Friday, May 22, 2015

Filip De Coene Mini Explorer WIP

My Filip De Coene Hybrid was one of my favorite knives.  It was also my first custom.  The fit and finish was beyond compare and even now, a dozen or so customs in, it still stands out.

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But alas I needed a lock or some kind of blade safety and so when I sold the Hybrid I promised myself that I'd circle back around and get one of Filip's locking blades.  The crown jewel of his knife pattern stable is the Explorer flipper, a titanium knife designed by Antoine Van Looke and based on an ancient fixed blade, not Oldowan old, but very, very old.  Van Looke's own fixed blade has a very rustic look to it, but when translated into De Coene's minimal high tech design aesthetic the result is striking.  The original Explorer was a big knife and I am not a fan of big folders.  So when I talked with Filip I asked him to make me a smaller version, a Mini.  A few years passed and he finally has space on his bench to make me a knife and we start talking.  All of the pictures below are from Filipe.

I am a huge fan of blue, so I wanted blue G10 scales.  I could have opted for carbon fiber, but the weight savings is minimal and bright blue G10 is quite striking.  He gave me the choice of a framelock or a liner lock and I picked a framelock, wanting to keep the knife as slim as possible (and yes, this will be a knife I use and carry).  Finally, unlike the original Explorer Filip designed, I wanted a clip on my because again, this will be a user.  The blade steel is going to be S30V, which is plenty good for me, especially with a heat treat that renders it a bit harder than Chris Reeve's S30V that comes in at 57-59 HRc.  Filip has been very diligent at keeping me up to date with pictures, so I thought I'd share them with you.

Here is a size comparison between the Mini Explorer and the full-sized version of the knife:

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Here is a shot of the Mini Explorer in hand alone for scale:

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Here the knife is being fitted for its blue G10 scale:

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The pivot was something we discussed and ultimately I decided not to go crazy and just get a basic pivot. This is not an ostentatious knife so the pivot is simple:

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By opting for the framelock the knife will be relatively thin:

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We were going to do an off the shelf clip, but as you can see, it wasn't working:

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In the end, despite my aversion to carved clips, the look required it:

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Filip isn't a "name" maker in the knife world, but his quality is top notch and his communication and flexibility in the process is amazing.  He doesn't make a ton of knives either, so its hard to get one from him, but the ones that are out there are pretty darn awesome.  I think this one will join those ranks.  Watch my Instagram or Youtube channel for this beauty to land in my possession. 

Last Few Days for WWP Giveaway

This is the last weekend to get in on the WWP giveaway.  I will be choosing the winners on Monday night.  Look for the post Tuesday.  Remember we have an additional Big Heart, the modded CQC-7 donated by Attorney Adrian and I will toss in the CRKT No Time Off as well.  That's a ton of loot and a good cause.  Here are the rules.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Taxonomy and Terminology Change

After I posted a response to Knife Thursday's discussion on the definitions of customs v. midtechs v. production knives I continued to think about the problem.  The more I did, the more I was unsatisfied with the answer.  Additionally two other things happened.  First, the ever talented Allen Elishewitz posted this thread on the USN (membership required).  In case the link doesn't work search "Allen Elishewitz" and "Buyer Beware" on USN.  Second, Dave Curtiss of Curtiss knives posted a meme pic on his Instagram thread, making fun of people that pay $900 for a midtech knife.  These two things have led me to rethink how I view "custom knives" and forced me to rework how I talk about these blades.  This was all ahead of the Shamwari review, and once I am done clearing the ground, I will explain why they are related.

Check the old article for how I thought the custom v. midtech v. production terms should be defined.  Now here is the problem--customs aren't custom.  The vast majority of "custom" knives aren't made for a specific person, they aren't unique.  They are, generally, a set model that is handmade by a single person.  And so the categories I laid out before don't work.  There are true custom knives--knives made for a specific individual (I own one, the blade I designed and TT Pockettools made for me, see below), but this is generally not what knife knuts are talking about.  People want a Brad Blount Arrestor or an Andrew Demko AD-10.  These are knife models (patterns, to use the old term) handmade by a single person.  But they are not customs in any sense of the word as used by regular people.  They might be handmade, but they are not singular designs.  They are similar in the vast majority of ways to all of the other Arrestors or AD-10 (that is, in fact, how we recognize them).  That's the problem.

Now here is the solution. When knife knuts talk about "custom knives" we are distinguishing a given knife from a production knife based on two primary qualifications--how something was made and who made it.  If something is made by robots it is different from a handmade knife.  And if something is made by an army of people on an assembly line it is different from a single source knife.  What knife knuts want is a knife that is handmade AND made by a single person--they generally do not get a knife that is unlike any other knife and handmade by a single person.  So the word "custom" doesn't work.  With those two axes--handmade and single source--laid out, we can solve this linguistic puzzle quickly and more correctly than in my first attempt.

Handmade, single source:

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This is like a Yuna knife--it is a knife made with basic hand and power tools by a single person with all of the parts, even screws, made by that person.  These are extremely rare.  I know that Allen makes knives like this some of the time, but the only person I know of that ALWAYS makes all of his parts is Yuna.  I suppose you could be a real stickler and require them to mine the ore to make the steel, but short of that, the creator of the knife made everything him- or herself.

Single Source:

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This is a Curtiss (that's his Nano above), Grimsmo, or Tighe knife--it is a knife made with advanced machinery by a single person.  Obviously, the definition of "advanced machinery" is going to change over time, but the point is, Dave and Brian have machines that even hobbyist knife makers don't have.  In many ways I think this is more impressive than a handmade knife, the Norseman is a beautiful blade, but it is different from what you get with a Yuna.  

Handmade:

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This is like a Gavko or Tuff Knives knife--it is a knife where the majority of parts and processes are done by a single person, but some things, like cutting lockbar blanks, screw making, and/or heat treat is done by someone else.  The vast majority of the "custom" knives out there right right fall into this category and it is obviously a spectrum--Charles Gedraitis imports only his screws, as does Steve Karroll, while Gareth Bull, Gavko, and Tuff Knives all have lock bars water jetted. 

Midtech:

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This is like my GMT Stubby Razel or the Tolk--it is a knife where the majority of parts and processes are done by someone other than the knifemaker, but the final steps--lock fitting, grind, and the like, are done by the knifemaker.  There is a spectrum in handmade knives and at some point, let's say 50.1% to be arbitrarily specific, that the knife ceases to be a handmade object and more of a production piece.  So long as the knifemaker still lays hands on each blade in a meaningful way, more than say, assembling finished parts, its a midtech; if not, it is a production piece.

Production:

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This is like the Spyderco Zulu--it is a knife where the design and production of the knife are handled by entirely different people or groups of people.  In the most extreme you get something like Cold Steel knives or the OEM blades from Spyderco, Kershaw, or Boker--the designer creates "blueprints" sends them to the big company and they then outsource them to an OEM overseas.  Cold Steel, to my knowledge, does not make ANY knives, they just handle the design and marketing of them.  Spyderco, Kershaw, and Benchmade still make some knives, but all three outsource designs to OEMs for production.  If you wanted to be unnecessarily specific you could distinguish between in-house productions like the Spyderco Paramilitary 2 (designed in the US by Spyderco and made in the US also by Spyderco) and outsourced productions (like the Kershaw Zing G10, designed by RJ Martin, produced by Kershaw and made by an overseas OEM).

Custom:

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A bespoke piece, unique and made for a single person.  You can have a handmade, single source custom, a single source custom, and so on...

Mods:

You can have modded versions of the above as well, though most folks mod production knives.  Generally I think of mods in two camps--light and heavy.  A light mod is something like a scale swap or refinish on the blade.  Here is my old Buck Advantage, modded by Thuff Thumbz:

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A heavy mod involves a rework of the basic design, something like Smock Knives Mini Southard:

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There are tough cases, like a Liong Mah designed handmade custom, but the taxonomy can handle that--its just a handmade piece.  The Todd Begg Field Grade Bodegas are more complicated.  We don't know exactly how much Todd does on each knife, but merely supervising others is not enough to make it a midtech. It is probably just a very nice production knife.  

Examining this taxonomy again has led me to a single point--the problem isn't with the terms, but the lack of disclosure on the part of knifemakers.  We, the customers, should know just how much a knife maker does when producing a knife, especially midtechs.  The better makers are very forthcoming with this information--Graham was up front with how much he did on the GMT Stubby Razels (lockbar fitting and edge grinding) and Gareth was very up front about the Shamwari when I asked him.  But some are less up front and that, more than the terms themselves, is a problem.  

The Shamwari is a bit of an anomaly in the knife world--it is made in waves or batches like custom lights are.  This means that instead of one or two at a time, the Shamwaris are all made at once.  As a woodworker I can see the utility in this.  When I make something with drawers I don't make one drawer and fit it in the carcass, then go back and make another.  I batch them out.  The efficiency of performing the same task with the same tools and same set up is undeniable.  I can make four drawers in 150% the time it takes me to make one.  The set up and lay out are BY FAR the most time consuming steps in the process.  The actual cutting and fitting is relatively quick.  So making knives in batches of 10 or 12 makes sense.  In fact, I don't know why more makers don't do this.  If you listen closely you'll hear a common refrain among knife makers--they get tired of doing the same thing over and over.  Maybe if they make blades in batches, the monotony would be less.

The second thing about the Shamwaris is that they have pre-cut lock bars.  Everything else, the blades, the handles, the clips, even the washers, are handmade by a single person.  The only other part made by someone else are the screws (screws are almost always made by someone else, except on a Yuna and a few others).  As such, I think it is fair to classify the Shamwari as a handmade knife, under the taxonomy above.

The industry is as a weird point because of the massive influx of cash and attention.  Production companies are making truly superior knives, like the ZT0454.  Conversely, everyone and their mother is claiming to be a custom knife maker and these folks are putting out some crude stuff. Finally there is the most pernicious of problems--custom makers releasing midtechs.  Allen is right--assembling finished parts does not make you a knife maker and that does not make a knife a midtech, any more than assembling furniture from pieces in a box from Ikea makes you a woodworker.  The knife maker has to do something important on the knife to make it a midtech.  Otherwise it is a production blade. 

Again this all has to do with disclosure.  The more disclosure the better, for everyone.  Calling things handmade when they are midtechs or midtechs when they are production knives devalues all of the categories of knives.  Hademade knives are special.  They demand a lot of work and they should command a lot of money.  Calling things that aren't handmade devalues that.  In the long run, the knife maker that does this hurts him or herself.  If they start out making "handmade" knives that are really midtechs, but then later develop the skill to do real handmade stuff, how are they going to tell their customers and make people think their new, actual handmade knives are worth paying a premium?  The answer is they can't. 

Disclosure is important, but hopeful a more clear and consistent language will help a bit.  I'll try to stick to these categories in reviews and hopefully they'll catch on in the knife community, but I doubt it.  Playing fast and loose with language can make a person a few extra bucks, even if it hurts them in the long run. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Gareth Bull Shamwari Review

I have been looking for a knife like the Shamwari for a very, very long time.  I like the Sebenza a lot, but I really want a flipper version.  When I found the Shamwari I knew I had what I wanted.  This is a clean knife--a really clean knife.  Looking through the normal sources for custom knives was unsuccessful.  As a South African knife maker, many of the custom sites, which are US-based, don't have a huge stock of Gareth Bull's blades.  After this I went to the forums and again struck out.  There weren't a whole lot of Shamwaris or Warlocks (his other model) to be found.  Then I got a tip from a friend that there were a run of Shamwaris in the works.  I instantly put my name on the books.
In many ways this knife is the culmination of years of searching.  I wanted a clean, simple flipper.  But today's market doesn't produce a whole lot of those knives.  The fact that the knife is a front flipper is a huge plus, cleaning up the profile even more.  By now you know that I am a minimalist when it comes to both carry and looks.  Simply put--there is no knife that is a locking flipper more minimal in appearance that this.  The only flourish (which I wish was not on the knife) is the proprietary fastener on the pivot.  Other than that, aesthetically, I couldn't have asked for more, or less, depending on your point of view.  

There is no product page or website, though there is a Gareth Bull Knives Facebook page, found here.  This run of Shamwari knives costs $550 (NOTE: I mistakenly listed the price as $450) each direct from the maker.  There are no written or video reviews of this run and they are different enough from previous runs to make other videos unhelpful.   Here is my video overview of the knife:

Here is my review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary:  Clean, calculated, and clever.

Here is my video overview:


Maker Feedback

My experience with Gareth Bull Knives was splendid.  A friend tipped me off that his books were open, I contacted him and I received an email response within 8 hours (pretty good given the time difference, he is in South Africa).  We then went back and forth I placed an order for his second batch.  He then contacted me a few days later and said that the someone dropped out of the first batch and he had a knife to spare.  I jumped on that and had the knife in hand about a week and half after emailing for the first time.  The communication was excellent and the speed of the transaction was quick.

Some research found complaints on various fora that there have been serious backlogs with Gareth Bull Knives, so bad that he was kicked out of the South African Knife Maker's Guild.  I put this question to the man himself and here is his answer:

As to the Guild story. Yes, there is truth to it. In short, I overextended myself and started falling massively behind on orders (orders with deposits paid mind you). Understandably people became concerned and those concerns were put to the SA Guild. After chatting to the heads of the guild, it was decided that I should bow out until such time as I have all my back orders fulfilled, I intend to re-join and have been assured that there's a spot waiting for me, all in good time.

This is not a great thing, of course, but two things make me think this is a thing of the past--the complaints originated three years ago and since that initial blip I can't find anything.  There have been no recent complaints and if my experience was representative it is easy to see why the complaints have dried up.  Second, the maker was quite forthcoming.  He tackled the issue directly and gave me a direct answer.  I can't vouch for the maker, but I can tell you my experience was great and my research gives me confidence in dealing with him.  

Is this a "custom"?

I posed this question to the maker and here is his response:

Hi Tony

I consider these to still be handmade. I did use waterjet to cut the blanks for the handles. From there everything else is 100% handmade (save the screws of course:)). The blades, clips and even the bronze washers are handmade. This is the new generation of the Shamwaris, an easy identifier being the screws running through the stop pin, and the milled clip (previous iterations had hidden screws and bent clips).


Design: 2

I imagine that there was a CAD drawing on a computer somewhere with all of the standard features of a pocket knife--thumb stud, traction jimping, a busy swooping handle...you know the sort.  Gazza, this knife's maker, highlighted each feature and played around with it.  After a few painful sessions at the keyboard of highlighting and changing, he just got fed up and clicked the "Delete" button.  The feature vanished and somehow the knife still worked.  He did again and again until in the end, he was left with the Shamwari.  A quick expansion of the rear tang, enough to make the knife a front flipper, and all of sudden you get what has to be one of the cleanest, most resolute, and useful knives I have ever used.

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But is not clean for its own sake--the design is still fully capable.  There is a very tight run of jimping on the spine of the blade its usual place and it is great.  The clean look makes for a good cutter in hand with little to cause hotspots.  The only thing, literally the only thing, that I dislike about the design of Shamwari is the choice of a proprietary pivot screw.  

ASIDE

Knife makers, I get it. I do. The ability to put your own spin, your own touch on a pivot is fun.  Screws are a boring, workman-like part of crafting a knife, and having talked to a few of you I know you HATE the process of making or selecting screws.  So when you get the chance, you want to do something--FUN.  Well, from the user point of view, this flourish is always, always an annoyance.  A knife is a tool, first and foremost.  To make part of it hard to use, on purpose, is to thwart that essential nature.  And is unnecessary.  There are quite a few good, decorative pivots on production knives that still have normal fasteners inside all of the flourish.  Look at knives like the Kershaw Injection or the Zero Tolerance ZT0450.  It can be done.  And remember--you are making all of our knives with things worse than Whitworth bolts.  Next time you go to the mechanic, ask them how much they enjoy working on cars and trucks with Whitworth bolts.  

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END ASIDE

Since there is no product page, here are the specs that matter: the knife weighs 3.36 ounces.  The blade is 3.125 inches with a cutting edge of exactly 3 inches.  The handle is just under 4.125 inches.  The blade is just under 1 inch tall at its tallest point.  These numbers result in quite competent performance ratios.  The b:h is .76 (rounding up) and the b:w is .93.  Both are above average.  

Fit and Finish: 2

Break in periods on knives make me nervous.  Especially ones with really rapid break ins. I am always worried about two things.  First, I am worried that this notion of break in is merely a way for knife makers to pass off shoddy work and delay complaints.  Second, I am worried that the knife might continue to break it, past smooth, into downright sloppy.  Well, I am here to report that neither of those things happened with the Shamwari. It did have a potent break in period where the lock was VERY sticky.  I used both the pencil trick and the Sharpie trick and both had only marginal impacts on what was the stickiest lock I had ever used.  Then, one day, as if by magic, the lock started to open like a vault.  Since then, for about two months now (hence the delay with the review), it has stayed exactly where it was--solid but smooth.

The rest of the knife is really immaculate, and given the spare appearance, it had to be.  The blade is dead centered, even though this photo makes it look like it leans away from the lock side.  The blade has a very coarse stonewash on it.  And the handle has again, a very coarse stonewash.  If you look at the photo above you can see a massive scratch in the handle scale. That  was there when I got the knife.  And there are little scratches like that all over the knife.  It is part of the stonewashing.  The maker does offer other finishes, but be aware, his stonewashing is super aggressive.  I like it quite a bit, much better than the matte finish on a Sebenza where every scratch and use mark stands out like its highlighted, but if you are fussy about your knives, think about a different finish.

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Grip: 2

A grippy finish, good handle shape, a run of extra fine jimping, and a good index notch make the Shamwari a persistent tool in the hand--it ain't going anywhere. 

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Its hard to imagine something more locked in than the Shamwari without using some of the gimmicks out there--like trac tape inserts.  

Carry: 2

With its slim figure and rounded off shape, the Shamwari is an excellent pocket companion.  I have an issue with the clip, but aside from that, its a perfect gentleman, never bullying the other things in your pocket.

Steel: 2

N690 is a widely used steel in Europe and Africa.  Its exceptionally corrosion resistant, almost to the level of "seaworthy" steels like H1. I found that it was excellent in use, like an improved VG10, which is not surprising because the formulas (formulae for all you grammar and Latin nerds) are similar.  I found that it did not chip or roll as much as VG10.  N690 just might be the most advanced of the non-powder steels, the last innovation before steels were made on the molecular level.  

Blade Shape: 2

Bob Loveless got so much right, but the most lasting of his contributions is this blade shape: 

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The drop point is not only a perfect utility shape, it is also (especially in this rendition), quite visually appealing.  I found that not only did the blade look nice, the lack of thumb stud, flipper tab, or thumb hole made it especially good at working material.  I could choke up or hold the blade by the spine only and not worry about where my fingers were (sort of....its still a knife) or whether the material was going to get jammed somewhere. 

Grind: 2

The  Shamwari's grind is, like the entire knife, simple, refined and excellent.  The blade is symmetrical from side to side and the plunge line is excellent and even on both sides.  The main grind is a hollow grind that gets very thin behind the edge.  The cutting bevel itself is quite thin, something I don't prefer with my rudimentary sharpening skills, but it cuts quite well.

Deployment Method: 2

We get to the interesting part of knife--the front flipper.  I am not going to say that this was easy when I first got the knife, but a few days after the Shamwari arrived I had the motions down to both snap it open and slow roll it.  It is now my preferred form of flipping and rivals the Spyderhole as my favorite deployment method.  This is a great design, truly great.  

Retention Method: 2

Hmmmm...I am not so sure I like the trend towards sculpted clips.  This is a gorgeous clip, simple and straightforward.  But it lacks the snap-to-the-frame feel that a spring clip does.  It works well and looks nice, but I think the trend will eventually give way to function.

Lock: 2

The frame lock is stable, engages easy and disengages.  The overtravel stop is not just effective but it is also quite nice looking. There is nothing to complain about here but the aforementioned stick lock that was an issue during the 4 or 5 day break in period.  

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Overall Score: 20 out of 20

I am a petty bastard.  I am not awarding this knife a perfect score because of the proprietary pivot screw.  Unlike the clip, which is merely a preference, the pivot screw is an objective flaw.  Other than that, this is a wonderful and unique piece of cutlery.  It has made me sell other knives, knives that with the Shamwari around stand 0% chance of being used or carried.  Especially sublime are the blade shape and the deployment.  This is a thoughtlessly good flipper, among the best I have handled, and a truly compelling argument that we, the American knife buying public, got it wrong when it comes to flipper design.  I originally thought of this as an even cleaner looking Sebenza, but in the end I have come to like this knife as its own thing--a marvelous EDC at an excellent price for a handmade blade.

If you get a chance, save your pennies and get a Shamwari, it is a ridiculously sweet knife, something I both like on an intellectual level and something that gives me a bit of delight every time I take it out of my knife case and slip it into my pocket.  This is one of my favorite blades, right up there with the Dragonfly and the 940-1 and the Paramilitary 2.  Its certainly my favorite custom I own.  But more on that word "custom" next week.

Here is a sweet light&saber duo:

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Did We Pick the Wrong Flipper Design?

In the 1980s, once the US Supreme Court cleared the way, the home video recording market exploded.  Two competing formats vied for consumer dollars--VHS and Betamax.  Betamax was a proprietary tape system developed by Sony.  VHS was developed by Matsushita (Panasonic's parent company) and JVC and licensed to anyone that wanted to make a machine.  On paper, Betamax should have wiped the floor with VHS.  The video quality was better, the tapes were smaller, they could have a longer record time (5 hours on Beta III tapes) and the machines were better made.  But in the end the market famously picked VHS.  This was not the first nor the last format war in electronics (MiniDisc versus DCC was especially terrible--the formats killed each other), but it is probably the most famous because the clearly inferior product won and dominated the market.

In the knife world the flipper deployment method has taken the market by storm.  If you watch Jim Skelton's videos you might think that there is no other way to open a knife other than a flipper.  But the reality is there are multiple ways to open a knife and, in fact, multiple flipper designs.  Two work fundamentally the same, the traditional flipper tab flipper and the exposed bottom tang flipper (as seen on Dietz modded Kwaikens and Smock Knives upcoming SK23).  The third kind of flipper, the so-called front flipper, works fundamentally differently.  I have had two knives with a front flipper design, the barely passable Boker Exskelimor and the amazing Gareth Bull Shamwari.  In my short time with the Shamwari, it has done a good job of convincing me that perhaps we as a knife community have chosen the wrong flipper design.  Its not as clearly superior as Betamax was to VHS, but it does have some big advantages.  Here is my video on the flipper differences:


By the way, I have practiced more and the Shamwari opens every single time without fail.  Its an issue of muscle memory not design.  

Advantage #1: Looks

Traditional flipper tab flippers can be very nice looking knives, but there is simply no way around it--the tab itself breaks up the profile of the knife.  It, by design, juts out of the knife.  Lots of folks have made that element something interesting or nice.  Some try to hide it.  Some use it as a quillion or guard.  But there is no doubt--the flipper tab itself is something knife designers have to work around and work with, it can't be ignored.  

A front flipper, on the other hand, does very little to disrupt the visual flow and design of a folder.  In fact, many knives that aren't front flippers have exposed tangs like a front flipper does. The Sebenza, for example, appears to have something of a front flipper tang.  There is no alteration or consideration for the tab in the design of the handle either.  No swoops, indexing notches, or guards are necessary.  Both in terms of design and look, a front flipper greatly reduces problems that arise from the use of a traditional flipper tab flipper.

Advantage #2: Speed Control

With a properly designed front flipper (no the Boker ones do not count) you can both roll the knife open and snap it open, something that is very hard to do with most tab flippers.  The reason is simple--in a tab flipper, you are overcoming the detent to deploy the knife.  Here you are overcoming a detent, but you are also working around the pivot screw.  Because of that, the knife doesn't need to have such a strong detent.

You can slow roll or snap open a thumb stud knife or a thumb hole knife, which is one of the reasons I still like them despite the ease, fun, and elegance of a tab flipper.  But having tried this flipper it gives you all of the joy of a tab flipper and the speed control of other deployment methods.  And really, do you want to be the jackass in Target that snaps open a blade to slice open a bag of fruit snacks (why all of my examples involve Target and fruit snacks, I have no idea...actually wait, I do).  

Advantage #3: Easy Carry

Pulling tab flippers in and out of your pocket isn't THAT big of a hassle, but it is a hassle.  Every once in a while something will get caught and maybe, just maybe, the knife will deploy in pocket, which is a good way to ruin your day.  This isn't a huge issue.  The hassle factor is small and the accidental deployment, with a properly detented blade, is like zero, but some chance compared to no chance is a big deal.

If the front flipper didn't work as well as the tab flipper, I'd say easy of carry is a tie, but the good front flippers do (look, bad flippers of either kind just stink).  Given that, why mess around?

I am not sure tab flippers are inherently inferior, but having a good front flipper around, like the Gareth Bull Shamwari (review coming next) makes it hard to avoid that conclusion.  What I am 100% confident about is that US knife knuts have severely underrated the benefits and fun of a front flipper.  Based on the quality of the design it should be a 50/50 market share (at least) and it is nothing like that.  Perhaps front flippers are harder to make on a production level.  I am not sure what the answer is, but what is clear is that tab flippers shouldn't be the only game in town.  





Friday, May 8, 2015

Zero Tolerance ZT0450 Review

The ZT0454 is one of the most impressive knives I have ever handled.  It blows away almost everything--custom or production--that I have been lucky enough to put my mitts on.  The size, the blade, the flipping action, all of it was superlative.  But in the end, it was too big for me to keep, too bulky for an EDC, and since I am not a collector the Beautiful Beast came and went.  Part of me was sad as it was such a sweet blade, if it were only a bit smaller and I would have kept it.  Then after SHOT Show 2015, I learned that ZT did have a smaller version in store for us and I was elated.

After two hundred or so gear reviews, I don't get super excited anymore when I get a package.  I still love getting packages, don't get me wrong, but the hands-quivering moments are few and far between.  When I slid the ZT0450 out of its package, it was one of those moments.  This is a beautiful knife and the promise of a ZT0454 in a small, carry-capable package made me stoked.  After a while carrying and using the knife I can tell you that some of that enthusiasm has waned.  This isn't a perfect knife.  Is it worth your money?  Probably, but man is the market crowded right now.  

Here is the product page. The ZT0450 costs $160. There aren't a whole lot of good written reviews on the knife. Here is an excellent video review from Epic Snuggle Bunny, one of my favorite YouTube reviewers (note that we both have the same problems). Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the ZT0450, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

and here is a link where you can buy the knife at Knives Ship Free:

KnivesShipFree

Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money):

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Twitter Review Summary: Great in many ways but one.

Here is my video overview of this knife:



Design: 2

This is a Dmitri Sinkevich design and an obvious homage to the epic ZT0454.  The lines are distinctly organic and the overall size is just about perfect for a midsized blade.  I like small blades, like the Dragonfly, but in the Mini Grip/Delica/Skyline group the ZT0450 fits in quite nicely.  The overall appearance is quite classy, with the stonewashed titanium handle, the two toned blade, and the uber slick polished pivot (custom makers please take note this is how you upscale a pivot, not by making it a proprietary fastener).  ZT, as they always do, hit all the bullet points--a lanyard hole, dual position clip, and good jimping.  Overall, the knife looks good and yet, despite the wave of titanium frame lock flippers, it looks unique.  That is quite the feat by ZT, Thomas, Jim McNair, and Dmitri Sinkevich.  Tip of the hat, fellas, this one is an awesome design.   

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Size wise the design awesomeness continues.  The knife is slender in the pocket and weighs a svelte 2.9 ounces.  The difference between this and ZTs of old is striking--this is a knife that is meant to be carried in a pocket of normal people, as opposed to in the pack of a commando (or commando wannabe) somewhere.  The performance ratios reflect the overall slender package.  The b:h is .79, better than the SOG Flash I, a knife known for its compact dimensions.  The b:w is excellent as well at 1.12, compared to say the Cold Steel Mini Recon I, which was a .83, this again is well above par and testament to the design's grace and greatness.  Here is the ZT0450 on top of the Badge of Hipsters a.k.a. Field Notes:

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Its not the Al Mar Hawk, but then again nothing has even come close to that rarefied air.  For non-Al Mar Knives this as good as it gets.

Fit and Finish: 2

Look at the pivot/lock interface area:

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Its clean, every cut is precise and chamfered, and the pivot gleams.  This is a gorgeous, gorgeous knife.  Even the monochromatic look of the knife is broken up tastefully, as the ZT0450 borrowed some standoffs from the Kershaw Ruby (ironic, isn't, that one of the ugliest knives in history lent out pieces to one of the most tastefully done blades on the market?).

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As with all things ZT, this sucker is just dialed in.  Its well made and amazingly executed (mostly...see Deployment below). 

Grip: 2

Sinkevich's knives really work in the hand.  Everything seems like it is in JUST the right place.

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The index finger notch is good and the rest of the handle falls into place.  Its especially nice to have something of a small parrot's beak at the end of the handle to gather everything up into the right spot.  Dmitri knows what he is doing folks.

Carry: 2

Thin, not so tall, and just the right length the ZT0450 carries well. The pocket clip is positioned in the right place and there is little to no pendulum effect. 

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I like this knife in the pocket almost as much as I like it in the hand.

Steel: 2

Though I hope that the Internet tomfoolery over Elmax didn't scare KAI away from that excellent steel, S35VN is a perfectly great steel in its own right.  I like this steel and always have.  Not much more to write. 

Blade Shape: 2

Its basically a drop point, but a stylized version of that blade, a particularly good looking version too.

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I am not 100% convinced that the swedge is necessary or even beneficial (more on that below) but the overall shape and look is again unique and well done.

Grind: 1

Geez...I thought, I hoped, I wished that this thing could slice, but just couldn't. It did okay with wood making feather sticks quite adeptly, but put into a food prep role, it failed miserably.  It cracked apples apart instead of cutting them and it made an absolute mess out of some cheeses I cut.  I am not sure if it was the swedge that forced the main grind down the blade, thus making it a much steeper grind, or if it just the thickness of the steel.  Either way, I was hoping for a ZT that finally could cut like a Spyderco.  Alas, it was close, but not quite there.  Comparatively, the Paramilitary 2 was a deli counter machine and that's a shame because it has both a thicker blade and a longer blade.  Close, but not quite ZT. 

Deployment Method: 0

The effusive praise for the ZT0450 is now at an end.  This knife doesn't flip well at all.  Unless you get the EXACT right purchase on the handle the knife just won't deploy.  The detent is quite strong and when you place your fingers on the lock bar, the detent engages too much and no amount of pressure on the flipper tab will kick the knife open.  

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Once you get the hang of it, once your fingers of placed EXACTLY right, you can pop the knife open with lightning speed.  Once you get the hang of it, it deploys much like the Tim Gaylean custom I handled a few knife shows ago with its kinetic opening.  That knife was the best flipper I have ever opened.  This knife isn't.  You shouldn't have to "get the hang" of a flipper.  Its intuitive nature is the primary basis for its appeal.    

Retention Method: 2

For a company that doesn't care much about clips, this is ANOTHER good clip.  Its simple and clean.  It doesn't look like a billboard and it is not a paint scraper.  Pretty darn good.   

Lock: 2

Like a lot of ZT features, the lock here is dialed in.  The integrated overtravel stop and the user-replaceable (though I question how this happens as they are not available for sale) lock interface is clever and simple.  The engagement and disengagement is silky smooth.  The stability is amazing. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

Whatever else, I can't help shake the fact that this knife would be a better knife if it were a liner lock instead of a frame lock.  This blade, with carbon fiber scales on both sides, would be amazing, fixing the major problem with the knife.  And I want to be clear--while you can learn to deploy the knife despite the finicky flipper, its bad, quite bad.  And unlike what a lot of folks contend online, this is not a problem related to being a small frame lock flipper.  My Graham Stubby Razel GMT is smaller in every dimension and still flips fine regardless of grip.  This is a design or product flaw in my opinion, one that should be fixed.  As it is, you can work around it, but let's not get too crazy here--while $160 isn't what it used to be in the knife world, that is still a pretty penny and well beyond the price range where you have to worry about something as basic as deployment.  The rest of the knife is a gem, for sure.  Lots of folks will love this knife, even if they concede the flipping action is terrible.  For me, I prefer slicier blades than this, but that's more preference than problem.  This is a very competent knife with one big flaw--a Mercedes that has a driver's door that is hard to open.  Not a deal breaker, but it holds the knife back from being the game changer I thought it would be. 

The Competition

Compared to the SOG Mini Aegis, the ZT0450 is in a different league.  But, within that bracket, boy is competition stiff.  The Kizer Ki-3404 is just a better knife--same materials but fewer flaws for less money.  If both were equally good, I'd always opt for the USA-made ZT0450, even with its $40 premium, but they aren't equally good--the Ki3404 is a vastly better flipper and somewhat better cutter.  The Benchmade Valet is also in this price range and while it too has some flaws, it has a superior steel in M390 and it is a bit more pocketable.  And while the Native 5 FRN version isn't as classy, it is a better slicer, with the same steel, and available at 50% the price. Here is the real killer though--I like the ZT0770CF much better.

In a vacuum, this is a good to great knife.  Problem is, right now there are a lot of knives in that quality range that are cheaper than this one or knives that are a step up that are the same price.  The fact that the ZT0450 wouldn't be my first choice isn't, however, a reflection on the knife itself, but really the insanely awesome market right now.    

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

One ends and another begins

The #TADventures contest was a success.  The winner is: chorizoisgood with his beautiful canopy shot from April 19, 2015.  There were 58 entries and some were amazing.  Mike Rixman gets special bonus points for his blatant use of a cute kid outside, something I am particularly susceptible to. 

Thanks to Triple Aught Design and the Goddness of Gear, Raquel Donati for donating the awesome Burke Dog Tag. 

Chorizoisgood, drop me an email at everydaycommentary at gmail dot com in the usual format.  I send the Dog Tag and patches out ASAP.

With that bit of business finished, let's move on to the next contest.  

Well, its May and Memorial Day is coming up, so its time to pay our respects with another bi-annual WWP giveaway.

Here is how this will work:

1.  Go to the Wounded Warriors website.

2.  Make a charitable donation of at least $5.

3.  When you receive the donation receipt email, forward it to me WITH AN UNALTERED SUBJECT LINE (I need to have the subject lines be the same so I can sort them easily, you can delete any payment or other info in the body of the email if you want).  Altered subject line emails will not be counted.  Not only will I not be able to see them to sort them, but this provides a modicum of authentication that the donation was actually made. Send it to this address:

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com

in the normal format.  DELETE ALL OF THE FINANCIAL INFORMATION IN THE EMAIL, but if you could, please indicate how much you donated.  A larger amount won't make it more likely that you win one of the two grand prizes, but I want to keep track so that I can have a total.  I am always working on another giveaway and this data would be a nice selling point to make that one happen. 

4. I will pick four winners on Memorial Day 2015 (May 25) as follows:

a) EDC Kit #1: chosen at random.  Kit #1 includes:

--James Chapter Knife, Storm Trooper Colorway (courtesy of the blog)
--Prometheus Beta QR v2 (Scout Leather Polished Brass Edition)(courtesy of Prometheus)
--RC Fibers D15 Wallet and CF Clip (courtesy of RC Fibers)
--TT Keeper OPMT (courtesy of TT PockeTTools)
--Karas Kustoms Ink (courtesy of Karas Kustoms)
--Mini Mechanics chest EDC storage (courtesy of the blog)

b) EDC Kit #2: chosen at random.  Kit #2 includes:

--Zero Tolerance ZT770CF (courtesy of www.knivesshipfree.com)
--Malkoff MDC (courtesy of the blog)
--Bellroy  Elements Pocket (courtesy of Bellroy)
--Prometheus EKO OMPT (courtesy of Prometheus)



c) Big Heart, awarded to the person with the single largest donation:

--One of a kind, Smock Knives modded Boker Kwaiken with Dietz Flipper (courtesy of the blog)

By the way, good luck getting one of these so other way.  The vaporize on the forum boards, Dietz has vanished and Smock is making his own stuff.  This one is pretty bitchin' too in translucent green G10:
IMG_8055

d) Veteran only, awarded to a veteran chosen at random (vets do not need to donate to enter, you've done enough, simply send me an email with the subject line of "EDC Veteran's Day Giveaway--Vet" and in the body of the email include confirmation information--such as a service ID number or a picture of your military ID).
--Zero Tolerance ZT0562 (courtesy of www.knivesshipfree.com)
--Arno Bush Baby Anniversary Edition (courtesy of www.knivesshipfree.com)

This year, to spur donations, I am giving away some small prizes for biggest donation in a given week.  Note that these wins DO NOT remove the winner from the Big Heart prize. 

e) Week 1 biggest donation:

--Kershaw Amplitude 2.5 (courtesy of the blog)

f) Week 2 biggest donation:

--Spyderco Cat (courtesy of the blog)

g) Week 3 biggest donation:
--Casey Lynch Paramilitary 2 upgrade kit (includes new custom scales and over the top pocket clip)(courtesy of Casey Lynch, who needs a website for me to link to)
h) Smallest donation (chosen at random if needed):

--Buck Mini Spitfire (courtesy of the blog)

Again, the amount of the donation doesn't matter (except for the Big Heart and Weekly prizes) and large donations won't be counted more than once.   Multiple donations from the same person will be counted as one entry (please try not to do that, it makes tallying stuff up difficult).  I guess you could cheat, by faking a donation receipt email or pretending to be a vet, but hopefully if you do you will be enjoying your free gear on the slow, hot elevator ride to Hell.  I'll post how much we raise once everything is tallied.

The contest will begins today.  You can donate whenever so long as it is more than $5.

Let's do this.  Spread the word, too.
Thanks for participating.  All prizes, including the weekly winners, will be distributed at the end of the contest.   

And for your edification and as proof of transparency (noting that the total is near the cost of an Omega Aqua Terra Co-Axial...):

Giveaways from Everyday Commentary thus far:

1.  Custom Benchmade Mini Grip 555hg with S30V steel ($130)
2.  Inkleaf Leather Moleskine Cover ($70)
3.  Iain Sinclair Cardsharp ($20)
4.  American Cutlery Over the Top Pocket Clip ($7)
5.  Boker Exskelibur II ($40)
6.  Coated Aircraft Cable ($3)
7.  RoBoT One Piece Multitool ($57)
8. Leatherman Sidekick ($30)
9. CRKT Ripple 2 ($30)
10. CRKT Mah Eraser ($100)
11. Steve Ku Quantum DD ($60)
12. LED Lenser M7R ($120)
13. Sunwayman M11R Mr. Elfin ($80)
14. ESEE Candiru ($50)
15. TT PockeTTools TT-7 ($30)
16. MBI CoreTi ($75) 
17. Ka-Bar Mini Dozier ($15)
18. CRKT Drifter G10 ($18)
19. CRKT Drifter SS ($18)
20. Lighthound 1xAAA light ($25)
21. Lighthound 1xAA light ($25)
22. McGizmo Haiku Hi CRI edition ($500) 
23. TAD Dauntless Mk. II ($350)
24. CRKT Enticer ($40)
25. CRKT Swindle ($50)
29. MBI HF-R with Zoom Head ($150)
30. Bellroy Note Sleeve Wallet ($90)
31. Spyderco Domino ($190)
32. Zebralight SC600 Mk. II ($100)
33. Tuff Writer Ultimate Red Clicky ($100)
34. TT PockeTTools 69 ($40)
35. TT PockeTTools Thumb Drive ($10)
36. TAD Gear Camo Dispatch Bag ($200)
37. Brous Blades Bionic ($180)
38. 2x Micro Systainer (courtesy of Woodcraft)($100 total, $50 each)
39. 2x Obtainum Wallet (courtesy of Obtanium Wallets)($400 total, $200 each)
40. Spyderco Dragonfly II in Super Blue (courtesy of the blog)($100)
41. Thrunite T10T Titanium (courtesy of the blog)($50)
42. Inspirs TTi 120 Pen (courtesy of Inspirs Designs)($100)
43. Kershaw Skyline with Blue G10 and Blackwash blade (1 of 211 made)(courtesy of the blog)($100)
44. oLight i2 EOS (with bolt on clip, out of production) (courtesy of the blog)($25)
45. Masterstroke Air Foil Twisty (courtesy of Masterstroke Pens)($75)

Total: $3948 given away thus far
Funds Raised for the WWP: roughly $1800 (NOTE: many of the giveaways in times past were not part of the WWP contests).