Monday, December 5, 2016

Everyday Objects Described in Silly Gear Company Ad Copy

The second post of the week will tabulate winners for the Fisher House giveaway.  Its a lot of bookkeeping, so until then enjoy this frivolous post.

Of all the industries in the world car ads are by far the most insulting.  The blowhard bullshit ad copy would have an alien convinced that a Hyundai goes fast, sips fuel, and scores you a cabin full of chicks.  But gear ad copy is not far behind in terms of layers of crap.  For more baloney than a kids cafeteria see the companies listed below.

Object: Umbrella
Company: Best Made

Man's best friend against the elements. This umbrella was made by the oldest umbrella manufacturer in Slovenia and our team traveled there in-person to appreciate the fine points of handmaking artisanal umbrellas (that is, we took a photographer with us and watched other people do work while standing around stroking our three month old beards). From the brass fittings on the handle to the hand-dyed waxed cotton fabric of the upper, this umbrella is made the same way it has been since the Slovenian factory opened in 1917. In fact, Ury Gleshnev, owner of the factory and son of the founder, oversees every element of the construction of these fine tools, as he has for the last 59 years. If you need an umbrella to last you a lifetime and want to be able to pass down heirloom tools to your children (because that is exactly what people want when their parents die--old shit), then you need to come with us on a journey of discovery in to the world of umbrella construction.

Retail Price (that you think it will be when reading the copy): $179.95
Actual Retail Price: $685.95

Object: Corkscrew
Company: Cold Steel

If you have seen our latest video Absolute Mother Fucking Proof, you know the power that is concealed within this simple object. While it can behead capped bottles and gut wine corks with ease, its the self-defense features that make the Skull Crusher Corkscrew a Cold Steel product. Equipped with a PPE handle, which resists cracking, warping, splitting, and rot, it is designed to provide comfort and a sure grip even when your hands are covered in blood or wine or both. The Skull Crusher's fluted screw tip digs into cork and human flesh with like they are butter. And in a reverse grip the twist/bottle opener acts as a blunt weapon so that you can repel attackers as they pillage your picnic. If you have found yourself unarmed in a park while sipping Chardonnay with a loved one you owe it to them and yourself to be prepared for any danger with the Skull Crusher Corkscrew. Finally, just to make sure there is no possibility of collapse during the heat of battle, the screw is held in place by the Tri-Ad lock which Lynn Thompson personally designed with some small inputs from Andrew Demko (who really didn't do all that much, because, well its LYNN FUCKING THOMPSON and he is an amazing jack of all trades, handsome guy, athletic 10th degree black belt, amazing shot, my boss, and the editor of this ad copy).

Retail Price: $34.95 (sold out of our Arizona Office Only)

Object: Office Chair with Wheels
Company: Fenix

In-joy State of Art comfort as you work. This chair features seven smoothing run casters that allow you to pivot and roll around as you switch from desk to desk in you're office. The twin side levers allow you to addjust the height of seat and of the position of the back. Too padded armrests let you take a break from typing. All of the surface have memory foam and is covered in top grain leather.

Made in Guangdong China. Ad copy by Google Translate.

Object: Step Stool
Company: Benchmade

Using state of the art, high precision machinery, Benchmade brings you this latest addition to its line up--the Pine Step Stool. Taking what we have learned for years of producing knives we have added features to the Step Stool that made it both more complicated than it needed to be and less sturdy. We have also added, for no apparent reason, an Axis lock to the Step Stool. This Step Stool is the first of a wave of different sized step stools, all with Axis locks, that are part of the Benchmade Stand line. We will discontinue this line in two years and integrate them back into our main brand. Oh, and the "h" in Benchmade Stand is a little step stool. Wasn't that clever of us?

Retail Price: $179.95
Retail Price of a simpler, sturdier Cherry or Maple Step Stool from Spyderco's Step Stool line: $49.95

Object: Door Knob
Company: ZT

Go Bold.

Open Doors.

That's what you get when you go with the Zero Tolerance ZT014DKGB. The ZT014DKGB is a factory custom collaboration between Zero Tolerance and Rick Hinderer. It features state-of-the-art high impact glass surrounded by a geared brass collar and attached to your door with purple anodized screws. We are announcing the ZT014DKGB here today, but you will need to wait a week for another spammy email to tell you where you can buy the ZT014DKGB. And it will be a limited edition, in the sense that the purple anodized screws will only be available in this run. We have seven more runs of this exact same product ready to go, all with different colored anodized screws. So, yeah, its a limited edition.

Price: $500 (and there will be no variation or discount because we have somehow circumvented federal laws and regulations on price fixing).

Friday, December 2, 2016

Cold Steel Espada XL Review

BAD BEHAVIOR DISCLAIMER: If you pay attention at all to the knife world you know Cold Steel behaves like a bunch of jerks, from their suit against CRKT (my commentary here and here) to their threats to sue custom makers for the use of the San Mai designation (I think they were on good legal ground vis a vis the trademark but just because you have a right doesn't mean you need to enforce it--see Spyderco and the thumb hole for an example of a good corporate citizen on this front).  Calling Cold Steel repugnant is offensive to repugnant people everywhere.  You get the point though--their behavior is uninspiring.  Legal, but dreadful. And for those of us that like their knives, its something that is embarrassing (along with Lynn Thompson's Boop Your Dead video).   

Part of the difficulty in reviewing something is figuring out exactly how the maker of that item intends for it to be used. To a certain extent this doesn't matter--the Zebra F-701 is a pen that is great precisely because you can use it in a way that the manufacturer probably didn't intend. But, for the most part, if a maker puts out a flashlight as an EDC light, that is how I will review it. Its hardly fair to dock an EDC flashlight points because it doesn't throw well. So intended use and context matter.

With that as background, let me say that the review of the Espada XL has been very difficult. Not because I couldn't figure out its strengths and weaknesses, but because I am not sure what Cold Steel thinks is this product's intended use. If they think this is a serious knife that has high utility, they are wrong and if seen in that light the knife is an utter failure. But that seems like an improbable intended use for a knife with a 7 1/2 inch blade. If they view the knife as a folding fixed blade, a pocket chopper, if you will (said with a Dusty Rhodes voice), then, again, it is an utter failure. This is a knife that did not fair well in chopping tasks for a slew of reasons.

There are three other possible roles: 1) as compensation device; 2) as a weapon; and 3) as an emblem for the brand. In these three roles, only two of which I care about, I can see the Espada XL doing well. There is no question that, short of a Corvette or other sports car purchased in late mid-life, the Espada XL is a fabulous compensation device. Given its size and intimidating appearance, I would imagine that it would be successful as a weapon, but I have no expertise or concern for a knife as a weapon, so I will leave that function alone. But perhaps the best intended use (or reason for the Espada XL to exist) is as a emblem for Cold Steel itself. In that intended use, it hits a home run. The Espada XL is Cold Steel in a way that no other knife encapsulates a brand.

Why? Well, like Cold Steel the Espada XL is BIG, BOLD, and VICIOUS. It is also chocked full of flaws, flaws that indicate that Cold Steel, even to this day, does not understand what makes its brand and its blades liked among those that eschew the label and look of the Mall Ninja. And finally, and perhaps most sweetly for people that tire of Lynn Thompson's legal bullshit, it involves a bit of intellectual property scandal. Its not outright theft, but like many things Cold Steel does, the Espada XL makes a very bad impression, legally speaking.

Then there is a final possibility--this knife is designed for fun.  For all of the gory violence over on Cold Steel's video page, in the end I think Cold Steel is a company made of and for adult men that want to indulge their inner 12 year old boy.  Who doesn't want to see shit blow up?  Well, aside from adults and females.  So in that vain, the Espada XL is supposed to be fun and any utility you get out of it is a bonus.  In the end, this is the approach I chose.  Is it fun and is there a dollop of utility on the side?  

Finally, I think it is important for me to state by bias up front--I hate big, weapony knives. I would much prefer a small, quiet pocket companion that help with everyday chores. Big knives slow me down and make everyday life a bit more cumbersome. They also scare people, which, having long since left my teenage years in the past, I have no interest in doing. I am also not much of a fan of stabbing people. So the Espada XL as the biggest and most weapony knife in the world, starts out with a serious handicap.

Here is the product page (please ignore the obnoxious, breathless copy). The Espada XL costs $259.95. Here is a written review (for Dan, this is a normal sized knife--dude is giant). Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Espada XL, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Knife Jalopy.

Before I get started on the actual review, let me show you this little disclaimer that comes in the XL's box (which did not come in other Cold Steel boxes):

Um...remember when Cold Steel tried to sue CRKT?  For false advertising...yeah that's why Lynn Thompson has as many friends in the knife world as a leper does as at a wrestling match.  This is the very definition of hypocrisy.  

Design: 0

There is no question that you will smile as this thing slides out of the box.  It is positively huge.  Not just long (okay...there will be one million and one "That's what she said..." jokes in this review) but really tall as well.  This thing is easily two inches wide.

But once the glee wears off you are stuck with a blade, even for an object of pure cutting joy, is impractical.  The handle is a mess.  There is no chance you can get this open with one hand (unless you Wave it out), and the blade is impractical for anything other than running through the forest delimbing saplings like a jackass.  Oh, and in an odd twist, it was a fantastic pizza cutter.  I would love to see that in a Cold Steel promotional video.  

The blade to hand--screw this--the knife weighs more than a pound and has a 7 1/2 inch blade.  Its not even worth busting out a calculator for the performance ratios.  Even if they are good, the knife is just too big to take seriously.  

Fit and Finish: 0

Here is where I was truly surprised.  I expected this to be a design I didn't like.  But Cold Steel has sneakily done very well in terms of fit and finish in the last three years.  Even their cheap stuff, like the Mini Tuff Lite was solid, centered, and sturdy.  What you get here is a clicking, clacking, crunching mess.  After even a few minutes of use the leverage put on the handle basically does in the knife, but for the Tri-Ad lock.  The side to side blade play after some use was incredible--enough you can see the blade wiggle in the air as you wave it back and forth.

And I don't think this is a fluke or a bad egg.  The physics here are terrible for a knife handle.  Cold Steel has torqued way down on the blade with the Tri-Ad lock so that there is very little up and down blade play.  The spring here is tremendously strong.  But all of that force, generated by a boom arm of 7 1/2 inches of steel, has to go somewhere and here it goes out into the sides of the handles resulting a staggeringly sloppy knife.

I would be willing to concede that even this error is not fatal given that it is all but required by the design (this is one of a million reasons why a 7 1/2 inch blade is impractical), if the rest of the knife was good.  But it wasn't.  As you can see below, even before use the blade was out of alignment.  Out of the box it rubbed the handles.  After some tweaking of the pivot, it was better, but the instant I used the knife it returned.  


If you suspend your prejudice against Mall Ninja gear and trying out something like the Mini Recon 1, you will see that this knife, with the identical materials, is far below what it could be, simply because folders shouldn't be this big. 

Grip: 0

There are about seven different grips that this beast of a handle can accommodate, unfortunately none of them are good.  Aside from the issue of a handle like this telling you where to put your hands, which is a problem to begin with there are three other issues here.  First, because of where the liners are, when you strike something you intend to cut with force that force is transferred through the handle to your hand in way that is surprisingly painful.  If the liners were fully nested like they are on the Paramilitary 2, for example, this wouldn't be an issue.  As it is, steel on flesh and bone is no fun. 


Second, the G10, even though is tamed down from what Cold Steel used to issue, is still to rough.  As the overview showed, its just too rough to be used by non-gloved hands.  I suppose if you are the biker gang enforcer type, gloves are a necessity for fingerprint concealment reasons, but for the rest of us, gloves are a sometimes thing and so sometimes this knife is just AWFUL in the hand.

Third, and finally, because the handle and the knife are so long and so thin, regardless of what you do you will experience fatigue quicker than you would if the knife were a fixed blade with a nicer, fuller handle. 

Carry: 1

This knife is really, really wide in the pocket.  Its as wide as an iPhone and twice as long.  But really, the width is the only issue.  The knife's thin shape, and curved spine allows it to play nicely in your pocket and not stick out so much. 


For its size, it is surprisingly easy to carry and that's pretty impressive given that this knife, even when closed, is longer than a football.

Steel: 2

XHP rocks.  I wish it wasn't coated, but that is not XHP's fault.  This is a very good all around steel.

Blade Shape: 0

Bowies look OK and that's about it.  On some fancy art knife I guess they are better than that, but on this knife they are incredibly impractical.  It was darn near impossible to do any practical tasks.  Opening boxes was possible, but getting a blister pack open was a dangerous and terribly unpleasant task.  


The tip was very fragile, and I was always worried about breaking it off, but it survived some serious chopping.  The pronounced and exaggerated belly made this a world class pizza cutter.  In the end, a nice drop point would be better, even for pure fun.  

Grind: 2

I can't complain about the simple, flat grind.  There is a small sharpening choil, everything was clean and even.  In short, it was quite good.  

Deployment Method: 1

I am not going to subtract a point from the knife, but it bears mentioning that the thumb plate acting like a Wave hook is awfully close to just stealing Ernie Emerson's idea.  The legal issue is a bit murky, but the moral one is not--this is crass theft, if not under the letter of the law, then in principle.  Boo on Cold Steel.  I'd be more forgiving if they weren't the knife world equivalent of Legal Trolls, suing and threatening to sue everyone and their mother.

But aside from the shameless, yet effective Wave/thumb stud, this knife is a beast to open and close.  The size makes anything but two handed opening an exercise in Cirque Du Soleil-level finger gymnastics.  And closing this knife is a harrowing act, especially if you like your digits intact.  You can't even gravity snap this knife open, the spring is too strong.

Retention Method: 0

Cold Steel's clips are so terrible they are in a class all by themselves.  There is remedial design, such as some of the crappy Benchmade numbers and then there is this.  Its not just that they cause hotspots, which they do, but the fact that Cold Steel, unlike EVERY OTHER MAKER ON THE PLANET, has yet to figure out how to do reversible pocket clips.  These things are just impossible not to lose.  For the review I taped the spare one into the box (which is something Cold Steel should do) just so I wouldn't lose it.    


Its a small point, but this sort of pathetic design kills me.  If the clip was good, I'd put the two clips per knife thing aside, but its crappy, pokey and ugly.  

Lock: 2

Tri-Ad lock rocks.  This knife stinks.  Even a great lock can't save it, especially when the spring on this thing requires a ton of pressure to disengage the lock.  I am not even going to bother taking the point off for that because the fact that the Tri-Ad lock keeps this thing held open (even if there is a price to pay for that) is a miracle.

Overall Score: 8 out of 20

If you want to have fun with a big ole hunk o' steel, get a Becker BK-9 from Kabar.  That thing is bigger, badder, and bolder than the Espada XL.   Once the gleeful novelty of a 7 1/2 inch folder wears off, which it will in about five minutes, you are left with a mess of a knife.  It does quite well as a pizza cutter and I would imagine it is all kinds of stabby.  But this is not a fun knife, not a good knife, hell its barely a knife.  Its either a sword that is broken in the middle or a collection of knife pieces that at one time formed as solidly-built folder.  After even a modicum of hard use, the Espada XL was like a totaled car--more useful for its pieces than as the thing it used to be.  Skip.

And no, RD, no amount of reasoning will convince me otherwise--even as a fun knife, a ridiculous spectacle of blade this thing is still the knife equivalent of dog shit on your manicured front lawn.     

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cold Steel Espada XL Overview

This is bound to be a controversial week, if for no other reason than the vitriol of Cold Steel's legion of fanboys.  I have been fortunate, as internet gear reviewers go, in that I have not been invaded by a ravenous horde of them.  Unfortunately though, this it the flagship product and it will have lots of points of discussion:

Friday, November 25, 2016

CRKT and Brand Management

I am trying my hand at something a bit different here--more journalism-y.  If you don't like it, tell me in the comments section.  

If you follow knife subreddits closely you probably know this already, but for those of you that don't there has been something of a controversy surrounding two CRKT knives that were recently released. The first was a Blade HQ exclusive Lucas Burnley Squid. The second was a Knife Center exclusive Hootenany.

The problems were discovered probably a month apart and they were pretty similar. The Squid was labeled as having titanium scales when, in fact, they were steel. The item was marked as Ti, even the product number indicated Ti, but the scale was not titanium. The Hootenany was supposed to be a special edition with S30V blade steel, a steel rarely, if ever, found on CRKT knives. This was something that was on my radar when it was announced and then, for reasons I don't exactly remember, it fell into that pile of "next knife to buy" that we all have. When I circled back to see if it was still available, the Hootenany was gone and in its place was a true problem--the S30V steel was not, in fact, S30V.

CRKT tried to do some damage control.

They posted this on a thread over at BladeForums:

We are aware of the problem with the blade steel. We’ve taken immediate actions and the weight of the issue is not lost on us. An independent third party lab test has confirmed that the steel is not S30V. We were disappointed in the outcome of the test and we are currently revisiting not only our relationships, also our own processes. We have taken the following steps to ensure that history does not repeat itself: 

· Re-confirming our supplier certifications. 
· Developing an improved Quality Assurance process for all CRKT products. 

We care about quality here at Columbia River Knife & Tool and integrity is mission critical to how we have chosen to do business. We recognize that issues like these threaten that core attribute of who we are. We are working closely with Knife Center to “make it right”. Thank you for your patience. We continue to appreciate the support we receive from friends and fans, when circumstances arise. 

--Douglas Flagg VP Sales & Marketing CRKT

These two mistakes could not have come at worse time for CRKT. They just landed in Big Box stores, transitioning from the lower tier to the middle tier of production knives. They went from a strange collection of oddities (the "Edgie" anyone?) to some really great designs with big name guys like Ken Onion. And now this year, they released two knives, the M16 and the KISS in premium blade steels (Damasteel of all things). This after the Hi Jinx, their uber knife, won overall Blade of the Year in 2014. They had made the turn from low to middle and were clearly now aiming at the higher end of the production market. And then this happened. Really, really bad timing.

I have always had a good working relationship with CRKT. They have come on the podcast, provided review samples, and never complained when something scored low. In fact, they have always been grateful of the feedback. And I think they have been making some awesome and underrated knives (see: Liong Mah Eraser, see also: Eros SS). So while I am not a fan of any brand, it is has been fun watching CRKT pivot from one end of the market to another in an incredibly competitive environment.

But these two mistakes are concerning and the response has not been the best. In an effort to do due diligence, I reached out to CRKT and spoke to Doug Flagg by telephone. He has reviewed this article and approves of me releasing his statements. Here is a summary of what we discussed:

The two mistakes were totally unrelated but coincidentally, and unfortunately, happened at near the same time.

According to Flagg, the Squid mistake was caused by problems the OEM had with producing a consistent blackened finish on the titanium they were using. They contacted CRKT and informed them of the problem and changed the spec on the knife, switching from titanium to steel. CRKT approved the change, not noticing scale material was switched.

Having reviewed contracts professionally, I can tell you that this kind of thing happens all of the time. In fact, in construction contracts it is built in to the process--both sides negotiate a spec for the job and reduce it to writing and then as the job goes along the spec is changed. Once the job is mostly done and the specs are finalized, they produce a document called a punch list and then the builder must complete each item, including changed ones. It is a complex process of back and forth so I can see how this mistake would come about and go unnoticed. Even more problematic in this instance is that CRKT did release Squids with titanium scales, just not black version. So I bet a dollar to a donut they just used the old contract and old spec list and added "black coating" to it. Then when the problem came about they approved it and didn't realize it changed the spec.

Honestly, this one is not such a problem. Its easy to see how it occurs. That doesn't make it okay, but it does make it understandable.

The Hootenany is an entirely different issue.

According to Flagg, the OEM told CRKT that the steel was S30V steel. CRKT received the knives with the S30V mark and sent them along to Knife Center. It wasn't until that Blade Forums post that they realized there was a problem. They then got a unit and sent the blade off to SB Specialty Metals (a company that does a lot of business in the knife industry both as a steel supplier and processor, offering large batch grinding services and other things), which confirmed through testing that the steel was not S30V. Without a full metallurgical analysis, CRKT can't say for certain, but the Hootenany's steel is likely in the 107X-108X family (hence the crazy rust seen in the post). Tracking down the problem has been difficult. The OEM is overseas, presumably in China. This presents all sorts of language and economic barriers, but so far as CRKT can tell, the OEM was duped by the steel supplier. CRKT is meeting with the OEM in person, face to face in the coming month and they are investing in handheld steel detectors that can distinguish one kind of steel from another with the push of a button.

In both instances CRKT offered to refund all of the purchases.  They also worked closely with all 75 people that purchased the knives as well as Knife Center itself.  

In the end, I am not sure that was enough. Knife knuts are a passionate group of enthusiasts. They do not woo easily and have long memories. And while CRKT did release public statements and buy back the knives in question and issue refunds, this isn't exactly the most impressive response we have ever seen to these sorts of problems.

In law school and business school there are two paradigmatic examples of using a problem to improve your brand--the Tylenol recall and the Lexus repairs.

In 1982 someone (never caught, BTW, one of my favorite unsolved mysteries now that the Watergate source was uncovered and the identity of the Unibomber has been confirmed, though the DB Cooper mystery is equally interesting) tampered with Tylenol and put poison in the pills. Seven people died. Johnson and Johnson not only helped stop the sale of Tylenol they did two things that really switched this horrible negative into a positive for the brand. First, they took out ads on TV specifically telling people NOT to use their products. Second, at the same time the ads were running, they recalled EVERYTHING. In all J&J recalled more than $100 million in products and spent millions more on advertising. Tylenol got it--if they wanted to keep making medicine they had to prove to the public that their health was the #1 issue. In taking such radical and expensive steps Tylenol saved their brand and earned public trust in the face of a true disaster. That was an impressive response to crisis.

Lexus did something very similar when their brand launched. At the time, the idea of a luxury Toyota seemed ridiculous. BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes all laughed. And then the cars came out and they were damn good. A little less laughing. And then they started selling. Even less giggles. And then two customers, yes, just two, complained of faulty wiring that caused a breaklight to overheat. Lots and lots of laughing. Lexus recalled every car they made, all 8,000 at the time. BMW, Mercedes, and Cadillac all pause to scratch their heads. Lexus had employees, from dealers to receptionists, drive to where the owners had their cars and picked them up and drove them to dealerships to be fixed for free. In places where dealerships were far away Lexus rented garage space and paid local mechanics to fix the problems. And this move, costly as it was, saved the infant brand. Now no one, not BMW or Cadillac, laughs at the idea of a Japanese luxury car.

These two examples stand in stark contrast to what CRKT has done--they are obligated to provide refunds for mislabeled products. Almost every state in the US has consumer protection laws that cover this. So, yes, it is a good thing to do, but I don't think they deserve praise for merely doing what is required.

The question is twofold--1) what will this do to the CRKT brand; and 2) what could they do to make this their recall or repair moment, following in Tylenol or Lexus's footsteps?

I think the Squid thing is a very simple and common problem--Mr. Flagg owned up to the error and explained it. I don't think this error calls for anything more than a bit more attention to these special editions. Mr. Flagg has already said they have changed their special edition process. I doubt this error will happen ever again.

The Hootenany steel issue is a horse of a different color. This is a problem that strikes at the heart of their business. If they lie about their steel, they are lying about the very essence of what they sell. Its like selling a Ferrari with a Yugo engine.

Here are some things I would recommend doing. 

First, CRKT needs to be very public with their upgrades to their testing process. Second, they need to vet their OEMs better. If they contract with an OEM that contracts with a shady steel supplier, they are complicit in the problem. They shouldn't be working with OEMs that are either unethical enough or gullible enough to be tricked like this. Third, they need to do something special for those folks that bought the Hootenany with the bum steel.

I asked Mr. Flagg if this series of mistakes has persuaded them to bring manufacturing back to the US, but he confirmed what I suspected--they couldn't do that economically. That said, there are a lot of companies in the same boat as CRKT. If one of the US OEMs, like Millet or TRM, could scale up and serve CRKT, Kershaw, AG Russell, SOG and other folks that use overseas OEMs maybe there is enough business to use economies of scale and make things for cheap here in the US again. It wouldn't happen anytime soon, but I think there is money to be made doing this for anyone listening.

Well, there is my take on the CRKT issues. I hope it has been informative. I think CRKT is still worth a look, but these two incidents (really the Hootenany one more than the Squid one) has cost them some of their hard fought reputation. Their willingness to discuss this issue and their willingness to let me post basically exactly what I wanted shows that they are taking this situation very seriously.  Everyone makes mistakes, how we address them determines who or what we are.  And Doug's final message is something I believe--CRKT will not make this mistake ever again. 

Thanks to Jordan Wagner for bringing these issues to my attention. I am working on another piece based on info he sent it. It should be a good one. Keep an eye out for it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Deals

Its a tradition, so why stop now.  Here is a preview of some of the best deals from the site's sponsors:

Blade HQ will be doing amazing stuff on Friday and Monday.

Friday starts things off right.  

Want a Half Track from Rick Hinderer?  Done.

How about a Carbon Fiber Buck 110 (for either the Lulz or future retro chic)?  Got it.

Curious about the Vanguard line from Kizer?  How about a $40 sample in the form of the Bad Dog?

Are you an auto person?  The UTX-85 (in CF) and the Kershaw Launch will both be for sale.

Monday keeps the hits comin'

The Jade G10 Skyline I checked out here, is on sale for $49.95 in either black or stonewashed finish.

Inkosis of either size with CF inlays will be available.

ProTech Runts will set you back $99.95.

And spinner fans, get ready, the original spinner, the Torqbar will be available for $139.95.  These will sell out, fo sho.

Remember to use this link: Blade HQ to benefit the site, giveaways, and the podcast.

Urban EDC Supply will be offering Everyday Commentary readers a discount.  Drop in the code EDCOMMENTARY and it's good for 15% off the entire site, limit 1 use per customer. It'll be good from Wednesday until Monday.  And let me be clear--the stuff over there is amazing and this probably the only way to get some of that gear at a discount.

If you want more information how to score good gear and gear related stuff on Black Friday, here is a refresher. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Classic Revisited: Kershaw Skyline

Given the leaps and bounds the gear industry has taken in the past three years, I think it is worthwhile to check back in on classics to see if they have maintained their classic status or if they have been surpassed by newer stuff. I do go back and update old reviews and change scores as things change, but sometimes, like in this case, I think the update is worth its own, new post (in part, in this case, because there is a new variant). 

Here is the original review (to which this will be appended).  Here is the video over of this knife. 
Here is a link where you can (maybe) find the Skyline in Jade G10. 


I have owned four Skylines. And the funny thing about them is that I never paid the same amount of money for any two. One was an uber limited, blue G10 blackwash version, so that makes sense that it cost a bit extra. The other three were all "stock" or scale swap versions. But the Skyline, when it was originally released, was radically underpriced for what it was, compared to the market. It was a $50 knife selling for under $30. Now it is a $50 knife selling for $50. So naturally a bit of the value has been siphoned away with each price increase. But the price increases, coupled with continuous good sales numbers indicate that the knife is, was, and likely always will be, a very competitive offering.

I have always commented on the fact that the Skyline is the best readily available knife. If you are in a knife store desert (like I am) and want a good blade you can either order online or get a Skyline. They are stocked by almost every Wal-Mart and since there are Wal-Marts everywhere, the Skyline is basically ubiquitous. I have found them at other Big Box places--Dick's Sporting Goods, Cabelas, and Bass Pro Shop. My local REI also has them on occasion. So, if you want to handle a knife before buying it, the Skyline is your best bet. Unless of course it is in a blister pack--CURSE YOU BLISTER PACKS!

So, is the Skyline still hype-worthy? After a week with the Blade HQ exclusive Jade G10 version, I can say without qualification that it is clearly still worth the hype. It is still a phenomenal knife. And even with three or four successive price increases, it is still a good value. If you don't have one or you are looking for a first EDC knife, start here. Its better than the Delica and better than the Griptillian, once you factor in price. The innovative asymmetrical scales save weight, the flipping action is still decent, and the blade steel, 14C28N, is my favorite non-PM steel and still the best value in cutlery steels.

Score: Unchanged at 19 out of 20

Trending Up: The brilliance of Tommie Lucas's design is more clear now than before. With the success of the Skyline you'd think there would be more asymmetrical knives, but there really hasn't been. Some historical distance confirms what I suspected all those years ago--this is really an ingenious design. The blade shape and handle are also still clearly superior to the competition. And oddly enough, the steel remains as good as it was three years ago--this is a very good steel for the money.

Trending Down: Mid-tier knives have started to run bearings and the flipping action on something like the CRKT Eros SS is leagues better. The lack of pivot bearings combined with the light blade make flipping a bit of an effort. Its still above average, but this is one aspect of the knife that is not aging particularly well.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Survive! Knives GSO 4.7 Review

Well, the Small Batch Insanity article (and its follow up article) I posted got noticed and posted on Blade Forum.  There it stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest when I mentioned the fact that Survive! Knives business model needed some work.  Basically I pointed out three problem areas--wait times, order status on the website, and taking money prior to making knives.  All of these things have a long tradition in the knife world of causing problems for consumers.  To their credit, Survive! Knives hopped on the forum and was very forthcoming about their growing pains.  Additionally, they cleared up the order status issue I had mentioned.  And, if it is representative of their new production model, I got my GSO 4.7 in about a month to six weeks from the date of ordering it.  In all, a lot of issues were addressed.

But all of this leads to one thing, the one thing that really matters in the final analysis--is this a good knife?  The answer is an unqualified yes.  This is an amazing piece of cutlery and unlike a lot of what I have been reviewing lately it is a supremely good value. Survive! Knives has some work to do to rebuild consumer confidence outside their small (but feverishly devoted) fanbase.  But with a few tweaks to the website that were made after the controversy (I am not so arrogant as to think it was because of the controversy) and products like the GSO 4.7, they can rebuild consumer confidence and expand.  This is a knife that builds a company.

Here is the product page.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review (Wildsoul Vee is fun to watch and really knows her stuff).  You can't really buy Survive! Knives through dealers, and Blade HQ has been out of stock for about a year or so, so I won't bother with a link.  Here is my review sample (purchased with personal funds):


Twitter Review Summary: Well worth the hassle...hang in there if you are waiting.

Testing Note:  This knife, the Fiddleback Forge, and the Bark River Bravo 1 LT in 3V were all tested during the Chopocalypse.  This is a pretend holiday for knife knuts that I just made up.  We had our trees on the property trimmed back, two large oaks and a large maple.  I negotiated with the tree company to leave the branches in exchange for a discount.  I then built a sawbuck and Wranglestar's chopping stump (complete with a tire I found near the railroad tracks).  In all I spent about $30 for the two chopping stands and a few bucks on knives, but the tree guys knocked off around $700 and we don't have to pay for firewood this year.

Over a Saturday and a Sunday I used all three knives for hours at a time.  On Saturday we (my 6 year old son helped too--he has very good knife sense and plenty of safety equipment--gloves, name it) started around 8 AM and cut until 6 PM with a hour break for karate and another 30 minutes off for lunch.  On Sunday we started around 7 AM again (thanks daylight savings time) and again went until 6 PM or dark.  This time we had an hour off for lunch.  It was a lot of work.  Many of the branches were waist thick and 30 feet long.  A chain saw helped as did my GB hatchet.  In total I walked about 18,000 steps the first day and around 20,000 the second according to my Apple Watch.  All three knives did a lot of delimbing and chopping.  All three knives did more than their fair share of batonning.  All three knives did fire prep work--feathersticks and the like.  And all three knives did their fair share of food prep (we had camp food for lunch both days).  I feel that this was an exceptionally thorough test for all of the knives.  There were a wide variety of tasks and two very hard woods.  It even rained on the second day, so we had some waterproofing testing as well.

One last note--the pictures were taken BEFORE the Chopocalypse.

Design: 2

Like all of my favorite things in the world, this knife is very simple with a ton of attention to detail and refinement.  The silhouette, which I like quite a bit, could literally be one of a dozen knives, but once you start looking closely you see that what is there is quite extraordinary.   There is a real sharpening choil.  The plunge line is crisp enough to scrape with.  The jimping is effective but never offensive.  The handle is a wonderful shape.  The lanyard loop is cleverly designed.  There is an unending cascade of beautiful details here.  Even that steep curve at the index notch is very nice once you get the knife in the hand.  


Simple, mindful, and attractive...what more could you ask for in a knife?

Fit and Finish: 2

Befitting a knife this lovingly designed is a blade this pleasingly finished.  There is zero to complain about here.  Even the coating, which I typically hate, is not bad.  The transition from scale to tang is fingernail flush and the plunge line, as I mentioned above, is a balanced thing of beauty.  Even the handle screws seem to have been focused on.  Normally, the pins or bolts on high end fixed blades have been ground away and polished, but the GSO 4.7 is supposed to be a working knife and so the scales need to be removable.  This sometimes means that the screws create unsightly and painful spots on the handle.  Not so here.  They were never once an issue.  Overall, even on my pickiest day I couldn't find fault with this knife.  

Handle Design: 2

There is palm swell and then there is pregnant whale.  This is a pregnant whale of a handle.  Don't believe me?  Check this out:


That is some serious Coke bottling.  But, in the end, I found it to be exceedingly comfortable and actually better in a gloved hand than less aggressively shaped handles.  Even the steep indexing notch caused no problems.  In fact, it was quite good at preventing my hand from riding up on the knife.  

Steel: 2

To know a steel you must work a steel, both in the sense of using it and in the sense of sharpening it.  And having done both I can tell you that I LOVE Cru-Forge V.  Survive! Knives chose it as a budget alternative to 3V and I am not sure there is a big difference between the two, other than price.  Here is the datasheet for the steel.  Cru-Forge is basically 52100 with vanadium added and that vanadium gives the steel large and hard carbides that promote wear resistance.  For knife makers it forges well and uses protocols similar to that of other high carbon steels.  But for users these two points don't matter so much.  What does matter is performance.  And perform Cru-Forge V does.  I beat this edge to smithereens.  I was just merciless.  And yet after 16 hours or so of chopping, cutting, slicing and (shhh!) prying, I was able to restore the edge to 100% chip free, hair-popping sharp.  All I used was a strop.  I can't think of any steel I have used that has performed better in hard use tasks than Cru-Forge, and that includes 3V (heresy alert!).  That said there is some sample size issues--I have had lots of 3V fixed blades and only one Cru-Forge.  Maybe this was an insanely perfect gem because of a fluke in heat treating or something else.  Whatever the issue--the performance leaves me wanting more Cru-Forge V, especially for my fixed blades.  It has also piqued my curiosity about 52100, a favorite steel of the bowie making Butterscotch Club.      

Blade Shape: 2

Nothing crazy here, just a more spearpoint-ish drop point.  The result is a really simple, but really great blade shape.  I have found that this blade shape is actually quite good for batonning, as the tip of the knife doesn't dig into the batonning stick nor does it want to break off.


This is just another place where Guy Sieferd did a very good job in making decisions.  Its clear that a lot of thought went into this knife, all the way down to the blade shape.

Grind: 2 

One thing that is hard to do on a fixed blade knife of this size is getting the blade thickness right.  As the knife equivalent of the No. 5 Jack Plane in the woodworking, the person doing the grind (or designing the grind, depending on how big the company is) has to decide if they want to make the knife a short chopper or a long slicer.  Its not an easy decision.  As you can see below, the grind on the GSO 4.7 is immaculate:


But clean doesn't necessarily mean correct.  In fact, the GSO's grind is correctly done.  It took a pounding, then sharpened back to a razor, hair popping edge pretty quickly.  I even cut grapes with the GSO 4.7 and it did fine.  Given the huge compromises that come with a design like this, Guy did a great job with the grind here--a little bit of everything with nothing completely out of reach.  The choice does favor hard use tasks a bit as I wouldn't fillet an expensive slab of tuna with this thing or make flower rosettes out of radishes, but for most tasks you'll be fine.

Sheath Carry: 2


When I got the sheath I was puzzled.  No Tek-Lok, it rode high on the hip and it looked like it would be a splint more than a sheath.  But after the Chopocalypse, I can report that despite its unorthodox design, this a masterfully made sheath.  Riding high on the hip means that you can carry the knife and still sit down, such as when you hop on an ATV (I don't own an ATV, but we will fix that soon enough).  I was also surprised at how well the belt attachment hooks worked.  The knife never slid around and it never got bunched up.  It  lacks the versatility  of the Tec-Lok, as you can't switch to scout style carry, but aside from that, this is one hell of a sheath and easily the best sheath I have received with a fixed blade.  My Bayou Custom Sheathes sheath for my Jarosz JFS is better, but that is the best sheath I have ever used.  This is second.

After I wrote the main portion of this review I went on a hike with my youngest son.  Stowed in his pack on my back, complete with a waist belt, I hiked about 5 miles across varied and rugged terrain (an old river valley with boulders and the like).  The GSO 4.7 was on my hip, under the strap.  Only at the very end of the hike did it become an issue.  The high carry sheath is great--hell, I jumped in my car and drove around with zero problems.  This is a great sheath, even with the rib tickler height.  

Sheath Accessibility: 2

You want it.  I want it.  Everyone that has ever carried a fixed blade wants it.  What is "it"?  How about a true one-handed sheath?  By that I mean a sheath you can both stow and retrieve the knife from with one hand.  No sheath I have, even the Bayou Custom model, does that.  The Bayou Custom falls short because the knife it is stowing is too small, so that is really not a fair criticism, but you get the point.  The GSO 4.7 sheath is a one-handed sheath.  Better yet, thanks to the large opening hole and distinctive snap when the blade is pushed into place, its a "blind" sheath too.  No need to look down, just drop the knife in, wait for the click, and go.  


The difference is tremendous.  During the Chopocalypse the time and energy necessary to unsheath and resheath a knife over and over again is wearing.  Eventually you just don't care and leave the knife on the ground.  But with a sheath this easy to use, it is stow and go.  Truly great.  Most accessible sheath I have ever used.  

Useability: 2

All of this design panache is great, but the thing that won me over, that made my Gear Geek heart sing when I picked up the GSO 4.7 after hours of use, was just how good it was when it was working.  I never got a hotspot even when doing really intense cutting tasks.  I never worried about the edge after I saw how much punishment it could take.  And the sheath helped me hang in the chopping game long after other sheathes on other knives drove me bonkers.  


Even the tip is nice (oh man).  It is surprising to me how good the balance is between stabbiness and beefiness.  In the end, this is a knife that works exceedingly well, better, perhaps than any other knife I have owned.  Some knives were more refined or more of a treat for the eye, but if I was compelled to change professions and forced to do a job that required a lot of cutting there is no question that the GSO 4.7 would be my tool of the trade. 

Durability: 2

Matching the gusto with which the GSO 4.7 tackles tasks is just how resilient it is after doing that work.  There was no chipping.  The sheath remained snappy and grit free.  The handle was still a nice matte G10.  The coating...well...coatings all suck, but this sucked a little less.  And given the carbon content in Cru-Forge V its definitely needed.  Ever seen 1095 untreated?  Oh yeah, like this.  I would imagine Cru-Forge will freckle as much or more if untreated.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT

Its been a while since I doled out a Perfect Score and it has happened only once before in a fixed blade, but this one is an easy Perfect.  The reality is, this knife is a marvel, a stunning blade that held an edge through a 16 hour torture test and came out the other side with an edge that was easily restored to shaving sharp.   Every design choice was the right one, even if it wasn't one I would have made at the start, meaning that Guy Seiferd really knows what he is doing.  If you make a choice radically different from one a consumer would make and you turn out to be right, well that is Steve Jobs-level product design.

But all of this superbery (yep, just coined the term) misses the real trick here--this knife is CHEAP.  The rough equivalent of this knife, an ESEE 5, runs just a few dollars less ($30 to be exact as of the date this review was written).  And even for the cheapest bastard out there there is an easy $30 difference.  If you are a Mora-only guy, you probably won't find $30 in value, but nothing, to a Mora guy, is worth $30, not even, ironically enough, a Mora.  For the rest of us though, this is knife that would still be a good buy at $100 more.  Great knife, great design, and great price.  This and the Dragonfly II in ZDP-189 are probably the only two items that scored a Perfect that are also high value items.  Really, truly a remarkable feat.

The Competition

The Shootout will be coming soon--this, the Fiddleback Forge, and the Bark River Bravo 1 LT in 3V are in the fight.  I will be very excited to see who wins, but when you factor in price, as my Shootouts always do, I can't see how the GSO 4.7 will lose.  But that is just a guess.