Story and Photos by Jonathan Kilburn
In the early 20th century there was a significant change in some of the world’s most powerful countries. One of the most overlooked changes was in the county of Portugal.
This country, being one of the most dominant kingdoms and colonizers of the western world, had fallen on hard times – due to an abundance of political turmoil throughout the early to mid-20th century. Shortly after WWI there were a series of civil wars and revolutions, under the lack of a well establish monarchy.
While the history is unique and intriguing, the clashes caused come political conflict within Portugal’s foreign affairs. With quick changes in religious and political affiliations, many European countries cut ties with Portugal, until their political upheaval was settled. This led to Portugal becoming a relatively isolated country.
Because of this isolation, some technology changed gradually and became uniquely Portuguese. Various foods shared some commonality with other nearby countries but began to develop in a slightly different way than their European counterparts.
One industry that also changed was the knife industry.
Meaning ‘Operator’ in Portuguese, this knife and style has remained relatively unchanged in over 100 years. It would not be uncommon to witness someone handling an Operario knife during the Great War – or any of the Portuguese revolutions – to cut their meal or peel a fruit. This knife is truly a classic and currently comes in several different blade choices.
There have been some changes to the Operario over the years. Initially, the knife was produced with a high carbon steel blade, as stainless steel was not available at the time. Currently, they produce the knife in stainless with a few different blade types, but the most common is the Sheepsfoot design. In addition, they make a straight folding style and a liner lock – which is a relatively modern addition.
The Operario features a stainless 88 mm (or 3.46-inch) blade, pinned in place through the 3.875-inchbeechwood handle. There is an option between a liner lock or just a simple folder. It’s a lightweight knife in both color and weight, coming in at only 30 grams. For those who aren’t drug dealers, 30 grams is about 1.06 oz. This knife is pocket light.
When I initially came across this company, I couldn’t help but observe the similarities between Filmam and Opinel. They are both remarkably similar is design, but the fitment of the Operario has some subtle and positive differences.
Filmam’s knives tend to be riveted through the handle and metal gromet, retaining its shape. This allows the knife to swell in humid environments without sacrificing the functionality of the handle or of the blade use. However, it is difficult to open the blade after a deep soak, due to the handle compressing and limiting the ability to open and close the knife easily.
The finish is done well, with each blade being hand sharpened and set for consumer use. While the stainless blade is not my preferred steel choice, it is a well-crafted and set blade that has been finished to a nice satin and shine surface.
With a beechwood handle, the company decided to square off the entire knife profile. It has a more traditional feel than comparable knives made of similar materials. With the flat sides, the knife utilizes an effective area for firm placement and grasp.
Because of this squared off design, with a rounded top point, the recess for the blade is also barely noticeable when gripped in any configuration.
This particular design features a sheepsfoot blade, with ample space and room for future sharpening. It’s thin, at .0625-inch thick along the spine, with a flat grind down to the edge bevel. While unconventional for standard blade designs, with pronounced tips, the sheepsfoot trims down quickly and will likely prevent the tip from bending due to improper use.
While the model I used has a traditional friction hold – compared to the more recent models with a liner lock – the blade stays in place well, without any unnecessary movement. I’m intrigued how years of use will loosen the blade. It may wear at the wood, through friction, and fail to hold the blade in place. But that remains to be seen.
It’s also unclear how well the pivot pin will stand up to improper use. Even with the light friction, it still takes two hands to deploy while relatively new. Only time will tell how well the hold will last.
MAM Filmam classifies this as an everyday use knife. Honestly, I can’t disagree – when I think of daily task knives, I tend to use them for literally every activity. After carrying the Operario for several months, I can tell that this was designed for any and every light, daily task. This is not a knife to abuse.
The main use for many knives of this era was cooking and prepping food on the farm, in the field, or on a worksite. While we don’t have the same needs as 100 years ago, this knife can still hold up to these tasks today.
For months, every piece of fruit and sandwich was cut with expert precision. There’s always that one guy who pulls out a dirty knife, wipes it on his pants, and cuts his food. Honestly, with the Operario, that ‘guy’ was me.
For some of the more common but unlikely uses, doing simple woodworking tasks and daily chores were simple – I could easily make feather sticks or carve a piece of wood. Although, with the lack of a locking mechanism, I was quite gentle compared to other blades I use. But boxes, cotton, paper and various other random objects were simple enough to cut.
Where this knife shines, is in the ability to perform every task and allow a user to pocket it and completely forget about it. There is no uncomfortable feeling of carrying a heavy or cumbersome knife.
Personally, I like knowing where designs come from and why they are the way they are – their uniqueness.
This knife is a great daily companion, which does remarkably well at monotonous and necessary tasks. I do worry about how well the pin will hold up over time, and more likely the handle will fail before the grommet. Wood swelling or wear is another concern, without any form of locking mechanism. Filmam has addressed this with a liner-lock design, so that is of little concern.
Despite the potential for negatives, I hadn’t experienced a single one of them. They are purely hypothetical and something to think about. In my hands this knife performed every task with the utmost perfection and in one of the simplest designs.
There are very few knives that can match the overall use and price-point of a Filmam knife. This knife comes in around $13 at most online retailers. It’s not a fancy knife or design but is a proven blade and style that has been around for over a hundred years and continues to go on.
When comparing it to other makers – like Opinel – neither companies produce a knife better or worse than the other, they are merely different. Subtle differences like the handle shape can ‘make or break’ a personal preference.
In addition, one benefit to Filmam is the ability to utilize the same style knife in a different blade shape. If you’re looking at the way a blade is locked into position, the Filmam Filman knives tend to follow a more common liner-lock approach. This makes it a little more comfortable for many users. Where Opinel stands apart, is in their locking collet and the consistent style.
At this price, I’d say you should go and buy both to choose your own preferred style. K&G
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Blade Material: Stainless SteelBlade Length: 3.46 inchesHandle Length: 3.875 inchesOverall Length: 7.125 inchesBlade Thickness: .0625 inch Handle Thickness: .5 inchHandle Material: BeechwoodWeight: 1.06 ouncesMSRP: $13.47
Amazon.comKnife Country USA
MAM Filmam is a cutlery company which started in 1870 and is still managed by descendants of the same family. They have been producing Portuguese knives and cutlery since their inception.
Each blade carries an old-world style, and many have been updated and changed over the last century and a half. Yet, despite their long history, they produce not only old-style knives, but updated versions and new variants of the same designs. Filmam, through their isolation, has built an entire knife industry from the needs of the people of Portugal.
One thing to note, is that Filmam designs look eerily similar to Opinel. While there are similarities, they both stem from the time period where knives were made with commonly sourced wood and steel, for the common user, doing common tasks.
We can witness some of the changes that have progressed as well as a clear segregation of the styles, despite the similarities.
To be clear, MAM Filmam is an even older company than Opinel.
Jonathan Kilburn is an avid outdoors-man, shooting sport enthusiast, martial artist, and wanna-be comedian. He has spent many years involved in outdoors hobbies, which has led him to bring the outdoors inside. While his focuses are on getting back outside, his home life revolves around preparing, making, and learning about ways to improve his skills in the field.
When people close to Jonathan are asked to describe him, they often describe him as a "man's man," because of his involvement in the outdoors, firearms, knives, motorcycles, and various other activities. Despite this description, Jonathan doesn't enjoy watching or playing team sports. No one is perfect.
Besides his hobbies, Jonathan is deeply involved in the special needs community, in an effort to assist and help those who may need it most."
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