Monday, October 20, 2014

Buck Mini Spitfire Review by Ben Schwartz

In the knife world, amongst the ten or so major manufacturers, there seems to be a division between those companies that are making history, and those that are living in it. In the first group I would put companies like Spyderco, Kai/Kershaw, CRKT: these manufacturers, if not constantly, then at least fairly often, release products that show they pay attention to the wants and needs of their customer base, as well as to the overall trends of the knife-using community. Innovations like the Spyderhole, definitive, big-name collaboration efforts like the Leek or the Cryo, the irresistible affordability and functionality of the Drifter: these are efforts of the present that are going to be remembered by, and inform, the future.

Then there are companies like Case, that are working out of traditions they established or helped to establish many years ago. They may venture into trendier territory from time to time, but by and large they are defined by an image that was set before what we now call the knife community came into focus.

There’s nothing wrong with a respect for tradition. There isn’t even anything inherently wrong in an adherence to it; to speak to my example above, I have always been infatuated with Case knives, and plan on buying another Peanut just as surely as I anticipate picking up another titanium framelock flipper. But, just as terminal avant-gardism can be dangerous, so too can a blind reliance on what has already been done.

And so we come to Buck Knives, whose fame rests mainly on the Buck 110, a landmark design, something that both contributed to the evolution of folding knives, and continues to be a valid product today. Indeed, the Buck 110 was so influential that the company’s name has become a metonym for ‘pocket knife.’ While Buck isn’t as rigorously traditional as Case, I feel that they fall into the same camp, and, more problematically, into the smaller subset of companies whose devotion to the past obscures their understanding of the present.

Buck’s Mini Spitfire is an attempt at a modern folder that, plot spoiler, falls really flat. While it isn’t execrable in the way that, say, a Gerber knife might be, the impression it leaves, after having carried and used it for several weeks, is one of utter mediocrity. The design doesn’t cohere, the fit and finish is bad, and the price is wrong. This is a knife that wouldn’t have been interesting a decade ago, but in the modern scene, this Golden Age we live in, quite frankly has no place.

Here is the product page. The Mini Spitfire comes in a variety of colors, and also has a larger variant, the Spitfire, with a 3.25 inch blade. Here is a written review with some really nice photography. Here is a video review. The Mini Spitfire can be had for $28.50, and can be found at Blade HQ, along with an amazing selection of other knives probably more deserving of your money, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (purchased with Tony's money):
 
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Twitter Review Summary: A muddled riff on modern EDC, with decent steel and bland-to-terrible everything else.

Design: 1

The design of the Mini Spitfire is pretty spartan, without anything particularly adventurous or noteworthy about it.

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There’s nothing offensive about it either, but again, we are in a Golden Age of gear, with some of the most exciting designs, to my mind, appearing in the product class to which the Buck Mini Spitfire ostensibly belongs; and while it’s not fair to dock something a point for not being adventurous, so many other products have designs that are so far ahead of the Mini Spitfire that they have essentially moved the benchmark, and what once may have been considered to work well, when set against these new standards, may need to be reevaluated. In short, everything about the Mini Spitfire’s design could have been made better, from the opening hole to the clip.

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The ratios are not terrible: blade:weight is 1.3, and blade:handle is .73. Respectable enough, but, like the rest of the design, nothing to get excited about.

Fit and Finish: 0

Lots of issues here.

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First off, all the screws holding the knife together are a little off center from the places milled out to hold them. As far as I can tell this doesn’t affect the performance, but it is indicative of larger issues. The lockbar and the blade tang don’t meet up evenly, and the lockbar doesn’t sit flush against the scales; if you hold the knife up against a light, you can actually see the space between them. This loose construction results in a ton of bladeplay, the most I’ve seen in any knife I own. When it’s open, you can actually almost rotate the blade in a circle against the lockbar. This doesn’t affect performance during everyday cutting tasks like envelopes and tape, but, as Tony pointed out in his video overview, over time the wear on the knife will accumulate and make these issues even worse, to the point that it could be unsafe to use—and, while I wouldn’t say the Mini Spitfire is a fit and finish catastrophe in the Gerberian sense of the word, I would not feel comfortable using this knife to do anything more demanding than cutting cardboard, and even that’s pushing it.

Grip: 1

The stainless steel scales are given a brushed finish, and are neither real grippy nor incredibly slick. If that were the only thing worth considering here I’d probably give the knife a 2, because I like the “just right” size of the handle, but there is a certain sharpness to the inner sides of the scales that create hotspots after a while using it, and, additionally, there’s just something about the flatness of the scales, combined with the thinness of the knife, that makes your hand ball up awkwardly around them when you’re using it.

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For light tasks neither one of these things are going to be a problem, but, taken together, and (again) given that there are so many knives out there for the same price or less that do it better, I don’t think I can give it any higher than a 1 here.

Carry: 2

No complaints. The slickness and thinness of the scales, while detrimental in other ways, makes for a well-behaved passenger in the pocket. As Nabokov said, you can always depend on a stainless steel-handled knife for a smooth carry.

Steel: 2

A pleasant surprise. Buck prides itself on the heat treat of its steel, a proprietary process developed by Paul Bos, and the 420 HC the Mini Spitfire runs here is an excellent performer for the money. This particular knife isn’t a great cutter, but that’s because of its grind, which I’ll get to below; in a direct comparison I did against the AUS-8 of my mostly-forgotten SOG Flash I, the Mini Spitfire held its own. And while I wouldn’t consider AUS-8 difficult to sharpen, I found the 420 HC to be easier still, more akin to 8Cr13MoV, and equally capable as that Chinese steel of taking a positively sinister edge. I’m not through hating on this knife yet, but before I get back to that I want to make sure that I give credit where credit’s due. And, for what it’s worth (not much, in my opinion), the blade was razor sharp when I got it.

Blade Shape: 2

The Mini Spitfire’s drop point blade is fine. What we have here is a classic and likeable blade shape...

Grind: 0

...that’s totally wasted by an inept grind. Yep, it’s pretty much a hatefest from here on out.
While the steel acquitted itself admirably, I did notice, as I performed my cutting tests, that something was off: the knife seemed to be tracking through material in an odd manner. I don’t own, nor have I used, hundreds of knives, but I’ve used enough to notice when something as fundamental as the feel of the cut is off. The point at which the primary bevel begins is not done sharply enough, and so the hollow grind, instead of ending abruptly at that bevel like it should, in a sense continues past it, like a really sloppily done full flat grind. It’s odd. More to the point, it makes the knife a poor cutter. The secondary bevel was done well enough, certainly well within the tolerances for the price bracket we’re in, but that primary bevel is a real showstopper.

Deployment Method: 0

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Buck’s opening, uh, ellipse, is ugly. But ugly can still be functional, and while the Mini Spitfire is "openable," there are two huge problems. One, it’s uncomfortable. My thumb naturally goes for the end of the hole that’s nearest the tip, which just feels off. If I open it from the inner corner, it’s too cramped. Opening it from the middle seems to be the way to go, but it never felt “right” to me; I was having to think too much about aiming my thumb when all I wanted to do was open the damn knife. Two, more often than I could reasonably write off, my thumb, as I was opening and closing the Mini Spitfire, perhaps because of the amount of force required to open this not-so-smooth-opening knife, slid out of the opening ellipse. This is particularly problematic when you’re closing the knife, as the direction your thumb is moving sends it off toward the cutting edge. Again, I’m not trying to accuse Buck of making a product that is patently unsafe, but there is no doubt that they have fundamentally flubbed the concept of a one-handed opener.

Retention Method: 0

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The Mini Spitfire’s clip will indeed keep the knife in your pocket. But it’s ugly, in large part due to an unnecessary hump at the top, ostensibly to allow it to slide easily over the seam of your pants, and unless you’re wearing pants that are as thick as a sheet of ceiling insulation, I can’t really see it being useful. It’s a paint-scraper, and because the hump does nothing useful, it didn’t need to be.

Lock: 1

Man, I want to give this lock a 0. Personally, when it comes to bladeplay, I grade using a pass/fail system: I’ll tolerate a modicum even in an expensive knife, but if there is one iota more than what I deem reasonable, I’m out. And here, even given that this is a lockback, where a little bladeplay comes with the territory, this is way too much. ...But I’m still going to give the Mini Spitfire a 1, for the simple fact that, in normal, light use, I can’t see it failing. As I said earlier, there’s every chance that all the slop in the knife will eventually make its lockup a riskier proposition, but that’s not something I have the time to figure out, nor is it something I’ve found in the forums. So one point with a big caveat.

Overall Score: 9 out of 20

If you showed someone a picture of the SS Dragonfly, once, and then had them describe it to somebody else using only, say, five sentences, who then had to design a knife from that description, I think it might end up looking something like the Mini Spitfire. It looks like a modern knife taken back a couple steps in its design. I got a G-10 Cryo during the period in which I was testing the Mini Spitfire, and the differences between them were almost surreal: I mean, we’re talking orders of magnitude here: the fit and finish, the features, the utility. And, they are virtually the same price. The Drifter is less money and is still miles ahead of this thing.

It’s not so much that the Mini Spitfire is unusable, although it gets pretty damn close, so much as that, with all the equally cheap or cheaper options out there outclassing it in every way, there’s just no reason to own it.

Oh, Mini Spitfire.

Buck has been an integral part in the development of the modern folding knife as we know it. I think they still have something to offer us, but the Mini Spitfire is clearly not it.

EDITOR'S TAKE: 

Boy did I hate this knife.  I had intended on reviewing this knife myself but I hated it so much that I feel like I couldn't do a good, unbiased job, so I asked Ben to help out and he ably pitched in.  Foruntately, he and I see eye to eye, or at least both agree it is a crappy knife.

The reality is I hated it more than Ben did.  I would take off an additional point in design because, well, this is one ugly messy knife.  I'd also drop a point off the 420HC steel.  It is a good, but it is not a peer of M4, M390, CTS-XHP, or ZDP-189--the other 2 point steels.  I'd also drop a point in grip, as this is just a wildly unhelpful design.  Its slick, the jimping stinks, and the shape is not anything like ideal.

In my original draft of this review I wrote that this knife was so bad that it wasn't shit, but a knife that shit shits out.  Its pretty awful.  The 9 out of 20 is fair, but I'd feel more comfortable giving it a score of 6 out of 20.  This is just a terrible, out of touch knife, a crude parody of modern EDC folders.

Editor's Overall Score: 6 out of 20.

Friday, October 17, 2014

TT PockeTTools Stinger Review

There are few items more iconic, more associated with EDC than the Fisher Space Pen Bullet.  Its gleaming chrome body, simple shape, and great refill make it the perfect item.  Page through pocket dumps on the internet and not appears as regularly as the Fisher Space Pen Bullet.

But here is a little secret--its a pretty awful pen, when used as a pen. First, the refill, that vaunted refill, is just something I don't understand.  I know it writes everywhere, I know it writes for ever, but its slick feel makes it something I don't necessarily love. I am, however, willing to concede, that the refill is so unique that despite the oil slick page feel, it is still worth the hassle and a great design for EDC use.  But the other sins are unforgiveable--mortal as opposed to venial.  The pocket clip is simply atrocious. The cap is no good, and, frankly, having a cap on any EDC pen is kind of a bummer.  And while I like the LOOK of the sleek chromed shape, in application its not very good.  The pen feels slick or dirty, but nothing else.  The Bullet, for all of the pictures on the internet, just isn't that good.  

The problem is there is no real competition.  Sure there are small pens that run the refill, but they are all hiking/outdoor pens and none are suited for long term use.  They are all too spindly and thin or ridiculously overbuilt.  In order to find a good replacement you use to have to go to a much larger pen. The small, easily pocketable, but still useful form factor was something only the Bullet had.

Not anymore.

Here is the product page for the TT PockeTTools Stinger. It runs about $170.  Todd offers them in a wide range of finishes and materials.  There are no reviews and the only source is, of course, Todd.  The idea with both the Stinger and the larger TT pen, the Syringe, is that each one is unique.  They do run into very high prices with more exotic materials and elements.  An aluminum and camo version that is still available is $170.  Here is the review sample (sent to me by Todd) with a few other very compact but very capable EDC tools:

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Twitter Review Summary: Very compact and VERY capable.

Design: 2

The design is very simple, yet it is quite effective.  It fixes all of the problems I had with the Bullet and it does so all the while improving the ruggedness of the pen.  Raw aluminum is a scratch magnet, but because each pen is unique you could easily get one without raw aluminum.  Also, I happen to like the way scratched up aluminum looks--sort of like the pen equivalent of stonewashing.  

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The twist mechanism is great and the pocket clip works.  There is really nothing to complain about with the design self except this--price.  At $170 it is vastly more costly than a Bullet.  Justifying the price solely based on features is very hard to do, even though the TT Stinger IS a clearly superior pen.  But a lot of the reason why we hunt down cool gear is not just purely a question of utility.  Here you are getting a completely unique pen, handmade by Todd.  These aren't even made in batches.  The differences are all external, the guts stay the same, but the differences can range widely--different shapes, colors, and patterns.  In the end, you buy a custom, handmade product for reasons other than pure utility and if you look at this pen that way, the $170 price tag is still high, but not out of line for what you pay for other products made this way.

Fit and Finish: 2

With everything handmade, its unsurprising that the pen is clean, smooth, and comfortable in the hand.  Even the hand bent pocket clip is well made and fits nicely on the pen.  The twist mechanism was a little tight when I originally got the pen but it loosened up (though never to a sloppy degree).  As with all of Todd's stuff, the Stinger is just a well-built item.  

Carry: 2

This is really why you get a golf-pencil sized pen--it drops into a top shirt pocket easily and just stays there.  I really liked the entire package in the pocket.  The clip was great, the pen the right size, and the twist mechanism secure enough to make sure the tip of the refill would accidentally be exposed (unlike some clickies).

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Appearance: 1

Its hard to evaluate the appearance of the Stinger because each is unique, but the raw aluminum version I got was clean and simple.  It looked like something that came from a machine shop (because it did) and not something that seemed made for sophisticated stacks of Tomoe paper.  Its not to say the pen is ugly, its just not particularly eye catching, its utilitarian.  And if there is one place I don't mind a little bling, a little flourish or flash, its the look of a pen. 

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Compared to something like the Pilot Vanishing Point, a pen in this price range (roughly speaking), the Stinger is a bit, well, lacking in style.  Even the more exotically colored Stingers lack that refined appearance that $170 pens from other sources have.  

Durability: 2

Though not a tank like the TuffWriter, it is still plenty sturdy.  The washer style clip is a great addition in a field crowded with bolt on clips.  I love it and I love the fact that there is no wiggle, click, or snap to this pen.  The lack of a spring and clicky contribute to the overall solid feel.

Writing Performance/Refill: 2

It takes the Fisher Space Pen refill and this is compatible with a wide range of refills based on the Parker refill.  This is my preferred refill format because you can find anything you need--an all surface writer, a ballpoint, a gel refill.  They are all available.   The included refill is a Fisher and while I don't LOVE it, it does serve a purpose.

Balance/In Hand Feel: 2

Obviously this is not the normal size a pen is, coming in smaller than a full sized pen and even smaller than the Tactile Turn Shaker, which is about 3/4 the size of a normal pen.  It is almost exactly the same size as the Fisher Space Pen capped.  

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Despite its small size, I found the pen to be quite nice.  It never caused a cramp and always seemed to fall just right.  The aluminum body is exceptionally light and feels responsive in the hand, but never flimsy.  Balance is not really an issue as so much of the pen is captured by the hand.  There is nothing cantilevered out there.

Grip: 2

The grip section is good.  There is plenty of texture, but not enough to be offensive.  I also like that Todd did not resort to some material gimmicks to add texture.  Its nothing complex, but it works well without any hotspots or seam problems.  

Barrel: 2

I went back and forth here.  The barrel itself is nice and there are problem areas that rub against your skin.  It is solid and helps with balance, but it is kinda bland.  Since that was my sole basis for taking off a point in Appearance above, I didn't think it was fair to dock the pen again here. 
 
Deployment Method/Cap: 2

This is where the TT Stinger comes out ahead of the competition.  There is, of course, the Fisher Space Pen Cap-o-Matic, a clicky version of the Bullet, but it is both bigger than the Stinger and not really in the same league quality-wise.  The clicky mechanism rattles and isn't terrible nice.  But here you not only get the more compact size, you also get a much more solid deployment.  This pen is damn near bulletproof and the smooth, tight twist mechanism works quite well.  No accidental deployment here.  In fact, this is one of my favorite deploying pens ever (okay, nothing compares to the gadgety coolness of a Vanishing Point....).

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

Aside from a missing style point, there is not much to complain about here.  The price is quite high, but this is a hand made thing, made by a single guy and each is utterly unique.  It is also quite good for what it is...better than a Bullet, better than a Cap-O-Matic, better than quite a few pens that people think of as staples.  The Stinger is very solid, excellent in hand, and writes using one of the best refills on the market.  This is not the world's greatest writer, mainly because of the refill, but it is one of the best for EDC.  If your stuck on a pen the size of the Bullet, but want something capless and sturdy, this is it.  Long after you have lost the cap on the Bullet or obliterated the Cap-o-Matic the Stinger will still be going strong.   

Monday, October 13, 2014

My First Custom Flipper

Are you tired of knives that have thin, slicing blades?  Do you yearn for an impractical monstrosity to drop in your pocket and occasionally pants you when you forget to wear a belt?  Do you want something that, in an emergency, such a traffic jam, can help you with that nic-fixing energy?  Is your knife primarily a yo-yo--a toy based on a simple principle of physics--and not a tool?  If so, do I have a flipper for you.  It is UNBELIEVABLY smooth, flips so easily it is practically telepathic, and it has an edge thicker than your smartphone.

Here you go:


Friday, October 10, 2014

Quick Hits: TT Keeper, NockCo Lookout, TAD RUT, Hydroflask, Kershaw Zing

It is that time again--a bunch of quick hit reviews.  As with last time, these aren't lesser items, but simply easier to write about, hence the short form.  I got good feedback last time, so here they are:

TT PockeTTools TT Keeper

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You can find the TT Keeper here, at TT PockeTTools.

Todd's line of one piece multitools have been one of the few things that keep me interested in this product category.  As they have become catnip to the frosted pocket EDC crowd, they have risen in price and dropped in utility (see: TAD RUT below). But Todd keeps chugging along with new and useful designs all at an affordable price.  The TT Keeper is one of those designs.

It is, of course, well made.  Todd's fit and finish (or, as it has been correctly noted, just finish--there is no fit on a one piece multitool as their is only one part)  is superb. The grinds are clean and the look, with the raw bar finish and grind lines, is very nice.  But the tool complement and design of the TT Keeper aren't my favorites.  I am not comparing this to the TT Chopper, which is probably my favorite one piece multitool out there, but really the benchmark Gerber Shard.  In that comparison, the TT Keeper doesn't come out clearly ahead, but more like a muddled tie.  

The lack of a wide prying/scrapping surface is a bummer, as is the V-notch. The hex bit slot worked okay, but there are better designs out there, including Todd's Thumb Drive.  Finally, I know the box wrench stuff works, but I have found that given the size of these tools, you can generate almost no useful torque.  

The Keeper isn't bad, its actually quite good.  But compared to Todd's Chopper, its an easy decision. Compared to other one piece multitools, like the Shard and the new Leatherman designs, its a very close call.  I'd opt for the handmade item, but on a pure utility basis I could see an argument for the stuff made my machines. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20 (1 off in Design for the inclusion of a useless set of box wrenches, 1 off for Carry because of the extra pokey pry tip, 1 off for Tool Selection for the lack of a v-notch and a wide pry).

NockCo Lookout

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You can find the Lookout here, at NockCo.

Fountain pen + chilly New England winter + frozen ink cartridge = huge mess.  I don't think the ink cartridge actually exploded, but I think the expansion and contraction loosed up seams and pieces to the point that leaking became inevitable when the pen heated up.  Fortunately, I had it my hand and not my pocket when this happened, but it highlighted a point--best to take my fountain pens inside overnight.  

Brad Dowdy's been on the podcast twice and he is an excellent aficionado of things stationary related, so it wasn't a stretch of the imagination to think his pen cases would be anything other than great.  So many pen cases out there are just these massive, expensive, overdone objects.  Instead of the silly overdone tactical feel of many knives, you get a silly overdone aristocratic feel of purportedly sophisticated executives.  Blah.  

The NockCo. Lookout is simple--nylon constructed, with three slots.  The color schemes are very sharp, even trendy.  And the overall design is excellent.  In fact, as a nice touch, it is just the right size to live in a suit jacket pocket comfortably.  Its not too bulky, but still feels substantial.  The flap works great and tucks into a strap to keep the pens more than secure enough for everyday use.  I also found that three slots is just right for me--I have a passaround pen (right now it is a Skilcraft ballpoint, uber awesome pen, BTW), my preferred bold writer (the Prometheus Alpha at the moment), and a fountain pen for those notetaking marathons (my Kaweco Sport).  

The stitching is quite good and even seam is clean without stray threads.  The bottom is not perfectly squared to the sides, but given that it can be slid into a pocket that might be on purpose to better match the pocket's shape.  I got a gray exterior with a blue interior and it works well, though I would prefer the easy-to-see bright yellow interior of my Tom Bihn Cadet.  Overall, I really like the case, and the price, for a handmade good produced and designed in the US, is super great.  I am still not a sheath guy, but this is a superb pen holder for me.  It works exactly as I hoped it would--effective and simple.  Jeff and Brad, virtual high five dudes.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20 (with the caveat that the crooked stitching on the bottom might be a flaw and not a feature; it works for me though...)

Triple Aught Design RUT (Rexford Utility Tool):  

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You can sometimes find the RUT at TAD, but you can also find them here on Todd Rexford's site.

Though technically not a one piece multitool, the RUT looks and functions like one.  That said, the inclusion of a real cutting edge, via a disposable razor blade, gives it a leg up on most OPMTs.  But alas, I think my infatuation with OPMTs has run its course.  They are handy, but I would always prefer a SAK, especially at the prices most OMPTs are going for these days.  The RUT, when you can find one, goes for $150 new or much more than that on the secondary market.  It is made of two plates of titanium and includes a razor blade.  There are two versions out there--the plain one from Todd Rexford and the co-branded one from Triple Aught Design.  The inclusion of the topo graphics, all of which have been anodized different colors, made the choice easy and when an opportunity presented itself I picked one up.  It was a rare opportunity as they are very hard to find at retail price.  

The design is creative, but limited.  The inclusion of a true cutting edge is nice, but many of the basic implements for OPMTs are missing.  There is no snag edge (though it would be somewhat unnecessary), there is no wide pry, no v-notch for pulling nails, and there is no Phillips driver (the $5 Shard looks better with every OPMT review I do). The fit and finish is superb, as it is a full custom piece.  I used and carried it for a while and it showed no wear and tear.  The razor blade is good, but not a substitute for a real knife blade.  It can open packages and the like, but cutting an apple or making firestarters is impossible.  Again, I'd rather have a Cadet, which is just as pocketable and vastly more capable.  

In the end, it is clear what this is--a cutting edge to carry with an expensive knife so the expensive knife doesn't have to do any real work.  I am not one to baby my knives that way, so I don't have any real use for the RUT, though I am sure many folks do.  Compared to the $5 Shard, the RUT is lacking.  Compared to the $18 Cadet, the RUT is lacking. For a custom knife collector or someone that wants a bit of that custom knife magic, the RUT is easily worth the money.  I concede that I am not the RUT's target audience, but this is one piece of gear, perhaps the only I have ever reviewed, where its daunting value proposition makes it a less than appeal expenditure.  You can find something that works much better for 1/30 the price.  However, you cannot find anything made by Rexford for anything close to the RUT's retail price.  I don't really care about having stuff from "famous" knife makers, so this is a pass for me.   

Overall Score: 15 out of 20 (1 off for a very limited OPMT, 1 off for Theme--the "cutting edge" OPMT idea seems great in theory, but not in practice, 1 off for Retention Method, as the oval tends to bind attachment devices, 2 off for Tool Selection for a missing wide pry, v-notch, Phillips driver, hex bit holder...the list goes on and on).

Hydroflask:

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You can find the Hydroflask here (proceeds benefit the site):


Well, this has been a long time coming as bought this bottle about a year ago.  Its funny, when you review knives and flashlights non-gear geeks think you are a weirdo, but when you review water bottles all of a sudden those very same people are interested in your opinion.  Well, yoga moms and gear geeks alike, here is my opinion--this the best bottle on the market, period.  

As with all steel constructed insulated bottles it keeps a chill or holds heat for a very long time.  It also as a thick layer of textured paint, perhaps a powder coat, to give it a bit of grip and durability.  Finally, it comes with a leak-free, one hand open lid.  But all these things are just features.  The real star here is the Hydroflask's insane durability.  I have dropped it a few times, as you are want to do with a slick, wet, and heavy for its size object, and thankfully there have been no major dents or dings.  This thing still sits perfect flat, doesn't wobble, and doesn't leak.  I'd still prefer a Tritan bottle with steel insulation, but that doesn't exist.  Until it does, this is it.

There are a few drawbacks, but none are fatal flaws.  The lid does seem to have too many crevices for stinky dirt to hide in and sometimes the sealing ring does seat into the groove correctly, making it leak. I also would prefer some kind of attachment point on the lid to make the bottle easier to carry.  But I am not going to complain too much.  After probably fifty or so hikes, some of them long day hikes up mountains, the Hydroflask is still perfectly dent-free.  GREAT bottle.  Best insulated bottle on the market right now.  Not the iPhone of bottles, but perhaps the Sony Discman?

The straw lid doesn't appeal to me as I hate straws (they tend to get funky too and impart flavor).  I also dislike the wide mouth lid, again because it can impart flavor (lips in contact with actual metal...).  With a better lid, this might move up.  As it is, it is quite good. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20 (1 off for Drink Quality as the plastic cap tends to get funky and can smell, thus imparting flavors, and 1 off for Ease of Cleaning again because of the lid)

Kershaw Zing Blackwash G10:

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Here is the page from Dick's Sporting Goods.

Never write a place off.  I have a Dick's Sporting Goods near my house and though they have a horrid selection of stuff normally (all the gray and orange you can barf up) recently they started carrying stuff that interested me, including both Kershaw and CRKT stuff.  On the rack, buried in the back, was the 1730BWH3X, better known as the Kershaw Zing.  But this is no ordinary Zing.  Oh no, this is the budget Zing we have all wanted.  Sure the SS Zing was a very good knife, but it lacked the lightweight of its full budget brother.  The problem, at least for me, was the full budget Zing had some hideous fluting on the blade.  There was no lightweight, plain bladed Zing.  Until now.  And its the cheapest Zing available.  The only problem is that I can't find it anywhere on the Internet.  This just might be that rarest of all knives--the in-person only knife.  As far as I can tell, this is a knife made for Big Box stores only.

Thankfully it runs 8Cr13MoV, as close watchers of KAI will notice they are employing 7Cr and even 3Cr in some of their budget knives.  It also has an assist which I dislike on two accounts--assists are unnecessary and they make this knife much thicker than it needs to be.  Finally, there is the curly "Q" pocket clip, which no one likes.  But for around $20-22 this is one hell of a knife.  For so long the budget knife battle has been between the Kershaw Chill and the CRKT Drifter, but the G10 Zing totally deserves to be in that class as well.    

The superior RJ Martin design does well even when you strip it down to its barest essentials.  Gone are the uber premium materials of his customs.  Even the full budget production Zing seems opulent compared to what you get here.  But this is a smartly designed knife and it is a few tenths of an ounce lighter than the SS version and a good deal grippier, making it better but probably not a full point better.  Great blade. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20 (1 off of Blade Steel for the 8Cr13MoV, 1 off Retention Method for the clip). 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Ver Steeg Imp Overview

Fixed blades have become something of an obsession for me recently.  I have purchased quite a few, reviewed a bunch, and even designed one, but one of the finest I have used is the smallest.  I decided a while ago that I wouldn't review it since it came from a buddy, Kyle Ver Steeg (aka Average Iowa Guy).  That said, it is a truly fantastic piece.  I think it runs O1 tool steel, a tried and true high carbon steel.  Kyle gave it a convex, mirrored blade and the handle, speck as it is, still works quite well.  I LOVE this is little gem and thanks to a perfectly designed lanyard, it can accommodate a very healthy grip.  This is the Dragonfly II of fixed blades and though I am sure a large portion of population will hate something this small, I love it.  It was an excellent camp knife, cutting up meat and making feather sticks with equal ease.  It also makes an awesome EDC fixed blade, though again, I am confident a lot of people will dislike its size.  Kyle designed this to be a knife you can carry with ZERO impact on your movement.  He actually designed it as a neck knife (and it comes with a nice ball chain necklace with a piece of paracord over it to make it more comfortable), but it slips so nicely into the coin pocket of my jeans I couldn't even be tempted to carry it another way.  It has worked well in every task I have thus far thrown at it and other than a curious rainbow colored stain from some soap used while camping, it looks exactly as it did new.  The convex edge is truly amazing and unlike the Little Creek, this guy is thin enough to do some real slicing.



The Imp is all sold out, but you can find other blades from Kyle over at Very Steeg Blades.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bark River Knife and Tool Little Creek 3V Review

Mike Stewart makes one hell of a knife.  More accurately, he and his small crew of cutlery rebels up in Escanaba Michigan make one hell of a knife.  I have been looking for a good EDC fixed blade, something that had a decent sheath, a pocketable size, and some legit high end steel for a while and I ultimately decided on the Bark River Little Creek.

It

blew

me

away.

Seriously, this little cutter with a convex edge sliced and diced with ease.  It took a thumping and kept on coming.  I did stuff with this knife that I pretty much NEVER do to review samples, but with the steel and the build quality I thought it could take it.  And it did.  And then this portly shorty laughed and asked for more.  If you are looking for a good EDC fixed blade, look no further.     

Here is the product page. The Little Creek 3V (there is an A2 version as well; its cheaper) starts around $130 and goes up to over $200 depending on the handle material.  If your a poor boy, opt for the black Micarta.  If you are Daddy Warbucks, the stag handled version is quite nice. Here is a good thread on it over at Blade Reviews. Here is a video review. Here is a link to KnivesShipFree, where you can find the Little Creek, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

KnivesShipFree

Here is my review sample (purchased with site money to be given away in the soon to be unveiled Everyday Commentary Giveaway Spectacular, coming Veteran's Day 2014):

P1040245

Here is my video overview:



Twitter Review Summary: Cutting edge steel and timeless craftsmanship in a convenient package.

Design: 2

Built like a bank vault and looking like a paring knife, the Little Creek is an ideal EDC fixed blade.

P1040110

Often, designs like these get over somethinged.  They are either overbuild and can't ride in a pocket (what's the point then), or they are overdesigned and lack basic functionality, or they are overly simple and run steels and grinds that can't keep up with the state of the art.  Here Mike Stewart combined a solid form factor with an awesome grind and great steel.  The size is just right, at 5.5 inches in overall length.   The sheath is great.  Amazing package.

Fit and Finish: 2

I talked about this in the Custom v. Midtech v. Production debate, but it bears mentioning here--Bark River's production methods are exceptional for a company that makes a many blades as they do.  They hand grind stuff.  They hand polish stuff.  And everything is hand assembled.  And it shows.  Bark River knives, the Little Creek included, glow.  They exude quality and invite your hands.  Everything is more than finger flush, this is fingernail flush.  Spot on with no problems at all.  A gleaming example of a fixed blade.  Mike any thoughts on a folder?  How about a flipper?

Handle Design: 1

I loved the round, hand-filling shape of the handle.  I liked the mild parrot's beak at the back end.  But there was precious little to keep my hand from sliding forward.  In a few tough cuts (more below) I felt my finger sliding toward the blade and had to reposition it.  A more pronounced transition would help tremendously.

P1040150

The handle is definitely not bad, but I'd like a little more blade protection.  Kyle Ver Steeg's Imp solves this problem elegantly and does so on an even smaller knife:

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Steel: 2

I relish writing the steel sections on reviews involving new steel.  The reason is simple--I get to relive all of the cutting and chopping and slicing that knife knuts like to do.  The testing here was more extensive than normal.  I did the regular EDC tasks--package opening, etc--and it did great.  Duh.  But then I did two other things--first, I did a lot of kitchen prep--slicing apples, cutting grapes, cutting cheese, preparing two steaks (while camping), and cutting up bacon (again while camping).  Then, in a stunt that I am sort of ashamed to admit, in part because I rail against folks that abuse knives simply to abuse them, I chopped down and delimbed a hickory sapling.

Hickory is a super tough wood, with a high specific density and a very tough straight grained composition.  I found a small stand of these trees and wanted one to make a walking stick out of, so I decided to hack two down.  One was felled by the uber-sweet Gransfor Bruks Wildlife Hatchet and the other was slowly, methodically, and tortuously felled by this little booger.  When I tell you this took a long time I mean it.  Using alternating chopping strokes I eventually took the 1 1/2" diameter tree down.  It took easily a half an hour, almost certainly longer.  But the edge was quite useable still, enough, once clean, to easily cut up a steak.

One caveat, after the cooking, I cleaned the blade with regular old dish soap, and like the Imp above, some mild rainbow discoloration occurred.  I tried just about everything to get it out and it lessened it, but it is still noticeable.  It has not impacted the steel or promoted rusting, but it is visible.  If you only like LNIB looking blades, 3V is not for you.  If you want to use the shit out of your stuff, I doubt 3V will ever let you down.  It is significantly tougher and harder than 1095, 52100, 154CM, and VG-10.  Those are the steels I have used in knives that did something like what the Little Creek did and the 3V was noticeably better.   There was no chipping or rolling at all and even after extensive work, a bit of stropping brought the edge back to shaving sharp (which is how the knife came, BTW).  

Blade Shape: 2

Geez, it seems these simple blade shapes just work the best.  I don't think I have ever said that before.  Maybe I should say it more often.  PER-FECT.

Grind: 2

This my first blade with a convex grind and it works as advertised.  You can see the grind lines and a gentle curve in them here:

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I will admit that this knife didn't slice apples so much as it split them, but then again any knife this thick will have trouble slicing regardless of the grind.  In hacking tasks, it held up quite well and a quick strop brought back the edge, just as promised.  I am a convert--convex grinds on fixed blades are the way to go.  

Sheath Carry: 2

This is the first production fixed blade that I have had that I thought had a great and not just good sheath.  Cold Steel's sheathes are good as are Spyderco's but kydex lacks the feel of leather.  And this is a great sheath both on your belt and in your pocket.  And no, it did not come stained--this is the cost of having a four year old around.  I took the knife out of the box, then removed the sheath, and while I was doing what all knife knuts do when they get a new knife (arm hair shaving), he was both inspecting the sheath and eating peanut butter and jelly.  Hence the stain.  

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Thanks to the simple and slim profile it drops in and hides away, just about as good as you can get for an EDC fixed blade.  I imagine there are better ways out there, I just haven't seen them.  On the belt, this sheath is rock solid.  I'd like an option for horizontal carry, as this knife is slim enough to do it, but alas that is not in the cards here.  Still, damn good job and the first production sheath that didn't seem like an afterthought.

Sheath Accessibility: 2

The sheath only lets a tiny portion of the handle poke out, but it is enough.  This is not some snap, push, pull jalopy.  Instead it just pops right out.  The fit is snug, especially when the sheath is new, but it is pretty darn good once broken in.  I like it a lot, but again, I'd like to see some horizontal carry options. 

Useability: 2

In the whole hickory delimbing episode proved that this is a knife that can work and do so very comfortably in the hand.  I never got a hotspot and though I wished I had more of a guard for my fingers I never had a problem.  The very rounded handle worked exceptionally well and affording many different angles and grips.  People, including Kyle Ver Steeg (MD, hand surgeon...you know he knows something about hands, right?), rave about Bark River's handles and now I know why.

Durability: 2

3V.  Huge slab.  Corby bolts.  Epoxy.  Convex grind.  Mix all that together and you have a knife that can take a beating.  Other than the weird dish soap stain (and the 4 year old kid's thumb print on the sheath), there is no real evidence of use.  It boggles the mind how awesome the steel and the grind are together.  I wouldn't bitch if Bark River did all their knives in 3V.  Its pretty awesome stuff and with their grinding skill...I just haven't had anything come close.  This really makes me want to try a Busse.  I just can't see how something could be tougher than this, but until I have had a Busse, I don't feel comfortable saying this is the end all, be all.  But regardless of the missing data point, this thing is a tank.  A tiny tank, but a tank nonetheless. 

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

What a great introduction to 3V, to Bark River, and to convex grinds in general.  I am very impressed.  Until Bark River makes other knives of this size in 3V (the Bravo Necker in 3V seems to be out of production and widely unavailable) or someone else decided to compete with them (an ESEE Candiru in 3V makes me giddy just thinking about it) there is nothing that really runs with the Little Creek and the Mini Canadian performance-wise.  The steel is such a huge upgrade over other steels used in fixed blades that it easily justifies the price increase over the regular A2 Little Creek.   I'd love to see a PSK in 3V, as it would offer more hand protection, but a small tweak to the Little Creek's profile would do that as well.  This isn't a perfect knife, but it is damn close.  If you are looking for an EDC fixed blade, its probably impossible to do better right now.    

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

USN Gathering 6 Round Up by Justin Laffer

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This is a guest post from Justin Laffer.  He was kind enough to share with us his experience at the recent USN Gathering 6.  I added the pictures to make this a bit more visual.  If I got the models wrong, blame me not Justin.

Hey guys, Anthony asked me to do a write up of my experience at G6 so here’s some highlights of the trip and some pointers for those looking to go to their first Gathering or knife show.

The trip starts at 9:30AM when I get to the airport in Nashville Tennessee. I pass through security and meet Jeremy Horton and his amazing wife Kristen at the bar. We have a beer and get ready for departure. During the flight we have a blast talking about the industry and various trends and changes we see happening. Turbulence hits. A Bloody Mary winds up in my lap. Oh well.

Touchdown in Las Vegas. We meet Gerry McGinnis at the baggage claim. After getting our stuff together we find another buddy who has rented out a limo. We get to arrive at Planet Hollywood with some style. In the hotel I find my roommate and good friend Eric Ochs and we unpack some and charge our phones before heading to the show floor.

On to the showroom floor and some of my most notable makers and tables…

Steven Kelly brought some awesome folders, the most memorable of which was his Tank model, which is insanely overbuilt.

Image courtesy of GP Knives

I ended up buying a set of titanium-anodized straws for my wife. Steven makes a bunch of great titanium products and is now the guy that makes all the Ti hardware for Strider’s new line of folders.

Eric Ochs had another remarkable show and solidified why he is one of the top knifemakers in the industry. His mokuti open bid folder was exceptional and I loved the V.2 Gyrfalcon flipper he brought as well. Eric brought about 10 knives to the show and his beep beep lottery Saturday was a huge success.

 I was very lucky to take delivery of an Airborne prototype folder from Gustavo Cecchini of GTC knives. It’s a breathtaking design with an entirely new flipper opening system, its very hard to describe how the system works so here’s a link to a video I made on her:



Des Horn brought some very interesting knives to the show from South Africa. Normally Des makes a much fancier knife but he toned it down for G6 and brought some very nice tactical folders that were very, very cool. Des brought some folders in Nitrobe 77 steel, which is really impressive stuff. If you want to have your mind blown, just google it and watch some of the testing videos.

Pat Pruitt debuted a new folder design at G6 and it was exceptional. I tried pretty hard to win one in his lottery but without any success. Pat is a great guy to talk to and his jewelry work is unsurpassed in its complexity and uniqueness.

David Sharp of Sharpwerks was another very memorable maker from the show. What’s so cool about David is that he is putting out a wide variety of types of knives.

Image courtesy of BladeHQ


Yes, David is pretty well known for making Loveless style fixed blades, but his tactical folders are also exceptional and he even makes leather sheathed pocket tools and friction folders, which caught my attention.

A table over Todd Rexford, Jeremy Marsh, Brian Fellhoelter and Nalu set up camp. This was an all-star line up. Notable among them was Fellhoelter’s new axe sheath system, Todd Rexford’s unreal open bid knife and Nalu’s Capitalist XL model, seen below,


Image courtesy of Justin Laffer's Youtube channel
 
which is fast becoming one of my favorite knives.

Next table was Lee Williams who brought his Iceman flipper and Crux models for the show.


Image courtesy of Recon1 

Lee’s work was exceptional and its amazing to the masterful work he puts into his flippers with their kickstop opening system. Though Lee may not get the same name recognition as a Tom Mayo or Bob Terzuola, his work is just as sought after by high end collectors.

It was great meeting the Munroe’s at the show. Jana is just as nice in person as she is online and D is one of the coolest guys you will meet. The Munroe table was dominated by folks trying to score a Sigil MKIII flipper.


Image courtesy of Munroe Knives Tumbler

The demand for these folders is truly insane, I scored one in the lottery before G6, the knife cost around 750 dollars direct from the Munroe’s and I had offers north of 3500 for her…this is a case of the secondary market recognizing the quality of the people and the product. Of course the Munroe lottery was a tremendous success with crowds of people lining up to hear if their name was called.

Ken Onion came back to G6 after a few years of missing the show (it coincided with Burning Man which Ken is a huge fan of) and he brought some amazing models. My favorite from his table was the Military inspired folders. It’s a non-assisted flipper with IKBS that perfectly matches the aesthetics of WWII. Ken is a great guy to talk to and a huge asset to the knife community.

Brad Southard had a very exciting show as he launched his performance line at the Gathering with the Avo model.





Image courtesy of Southard Knives


The first-come-first-serve Friday morning was pretty nuts with around sixty-to-seventy people crowding and lining up to get twenty-five knives. There were some pretty annoyed folks but thankfully another twenty-five knives were released Saturday morning to the lineup of people outside the showroom floor. Brad also brought some amazing custom folders, which impressed everyone that got a chance to fondle them.

This was the second year that John Gonzales of Dervish Knives exhibited at the show and his folder line up was very impressive, notable among them were the Alchemy and the Alchemy XL. John was next to Ram Mramba of Zero knives, who had an equally impressive show with his Mezcal model knife being the real hit Friday night in the Cove.

Strider debuted their performance line MSC SnG at G6 and I was very lucky to snag one. This knife is amazing, incredibly smooth, absurdly sharp with its asymmetric grind and rock solid in typical Strider fashion. Also the new deep carry pocket clip and lanyard attachment area is a welcome evolution to the classic SnG design.

Ok, how about some tips for those planning on attending the Gathering in the future or any large knife show:
  • Get in line early. If you want to have any chance at some cool first-come-first-served gear or knives you better line up at least an hour before the show opens. 
  •  If you see a knife maker and it doesn’t seem like he’s busy, go up and introduce yourself to him. You would be amazed how nice and accommodating these people are and how appreciative they are of all their customer’s support. 
  • Buy drink tickets. This is a great way to save money at night in the cove. You can supplement this by buying a bottle of booze in the mall attached to the hotel. 
  • After the show closes around 4 and before the Cove opens around 7 is prime naptime. You’ve been on your feet since 630 AM, don’t underestimate the power of a siesta. 
  • Find some like-minded people at the show and go have lunch with them. This will give you a different perspective on how another individual approaches the Gathering and some more insight on the best way to approach it. 
  • Bring comfortable shoes. Your feet are going to HURT by the end of the day on Saturday. 
  • As with any knife show, cash is king. Make sure to visit the bank before heading to the airport. 
  • Book your trip early and try and stay at Planet Hollywood. Yes it’s a bit more expensive but the convenience of having everything under one roof is well worth the added dough. 
  • I know this seems counterintuitive and schmaltzy but go to the show with the mindset that it’s not all about scoring knives. If you go with the singular goal of scoring as many knives as possible you will undoubtedly be disappointed. Go for the people, the experience and the chance to come home with something special. 
I could go on and on about the show but hopefully this gives you a taste of the experience of going to the Gathering. I hope all of you get a chance to come to Vegas soon and experience the most personal and friendly knife show on the planet.

If you guys have any questions whatsoever, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at jlaffer@gmail.com