Sunday, October 30, 2011

JDR Ti Baby Pacu 2.5 Review

The line between rip-off and homage is a thin one.  In many cases, the original is so innovative that anything else in the market niche is going to be, in some ways, a rip off.  So when competitors started making one piece multitools, Peter Atwood's legions of fans cried foul for quite a few designs, but as things have gone on, people have realized that tools are almost always iterations of previous tools.  Even Peter himself has pointed this out. 

So we get to the first non-Atwood tool I tried out, one made by Joshua Rice.  He has a wide variety of tools available, many made from exotic materials and all of which are vastly easier to acquire than Peter's work.  That is not to say they are of lesser quality.  In fact, in some respects I think that Josh's stuff is superior, especially to early work from Peter.  His products have a more cohesive aesthetic and I think his bottle openers are the best anywhere on any multitool.  He has also taken to putting pocket clips on his tools, a great idea for bigger pieces.  Again, some will see rip-off, but really I think they are a nice competitor to Atwood's stuff.  In fact, check out how much the circle has turned (even down to circular bottle opener), with Peter's new Keyton looking a lot like the Pacu. 

The first piece I am going to review is a pretty middle of the road piece--a pretty typical tool set, a not-too-exotic material, and an average price.  After using the Atwrench for a while I decided that I wanted something a bit lighter.  I looked around and the JDR Ti Baby Pacu 2.5 (a reference to the size of the tool, not its place in a series of previous tools) seemed to fit the bill.  There is a non-Baby Pacu, but it is almost exactly the same, but wider.  Here is a review of the Ti Baby Pacu 2.5.  Here is my write up for EDCF when I first got the tool.  And here is my Ti Baby Pacu 2.5:     

IMG_0010

Design: 2 

The design is significantly more streamlined than the Atwrench, bearing a closer resemblance to the Atwood Keyton than the Atwrench, but don't be fooled, this pocket tool is full of ideas that push the limits of the form.  First, the first choil makes for a very nice grip in both directions.  The ridge grinds on the opposite side not only add even more to the grip, they also give the tool a more sophisticated appearance, and of course there is the fish theme in abstract aided by both grip mechanisms, an amazing degree of form and function in such a small tool. 

Fit and Finish: 2

Peter's tools have nicely eased edges, something folks call "buttered" edges.  Josh's stuff is a bit crisper.  I don't prefer one to the other, but they are very different.  The grinds are very nice, even on the secondary grind.  I also like the chamfering around the lanyard hole and the bottle opener.  

Theme: 2

Same as the Atwrench--keychain tool with all the most used features.  Again, I find the lack of a Phillips driver a bit of a miss, but so few tools in this category have one that I can't really knock a point off.  

Grip: 2

Best in class, without question.  The choil combined with the ridge grinds on the opposite side make this the grippiest tool despite its miniscule size. Awesome job.

Carry: 1

Okay, this guy is significantly thinner than the Atwrench, but the comparatively tiny lanyard hole means that it can snag and bunch on your keychain.  

Materials: 0

In theory Ti seems like a good idea...shiny, super light, relatively tough.  But only in theory.  In reality it is just not tough enough to hold up to the chores of prying and screw driving.  In the end, it just wasn't up to stuff.  The pry tip ended up with more chips in it than an Irish Pup on Good Friday (I know, I was trying to be funny).  If I had to do it all over again I would get an S30V version of the tool, found here.  

IMG_0009


Deployment/Accessibility: 2

With the finger choil and only a few tools, none are hard to get to or block others.  Very well thought out and spaced.  

Retention Method: 1

I really like Josh's design with a pocket clip.  I am not sure it would work on this small of a design, but the lanyard hole is just too small.  Its small size also makes it hard to put on a split ring. 

Tool Selection: 0

Again, like with the Atwrench, the lack of a Phillips driver is a deal breaker for me when it comes to tool selection.  If you can do without it, the rest of the tools are all high use items.  

Tool Performance: 2

Unlike with the Atwrench's stinky wrench, every tool here does its intended task very, very well.  The bottle opener is probably the best I have ever seen of any design, even those on stand alone bottle openers.  The hook is aggressive enough to get under the cap and the tool's thickness makes it easy to balance on the cap.  The pry is good, especially if you don't care about  chips on the edge.  It also works well as a driver and in a pinch a box opener.  

Overall Score: 14 of out 20

The material was a mistake on my part.  Titanium is just not hard enough to work as a pry absent some amazing heat treat (such as here, click that link, their tools are AWESOME).  In a better metal, this tool would be equal to the Atwrench, if not a little better.  The grip and the bottle opener are great.  As is, though, the Baby Pacu is still worth a spot on your keychain.  It just might not be the possible choice (that is foreshadowing)... 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hinderer Gen 4 and other beefy knives

Well, the Yeti of the knife world, the XM folders from Rick Hinderer, have received an upgrade.  The Gen 4 was on show at this year's USN Gathering and they are finally making their way out into the real world.  And when I say that, it is really a bit of an exaggeration, because even now they are not widely available (and I don't anticipate they ever will be).  Hinderers are, and always have been, sold directly to military, LEO, and EMS folks.  For the rest of us, we have to get them second hand or through dealers of custom knives and that means a HUGE price increase.  Typically they go for around $375-$500 depending on model and features when sold to mil/LEO/EMS.  For people getting them on the secondary market or through a dealer, they are going for at least $750-$1500.

Here is Neptune's comparison on his site (where he sells whatever Hinderers he can get).

Here is Neptune's video overview of the XM Gen 4 folders.  He is, of course, a bit Neptune-ish and by that I mean incredibly informative, fast talking, odd edits, and critical of even the smallest details.  He details all of the issues with the Gen 3 XMs before getting to the new knife.  But, when it comes to the Gen 4 knife though, he says that it is perfect.  And if Neptune says it is perfect, holy shit, it must be great because he can complain about ANYTHING (check on the comparison video between the Sage II and the Sebenza and his correct, but slightly ranty talk about the standoffs around the pivots on both knives).  Seriously, this is a video worth watching even if you can never afford a Hinderer.  It is a really great knife thoroughly explored by a very knowledgeable knife guy.    

If you can't get a Hinderer try the Hinderer collabs with Kershaw/ZT: 551, 560, and 561.  They look AWFULLY close to the real Hinderers and ZT makes great stuff.  They even have the fancy European next gen steel, Elmax.  Really great buys, given the suggested price of $325 translating in to a street price of $200-250.  Can't wait until the flipper versions are widely available.  

Also something to consider: the soon to arrive LionSpy.  With an assortment of high tech ideas (the rotoblock) and interesting parts (such as a replaceable lock bar contact, a steel insert mounted at the end of the lock bar where the lock bar and blade tang interface), this Spydified version of the SR-1 folder from Lion Steel is going to be PRICEY but fits into the bombproof knife category.  At a "suggested retail of $459.99" from Spyderco's updated retail pricing list, I would imagine this guy comes in at a $250-350 price point.  That is a lot, but it is not quite as expensive as the XM folders.    

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Atwood Atwrench Review

This is my first one piece multitool review.  For more on these kinds of tools check out the commentary in the keychain series, found here.  There are tons of these kinds of tools out there, but one guy really started the whole craze--Peter Atwood.  Since he is usually thought of as the first guy to start making these tools I thought it was only fitting to start out with one of his classic designs.   

Peter Atwood's stuff is really hard to explain to people that have never seen or heard of him before.  It is a piece of steel or titanium (and sometimes exotic stuff).  There are no moving parts.  They are tiny.  They generally don't have anywhere near the number of tools as a standard multitool.  And they are expensive.  If you get get one from Peter himself they will run you about $65-$100 depending on the model.  But getting them that way is almost impossible.  An entire run of his tools will sell out in a matter of hours, if not minutes.  There is a thread at EDCF dedicated to announcing the posting of new tools, just to help folks get notice of when the go on sale.  Invariably though, if you see the thread post with an announcement, by the time you get to Peter's site itself, they are gone.  It is not uncommon for tools to sell for $20-30 more than they cost to buy, even right after they are put up for sale.  Some of the more exotic tools, like the Mini Son of Prything, will routinely sell for many hundreds of dollars.

But for some folks, these tools represent the very best EDC stuff.  They are small and easy to carry on your keychain.  They are well-designed and use premium materials.  And they are made, by hand right here in the US.  It is not an exaggeration to say that for many folks the Atwood tool is what separates them and their EDC from the old guy that carries a pocket knife.  But this fevered devotion makes it very hard to evaluate these tools.  Merely getting one is an accomplishment.  Their lack of availability and their rise to status symbol makes critical analysis almost impossible.  There is nothing I have ever encountered that has a strong a post-purchase rationalization as the Atwood tool.  I am not saying they are terrible, far from it.  I am simply arguing that people that have them generally have a hard time being critical of their purchase.

I have had the fortune of having four different one piece multitools, which is what I am going to call the entire category of Atwood-type tools.  I have owned the Atwood Atwrench, the JDR Ti Baby Pacu 2.5, the Gerber Artifact, and the Gerber Shard.  I got my Atwrench a long time ago and I got it for list price.  I didn't have any particular attachment to it and so all of the factors that lead to a less than critical eye didn't really affect me.  So here goes an attempt at reviewing the Atwood Atwrench.

Here is the product page. There are a few variations, one with finger grooves on the edges ("tiki grinds").  There is also a version with glow dots.  There are some with surface treatments.  There is a version with a "V-notch" for pulling nails.  There is a version with finger scallops instead of the "tiki grinds."  A metric version is available.  There are, of course, combinations of these version.  Overall I think there is probably something like 20 versions in total.  Here is a comparison between the Atwrench and the Gerber Artifact I did when I first got the Artifact.  Here is a review of the Atwrench.  Here is a video review of the Atwrench (with TERRIBLE video quality, but there is not a lot out there).  Here is a picture of my Atwrench:


IMG_0310

Design: 1

The design is really a variation of Peter Atwood's original tool, the Prybaby.  It is a nice upgrade from the Prybaby and the variations, especially the v-notch one, are a good, solid tool.  The tools included are also pretty useful.  The pry, bottle opener, and flathead screwdriver as well done.  The wrench part is, in my opinion, kind of a failure from its inception.  There is really very little leverage and the need to be at exactly perpendicular to the bolt makes it less than ideal.  In time, Peter has released a lot of newer tools that are a bit more refined in design, such as the G2 Superbug or the Prybaby G3.  It is not a failure, not by any means, but it is a bit basic, even for a one piece multitool.  A Phillips driver would be a huge plus.      

Fit and Finish: 2

Atwood's stuff is amazingly nice.  The edges are so smooth and the finish is perfect, impervious to even the worst abuse (such as me using the pry tip as a chisel and pounding on it with a hammer).  These aren't the most complex pieces in the world, but all of touches add up to one hell of a tiny tool. 

Theme: 2

The idea is a small, easy to carry tool that is tough as nails and has a bunch of the "most used" tools on it. Here is a picture of the tool on my keychain:

DSCF1946

As you can see it meets all of its goals.  It is just the right size to live on a keychain and more than tough enough to handle all of the tasks you can reasonably ask it to do.  The tool selection is great, very appropriate for its job, though, again the lack of a Phillips driver is an issue.

Grip:  2

I imagine that the tiki grind version is a little grippier, but this is no issue even on the basic Atwrench.  It works so well and is really surprising given how small the tool is.  In pry or chisel mode it is awesome.  If it in bottle opener mode there is a good bit of leverage.  Only the wrench stinks and it is more a problem with the design of the wrench than the tool's feel in the hand.

Carry:  2

The Atwrench is a really good citizen on your keychain unlikely to cause bunching or problems and more than able to suck up damage from the other inhabitants.

Materials: 2

My version was made of S30V and boy was it tough.  So here's how I know.  There was a piece on my wife and I's elliptical machine.  It was wedged between the foot board and the frame itself.  It was a very tight space and none of my other hundreds of tools would fit.  I needed to get rid the old, broken bolt and I could reach it with the Atwrench.  But hard as I tried I couldn't move it.  I decided I was going to have to just cut it in two with the Atwrench.  I got a dead blow hammer and took a few light taps.  It was no problem for the Atwrench or the bolt, unfortunately.  So I decided to hit it harder.  A few really hard blows later I had severed the bolt and freed the parts to work properly.  Worried I pulled the Atwrench out slowly and to my delight and surprise there was nothing wrong at all with the Atwrench. 

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

All of the tools are spaced well and none block each other.  I'd like a little more clearance for the bottle opener, but nothing crazy.

Retention Method: 2

The only real use for the wrench is as a good sized lanyard.  In that role it works well. 

Tool Selection: 0

You gotta have a Phillips driver.  You have to.  It is just so common and useful that without it no multitool is really complete in my opinion.  It is so important, especially when you are dealing with such a limited number of tools on the piece that without it, the tool is not complete.  Many of the one piece multitools have this problem, as according to a conversation I had with Joshua Rice, you cannot grind a Phillips driver.  You need a high tech water jet cutter to do that kind of work and that piece is out of the price range of most small tool makers, like Peter and Josh.  There are lots of solutions to this problem as Peter's "captive bit" series shows.  But still, without the Phillips driver, the tool selection on the Atwrench is distinctly lacking.     

Tool Performance: 1

The pry tip works exceedingly well, as my like elliptical episode demonstrates.  The wrench portion stinks though.  And the bottle opener, your most used tool by a large margin on these tools, isn't the best.  Peter has since redesigned the bottle opener to be more like Josh's circular design.  The problem is there isn't enough an angle to the bottle to really get up under a cap and pull.  It will work, but it is not a fluid or easy process, which is kind of silly as the bottle opener is the EASIEST part of the tool to design and make.  The three main tools average out to a 1, a 2 for the pry tip, a 0 for the wrench, and a 1 for the bottle opener.  

Overall Score: 16out of 20

The Atwrench is not a bad tool.  The fit and finish and durability are insane, off the charts great.  But its design is a bit lacking and lack of a Phillips driver is a big mark against the Atwrench.  I can see why people go crazy over Peter's stuff.  It is really nicely made with superior materials, but this design is a bit dated.  Peter's newer stuff is more well-rounded and refined.  Additionally other makers are coming on fast with really creative designs as well.

And then there is the price.  If you can find one at retail, it is still a pretty penny, especially when compared to the mass produced Gerber Shard.  But that is not a realistic option.  In reality you have to find one on a forum BST (EDCF's is a good place to start) or on ebay.  When you factor in the actual price paid compared to the tools on the Atwrench and the competition, I am not so sure this guy is a good buy.  Collectors will be happy.  People that have never seen one of these tools might be intrigued, but there are simply better options out there now, some from Peter himself and others from the competition.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Leatherman Wingman and Sidekick

Leatherman stuff is really well thought out.  They, along with Victorinox, represent the very top tier of multitool makers.  So when they release two new models, three months before Christmas no less, they merit some attention.  The two models are the Sidekick and the Wingman.  The two models are medium sized tools, roughly the same dimensions and weight as the Wave/Charge models. 

There are four big innovations with these multitools.  First, both come in at below $35.  They are aimed at the lower end of the spectrum of multitools (ahem...Gerber...ahem).  Ideally they will be sold in big box stores where the premium priced Waves seem to gather dust.  Second, they have spring loaded pliers which enables the pliers to be ready to go, even one handed.  Third, the Wingman has one of the most interesting tools I have seen on a multitool in years: the clam shell opener.  Finally, they both include a built-in pocket clips (there have been accessory pocket clips for Leatherman tools for a while, but only the Skeletool had a built-in one).

The Sidekick doesn't have scissors, so, for me at least, it is a no go.  It offers a large serrated blade and a large straight edge blade and the normal selection of tools.  The Wingman, in contrast, does offers a pair of scissors, and not just any scissors--really good ones.



The scissors are in one of the two large tool slots on the outside of the tool, giving you both a larger than normal pair of scissors (when compared to other multitools) and externally accessible scissors.

Other than the scissors and the knife blade, all of the other tools are internally accessible only.  The other good part of the Wingman is the package opener.  Designed to rip open the ubiquitous and annoying clam shell/blister packs, the tool looks like a little hook, but the inside of the hook is straight (not curved) and sharp.  I imagine that you'd place your index finger on the back edge of the hook and then press it into the plastic.  Clam shells are everywhere and sometimes a knife blade isn't ideal.  It can poke the contents inside, damaging them, or worse slip out one of the sides and injuring your hand.  The new clam shell opener makes that much more unlikely.  When you look at how widespread these packages are, a tool design to address this issue is a welcome addition to any multitool.  For me, it makes the short list of multitool requirements (the list: pliers, knife, Phillips and Flathead Screwdriver, carabiner clip, pocket clip, scissors, bottle opener, and clam shell opener).  It is also nice to see that Leatherman is still innovating after all of these years.  Not that I thought they were slowing down, the Skeletool is really amazing, but it is just nice to see new stuff.    

Some of the bad:

1.  The steel is crappy steel, 420HC.  This is a significant step down from the 154CM of the Skeletool or the S30V of the Charge TTi.

2.  The pocket clip is still the off-set design like on the Skeletool which can roll and bunch in the pocket with lots of use.

3.   Most of the tools are on the inside of the tool.  I guess the PS4 and Skeletool have spoiled me, but I don't know why they need to place the tools, other than the pliers, on the inside.

All of these disadvantages though are offset by the incredible price: $24.96 at Home Depot.

I assumed that the Sidekick/Wingman were made in China, given that price, but they aren't.  Leatherman insisted on USA made and a good price point and what do you know?  It worked.  I am trying to get one for review, but just a rundown of the specs and price shows you this is a real contender.  It also makes it hard for me to justify buy a Wave or Charge, though the better steel is seductive.  I have also heard these are going into Home Depot/Lowes stores for the holidays.  That, coupled with the announcement that Home Depot will carry 4sevens lights (from last year), means that for under $100 you can have a pretty bitchin' EDC set up: a Wingman and a Quark AA (a total of $84.96). 


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quest's End...or not even close

I have been a Spyderco fanboy for a long time, ever since my Dad gave me a Delica as a high school graduation present.  It represented such a huge step up in terms of performance that I could hardly go back to using my Swiss Army Knife Tinker.  Over the years I have come to love their refined designs and easy to carry blades.  The DFII ZDP-189 is probably my favorite blade I own, even with quite a few knives that are twice or even three times its price.  The superior steel...you have read this already.  It is great.  But the Dragonfly design did more than evict all other knives from my EDC pocket--it demonstrated the power of a good choil.

Given their high minded design ideas and massive product line, the history of Spyderco is full of amazingly unique designs.  There is something for everyone, massive knives, tiny knives, all kinds of knives.  Perusing the history of the company's many knives on SpydercoSource.com is like looking through an encyclopedia of dinosaurs with their hundreds of species all with amazing evolutionary adaptations (therizinosaurus anyone?).  Some designs are a bit...um...weird.  Then others are really amazing. 

One of those amazing designs that I have been fancying is the Spyderco Lava, designed by Chad Los Banos.  I have fallen in love with the Spyderco choils which led me to a knife that is almost ALL choil--the Lava.  Here is a picture:


It has not one, but TWO choils. It is a really, really extreme design.  The handle is probably twice the size of the cutting edge, the knife is "off line" from the handle, and there are curves and swoops everywhere.  But it has been out of production for a while, so I would occasionally scan eBay and the like, with no luck.

Then about a week ago someone contacted me with a Lava to sell.  I send the funds and this past Monday I got the knife.  It is surprisingly large and heavy, but just as I imagined it melts into your hand.  I have to do some more work with it as such an extreme and unusual design is hard to evaluate quickly, but I am pleased that one of the knives on my grail list has been checked off.

Here are a few others (in order of lusty desire) from the Spyderco back catalog:

1.  ATR Ti
2.  Caly 3 in ZDP-189
3.  Caly Jr. with Micarta Handles
4.  Wayne Goddard Jr.



5.  Forager
6.  SpyKer



Well I could go on and on.  That is a pretty good list to go from.  One down, a bazillion to go.  Lava review soon. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One folding knife to rule them all...

So a good internet friend of mine, bladereviewscom (this is the same person that runs the great site Bladereviews.com, see the nav bar to the right for the link, a.k.a. Dan from the comments) sent out a request for video responses on YouTube for "one folding knife for everything...".  Here is the original video.  The premise behind the request is pretty simple: what knife that you own would you feel most confident carrying for any task? Or as Dan put it "one knife to rule them all."  If you put in "one folding knife for everything" into YouTube you will get dozens of responses, many of which are worth watching.  Watching a few of them myself, I thought it would be nice to engage in the exercise.

Of my knives, the choice really comes down to a few blades:

1.  Dragonfly II ZDP-189: this knife is probably my favorite overall knife.  The blade steel is amazing and the carry is so nice.  It practically vanishes in the pocket, but it is tiny.  For EDC use, that is fine with me, but if I could only carry one knife, this is too small for real survival tasks or for defense.  It is also slow on deployment.

2.  Sebenza Small 21:  a classic and surprisingly tough.  I was shocked when I first got it and played around with it.  It is really sturdy.  The one issue is that deployment is not super fast.  Smooth as glass, but a little slow.  As such it is lacking a bit in the tactical role.  If had to deploy this quickly in an emergency I don't think it would work all that well.

3.  Benchmade Mini Grip 555hg: tons and tons of great features, smooth opening, fast, but still a little small.  It is surprisingly not that much bigger than the Dragonfly.  A great knife, a very good EDC knife, but if I only had one, this would not be it.

My choice was pretty surprising once I thought about it, given that I haven't carried this knife as an EDC in a while, but it would have to be....

4.  ZT350: if I were forced to carry only one knife, of the knives I own, this would be it.

IMG_0005


In fact, I would probably take this knife over just about any production knife.  It is a really, really robust blade.  It can pry, it can slice, it can chop, it can stab.  It does it all.  And it is not too small nor is it a boat anchor.  Plus this guy is a lightning shot out of the handle.  The flipper is perfect as is the assisted opening.  Even if the assisted opening eventually loses strength, the flipper is good enough to open the knife fast on its own.  The blade shape is really amazing too, great for everyday tasks as it has plenty of belly.  The S30V steel is a good all around performer and not SUPER hard so that field sharpening is out of the question.  The handle shape is really grippy and the G10 locks in.  I like the simple, sturdy pocket clip (borrowed from Strider).  Plus the lock is really low maintenance and easy to use.  It would work as a survival knife, it would work as an EDC knife (it is big but not super big, the blade is only 3.25"), and it could be used defensively if necessary. 

In the end, I realized that the ZT350 is a great choice--plenty sturdy but not ridiculously big.

What would you carry as one folding knife to rule them all?


Monday, October 17, 2011

Gear You Should Stop Buying Now

Time Magazine, one of my weekly reads, a true classic, and one of the three or four final bastions of legitimate mainstream news, recently put up a piece on their website called 12 Things You Should Stop Buying Now.  Here is the article, it is worth a gander.  Thinking about that got me wondering what a list of EDC no-nos would look like.  Now before you read the list and send me mad emails or post nasty comments, realize that this, like the WAF commentary, is largely tongue-in-cheek.   

Half Serrated Blades

It sounds like such a good idea.  You get twice the utility on the same blade.  In reality you get half the utility of each kind of blade.  Serrations are nice, but they have a very specific set of uses, mainly cutting fibrous materials like rope and netting.  An EDC blade, absent those uses, doesn't need serrations and having them makes your knife difficult to sharpen.  It also limits the utility of the plain edge portion by making it much smaller.  If you NEED serrations AND a plain edge, carry two knives or better yet, drop some dough on a Spyderco MicroDyad.  

Damascus Steel Blades

Let's see, I would like to make my blade steel MORE prone to rust, WEAKER on edge retention, and MORE expensive.  Yes, sign me up for worse performance and higher cost.  I would also like a slow Ferrari that still gets 8 MPG and a 286 computer that costs $5,000.  Seriously, I have never understood the fascination with Damascus steel.  It is not even REAL Damascus steel.  Sure some of this steel looks sweet, like this Ed Van Hoy Drop Point Hunter from AG Russell:


Generally, though, it just looks unnecessarily messy.  If there were significant performance improvements, then fine, I could understand, but even the Damascus steels that are harder than regular steels still have real rust problems. 

Lights with Complex UI

Explain to me how, when everyone is insisting on simplicity in case of a high stress, low focus emergency, do we have lights that require Morse code to use effectively.  Remember this chart from the LiteFlux review?





Yeah, that looks useful.  The bastion of affordability, Fenix, has an awkward UI (twist and click).  Zebralights have two separate UIs.  And the click, double click, triple click UI of the non-Rotary HDS lights can be daunting for the uninitiated.  So the question is: why bother?  Look at the UI on the McGizmo or the Leatherman Serac S3 (which happens to be the same as the Incendio).  One motion, repeated once to switch levels.  Thank you.  Or the simplicity of the Aeon UI: twist and twist more.  Yup, it is definitely possible to make a simple UI, but it requires a bit of design and forethought.  All of which is more expensive than slapping a tube of aluminum on a lathe and going to town.  Avoid complex UIs at all costs.  They take something simple and make it unnecessarily complicated and in the process render a piece of go-to gear into a puzzle for no reason at all.    


Man Jewelry

I like titanium as much or more than the next guy, but seriously do you really need a titanium mace?  That seems a little weird and excessive, sort of like what a gearhead dominatrix would carry.  But at least, in a pinch, you can bash someone's head in, which I suppose has some utility in the event that are sent back in time and arrive on a battlefield and are instantly killed by an arrow or something. 

But what about this JUNK: starlingear.  What exactly does this stuff do?  And why on earth does it cost $170 a pop?  Is it lanyard bling?  Is it a cool conversation piece to sit on your velvet-lined shelves between your Cool Fall and MicGizmo flashlights?  At least the paracord bracelet can be unraveled and use to repel up or down very, very small cliffs.  But if the starlingear stuff is useless bling, at least it is relatively inexpensive bling.  You could waste your money on bullshit like the Rogue Breacher bracelet.  Just what I want on my wrist: a device that does not tell time AND looks like a bicycle chain.  Oh, and it costs $16,400.  FOR. GET.  IT.  If you absolutely need man jewelry get a nice but minimal watch and call it a day.  The rest of this stuff is just crap.   


"Tactical" Pens

In the dark of night, as steam rises from a sewer grate behind you are in pitched battle with some unknown assailant.  Your gun has jammed, your knife knocked out of your hand, your cellphone is smashed, but instead of giving up and running away (which is what you should do in the first instance) you fumble through your pocket and you find...a PEN?  Yes, a pen.  Gear makers learned a long time ago we will pay a lot for a milled tube of aluminum, or even better yet, titanium.  If it is a spy capsule, or a firestarter, or a flashlight, tube+knurling+even a smidgeon of utility=profit.  Some of these pens border on the absurd:

 
Where are you going to put this thing?  In your pocket?  Sure...if they are fashioned from CHAIN MAIL.  Every pointy end and crenelated whatever makes these pens TERRIBLE at their primary function: writing.  Uncomfortable in the pocket, terrible in the hand, and limited utility in self-defense roles.  Sign me up.  Wait...what...they are all about $50-$100 (or $20 for a Chinese rip off).  No thanks.

Now I can totally understand the need for a rugged pen, one built to last, but these weaponized pens seem completely unnecessary.  I like my good ole Zebra F-701.  Not tactical in the least, but plenty rugged.  I also really like the distinctly subtle Embassy Pen (if the cap would post, I'd have a few...).   
 
Spy Capsules for your Keychain

Since you are neither a spy nor a capsule I just don't see why you would carry one of these things.  Seriously though, aside from folks that have medications that need to be taken in response to things, I don't know what people carry in these things.  They are generally too small for anything other than pills or teeny, tiny wads of cash.  And if you are carrying cash, how about a nice, uber-thin wallet instead?  

Patches that Tell People How Cool You Are

If you killed OBL you can have one of these patches.  If you are an office dweller that collects folding knives and carries around a Maxped pack full of "emergency supplies" like pens and pencils (which are all around you at work), a first aid kit that no one other than you knows how to use, and your previous EDC flashlight that you just couldn't bear to sell but was replaced by a new XM-L light, then no patches for you.

The one big exception:


Support Jon and his store:  JS Burly  His prices are really quite competitive, he has some unique stuff, and shipping is great.  Oh yeah, and it supports EDCForums. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Leatherman Skeletool CX Review

The Leatherman Skeletool is really the first 3rd generation tool designed by Leatherman. The PST served as the template for pretty much every tool they made for a while and still some tools today (such as the Super Tool). Then the Wave and Charge came along with their huge compliment of tools and outside accessible knife blades. But it was the Skeletool with this highly refined and unusual design that pushed Leatherman into a new generation. Seemingly every idea about multitools was re-examined during the design phase of the Skeletool. It was no longer roughly symmetrical. It was no longer crammed full of tools. And all of the tools, except the pliers, were externally accessible. It was a total rethink and it paid off in spades. There is no other multitool, in my opinion, that really works as an EDC. Most are either too big, like the Charge and Wave, or too small like the Squirt and Mirca. They all have their roles, but the Skeletool is the ideal lightweight EDC.

There are two models: the Skeletool and the Skeletool CX. The CX has carbon fiber scales, while the other version has steel pieces in their place. The carbon fiber is purely decorative as it saves nothing on weight. The CX version has a better blade steel, 154CM v. 420HC, than then regular model, making the upgrade worthwhile. My version is the original run of the CX and it has a partially serrated blade. The newer version has a straight edge. Here is a review of the tool. Here is a video review. Here are the Amazon reviews with 4.37 stars out of 5 with 371 (!) reviews. Here is my Skeletool CX (which I have had for four years now, I got it the year it was released):

IMG_0011

Design: 2

I imagine that the design of the Skeletool was a painstaking process. So much of the tool is completely new and completely different from previous Leatherman offerings that it looks as though they threw away the old design book entirely. The jump from PST first gen to Wave/Charge second gen tools was evolutionary. That is, there were echoes of PST all through out the Wave and Charge, but here there is virtually nothing the same from the PST to the Skeletool except for the one signature Leatherman trait: the balisong style pliers.

All these design changes were worth it. The tool is both significantly lighter and better performing than the PST (which I still have; I lost it and found it again after 10-12 years only last year...it is in great shape). It comes in at a staggeringly light 5 ounces and everything just works well. Even years later I am discovering new touches that make things better. The carabiner clip is tremendously useful as you can clip it everywhere AND clip it to something with any tool open for immediate access and use (though I don't recommend doing that with the knife open). Even the pivot on the knife is well designed. The oversized pivot screw is smooth but it also acts as a reverse Hinderer style lock bar stop (because the liner extends outward, the pivot prevents it from going past the tang of the blade). See below:

IMG_0044

All in all, very, very impressive design. Sometimes I wonder why I carry a knife at all when I have this guy sitting in a drawer. The truth is if I am doing any kind of maintenance or woodworking I usually do carry this instead of a knife. Pliers are just too helpful.

Fit and Finish: 2

After quite a few years of use, this guy still looks nice and works well. The 2D bits have finish coming off of them, but other than that nothing shows any significant signs of wear and tear. All of the edges of the tool are immaculately finished, rounded off where needed.

Purpose: 2

The pared down offerings and the size and weight of the Skeletool make it obvious--this is an EDC multitool and it accomplishes this task very well. All of the tools are generally and broadly useful. There is nothing like the ridiculous SAK corkscrew or as silly and useless as both a diamond coated file and a wood/metal file on the Charge. A perfect example of a good, coherent, and unified purpose that influenced each and every design decision. Excellent job.

Grip: 2

The Victorinox Spirit's bowed handles predate the Skeletool and they showed people that straight handles on a pair of pliers does not work well. I love the grip of the tool in plier mode:

IMG_0053

I also think it works quite well in knife mode. Even the screwdriver mode is easy on the hands (and you can use it as a half-T driver if you need a little extra torque.

Carry: 2

So if I was comparing this to the cloaking device like carry of a Sebenza Small it would not get a 2. In fact the clump, bulky weight at the top of the tool when closed and hooked to your pocket would probably scale as a 0. But this isn't a knife. When compared to multitools it is quite impressive. It doesn't disappear by any means, but trying to carry a PST or a Wave out of their sheath and without an accessory pocket clip is a real chore they are just big, heavy, and boxy. They feel like a sock full of nickels hanging around and banging around at the bottom of your pocket. The Skeletool doesn't. It approaches the quiet carry of a knife but still includes a hearty set of pliers. The only other knock I have is that the pocket clip is not on a center line through the tool which sometimes caused the tool to wrap itself around your pocket. This is very infrequent and probably inherent in all multitools with a pocket clip, so again no knock, but still something to note.

Materials: 2

154CM steel, especially this blend, is really nice. The pliers feel substantial and don't twist. The handles are very stable even if they flex a little under a very substantial amount of force. Everything is more than above par for a multitool. Only the Charge, with its S30V blade steel, has clearly superior materials and even then I am not sure how much better S30V is over 154CM.

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

Everything is externally accessible except for the obvious--the pliers. I also like the fact that there is no "tool clump" like on most multitools (I mean a bunch of tools that share a pivot and tend to come out together). All of the tools are essentially separate from each other making them easier to use and easier to access. The carabiner also makes it nice to store the tool in an open position, as mentioned above. This is especially handy when using the screwdriver.


Retention Method: 2

There are two retention methods, the pocket clip and the carabiner. The carabiner works very, very well. The pocket clip works about as well as you could expect given that it is on a multitool. The combination of the two however make this a really easy tool to keep on or around you during work.

Tool Selection: 2

In the arms race of multitools the number of individual tool functions crammed on to the frame of the tool itself became insane. Dozens of individual little pits of metal some of which had questionable utility beyond adding to the tool count were the norm, even with Leatherman. "18 Tools!" then "21 Tools!" and on and on. But the Skeletool's revolutionary design is based in large part on the fact that it opted out of this silly competition in favor of a small handful of well-designed tools (1. Pliers, 2. Knife, 3. Phillips, 4. Flathead, 5. Wire cutter, 6. HARD wire cutter, and 7. Bottle opener). The selection is, in my opinion, perfect. In other words if someone said you get only seven tools it would be the seven they included. Those are the seven I use the most on other multitools. I have used all of them on the Skeletool many times. In order of utility, they are all roughly equal, a sign of a good selection. If I were add one more it would be a pair of scissors or the new clam shell cutter on the new Leatherman Wingman (which is marvelous looking tool in its own right). But if I only had seven, it would be these seven.

Tool Performance: 1

Everything about each of the seven tools is very well done with one GLARING exception. I like the knife's size and shape. I like the angle of the bottle opener. I even like the 2D bits and their chosen sizes. The wire cutters work well. It seems like it should be a no-brainer, right? But the pliers are too blunt. They seem to be significantly more blunt than the pliers on any other multitool Leatherman makes. This bulky shape makes detail work, an important function of pliers, very difficult with the Skeletool and has been a real impediment to work I was doing more than once. The hollow interior portion of the tool seems to have ample space for a longer and thinner pair of plier jaws, but instead we get this rounded off mess. It is such a big deal that I considered giving the Skeletool a 0 in this criteria, but after much deliberation, I decided to give it a 1 in recognition of the truly superior knife blade, carabiner, and screwdriver bits. Still, this is an unforgivable mistake.

IMG_0048

Overall Score:19 out of 20

This is a great tool with one big flaw. It is so well designed that a series of other tools have followed its design blueprint (the Freestyle, the Style, and more loosely the asymmetrical Sidekick and Wingman). It so generally handy and well designed that I almost feel stupid for just carrying a knife when I could be carrying this. Three or four years of real work have proven to me that for an EDC multitool you can do no better than this. Any bigger and it is a pocket anchor. Any smaller and it isn't useful. Even the much beloved Juice loses to the Skeletool, in my opinion, because of the smaller size and better knife (better shape, one hand opening, and better steel). If you do any sort of maintenance or work around the house this should be in your pocket.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Inkleaf Leather's Moleskine Cover

NOTE: After I wrote this I realized "Boy, this is a friggin' pitch."  See definition number ten.  But then I thought about it for a day or two, asked my wife about it and decided "Yes, its a pitch, but it is an honest pitch."  I have no stake in the product or the company.  I gain nothing from talking about it.  And most importantly, this is a beautiful piece of work.  I fashion myself as a woodworker and I truly love working with my hands.   If I made something nice I'd love the feedback, so, pitch or not, here is my honest opinion.  

I am working on a multi-post project called the List which will, hopefully, be a clearinghouse of information for people looking for gear from small, custom producers here in the US.  When I mentioned that idea in a state of the blog address, Jazeps Tenis of Inkleaf Leather Co. contacted me and offered a Moleskine cover for review.

I am a lawyer and though I carry an iPhone to serve as my primary calendar, often times the judges want us to have physical calendars with us up at the bench for scheduling.  Also, I really, really depend on my calendar so a physical backup is a requirement, at least for me.  To that end I picked up a Moleskine about three years ago and I have had one, up to date, with me everyday since.  It is one of the few items that I ALWAYS have with me at work.  As the iPhone has received more legal focused apps the need to haul around a bunch of reference books has diminished, so I can get by with my iPhone, a pen (usually my modded Zebra F-701), and my Moleskine.  It slides into my suit jacket pocket nicely and serves as a bit of protection for my iPhone.  It also has a few business cards and a list of cases I use on a regular basis in it.

Lots of people know and love the utility of the Moleskine or similar styled black covered notebook calendar, but pretty much everyone laments its staid stylings and less than robust cover.  I have never had a Moleskine last its entire life, all three of mine have fallen apart before their dates are all used up.  I am brutal on my work gear, so I don't necessarily blame them, but they are not super robust.

Enter the Inkleaf Leather Moleskine Cover.  Here is a picture of the version they sent me (the small in walnut):

IMG_0011


Here is a shot of the cover when it is open:

IMG_0013


The stitching, which is all done by hand, is absolutely gorgeous.  The rivets are nice touch that keep the cover clearly in the "gender neutral" camp.  The worked logo is even well done and thankfully placed on the interior of the cover.  The pass through for the cover band is perfectly sized and works well. 

I carried my moleskine in the cover for two weeks and it all but halted the wear and tear on the little calendar.  Importantly, the calendar still slid into my suit jacket pocket.  It is no longer jeans pocketable, but I don't wear jeans at work all that often.  Overall, it work very well.  Additionally when I took the calendar out for bench conferences, invariably I got a comment or two.  It is an unmistakable touch of class.

The leather itself is of the highest quality, full grain leather (note: I made an error in the original post, it is FULL grain not TOP grain leather) 4-5 ounce from Hermann Oaks.  The leather is vegetable tanned using natural tree extracts over a period of a month, compared to the "flash" tanning done using chrome and other modern chemicals.    The result is some of the finest leather I have ever seen.  My sister is a connoisseur of hand bags and recently got the famous Chanel handbag for Christmas.  Suffice it to say, that bag is the Spy 007 of handbags.  Even its supple leather was lacking when put up against this little gem.  The Inkleaf cover was as clean as the Chanel leather, but it was somehow more solid, smooth, and hardy.  The coloring is very even throughout.

I truly enjoyed carrying this beautiful piece of craftsmanship, a daily reminder that there are still people out there that are both skilled and work with their hands.  It dressed up a piece of daily kit and made it easier and better to use.  For $60 it seems impossible to imagine a scenario where it will last you less than 20 moleskine calendars, even the 18-month versions.  Also, as a sample of Inkleaf's work, I think it demonstrates that they are players.  Before the internet only huge companies could produce stuff this high quality and sell it to people.  Now, with the power of direct marketing, companies like Inkleaf and Saddleback Leather can make stuff and get it to us without the costs of overhead in a store and a marketing campaign.  I'd rather my money go to quality goods.  Great product for a new company.

By way of comparison, the Inkleaf aesthetic seems a bit more architect and little less Indiana Jones when compared to the Saddleback vision.  This is not to say one is better than the other, I just think that the Inkleaf bags have cleaner, quieter lines than the Saddleback stuff.  It is a matter of preference.  
By the way, Inkleaf is a husband and wife team that does all of the stitching, design, and leatherwork themselves.  They are a perfect example of a small producer trying to connect with consumers through high quality products.  Hopefully these are the kinds of companies that will turn things around in this dismal economy. If you are a Moleskine user, this is a great gift to receive in December.  You might have to pull a Ralphie and tuck a print out of their website into your significant other's copy of Look magazine. 

PS: Inkleaf was kind enough to let me give this piece of craftsmanship away.  It will be added to the pot for the give away I am doing.  It will be this, the "Midnight Mini Griptillian" (a custom all-black Mini Grip with S30V steel and a thumbhole), and a few other things that I am not at liberty to reveal just yet.  Once the Adsense money reaches the $140 mark, I am going to announce the contest and pick a winner.  Here are more details.  We are at about $47 bucks right now after 3 months of ads (which I hope aren't too intrusive).     

Sunday, October 9, 2011

4Sevens MiNi Quark 123a XM-L Review


4sevens has made a dramatic impact on the flashlight market, bringing high quality aficionado level flashlights to the mainstream at incredibly reasonable prices. They were the first to release lights with super low lows (well, the first under $100), they were the first to release EDC lights in titanium bodies, and they were the first to regularly update their emitters as newer versions were released.

But the heart of 4sevens success is really nice, easy to use, AFFORDABLE lights. The MiNi Quark is no exception. This version is the equipped with the latest cutting edge emitter, the XM-L. It is just as tiny as it has always been, but this time it is screaming bright, hitting 210 lumens on high with a normal CR123a battery. I got my light in trade. It has a bit of anodizing removed from the tail portion near the attachment point for the split ring, but other than it was in excellent shape.

Here is the product page and a good street price. Here is a good review (non-XM-L version). Here is a good video review (non-XM-L version). Here are the Amazon reviews (non-XM-L). It received a 4.83 stars out of 5 with 6 reviews. Here is my 4sevens MiNi Quark 123A XM-L edition (thanks for the light box tips):

IMG_0018


Design: 1

This light is pretty much the same size as the much beloved Aeon, but the head is a much larger percentage of the total length than on the Aeon. The end result is that this light is much harder to operate one handed. That is a big deal and to me it is a big drawback. These lights are both so small that often times you need both hands to operate it, but it is still a big deal that you can't readily operate this guy one handed. Why not change that one thing and make this light a ton better?

Fit and Finish: 2

The spring is not attached. The walls are thin. But there is nothing really wrong with the light. The threads are thin but smooth. I thought this would be a cheap feeling light, but it turns out I was wrong. The light does very, very well and holds up well in the pocket. The anodizing did wear off at the attachment point, but nothing of concern.

Grip: 2

The body tube has two different diameters and good knurling. It makes this tiny light quite grippy. I was surprised. It was not, however, as grippy as the Aeon. Here is a good shot down the body tube of the light:

IMG_0015


Carry: 2

The light is easily small enough to drop into a jeans coin pocket or into a subpocket in fancy pants. It is small enough that it doesn't NEED a clip (though it would be nice). Great carry as it just disappears.

Output: 2

The XM-L emitter not only pumps out a TON of lumens it does so for a very long time. Also, because this is a 4sevens light, it has a moonlight low, which is incredibly low and very, very useful. All lights should have this low of a low.

Runtime: 2

See above. Runtime on high, is, of course, not a continuous time period as the light would be so hot it would probably melt. On moonlight mode you get like a couple of days of runtime.

Beam Type: 2

Okay, as much of a flood as the Incendio was, this light is TOTAL AND PURE flood. It just has NO throw at all. But the issue is that on a light this small, you can't really expect more. Plus in an EDC role throw is not all that big of a deal, so I am not going to ding the light for having a pure flood beam. Also the lack of throw seems to be a theme with XM-L emitters.

Beam Quality: 2

It seems like a pattern now that this my second 4sevens light. This light is a bit green in tint. Not as a purple as the Preon is, but it is noticeably green. Still the beam is nice and clean and round so I am not going to ding it a whole point. I am not a tint snob unless it is really, really bad. To me the artifacts, holes, and rings are more of a problem.


UI: 1

Over time I have become addicted to really good UIs. I like the McGizmo clicky and UI the best, but the Aeon's two stage twisty is pretty darn good too. Even my wife, when using this light to take out garbage noted the less than ideal UI. It is better than the UI on other lights, I like the ordering of the outputs and the hidden strobe modes, but still a three stage twisty would be awesome (did you hear that David Chow?).

Hands Free: 1

No pocket clip or flats on the sides means that this light rolls and rolls and rolls on a flat surface. It does tailstand very nicely, but still a little flat portion would be good for a logo and keep the light from rolling away, but it would probably add costs given the additional machining necessary.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

I liked this light a lot. It is an amazing value for only $60. Still, it is not as nice as the Aeon nor as nice as the Incendio, which is the same price and adds a clip, clicky, and a higher high. As a first light, this is a great purchase and a testament to just how good 4sevens is at making flashlights. As a keychain or true pocket flashlight, this is a great light. It is an incredible value at $60, well deserving of its place on the Top Ten Values from the Recommendation Series (I will note, however, that while the Incendio's upgrade to the XM-L emitter was free, the Mini's requires an additional $10 cash, boo). But with a few updates though, like a three stage twisty and a pocket clip, this light could be an all star.

PS: What do you think of the light box shots?

Friday, October 7, 2011

McGizmo Interview

So the Branespload interview was really interesting.  Just on a lark I sent an email to Don McLeish, McGizmo (here is his clearinghouse of info thread on CPF).  I had no real expectation that I would receive a response given how busy he is, but...why not try?  It would be like emailing Picasso and asking him about where he buys his paints (yes, I know Picasso is dead and died before email was invented, but still...you get the point).  But Don is a super nice guy, and so within 24 hours I had a response.  There were a few questions that Don didn't answer, but that is totally cool.  The ones he did were the important ones.  He is also quite witty.  Here is the interview:

Q: Current EDC Knife/Light Combo?

A: Sapphire:

Haiku High CRI:


(Mission Ti Folder in beach bag):


Editor's Note: the Mission Ti Folder is a folding knife produced specifically for diving use.  Here is the product page.  The blade is Titanium, making it light and impervious to rust.  A special forging process exclusive to Mission makes it hard enough to use as a knife, getting the Ti's Rockwell Hardness up to around 47. 

Q: What is your one grail item?

A: Sapphire

Editor's Note: Wonder if he meant MAKING the Sapphire, having one of his Sapphire's, or a REAL Sapphire.  It has to be either the first or the last explanation because if you are the guy that makes everyone's grail lights how can any light really be a grail item?  Right?  Still, the Sapphire is really an awesome little light, so maybe it is the second explanation.

Q: Thumbhole, flipper, or thumbstud? 

A: Thumbstud

Editor's Note: I wonder if thumbstuds work better under water?  It seems, from the pictures, that McGizmo does a lot of diving, so maybe they just work better there.  I still stand by the thumbhole, but different strokes for different folks. 

Q: Infinite Variable Brightness: great feature or gilding the lilly? 

A: Unnecessary

Editor's Note: I tend to agree.  I like the Infinite Variable Brightness on the Surefire Titan T1A, but I am not sure how useful it is.  A lot of lights, however, have tacky implementations of the feature.  I guess the selector ring is okay, but really how many settings do you need?  Moonlight, task, and blast are plenty.  A well selected set of levels and a good UI eliminates most of the need for Infinite Variable Brightness.   

Q: How do you care data with you?  USB drive, cloud, some other method?

A: Don't.

Editor's Note: I am not sure how useful this is, unless you work in an office.  If you don't I can't really see the need to carry data.  If you are a scuba diver and flashlight craftsman, why bother right? 

Q: What item do you carry/wear that has the most sentimental value? 

A: Wedding ring.

Editor's Note: Me too.  I got my wedding ring from my grandparents, who gave it to me on their 50th wedding anniversary, which was the same year I got married.  It is really, really important to me.  

Hope you enjoyed this one.  It was really awesome of Don to return my email.  Man's a genius when it comes to making lights.  I couldn't be happier with my Haiku and I am even more pleased knowing it came from such a stand up guy.  

Thanks Don.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mid-Sized Production Knife EDC Shoot Out

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


Mini Grip 555hg:

IMG_0011


Delica 4:


IMG_0001


Skyline:


IMG_0058


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

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


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

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

Methodology

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

Scoring System Points

Design:

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

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Fit and Finish:

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

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Grip:

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

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Carry:

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

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Steel:

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

Mini Grip: 5
Skyline: 3
Delica: 1

Blade Shape:

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

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Grind:

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

Delica: 5
Benchmade: 3
Skyline: 1

Deployment Method:

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

Delica: 5
Benchmade: 3
Skyline: 1

Retention Method:

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

Skyline: 5
Delica: 3
Mini Grip: 1

Lock:

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

Mini Grip: 5
Delica: 3
Skyline: 1

Total Points

Mini Grip: 42
Delica: 31
Skyline: 16 

Value Calculations

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

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

Value (price compared to performance; dollars/points)

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

Conclusion

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


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