Traditional Knives Take a Surreal Turn

Longtime knife maker Bob Neal’s surreal, curved traditional knives are quickly getting the attention of knife makers and collectors. These blades take traditional folding knife patterns and incorporate a continuous, arcing curve.

One of these unusual pieces caught the eye of Elijah Isham, known himself for a dramatic, technical style. “What initially attracted me to his work was that it represented the purest form of surrealism in knife design I’d ever seen,” he tells us. “It’s just a normal traditional slipjoint but bent in the weirdest way possible.”

Mechanically, Neal’s curved traditional works just like its straightened-out cousins. A nail nick deploys the blade, which is held open with a non-locking backspring. Isham’s particular example sports D2 steel, brass liners, deer antler covers, and stainless steel bolsters. “Basically your standard construction,” he notes. Traditional knives typically earn high marks in raw slicing performance, and according to Isham, the Neal knife doesn’t disappoint in this regard. “It works just like any other slipjoint, which is very surprising given the extreme curve,” he explains. “It cuts really well too, although whatever you’re cutting will have a curved cut in it, so it’s by no means practical.”

But the curve does serve a practical purpose on the knife maker’s end. To get horn, which naturally curves, to fit properly on liners, makers either need to machine them down (losing the natural look), or deal with the visual issues of curved covers. A lot of time these pieces of curved antler are just thrown away. “Bob did tell me he made it because he wanted to use the curved antler that would normally be wasted,” Isham says. “He also said he made it because he could, it didn’t have a specific purpose or function, he just wanted to see if it was possible. Which I think is awesome.”

Bob Neal Traditional

Isham tells us that the traditional style means a lot to him, even if his own style often seems light years away from it. But creative knives like the Neal curved traditional have inspired some forthcoming projects. “I do have an interest in the old world style of knives,” Isham says. He’s currently working on a modern slipjoint called the Blackstar, and others may follow. “I plan on exploring it more and trying to mesh the old with the new in more designs moving forward.”

Monticello, Kentucky-based Bob Neal keeps no books and, according to Isham, makes whatever he feels like when he steps into the workshop each day. Prices for his curved traditionals start at $250.

Knife featured in image: Bob Neal Curved Traditional