Saturday, September 22, 2012

5 EDC Myths

Myth #1: Sharpness Out of the Box Matters

Watch one or two knife videos on YouTube and you will hear, especially from some of the more high profile folks, that this knife did or did not "come sharp out of the box."  This is always struck me as a curious basis for praise or blame.

In the woodworking world hand planes, chisels and spokeshaves are in vogue again.  Lots of folks do hand tool-only woodworking and need their stuff razor sharp as they do not have the mechanical muscle to force their way through the wood.  Additionally they are willing to fork out tons of dough to get really high end planes, chisels and spokeshaves.  But even the high end stuff, things from Lie Nielsen or the like, have edges that require some work.  They NEVER come sharp straight out of the box.  They can cut, that is for sure, but they are not in their prime condition.  The expectation, even in high end stuff, is that you will do some finishing work on the blades to get them into tip top shape.

So when Nutnfancy dings a knife or a knife company for producing a knife that is NOT in tip top shape out of the box I am always a bit confused.  Sure, I'd like everything to come super sharp, and for the most part the knives do come that way, but getting them sharp is something I can readily do, especially now that I have added stropping to my sharpening regiment.  So long as the edge is not dull or dinged, I could care less if the knife is "sharp out of the box."

You wouldn't rate a car more or less highly if it came to you with only a little in the gas tank, so why do the same to knives?  I get that it is a nice finishing touch, but it is certainly not something to get bent out of shape about.

You might be saying "hey, I don't have a knife sharpener, my stuff NEEDS to be sharp out of the box."  Well, if you are saying this I can't help you.  No one can.  Go get a sharpening kit.  They aren't that expensive, they are very useful (even for kitchen knives), and your going to have to get one eventually.  Are you going to insist that your new car have a full gas tank because, well, you're never going to buy gas?

Myth #2: High Lumens Counts Matter on Small Lights

"Oh, man this little light really cranks out the lumens.  It is a single cell light that hits 500 lumens."  Great, fantastic.  You have a light with a feature that is almost COMPLETELY useless.  Lumens counts have been the red herring of the flashlight world forever, a benchmark and a number that is as meaningless as they come.  The reasons are many.

First, most tasks do not need more than 100 or 200 lumens.  Aside from tactical applications, there is no need to go beyond the 200 lumen mark.  Even the "blind an attacker" use is kind of silly.  Try to blind yourself, really blind yourself with a light and you will find that even the 500 lumen lights while being unpleasant to look at DON'T REALLY BLIND YOU.  You need to flash about 2000 lumens to really blind someone for a significant and useful period of time.  They may distract you, but even in dark conditions you can still see a little and all an attacker needs is a little sight to get you.  This is, of course, assuming that you think the "blind the attacker" strategy actually works or will be employed.  Quite frankly I think it is a dumb idea, something that probably will get you in more trouble, but I am not a tactics guy.  Commonsense, though, guffaws at the notion.

So aside from that one very specific and possibly silly use, a small light with high lumens counts is stupid for other reasons as well.  First, in a small light, one without a throw-type reflector, all of those lumens are wasted in a floody beam.  You do not have the ability to really light up a target a long way away because without the focus offered by a throw-type reflector all of those lumens are just dribbling out all over the place in a less than optimal beam pattern.  Second, these ultra high lumens counts come at a cost because flashlight design, like a lot of things in life, adheres to the famous Heinlein aphorism and acronym: TINSTAAFL.   Awesome lumens count equals ridiculous heat output and short runtime.

Myth #3: Spine Whacks Matter

You can find all sorts of silly things on  YouTube involving people utterly destroying their knives.  Like this:

I appreciate people's willingness to take one for the YouTube gear community and destroy their stuff, but what does this really prove?  In this particular video he does a lot of prying with the knife.  You shouldn't pry with your knife.  You shouldn't pry with your violin or your blender or your table saw for that matter.   Saying that a knife somehow "failed" a test when you are testing something that it is not designed to do just seems bizarre to me.  But you might say: "How awesome would it be if your knife could pry AND cut?"  Awesome, yes, I agree, but in the real world those two things require so many design compromises that I am just not willing to tolerate a folding knife that is bulky enough to both cut well and pry well.

Then there is the spine whack itself.  What are you proving by showing that knife can survive this test?  That it has a strong lock?  I guess, but how often in regular use do we test the lock in the way that a spine whack tests a lock? about never.  Not once, ever.  But again, you might say "How awesome would it be if the knife could survive the spine whack test?"  To that I would reply: Not awesome at all.  I would prefer that designers and engineers focus on more practical concerns than spine whacks.  I like the static weight test that Cold Steel uses, found here:


This test is at least SIMILAR to real use stresses, albeit taken to an extreme.

I am not an advocate of or someone persuaded by grossly abusing a knife to demonstrate its performance.  I use my knife to cut stuff.  Show me that.  All of this horse shit reminds me of those dumb Mercedes Benz commercials where people sat on the door to demonstrate its strength and build quality.  This is a good test if you are a Duke of Hazard and slide through the windows of your car relying on the door's ability to hold weight.  For the rest of us--eh... 

Myth #4: You will ACTUALLY Use All this Stuff

Oh my goodness.  Some people carry SO MUCH stuff on them that I can't imagine them actually doing much of anything at all other than tending to their gear.  Despite writing this site you will never catch me with more than a phone, a wallet, a watch, a pen, and my light&saber combination for that day.  I have a bag for work and that is stuffed to the gills, but that is with work stuff.  i have a bag for hiking too. That said, I am not a believer in the one is none philosophy because it is an argument without a logical basis or logical limitation.  It goes on without end.  I am also not one to carry a tactical blade most of the time.  I guess there is some random chance that I get mugged, but I am pretty heads up most of the time.  Plus with a little guy around I don't do a ton of night time walking.

Then there are the folks that burden themselves with things I will never understand, like non-smokers that carry a lighter (smokes as an EDC item are even worse that silly, but that is straying too close to a political opinion).  Seriously what's the chance you actually use that lighter?  I guess if you are a park ranger or a rancher or something, but for the average urban or suburban dweller, a lighter is not that useful unless you smoke.

I'd much rather focus on a few nice items that I use all of the time than a bunch of middling stuff that I never use.  So put that spanner key, spy capsule, lighter, pry bar, medical scissors, and the bag to carry them in up on eBay and feel unencumbered for a change.  Then use that money to by a McGizmo Haiku.   

Myth #5: Manual Knives Aren't Fast Enough

Autos are fun.  I liked the Protech Sprint quite a bit.  I also like my Benchmade Aphid and the fast firing Zing SS.  They are both nice fidget factor knives.  But the deployment assist methods are completely unnecessary now.  I used to think that BIG blades still needed the help, but the CRKT Eraser has proven me wrong.  That is a pretty beefy slab of steel and it fires out of the handle like a rocket thanks a beautiful silken pivot and a masterfully designed flipper.  Its official now that that last hurdle has been jumped--there is no reason other than novelty to carry an auto or an assisted opening knife.  A well designed manual knife is insignificantly slower and has fewer parts and legality issues. 


  1. Couldn't agree more about out of box sharpness Tony! Sure it's nice to see, but seriously that's going to keep you from buying a knife? A little silly if you ask me...

  2. There are situations where out of the box sharpness is big deal but generic EDC knives aren't one of them but I'd still rather get the best edge sharpness possible from the manufacturer. If given a choice of having a knife sharp out of the box versus not sharp out of the box (all else being equal), I will take sharp every time. You infer that knife companies ignore other aspects of design and FnF and spend more time sharpening. Sharp out odf the box is part of fit & finish, IMO. In the shaving world, there is a big distinction between sharp and "shave ready" for straight razors. For most men, getting a razor shave ready is difficult and using one "out of the box" is messy and painful!
    My simple retort is this: sharp > not sharp- out of the box for tools used for cutting.

  3. Mostly agree, but one BIG exception. When it comes to flashlights, one can be none. I work midnights, often outdoors. The day I rely on a single light is the day I am left in the dark. Whether it is batteries or malfunction, lights do sometimes fail, and I simply can't afford that. I always carry two (3 if you count the photon on my keychain). Plus I always have one to lend when a coworker's one turns out to be none...

  4. I see PICs of all of these large collections of EDC tools. Who has pockets that big? On a camping trip, a GHB in my car.. Yes. In the business place? Not happening. In my pockets: 2-keys, a cell phone, a very small light and a Style CS. Very minimal. Nice Post!

  5. Out of the box sharpness is a nice touch and a luxury, but it's certainly not necessary. Above a certain price point, I expect all my knives to be very sharp from the manufacturer, less because of need and more as a demonstration of manufacturing pride and attention to detail.

    I don't like "two is one, one is none" either. Although there is some logical basis for it, much of that concept is negated by preparation and quality. Your batteries may fail, but they are less likely to if you change them on an appropriate schedule. They are even less likely to if you use good quality cells. Your multitool may snap in half, but that is more likely with a Gerber than a SOG.

    I'd rather say "good is one, cheap is none".

  6. Out of the box sharpness is not a necessity, but some of the better manufacturers do ship their knives with a ready to use edge. Some of the comments here indicate that some users prefer their knives to be sharp out of the box and I can understand that. But I think the message here is that, if a knife shows up with a less than perfect edge, there is no reason to question the overall quality of the knife. It may take and keep a very good edge.

    The woodworking analogy used in this article brought this point home for me. I'm a woodworking hobbyist and I always expect to spend time working on the edge of a new hand tool even though I buy the best tools that I can afford.

  7. Myth#3: Agree - The Eagletac D25C clicky I only carry at night is great and 270 OTF lumens is plenty.
    Myth#4: Agree - Keys w/ Spyderco Honey Bee knife, wallet (when needed), iPhone4 and D25C flashlight (at night only) are plenty.

  8. I respectfully disagree about out-of-box sharpness not being important. Don't get me wrong, I completely agree that, if you are going to own a knife, you should be willing to sharpen and maintain it, if for no other reason than to be able to extract infinitely more value out of your purchase. At the same time, I really dislike the woodworking analogy. I feel like anyone working with that style of tool with any level of seriousness is likely either an enthusiast or a 'weekend warrior.' In the case of the latter, I can't help but think many of them do not buy that level of quality, nor expect to have to fiddle with it out of the box. More to the point, how many people do you think actually want to buy a new knife and immediately put it on the stones? Nevermind that most of them likely couldn't get as good of an edge as a half-decent factory job. On the YouTube scene, I can think of exactly one who would; jdavis882... and rightfully so, as his edges are far better than practically everything out-of-box.

    ...but I do agree that it is rather silly to knock a model or manufacturer for their out-of-box edges, especially with regards to EDC reviews. I just can't help but think that, for some people, out-of-box sharpness is actually a really big deal.

  9. I agree with everything but your analogy equating sharpness of a knife out of the box with a full gas tank. I would equate a knife that is dull out of the box with a car from the dealer with bald, flat tires. Is it a deal breaker? Not really, you can always put new tires on, you can always sharpen a knife. Hell, I'd expect it from something used. But to me having to fix a manufacturers mistake or sloppiness before I can effectively use what I've bought is infuriating.

  10. I like out-of-the-box sharpness because I am not particularly skilled with sharpening knives and I worry I will ruin them. Is there any particular knife sharpener that you would recommend for a beginner? Thanks!