Thursday, April 26, 2012

Small Production Knife EDC Shootout

Everyone once in a while someone will email me a question and the answer is so interesting that I decide to do more research and make it into a post.  This Shootout came from an email question.  The three knives I am looking at here aren't necessarily in the same price range, as the Dragonfly II is about twice or three times the price of the other two blades, but the question led me to this point--the other two knives are such good values that they really punch above their weight.  It would be unfair, in my mind, to compare the slim elegance of the OD-2 to the mismatched poorly designed mess that is the Kershaw Scallion (a former EDC blade of mine).  It is not price, but size and design quality that group these knives together.  

This is a shootout among the knives that I think are the perfect size for EDC carry.  I have done one shootout before and I am going to use the same format here.  For a refresher, take a look at the Mid-Sized Production Knife EDC Shootout.  The three small production knives in this shootout are:

Spyderco Dragonfly II in VG10 (DFII)(review of DFI in VG-10 and DFII in ZDP-189):


Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite (MTL)(Review):

IMG_0034

Kershaw OD-2 (OD-2)(Review):

IMG_0024

First, a few caveats about the choices.  I chose the DFII in VG10 even though I have never used this knife.  I feel like I can evaluate it honestly though because I have both the original DF in VG10 and the ZDP-189 DFII.  The reason I am doing this is because the ZDP-189 version would just kill the rest of the knives in the shootout AND because the ZDP-189 version is significantly more expensive.  I'd like to compare small, light cutters with pocket clips and locks (hence the lack of Bug series Spydercos).  The DFII is still the most expensive, but it is not four times the price of the others, making the comparison a bit more realistic.   Other knives in this class that I have reviewed include the SOG Flash I, the SOG Twitch II, and the Kershaw Scallion.  All of those knives were left out of the shootout because, quite frankly, they stink.  The Scallion, despite being my only knife for about three years, was a terrible little blade.  The SOG Flash I, for all its love online, strikes me as an ancient design--bitchin' in 1997 but a significant step behind newer, better designed knives.  The Twitch II, like the Flash I, had such sloppy fit and finish that it scored poorly.  Why bother comparing that knife these knives?  Such a large difference is score is going to make the comparison pointless.  I could have also thrown the Buck Vantage Small in here, but again, this is not a knife that seems to be close enough in quality to compare to these blades.  In the end, I thought these had similar dimensions and weight, and a similar level of quality, even if the price difference was significant.  Other knives that I have not looked at are the Al Mar Hawk, Benchmade Aphid (I am trying to get one of those for review) and the CRKT Eros.  I ignored those blades because they are significantly more expensive than the ones I am looking at here. 

In my mind these knives are the perfect size, weight, and price for an EDC folder.  I have only come to this conclusion recently.  Nutnfancy really emphasized the issues of size and weight and for a long time I was a big knife person, carrying a first gen Cold Steel Recon.  But the knife was just too big.  Still, bit the bullet and accepted the weight and size fearful that there would be a situation that necessitated such a big knife.  That situation never arose and after watching dozens of Nutnfancy videos, I decided, about three years ago, to give a small blade a try.  I have never once regretted doing so.  The 2 to 2.5 inch blade size, with a carry weight under or around 2 ounces is just perfect.  Unless you plan on getting into a knife fight or fending off a bear that you stumble into while texting, these tiny blades are just fine for everyday use.  They can handle about 90% of your daily tasks, more if you are an urbanite like me. 

They also have the side benefit of being less scary to regular folks.  Knives, in many parts of the country, are perfectly fine things to carry everyday.  In other places, they are demonic instruments of violence.  Few people, if any, have a problem with blades this small.  It is not that you should necessarily be afraid of what people might think (though why not be considerate when you can?), but simply a matter of use.  If every time you pull out one a knife you get a look, you will eventually be more likely to just keep it in your pocket.  Even the most stubborn person, will cave if an elderly person is around or a bunch of small kids.  But if you carry these and no one even so much as flinches, then you will be more likely to carry and use your knife.

Methodology

I am going to use my folding knife scoring system, but instead of awarding a score of 0-2 for each criteria, I am going to rank each blade, from first place to last place.  Instead of just ranking them I am going to weight the ranks, much like the BBWAA (see: "How is voting counted?") does in end of the year award voting.  A first place ranking is worth 5 points, a second place ranking is worth 3 points, and third place ranking is worth 1 point.  This separation makes it less likely that the value winner will just be the cheapest knife (as a straight ranking system would award a straight last place knife 10 points for merely being included).  This time I am going to call ties.  There are some aspects of these knives that are so close that it doesn't really make a difference which one you choose.  If the two or three knives are all great, they will tie with five points, and so on down the line.  The one that wins the most overall points has a big advantage going into the final assessment, which product value (performance compared to price).  Here is the folding knife scoring system.  In terms of value, it will be an easy math formula: dollars divided by total points score.  The less dollars per point, the better the value. 

Scoring System Points

Design:

Size and weight of the DFII are just about perfect.  But hitting a weight target is not the only thing that makes a difference here, it is the overall shape of the knife--with a nice, but not too deep finger choil, the DFII is a joy to work with.  You can still grip it for whittling, but the shape is really at its best when doing precision work.  The MTL's "slant angled" blade is an unconventional design, but not that good for precision work.  It lacks the belly necessary for roll cuts and slicing.  It is decent for pierce cuts and dragging slices (such as opening up a bag of mulch).  The needle spear point on the OD-2 also lacks significant belly and feels dainty.  It pierces very well and does dragging slices quite well.  The MTL's handle is very ergonomic, but closed the knife has a few issues.  First, the tang of the blade is partially exposed.  Second, the knife is quite thick, the Grivory handles are probably 1/2 inch thick, massive for a knife of this size.  Finally the finger choil on the MTL is not as refined as that on the Dragonfly II.  The ricasso protrudes from the blade a bit and can get snagged when making cuts.  Kudos to Kershaw for using the JL Williams cam opener.  It is easy to use and fun to play with.  The only design concern I have with the OD-2 is that it feels really dainty in the hand.  I have had a Flash I and that felt significantly more solid in the hand during use and was roughly the same size and materials. 

Dragonfly II: 5
OD-2: 3
Mini Tuff Lite: 1

Fit and Finish:

All three knives have more than acceptable fit and finish, but the MTL's precision set spring for the Tri-Ad lock displays a level of craftsmanship not seen on knives under $20.  I also like the handle finishes on each blade.  The bead blast finish on the OD-2 is my only concern as it is a rust promoter. 

Mini Tuff Lite: 5
Dragonfly II: 5
OD-2: 3

Grip:

I love the Dragonfly form factor so much.  It just fits the hand perfectly.  Even if you have dog paws and can only get a three finger grip it is still a fine little tool.  The grip on the MTL is only okay by comparison.  The choil is not as refined, as mentioned above, and the blade feels fat in the hand.  There is no traction plan whatsoever on the OD-2 and so both score significantly worse than the Spyderco offering.  

Dragonfly II: 5
Mini Tuff Lite: 1
OD-2: 1

Carry:

Wide fat blades on the MTL and the DF II make them more noticeable in the pocket but still they are so small it is not a big deal.  The OD-2's slim form factor though blows them both away.  It vanishes until you need it--a perfect feature for an EDC knife. 

OD-2: 5
Mini Tuff Lite: 3
Dragonfly II: 3

Steel:

I don't really like the steel on any of these knives, but the VG-10 is in a different league than the AUS8 or 8Cr13MoV on the other two knives.  ZDP-189 obviously would crush the competition and is so superior, that if the ZDP-189 version of the knife were in the competition, I would have to declare it the winner.  Steel is important.  Its why you bought the knife.  Truly superior steel overcomes a lot of shortcomings.  Still VG-10 is a good EDC steel.  

Dragonfly II: 3
Mini Tuff Lite: 1
OD-2: 1

Blade Shape:

The flat leaf shaped blade of the DFII is an ideal EDC blade, second only to a good clip shaped blade like on the Sebenza or the Buck Vantage.  The OD-2 spear is decent but feels lacking and the MTL's choil problems and lack of belly make it the loser in the blade shape category. 

Dragonfly II: 5
OD-2: 3
Mini Tuff Lite: 1

Grind:

All of the knives have grind issues.  The VG-10 on my DFI was uneven at the secondary bevel.  Likewise with the OD-2.  The MTL's pronounced choil again causes problems when cutting, especially with such a short blade.  I like the FFG on the DFII so that comes out as the winner, but none of the knives really killed it here.  

Dragonfly II: 5
OD-2: 3
Mini Tuff Lite: 1

Deployment Method:

Something pretty amazing is going to have to come along to convince me that the Spydie Hole is not the best way to open a knife.  The cam opening on the OD-2 is fun to fidget with, but still not as smooth or elegant in design as the opening hole.  Cold Steel's opening oval is very aggressively cut and thus not as easy on the fingers to use.  

Dragonfly II: 5
OD-2: 3
Mini Tuff Lite: 1

Retention Method:

The wire clip on the DFII is probably either my favorite or second favorite design out there (after the Sebenza clip, maybe).  It is very very good.  The MTL's clip is not all that great, but in a stroke of design genius it really does help in gripping the tiny blade while opening the knife.  Excellent double purpose.  The OD-2's clip looks like a pen clip so it is discrete, but it is also flimsy when compared to the other options.  

Dragonfly II: 5
Mini Tuff Lite: 3
OD-2: 1

Lock:

There is no real competition here.  The Tri-Ad lock is so over engineered, so over done that it is doesn't really compare to the other two.  The DFII's lock is okay, but a slow backlock that is prone to blade play (though mine have never had any).  The liner lock on the OD-2 did actually have some issues over time so it gets a one.  Nothing bad, just a little sloppy.

Mini Tuff Lite: 5
Dragonfly II: 3
OD-2: 1

Total Points

Dragonfly II: 44
Mini Tuff Lite: 22
OD-2: 24

Value Calculations

I am going to use the most frequent price for the item as listed on Amazon.  These prices are as of 4/26/12:

Dragonfly II: $46.18


Mini Tuff Lite: $17.99
 

OD-2: $14.95


Value (price compared to performance; dollars/points)

Dragonfly II value score: 1.04
Mini Tuff Lite value score: .82
OD-2 value score: .62

Conclusion


The value calculations didn't really work out all that well, in the sense that I think the DFII is clearly the best knife here, but they didn't completely fail either.  I think the OD-2 is an excellent EDC knife, perfectly capable, quite carry-able, and easy to use.  In my opinion this is the knife that everyone, including Nutnfancy, THINKS the SOG Flash I is.  I am still hesitant about using them everywhere for reasons I stated before.

The DFII's dominance in the categories is really speaks to how good the knife is, but it is clearly not the best value, best knife, but not best value.  The OD-2 is a wildly underrated blade and at $14.95 why not give it a shot.  I have run through a lot of gear over the years and this is the ONLY thing I am considering repurchasing.  I'd like to give the Benchmade Aphid a shot before I do, because that might be the upscale version of the OD-2, but the OD-2 itself is a great knife. 

The MTL is a great little knife, even with its last place showing here.  But it is rough around the edges, an inspired but immature design.  It is like the minor league pitcher that strikes out 11 but walks 8.  A round of refinement and this knife will be amazing.  Fix the choil, thin it out a bit, and fix the exposed and snaggy tang when closed and this is a very, very good blade.  I'd like to see Cold Steel upgrade all of the steel on their knives, but that is something folks have wanted for a decade now.  Its good, but flawed.  

I told the emailer to buy the DFII, and I stick by that, but the OD-2 is really, really good.  If I were on a tight budget, the OD-2 is the knife I'd buy and even when I could afford more, I'd probably hang on to it.  I also have referenced this before, but the OD-2 scores very high on the fidget factor scale making it fun to play with as well as incredibly useful.  

2 comments:

  1. Great! This exactly addresses the kind of thing I commented about on your last post. I've also been toying with buying the DF2.

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  2. Interesting way of looking at a shootout. Have you looked at the Ener-G?

    ReplyDelete