Friday, January 23, 2015

Brick and Mortar: The County Store

I pride myself on my ability to fix the stuff around the house.  I have taken a room down to the studs and built it back again.  I have done quite a bit of electrical work and plumbing.  I have built furniture.  I am not as handy as my Dad, but I have learned that you can fix things using something other than a cellphone to call a handyman


But alas, the quality of do it yourself stores has dropped dramatically.  Go to one of the Big Box places and you have to go into bounty hunter mode to find "an associate" (who or what are they associating with?  Me? The store? Each other?).  Once you find them 9 times out of 10 they have no idea what you are looking for.

ME: "I am looking for a miter box?"
ASSOCIATE: "A what?"
ME: "Its a box that you put a board in and it lets you cut angles."
ASSOCIATE: "What would you need do that for?"
ME: "UGH"

Worse yet is the person that reads you packages.  You know, you are looking for Spar Varnish and for whatever reason the varnish aisle is a mess.  So you go picking through the cans and you can't find anything.  They ask you what you are looking for and you tell them and they start picking up cans and reading them to you.  I CAN READ.  I was hoping that you would either a) keep this section neat and orderly or b) know where shit is.  If you can't do either, please leave me alone.

I yearn for the days of old when the stores weren't the size of football fields and people knew where shit was.  Hell, they even knew WHAT shit was.  Go into one of these old time stores and they'd not only know what a miter box was, they'd tell you which one was better or even better still, they'd tell you how to make your own.  But those places are all gone.

Or so I thought.

I recently found one--a legitimate, old time hardware store where people know stuff.  Shocking, yes.  Handy, yes.  Totally awesome?  HELL YES.  Its called The County Store and it is in Milford, New Hampshire.



Aside from knowing stuff, they don't skimp.  There is no end cap full of cheap junk.  All of the stuff they carry is GOOD solid stuff.  Their pocket tool section is emblematic of the whole store--Leatherman, Victorinox, Case, and Buck.  No "Sheffield Tools".  No "Ozark Trail".  Real tools that really work.

I found this place on a quest for buffing compound for my strops.  I went to Lowes and they looked at me as if I were a talking traffic cone.  But I went to The County Store, on a lark really, and I was met with intelligent questions: "What speed is your buffer?  Do you want a mirror polish?  Have you tried Tripoli Paste?".  In the end I walked out with the Tripoli Paste and a few other things, including a new old stock accessory kit for my beloved Leatherman Charge TTi.

The prices weren't bad either.  The accessory kit was the same price as it was online and there is no sales tax in NH, so I walked out the door saving money on that particular item.  A store like this is invaluable for folks working on their own shit and for folks interested in tools like us.  The old, great hardware stores aren't all gone.  They are just harder to find.  Which, in a way, is good for us.  We don't have to contend with bullshit hipsters perusing the lumber aisle in the process "crafting" things like tables that appear to be made by Dr. Seuss because they don't know how to use a speedsquare.   

Sunday, January 18, 2015

CRKT No Time Off Review

What do you do when you get no time off?

You work.  Hence the name.

This is a knife with a clear purpose.  Sure it can be a "tactical" knife (whatever that means).  It can work as an EDC, though it is a bit heavy.  But spending even a few minutes with the No Time Off (NTO henceforth) tells you exactly what this knife is design to do--work.  It is a work knife.  If you are a construction guy, if you work at the docks or lay carpet, this is a great knife for you.  There are a half dozen or so features that make this a superb work knife. And if you really think about it, there aren't a whole lot of pure work knives on the market.  The Leatherman knives obviously fall into this category, but so many of the big overbuilt knives are marketed as tactical or survival knives and include features antithetical to work (such as hard to sharpen multi-faceted grinds).  Instead with the NTO, you get a blade focused on getting shit done.  After spending a month with the NTO and using it outdoors, in the workshop, and during a home improvement project, I can tell you that that focus produces good results.  

We have to skip the normal "here" paragraph as this is a prerelease review sample.  Here is the product page.  The MSRP on the knife is $125, with a street price probably around $80-90.

Here is a picture of the knife:

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Here is my video overview:



Twitter Review Summary: New steel, lots of innovation--more of the NEW CRKT

Design: 1

A Flavio Ikoma design, the NTO is yet another good collaboration between CRKT and a renowned custom knife maker.  CRKT's market repositioning has gone flawlessly over the past four years, and the NTO is another example of the fruits of that project.  There are lots and lots of things to like--a wonderful flipper, an ingenious pocket clip, a great blade shape, very good steel (a new steel for CRKT).

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There is just one thing I can't ignore.  This knife is fat.  Its 5.9 ounces.  Its a work knife, so I get that it needs to be well built, but this is just a little too much weight for me.  The Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 is PLENTY tough and tipped the scales at a paltry (comparatively) 3.6 ounces.  Its something you have to decide from the beginning.  Personally, it didn't bother me when I was working around the house, cutting drywall, demolishing closet shelves, and installing new ones, but as an EDC knife, it was a bit bothersome.    

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As you can imagine the ratios are strongly impacted by the knife's heft.  The knife has a blade just under 3 inches and weighs a chunk 5.9 ounces for a blade:weight of .51.  The blade:handle is much better at .70.  

Fit and Finish: 2

CRKT's game has improved to the point where par for the course is flawless fit and finish.  There are no stray grind lines, no mismatched handle scales or gaps between the liners and the scales.  The blade sits dead center and the flipper tab is comfortable.  If they can nail the fit and finish on the Drifter, a knife like this that will cost at least three times as much, is an easy thing to make look gorgeous.  

Grip: 2

There is a finger choil, a bunch of jimping, including some in almost the middle of the blade, and fantastic curves and cuts in the handle.  Great, really, but there is a trick to the NTO that makes it perhaps the best folding knife in the hand I have used.

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What's the trick?  Well Ikoma's design calls for a very low profile clip AND for the clip to be buried in a channel.  Only the tip and a sliver of the top of the clip itself are above the surface of the handle scale.  The end result is a pocket clip with NO impact on grip.  No matter how much force I used or how long I used the NTO, I didn't develop a hot spot.  No other knife with a clip can match that.  I ground down box after box (curse you tiny recycling bin) after Christmas and had no problem.  I pounded through some crappy trim pieces in a closet I was renovating and had no problem.  Simply put, the grip is probably the best I have seen in a folding knife.  Lots of control with a middle of the spine hump and a finger choil for precision work and plenty of real estate to lean back and do some real chopping all the while without having to contend with a pocket clip.  If you want to make a work knife, a knife that will be used a ton, it has to be comfortable in the hand and the NTO has that in spades.  BRILLIANT. 

Carry: 1

The clip is great and only a bit of the knife hangs out:

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It is a bit thick and quite wide (this is a tall blade) so it is something of a pocket clogger:
 
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but the real issue is, again, the weight.  In heavy denim or canvas pants the weight is nothing, but in lighter material it is noticeable.  Again, in the role of a work knife I think this is less of an issue, but the weight plus the width does make it a slightly cumbersome pocket companion. 

Steel: 2

When people ask me what the best steel is I usually retort: what's the best medicine.  After all some wonder drug antibiotic won't help set a broken bone or do a thing for pain.  Steel, like medicine, is task dependent.  BD-1 is an inexpensive steel, something in the same class of steels as AUS8 and 440C (and frankly VG-10).  But in that class it is definitely my favorite.  It has superior edge holding to AUS8 and 440C.  Its probably equal to VG-10, but it sharpens much easier.  And in the work knife that's what you need--the ability to get a razor edge quickly.  No steel will hold up forever.  ZDP-189 might chip out or be impossible to sharpen if you cut carpet with it all day, but with BD-1 you can get an edge back quickly and get back to work (after all, you get No Time Off).  It may not have mind bending chemistry (ZDP-189 has 20% chromium and more carbon than so called high carbon steels), but it is the perfect steel for a high use knife.  

Blade Shape: 2

This is a big, wide blade with tons of real estate.  Its vaguely like a drop point, but the reality is that modern designers of Flavio Ikoma's skill, folks like Jens Anso, create blade shapes that have no real category.  Taxonomy is not as important as performance and here the blade shape works.  Its wide and that gives you a thick spine but a fine cutting edge, much like the underrated Spyderco Junior. This blade, this size with this thickness also reminds me of the ZT0350.  Its a good blade shape, whatever its called. 

Grind: 2

Along with their signing of high profile collaborators, CRKT also upped the ante with their grinds.  This knife has an immaculate and somewhat complex grind, thanks to a pronounced swedge and a funky blade shape.  Its an impressive feat to get the thick blade stock down to something as slicey as the NTO's edge and that is a great combination for a work knife--durable but still cutty.  

Deployment Method: 2

CRKT has done flippers better than anyone, especially in the lower and middle price tiers, for a long time.  The CRKT McGinnis Tuition I have is a "mere" bronze washer flipper and it is amazing. When the IKBS pivots were adopted, great got better.  The Swindle was amazing and the NTO is no different.

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This might be one place where the mass of the knife is an advantage because the it helps to make the flipping action even better. This is one of the many exhibits in the argument against assisted knives.  This thing fires every time like a rocket.  Doug Flagg mentioned in his GGL interview that Kit Carson, the father of the modern flipper, helped them dial in the flipping action across their entire line and that insight, coupled with Ikoma's invention, puts them at the top of the deployment method heap, circa 2015.  Some are as good on a few knives, but no one is as consistent across the price spectrum as CRKT.

Retention Method: 2

The pocket clip itself is a really great design--compact, over the top, with great tension. Being sunk into a channel like it is, it can be a challenge to clip, sight unseen, on awkwardly cut or very thick fabric.  But even on reinforced seams (like those pictured above) I had no problem, especially if I gave it a little guidance with my fingers.

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I was wary that an off centered clip would cause the knife to roll in the pocket, like the Leatherman Skeletool does, but the width of the knife and the design of the pocket clip makes that concern a hypothetical one. 

Lock: 2

The lock is very strong, stable, and easy to engage. Its the extra safety that gives me pause (though after reflection I like it).  Take a look at the photo below and notice the small jimped tab on the outside of the liner lock:

P1050109

That is the Ikoma Lock Safety (ILS).  I thought about this score for a long time. Initially, like the first week or two, using it is not seamless.  You have the focus on it during the closing process and that is annoying. But around the second or third week of carrying the NTO it became second nature.  I changed my angle of approach to the liner ever so slightly, coming slightly down AND across instead of just across, and suddenly the ILS was automatically disengaged.  Since then, it has worked without a second thought--engaging and disengaging as it if wasn't there.  The other thing is that going back to other folders, my new "disengagement path" has carried over and has had zero impact on how those knives close.  

I am not sure how necessary the ILS is, but I know there is a chorus of non-knife folks that like ideas like this.  In Europe and Britain especially folding knives (and locking folders even more) are villified as dangerous and unsafety (see ridiculous campaign against knives here).  Perhaps something like the ILS will help change minds and if it does that and doesn't bother us, great.  I also feel like an extra safety mechanism is probably not a bad thing on a work knife. When a blade is do more than EDC tasks, it seems like a good idea to make it an extra bit sturdy.  

In the end I am still not convinced of the need for a lock safety, but this one is as flawless an implementation as I have seen.  With only the most minor of adjustments to how I close the knife, the ILS became 100% unnoticeable and that is the ideal mode of operation for one of these mechanisms.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20 

The No Time Off is a well made knife with quite a few innovative touches, from the wonderful recessed pocket clip to the ILS mechanism.  As a more rough and tumble blade, as something that does lots of work, it is superbly designed.  Its a bit chubby for EDC, in my opinion, but I know lots of folks that EDC 6 ounce blades.  If you are one of them, the NTO definitely worth a look.  The flipping action alone merits inspection. 

I know lots of folks will rail against an $80 or so work knife, but in my experience folks that depend on their tools for their paycheck buy good stuff. I get most of my Festool stuff at a real contractor-only store (and yes, I am THAT guy--the weekend warrior with expensive tastes...) that place proves me that  tool guys are willing to spend.  The NTO would make a great job site companion and if you can tolerate the heft a good EDC.  

If your curious, here is a light&saber pairing I think would work very well as a job site EDC:

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Emerson Mini A-100 Review

If you haven't heard the Utility Talk interview with Ernie Emerson, stop reading this review and take a listen right now. Ernie comes off, as usual, as a thoughtful, creative guy.  His  notion that he thinks of himself first and foremost as a fighter is truly interesting and makes me want to read an autobiography of his.  Going from broke kid in California to maker of some of the most highly prized knives in the world (including this amazing blade) is a story any knife knut would read.  But that notion of fighter first really has no impact on the design and implementation of what is unquestionably my favorite Emerson knife--the Mini A-100.  Shorn of the Wave, it is the least Emerson of Emersons (the Mini CQC-7 being its polar opposite in this regard) and it is a splendid EDC blade.

The basis of the Mini A-100's greatness is its simplicity.  This is a knife that is so basic it seems as though anyone, from Tabitha Babbit (inventor of the circular saw) to Ernie Emerson, could design and make.  But Ernie made it first, another sign that he is quite the designer, despite his claim that he is a fighter first and foremost.  In many ways the Mini A-100 is the distilled essence of the modern folder--one handed opening, excellent pocket clip, good liner lock, excellent in the hand and excellent in the pocket.  It is the Platonic form of modern pocket knife and after using it (thanks to a generous reader) for a month and half I am convinced that it is not just a good design, but, Justin Laffer has contended, one of the very few unalterably great designs.  Nothing can be taken away without removing its superb design, and nothing could be added to it to make it better. I have two small critiques, one common to all Emersons, but beyond that this is damn good knife.  

Here is the product page. The Emerson Mini A-100 costs $180 street price.  There is a larger version, the A-100 and the Mini comes in two variants--this one and one with a black coated blade. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Emerson Mini A-100 (note that like many Emerson's the Mini A-100 is not an evergreen product, it comes in and out of production, and availability can be spotty), and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (sent to me for review by a reader):

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Twitter Review Summary:  Damn solid.

Here is my video overview:


Design: 2

The overall size and feel of the Mini A-100 is just about perfect.  There is solidity and heft to the design, but at the same time it doesn't come across like the Emerson Roadhouse or Super Commander--boat anchors with cutting edges.  The vast majority of Emersons are too big for true EDC use, and the interview explains why--Ernie sees himself as a fighter, but even fighters have to open packages, slice apples, and look nice every once in a while.  The  entire thing is just simple, like a modern folder designed by a Shaker (hence the Babbitt reference above).  I would have liked all one kind of fastener, as a very small quibble, but that would be it from a design perspective. Simple, durable, and discrete.

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The size of the Mini A-100 is only mini compared to the larger A-100 or the rest of Emerson's line up, which aside from the Mini CQC7 and the Micro Commander, tends to be beefy. 

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The blade:handle is a very respectable .71.  The blade:weight is .81 (the knife weighs 3.7 ounces, a spec not found on the Emerson site for some strange reason).  Both numbers are quite good.  

Fit and Finish: 2

Emersons are never going to be confused with Mcustas.  Their materials are simple and basic, some might say crude, and their designs are pretty straightforward.  They basically all work exactly the same way with the same three materials (titanium, 154CM, and G10) and variations in blade and handle shape.  But with a limited set of materials, you can really focus on fit and finish.  In my experience, Emerson has done that.  Here is a good shot of the centering:

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The knife's owner told me there were problems with the pivot/lock up out of the box and that he sent it back to Emerson and they fixed it promptly.  He told me to watch for problems during the course of the review.  Nothing emerged.  I know there were issues with Emersons in the past, but this knife, the Horseman I had, and the Mini CQC7 I reviewed point to the fact that those issues are behind them.  Out of curiosity I'd love to see what Emerson would do with different materials--what would a 3V carbon fiber Horseman feel like?  

Grip: 2

Its basically a stick.  There is nothing wrong with that though because there are plenty of grip enhancers, all of which were tastefully implemented.  There is jimping on the front and back of the handle.  The G10 is grippy (just a smidge less pocket shreddy than Cold Steel's G10).  The size of the knife also helps:

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If this were a big blade there would considerably more difficulties holding on to the knife.  But here, its just right.  I would note, as the picture above shows, the thumb disk is a good place to put your thumb in high pressure cuts.  

Carry: 2

Aside from the shreddy G10 (which wasn't all that shreddy), this knife is a great in the pocket knife.  Its thin (for an Emerson) profile and simple shape do well in the pocket.  The size of the clip also helps keep the knife put. It feels not unlike a Kershaw Skyline in the pocket, which is high praise because this knife is substantially beefier.

Steel: 2

154CM is definitely a good steel.  Its probably right at the lower end of the "2" range, but it works and works well in Emerson knives.  That said, I'd love to see an Emerson with 3V or CTS-XHP.  Both are noticeably better than 154CM in terms of edge holding and 3V fits the hard use ethos of the Emerson brand quite well.  As for the steel in this particular knife, well, its 154CM and everyone knows how that works.  Other interesting steels for an Emerson--S7 would be cool, M4 would be fun to play with and has proven it can handle high impact cutting tasks, and geez wouldn't you like to see an SM100 bladed EKI knife?  We can dream right?

Blade Shape: 2

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Dead simple and dead perfect.  It can even be sharpened all the way to the edge.  In stropping, the blade shape was wonderful.  Love this knife's blade shape.  Simple is best.

Grind: 1 

While the Mini A-100 doesn't have a full chisel grind like the Mini CQC6 I reviewed did, but it does have a chisel ground cutting bevel.  You can see this in the blade centering shot under fit and finish.  Basically the actual cutting bevel is only ground on one side. Unforunately like the full chisel grind, it is ground on the wrong side.  

I have received a great deal of feedback on this point and I will advance the argument here again and add two points.  Ernie claims on the EKI site that the chisel grind is both easier to maintain and gets sharper (as you have one perpendicular edge and one angled edge, essentially halving the grind angle).  These are both true.  He also references a wood chisel as an amazing cutter.  Also 100% true. But the problem is that Emersons, thanks to the clip placement and the Wave feature, are clearly handed knives.  And with that, the chisel is ground on the WRONG side. In both the Mini CQC6 and the Mini A-100 the "flat" side is on the right of the blade, looking down on to the spine.  This means that to register a cut, that is, place the edge precisely on the line you wish to cut, you have the flat grind on top.  In a wood chisel, you register the cut with the flat portion on the bottom.  Its a small thing, but if you have ever tried to make precise cuts with an Emerson you know how challenging this can be, especially for the full chisel grind.  Here, with the chisel ground cutting bevel it is still unnecessarily hard, but not impossible. 

Some people have pointed out that in woodworking there are bevel down hand planes (where the flat is up) and some techniques require the bevel down chisel use.  Both are true, but don't negate the point I am making.  In a bevel down plane there is a chip breaker and the plane body itself that allows the blade's edge to careful and with great control meet the surface of the wood. In other words, the entire plane's design is an attempt to negate the imprecision of bevel down cuts.  The bevel down chisel techniques are legit techniques, but they are designed to hog out a ton of material quickly with the chisel acting as a cutting tool and a pry, to a certain degree.  In any instance in which the chisel is used to create precision cuts it is used bevel up, which would be the equivalent to grinding the bevel on the opposite side of the blade from what Emerson does.

Point two--if you look at the chisel grind on Jeremy Horton's wonderful blades, he grinds them on the equivalent side to a wood chisel, that is opposite what EKI does.  In fact, all of the custom chisel grinds I have seen are on the opposite side from what EKI grinds.  I reference Horton's work because he is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best grind masters on Planet Earth. If Horton grinds a chisel for a right handed knife with the flat on the left (looking down on the spine) that's the right way to do the grind. Period.

And here is the thing, all it would require EKI to do would be to grind on the other side.  All of tthe benefits of the chisel grind would remain intact, the ease of maintenance, the hard use capacity, and the sharpeness, plus they could add a degree of precision to their blades that is missing.  I know Emersons are hard use knives and precision work is not their intended use, but this is a fix that will sacrifice nothing and add a lot.

Deployment Method: 1

Well, I know I have trumpeted simplicity, and the thumb disk is simple, but here there is just not enough clearance for my thumb. Note the difference between the video overview and this opinion.  Over time I was less pleased.

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I have medium sized hands, according to my gloves.  But often times that description isn't good enough.  I do not have fat fingers.  Being Italian and marrying an Italian I have my share of male relatives with pump, sausage-like fingers, but I don't have those kinds of digits and I still found the thumb disk a minor issue.  I can open the knife, no problem, but it took a bit of thought.  There is a reason this is the most often replaced part.  There are a few aftermarket upgrades, Pete Gray being the most famous supplier of wider, upgraded thumb disk for an Emerson.  If this were my knife to keep, I would definitely get a wider thumb disk, something like what you find on the Blade HQ Boker Kwaiken.  In the end its probably somewhere between annoyance and slight problem.  I'd like a score of 1.5, but that would break the scoring system.

As a note, the design and the exposed rear tang when closed made me wonder how easy it would to convert this to a front flipper.  I am sure the pivot would have be reworked or moved a bit, but its all there. And  a front flipping Mini A-100 would be SWEET.

Retention Method: 2

If you look through the history of Spyderco or KAI USA or Cold Steel and see all of the pocket clips they have tried, it makes you wonder how Ernie got it so right the first time.  The Emerson clip is a thing of beauty--simple and perfectly tensioned.

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Its not a paint scraper and it doesn't feel too small (though on bigger knives you do get a bit of a pendulum effect).  Damn good.

Lock: 2

A simple titanium liner lock, like 99% of Emersons. The lock, like most Emerson features, is no bullshit.  I liked it quite a bit, even if this was the problem area when the knife was originally shipped. It was sent back to EKI and during my use it never moved, wiggled, stuck or slipped.  Much like the Emerson clip, this something that just works.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

The Mini A-100 is a great EDC knife.  If you want something small but capable of taking a thumping, this is a knife to consider.  Its not as elegant or refined as, say, the Spyderco Caly3, but it works and works and works. If the Caly3 is a graceful Lotus, this is more like the Toyota Tacoma (actually the Hino, but that is not available in the US). It worked doing home improvements, in the workshop, doing EDC tasks (including rehabilitating a Play Do toy), and out in the woods.   The grind is no where near the problem it is on a full chisel ground Emerson and the thumb disk is a bit annoying, but neither are big issues.  When they come up for sale again, these are about the best EDC knife you'll find in the Emerson line (I am still trying to find a Micro Commander to review to complete the suite of Emerson EDCs).  Its pricey for the materials, but this is a damn solid design and a damn solid knife.     

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 Want List

I was browsing my phone today when I stumbled across a list of wanted EDC items for 2014. It was nice to see that I landed two things that were left overs from 2013--the Yuna EQ-1 and the SPY 007. Unfortunately there were a lot of things I didn't land, but that merely gives me things to hunt down this year.  Here are my 2015 wants:

Lone Wolf/Benchmade 235

Image courtesy of Knife Center

Personal or Evaluation: Both

Why bother?

The Axial lock is a mechanism that has fascinated me for years.  The idea that a knife has a device that is: 1) the pivot; 2) the lock; and 3) the deployment method, all in a single piece, is really amazing. The design geek in me is just shocked at how efficient that is.  They have become increasingly harder to find and the 235 has just the right blade shape and is just the right size for my uses.


Image courtesy of Spydercollector.com

Personal or Evaluation: Evaluation

Why bother?

At around 1.8-1.9 ounces, the Jess Horn Lightweight is basically an Al Mar with all of the features I want--a pocket clip, better steel, and a thumb hole.  I wish Spyderco would re-release this knife or that Al Mar would make an ultralight with ZDP-189.  Until  either of those happen, I will be prowling the forums on the hunt. 

Kershaw Tilt

Image courtesy of Warrior Talk

Personal or Evaluation:  Neither...drool inducer (personal, really).

Why bother?

The Tilt, in many ways, is the knife that heralded the arrival of the KAI USA we know and love (which almost unanimously won 2014 Company of the Year).  Its lock bar stop is genius, the blade and handle are so unusual.  The steel is good.  And the liner cutouts spell out: "Tilt".  Who wouldn't want one of these?  Uncoated versions only, the blackout version need not apply.


Personal or Evaluation: Evaluation

Why bother?

The custom light world has been lacking.  The dearth of new designs and new makers is depressing, so when I found TacLites on Instagram I was intrigued.  I am waiting with baited breath for a review sample.  It would be nice to have another maker out there.  




Personal or Evaluation: Evaluation

Why bother?

LensLight has long been the preferred light of custom knife guys, which is sort of a backhanded complement.  They have the tacticool look and branding.  They have collaborations with Strider, TAD, and Starlingear.  These are all things that don't improve the light, but they do improve how a certain niche market SEES the light.  For me, its the things LensLights lack that always bump them to the bottom of the "Get for Review" list.  They don't have the performance or feature set of many of the even mid-tier flashlight brands and the focusing element calls to mind the MiniMag.  As between any LensLight and, say, an HDS the choice is simple. In terms of features, I'd much rather have a selector ring, a Hi CRI emitter, or a TIR optic, but instead we get "treated" to stuff like ZEDU digicam versions (okay, so its dark AND my one source of light is camoflagued...this sounds like some kind of ethnic joke set up line).  I also can't understand the use of delrin as a clip material or the lack of tailstanding options either.  The tailstanding option was added and I think I have fix for the clip so once the funds are there, I am going to pick one up for review and giveaway.  They look well made and the light's output looks clean, I just haven't been able to stomach all of the unnecessary BS AND the lack of even basic features (well, basic for a $250 light, hell the D25 AAA from EagleTac has a more impressive feature list, sans lumens/runtime numbers, and it is $30 shipped).  Maybe I am wrong and being too judge-y.  Time will tell.


Personal or Evaluation: Both

Why bother?

This is a clean watch, one that doesn't look like a dinner plate with dominos or a hockey puck on your arm.  Its also equipped with features that seem to have the potential to justify its price (note all of the hedging in that sentence).  The Co-Axial movement seems great.  The Aqua Terra also seems like a good place to tear into the higher end watch scene as there is some innovation here and not just gold or reputation.  And if I find it unrewarding I know I can recoup some of the cost by selling it.  

Personal or Evaluation:  Mine.  Mine, mine, mine.

Why bother?

Anso is the most original and creative custom knife maker working today.  I love the technical excellence and gadgety nature of a GTC knife, but in terms of pure cutting, the Anso designs I have handled are lightyears better than knives made by others.  I have no interest in the Millenium, as un Anso an Anso as I can imagine, but the Zulu, MoFo, and others make me reach for my wallet.  Anso is one of the last maker I have on my custom knife want list (though I wouldn't be sad if a Mayo landed in my pocket), so its just a matter of finding the right one at the right price.

Justin Lundquist Front Flipper


Personal or Evaluation: Evaluation

Why bother?

After GGL49 and Justin's praise for front flippers, I am intrigued by the idea and Justin's design is one of the cleanest out there.  The fact that he is an up and coming maker is also exciting.  He has no books, its all just getting lucky and being at the right place when he has something up for sale, but I am a patient person.  

Personal or Evaluation: Evaluation

Why bother?

Oveready/TorchLAB are basically the Saleen of the flashlight world--modding and tricking out good lights to make them world class spec monsters.  Their original light was something I absolutely loved and I wish I would have just bought the review sample.  Oh well.  Then they come out with a total revolutionary design for dissipating heat and a few minor tweaks to the Moddoolar form.  I want to see how all of these changes add up.  The idea of more than twice the lumens of my TX25C2 in a package the size of my HDS Rotary is pretty compelling.  
Image courtesy www.fpgeeks.com

Personal or Evaluation: Personal

Why bother?

Edison pens are a perfect mix of new maker and classic designs.  I got a Vanishing Point for Christmas and in a way I see the Edison as the young person rival, albeit in a more traditional form.  I am still trying to figure out which pen I want, but the arctic resin body will probably be my material of choice.  The VP is pretty fucking amazing as a writer, so the Edison will have some stiff competition.  

If you have any of the above (except the Edison, I want to break in the nib myself) and want to sell or trade, hit me up and we might be able to work something out.  I can be reached at everydaycommentary at gmail dot com (in the usual format). 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cool Fall SPY 007 Review

Let me get two points out of the way immediately--price and hypocrisy.

New, this flashlight costs $1295.  No flashlight is worth that much money.  Well, if you were trapped in a cave and came across one with batteries, it would be priceless, but under normal circumstances no flashlight is worth that much money.  So in a sense I cannot recommend this light to anyone.  Its too expensive.  Note that through a series of trades too complex to recount here, I have about $500 in this light.  Even my beautiful and tolerant wife would have killed me if I spent a grand on a flashlight.

In another sense, it is WAY TOO CHEAP.  As Justin Laffer discussed on GGL 49 there is a sense in which custom knives are cheap. High end craftsmanship, say in the form of custom kitchen cabinets, is much, much, much more money.  Even if you compare custom cabinets not to knives, which are generally cheaper than cabinets, but to other cabinets (production cabinets, if you will),the custom stuff is orders of magnitude more money.  Similarly, custom cars are orders of magnitude more expensive, proportionally compared, than custom knives.  And I would argue that in this sense, given the level of programming knowledge, electrical engineering expertise, and machining abilities, the SPY 007 is a bargain.  This is an all-weather computer, housed in a custom made titanium body, that produces light. Seen from that perspective, the price tag, compared to other finely crafted things, isn't too bad.
All that said, this is still a flashlight that costs more than a grand. Its not quite Roland Iten belt buckle territory, but it is closer than I am comfortable being to that ludicrous line.  Which brings me to my second point--hypocrisy. 

I am, like most people, a hypocrite.  On the heels of discussing the stupidity of expensive watches, I am writing a favorable review of a $1,300 flashlight. All I can say is this--the light has cutting edge performance (unlike high end watches) and it is still not THAT expensive. This isn't ten grand for a wristwatch expensive. Its stupidly expensive, but not something-you-fight-over-in-a-divorce expensive. So go ahead and comment below.  This is me being a hypocrite. I know that.  

But here is the thing, just like sports broadcasters have their "favorite" sport, the sport they cut their teeth on (Chris Berman's is football, Joe Buck's is baseball, etc...), so too with gear. I am, at heart, a flashlight guy.  I love flashlights.  They were my first gear love.  As much as I like a good knife, there is something about the complexity and size of a flashlight that I can't get over.  And so the SPY 007 is the Everest of gear reviews for me.  If I were writing for Motor Trend, this would be the Bugatti Veyron test drive.  In order to be comprehensive, in order to speak with competence and some authority, I feel the need to have, use, and review this light.  

And so, yes, its too expensive, and yes, I am hypocrite, but I am going to review the SPY 007, my grail of grails, anyway.  Its too amazing not to.

Here is the product page.  The light is available exclusively through Cool Fall's subforum on CPF.  Here is an amazing wiki-style user manual that is, like the light itself, an fascinating piece of work.  There are no retailers (God, the affliate commissions could pay for the server fees on the podcast for almost a year). There are four variants--the original XPG model, the even more expensive Tri-V (which incorporates two other emitters, and the Tri-V 2.0).  There is also an earlier model, the SPY 005, which is also awesome and has a very art deco feel. Beware there is a complete ripoff out there called the Niteye ZIP 20 (no link in protest of the blatant thievery; for more on Sysmax's bullshit, see here and here.  The quick summary is that Sysmax is the parent company of Nitecore, JetBeam, and Niteye and they have been less than scrupulous in mining custom light makers work for their own benefit on at least three occasions--this, the one time payment to McGizmo for the PD system that they then turned around and patented, and then the rip off of Muyshondt's Aeon design).  Despite the fact that this is been on the market for more than a few years now, this appears to be the first review.  Geez, I wonder what is taking so long?  Here is my video overview of the light:



Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money and being passed down to my sons upon death or blindness):

P1030848

Twitter Review Summary: Illuminating the thin line between perfection and insanity.

Design: 2

Revolutionary in every single way.  Its physical design is different.  Its programming abilities are insane (especially at the time it was originally released).  Its form factor is great, getting two batteries in to a footprint that normally only houses one.  That makes the light a bit heavy, but that's okay.  

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Mine is a modded version.  The original emitter was an XPG--fine, of course, but not, well, superb.  A light like this deserves the best so there is a Nichia 219 emitter in mine.   Note that this screws up all of the output and runtime measurements, which, in turn, makes the ratios impossible to calculate.  This says nothing to the complexity of the programmability features and their impacts on runtime and output. 

Fit and Finish: 2

Oh serious...fuck this shit.  Perfect is not the right word.  What's better than perfect?  Mind-blowingly insane.  Its not just that it is perfect, but its also a high degree of difficulty item.  This is like nailing not just the hardest move in diving, ice skating, or gymnastics in the world, but inventing a harder one and nailing THAT.  

P1030259

The body of the light is milled from a single piece of titanium and it is immaculate.  The battery compartment has two alignment posts in it for the battery cover and they match perfectly, so perfectly in fact that they allow for a great seal, even before you snap in the spring mounting in the cover.  This isn't just straight lines and circles either, its also all sorts of curves and lines and figures.  Honestly nothing I have ever seen in the gear world comes close to this.  Nothing.  

Grip: 2

Ever since the "palm beacon" flashlights of Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG or simply TNG to get super nerdy), I have always thought that there were ways to make flashlights that work better with the human hand.  A tube is okay but not great in terms of grip.  Well, fortunately, the SPY 007's configuration is both totally different and totally awesome.  

P1030272

Not only is the light securely buried in your closed hand, but your fingers are in the right spot to control the light. This is a great out of the box design (JESUS I hate that phrase) that really works.  One of the many reasons the SPY 007 is a singular achievement.  

Carry: 2

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Do you want a pocket clip?  I did until I started carrying this thing. Its size and shape is perfect for coin pocket carry and given that, I wasn't sad there was no clip.  The light is very dense, two CR123a batteries in a small titanium package, but you get used to it, especially if you keep it nicely confined in your coin pocket. 

Output: 2

The new model has insane output, but my modded version hits around 350 lumens, plenty for my tasks. The real genius of the light however, is that it can be programmed to do just about anything. Check out the user manual for more.   The low is quite nice and the runtimes, given the two batteries, are great as well.  Stock, this is very good.  Programmed, all of which can be done without a computer, its so advanced its DARPA-level tech.  Modded, well, I have no idea what the highs and lows really are beyond simply--blinding and whisper, with lots of levels in the middle.  Its good enough to say this--the light can give you anything you need.  

Runtime: 2

Again, its hard to judge given the programmability, but stock, its quite competitive on high and low. And this is a light that is like five years old, which, in flashlight years is like 250 human years (every human year is equal to 50 flashlight years given the pace of technological improvements, which seem to happen weekly).  

Beam Type: 2

Okay, since this website was founded in 2011, the Haiku has been the gold standard for beams....There is a new king.  The balance between spill and throw is perfect, with a tight hotspot and good spill.  This combined with the precise control over the outputs gives you a light that can do quite a bit from true throw to up close work.  

Beam Quality: 2

While beam type has a lot to do with emitter design and reflector design, beam quality has a lot to do with how the light is made and as with everything on the SPY 007, the light's beam quality is unparalleled. There are a lot of shots on this site where my sole light source was the SPY 007.  That's how good the beam is.  No artifacts, no holes, no rings, no imperfections of any kind.  

UI: 2

The HDS Rotary's UI was great.  Here, with a few less modes (making the difference even more significant), the UI is even better--no button needed. Its important to note both the programmability of the light's brains and the splendid feel of the rotary knob. Both make the UI better--one makes the light more flexible and the other makes it more of a joy to use. 

Hands Free: 2

The light can tailstand, doesn't roll and because of its design can be used in hand and still allow you to use your fingers. Hard to beat.

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Overall Score: 20 out of 20, but hold on a second....

I love this light.  Price blind it is not simply the best light I have ever seen, it is the best piece of gear I have ever seen or handled.  Even as emitter tech has made the original emitter "dim," the form factor is just brilliant.  The quality of good bourbon and flashlights is not measured by a number, either proof or lumens, but by the excellence of execution.  The SPY 007 is the embodiment of the excellence of execution.  The fact that you can get one that runs an XML2 emitter means that this great body remains uber competitive.  Brilliant, innovative design, excellent execution, great grip and look.  EASY 20 out of 20.

But price justified I can't give this light a recommendation.  Its not $700 better than a Haiku, even when you factor in the notion that increased performance at the top of a scale costs exponentially more.  I am glad I own this light.  It is, as I referenced, the end of a long journey.  But this is not an item I can recommend, even to people with the financial means or trade stock able to acquire it. Its great.  Its a piece of brilliant design, but owning one is totally irrational.  Its price is a fatal flaw.  I reviewed one other product, the Lighthound AA, with a fatal flaw, and thus regardless of score, this is not something I can recommend.

But, if you have the means, if your significant other won't kill you, and if you are a hardcore flashlight fan, the SPY 007 is an absolute treat to own, fondle, and use.  But there is nothing rational, prudent, or justifiable about this light.  It is a light for oil barons that need something to illuminate their gigayatch's interior at night or the glove box light for their Bugatti Veyron (do they even have glove boxes?).  I love it.  You'd love it (price blind), but I can't recommend the SPY 007.  The Haiku or Aeon Mk. II seem like the most expensive, price justifiable light.  But if you want to sniff the rarified air of absolute extravagance and perfection, this is it.  Just be sure it matches your stupidly expensive watch and your Roland Iten belt buckle.

In some regards, the upper end of anything--cars, loudspeakers, gigayachts is not about rationality--its about a desire.  And I have wanted this light since I saw it debut on CPF.  Getting one has proven to be a massive chore, but it was worth it.  I am not recommending this light, despite the score.  But that doesn't mean I can't revel in its charms, of which there are many.  Most forms of desire are irrational.  And here, in this one instance, I am glad I am irrational.

Don't buy this light.  Its too expensive.
Do buy this light.  It is a wonderful testament to the state of the art, the passion of a single brilliant person, and how far flashlights have come.

As you can see, I am a bit divided on this one.  That's why this review took so long.  But its hard not to be divided about something as polarizing as a $1300 flashlight.  

Is the halo too much?

 P1030473

Monday, January 5, 2015

Brick and Mortar: The Naturalist's Notebook

This is the first article in a series about cool stores that sell gear we like.  In the Internet Age it is all too easy to sit down, Google something, pull out your plastic, and wait for it to arrive.  But the reality is that experience, while convenient, isn't ideal.  You can't see or touch the thing you want.  You have to depend on crappy pictures.  But when you find one of these stores, a store that has what we like and is a real physical place, well it is special and I have decided to highlight those places.  They might not be where and what you think.  Some are boutique places, but others are hangers on from a time when knowledge and service were important.  I think you'll find that going to these stores or heck finding one of your own is pretty darn exciting.  After all, they are almost always run by folks as passionate about specific things as we are.

The first Brick and Mortar is The Naturalist's Notebook.


This past August my family went on a vacation to Maine, specifically Mount Desert Island.  It is a wonderful place with lots of hiking, beautiful scenery, and some very interesting things to do.  In our travels around the island and going from town to town I found a small store in Seal Harbor called the Naturalist's Notebook.  With that kind of name I had to check it out.

When my son and I walked in I was stunned.  It was part art store, part stationary store, part bookstore and not in a Barnes and Noble, lets-cram-a-bunch-of-random-shit-in-here kind of way. It was also quite close to a museum.  There were little displays of things for kids to do--drawing owls, pretending to be a specimen, and playing with various kinds of art supplies.  And there were animals in formaldehyde, looking all high school science class.  

But the stuff they were selling was equally cool.  There were magnifying glasses, tiny rockhound hammers, hand brooms, collection bags, tons of pens, pencils, and journals.  It was quite impressive.  They even had a large stock of out of print Field Notes.  I picked up some Expedition Edition Field Notes. I keep one Field Notes book for show notes for the podcast and another as an idea for post topics.  I used to keep a paper calendar, but it was just too much of a hassle.  These will be perfect for quick ideas.

The clerk inside the store wasn't what I expected either (a hipster, frankly).  Instead I got the sense that she was either an art student or a biology student.  And she REALLY liked working at the Naturalist Notebook (or perhaps more accurately--she liked the stuff they sold).  My son loved the place as well, walking around and staring in almost complete silence. 

I am not sure why I am telling you about this place, other than to remind you it is possible to find stores that aren't big box stores or singleton's trying to be big box stores.  If you get up to MDI, even if you are on the Bar Harbor side of the island (where most folks go) its worth the half hour car ride to get to the other side and peruse the small but stocked shelves of the Naturalist's Notebook.

Friday, January 2, 2015

My Gear of the Year Ballot

Overall Product of the Year:  L3 Illumination L10C

Nominees: 

Zero Tolerance ZT0454
Graham Stubby Razel Midtech

This is a tough choice, but I think it is the right one.  There was a lot of good gear this year, but the VAST, VAST majority of it was very expensive.  Andrew has done an excellent job of persuading me that accessibility is a tremendously important part of design.  Given the fact that the L3 Illumination L10C with Nichia 219 emitter runs $33 plus shipping, its hard to argue with its accessibility.  Priced like a budget light, the features and performance are anything but.  The light hits 120 lumens on a single alkaline AA and it has a whisper bright .09 moonlight mode, giving you stellar performance (for the format) at both ends of the spectrum.  The clip is no bullshit and the clicky is one of the best I have seen on a light, regardless of price.  The L10C is the anti-Instagram piece of gear--its not flashy, it looks boring in fact, but it works exceedingly well.  For me, there was no better piece of gear released in 2014 than this light.  Oh, and it is also one of cheapest Nichia 219 equipped torch I know of (the other similarly priced light is the EagleTac D25AAA)--tint snobbery perfection in a budget package...very unusual.  

I am going to talk about the ZT0454 and the IRJ below, but the Graham Stubby Midtech is relevant here.  This was a close call.  I simply love this knife to no end.  It does so many things right and DIFFERENTLY that it is a true wonder.  Graham's first run of midtechs were sticky.  This thing is utter perfection.  The clip, the blade shape, everything was a home run.  In the end, I just can't shake a $120 light that sells for $33, but the Stubby Midtech was a close second.

Company of the Year: KAI USA

Nominees:


The ZT0454, the ZT0888MAX, the Emerson collabs, the ZT0562, the Nura...the hits kept coming.  KAI has been darn good for a while, but this year they really flexed their muscles and showed us just how good production knives can be.  Its really amazing how good they were throughout the price spectrum.  They have stuff that competed at the very low end, like the Chill, in the middle, like the G10 Cryo, and way at the top with the ZT0454 or the ZT0888MAX.  Thomas and Company crushed it this year. In fact they only made one real mistake--the garish, hideous Kershaw Ruby.  What I wouldn't give for a blacked out version, where the whole knife looked like the lock side.  

Chad Nichols was also close here, emerging in a different space in the market. His damascus is great, but it is his OEM work on awesome midtechs, like the Grahams, the Southard Avo, and the Burch midtech, that puts him here.  I loved the Stubby Razel, but lots of people want bigger blades and the Avo is just that.  No one did more to bring customs to the masses than Chad Nichols.  A $350 Graham?  A $400 Southard?  Yes, please.

CRKT won last year and this year was pretty darn good, too. That said, KAI launched something like twice as many models as CRKT did. Now, CRKT is a much smaller company and they did win overall blade of the year for the Hi Jinx, but it was not QUITE as impressive a showing.  In 9 out 10 years though, they would have won this award.  Next year looks damn good already.  Its nice to see a company successfully changing their market position.  Wharton types should study CRKT to show how a company can go from the low price bracket to the middle and high price bracket in a short period of time.  

Nock Co. is brand new (or a new brand). They launched a Kickstarter, sold some pen cases, and then launched a store, and more new products.  I am a hardcore pen user (that needs to step up to some higher end tools; seems like a waste to have a SPY 007 flashlight and use it twice a day, but have a $50 pen and use it for hours on end) and their smartly made, nice looking cases are inexpensive, but high quality.  I am stoked to see what they do next year.  

Best Value: Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack

Nominees:

Graham Stubby Razel Midtech

The smooth bone version of the IRJ sold for $129.  They released a few of the 2015 models, basically the same knife with a long pull instead of a traditional crescent moon nail knick, and they were the same price.  What you get for that still sizable amount of money is crazy nice.  First, there is the steel, CPM154.  This happens to be one of my favorite steels--good edge retention, good rust resistance, and easy to sharpen and strop.  Then there are the traditional knife touches--the immaculate covers and the shield inlay--all of which are done to perfection.  And then there is the action--absolutely dialed in.  I have handled a few different IRJs and they were all flawless.  But the fit and finish is not the only reason they are great. Its the design too.  Its just perfect for EDC--slim,classy, and truly high performance.  It is the ideal combination of the traditional knife design (super slicey blades) and modern design (high end steel).  The IRJ compares very favorably to knives three times the price, like the Chris Reeve Mnandi.  Just go buy this knife when it comes out again.

The Graham Midtech is something I have mentioned already, but the two Kershaws deserve a little time.  Kudos to Kershaw for releasing a better version of an already best-selling (but underwhelming) knife.  In the Cryo G10 the small upgrades add up to a large performance increase.  For around $40 street, this is a good buy.  But the non-catalog (meaning it is not listed on their webpage or available to dealers, but is available to specific chain stores, in this case places like Dick's Sporting Goods) Zing is even better (there is a pattern here, the SS Cryo was not as good a knife as the SS Zing, but flavor of the month trends makes one a much better seller than the other).  The Zing is lighter, has more blade in the same sized handled, has identical materials (G10, 8CR13MoV), and is half the price.  You could pay $20 more for a Hindererized Kershaw or just get the Zing.  The Kizer is part of a growing number of knives from China that rival the best knives in the world.  The Ki-3404-4 is a super slick flipper with S35VN.  If it were made in the US it would sell for $350.  As it is, savor the $125 price tag. 

Most Innovative Tool: Leatherman Leap

Nominees: 


The Leap is a tool that opens up a whole new market.  It is a tool that teaches kids how to use tools.  It is a brightly colored munition in the war against raising kids that can't do things for themselves.  It also happens to be an excellent tool on its own.  There is simply nothing else that was as creative or interesting this year.  The locking mechanisms, the blade removability, and the shape of the knife are all proof that Leatherman thought this one out.  Excellent job.  My little guy LOVED the Leap.

The HIT is quite good and is really a close second here.  The swinging handle/blade guard is a genius idea one that solves two problems--shitty sheathes on fixed blades that are difficult to make and heavy sheathes.  I want to review one but their availability has been spotty--when the site has cash, dealers are all out.  It will line up some day, so be ready.  The Adventurer's magnetic sheath is another take on the sheath problem and it worked well, even if it did screw up the clean lines of the leather sheath.  The  S10R is oLight's take on a complete flashlight system and it looks quite nice.  Even the charger is good looking. In the end though, the Leap was just too good of an idea.

Best Production Knife: Zero Tolerance ZT0454

Nominees:

James Chapter Knife
Bark River Adventurer Neck Knife

I handled a ZT454.  I had it in my possession for a few days. It ultimately left in a deal that brought in a knife I was much more likely to carry and use (the Graham Stubby), but in the few days I had it I was really thinking about changing my preference for small blades.  It was, in the end, too massive.  I don't have blades I don't carry, so it went on its way, but man was it close to breaking all sorts of personal knife related rules. The reason is simple--its level of design excellence and execution is the highest I have ever seen in a production knife.  It rivals many, many customs. Only the rarified air, the Ron Lakes, Michael Walkers, and like are clearly superior.  And when you are comparing it to modern or tactical style customs, there is nothing I have seen that is flatout better.  The most notable of its many tricks is its weight. This is a 4 inch blade that weighs something like 4 ounces.  Holy Moley!  This was an easy winner.

Its not often that a new knife company comes into existence.  It is even rarer that they start making stuff this good looking right away.  A Chapter Knife is on its way in for review, so let's see if the hype matches the knife.  The Hi Jinx was awesome and in a year without the ZT0454 would probably have won. But the knife I want to highlight here the most is the Adventurer.  It really is a superb blade and perhaps the ideal collaboration.  Murray Carter + Bark River = Awesome.  Simply put, this was the sexiest fixed blade released this year. And with Bark River, unlike many fixed blade makers, you can get new, top shelf steel. The Adventurer is awesome.

Best Custom Knife: GTC Airborne

Nominees:

Tim Curry Myrmidon
Ver Steeg Imp

Gus Cecchini has been making otherworldly blades for a long, long time.  His unusual shapes, logic-defying inserts (a GLASS insert) and totally original touches, have put him in a class by himself.  But the new Airborne's flipper mechanism is just insane.  If it was just that, it would probably still win, but then there are all of the other Gus touches.  And finally, Laffer said it was his favorite, and if anyone knows customs, its that guy.

Tim Curry's knives have exploded on the Instagram and USN scene and for good reason--they are clean, well made, and downright awesome.  Sculpted Ti handles, smokey, almost ghostly hamons, and smooth action make them easily covetable items. The custom most likely to get used (and work incredibly well) is the Ver Steeg Imp.  I can't tell you how awesome this knife is.  You just need to experience it for yourself.  Its tiny, but stout, and came insanely sharp, as sharp as any knife I have ever seen.  And after some therapeutic stropping (I find it a stress release), it is lightsaber sharp.  And it still drops in the coin pocket of your jeans.  Its a simple design and one of my favorites.  Kyle can't seem to make a dud if he tried.  The Imp is long gone, but there is a stouter version, the Grendel, that is out there.

Best Production Light: R-Pal Lantern

Nominees:
oLight Baton S10R

Every single nominee was absolutely solid, but none were as interesting as the R-Pal.  Note that the one win per product rule bars the L10C from winning here.  The R-PAL is where lanterns will go in the future.  Until the R-Pal they have all been absolute boat anchors powered by roughly three pounds of batteries.  The R-Pal is both lighter and higher performing.  At $129 its not THAT much more than something like the abysmal Gerber Freescape Lantern.  And it blows away the $10 lanterns on store shelves.  This is the future and it was a no-brainer for best production light.

The other three lights are very capable, but they are not the game changer that the R-Pal is.  I liked the T10T, but it was not even half the light the L10C was.  The E05 is an awesome AAA light, but again, I liked the L10C better.  And well,the S10R is sort of like one of the bazillions of 3DS "upgrades"--its the same (nice) light with more stuff. The EagleTac D25 AAA is yet another attempt at a total flashlight system based on the 1xAAA format and it is both cheap and runs the Nichia 219 emitter.  If you prefer AAA to AA then this is your light over the L10C. 

Best Custom Light:  Moddoolar Pocket Wasp

Nominees:

Muyshondt Spinner
Tain Ottavino

This as been a pretty awful year for custom lights.  Rob of Lummi rebranded himself AGAIN and sold lights on Etsy, or more accurately took money from people for the promise of a light on Etsy.  Mac, of Mac's Customs, seems to have disappeared. Neither McGizmo nor Cool Fall released a new product this year.  Enrique Muyshondt did his thing very well this year released the Mako Mk. II and the Spinner, his first AA light.  Tainmania continued, but he too released upgrades.  I know of a few new lights from new makers coming in 2015, so next year will be more exciting but this year has been a snoozefest interrupted by bad news.  Malkoff's MDC series looks pretty awesome, but they aren't true customs and the first generation of the lights came out in 2013.

All looked lost until the VERY end of the year.  In late December, AFTER Christmas in fact, Oveready released a light, technically just a new head, the Wasp, with a radical air-cooling system.  We can quibble over whether it is a true custom or not, but the small numbers, radical design, and price tag make it close enough for me. I reviewed the original Moddoolar Pocket and it was an amazing light, but it got hotter than a car seat in August.  The air cooling system, while not making the light brighter or easier to control, is really something new. It is also a feat of enigneering and machining.  It also looks amazing, which doesn't count for a lot, but it is something worth mentioning. A light that can truly fit in your pocket and produce 2600 lumens is impressive.  One that takes heat into consideration is even nicer.  When you add on the brilliance of the Triad tailcap, plus a nice clip, you have a real winner.  I had literally written off this entire category, having written the first paragraph, the one above, and then the Wasp comes out.  Phew...that was a close one.

Best Pack: TAD Litespeed

Nominees:


The TAD Litespeed Updates look great and when you make great better, its hard to beat.  That said, there are a billion and one bags out there I am not confident I picked the best.  

Last year I was fascinated by the gadget charging packs, but EVERYONE and I mean everyone complained about their lack of capacity.  The new North Face Router Charged has a larger capacity solar cell and it looks like it might actually take these bags from proof of concept to actual utility.  Only time, and a decision to buy one for review, will tell.  And while I hated, hated, hated the Topo Designs Daypack, the Mountain Briefcase looks good and comes with good reviews from both Brad Dowdy and Myke Hurley, two guys whose opinions hold a lot of sway with me.  I might review one, but I can't imagine it would replace my Bihn Cadet.  You can have that when you pry it from my....you know. 

Then there is the Bexar Hudson Satchel.  There are a million "boutique" leather bags out there, from Saddleback, from any number of others, but there is something so appealing about the Hudson.  Its clean lines and its got enough organization not to be stupidly childish.  Something from Bexar is coming my way.  I am just not sure what it is.  


Nominees:


This is the closest category as the Karas Customs Ink looks incredible.  In the end, despite my love for them, I still think fountain pens aren't PERFECT EDC pens. You can't quite thrash on them like you would with an ballpoint of gel tip.  And so the Shaker takes the crown. Both are great, but the Shaker's uber clean lines are hard to beat.  In more ways than one it is the iPhone of EDC pens.  The Liliput looks great, but knife guys aren't impressed by the price tag supposedly justified by the bluing of the metal barrel. Its a pretty pen, but not price justified.

Best Multitool: Spyderco Clipitool Driver

Nominees:

Vox Snailor

Based on Instagram popularity it should be the Snailor, but I am not exactly sure why this thing is so popular.  In many ways our obsession with small trinkets and things made by famous knife makers has pushed us into pet rock territory in terms of utility.  All of the beads and "multitools" don't seem to do a whole lot, so I can't give the Snailor an award.  BTW  there is an ACTUAL totally useless Pet Rock of the gear world and it is the GLASS sculpture of Prometheus Design Werx's octopus. And it is quite expensive.  WTF?

Sorry for the rant. Well, the Clipitool is quite a nice showing from Spyderco.  It's well made and in the driver configuration, its quite handy.  The BTN #4 is one of the best one piece multitools available but its not quite as useful as the Clipitool.  I also really like the RUT, it just happens to be so expensive I can never price justify it.  $149 box cutter is a strong challenge to financial prudence, regardless of who makes it. 

Best Accessory: Edge Observer Lanyard Beads

Nominees:

Lynch 3-hole Pocket Clip
Aegis EDCi Solution

I am an avowed hater of lanyard beads.  I hate them.  But...well...Andrew's clean, simple aesthetic and nice finish make them the only bead I'd ever consider.  Given my disdain for all others, that is an accomplishment.  Call me a shill if you want, but its seems clear to me that this is the best bead for me.

Caseey Lynch makes some awesome gear and his over-the-top Spyderco compatible pocket clip is one of them (his pry tool is another).  The clip works with any Spyderco that has a triangle, three screw configuration (like the Delica and PM2, but not the Caly Jr.).  Its in full production and works really well. Henry makes a great, truly great flashlight, but his success with pocket clips has been...um...varied.  The first clip for the Clicky was a monstrous, ugly beast.  The second clip, a washer style clip, is awesome.  The new universal clip seems to be able to be mounted on even a HDS Rotary.  How that works I have yet to see, but one is on its way to me, so stay tuned.  That said, a universal clip for a universally great set of lights is definitely worth a mention.  

Best EDC-related Crowd Funded Project: Sugar Creek Forge Build Along

Nominees:

Project Hate
Knife Thursday Coffee

Gathering funds for a forge in Uganda is an awesome thing--a way our community can come together and make a difference.  Doing that while teaching folks how to make a knife is SUPER cool.  

Project Hate was covered on Justin's ballot and it is a great thing.  I also like the idea of using the NPR/PBS model to support podcasts, so Chris and Steve's coffee money idea is a pleasant, cheap way to keep the good stuff coming. 

Best Website/YouTube/Podcast/Instagram: Utility Talk

Nominees:

Knife Journal Podcast

I remain wholly unconvinced that Instagram is anything more than a fad, so I am not going to award this to an Instagram feed. Its lack connectivity--such as an inability to natively repost and unnecessary hurdles to link to the web--make me think the next picture based app will actually be the one that lasts. But in terms of quality, regardless of format, Utility Talk is up there.  It started out as two dudes goofing around (oh the history that is made by two dudes goofing around--airplanes, Microsoft, the Chicago Cubs 2015 line up), and now it is an important part of the gear community with great long form interviews with industry insiders...well with KAI USA, but still...they did great work.  

Knife Journal also had a great year, but last year was big for them too. Jim and Kyle do great work talking and teaching. They have also segmented their discussions so the apolitical can skip the ranty stuff. More than Just Surviving is a site I frequent a good deal and it is in the old Feedly feed.  Thomas and Elise do a good job with reviews and they both take amazing pictures--photojournalist style.  There are few product literature shots and the site is better for it.  Pivot and Tang is a high concept site, much like Edge Observer, and his reviews are clear, clean, and concise (Descartes would be proud).  

Community Leader: Chris Weinstein

Nominees:

Mario Contino
Weiners and Steel
James Nowka

Chris IS the knife community.  By focusing relentlessly on the community aspects of the knife world instead of the technical and design minutae (like I do) he has broadened the tent and brought in tens of thousands of new folks.  Every knife company should send him a free blade.  He's brought in that much business.  Plus his everyman approach is both funny and likeable.  

Mario has raised the bar for his video reviews, his podcast...everything. This year was a year he did a ton of work.  I'd love to see him get a job in the business, a la Ben Peterson.  If Chris Weinstein broadened the tent, the Weiners and Steel guys made it cool to be inside. Their show, filled with kilobuck blades and Jersey accents, is a can't miss.  James Nowka could be community leader just about every year and this year he took a leading role, reminding folks that there is a history to knives and that knives didn't start being made in the 1980s with the Spyderco Worker.  His experience and breadth of knowledge is heartening and his firebrand style is audio caffeine, it wakes up and challenges the brain, appropriate given his own drinking preferences.  

Remember to comment below with your gear of the year choices and you could win your choice of either the Kizer Ki 3404-4 or the BRKT Adventurer.