When I write the intro paragraphs to my reviews I always try to provide some background information or interesting, but seemingly unrelated fact, that when fully disclosed works as a clever segue into the main part of the review. Here I have two, so this is a choose your own adventure (remember those?) intro. Feel free to skip one or the other.
There was a reason I wrote about fidget factor when I did. Nothing provokes more gear fidgeting and and fondling than an automatic knife. A simple button press produces a thwack that would serve nicely as a firing shot for a foot race. The action is so impressive that for many years autos were a dirty word. But that has changed as a wave of common sense legislation has passed in various state legislatures repealing laws that barely made sense in the 1950s and make no sense whatsoever now (compare the difference in speed between a Case and an auto and an assisted opener and an auto). With that wave coming to an area near me, I thought it was time to review an auto knife. My new sponsor (see to the right) was kind enough to send me out a California-legal (blade under 2 inches) auto for review. I figured that would have the widest applicability and it would match neatly with my preference for smallish EDC knives. Cameron over at BladeHQ sent me a gorgeous Protech Sprint PR1 with a carbon fiber insert. This is a pricey item and varying state laws would make it hard to give away, so I sent it back after the review.
Nerdy Legal Intro
Jennifer Coffey is a State Representative in New Hampshire, the state where I work. She recently ushered through the New Hampshire legislature a bill that legalized automatic knives (SB88), regularly demonized by the name "switchblade." That bill not only legalized automatic knives for civilian use, carry and possession, it also did something that so far as I can tell no other state has done--it included a "preemption" clause. In legal parlance preemption means that one authority bars or invalidates laws passed by a lesser authority when the laws of the greater authority and lesser authority legislate the same matter. So for example, now that the State legislature has legalized automatic knives AND included a preemption clause, all of the city and town ordinances banning those same knives are invalidated and all future ordinances of the same kind cannot be passed.
Now the federal government still bans civilian possession of switchblades (see here) on federal property and has extensive limitations on their sale and transportation (and of course, if preemption works going down from a State government to a local government it also works going down from the federal government to the State government, see here for more on federal preemption, see also Article IV, Clause 2), so how legal the preemption clause is in Jenn Coffey's law is an open question. But, the important thing is automatic knives are legal in New Hampshire and legal elsewhere as well. With this wave of reform, I thought it was appropriate to review an automatic knife. I chose a California-legal model (which means the blade length is under 2 inches) for review so that the review would be applicable to a wide audience and also because I prefer smallish EDC knives. I received a ProTech Sprint PR1 from Cameron over at BladeHQ.
Here is the product page for the ProTech Sprints. The Sprint is a brand new model for ProTech. The model number for the knife that I reviewed is 2915. Here is the BladeHQ link for the Sprint. There are no written or video reviews of the Sprint yet. Here is BladeHQ's video overview of the Sprint. Finally, here is the ProTech Sprint I reviewed:
Here is my knife scoring system.
The knife is tiny. It is smaller than the Dragonfly II. The blade squeaks in under 2 inches (1.99 to be exact) so as to remain California legal. This places an artificial restriction on blade length resulting in a poor blade:handle ratio of .64. The knife is thin for an auto (.39) but fat for a regular knife. It is also a featherweight with any knife as a comparison, hitting 1.6 ounces (the SOG Flash I and the Dragonfly II clock in at less, each weighing about 1.2 ounces). The handle scales are aluminum with an excellent, almost prismatic carbon fiber inlay. The button is simply perfect. It is shaped well and allows for no-look activation. It feels different than the pivot. Furthermore it had a very long plunge distance before it triggers the spring. I never had the knife activate accidentally and given the amount of force in the spring and the razor sharp edge that is a good thing. Subtle is not something that always goes with an auto knife (check out the ProTech Custom Gallery), but this knife, likely a gentleman's folder or an EDC blade, is just that.
Fit and Finish: 2
I have mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating. Each of the major production companies does something much better than the others. Spyderco's designs are clearly superior to the others. Kershaw knives are always an extraordinary value. SOG's grinds and blade shapes are really nice. Benchmade does build quality very well. It is not quite up to CRK standards, but it is very good, nonetheless. ProTech's fit and finish on the Sprint is somewhere between Benchmade and CRK and it it is closer to CRK than it is Benchmade.
The edges are rounded nicely, the blade is perfectly centered:
This is a very finely crafted blade. The inlay doesn't pass the "fingernail test" (I use this in woodworking to check tight fitting joints, if I can run my fingernail over the joint without feeling it, it is as tight as it is going to get) but it is very close to doing so. There is no blade play even when the blade is in the open position and you grip the blade near its tip.
This is a tiny knife and it is smooth and curvy, especially when open:
There is no: jimping, thumb ramp, finger grooves, traction inserts, or choil. In a knife like this, a small EDC knife or a gentleman's folder, I'd normally not dock it a point, let alone two, but this is an auto and the kick associated with activating the blade really makes some kind of traction plan nice. You get the hang of it after a while and you can anticipate the kick, but the lack of a traction plan and the presence of smooth refined materials, like satiny aluminum scales and a glass-smooth carbon fiber insert make the grip on this knife decidedly below par.
This is a thin and small knife with pleasantly rounded or chamfered corners. Taken together this is makes the Sprint a joy to carry. Only the pocket clip is a knock, but no matter how you carry this guy it just disappears in your pocket.
I went through and explained the benefits of niobium here. Basically it allows steel makers to hardened the steel even more and keep that hardness through more use. This is the first knife I have used with S35VN steel and I am impressed. Though the Rockwell is 60 instead of 66 like ZDP-189, in real terms and everyday use I did not notice a difference in edge retention. The lower carbon content of the S35VN steel also makes it less likely to tarnish when compared to the uber-carbon steel ZDP-189. I still like ZDP-189 more because, at least in theory and over the long term, it will probably hold an edge better, but S35VN is definitely in the discussion. Given that it is such a new steel and people are still working out how to use it, I imagine its performance will get better over time (look at all the ways people have used D2 in the many years it has been a popular cutlery steel for an example).
Blade Shape: 2
The Sprint has a modestly sized blade with plenty of belly. This is makes it an excellent EDC choice. I'd like a bit more straight cutting edge as the entire two inches is belly, to allow for more slice cuts, but it isn't a huge deal.
Not as simple as I would like, but pretty effective. I am not sure why they didn't just opt for a full flat grind. The swedge is nice but the multifaceted blade can make sharpening more difficult. In terms of the actual grinding, ProTech did an amazing job. This thing is sharp, crisp, and even. "Meticulous" is probably not strong enough a word to express how clean this grind is.
Deployment Method: 2
So we are finally here, the reason why you buy an auto in the first place--deployment. The Sprint is, in fact, quick. It shoots out with both speed and force. In fact the first few times I shot the little blade open I almost lost control of it. After a while you get used to the kick and it becomes second nature. I loved the button, as I mentioned before. And the opening is sure and impressive each and every time. No missed activations or half activations, even when I was trying to do so. I loved firing the knife open and closed, hence the fidget factor post.
But here is the thing, I am not sure autos are all that much better than simple one-handed opening knives. Now that I have used a state of the art, high quality auto to compare to similar non-autos, I guess it comes down to this--if you can carry one legally where you live, you should try it out. You might like it a lot, as there are features I can seem some going nuts for, but if you can't its okay. It is kind of like living in a world with great chocolate ice cream but no strawberry. Its not like what you have stinks, its just you might like something else more.
Retention Method: 1
You wouldn't think something so simple on a mechanical masterpiece like this little auto would be so difficult to get right, but you'd be wrong. The pocket clip, seen here:
The clip is so tight that even in suit slacks I had a hard time getting it on the lip of my pocket. It was so onerous that eventually I just got in the habit of leaving it in my pocket floating freely. I had to clear out the rest of the pocket because of the button, but it is small enough to ride in the coins pocket of most jeans, a real plus. A slightly less stiff clip would help a lot. On the plus side you aren't EVER losing this thing. Like EVER.
Lock/Blade Safety: 1
The button lock itself is fine, perfectly fine. But closing the knife one handed is difficult both because of the kick on the spring and because of the size of the knife itself. On more than one occasion did I lose control of the knife and have to start over. Two handed closing is fine, but one handed closing requires QUITE a bit a practice. It is not a big deal in and of itself, but the spring loaded blade, when you go to close it can put your fingers in harm's way. Not a big deal, but definitely a change for those of us that are not used to closing auto knives.
Overall Score: 16 out of 20
Don't buy this knife because it is an auto. That is a huge, cool addition, but really this is a fantastic blade. It is the perfect size for EDC use and it has great materials and fit and finish. It is the same league as the Dragonfly II ZDP-189, and if you have followed the site for a while you know that is high praise. The Sprint is a nice size and shape. It has top choice steel. It looks awesome and feels sweet when carrying it. I'd appreciate a bit more grip and a softer pocket clip, but that is really it. If you can get an auto, you should try this. It is a good little knife. With a few touches it could be among the best of the best.
I really have to give credit to ProTech. They have a niche and they do their thing REALLY, REALLY well. I'd like to see them make a flipper manual action knife to go toe to toe with Microtech, the auto company that gets all the praise. If the Sprint is any indication, ProTech's marketshare will grow as auto laws fall across the country.
By the way, if your state still has laws regulating knives that were passed when we still had not summitted Everest, go take a peek at what the folks over at KnifeRights are doing.