Friday, February 12, 2016

Microtech UTX-70 Review

As is par for the course, I am going to lay out some of the dirt on Microtech and Anthony Marfione before getting to the review.  There are always rumors of more nefarious stuff than this, but this is what my research found.  To reiterate my policy, when there is something negative associated with a brand or its head, I feel obligated to warn you as the consumer.  Unless it is something REALLY bad, such as being a racist or a rapist, I am going to note it and move on.  If it is really bad, I won't review the product (and concomitantly I won't own or buy the product nor will I provide them with publicity by naming names).  Also, I am going to only reference things that I think have been clearly proven, such as the Tim Britton/Kizer thing or Mick Strider's problems with how he represents his military service.  Skirmishes between people over possible money deals, failures on warranty claims, and general bitching will be ignored.

The case against Microtech and Marfione is simple--they stole a KAI USA design, rushed it to market, and tried to capture some of the hype KAI had built up for the product.  Here is Thomas's comment on the matter.  Here is a video on the issue.  Here is a side by side of the two knives:

In particular, after the ZT0777 won the overall knife of the year award from Blade Show, Microtech rushed to develop a ripoff of the knife, the Matrix and got it to market first.  The ZT0777 was marked by a ton of delays--the concept of the knife was a tough one to pull off (to this day no one else, custom or production, has even tried a composite blade with Damascus), and so all of the positive momentum from the Blade Show win was just hanging out there.  Marfione and company copied the design, lowered the difficulty level, and put out the Matrix.  This isn't just a similar looking knife or a situation where the knife's lines are so generic there are dozen blades that look like it--this is a straight up ripoff.  To make matters worse, when the baby brother of the ZT0777 was shown, the ZT0770, Microtech had another ripoff waiting in the wings, the Mini Matrix, and again beat KAI to market.  

For all of the bitching people do about Chinese knockoffs of US products, this is worse.  The ripoff is obvious and it comes from a company with a history of great designs.  Microtech doesn't need to ripoff KAI.  They have proven time and again that they can do great stuff on their own.  It's not clear to me that Kevin Johns and the other counterfeiters out there have the same creative spark.  And so, to me, the Matrix is just as bad as a Kevin Johns knife, and probably worse.  

Honestly this is the single reason why it has taken me so long to review a Microtech product.  That behavior is both egregious and shameless.  But they haven't done something like that since and so I am willing to chalk it up to someone being a petulant child, throwing their toys out of the crib once, and move on.  

On to the review.

In this day and age, with flippers, bearing pivots, and superior designs, no one but a handful of folks NEEDS a switchblade.  Even as legal restrictions are rightfully coming down all over the country, we are  in a position where, with a choice among legal options, the auto is not clearly a winner.  Frankly, the legal restrictions have been in place so long that innovation has passed them and the need for an auto by.

But no one needs a car that can go 240 MPH either.  The UTX-70, even for folks that can legally own a switchblade, is a luxury.  But what a fun luxury it is.  If you are the kind of person that understand the logic of having a "drive to work car" and a "fun car" then you get the reason to own an OTF knife.  They aren't terribly practical, but they are fun, fun, fun.  The fidget factor on this little guy is SUPER high, even more than a good flipper.  There is nothing quite like the bang of a good, well made OFT firing in your hand.  I get why that sound scared the US Congress enough in the 1950s to pass the stupid Switchblade ban.  Like a whip cracking, a sword being unsheathed, or a shotgun being racked, the sound of an OFT firing is intimidating.  But the odd thing is, given its size, the UTX-70 is actually a pretty practical EDC knife.  There are a few things inherent to OTFs that make it less practical than, say, the Dragonfly II, but I was really surprised at just how convenient this thing really is.  

Here is the product page (note: Microtech cycles through the production of many of their blades and so not all models are always in stock--the UTX-70 is one that comes and goes).  The UTX nomenclature is a bit wonky, so here goes: the original OTF from Microtech (one of their first knives in fact) was the Microtech Ultratech.  After the success of that knife, they released two scaled down versions--the UTX85 (which is 85% the size of the original Ultratech) and the UTX70 (which is 70% the size of the Ultratech).  There are dozens of variations of all of these knives--dagger blades, serrations, full serrations, black coated blades, and different colored handles.  I went with the UTX-70 with drop point, stonewashed blade with black handle. Here is a video review from Jim Skelton.  There are no written reviews. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the UTX-70, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link (this is a keeper--I can't mail it because of all of the legislation involving autos):

Blade HQ

Finally here is my little gem:

Twitter Review Summary: Very fun, surprisingly practical, and quite nice to carry

Design: 2

First a bit of lingo.  I love the fact that this knife is a "dual action" OTF.  That is mall ninja for auto deployment and retraction with the blade coming out the front of the knife.  It is 100% unnecessary and 100% cool. 

I want to ding this thing for the use of proprietary fasteners, but unlike with a manual, these screws are never meant to be adjusted and tightening or loosening them does nothing to tweak the blade.  The could, for all intents and purposes, be pins.  If this was a knife you could tweak, I'd deduct a point.  Beyond that, this is a superb design--smaller than a pack of gum with a great and discrete shape in the pocket.  You'd be hard pressed to find something to bitch about here.  Note that the other blade types are all harder to sharpen, especially the dagger grinds.  If you are an OTF newb, like me, opt for the drop point.  Also, if you aren't a mall ninja, opt for the drop point.  Anything else and I am afraid that the innate Mall Ninja-ness of an OFT will have you buying a $249 katana in a week's time.

The ratios are competent.  The blade:handle is .70.  The blade:weight is 1.91.  For reference the best ever ratios are found on the the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight with a .84 and 2.81 respectively.  Not all time great, but very good. 

Fit and Finish: 1

Here is the deal--all of these scores are, as I have said before and occasionally note--subject to change.  S30V is soon not going to be an automatic 2 in the Steel category and similarly, an OTF with blade play is no longer state of the art.  Granted it has taken a very long time for someone, the Hawks, to solve the problem, but the Dead Lock, from all reports (including two hands on reports from Blade Show by Dan and Andrew) is exactly what it claims to be--an OTF without blade play.  That is state of the art.  This is not.

Aside from that one major issue, the UTX-70 is a virtually flawless blade.  Everything about it is smooth, precise, and clean.  The blade is nicely finished and the handle is pleasing to the touch.  Even the firing button is nice--grippy but not shreddy.  

Grip: 2

You wouldn't think something shaped like a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum would be so good in the hand, but it is.


There are few reasons.  First, it is not EXACTLY shaped like a pack of gum.  Like with the Sebenza, there is a subtle curve to the handle and it gives you a surprising amount of grip.  Second, the finish on the handle is quite grippy.  Finally, the clip, thankfully, just stays out of the way.  I was concerned on a knife this small it might be an issue, but it isn't.  The entire think just works in the hand.  Now all of this should be seen in the correct light--this is a knife that can't even remotely be seen as hard use.  It can whittle (and has).  It can open packages.  It does okay at mild food prep, but this is a purely light duty EDC knife.  Even a larger UTX would scare me off because of all of the complex internals, but you get the idea--in role, it's quite good. 

Carry: 2

The square shape may be slightly odd in the hand, especially today when EVERY knife is ergonomically shaped, but in the pocket it is a dream.


A knife this thin and small is easy to drop in a pocket and forget about until you need it.  Even in thin dress pants, the UTX-70 was an ideal pocket tenant.  The clip is excellent and thanks to a grippy but not shreddy surface underneath it worked wonderfully.  Overall, this might be one of the best knives in the pocket I have ever had.  It's incredibly lightweight means that it is good even in the shirt pocket.  Simply awesome.  Oh, and just in case your wonderful, there is almost ZERO chance this thing is deployed in the pocket accidentally.  The firing button requires just too much force for that to happen.

Steel: 2

It's Elmax.  I like Elmax.  Shut up Elmax whiners.  Even if there were some truth to the tale, they have fixed whatever the problem is by now and the UTX-70's steel (along with every other Elmax knife I have had) is just fine. 

Blade Shape: 2

You can get a dagger blade with two edges, but an OTF veteran warned me against it, point out how hard they are sharpen, especially when there is a bit of blade play, as there is with this knife.  The drop point is not as Greaser cool, but it is still very good here.  

Grind: 2

It's hard to screw up a blade this thin and make it a bad slicer, but even with that reduced difficulty score factor, this is still a very well ground blade.  The main grind is even with crisp lines and a sharp plunge line and the cutting bevel is wobble free and very nice.  Impeccable is not a stretch.  

Deployment Method: 2

It was about a week before I stopped audibly laughing with each firing.  It took about a month and half for me not to smile each time I fired the UTX-70.  This is a delightful and addictive thing.  BANG, BANG.  Double action OTFs are awesome.  And they lead to lots of hilarious stuff, like opening a candy  bar with an automatic.  When retracted the whole thing just looks innocuous.


You'll be shocked at just how powerful the spring is when you pull the trigger.  The pull weight is VERY high, so high that accidental deployment is inconceivable to me.  You'd have to be a real dumbass to accidentally fire this thing off, I guess that is possible, as there are a dozen or so videos of yahoos chopping up cinder blocks on YouTube, but in normal situations the UTX-70 will never fire accidentally.  

Retention Method: 2

Simple and great clip.  I like the double dip in it that is a straight up rip off of the Sebenza clip, but it's such a small thing that I have seen elsewhere that I am not about to howl about the IP "borrowing".


Good, good stuff. 

Lock: 1

The Deadlock makes this thing a lesser knife.  Sorry, it just does.  But in terms of failure, given the size of the blade, I don't see that happening, unless, again you use the knife like a moron.  A bit of knife sense, to use Derrick Bohn's phrase, goes a long way.  There is, obviously blade play and no problems with engagement and disengagement.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

This is a delightful, useful, and well made little knife.  It's almost at the point of being a novelty, it is so small.  If you like the design but don't share my affinity for small blades, the UTX-85 or the original Ultratech is probably the way to go.  This is a really slick little package, though, and easily the most fun to digest with knife I have ever owned.  It's not a necessity.  It's not even a nice thing to have.  This is a pure luxury, but like any good luxury item it is eminently pleasing to handle and own.

The Competition

There is a wide array of competitors, but the most directly comparable knife is the Benchmade Mini 
Infidel. It is a more sinuous and curvy package--the BeyoncĂ© to the UTX's Kate Moss--but it's steel isn't quite as good.  For me it is really a toss up.  I prefer the smaller footprint of the UTX series, but any Benchmade Infidel is quite good.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Microtech UTX-70 Overview

Its time I review an out the front auto and if are reviewing an OTF it has to be a Microtech.  As much as I wanted to review the Halo V practicality bit me on the butt and I ended up with this gem:

Friday, February 5, 2016

TWSBI Classic Review

Are you familiar with the Crazy/Hot Scale (its been around for a while but was popularized on "How I Met Your Mother")?  It is a very useful social rule that goes something like this: the more attractive a person is, the more crazy they can be and have people tolerate them.  This means that people like Kate Upton and Brad Pitt can be pretty much straight up bonkers and they get a pass, while the rest of us, the less beautiful people, we have to either have some modicum of self-awareness and restraint OR we have to bring something else to the table.  Suffice to say, in dealing with people as I have grown up, the Crazy/Hot Scale has come to explain a lot of otherwise mystifying social interactions.  Why is my male friend tolerating this bullshit from his girlfriend?  Oh...because she looks like THAT.  Why is my neighbor allowed to yell at everyone, barbecue smelly beasts at 12:30 at night, and park his car on his front lawn?  Because at one time he was probably damn handsome.

The TWSBI Classic is the pen equivalent of the Crazy/Hot Scale.  It does one thing so well, so incredibly great that for a second, you are willing to look past its one million flaws and just go with it.  Justin Verlander, I can never know how you felt, but I can at least, in some ways, imagine.  You think to yourself--this is going to work out, I know it's a bunch of work, but it is going to go right I can just feel it.  Then you come to your senses and you realize, nothing is worth this amount of bullshit.  Suffice to say, FUCK THIS PEN.  

Here is the product page.  Here is a video review.  Here is a written review.  No link here, you probably deal with enough headaches in your life.  Here is my own little pain in the ass:


Twitter Review Summary: That's it...get the fuck out.

Design: 0

Let me just get to the point--this is a piston filler pen that requires you to dunk the entire nib and a portion of the grip into the bottle of ink to fill the pen.


Yes, you read that correctly, you are dunking the end of the pen that YOU HOLD into the bottle of ink every time you need a refill.  TWSBI, this is the pen equivalent of sharpening the handle of a knife and leaving the blade dull.  It is stupid.  It is messy.  It is unintuitive.  But there are a few pens out there that do this.  The big difference here is that the plastic collar around the nib leaks like crazy.  Eventually mine just broke completely.  This is a terrible, terrible design.  Simply put, fuck me in the fill hole. 

Fit and Finish: 0

In the flashlight world, the lights that are made like this--with cheap materials and o-rings aplenty as a way to make up for poor tolerances--are sold at Home Depot on Black Friday for a buck.  But for some reason, in the pen world, this shitacular fit and finish is tolerated.  I say "tolerated" because there are folks in the pen world that have sworn off TWSBI, but some haven't.  They have a reputation for making stuff that just breaks and, as par for the course, mine broke.  Right around the nib there is a collar of black plastic.  That collar, without ever being touched, broke.  

But that's not all.  The piston filler is a disaster.  First, the piston filler is hard to use.  Its virtually impossible to fill the entire ink reservoir.  It is also hard to tell when it is full as you can't see the whole thing due to a TINY ink window.  A standard cartridge fill would be much, much better.  Second, the pen has threading all over the place, one set to unscrew the tail cap (to again twist to pull up the plunger) and another to remove the tail cap entirely to work on the guts of the pen.  When I first got the pen I was instructed to apply silicone grease to the actual plunger piece, which I did.  It then prompted felt off.  I had to make a tool out of a paper clip, tape, and a piece of wood to get it out.  This is after they gave me a wrench in the box.  Which, by the way, is a piece of garbage.  In fact, the entire kit is WAY TOO complicated and all of the constituent elements are garbage.  There were times when I just couldn't get the thing back together because of the bidirectional threading on the tail end of the pen.  I had to just let it sit, semi-assembled and come back later.  SHIT, SHIT, SHIT.


The tale of woe continues.  The cap doesn't really post.  It is sort of like that person on the couch next to you during an important televised sporting event--inert enough to be annoying when they get too close, but mobile enough to jostle you and spill your drink at the exact wrong time.  It just stinks.

And like with a good infomercial, wait, there is more.  I have had piston fillers before, but this one was just a mess.  It was impossible, literally impossible, to refill the pen without getting ink on your hands.  A brain surgeon, at the top of his or her game, with all of the dexterity in the world, couldn't do it.  I thought initially it was bad technique (so I watched the awesome video from Goulet Pens) and nailed that.  The reality is, this thing is as water tight as a sponge--touch it and it leaks.  

Frankly, the TWSBI Classic is going to take the crown from the Gerber 600 as the worst made product I have reviewed.  It is excrement.  

Carry: 2

Surprisingly for all of the leaking and ink mess, the pen never did what the Karas Customs EDK did twice--kill a shirt.  I was always worried, but it never happened.  I wrote with the pen in harsh environments and I was fine.  It's a good size and the clip ain't bad.  The pen sucks, but the clip is fine.

Appearance:  1

This is the pen equivalent of a Potemkin Village--it appears all serious and impressive, but upon closer inspection you realize it is a mirage.  


All of the stuff that should be metal is plastic.  All of the parts that should be precision fit are covered in o-rings (seriously, what the fuck TWSBI?  Upgrade your machining).  The plastic is especially cheap feeling, perhaps because it is so thin or brittle.  Screwing in the cap was also something I was a bit fearful of as it creaked ominously each time.  This the pen version a cheap stripper, this thing looks okay from very, very far away.  When you get up close...phew it is a mess.

Durability: 0

I am fairly certain TWSBIs are made from the same material that Inspector Gadget's mission disks were made of--they are designed to disintegrate.  If the pen didn't ship broken, it broke the second I took it out of the box.  I thought it was a little thing, but as it turns out, the whole pen is rather rapidly falling apart.  

Writing Performance/Refill: 2

Ah...the siren's song.  This is the equivalent of Brad Pitt's abs or Kate Upton's breasts.  This is the thing that lures you in and makes you think, for a brief second, all of the pain and suffering is worth it.  This pen, for which I chose a steel 1.1 mm stub nib, writes like a dream--a lucid, graceful, smooth dream.  I was absolutely addicted to writing with it.  I scrawled notes everywhere.  I wrote out to do lists over and over again and I am NOT a to do list person.  I hand addressed all of our Christmas cards (did you notice Andrew?).  It is an intoxicating experience to write with this pen.  Too bad the rest of it is all hangover.  Like worst hangover ever.  Like wake up in Vegas with a face tattoo and a tiger in your hotel room caliber hangover.   

Balance/In Hand Feel: 1

One thing that happened while I was using this pen is that I noticed that while it looked substantial, it didn't feel substantial in the hand.  That was the big deal for me, the thing that made me think, initially, that this was not the pen I thought it was.  It's just too light for how it looks and because of the weird cap, clip, and finial on top it's out of balance.  Add to that a cap as wobbly as drunk doing field sobriety tests, and you have a recipe for underwhelming in hand feel.  This is just not right.  I like the lightweight, but it seemed oddly distributed in hand.  After a few hours of use I wanted to either take the cap off or switch to a different pen.  I realize that few people write for hours now, so I don't think it is fair to dock the pen more than one point, but it is something to note.  I'd much prefer the unabashed featherweight appearance of something like the Lamy Safari to this pen.  

Grip: 0

On a different pen without the feed hole at the base of the grip, I'd give this shapely form a two, but as it is, I was constantly getting ink on my hands.  This isn't to say that I need to have pristine hands after using a fountain pen.  I get that it is impossible to avoid some ink, especially with a non-cartridge design, but this was insane.  Every use resulted in stained fingers.  Personally I really like my Pilot Iroshizuku, but some folks thought I had an accident or something.

Barrel: 1

Hex barrels are great--they don't roll but are still comfy in the hand.


My big beef was the fact that the barrel was flimsy.  It creaked like an old ship at sea during a storm.  Every squeeze or grip resulted in some kind of noise.  And the barrel didn't do well when it had to interact with other parts--the threads were sloppy.  Finally there is the fact that everything here is just cheap--cheap plastic, cheap thin o-rings, cheap chromed parts.  It looks nice and in theory the hex barrel is great, but as applied here it is something of a whiff.

Deployment Method/Cap: 0

I have always preferred cap less pens for fear that the cap would get lost.  The TWSBI Classic is exactly that fear embodied.  Because the machining tolerances are less precise than a kindergartener's outside the lines coloring, TWBSI resorted to using o-rings (shitty o-rings) to keep parts in places that are supposed to friction fit together, like the cap and barrel when the cap is posted.  Unfortunately, they don't work.  The cap was constantly wiggling around and falling off.  No amount of force that I felt comfortable applying could keep the cap put. And if you lose the cap with this leaky mess, your done, just throw the pen away.  Actually, even if you DIDN'T lose the cap, just throw this pen away--it's not worth it.

Overall Score: 7 out of 20

After the sixteenth time that your supermodel date throws soup on your shirt and storms out of the fancy restaurant you are in because, how dare you, you said hello to the waitress, you realize that, well, even with that much beauty there is a limit to what you and your dignity can tolerate.  Even supermodels can break the Crazy/Hot scale.  It takes a long time, a very long time, but it can happen.  And after a month and a half of use, where there were three or four times when the piston fell out or couldn't be reseated even with the terrible wrench they send you or the entire cap is filled with ink when it is opened up, the TWSBI Classic broke the pen equivalent of the Crazy/Hot Scale.  If you are tempted to buy this or any other TWSBI, please email me and I will send you, via email, either a punch in the face or a kick to the nuts, for free.  Both will serve you better than this pen.  

The Competition

This pen is so bad that the only real competition is either that cursed gold that burned your hands from Harry Potter or getting your fingers shut in a car door.  Those are the only two things I can think of that we're as difficult for my hands to deal with as this piece of shit.  This is an awful pen.  And I know, given TWSBI's reputation, that this pen while bad is nothing out of the ordinary for them.  Yes, they give you mechanisms and designs that usually cost four times as much, but there is a trade off and here the trade off is not worth it.

Just to make sure I wasn't crazy (and because I have always wanted on) I ordered an Edison Pearlette with a Stub Nib and bottle fill and guess what?  It's awesome.  Still messier than cartridge fill, but nothing like the Exxon Valdez that is the leaky TWSBI.

Monday, February 1, 2016

January 2016 Carry

January is about to go out and I thought before it did, I'd run down what I was carrying this month.

There was a lot of stuff debuted and released this month, but my carry stayed pretty consistent.  The Surefire Titan Plus dominated by flashlight carry.  Its size, battery life, and output are pretty awesome.  If it wasn't the Titan Plus, I was carrying the very excellent Muyshondt Aeon Mk. III prototype.

While December was dominated by traditional knives in the Scout Leatherworks Pocket Protector I opted for other blades.  One common carry was the Boker Mini Kwaiken:


The Mini Kwaiken is a noticeable improvement over the original, with a few small tweaks that make a big difference.

The cold weather militated towards thicker pants and that means that some pocket clips are just maxed out.  The Mini Kwaiken's clip was an issue, but the always excellent Jon Graham tail clip can handle just about any pants pocket:


I was very, very happy carrying this set up.  The Stubby Razel is awesome and the entire set up was small and very capable, doing pretty much whatever I needed.

Going back to work after the holiday led me to carry more pens.  I tried the TWSBI Classic with a Stub Nib and after a month or so, I am done with it. It is a wretched piece of shit.  That said here was a typical carry:


Note the always great Karroll SES.

The last major addition was a great surprise gift for Christmas--an Apple Watch.  Its not a replacement for high end horology, but as an iPhone accessory I like it quite a bit.  The real issue isn't is competition for Rolex or Patek Phillippe, but the notion that it is useful enough to persuade a lot of non-IWS folks into avoiding anything like a classic watch and opt for the Apple Watch instead.  I'll get into my impressions on the Apple Watch later, but suffice to say, I am impressed, not necessarily as a watch, but as a piece of tech.


I really do love the Shamwari.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Steve Karroll SES Review

This is the rarest of knife reviews--a long term review of a USER handmade knife.  In many ways, the gear hobby is about buying and selling gear more than actually using it.  Nothing is more emblematic of that trend than how most people treat handmade (custom) knives (see here for why I prefer the term handmade over custom; this is a handmade single source knife, BTW).  They are like Pokemon--the fever is in the acquisition of them, not the using and carrying of them.  And the idea that someone would--gasp--hold on to one for two years AND use it the entire time, well, that's like a supermodel that eats food or a politician with integrity--a true rarity.  The funny thing is there have a been a few times when I thought I might have to sell the SES, but fortune shined on me and I was able to keep it. I am very glad I did because this is a knife that, for me, epitomizes why people should even bother with handmade knives--it is a unique, high performance, and distinctly pleasing tool to own, use, and handle.  There are no production knives that have the feel of the SES and for that reason, it makes it worth the hassle, money, and effort to track one down.

When I reviewed the EDMW a few years ago Steve had been making knives for a while but wasn't a big name.  He still isn't the biggest name in the knife world, but folks know who he is and his knives are collected and sought after.  There is a distinctive feel to a Karroll knife--beefy and tough but not Klingon or Bunyanesque (some would say Rubenesque).  Its a knife that can do real work and is still available at a reasonable price (don't ask me what that is now, contact Steve, here is his Facebook page).  Awesome thing about Steve is that he still regularly sells knives on his page for table cost.  Its rare, but it does happen. 

No product page, this is a one of a kind (though Steve does make other SES's).  My SES cost either $450 or $475 (I bought it in person at a Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association show, here is a plug to join your local knife club...the annual membership fee is easily offset by the ability to rub elbows and chat knives and occasionally land an awesome blade with zero wait at table prices), I can't remember. No reviews or videos other than the one I posted earlier in the week.  Here is the write up I did for Gear Junkie (with more pics, this is one photogenic blade).

Here is my SES (purchased with my own money and mine to keep):


and here is the knife two years later:


Twitter: All of the reasons you should buy a custom in one place.

Design: 2

My favorite thing about the SES and Steve's knives in general is that they are built with everyday carry in mind.  The knife is a short knife.  For me, the handle is a three finger grip, but Steve designs these smaller knives with the intention of having a lanyard give you an extra finger of grip.  The large lanyard bead and the tight knots make it perfect in that roll of extra grip.  It also makes the knife easier to retrieve in the pocket.  I know lots of folks include a lanyard, but to have the knife built around this idea is interesting to me.  For many knives it's just a place to store some extra bling.  For Steve, it's an essential part of the design.  


How do I know it is an essential part of the design?  Well, I bought the knife without the lanyard because it had yet to receive one.  Steve offered to send me the knife the next week, but I was transfixed by a new shiny and opted to go without.  When I sent the knife back to Steve (more on that below), it came back with the lanyard and it was a much better knife for it.  

The rest of the knife is just as nice--the show side G10 is contoured with divots to accommodate better grip.  The blade is massively thick with good jimping and the thumb stud is just right--enough to hit with a thumb, but not so much that it snags on stuff.  In short, the design is unlike anything else (other than another Karroll) and yet it works exceedingly well.  

The performance ratios are weird, as is this whole knife. Because this is a unique knife here are the specs:  The blade is 2.75 inches exactly and the cutting edge is 2.5 inches, again, exactly.  The knife is a bit of a chubby thing, weighing 3.78 ounces (notably still below the arbitrary but good Nutnfancy rule of 4 ounces).  Closed length is 3.5 inches.  With clip, the knife is .75 inches thick.  The blade at its tallest is 1.125 inches tall.  The blade:weight is .73. The blade:handle is .79.


Fit and Finish: 1

When I got the SES the knife was tight.  Very tight.  As many customs are when they ship.  But over time it loosened up.  During this process I noticed that the blade started to walk away from the lock when closed, to the point that it rubbed the liner.  I loctited the pivot to no avail (and with Steve's approval).  So eventually I sent it back to Steve and he fixed it.  Two years later, the blade has yet to walk on me, so I think the problem is cured.  Steve dropped in the black pivot screw because that is what he had at the time and he tied on the lanyard.  Overall, the knife came back better than it was when I sent it, but the pivot thing is only one part of the point deduction.  The grind near the ricasso is a bit sloppy and Steve's logo isn't the cleanest etch I have ever seen.  It makes the blade look perpetually dirty.  None of the issues that exist now impact performance and this is my user handmade knife so I am not too concerned with the mismatched pivot screw (though I think a complete black out version would look sweet), the wobbly grind at the end, and the messy logo.  That said, this knife was almost $500 so all of that together results in the loss of a point.  

Be aware that I have seen Steve's later work and it is much better in all three areas.  The logo is cleaner, the ricassos are nicer, and this is the only Karroll I have seen with that particular pivot problem.   

Grip: 2

It's really kind of shocking how necessary the lanyard is.  When it is on, this is a fantastic knife in the hand.


Without it is decent, but not great.  The overall shape is very pleasing to the hand and the contouring is quite good, too.  Steve knows what he is doing.

Carry: 2

Man, I love carrying this knife.  It's just the right size to drop into a good size coin pocket and even in those confined quarters its not so wide or thick that it feels like you are wearing a splint.  This is a good knife in your pocket.


The lanyard makes retrieval a breeze and this is the first lanyard that I have really ever liked (I like my Edge Observer lanyard bead, but I have yet to find a lanyard set up that does it justice).  As a clip carry, the knife is quite friendly with other gear, in part because of its short size.

Steel: 2

When I got it two years ago S35VN was a BIG DEAL.  It's still a damn good steel and here, with a wicked grind, it has performed very well.  I do think there is a real improvement in S35VN over S30V.  I have found it easier to maintain an edge and it's less chippy.  Given how long I have been using this knife I feel like it's enough to warrant an increase in cost.  To me, the jump between VG-10 and S30V was big only in the edge retention department, but here S35VN is just so much better.  This is one of those differences that matters to folks that aren't steel snobs.  

Blade Shape: 2

Well, the reverse tanto blade shape, so long as it includes a real belly, is one of my three favorite blade shapes (drop point and Spyderco's leaf shaped blade are the other two).  Steve's version here is by far my favorite, even if you include another knife I love, the Benchmade 940-1.  The continuous curve of the belly is quite useful for a whole range of cutting tasks and the thick tip allows for great penetrating cuts, like the first cut into a giant cardboard box.  It's not simple and usually that is my preference, but time and again, the reverse tanto shape has just worked and I have found no better iteration of that blade shape than the one on the SES.  This and the grind are the primary reason using this knife is so entrancing.  It just does everything well.

Grind:  2

There is something magical about a really deep hollow grind, something that lets you do more work than you should.  Here, the thickness of the blade stock requires a good grind and Steve happens to be pretty damn good at putting belt to steel.  There is a small wobble on the cutting bevel near the ricasso, but the primary grind, with its many facets, is superb, and the edge, despite the one mistake, is sticky sharp.  Two years on, it still pops hair, though I do strop the knife pretty regularly (usually once a month I go through all my blades and strop them).  

Deployment Method: 2

Steve has always done thumb studs well and these are great.  Once you get the hang of them, you can easily deploy the knife with a coin flip, no wrist action necessary.  These are substantially better than the thumb studs on the EDMW I had and they are among my favorite I have seen.  I can't remember if they are off the shelf or custom, but either way, they are very good. 

Retention Method: 2

Dear Knifemakers, 

I know it is trendy to make sculpted clips or funky clips (see Munroe Sigil), but for those of us that use our knives (which I will concede is a very small percentage of your customers), a traditional stamped clip is perfect.  It holds the knife in place, it lets you access it easily, and it is very secure.  No, it can't be made of mokuti and no, Jim Skelton won't rave about it, but it makes your knife more useful.  Oh wait, that doesn't matter?  The vast majority of handmade knives are never used?  Oh, okay, never mind then.  Keep making those terrible Baroque crappy clips. 


The Curmudgeon aka Everyday Commentary

This is a damn good clip.  It works, holds the knife in place, and isn't a paint scraper.

Lock: 2

You can have all of the overtravel stops and harden steel pieces you want, but a well made titanium frame lock will work and work for a long time.  In two years of real use I have not seen the lock budge at all.  I am not using calipers to measure this stuff, but just eye balling it, it looks exact the same as it does in this shot, which was taken about a month after I bought the knife.


I mention this because this is not a sure thing.  I have had customs that did not do this, but the SES has been perfect.  Also, the lock is easy to engage, easy to disengage and there is no blade play or lock rock at all.  Exactly what you want and it has a tight, bank vault feel that makes you think that handmade knives are, in fact, special.  

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

Other than the fit and finish issue with the screw and a very small wobble in the grind towards the ricasso, this is a flawless knife, and interesting tool, and a very high value custom.  You aren't gioing to find a production knife that has the same look, feel, or performance.  Steve is a very creative guy and he knows knives and the SES is an outgrowth of that.  It is a superb everyday carry and despite a few money crunches over the years that almost required me to sell it, I am very glad I didn't.  Its part of the permanent collection now, the only handmade knife in my untouchables.  This, friends, is the joy of handmade knives--unique, fun to use, and a great discovery.  Go see if you can find a Karroll.  They come up for sale every now and then and they go fast, but man, are they sweet.  And you know Steve has great taste--I saw him tying lanyards with a Reese Bose Texas Toothpick at a knife show once.  This is the work of a craftsman that has deep knowledge of his craft and boundless creativity.  

The Competition

There is not a lot out there like the SES other than stuff from Steve.  The Techno is similar (and for good reason, Marcin Slysz is one of Steve's main influences), but the SES is even beefier and significantly better in hand.  It is also a better slicer thanks to on heck of a grind.  The upcoming Sinkevich ZT0456 is similar, though bigger.  In the end, the lack of comparables is one of the reasons I like the knife so much--there is little out there like it.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Steve Karroll SES Overview

I think I have enough hands-on experience with the knife to do a review, so that means I should probably put up the video which has been up on the YouTube channel forever.  Yes, I got the name wrong in the video. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Spyderco Positron Review

Avert your eyes if you don't want to be a pained knife knut.  Brad Southard is AWESOME.  He is a nice guy.  He makes incredible knives.  He is a real craftsman.  But the Positron, his second collab with Spyderco is not a great knife.  It is not a bad knife by any means, but, and stop me if you have heard this before, in this market its just not competitive.  I have gone back to this line a lot recently because, as I explained before, the gap between acceptable and good is huge right now.  Put another way, five years ago the Positron would be one of the ten best production knives under $300.  Today, I am not sure if it is in the top 50.

But I think I need to go into this a bit more in this review because, well its a Spyderco designed by Brad Southard and when such high quality ingredients produce a less than stellar product it warrants closer examination.  That and Youtube user Colby Davis said in the comments section of my overview that I am "stupid not to love my Positron."

So here is the premise of my argument, aside from the one I made before in the above-linked article.  At some point, and I think it is safe to say I have passed that point, a person has enough experience with the various knives out there that they can, with some degree of confidence, say that one design is better than another.  I have reviewed probably 300 items in the past five years.  I have tried to be thorough and systematic.  And in that time I have handled well more than that, probably twice as many, knives I didn't review.  Suffice to say I think I have a good handle on what is out there right now in the modern folding knife world.

That experience leads me to certain conclusions that are hard to explain without simply saying--trust me I have a lot of experience.  In many ways this is like that old Supreme Court line about pornography: "I know it when I see it."  Stewart Potter's point in Jacobellis v. Ohio was this--through experience we create useful, reliable heuristics when it comes to making judgments and these heuristics are hard to verbalize.  This is the essence of experience and why there are certain fields of knowledge that cannot, by definition, produce prodigies.  Mathematics and chess can have prodigies because the knowledge in that field is crisp and defined.  There are no prodigies in the law--it is all about judgments and good judgments require lots of experience (and, as a corollary, more experience, all other things being equal, produces better judgments).  I don't think I have as much experience as say, Jim Nowka or Mike Stewart or the ever-controversial Cliff Stamp, but I do think I have enough to say that the Positron is not a great knife and is not something that is particularly competitive in the marketplace right now.  So, Colby Davis, and others, read on.  Hopefully I will explain my position well enough that you don't think I am stupid and without resorting to hollow sounding, but true statements like--trust me I have lot of experience. 

Here is the product page. The Spyderco Positron costs $167.50. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Spyderco Positron, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Summary: You can do better. 

Design: 1

I think there is a group of people that would classify this knife as ugly and I kind of agree.  It seems awkward, especially compared to the graceful, almost muscular look of Southard's customs.  I don't think this is a big deal, but it is something that I think people will comment on.  But that's not the real design issue here.  For me, the Positron is a big whiff in terms of its footprint.  The Positron is a porker, the EDC knife equivalent of a plus-sized model.  I am not a fan of slab handles, but the gently contoured handles of the Kizer Gemini make the knife comfortable, but don't add a ton of thickness.  Here you get contouring, but the handles start out massively thick.  There is no way around it, the Positron is just too wide and thick for what it is.  I am fairly certain there are no other knives in this size that are this thick.  And the thickness is a detriment.  It makes the knife worse in a bunch of different ways, many of which I will get in to below, but design-wise it seems totally unnecessary.   

The performance ratios are decent despite the thickness because of the construction approach--real CF and tab-style nested liners.  The blade:handle is .76; while the blade:weight is 1.16.  Both are very, very competent.  The big thing with the Positron is the full carbon fiber handle (unlike the normal Spyderco G-10/CF laminate) with nested, minimal liners.  There is  no question that the Positron does very well on the numbers, but it is just an awkwardly thick knife. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The Positron is a Taichung, Taiwan knife.  These are the best made Spydercos and among the best made knives in the world.  Even some of the masters of knifemaking have a hard time competing with the fit and finish of a Taichung knife.  The Positron is no exception to this rule.  It is just amazingly well made.  The only small issue I had was a void on the edge of my carbon fiber handle, but it wasn't something that was a problem and surveying reviews from other folks mine seemed to be an anomaly.  

Grip: 1

There are lots of curves on this knife, both on the blade and the handle, and I can see how, in the abstract, they could be good, but this is not the case here.


I found that the "butt" of the knife was not all that comfortable.  I have medium sized hands and it just constantly hit me at the wrong place. 

Carry: 2

A knife this size, with this light weight, even portly handles can't make it bad.  The Positron is a great carry knife and just about disappears in your pocket.

Steel: 1

We have arrived at the point where S30V is no longer a 2 on certain knives.  If the knife costs $50, then yeah, S30V is good.  But on a premium priced knife, which, for now, let's say is anything more than $100, this is not a competitive option.  Kizer and KAI offer S35VN on knives at the same price or cheaper than the Positron (and in some cases, WAY cheaper than the Positron).  I can't say I have any complaints in particular about the steel here, but it didn't strike me as some amazing version of S30V.  It was just S30V.  If there was so extra layer of polish or some great heat treat (see the Al Mar Hawk's AUS-8 or the Buck Vantage's 420HC, respectively), I could be talked into bumping the score up, but just for regular ole S30V, I am not so thrilled at this price point.  

Blade Shape: 2

I like the blade shape enough.  It wasn't mind blowing or anything like that, but it was very competent.  Part of me wants to be a fuddy duddy and say something like "If it ain't broke don't fix it, and so far as I can tell, the drop point ain't broke."  That's not really fair though because here, the new amorphous blade shape was very good at the task knives are designed for--cutting stuff.  A meh for the weird appearance, but a YAY! for the performance and in the end I carry stuff for its utility not its appearance.

Grind: 2

In the year or so I have been testing EVERY single knife on the apple test, only a few performed as well as the Positron.


Spyderco has consistently and thoroughly proven that they make knives that cut and slice as well as any in the industry.  The full flat grind on the Positron, coupled with the thinner than usual blade stock makes this knife AWESOME at slicing.  Great grind. 

Deployment Method: 1

Like the TRE G10, the Positron is a good, but not great flipper.  The action isn't snappy and the blade feels light when deploying the knife.  About one out of every ten flips fails to fully deploy the knife.  It might have to do with the thin blade stock, lacking enough weight to give the blade good momentum.  I am not sure that's it though as I have had other knives with just as thin blade stock (Kershaw Skyline) that flip much better.  It might also be the flipper tab.  For some unknown reason Spyderco changed the shape of the flipper tab from the original Southard, which is odd, because as much as I disliked that knife, the flipper tab was one of the best things about it.  It might be something else, too, I just don't know.  Whatever the cause though the action is not what it should be for a knife of this price, especially given the competition. 

Retention Method: 1

I am a huge fan of the wire clip--HUGE.  So why did I give the knife a 1 here?  Two things.  First, the clip is off centered.  Most clips ride something like the centerline of mass on a knife and this good because it prevents or reduces the amount of roll in your pocket.  With extreme off centered clips, like, say, on the Leatherman Skeletool, there is a tendency for the tool to want to twist around and as it twists it either comes unclipped or it gets tangled up in the fabric of your pants.  The Positron is not as off centered as the Skeletool clip, but was off centered enough to get tangled in pants made with thinner material, like some thin jeans and dressier pants.


It's not a big deal and didn't happen all of the time, but it happened enough for me to mention it.  The second, bigger problem was the fact that the knife was placed on the handle in a way that gave me hotspots when doing heavy-Irish work like breaking down boxes.  I had this knife over the Christmas holiday and it was surprisingly warm in New England this year at Christmas so there was a marathon box breaking session so that I could jam everything in our recycling bin. 

Lock: 1

I love liner locks.  I get that the trend is for every knife to be a framelock, so much so that there is virtually nothing else on the market in the custom world, but liner locks are great, giving the user a nice handle AND a sturdy lock when well done.  But here, as you can see, the liner is virtually inaccessible.


The problem is not isolated to the Positron either.  The Spyderco Rubicon has the same problem.  This is just a boneheaded error and easy enough for Spyderco, modders, or any ambitious person with a Dremel to fix.  Though easily remedied, as is, the lock is just to use.  It does not exhibit any lock rock, stickiness, or other problems, its just a hassle to disengage it.  

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

A 14 is exactly right--its not terrible.  Its above average in fact, but its not good or great.  This is an above average knife.  That's it.  And in today's marketplace, even with the Spyderco brand and the Southard name attached, that's not enough to get me all that excited.  And it is a shame because there are things the Positron gets right--the sculpted handles, the elegantly nested liners, and the super slice grind.  But those things are outweighed by the bad, when compared to what else is out there.

After two swings and misses from the Southard Spyderco collab I am still not worried.  Brad is one of the best knifemakers working in the modern style and eventually things will just click.  Perhaps they will do the obvious thing and make one of Brad's early knives, one that borrowed the Spyderco hole.  I'd love to see a Downing or Mini Downing from Taichung.  That could easily reverse the fortunes of what should be one of the best collaborations in the knife world today.



The Gemini destroys this knife.  It does everything this knife does, but does it better, with nicer materials for the same money.  That is the very definition of superior competition.  I also think that the more expensive Lionsteel TRE G10 is a better knife, with marginally better flipping action and a better steel (M390 compared to S30V).  The funny thing is that the Positron is SO very close to being a Smock Mini Southard--so close, and yet Kevin's mod of Spyderco's version of Brad's knife just crushes this thing.  Seriously, Spyderco if you want to make a Southard flipper in this size, just make it a production version of the Mini Southard.  That knife was splendorous.  This knife is tepid.  The choice is easy.