Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Keychain, Part VI: Round Up of Random Stuff

This final entry in the keychain series is a round up of random stuff that people commonly carry on their keychains. Personally I don’t see the point in carrying most of this stuff on your keychain—it is a lot of added weight with very little extra use. I didn’t say “function” because most of these things will add some function, but these are generally functions you won’t use on a regular basis.

Pens

There are a lot of pens that are designed to fit on your keychain. The out of production Cross Ion comes to mind.



But a lot of these pens are really just crappy cut downs of full sized pens. There are two purpose-built keychain pens that I really like: the Valiant keychain pen and the Fisher Trekker Pen for keychains.

The problem with carrying a pen, besides the potential for leaking, is that even these purpose-built pens are very thin and hence difficult to use for a long time. They are fine for signing receipts, but outside of a restaurant, this rarely happens anymore. Most stores have those annoying “pen pads” or don’t make you sign for small purchases. As a result I just can’t imagine using this all that much—too small for long use and very little short use opportunities anymore.

The added size and potential for it to get wedged in your pocket when you withdraw your keychain are drawbacks that the limited use cannot overcome.

Whistles

Dozens of folks make keychain whistles. You can drop half a grand on a truly spectacular Atwood whistle like this:



or eight bucks on a plastic Fox whistle. All of them are loud and are designed to help people locate you in an emergency. Most are designed to require very little airflow from you (in case your in a place where air is scarce or breathing is hard). Most of the whistles are very light. They do take up a bit of real estate on the keychain, but not a ton.

My issue is that they just aren’t that useful. Sure they could save your life. So could scuba gear. The problem is that if you carried around EVERYTHING that could save your life you wouldn’t be able to move. At some point you have to draw the line. For me, the line is here at the whistle. If someone drew the line on the other side of the whistle, given how light and cheap they are, I couldn’t really argue with them all that much. Does anyone know how to attach a lanyard to O2 tanks?

USB Drives

If there are a dozen pens, or many dozen whistles, there are probably 10,000 designs out there for a USB drive. Personally I carry around a Sandisk Cruizer. It is made of plastic so its not quite hardy enough to live on a keychain. When I get around to it, I will probably upgrade to a Lacie Key USB design. These are useful and I use mine everyday, but I am a paper pusher, so I can see “make stuff for a living” guys or gals not necessarily needed one of these. Still, you can’t beat the size and capacity nowadays. Some are, in fact, TOO small for me. I can’t see buying one with a cap, it is just another thing to lose, but there are many capless, or attached cap designs out there. Some people use a Micro SD reader so instead of replacing the entire drive they can just upgrade the chip. This seems like a reasonably good idea, but the cost of Micro SD chips is not that much lower (if at all) than just buying a new drive. Some of my favorites are:

1. The Lacie Key USBs
2. Sandisk Cruizer Titanium
3. The Tac Drive USB

Spy Capsules

I am not even sure why they are called spy capsules because it doesn't seem terribly discrete to carry something like this on a keychain. In all seriousness, I just don't see them being all that useful. Small ones won't hold a lot and big ones are just too bulky. There is one exception though--people that need to take medications. In that case, I can see these as being useful because you are likely to have your keychain on you when you are out and about and need to take medication.

BTW: there is a lot of thought about what is the "best" amount of money to carry with you. Here is my suggestion: the cost of the bail commissioner's fee in your local area. It is $40 where I live and that seems like a good amount to carry around--it can buy movie tickets, dinner, or if things go bat shit crazy--get you out of jail (provided of course he or she sets your bail at personal recognizance). Just a thought.

Tweezers


Tweezers can be really super useful, but the fact that they are necessarily involved in detail work makes them less than ideal for "mini" keychain versions and as a "tool on the go." I am always concerned with them coming out of the little sleeve and poking the shit out of me when I grab my keys out of my pocket.

Can Openers


The famous P-38 (and its big brother, the P-51) has been around forever, but the amount of canned, ready to eat foods out there make this unnecessary. Really, when have you thought: "Geez I have that can of Manwich in my trunk and my P-38 or I can just stop in at a local fast food place. What should I do?" A tool from an older age that just doesn't pull its weight in most circumstances. If you are out in the wilderness, then fine, but if your out in the wilderness depending on a keychain can opener you have bigger problems than weight and utility issues involving your keychain.

Suspension Clips and Key Straps


There are a bunch of designs out there, including about million different carabiner clips. If you are Mr. Money Bags you can get Cool Fall's ultra luxe carabiner, the Droid 58, seen here:



You can get a super "craftsman-y" leather one. The Fish Hook is one favorite. Lots of folks like the P-7 Suspension Clip. Still others go for the Munroe Dangler. There are a lot of options out there. I just don't know why they make a difference, if you have planned out your keychain well. If you can't avoid the "janitor" keychain, then I can see having them hanging neatly from your pocket or belt. Their utility depends on the size of your keychain, I guess.

Lanyards and Fobs


If you are debating whether or not to add a fob to your keychain something has gone horribly wrong. Fobs are sort of the paperweight of the keychain world. By design, they don't do anything except add another thing to your keychain in the hopes it makes it easier to extract (why not just use the things ALREADY ON the keychain to do this?). Some have glow functions that allow you to find them in the dark, which I guess is really useful if you need to bail after being with a lady friend but hope not to wake her up. Still, fobs are a waste. A cool looking waste, but a waste nonetheless.

Lanyards are bit different. I think they fall into the suspension clip class of utility. If you have a lot of stuff on your keychain and you can't get rid of it, fine. But if not a lanyard is nothing more than a fob made of paracord.

Lighters

This comes down to really one lighter--the Peanut Lighter and it is variants. I tried carrying around a Zippo about a year ago, to see if I would use it as part of my EDC, even though I was not a smoker. I never used it. Not once. As such, I think that a tinier, harder to use lighter is probably not worth carrying. If you smoke or need to bind the ends of nylon rope a lot, then maybe you should carry a Peanut lighter, but even then, why not just carry a Bic or a Zippo? The Zippo now resides in my workshop where it is used to do all sorts of things. Mostly it gets rid of noxious fumes from various finishes...yeah, finishes.

Kubatons

If you have the training to use these, I guess they are worthwhile. I can't see a situation in which, as a means of self-defense, you have the time to pull out your keys and wield this guy instead of, say, a can of OC spray, but I am sure someone can do it. For those people, this is a worthwhile addition. There are some really nice looking Kubatons out there, like these. Without that high level of training, this is a larger, meaner looking, and less useful key fob.


Summary

There are tons of options out there, flashlights, knives, one piece multitools, keychain multitools, and a bunch of other stuff. For me, though, it is about being as light and a useful as possible. I've opt for a coated mechanic's cable with a Gerber Shard and a LRI Micro Photon. The last piece of the keychain puzzle, for me, is a nice, light, USB drive. If I had the ability, I would add my PS4 to my keychain, but going into and out of courts and jails makes that difficult. I can see carrying a OPMT, a keychain MT, a light, and a USB drive. Really, these four tools make modern life easier and having them on your keychain and always with you makes them loads better. Beyond these things, I can't see the rest of the keychain tools and accessories as "necessities." Some people with other needs can justify carrying whistles, spy capsules, suspension clips, and maybe a lighter. But I strongly recommend to keep the keychain as light as possible. You will have to carry it everywhere you go and who wants dead weight?

For more ideas here is the EDCF Keychain Picture Thread.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Three tidbits

First, rumor has it that Chris Reeve is upgrading to S35VN steel for all his blades and this is causing the shortage of CRK's stuff. Here is the chemical composition for S35VN:

Carbon: 1.30%
Chromium: 14.00%
Manganese: .50%
Molybdenum: 2.00%
Niobium: .50%
Silicon: .50%
Tungsten: .40%
Vanadium: 3.00%

Looks very nice. I can't wait to see some reviews.

Second, JetBeam is releasing "econo" lights with simplified UI. See here. Two output levels, but you STILL have to twist a head and hit the clickie. Ugh. They missed the mark. Why not just use the two click system from the Surefire G2X Pro? No twist then click, just two clicks. Oh well. At least people have started to realize that few output modes and simpler UIs are the way to go.

Third, apparently the highly anticipated HDS Rotary is delayed. People all over CPF have been waiting past the ship date for their lights and now retailers are posting information about the delay--apparently it has something to do with the calibration system. Henry's new stuff always has some kinks, so this is not a surprise. They always get fixed too, so no big deal. Something is delayed temporarily, but bad forever. I am not sure why you need a rotary ring for output selection, when McGizmo has shown that all you need is well selected levels and you are fine. Nonetheless, I know people are just itching to get there hands on this light. Hang in there folks.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Toolkit for your EDC

This post is not about your small sack of tools that you carry around with you in case you get a flat tire, but instead about those necessary tools and tonics needed to keep your EDC gear in tip-top shape. Obviously what you carry dictates what will be in your toolkit. For me, a non-gun minimalist, I have a few go-to items in my EDC drawer.

Cleaning Items

First, I like having a lint free cloth. I got mine at the Container Store about ten years ago and it still works very well. Ones made for cleaning computer screens and LCD TVs work well. The microfibers will scratch nothing. I like using them to clean the lenses on my flashlights and the blades on my knives after a cleaning and sharpening.

A can of compressed air works well at cleaning those hard to reach spaces. If you can though, I highly recommend upgrading to an air compressor. I use one in my workshop and it works much better and is vastly more economic. It is not a requirement, and the cans work, but the compressor is nicer. Safety tip: be very careful when you use the compressor to blow out and dislodge things. For example, I used it to get a battery out of a battery tube. It will get the battery out all right, but with only one direction for the battery to go and nowhere for the built up air pressure to escape, the battery can become a bullet. I got a battery out of my Arc AAA-P and it made a large divot in the back of my workbench. It is two inch thick oak.

For cleaners, it becomes a touchier subject. There are some REALLY strong cleaners out there and they have done damage to my gear. Try to apply them on the edge of the surface or in some inconspicuous place first. Some denatured alcohol is also nice to have on hand for light cleaning. For tougher stains and grime I like the citrus based cleaners like Goo Gone. If you need something stronger than that, be careful. I have some Flitz Polish and Stainless Steel Polish (found at home centers because of the rise in popularity of stainless steel appliances). Rounding out the cleaners I have some Brasso for the heat sink on my Muyshondt Aeon. Be careful though all of these are caustic and need some ventilation to use.

Tools

Another go to item I like to have on hand is a series of micro screwdrivers. The Kobalt line from Lowes is cheap and well-designed. Also, if you break the Kobalt drivers there is a no-questions asked return policy (I have used it twice now). You can go all high end and get some Wiha drivers, but they are harder to take back if you destroy them. I recommend getting the drivers that have the bits in the handle--they are more flexible and are easier to store. The big series of drivers is really unnecessary and takes up a lot of space.

After a screwdriver set, I like to have a pair of tweezers for precision work. Nothing I have ever found beats the tip of the Tweezerman Tweezers. I know, I know: the beauty tool experts...whatever. You can get them in black, is that manly enough for you? Trust me, you will be thrilled when you can get that little tiny rock out of your favorite light's spring that would otherwise ruin your EDC torch. I have found them especially handy for manipulating shims and washers found in the pivot mechanisms of many knives. I don't know what the secret to their success is, but whatever it is, it makes all the difference in the world. I have never failed to grip something with a pair of Tweezerman Tweezers.

Batteries

Next I like having a well organized and stocked supply of batteries. Here is a picture of my battery storage:



A few chargers help as well. All true flashaholics need a Nano charger for the RCR 123A and smaller batteries.

Lubricants

I also like to have on hand two or three kinds of lubricant. WD-40 is a requirement if you own a house or anything mechanical. I really like the dual nozzle cans. Plus it has that alluring clean workshop smell to it. I also like Rem Oil for more lubricant, less water repellent applications like the pivots on pocket knives. Finally, for those electronic components a contact cleaner/lubricant like Deoxit works very well.

Sharpeners

I have a field sharpener, this one in particular:



It works well for touch ups. But for a full job I love my Spyderco Sharpmaker. There are more than enough reviews out there on this piece of equipment, but it works so well, it deserves a little more praise. I suppose you can go up to an Edge Pro, which does work very well, but for me it seems like diminished returns. There is also the full on grinder/polisher, but that requires more skill than I have. Though if I bought one it would a Tormek all the way. Tormek sharpeners are awesome tools for all sorts of uses, not just sharpening knives. They do, however, require a bit more skill than most sharpening systems.

Random Stuff

Two last things that didn't really fit into any category: a magnetized parts tray and a Dremel. A magnetized parts tray works well when dealing with tiny parts. Plus they are cheap. Here is a good one. The Dremel is not so much for maintenance, but really an excellent tool for modding. Take a look at Griffin Hawk's Mad Max-esque Tenacious after it had a run in with his Dremel. They can cut, polish, grind, sand, and rasp like nothing else. Plus, Dremels are just too cool when you are messing around with stuff. It kind of makes you feel like a blacksmith and MacGuyver rolled into one.

All of these things can serve multiple purposes and I use many of them in my workshop. Having them all around just makes sure my gear is in tip top shape and ready to go.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

McGizmo Haiku Review

The McGizmo Haiku, with this ringed grip and deeply cut heat sinks strongly echoes the appearance of Luke’s lightsaber in Return of the Jedi.

My Haiku:



Luke's Return of the Jedi Lightsaber:



That is only one of the reasons I love this flashlight. Actually, I didn't notice this similarity until I took a picture of my light&saber combination (Haiku and Sebenza), but still, the similar appearance is cool.

For me, the McGizmo Haiku is a grail item. I have been pining after a McGizmo for more than half a decade now and to have one, even after four months, still generates a tingling sensation every once in a while. “It is just a flashlight, dude.” Sure, and:

The Eames Chair is just a chair…

The 1961 Ferrari GT California is just a car…

Fallingwater is just a house…

The Alexandria 2 is just a speaker…

A Loveless Drop Point is just a knife…

There are certain things, certain items, that are so well crafted that they simply exceed their function and become a statement of something else—elegant design, superb function, timeless...whatever you want to call it. For me, the McGizmo Haiku is all of that.

The product category of “luxury flashlight” is new, part of a development in all different kinds of things, of ultra luxe items. Perhaps it is merely another statement of conspicuous consumption. But for me, a well made, well-designed tool like the McGizmo Haiku is a reclamation of an old tradition—something made by a person for a specific task with no compromises, a.k.a. craftsmanship. Things like tools from Bridge City Tools Works seem to be made from this same mindset. But unlike craftsmanship in the form of a Windsor chair, this is a bit of high tech craftsmanship.

Maybe I am tired, like all those that buy things like bespoke suits, of going to the big box store and buying my Widget #1 just like everyone else. Widget #1 works. It does its job. But it doesn’t do it well. It gets you by until...it doesn't. In two or three years something on Widget #1 will break and I will have to go back to the big box store and get Widget #2.

The McGizmo Haiku is a flashlight made by a man named Don McLeish. He is a legend among fans of flashlights. His designs, produced in small batches with exceedingly high standards for fit and finish, are sold only through his threads on Candlepower Forums. His lights, especially those out of production, routinely appreciate in value. They are also such excellent hosts that aftermarket modifications are very common. The Haiku was his first three mode light (hence the name). Here is the product page. Here is a very good review on CPF. The light is not cheap. It is $495 plus shipping. But in the end, you will have a piece of exquisite craftsmanship that just happens to do something that is useful everyday.

Design: 2

The light uses Don’s main body tube, a single cell 123a McClickie (about half way down the OP). It is made of beautifully cut titanium and has a pre-attached titanium pocket clip. The McClickie has a rear clicky that is sunken into a recess to allow the light to tailstand. There are small crenellations around the bezel. The head is the unique part and has deep cut heat sink fins. The clickie is firm and responsive. The light is about 3 ¾ inches long. It is the perfect size and everything about the design evinces a relentless attention to detail.

Fit and Finish: 2

When I received the light there were no flaws whatsoever. There are some minor swirls in the titanium from use now. The parts go together so seamlessly it is as if they are magnetized. There are no gaps or cross threading. The battery tube spring is taut. Every part is made from a best in class material—titanium, sapphire lens, very high grade o-rings. This is it—I own nothing with better fit and finish than this light. Even my Sebenza looks over in envy at the beauty and precision that is the McGizmo Haiku.

Grip: 2

The McClickie body tube is an excellent design with the pocket clip actually enhancing the grip. The narrow portion allows you to use any number of grips and the flared end allows for a good cigar grip. Even without knurling I have never lost my grip on this light. Also, the light is the perfect size. The Arc6, which I have also owned, was just too small. The Surefire 6P is just a bit too big. This is the Goldilocks sweet spot.

Carry: 2

My first $100+ light was a fully decked out Nitecore EX10, seen here:



It was great, until the clip popped off. Over and over again. Here, the McClickie body allows for great retention, the clip is very strong. The fact that it is installed at the factory gives me more confidence than the fiddly clip from Nitecore. The body is a little thicker, because of the more robust tube walls, but it is not that big a deal.

Output: 2

Don’s numbers say this light’s high is 138 lumens or something like that. I have compared it to my Surefires that are rated at 200 lumens and there is no real difference. The low is a single digit lumen count and does not disrupt my night vision. The medium is a perfect “work bright” amount of light. The output is more than enough on high, not too much on low, and well spaced. I could not have designed a better output from an EDC light if I were setting the amounts myself.

Runtime: 2

Runtime is as follows (to 50%, noting regulation limitations on Med and Low, see Don’s runtime graphs): High: 1 hour; Med: about 3.6 hours; Lo: about 27 hours. Again, I can’t ask for a better balance between lumens and runtime. I like my 40 hours on the Muyshondt Aeon, but that is a unique light as well. Still 27 hours isn’t anything to sneeze at, especially in an EDC light with a max of 138 lumens.

Beam Type: 2

As one of the reviewers noted, this beam is a “floody throw” and though that doesn’t make much sense conceptually, go out and use the Haiku in a big open space and you will see the beam type is “floody throw”. I have a few throwy lights and a few floody lights, but this is the nicest combination of the two I have ever seen or used. A perfect beam. This is really what sets this light apart from all others, especially production lights. This beam is like nothing I have ever seen. Amazing.

Beam Quality: 2

Perfect diffusion from hotspot to spill, perfect concentric profile, no artifacts or rings or holes. Perfect.

UI: 2

Here is the entire manual on the Haiku’s UI:

Click once for on at last level, click again for next level, click again for final level. Cycle order: Low→Medium→High. Done.

No twisting heads or clicks and holds. Just three levels, perfectly spaced on the lumens scale, two clicks away. The last level memory is very nice. If you prefer to start out bright you can, if you prefer to save your night vision, no problem. The UI is so simple it is staggering that there is nothing else out there like it.

Hands Free: 2

The light’s antiroll feature comes from the clip and the deep well for the clickie allows for perfect tailstanding and a great deal of stability. The heat sinks do an excellent job of dissipating heat and mine has run for 40-45 minutes without getting too hot. Also, the quality and type of beam makes for excellent ceiling bounces.

Total Score: 20/20



This is a no-brainer. I honestly believe there is no finer EDC light in the world than the McGizmo Haiku. It does everything perfectly. There are more expensive lights out there, like the Cool Fall 007 or the Cool Fall 007 Tri-V, but there is nothing better than the Haiku. I look forward to comparing it to a Mac's Custom Tri EDC as soon as I can get one.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Flashlight Scoring System

When I first started thinking about how to evaluate a folding knife, I also began thinking about how to evaluate a flashlight. There are tons of reviews out there about runtimes and lumens. But I wanted something a little less engineer-y and more "how does this work". Those engineer-y reviews are very helpful, and I will always try to link to one, and they are a great place to start, but just like figuring out how many horsepower a given car has can't tell you what it is like to drive, this scoring system is an attempt to fill in the gap between technical specs and everyday use. Again, this is not an attempt to be objective, it is merely a quantification of my opinion. Instead it is a way to compare flashlights using one standardized method from one consistent perspective (mine). All of the scores are application-specific, again. Finally, as before, it works like this: 10 criteria, each with a possible score of 0-2. 0 means the light failed to work or perform as intended in a given criteria. 1 means it worked, and 2 means it worked well. The same exact feature could score a 0 in one application and 2 in another. For example, the McGizmo Sundrop, has no throw and tons of flood, but in its application--a portable high quality lighting source--the lack of throw is fine. In a high powered tactical light, like a shooting light, that same lack of throw is a fatal design flaw.

No evaluation of flashlights would be complete without linking to carrot's guide to high end flashlights. It is to flashlights what Joe T's posts are to blade steels...it is a great reference source. In fact, I am going to put it in the links on the right. All terminology is defined in carrot's guide.

With all that said, here is the scoring system:

Output

A combination of brightness (lumens) and tint (color temperature). Simply because it is the unit of measure most are familiar with, I am going to use lumens. For a good explanation of lumens, see here. For more information on color temperature as designated by the Color Rendering Index, see here.

This is not about simply hitting a high number, but having a context correct output. A keychain light doesn’t need, nor should it have, a 250 lumen output. That much light in that small of a package is unnecessary and causes severe overheating and limits runtime. Its nice, of course, to have a few minutes of blinding light and also have a long useful low, so those will be considerations.

I am also going to take into account the tint of the output. If a light has a specific use that requires a high CRI tint, that will be considered. Generally, a closer to sunlight tint is better, but I am not so fanatical about it as to sacrifice a great deal of runtime or brightness.

Runtime

Expressed in minutes or hours, this factor looks at how long you have useful light output. Usually measured to 50% power, most lights are now regulated. Regulated lights use special circuitry in the head of the light to make sure that an LED is functioning as close to the chosen output level as long as possible. Instead of a slow depletion of power resulting in an increasingly dimming output, regulated lights give you close to the selected output longer. There are two issues with this: 1) when the power is gone the light just goes dark; 2) there is really no warning that the light is about to go dark. Some lights, like my Muyshondt Aeon and my McGizmo Haiku have warnings to let you know this is going to happen, but very few lights do this. Again, the ideal runtime is use dependent.

Beam Type

Does the type of beam ("floody" or "throw") suit the application well? Throw usually requires a bigger head with more complex reflectors or advanced (aspheric) lenses or optics. The better a light is at throwing the worse it is at wide illumination, or flood. Many lights force you to choose between the two: flood or throw, though some lights, like the McGizmo Lunasol or the Surefire Aviators series don’t. There are two strategies for getting both throw and flood. The first is using multiple light sources, like the Lunasols or Aviator. Here is the multiple light source head from the legendary Lunasol light:



The second is using a focusing mechanism like the LensLights or, ugh, the Mag AA lights. Again, ideal beam type is application dependent.

Beam Quality

This factor examines how useful and uniform the light output is. There are two parts to any beam—the hotspot (the bright center) and the spill (the dimmer outer halo of light). A good beam will softly transition between the two allowing you both highly concentrated light for maximum throw or illumination and softer, broader swathes of light for regular tasks and more area lighting. The beam should be perfectly round and free of any dark spots or rings as both can distort the image you see. Novatac’s lights have exceptionally nice beams. See here (Novatac on the right, Liteflux on the left):



UI

How easy the flashlight is to use, how easy it is to switch from one mode to the next. Almost all high performance flashlights now have multiple outputs—a low, medium, high, strobe configuration being the most common. This also includes the mechanism of activation—a twisty, a clicky, piston drive, or some other means of turning the flashlight on and changing modes. I prefer a UI that: 1) minimizes the steps and actions necessary to change modes; and 2) is simple enough for a non-flashlight person to use. If the UI has you distinguishing between “presses” and “clicks” or requires you to do multiple things to switch modes (tailswitch activation AND twist the head), it is not as elegant as it could be. I like the Preon’s UI, but even better than that—the simple, perfect UI of the McGizmo Haiku. The Haiku uses one button and three clicks to get to everything you need—a good low, a good medium, and a nice high.

Hands Free Use (Tailstand & Antiroll)


Much of the time you use your flashlight in your hand, but in certain applications or when the power is out everywhere, you need your light to function on its own for a while. I find the ceiling bounce (aiming the light at the ceiling which is usually painted white, creating a diffuse illumination for the entire room) to be very helpful in all sorts of applications. In the shop I also like to be able to lay my light on a surface and have it stay put, illuminating something across the way. A light that has a “task attachment” in the rear is even more helpful.

Grip

How the light feels in your hand. A lot of single cell 123a lights are just too small to be held in the hand absent a pinch grip or cigar grip. I have found that I really like a single cell light to be about 3-4 inches. Smaller than that and you have to use a funky grip that is both unstable and uncomfortable. Again, ideal grip is application-dependent.

Carry

How the flashlight stows away. Usually this means that it is clipped to your pocket, but some lights, especially super small lights, live well in a coin pocket, around your neck, or even on a keychain. Some lights are too big to carry in a pocket, and for those this criteria examines how well they stow away in packs or the like.

Design

Same as the design criteria for a knife: how does this light look on paper? Does it have ample heat sinking, is the grip designed well, does it tailstand well, is the clip integrated into the grip? Is the bezel crenelated (this allows for you to know if the light is on when placed face down)?

Fit and Finish

Again, same as the design criteria for a knife: how does the light look and feel in reality. Are the materials high quality (plastic v. glass v. sapphire lens, for example)? Are the threads cut well? Do parts thread together easily? Are the parts smooth when operating? Is the texture on the grip adequate? Are there gaps when assembled?

I am going to use the scoring system to evaluate my current EDC light--the McGizmo Haiku soon. I am not spoiling the surprise by saying that it is one hell of a light.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Keychain, Part V: Knives

Okay, so I got off on a bit of a tangent or two. In truth, it was because I find it difficult to write about carrying a knife on your keychain. Frankly, I don't think you should carry a knife on your keychain, especially if you can carry a true multitool or a SAK. But, if you absolutely insist on carrying a keychain knife, there are a ton of options out there--literally, if chosen one piece for each model out there, its probably a ton. Of the Big Seven (Benchmade, Boker, Buck, CRKT, Kershaw, Spyderco, and SOG) Benchmade is on the only company without an entry into this market niche. Boker, as is always the case, has about a million different options.

There are two problems with evaluating keychain knives--first there are so many different kinds; and second, there is a ton of crap out there. You can find a keychain knife at pretty much any hardware store or gas station. There is also the issue that some people consider anything with a lanyard hole a keychain knife, even if it is a ZT350.

For purposes of this post, I am going to eliminate anything bigger than the Spyderco Ladybug. This means that the Aphid (a sweet little Benchmade design; see Benchmade, small knives ARE useful) and the Dragonfly are out. Think along the lines of the Boker Keycom (not the Subcom).

In a knife this small there are a couple of key points. First, blade steel doesn't really make a difference. You aren't going to be splitting logs with this thing so crappy steel, i.e. 420 HC, is okay. Good steel is better, obviously, but steel is not the most important criteria. Second, one hand opening, something I think is an essential part of a full-sized EDC knife, doesn't really matter. Knives this small, even with a one hand opening design, still don't open all that easily with one hand. This opens up a lot of room for more traditional designs with nail nicks. Third, pocket clips don't matter, here you need a good lanyard hole or a bail. Here is a good example of a knife with a bail instead of a lanyard hole:



Next, assisted openers, while possible, don't seem like a good idea with all of the handling and manipulation of a keychains that takes place. Finally, even though I would not consider an EDC knife without a lock, in the world of keychain knives, were tenths of an ounce count, I can forego a lock.

Instead of going through all of the choices out there, I am going to list a few that I think are standouts in the flooded field of keychain knives.



1. Spyderco Jester: If I had to chose a single knife to live on my keychain this would be it. I like the belly on this blade, a little more than what you get on a Ladybug, and I particularly like the jimping near the tip. Knives this small are hard to use, but the jimping at the tip gives you significantly more control when cutting. Think about the handle and blade size of a surgeon's scalpel--the closer you can get your fingers to the tip, the better. Unfortunately, this blade is out of production. Stainless steel handled versions will run you about $50 on ebay. FRN handles, which will hold up better on a keychain and add less weight to your carry, can be had for around $40.

2. Spyderco Ladybug, ZDP-189: This knife has no official product page and image, so no links other than this one at BladeHQ.com (I have no qualms about linking to them, they have great service and though their prices aren't the absolute bottom on the internet, they have selection that is unmatched; they were great when I was searching for a Bradley Alias II). This knife has a less useful blade shape than the Jester and lacks the tip jimping, but it has AWESOME steel and its full flat ground, which is nice. It is unfortunately, not yet on sale.



3. Benchmade Benchmite II: The rare small knife from Benchmade. It is also out of production, though with Benchmade, you never know--it could be tucked into an off shore, off brand line somewhere in the world. It is super slim and it locks in both the open and closed position, something that is nice on a keychain knife that is subject to more than the normal amount of jostling. It also has a sweet little blade shape.

4. AG Russell Ultimate Pen Knife: The ones with bails are no longer in production, but there are a ton of variations here. These are really elegant knives. I have handled two different versions in person and both were nice. Good utility blade shape, nice fit and finish, and completely, totally harmless looking. This is the knife your grandpa carries when he needs to dress up. From $30 to $80 depending on size and handle material. Good steel too for a keychain knife, VG-10.

5. Spyderco Bug Series: Everyone is familiar with these. The smallest is so small it is almost a novelty, but they do work and they are insanely cheap. If the AG Russell is what your grandpa carries when he is feeling classy, this is what you carry when you are trying to pinch a penny a little too much. From $8-$20.

Stay away from a production CRKT Shrimp, as they have received TERRIBLE reviews and feedback on EDCF. They have a lot of neat design ideas, but as is the case with many CRKT products, the fit and finish seem to be lacking. I also do not recommend the Boker Keycom. It is sharp and small, but as with many Bokers, it is flimsy feeling. It make be built like a tank but it just feels junky to me.

The final round of keychain stuff will be a general view of random stuff and a peek at suspension clips and devices.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Common Sense Prevails

I am a lawyer. In fact, I am a public defender. I am proud of what I do and I truly enjoy going to court every day. I think I get along with everyone well, we all know we have jobs to do. I also think that we have a very good court system, especially compared to other countries. Today, I was reminded why.

A defendant had been charged with resisting arrest and assault. He was found guilty. During the trial the police officer mentioned that the guy had a folding knife on him. He didn't make a big deal out of it, he just said it in passing. It was clear that the officer didn't think it was a big deal. The guy was convicted. But then, the prosecutor, during sentencing went on and on about the knife. The judge, who is the very epitome of New England wisdom, said the following in open court: "Look, if you would have charged him with the knife, that is one thing, but you didn't. He had a folding knife, so what? If I went to a boy scout camp, everyone would have a folding knife. Its not an issue."

The prosecutor was doing his job, he was pushing for an advantage, just as I would if I were him. But the judge saw through it. He saw that some people have a fear of knives, seeing them as a instruments of violence instead of tools of utility, and the thought he might have found a sympathetic ear. It could have worked. Some people would have bought the argument. So I perked up when I heard the claim, curious to see what would happen. And fortunately for those of us that like, carry, and use pocket knives, the judge saw it for what it was--just an argument.

More on knife etiquette later.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Two flashlight brands that get NO BUZZ

In my long, wandering trip through the land of flashlights, a la Kung Fu, I took a tour through some obscure, but worthwhile flashlight brands and designs. In particular, I really liked my LiteFlux LF3XT. Really nice size, very bright, well-made, but the hidden UI was daunting once it was engaged, which happened three times by accident (someone else was using the light) and all three times I thought they had broken the light. If you can handle the custom UI, then this light is a total steal.

But there are two other brands that I just cannot figure out why they do not get more acclaim. I am going say this up front, I have never used one of these lights. I am merely speculating based on the technical specifications. But the specs alone on these two brands of lights are very interesting.

First is the LensLight brand. They developed their lights based on work in the movie industry and they have three different designs. All of their lights feature advanced optics and are focusable. The smallest of the three designs, a single cell CR123a light comes in a pimped out Ti version, seen here:



It has a Delrin clip, is made, designed and developed in the US, uses a two-stage McClicky tail switch, has a high of 270 lumens and a low of 20 lumens (1.5 hrs/20 hrs runtime respectively). The interior of the light is Chem-koted. It can't tailstand, which is a shame, but has a fully potted head. The Ti version is more than a bit of change--$325 but for that price you have a virtually unique, high performance, CR123a light. The Aluminum version is $159, which is not too bad.

The big drawback on all of the LensLight models is their size compared to the competition. They are all a bit longer than normal, having to accommodate the focusing mechanism as well as the aspheric lenses. The LenLight Mini and Mini Ti appear to be about the same size as a Ra/HDS flashlight.

The other brand of lights that gets very little mention is Leupold. Like LensLight, they have an unusual background starting as an optics company (sights, scopes, and remote viewing devices like binoculars). I have handled a few Leupold lights at the Kittery Trading Post and I can tell you that they are very, very robust builds. The big thing with the Leupold designs is that they are fully modular--heads and tailcaps can be swapped around to create the light you want. Additionally, Leupold offers custom features that aren't found on any other lights, that I know of (though I am sure Surefire could do the same if asked by the right wealthy buyer), such as full dive light waterproofing.

The MX-321 seems to be a good representative of the line. Here is a picture:



It has some good specs--175 lumens for 2 hours on high and 10 lumens for 46 hours on low. It has a magnetic selector ring around the head of the light for output selection. It has a sapphire window (which is more scratch resistant than a normal glass or plastic window). It too is a pretty penny, $220 at Amazon. The only two bad parts, other than the price, is the fact that it can't tailstand and that no Leupold lights run on one CR123a battery. CORRECTION: Leupold DOES make a single cell CR123a light. It is not worth a darn though. 30 lumens...seriously.

When thinking about what flashlight to buy next, take a few minutes and research some less "mainstream" lights. There are a ton of interesting lights out there that few people talk about. Some, like the two I mentioned here, may be pricey, but others like the LiteFlux aren't too bad at all.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why I don't like the Flash I

I have a lot of respect for Nutnfancy's opinion on gear. He obviously puts in a lot of time and energy and thought into what he is doing. He has vastly more experience than I do. But his go to knife, the knife that was the subject of his first review, the SOG Flash I, is not a knife I like. Maybe when I have used knives for as long as he has and in the manner in which he has, I will change my tune, but right now, March 20, 2011, I just can't stand that little knife.

I bought one when it was on sale at the Kittery Trading Post (yes, that is how far I have to go to see even a basic selection of blades). It was $32 as a open box (it still had its box, it was just no longer sealed shut with a sticker). It seemed like a good deal. So, bang, I bought it purely on Nutnfancy's recommendation.

I got it home and used it for about two months over the summer. Its buddy, the Preon I, was a similar size, shape, and weight. They were, I thought, a very nice, inexpensive and lightweight light&saber EDC. After those two months, I was fed up and I sold the knife on a forum. Here is an artsy shot of my Flash I and Preon I:



The issue isn't the blade shape, that was great, a sorta mini Busse with a drop point and almost recurve on the belly. The steel is a bit lacking. For the same price you can get a VG-10 blade on a Spyderco, which is, in my opinion, a better steel. AUS8 isn't bad, its just not as good as you can get for the same money. The clip's design is fine, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. Even in my use, as a pure EDC knife, the clip buries the knife too deeply into the pocket and it bent a bit on me as I tugged to get it out. I bent it back, but still, this is something that never happened on my Benchmade, Kershaw, or Spyderco knives.

But the real heart of the problem is this: the handle is terrible. The finger swells hit my hand in all of the wrong places. The thumb stud is hard to access, though I never really missed it. And the lock is just a fiddly mess. It is hard to activate the lock and when you do it still feels loose and sloppy. The entire handle just didn't work for me. I don't have giant hands, medium sized gloves are what I wear, but this handle just didn't work for me. It was a two fingered grip at best.

All of these drawbacks might be forgiven if it was the cheapest or only knife of its kind on the market, but its not. There are bunch of small, lightweight EDC knives out there, some more expensive and some less expensive. Here are a few knives that I think just outright beat the Flash I in its given role:

Spyderco Dragonfly II: a bit wider in the pocket, but the same weight and price with a better steel and better handle design.

Kershaw OD-2: almost exactly the same knife as the Flash I, with Chinese steel in place of AUS8. Similar size and shape. Equally fast (and easier) deployment and MUCH cheaper ($15 to $40).

Buck Vantage Select: significantly worse steel and patchy fit and finish, but a better clip design and if you can find one with good quality, a vastly superior knife for significantly less money.

Kershaw Scallion: a very similar design, with an assist and compact size. The curvy, all metal Ken Onion design gives it a bit wider size and a bit more weight (a full ounce more), but this is just a better knife. Without serrations it also more people friendly. It is about the same size but a bit heavier.

CRKT Ken Onion Eros Small: even lighter than the Flash I with IKBS bearings. This is the smoothest opening knife I have ever used and it is less than an ounce (.8 ounces to be exact). It is all Ti in the handle though and twice to three times the price.

Al Mar Falcon
: Again a more upscale small and light EDC, also with AUS8 steel, but better fit and finish. No clip though, so bear that in mind.

There are just too many superior competitors in this market niche to have the Flash I be the standard by which other knives are judged. The newly released ZDP-189 Dragonfly 2 just slays the Flash I in every way, except for price.

The fact is that over time, this little blade has become an important knife. It has become the standard by which all other knives of this size and purpose are judged. However, technology and design improvements have left the Flash I on the wrong side of average, given the market competitors. It might be time for a redesign for the Nutnfancy favorite.

Friday, March 18, 2011

EDC Book: On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

Lots of folks carry a book or an e-reader with them every day. Some tote around the Bible. Some a tawdry romance novel. The only book I regularly carry around (because I try to read it once a year) is On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. My edition was found in a used bookstore in Somerville Massachusetts. It was published in 1947 and has that "worn book" look to it. A yearly reading of On Liberty is something of a tradition among British citizens and it is easy to see why.

In America the word liberal has become something of a swear word. Conservatives foist it upon their ideological enemies and even those people don't use it, preferring the term "progressive." But before this name calling became the rage, "liberal" had a specific meaning: one who believes in the liberty and freedom of the individual as the building block of society. In its original meaning the term contrasts not with conservative, but a communitarian, who believes that people are part of groups and these groups or communities are the fundamental building block of society. The difference is important--for the liberal, governments exist at the whim of the individual, their authority flowing from the rights given up by each person for the benefit of living in an ordered society. For their opposite--the government doles out rights and freedoms to the individual. It is not a strictly liberal v. conservative split. In fact, it doesn't really fit into the current political spectrum at all.

On Liberty then is a defense of the individual against, first, the government, and second, the majority. It is also a quick and clear summary of what even non-philosophy folks know of JSM: the harm principle. Basically it says that people are free to do what they want so long as they do not harm the interests of another.

The ideas are very good, but it is the writing style that makes On Liberty one of those books you have to read. My yellowed edition is 118 pages long. It is a short book, but Mill is mathematically precise in his arguments. It is also important to note that Mill strongly believes in the power of argument. For Mill, if an idea is worth holding, it is worth defending. It is a refreshing contrast to the wilted political discourse we have today where different sides refuse to sit down and argue it out, and instead prefer to hide in their respective niches, talking to their allies only, and never engaging anyone who disagrees with them.

If you want a quick but dense read, pick up a copy of On Liberty. Tote it around as you make your way through the day, sitting and waiting in line at the DMV or some other place. It is worth the time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buck Vantage Select Small Review

The Buck Vantage Select Small is a budget EDC knife from Buck Knives. Here is the product page. Here is a good street price. Here is Nutnfancy's review. The knife is widely available and can be purchased at Dicks Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Outlets, and tons of other places, even some Target stores.

The Vantage design comes in two sizes: small and large. It has three "grades" of finish: select, avid, and pro. The Select version has 420 HC steel and a molded FRN handle. Materials increase in quality as you go up the line. The Vantage bears striking design similarities to the Tom Mayo/Buck collaboration knives, especially the Waimea, with a clip point blade, an oval thumb hole opener, and similar sizes and proportions. Additionally, Buck is planning on releasing "Force" variants of the Vantage knives, with different handle designs and materials. There is also a green version of the Vantage, which uses a recycled material called paperstone. Finally, the Vantage design is very similar to the Buck Paradigm designs, which have upgraded materials and a different locking mechanism (which stinks, in my opinion). While all of these one-offs and variations make purchasing decisions more difficult, it helps Buck make new knives more cost efficient by amortizing the costs associated with a new design over many different makes and models.

Here is a good shot of the Vantage Select Small, with clip side shown too:



Here are two size comparison shots, one of the knife closed (along with a Delica 4 and a Dragonfly 1) and one of all three knives open:

Open:



Closed:



I bought mine in January of 2010. I carried it for about two months when I first got it and I have carried it off and on since then. I have resharpened it once, but it was a significant resharpening, made easier by my Sharpmaker. I purchased the knife, in part, because it was so cheap (I got mine on sale at Bass Pro Outlet for $22). I also bought it on Nutnfancy's recommendation and to get a better look at the clip design. The knife's size has really reshaped how I think about EDC knives. Its blade is just about the perfect length, its handle is nice too, and its super slim carry can't be ignored.

Steel: 0

The Select comes in 420 HC. It is treated by Buck's proprietary heat treatment method developed by Paul Bos. Frankly, steel that has this little carbon content could be treated by Hephaestus himself and it would not give this steel anything like a decent ability to hold an edge. It was decent at cutting open packages and blister packs, but anything fibrous was a challenge after only a few uses. On the plus side it sharpens very quickly and can get very sharp, it just doesn't stay that way long at all. For an EDC knife that is carried everyday, 420 HC just doesn't work. Opt for a pricier Vantage. You'll appreciate the steel upgrade.

Grind: 1

This is a high hollow grind, with the grind ending about 4/5 the way up the blade. I like hollow grinds, especially ones this high (it reminds me of the Sebenza's grind), but the grind here is sloppy, at least on my version and the others at the store. It doesn't effect cutting all that much, but I use my knives as awls or a marking blade and the grind's unevenness sometimes skews a mark.

Blade Shape: 2

Perhaps the perfect all around shape (again reminiscent of a Sebenza). I also like the size of the blade. It strikes the right balance between useful edge length and lack of menace.

Lock: 1

It uses a very stiff liner lock. The lock itself is stable, rock solid, in fact, but it is so far over on the tang that I am afraid it may bypass the blade entirely someday. That is a theoretical concern, but an actual problem is that the lock is SO strong that pushes the blade off center. Mine doesn't rub (though it is close), but many in the Vantage line do.

Design: 2

The shape of the blade, the dual opening mechanisms (which both work for me), and the clip are amazing. I really like the size of the knife, probably my favorite size knife. A Sebenza this size with just a flipper would be the perfect knife for me. Every single element of the design is a home run. And the blade:handle ratio is respectable .70.

Fit and Finish: 0

Just watch a few video reviews and you see--the fit and finish on this knife is poor. Mine has no fatal flaws, blade rubbing, blade stopping, missed locks, but everything is a bit out of whack. The blade is significantly off center. The grind, as I said above, is sloppy. The lock is not in the right place. And the upscale versions don't seem to have any better fit and finish, just nicer materials. If you can find one that has good everything, then you have landed a score, but Buck needs to work on this going forward. A great design is the hard part, grinding an edge should be the easy part for a knife company.

Retention Method: 2

Perfect deep carry clip. I am not a person that REQUIRES a deep carry clip. They make retrieving the knife a bit more difficult. But this clip is simply perfect. It is left/right positionable, but is tip up only. Also, has anyone noticed that it is the exact same design as the clip on the vastly more expensive (and overpriced) William Henry Kestrel? Take a peek at the Kestrel clip:



And the Buck clip:



Deployment Method: 2

The Vantage uses two methods: an oval thumb hole and a flipper. I think they could have gone with just one and I'd prefer a flipper, but both work. Neither is the best of their kind, but both work well. Some people with, um, more corpulent fingers may have a difficult time with the thumb hole, but my more slender fingers find it every time.

Grip: 2

The flip makes a great finger guard. In a heavier use knife, like the large version, some jimping would be necessary, but in a knife this small it is no issue.

Carry: 2

Given the size, lack of a hump, convex handle shape, and the clip, this is a wonderful carry. It melts into the pocket, hides well, and yet still can be retrieved easily. It can also fit in the coin pocket of your jeans but can make sitting a little pinchy. As a clipped on knife, this is a great pocket passenger.

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

This is a cheap knife. Its design echoes something much more expensive, combining features from Tom Mayo customs with a clip from a William Henry. Ultimately though the fit and finish aren't where they should be and the knife suffers. The 420 HC steel is less than ideal, but if the fit and finish issues were under control, I could overlook it. In the end you can get a bum knife, or luck out and get a pretty good, cheap EDC knife. This is an excellent choice for someone starting to carry a pocket knife. If you like it you can upgrade with less guilt.

One Year Update:

I have the Vantage Select in my car, bundled with a Leatherman Serac S3.  It has always worked and I really like the 420HC steel.  It has proven over more than a year of use that it is actually not that bad.  The fit and finish is still really awful.  The blade centering has gotten worse over time, but the overall design is so nice.  I am trying to get all of the design features of the Vantage in a nicer knife by sending a Small Vantage Pro off to TuffThumbz to get an upgrade on the scales and a touch up on fit and finish.  Given the fact that the 420HC steel has actually proven better than I thought, I'd give this an upgraded score.

One Year Score: 15 out of 20.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Keychain, Part IV: True Multitools

If you have the ability to carry an edge, multitools offer a ton of utility in a small package. Some people prefer carrying a small knife instead of a multitool, but that much specialization, especially on a keychain where space and weight are a strong premium, seems silly to me, the EDC version of a LOOGY in the bullpen. Granted none of the multitools out there have blades that match the ease and performance of, say, a Spyderco Ladybug. When comparing keychain multitools, I strongly prefer the presence of pliers in a multitool, so I have to give the edge to a Leatherman-type tool. That said, a SAK Manager or an alox Cadet could work well on a keychain. Of course other companies make keychain multitools. Here are a few:

Leatherman (many makes and models)
Gerber (many)
Victorinox (many)
Wenger (many)
Buck (the Mini Buck and the Metro)
CRKT (many)
SOG (Cross Grip and Cross Cut)

I have tried very few of the options out there, limiting myself to about three different Leatherman Micras, a pair of SAKs, and my beloved PS4. Generally I like the SAK for typical urban/suburban use cutting open blister packs, slicing an apple (the SAK steel is soft as butter, but virtually rust proof under normal use). I prefer the Leatherman when I know there will be some home improvement or repairs to do. In a funny, let's-see-if-this-will-work moment I replaced the entire ball chain switch assembly in a ceiling fan with nothing more than my PS4, even using it to cut and strip the wires. The PS4, in my mind, is the perfect micro multitool:



Instead of reviewing every multitool out there, I am going to look at what features you need to have and then move on the size/weight issues.

Tools

If you are looking for a device that will make your urban life easier then you can probably skip the pliers. I love pliers (their like opposable thumbs without the annoying fleshy coverings and nerve endings), but they are not strictly necessary for the urbanite. So pliers are either a must or an avoid and will likely determine which route you take--SAK or Leatherman-type tool.

No matter which route you go down it is silly not to avail yourself of the convenience of a folding blade. Even a tiny 1 1/2 inch blade will work in 90% of the cutting tasks you will encounter. If you fly a lot or go into other secure areas a blade is a no-no, but otherwise, why bother carrying a true multitool if you aren't going to get a blade in the process. I like the steel on SAKs for general everyday use. I like the exterior blade of Leatherman tools, as opposed to those that require you to open the tool's handles to access them. Serrations are never necessary, but if you can get a tool with two blades one fully serrated and one plain edge you'll be better off. Blades this short don't work well when they are partially serrated.

Next, I would look for a pair of drivers, again a Phillips and Flat head driver. It would be nice to see a hex bit, given its prevalence in the knife world, but it is hard to make those bits both flat and effective (unlike the "2D" Phillips bits that work pretty well). SAK drivers, especially those on the Tinker, are really great. The full sized Phillips driver is very nice, especially in the T handled configuration (allows for a bit more torque). The problem is a SAK the size of a Tinker is too big to put on a keychain feasibly. Instead look for something like the SAK Manager, seen here:



The last "required" tool, in my mind, is a good pair of scissors. The PS4 has a tiny, but functional pair. The SAK version of scissors is excellent, besting the PS4's, but also being significantly larger. Scissors are just too useful and the number of tools with both pliers and scissors is small. In fact, only the PS4 has both in a package sized for keychain carry.

Other nice features: one hand opening knife, a pen, a can opener, a rasp or file (again the PS4 has a decent file). The nail clipper, the reamer, the hook...all of these are stupid and should be skipped unless you have a specific application for them. Unnecessary size and weight. Of course if you don't have a bottle opener on your keychain in another tool, it is an absolute requirement.

Size/Weight

Keychain carry means different things to different people. Some folks carry a Leatherman Skeletool on their keychain. That seems a little silly to me. I can't imagine carrying that around all day, lugging it in and out of my pockets, and having all that weight hang on the ignition.

Practically speaking something larger than the SAK Manager is not feasible. Even something like the alox Cadet, which is slim as a pin, is still too long. I also think that the Leatherman Juice and the SOGs listed above at still too big. If it needs a sheath to work it is too big. If it weighs the same as your keychain all on its own it is too big. In my experience, the Micra is just about the perfect size.

This is a personal preference, obviously, but think about this--you will ALWAYS be carrying this around. If you are out of your house and not in your yard or something like that, at least part of the energy you are expending AT ALL TIMES will involve carrying your keychain around. What if you had to carry around a two pound weight in your pocket so that you could exercise 10 minutes a day while at work? No one does that, even exercise fanatics. That sounds ridiculous, but 10 minutes a day is lot more use than you will get out of your keychain multitool most of the time. Think about that 2 pound weight the next time you think you need a bigger device on your keychain.

Conclusion

If I was starting over, I'd still pick the Leatherman PS4. The combination of pliers and scissors is really nice. The fact that all of the tools are exterior mounted is awesome. It is the right size and price. If I was going to go the SAK route, I might be tempted by the Manager, which is a favorite of a lot of folks, but the recently released Signature Lite seems like a winning package for those that aren't fix-it oriented. A pen, blade, light, and scissors with the same dimensions as the Manager.

It all comes down to what you are going to do. I like to work on my house and build stuff out of wood. I use pliers a lot. For me the choice is clear. Pliers=Leatherman; no pliers=SAK. From there your jobs dictate the choice, but a blade, drivers and scissors are must haves. There are a lot of choices out there, but only a few good ones.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spyderco Leafstorm Review

The Spyderco Leafstorm is a production version of a custom knife designed by Kevin Wilkins. Here is the production model's product page. Here is the custom Leafstorm page. Here is a fair street price. Here is a shot of my Leafstorm:



The knife gained a bit of notoriety when brainsploded dyed his black, as seen here.

If Spyderco was smart, they'd release a Sprint run of this knife with a small set of dye packets so you could color yours any color you want. It would be a perfect compliment to the buzz surrounding this knife.

The knife was clamored for on the forums when the customs finally made it into people's hands. The blade size, massively overbuilt pivot pin, Ti framelock, and the pocket carry of the knife made many people drool for a production version. Then, last year Spyderco released the production model. A lot of criticism has focused on two aspects of the knife: the "bearded axe" blade with a lack of a choil, and the clip placement. Here is a shot of the clip side of the knife:



I got mine in August of 2010 and carried it almost exclusively until Christmas when the Sebenza arrived. The knife is a great little EDC blade, something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It has some flaws, which I will address below, but it also offers a lot in a relatively small and inexpensive package (inexpensive compared to other Ti framelocks). One thing that will strike you the minute you hold the knife is just how beefy the blade is. It is substantially thicker at the spine than my Zero Tolerance 350 which is a significantly larger knife. I really like the overall size of the knife and the blade. Its 2.5 inch blade (or around there) just hits a sweet spot for me. Finally, this is the smoothest and fastest opening knife I have every handled. It blows the Sebenza out of the water in terms of deployment speed, more on that later.

The design was released at the same time or around the same as two other similar knives (Ti framelocks that are overbuilt designs in a small package), both of which are more expensive: the Strider PT (Strider's main page has been down for a month, that cannot be a good business model; Mick its called the internet...) and the Benchmade Sibert 755. I have handled both though not extensively and I can say that the Strider is a better design, though the execution is wanting. The Sibert is just a hamburger of knife--the the George Costanza wallet of the bunch. Its overbuilt, but so much so that it is just not that pocket friendly. Oh well, another Benchmade knife that values looks over performance.

Steel: 2

I am not going to bore you with another ode to how much I love S30V. A great all around steel in a nice Scotch Brite finish.

Grind: 2

This is a scandi grind and a very thin one at that. It is very difficult to taper a blade to a thin edge from such a fat spine in a short distance. As a result this has one of the most pronounced hollow grinds I have ever seen on a knife. I thought that would make material bunch, but it hasn't. Like a lot of things with this knife, it seems like it could be a problem in theory, but it never has been in use. I haven't exactly beat on this knife, but it has not been a shelf queen either. I have used it to cut all sorts of twine and cardboard boxes (an infant generates a lot of cardboard, what with all the diapers). I used it in a home repair and cut...gasp...drywall with it. And it is still shaving sharp. I did touch it up on the Sharpmaker, but it wasn't arduous at all.

Blade Shape: 1

The ricasso with its pointed beard is not finger friendly. That said, once you adjust to it, it is not that bad. I feel like a little "Spyderfication" could have a gone a long way with this design, adding a choil where the beard is, but they chose a literal interpretation. It is workable, just not ideal (hence the 1).

Lock: 1

Ugh, is the lock side of this knife ugly. It is just a mess. But the lock itself works fine. It does wiggle a bit when engaged, but it has never come close to failing. I have found that if you give it a squeeze right after the lock engages, there is no wiggle at all. Still this is a $130-150 knife and lock wiggle is sort of a problem. It works fine, but gives me concern.

Design: 0

In terms of pure design, how it looks on paper, this knife is an epic fail. The lock side is a disaster. The ricasso is silly. It just stinks. But I like my knives in pocket and not on paper, so those design mistakes aren't fatal. Even the custom versions are still pretty muggly. The blade to handle ratio is a poor .67. I harp on this because absent some special consideration, like the martial blade craft applications of the Yojimbo, the closer to a 1:1 blade to handle, the better. Its like FREE blade length.

Fit and Finish: 1

Lock wiggle aside there is not much wrong with the fit and finish of this knife. The edges are chamfered. The Ti is nice and bead blasted. The grinds are clean. The lock up is solid, even if the lock itself wiggles, the blade doesn't.

Retention Method: 2

I like Spyderco's standard spoon clip. Works well, doesn't abrade the pockets. Very good. Its placement is a design issue, but the clip itself is fine. It is not moveable in anyway though, it is strictly tip up/right hand carry.

Deployment Method: 2

Oh my.... The detent biased to the closed position is perfect. The thumb hole is perfect. The speed is perfect. Even in a Spydie drop, this thing is awesome. I feel like James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven. Same speed, no switchblade needed.

Grip: 1

The grip is not great. Compared to another three finger knife, the Dragonfly, the Leafstorm leaves much to be desired. Here are my ham hocks holding the blade:



The swell at the end makes a hammer grip awkward and the ricasso prevents any choking up.

Carry: 2

Ah, another great part of the knife. For a blade this stout and capable, this knife carries very, very well. It is small, humpless (a rare feature in a Spyderco) and all of the edges are eased by a chamfer. Great carry knife and it fits in most jeans coin pockets. The humpless design makes it much less wide than most Spydercos.

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

This is not a cheap knife. It has a lot of drawbacks. This review seems overly negative because it has a number of flaws, but the flaws don't impact how the knife cuts or how it carries. It is a 14 on my scale, but that somehow doesn't capture how good this knife is as an EDC knife. A few fixes and this could be an all-time great blade. It is really different from other Spydercos and in that respect it is fun to own. A unique, quirky, but ultimately very good knife.

One Year Later:

I'd drop the score here to a 13, going down to a ZERO on grip.  I just poked my finger too much on the sharpened "beard".  The knife is a great facsimile of the Kevin Wilkins custom, but it isn't a great knife.  It has a lot of fans out there--its size, steel, and lock are very sought after, but I have a feeling when the simpler and equally well-sized Techno is released the small furor over this knife will pass away.  I'd much rather have a Dragonfly or, if pressed into a larger size, a Chaparral than this knife.  A sign that I didn't like it all that much--I sold it as part of the ever revolving selection of gear I have.  If your in the market for this knife, just wait a few months for the Ti Chaparral or the Techno.  

Spyderco 2011 Prototypes

So they may be months or years away from production, but still Spyderco's prototypes are some of the most interesting knives out there and Spydercollector did his normal fantastic job with the photography and presentation. More on them later, I just thought you'd like to see them yourself.

Here is the link.

I'll give my 2 cents worth on them once I have had time to find the specs and once I finish the tour through keychain carry.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Keychain, Part III: One Piece Multitools

Once you've decide on a key carry method and a flashlight, I think there is one more essential tool you need to add--a one piece multitool (OPMT)(I don't know anyone else but me calls them that, but I don't feel like writing "one piece multitool" over and over again). Yes, they can be ridiculously expensive and hard to find. Yes, you will use it as a beer bottle opener 94% of the time. Yes, they all kind of look the same. But, in a pinch these prytool-bottle opener-screwdriver-wrench-box punch-butter knife tools are really, really helpful. If you are opting for a SAK/Leatherman you can skip a OPMT, but having both can be helpful as no SAK/Leatherman can work as well as these tools can in prying tasks. Ideally, if space, weight, and places you go allow, you can have both. I can't carry a SAK/Leatherman so I have opted for a OPMT. And here is the tool that started the OPMT craze in earnest, the Atwood Prybaby:



Before I go through the benefits and drawbacks of various designs here are some the premiere makers:

Peter Atwood
Joshua Rice
Pocket Tool X
Jared Price
Brian Flud
Ewotah Edge and Tools (EDIT: forgot this one)
TT PockeTTool (new maker)

and finally, the evil villain of the bunch, the mega corp:

Gerber

There are a whole lot of other makers out there that have done one or two pieces, but these guys, they have made stuff for a long time and have many different designs. There are also a few random tools, older designs not purpose-built for the keychain, like:

The County Comm Widgy Bar
The Lee Valley Pocket Wrench

All of these have a few basic functions: prying, screw driving, and bottle opening. Some can open cans, others have exacto knives, and still others have wrench features. I have owned an Atwood Atwrench, a JDR Baby Pacu 2.5, a Gerber Artifact, and now a Gerber Shard. Instead of breaking down every design out there I am going to hit the high points: the necessary tool selection and price.

Tool Selection

94%-99% of the time the OPMT is going to be a bottle opener, in all likelihood a beer bottle opener. If the tool is missing this feature, move on--its not worth owning. After the bottle opener, a driver of some sort is probably the next best feature. Every once in a while you will need to tighten a screw on a draw pull or a door knob and these work well for simply tidying up tasks. The most commonly used screw is a Phillips head so your tool should have one of these. Unfortunately, absent a loose bit (which both Atwood and Pocket Tool X have), only one of the makers above can cut a Phillips head into their OPMT and that is the evil corporation Gerber. Joshua Rice told me that it had to do with the need for a water jet cutter, something that is out of the price range of most custom tool makers. As a result, the second best feature is hard to find. I think the loose bit designs could work, but it is another thing for you to lose. A Flat head bit is next most useful and all of the tools on the market allow for a pry end to double as a flat head driver. Nothing special. The tool will, on very rare instances, be used as a pry. Because all of these tools are small you can't generate the leverage you would be able to get in a larger pry. Many have bends in the tool to help generate more leverage and some have v-notches for nail pulling. The pry is only moderately useful because of the size of the tool. Some offer wrench abilities and they stink. They stink for two reasons: 1) small tool equals small torque; and 2) they can't be held at an angle or off the work surface like a regular wrench or ratcheting socket, so you can't get a lot of grip on them. Some tools have other features--a cutting edge (which presents a whole lot of problems for a tool designed to go in your pocket), a ruler, a can opener, and a few other weird options like an oxygen wrench. Of these odds and ends only the can opener seems useful and even then, only to a certain degree. The cutting edge adds so much bulk, requiring either a folding mechanism like the Artifact or a sheath like the Son of Pry Thing, seen here:



In the end, the bottle opener, the screw driving features, and the pry are the things to focus on. An aggressively angled or circular bottle opener works better than a 90 degree one, like those found on Atwood designs. I like the openers on JDR tools better and the Gerber hooks are passable.

Price and Collectibility

As purely tools, vritually all OPMTs are overpriced (Gerber being the obvious exceptions). From a collector's standpoint, these limited run, handmade pieces are like honey to bears, especially among EDC fans and gear geeks. But as tools, there is no reason why these tools need to be so expensive. Peter's designs are beautiful. His grind lines are immaculate. JDR tools are similarly nice. But folks these are just pieces of steel with cut outs around the edge. I cannot understand why a tool as simple as an Atwrench is the same price or more, new, as something as complex and useful as a Leatherman PS4. I know one is custom work, but again, it is just a slab of steel. Viewed purely as a tool, this makes no sense. The other problem with Atwood stuff is availability. Like Busse, Swamprat, and Scrapyard knives, they are not really available at the prices listed. In reality you have almost no chance of getting one of the 10-20 pieces offered off his site at the original price. The secondary market is the only reliable way to get an Atwood piece and there the prices are 10-20% more for common items and 100% more for rarer pieces like the one above. JDRs prices are better and his pieces are readily available. He also uses more exotic touches in his basic tools, offering glowing dots and mosaic dots along with more complex edge grinds. Atwood tends to reserve these for his more exotic or limited run items. Pocket Tool X's prices are more in line with what these tools can do. And Gerber's prices are very reasonable. Their stuff, especially the Artifact, is clunkier, but it is also about 10% of the price of other OPMTs.

Conclusion


In the end, I dropped the Atwrench, not because it wasn't a good tool--it was, but because it was heavy and expensive. I did not appreciate it for what Atwood's stuff really is--collector's pieces. It was like being a power tool guy and inheriting a Lie Nielsen smoothing plane--it was too valuable to use. So I traded it. I also had a JDR tool and got rid of it for similar reasons. Finally, while traveling in the back woods of New Hampshire I stopped at a locally owned gas station and right there next to the night crawlers and chicken salad sandwiches (which look like they were made from nightcrawlers) I found a $6 Gerber Shard. It had a Phillips head driver, which my other two tools did not and so I swapped it in. I have been very happy ever since and I sold the JDR for enough money to pay for half of a Spyderco Leafstorm.

You can go crazy with OPMTs these days. I recommend you try a Shard or a Pocketwrench or a Widgy Bar and see how much you use it and how much you like it. If you really enjoy it and would appreciate a more collectible piece go hog wild and plunk down half a grand on a Talonite Mini Son of Pry Thing on ebay. It will be beautiful and probably appreciate in value, but it won't do anything better than what a Shard does (except for cutting, obviously).