Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter Overview

Well, I have finally rolled around to putting my thoughts into words on the Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter.  This has been on challenging piece of gear to review.  It is exceptionally nice, no question about it, but it is also exceptionally expensive, especially given the humble materials.  Well...more on that at the end of the week.

For now:


Friday, May 20, 2016

Breaking the Embargo, Part II

In the first part of this article I mentioned the embargo on custom knives, why it exists, and why I have decided to break it.  Ultimately this comes down to you the reader--you want and need this information and this is information you should have.

But before I go through individual knives, let me put on this huge caveat--small sample sizes will always be a problem with custom knives.  They are too rare and too expensive for a normal person to get multiple copies.  Sure some whale collectors have five or ten Blount Arrestors, but the majority of people are lucky to get one.  In the comments section on my video review of the Kizer Gemini, found here, I had a good debate with Kris Kunisch about this issue.  The methods I use to evaluate CQ in productions, outlined here, is something I can't really do with customs.  

The only way to fix this problem is to reach out to the maker and see if they have issues with the knife. If they clear it, say that it is working exactly as intended, then I think you can fairly evaluate the CQ with only a single copy.  Other than that, you basically have to say "This is a lemon, but you might get a great copy."  

With that out of the way, here we go:

Dozier DK-FH

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Remember in the 80s and 90s, the Celebrity Circus TV specials where celebrities did circus acts and almost every single one of them looked super uncomfortable and super out of their element?  This knife, a folder from a famous fixed blade maker, is just that. 

This was a very finely ground knife with excellent tolerances, but it was not something I enjoyed at all.  The jimping was not just rough or shreddy, it was capable of sawing material.  The thumb stud was similarly rough.  Other things I didn't like were the clip and the lockbar.  Honestly it looks like the lockbar was cut on a bandsaw.  It was crude and jagged, something you wouldn't expect from a custom, especially one from a maker as renowned as Bob Dozier.  I have handled multiple copies of the DK-FH, both framelock and linerlock versions and they all had these flaws.  This is a good knife, but not a fine knife, if that makes sense.  This is a pretty easy conclusion to reach--don't bother.  

Laconico Jasmine

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I bought this on the second market.  It is one of the few customs I have bought on the secondary market and likely the last.  When I got rid of it, it was sold to a person that was aware of the blade play issues.  I have no other experience with Laconico's work and I did not follow up with him, mainly because the blade itself wasn't exciting enough for me to bother.  For that reason, this is the worst offender of the sample size problem.

The thing that attracted me to the Laconico, aside from this review by Aaron Shapiro, was the often-praised flipping action.  Here the knife deployed with kinetic grace.  I was pretty stoked about that.  I was not stoked by the secondary market price--around $800 or the fact that it was a D2 frame lock with very rudimentary milling on the handle.  But the flipping action was great.

After about fifteen minutes, I noticed that the reason the flipping action was so great was because the pivot was very loose.  There was horizontal and vertical blade play when the knife was locked.  More troubling was the fact that when the knife wasn't locked there was tremendous amount of slop in the pivot.  I could get rid of the horizontal blade play by tightening the pivot, but I couldn't get rid of the vertical play.  

Ultimately I sold the knife, disappointed in the blade steel and the handle milling and let down by the blade play.  I told the seller of my troubles and he was fine with it.  I sold it for what I paid for it (I do not resell knives for a profit, this is a hobby not a job and I don't really care to make a profit, I just don't want to take a loss).

Of course, this is one knife from a very well-established maker with a great reputation.  I would assume that I got a lemon, of course.  The sample size of one, especially from the secondary market, leads me to believe that you can deal with Ray without worrying.  Mine just stunk.  This, however, ignores the fact that even if you assume I got a perfect copy of the Jasmine it would still be no better than the Kizer Gemini I own.  And it would have cost me much less money.     

Jarosz Tetrad 75

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I bought this on the secondary market and it was returned to the purchaser.  I have since purchased another Jarosz folder of the same basic size and built.  That second knife is sublime.  As such, a sample size of two, while still small, is significantly better than a sample size of one.

This was an early knife of Jesse's probably made one or two years before I received it, making it one of his earlier folders.  The knife itself was amazing.  The grind was great.  The blade shape was awesome.  Jesse's handles were and are among the best in the business.  The one curious thing was the lock up.  This was a liner lock and Jesse prefers what the market would call very late lock up.  I personally think the obsession with early lock up is silly (from a mechanical perspective, it seems like the most contact between the tang and the lock bar would produce the most stability), so this didn't bother me.  However, whenever I would grip the knife with some force, the locking liner would disengage slightly.  I think this had to do with the shape of the handle around the lock.  It allowed for the pad of my hand to slip into the channel that normally houses the blade and push the lock out of the engaged position.  This resulted in audible blade play.

I contacted Jesse and the seller and the seller was AMAZING.  He took the knife back with no problems before Jesse had a chance to respond.  I sent the knife back to the seller for a full refund.  I have since purchased another folder from Jesse and the handle geometry is a tweak different and the result is ZERO problems with unintentional lock disengagement.  It is ROCK solid.  Based on this, and how early a folder that other one was, I think it is safe to say that the problem has been fixed.  I also have a fixed blade from Jesse and it too is amazing, so, again, I feel pretty safe recommending Jesse's stuff.  The grinds, in particular, are stunning.  

Customblade Works Mini Explorer


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(NOTE: The knife here is in an unfinished state...this is a WIP picture)

In this case, I confirmed with Mr. DeCoene that the knife was flawed.

This design is so difficult to pull off.  He has made full sized Explorers before but I think my mini was one of the very first he had tried to make.  The issue is that the design calls for an extremely small number of parts, and there is only one stand off.  Other knives do this, but not with the same design and same tiny parts list.  The maker sent the knife telling me that there might be issues and that I could try it out and send it back.  

When I got the knife it was beautiful, of course, and perfectly finished.  The Suminagshi steel was hypnotic.  But every once in a while the lock bar would pop out like a spring.  I am not sure what caused this.  It could be the geometry of the lock face.  It could also be the fact that with only one stand off, any force gripping the knife took stuff out of alignment.  I sent the knife back for a full refund. Philippe had also sent me a friction folder because my order had taken so long (that, folks, is real customer care).  He took the knife apart and concluded that it would be impossible to fix without changing the design.  He was willing to do that and I was willing to pay more, but ultimately he believed that he would need to buy a bearing pivot to stabilize the handle enough to eliminate the squeezing problems.  The only issue was none of the commercially available bearing pivots fit the design and so he scrapped it.  If he can find one that works, he will sell the knife back to me.  

This was the best experience I have had with a custom maker.  He was totally upfront, he knew his design was a real challenge (he told me it might not work from the beginning) but he tried anyway.  And when it failed he did the right thing immediately.  The friction folder was an amazing perk.  I have dealt with DeCoene before, and he is always great.  My previous knife from him was awesome, so have no fear--he is great. As one of the people pushing the boundaries of design as far as possible, he will occasionally fail, but you the customer are never left in the cold. 

Anso Ziggy


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In the case of this knife, I have confirmed with Mr. Anso that the knife was working as he intended it to.  I feel, given that, my criticisms here are immune to the sample size complaint.  This is the most expensive knife I have ever purchased.  It also happened to be the first knife I have ever purchased directly from a top tier maker.  I also think it is fair to say that I am something of an Anso design fanboy.  All that said, I was distinctly not pleased with this knife.  Here is the email I sent Anso explaining what I didn't like about the knife:

"I hope you don't think this email is rude or arrogant but I wanted to give you some analysis of my particular Ziggy.  Take these for what they are—feedback from a fan of virtually all of your work.

Thanks for confirming that my Ziggy was in complete working order.  That helps sort out what the source of my issues were.  I wasn’t sure if it didn’t work or if it was a set of design choices, but now I know.  Additionally, I will be the first to acknowledge that I am very critical of knives, especially ones that costs as much as this knife did.  For that kind of money, I want something that is both well made and suits me perfectly.  The knife was by no means poorly made.  It was perfectly centered, the blade was beautiful, and the anodizing was flawless.  I don't think this is an issue with craftsmanship or fit and finish.  In the end I think it was an issue of design choices, preferences, and expectations.

The combination of a very strong detent and a rounded over flipper tab made it hard to open the knife consistently without PERFECT technique.  I am not much of a knife flipper, so I am not saying that it didn’t flip well when I repeatedly flipped it, that criticism is, in my opinion, a stupid one.  Instead, my problem was more basic—I just couldn’t reliably get the knife open without using two hand or a very hard wrist flick.  Comparing the flipping action to knives of an equal price/reputation, shows me that there is something flawed in the design.  I own one and have handled more Jon Graham flippers and he has a very strong detent as well, but the Ziggy's flipper tab shape and finish, while aesthetically pleasing, was not conducive to opening the knife easily.  With lots and lots of practice I might have been able to get the technique down just right, but none of my other custom knives require that level of focus and practice—they open with ease on a regular basis.  The Ziggy didn’t do that.  I also found the handle edges were too sharp, especially around the lockbar and the "landing strip" area for the flipper tab.  In some knives, like those made by John Gray and some Lionsteel production models, the handles are chamfered in those two areas to make it easier to disengage the lock and use the flipper tab.  Finally, I simply hate sculpted pocket clips.  On the Ziggy, it did not have enough flex to accommodate pocket carry.  I got the knife at work and I wear a suit everyday.  The clip was too stiff to fit over the lip of even dress pants.  It never worked on jeans.  For me, that's something of a deal breaker.  The other thing that was weird was the clip didn't actually touch the handle scales (probably to accommodate it's less flexible shape) and it gave knife a weird "tuning fork" feel.  If I opened the knife correctly, there was an odd vibration because of the clip.   If I made something like a chopping movement there was a consistent “ping” to the entire blade.  It was off putting during use.  All of those issues were design choices, not build quality.  You know more about knives and selling knives than I do, so I'd never ask you to change any of those things--it's your artwork so make it like you want it to be.  But, over the years I have developed strong preferences that don't mesh well with those design choices.

The only issue that might have been build quality was the pivot.  It was awfully stiff.  It took a surprising amount of effort to get the blade back in the handle.  It certainly did not glide closed like the blade on a Sebenza or a ZT or any number of customs I have.  That said, it could just be the knife needed a break in period.

I will also confess that I had exceedingly high expectations.  I have been following your work for years and the chance to own a knife you made was genuinely exciting.  I sold one of my favorite customs, a TAD Dauntless, to pay for the Ziggy.  I had hunted for that knife for two years and selling it was something I didn’t do lightly, but this was a chance own a real Anso, so I did it.  Your production collabs are among my favorite knives ever.  So the bar was set very high for the Ziggy.  In the end those expectations, the design choices I disagree with and the price made the knife a pretty disappointing.  I'll try again eventually.  You truly have a one of a kind style and that style really speaks to me.  Just not on this knife.

Thanks for the refund.  I thought about just flipping it on the secondary market, but I wasn’t sure if it was working correctly and didn’t want to deal the hassle of trying to sell it and then have the buyer complain.  Sending it back to you was much easier."

The Ziggy has not sold well since its release.  They can regularly be found in stock at dealers and they rarely come up on the forums and when they do they are sold below what you would expect from an Anso knife (and below what I paid for mine directly from Anso).  In the end, all of the criticisms above point to one thing--this is just a half baked design.  I expect and want weird stuff from Anso, but the Ziggy wasn't weird, it was one bad design choice after another. 

It's interesting to see the ZT0220, as that is basically a Ziggy edited by KAI and made into a production knife. If the lines and features of the custom were like the ZT0220 I'd probably still have it.  That looks like a superior blade. 

In the end, customs are a huge gamble, even from the best known makers.  They cost so much and they are so hard to get.  Jonathan talked a lot on GGL68 about buyers doing research, but there is so little information out there, it is hard to do that research.  Hopefully this will change as I and others put out more information on custom knives.  The embargo is over and that is a good thing for you the consumer. Hopefully other content creators will be willing to speak critically of custom stuff too.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Breaking the Embargo, Part I

I am not sure if you have noticed, but there is scant information out there that contains critical evaluations of custom or handmade knives.  Aaron Shapiro has put out about as much critical information as anyone in the community and he has received quite a bit of flak for it.  But the truth remains--no one really ever says anything negative about custom knives.

I think part of that is a very good thing--negative feedback for a custom maker can be devastating.  It can put the maker out of business and we in the knife community not only benefit from having a large number of creative minds, but we also root for the little guy.

But the other part of the embargo is an insidious thing.  I have had many collectors tell me that they don't want to say anything for fear of being blacklisted by makers.  That is, if they spoke out on a given knife a maker might never sell to them again and other makers might do the same.  For a collector, people that spend thousands and thousands of dollars on custom knives, that sort of punishment is just too much.  And so the embargo on critical information regarding custom knives continues.

Until now.  I am done with this silly game.  

I am not a collector, so I don't care if I get black listed.  If I never get another custom knife again, I am fine with that.  I have plenty and since none of us strictly needs even one, I am okay.  Second, I am probably not willing to pay the prices that some of the really high end makers charge direct.  Finally, if I really want a handmade knife, I can get one on the secondary market.  The prices might be higher, but the availability is greater, so it is a trade off.  Basically, I am assuming that by publishing this, no custom maker will ever sell direct to me again.  If that's the case, so be it.  

In the end I write this website for you, the reader.  I want you to be informed.  I want you to read.  And I want you to enjoy gear.  If you spend $750 on a handmade knife and it is terrible, I don't want you to be stuck with it and miserable.  I rather you know so that you can avoid buying it in the first place.  I want you to be informed and enjoy the stuff you have.  As I approach 300 reviews, I feel like it is getting to the point where you can CTRL+F just about any production knife or light and find a review in my Big List of Reviews.  I like that.  I want to add handmade knives to that list, especially ones that don't rate so highly.  My experiences with Charles Gedraitis, Gareth Bull, and Steve Karroll have all been first rate--both dealing with the maker and the product itself.

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But it is not always like that.  

You may notice that there are few knives in my Instagram feed that appear and then disappear without ever getting a review.

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Here is why--they all had problems, serious problems.  In most cases I was able to rectify the problem and in a lot of cases it was rectified by returning the knife to the seller, even if the seller was the maker.  But I never mentioned why.  I am not so persuaded by the second reason for the embargo.  I could give a shit. I was, however, persuaded by the first reason.  

I am not so persuaded anymore.  The business of being a knife maker is a challenging one, but in the past three or so years it has been a booming business.  More and more makers enter the field and it has become more and more competitive. The amount of money out there is insane.  Virtually every maker of renown has filled books or isn't using a book system anymore. Lots of makers have deals with production companies to fall back on if business gets slow.  We have reached a point where these are businesses and not necessarily some guy in his garage.  So that "little guy" feel, while still definitely there, is not as strong as it used to be.  With the hobby flushed with money right now I feel like the damage that could be done by a single review is negligible.  Saying someone's knife stinks isn't going to put them out of business, not in this age of perpetually filled books and four figure direct costs. 

There are two other reasons I feel like criticism of handmade knives is okay.  First, I recently bought a knife from a very famous maker and it was not very good.  I confirmed with the maker that there were no machining mistakes or fit and finish problems.  All of my issues were based on design choices.  And so, once I had confirmed that the knife wasn't a lemon, I sent this maker an email with a list of issues I had with the knife and its design.  He didn't lose his mind.  He didn't threaten me over email.  He took the criticisms in stride.  Hopefully they will make him a better knife maker.  Good, well-meaning criticism will help the hobby and the individual crafts person, not hurt it.  Second, there is that pesky business about being in service to the reader.  I have taken enough flak from enough companies by now that flak from a knife maker isn't going to bother me all that much, especially if it is spawned by an article that helps you figure out how to spend your money.  

So the embargo is over.  Up next is a run down of a few customs I have had problems with and what those problems were.
  

Friday, May 13, 2016

When Only a Pen Will Do

I recently experienced a confluence of events that forced me to do things differently at work and highlighted the value of handwritten notes (and a good pen, like the Edison Pearlette, pictured below).

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When I am cross-examining someone I have a routine and that routine is one that has been shaped by more than a decade of in-the-trenches lawyering.  Basically, I read the whole file again and then start asking questions in my head--the big questions.  Then I break them down into chapters (a la Posner and Dodd) and fill in the spaces with single point, granular questions.  I have a method for impeaching the witness and it involves cross-referencing documents in discovery and noting the impeachment in the typewritten cross.  It is a long process, a very long process, but one I have found to be incredibly effective.

But on a recent Monday snow hit (April snow, fuck you Mother Nature) and I had to get my son at school.  Our printer was broken (though I have since fixed it) so I had no way of printing out my cross.  So I decided to try something different, which, as a control freak, gave me hives.  I wrote my cross, as normal, but kept the document in Pages on my work iPad (by the way, who the fuck uses Office still? That shit is horrible).  Then I took and made some charts with my pen.  The cross in this case focused very tightly on the timeline of events and a comparison to a reported case.  I needed to line up certain events at certain times in my case with events in the reported opinion.  

My questions did that, but in the one-fact-at-a-time questioning, it is possible to get lost.  I need to make a record so I can argue every fact, but sometimes, as they are coming out, it is difficult to see why the tiny facts matter.  Which is why I made the charts.  And only a pen could do this quickly.  I am sure I could do this on a computer, I have done it before, but without a printer and using only an iPad, it would be difficult.  Plus, it would be harder to alter during the cross.  There are fifty things going on at once when crossing a witness and fidgeting with the formatting on a chart on a computer is not one of the things I want to be doing.  A few cross outs here and a few arrows there on paper are much better.

When the cross started I told the judge "I am using my iPad for questions and my phone for Lexis" just so she didn't think I was playing Candy Crush during the hearing.  Then she told us that we had an hour because her morning docket was packed.  Usually we are given two or three hours for a hearing like this.  With a few pen strokes I cut out massive chunks of my argument and with a few taps on the screen I eliminated some of my questions.  

Then the hearing started and things just worked.  I hit every point I needed to and I did most of it from memory (which is the benefit of a long process to develop a cross).  Then in the argument, I just whizzed down my handwritten charts, again most of which were committed to memory.  

In the end, we won the argument we needed to win, lost the one I expected to lose and made the case better.  But going almost paperless, except for a handwritten chart, was new for me and, in the end, better than what I was doing in the past.  The idea that paperless is the only way to go is silly.  Doing something like that for the sake of doing it is not a boost in productivity, but an unnecessary roadblock to getting work done (as are all of the get stuff done systems...if you have enough time to fidget with that bullshit, you clearly don't have enough work to do).  For all of the benefits of paperless though, there is nothing that matches the extemporaneous power of pen and paper.  It's just too good.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

May 2016 Giveaway

As I wrote, I am not willing to support the Wounded Warrior Project at this time and I did not have time to find and vet another veteran's charity to my satisfaction.  As a result, this giveaway will support the only charity I know FOR SURE is well run (in large part because I have interacted with it in the past).  This is year's charity is New Hampshire's Drug Court. 

1.  Go to the Friends of NH Drug Court Donate page, found here.

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

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

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com

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

4. I will pick the winners on June 11 with the prize packages as follows:

Grand Prize (chosen at random): Full Gear Kit

American Knife Company Forest Knife
Anso Matrix Card Holder Wallet
Limited Edition ZT Pen (Blue Anodized)
Fenix RC09Ti
1 sealed 3-pack of Field Notes Night Sky Edition
Zero Tolerance ZT0909

Runner Up (chosen at random):  EDC

AG Russell K12 One Handed Knife (original model with VG10)
FourSevens Paladin

Big Heart (Largest Single Donation):

Jon Graham Stubby Razel Midtech

Cheap Ass (selected from all of the minimum donations):

Gerber 600

Part 1 (randomly chosen from donors that give from May 10 until May 25):

Ontario RAT II

Week 2 (randomly chosen from donors that give from May 26 until June 11):

Lumintop Tool AAA light

Remember--none of the money goes to me.  In fact, I don't even touch it.  It all goes to Drug Court.  I get that a lot of people think that Drug Court is giving people breaks that don't deserve them, but having seen THIS particular Drug Court work firsthand I can tell you that is not the case.  The police work directly with the Drug Court as do the prosecutors.  No one is getting off easy.  Violators are sent to jail on a regular basis--faster than they would be outside of Drug Court.  And the pay off is huge--those that make it out have a real chance of breaking the cycle of addiction, one that costs us all a lot of money, heartache, and suffering. 

The Stubby Razel that is a prize is an especially nice unit.  It was hand selected from the original batch at Jon's ROG event.  The lock up is super good, the detent is amazing, the flipping action is second to none, and the centering is dead on.  This is my personal knife and I am donating it, unlike the rest of the stuff, which is, as usual, review samples.  I wish the flashlight game was a bit stronger, but these are the samples I had on hand.  

And for your edification:

Giveaways from Everyday Commentary thus far:

1.  Custom Benchmade Mini Grip 555hg with S30V steel ($130)
2.  Inkleaf Leather Moleskine Cover ($70)
3.  Iain Sinclair Cardsharp ($20)
4.  American Cutlery Over the Top Pocket Clip ($7)
5.  Boker Exskelibur II ($40)
6.  Coated Aircraft Cable ($3)
7.  RoBoT One Piece Multitool ($57)
8. Leatherman Sidekick ($30)
9. CRKT Ripple 2 ($30)
10. CRKT Mah Eraser ($100)
11. Steve Ku Quantum DD ($60)
12. LED Lenser M7R ($120)
13. Sunwayman M11R Mr. Elfin ($80)
14. ESEE Candiru ($50)
15. TT PockeTTools TT-7 ($30)
16. MBI CoreTi ($75) 
17. Ka-Bar Mini Dozier ($15)
18. CRKT Drifter G10 ($18)
19. CRKT Drifter SS ($18)
20. Lighthound 1xAAA light ($25)
21. Lighthound 1xAA light ($25)
22. McGizmo Haiku Hi CRI edition ($500) 
23. TAD Dauntless Mk. II ($350)
24. CRKT Enticer ($40)
25. CRKT Swindle ($50)
29. MBI HF-R with Zoom Head ($150)
30. Bellroy Note Sleeve Wallet ($90)
31. Spyderco Domino ($190)
32. Zebralight SC600 Mk. II ($100)
33. Tuff Writer Ultimate Red Clicky ($100)
34. TT PockeTTools 69 ($40)
35. TT PockeTTools Thumb Drive ($10)
36. TAD Gear Camo Dispatch Bag ($200)
37. Brous Blades Bionic ($180)
38. 2x Micro Systainer (courtesy of Woodcraft)($100 total, $50 each)
39. 2x Obtainum Wallet (courtesy of Obtanium Wallets)($400 total, $200 each)
40. Spyderco Dragonfly II in Super Blue (courtesy of the blog)($100)
41. Thrunite T10T Titanium (courtesy of the blog)($50)
42. Inspirs TTi 120 Pen (courtesy of Inspirs Designs)($100)
43. Kershaw Skyline with Blue G10 and Blackwash blade (1 of 211 made)(courtesy of the blog)($100)
44. oLight i2 EOS (with bolt on clip, out of production) (courtesy of the blog)($25)
45. Masterstroke Air Foil Twisty (courtesy of Masterstroke Pens)($75)
46. James Chapter Knife ($200)
47. Prometheus Beta QR v2 ($80)
48. RC Fibers D15 Wallet ($50)
49. TT Keeper OMPT ($40)
50. Karas Kustoms Ink ($60)
51. Mini Mechanic's chest ($20)
52. ZT0770CR ($170)
53. Malkoff MDC ($100)
54. Bellroy Elements Pocket ($60)
55. Prometheus EKO OMPT ($40)
56. Smock Knives modded Kwaiken ($250)
57. ZT0562 ($200)
58. Arno Bush Baby ($140)
59. Kershaw Amplitude ($30)
60. Spyderco Cat ($50)
61. Lynch PM2 Upgrade Kit ($70)
62. Buck Mini Spitfire ($40)
63. American Knife Company Forest Knife ($240)
64. Zero Tolerance ZT0909 ($180)
65. Limited Edition Zero Tolerance Pen ($100)
66. Anso Matrix Card Holder ($200)
67. Field Notes 3-pack Night Sky Edition ($20)
68. Fenix RC09Ti ($100)
69. AG Russell One Handed Knife K-12 ($100)
70. FourSevens Paladin ($100)
71. Ontario RAT II ($30)
72.  Thrunite Tool AAA ($30)
73.  Graham Stubby Razel Midtech ($350)
Total Given Away: $6,998

As the total approaches $10,000 I am thrilled that we have raised so much.  I know this cause is a bit out of people's wheelhouse, but it is a very well run charity and something desperately needed right now.  For once, the media is actually downplaying how bad a story really is.  We hear about epidemics every day in the news, Zika, swine flu, you name it, but as someone regularly dealing with the consequences of the heroin epidemic, I can tell you from firsthand experience, as well as data analysis from across the country, it is worse than the media is saying.

Finally, if you are not so motivated to help this cause, be cynical--others may also be in the same position and not wanting to help.  Who knows, maybe many fewer people donate thus increasing your chances of winning.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fenix RC09Ti Review

If you are a baseball fan, follow me for a second.  If not skip down to "In many ways".

I was at the peak of my fandom in both baseball and baseball cards in 1989.  When Upper Deck released their first set and it included the Ken Griffey rookie card I was ecstatic.  When I opened my first pack and saw Ken Griffey grinning back at me I lost it.  Ken Griffey Jr. was for me and many others my age a revelation, a hope that we would see someone assault the record books like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron did.  He was my generation's best hope at becoming The Best Player Ever.  And for a decade he lived up to the hype, destroying pitchers for the Mariners.  I lived in a small town named Xenia, Ohio, so my favorite team was the Reds, but as they were in the NL, I could have passing flirtation with the AL Mariners.  Year after year after year Griffey amazed in the outfield and crushed at the plate.

Then one fateful day he was traded...OH MY GOD...to my team the Cincinnati Reds.  He is from Cincinnati and his Dad played for the Big Red Machine, so it was a homecoming.  And my kid heart, now a young adult heart, swelled at the thought of a pennant arriving on Ken Griffey Jr's back.  Alas, the Reds portion of the Ken Griffey career was marked more by injuries than home runs.  Eventually he was traded to the White Sox, though even now, just a few years later, no one remembers Ken Griffey Jr. White Sox, except maybe for him falling asleep in the dug out.  Each step of his career was a sad one, a downfall and let down from former greatness.  

In many ways Fenix's role in the flashlight world parallel's Ken Griffey Jr.'s career.  When they first erupted on the scene, they were making better lights than Surefire and selling them for 1/3 the price.  They had better LEDs, better designs, and better specs (though Surefire's optics were always and still are better).  They were the first company from China to make a splash and what a splash it was.  I remember thinking that any day now we'd be getting 500 lumen single cell lights for $15.  The promise of Chinese manufacturing was so great.  If Fenix's could do for flashlights what Wal Mart did for lots of stuff, we'd be awash with great cheap lights.  But that's not what happened.  Surefire pivoted and caught up.  Other Chinese companies overtook Fenix.  Olight, FourSevens, Thrunight, Eagletac, Sunwayman, and JetBeam outpaced Fenix about five years ago and have been lapping them ever since.

And so when the RC09Ti was announced I was excited, hopeful that Fenix was about to rise like a...oh man, too obvious.  But the light is not the herald of a return to former greatness, but more like the Reds portion of Ken Griffey's career. There are so many design gaffs and feature crap outs that this is just not that competitive of a light.  5 years ago it would be great.  2 years ago it would be a competitor with the S10 Baton.  But now, with the S1 Baton and the Titan Plus, this is an also-ran.  

Here is the product page. The Fenix RC09Ti costs $100 and is a limited edition (thank god).  There is a cheaper aluminum version with the same feature set.  I don't see why the review here doesn't cover that light as it is the exact same but for the titanium body. Here is a Reddit thread mocking Fenix and how terrible this light is (did I mention it has AIRCRAFT GRADE titanium!).  There are no written reviews. Here is a video. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Fenix RC09Ti, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ 

That said, you should probably buy another light using that link.  

Here is my review sample: 

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Twitter Review Summary: Over the hill Fenix's latest attempt at cutting edge...too little too late.

Design: 1

There are a lot of things about this light that before the Titan Plus and the S1 Baton I would have considered annoying, but not that bad.  The on/off button, for example, is very easy to accidentally turn on.  It happened many times in my pocket while carrying this light.  The S1, which also runs a side switch button, has a stronger "bounce" to it and is less exposed so it didn't activate accidentally even once.  Similarly, the light's size, while decent for a light that has an output of around 500 lumens, is beefy compared to the 300 lumen Titan Plus or the 500 lumen S1.  Both are significantly smaller.  The exposed charging port is not something I like all that much, either.  It can be mistaken for the switch in the dark, it attracts gunk, and I dislike how it charges:

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The idea of a light that can charge the battery with the battery inside is great, but the rechargeable S10 Baton did it better and that was a light from a flashlight generation ago.  None of these are a deal breaker (hence the 1 instead of the 0) but all are indications that this light, despite its price and billing in Fenix's marketing, is not a cutting edge light.  Five years ago it would be and Fenix's presentation of this light indicates that they are truly no longer in their prime.  

Performance ratios are pretty middling.  Max totally lumen output is found on medium (50 lumens for 470 minutes) and is 23,500.  The lumens:weight is (550 lumens/2.76 ounces) 199.  Neither are spectacular. 

Fit and Finish: 2

Whatever complaints you have about the light, it's UI and its design, can't carry over to its fit and finish.  The light is marvelously made with tight tolerances and well polished parts.  Nothing is super great, but there are no flaws either.  I have always liked Fenix's fit and finish.  Now if only their design department and their emitter department could catch up to their machine shop...

Grip: 1

I like side switch lights.  They are very, very good in the hand.  It's a shame that they went to all of the trouble of relocating the switch, only to give you a giant honking clip that really hampers the grip of the light.

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As you can see the upturned portion pokes right into your hand's meaty parts.  This was not a good idea at all.  Unlike the S1's clip, which is equally terrible, I could not, for the life of me, get this thing off without fear of damaging it or the light.  Since I give most of the gear I review away as part of giveaways, I didn't want to destroy the thing or use pliers, so I left it alone.

Carry: 0

There are three problems, each of which is pretty substantial.  First, the side switch is too easy to accidentally activate.  I got hot pocket more with this flashlight than any other I have tested.  Second, the light is a bit big by today's standards.  The S1, which runs on the same size battery, is probably 3/5th the size.  Its not ginormous, but it is too big to easily fit into a coin pocket on a pair of jeans.  

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These two would knock the light down to a 1.  But it is the clip, that dreadful clip, that kills this thing.  I hate friction fit clips and this one has all of the flaws of the type.  It comes loose (though, weirdly, never loose enough to pull off the light).  It moves and gets hung up on fabric.  It is also a paint scrapper.  Finally, that up curved tip at the end is just awful.  It is so darn pokey.  In preparing this review, I found a letter I wrote to Fenix five years ago.  It went like this:

Dear Fenix,

I hate your el cheapo friction fit clips.  Please get rid of them, they are pretty bad.  

Signed,

Everyday Commentary

PS: They suck.  Really.

Okay I never wrote that letter, but I could have and given that they sucked 5 years ago, now, with very good clips like the one on the Surefire Titan Plus, this thing is a travesty. 

Output: 1

The high is fine, of course, because that is just a function of the emitter.  Anyone that can buy emitters can guarantee a good high, but the fact that this light is lacking a moonlight low or anything close to it, tells you all you need to know about this light and Fenix.  In this day and age, lacking a mode that preserves night vision is the flashlight equivalent of releasing a car without seatbelts--you just don't do it.  This more than any other feature or lack thereof tells you how out of touch Fenix is with the cutting edge of flashlight design.  

Runtime: 1

Without a moonlight low, the month long runtimes seen on modern lights is impossible.  As a result, this light just can't hang with the competition.  Here is a comparison that proves my point.  The max runtime on the Zebralight SC5 is 4 months.  The max runtime here is 53 hours.  Supposing you are out in the wilderness or trapped in a cave, which would you rather have--4 months or 53 hours of lighting?  Simple right?  Suppose you are like me and never trapped in the wilderness or in a cave, but merely someone that doesn't want to fuss with their gear all day, every day, which would you want?  Simple, again.  No moonlight low, no amazing runtime.  

Beam Type: 2

The beam here is actually good.  The long head makes up for some of the deficiencies in a non-TIR optic.  A shallow reflector optic is just terrible, producing a poor balance between spill and hotspot.  Here, thanks to the decent reflector you get a tight hotspot and just enough spill.  This isn't a thrower, but it isn't bad.  

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Good fit and finish can make up for lesser designs.

Beam Quality: 1

The beam is clean and free of artifacts, but its not all that nice of tint (note, from now on I am going to evaluate tint in the beam quality section and leave it out of the output section, which will just focus on lumens and the spacing between modes).  This is, again, a sign that they have not caught up with the times.  Fenix, it is not that hard to source Hi CRI emitters.  Go get them.  We like them better.  

UI: 0

All right, let me get technical for second.  The time between presses necessary to change modes or operation of a light is called the "debounce" time.  Its basically the time necessary to trigger the emitter to switch modes.  There is a more technical definition of debounce, but for our purposes, this explanation is fine.  The debounce time here is all off.  It is just not the right time.  It screws up how the light works, making turning it on and off and switching modes counter intuitive.  Compared to the perfect UI on the side switch S1, this is horrendous.  In fact, compared to most lights, its horrendous.  Its like watching a movie where the soundtrack is a half second off.  Its SUPER annoying.  But more than annoying, here it makes using the flashlight a complex chore.  The is the least intuitive UI I have seen in a long time, harkening back to the busted Lighthound AA.   This thing is awful.

Hands Free: 2 

The light doesn't roll, tailstands well, and has a magnet in the tail.  Excellent.  Straight up rip off of the S10 and S1, but excellent.

Overall Score: 11 out of 20

I do occasionally fret about the brands I review, worried that I have missed something important.  Fenix is one of those brands, as they are so high profile and so historically important.  But the reality is, they are not all that relevant to us anymore.  They aren't making enthusiast lights.  Instead they are making lights that seem targeted at Big Box and occasionally clad one in titanium to snag our attention.  But pay no attention to this shiny object.  It is a light that would have been decent, but not great in the last generation of flashlights.  Compared to stuff like the Titan Plus and the S1 Baton, this is not worth your time, attention, or money.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

April 2016 Carry

In a weird turn of events, April was significantly colder this year than March.  It snowed at the beginning of the month and closed out at 46 degrees.  There were some warm moments in between, but unlike most of the time, the weather had little bearing on what I carried.  The reason was simple--the production Aeon Mk. III arrived.  To say it is splendid is like saying the Bugatti Veyron is fast, it's true, but vastly underrates that truth.  This is not just a great light, but a great piece of gear.  Who else does near space testing?  That kind of test makes Cold Steel Proof videos look like they were for preschoolers.

My knife carry was rather stale, as two knives that I am waiting for are well overdue.  The Darriel Caston Kadima and the DPx Urban, both Kickstarter blades, are more than a month past their predicted release date.  It's not surprising, given how KS projects usually go, but the Urban was supposed to ship in February.  I can wait, of course.  It's not like I have zero knives, but it is a bit frustrating to see DPx release another knife, the Chop, between the close of the Urban's KS and the Urban's actual shipping to customers.  I am sure that was not the plan.  Given when the Chop was announced, DPx likely had them staggered so that the Urban would ship and a month later, building on the momentum, the Chop would release, but alas the Fates have conspired against us.  

I also had something of a sale on my knives.  The Indian River Jack fell victim to the Canal Street Cutlery Boy's Knife.  Both are superior tools, but I like the Boy's Knife better and the IRJ sat in my knife chest.  It had to go.  I also let go of my beloved Gedraitis Pathfinder.  This was something of a hard choice, as the knife is simply amazing, but I realized that for the vast majority of people a flipper is inherently threatening, even if looks all purdy.  Finally, I got rid of the Paramilitary 2 in Elmax.  Nothing against the knife at all, it's spectacular, but I just wasn't carrying it all that often.  When I need hard use I usually go for my Jarosz JFS, which, in sheath, is the same size as the PM2 is closed. 

Anyway, here we go (note: there is a lot of Aeon):

Even though the Pioneer X is out I still like my custom SAK from SAKModder.  The clip is awesome and the anodizing is quite good:

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SAKModder Pioneer and Aeon Mk. 3

When I am not sure what the day holds--whether it will require a repair to a toy or the door to my car, or just beers, the Pioneer is a winner.  And the fact that it is very similar in color to the Aeon Mk. 3 is a huge bonus.

Here was a common set up--lots of clean, awesome gear.

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Gareth Bull Shamwari, Aeon Mk. 3, and Sinn 556i

Not having a Sebenza and being a knife guy is strange, but it is hard to justify a Sebenza when I have the Shamwari which I think is just a better design.  The steel, N690, is probably worse than S35VN, but I couldn't tell the difference.  This isn't a beater, so steel doesn't matter that much.  I still dislike the pocket clip.

Here is a funny EDC, beauty and the beast:

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ZT0909 and the Aeon Mk. 3

It is hard to find a knife that is bigger than the ZT0909 and still useful.  I liked it a lot and I was surprised at how good the handle was and how capable the grind is.  Thanks Jonathan for the recommendation.

And finally, a bit of palette cleansing:

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MBI HF-R and Ver Steeg Imp

It is really important to me that I don't just become a "flavor of the month" reviewer.  With gear there is so much out there and stuff comes out so quickly that even great stuff can be forgotten.  As good as the Aeon Mk. 3 is, I want to make sure that it stacks up to other historically great stuff and the MBI HF-R is still uber competitive in the market, more than a year after its release.  The Imp, is, simply put, one of my three favorite knives I have ever owned.  Front pocket fixed blades are great.  Thanks Kyle!

May looks like a good month--I have a Mnandi coming (the Pathfinder's less aggro replacement) and a Busse second gen Battle Mistress coming.  Talk about two diametrically opposed knives.  I can't wait.