Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mid-Sized Production Knife EDC Shoot Out

I had originally planned on doing a shoot out between the Mini Grip 555hg and the Delica 4, but given the rise in popularity of the Skyline, I thought I'd throw it into the mix.  This turned out to be VERY complicated to write. Here are the three competitors:


Mini Grip 555hg:

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Delica 4:


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Skyline:


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Before I get to the shoot out, I want to give a few caveats about the three knives selected.  First, I am using the regular VG-10 Delica, 154 CM Mini Grip, and 14c28n Skyline.  I know all of them have different steels available, but these are the most common iterations of these knives, so that is what I will be looking at in this shoot out.  If I were choosing any of these knives with any of the possible steel options, the ZDP-189 Delica would win the shoot out before we even start.  That steel is so superior to the options in this shoot out that regardless of other criteria, I would choose that knife first.  It is more expensive and less common, so I am not going to consider it.  Second, it is possible for smaller knives to work in this EDC role, but I have chosen to look at these three because they are all roughly the same size and that size, medium sized knives or around 3 inches in blade length, seems to be more commonly carried and researched.  If I were looking at ANY EDC knife, the Dragonfly II ZDP-189 would win, barring consideration of a custom knife.  But for a lot of folks that knife is just too small.  I am fine with it, but not everyone is, so the Goldilocks principle says I should look at these three blades.  Finally, I am not going to consider the thumb stud version of the Mini Grip.  It is probably more common than the thumb hole version, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why someone would opt for a thumb stud over a thumb hole.  The hole is easier to open and does not do bad things in your pocket like a thumb stud can.  If it were in the running, again because of the total inferiority of the thumb stud, it would lose regardless of how it did on the other criteria.  Thumb stud, when the alternative is available, is a deal breaker for me.  Note that while the Skyline has a thumb stud, it is really a flipper design with the stud acting as a stop pin. 

Here are the reviews I did of each of the knives in this shoot out:


In terms of design, all three are "in house" designs, that is designed by folks that work for the knife company itself.  The Mini Grip is a Mel Pardue design, the Skyline is Tommy Lucas's creation, and the Delica is designed by the grandmaster Sal Glesser. 

The Mini Grip got a 19/20, as did the Delica, and the Skyline got a 18/20.  The Mini Grip lost a point for its overly grippy pocket clip.  The Delica lost a point for its steel.  The Skyline lost a point in both blade shape and blade grind.  Overall pretty close scores.  So how do you determine which is best?  Well, here is how I am going to do it.

Methodology

I am going to use my folding knife scoring system, but instead of awarding a score of 0-2 for each criteria, I am going to rank each blade, from first place to last place.  Instead of just ranking them I am going to weight the ranks.  A first place ranking is worth 5 points, a second place ranking is worth 3 points, and third place ranking is worth 1 point.  This separation makes it less likely that the value winner will just be the cheapest knife (as a straight ranking system would award a straight last place knife 10 points for merely being included).  The one that wins the most overall points has a big advantage going into the final assessment, which product value (performance compared to price).   Here is the folding knife scoring system.  In terms of value, it will be an easy math formula: dollars divided by total points score.  The less dollars per point, the better the value.  Simple.  Yeah, simple.  It only took me two weeks to figure out this methodology.   

Scoring System Points

Design:

The Benchmade Mini Grip is by far the most traditional or conservative of the knives in this shoot out.  The Delica's shape has been unusual since its release twenty years ago.  The Skyline has only one liner.  But the lack of design flair serves the Mini Grip well.  It is a very functional, compact design.  It squeezes a ton of blade into a handle that is comfortable in any position and it has the best lock on the planet, in my opinion.  The Delica's thin handle and unbelieveable sense of control make it a great knife, but it is a big knife, substantially larger than the Mini Grip and about the same size as the Skyline, but with a smaller blade than both (2.88" on the Delica to 2.91" on the Mini Grip and over 3" on the Skyline).  I like the Skyline design, but it is just a bit big for me.  And it is not hardy enough to be pressed into tactical uses, so the extra size is just extra bulk.

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Fit and Finish:

Really there is no competition here.  The Mini Grip's fit and finish is quite impressive.  The whole trick of the Axis lock requires incredibly precise tolerances and the Mini Grip pulls that off well.  The Delica is no slouch either, but the roughness of the edges of the G10 on the Skyline and the slightly oversized liner was strange. 

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Grip:

The Delica's grip is not that far behind the Mini Grip, but the Benchmade entry is simply covered in jimping.  There is no jimping whatsoever on the Skyline.  Really this is a two horse race with the Skyline way behind.  Only the flipper/finger choil resembles a traction plan.

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Carry:

The Mini Grip scores a victory here again based on its size.  Both the Delica and the Skyline are thin, which is nice, but they are just too long.

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Steel:

I don't really like VG-10 all that much.  It is only slightly better than AUS-8 in my experience.  It has no real edge retention, and both the Mini Grip and Skyline have steels that do.  

Mini Grip: 5
Skyline: 3
Delica: 1

Blade Shape:

I love the sheeps foot blade on the Mini Grip and the Delica is not bad, but the Skyline's blade shape STINKS.  Fat on the top to make it a not great slicer and thin at the tip to make it less hardy than a three inch knife should be. 

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Grind:

Spyderco's grinds are rarely spectacular, but the Delica's are great, even having a bit of mirror polish to the secondary bevel.  The Mini Grip's were also good, but not polished.  By contrast the Skyline's grind was not even and the hollow grind was very pronounced, perhaps a bit too pronounced causing a bit of jamming in very hard materials (i.e. wood during whittling).  Also, the grind was not even towards the tip of the knife.

Delica: 5
Benchmade: 3
Skyline: 1

Deployment Method:

The thumb hole, in my opinion, is the superior deployment method.  A flipper is definitely second best, and the flipper on the Skyline is decent, not as good as the ZT 350's but still good.  All three do well here. 

Delica: 5
Benchmade: 3
Skyline: 1

Retention Method:

The Skyline's clip is the most unobtrusive and at the same time it is not a pocket shredder.  The Delica's is a bit long, as is the Mini Grip's, but none are truly terrible here.  

Skyline: 5
Delica: 3
Mini Grip: 1

Lock:

Okay, with the fixes to the Axis lock, it is by far my most favorite lock design and the Mini Grip's Axis lock is great.  The Delica's backlock is also good, but not as nice overall (fingers in the blade path during closing).  The liner lock on the Skyline is good as well, probably close to the backlock on the Delica, but again, fingers in the blade path.  

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Total Points

Mini Grip: 42
Delica: 31
Skyline: 16 

Value Calculations

I am going to use the most frequent price for the item as listed on Amazon.  You might be able to find them cheaper, but Amazon is usually the cheapest, most reliable price, especially when you include Amazon Marketplace and Partners.  These prices are as of 10/5/11.

Mini Grip: $64
Delica Price: $52
Skyline Price: $35

Value (price compared to performance; dollars/points)

Mini Grip: $1.52
Delica: $1.68
Skyline: $2.19

Conclusion

The value calculations work well in this one instance.  I am hesistant about using them everywhere for reasons I stated before, but here it worked out.  The knife that is the better of the three is the Mini Grip.  It is not really all that close.  I bought, carried, and used all three and in the end the I sold both the Delica and the Skyline.  I love Spyderco's designs, I am a self-described Spyderco Fanboy but here, the Mini Grip just does almost everything a little bit better.  It is a truly great knife.


All three blades are decent blades.  All three would work well as EDC knives, but the lack of refinement hurts the Skyline and the poor blade:handle and soft steel hold the Delica back.  If I had the choice, and I did, I would buy the Mini Grip 555hg every time. 

13 comments:

  1. Very interesting Tony. I was given a Skyline and it stays in it's box. I had a Delica 4, but honestly, with all the other blades I have it just bored me a little so I sold it (nice knife though - nothing wrong with it). I've got a full size Grip on my desk right now and I mess around with it / carry it all the time. Just a great knife and it has some features that really sets it apart in my mind. I need to pick up a mini grip next.

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  2. I like this comparison, as I am looking for another knife and may look closer at the Mini Grip.
    One thing though, in your review, you switch between calling it the Mini Grip and Benchmade (in Grind and Deployment).

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  3. I own both the Mini Grip and the Delica, both great knives. I am mostly, but not entirely, persuaded by this comparison.

    The one place where I think you clearly failed to persuade was on the Mini Grip's grip being superior. No chance. Spyderco merited the 5 pts there and Benchmade the 3. Mini Grip is good but feels a bit short in the palm. The Delica's handle fills the palm and is just better designed, as you seemed to recognize in your earlier Delica 4 review. EVERYTHING is there to increase grip. The bidirectional FRN with just a hint of "give" has an almost gluelike attraction to the hand. The hard Benchmade Noryl lacks that quality. Likewise, the Delica's thumb jimping is perfect; the Benchmade's is lame.

    I am also far more impressed with the cutting performance of my (FFG) Delica compared to the Mini Grip. (The Mini Grips tend to feature short secondary grinds that impair cutting.) However, I acknowledge that you were comparing a saber ground Delica, not an FFG, to the Mini Grip.

    I do agree that the Axis lock is the bomb. It is unmatched for convenient one-hand opening and closing.

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  4. I think you bring up a valid point. The longer handle does allow for more fingers on the handle, but that alone doesn't, for me, equal superior grip. I really think that the grip on a folding knife comes down to how the handle is positioned between the thumb and pointer finger. The DFII has a very small handle, but the choil is perfectly placed and sized giving it an unparalleled in-hand feel. For me, that spot on the Mini Grip is better, ever so slightly, than the Delica.

    I also think you can't discount the convex handle scales on the Mini Grip. The flat scales just aren't the same. I like the texturing on the Delica better, but not that much better.

    I noted that it was close and I think this is place for reasonable disagreement, but I still come down on the side of the Mini Grip.

    Also, I would concede that the FFG Delica is probably a better slicer than the Mini Grip, but I am not one of those people that swears allegiance to FFG and nothing else. The ZDP-189 Delica in a FFG would be amazing.

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  5. Thanks for the response! I am really enjoying the blog. It was pretty much reading your reviews that convinced me to pick up a Spyderco Dragonfly (G10 version) to commemorate the birth of my son. Little big knife; little big guy.

    I love the solidity of the steel-linered G10 version and it is strikingly useful for such a tiny knife.

    You've almost got me ready to drink the ZDP kool-aid, though I have had great experiences with VG10.

    PS: I often wish more knife reviewers would discuss what I'll call (for want of a better term) legal/cultural aspects. Of course, the irony is that when you're a lawyer, you're simultaneously more competent to discuss legalities, yet more impaired by professional norms from doing so. But I have been assuming that one reason you gravitate to the Dragonfly rather than the Delica is Boston's (asinine and probably unconstitutional, but there you go) 2.5" blade length limit on locking folders.

    Thanks.

    PPS: My flashlight review request is the Fenix LD01. I am slowly converting my family members to EDCers using this little AAA keychain gem.

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  6. Thanks for posting your reviews, they are always interesting to read.

    I do wonder why you included the Skyline in this comparison. The street price of this knife is half that of the other knives. Of course it is going to look bad compared to the other two.

    They Skyline is a popular knife and it seems to be gaining in popularity. But someone who buys a knife in that price range is going to expect it to be of lower quality in comparison to a knife that costs twice as much.

    You attempt to level the playing field by dividing the price by the point total. This seems reasonable, but it requires you to assume that,all other things being equal, an item that costs 50% more than another item will be exactly 50% higher in quality and features. This assumption does not hold up in the real world.

    There are many other knives in the same price range as the Delica or Mini Grip made by Kershaw and other manufacturers that would have been more representative of the selections available to knife buyers.

    I don't think anybody learned anything by pitting the Skyline against two much more expensive knives.

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  7. Roger, you bring up a lot of good points. Let me address them one at a time.

    First, why include the Skyline at all? This knife is a very popular knife. Also the materials are roughly equal in performance to the other two. The new steel, 14c28n, offers similar hardness levels, very good rust resistance (probably better than both other steels given the amount of nitrogen in the steel recipe), and very good edge retention. I think the steel in the Skyline is very good. It also has a G10 handle which is probably a bit more upscale than either of the other handles. Finally design-wise it is roughly equivalent: it is around three inches, and this is the most important fact, it is a manual opening knife. Many of the other Kershaw knives in this price range AREN'T manual opening knives and those that aren't are uncommon to very uncommon.

    Second, the expectation of quality. The Skyline was also included because its quality betrays its price. It is, in my opinion, a significantly better knife than the Tenacious, a knife with seemingly identical or equivalent specs. I owned both and reviewed both. The Skyline scored a 17/20 while the Tenacious 11/20. The Skyline score and thus its expected quality is much closer to that of the Delica (18/20) and the Mini Grip (19/20) than cheaper knives. So my expectations were set by prior experience and a close analysis of that experience.

    As for the value calculations, I concede that your right. They do assume a linear relationship with performance. This is why I don't use them in my regular reviews because, as I said in the commentary on problems with the scoring system, there certain features that are just deal breakers and there are certain scores, such as a 20/20, that are not just one point better, more like 5 to 10 times better. It was a rough attempt to account for the Skyline's price advantage.

    The other big reason I included it and I hope that people learned from the Shoot Out is that in my opinion these are three knives that people will likely be researching and have chosen to compare to each other. I know I did when I was doing my research.

    The Skyline is a great knife, even if it lost the shoot out. It represents a value proposition that is very rare in folding knives today. The new steel is so good for the money, that I don't think including it was silly. I hope I have justified that decision both in the Shoot Out and in this response.

    Originally, I had planned on just doing the Mini Grip v. Delica and I decided at the last minute to throw the Skyline in the mix. The Mini Grip wins either way, but I thought a three way battle is more interesting.

    Finally, I hope that the analysis proved something. I hope it proved that cheaper is not always a better value. It seems like so many people out there are going crazy for these cheap knives like San Ren Mu that they are forgetting the other side of the value proposition: performance. I think the Shoot Out is one way of showing that value is not simply a function of price as the most expensive knife won the value contest.

    Thanks a ton for the thoughtful feedback.

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  8. Thanks for you well thought and and expressed response. Many bloggers don't take criticism well, but you have proven yourself to be and exception. I look forward to your future blogs.

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  9. These knives are exceptional. I would love to include these in my collection. I think the price is also reasonable. By the way, does each of the knife come with a sheath? I just recently purchased a new buck knife with a sheath in a very affordable price. Anyway, I look forward to seeing more of these kinds of knives.

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  10. None come with a sheath. The trend is away from sheathes, except for higher end knives, like William Henry stuff. Personally, sheathes seem unnecessary with the really great pocket clips out there now. Thanks for reading.

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  11. Interesting reviews. These knives are awesome. I am very particular with holding the knife, I choose those with a good grip and design just like the kershaw knives. The Mini grip and the Delica 4 looks great!

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  12. I am not really a knife collector but I fancy reading about knives. Though I buy knives for camping and hunting such as gerber hunting knives.

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  13. It's funny how things work out, Tony. I've had all 3.

    A black, regular, 13c27n Skyline (before the change to 14c28)
    A black, sheepsfoot, thumb hole BM 555HG grip with black handles and satin blade
    Aaaaand a Green FRN handled Delica 4...

    ...In ZDP-189.

    The Skyline long ago got traded even though I recognized and loved the design. Great flipper, super light. Hated the chewy pocket clip and flimsyness

    The Benchmade has been switched to left-hand clip and stays in my girlfriend's purse

    the ZDP-189 Delica is in my pocket every third day, alternating with a pair of ZT's (0550 Gen I and 0561- and yeah I'm odd)

    I got all three around the same time, 4 or 5 years ago. So your initial statement of "A ZDP-189 Delica would win" rang true. It won for me.

    I agree that the Delica could use more blade to go with it's handle. And I wish my ZDP189 Delica was FFG instead of sabre ground. But the ergos are just SO GOOD. And the thumb hole is great. I like the mini-grip's lock a LOT better (you can use the lock to flip it open and closed without even touching the hole) but in the end - well, the girlfriend has it, and I carry the Delica!

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