Over the last dozen or so years, flipper knives have become all the rage. I resisted the temptation for about a year. But when I finally came around, it was hard to stay away from the magnified ease of use a flipper provides for a folding knife.
Since then, I’ve gone back to accepting thumb-stud and thumb-hole opening knives, as well as embracing button lock knives that can just be flicked open. But my admiration for a flipper has never waned. Being that it’s become more commonplace, and not the focus of the knife industry, I get a little tingly when someone brings a desirable flipper to market.
The James Brand, known for mixing business with pleasure and releasing knives that are as beautiful as they are functional, has just launched its first flipper, The Wells. Named after the Wells projectile points found in Cherokee County, Texas, The Wells looks like the kind of knife Teddy Roosevelt may have carried. Teddy was forever balancing his life between being a rifle-toting naturalist and the president of our country, and The Wells looks and acts the part for that kind of lifestyle.
In short: The James Brand the Wells is an effective display of what happens when form and function get together and work out right. The Wells is a clean knife made from raw aluminum and stainless steel, and it rocks a MagnaCut steel Wharncliffe blade. It also has a button lock, which promises that the knife will never fail you. But that button lock can prove to be a little tricky. We’ll talk about that later.
I spent a month with The Wells. Though my life is far from as complicated as Teddy Roosevelt’s was, he’s still an inspiration and, not for nothing — so is The Wells.
- OAL 7.17”
- Blade length 2.95”
- Blade steel MagnaCut
- Blade shape Wharncliffe
- Grind Flat
- Hardness 63 HRC
- Lock type Button
- Carry Right hand, tip-up
- Weight 3.3 oz.
- Price $425
- MagnaCut Steel
- Raw aluminum scales
- Wharncliffe-style blade
- The way it fits in your hand….mmm.
- The button lock needs to be addressed
- The price is a little high
Review: The James Brand’s The Wells
Design and Features
Available with either raw aluminum scales and stonewashed MagnaCut ($425), or matte black aluminum scales with black coated MagnaCut ($439), The Wells is a fine example of what a premium knife from a boutique knife company should be. And you’ll pay for it, too.
I like to focus my efforts on uncoated blades, especially when the blade steel is as stainless and abrasion-resistant as MagnaCut is claimed to be. That said, I tested the raw aluminum variant — but otherwise, both knives are made the same.
The Wells features a standard, 420 stainless pocket clip designed for tip-up, right-hand carry. It also has a stainless steel ball bearing race, which amplifies the fast and smooth opening of the blade. Additionally, The Wells also features a button lock, which is a sure bet that this knife will never fold in on you under duress. It also can be used as an alternative to the flipper mechanism.
My favorite part of The Wells, however, is the Wharncliffe-style blade. Though it’s one of my favorite blade shapes, I don’t get the chance to test out a ton of Wharncliffe blade EDC knives. This is due in part to the fact that the Wharncliffe blade isn’t as universally useful as the ubiquitous drop point blade, or even a sheepsfoot blade.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a highly functional blade shape. Far from it, in fact. You get a nice flat, sharp edge, and generally a high grind with a Wharncliffe blade.
The Wells is another overbuilt knife from The James Brand, and that’s not a knock — that’s a compliment. It’s light and smooth, and the blade fires open with both the flipper and the button lock.
But there’s a bit of a struggle with the button. It’s shallow and therefore tough to push down. I would venture to bet that it would be nearly impossible to activate with gloves on.
Though I don’t think this is a deal breaker for someone looking for a knife they could probably carry for the rest of their lives, it’s hard for me to ignore. But, I will say that I am coming from that more from a fidget factor and not so much a function factor.
Either way, The Wells fits nicely into your hand and could be held in a variety of ways depending on what you’re doing with it. Some people pooh-pooh Wharncliffe blades for their lack of a defined tip. What those naysayers fail to see is that if you change up your grip, you could bore a hole in the skull of a squirrel and turn it into a necklace, with ease.
I realize that might be a little over the top, but I want to stress the fact that a Wharncliffe blade could be just as effective as a drop point or clip point style blade. You just gotta want it!
I also wanted to mention that I love how TJB marks its blades. With The Wells, you get “USA Made” followed by the steel and date code. It’s these little attentions to detail that go a long way.
In the Field
I didn’t want the button lock to be a problem, but it was pretty obvious out on the trail. Does this impact how The Wells works as a knife? Not at all. In fact, the amount of different things I was able to do with this knife totally puts it in my top 5 for 2023. But for $425, I would expect something like that to have been ironed out in pre-production.
It also makes it so you can’t have a glove on your hand to depress the lock and refold the knife. It works. Yes, it totally works, but you need to slow down, take a pause, and get your thumb or finger in there just right.
That said, I did a lot of craftwork with The Wells. I had to cut out a bunch of different things for my kids for projects at school. Slicing through construction paper was a breeze. Timing hit right, I was doing some work around the house, and I was able to slice and peel some stubborn wallpaper with ease, with it.
Wharncliffe blades work like utility blades. But with MagnaCut, the edge lasts longer than a simple Stanley razor blade from Home Depot. A lot longer.
I also use it to slice and prepare some food around the fire. I know I use this as an example in a lot of my reviews. But, we all have to eat and — unless it’s a Peanut Butter ProBar — I like to eat tasty stuff when I am on the trail, at camp, or just camping in a lean-to.
If I was ever asked to give my advice about what you should never skimp on out there, my answer would almost always be a good meal. So, a good knife is important.
Aluminum scales can be a little tricky when your hands are wet. But the raw aluminum on The Wells provided a strong grip through and through. The overall shape, being that it’s more rounded than anything, also aided in the maneuverability of the knife.
One thing I had a ton of fun doing out by the fire one night, maybe a little too into the jazz cabbage and listening to John Prine, was shaving down kindling to make little tinder nests to carry on with me. As the nights are getting colder, fire is getting more and more important, so having a dump pouch with some fresh material is important.
The Wells is one of those knives that everyone is going to fall in love with, but complain about when they see that it’s $425. But, that’s just how the knife world is today. Until The James Brand goes wicked corporate and triples its production, expect to pay a premium price for one of its premium knives.
I loved the Wharncliffe blade and love that it’s made out of MagnaCut. I’ll say it here and now: I think MagnaCut is the best EDC steel on the market today. I don’t think it is the best steel, but with regard to ease of use, ease of care, and what you can expect from it, it’s a damn dandy.
Does it keep the best edge? No. But it’s wicked easy to sharpen. Can it corrode? Yes. But it beats out a bunch of other popular steels in terms of how much it takes to get it to corrode. So, wipe it down before you put it away and you’ll be just fine.
But, for everything The Wells is, the button lock could use improvement. With bare hands, it’s tough to press it down without stopping and focusing on it. With gloved hands, it’s nearly impossible.
In a world where EDC knives are designed to be efficient and one-handed, The Wells misses the check box, but just for the lock. If you want to have a lot of fun with a good-looking knife that will last forever, maybe you can look past this issue.