Review: Taking a stab at the Gerber Paraframe I
Does this deserve the Gerber's title of "#1 seller"?
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Many people looking to start engaging in the EDC lifestyle are looking for something tough, simple, and reliable. Something that can handle more than a few bumps and bruises without breaking a sweat. Something that can handle virtually any job they throw at it. Something they can easily replace if they break or lose it. Something that won’t cost them an arm and a leg to get into the game.
Ask me what my first pocket knife was, and I’ll tell you all about the little single-blade Old Timer I got for my eighth birthday. Ask me about my first “real” EDC blade, and I’ll tell you about my Gerber Paraframe instead. I’ve carried my Gerber for many years and in many settings, and only fairly recently stopped carrying it every day. It’s a common, affordable blade, and it gets plenty of jobs done. Is it ubiquitous? No. Is it popular? Most certainly. In fact, if you were to poll the average American knife owner under the age of 35, I’d imagine a good percentage of them would name the Paraframe as their first “real” EDC blade. There’s a reason Gerber touts is as a “#1 seller.”
Editor’s note: the Gerber Paraframe I also made Task & Purpose’s list of the best pocket knives of the year.
At a little over $25 a pop, this Gerber Paraframe I provides the everyman with an inexpensive EDC blade that provides both decent quality and minimal weight. Price and value both contribute to the Paraframe’s popularity, but it has a few other things it has going for it as well. Should you buy one? Let’s find out.
Despite owning the original Gerber Paraframe for a good part of the last decade, I received a new Paraframe I (same knife, “new” name) after filing a warranty claim for my original knife, the details of which we’ll get into in the ‘saved rounds’ section of this review.
When I received my new Paraframe I in the mail, I found a simple, good-looking paperboard package. The dark gray paperboard sported orange and white accents on both front and back and sandwich a sheet of clear molded plastic which nicely displayed the knife and the shipping tip sheath. The front had limited verbal clutter, and the back was occupied primarily by a white outline illustration of the knife with some small bit printed at the top and bottom.
What stood out most to me, however, was the content of the marketing material. The 9.5 by 5.5-inch paperboard may have had limited print, but a good portion of it felt like hype intended to convince the consumer that they are buying a product that doesn’t actually exist. For example, on the front in bold orange font was the phrase “#1 Selling” with the less obvious (though technically visible) white words “…clip folding knife sold by Gerber”, and the phrase “limited lifetime warranty” received a similar treatment. Flipping the package over, I encountered a similar approach with the bold orange phrase “Designed and engineered in Oregon” and the more subtle phrase “Made in China” printed in white letters directly below Gerber’s address as if it were part of the address itself. Also, the terms of the limited lifetime warranty are tucked directly below the “Caution” box printed on the back. The warranty terms were enclosed inside a box attached directly to the bottom of the warning box, giving the impression that it was simply an extension of the warning. While such marketing ploys are common, they often signal that a company’s greatest commitment is to its own bottom line. Bad show, Gerber. Bad show.
Once I discarded the paperboard snow job, I was rewarded with handling the Paraframe I itself. Though I’ve owned the original Paraframe for many years, I was rewarded with the “brand new experience” for the Paraframe I. The Paraframe/Paraframe I came with a nice, minimalist aesthetic with a gray skeletonized frame that does surprisingly well in protecting the blade. The open design and stainless steel construction provide a lightweight yet durable tool with a sturdy frame lock and a subtly textured surface that smooths out with time. Overall, the Paraframe has a good fit and finish, although my new knife came with a burr at the butt end of the frame. Minor but noticeable. Both knives are easy to open, although the action was slightly stiff on the new knife.
The new Paraframe features a 3.01-inch high carbon stainless steel blade with gray titanium nitride finish, and the stainless steel frame is finished to match. The drop point blade includes a partially-serrated edge, and when open, gives the knife an overall length of 7.01 inches. This knife comes with a pocket clip that, sadly, is non-adjustable. That said, the entire unit weighs a mere 2.8 ounces, and boasts a sleek, pocket-friendly design.
How we tested the Gerber Paraframe I
I have owned my original Paraframe for many years, but one advantage to receiving a replacement knife from Gerber was the opportunity to do a paper test on the blade straight out of the box. As with every blade I test, I compare it to my Buck 110 and its slightly-better-than-factory edge. Out of the package, the new Paraframe performed quite well, especially for a low-cost blade. While just short of matching my 110, I would certainly say the Gerber’s edge is comparable to a factory edge on your average Buck knife.
Of course, no EDC knife is worth the money if it can’t handle EDC chores, and boy, has my old Paraframe seen some use. Realistically, the Paraframe knife series was never designed to handle heavy-duty jobs, and I have never used my Gerber as a hunting blade, a pry bar, or anything else equally demanding. Instead, I’ve used it for more mundane tasks, such as opening boxes and letters, slicing through cardboard, and occasionally whittling, slicing, and otherwise “adjusting” sticks, branches, ropes, and other odds and ends.
Many people tend to throw away their old, inexpensive knives, often because they lack the patience or the know-how (or both!) to sharpen their dull blades. Ironically, cheap knives tend to be easy to sharpen, thanks to their construction with relatively soft stainless steels. Thankfully, the Paraframe series falls into this category, making them very easy to sharpen. I’ve taken my trusty Smith’s DRET to the Gerber’s blade more than once. Each time, it takes an edge with relative ease and little consumption of my patience reserves. Plus, thanks to its wallet-friendly price tag, it makes for a good, usable practice blade for learning how to sharpen a knife.
What we like about the Gerber Paraframe I
In my book, the Gerber Paraframe I has a good handful of features going for it. First and foremost, it provides consumers with a good value, especially for a starter or beater knife. I love how lightweight the knife is for its size, and the use of a stainless steel frame instead of an aluminum one is another win in my book. By nature of the knife’s design, aluminum construction would have done little to save on weight, while stainless steel is both a stronger and a cheaper material. The Paraframe is also well built, and the fit and finish are very good for a sub-$30 knife.
The blade itself comes with its own perks despite its low build cost. I love that it comes with such a good edge from the factory (note that I didn’t say “excellent”) which makes it very usable straight out of the box without turning into a hazard in the hands of a wide-eyed 15-year-old. I also like the versatility of the combination blade’s serrated and straight portions. It offers the maximum number of options for handling common chores for the average EDCer. The knife also includes a firm retention system that holds up over time. My original Paraframe has maintained strong retention over the years, so I’ve never had to worry about the blade falling open ever.
Lastly, I love the knife’s single-handed operation. Straight out of the package, the Paraframe I has a smooth action that isn’t too stiff, making it easy to deploy with a single hand, and the process of unlocking and closing the blade is just as easy. This Gerber is easy to snap open with a bit of leverage on the thumb studs, and the motion and action both get easier and smoother with time. The dual thumb studs are almost perfectly sized for smooth, quick blade deployments, boasting a wealth of finger real estate. The combination of all these features is a knife I absolutely love to play with. I love flipping it open over and over again, almost like a fidget spinner but cooler.
What we don’t like about the Gerber Paraframe I
While I do love to play with my Paraframes, the fact of the matter is that they are Gerber knives, and low-cost ones at that. As such, the design comes with its fair share of downsides that just cannot be ignored.
Above all, the Paraframe’s blade material stands out as its biggest weakness. Conspicuously, Gerber’s marketing material and the blades themselves lack any indication of what grade of stainless steel the blade employs. Often, this indicates a blade that, in a best case scenario, uses a 400 series stainless steel, a cheap, jack-of-all-trades collection of metals. Most 400 series stainless steels need special treatment (see: Buck Knives, 420HC) to do just about anything at an above-average level except take an edge. Keeping that edge is another story.
In the design department, the Paraframe’s biggest drawbacks are its thumb studs, pocket clip, and, oddly enough, its frame. The thumb studs in combination with the pocket clip prevent the knife from riding as low in your pocket as possible without creating undue strain on the edge of your pocket. The pocket clip is both non-adjustable and cannot be repositioned anywhere else without an absurdly high amount of custom work. While this may not affect a number of right-handed people, some will find it frustrating, and I probably would not recommend the Paraframe I to a southpaw if clip carry is their thing.
My other complaint with the Paraframe’s design is the stainless steel frame. The frame’s construction is no issue at all, but anyone who has carried a Paraframe series knife in their front pocket for any length of time will attest to the frame’s tendency to turn into a lint trap. While this does little to affect the blade in the short term, nothing says tacky like pulling at an EDC blade with pocket crud sticking out of the various nooks and crannies. Over time, lint could even work its way into the unshielded action and degrade its quality. Honestly, though, this and the stud and clip design issues are relatively little things in the big picture, especially at this price point.
My final gripe has to do with Gerber itself but isn’t something that directly affects Paraframe I’s the quality or performance: misleading marketing. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s par for the course, but frankly, it shouldn’t be. When companies begin to prioritize their own bottom line at the expense of consumers (human beings, coincidentally), they’ve lost their way as an organization. Be a leader, Gerber, not a follower.
So, should you buy a Gerber Paraframe I? Well, that depends. If all you need is a dependable beater knife that’s reasonably sturdy and won’t break the bank? Want a fun toy that doubles as a handy EDC tool? Then go ahead and pick up a Paraframe. This knife is a good choice for a cheap, knockaround blade for casual EDC users or as a gift to that buddy you know is going to lose it sooner or later. On the flip side, blade aficionados will likely sneer at this knife and scoff at Paraframe owners for their lack of appreciation for a “good knife”.
While the Paraframe certainly isn’t a terrific knife, it has a good bit going for it. It may not hold an edge well, but it has a solid combination of durability and affordability. For me, there is little reason to sneer at these knives with the glaring exception of the blade material. In fact, if Gerber ever gets wise and offers a Paraframe with an upgraded blade steel, such as VG-10 or CPM-S30V, there’s a good chance I’d drop the extra dough and pick one up. As for the current version, it’s a good little knife once you get past the blade.
As mentioned previously, I received a brand-new Paraframe I after filing a warranty claim with Gerber a few months back, and I thought it might be valuable to provide some insight on how the process works.
A couple of years back, I somehow snagged the pocket clip on my old Paraframe as I was walking past some unknown object. By the time I felt the undesirable attachment, I had managed to permanently reposition the clip to be a good half-inch away from the frame, its original resting position. While frustrated and a bit disappointed, I had no real plan to replace the knife, especially since I had another (smaller) pocket folder that did everything I needed a knife to do at that time. Fast forward to 2021, and I suddenly had a reason to pull out the ol’ Gerber. The problem I immediately encountered was reviewing a knife for you, dear reader, when the knife in question was quite noticeably, um…altered. So, I took a trip to the world wide web and started looking into Gerber’s warranty process.
Filing a warranty claim was pretty simple and straightforward, and I submitted my form at the tail end of April. One of the questions Gerber/Fiskars (yes, the scissors people) asked was whether or not the product in question held any sentimental value. While I wouldn’t ask to be buried with my Paraframe, I did have a mild attachment to the blade, so I answered “yes” on the form. This let Gerber know I didn’t just want a replacement. In fact, all I requested was a new clip to replace the bent one. I received an automated email confirming receipt of my submission, then I moved on with my life, forgetting about the whole thing.
After about two weeks, I received my first human contact from a Fiskars email account asking for a picture of the knife (but not necessarily the clip). I submitted the requested photo, then received a response from the same individual three days later saying that they had received the photo. The rep also stated that I would receive an email once my “replacement/part” was shipped, but that email did not say whether or not I would receive a new clip (my preference) or an entirely new knife (not my preference). So, I began to wait. And wait. And wait.
After about a month, I emailed the Fiskars rep asking for an update on the status of my replacement part. Within 24 hours I received a response saying that “replenishment orders” had been delayed and that I could cancel my order and receive a line of credit for a different item. I politely declined the offer, preferring to receive a replacement part. So, I waited again.
Finally, in late July, I received an email saying that my “replacement” was on the way, and it indeed arrived two days later. Now, maybe I should’ve read between the lines, but during the entire process, I was under the assumption that I would be receiving a new pocket clip. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but what I received in the mail clearly was NOT a new clip. I was somewhat disappointed to be getting a duplicate knife instead of a new part for my old friend, but in the grand scheme of things, it all worked out.
Normally, I would be appalled by how long it took for the entire process to come to an end (four months?!), but I do want to make sure to put this in context. With the pandemic-induced supply chain issues rampant in 2021, I’m not sure how much of this I can pin on Gerber/Fiskars, so I won’t try. That said, an American production facility likely would have cut the wait time quite a bit.
FAQs about the Gerber Paraframe I
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Gerber Paraframe I cost?
A. Regardless of your preferred variant, the Gerber Paraframe I features an MSRP of $27, although retailers can list them for anywhere between $20 and $50. Right now, the Gerber Paraframe I retails for $29 on Amazon.
Q. What steel does the Gerber Paraframe I use?
A. Gerber doesn’t provide much information on which steel it uses for the Paraframe I. Third-party retailers consistently list the blade steel as “high carbon stainless”. Due to its performance after years of ownership, my educated guess is that the Paraframe knife series uses an inexpensive 400 series steel, such as 420HC.
Q. Does the Gerber Paraframe I come with a non-serrated blade?
A. Yes, the Gerber offers the Paraframe in both partially-serrated and non-serrated forms, and both versions are available in stainless and grey/titanium-nitride finishes. Gerber even makes a tanto version of the Paraframe I with a black/titanium-nitride finish.
Q. Are Gerber knives any good?
A. As a general rule, Gerber knives tend to be like the appetizers of the knife and blade world. Most Gerber blades fall into the “good for a newbie” category, but honestly, few knife aficionados will rant and rave about how much they love Gerber.
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For over 25 years, Brian Smyth has been neighbors with the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army’s Ivy Division. He loves the challenge of crafting words and has written for The Drive, Car Bibles, and other publications. Nothing gets him going quite like the roar of dual Pratt & Whitneys overhead, the smell of cordite, and the stories of the Greatest Generation.