Great Eastern Cutlery (GEC) #73 Scout REVIEW
By Matt, 19/11/2017
Great Eastern Cutlery (GEC) was started in 2006 by Bill Howard, a former Queen Cutlery employee, with the intent to produce high quality, affordable, traditional pocket knives. GEC’s first production patterns were single blade recreations of the classic R1123 Remington Bullet and R1173 Baby Bullet which GEC designated the #23 Pioneer and #73 Scout.
My first experience with GEC was in 2008 when I purchased a lovely #73 in green jigged bone from a member on Baldeforums. Now, nearly a decade later, I can’t even count the number of GECs which have passed through my hands. But even after all these years and numerous different patterns the good old #73 is still my favourite of the bunch.
The two 73s which are the subject of this review, a 2013 in burnt stag and a 2015 in cocobolo, are both representations of GEC’s Northfield line. If so inclined, you can find out more about GEC’s different brands here.
Both knives were purchased from Greg at TSA Knives and Collectables. From memory, prices were roughly $110USD for the stag and $70USD for the cocobolo. Greg is always a gentleman and goes out of his way to look after us guys who aren’t Stateside.
Overall Length: 17.5cm (6 7/8”)
Blade Length: 8cm (3 1/8”)
Closed Length: 9.5cm (3 ¾”)
Blade Thickness: 2mm
Blade Steel: 1095, 57-59 HRC
Handle: Nickel silver bolsters, brass liners, burnt stag/ cocobolo covers
Weight: Stag -77g (2 5/8oz), cocobolo – 63g (2 1/8oz)
Country of origin: Titusville, PA, USA
Like all GECs, the 73s came wrapped in wax paper housed in the classic ‘GEC tube’ adorned with awesome ‘old timey’ artwork. I must admit that I find almost nothing more cathartic than popping open a GEC tube, sniffing that oily scent and unfurling a fresh knife from its wax paper cocoon.
Now if you are at all like me, the first thing that will strike you after removing the 73 from it packaging is just what a handsome knife the 73 is. With its clean, classic, purposeful lines and stout, rugged good looks I personally think it is still the best-looking knife that GEC produce. I would wager that the looks of the 73 and its bigger brother have been responsible for luring countless modern-knife stalwarts into the sweet embrace of the traditional knife.
Out of the tube, both 73s presented with impeccable fit and finish and nail breaking pulls, as seems to be the GEC norm for this model. My only disappointment was with the pile side of the burnt stag 73, which despite being well matched with the mark side for thickness, had a deep central valley and resultant sharp peak along the top of the cover. That being said, I really have no one to blame but myself as admittedly I do find it hard to visualise the contours of stag covers when viewing pictures online. Caveat emptor as the kids say.
Both knives feature a single flat ground drop point blade made from 2mm thick 1095, finished with a mirror polish and etched with the Northfield logo (although the etch has long ago been worn off the stag example). The primary grinds are even, getting very thin behind the edge before thickening out slightly towards the tip. The spine of both blades features a neatly cut swedge which further streamlines the cutting profile. The stag 73 has a long match striker pull while the cocobolo makes do with a standard nail nick, both are sharply and deeply cut. The tangs are crisply stamped with the model number on one side and the Northfield designation on the other. The blade to handle ratio is an excellent 0.84, especially given that the average for a modern folding knife is around 0.75.
After using my stag example extensively, I can categorically say that I REALLY like the way that the 73 blade performs. Like most traditionals, in use the blade really shines, benefiting from the thin stock and flat ground geometry as it glides through most materials. That being said, the 73's blade is still plenty tough and I have mercilessly used my stag example for pretty much everything, including down right abuse with prying and cutting in dirt. It is probably worth noting that the sexy mirror polish will scratch quite easily and being 1095 the blade will patina and/or rust if not wiped down especially after cutting acidic foods.
In terms of performance it won’t come as a surprise that GEC’s 1095 isn’t going to compete with the latest super steels for outright edge holding. You will note in the photo below just how much of the stag blade has been sharpened away, when compared to the cocobolo, owing to the frequent tips to the sharpening stone. However, that being said, 1095 is no slouch by any means and it holds an adequate working edge for a couple of days use. On the stones I really love the 1095 as it takes a wicked fine edge with next to no effort.
It is funny how different covers can completely change the personality of a knife. The stag really makes the 73 feel like a rugged workhorse, filling the hand and providing a rough grip. Whereas the cocobolo, transforms the 73 into more of a gentleman’s knife, light, slim and polished.
Regardless, in terms of construction, both knives feature brass scales (or liners as they are called in modern knives), with exquisite threaded nickel silver bolsters and spun brass pins to hold it all together. Now GEC does seem to have a bit of a quirk when it comes to the finishing of the pins on their knives, with the forward and bottom pins typically being ‘sunk’ into the cover while the rear and top pins are finished flush. I have no idea why this is (please comment if you can enlighten me!). The shields of both knives are pinned and have been cut in seamlessly with no gaps or raised edges (note, there may appear to be a gap at the bolster end of the stag shield but it is in fact just dirt... I should probably get on that). .
The covers of both knives have been fitted impeccably with no gaps or cracks. The cocobolo in particular is just perfect, with every edge rounded and polished making it gleam like a smooth river stone. The stag likewise is well matched for thickness and damn sexy on the mark side, however, as previously mentioned the pile side isn’t as much to my liking.
Unfortunately, whether from lack of maintenance on my part or just bad luck, the brass liners of the stag 73 have started to corrode and leach green into the cover. This is particularly noticeable where the stag meets the bolster and along the spine. Perhaps worse of all, it has started to smell slightly with that rotten egg corroding brass smell I’m sure most are familiar with. This has not affected the cocobolo 73 or any of my other GECs (although I have had it occur on a couple of W.R.Case knives).
In hand the simple contours of the handle work great. There is just enough room for me to get a comfortable four finger grip, with my middle and ring finger falling on either side of the central peak. In a sabre grip the butt of knife rests nicely in the palm and really locks in. Laying a finger across the top of the blade and choking up works well with the tang of the blade protruding just enough to let you know when you have nearly gone too far forward.
As would be expected the stag is roughly textured and provides a sure grip even when wet. The stag makes the 73 quite handle heavy with the balance point falling around the centre of the shield. On the other hand, the polished cocobolo covers make for a knife which is noticeably smoother, thinner and lighter with the balance point falls just forward of the shield. Regardless, both knives are very comfortable in hand and are light and nimble in use with minimal hotspots.
One thing that I will note is that both knives are missing a lanyard hole, which I seem to remember being a feature of the original bullet knives. I typically don’t use lanyards and as a result appreciated the cleaner handle but this may matter to some folks.
As per most traditional knives, I typically carried the 73 in the watch pocket of my pants or in the right front pocket in a leather slip to preserve the finish. However, once the stag knife got a few dings it often just found itself bumping around loose in my right front pocket amongst my keys and other bits and bobs. Regardless of the method of carry the 73 is light, thin and small enough to be largely unnoticeable.
However, I did encounter a couple of issues;
Firstly, the exposed tang is quite sharp and over time can cut up pockets or careless hands. My work pants especially began to suffer as sections of the pocket lining were shredded thanks to the 73. Fortunately, after a slow start, my wife now seems to be becoming quote adept at undertaking such repairs.
Secondly, after a few sharpenings the tip of the stag 73's blade began to sit proud of the handle when closed resulting in a similar outcome to the exposed tang, albeit probably being worse for my hand than the pocket. I managed to remedy this lightly using a file to ‘drop’ the point a little.
DEPLOYMENT AND LOCKUP
Ahhhh GEC, if there is one thing I can thank you for it is my near unbreakable right thumb nail. Back in 2008, on a diet of predominantly softly sprung Case knives, my thumb nail had developed into a weak pathetic specimen. Well a decade of GEC and their bear trap pulls has changed all that.
Out of the tube, I would have rated the stag 73 around a 9 out of 10 on the universal standard pull scale. Fortunately, as I was well versed in trying to remedy a somewhat stiff GEC, I left the blade ¼ open for a few days which seemed relax the spring some. Sometime later I also realised that opening the blade with my thumb nail at the centre of the pull instead of the end was making things much harder than they needed to be. These days, years of use have lightened everything up a bit more, but I would still rate the stag 73 a solid 7 on the pull’o’meter. The cocobolo on the other hand proved to be a more pleasant experience coming in at around a 7 from new.
The action of both knives was smooth out of the tube and over time got even smoother as the corners of the tang rounded and broke in. On both knives the spring sits flush in the open and closed positions while being slightly sunken at the half stop position.
Now the major benefit of that stiff spring is the rock-solid lock-up. The 73's blade really snaps into the open position like no-ones business with an authoritative CLACK! There is some microscopic side to side movement present in both knives (I imagine small gaps are required with this sort of construction owing to the lack of washers) but no up and down movement. The solid lock-up really gives you confidence to use the 73 hard and never have I had the blade of a 73 fold up on me after getting wedged in something I was cutting (as I have with several other slipjoints). Even if it enough force was exerted to prompt it to fold there is that half stop there as a safety measure.
On the negative side, I will note that the action can get horribly gritty if dirt manages to get into the pivot area and due to the pinned construction can be a right pain-in-the-ass to get out. Also, when compared with the line of the handle, the blade of the stag 73 over rotates slightly, whereas the cocobolo under rotates. This may bother some folks, but if I didn’t have multiple 73s to compare I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Another minor quibble is that the blade on the stag 73 leans a couple of mm to the pile side when engaged. Again noting serious, but it may annoy some folks.
In my eyes GEC are quite possibly making the best value pocket knife on the market today. When you look at what you get (i.e. hand finishing, old world craftsman ship, premium natural materials, nigh on perfect fit and finish, etc.) one could almost argue they are a bit of a bargain at the price they go for.
In terms of the 73, personally I believe that this is GEC’s best pattern. I love its classic lines and the fact it is classy enough to pass as a gent’s knife while being tough enough to be beat on like a dirty mule. It would make a great gateway for modern knife users who are curious about dabbling in the world of traditionals.
If you are interested and one pops up in a configuration you like I highly recommend you give one a try.
Subscribe below for email notification when a new review is posted: