One of the greatest perks of this job is I get to play with knives that are significantly higher-end than I would otherwise. I have always had a love of fine tools, with my prior experience being with hand-planes from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks or Lee Valley/Veritas. You can do plenty of nice woodworking with a well-tuned yet more pedestrian plane, but the synthesis between form and function makes using a higher end tool a joyful experience.
This is true for knives as well, and the Caleb White Penance hits this sweet spot. Any quality knife will cut well, but there are techniques and features that elevate the Penance into the next class of knives.
I do not usually start a review with the aesthetics of a knife, but I am making an exception for the Penance. That is because two of the most noticeable design elements have an underlying function.
The first feature is the Penance’s hamon line. For those unfamiliar with this Japanese blademaking technique, a hamon line is created when a coating of clay is added to the blade’s spine prior to heat treating. This keeps the spine significant;y cooler than the edge, leaving it consequently softer. Not only does this differential heat-treatment affect the knife’s performance by giving it a hard edge and some shock absorption from the spine. It also leaves behind the hamon line which looks cool and is like a fingerprint – unique to each knife.
The other design feature that sets the Penance apart is the taper of the tang. This give the blade a cigar shape from the spine-view that provides a nice symmetry with the taper of the blade portion, but also lightens the tang improving the balance of the knife. The Wilmont Wharny acheives this balance through skeletonizing the tang. The Penance does it with style.
Contrast these features with a simple stock-removal process blade where a bar is just cut and ground to shape and you can begin to understand what separates a custom forged knife from its production brethren. With the requisite increase in price of course.
Diving into the other construction features, the Penance comes with your choice of Micarta, G10, or ironwood scales. In addition to the 1095 carbon steel version I tested, the Penance is available in A2 steel though this model lacks the hamon line of the carbon blade.
While it tapers to a nice point, there is considerable support for the tip.