Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Boker Exskelibur II Review

Mike Skellern of Burger Knives (Burger? son-in-law perhaps of Fred Burger) makes a pretty elegantly designed folding knife, the EXK-1.  The trick is simple--the jimping on the top spine of the knife also acts as an opening mechanism for the knife.  You take your thumb or pointer finger and run it down the jimping towards the pivot end of the knife and when your digit passes over the pivot the pressure forces the blade open.  No gawky thumb stud, no protruding flipper, and no thumb hole.  The result is a clean design with no extra parts.  In the original custom version, it is safe to say I am HUGE fan.  This is one of the knives on my short list of customs.  The cleverness of the design is great, but Burger's prices are really attractive for a custom--$310 is a good deal (I think this may of something to do with the funky exchange rate between dollars and rand; a friend of mine went to South Africa and told me he lived like a king for a week on like $500, including hotel).

The Exskeliber II, the smaller of the two models and the model based on the original EXK-1 custom, is produced by Boker, part of their Boker Plus line, though I will confess that the ambiguous and crowded product line makes it difficult to figure out why this is important or why it matters.  This particular model is made in China.  I got mine (which will be given away the day this review is posted) from Knifecenter.com.  All told there are four different models based on the the EXK-1, the Exskelibur I, a larger model with a blade slightly longer than 3 inches, this smaller model and then two "upscale" versions, the Exskelimoor series, that are identical except for the handle scales while are made of "bog oak" instead of G-10 and the smaller model doesn't have a nail nick (which is entirely superfluous and present to fool people into thinking this is a two-handed opening knife, which it is not).

ASIDE

Bog oak is a wood that sounds nice, but something that true woodworkers know is an inferior species.  It is like "winewood", it sounds fancy, but is really just junk--open grain, no distinguished pattern or coloration, and quite ugly.  Bog wood's most beautiful forms, curvy driftwood shapes used in the 19th century as a carving substrate for jewelry, are not helpful for handle scales and so what you end up with is something pretty dark, unimpressive, and bland. Certainly not something worth money over G-10.

END ASIDE

Here is the Exskelibur II product page.  Here is a good street price from Amazon (again, clicks benefit the site and help with giveaways): 


Here are the Amazon reviews.  It got a score of 5 stars out of 5, with 1 review.  Here is a good video review.  Here is a good written review.  Here is my Exskelibur II:

IMG_0030

Design: 0

Sometimes you know something could be seen differently from how you see it.  You have an opinion, you can back it up with facts and arguments, but you recognize that in the end, reasonable minds could disagree.  For example, I love movies, love them.  And I love classical music.  But I HATE Amadeus.  I know it is a good movie.  F. Murray Abraham's fictionalized take on Salieri is an amazing performance, but I just hated the movie.  It was long, boring, and poorly paced.  But some folks, people whose opinion I respect, cherish the flick.  I can see their point, but I am never going to agree with it.  

It is like that with the Exskelibur II.  I can get the knife open with one hand.  I like the opening's design, as it is on the custom original, but for inexplicable reasons, Boker sheered off the portion of the knife that overhands the handle scales behind the pivot.  Take a peek at the custom original:

 

and a picture of the Boker production version

IMG_0033

The difference is subtle but the effects on the knife are HUGE.  The tang extending beyond the handle on the custom gives you tons of leverage, enough to pop open the knife with one hand, as demonstrated in this video (fast forward to around 2:30):


The larger version of the Exskelibur has this overhang as well and allows for smooth one handed opening.  The smaller version does not and while it is possible to open the knife one handed it is an awkward two step procedure.  The result is a failure on every level.

But here is the thing.  I really don't like it, but I can see how some people would love it.  It is awkward and less than smooth, but there is something appealing about how the opening works.  With lots and lots of practice I was able to get it to pop open in one motion.  The look of the knife is greatly aided by the lack of adornments such as thumb studs or flippers and so, if you can get over the opening (or if you happen to like it), this is a major plus for the knife.  I don't, but I could see how some would.

Oh and one other thing, a good thing, this knife packs in the blade with the best blade:handle I have seen thus far with a .77.    

Fit and Finish: 0

There is really no dispute here--Boker cheaped out on just about everything.  The liner lock moves WAY TOO FAR OVER on the blade tang for me.  Evidence:

IMG_0038

That much movement means that there is little room for wear AND that you have really engage the knife to make sure the liner lock is in place.  Strike one.

Then there is the weirdo pivot screw.  Why is this necessary?  Why make the pivot screw a perfect copy of the custom and bork the opening mechanism?  Ugh.  I hate proprietary screws.  Boker does include a handy little spanner device, but why go to the extra expense of making that thing?  Why not just use a standard pivot screw?  Strike two.

Then there is the fact that the pocket clip is both insanely tight AND uses Phillips screws.  One sub-three inch knife, three different fucking fastners.  Knife makers, learn from the master--every single fastner on the Sebenza is the same and interchangeable with every other fastner.  One of the maxims of good design is to reduce complexity whenever you can.  THREE different fastners is not doing that.  There are six fastners total--two torx screws on the handle, the custom pivot screw, and three Phillips screws on the pocket clip and three different kinds among those six.  Strike three.

Grip: 1

The knife is a really nice size and the G-10 handles are smooth (but not too smooth) and convex.  The only ding is that there is really no traction plan AND the shape of the blade and handle promote forward motion.  It is one sloping graceful shape into another, until your fingers run across the blade.  

Carry: 2

The G-10 is smooth and the knife is very slim.  Overall carry is quite nice.

Steel: 1

This blade uses 440C which lots of people like (see the Talmadge steel guide in the "Basics" link above).  I am not one of them.  This was the super steel in the early 80s.  That was thirty years ago.  Computers from the early 80s aren't cutting edge anymore and neither is this steel.  For a comparison I whittle some small sticks to make roasting sticks.  I whittle two with this knife and two with my favorite EDC knife the Dragonfly II in ZDP-189.  The difference was night and day.  Technological development is a wonderful thing.  This steel is merely okay.  

Blade Shape: 2

I like the overall shape of the blade. It gives you a ton of belly, and a graceful silhouette.  The shape is also quite nice to tuck into the pocket and forget.
IMG_0034

Grind: 2

Alright, this is a close one.  I love the hollow grind on the main blade, but I am not thrilled with the steep approach on the secondary bevel.  Not my favorite.  I also like the horizontal brush on the satin finish.  That is the good.  

But here is the bad, and I am not sure it is all that big a deal given that this is an EDC knife: with a blade shape like this and a very high hollow grind there is very, very little left at the tip of the knife.  

IMG_0035

The Skyline had the same problem and that knife got a point taken away because it was a larger knife more likely to be pressed into a higher impact role than mere EDC use.  This smaller knife is probably safe with such a thin tip.  Not my favorite, but the slicing action with this knife is really amazing, so I will take the trade off here.  

Deployment Method: 0

Most of my problems with the deployment method were laid out above.  This could be so great, so elegant and stylish and for no reason whatsoever Boker killed the design.  It looks really nice, but it fails on the most fundamental level.  That is, this knife's deployment is like the Ponitac Solstice--good looking but terrible performance.  

Retention Method: 1

I can ignore the screws, I guess, but the tension on the pocket clip is insane.  I have never experienced a pocket clip this tight on any knife.  It just doesn't make sense.  The clip design itself is pretty nice and quite simple but there is no way around it--this thing will shred your pocket, even with the underlay of smooth G-10.

Lock/Blade Safety: 0

The lock is fine, a little far over on the tang, but fine.  There is a serious problem with blade safety though.  Because of the neutered opening mechanism in order to really pop the knife open you have to switch grips and in doing so your finger passes perilously close to the knife's live edge.  This is the very definition of a bad idea.  It's just not good.   

Overall Score: 9 out of 20

If you like this knife's opening mechanism, and I can see why some people would, it is a much better knife, but in my eyes this knife is a failure.  It is not awful, the blade shape is pretty glorious, but what a missed opportunity.  As a representative of the Boker line, this is something of a disappointment.  Lots of weird, unnecessary problems, and a fundamental disregard for the whole reason why this knife is cool in its custom formulation leaves me cold to Boker in general and this blade in particular.

GIVEAWAY:

I feel bad that this is the knife that is going to be given away, seeing as I panned it.  It is honestly okay and hell, who, out of the people that read this blog, wouldn't take a free knife, right?

So, the winner of the Exskelibur II giveaway is User Name stjohn.  Send me your email and I will send you this blade.

anthonysculimbrene at comcast dot net in the usual format.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting review. Not so nice outcome for this knife though. And as is the norm with Böker plus knives their quality is notoriously all over the place.

    About your points regarding the opening mechanism and blade safety I just wanted to add one important aspect you might have overlooked. Böker is a German company that by default has to cater to German and European customers to a large degree. Knife laws are stricter here and one-hand opening is pretty much a no go in lots of Eurpopean countries. In my opinion this is the reason why they altered the original design in such way that it is basically a two-hand opener now. Hence the nail nick. As a German knife enthusiast I'm always glad that companies like Böker or Spyderco make an effort to get knives out there that I can carry without restrictions. It might mess with some designs but you can't have your cake and eat it too, I guess.

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    Replies
    1. You're completely right.

      In germany a knife that you carry without legal usage intent (which is what an EDC would be....something you carry without any reason except...I "Might" need it) is only legal if it's either Non locking OR two hand opening.

      This knife is aimed towards an EDC crowd so they had a choice of either removing the one hand opening function or removing the lock.

      The reviewers complaints about the one hand opening function therefore are grounded in nothing since the knife wasn't MEANT to be a one hand opener.

      The larger version however is. The knife works as designed with respects to the one hand opening function. And I'm pretty sure that mr. Skellern was ok with this decision.

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  2. I've had the same lock up issue with the larger Exskelibur. Within days, there was rock lock. Could do much about it so I decided to test the lock strength and see how liners can fail under stress. It was fairly educational.

    However, I really like simplified tang/thumb rest opening mechanism.

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  3. "Computers from the early 80s aren't cutting edge anymore and neither is this steel."
    So in 2014. stuff that we usually cut with our EDC knives demands blade steel like ZDP-189 or CPM S90V? In 2014. paper and cardboard is much more tougher than soft stuff from 80s? Or perhaps genetic mutations in apples made them resistant to 440C?

    ReplyDelete