Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spyderco Calypso Jr. Review

NOTE: I am breaking from tradition and reviewing an out of production product because: a) it is very good; b) they can be readily found (depending on how much you are willing to spend, of course) on ebay; and c) Spyderco has brought this particular model back as a Sprint Run blade many times (cross your fingers for another go round).  

Sometimes things aren't exactly right.  A tool works, it works well, but there is something, something nagging, something you can't place that is just WRONG.  Well, the truth is that with Spyderco, they seem to either hit a home run (Dragonfly II) or dribbler down to first base (Lava).  The Delica, a favorite of mine and much closer to a home run than a dribbler, is one of those great but not perfect tools.  There were little things and I couldn't really put my finger on them until I bought a very similar, but subtly superior, knife.  The Calypso Jr. is a Delica, but better.  With the ZDP-189 steel it is perhaps the perfect EDC knife.  I like my blades a bit smaller, so I'd take the Dragonfly over the Caly Jr. but if you want more blade, the Caly Jr. is probably the best knife out there for the size and money, even with ebay prices hitting $200.

The Caly Jr. has the Delica beat in many small ways but when you add them all together it is a substantial difference.  First, there is a finger choil.  I like the Delica's handle a lot, but a choil, in my opinion, is a must for an EDC knife.  The ability to "choke up" and get a precision grip on the knife is really handy in some of the smaller, precision work that comes up on a day to day basis.  Second, there is the full flat grind.  Yes, I know the Delica is available in an FFG variant, but the Caly Jr. is ALWAYS FFG, so the Caly Jr. is as good or better.  Then there is the rear of the blade tang.  I know this is a super small point, but I don't like the exposed rear tang on the Delica.  It looks half finished and sometimes it catches on stuff.  It is a very, very small point, but again the Caly Jr. has it beat.  The rear of the tang is covered up by the handle portion of the choil.  Then there is the weight.  The Delica is a light blade, really, at 2.5 ounces, but the Caly Jr. absolutely KILLS it at 1.9 ounces.  And here we are starting to get into amazing territory.  The blade is not small by any means, coming in at 2.875 inches, but without the completely unnecessary steel liners, the Caly Jr. cuts weight like a wrestler.  The Caly Jr. is the Lotus Exige of EDC knives: superior performance through less weight.  The closed length is also better on the Caly Jr: 4 inches v. 4.125 inches.  It is just a little smaller, a little more pocketable, a little less clunky (not that the Delica is clunky, but by comparison it seems to be).  The Caly Jr. has a thicker blade (.125 inches v. .093 inches) but it a vastly better slicer because of the FFG.  It also has a chamfered spine given the knife a classier look and feel. The pocket clip is an older Spyderco model and not as nice, but there are plenty of aftermarket clips available (and I have one on the way).  In short, the Caly Jr. smokes an already GREAT EDC knife.  If you can find one it is worth the price and if you can score a ZDP-189 version, hold on to it--it is a masterpiece EDC blade.

Here is the Caly Jr. product page.  They are no longer for sale anywhere, but you can find them at knife shows, forum boards, and ebay.  There were quite a few variations over time.  Here is the Spyderco Source page.  There is a stainless steel handle version that is quite rare and was a test run for the design (Sal really likes SS as a starting point for new knives).  After that they made a Micarta handled version in black Micarta.  Both those early models had AUS-8 blade steel.  After that they made a few with FRN handles (mine is one of these) and they upgraded to VG-10 steel.  After that they stuck with the FRN handles (linerless on all version, so far as I know) and really pimped out the steel issuing a blade with 420J/ZDP-189 steel and a maroon handle.  There may be some gray or black handle versions with the super steel combo too, I am not sure.  There were a lot of different models and a lot of different steels used so this is as complete a list as I could get.  Here is a video review of the Caly Jr.  Here is a written review of the Caly Jr. family by Spydercollector (I think that is the complete family portrait, but rumors seem to pop up every now and then of a maroon Micarta version).  Here is my Caly Jr.

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Design: 2

The Caly Jr is roughly the same size as the Delica 4, but the handle:blade is much better (.70 to .68).  Also the blade size is identical (2.875 inches) but the handle is actually smaller on the Caly Jr. which gives it the edge.  I have already mentioned other advantages it has over the Delica 4.  It is essentially the child of a Dragonfly (one of my favorite all time designs) and the Delica.  The handle is smooth and shapely.  The knife just has a myriad of small features that add up to make it a clearly superior design to the Delica and the Delica was already a pretty hot ticket.  

Fit and Finish: 2

The fit and finish on the knife was quite impressive given that it was, at retail, a pretty affordable blade.
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Grip: 2

Some guys are suckers for long legs.  Me, I am a sucker for finger choils on pocket knives (among other things).  The Caly Jr's curvaceous handle, capped off with a nice finger choil made it a great knife in hand.  The handle is large enough that your not required to use the choil like you are when carrying the Dragonfly.  It is also large enough that you don't need to worry about holding the knife in a reverse grip.  A great compromise between the small but grippy handle of the Dragonfly and the versatile handle of the Delica.  Even the lack of jimping, which they should include if they remake this model, isn't that big a deal.  

Carry: 2

Cutting weight helps a lot.  This is, as all Spydercos are, a broad knife in the pocket. 

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But it is super thin and, without liners, feather light given how much of a cutting edge you get.  Great carrying knife. 

Steel: 1

VG-10.  You know the refrain--super sharp, stainless as all get out, but dulls fast.  A great beginner's steel, but if you can, opt for the ZDP-189 version. 

Blade Shape:  2

This knife is an almost exact replica of the Dragonfly's shape, only bigger.  I like it a lot, though as with all leaf shape blades, I'd like a bit more belly.  Great utility shape though. 

Grind: 2

Again, a copy of the Dragonfly, right down to the swedge grind.  My model had an excellent and even grind, all the way to the tip. 

Deployment Method: 2

This is one place where I'd knock the knife a bit, compared to the Delica.  The Delica uses the larger 14mm opening hole.  The Caly Jr's is noticeably smaller at 11mm.  It does not impact function for me, but if you have plump Polish sausages for fingers, this might be an issue.  Consider this a caveat.  Fat fingers = score of 1

Retention Method: 2

This is an old style clip, but it works perfectly fine.  No snag issues, plenty of tension, but not so much as to shred your pocket.  Clearly, in a remake, Spyderco should use a wire clip, the this clip is very good. 

Lock: 2

Its a lockback!  Surprise!  Oh wait, no, that's not a surprise.  Still, this lock is fine and exhibited little to no blade play.  I liked it a lot, especially after I cleaned it with some compressed air.  There was some gunk on the blade tang.  Once gone the knife worked perfectly. 

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

This knife just blows the Delica away.  If I were Sal, this would be my flagship EDC knife.  I'd up the steel, give it some jimping and a wireclip, increase the hole size and be done with the Delica.  I like the Delica.  Actually I love that knife, but this knife, without its liners and with its choil, is just a better blade.  Even if the score is the same.

As for that, there is only so much refinement you can get.  Too much, like a 100 point system and the points become meaningless.  Too little and everything clumps.  I still think a 20 point scale is a good compromise, but this and the Delica prove there is an issue with all scoring systems.  Also, as a sneak peek, the Delica is getting docked a point when I update its score.  Nothing big, but in the year I since the review I have had a lot more experience with knives and it is not on the same level as this knife.

5 comments:

  1. Awesome review Tony! I totally agree with you on this one vs. the Delica. Just blows it out of the water. Wish they continued to make these.

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  2. Now I know which Spyderco to look for! Thanks. I had been wanting one, but there are so many that it seemed a slog to choose. Where have you had the best experience in finding used/discontinued models, other than eBay?

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  3. You can find them pretty regularly on ebay. I found mine as new old stock at a knife show.

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  4. I'll be interested to see your update on the Delica 4. I've had one for a few months now and I really love this knife. So far it has been a great blade that feels good in the hand and in the pocket. The only knock is the lack of a 50/50 choil. I think if they added that then the Delica would be approaching perfection.

    The Chaparral and the Sage Series all look like good alternatives to me. The blade and handle designs appear to be very similar to the Caly Jr. and these are all still in production. i'm just having trouble deciding which one to choose.

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  5. Learned a lot from this review! I'd never even heard of this knife. Would like to try one now.

    I have to say, personally I prefer to have liners, at least when they're nicely skeletonized like the Delica 4. (BTW, the FFG version of the D4 is only 2.3 oz, not 2.5.)

    The Caly Jr.'s mandatory tip-down carry (something that always bugs me on a knife) would be a shortcoming vs. the Delica. Hopefully they'd fix that on a remake. (Preferably with less of the handle exposed than the Delica has when carried tip-up.)

    Handle length is a wash IMO. The longer handle on the Delica has ergonomic benefits. Cf. Paramilitary 2.

    I agree that the Caly Jr's choil and its cleaner-looking shape when folded are clear pluses.

    Honestly, you might have Blade HQ send you an FFG D4 to play with for a while before you re-review the Delica. Your points about aspects of the Delica's design being dated are well taken, but you might find them mitigated -- more than you'd predict -- by the sheer pleasure of working with the Delica FFG blade, which is awesome. It is a FANTASTIC cutter for all EDC purposes. Truly it leaves the saber ground version in the dust. I don't really see a reason to buy a saber ground Delica now.

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