Monday, November 28, 2011

Keychain Evolution

This is for Dan.

As I have mentioned before, the keychain is a necessary evil.  Who, if they had the choice, would want to carry a set of heavy metal items that you use, a total, of 30 seconds a day?  Not me.  But over the years people that like gear have set out to make this necessary evil something that was useful.  One of my favorite blogs, Keychain Pockets, is dedicated entirely to the construction and review of great keychain set ups and keychain gear.

Before I go through the evolution of my keychain, here are links to the keychain tools series I did a while back, basically all of the research I did in building my own keychain over the past four years:

Part I: Carry Methods
Part II: Flashlights
Part IV: Multitools
Part V: Knives
Part VI: Random Round Up

My keychain has changed quite a bit over the past four years. At first, I just wanted to figure out what tools to include on the keychain itself.  Here is what I did: I got a bunch of tools, a sort of "All Star" line up of things people liked on their keychain: a spy capsule, a mini lighter, a can opener, a knife, a multitool, and a flashlight.  I rotated them in for two weeks.  If I didn't use the tool, I took it off.  In the end I tested out a bunch of different things, but eventually settled down on two and only two tools--a flashlight and a OPMT.  All of the other stuff, a tiny pocket knife, the spy capsules, the can openers, the mini-lighters, were rarely if ever used.  They also added bulk and made it difficult to carry my keychain into secure locations, like courts and correctional facilities. 

After I figured out what tools I wanted I then started the process of researching upgrades.  Its funny because all of the research led me from cheap to expensive back to cheap.  I realized that the tools on my keychain were almost always backups, as I tend to carry a knife and flashlight whenever I am not in a suit.  And those days where I am in a suit, there is little need for anything more than the stuff on my keychain.  As backups I really just wanted failsafe stuff that was easy to use and cheap.  No need to drop tons of money on stuff that when it comes down to it, is used to light up my front door (the flashlight) and open a beer bottle.  After that I turned to the keyring itself.  I went from the standard split ring to a high end option from Berkeley Point, to a super lightweight option from my local hardware store.  Again, it was about weight and expense.  Nothing on my keychain, other than car related stuff, costs more than $12 or weighs more than a half an ounce.  It is a dramatic departure from my keychain at the height of my madness, where the entire thing cost more than $200.

Stage 1: The Split Ring

No picture here because, well it was boring.  I hate the standard split ring.  It is large, heavy, and difficult to use.  If the upgrades were expensive I could see why people still use it, but the option I use now is about a dollar and half more, so really, why bother?  The issue, for me, is accessibility.  It is hard to get things off the keychain and hard to use them when they are on the split ring.  It is especially hard to get stuff on and off when you are dealing with those fat rubber or plastic keys that car makers insist on using nowadays.

I tried out a bunch of stuff on this keychain--a spy capsule, a tiny knife (this is the reason I purchased a Dragonfly, initially), a tiny lighter.  All of this stuff, except the knife, was virtually unused.  The spy capsule had cash in it, but I never used that.  It seems to me that all of this stuff is really about an idea of being prepared more so than actual utility.  There might be a situation in which the spy capsule might be useful or the lighter might come in handy, but with something that I have to carry everyday, I'd prefer to have on it only those things I use everyday.  I can always keep that other stuff in my car or my backpack so that it is handy.  I just can't think of a situation in which I would need either of those things and have only my keychain on me.  There are situations in which they are useful, but in those cases I have my wallet or my backpack with me.  In situations where they aren't useful, which is like all of the time, I just don't need them.  So I cut them out.  The knife was useful, but I would like to have a bottle opener too.  So I dropped the knife, knowing that I would always be carrying one, except when wearing a suit, and instead looked at a OPMT.

This is when I found my Atwood Atwrench.  I liked the size and the custom feel of the tool.  It was also in the days before Atwood auctions.  I emailed Peter, asked what he had on hand, and he mailed me out an Atwrench later that week.   

Stage 2: Berkeley Point

After the Atwrench things started getting a little crazy.  I had always carried an Arc AAA-P on my keychain, but with the Atwrench in the mix, I couldn't help myself.  I tricked out my keychain with a nice, bombproof keyring from Berkeley Point.  Here is the whole set up:


Here is the triangle keyring attachment.  The triangle had the advantages of the splitring--durability mainly--but it also allowed for quick removal of tools and keys.  It seemed like a great solution at the time, but in reality it was less than ideal.  First, it was very bulky.  My keychain started to poke holes in the pockets of my slacks.  It was also heavy to lug around.  Second, unlike a circle, the triangle had corners and these bunched up the keys and tools.  They made it hard for the tools to flow around the keyring and often times led to awkward bunches that made it hard to extract the keychain from my pocket.

So the quest continued.  I even thought about getting a Keyport until I realized that it would not work well with my regularly shuffling lineup of keys.  During this search I also did something I should have done a long time ago--I keyed all of my exterior doors to the same key, eliminating two keys off the keychain.  I also took off the fob for my wife's car, which significantly decreased the bulk.


Dear Car Manufacturers,

If you insist on still using physical keys instead of biometrics or smartphone apps, please consolidate the key and the fob into one unit.  I don't understand why you waste all of that real estate on these massive rubber or plastic key heads on your logo and nothing else.  Put some fucking buttons on there.  Seriously.



Some car makers do this, like Audi and BMW.  But everyone should do it.  I see no reason why I should carry two things when one thing will do the job even better.  Even non premium makers do this, Chrysler for a long time had buttons built in to the key head.


Stage 3: Coated Cable

One day I was shopping at my local non-box hardware store and I saw a coated cable with a twist release.  It was in the keychain section and it was like $1.25.  I picked it up and took it home.  I swapped out the triangle for the cable and I have never looked back.  It is so much lighter, it does not cause clumping, and it is easier to use.  It is not as durable.  Eventually the coating wears down and the cable frays, but that is off set by the price (the triangle was not cheap).  Thus far I have purchased two coated cables in about two years.  Not too bad.

Here was my first coated cable set up:


With the lighter keyring I also switched out the tools.  I dropped the Arc, as venerable as it was, it was just too big, for a Streamlight Nano.  I also swapped out the Atwrench for a JDR Ti Baby Pacu 2.5.   The result was a much lighter keychain.  It was also cheaper too, making me less worried about losing it or leaving it at a check in station at court or a correctional facility.

The Nanostream was a great little light except for one major problem--the batteries.  The batteries are hard to install, even with the stack and slide trick, and they are very hard to find at an economic price.  The LR41s were $5 each at Radio Shack.  The unit uses 4.  You can buy them on the internet much cheaper, of course, but you need to buy them in massive shipments, of 50 or more.  At that point it is not worth it.  I managed to find a "watch battery pack" at Harbor Freight that had some, but they were not stocked consistently.  Which meant that I could just buy a new Nanostream for the batteries and save money.  I also noticed that the Nanostream gobbled up batteries.  I also really didn't like the "anondized" finish.  It started flaking off almost immediately.

So I dropped it and opted instead for the LRI Photon Micro II.  It is not particularly bright and there are about a million different rip off versions (fauxtons).  But is durable and the batteries last and are cheaper and more widely available. I liked its simple interface over the Freedom's more variable but complex UI. 

The JDR tool lived on my keychain for quite a while, but eventually I saw a Shard in person and realized that I really wanted a Phillips driver.  I bought it for $5 and tested it out.  The Pacu never made it back on my keychain.

Here is my current keychain set up after about four years of experimenting and testing:

At this point I am pretty satisfied.  I would strongly recommend against a ton of tools on your keychain.  It makes it unnecesarily bulky and quite frankly almost all of the tools are compromised in some way.  A bottle opener/OPMT and a small flashlight, for me, were the only necessary items.  Eliminating keys and lightening up the keyring itself were the most important changes as they make it much easier for me to carry and access my keys.

It seems weird to think about a keychain this much, but you carry it with you EVERYDAY and you use it, though seconds at a time, EVERYDAY.  A little bit of thought can make a big difference in what and how you use your keychain.  If I were starting out I would opt for either the Photon/Shard combo for a cheap lightweight solution or a Muyshondt Aeon/PS4 Squirt combo for a premium set up.  I have the Aeon/Squirt in my pocket usually, so I don't need to carry them on my keychain, but I can see why people would.  As for the keyring itself, there is no question--coated cable all the way.  They are cheap, sufficiently durable, lightweight, and don't clump. 

The coated cable twin tool set up makes an excellent stocking stuffer gift or an awesome thoughtful gift for a Dad or a brother (or a Mom or a sister, too).  Maybe eventually the splitring will just go away. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Deals

I didn't do a ton of shopping, but we did hit a few places and I was scouting out good deals the entire time.  Three hit me as particularly nice.

First, like EDCF told us, Marshalls and TJ Maxx (yeah I know, not my favorite stores either) had the entire Serac line of flashlights on sale for probably less than cost.  I picked up a $14.99 Serac S3.  Significantly better than the $48 I paid for it earlier this year.  At that price, no one should pass them up.  They are outstanding lights and at less than $20, they are probably the best deal on the market right now for an EDC flashlight.

Also, as I sorta kinda maybe predicted, the Leatherman Wingman was a loss leader at Home Depot.  For $19.99 you could get one, while supplies lasted.  I am planning on getting a Charge TTi with Christmas money, so I passed, but think of this: for less than $35 ($34.98 to be exact) you could have a really stunning EDC light and saber kit that would last you for a very, very long time.

The last buy was something of a fluke.  I was working on Part III of the Going Through the Process series when I clicked on to Chestnut Ridge Knife Shop to research Becker BK7 sheathes when I saw an Ontario Ranger Series knife on sale.  It had 1095 handles, my sweet spot length of around 7 inches, and micarta handles.  On a BK7 this set up would be about $90.  It was on sale for $49.99.  I couldn't pass that up.  I will go more into the purchasing decision later, but that is a cranking sweet deal.  They might not all be gone, so here is the link (they had 10 on Thursday night, I don't know how many they have now). Here's the knife:

Also, I got some batteries, because, well batteries are always a good buy on Black Friday (36 AAs for $12...).

Gerber Shard Review

The Gerber Artifact was a complete and total failure--emblematic of Gerber's fall from a high perch in the industry two decades ago.  The swill that now wears the Gerber label is perhaps the worst gear available, with a few notable exceptions.  It is not as bad as the loss leader pack of two dozen knives for $20, but it is also vastly more expensive.  When you break it down by price v. performance nothing come close to approaching the terrible ratio the average piece of Gerber gear has.  It is among the worst made and designed stuff on the market, but it is priced as if it were a true equal to brands like Spyderco.

It comes as no surprise then that they released the Shard originally as a give away at trade shows, not to be sold to the public, but as a swag for visiting their booth.

It was as if a Gerber executive (actually Fiskars, they own Gerber now) was saying:

"Come look at our terrible gear that is vastly overpriced and we will give you this tiny, ingenious tool for free, noting that it is what you'd really want.  No we aren't selling it to you, so there.  Go buy our Zombie kit and shut up."

This is a sad commentary on Gerber in two ways.  First they don't know what their consumers want.  And second they do not know how to monetize those desires even when the consumers tell them what they want.  After shots of the Shard leaked out, the gear consuming public started to clamor for them to go on sale.  For months, Gerber insisted they would never be sold, that they were a give away special, and instead people should really consider buying the Artifact, the tool the Shard was helping to promote, which is a piece of junk.  Then after months of online complaining and petitions and emails, Gerber changed their minds and decided to produce the Shard for sale.

Gerber exec: "Fine, I guess we will give you what you want and make a profit, if we have to..."

 Here is the Shard's product page.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review.  Here are the Amazon reviews.  It received a 4.06 stars out of 5 with 32 reviews.  And here is my Shard, living happily on my keychain (along with a LRI Micro Photon II, a coated aircraft cable mechanics keyring, and my keys):


Design: 2

The Shard does right what the Artifact did, including a Phillips driver, but it fixes all of what the Artifact did wrong.  It is thin.  It has an large lanyard hole.  And none of the tools cramp each other.  It is the right size as well, an overall 2 3/4 inch long and probably a 1/8 inch thick.  It feels solid without being overly bulky. 


Fit and Finish: 2 

The Artifact's painted coating was replaced by a TiNi coating and it has held up well, given that it dwells in the metal tumbleweed that is my keychain.  There are some burnishing marks where the Shard rubs up against keys most often, but other than everything is fine.  All of the holes and edges were cut well and again, the bottle opener is super aggressive and this time it is accessible, making it the best I have seen on a OPMT.  Even the grind on the v-notch is good. 

Theme: 2

As a minimalist tool, the Shard is a gem.  It has everything I'd want on a OPMT and nothing I don't.  I like the size and thickness as well.  It is a perfect keychain pal.  The large lanyard hole makes a huge difference on the keychain allowing you to use the tool without removing it and allowing the Shard to flow easily on your keychain.

Grip: 2

Jimping on a keychain tool?  Cool.  Jimping that actually works?  Yowza.  The tool's shape and jimping make it very easy to hang on to even when you are applying some heavy force.  The jimping is very nice.  


Carry: 2

Because of the spacious lanyard hole this tool carries like a dream.  Nothing at all to complain about here.  You can even use the tool when it is on your keychain.  Go figure.
Materials: 2

Mystery meat stainless steel and a TiNi coating have held up well to about a year of use.  Again, like with the 420HC on the Leatherman Sidekick, it may not be high tech, but it works and that's what counts.  

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

Yipee! All of the tools work both on and off a keychain.  Superb.  

Retention Method: 1

I love the big lanyard hole I really do, but I think that even with the spacious sizing, it may make the Shard hard to get on and off a standard split ring.  I hate split rings and hopefully everyone reading this has moved beyond them, but you have to account for them when you are designing a keychain tool and try as they might, I don't think this design plays well with the old tried and true splitring.  

Tool Selection: 2

Ah!  A OPMT with a built-in Phillips driver.  


How awesome is that?  I love the tool selection here.  It is just perfect.  Everything you need and nothing you don't.  I couldn't pick a better seven tools for a OPMT if I were designing it myself.  Perfect.  Great, great, great.  

Tool Performance: 2

Shockingly everything works very well.  Unlike the Artifact nothing gets in the way of anything else.  They are all nice and well designed.  The bottle opener is superb.  The v-notch, seen below, is good. 


The Phillips driver works well.  Every single tool just works.  I love it.   

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

This is a great little tool and for under $8, this is a no-brainer.  You could spend your time and money on a snooty Atwood tool or get this guy and give up the small batch custom feel in exchange for $50 or more in your pocket and a built-in Phillips driver.  If you are looking for a keychain tool, stop.  This is the one you should buy.  If, after a while, you want something fancier Peter will still be making his works of art and you get go get one of those.  I did this backwards, going from an Atwood to this, but I am perfectly happy with this guy on my keychain.  

A great tool and a win from Gerber.  I'd like to see them make a comeback, but with all of the emphasis they are placing on their Zombie kits and Bear Gryllis I think this tool is an aberration instead of a new trend.  I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.  After all, the Zombie kit is $350.  Kill me now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

10 EDC Tips for Black Friday Deals

Black Friday is a shopping bonanza.  If you want a flat screen for $500 you can stampede your fellow Americans for one.  If you want a laptop for $199 you can push, shove, and riot through a Wal-Mart all in the name of Christmas cheer.  But if you want to be a smart shopper, or simply have something to do when you are dragged to the store by a significant other, and improve your EDC stuff at the same time, follow these ten tips.

1.  Buy batteries

The one predictable place where you can actually score good buys and improve your EDC stuff on Black Friday is in the battery section.  Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Target, and Lowes all sell massive tubs of batteries, usually AA or AAA alkalines, for really low per unit prices on Black Friday.  Lithiums are better (and CR123As are better still) but with prices as low as they are on Black Friday there is no real reason not to stock up.  

2.  Avoid knife "collections"

It seems that a couple of years ago one of the big boxes sold a 256 or 318 or 455 piece drill bit set, something so large as to be entirely useless, and all of the bits except for the four most commonly used sizes were nothing but black painted pot tin.  This little tidbit seems to be par for the course for all of these GIANT knife and flashlight kits they sell at the big boxes on Black Friday.  If you see something with 10 or 20 knives at a price of around a dollar a piece and with a vaguely rustic sounding brand name like "Mountain Trail" or "Wilderness Adventure" AVOID.      

3.  Set a limit for throw away and experimental stuff

You walk in and see bins waist high full of potentially cool looking tiny flashlights. Even the most jaded, high end flashlight snobs get stung by the bargain bee.  But don't think for a minute that any of this stuff is worth it.  Okay, once in a GREAT while you will find something actually useful, but that is 1 out of 100.  So, limit yourself.  Set aside $10 or $20 and get something, but don't waste a bunch.  Getting that one item with sate your materialistic lust, without wasting real money.  Who knows, you might find that perfect flashlight for your car kit?

4.  If you've never heard of the brand name or even seen it in the store before Black Friday AVOID

See #2.  I find it amazing that all of these brands, better suited for Harbor Freight, are all of sudden all over the place on Black Friday.  If they are only in stores for one day a year, what chance is there that they will be there if the product breaks, say, in June?  Zero.  Plus really do we need to buy more junk? 

5.  Don't forget the small stuff

If you get these massive coupons and flyers, sometimes they are just a generic 10% or 20% off or sometimes they have a threshold to reach before savings kick in.  In these cases don't forget the batteries, the mechanics cable keyrings (which I have found at every Ace around me), or other tidbits.  Other great candidates: EDC maintenance supplies, like those mentioned here.   

6.  Mag lights are never worth it

They either: a) stink or b) are overpriced for what you get.  Don't be tempted.  They won't make a good back up to your back up to your back up flashlight.  Even in that role your better off with a different cheap light.  

7.  Mag lights are sometimes worth it

If your going to mod it or drop in a super high performance upgrade, then the Mag lights are okay.  The new TerraLux drop in hits 1000 lumens.  So, for about $120 you can have a 1000 lumen monster (the cost of the light plus the drop in) with three different output modes. 

8.  Scope out the new stuff from familiar brands

There is a release schedule for all of the major brands and it starts with SHOT Show and other trade shows in the first quarter of the year and ends with the product releases in the last quarter, right around Black Friday.  Surefire announced the brand new 500 lumen Fury this month.  Leatherman releases the Sidekick and Wingman last month.  None of this is a coincidence. Take advantage of the deals and see if you can snag a quality item at a discount price.    

9.  Check for loss leaders

All stores sell a few high profile things at or slightly below cost to attract shoppers.  These are called loss leaders.  Lots of commodities are used to lure people in--hard drives, USB drives, other stuff.  If you can find things you were looking for in the flyers full of loss leaders, then it might be worth braving the hordes of stampeding people.

10.  Buy a USB drive

USB drives are almost always loss leaders.  Each year they get bigger and cheaper.  Everyone can always use a little portable storage.  So why not drop a few bucks for one of these?

Keep an eye for internet deals the following Monday as well.  Its going to happen.  Its inevitable, like gravity or taxes.  Your going to go shopping, even if it is just for a second, so keep an eye out for a deal or two.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Inkleaf Contest

Okay, I finally purchased and it should work, sending everyone back to the original Blogger site.  There are some other renovations on the way.  But as a way to kick off this series of changes, I am going to run a contest.  The winner will receive the stunning Moleskine cover from Inkleaf Leather that I reviewed a while back.  Here is a shot:


I timed this contest this way, obviously to announce the new URL, but also to stoke the fires for Inkleaf right before the holidays.  If your someone special is looking for a satchel, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a peer to the Inkleaf satchel.  They also have great wallets and notebook covers, like the one you see above.  They have all kinds of stuff in all kinds of price ranges.

The item that is up as a prize was provided to me for free by Inkleaf.  It has a value of $60.  To win you have to simply become a follower of the blog.  If you are already a follower you have already entered the contest.  On December 5, my birthday, I will choose a follower at random and that person will be the winner.  I'll mail you out the cover the following day. 

If you have a Google account it is painless to become a follower. If not, you have to sign up for one which is almost painless.  I am not going to collect any information from people (firstly because I don't want any and secondly because I don't know how).  The only reason I am doing this is because this is the only way I have to track who gets what.

The winner will not be disappointed.  This is a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship.  Its great for your calendar or notebook or as a gift to that sexy, bookish librarian-type you know.  So become a follower and get free, cool stuff. 

In a hundred years your moleskine, with all of your first drafts of famous books, will be on Antiques Roadshow with its weather and worn, but perfectly functional Inkleaf cover and someone with a pointer and a British accent will be showing the camera your handwriting and the tiny, classy Inkleaf logo.  

Good luck.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gerber Artifact Review

Gerber Legendary Blades used to be truly legendary.  There is a large contingent of people that still love their famous Mark 2 Fighting Knife.  Their folding knives in the mid-70s through the mid-80s were really top of their class, being the first company to sell Paul Poelhmann's brilliant and complicated to make (but easy to use) Axial lock.  But after that things started to go downhill.  Instead of using cutting edge steel, at the time stuff like ATS 34, they started marking their knives with mystery meat steel, things like "high carbon steel" or "stainless steel".  It was a portent of the future.  When they are bought out by Swedish tool company Fiskars quality that was barely tredding water just sunk.  Lots of things now had orange accents, but nothing really had any design flair or quality.  The current line up, dominated by Bear Grylls branded products is chock full of junk.  Some of it is actually expensive junk, which is just really awful--it looks terrible, it performs terrible, it made of terrible stuff, and yet it still demands a premium price.  The brand still has the ability to sell despite of the downfall.

The Gerber Artifact was their first entry into the One Piece Multitool market even though the Artifact is not, in fact, a one piece tool.  Lots of folks decried the design as a rip off of Peter Atwood's designs and there is, in fact, a lot of truth to that.  Still, all tools are derivatives of other tools, so I am not going to cast aspersions here.  The Artifact is no longer produced but there is a significant amount of stock still out there.

There is no longer a product page.  Here is a good street price.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review.  Here are the Amazon reviews, where it received a 3.63 out of 5 stars with a total of 88 reviews.  Here is a picture of the Artifact (I have long since got rid of mine):

Here is the multitool scoring system, with each criteria and the 0-2 scores explained.  

Design: 1

Imagine if squabbling politicians designed a keychain tool based on a picture of an Atwood tool.  Now imagine that they gave that design to a group of monkeys that were drunk on cheap vodka.  This is what they would produce.  It has a bunch of tools, but they all seem to be fighting with each other.  The keychain attachment point is the heart of the problem.  When attached it precludes the use of the Phillips driver and it makes the pry and bottle opener difficult to use.  The knife is downright dangerous without removing the tool from the keychain.  In addition to the lack of space, the tiny, tiny pass through means that torquing and twisting are inevitable as the weight of a keychain carries the tool off axis.  In the abstract, a folding knife is a neat idea, as it is incorporated into this cramped design it is a failure.  Even off a keychain things are still bunched.  Only the bottle opener and pry work well.  Bad design with one good idea.  

Fit and Finish: 0

The edge seam was noticeable, the lock on the fold out knife was hard to disengage and engage, and the finish flaked off almost instantly.  The lanyard triangle was too small for keychain use really.  Nothing really nice at all.  The material is listed as "stainless steel" without any specifications, which leads me to believe it is JUNK.  If you had good stuff, you'd brag about it right?    

Theme: 0

This is a keychain tool, right?  So how about make useful even if it is on your keychain?  Again the lanyard hole's size and placement make this tool very difficult to use when attached.  When its not attached it still bunches things up.  I also don't like the thickness of the tool as it is definitely the largest and heaviest thing on your keychain, unless your really in love with keychain tools. 

Grip: 0

The lanyard hole again screws things up, but not that bad when the tool is off the keychain.  The real issue here is the awkward angle at which the folding knife engages the lock.

When you use it like a knife, cutting edge down, the curve of the tool coaxes your hand towards the blade.  When you use it in the opposite position cutting with any precision is difficult.   The pry is okay and the bottle opener is actually decent, but only when detached from your keychain.  Not just a bad grip (because of the curves and tiny real estate) but actually dangerous.  No thanks.   

Carry: 0

As you can probably tell by now the lanyard attachment stinks and the tool because of the folding blade is probably twice as thick as a normal OPMT.  At this size and weight why not just carry a really nice keychain knife, like the Spyderco Ladybug (or Jester if you are lucky enough to find one) or a keychain multitool like the awesome Leatherman PS4.   If it was just the size or just the crappy attachment point, it would be a 1, with both it receives yet another 0.  This is not going to be a high score...

Materials: 0

Mystery meat steel=crap.  The finish is painted on not anodized.  Thanks for playing, another zero.

Deployment/Accessibility: 0

I think you can guess, but the folding knife is hard to use on or off a keychain as is the Phillips driver.  The other two tool clusters are better but not great on a keychain and are fine when it is off, but all of this just means that this tool is fundamentally a poor design.  

Retention Method: 0

This is the heart of the entire problem.  I hate, hate, HATE this lanyard hole.  It is so small and hard to get on and off a normal split ring.  Even on a mechanical keychain, like the one I much prefer, it is still a pain in the ass.  

Tool Selection: 2

This is literally the only thing the Artifact does right.  It has a tool set like no other OPMT--the Phillips driver PLUS the folding knife are just too cool.  Now if the tool actually worked that would be another matter entirely.  But as far as simple selection is concerned, great.

Tool Performance: 1

On a keychain only the bottle opener works well.  It is a very aggressive easy to use design.  On a keychain the pry is okay.  The other two tools are virtually inaccessible.  Off a keychain things are different.  The knife is okay, though still dangerously shaped.  The Phillips driver is still a little too bunched up.  Nothing is great and a few things are okay.  Averages out to be a 1. 

Overall Score:  4 out of 20

This is the worst designed, worst implemented tool I have ever used, including a dozen or so crappy Black Friday specials.  I hated this thing, really hated it.  I was so pissed at how poorly it worked.  At first it seemed okay.  It could do some things okay, but over time I truly learned to hate it.  I wrote a post on EDCF about about this guy and at the time I was still thinking it may be useful.  A month later I wanted to melt it for scrap, make it into BBs and fire them through the windshields of the Gerber people's cars when they were empty (it was only $9.99 so I couldn't be TOO angry)[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a joke, it is called hyperbole].  This tool cemented in my mind the fact that Gerber is toast.  They really need to turn things around or the only selling point they have left, the goodwill attached to the brand from ages ago will vanish as well.  A nickel in your pocket would work better than this guy, it can pry and be used as a flathead driver in a pinch, and it is at least worth something and you know what it is made of (nickel). 

That said, as bad is this is, well, the Shard is an entirely different story....that is the next review and I think you will be surprised.  I know I was.   

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Future of EDC

Where are we going?  What will the next generation of knives, lights, and everyday gadgets bring us?  I think there are three things that will both definitely happen and signal the beginning of a new age of gadgets and tools.

Here is my current minimalist EDC:


Less is More

As our phones become more sophisticated it is not too hard to imagine a time when your phone replaces your wallet.  There are all sorts of efforts underway right now that presage this.  Starbucks has an app that lets you buy coffee from your phone without the need for a credit card.   Card Case is another app that allows for credit card free purchases.  It is coming sooner, thankfully, rather than later.  Your phone will put your plastic credit cards out of business.

Then there are the apps that let you do things to your car.  Chevy has an app, OnStarMobile, that lets you remote start your car, among other things.  I can see a future, oh about a year or two from now, when this is a standard feature for cars.  So your phone will eat your keys too.  And who among us likes carrying keys around?  As much as we like the tiny toolbox on our keychain it is really just a way of dressing up a necessary evil--the lump of pokey metal in your pocket that is used once a day for thirty seconds.  Keys are always the "well I guess I have to" part of your EDC set up, but soon at least one set of keys (and usually the bulkiest) will be gone.  It is not hard to imagine Schlage or one of the other lock makers creating a lock that works via your phone, too.

That leaves your watch and your ID.  I think it will be a lot longer until your phone eats your ID, but it is not technically impossible right now.  Slow moving governments, state and local, will be the hang up here, not the tech.  And if you still wear a watch (like I do) then your phone will never eat that.  But it could have done that years ago.

All of your keys and cards in your phone, which is already your camera, your camcorder, your game console, your web browser, and your email.  I can't wait, so long as they all have a remote wipe feature like the iPhone does.

Even if you still carry a wallet, you might be able to save some weight with newer materials.  Carbon fiber is an excellent material for knife handles and smartphone cases.  I'd like to see it in other places too like a carbon fiber/polymer bodied flashlight.  There are even really thin, nice wallets made of carbon fiber, with a space saving design (even if the weight in an item this small is not an issue). Some of the new sail material is also an excellent choice for bags and wallets, substantially cutting down on bulk in bags as a replacement for stiff nylon.   

Longer Life

I have owned and used my Muyshondt Aeon for about 18 months now and thus far I have used two CR2 batteries (still working on the second one).  So while they are more expensive on a per cell basis, the CR2s last so much longer in this little jewel of a light that the price difference doesn't really matter.  The ZDP-189 blade on my Dragonfly II is similarly long lasting.  I have brutalized this thing:


(I cut up a cardboard box that thick that was the size of a refrigerator) and it has needed only one touch up on the Sharpmaker, after 7 months of use.  It's edge retention is insane.

These two little items demonstrate something that people in the know have understood for a while--endurance and reliability are the most important thing when it comes to gear.  A 600 lumen count for an EDC light is nice, but entirely unnecessary.  I'd like something that runs at a decent level FOREVER.  And all of the gee whiz flippers and assisted openers and rotoblocks are nice, but more than anything a knife that holds an edge for a long, long time is the key.  I want my stuff to come out and be ready without having to think about all of the maintenance and upkeep.  I'll do that because I care about my gear, but it is nice not having to do it if I forget.

As emitters get better and steel gets more sophisticated we are getting close to ZERO maintenance gear.  Imagine a steel that holds an edge like ZDP-189 and is rust proof like H1.  I'd take that.  Imagine an emitter that can run for days at 100 lumens and a knife blade that needs sharpening once a year.  It is coming...and so is the super long life smartphone 


We are still only about 5 or 6 years removed from the advent of the multi-output flashlight.  And UIs are all over the place.  Twist and click, double click, click and hold.  We still don't have a standardized UI, but it is coming, too.  There seems to be a convergence.  Eagletac's UI on their D25 series is very similar to 4seven's UI on the MiNi Quark series, which itself, is a direct borrowing from the UI on the BiTz and Ti BiTz custom lights.  It may be that we are witnessing the formation of a standard UI in twisty-style flashlights.  I'd prefer the simplicity of the two or three stage twisty like on the Aeon, but I think that is more complex to implement and thus more expensive.

Similarly we are seeing UIs in clicky lights.  Nothing compares to the ease of use of the McGizmo clicky, and we see this UI implemented in other places.  The really great Leatherman Serac S3 light had it (why they went out of production I will never understand).  The Lumapower Incendio has it.  The combination of easy switching and mode memory seen on the McGizmo gives you all of the customization I think a reasonable user needs with none of the fuss or insanity of some of the more complex UIs.

Another area where standardization seems to be taking hold is in pocket clip design.  Flashlights like the Nitecore D10 and EX10 had a proprietary pocket clip that was beyond frustrating to install and did not hold well.  The next gen from Nitecore, by contrast, has switched over to the elegant and simple McGizmo clip.  Take a peak:

And now the McGizmo version:

BTW, isn't that light just droolicious?  Note that the clips are identical in shape and design (though one has been treated).  Sunwayman is also using the McGizmo clip on its Ti version (even though they are not part of the Nitecore/JetBeam company).  Even the Eagletac link above shows a clip VERY similar to the McGizmo design.

I'd like to see pocket knives converge on a standard clip but that doesn't seem likely.  I'd love the Spyderco wireclip or the Kershaw/Strider simple clip become standard but for whatever reason knife designers have a fetish with weird and less than ideal pocket clips.  I'd also like to see a spine riding clip on a production knife.  They look beautiful on Joe Caswell's custom blades.

And flashlight UIs and pocket clips are only the beginning.  I can see many different items becoming standardized.  I can see the features of a "tactical" v. "utility" flashlight coalescing into two very uniform groups (this may have happened already, in fact).  The Fisher pen insert has already become something like the standard in "tactical pens" and for good reason.  I wouldn't mind more standardization in flashlight batteries, especially in very small batteries (where 10180 would be my choice) and large rechargeables (I like the 18650 used in Dark Suck's light).   I'd also like some standard features on a smartphone, such as the ability to use physical buttons to quickstart the phone for pictures (the only feature, I think, that is worthwhile on a Windows 7 phone). 

That is where I think things are going.  The faster we get there and the less stuff I have to carry and maintain, the better.  I am not a shambling tool box kind of guy and a slim smartphone, tiny knife, and awesome jewel of light sound very, very good to me.   

Monday, November 14, 2011

Leatherman Sidekick Review

I have owned both Gerber and Leatherman multitools, as well as a few generic Black Friday specials.  Generally the quality of the Gerber tools ranks right up there with the worst of the Black Friday specials.  The designs and fit and finish are appalling.  But they still sell.  And the reason why is that prior to the release of the Wingman and the Sidekick the cheapest Leatherman tools were still twice the price of the cheapest Gerber tools.

It never made sense to me because we are talking about a relatively inexpensive item.  The cost of the headaches and pinched fingers associated with using a Gerber was far higher than the $20 price difference.  I could forego three lunches at Subway for the upgrade.  But crap that looks like nice stuff but sells for half the price sells well.  Gerber had the name brand cheap multitool niche all to itself.

Then Leatherman decided to get into the game with two new tools, I covered here.  Leatherman was kind enough to send a tool to review (thanks to Juli in the marketing department).  I wanted a Wingman to test out the new clam shell cutter, but all they had were Sidekicks.  Never one to pass up a piece of gear to review I said yes and the goods were shipped out.  

By coincidence we were hit with a very rare October snowstorm that dumped two feet of snow on the ground just days after the Sidekick arrived.  I was able to test it doing some of the clean up from that storm.  I also used it to install a lamppost and doing two weekends worth of fall chores.  In all I got to see the tool in its full range.  The lamppost allowed me to test the pliers and wirestrippers, as well as both screw drivers.  The fall chores were perfect for the knife and the pliers.  And finally, the clean up allowed me to test the saw and serrated edge.  There was no real test for the can opener as I think we have reached the point where the can opener is to modern multitools what the corkscrew is to SAKs--a vestige of a long gone problem infrequently encountered.  It does work okay as a clam shell cutter, one of the two tools the Sidekick lacks compared to the Wingman.     

Here is the product page.  Here is a good street price.  Here is a video review.  Here is a written review.  Here are the Amazon reviews.  It received an average of 4.67 stars out of 5 with 3 reviews.  The package comes with a leather sleeve and a carabiner with a bottle opener.  Here is the sample version of the Sidekick, sent to me by Leatherman for review:


Before I get to my review, here is my multitool scoring system with an explanation of each criteria and the 0-2 score. 

Design: 2

The overall look of the Sidekick is very reminiscent of the Wave/Charge series, with a few cues taken from the Skeletool (holes in the frame to lighten the weight, asymmetric handles, and the shape of the blade).  Unlike the Skeletool, however, this design is not a lightweight, coming in at 7 ounces.  The curve of the handle is nice especially when the pliers are deployed.  The push through slots (see below) are a nice idea and do exactly what they are supposed to do.  Of course, the externally accessible tools are always a plus, especially when they are your most frequently used tools (the knife and saw, in this case).  The tool was designed by an in-house engineer at Leatherman named Peter Parker.  Overall, Mr. Parker did very well, especially when you consider that he did not pick the tools to be included, but instead took a list given to him by marketing and had to figure out how to include everything the test groups wanted.  It is not Skeletool-level inspired, but really good nonetheless.     


Fit and Finish: 2

Okay there is a little blade play when the knife is deployed.  That is it.  Otherwise, all of the tools are well made, the handles are comfy, and everything is sufficiently beefy and solid.  The locks for the knife and saw work well.  I am really surprised at just how nice everything is, I was expecting a few stiff pivots or burred tools, especially given the price, but there is nothing like that.  Again, the only knock, and it is a small one, is the tiny bit of up and down blade play on the knife. 

Theme: 2

According to Mr. Parker the Sidekick was designed as an outdoors multitool, especially when compared to the more urbanized Wingman.  The other possible theme was the role of a backup multitool, one you could stash in a survival kit while you carried your primary multitool with you as an EDC.  Overall, the Sidekick hits the mark on both accounts.  The saw does work and having it as one of the two primary tools really places the emphasis on outdoors preparedness.  My only small concern in the role of an outdoors multitool is its weight.  This guy is a beefy wad of steel.  As a backup multitool weight is not much of a concern.  

Grip: 2

Check out the slight curve to the Sidekick's handle:


That one slight touch makes a big difference.  Its not a new idea.  The curve and asymmetrical handles were found on the Skeletool and before that the Victorinox Spirit, but seeing them on a budget design is a first for Leatherman.  That combined with the spring loaded pliers means this is one of the easiest mutlitools to use and hold on to. 

Carry: 1

The only knock I have here is with the weight.  The tool is really heavy.  When I switch from the feather-light Skeletool to this, I notice and so does my belt.  It is not a big problem, and I am not sure how to fix it given the need for a certain amount of bulk (i.e. the pliers head).  

Materials: 2

The knife blade is made of 420HC steel.  If this were a knife and not a multitool I'd give it a 0.  But here is the thing--in its intended role, as an outdoor tool or a backup the 420HC works well.  It is soft and tough meaning that it can be banged around without much fear of chipping or breaking.  It can also be field sharpened.  Finally, because it is so low in carbon content it is very rust resistant making it an excellent "set and forget" backup tool.  I sent an email to Mr. Parker about his steel choice and his answer was persuasive.  The 420HC they use is their own blend and heat treat.  It is the steel they use on almost all multitools and twenty years of use has proven that the steel works.  It is also the material used on the rest of the tool as well.  Good materials are more than just the latest high tech stuff, they should be suited to the tool and here they are.     

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

Clumping (where all the tools on a single pivot deploy at once) can be a problem, but the access slot on the reverse side of the handle along with the little nail hook on the top side of the tool makes access much better.  Here is a shot of the access hole:


Access to the external tools is nice, as the oval thumb holes work well.  I did find that deploying the saw required me to flip the tool upside down, because I am right handed.  I would imagine lefties need to do the same for the knife.  

Retention Method: 2

An excellent pocket clip.  Perhaps the wider clip means less rolling in the pocket, like what happens on the Skeletool.  The clip is simple and removeable:


Tool Selection: 0

Okay we get to the heart of the Sidekick.  The tool selection is okay.  There are some really essential pieces, the knife and the drivers, but there are two wasted tools and a missing one.  First, I don't know why we still need a can opener.  It can be used as a clam shell cutter as I mentioned above, but really, it is a total waste.  I guess multitool orthodoxy says you have to have one.  Then there is the serrated blade.  I am not sure you need both a serrated blade and a saw even though they do two different things.  A good sharp plain edge knife will do fine with rope and the saw can handle wood and plastic much better than the serrated blade can.  It is a wasted tool even on an outdoors multitool.  I also lament the lack of scissors.  Scissors are so generally useful that there has to be a REALLY good reason not to include them.  Their absence, given the serrated blade's inclusion, is especially painful.  Two wasted tools and one essential missing gives you a zero.   


Tool Performance: 2

There are two great tools on the Sidekick: the spring loaded pliers and the Phillips driver.  Here are the pliers (held closed by me):


It is not an exaggeration to say that these are the best pliers ever used in a Leatherman multitool.  They are finely tapered, ground at the tip to clamp tight, and spring loaded.  The spring loaded feature allows the tool to be ready at a moment's notice, always open always ready to grab something.  The Phillips driver is also nice, a beefy though still 2D version:


The saw works well, as do the rest of the tools, even the entirely unnecessary serrated blade.  Great tool performance even if tool selection leaves something to be desired. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

I worked on this review for a long time.  I used the Sidekick extensively.  And in the end I think 17 is exactly right.  This is a very good multitool.  The pliers are the best on any multitool.  But the tool selection is wanting.  I like the outdoors theme and I like the saw, but two unnecessary tools and no scissors holds this guy back from multitool supremacy.

And that is saying a lot, given the price.  At around $30 this is a great tool for first time users or casual users.  It is a great competitor for the junky Gerbers in the same price range.  The extras are kind of bland, though the carabiner is interesting and a neat platform for a different kind of multitool (how about a keychain carabiner where the carabiner is the chain AND the tools?).  As a gift to a newbie or your guy who is suit bound most of the time, this is an excellent buy.

UPDATE: Just got an email from  All Leatherman are 10% off through 11/22/11 with the code LEATHERMAN10.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Emerson Micro Commander

Emerson Knives generate some of the most bi-polar reactions out there.  Some folks swear by them, refuse to acknowledge any other brand, believe that the Emerson Wave is a better invention than the knife itself.  These folks cannot get enough of the super sharp, easy to sharpen chisel grind.  Other folks dislike the weird grind, think the Wave is just another way to get poked in the pocket, and are appalled at the fit and finish on these quite expensive knives.

I am not on either side of the fence.  I have not owned an Emerson, not for the reason stated, but because they have all been too big for EDC carry in my opinion.  Well, they have changed the game with the release of the Micro Commander.

The knife has a v-grind, though Emerson's take on that grind is a little different from the traditional v-grind.  It has decent steel (154 CM).  It has the Emerson Opener and a thumb hole.  It is under $200 (here it is for $175.46).  But the biggest deal is that the blade is under 3 inches, meaning it is pretty close to the ideal size for an EDC blade. 

Here is a jittery overview of the Micro Commander.  There is very little feedback on the knife as it is so new, but I can say that I am thrilled at the idea of getting one.  The opener is nice, but it is the blade shape with the massive belly that really attracted my eye.  This is, I believe, the reason that the Commander has been one of the most popular hard use knives for years.

Maybe Emerson has gone mainstream, or maybe they just wanted to make a knife that everyone could carry.  Either way, the Micro Commander is an interesting addition to the line up.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Today is Veteran's Day.  When I think about the fact that was born in the US at the end of the 20th-beginning of the 21st century, as opposed to the Bavarian hills during the middle of the Black Death, I am really quite amazed at my luck.  When I think about the folks that willingly go off to battle to defend our country and protect our interests overseas again I am struck by how lucky I am.  Thanks to all that serve or served.

One guy in particular stands out.  I work with a guy named Joe.  Joe did a tour in Iraq in 2003-2004.  He did prisoner transports through IED-infested dirt roads.  He survived.  Then he came back, went to law school, got married and had two kids.  When asked if he wanted to re-up he said yes.  This time he had a job and a family.  But always the consummate patriot he did not hesitate when his country came asking for a second time.  Then in 2009 he was tapped for another tour of duty, all the while with a third child on the way.

He is a great lawyer, a good friend, and the epitome of the family man.  He is also a great soldier and one reason why, whenever we go out into the world, even amongst our enemies, people still want to come to America.  Whatever our current problems are, guys like Joe show the kindness, the perserverance, and the humility that makes our country great and a beacon to those less fortunate around the world.

Thanks Joe.  Thanks also to my favorite veteran--my father in law Dom.  And thanks to all that serve.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite Review

Cold Steel is a company is known for really extreme cutlery.  What other major knife company (or any company for that matter) makes FORTY SIX different fully sharpened and functional swords?  Really, how many Civil War reenactors are their out there?  Enough, I guess, to support a website and company that still sells the disgusting food called hardtack.  Still, subtle designs have not been Cold Steel's forte.  Instead, they were known for their high value blades, ambiguously named and formulated steels (Carbon V, anyone?), ridiculous torture test videos and their president, Lynn Thompson, fighting off hordes of blue jeans stuffed with slabs of meat.  They did pioneer the tanto blade shape in America, hailing its virtues as a stabbing tool.  They also make one of the finest production bowie knives in the world.  All of this underscores the fact that they just didn't know how or want to make smaller, more utility style blades.

About three years ago Cold Steel added to its stable of designs.  It brought out products like the American Lawman and Mini Lawman which are surprisingly tame for a company that makes a half dozen folders with blades 5 inches or longer.  Then, they created a really strong and well-designed lock, the Tri-Ad lock (more can be found here, a recent write up of mine ranking the lock types).  The Tri-Ad's beauty is that it works like something you already know and like, the lockback, but has two added benefits--much better strength and superior lock up.  Andrew Demko, one their designers, is credited with the Tri-Ad lock, and it is really a symbol of the new Cold Steel: an impeccable combination of design brains and engineering brawn.  And then they released the Mini Tuff Lite.  Clearly, this is not your father's (or your Mall Ninja's) Cold Steel.

I did a little write up on this knife what seems like ages ago.  It can be found here.   Here is the product page.  Here is a good street price.  Here is a video review.  Here is a written review.  Here are the Amazon reviews.  It received 4.5 stars out of 5, with 4 reviews.  Here is my Mini Tuff Lite:


Design: 2

Again, enough cannot be said about Cold Steel's new design chops.  They went from the bastion of the Mall Ninja to a really good aesthetic language in a matter of a few years, one that embraces their heritage of sturdy tools and at the same time looks towards a future more Spyderco and less Klingon.  The Mini Tuff Lite is a perfect example of that.  The knife is very small in the pocket, even with its unusually thick handle.  It is also quite a nice looking design, with curves and cuts in all the right places.  Even the lanyard hole is well thought out.  And then there is the Tri-Ad lock.  Only one small knock--that little lip on the bottom of the knife in the picture below serves no real purpose and makes the blade kind of uncomfortable to carry.  It is nothing big at all, just unnecessary, something they can get rid of or modify (I think it might be necessary to cover up the engagement points betweent the blade and the stop pin) in the second version of the knife.  The blade:handle is .66, but that is unrepresentative as the choil takes up a lot of the blade's length. 

Fit and Finish: 2

I would normally say something like "...for a $20 dollar knife..." but the fit and finish is so nice there is no caveat necessary.  The Grivory handle is all one piece adding to the rigidity and strength of the knife.  Honestly, Buck could learn a thing or two about how to tighten up tolerances from Cold Steel's Taiwanese makers (yes, this little gem is made in Taiwan).  The edges are nicely cut and the Grivory handle sits well in the hand, especially with the little divot in the middle.  The clip is also well made and actually helps with grip.

Grip: 2

Speaking of grip, this knife is great in use.  The Grivory handle is well textured.  The divot in the middle is nice.  The jimping is effective and well positioned.  The choils are great.  The clip is positioned correctly and works to help keep a hold on the knife.

Even closed, the knife is nicely grippy.  Using this knife and feeling it practically melt into your hand is a sign of how much Cold Steel has evolved.

Carry: 2

The knife is a bit fat.  Here is a comparison between the thickness of the Mini Tuff Lite (on left) and my iPhone 4 (in an Incipio Featherlight Case) (on right).


The Dragonfly II, by comparison, is much thinner.  That said, the handle is very contoured and rounded off.  There are no protrusions, other than the piece of the handle mentioned above, and none of the blade edges are pokey or sharp (other than the one that is supposed be pokey and sharp).  The length of the closed knife is also very compatible with carrying in the jeans pocket.  Overall, an excellent, easy carry knife.  The clip is mounted very high too making it easy to bury in your pocket.  

Steel: 1

Okay, how does this work?  The AUS 8 blade is significantly better at holding an edge than the AUS 8 blade from SOG.  Maybe it is the heat treat or something.  Either way, this guy's AUS 8 has held up significantly better than any other AUS 8 I have used.  It is, finally, in the acceptable range of steels.  Obviously I'd like better steel, but for a $20 this level of performance is quite good.

Blade Shape: 1

I am not a huge fan of Wharncliffe style blades and though Cold Steel calls this an "angle" blade, it is really just a Wharncliffe blade.  The problem with Wharncliffe blades is that they wear unevenly with a ton of use happening at the tip and nothing at all along the vast majority of the cutting edge.  In an EDC blade which can get used EVERYDAY, that sort of uneven distribution of wear can add up.  So far this has not been a problem.  The tip is really aggressive and grabs everything it touches.  The cutting edge is also very aggressive.  But a simple drop point would have been preferred.  This blade shape works, it is just not ideal for EDC use. 

Grind: 2

The grind was really immaculate.  I am shocked, given the price point, how nice this turned out.  Cold Steel's edges are always sharp from the box, but this was sharp, clean, and even.  Excellent job. 

Deployment Method: 1

Really the thumb oval is okay, it just doesn't work as well as a thumb hole or a well designed flipper.  I like it but it can bunch up your thumb pad as you rotate the blade to the open position.  Good but not great.  That said, given the size of the knife, I wouldn't change a thing.  Adding a hole would make the knife much wider and the oval still works better than the average thumbstud. 

Retention Method: 2

A GREAT clip.


This clip is just the right size for a tiny knife and the dip helps with gripping the knife in the open position.  It was not too tight and not too loose.  It doesn't tend to snag and it is deep enough that it is not problem but not so deep as to get lost in your pocket. GREAT.
Lock: 2

The Tri-Ad lock is so robust, so unnecessarily strong that if it added any weight to the knife I would knock it a point, but it doesn't.  One of my favorite designs out there right now.  Go check out the abuse video from Cold Steel (linked in the lock article referenced above).  This thing held 205 pounds of static weight without collapsing or losing its ability to function.  Awesome.

Overall Score:  17 out of 20

Cold Steel's new direction, starting about three years ago, away from the Mall Ninja and towards more serious tools has paid off in spades.  This is a great knife, regardless of price.  The fact that it sells for less than $20 is staggering.  If you are looking for a nice small EDC knife you can do much worse than this blade.  I really, really liked mine.  It even gave my beloved DF II ZDP-189 a run for its money.  I can't say enough good stuff about this knife.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Going through the Process, Part II: Research Candidates

In the last post I explained how I arrived at the criteria I am going to use for selecting a fixed blade knife.  Now I am going to lay out all of the candidates I am researching.  The upper end options are pretty pricey and the lower end options are very inexpensive.  It is rare for me to have such a wide price range when I am looking at gear, but the fixed blade market is a little different than the folding knife market.  When you have so few parts to upgrade and/or pimp out, like on a fixed blade, the steel and its cost become the driving factor, especially because there is so much of it, compared to a folding knife (especially the 2.5 inch knives I prefer for EDC use).  Thus, the price of the steel, which can vary widely, causes the price of the knives to likewise vary widely.  INFI, as a proprietary steel, is not only expensive, but they have to recapture the R&D costs associated with its development.  1095 Cro Van steel, which has been around for a very long time, has very little cost associated with it.  As such, at the high end, I have the Busse Boss Jack and on the low end I have the Condor Rodan.  I'd love to buy them all and test them, but that is not going to happen.  So, I will have to winnow the choices down by specs, price, and my criteria I laid out last time.

Busse Boss Jack

There is really no comparison in terms of a knife that can absorb abuse.  Plus, the knife is simply an awesome looking tool:

Knife did a really graphic, abusive test of the Busse Battle Mistress with INFI steel, and it did quite well.  Now the Boss Jack is not as thick nor as long as the Battle Mistress, but I am not planning on trying to hammer the knife through a CINDER BLOCK.  It is the other tests that interest me, showing the amazing versatility of the INFI steel.  Still, this is the most expensive or second most expensive of the knives I am looking at and that does not include a sheath.  If I were going to use this blade everyday, then I think I'd probably opt for this blade, but as it is I am not sure I can justify the price.  Still INFI steel and the simple elegant design are a siren's call for a knife knut, so it is still on the list. 

Bark River Knife and Tool Bravo 2 

Here is a shot of these beautiful blades:

Good god are they pretty.  Nice steel, great handle design, great blade profile (they use a very hard to do apple seed or full convex grind).  The size is just right too, at 7 inches on the blade.  One drawback though is the use of a leather sheath.  The other is the cost.  Again this is an expensive blade at more than $200.  If I am going to spend that much, I'd rather get the Boss Jack, so this is off the list. 


There are lot of ESEE fans out there.  Here is a fawning review of the ESEE 6. The price is not too bad compared to the higher end knives, clocking in about $132.  The problem is that it uses 1095 steel.  The steel is not bad, but the price, given that steel, is not too good.  It is hard to justify this knife when there are knifes of the same size with the same steel for half the price.  The BK7, one of the entries below, for example, has the same steel and the same length blade (though it is thicker than the ESEE 6) and costs about $62 online.  There are even micarta handles for the BK7 which would make it a twin in terms of materials and even when those upgrades the entire package is still on about $100.  I am sure this is a great knife.  It has received stellar reviews.  But for the price you can do better.  It is off the list.   

Ontario RAT 7

This knife is largely identical to the ESEE 6 (they have a shared heritage) and for the same reasons,  it is off the list as well.

Cold Steel Recon Scout

Here is the first real threat to the Boss Jack.  Here is Nutnfancy's review:

Say what you want about Nutnfancy, but he really does test these fixed blade knives and he knows what he is talking about.  He may have gotten a little long winded, but he is very knowledgeable.  He loved the Recon Scout and it is not hard to see why--decent steel, nice size and shape, and great sheath.  I think this knife gets the edge over the Boss Jack.  It is at least one third the price and I am not sure if my sporadic use will show the superiority of the Boss Jack.  Definitely a top pick. 

Cold Steel SRK

Another Cold Steel knife and another knife beloved by the knife community.  It is easy to see why:

It is a bit smaller than the Recon Scout and it does not have a full flat grind.  But it is seems to be fully functional survival knife.  There are quite a few good tests out there that show it can cut and split wood with the best of them.  And because of the reduced price, even compared to the $90 Scout, I think I could afford the stainless steel version of the SRK.  I don't want to sound like a broken record playing the Cold Steel tune, but this is also a top pick.  

Cold Steel Leatherneck 

A new fixed blade with a blade size of 6.75 inches placing it between the Recon Scout and the SRK.   Here is a good shot:

It also has a nice full flat grind blade, which is good for chopping, something the SRK lacks.  So it comes down to stainless steel v. full flat grind.  I think I will take the full flat grind and bump the SRK down on the list of contenders.

Ka Bar Becker BK7

Speaking of contenders, this is Ethan Becker's 7 inch blade.

Becker's designs have become a niche unto themselves for good reason--they are highly refined, well crafted, and surprisingly inexpensive for what you get.  There is a premium S30V version of the BK7 with micarta handles, but the basic version is a 1095 Cro Van beast.  It has a fabric sheath but for $60-70 online, it is a steal.  You can upgrade the basic handles to the micarta ones and many people make sheaths for Becker's designs.  As it stands, this is probably the number one contender.  If I had to buy the knife now, without further research, this would be it.  I want to narrow down the list a bit more but this is the leading contender. 

Condor Rodan

There is always an argument about price that leads to a slippery slope.  Here is the bottom of the slope.  If the BK7 is just as good, for my purposes, as the Boss Jack, why pay the premium?  But then, if the BK7 is just as good, for my purposes, as the Condor Rodan, why pay that premium?  It is not to say that this analysis is faulty, but it is merely to suggest that this analysis has no end.  Why not, instead, just cut the handle of the maul I have down to a more manageable size?  That's free.  The Rodan, it turns out, is a really good alternative, based on the product reviews around the 'net.  It just happens to be a bit too short for my use.  The sheath is also too basic and doesn't appear to be compatible with my bag.

EDIT: Missed one

Ontario Gen II SP42

A decently priced and sized blade, with a full flat grind.  I missed this blade in part because of how hard the Ontario website is to navigate effectively.  Browsing though pointed me in the right direction.  This is like a combination of the BK7 and the Cold Steel Recon.  Its only knock is a 3/16 thick blade.  The price is super competitive, hitting the same price point as the BK7.  Here is a shot:

Here is my preliminary rank:

1.  BK7
2.  Ontario Gen II SP42
3.  Cold Steel Leatherneck
4.  Busse Boss Jack
5.  Cold Steel Recon Scout
6.  Cold Steel SRK

 Here are a few knives that looked interesting but didn't make the final cut:

Spyderco Rock (and Rock Salt): too expensive for what you get and probably too thin (1/8" thick) for serious chopping.

Spyderco Forager: great knife, but out of production. Secondary market prices make it the same or more than a Boss Jack. At that price point it is not such a stand out. If I could find it for retail it would probably be my number one choice. Some don't like the handle design though.

Kershaw Outcast: yikes, D2 steel is a little too hard for chopping, especially all of the dirty wood I would be collecting, full of sand and dirt particles that would probably chip the edge. A lot of folks also complain about the secondary bevel's grind.

Benchmade CSK II: this knife is virtually identical to the Cold Steel SRK and it has the Benchmade tax of 20%. No thanks.