The folks from CAS Hanwei were very kind to send us the Cascade, Pecos and Tortugas lock back folders from their Rock Creek line to review. Rock Creek Knives is a division of CAS Hanwei and according to their website they have a stated goal to change people’s perception of knives that are produced in China.
Admittedly, I own quite a few knives from other major knife makers that are mass produced in China and after working with these knives over the last month I am very impressed with the quality and durability of the Rock Creek line. I passed these knives around to some friends who are not particularly knife people and they were also impressed with the construction of the knives and were surprised to find that they were manufactured in China.
All three Rock Creek folders used for this review have several common features. They use stainless steel frames that are sandwiched between stabilized leather scales that have been checkered to provide grip. I was unfamiliar with stabilized leather and did a little research about it. Stabilized leather is simply leather that has been treated either with acrylic or other chemicals to hardened it. When I first got to handle these knives I didn’t realize that handle material was actually leather as it felt more solid like micarta. The leather stabilization process does not get rid of the leather smell, which I noticed after removing the knives from their packaging.
Rock Creek knives use Hanwei’s proprietary steel that they identify as HWS-1K or HWS-2K. The Cascade and Pecos are made of HWS-2K alloy steel. According to their website the Tortugas is also made from HWS-2K steel. However, I noticed on the blade of the Tortugas that it was stamped with HWS-1K. I then checked pictures and specifications of the Tortugas online and they all indicate that they are manufactured in HWS-2K. I then checked the more expensive versions of the Tortugas called the Sitka and it is manufactured from HWS-1K steel. Perhaps this run of Tortuga’s was made with blades intended for a run of the higher end Sitkas? According to their website the steel is “formulated” for edge retention and are corrosion resistant. They rate their blades at a hardness of 58HRc. Each of the blades in this line is hollow ground from stout 1/8 inch bar stock.
The Cascade and Pecos come with a stainless steel pocket clip which can be removed. The Tortugas does not have a pocket clip and instead has a bail at the end of the handle that can be attached to a clip on the user’s belt. I haven’t ever used a belt clip and I am not particularly fond of a pocket knife dangling from my belt. However, the bail design does work with the aesthetic design of the knife handle and when I carry the Tortugas it will go into a pocket. The bail would also work well for attaching a lanyard if the user was so inclined.
Opening and closing of these three knives is accomplished by a thumb stud. Each knife opened smoothly one handed. Closing the knives is achieved by depressing the lock back mechanism on the spine of the handle and requires two hands to do so safely. The mechanism is smooth and well crafted unlike some Chinese made knives that I have handled in the past. The fit of all pieces and mechanisms of each knife is tight and smooth and lock up was solid. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Rock Creek Knives are made. Clearly they have implemented high quality standards in the manufacturing process that yields sturdy utilitarian knives.
First up is the Cascade and it the smallest of the knives tested. The Cascade has a 3 inch drop point blade and with the handle the overall length is just shy of 7 inches and is the lightest of the three at 3.36 ounces. The first test was to shave some hair off my arm which it did with ease. Compared to the other two, the Cascade was the sharpest right out of the box. Next, I used the Cascade to cut strips into armor grade 4 ounce leather. The Cascade performed better than I expected as I usually use a razor knife to cut leather when crafting. I really liked the way it felt in my hand when cutting leather as its shape gave me a lot of control over the blade. After using it to cut leather I ran it through my usual battery of kitchen tasks of cutting raw vegetables and meat. I then used it to cut plastic bottles, cardboard boxes and nylon rope. Finally, I used it carve notches in an old walking stick. In all of the tests the Cascade performed quite well and I used the same series of tests for the Tortugas and the Pecos.
The Tortugas is rather unique in its overall look with a 3 inch spear point blade and, unlike the Pecos and Cascade, having a bail instead of a pocket clip. Overall length is a bit over seven inches and it weighs slightly more than the Cascade at 3.52 ounces. Of the three knives the Tortugas is my favorite in terms of aesthetics. I just really like the look of this knife as the robust spear point blade and thin slightly curving handle create a very interesting look. It has a definite Asian flair to it that’s distinct from most common every day carry knives. I haven’t used a knife with a bail before, but given the thin handles a pocket clip would not look right on the Tortugas. Out of the package the first use was to once again to shave some hair off my arm and it accomplished this task with ease. Next, I used the knife to cut leather strips and I really liked the shape the knife in providing good control when cutting leather. The Tortugas made quick work of the leather strips. However, if I were using this knife while crafting I could see how smaller handle would become a bit uncomfortable in my hand.
Lastly, the Pecos has a classic look that I think would appeal to many people looking for a traditional folder due to its recognizable clip point blade. The blade measures in at 3.25 inches and with the handle its overall length is 4.25 inches. Compared to the other two knives it is approximately one ounce heavier at 4.48 ounces. The Pecos is a generously proportioned knife and when fully opened it has great lines. Out of the package the Pecos was not as sharp as the other two knives. I had a bit of difficulty shaving the hair off my arm and it did not cut leather as nicely when compared to the Cascade and Tortugas. However, it was adequate for kitchen tasks, nylon rope, plastics and breaking down boxes. The Pecos shined in carving tasks due to its size and it was easy to produce improvised tent stakes.
Carrying the Pecos proved to be a bit of a challenge compared to the Cascade. When folded and placed in my pants pocket the weight of the Pecos was noticeable as compared the SOG Aegis that I normally use for every day carry. Retrieving the knife from my pocket was a bit frustrating as the back of the squared end of the blade just behind the thumb stud would snag on the lip of my pocket. It generally took a bit of tugging and using my other hand to stabilize my pocket to retrieve the knife. Once free of the pocket it opened easily in the right hand using the thumb stud. The pocket clip is very long on the Pecos and is ergonomically designed for right handed users to assist in holding the knife while using it. Considering my large hands, the Pecos fit comfortably and over extended use did not bother my hand. Of the three knives presented here it was the most comfortable in my hand over long periods of time.
I don’t normally comment on packaging when it comes to knives but the way in which Rock Creek goes about it stood out to me. Each knife has a simple sliding style cardboard box similar to many other manufacturers. However, when you slide the outer shell of cardboard off of the box you will immediately notice the perfect foam cutout with the knife secured snuggly inside. Most other brands wrap their knives in plastic and let them slide around inside the box or they are packaged in hard plastic packages meant for store display racks that require another knife to get into. I was really impressed by the precise foam cut outs for the knives in their packaging as it demonstrates Rock Creek’s attention to detail.
Each of these knives has a manufacturer’s retail price of $56.00. I think this a fair and reasonable price considering how well they are crafted and the materials used. However, I was able to find them a bit cheaper from other Internet retailers. The checkered leather scales are a big sell for me as a novice leatherworker and provide, in my opinion, a great look to the knives. More expensive versions of these knives offered by Rock Creek use rosewood handles and other exotic materials and are listed with different names. These knives are approachable for the more budget conscious or for those that prefer a utilitarian look. If I were shopping for a knife and had these three to choose from I would probably pick up the Tortugas mostly because it is very different from any other knives in my collection and I just love the way that it looks. However, all three could easily find their way into service whether for leisure or for work. If you are in the market for a solid and well manufactured folder I recommend that you consider Rock Creek Knives.
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