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French traditionnal knives

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by Madnumforce, Jan 21, 2008.

  1. Madnumforce


    Jan 15, 2007

    In France, there is not only whine, frog meals, and Eiffel tower postcards. There are traces of human presence since at least 15.000 before Christ, with the cave of Lascaux and it's internationaly famous prehistoric paintings. This land saw the mighty Celts, then the Roman occupation, and finally the savage germanic invaders after the fall of the Roman Empire. Untill the 1950's, more than half of the population was living in the countryside, or in small villages. We have long been a people of peasants and farmers, living from agriculture or breeding. Knives were required for most tasks of everyday life.

    When the industry began to grow, and gave the possibility for almost everybody to have a cheap and efficient pocket knife, the companies decided to reproduce the usual design of every "région". So, most of the knives they produced were certainly here long before, and every régionnal knife had his market. But some companies also made their success by improvement of ancient models (Opinel), or total innovations (Douk Douk). All this just to say that even if we have a few "archeologic" clues of the existence of the knives i will present, we can almost swear they were not invented by the companies, but reproduced from ancient and usual designs.

    In this first post, i will begin with the most famous french knives: the Opinel, the Douk-Douk, and the Laguiole.

    The Opinel:

    This simple yet efficient knife is made in the région of Savoie (near italian border) since 1890. During all of it's history, more than... 250 millions Opinels have been sold!!!
    The design is an improvement of a régionnal knife, called the "Savoie" (yes, what a frigthening imagination we have here, hu?). Joseph Opinel, founder of the company, added the security rotating collar (already seen on another knife called the Nontron, from it's town of origin), and this simple idea made this a product the incredible international success we know.

    It's main qualities are:
    + the thin, flat ground, razor sharp blade, easy to resharpen, avaiable both in carbon and stainless
    + the security ring: simple and efficient
    + the ergonomic wood handle (thought the carbon blade version have an horrible orange finish)
    + the low cost: 8EUR in France (12USD)
    + and a model for every size of hand (usual is number 8), even a very big one to serve the turkey or lamb's shoulder at the familly table

    By personnal experience, i can assert it is really razor sharp :D .

    The Douk Douk:

    This slip joint knife have been designed in 1929 by the french cutlery Cognet (precisely, Gaspard Cognet is the inventor). Basically, it had been designed to suit the need of a reliable, efficient, rustic pocket knife for the french colonies in the Indian Ocean (New-Caledonia, for exemple), this is the reason of the funny character on the handle (an indonesian divinity):[​IMG]
    But it was not a success there. At least, not as big compared to the African colonies. Even nowadays, peoples of these ex-colonies still widely use this knife. But during the Algerian Independance War, the algerian nationalists (also terrorists) called "fellagas" used it a lot against the french army and the settlers. As it was cheap, you could throw it after a murder. As it was flat, you could hide it easily. With a good hammer smash behind the axe, you could make it a fixed blade knife. It was even so widely used, the production had been stopped during the time of the war, and the selling of the knife totally prohibited in Algeria. But nowadays, this knife have found his pacific use again, and today as 70 years in the past, it still handling it's job without problem.

    Main qualities:
    + also a razor sharp edge and flat ground blade, but thicker than the opinel. Avaible also is two version (for the medium size model): stainless blade and chromed handle, or carbon blade and bronzed hanlde.
    + a very strong and reliable slip joint, you can be sure it will never collapse on your fingers till you do it deliberately
    + a simple and reliable design: the handle is made out of one steel sheet, folded in the midle to form the back of the handle where the spring takes support, one pin for the blade axe, one pin to maintain the spring and the ring to attach a cord. No useless part, just the fonctionnality.
    + relatively cheap (prices in France): 12EUR (18USD) for the carbon blade, 17EUR (25USD) for the stainless version, medium size
    + three sizes: 3, 4, 5 inches blades (notice the 5" is lot more expensive: 65EUR, about 95USD, but the handle is convex and polished)

    And now, the famous Laguiole:

    (With the corkscrew, please :p )

    With this knife, we begin to enter in the domain of the true traditionnal french pocket knife. Regrettably, the Laguiole have been copied over and over, and most of them are only crap made in asia. This traditionnal design have never been protected, and here we are now. But we still product it in France. In the town of Laguiole, of course, but also in Thiers, and many knifemakers tried it once. It have many many variations: the materials of the scales, the blade (damascus or not?), the corkscrew, the awl (don't forget it meant to be a popular knife, and the awl can be usefull for many tasks), file works, etc...

    Now, a more technical presentation. The Laguiole is normally what we call a "cran forcé" (i don't know the english translation, sorry), it means there is no true lock that maintain the blade fixed, but only a very hard point when the blade id fully open. There is a notch on the blade that ressembles to a lockback, but it's in fact a spring that goes in. You would have understand that it's a knife mounted on liners (as the Opinel and Douk were both "full handles"). The blade have what we call a "yatagan" shape (broken back and sligthly upswept point). And one last detail: on the top of the spring, near the blade, ther is what we call "la mouche" (the fly).

    I can't say much more about this knife, cause they are so many variations i can't even do a list. Just know that there are some other older and more expensive designs: a lady's leg with it's bootee (called then "bottine"), a kind of strange shape i cannot really describe called "aile de pigeon" (pigeon's wing, but don't search the wing, nor the pigeon), another looking like a twisted rope, called "corde", etc... There is also new design for more hard uses, we call "Laguiole de chasse" (hunting Laguiole), "Laguiole Nature", "Laguiole de sport", things like that (all of the previously listed are lockbacks). And for those who like to open their whine in the french way, there is also the "Laguiole sommelier", that just keep the handle shape, but have one small blade to cut the metal hood of the botle, of course a corkscrew, and a metal piece with two notchs that takes support on the neck of the bottle, making lever to have more force for extracting the cork.

    I can't give names of good manufacturers of Laguiole knives, but sure if you come in Thiers, you fond them in every cutlery store! I will also not do the "main qualities" thing, as it all depends of the maker. The only thing is that it's a traditionnal design that offers many possibilities in term of quality and preciosity. From noname stainless steel with red/green stamina scales to most famous knifemakers' damascus blade with gold engravings, forged spring and fly, file works, and mamouth scales.

    Well... i think that's enough for today.
    If you like this post, let me know, i will try to make more, about more traditionnal knives, less known in America (then more interesting for most of readers here, i suppose).
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 5, 2008
  2. Morrow

    Morrow Don't make this weird Staff Member Super Mod

    Apr 11, 2007
    This is great stuff. Thanks for posting all of this and keep it coming please.
  3. Peregrin

    Peregrin Traditional Forum Moderator Moderator

    Sep 2, 2004
    Thanks for the French knife lesson! I'd love to see more.

    I've had my eye on the French made Laguiole knives and I'm sure one day soon I'll take the plunge.
  4. DoctaD


    Apr 13, 2006
    I have a few Opinels, which are indeed handy and sharp knives. I would like to try out a few Laquioles, and I like what I see from Fontenille-Pataud. Do you have any opinions about this manufacturer? Do you recommend any other companies?

  5. bh49

    bh49 Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 27, 2005
    Thank you for education.
    Please, keep posting.
  6. Madnumforce


    Jan 15, 2007
    Ummm... personnaly, i can't judge, i don't have any experience. But i've heard that it's good quality, and it's one of the well known company here. What's for sure is that it's considerated one of the most difficult company to work in, cause they have to work fast and good. I'll try to see if i have a friend working there (certainly not, but i don't remember where everyone works), to have further informations. But if you decide to "take the plunge" (i learn new expressions here), look at the price you can have where you live, and then let me know, maybe prices are more interesting here. I can even go to the factory, it's 20 minutes from home on foot.
  7. G. Scott H.

    G. Scott H. Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 9, 2006
    Opinel is one of my all time favorite brands. I literally have a drawer full of them in various sizes (from 2 to 12), and I even have the No. 13 (the jumbo one :D). I have at least 3 or 4 of most sizes, as I love to customize them in various ways. When I carry one, it's generally either a 6 or an 8 (carbon, Inox, or Jardin).

    The Douks have me intrigued too, but I can't seem to find one with a plain blade (I don't like the etching or whatever it is on most).

    Most Laguioles I see are fairly pricey, but they do look elegant and functional.

    Many thanks, Madnumforce. :cool:
  8. Ultraman


    Oct 28, 2005
    That was a great read. Thanks for posting that, it should be a sticky so others may see this.

    I have an Opinel #8 with olive handles, and a # 8 garden knife - they're very nice pieces especially with the wood handles. :thumbup:
  9. Madnumforce


    Jan 15, 2007
    So much Opinels :eek:! Damn, you're what we can call a fan. I guess you don't have all those with original woods or horn? Ahah! Now i've put it in your mind, you will not sleep :D.
    "chêne vert" handle (green oak???)
    bubinga handle
    Horn handle

    For the Douk without etching (in fact, it's not etchings, more like a thermo paint or something like that), i can have without. I have a friend working at Cognet factory. Or even you buy one, and just some sanding paper and it's gone, as it's only superficial. But Cognet make another model without the marking on the blade, it's called "el baraka", has carbon blade and chromed handle.

    And thank you all for the comments!
  10. G. Scott H.

    G. Scott H. Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 9, 2006
    Nope, no horn or exotic woods (yet :D). Thanks for the info on the Douk markings. I think I'll have to try a couple now. :thumbup:
  11. lambertiana

    lambertiana Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    I have several Opinels, they are great. And one of these days I wouldn't mind getting a nice Laguiole.
  12. Jos


    Oct 23, 2006
    Laguioles are nice...


  13. G. Scott H.

    G. Scott H. Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 9, 2006
    Are the Laguioles just slipjoints, or do they lock somehow (hoping they are slippies)? :confused:
  14. Jos


    Oct 23, 2006
    It's your lucky day... they are slippies!
  15. G. Scott H.

    G. Scott H. Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 9, 2006
    Merci beaucoup. ;) Glad to hear it. I wasn't sure whether the "fly" was some sort of lock (like the spanish navaja) or just a decorative end to the backspring.
  16. bigbadboom


    Jan 4, 2007
    cool post!
    Opinels are great , Ive got a carbon 12 , for kitchen duty ( seems like the best knife for making a sandwhich), a 9 , (that im still breaking in) and a NO.6 inox which is just gorgeous.
    I'd love to get a douk douk or 2 but they're unheard of here in OZ. Anyone got a clue where I can score one in Australia?
  17. Gigmaster


    Aug 29, 2007
    I have a Cold Steel copy of an Opinel-type knife, called the Twistmaster. It's one of my favorite knives. Razor-sharp, easy to sharpen and solid in the hand.
  18. Gigmaster


    Aug 29, 2007
    I just bought an Opinel No. 6 on EBay for $10.00. I can't wait to see it. It is 40 years old!
  19. Dinkum


    Mar 24, 2007
    Great thread! Man those wood handles are gorgeous!
  20. Daniel Dorn

    Daniel Dorn Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 21, 1999
    Slip joint is not quite representative of the strong 'almost lock' that the Laguioles have. In Madnumforce's original post he mentions "Cran Force" with some description. It's much stronger than a regular slip joint, at least on mine. Here's my LeThiers Par Chambriard that is one of my favorites:

    It has nice filework on the top, and a beautiful stag handle. It's long and lean and shows off the craftmanship of the region, without looking too traditional.

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