If you've heard of Gayle Bradley because of your interest in knives, you're a real knife geek.
My interest in knives is strictly practical, using knives, although I've gained a considerable respect for the knowledge of and the knives made by serious custom knife makers in the 15 years that I've been writing for the world's largest circulation knife magazine, Tactical Knives. If a custom knife maker of the highest order also competes in cutting competitions, then he or she is one of the rare birds that walks the walk as well as talks the talk. Never heard of cutting competitions? Well, check out Bladesports International. In these competitions, knife makers make very sharp things that have to chop 2x4s, cut free-hanging rope, cut through multiple water bottles, cut through a free-standing cigarette, and other such feats that only the very sharpest, cuttingest knives in the world can do.
Gayle Bradley won this competition with a knife that he made in 2006/7 and 2007/8. He and his knife set two new world records, cutting 14 one-inch hanging manila ropes bundled together and cutting through 19 water filled-bottles in one swipe. Think about that!
I met Gayle a couple SHOT Shows ago at the Spyderco booth where he and Ed Schemp (another world-class cutting competitor who designs many of Spyderco's knives) hold court every year. Both fellows are, seriously, about the most friendly and down-to-earth people imaginable, and I always spend some time talking to them because I learn a lot from it. I regard the opportunity to chat with them in the same way I view the opportunity to chat with shooting masters like Max Michel or Julie Golob (ne Goloski).
Gayle's first production knife, introduced recently, is a folder that's made by Spyderco. Its 3 7/16-inch blade is hollow-ground satin finished Crucible Steel CPM-M4. Originally M4 made its name as a tool steel with high resistance to impact (what knife people call toughness). Crucible's version incorporates their CPM-powdered metal manufacturing process with M4 creating a superfine, consistent steel-grain structure that increases its impact resistance even more. The handle is twill carbon fiber with a Michael Walker LinerLock®. Inside are two full-length internal liners adding rigidity to the handle that has screw-together construction for adjustments or cleaning. A four-way hourglass clip lets you choose to carry the folder; tip-up/tip-down, left/right handed.
The knife has a refined, but not what I'd call sexy, look. That's good in my book, because it means that there are no design features to detract from its cutting ability. And a Gayle Bradley knife, especially one from a steel as highly regarded as CPM-M4, is all about cutting. I hardly need to say that it sliced little, thin slivers of free-hanging paper with no effort. On the two benchmark mediums that most people who've been around knives a lot use to gauge a knife's general cutting performance - cardboard and manila rope - it also performed as well as any folder I've had through here (and there have easily been several hundred, maybe more). It sliced double-thick packing cardboard as easily as the regular thickness stuff, and it sliced 3/4-inch manila rope in three passes, which is remarkable for a 3.5-inch blade. Yeah - it cuts!
Is this a cop's or a soldier's knife? Well, if I knew that my folder stood a good chance of getting abused or lost in the field, then I'd go with a less expensive, less finely made knife. Something like the Spyderco workhorse Endura. But if I knew that the most likely chore for my knife was cutting materials that were meant to be cut, and I appreciated fine cutting instruments, then this knife would be one I'd definitely want. After all, it performs, and it has the Bradley legacy behind it. On the other hand, the list price for the Gayle Bradley Carbon Fiber folder is $214, but I've seen street prices for it at almost half that amount. And at that price, frankly, it's getting close to what a good quality workhorse knife sells for.