting with an old friend.
I am not particulary fond of liner locked knives. I had a previous CRKT before the M16, I don't remember which model, that looked great in the display case but would lock up whenever you did any heavy work with the blade. Downward pressure while cutting would invariably cause the blade to lock in the open position and closing it became a difficult chore.
One day, in frustration, I threw the knife against a file cabinet. The tiny torx screws promptly sheared off and I just as promptly threw it in the trash. The Gerber, on the other hand, has withstood comparable abuse and never missed a stroke. I vowed never to use a liner lock again. As with most promises made in the heat of passion it did not last.
I eventually acquired the M16 and it has served fairly well if not exceptionally for a while. At least the lock releases when it is supposed to. Even though opening it is easy and smooth, closing it is not. The handle is not recessed at the lock and is, consequently, difficult to manipulate especially if your fingers are slippery or stiff from the cold or from arthritis like mine. In contrast my Muela #19066 has a nice recess that makes it easy to get to the liner to close the blade.
The geometry of the CRKT thumb stud opener is such that it is difficult for me to get enough leverage to easily open it. I have to use the "Carson Flipper" extension, as it is called, to assist in the opening. I realize that it is placed there for that very reason, but it has fairly sharp grooves. When held in a normal grip my index finger rides right up against it and it wears the skin off during extended cutting sessions. The Flicket equipped FS-II does not have any of these problems. It opens easily with just thumb pressure and feels comfortable in the hand even during heavy cutting.
Interestingly, the FS-II has a slightly longer blade than the M-16 while being a smaller package when closed. The blade on the M-16 is 3-9/16" while the FS-II sports a 3-3/4" incher. Closed, the M-16 measures 4-5/8" while the FS-II is 4-1/4". With the Flicket in place the FS-II weighs 1.5 ounces more that the CRKT (5.9 vs. 4.4 ounces). Additionally, the 440c blade takes and holds a superior edge to the AUS-4 blade of the CRKT.
During this time of flirting with other folders I discovered Damascus knives. As it is an almost exact duplicate of the FS-II in profile, I thought that the Bear Slim Line folder would be just the ticket to replace it. Until relatively recently Damascus knives were prohibitively expensive being in the realm of "custom knives". Now we have a sizeable selection of Damascus blades on the market made both in the US and overseas. Bear GMC is one of the few American manufacturers mass producing folders with Damascus blades. Come to think of it, they are one of the few American manufacturers producing any knives any more.
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The Bear is a virtual clone of the FSII but with a Damascus blade. Both of these lock-back knives are constructed with full brass liners. The bear has nickel-silver bolsters whereas the Gerber's brass bolsters are integral with the liner, either method quite acceptable and adequately strong. The Gerber's blade is 440c Stainless while the Bear has a 512 layer carbon steel Damascus blade.
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The ricasso on the Bear is marked "Bear MGC" and "USA" on two lines on one side of the blade with the other having no markings. The Gerber is marked with "Gerber" on one side and "Portland, OR" and "97223, U.S.A." on the other on two lines. Blade shapes are nearly identical in profile, trailing points, but quite different in cross section. The Bear has a much wider spined saber grind whereas the Gerber has a longer tapered flat grind. Blades are tight with no play either vertically or horizontally on either knife and both open smoothly.
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Handle material is interesting. I frequently see the Bear listed as having stag handles but it clearly does not. If you compare the photos of the handles above you will see a distinct difference. The Gerber is, in fact, authentic Indian Sambar Stag. It seems that the Bear has what are probably bone handles colored to give the appearance of stag. This would not be objectionable other than the misrepresentation by some of the vendors and the fact that the dark coloring tends to wear off as in my example above. I bought it new and it did not take too long for the coloring to wear.
The Gerber seems to be fitted somewhat better than the Bear. As you can see from the line where the handle material abuts the metal the Bear has a bit of a gap where the Gerber does not. The rear of the lock also sticks up slightly past the plane of the spine of the grip while the Gerber presents a smooth curve front to back.
All in all the Bear has been a good addition to my collection and I still carry it for "dress" occasions. As much as I like my Stag handled Gerber I would hate for anything to happen to it, we have shared too many interesting times together. At about half the price of what an original Gerber in good condition is worth the Bear is an excellent value especially considering the Damascus blade. If I lose it or have to leave it stuck someplace I can always buy another. I moved the Flicket from the Gerber to the Bear then to the wood handled FS-II to facilitate opening and made a good knife even better.
The one gripe that I do have with the Gerber is the difference in the stag from one side to the other. I have examined many of the stag handled Gerbers and I have yet to find one where the scales match. When I purchased this one I examined all six of the knives that the shop had in stock and chose the best one of the lot. The scales show quite a difference. This is a relatively trivial complaint, however.
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