A brand known for looks over utility makes a sharp turn with The Kline, a do-all, no-whining everyday carry knife that stands with the best of them.
Over the years, The James Brand (TJB) has become known around the knife world as a form-over-function brand. It makes good knives capable of getting the job done, but its blades excel in the looks department. Historically, they haven’t exactly been the toughest knives out there.
But then the brand releases a knife like The Kline, which it touts as an “American Made Workhorse,” and makes you wonder: Is this the EDC knife that’s going to change everyone’s minds about TJB?
I’m happy to report that I’d be lying if I said no.
When I test a knife, I don’t sit in my workshop and slice up cardboard and rope to see how well the edge holds up on the steel; I rely on it. I take the knife out on my adventures and give it hell. With The Kline, it landed one afternoon, and the following morning I was out and about using it as the only knife I brought with me for 3 dedicated days in the outdoors.
No cell service, no heat, no plumbing, no turning back. And, ultimately, no regrets.
In short: If you haven’t heard of TJB before, or considered owning one of its knives, now’s the time to start paying attention. Yes, The Kline comes at a hefty price, but when you consider what you’re getting out of it — incredible steel, Magnacut — and if you plan on it being the one knife to guide you for years to come, it just might be worth every cent.
The James Brand Kline Folder Knife: Review
- OAL: 7.9”
- Blade length: 3.4”
- Steel: CPM Magnacut
- Shape: Drop point
- Grind: Hollow
- Hardness: 63 HRC
- Lock type: TJB Slide Lock
- Carry: Ambidextrous, tip-up, deep carry
- Weight: 4 oz.
Disclaimer: It’s tough for me not to geek out about the materials used in The Kline because they’re the cream of the crop. I’ll save that for a night by a fire and a cold craft beer. For now, I’ll stick to the facts.
The Kline is built off of a stainless steel frame, to which the Micarta backspacer and scales bolt. This creates a rigid structure that is lighter than I thought this “thicc boi” would be. All of the Micarta has been sanded and smoothed, but the excellent grip, characteristic of Micarta, remains.
The Magnacut steel is truly premium and does really well as a big-bellied, hollow-ground drop-point blade. I can say this after exposing The Kline to a litany of elements — moist, snowy, and cold — and using it to cut wood, meat, vegetables, and frozen rope.
Additionally, I may have dug some 9mm slugs out of a tree with it as well, but keep that between us.
Magnacut is not the kind of steel that gets skin-popping-sharp, but I can assure you that it is sharp and stays sharp longer than most of the other super steels out there. I actually fileted the top two layers of skin off my index finger and barely noticed it, and this was after a week of rough and tumble use.
I was concerned about the “slab on” construction of the stonewashed, deep-carry pocket clip. The industry standard is to cut a relief into the handle scale to nest the pocket clip, and keep it from relying only on the screws holding it in place.
But here we are, a solid week into an abundance of wear and tear in the outdoors, and the clip is tight as a tiger without any assistance from yours truly.
My first 12 hours with this knife were 12 hours out in the woods — it begs for a challenge. And it didn’t just stop there, as I was kicking off a full weekend outdoors, eating jerky and pumpkin seeds, and staying warm by a fire when I wasn’t tramping around the trails.
So my first impression wasn’t just unboxing, but also the thrill of putting it right to work. Diving right in gave me a better understanding of what The Kline could do, which was a marked turn from what I’d known TJB to be all about.
Early on, it clicked in my mind that The Kline is function-forward and easy to rely on when you need it. And it doesn’t hurt that, as you’d expect from the brand, it’s also a really good-looking knife. In all, The Kline checks off a lot of boxes I look for, visually, in an EDC.
Looking back, I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised. Knife nerds like myself like to fawn over knife steel. And why not? The steel is the most important part of the knife. It’s what sets one knife ahead of the other — even if they share every other characteristic.
Magnacut steel isn’t just some clever marketing invention that surfaced at some drawn-out board meeting — it’s actually a super steel; an amalgamation of the best attributes of stainless steel and carbon steel.
When you stonewash and sandwich that between some OD Green Micarta scales, and an equally stonewashed deep-carry clip and give it a bombproof locking mechanism, what’s not to love?
In the Field
As I said above, my first impression of The Kline was when I put it to work in the field. It was raining and cold and by the time I got to the point where I needed to start using the knife, I was miserable.
But The Kline didn’t flinch. I prepped up a bunch of kindling for a small fire, cut up a bunch of jerky, and then stirred it up in a cup of Ramen — all with The Kline.
And I did it all with gloves, which can prove hit or miss. Generally, operating a knife requires the user to take off their gloves. So with The Kline, I was initially concerned that the TJB Slide Lock would give me problems, but it didn’t at all.
Also, the blade flicks out really well — almost too well — but because there are no bearings for it to ride on, there was no blade wobble for me to complain about. Thumb studs on both sides imbue ambidextrous action as well.
Throughout the 3 days I spent in the outdoors, and the week following, there were quite a few opportunities to put The Kline away, cold and wet, and I did. There were even times when the cold and wet joined with grit and grime.
Still, I had zero reservations about running The Kline under the faucet whenever I got around to it.
I even used The Kline to help me hang Christmas lights on the house. Turns out I was a little lazy last spring when I took the lights down. But The Kline popped all those old, rusty staples out like a champ.
I can’t say there are many production knives in my collection that I would be comfortable employing for all of these varied chores. But, that’s the beauty of a true “American Made Workhorse.”
James Brand ‘The Kline’: Conclusions
As I said, TJB has become synonymous with lighter-duty knives that look nice. But The Kline is a sharp departure from that ethos; it’s built to last and begs to tackle your most challenging tasks.
Is that because it’s made in America? Maybe, to a certain extent. But with The Kline, compared to some of the other TJB knives I’ve used or tested, there is more attention to detail, and better quality control in the build. This serves as the backbone for the factory-direct “workhorse” claim.
Should you go out and spend $350 on it? I mean, that’s Benchmade money. That’s Spyderco, made-in-Colorado money. You could call up Rick Hinderer and cover most of the cost of an XM-18 with $350. So, I guess my answer would be, it depends.
You should consider investing $350 in The Kline, but only if you’re going to use the damn thing.
There are plenty of knives on the market right now to fill your pocket and Instagram stream. Don’t let The Kline be that knife to you. Let it be the knife you use and abuse, and watch it pay you back in spades.
Magnacut steel is a gift from the gods. Whatever knife uses that steel is not meant to sit in your sock drawer.