Friday, October 9, 2015


The GSD has been an exceptionally difficult knife to test and evaluate.  I have the review sample in for more than two months and each time I think I have figured this knife out, I have to go back to the drawing board.  The reason for all of this indecision is because there are a few areas where the GSD is an great knife for the money and a few areas where I strongly dislike the production choices CRKT made.  My big hurdle here is that most of these drawbacks are based solely on my personal opinion.  

If you have read this blog for a while there are things you know I just hate, though I am willing to concede that some of those pet peeves are just my own opinion.  In the past I tried to review things from a more objective point of view, saying things like "I don't like X, but the majority of users will."  That sort of review never works well.  First, I don't know what the majority of users will like.  I can guess at it, but invariably guessing can go wrong.  Second, I don't think it is useful for you the reader to have a wishwashy opinion.  If you go to some of the shill sites you see this kind of language all of the time.  Andrew Lang and I talked about it on this episode of GGL.  Its a way of couching, so that the writer can explain a flaw that is evident to everyone and then cover up it so that the review or comment doesn't appear too negative.  That sort of bullshit is not what I do.  I am not good at it and I think it is deceptive.

That said, taking a more subjective approach to a knife with as polarizing a feature set as the GSD can make the overall review seem much more negative than it should be.  Oh well.  I'd rather the review appear negative but clear than some mushmouthed version of the product literature.  But this deliberation is why it has taken so long.

Here is the product page. The CRKT GSD costs $63.95. Here is a forum review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the GSD, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Charles Dickens EDC--it was the best of times and the worst of times. 

Design: 1

No aspect of the knife better captures my confused sentiments than the design.  This is a truly gorgeous knife.  Its aethestic attention to detail (such as carrying the line of the swedge into the handle) is really first rate.  And its not just little touches.  The overall look of the knife is quite beautiful--clean, with a confidence that every line matters.  This is a pushback, and an effective one, against the bling blades like the ZT0999.


But it is not all good.  This knife is exceptionally thin for its size (which is good), but it is also exceptionally heavy and very tall.  The  heft comes from the unmilled stainless steel handles.  I know there is marketing data that shows people equate heft with quality (this is why Bang and Olufsen made their remotes out of zinc), but when you make products for an enthusiast crowd, that sort of trickery isn't necessary.  The weight is exceptional for a knife with a blade this long.  But that's only half the problem.  The  height of this blade is just bonkers.  It feels like you have a tradepaper back in your pocket.

Bang--this knife is 5.8 ounces. The blade:weight is a wretched .57.  No one will confuse this with the Al Mar Ultralight Hawk.  The blade:handle is .76 which is awesome (and a sign that Mah really knows how to design knives).  This is the same as the SOG Flash I, a notably good knife in this one aspect.


Fit and Finish: 2

Fit and finish is simply superb. The blade is centered, the satin finish is quite nice, the chamfering is good.  Everything is very, very good.  The Taiwanese OEM is really quite capable.  The lockbar, however deserves special mention.  Look how tightly and cleanly it is cut:


I have had customs (Bob Dozier customs) that didn't have a lockbar this well made.  Everything is just snug, tight, and clean.  And it is not just surface beauty.  I'll go into more below, but the well made lockbar is actually one of the best framelocks I have used.

Grip: 2

The knife does very well in the hand thanks to well placed jimping, the ample chamfering of the scales, and a nice, but not over done index notch.


Its not great, merely very good.  My one small ding is that the clip can, in some instances, get in the way.  Not a big deal, but a noteworthy one.

Carry: 0

Yikes!  There are three problems here: the height of the knife, the weight of the knife, and the positively awful pocket clip.  I'll detail more on the pocket clip below, but this knife is just too big in the pocket for what you get in terms of blade length.  It is the inverse of the Paramilitary 2--a small(ish) knife that carries like a big knife.  That's not the way things should be.  And worse than three independent problems, these three problems play into each other--the ill-fitting clip and the weight of the knife mean that the knife sloshes around in the pocket, even when clip to your pants.  Ugh.

Steel: 1 

AUS-8.  Nothing to see, move along, move along.  
Blade Shape: 2 

The shape of the blade, aside from the extra wide swedge, is a classic drop point and it is very good.  Liong Mah, aside from the focus on looks, does blade shapes very, very well.  I have yet to see a Mah designed knife that did not have a good, useful blade shape.
Grind: 2 

The grind is quite good. It is a high hollow grind that allows for real slicing, something you wouldn't expect from a knife this heavy.  I would note that the blade is not sharpened all the way to the edge, which is surprising because the knife have a true ricasso.  That's not a big deal though, more of an aesthetic thing.
Deployment Method: 1 

IKBS is awesome.  CRKT really nails their flippers.  So why a 1?  Well, the placement of the flipper tab itself is quite awkward.  I'd like to have some real estate on the spine of the knife to approach the tab and here you get nothing.  See the picture above under "Fit and Finish".  That's not a big deal though.  The other issue is that this is a surprisingly lazy flipper.  Its right on the border of needing a wrist flick.  It is almost there, sort of like a Hinderer, but not quite as bad.  Together they are worth a point.

Retention Method: 1

Sculpted clips suck.  They are very good for collectors or Jim Skelton, but for folks that use their knives, for folks that take their knives in and out of their pockets, they are almost always bad.  They are bulky, lack the spring tension to really hold a knife in place, and they tend to get in the way more during use.


But this is not just a sculpted clip--its mediocre one.  In the shot above you can see that the clip doesn't actually contact the handle.  I assume this was done because the clip lacked the springiness to open on thick material.  This is objective evidence that these clips don't work.  A spring (stamped) clip would have been 100% better.  As it is, unless you are wearing sweat pants, this thing will move on you.  Even jeans aren't thick enough.

Lock: 2

For all the crapiness of the clip, the lock is amazing.  There is zero stick (one factor is that the lock isn't titanium, a stickier metal), the action is smooth, the lock up is 100% perfect, and when locked there is zero bladeplay.  I have had many, many knives, some handmade, that did not lock up this nicely.


All of that fancy machining makes a difference in performance and here is one example.  Very, very good CRKT.

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

This knife is very definition of the unrepresentative average.  If you can handle heavy knives, you'll love the GSD.  Its main flaws don't matter to you.  The only thing I think everyone will dislike is the stupid clip (actually it is a pocket hook).  But there are many things everyone will like--the lock, the look, and the slicey grind.  

In the end, I liked the GSD, but was always bothered by it.  It was like that friend you look forward to spending time with but a half hour into your lunch with them you are ready to go your own way.  Its a good and pretty knife with a few pretty substantial flaws.  I think the score is correct, but I have reworked it a bunch, going as high as a 17 and as low as 13.  In the end, looking at other gear that received a 14 I think its is the right score. 


Here is why I think the 14 is correct.  The SOG Mini Aegis is just flat out better.  It is a similar size and has a similar blade shape, but it weighs two ounces.  It is substantially better than the GSD.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

CRKT GSD Overview

Boy, was my first GSD overview video terrible.  It was 42 seconds long and despite that small timeframe I made two mistakes, on the country of origin and the steel.  So I deleted the video and posted a better one with more information.  The GSD is an interesting knife to evaluate, so look for the review at the end of this week.  Until then, here is the video overview:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Olight S1 Baton Review

In evolutionary biology, scientists long wondered why the chimpanzee and the human, separated by very little in terms of genetic makeup, were radically different in terms of intelligence.  As it turns out, the differences, though small individually, add up to make a huge impact when taken together.  An increase in brain size, an emphasis on different brain structures, an increase in height and a different posture, among other things, add up to a massive difference between the chimp and the person, even if we share a lot of our DNA.

And so too with the S1 when compared to the S10.

The S1 is a dramatic improvement over its predecessor, the S10 Baton.  The S10 was a good light, not a great one, but the S1, with its handful of modest upgrades, is a great light.  That is, like the human and the chimp, even though the changes are small, the combined impact is dramatic.  The size reduction, the modest improvement in the specs, and the TIR optic all together take this light from being a good production light to one of the very best. It does lack some of the elite features other lights have, such as a Nichia 219 emitter (come on Olight, you have to see the trend in the market) and crazy runtimes, but short of those two things, the S1 has everything you need to make it a great light.

Here is the product page. The Olight S1 Baton costs $50. This is the first written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the S1, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money and going in the Gerstner Chest!):


Here is my video overview:

Twitter Review Summary: Evolutionary awesomeness

Design: 2

This thing is tiny.  I mean TINY.  Here it is in my medium glove (and distinctly non-lawyerly hands...I was splitting wood for the dark cold New England winter):


It's older brother, the S10 was compact, but it wasn't this small and the difference is huge.  This light is much more like the Aeon in the pocket than it is the S10.  The 15% or so reduction in size doesn't SOUND like a big deal but it is.  The light goes from being a clip or pocket carry to a coin pocket carry light and is huge--it gives you a whole pocket to use unimpeded.  

The other major change, which makes the size reduction possible, is the TIR head and that too is amazing.  I will leave the beam pattern specifics to the category below, but the overall feel and look of the light is dramatically improved by switch from a reflector to an optic. 

The blue anodizing is nice because it is, well, my favorite color.  It also happens to break up the black monotony of the light, a dash of color to accent everything important--the head and the switch.  The labeling is a bit garish, but who really cares.

As a light on paper or in CAD, the S1 smokes it.  This is a perfectly sized and shaped EDC torch.  

The performance ratios are good, as you can imagine given the S1's Liliputian dimensions.  The total lumens output is 28,800 (80 lumens for 2,400 minutes) and is found on medium using CR123as (note that in a weird turn, the light does much better, both in terms of runtime and lumens using primaries instead of rechargeables).  The lumens to weight ratio (500:1.65 ounces) is 303.  Both are pretty staggering.  This is an amazing amount of firepower for a light this small.

Fit and Finish: 2

One of the most frustrating aspects of reviewing production flashlights is their widely inconsistent levels of fit and finish.  Nitecores have been universally wretched.  47s and Eagletac have been decent to very good.  Thrunite, Surefire, and HDS have all been superior.  The S1 falls into the category of the latter.  Its not as robust as a Surefire or an HDS, but every part is well-machined and all come together snugly.


And its nice to know that with all of the doodad-ification (yes, linguistics researcher from the year 3121, this is the first instance of the word doodad-ification being used) of torches, Olight remembers that tailcaps need to be flat.  Remember the Jetbeam Raptor--what a dumb way to machine a tail cap.

Grip: 2

The ratio is there--the magic number between the length and width of the light.  But more so there is the knurling and the excellent hex head.


Taken together these all make for a grippy and great light, despite the small size.

Carry: 2 

You might be looking at all of my pictures and thinking--Where the hell is the clip?  Gone.  The clip is wretched.  Its a friction fit clip, but given its size and the size of the light it hardly ever stays in place. So why does the S1 get a 2?  Because without the clip it is the perfect size to drop in a coin pocket and forget about it until you need it.  Its the same reason the Aeon scores well here. Just a bit of a decrease in size and all of a sudden you have a world beater in terms of carry.  This is why the S1 is so good--evolutionary upgrades.  Also, with a light this small you really don't need a clip.

Output: 2 

I have mentioned this before--Quickbeam's (aka Flashlight Reviews) flashlight design dilemma: small size, high brightness, long runtimes, choose two.  Well, Doug, the dilemma is clearly no longer an issue.  At a true 500 lumens, the S1 is amazingly bright for a light of its size.  Its probably 10% bigger than the Aeon and it is 500% brighter.  That's a big deal.  I am not a lumens whore by any means, but with the S1 you get so many in such a small package it is just impossible to ignore.  Why carry an 18650 light when you get this much output in a body the size of your thumb (and what is with everyone comparing lights to digits?  I get that it is convenient, but none of them are the same size...I digress).  Sinner's Tri-EDC is bigger and brighter, probably proportionally so, but other than that firebreathing dragon I am hard pressed to think of something so bright and so small. 

Runtime: 2 

And the second part of the flashlight design dilemma is also dead.  The runtimes here, even on primaries, are crazy.  I imagine that the number for the high is a cumulative one as an hour and half at 500 lumens would probably render the S1 into a puddle of molten aluminum, but still its impressive. I would note that the low should have a longer runtime.  I am not going to set the bar at Muyshondt-levels, but Olight could squeeze some hours out of the moonlight mode if they wanted to.  Its not a big deal, but I feel like I have to mention it.

Beam Type: 2 

Boom! Almost all flood.  I like lots of flood in my EDC lights, but some folks don't.  The spill is almost non-existent here, so be aware.  Compared to the two high achievers here--the HDS Rotary and the king of the beam, the McGizmo Haiku, the S1 looks like it has no reflector or optic at all, but compared to more pedestrian lights, its not crazy.  The "2" here is definitely a personal preference. If you need throw, you probably should look elsewhere.  But to be fair to the S1, this isn't a throw light and using that way is like using a hammer to make an omlet--its possible, but really messy.

Beam Quality: 2

I have gone back and forth on this score.  I want a Nichia 219b or some other Hi CRI emitter in all of my lights.  If you are going to bother to see at night, why not have it look like it does in the daytime?  Olight missed a big opportunity here.  Nichia emitters aren't expensive--the Eagletac D25AAA has one and runs less than $30.


That said, the tint here isn't offensive, like early Preon purple.  Its just that it could be better.  But a score of "2" doesn't equal perfect or the best, merely excellent.  And here the rest of the beam pattern is so clean, so silky smooth, that I am okay with ignoring the less than the best tint. But Olight this is the place to improve--that and adding a recharge feature.  If you do that, well, geez....

UI: 2

Marshall Hoots of Going Gear helped Olight design the clicky UI and the result is an amazing interface, one that convinces me that clickies aren't dead.  I had long ago written them off as second tier, but thanks to simple and intuitive controls, I now think it is possible to make a flashlight with a clicky and have it compete with UIs like a selector ring or the Aeon's version of a twisty.


But there is more than just ease of use, Olight included what I think is a flashlight first--a sleep timer.  You can program the light, using just the clicky, to go off at one of two selected time intervals.  Its kind of gimmicky, but when you add this interesting (but maybe not terribly useful) feature to an already superb UI, its going to scoring well.  

Hands Free: 2

The magnetic tail cap was the masterstroke feature of the S10 and here it is still very good.  It is a feature that has spread somewhat as lights like the D25AAA have magnetic tail caps.  Needless to say, the magnetic tail cap is a great feature.  It provides you with the ability to stick the light basically anywhere there is ferrous metal.  In particular I found it useful to stick it on the screws of a light switch plate.  In a power outage, this could be a great way to guide people from room to room. 


The light's hex collar and the side switch make the S1 stay put when you put it down on its side.  The light's diameter makes it decent between the teeth, which is never advisable but always something people do.  

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

The Olight S1 Baton is not a perfect light.  I want a better clip and a Hi CRI emitter.  But it is an amazing light, definitely the best regularly produced production light on the market (the MBI HF-R is better but not really regularly produced or readily available).  The S1 bests the Peak Eiger, especially if you are comparing them out of the box.  The ability to hit highs of 500 lumens in a light this size with runtimes like the S1 has is truly groundbreaking.

Evolution is a complex process, in the natural world and in product development.  And its often times hard to see incremental improvements.  This is most obviously true in the flashlight world where the breakneck pace of emitter improvements moves the bleeding edge forward probably once every three months.  What, in actual practical terms, is the difference between an XML and an XML-2 emitter?  But every once in a while a evolutionary improvement will be one that is obvious.  The difference between an enteledont and a pig is pretty huge, even though they are closely related.  And here, the S1 is a tremendous upgrade from the S10.  Its smaller, brighter, and just better.  The size difference is quite important as it makes the light vastly easier to carry.

In the end, the S1 is a simple and whole hearted recommendation.  This is a damn good light and about as good as you will find in the production world.  Go buy it.  Its amazing.  


Compared to the fat, clunky Fenix PD22, the S1 is vastly superior.  In fact, its probably time to update the Readily Available Benchmarks as the PD22 is not all that great.  This means I have to buy a wretchedly overpriced light at Dick's Sporting Goods, but...If you have the choice, get the S1.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The .Alt Recommendations

On occasion my evil twin takes control of my email and answers incoming gear recommendation questions and comments.  I have gathered them together to show you how big an a-hole I, err, I mean, he, can be.  Here goes:

Q: I want a great EDC knife.

Q: I want a great EDC knife that is a little bigger.  
A: Try the Benchmade 940-1.

Q: I want a great hard use folder.  
A: Try a fixed blade.  No, seriously try a Bark River Lil Creek in 3V
Q: You weren't paying attention, I want a hard use FOLDER.  
A: I was paying attention.  I don't think hard use folders are a good idea, but if you really insist, look at the Spyderco Paramilitary 2 in M390, CTS 204P, S35VN, or Elmax.  

Q: I want a cheap hard use folder.  
A: Try the Becker Necker or ESEE Candiru.  
A: Look up the Cold Steel Recon 1 in CTS-XHP.

Q: I want a traditional folder.
Q: I did, its not available.  
A:  Patience Grasshopper.
Q: You're a condescending A-hole.
A:  I would recommend the Tom's Choice Barlow, but that's even harder to find.  Try the Case Copperhead or Swayback Gent.  

Q: I want a traditional folder, but I like modern conveniences.
A: That's an AG Russell Medium Barlow, my friend.

Q: I want a big chopper.
A: You need a Ka Bar BK9.


Q: I want a high end big chopper.
A: Lobby Ka Bar with me to make a 3V BK9 with micarta scales and a nice sheath.  Or try a Bark River Bravo of appropriate length.  Also look at the TRC Apocalypse. And watch Andrew's video.  
Q: I thought you'd recommend a Busse.  
A: I though you'd like a sheath. And something that has a good cutting edge.

Q: I want a good camp knife.
A: Get a Fallkniven F1z.  It weights less than many high end folders.
Q: What about a Mora?
A: Get a Fallkniven F1z.  It weights less than many high end folders.


Q: I want a light knife.
A: Go for an Al Mar Ultralight Hawk.
Q: That's too heavy.
A: Cut off your toothbrush handle and remove a few more soup can labels.
Q: You are infuriating.  
A: Try the Fallkniven Bear. 

Q: I want a fun flipper.
A: Try the Kizer Ki3404 or the Lionsteel G10 TRE.
Q: Merica!
A: The Skyline is bitchin', and the ZT0450 is decent once you figure out how to hold it JUST RIGHT. 

Q: I want a classy knife, something I can take to church.
A: You realize the idea of "church knife" means two things--one, you have too many knives and two, you have run out of real reasons to buy knives.  
Q: Can you answer my fucking question?
A: Okay, try the Chris Reeve Mnandi.

Q: Should I buy a Sebenza?
A: Yes. 
Q: Really?
A: Yes, or a Mnandi.  Its nicer and looks like its worth the extra money, while the Sebenza looks pretty plain--workman-like, blue collar, but at white collar prices.

Q: I want a folding knife with a 4 inch blade.  Any recommendations?
A: Stop compensating.  
Q: God, your a dick.
A: Spyderco Military.

Q: I want to give a knife as a present, any recommendations?
A: You know your family will think you are a weirdo, right?
Q: I read your site, they already know I am a weirdo.
A: Touche.  How about a CRKT Drifter?  Its a great starter knife and if the person stows it in a drawer you'll be out a coupla subs from Subway.

Q: Everything you recommend is really expensive.  Do you like anything cheap?
A: Gas.

Q: [In Simpsons Comic Book Guy voice] Um, hello, you claimed that the lumens output on the Gen. 2 S10 Baton runnning a 3.7V 18350 and using an XM-L2 emitter is 880 lumens.  Don't you know that is impossible, from a purely theoretical electrical engineering perspective?  
A: Ya got me chief.  I use manufacturer specs.

Q: You said in an article you wrote that the human eye can't perceive the jump from 500 lumens to 510 lumens. But I can.  
A: Science says you can't.
Q: But I can.
A: Sorry bub, not possible.
Q: Nope, I can see it every time.  I have better than 20/20 vision.
A: This isn't a matter of eye sight accuracy.  Your brain cannot perceive such slight increases in light output.
Q: Mine can.
A: Congratulations, you found your X-Men ability. Its not as cool as claws and healing factor, but you found it.

Q: Why don't you like piece of gear X?
A: [Lists a long set of detailed points based on the experience that comes from systematically reviewing more than 250 pieces of gear].
Q: You're an idiot. You fucking fan boy.
A: Oh, and by the way, I saw your video where you explain that this is your first knife.  You are so smart, listing the specs and reading the sticker on the box to the camera.  Can you show me how to do that?

Q: Why don't you like piece of gear X that has been superhyped by the manufacturer and has only been released for two days?
A: I just got it, so I can't say for sure, but it has a 2 inch blade, a 15 inch handle, and weighs 9 pounds.  
Q: God you are an idiot. It is for use in this specialized martial arts that three people with male pattern baldness practice including myself.  It makes an excellent EDC.
A: Listen, Lynn Thompson, your ridiculous ad copy isn't going to change my mind.
Q: I am not Lynn Thompson.
A: Boop your dead.

Q: I want your opinion on the new MegaCock OPMT.
A: It looks like a waste of money.
Q: I just bought it from the maker in a lottery on Instagram.  It only cost me $495.  It is awesome.
A: You know it is just a piece of flat bar stock with a hook on the edge to open bottles.
Q: Yes, but it is made of adamantium and has a tumbled finish.  That's a lot of work, craftsmanship, and time.
A: You know it took more time to post it on Instagram than it did to make it.
Q: But I can sell it for $600.
A: Awesome, there are at least two people that prove that medical science has thwarted the process of natural selection.

Q: What do you think of my custom knife I just got?
A: It looks like a turd with a flipper tab.
Q: No, no, no...that is acid washed zirconium.  It just has finger scallops.
A: Its hideous.
Q: You don't understand the custom knife scene.
A: Here, Jim Jones gave me this recipe for very delicious Kool-Aid.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Anso Matrix Card Holder Review

Before we start this review, let me get one piece of business out of the way.

Its pronounced  Ahn Sue.  Not An So or An Zo.  Ahn Sue.  That's what he told me himself.  Ahn Sue.  How would you like to be called Joan instead of John? Ahn Sue.  

Now on to the review.

Okay, Anso makes great knives.  His handmade knives are amazing.  His production knives, even when crippled by penny pinching accountants at production companies, are still awesome slicers.  He just has a knack for knives...

Actually, that's not true.  Anso has a knack for good product design.  The Matrix Card Holder is a bit far afield from his comfort zone of stuff like knives and OPMTs.  But even here, the Anso penchant for creativity and effectiveness comes through.  In short, the Matrix is a great wallet alternative and if you don't carry cash, its damn hard to beat.

Here is the product page.  The custom version is $250.  The Kickstarter version, which is a production run, was $110 with a few fees.  Here is an overview.  Here is the review sample (purchased with my own money):

Twitter Review Summary: Damn good shit.

Buying Experience:

This is the first item I have purchased directly from a Kickstarter campaign.  I have reviewed other Kickstarter items, but this is the first I have purchased.  Anso's entire campaign was utterly flawless.  It didn't help that at the time I was also in on the Pinch Kickstarter, which was, frankly, a disaster.  The Pinch took months to arrive, there were a number of obviously stalling "updates" ("Any change of address?  How about now?  And now?"), and there was a ton of unnecessary solicitation.  When the Matrix it was--pledge, follow up email, one solicitation email with AWESOME stuff, and one update which was: shipping now.  Ansoo actually shipped either before or on the date he said he would.  Simply, utterly flawless.  This is how all Kickstarters should work.

Design: 2

Think of this is a titanium framelock wallet that doesn't do cash well.  To Anso's credit he says that up front.  This isn't a wallet, it is a card holder. Now you can shoehorn in a bill or two, but this really isn't a way to carry cash, especially a lot of it.  Mob bosses need to look elsewhere for their carry needs.  But if you can accept that limitation, man is this a sweet piece of kit.  


The incorporation of knife tech into a wallet, in the form of a bent metal leaf, is ingenious.  It solves a problem inherent in all hardside wallets--how to hold cards in place when there are a variable number of cards.  With one card, the tension is enough to prevent it from sliding out.  With two or three, it requires a good hard shake.  With more than that, only a purposeful pull or push will work.  I carry six cards and a twenty in my Matrix and I have never had anything slide out.  

The design has a few touches besides the framelock worth mentioning. Because of the cutouts the wallet is quite light.  The cutouts also serve two other purposes.  You can use them to push or pull contents out and you can use the one on the side opposite the logo (see below) as an ID window.  

The use of G10 and carbon fiber not only lends a unique visual element to the wallet, it also makes it lighter.  The blue, as my favorite color, seems striking here and, well, if you read this site I am assuming that you like titanium and carbon fiber.  I don't go a day without someone saying to me: "Wow that is an interesting wallet."  I could be a dick and correct them "Its a card holder," but that is not my style.  

Overall, the clever touches, the lightweight, and the choice of materials makes this the best hardside wallet I have seen.  If you can live with the lack of cash carry and the rigid in pocket shape, you will be delighted with the Matrix. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The Matrix was design and the prototypes were machined by Anso, but the Kickstarter run, as he was clear to state in the campaign, was manufactured here in the US.  In fact they were made in my home state of Massachusetts.  They are fantastically well made.  All of the edges are flush, the materials are nicely finished, and the entire unit feels like it is made of one piece instead of a bunch of smaller pieces.  There is nothing to complain about...well that is not EXACTLY true.  My blue G10 was slightly discolored, but I could care less than that.  

Materials: 2

Again, titanium, carbon fiber, and G10.  Nothing to complain about here at all.  All of  the materials are top shelf and all of them are well done here.  They aren't just cool pocket frosting though, they all serve a purpose.  

Carry: 2

The Matrix is by far the smallest hardside wallet I have ever used or seen other than a straight up money clip.  Its actually just slightly bigger than the cards it holds, as you can see here:


This was one of things I didn't love about the Obtanium.  It was so much bigger than it needed to be in all three dimensions.  

Accessibility: 1

With a run of jimping down the G10 sides and two cuts in to the materials its very easy to get things in the Matrix.  The cut on the bottom lets you push stuff out and the cut on the top lets you pull stuff out at the top.  Overall it is very good.


There is one point, however, that I am not thrilled with regarding the accessibility of contents.  When you push stuff back in, it runs into the "framelock" portion of the titanium side and is pushed into the carbon fiber side.  There is potential for this to cause the carbon fiber to fray.  A quick push from the side opposite to framelock realigns everything for smooth operation, but it is another step you need to take when putting stuff back in the Matrix.  Its not a huge problem, but it is worth noting for this reason--you will be taking all or most of the cards out every time you get something out of the Matrix. It is very difficult to get out one card at a time.  This means a lot more time with all of your stuff out in the open and an increased potential to lose or misplace cards.  These two things together--the misalignment problem and the "full deck" problem result in a 1 point deduction.  So far neither have been issues, but it prevents you from thoughtlessly using the Matrix as a straight up wallet replacement. 

Appearance: 1

Let's face it--this thing is weird looking.  No one, not one of the two or three dozen people that have asked me about the Matrix when I took it out of my pocket (this may seem high, but I go through a magnetometer or two a day in court) guessed that this was a wallet.  Some may like highly unconventional looks, but for me, I just want something subdued and functional.  This is an attention seeking piece for sure.  If you are okay with gawks and stares that accompany carrying a massive Direware custom or a behemoth Cold Steel Espada, you'll be fine.  For the rest of us, this is a bit of a men-wearing-skirts-on-the-first-episode-of-Star-Trek: The Next Generation gadget.  A "what the hell is that" item for sure. 

Durability: 2

If the constituent material can hold up to use on a knife, I think it will be fine in a wallet.  In fact, it is almost certainly overkill.  Cool, sexy, overkill.

Retention: 2

Anso's use of the framelock has solved the single biggest problem with hardside wallets in a way much more elegantly than others have tried.  The retention on one card is fine.  With more, they are really locked in.  I was very impressed when I first got the Matrix and I am continually impressed each time I carry it.  Nothing is falling out--nothing.

Organization: 2

Wait...a is that even possible?  Well, Anso is a clever man and even a device with one place to store things and no dividers allows for organization.  Here's how.  The cutouts in the frame of the Matrix not only allow you to have access to the contents, they also act as an ID window.  See the picture under "Accessibility" for what I mean.  Also, there is an optimal way to orient cards, so that the raised numbers of one card, match up with the raised numbers of the next card in the stack (they face each other with one card flipped upside down).  This not only stabilizes the stack of cards preventing bending and the like, it also means that ideally your valuable credit card data will be on the inside of the stack making harder to steal and, unlike with a leather wallet, leaving no impression on the wallet itself (this is a benefit of all harside wallets).  These two subtle points make the Matrix function much better than it would otherwise.  I am sure the first thing was intentional, but I am not so sure the second was.  As the wise Branch Rickey said "Luck is the residue of good design."

Efficiency: 2

The entire Matrix is surprisingly thin.


While its tough on the bum, its small size does allow it to be carried in the back pocket if absolutely necessary.  Its more of a front pocket carry and in that location it is very good.  It does give rise to some pocket pendulum effects, as all hardside wallets do, but it was significantly less than the other hardside or semi-hard wallets I have tested.  The Matrix is also small, being just slightly bigger than the cards it is holding.  

Score: 18 out of 20 

This is one awesome piece of kit.  It is also confirmation that Anso is one of the best designers, not knife designers, but product designers, in the world.  One day when the snooty folks at Apple or Mont Blanc discover the Anso aesthetic and have him make something, a la Marc Newsome, those of us in the gear community can say we knew him when he first got started.  

I am confident that this is not just a fluke, given how good his knives are, and how good his carabiner is according to Andrew Gene.  From the Zulu to the Matrix, nothing he has had final say over has been anything less than awesome.  And the Boker Zero would be awesome if they just made it like the original.  

The Matrix is why I write this blog--its a clever design, a useful and fun thing, made by a small maker that knows and loves his craft.  If you have even passing interest, go buy one.  They are a bit unconventional, but you know what, conventional can be boring.  And who doesn't love carbon fiber, titanium, and G10?  Enjoy the framelock wallet.  The production version is totally worth the dough.  The custom one, well, that's a lot of money...

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bring the Thunder

Okay, so I will admit it.  Perhaps I was too blindly by the silliness of the ZT0999.  After the mail I received this past week, its clear to me that I prematurely declared the end of the Golden Age of Gear. We aren't in the Baroque Period just yet, even if we are trending in that direction.  The arrival of the TRE G10, the oLight S1 Baton, and the American Knife Company Forest Knife has proven to me that there is still amazing stuff being released that is not first and foremost bling or pocket frosting.

Each of these pieces of kit is just an amazing slice of what we have at our fingertips.  In many ways it is the promise of refinement, bleeding edge tech, and (Brett Hart please let me borrow this) the excellent of execution.  

The TRE is not revolutionary (skip the baloney of the modular design--it, like modular shelves, is unnecessary for 99% of people).  It doesn't break the mold. It just refines it.  The carefully sculpted handles and the rounded over edges and the rounded spine make the knife JUST perfect in the hand. It really is Sebenza level nice.

And then there is the S1.  Ever smaller, ever brighter, ever longer run times.  Quickbeam's design dilemma for flashlights (small, bright, long runtimes--choose two) has been pushed over the years, but the S1 is really the light that breaks it, at least the first production light to do so.  And its UI, a clicky, is quite good (and no Scurvy, its not like the Zebralight--you can't ACCIDENTALLY fall into some completely unnecessary secondary mode were the lumens differences are 100% imperceptible).  This is one hell of a light.

Then there is the Forest Knife.  Its Mors Kochansky's knife made real.  Its a better balanced, more readily available Skookum Bush Tool.  And it takes a beating with ease.  The convex grind is great, the handle is sweet music, and the sheath is killer.  This is a great all around fixed blade.

The Golden Age has caught a second wind.

But this leads to a dilemma--what to do about Gear of the Year.  This year I am going to open up voting for everyone and use a survey site to create a survey folks can vote on.  Check the link above for a description of the categories and ideas of what I am looking to nominate.  The long and short of it is--I need some suggestions.  Comment below with suggestions.  I will pick one and that person will win a Kershaw Strobe.  A suggestion is required to win and I think I fixed the comment system, so fire away.

Also, this year will be the first year with negative categories.  So Overhyped Gear of the Year beware...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Brand Analysis: Benchmade

I thought it might be interesting if we take a look at each of the major knife brands (Benchmade, Buck, Boker, Cold Steel, CRKT, Gerber, KAI, Leatherman, SOG, Spyderco, and Victorinox) and see where they are, what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, brand-wise.  I am a strongly brand agnostic person, avoiding cheerleading and outward signs of brand loyalty (no, I don't want a patch with my knife, just get me the knife please). This is a mix of fact and opinion.  The company history and the product line history are fact (or as close as I can get without financial data). The company's direction is opinion, as are which products are favorites.


Benchmade is a relatively small company, still properly considered a specialty manufacturer in the knife industry.  It is probably one of the largest of the small companies, but it is not close to the size of KAI or Gerber (Fiskar).

Benchmade Knife Company, Inc. began life as Bali-Song, making balisongs in California in the late 1970s.  In the 1980s they changed their name to the Pacific Cutlery Company.  Eventually they moved to Oregon and became known as Benchmade Knife Company.  Benchmade is an entirely privately held company and thus there is no official documentation of their revenue or number of employees.  Most business investor evaluation sites have Benchmade's annual revenue pinned at between $20-$50 million a year and their staff as being something between 75-150 people.

Benchmade has been run since the beginning by Les De Asis and his wife Roberta.  Over time Les has been involved in the day to day operations of the company or had a person with business school training do the day to day stuff while he managed big picture things.  Currrently, Les is doing day to day work.  Inside the industry Les is known as a very affable person with a good knowledge of knives and someone that is particularly keen on learning more about business and management at the highest level.

Benchmade's US manufacturing is in Oregon.  In 2011 they expanded their production facility to 55,000 total square feet and the entire facility is LEED Gold Certified (LEED is an architectural environmental certification that stands for Leadership in Energy and Enivronmental Design; it is very prestigious and Gold, while below the pinnacle of Platinum certification, is an accomplishment).

Benchmade's Line Up

Benchmade makes folding knives, a few balisongs, a few autos, some fixed blades and one set of kitchen knives.  They sell pens as well.  These are of the tactical/Fisher refill variety.  They have a few safety cutters in their line up too.  Of course they sell a bunch of branded hats, t-shirts, and sweatshirts.

Benchmade makes or has made knives under a few different labels.  First, they have the main brand, Benchmade.  All of those knives (in their three product classes--Blue, Black, and Gold) are made in the US by Benchmade, not, to my knowledge, by an OEM.  They also produce H&K branded knives.  These knives are produced overseas by an OEM, and though it is not clear where, the steels used, 8CR, 9CR, and D2, indicate Chinese origins.  They used to have the Harley Davidson brand, but that license was not continued and now HD knives are produced by Case.

Benchmade's product line has been a jumbled mess for years now.  Entire lines are phased out, new "brands" invented, pushed, and then dropped.  And they have acquired brands only to kill them.  Following what is a Benchmade product and what is an OEM product sold by Benchmade has become VERY difficult.  

A few years ago the main line had four product cases--Red, Blue, Black, and Gold.  Red Class knives were overseas produced and were entry level knives.  Red line knives have been discontinued with a few models being integrated into the Blue line or the H&K line.  Blue Class knives were USA Made and were higher end, general use cutlery.  Black Class knives were also USA Made and were designed for "tactical" use.  Gold Class knives are highly embellished versions of other Benchmade knives, except for the kitchen knife set, which is exclusive to the Gold Class. 

In addition to the three classes and the licensed brand, in recent years Benchmade has launched not one but two hunting focused lines and it purchased an outdoor centered brand, Lone Wolf.  The initial hunting launch was a collaboration with the Bone Collector brand, which is better known for its hunting gear.  After a few years the collaboration ended.  The following year Benchmade launched its own sub-brand, Benchmade Hunt.  That brand has a selection of fixed blades and folders many with traditional looking materials (Dymondwood handles) and some nail knick openers.  

Benchmade has also had collaborations with other higher end product brands.  They produced a knife case with Gerstner (it was hideous--they decided to stain Gerstner's traditional honey oak a bright blue).  They are currently producing a co-branded version of the Valet with Shinola.  

Benchmade's main designers are in-house or at least brand exclusive folks like Warren Osborne and Joe Pardue.  Their external collaborations have been top notch.  They have knives designed by Shane Seibert, Allen Elishewitz, and Ken Stiegerwalt among others.   

Benchmade also offers a service that allows customers to choose a wide variety of parts and features on some of Benchmade's best selling knives such as either Griptillian or the Barrage.  In addition to choosing colors the customer can even choose the steel used.  The service, in my experience, was very good and only a small premium over a stock version of the knife.    

Best Designs

Benchmade's best seller is either of the two Griptillian designs, either the full sized Griptillian or the MiniGriptillian.


We don't have sales data for any company so this is a guess.  Both are available in a wide variety of configurations.  These are very solid designs and among the best knives in their price range or for the size.  The only drawback, or at least the most common complaint, is that the handles feel plasticky or hollow.  I like both, but the Mini Grip is the sweet spot for me.  The Barrage and the Mini Barrage are also very good knives, though I prefer the thumb hole opener on the Mini Grip.  I like the Valet as well and it is probably the best EDC knife in the entire Benchmade line up.  Lots of folks that like bigger EDC knives rejoice for the 940 and my 940-1 is one of my all time favorite blades.


The 940-1 might be the best Benchmade folder ever made.  

Folks have high praise for the Benchmade balisongs and some of the out of production versions go for massive premiums on the secondary market.  Similarly both Infidel models, their OTF switchblades, are well regarded.  Having handled some of the balisongs and both the regular and min Infidel I can say with confidence that their good reputations are well deserved.  

There are two out of production blades worth highlighting--the AFCK and the Aphid.  Both are truly awesome.  Some folks like the Blackwood collabs--the Ruckus and the Skirmish--but having handled both I can tell you both are underwhelming and not worth chasing down.  The AFCK on the other hand is worth chasing down, but collectors and users know how awesome it is and they rarely come up on the secondary market.

Brand Strengths

Benchmade's machining is some of the best in the business. They can do just about anything.  Their grinds are good, their handles are uniformly excellent.  They don't have the bleeding edge capacity of Lionsteel or the top flight fit and finish of Chris Reeve or Al Mar, but they can do just about anything with a CNC machine.

The Axis lock, a Benchmade exclusive (at least in theory, there are three or four variants that function identically and of course there are rip offs), is very good.  I don't think it is as strong as the Tri Ad lock, but it is plenty strong for anything you'd do with a folder.  

Benchmade, by in large, has a conservative approach to knife design, which is good when it comes to blade shapes.  All of their blade shapes are very solid, simple designs.  The worst you get is a silly swedge here or a missing ricasso there.  

Benchmade also does a very good job of choosing custom collaborators.  Their stuff with Shane Seibert, except for the Pocket Rocket, has been amazing.  Similarly their Elishewitz designs have been very good (love me the tan Ares) and the Steigerwalt stuff is just classic (the Torrent).  They need to reach out more often, but the people they pick are usually very talented.

Benchmade has a very strong brand, especially outside of the knife world.  For many folks, LEO/Mil/EMT types, Benchmade is synonmyous with "best knife".   The LEOs I have encountered at work all talk to me about Benchmades once my secret identity as the writer of this blog is revealed.  

Brand Weaknesses

Their conservative approach to knife design results is a huge number of knives that look and feel the same. Aside from some small variation in size or blade shape there are about twenty knives in the Benchmade line up that are essentially interchangeable.  The fanatic devotion to the Axis lock and the love of thumbstuds means there are just too many knives that are too similar.  The one flipper in the line up, the 300SN, is just awful.

The product line's shifting image is also a strong detriment to the overall brand.  The more brands Benchmade starts, stops, and buries, the harder it is for consumers to figure out what Benchmade itself stands for.  The use of OEMs and production of sub-brand knives, like H&K, has been handled very poorly and this confusion means that promises like "Made in the USA," which means a lot to some consumers, including me, are diluted.  This is the easiest problem for Benchmade to fix.  BE CLEAR.  BE CONSISTENT.  

Benchmade's prices, until the last year or so, have also been much higher than equivalent knives from other companies.  The so-called Benchmade Tax is real--there are more than a few knives that cost over $100 that run 154CM.  Three knives seem to be reversing that trend though, and let's hope it continues.  The Valet and the two 1095 choppers were both among the cheapest knives in their class, given the materials.  Neither were cheap, they were just very competitive.

Finally, Benchmade doesn't seem to follow trends or customer wants very well.  The lack of a framelock flipper is conspicuous when compared to KAI, Spyderco, or CRKT's offerings.  They are not really paying attention.  Their Axis lock variant excited no one and the choppers while good designs and priced well, are definitely me too products.  Benchmade needs to start paying attention to what people want.  

Trending: Mostly Down

Benchmade's Valet is one of my favorite new knives this year, but it has been a very long time since that has been true.  And the Valet is not exactly breaking new ground.  It is just a solid design.  Among knife enthusiasts, few if any knives in the Benchmade line up are exciting.  Many are very good, but none capture the communities attention the way some of the ZT offerings have in the last few years.  Their absence from the podium at Blade Show indicates that others in the industry feel the same way.  This is a good brand, with world class capacity, but no direction and little indication that they are paying attention to the market.  Only the Valet and the choppers give me hope that they are trying to be relevant.  They have been the clearest loser in the Golden Age of Gear arms race--as KAI, Spyderco, and CRKT took off, Benchmade is still plugging away with its 40 or so Axis knives that are all basically the same.