(Thanks to Barry Rowland for the title)
So everyone knows Opinel - right?
Those feisty, slightly quirky French folders with a wooden handle and rotating locking ring on the bolster.
And while Opinel have been around for 130-odd years, and churn out 15 million knives a years, there’s a smaller Italian knife maker called Antonini that’s been around since 1925 and make about 300 thousand blades a year.
All Antonini knives are assembled, finished and sharpened by hand and they offer a lifetime warranty. Their ‘equivalent’ to the Opinel is the ‘Old Bear’ and like the Opinel, features a wooden handle, rotating ring locking system and clip point blade.
A casual glance would leave you believing the Old Bear is an Opinel, but then you notice the lock is different and the bolster is brass.
I only have a carbon steel N08 to compare to the Old Bear, the model I picked up being their smallest ‘Classical’ model with a 2.75” blade and walnut handle.
For looks, the Old Bear has a little more shape to the handle compared to the N08. A bit more rounded at the back making it a little more comfortable in the hand.
The locking ring runs on the inside of the collar, as opposed to the Opinel where it runs around the outside. The Old Bear bolster is brass and looks more solid than the Opinel, but both knives lock up solid and I’m sure they’re both up to the task. One advantage is that you can lock/unlock the Old Bear with the thumb one-handed. Not as easy with the Opinel.
Overall, the Old Bear’s finish is not quite up to the Opinel, most likely due to the Italian being hand assembled and finished. The blades are almost identical clip-point designs, the Old Bear just 420 stainless while Opinel use higher-quality Sandvik 12C27MOD (my sample has carbon steel). Sharpness is acceptable, but could be better out the box.
Overall, the Old Bear looks nicer than the Opinel, especially the smart brass bolster. The Opinel is a bit more ‘polished’ but lacks a little of the character of the little Italian.
If you like Opinel, you’ll also like the Old Bear knives. I can see myself getting a couple more...