Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Custom Knives, Part 4: Filip De Coene Hybrid Friction Folder Review

What would a pocket knife look like if it was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe?  How minimal can you get?  What does the Platonic essence of a folding knife look like?  It is a Filip de Coene Hybrid.  This knife is so different, so elegant, so masterfully designed and crafted that it is a revelation in the pocket, in the hand, and in use.  It is truly a masterwork of design and thanks to Filip's dedication that idea has been perfectly realized.  It is where, I hope, custom knives are heading.

Here are the previous installments in this four part review/commentary on custom knives:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This is not going to be a standard review.  It is unfair in many ways to use the same 20 point scale.  First, there is no lock, so it could only get a 18/20 using my regular scoring scheme, which is kind of silly, because quite frankly, this little marvel is about as perfect as I could imagine.  Second, a lot of the features, such as the pocket clip, were things I chose.  It would seem odd to award points for things I like when I was the one that picked them out (even weirder...what if I didn't like the things I chose?).  Finally, I feel like after three years of pining over one of Filip's blades I have lost any semblance of objectivity.

Here is Filip's site.  There are no reviews and I believe that my Hybrid is one of the first made, out of a batch of 6 or so.  It uses D2 tool steel.  My knife came to $296 for shipping from Europe.  The blade's overall dimensions are pretty nice for everyday carry.  The blade is 2.5 inches.  The knife closed is 4.25 inches.  Open it is 6 inches.  The blade to handle ratio is thrown off a bit by the flipper, but the knife feels compact when closed and plenty big when open.  It weighs 3.5 ounces thanks to the full titanium liners.

Filip is one of the best people I have ever dealt with in the custom gear world (rivaling the Hawaiian gentleman whose flashlights we all adore).  Here is how nice he is: three years ago after perusing the Archives section on Bernard's site I contacted him and asked him about a knife.  His prices were more than I had so I told him I would contact him again.  A year later I had some more money and contacted him again, but we weren't able to hammer anything out because of a mismatch of what he had and what I could spend.  Then, this Christmas, I just stocked all the gift money away and emailed him.  "Send me anything you have.  I want a knife of yours."  A month later a small package arrived that my mail man hoped was chocolate.  I told him it was something much, much sweeter and he gave the parcel and a curious look.  Normally I would have gotten a "stop bothering me" email, but Filip was so laid back about it.  I have no idea what the wait time is because things have developed around this knife in super slow mo.  The Hybrid has been under wraps since 2010.  He is working on other blades, kitchen knives and folders.  He had a few left when I emailed him in December 2011.  Only one, a pimped out Explorer, had a lock. 

The design of the knife is simply brilliant.  The pivot is offset in the handle and the blade in such a way that the massive, wide blade sits quite low in the handle when the knife is folded, see here:

IMG_0009

By doing this de Coene is able to not only squeeze a boat oar of a blade into the handle he also creates a great finger choil/guard when the knife is deployed, see here:

IMG_0012  

The choil/guard does two things: first it gives you the ability to really control the blade, providing a grip RIGHT NEXT TO the blade itself.  If you have never had a blade that allows you to do this, the difference it huge.  One of the reasons I love Spydercos is because many of their knives have choils allowing you to do this. The control it grants you is really nice.  Compare, if you can, the similarly sized Spyderco Dragonfly II to the Spyderco Leafstorm.  The inability to really choke up on the blade is one of the things that, in my opinion, prevents the Leafstorm from being a great EDC knife (and conversely, makes the Dragonfly an all time great).  You feel like your swinging a bat with only one hand holding on to the knob of the bat--lots of power but very little control.  In an EDC knife you rarely need power and almost always need control.  The second thing the choil/guard does is make it almost impossible to close the knife accidentally while in use.  Your fingers, when butted up against the choil, prevent the blade from folding into the handle giving you a surprisingly sturdy and stable blade for a knife without a lock.  This dual purpose is not only the hallmark of a great design, it is repeated elsewhere in the knife.  The flipper, for example, makes it easy to deploy the knife one handed, but also meets up with the spine of the blade handle to give you another safeguard against the blade closing during use.  The little flipper tail is the perfect size, large enough to hit with your finger without thinking about it, but not so large as to be an obstacle in your pocket.  But when the blade is the deployed that same flipper is held in place by the hand gripping the knife.  One thing--two uses: brilliant.

The fit and finish on the knife is really incredible.  As my first fully custom knife I was expecting a lot and the knife delivered in spades.  The G10 is a super smooth version and is so pleasing to the touch that the knife is hard to put down.  There is nothing quite like the texture of this material.  Furthermore, the G10 is sculpted into a wonderful convex shape, but it is not a symmetric convex handle when viewed in profile (like a rainbow).  Instead, the thicker portion is near the spine of the knife, fitting the curve of your hand perfectly.  The blade grind is unrivaled among the knives I have seen and handled.  It is clean and even throughout, even the secondary grind is perfect.  Filip uses a stock removal method and the D2 steel is nicely bead blasted.  Even the pocket clip is nicely made.  Sometimes the "over the top" style deep riding clips stand off significantly from the blade.  Not here.  It is tight, simple, and perfect for the job. 

This is not a grippy knife, but it does not really need to be.  Its shape alone provided plenty to hang on to and the slopes on the handle help even more.  And like the lack of grip, once I held the knife and used the knife (which I have quite a bit), I was not terribly concerned by the lack of a lock.  I guess I would like a locking version, simply because I am so used to a knife having a lock, but after using this blade I can see why so many people still carry Case knives and SAKs that have no lock at all.  Here is my Hybrid with its color coordinated light&saber companion, the Steve Ku 40DD.

IMG_0017

The knife is an expression of elegance--a sublimely simple design that wraps clever ideas, useful features, and a timeless look into a single eminently practical tool.  If you want a knife that looks like it came from Dieter Rams's brain, this is it.

In the lead up to this review I had a pretty strong critique of the custom knife market in general.  They are gaudy, overwrought, unnecessarily complex devices that make doing a simple everyday task secondary to their primary purpose--man jewelry.  No one would mistake the Hybrid for a super aggro custom Strider grind.  It is not going to win any awards for authenticity in Civil War reenactments.  This is not a bling platform.  It is a knife.  A good, simple, clean knife.  It cuts well.  It carries well.  It looks like it is from the very distant past where cavemen used chipped flint in simple shapes to cut stuff and at the same time it looks like it is from the distant future where everything is clean and uncluttered.  This is as close as we can get to a folding knife designed by Bauhaus faculty.

The Hybrid is a triumph of design over ornamentation and it is fun tool to use.  It certainly deserves the Perfect Seal and at less than $300 it is a bargain.

Bonus pictures:

In the pocket:

IMG_0038

And in the hand:

IMG_0015

And finally, opening without being gripped for cutting:

IMG_0016

10 comments:

  1. Tony- I really enjoyed reading ths one. I am a knife, gadget and flashlight collector. I have had the pleasure of dealing with Felipe and it is thoroughly enjoyable. For custom flashlight people reading this, I would compare dealing with Felipe like dealing with Fred Pilon of Photon Fanatic. My opinion, but save your money and buy once from these custom makers; you get beautifully handcrafted items that retain their value that you can hand down to future generations...

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  2. Awesome review Tony! I have drooled over Filip's designs for a long while now! Glad to see you took the plunge and were so happy with the knife and the maker. My experiences with him were nothing less than absolutely stellar. Enjoy the beautiful knife.

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  3. Can you post a photo of the knife in-pocket? I'm curious how the flipper might affect easy carry.

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  4. Is there anything in the design of this knife that would prevent it from accidentally opening in your pocket?

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    1. Here is a reply straight from Filip:

      Friction folders usually don't have a feature go lock the blade when closed but it's possible. I am working on it.

      Regards, Filip

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  5. You mention both Case and SAK knives in your review. While those indeed have no locks, their slip-joint mechanisms generally keep them from accidental opening.

    Is the Hybrid a slip-joint or does it have a ball-bearing detent that has be be overcome to prevent accidental opening?

    If there is nothing to prevent accidental deployment, this knife - astonishingly, perhaps unprecedentedly, elegant as it is - should be rated as far short of perfect, maybe even as dangerous to carry.

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  6. I would concede that the lack of a lock makes this knife inappropriate for hard use cutting tasks. As an EDC knife though I am not sure I need a knife that does that everyday of the week. If you live on a ranch or something, then you need a lock (though the success of the Case Sodbuster seems to indicate otherwise). If you are a city dweller like me and use your knife to slice open packages, cut loose string and as a marking knife in wood working projects, then the Hybrid is more than fine.

    Also, the shape of the knife makes it very hard to close on your hand during use. The choil/guard and the flipper on the spine are both locked into place by your hand holding the knife. If you aren't holding the knife, then the blade can close without resistance. I'll post a picture.

    Finally, I will only note without wading into the debate that in America people think of a lock as a safety feature (see: Doug Ritter), while in Europe people see the lack of a lock as a safety feature (see: almost all European knife laws). I think there is merit on both sides of the argument.

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    1. Your point about this knife's lack of a lock is well made: the design of the knife (quite brilliantly) largely precludes it accidentally closing on one's hand with typical use.

      My question was not about that aspect of the knife's design.

      I want to know if there is anything in the design of the knife to prevent it from accidentally opening while residing in a pocket.

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  7. i'm mesmerized by this knife ever since MrDagon007 youtube channel
    showcased the explorer i found Filip's site, and this knife is on my mind ever since.

    unlike you i do think this knife DOES belong in design museum
    slip joint isn't new, but Filip's clean simplistic execution should be studied.

    this knife is messengering to me in its clean simplicity.

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  8. How did you go about contacting Filip? I've drooled over those clean lines for years, and I want to take that plunge.

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