Sunday, June 5, 2011

Zero Tolerance ZT350 Review

In the late 90s, early 00s a few of the foreign car makers produced massive quantities of well made, utilitarian, and cheap cars. Toyota had the Camry and the Corolla, Subaru had the Outback, Mitsubishi had um...some car with a name that is a synonym of brave, fast, or strong, and Mazda was pumping out the 323, 626 series. But hidden in and amongst these econo cars were roaring, thunderous beasts. Toyota had the MR2, Subaru the WRX, Mitsubishi the Lancer EVO, and Mazda the rotary engine RX-7. Each of these cars were amazing performance machines made by companies that seemed to stamp out decent products by the thousands. These cars sliced profit margins in to itty bitty shreds in the name of gut churning, tire melting performance.

For me, Zero Tolerance knives are the WRX, EVO of the Kershaw line. Kershaw makes great knives, cheap, well made, and utilitarian in design. A few will catch your eye, but by in large they are small, medium, and large versions of the same knife over and over again. I love Kershaw, but their knives are a bit...tame (there are exceptions, I know, but as a general rule). Zero Tolerance is a subsidiary of KAI USA, the parent company of Kershaw and Shun (the kitchen knife line of cutlery). They have joined forced with some of the better designers out there to really amp up their designs. Ken Onion, Mick Strider, Rick Hinderer, and others have all contributed to make a series of knives that quite frankly push the very limits of production knives. They have the well built features of Cold Steel, the design of the masters mentioned above, and the materials of high end production knives.

The ZT350 is something of a runt in the Zero Tolerance line, which says a lot. With a blade length of exactly 3.25 inches it is dwarfed by the massive 4 inch and 3.75 inch blades elsewhere in their line up. Here is the ZT350 product page. There are three versions: a blackened plain edge, blackened serrated edge, and a limited edition plain edge unblackened version. Here is a good street price for the ZT350. Here is a review of the ZT350 from one of the YouTube masters, nycdave212 (see sidebar for his channel). Dave's collection is staggering and this is one of his low, low end knives, but he does a fantastic job in this review. Here is a good lively discussion debating the merits of the ZT350 compared to the Spyderco Military. Here is my ZT350 (waiting by the window, hoping to be taken outside and USED), first closed:


and then open:


And now a disclaimer: this is a tactical knife and I know nothing about tactical knives. I have carried the knife for about a year and I like using it. It is very well built, but if your looking for information on how to grip it properly in combat, this is not the right review for that.

Design: 2

The two designers of the ZT350 were Ken Onion and Mick Strider (yowza! Mick has some bad press when you google his name; I knew about it, but they have really worked to get the bad stuff to the top of the search results). They worked on a few of the early ZT models. The ZT350 represents a perfect mix of its design parents. It has the sinuous, organic shapes and assisted flipper opening of a Ken Onion design and the aggressive tactical feel of a Strider blade. But it is more than a bullet point on the ZT350's product page. This collaboration produced a friggin' awesome blade.

The knife came about as knife knuts peppered ZT with requests for a smaller knife than the behemoths they are known for. This knife is a mini version of the ZT300 absent one big feature--the frame lock. I like frame locks. I do. I think they are a bit OVER hyped though. This is a liner lock and the liner is massively thick. It works very, very well. If you prefer a frame lock think of it is as a frame lock with a G10 lock bar stop. Maybe that will make it more palatable to those out there that hate the liner lock for some reason. I also love the curved handle. I actually picked up the ZT 350 at a knife show last August and I have never been so grabbed by a blade as this one. It just sung as it sat in my hand. I knew I had to buy it. I had seen them on the Internet and in stores, but it wasn't until it was in my hand that I knew why I had to buy it. No knife I own has feel so good in my hand as this one. It just locks in. Its handle, shape, and balance immediately appealed to me even though I typically disdain large blades. All of the jimping is purposeful, the recurve works well (though it does make sharpening a bit more difficult), and the flipper is perfect. It works exceedingly well as both an actuator for the blade and as a guard when the blade is out. The blade:handle is .70. This is primarily because the handle has a little "tail" at the end for added grip, a smaller version of the tail on the Spyderco Scorpius. One more thing--this is a heavy knife. When you take something and overbuild everything you end up with a lot of bulk. This is a bulky blade. But it was meant to be. In the role of hard use knife or tactical knife you have to give up something and it is usually weight.

Fit and Finish: 2

Everything is snug, tight, and in place. The blade centering even on a blade this big and bulky, is great. The flipper is perfectly executed as is the jimping, which is UBER aggressive. If the stop pin in the handle is supposed to be a thumb stud then there is a problem with clearance from the handle slabs, but it is not actually a thumb stud (see: all Strider knives). Additionally, unlike on some of the Strider's out there, there is no "floating" stop pin issue, see:


Grip: 2

This knife absolutely refuses the let go of your hand. I did some pretty serious cutting with it (small gauge wire, drywall, and PEX, and no I don't baby my knives, PEX is a REAL BITCH to cut) and I never lost grip. There is no better knife I have ever handled in terms of grip than this knife. The G10, the jimping, and the flipper/blade guard work well. The spine of the blade even has a finger groove for detailed work. I know of no better knife than this for grip.

Carry: 1

The blade is wide, making the knife wide. It is heavy. Not like pocket boat anchor heavy (see: Cold Steel Espada), but is is a beefy pocket knife. Also the flipper and the jimping can sometimes make retrieving the knife a bit of a challenge.

Steel: 2

S30V. It is the standard bearer of high end steels. No longer the tippy top steel, but still a very, very good choice.

Blade Shape: 2

It is an unconventional design, but there is plenty of belly, a strong tip, and a nice feel in the hand. Here is a close up:


Excellent blade shape. The recurve scared me a bit, but after a sharpening session with the Sharpmaker, I am okay with it. It does improve cutting performance, allowing me to really wrench on the PEX tubing I was cutting. The spine, as was mentioned before, has a nice finger groove for detail work.

Grind: 2

This is a close call between a 1 and a 2. I could not disagree if you gave the grind poor marks for its unnecessary complexity, but at the same time SO MUCH of the thickness of the blade is delivered to the tip. The knife is very, very thick and the grind doesn't do anything to hide that, but again, this is a hard use knife, so really you can't dock it for that.

Deployment Method: 2

BANG! The blade on this knife comes out like a starter's gun. Normally I don't like assisted openers, but in this application tactical or heavy use knife, I think they serve a good purpose. You want your blade and you want it without fail and immediately. And that is exactly what this flipper assisted open knife gives you. The flipper is the perfect size: not too big and not too small (like the flipper on the Buck Vantage). Here is a good shot of it:


An excellent execution of a flipper. The thumb studs, as mentioned above, aren't actually thumb studs but stop pins. I guess you could use them as thumb studs, but with such a well made flipper, why bother?

Retention Method: 2

In the long history of pocket clips there are a myriad of designs, some TOTALLY bizarre and others completely ineffective. So the question is, why, with a basic clip like this, taken from Strider's line of knives, can't companies just get it right by going simple? It works, works well, and completely avoids messing with your grip.

Lock: 2

The liner lock bar is so massive, so overbuilt that it dwarfs the lock bar on both my Sebenza and my Leafstorm. Complaints about liner locks are really just complains about CRAPPY liner locks and any lock can stink if it is poorly executed. Great lock.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

If you are looking for a super durable EDC blade and don't mind the weight this is a good choice. If you want a great heavy duty knife this is a great choice. This is a great all around knife and while it is overbuilt, it is not so large as to be difficult to carry. Home Run by ZT.

1YL: 18 out of 20

This is a case of improved technology.  The Paramilitary 2 is simply a superior design.  It is probably 99.9% as rugged with less than half the weight.  That is one issue.  The other is the grind.  Trying to resharpen this steep a recurve in S30V was a wretched chore.  There is no reason for recurves on blades like this other than looks and a few very limited uses.  This knife loses one point in Blade Shape, going from a 2 to 1. 


  1. I recently bought a ZT0350 partially based upon this review. Do you have any special sharpening considerations for the recurve blade, or can you point me in a good direction? I've got a Sharpmaker.

  2. Hmmm...recurves are very hard to sharpen correctly. I really like the Sharpmaker and that is what I used, but I was never COMPLETELY satisfied with the results. I wish I had a strop back then, as they make a huge difference. I would try that--Sharpmaker plus a good strop (like the back of a pure leather belt, rougher the better). It is a dilemma though. Other than that, this is a great knife.

  3. Hey how thick is the liner lock compared to the frame lock on your small sebenza?

    1. I'd like to know also, people always say that the zt 350 has a thick liner lock, but how does it compare to the crk small sebenza frame lock in width?

    2. Just re read the review but can you take a pick comparing the lock between the 350, sebenza and the leafstorm.