Monday, November 23, 2015

Why Kickstarter Matters to the Knife Industry

Very quietly in 2015 Kickstarter, the leading crowd funding website, switched its stance and now allows folks to seek funding for knife projects.  It makes sense financially, especially as the knife industry experiences a boom in sales, and it matches the Kickstarter "maker" ethos.  The knife industry came from and will always have a craftsmanship/custom component.  Knives will be good to Kickstarter, no doubt.

But Kickstarter can also transform the knife industry.  Until Kickstarter, and to a lesser degree Massdrop, enthusiasts drove a very small part of the industry.  The vast majority of knives produced, advertised, and sold are mass market blades more focused on hitting a pricing target set by Wal-Mart or another Big Box store than they are concerned with performance or blade steel.  As Thomas W. told us on the podcast, he has never been to a meeting with a Big Box where someone asked about blade steel.  We are a very small part of the market and while we have gotten more goodies than ever recently, no major production company caters to us.  They know they don't have to.  We will buy their wears regardless.  We are knife knuts, that's what we do.

But with Kickstarter things can be different.  The Pebble, one of the early smartwatches, was an early success story on Kickstarter raising a then astonishing $10.3 million in one month.  Sales like that would make even KAI or Gerber think twice about the market.  That kind of money, though admittedly it is unlikely a knife would ever been that popular, could fundamentally shift the market.  What happened to kitchen supplies twenty years ago could happen to knives.  Think about it--instead of some junky mixer sold at an anchor store in the mall, we now have a market where $400 Kitchen Aid mixers are par for the course and there is a William and Sonoma selling handmade chef knives in many malls.  What if the production companies made and sold knives like that?

It will probably never happen as the knife market is nowhere near the size of the kitchen supplies market, but Kickstarter could change who is in the driver's seat.  Instead of some bean counter in some department in Bentonville, Arkansas dictating knife creation at KAI (thank you Captain Jackass for 3Cr....), Kickstarter could have consumers directly incentivizing the creation of a higher class of cutlery.  That is the promise of Kickstarter.

And with last week's Kickstarter release of the HEST/F Urban by DPx Gear, that promise is closer to a reality.  This is a tremendously important knife for the knife industry, perhaps as important, from a financial perspective, as the first Kershaw Speedsafe Onion knife.  If the Urban proves popular, it could be a model for other companies to follow.

Money shows its popular--the Kickstarter for the Urban funded in less than a day.  I contacted Lisa from DPx Gear about why they made the move to Kickstarter and here is what she said:

Kickstarter allows us to get direct feedback from the customer. DPx Gear has excellent support from distributors and a select group of dealers but when we develop new platforms, we want direct input from the end users. Also, Kickstarter has become its own sales channel with people who we might not reach through traditional knife marketing events or venues. In fact, in the beginning of our campaign the majority of backers were through Kickstarter, not directly referred to the site.  

This is a major step forward for the knife industry.  DPx has approached their business in a radically different way than other cutlery companies.  Lisa discussed this on the podcast, and a look at their robust patent portfolio proves it--they are run more like high end tech start up, with their focus on R&D and IP, than they are as an outdoor gear company or an outgrowth of a custom knife business.

Finally, and importantly, its great to see that the majority of backers weren't from the knife community, but from the Kickstarter community.  Kickstarter has revolutionized the pen and stationary business and there is no reason to think that it would do anything less to the knife business.  Good job DPx.  But they aren't the only ones.  Darriel Caston, he of the Spyderco collab, is also releasing a knife through Kickstarter--the Kadima.  Spyderco, Benchmade, KAI are you paying attention?  Maybe its time to explore a direct to consumers model folks.

And for those that complain that DPx is a big company or that this is not a release that is within the spirit of Kickstarter--you're wrong on both accounts (obviously these objections don't apply to the Kadima).  Lisa confirmed that DPx has 6 employees.  That is a ton fewer than many of the Kickstarter mainstays, companies that specialize in Kickstarter only releases.  And second, the day of some guy making some gadget, well they aren't over, but Kickstarter as evolved to something more than just that.  I like the idea that companies, even "big" ones, can test out releases that are departures from their normal "brand" on Kickstarter.  Its fun to see a true EDC knife from DPx.  Its something I have wanted for a while now, as the HEAT is a bit too fat for me (The HEAT has a half inch shorter blade and weighs a bit more than the Urban does). 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gear of the Year Survey

Let's make this more official than last year.

Everyday Commentary Gear of the Year Awards Survey

This will be up and running until December 31.  I will collect the results then.


Dang it!  Forgot the watch category...ballz...

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lionsteel TRE G10 Review

Dan Policastro is a wise man.  When talking about Lionsteel on one of the podcasts he referenced their poor performance on the secondary market as an indication of their popularity (or lack thereof). It was an astute observation that seemed to mismatch was normally happens in the knife world.  A company puts out a Gee Whiz amazing product and folks gobble it up.  But time and again with Lionsteel stuff, they released something amazing and it sold okay, but then died on the BST market.

I thought about Dan's comment a lot as I tested and carried the Lionsteel TRE G10.  On the podcast I told him I thought Lionsteel's poor performance was due to the gimmicky nature of their knives.  The SR-1 and SR-2 were integrals when no one else was or could do integrals, but they had a weird, almost comical blade sale.  The TiSpine was also an integral but it was probably too much of an art knife to be a rousing success in the modern knife market.  The flagship TRE model, the one that won Blade Show, is similarly gimmicky.  Unless you live in a place with very restrictive knife laws or you do lots of traveling (and like to pack small fiddly accessories), the "innovation" of the TRE's swappable deployment methods is probably much closer to gimmick than feature.  It is a shame too, because the underlying lines of the TRE and its materials (mmmm..M390....) are awesome.  Imagine my surprise when, just after Blade Show, I saw the TRE G10, shorn of the bullshit, on Lionsteel's website.  Now this is a Lionsteel I could really like.

Here is the product page. The Lionsteel TRE G10 costs $199.95.  There are three G10 colors--black, green, and orange.  In addition there are the full Three Rapid Exchange models, that allow for a flipper, a thumb disk, neither or both.  They are available in carbon fiber and titanium for a significant premium.  This knife won Knife of the Year at the 2015 Blade Show, not the one I am reviewing here.  Impossible as it may seem, there are no written reviews. Here is an excellent video review by Auston (Epic Snuggle Bunny). Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Lionsteel TRE G10, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: An instant classic.
Design: 2

There is very little here that is anything other than refined.  From the blade shape to the flipper tab to the landing area for the flipper--every single aspect of this knife has been studiously and attentively examined and polished.  The entire thing is the epitome of design refinement.

Normally I would complain about the overly boxy, oddly angular handle, but the reality is it looks more squared off than it is in hand.  There is a bit of confinement to the indexing notch, as it also serves as a cutaway to allow access to the lockbar, but beyond that, I found the TRE G10 very comfortable, despite its boxy blueprint.  


The performance ratios are very good, something that you'd expect from such a careful laid out blade.  The blade:weight is 1.32.  The blade:handle is .73.  Both are quite good though neither are record holders.  It is important to note that part of the extreme weight savings in the design comes from the milling done on the inside portion of the titanium handle scale.  It is also noteworthy that this is the lightest of all of the TREs.  The carbon fiber handle offers no weight savings at all.

Fit and Finish: 2

Other than the error made on the first batch of HESTs made for DPx, Lionsteel has put out nothing that is less than stellar.  This isn't a huge surprise given just how advanced their machining capabilities are, but its worth noting.  


Its hard to compare this knife to something like a Canal Street Cutlery or an Al Mar, where the sumptuous quality comes from real hand finishing.  This knife is certainly the equal of a high end ZT and runs quite well with a knife from Chris Reeve.      

Grip: 2

Its hard to not have a a good grip on the TRE, what with all of the machining going on here.  The cutterhead paths have been left pronounced and not only provide an aesthetic highlight they also help with grip.  Overall, very little to complain about here. 

Carry: 2

For a medium sized knife the TRE G10 certainly plays very well with others.  Here it is with my favorite paired flashlight, the super great S1 Baton:


I never felt like I was on the verge of being depants and I never felt like the goddam knife clogged up my pockets.  It was simply a nice, rounded presence--there when I needed it, and gone if I didn't think about it.  This is one instance in which the sculpted pocket clip was nice--there was no rough edges or pokey points.  

Steel: 2

I could write a poem about how good M390 is, as it is one of my very favorite, if not my outright favorite steel on the market today.  In fact here is just such a poem

M390 is a truly great steel,
Sharpens nicely despite being hard,
Resists corrosion, that's its deal,
Still quite pricey on the charge card.

Okay, poetry is not my thing, but M390 certainly is and after 270 some reviews its hard to find new ways to describe how awesome this steel is.  Its corrosion resistance gives it a slight edge over ZDP-189 in an EDC knife. 

Blade Shape: 2

This is where I think the TRE G10 really shines compared to some of Lionsteels other offerings.  There is no bulbous belly or crazy tall blade--just a drop point.  But what a drop point blade it is.  Its perfectly done here--there is a true ricasso for easy sharpening, the spine is rounded over, and the blade is stonewashed.  These three features are all my first choice and are surprisingly hard to find in a single knife.  In many ways the TRE is the flipping Sebenza--its basic but perfect blade is very similar to the Sebenza's and that, as always, is a high complement.  

Grind: 2

Like with everything Lionsteel, the grind is meticulous.  There is never a question about their fit and finish, only some of their design choices.  And a good grind is very closely related to good fit and finish.  Even, clean, and a good flat grind.  

Deployment Method: 2

Ah...the flipper.  First let me say that I like it a lot.  I want to get that out of the way because what I am about to write sounds like a negative.  This is not the snappiest flipper in the world.  This is not a flipper that functions solely by overcoming the detent.  You do need to use some force.  In large part this because the TRE platform was designed to accommodate non-flipper opening methods and a strong detent would ruin those other ways of opening the knife.  The G10 model as a stronger detent than the other TRE, but it is still not as crisp as a say a Kizer flipper or a ZT flipper.  The long and the short of it is that the flipper is still very fast and rarely if ever misfires.  Its just not a "pop and go" type opener.  I think this is more of a matter of taste than function, as the knife opens quite well, but some may disagree.

I also have to mention the "landing strip" on the back of the knife.  I love it, but I imagine some folks might complain that it is too sharp or pokey.  Like the "flavor" of the flipping action I mention this to put you on notice, not to complain--hence the 2.  

Retention Method: 1

Sculpted pocket clips might be nice to look at and all the rage, but they just don't have the springiness or tension I want.  Here I was worried that thicker fabric would bend it all out of sorts and so I was careful when I clipped the TRE to my pocket.  The clip worked, but requiring that sort of forethought is annoying.  I can't wait until this trend is over. 

Lock: 2

There is simply nothing to complain about here.  The lock is solid, easy to engage and disengage and displays no blade play or lock stick.  Like grind I think lock up is a corrollary of good fit and finish.  As such, it is, as expected, top shelf:


Overall Score: 19 out of 20

This is easily one of the best knives I have reviewed this year.  It is, in many ways, a flipping Sebenza--simple blade shape with excellent execution.  I would always opt for the cheaper option here, as the other TRE offers nothing I care about.  The titanium or carbon fiber handles are pure ornamentation and something I don't need.  As an EDC the TRE is hard to beat.  If you are interested in a Lionsteel knife, but haven't taken the plunge this is the one to get.


Yikes!  Even this knife, at a 19/20 is facing stiff competition.  Many Kizer knives are very competitive, as are the new S35VN ZTs (though the ZT0450's lockbar problem makes it a clear loser by comparison).  The just released Spyderco Positron is also a strong competitor, albeit with inferior steel.  I am not sure who would win this one.  Why don't we just settle this with a 2015 Flipper Shoot Out--the Kizer Gemini v. the Lionsteel TRE G10 v. the Spyderco Positron?  Its in the works.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lionsteel TRE G10 Video Overview

The TRE is one of the most important knife releases this year and as we wind down 2015, the hits will be fast and furious (hopefully, if my 8 month old cooperates by sleeping).  I wanted to give it a full week of analysis because, frankly, it deserves it.  This is one of Lionsteel's first "non gimmick" knives and it is much better for it (accounting for the fact that the premium TRE is the very essence of a gimmick knife).  Here is the video overview: 

Review at the end of the week.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kershaw Manifold Review by RD

I’m not 100% on board with the supersteel arms race. I’m a mediocre sharpener who likes sharpness and doesn’t have a lot of time. So VG-10 was once my most carried steel (so sad they disco’d that knife). Lately it’s probably AUS-8. Someday soon it might be BD-1. Among supersteels, the one I’ve appreciated the most is ZDP-189, which readers know is a Japanese material oriented to high sharpness.

Maybe you are similarly open-minded about mid-tier steels (got to throw in some love for 14C28N). If so, here’s a question: How low are you willing to go?

My bar is definitely low enough to enjoy some knives with 8Cr13MoV, the ubiquitous Chinese stainless found on a zillion modestly priced blades, such as the $15 Kershaw Crown that I praised here a few weeks ago. In this review, the second of the pair, I’m going a step further to look at the Kershaw Manifold, a budget knife that features 3Cr13, a lower-carbon steel than we typically find from the better US folding knife brands.

Manifold clip side establishing shot

The Manifold is a tactically styled budget EDC knife. It was introduced in 2014 as part of KAI USA’s “Starter Series,” a group of larger knives that retail for less than $20 street price. These knives – the Starter, Manifold, and the confusingly named Lifter and Filter--share many features. They have automotive-themed names, flippers, Speedsafe assisted opening, all-steel handle construction, a tumbled gray “Blackwash” oxide finish on all components, and blades made of 3Cr13 rather than the 8Cr13MoV traditionally found on Chinese Kershaws.

From a steel chemistry standpoint, 3Cr13 is basically a Chinese analog of 420J2 in a relatively high carbon rendition of the latter steel. Critics snark that 420J2 is “a liner steel not a blade steel.” While companies like Benchmade and CRKT have used 420J2 to make liners, there have been knives from Buck, CRKT, and others that employ it as a blade material. It is popular for dive knives because of very high corrosion resistance.

There has been forum drama about Kershaw’s use of 3Cr13. Some wonder if the Starter series could be the start of a larger migration toward lower-carbon steels in the overseas Kershaws. If you’ve been to the knife aisle in a big box store lately, you might have noticed what I see at my local Academy: the clamshell packs for most of Kershaw’s Chinese knives currently do not disclose the blade steel used. They just say “stainless steel,” even when they are 8Cr13MoV.

That’s an interesting stance. Buck always tells you the blade steel right on the front of their clam packs, including their overseas 420J2 knives. Even Gerber – not most people’s idea of a den of steel obsession – deems the humble 7Cr17MoV worth telling the customer about on the package.

One of KAI USA’s execs (whose online demeanor, full disclosure, I’ve criticized in the comments section here) appeared on Tony’s podcast (start around 1:39) and commented that Chinese steelmaking and processing are not yet sophisticated enough to really exploit the differences among different steels, so there is barely a difference between 8Cr and 3Cr. And there are other knowledgeable voices who report that 3Cr13 can give excellent cutting performance if it is well processed and ground with acute edge angles and a coarse grit finish. The desire to sort out these perspectives helped draw my interest to the Starter series.

The designers’ apparent goal was to deliver a sizable knife with button-pushing features and interesting visuals at the challenging sub-$20 price point. It turns out some significant compromises had to be made to get there.

Twitter Review Summary: Even under $20, busy visuals and a flipper don’t make up for a heavy knife that struggles to get sharp.

I purchased the Kershaw Manifold for $17.81 online. Here is the product page. Here is an initial video review. Here is a followup by the same YouTube user a few weeks later reporting problems with his torsion bar and detent.

My road to the review Manifold was circuitous:

Starter & two Manifolds

First I bought the line’s namesake, top, the Kershaw Starter. I soon decided that the Starter, though a well assembled knife, was flawed enough that it wouldn’t make for a worthwhile review. (It was terribly bulky and heavy for its 3.4” blade, and the blade grind was obtuse enough that it wouldn’t cut well.) So I turned to the Manifold, which is lighter than the Starter and has a longer blade. The first Manifold I acquired (middle) had an excellent, thin grind, but it also had a mechanical problem that you’ll read about below. So I bought a second Manifold, seen at bottom, and that is the review blade. I EDC’d it frequently for over a month, often pairing it with the Crown from the earlier review as a big knife / small(er) knife pair.

Design: 1

The silhouette of this knife is encouraging: a sensible utility profile with a lot of mild jimping and a familiar blade shape.

Manifold clip side establishing shot

The arcing pattern on the handles recalls the Kershaw Knockout , a handsome US-built design embraced by enthusiasts. Overall the Manifold is kind of like an all-steel Thermite with Knockout scales, viewed through a fog bank. I prefer its looks to the Lifter with its hyperactive blade grind (tanto! recurve! cutout!) or the Starter, whose handle recalls a skin-on fish filet.

Problems come in with the surfaces and materials. The aesthetic behind most of the knives in this series could be summed up as “Gray, Chunky, and Busy.” The tumbled “Blackwash” finish over all the components produces a uniform, worn-gadget appearance that’s vaguely steampunk. There is lots of machined detail, but the overall effect is monotonous. These guys could use some contrast. A satin blade finish like the large CRKT Drifter would have set off the Manifold’s gray handles well. I was surprised to find that the gray blade finish is subject to discoloration if used for food prep. The staining was not permanent but sometimes required multiple washings to remove.

All-steel construction makes the Manifold heavy. The Manifold is listed at 5.6 ounces, but it measured 6 ounces on my kitchen scale. A 3.5” blade equals a very poor blade:weight ratio of 0.58. The Manifold does better in blade to handle, with a 4.5” handle yielding a B:H of 0.78, not too bad.

Fit & Finish: 1

The detailing and jimping is clean and consistent, impressive for a budget knife. Blade centering is pretty good. However, there are a couple of issues. The non-locking liner doesn’t mesh up well with the steel handle “scale” that covers it, and you can occasionally feel the scale shift in your hand, especially after work. The pivot also tends to get loose with work, to the point that the pivot screw had to be given more than a half turn to re-tighten it. This introduces a moderate amount of side to side blade play, with the pivot area wiggling visibly. Together these flaws combine to cost the knife a point. There was no lock rock: the lock remained engaged and did not slip on the tang.

Blade Shape: 2

This robust, spanto-ish drop point is familiar territory. You could say it shows a Hinderer influence via the Thermite, but honestly, nowadays we read this blade shape as a KAI profile as much as anything else. It’s a fine compromise of toughness and utility.

Blade closeup pic - Manifold

There’s a bit of recurve at the base of the edge, but I didn’t find it affected sharpening … maybe because sharpening was a pain for other reasons.

Steel: 0

The $15 Crown’s blade is 8Cr13MoV. It can be made very sharp with ease. The $18 Manifold’s 3Cr13 blade – at least in my hands – struggled to do that. We are used to affordable steels readily taking a keen edge, but sacrificing edge retention. The three Starter series knives I tried also had a problem, to varying degrees, with edge acquisition.

Multiple sessions with the Sharpmaker failed to bring the test Manifold’s edge to crisp, high sharpness. I tried different stones and angles. In particular, I learned to sharpen the two sides of the blade at distinct angles to the stone to compensate for the off-kilter bevel grind. Even so the edge felt unresponsive. After sharpening these 3Cr13 blades would drag a bit cutting cardboard, requiring more effort than my 8Cr Kershaws. The test knife also struggled to slice pork chops precisely, leaving a couple of ragged bits at the edge of a slice.

Maybe my undistinguished sharpening skills are to blame. I will just say this: I often carry knives with non-super steels, so I have experience sharpening moderate-carbon stainlesses with my Sharpmaker and “redneck strop” (a box edge). I can put respectably good edges, smoothly push cutting paper, on blades made of Buck’s 420HC, Ontario’s AUS-8, Case’s Tru-Sharp (usually) and Kershaw’s 8Cr13MoV. I had a hard time doing that with either Manifold.

My favorite solution was to use the Sharpmaker diamond stone and then the medium stone, giving the Manifold a coarse, fairly sharp edge that would hang in there. For non-precise tasks like breaking down cardboard boxes this was okay. If you are a more advanced user you could certainly reprofile this thing down to 11 degrees per side or something and would likely see big improvement. A delicate sharpening hand might also be able to coax a better apex than I got. But then I would question whether a series of entry level knives called the “Starter” series should require diamond stones and/or lots of finesse before the user can access real high-sharpness behavior. Don’t say that’s an unrealistic demand for a budget blade: many existing 8Cr knives offer high sharpness to the novice right out of the gate.

The test Manifold is not useless. It will cut things. But it did not do as well, on purely cutting tasks, as the Crown or a lot of other 8Cr13MoV knives I’ve used. While the grind is some of the problem, I believe some of it is also the steel.

Respectfully, I did not find this 3Cr to be barely different from 8Cr. I found the difference noticeable. I am not willing to go this low.

My favorite solution was to use the Sharpmaker diamond stone and then the medium stone, giving the Manifold a coarse, fairly sharp edge that would hang in there. For non-precise tasks like breaking down cardboard boxes this was okay. If you are a more advanced user you could certainly reprofile this thing down to 11 degrees per side or something and would likely see big improvement. A delicate sharpening hand might also be able to coax a better apex than I got. But then I would question whether a series of entry level knives called the “Starter” series should require diamond stones and/or lots of finesse before the user can access real high-sharpness behavior. Don’t say that’s an unrealistic demand for a budget blade: many existing 8Cr knives offer high sharpness to the novice right out of the gate.

The test Manifold is not useless. It will cut things. But it did not do as well, on purely cutting tasks, as the Crown or a lot of other 8Cr13MoV knives I’ve used. While the grind is some of the problem, I believe some of it is also the steel.

Respectfully, I did not find this 3Cr to be barely different from 8Cr. I found the difference noticeable. I am not willing to go this low.

Grind: 1

The test Manifold’s grind looks great at first, with a deep secondary bevel, but it is somewhat asymmetrical and thick behind the edge. This detracts from cutting ability, which is bad news in a knife whose cutting acumen is already being limited (in my judgment) by the blade steel. If Kershaw is really going to make this 3Cr13 into a thing, then it’s going to be vital to nail a thin grind every time. (The first Manifold I bought had a well executed, thin grind and this helped its cutting power.)

Lock: 2

Steel-on-steel frame locks like the Manifold’s can be a sensible budget choice. This one locks up fine, with good tension and a consistent 75% engagement. It held firm under moderate hand torqueing and spine whacking. It was easy to disengage. I used the Manifold to uproot saplings in the garden, a task where cutting shades into light prying. Despite some resultant lateral blade play that I penalized under F&F, it did well at this work.

Grip: 1

The Manifold looks comfortable. Kershaw did a lot of things right. The handle profile has light contouring but doesn’t go crazy with affordance-limiting finger grooves. There’s a rakish shelf for the thumb on the blade spine. Grip security is enhanced with lots of large but controlled jimping all over the top and bottom of the handles. The corners are eased.

Manifold spine view

In practice, the knife is okay in the hand. The handle is kind of skinny in both width and depth. The sides are flat, with no palm swells, so the knife fails to fill the hand and does not feel especially natural in a hard grip. There is also a slight hot spot against the index finger where the lock bar meets the frame. This only crops up in fairly hard cutting; but again, tasks that the Crown could sail through required harder cutting with the Manifold.

Carry: 1

My view of the Manifold’s carry is shaped by the fact that I am a medium-sized man who carried it clipped to my rear pants pocket, as I always do with larger knives. My front pockets are taken up by keys and other stuff like this and this that for varying reasons has to be highly accessible. I’ve never embraced the front pocket seam knife carry that seems to be the norm in US gear culture. With back pocket carry, bulk is still bad but you can let things slide a bit on weight.

So yeah, the Manifold is heavy. The review knife weighed 6 oz on my scale, a third of an ounce over the published weight. But it only occasionally bothered me in practice, because this is a relatively flat, thin knife with a long centerline clip that distributes its weight well across the back of your haunch. You front pocket folks will probably dislike it. I give it a (real, pre-grade inflation) C+.

Deployment Method: 1

Cheap assisted opening knives, especially large ones, should probably have liner locks. It seems to be challenging to get the detent and release tension right when using an assist with a steel frame lock on a big knife at this paltry price point.

My first Manifold had a very light detent and no “takeup” before it fired: the cam point of the torsion bar was almost identical to the point where the blade started moving. The result was a hair-trigger assisted opener that I did not want to carry. Most users know that some AOs will occasionally deploy accidentally when dropped from waist height onto a hard surface. The first Manifold would deploy around 90% of the time when dropped from waist height onto carpet, and maybe 30% of the time when dropped from knee height onto carpet. In my view that rises to the level of a manufacturing defect, and I believe that KAI would replace that knife under warranty if I asked.

The review Manifold also had a fairly poor deployment out of box, only in the opposite direction. The detent was hard to overcome, variable, and combined with the spine jimping that extends aft of the flipper tab to make your finger hurt by about the third deployment.

Slowly it broke in, to the point where today it is fine. (I still wish the spine jimping ended at the flipper tab.) It requires a firm press, but is much more consistent. It might do well de-assisted. I like AO flipper trigger weights to be a 7 or 8 out of 10 for safety reasons; this one settled in at 8.

The Manifold also has “thumbstuds.” Quote marks are mandatory because the ones on the review knife are useless. You cannot use them to deploy the blade, and they are not blade stops. Think of this score as an 0.75 rounded up.

(One last note: When I handled the Starter – the only liner lock in the gray 3Cr13 series – it had an excellent assisted deployment, comfortable to use and with good blade retention, an easy 2 points.)

Retention Method: 2

At last a category where the Manifold excels the Crown. The Manifold uses an elongated variant of KAI’s basic deep-carry clip. It’s nonpositionable, tip down right hand, yet it works fine off the left hand too. I am not a huge fan of the holes drilled into the clip – mere visual clutter – but the truth is that this clip works well, extracting smoothly yet retaining the knife.

Total Score: 12 out of 20

Some sub-$20 blades earn a fan base among knife people. This isn’t likely to be one of them. If a buddy new to knives wanted to try a largish utility folder and expressed interest in the Manifold, I would try hard to persuade him or her to step up to a $28 Ontario RAT-1. If money was tight, I’d consider (if appropriate) offering to give or loan the $10 difference, because there is no comparison. The Taiwan-made RAT-1 is a simple, unadorned knife, kind of hefty at 5 oz – I dubbed mine “Rice Cake” in a nod to Dan’s review [] – but it is a far more purposeful, enjoyable, and fully realized tool than the Manifold. That holds true from the hand-filling handle, to the blade grind, to the crisp responsiveness of the AUS-8 edge against the Sharpmaker stones. Picking up the RAT and using it after time with the Manifold was like downing a shot of iced coffee: I felt more awake.

If we stick to the sub-$20 price point, then I would ask whether a big blade was necessary; could something a bit smaller, like the Crown (in reality a better work knife than the Manifold) fill the job? After that, I might suggest the Kershaw Freefall, a plain but ergonomic work knife that can be had around $18 in clampack.

Freefall and Manifold

It weighs 25% less than the Manifold and feels good in hand. It has a simple liner lock, so the assist deploys well. The Freefall’s 8Cr13MoV blade works better than the Manifold’s 3Cr13. (You might want to file down the spine jimping and sand under the clip.)

A few years ago many gear reviewers complained that too many Kershaws looked alike: black synthetic handles, bead-blast or stonewash blade, yawn. Since then KAI has done an impressive job of bringing imaginative and distinctive designs to us at the affordable $25-$40 tier. But the Manifold suggests that it is proving harder for them to deliver a larger modern folder with eye-catching visuals and decent construction that comes in under that magic, psychological $20 mark. That to cram in those features at that price they have ended up trimming bone and muscle, not just fat; sacrificing performance as seen here with the Manifold’s dispiriting blade steel.

I’m somewhat sympathetic, but if the argument is that KAI cannot deliver budget big knives except by dropping down to 3Cr13, then fairly or not, a lot of people are going to rejoin that Schrade manages to offer a ton of sub-$20 modern folders with 3.25”+ blades that run 9Cr18MoV.

While the Manifold has little to offer, we knife folks should still keep an eye on this category. When a maker does manage to thread the needle and deliver a well thought out user for a tiny price, we may want to look over from our modded $280 S110V sprint runs and reward them.

Monday, November 9, 2015

WWP Giveaway November 2015

With Veteran's Day falling early this year and my new baby getting very little sleep, I am kicking off the giveaway just before Veteran's Day instead of ending it on the holiday.  This year we have a ton of gear, a metric ton, to give away so sit back, read how its done, and imagine winning all of the tasty goodies:

Here is how this will work:

1.  Go to the Wounded Warriors website.

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 eight winners on Thanksgiving Day 2015 with the prize packages as follows:

Grand Prize (chosen at random): Full Gear Kit

Fallkniven F1z
Zero Tolerance ZT0566
One Olight S1 Baton
One SEALED pack of Field Notes Night Sky Edition
One Blue Sharbo X LT3
One Prototype Gamble Made Gatekeeper
One Keysmart

Runner Up (chosen at random):

One Gerber 39 Micarta (perfect fit and finish)
One Surefire Titan Plus (with flashlight toupee)

Veteran (must be a vet to enter):

Mora Companion

Big Heart (Highest Single Donation):

One custom Sinner Tri EDC Flashlight with 18350 included
Freeman 451 Flipper

Big Mouth (Chosen at random from folks using the hashtag #everydaycommentaryveteranGAW):

One Northwoods Knives Everyday Barlow Spearpoint in Blue Camel Bone (with perfect fit and finish)

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

Baladeo Papagayo

Week 1 (randomly chosen from week one's donors):

Boker Anso Zero

Week 2 (randomly chosen from week two's donors):


Remember--none of the money goes to me.  In fact, I don't even touch it.  It all goes to WWP.  I know some folks dislike WWP, but I think they are the place to give because, while they are not perfect, they have the most impact.  Here is my rationale for sticking with them.

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)
Total Given Away: $5,548 

I don't toot my own horn often, but I challenge you to find someone else that reviews gear as a hobby that has given away this much stuff to benefit a worthy cause.  I don't do this to generate more readers, traffic, or ads.  I do this solely to benefit the troops.  The added benefit is that I don't keep any of the review samples I am given.  

Go donate.  Share on Instagram using the hashtag #everydaycommentaryveteranGAW (automatically entering you to win the Northwoods EDB).  Thanks.  And Vets, thank you, of course.   

Friday, November 6, 2015

Nitecore EC-11 Review

This is not going to be a standard review.  In fact it is not a review at all.  Consider this a public service announcement.  If I could do an EDC version of the NBC Stuff You Show Know it would be on the EC-11.  

After five years and more than 250 reviews it was bound to happen--the EC-11 is a defective design, a fundamentally broken piece of equipment.  This is not simply a piece of gear that is "Not Recommended," it is the flashlight equivalent of the Corvair.  The story of the EC-11 is one of complete and abject failure on the part of Nitecore. It is also a good example of the problem with buying gear from an unreputable source, an unreputable company, and the unaccountability of Amazon Marketplace transactions.

The EC-11 looked appealing on paper. It allegedly hit 900 lumens and it was, at least until the release of the S1, a small light.  Intrigued by these features I ordered one from Eastshine, a dealer on Amazon Marketplace.  By way of background, Nitecore is a subbrand of gear maker Sysmax. 

The EC-11 arrived in about a week and I got an IMR battery.  These batteries are mostly used in vape machines.  They have a higher output than other chemistries, but they are more difficult to charge as few chargers are compatible.  The EC-11 arrives with the usual assortment of shitty accessories--a friction fit clip, a waste of space nylon holster, and a lanyard.  One piece of kit that is nice is the inclusion of a sleeve to allow the light to use CR123a batteries as well as the slightly fatter IMRs.  

Initially the EC-11 did well. It is bright and the two button UI is okay.  There are two LEDs--a white one for normal use and a red one for low light use.  The IMR battery didn't last as long as I expected and I charged it.  I put it in the light and it worked for about ten seconds, then emitter dimmed and the light died.  I switched batteries and it still didn't work.  I tried CR123as and it didn't work.  

Then I contacted Eastshine.  To say that they were dickheads is an insult to the dickhead community.  These people were just uncooperative, stubborn jerks.  I told them what happened and they said that it was my charger.  I told them I didn't think it was because NO batteries were working.  Then they told me to make a movie of the flashlight not working and they would assess the problem.  I told them I just wanted a replacement and they refused.  I then sent and email to Nitecore and about a week later Eastshine said they would send a replacement.  I packaged up the EC-11 and sent it back to them at my cost. 

Just to make sure everything was working properly I upgraded to the newest charger (the Intellicharger, another Sysmax product).  This charger was specifically designed to handle IMR batteries. After the charger upgrade I bought a new IMR battery from a different brand.  This was a total clean swap, none of the parts were the same.

Once all this spending was done, I got the new EC-11.  With the new battery in place, I fired it up and it worked fine for about a week.  Eventually the IMR needed a charge and I put it in the new Intellicharger.  It read as about 3%.  I charged it and monitored it as I charged it.  At 99% I took it out, put the battery in the EC-11 and it fired up and then after about five seconds it dimmed rapidly and then died.  Swapping batteries did not make a difference and recharging the battery made no difference.  This is exactly the same thing happened on the first light.

So about $150 in, I can safely say, giving all of the upgrades and changes, that it wasn't the battery or the charger or just a lemon, its the EC-11 itself.  Aside from the broken design, even when it was working, it wasn't all that special.  The S1 is nearly as bright, half the size, easier to use, cheaper, and has a better beam pattern.  The Sinner Tri-EDC is just flat out better in every way.

But every company makes a mistake or two.  So I contacted Nitecore via email.   I sent them email after email--a total of five and each time they ducked the issue.  When they claimed it was the battery--the classic bait and switch of warranty claims--I told them it wasn't the battery because I had multiples and none worked.  Since then the email chain died.  That was October 12.  This was the worst warranty service I have ever had with any product I have reviewed and I have now reviewed quite a few.  AG Russell has the LL Bean policy--return it for any reason at any time for a full refund--no questions asked.  Instead between Eastshine and Nitecore I was asked to do all kinds of bizarre things.  Here is how this should have worked--"Mr. Sculimbrene we are sorry you having difficulty with your Nitecore product.  Please return it to us using this postage code and we will replace it or refund your money, your choice." 

In the end, the EC-11 is the nail in the coffin for me and Nitecore as well as me and Amazon.  The whole experience was dreadful and all I have to show for it is a new charger and a hunk of aluminum that does nothing.  In short, screw you Nitecore.  I had the EX-10 and it was a decent light, but the clip stunk and I realize now that you shamelessly stole someone's intellectual property to make that like.  Screw you Nitecore, you and your shitty design choices.  You and your copycatting and hiding it behind a brand name shell game (like they did with the Niteye rip off of the Spy 007).  You and your bullshit licensing of the PD from Don McLeish.  I have never done this before but I think I have ample basis to say this: NEVER BUY A NITECORE PRODUCT.  Here are two pieces (Part 1 and Part 2) I did on Sysmax, Nitecore's parent company.  For all the baloney jingoism on the forums about how Chinese companies suck, Nitecore gives an ounce of truth to those claims.  In dealing with them they have been nothing but a hassle.  I have finally given up and now this review gets posted.  Nitecore makes it hard for folks like Kizer and Reate to gain acceptance in the American market.  Those companies have been nothing but awesome and yet with Nitecore pulling all sorts of shading things on top of selling some real garbage and not standing behind it, they all get painted with a bad brush. 

In the end, I hope I save you some money.  I am sure there are good Nitecore products out there, but the EC-11 isn't one of them.  And even if you do find one good product is it really worth the money, knowing the parent company's shady business practice and their horrendous warranty service? 

What a sham.  The only good that came out of this is that I saved you from wasting money on this abortion of a product.

Overall Score: Product FAILURE