The Better Option for a Locking Higo no Kami Pocket Knife
The true appeal is that it’s a well-executed update of a classic Japanese design, but it holds its own just fine as a hard-use camping folder. The JT01 cuts well, has super-smooth ball bearing action, a practical cutting edge, and it carries well thanks to the pocket clip and the smooth materials.
It’s even priced well for a titanium frame lock with carbon fiber inserts (although I know some people are going to yawn at the steel choice). It gets high marks both as a folding knife and a call back to the Higo no Kami style. It can get a little tricky to work with because of the size, of course. It takes some practice and a bit more force to flip the blade out, and titanium and carbon fiber are not a winning combo if you want grippy texture. But it’s working hard as a slick EDC.
|Open System:||Front flip|
|Blade Thickness:||2 mm spine / 4 mm at thickest|
|Blade Shape:||Reverse tanto|
|Blade Grind:||Hollow (almost flat)|
|Handle Material:||Titanium w/ carbon fiber inlays|
|Made in:||Japan (probably)|
|Biting edge with good retention|
|Carries well if you have some pocket space|
|Milled pocket clip has great retention and very few hotspots|
|Good corrosion resistance and easy maintenance|
|Good price for a titanium frame lock|
|Can get pretty slippery|
|I don’t know what the hell to call this knife|
|Comes with a lot of unnecessary accessories|
|Pretty dang big for a pocket knife|
The Overambitious Packaging and Trouble with the Name
Katsu has a bad habit of sending a lot of confusing add-ons with their knives. They sent the Katsu Bamboo folder (which is basically the cheaper iteration of this knife) with a cloth bag and a nylon belt pouch, neither of which have seen any use because the knife has a pocket clip, and it doesn’t really fit in the belt pouch that well. One of Katsu’s more recent folder releases comes with a waterproof case, which at least seems to fit the knife, but begs the question of who is actually going through the trouble of putting their folding pocket knife into a latching case rather than in their pocket.
This JT01 frame lock came with a cloth bag and a hanging leather sheath. It looks nice and impressive, but the sheath has a bit too much grip to make the knife a convenient EDC, and carrying a pocket knife in a hanging sheath in general just feels kinda dumb.
I’d rather they spent a little more time naming their knives than stuffing random objects into the packages, because I’m not sure what the actual name of this thing is. I’ve been calling it “the good Higo no Kami design that Katsu makes”. The specific designation is JT01 with “JT” meaning “Japanese Traditional”. I guess that’s good enough to distinguish this from other models (like the JT02 drop point variant), but they always fill its listing title with so many other adjectives that most people can’t seem to discern any easy, memorable name. In this review I switch between calling it the JT01 and the camping folder since its Amazon listing seems to insist that’s one the major functions.
Katsu has been a weird company for a while, though. Their website isn’t exactly a wealth of information, and it’s hard to find anything on who their OEM is. But they do insist that the knives are Japanese made, and the materials support that. As far as manufacturing goes, the JT01 certainly suggests a high level of competency. The company seems to be in the middle of a makeover, though, redesigning their site and coming out with a new knife with a designer name attached to it, so hopefully I’ll be updating this section soon.
The Blade: Thicker Than It Looks, but It Still Has a Mean Edge
This knife has some impressive geometry going on. The spine of the blade is about 2 millimeters, but that’s a deceptive number because of the swedge-like grind work. At its thickest, the blade is closer to 4 millimeters thick, which is pretty big for a folder, especially when the blade is only about 2 inches tall.
This still has a smooth, biting cut, though. The length combined with the slight curve of the edge adds a lot of slicing ability, especially for getting through tough materials or making long cuts. I did notice a little more drag when I pushed through cardboard thanks to that spike in thickness just below the spine, but considering this is VG-10 steel on an otherwise built-for-abuse knife, I appreciate the robust edge geometry.
Overcoming the VG-10 Bias
That brings up one of the more suspect aspects of this knife (if you’re a steel snob). These days VG-10 isn’t held in very high regard, and even though companies like Fallkniven have happily been using the stuff for many years, I think it’s gained a reputation for being a low-end, chippy steel. But this kind of thing usually comes down to heat treat and blade geometry, and it seems like Katsu has handled both of those things well here. The grind is thin, but it’s close to being flat, and based on my experience so far, they have the heat treatment dialed in.
The retention is great. I did about 30 cuts on some moderately hard (albeit thin) rope and didn’t notice a change on paper tests. It felt marginally more rough around the 35-cut mark. Then I took it to a pile of cardboard to see if I could get the edge to fold, but even after breaking down a few boxes that edge kept up a good, clean cut on paper.
So at this point I think I just need to admit that Katsu knows what they’re doing with VG-10.
I still see this blade as having a moderate risk of chipping, but its tolerance seems to be good enough for a reasonable degree of hard work. It can tough materials like rope and rubber, and I’d feel comfortable taking this out into the yard or on a camping trip for a few days.
A Big, Smooth Handle with Nice Ergonomics
For a handle made almost entirely of metal, the JT01 is about as comfortable as I could have hoped. The milling is great on it. They’ve done some really nice chamfering work in all the right areas so there’s really no way to hold this knife that puts your hand on a hard angle.
My only complaint about it is there’s not much in the way of texture, so the knife feels slippery all the time. That’s just the nature of titanium and carbon fiber handles, though. It’s one of the reasons we don’t review knives like this often (that and titanium and carbon fiber knives are usually crazy expensive, and we have alcohol addictions to feed). But slipperiness is less of a problem than usual here because the handle is so big. There’s a lot more material to grip onto, and they’ve done a few clever things like milling a choil near the butt and texturing the tang to help a clumsy hand out.
That size can be a problem for me in the pocket, at times. I pretty much always feel this when I’m walking around, but it stays mostly comfortable within a normal range of day-to-day motions with maybe a small exception for the flipper tab.
Front Flipper Action and the Vestige of a Friction Folder Design
Katsu did a good job of reigning in the size of the tang / flipper tab on this knife.
On the Katsu Bamboo this part was so long and uncomfortable, it made the knife unwieldy even when it was closed. Here, though, they found a good size and shape that mostly stays out of the way and still provides a lot of good grip and texture that allows for easy opening. And when fully open, that tab actually provides a nice textured spot for the thumb to nestle in when you’re cutting. Which is good because otherwise there wouldn’t be any texturing on this all-titanium knife to grip onto. It’s a great example of turning a problem area into a solution for another problem.
I have noticed the flipper tab poking at my leg a couple times, but it’s only when I’m in a deep crouch or lunge. Basically the kinds of movements I only make myself lurch into when I’m climbing up something, hiking a steep slope, or pretending to tie my shoe on the street in order to avoid eye contact with someone I know.
A Firm Clip with One Hotspot
I was thrown off by all the shaping of this pocket clip at first. I thought it was just over-stylized, and was even worried that the corners of it would aggravate my palm during heavy use, but I don’t really feel any hotspots from this at all.
It turns out all that crazy milling work actually follows the wrinkly contours of the inside of my closed hand pretty well. The only problem area is the very tip of the clip where it feels like it sweeps upward just the tiniest bit. It doesn’t look like a lot to the naked eye, but I do feel that spot poking at me every now and then.
Taking in the handle as a whole, I think that one hotspot is forgivable. They probably could have done some extra grinding work and gotten that last bit to feel a little more agreeable, but the clip has great retention without being too difficult to slip into the pocket. So long as it’s doing that I can put up with a bit of hand poking. Frankly, I’m not expecting everything to be that perfect on a knife in this price range, especially one with this much steel on it.
The Bear Sized Option among Higo no Kami Knives
The JT01 is really interesting as a continuation of the Higo no Kami design. In a long line of knives that have been adapted from that original design, it stands out as the most carriable of any that I’ve used.
The original is, for me at least, more of a show piece than anything. It can get the job done, but it’s uncomfortable to hold and the copper needs to be hammered a little to get the action anywhere close to smooth.
The Ohta Knives FK5 is probably the best looking iteration I’ve seen, and the smaller size definitely makes it more carriable, but it also limits its usability. While I love my FK5, I don’t carry it that much. I’ll put it in my third pocket for weddings or other events where people prioritize tight-necked fashion over function, but most of the time it’s my desk jockey.
The Katsu Bamboo was very nearly the Higo no Kami evolution that pushed the design seamlessly into the EDC world, but it just… isn’t very good. The blade is nice. Katsu still knows their edge geometry, and the D2 steel handles itself well, but that knife is just uncomfortable. It wreaks havoc on the pocket and the hand, and makes itself all around too caustic to carry when I have so many other knives in the same size and price range that work and feel better.
But this Higo no Kami camping folder is a different story. It’s comfortable, it has a nice pocket clip and a mean blade. Everything on this works well, feels good, and looks nice if you’re into the all-steel aesthetic. It’s the most productive Higo no Kami-inspired design since Ohta Knives started gracing the world with their smooth wood handles.
Very shortly after I originally wrote this review, Boker came out with their own frame lock Higo no Kami-inspired design that looks really cool. I’m itching to get my hands on that and compare it to this, but that probably won’t be for a while. I’ll update this review when it happens.
My only real issue with the JT01 is the size of it. At nine inches open and five inches closed, it just doesn’t fit very well into my day to day life as a folder. While that’s a personal thing, I think it’s probably a personal issue for a lot of stocky people walking around at about 5’ 6”. This is just a big knife. It’s a good knife, though, so if you’ve got the pocket space, I’d say this knife is more than worth it.
Past that, this is not only a good camping knife, it’s an interesting knife that continues a nice little piece of Japanese history at a pretty reasonable price considering the materials and level of attention that have gone into the manufacturing. I have bought worse knives for fewer reasons. It’s well worth a look from both collectors of Higo no Kami knives and people in the market for large, tough folders that are a little different.