Ivan Campos is a Brazilian custom knife maker dedicated to making "robust and affordable" knives since 1993. According to his website, his main inspiration is his late mentor Mr. Bíde. an old school, blade forging tool smith from whom Campos, a former real estate agent, learned his craft.
I purchased this knife used and had little knowledge of Ivan Campos - and knew very little about friction folders in general. I was getting tired of the same old standard folder brands, and this one caught my eye, looking all minimalist and imperfect.
I was looking for a low-key gentleman's knife to carry discretely - the type of cutting instrument that would receive approving nods in a Brooklyn ale house as you are cleaning out your pipe with it.
I am normally not a fan of damascus blades - it is to me the equivalent of walnut burl; ugly and overcomplicated patterns when simplicity and cleanliness will do. However, in this case I loved the illustration-like quality of the pattern - almost as if it had been applied with pen and ink.
Being my first friction folder, I needed a bit of time to get used to the inherent dangers in this type of tool - no locking mechanism other that what your grip and the we bit of friction between steel and G10 can provide.
A QUICK CHAT WITH IVAN
Being a very agreeable gentleman, Ivan took some time out from his steel wrestling to answer a few questions from PIVOT.
Which knife do you wish you had designed? Pick any one in the whole wide world!
A machete! Because if I had gotten US$ 10.00 on royalties for each one sold around the world I probably would be among the top ten wealthiest man in the world.
What was your inspiration for your friction folders?
I always liked the clean, ultra-simple design of the Japanese higonokami. One day I just went and made my version of it.
What was the biggest pain in the ass while making this knife?
After I got used to making them, nothing really bothers me at doing friction folders now.
What was the biggest joy of making this knife?
Like every knife I finish, it is great to take a long look at it at the end of the day and see something else I made from scratch ready to go to someone else´s hands and make him/her happy.
What do you wish you could change in this knife?
It would look better with a wood handle. By the way. I don´t work with g-10 anymore.
Which is your own favorite knife?
I have a maple handled 10” chef´s knife that was a prototype and it is a great companion in the kitchen. At the shop, I have been using a simple liner lock folder with replaceable blades (Superknife) and considering the type of hard use it sees having replaceable blades makes it really handy as I destroy them quite often.
What makes a perfect folding knife in your opinion?
It has to be able to be discreetly carried and it has to be totally safe - a friction folder is quite safe as you know what to expect from its mechanism while a defective liner lock may very well chop its users fingers.
The simplicity of the design is hugely appealing to me. No overly complex design flourished, incredibly clean and minimal. This means no pocket clip, no locks, no liners, no lanyard hole. The green G10 makes it look a little less-than high end - Campos also offers handles in several exotic woods such as inbuia and peroba rosa, though I'd probably opt for simple walnut or olive wood.
The chisel-ground tanto blade shape with the damascus detailing is almost a little too, uhm, elaborate for my taste, but there is just a certain honesty to the way the knife presents itself - and the non-chisel side is extra minimalist looking. The wear on the blade and small imperfections in the grind makes for a charming little fella.
You can probably get a sense for the feel of this knife by just looking at the shape of the scales. Two smooth and straight slabs of G10 gives you just enough handle to grab for a medium-sized hand. Use over longer periods is straining as you constantly have to watch out for not accidentally collapsing the blade on yourself. It is not a tool for prolonged, rugged work - rather a nice little gentlemanly apple slicer.
FIT & FINISH
Quality-wise, the finish of the G10 and the minimal assembly of the knife is very nice. However, due to the nature of friction folders, closing the knife, blade scraping against the G10, makes it feel a little unfinished.
At the end of the day the way this piece is put together is pretty much in line with Campos' ethos of making a "simple and functional knife that makes its user and me happy".
I am a bit torn here, as I believe that this knife can take a fair share of abuse, if that abuse comes from a gentlemanly type with soft hands such as myself. This knife begs to be used and is so simple in construction that it could withstand some roughing up. However, I am normally a bigger fan of titanium or aluminum liners to stiffen the the scales, though I am not sure if that would make sense in a friction folder. Since this is not a locking blade, it seems reasonable to assume that it would be hard to perform tasks rough enough to wreck it.
The knife will cut your balls off (except if you are a female, in which case it might not) one day if you don't keep it folded in a small pouch - it simply is a matter of time before the protruding flipper accidentally opens the knife in your pocket. This means an extra step in order to use it. However, the knife is incredibly light and perfectly sized for ultra discrete carry, unless your carry pouch is a bulky, padded velcro contraption. A simple leather pouch would do.
This folder feels to me like an old time piece handed down from generations. It has a bit of that mystery juice to it. It feels good in the hand, open and closed. But the opening action it is a bit of a let-down. No locking KA-LACK sound, no flipping. You'd be lucky to open it using one hand - and as you open it you'll hear the jarring sound of steel scraping against G10.
All in all, this knife has pant-load of personality, it reeks of old world charm. It is a very civilized gentleman's carry item, though the blade shape is a tad bit on the aggressive side. The overall quality I'd rate in the mid-range, it is very much a user, it is not meant to be a high-end collectors item. This is one aspect I love about this folder.
It is small enough that it does not seem threatening, even if, to the uninitiated, it might resemble a straight razor. I would definitely try to get my hands on a few other of Campos' knives, but I'd go for wooden scales. Ivan's prices are certainly agreeable and his whole philosophy behind his work, to make no-bullshit knives for real life use, is commendable. The main thing this knife has going for it is personality. It is a quirky little gem - it has that rare quality of seeming simple and inexpensive, yet rare and precious.