Tuesday, August 30, 2011

All clear

Boy Hurricane and then tropical storm Irene hit all around us, but fortunately we were okay.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stay Safe

Hurricane Irene is bearing down on me and my family now. It will hit us in a matter of hours. To all of those on the East Coast of the US--stay safe. Also, fellow gear geeks revel in the fact that your ridiculously overbuilt flashlights, knives and other equipment are now going to do their duty.

You NEED a McGizmo to weather a hurricane, right? Right?!?!

Dark Sucks MC-18B Review

This is my first review of an item that was submitted to me for review. After I linked to his site, Dark Sucks noticed an uptick in traffic and contacted me about reviewing his light. Excited to get this beast of a torch in my hand I said "Yes" and about a month later I had one in the mail. I had the light for about ten days and used it as my only light that entire time. I carried in jeans, shorts, and slacks. I used it in the workshop and outside at night. I recharged the battery and I stacked up against my Surefire G2X Pro.

The MC-18B enters a surprisingly competitive field, even if restricted to small batch production/custom lights. There is the Mac Custom Tri EDC that hits the same number of lumens. There is also the Moddoolar Pocket and the Lux RC FL33. That is four 500 lumen or more custom lights that are all roughly pocket sized. This doesn't even include the Mag mods and other oddities from CPF.

But Dark Sucks light is, um..., well it is readily available. He sold out of the first run of his lights already, getting them into the hands of people, while the Lux RC light is delayed, the Moddoolar is out of stock, and the Tri EDC is waiting for another wave to be set up. There are a lot of neat ideas out on the internet. What makes them more than just vapor is being able to produce these things on a regular schedule. It is what makes McGizmo a legend. His stuff is not only spectacular, but it ships out with surprising celerity and he hits his deadlines and targets for new products. This is all a-round-about way of saying that Dark Sucks is making lights in a way that inspires confidence.

One issue before we get to the numbers. This light runs on a rechargeable battery, an 18650 battery. Here is more on rechargeable battery nomenclature. The light can run on low and medium with two CR123a batteries (these two batteries together are about the same size as the 18650), but it cannot safely run on high with two primary cells. If you are a lithium hater or you don't like rechargeables, then this is not the light for you. Stop reading because the assumption with this review, as with all of my reviews, is that I first accept the item for its intended purpose and then review it from there. I hate AA battery flashlights, but I still like the one model I reviewed because I reviewed it in the context of what it is--a single cell AA flashlight. If you don't like rechargeables, then this is not your light. It can work on non-rechargeables, but that is like having a Ferrari with only two gears. That said, if you want to have a light can do some pretty amazing things and you are willing to deal with the charger and cables associated with a rechargeable light, then keep reading.

Here is the product page for the MC-18B. Here are the specs. The light comes with a battery charger, a battery tube, and the battery for $229.95. You can order a titanium pocket clip, some extra charger stuff, a very nice maintenance kit (which is something I recommend having on hand, see here), and a pimpolicious presentation bag, in case you are gifting this lightsaber.

Here is the model I reviewed, Dark Sucks's own personal EDC:

IMG_0030

It arrived via the Post Office with every single accessory. I have to admit that the presentation bag, while completely functionless, is really a nice touch. It came charged and ready to go. I used the light over a period of 10 days and never had to recharge it. I finally recharged it for the output photos below, but that was just to be sure it was completely topped off. During those 10 days we had a power outage that lasted about 6 hours. It was good testing as I had to do a lot of house maintenance tasks. After the 10 day period I returned the light to Dark Sucks.

Design: 2

The design is quite nice. The head is a hefty piece of metal. The bead blasted grip is very nice. The clicky is great, it is a McGizmo clicky, if I am not mistaken and it has a GITD button cover. The clip is nice as well, and this personal model has an extra cool touch--the Ti clip is flame colored a bluish, purple. All of the edges of the light are rounded or chamfered to prevent big dings. The sign that every detail was accounted for? The pocket clip touches the body of the light on one of the bead blasted rings meaning there is no need to worry about scratching the finish. Excellent forethought and a design touch that is impressive.

Fit and Finish: 2

The threads were well cut and the parts sink together nicely. The clicky is responsive. The reflector is a facet style as opposed to an orange peel style reflector. See here:

IMG_0016

I am sure some optics person could explain the advantages and disadvantages of one over the other, but both work fine for everyday use. The entire body of the light is electroplated and polished to a deep, high polish. The non-bead blasted parts are smooth to the touch and significantly more lustrous than the Ti finish on my Haiku. The fit and finish are very close to McGizmo level. This is a beautifully crafted torch.

Grip: 2

The bead blasted portions are a nice texture and coupled with raised sections, make the light quite grippy. Plus, unlike single cell AA or 123A lights, this is a big light. Here is a comparison between the MC-18B and the Surefire G2XPro:

IMG_0015

An AA battery is tossed in there as well. There is nothing fiddly about the size of the light and I think it is safe to say that you won't lose this in a bag or a pocket.

Carry: 1

Along with the lights formidable size comes some issues with carry. The light would live fine in a backpack or a gear wallet. It does okay in jeans. In shorts or slacks, the light is too big. Plus, all that metal in the head means this light is hefty. Finally, the clip is not the best in the world. It is pretty, but a little too loose:

IMG_0017

It works fine, but the version I had was a little wobbly. Perhaps that is because it is Dark Sucks's personal EDC and has been used a lot. I am not sure. If all the clips are like that, I'd give the light a 0 in carry. If the one I used was a well worn one, I understand. It is a washer style clip and can be removed completely without tools in seconds. Kudos for that. Going from a Muyshondt Aeon to this beast was a shock for my pockets.

Output: 2

This thing puts out a ton of light. The specs show 500 lumens and that seems right based on my comparison to the G2XPro's 200 lumens. Here are some shots of my workshop bulkhead door:

Control (overhead lights on):

IMG_0001

Baseline (lights off):

IMG_0007

G2XPro Low:

IMG_0008

G2XPro High:

IMG_0009

MC-18B Low:

IMG_0002

MC-18B Medium:

IMG_0004

MC-18B High:

IMG_0006

The photos were taken with identical camera settings from about 15 feet away. The output is both greater and much broader. The photos on Dark Suck's site are realistic. This thing creates a wall of light. As you can see the low is a good low and the high is a bright high. The output levels are well spaced and useful.

Runtime: 2

Thanks to the 18650 battery the runtime is quite nice, 90 minutes on high, 1800 minutes on low. Mind you it is not 90 consecutive minutes on high...at that point the head of the light will be hot enough to melt steel, but you understand. Most of these mega lumen lights have serious heat dissipation problems on high. There is really nothing you can do about it other than turning the light off for a minute or two.

Beam Type: 2

Beam type is clearly a flood, but with 500 lumens out the front, the light can throw well too. It works well for tasks in the dark and still gives you the punch to light up stuff a block away with ease.

Beam Quality: 2

Oh my god. The color is beautiful, the light is broad and useful. Of all the nice touches with this light, it is the beam quality, like with the McGizmo Haiku, that sets it apart from the crowd.

UI: 2

UI is the same as the Haiku, three speed with Lo-Med-Hi order and last mode memory. Perfect.

Hands Free: 2

The light tail stands supremely well thanks the heft of the metal body and a nicely designed rear clicky. Here it is:

IMG_0018

The clip also acts as an anti roll device and does this job well.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

This is a staggeringly capable light. It is beautiful. It is easy to use. And for a first offering from a new maker, it is a testament to his skill and design chops, as well as how far the flashlight world has come in the past ten years. This is a great light and for just over $200 it is a very good deal. It rivals the Mac Tri EDC, which I selected as one of the ten best buys in gear. It seems to me that given their identical price tag and similar output that size preference is only thing to distinguish these two lights. And that is the thing with the MC-18B--size preference will determine whether or not this is the light for you. If you want a tiny light, skip it, but if you want a medium sized light, this probably the best value out there in custom lights, again with the Tri EDC as its only real competitor. The MC-18B could very easily be someone's only light, as it is big enough to be a capable thrower, small enough to pocket, and has a low low enough for close up use. Watch out McGizmo, Mac, and Steve Ku, there is another maker out there, an up and comer.

Consider the bar raised.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Teaser Trailer

If it was possible to have a teaser trailer for a flashlight, my hope is this would be it. Imagine this block of print read by someone with a deep gravel-y voice (the "In a world..." beginning is required for all trailer voice overs, right?):

In a world where crappy light clog the Internet, comes a new custom light that changes the value proposition in flashlights. Get ready for something special.

How about a review of a custom flashlight? How about a review of a custom flashlight that, to my knowledge, has not been reviewed anywhere else on the web? How about a review of custom flashlight that is both affordable (like around $200 affordable) and available? And finally, more teasing, how about a review of a custom flashlight that is an awesome performer?

Excited yet? I was when I was contacted by the light's maker and asked to do a review.

The text, testing, photography, and score are all set, I am just editing it now and get the tech specs right. It should be finished some time this weekend. And let me tell you, this is one hell of a light.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Alternate Universe

Those of us that like tools and gear are pretty focused people. If it falls outside the norm, if it is a knife made by some upstart we might miss it. Out of principle many of us avoid Chinese made products. I am not one of them, but I can see why people do it. Then there is the vast and unregulatable world of knock offs and counterfeit stuff. This is just verboten.

But not for everyone. Some adventurous souls and frugal folks have jumped head first into the ocean of super budget products. There is a forum for budget flashlight fans, called BudgetLightForum.com. And these folks are pretty serious when it comes to cheap stuff. Check out this review of the SRM 704, a knife Bernard aka Brainsploded aka everyday-carry.com is currently using.

My favorite part of the review is the complaint over the liner lock. The reviewer really wants an Axis lock, which seems odd given the price range of the knives he is talking about. A quick search of the forum turns up an Axis lock knife for under $10. When less scrupulous folks are making the products you get patented stuff without the patent holder's permission at a greatly reduced price. Check out this blade. G10 handles, Axis lock, and 440C...whoops no make that 8CR13MoV...or what...whatever, some kind of steel for a blade. It even as the Benchmade "split arrow" clip. Still, for under $10, you get a lot of features. It is amazing what you can find.

One of the issues that turns up is that a lot of knife companies in the US contract with these Chinese companies. The CRKT Drifter, many a budget EDCer's friend, is, in fact, made by one of the dozens of faceless, nameless companies out there. And it had gotten pretty darn good reviews. It is not so simple anymore, if it ever was, to determine just who made your knife--was it Benchmade or an OEM from China or Taiwan?

I am not even sure this is a per se bad thing. Yes, I dislike the cloning and outright larceny of intellectual property (however much the Spyderco fanboy in me loves seeing Benchmade's IP get stolen, I know it is bad for business). But some of SRM's designs are really nice (how finger choil-y of them, right?). Maybe once they step out of the shadow of being an OEM and into the light of being their own company we will have yet another good company to get knives from.

Still, if you can brave the waters and tolerate the illegal and deceptive business practices, there is a whole world of junk out there that you can EDC for under $20. And sometimes, every once in a while, it turns out that the junk is actually pretty decent.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Framelocks

I am a fan of framelocks. They make the knife simpler and can make them lighter. I am, however, not convinced they are the strongest lock in the world or even better than a well executed liner lock. I am not crazy enough to test this proposition out on my own knives, but Neptune Knives did.

Here are his three videos on framelocks and their flaws:

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

Best overall lock

One of the beauties of the Internet is that there are a lot of smart people out there and some of them are crazy enough to do spine wacks on their CRK blades. I am not sure if this PROVES they are unsafe, but merely suggests what the outer limits of their performance are. I still trust my Sebenza, but I am not going to use it to baton wood.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II Review

The first pack review HAD to be a Maxpedition bag. There are better bags out there, more flexible stuff, but Maxpedition has done a very good job of producing well-made, well-designed products for a while now, establishing themselves as something like the Surefire of the pack world.

Their ownership/leadership is a little more aggressive and juvenile than most other companies, well Cold Steel excluded. They are the destructive teenage boy of the gear world, as this thread proves. They also did asinine things like purchasing the domain name edcforums.net just in case you mis-type the domain name of THE EDC forum on the net.

All that bullshit aside, they make great gear and their antics don't effect the performance, design, price or availability of their stuff, so I am going to merely note it and move on. It is a shame I have to even note such stupid behavior, especially when their stuff is so nice, but it is only fair: if you act stupid, you get a reputation for acting stupid.

The first pack I am going to review is the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II. It is a day pack or, if you are not a minimalist and carry a bunch of gear, your EDC pack. I guess it would fit a small or medium sized laptop in a sleeve, but that doesn't seem to be its purpose. It is too small to be an overnight bag, really. It is also too small to be a well-stocked Bail Out Bag. But as a bag to stash your gear in for a day or two hike, as a bag for your carry-on during a trip, or a bag to bring your big EDC, it is the right size. I could also see it being used as a backpack for school or college.

Here is the product page. Here is a good street price. Here is a video review. Here is a written review of the Pygmy Falcon I. Here are the Amazon reviews, with an average of 4.375 stars from 8 reviews. Here is an really excellent set up in a Pygmy Falcon II.

Here is my PFII:

IMG_0001

Design: 2

The PFII does a lot well and most of that comes from its on-paper design. It is just the right size for its intended use. It is not too big that it feels unbalanced on your back, even when loaded, and it is not too small that you feel hamstrung packing it. Each of the pockets and carrying devices is well positioned and sized. The straps are nice as is the back padding. Even when stuffed full, like it was on my recent trip to Acadia, I never felt unbalanced or loaded down. Everything, down to the key clip, exudes quality and thoughtfulness.

Fit and finish: 2

The stitching is well done and tough. It is beefy where it needs to be, like on the top handle. There the handle is held in place with a nice, sturdy stitch and the seams are almost always reinforced with a bar tack stitch. The mesh seems to be a bit hardier than normal mesh as I have yet to rip mine during use. I also think the strap and back padding stuffed into the right places correctly.

Carry: 2

The joy of the right sized pack. The goldilocks size of the PFII makes it a joy to carry. I never felt weighted down and the weight I was carrying felt evenly distributed. I really like carrying this pack, even when fully loaded (i.e. something in all of the pockets, the shock cord, and the compression strap).

Materials: 2

The nylon is stiff, but that is okay, any softer and I would worried that it would lose its shape over time. The padding in the straps and the back pad are nice as well. All of the snaps are made of sturdy plastic as are the buckles. Also there is a nice rubberized coating on the bottom of the pack to prevent it from getting wet when it is put down.

Accessibility: 1

One of the drawbacks of easy packing is that when you really stuff this sucker making the bottom hard to reach. If you pack thoughtfully you can avoid this problem by using the bottom for things you don't need often, but still, this can be an issue.

Ease of Packing: 2

Great pack to load up. Plenty of pockets and lots of places to stow things. A three side opening zipper is really nice. The back of the pack flops open and you can cram in a TON of stuff.

IMG_0002

You will he shocked when you see how much this little guy can carry, especially if you use all the pockets, the water bottle pockets, the shock cord, the MOLLE, and the compression straps.

Pockets/Organization: 1

The PFII did not have as many pockets as expected, but the number is okay. The real issue is twofold: the lack of specialized pockets and the fact that many of the pockets are too small or tight to use for things larger than a pen or batteries. I think a specialized, reinforced and fleece lined pocket for a smartphone is a must on all current bags, though I have never seen one done well. Here the "cellphone" pocket is another in a series of small pockets in the middle pouch. These pockets are so small that even CR123a batteries have a hard time fitting into them. They work, but it requires a good deal of planning. One thing about the pockets I really liked was the pocket in the inside of the main pouch for "quick access" stuff. I also really, really like the water bottle pockets with their mesh and drawstring. See here:

IMG_0006

I have never lost a thing out of those pouches even when I am not using them to carry a water bottle.

Snaps/buckles/zippers: 2

All of the snaps are classic Fastex clips, as are the buckles. The zippers are large tooth YKK zippers that start easy and zip smoothly even when the pack is full. I have had no problems whatsoever with the pack in the three years I have owned it, even under hard use conditions.

Straps and belts: 2

The straps are all nice. They are moveable and adjustable. Also, the shoulder straps are nicely padded.

Modularity/expansion: 1

MOLLE on the outside of the bag is about all you get. There is a good deal, but that is it.

IMG_0005

Compared to the insane customizability of a Kifaru, this is a pale imitation. That said, I am not sure how much I would use this stuff. It sort of like adjustable shelves on a bookshelf--once they are set correctly how often do you actually move them on purpose? Never.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

This is a great little bag. It is not too big, not too pricey, and never feels like it is going to fail. I have used it to travel with, hike up mountains with, and carry my infant son's clothes and diapers. It did everything well. I don't think a person could live out of this packs and there are more flexible packs out there, but this is a really nice piece of gear. It is a tad overkill for a bookbag, but it would work there too. I think for a bookbag, though, I'd prefer a Tom Bihn Synpase. If you really want a hydration system, and can't tolerate bottles, you'll need to look into a Camelbak, but for my purposes, general all around toting and a single day hiking pack, the Pygmy Falcon II is really great.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My current EDC set up

IMG_0034

Other than my iPhone, which was on the charger at the time, here is my current EDC set up. I am a lawyer and I go to court a lot, so the knife often sits in my car, along with my lunch bag and the bottle. Other than that, everything is always with me. During a jury trial, I have my bottle with me too; it is a good luck charm.

It includes:

1. iPhone 4

I have tried others, but the vast and ever-increasing number of Apps makes this a no brainer phone for me. I especially like FastCase, a free legal search engine that can get cases and laws from all fifty states and federal jurisdictions.

2. Incipio Feather case

It strikes me as odd that people would go buy these thin sleek phones and then cover them in bulky cases that look like rubberized Depends. Plenty of protection and not a lot of bulk. Plus they come with nice screen protector film. Oh, and they are cheaper than most cases. This is my fifth case, so I have tried a ton. I like this one the best by far.

3. Big Skinny Thin World Bifold Wallet

Love this wallet. See.

4. Citizen Eco Drive E760 (out of production)

My wife gave me this watch for Christmas one year. It is a fancy-enough-for-me watch that involves very, very little maintenance and still looks classy enough for an adult who is not a Navy Frogman to wear. Nothing against the G-Shock watches, they just look a little too Power Ranger-y for me.

5. Tumi Alpha Briefcase

This thing is indestructible. I strongly recommend anyone look at Tumi's stuff before they buy a softside briefcase. They are amazing. Pricey, $375, but worth it. I have had this bag for 8 years. At just over 12 cents a day, it is totally a steal.

6. LL Bean branded 16 ounce insulated Kleen Kanteen (out of production)

After a long search and thorough analysis from Buzzbait, see the link in the navigation and link bar to the right, I settled on this model. The branding is obnoxious, but the coating used to color the bottle hides dents, the bane of all metal water bottles. Perfect size.

7. Blue Human Gear CapCap

Without question, the best cap on the market. Buy it and forget about everything else. I tried literally a dozen variations before I settled on this.

8. 18 month Weekly Notebook black soft cover pocket from Moleskine

Not my favorite, but there are very few 18 month pocket sized calendars out there like the Moleskine. I would prefer the Stifflexible, but they are no where to be found, especially in the 18 month variation. As a lawyer I have to tickle files more than a year out so 18 months is a necessity.

9. Modified Zebra F-701 with Parker style Blue Medium Fisher refill

I love this pen. See.

10. 8GB Sandisk Cruzer

I like the capless design, but that is about it. This thing feels so flimsy.

11. Muyshondt Aeon Neutral Aluminum

Love this light. No-brainer 20/20.

12. Spyderco Dragonfly II in ZDP-189

See comments above for Aeon. Love this blade.

13. Reuseable, insulated lunch bag (out of production) for the Container Store.

I wanted something super simple and this is it. A little too simple though. A handle would be nice.

Of the things I use I'd like to replace/upgrade:

1. The USB drive. It is really flimsy and, surprisingly enough with a new kid around, too small to tote all my pictures and videos.

2. The lunch bag. It is starting to get a bit old and I'd love a handle. Nothing complicated though, still super simple.

3. The Tumi. It is a bombproof bag and a great design, but with the advent of iPhone searches for law and cases, I don't need a bag this big anymore. Still haven't found that PERFECT bag yet.

Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pack Scoring System

After reviewing flashlights and folding knives, I thought about expanding the twenty point scale to other items, in particular multitools and packs. Multitools remain a problem as I can't seem to get a scale that covers all multitools, from SAKS to one piece multitools like an Atwood. That is still in the works. But the pack scale is all set. Here are the other two scales:

Folding Knives
Flashlights

The same 0-2 scoring applies with 0=failure, 1=adequate, and 2=excellent.

Here it is:

Design

This is the same as the scale for both lights and knives. The attribute I am examining here is how well the item looks on paper, that is, in theory. Some bags and packs look great on paper and stink in reality for reasons aside from design. Others, like the massive canvas tote my wife loves for some reason, have an awful design, it is essentially a canvas garbage bag with two straps for handles. The pack has to accomplish its intended purpose. If it is a everyday carry pack or a single day trip, the pack should be small and easy to carry. If it is BOB (Bug Out Bag, or emergency bag) it should be big enough to fit all of your essentials. I am not sure what the purpose of the jumbo tote is, so maybe I am missing the appeal of a canvas garbage bag with handles. Also, I have a strong preference for organization, disliking the lack of pockets, zippers, and specialized compartments.

Fit and finish

When it comes to bags and packs, stitching makes a huge difference. Some of the more durable packs and bags I have used, like my Tumi Alpha Briefcase, have immaculate stitching. Other points of interest--padding, lining, and gussets. How the leather or fabric is finished makes a big difference too. I prefer water resistant stuff, but in the right role, I can see a great bag or pack not having any. I just can't think of what I would do with such a bag.

Carry

How the bag or pack feels when it is on and loaded with stuff. To me, this is where most bags, even expensive ones, fail. This is so hard to get right--a combination of flexibility and support, lightness and solidity. You don't want a bag to kill your back or shoulder, nor do you want it to induce fits of sweating.

Materials

Both the kinds and grades of materials being used. For water resistant stuff I like nylon, but some of the heavier grade (higher denier) stuff is too stiff and uncomfortable to wear/use. Use will dictate the appropriate material and stuff that works in the wilderness may not work in the office, obviously.

Accessibility

How easy it is to get stuff out of the bag once packed, preferably while it is on. This too is a tricky balance because you don't want stuff to fall out, but at the same time you want it to be easy to reach.

Ease of Packing

Some bags, like my aforementioned Tumi, look great, but are hard to pack. In the case of the Tumi, it is because of the built-in accordian file in the bag, which I find super annoying. I have gotten used to it, but still, I hate it. Ideally, you'd be able to open the bag, lay stuff in, and zip or close it up. Many bags have small, one-sided openings, like a messenger bag, that make this difficult. Again, in the right role, though I can see the one-side opening being helpful, but not generally.

Pockets/Organization

For a lot of folks, this is the most important part of a pack/bag. I think it is a big deal too, but if the bag is too uncomfortable to wear, then I don't carry how organized it is, it won't get used. Still, there should be enough pockets and they should be laid out appropriately for the the bag's intended purpose. An overabundance of organization, such as with the accordian file in the Tumi briefcase, is just as bad as not enough. It is a balance. There are certain pockets or organization that seem essential to give bags. A business bag or briefcase MUST have a place for pens/pencils and a cellphone. At minimium, I think there should be some sort of hydration plan for a hiking/day pack.

Snaps/buckles/zippers

When your bag breaks, this is where it almost always happens. I am looking for high quality snaps, smooth zippers that start easy, and buckles that work easily and without a lot of focused attention. I love the basic Fastex buckle. It is one of the cleverest, easiest to use designs ever, a true design innovation. But even there the quality of the plastic impacts performance.

Straps and belts

If its not the snaps/buckles/zippers that fail, it is the straps or belts. My Tumi bag has been through three straps, one old style Tumi, one aftermarket brand, and the new ingenious Tumi strap. They should be very durable, easy to get on and off, easy to reposition, and never cut off circulation or wear into your skin.

Modularity/expansion

Among Pack Rats many prefer Kifaru bags as they are super simple with TONS of modularity. I prefer a little more structure in my bags, but I can certainly see the appeal. One cheap way to gain some modularity/expansion is to add MOLLE strips to the bag. Another is through the use of retention clips and carabiners. Still another way is through "shock cords" like those found on the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II. You never know what you will use your bag for, so the ability to change on the fly is really nice.

The overall score, again, is a X out of 20.

I wanted to make a scale that encompassed every kind of pack or bag, so I specifically left on an attribute related to hydration, because, well a water bladder looks weird on a briefcase, but I can see how, on a hiking pack, they are really handy. The hope is that this scale can cover every kind of pack or bag out there--i.e. anything you use to carry things that you carry on your person--from the messenger bag to the fancy business briefcase to the articulated frame backpack. First up: Pygmy Falcon II.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

When enough is enough

I got back a from a vacation on Mount Desert Island in Maine, having been hiking for a week. It was my second time there and I enjoyed it heartily. It was a bit more difficult hiking with a 23 pound 14 month old on my back, but my wife and I managed it well. It also gave me a chance to test out some stuff, including a Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II (review forthcoming). I also remembered that one of the stores in downtown Bar Harbor, the very epitome of a tourist trap, had a really decent selection of folding knives. Given that I live in a knife store desert, as I mentioned before, I thought I would take a peek at their wares and purchase a blade or two to support the brick and mortar store.

The store is called Jekyll and Hydes and it is a touristy place with all sorts of weird Maine-ish things, but one half of the store is a well stocked cutlery store. They had a dozen or so William Henry knives on display, almost the full line of Benchmade knives, a bunch of Spydercos, Kershaws, and Cold Steel knives. They had a few CRKT knives and one SOG knife (the Trident). All in all, it was a very good selection compared to the local cutlery store Stoddards, which is terrible. I had some cash in my pocket and intended to do my part to support the local cutler (the guy behind the counter was quite knowledgeable, if something of a Benchmade fanboy). Another guy and I were browsing and I was hanging back to see if I could judge the acumen of both the shopper and the shopkeep. I asked to see the Caly3 in CF, a purchase I should have made a long time ago. I was about to pull out the credit card when the price tag slipped out from behind the wire clip. I hadn't really cared if the blade was more expensive than it was on Amazon ($117 as of 8/13/11), so I hadn't checked, but good thing I paused because the tag read: $224. MSRP is $219.95 as of 8/13/11. It was OVER MSRP on a very expensive knife. It was not alone. Every knife of every brand was like that.

I don't expect brick and mortar stores to sell stuff for the same price. They have to pay staff, rent, utilities, etc. I will pay for the privilege of seeing and handling stuff in person. I will pay a good bit more, but I am not willing to pay more than MSRP. Seriously, that was almost unethical business practices. Things are priced what people are willing to pay, but that is just insane.

I'd love if there were a local knife store with knowledgeable folks. I'd pay $125-$130 for the Caly3, heck even $150 if the service and store were nice. But I am not going to pay more than 100% more than I can get it for on Amazon. And I am certainly not going to pay more than MSRP. Perhaps this is why cutlery stores (like the mall chain store versions) are going under--they are intent on pillaging customer's pockets instead of making a customer for life. Bad business practices = no business at all, especially in this tight economy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The love affair continues

How awesome is ZDP-189? Super awesome.

Isn't that an informative description?

I posted a while ago about how good it was and I mentioned it again in my review of the DFII ZDP-189, but let me explain why I came to this conclusion.

Cardboard is one of the most difficult things for knives to cut AND remain sharp. Knives, of course, can separate cardboard all day long, but the microstructures in the cardboard make staying sharp after cutting VERY difficult. Cardboard is a made of paper pulp and on a microscopic level it is a lot of paper with plant fibers and other hard material mixed in. This hard material, compounded in layers, just kills an edge. This is why cardboard cutting makes a very good test of a knife's cutting abilities.

In my case I cut up a massive grill box. We got a new grill and my son, a 13 month old bundle of energy, loved it, so I cut some doors into the box and a few windows. I did this with my DFII. The cardboard was massively thick, probably more than a half inch. Here is a picture of the cardboard and the DFII:

IMG_0002

The bottom line is that this stuff was brutal on knife steel and yet I could still shave with the DFII after the renovations. I could even push paper. And eventually, when it did dull, I was able to get a SUPER keen edge on the knife. The increased hardness allowed me to make the cutting edge even steeper than the normal 30-40 degree edge. This finer angle makes the knife even sharper. It is this change that makes ZDP-189 an amazing material. You get the edge retention of a softer steel profiled into a shallower angle but still have lightsaber like cutting performance.

This is it, folks. ZDP-189 is clearly the best steel I have ever used, appreciably better than the standard bearer S30V. Now I have to compare it to some of the next gen steels, like S35VN and the Elmax/Vanamax steels.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kershaw Skyline Review

The Kershaw Skyline is, like the Tenacious, one of those knives that has been reviewed and reviewed and even re-reviewed all over the internet, on knife forums, and elsewhere. So, like the Tenacious review, this is really about having a more comprehensive list of reviews than breaking news. Also, I happened to want a Skyline since I saw one at Wal-Mart on sale for a paltry $25. Here is my Skyline:

IMG_0058

The idea for the Skyline, according to Tommie Lucas, its designer was to make an EDC knife that uses a flipper but does not have an assisted opening. He hit it right on the mark.

ASIDE

I think every knife should come with its designer's name on the packaging. First, they deserve the credit (or the blame). Also, eventually you learn that there are certain people you like (Sal Glesser) and folks you don't (Brian Tighe) and this helps you evaluate new products for purchase. Its like putting the director's name on a movie.

END ASIDE

Here is the product page. Here is a good street price. Here are the Amazon reviews. The average score is 4.73 out of 5 with 73 reviews. There is also a special addition "Damascus" blade Skyline and a ACU digital camo G-10 version. The ACU camo version is much rarer than the Damascus version. There is no serrated version, thankfully. Above were three good video reviews.

Design: 2

Sit and look at the Skyline for a minute. Stare at it. Do you see it? Do you see what makes this a really competitive knife in an already overcrowded market segment? Its greatest design triumph, the thing that separates it from lesser knives, is subtle. It only has one liner. By doing that Tommie Lucas lightened the knife significantly and made it from yet another mid-sized clunker into a svelte contender. The cut of the handle is very ergonomic and the flipper does double duty as a hilt. Here is a close up of the great finger choil/cutout:

IMG_0037

The blade:handle is an impressive: .73. The curved, talon-like end of the handle makes for a great rest when holding the knife in a reverse grip.

Fit and Finish: 2

Working with a razor thin budget Lucas and Kershaw banged out a fantastic knife in terms of fit and finish. Buck should take notice because this knife is made the USA, is cheap, and has a well centered blade even in a liner lock, something the first couple batches of Vantages, at the least, did not manage to do. Lock is smooth and tight, there is no wiggle room in the blade when out, and the blade's finish is even and smooth.

Grip: 2

Second only to my ZT350, this baby really locks into your hand, again probably because of the great finger choil and flipper working in combination. The tapered tail is also nice. The handle slabs of G-10 are rounded over so there are no hotspots. I did a lot of whittling with my Skyline and even in repeated, hard pulls there was no pinching or uncomfortable places. That said the surface is still quite grippy.

Carry: 2

The knife's incredibly slim profile means that it just vanishes in the pocket and its weight means you can't feel it either. For a blade larger than three inches it is amazingly invisible. Even the flipper is okay, as unlike other flippers, it does not get in the way of retrieving the knife for some reason.

Steel: 2

The big issue with the Skyline is that Kershaw has upgraded the steel from the original release. It was originally released with Sandvik's 13c26. In 2009-2010 they upgraded the knife to the Kershaw exclusive Sandvik 14c28n. The steel's recipe is very similar to 13c26. The interesting thing is that 14c28n, and to a lesser extend 13c26, seem to be part of a wave of new knife steels that have low carbon counts and high nitrogen counts. This is, based my limited understanding, a way to keep the steel hard and add some corrosion resistance to the blade. So, for example, the 14c28n has .11% nitrogen and Spyderco's H1 has .10%. There is more carbon in the 14c28n than H1, so it will rust, but it is an interesting and new way to balance out the attributes people look for in steel. The hardness count on the Rockwell scale varies significantly depended on heat treating (55-62, according to Sandvik), but its high is really high, slightly more than S30V (which usually tops out around 60-61) but less than ZDP-189 (which can hit 66). I really punished the knife, whittling an oak tree limb and cutting cardboard and it is still decently sharp. I did touch it up on the Sharpmaker so it is not as hard as ZDP-189, but it is still very impressive; in the upper echelon of steels and at this price, probably the best steel for the money right now.

Blade Shape: 1

Okay, here is the first ding against the blade and it is not a major issue. I am not sure I understand the reason for a spear point/drop point blade. Here is a not too close macro of the blade:

IMG_0041

I like the belly, but the tip seems pretty fragile. Looking at the knife from overhead, you see that very little of the thickness of the blade is carried out to the tip. Compare this to the blade on the ZT350, for example, which I think has a great shape because of its thickness throughout, and I think you will have the same question I did: why? Why not just go with a clip point or why not get rid of the swedge and just carry the thickness all the way out? In a utility blade this thin of a tip could be a problem.

Grind: 1

As I have harped on this point all along--with lower costs comes lesser grinds. Here the grind on the blade itself is fine, but the secondary bevel, the actual cutting edge, well that is kinda messy. At the tip of the blade, the grind just seems to go off the line, as if the guy at Kershaw was dozing for a second at the grinder wheel. It is not terrible but it does weaken an already weak tip. Note how, in the picture above, the grind widens at the tip. Boo.

Deployment Method: 2

For a while I had this as a 1. The flipper here requires a very specific motion, hitting the very end of the flipper only, to deploy without a wrist snap. Then I realized, well, that could be a good thing as it requires a very specific action making accidental activation unlikely. If you need to deploy the knife fast every time, look at a different blade, but for EDC/utility use, the deployment method is very good.

Retention Method: 2

Ah yes, the simple beauty of the Strider clip. It was on loan to ZT and then it went over into the regular Kershaw line. Good thing because it is AWESOME. Here is a peek:

IMG_0063

Lock: 2

The lockup is solid and the liner lock is perfectly fine. It also disengages easily. Very good.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

For a blade made in America for under or around $30 the Skyline is an awesome choice. Nothing even comes close. But for a bit more, like 2 lunches at Subway more, you can get a Delica, which I think, is a more refined design. Not much more and maybe not even 2 lunches worth more. The Skyline certain deserves the praise it gets. It is an awesome knife. It has reset the bar for value in an EDC folder. Great job Tommie Lucas and Kershaw.

1YL: 19 out of 20

The more knives I review the more I realize that I dinged the Skyline TOO MUCH for the blade shape.  Compared to, say the Kerhsaw Leek, this thing is positively robust.  There are very few knives that I have gotten rid of that I want back.  This is at the top of the list.  It is such a solid blade and it is easily among the best values in the under $50 price range that I feel silly not giving it a higher score.  Its not perfect, but it is damn good.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2011 Over $1000 Recommendations

Here are the rules. Here is the $25 and less entry, the $50 max entry, the $100 max entry, the $200 max entry, the $500 max entries (tools and lights), and the $1000 max entry.

This is the point where anything goes. These tools are all custom. They belong in the pockets of oil barons and dudes that conduct business from their superyatches for tax purposes. There is no upper limit here, just whatever someone is willing to spend. In reality, there is not a ton of new stuff, as very few flashlights cost more than $500 (there are some though), and few production knives cost more than $500. There are quite a few custom knives, however, that fit the bill. And the reality is, I can't possibly know all of the options out there so I am going to just highlight a few of my favorites. I have none of these and have only handled a few, so this is all just pie in the sky guessing, like when Motor Trend reviews the Bugatti Veyron.

There no reason to really read this as a guide, if you are thinking about spending this much money on a knife and light, you already know what you want. Think of it as the EDC equivalent of the Motor Trend shoot out articles involving exotic Italian sports cars--its just the idea that these things are out there that is tantalizing.

Continuing the car analogy from the previous articles, if the $1000 max gear were F1 cars, these items are the EDC equivalent of SSC Tuatara--faster than an F1 car, but with comfort and refinement allowing for everyday use. And yes the new "fastest car ever" is named after a lizard (I guess it is "soon to be" as it has yet to be unveiled).

These aren't recommendations so much as they are my personal preferences. If I had the money this is what I would get. And a word about custom knives. Once you get into this price range most of them are hideous, with design flair more appropriate for the King of Persia than someone who lives in the age of Dieter Rams 10 Principle of Good Design. I understand that Brian Tighe is a great craftsman and I agree with that, but his design choices are baffling to me. His knives look like something that belongs to a Klingon or a pimp from the Old West. In a world where good design has gone mainstream thanks to companies like Apple, these over-the-top, stuffed-to-the-gills tools look stupid. By the way, note how many of the 10 Principles of Good Design are embodied by the Sebenza.

Tools

There is only one production company that makes knives that cost more than $500 and that is William Henry. Yes, Chris Reeve offers some suped up models over the $500 as does Benchmade, but these are all gilded lily knives. Only William Henry offers NEW models at this price range, and it is a shame they do because they are all ugly pieces of garbage. There is not a single knife from them in this price range that I would keep if given to me for free. They show no creativity, no consistent design rubric or philosophy (other than "ostentatious" which I don't really consider a design philosophy at all), and no restraint. They all need to go and see a Greene and Greene house to figure out just what high end looks like when done by gifted designers and craftsman. Putting a topaz in the thumbstud is not my idea of value-added design.

Hinderers really fall into the small batch production niche, and they are really nice. They are not, however, readily available as only military, law enforcement, and EMS workers can buy them from Hinderer. Otherwise, it is wait and see on ebay or one of the custom knife sites.

If I were to pick a knife in this price range it would come from one of the four following makers: Neil Blackwood, Kevin Wilkins, Gerry McGinnis, or Filip De Coene.

Neil Blackwood's designs are known to the production world via two blades: the out of production Skirmishes from Benchmade and the Pipsqueak from Boker. Both are nice, but neither holds a candle to his stunning customs. He can veer a little into WH territory with fancy mosaic pins and whatnot, but the basics of the Skirmish design are phenomenal. I love the "back to basics" G10 model seen here. Gimme a normal looking deep carry pocket clip instead of his cutesy designed clip (which is a Skirmish in profile, how clever) and it would be my EDC for life. They are a bit big, even in the small sizes, but still this is a gorgeous curvy blade with impeccable craftsmanship.

Okay, so we all drooled over the Leafstorm and then when it came out it was not as good as we had hoped. But there is something there, something about Kevin Wilkins' design that has been infatuated with his customs. This Leafstorm is just too beautiful--right on the edge of gilded lily:


Gerry McGinnis makes some incredible knives as well. I actually really like his CRKT production models, owning a Tuition that is surprisingly nice. They look beautiful, of course, but it is the curvy ergonomics and unique grinds that catch my eye. How about these blades?

Filip De Coene is a European maker and the influence of good design (a la the 10 Principles) is evident. These are cool, minimalist blades with a focus on refined design and wicked blade steels. There are no real timetables for Filip's work, which I suspect adds to the allure, but if you can manage to snag one, hold on to it--they are jewels. MOMA may open a knife exhibit and Filip's work would definitely be there. In particular I like the Hybrid seen here:


Recommendation: Filip De Coene's Hybrid
Price: Well over $500

Lights

Well, what do you want? There are very few choices here as only two lights cost more than $500 that can be used for EDC purposes. So it is all Cool Fall products. Which would you prefer: Spy 007 or a Spy Tri-V? That is all there is in this price range other than the random Lunasols that float around on CPF's B/S/T board. These lights are so ridiculously high end. There is really nothing out there that is even close. Most McGizmo's sell for around $500. The 007 sells for $1000 for the base model. The Tri-V sells for around $1200, but a new version is in the works. Personally, the Tri-V seems a little to fragile for me. I'd opt for the base model 007.


Recommendation: Cool Fall Spy 007
Price: $995 (available here)

Well, there it is--the whole series is finished. This last one was more of a lark than anything, but still there is some sweet gear out there in every price range, even $25 and under. I think the sweet spot is either around $100 or $200 total, though you do quite well at $500 total (the Caly 3 and Mac Tri EDC). Hope you enjoyed the series.

My next multi-entry project: The List.