I will have to admit before I start this review that this knife has been my Case Cutlery grail for the past couple of years. The Case Sway Back Gent comes dressed in what I think are some of the prettiest scales around. The particular model I chose, the “pocket worn old red bone” version, I’ve gotta say Case really nailed aesthetically speaking. It’s hard not to appreciate the charm of this little knife, which is why it’s been on my wishlist for so long.
When I think of the perfect gentleman knife, the Sway Back is exactly what I picture. Its diminutive size, and clean, refined styling make it one of my favourite traditional knives, if judged purely on aesthetic appeal. The branding on the Case Sway Back is discreet, with its nickel inlaid shield and the cursive typography of the Case logo stamped in neatly.
Old world charm, as its name appropriately brags, is exactly what the Sway Back has in spades. I can definitely see why some people collect traditional knives to the exclusion of everything else.
Thankfully for the Case Sway Back, the 3.5 cm (2.75 inch) Wharncliffe blade is more than capable for everyday carry tasks. Case offers the Sway Back Gent in its “Tru-Sharp” stainless steel only. If your a stickler for keeping your traditional knives with carbon steel blades then you will have to get the Swayback Jack instead. I personally don’t care very much about sticking to carbon steel; Tru-Sharp stainless steel is akin to Buck’s 420HC, used in the Buck 110, and in my opinion it suffices quite well for everyday tasks, as well as having the added bonus of its stain resistance being pretty damn high.
The blade stock thickness of the Case Sway Back Gent is around 2 mm (0.79 inches). It is tapered, but in my opinion, is not a true needle like the point on the Kershaw Leek.
Realistically, I feel like knife companies often have to compromise between super slicers and overbuilt beater knives. With the Sway Back, Case chose follow the middle of the road, leaning just slightly towards being a slicer – and that’s just fine by me. The tip is acute enough to penetrate adequately for all EDC tasks, and isn’t so anemic that it will snap off.
The dyed red bone scales and nickel bolsters are sandwiched in between two slabs of brass with fully pinned construction. This is a traditional method of constructing slip joints, and aesthetically I find the contrast in materials quite pleasing. You should be aware that through regular use, the brass liners will tarnish, and as such the nickel elements and stainless steel blade will clash in due time. Personally I think it enhances the look of the Sway Back, but I know some always want their knives to look brand new, so be forewarned.
Case went with a full flat ground blade, as is the case with most of Case’s knife offerings. The edge geometry is not particularly acute, and much like the tip, I think Case aims to provide a good balance between cutting performance and edge durability. Out of curiosity, I did pry out some staples with the tip (which, mind you, I do not recommend doing with just any knife), and there was zero damage of any kind, so take that for what it’s worth.
In terms of edge retention, I wouldn’t expect super steel levels of cutting performance. If you know how to strop/maintain your edge, I think it will be perfectly acceptable. That being said, this would in no way be my first recommendation for someone who worked cutting abrasive material every day.
To reiterate, whilst I would love to see a CPM 154CM version of the Case Sway Back Gent, I have to acknowledge that Case made some sacrifices in terms of edge performance to focus on aesthetic appeal. And let’s be realistic: at $65 who can blame them? For its intended purpose and price point, I think they did a damn good job.
The walk and talk along with general fit and finish is superb. I currently have a total of three Case knives, and this is by far the best one; and I’m not just saying that because this was my grail. Zero blade play with fantastic snap at both 90 degrees and fully deployed; the scales are fully flush and no cracks or give can be felt or seen.
As may be evident by now, the Case Sway Back Gent does not feature a lock, and should the blade fold during use, you will most likely get a pretty nasty bite. The solution is to not allow the blade to fold by performing tasks suitable for its intended purpose. Do not stab, gauge or pry, and please always be aware of where the pressure is coming from when cutting. There is no reason why a slip joint would be unsafe as long as the wielder/user has a good understanding of knife techniques and appreciates the inherent limitations of non-locking folding knives.
Ergonomics with a slip joint as visually distinctive as the Case Sway Back is always going to be interesting. Is it the most ergonomic handle? Not really no. Does it need to be? For its intended purpose – I don’t think so. The handles are as thin as its size would suggest, and the inward curve doesn’t do your palm any favours, but after EDC-ing the Swayback for few solid weeks, I can’t say it was ever uncomfortable. I don’t view the Case Sway Back Gent as a performance workhorse, and as such it’s unreasonable to hold it against the standards of the Buck 110 or even the Spyderco Delica, which is substantially larger and heavier than the Case Sway Back Gent.
Saber grip is adequate as long as you understand that continued use with linear pressure may prove to be uncomfortable. By continuous use, I mean 1hr+ of slicing in the same direction; something you probably won’t be doing with the Sway Back Gent anyway. Since the Sway Back probably isn’t going to be used in such a way, I don’t view this as an inherent problem.
Interestingly, I found the ergonomics of the Case Sway Back Gent are actually better suited with an edge up grip. If you’re going to be cutting cordage, this would be an excellent choice.
Extending my grip for horticulture, as well as other tasks that may require reach, is much like a traditional saber grip with the Sway Back: not ideal, but also not inherently uncomfortable either.
At 13.97 cm (5.5 inches) long, weighing in at 1.8 ounces (0.11 pounds), I feel like Case achieved a uniquely well proportioned knife when it comes to the Sway Back Gent. Its organic lines and aesthetic flourishes, like the bolsters and brass pins, bring this knife together more naturally than any Spyderco or modern folding knife can brag.
Before I get on with the conclusion, it bares mentioning Case Cutlery’s unique place in history. Case to this day makes all their knives in the United States, just as they did in 1905. With the same attention and care governing every step of production, they’re one of the few traditional knife companies that remained fully US and for the most part exactly the same for years.
When you handle the Case Sway Back Gent, and really any Case knife at all, you are reminded at every turn that the final machining and finishing was performed by a human being with hands, and not stepper motors. As such, it’s natural to find certain symmetrical imbalances in your Case knives – but you shouldn’t expect absolute mechanical perfection from a $65 knife with hand assembly and finishing. Instead, what you should be expecting is a level of handmade charm that just can’t be replicated by machines.
Much like the Buck 110, I love this knife for both aesthetic and historical considerations.
Every year new knives get released, and most of them just happen to chase the latest trends in the knife industry. Yes, the shaping of the bone and the final buffing on Case Knives is not 100% identical on both sides, but do I care? Nope. Nor do I think I should. It’s an incredibly affordable knife that’s been hand finished. The unevenness, to me, does nothing to take away from the knife’s appeal and charm.
Put away those calipers and just check out the Case Sway Back Gent‘s undeniably good looks. Appreciate it for what it is: a great American-made and hand finished gentleman’s everyday carry from a company that’s remained almost completely unchanged for over a century. The Case Sway Back transcends its place in time by being appealing through unapologetic tradition. No super steels or space age materials here, and frankly I don’t care.