Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spyderco Junior Review

I hope, by now, that I have established the mantra of more for less as a base line for good gear design.  More for less money, more for less weight, and more from less size.  The ratios I had touched on before are all based around this idea of getting more utility out of your gear with less compromise.  We'd all like to have large blades but folding knives are an exercise in design compromises.  Large blades tend to be heavy and more difficult to carry easily and discretely.  So if you can find a knife that carries well and feels small in the pocket but offers a lot of blade length, its better than a knife with the same blade length but larger footprint.  The Al Mar Hawk is a perfect example of incredibly small footprint but lots of blade (proportionally speaking).

The Spyderco Junior pulls off a similar trick, but on a much larger scale.  This is a large, hard use knife (thanks to its thick blade stock, ginormous hand guard, and incredible lock) in a medium sized footprint.  The Junior is actually SHORTER than the Delica when all folded up (4.125 inches compared to 4.25 inches), but it has a much longer blade (3.218 inches compared to 2.875 inches).  This says nothing for the much wider blade.  Despite a blade as wide as a ironing board, the two knives are roughly equally wide in the pocket, as the humpless design and compression lock save a ton of space.  And then there is the weight.  The Junior has G-10 handles and steel liners with a much bigger hunk of steel than the Delica but weighs only a tad bit more (2.9 ounces to 2.3 ounces).  More for less is practically the motto of the Junior.

The Spyderco Junior was designed by Alexandru Diaconescu, a Romanian employee at Spyderco.  He has designed the Spyderco Adventura, a futuristic blade that would be quite at home as Rick Deckard's EDC.  Here is the product page.  Here is a good video review.  Here is a nice, written forum review.  I received my review copy from Blade HQ.  Here is the purchase link, with proceeds benefiting the site's giveaways:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is my review sample:

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Design: 2

There are few things about this knife that are conventional.  Here is a shot of the knife completely open:

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Its not even conventional for a Spyderco, a knife company virtually built on bucking convention.  And sometimes different is weird.  Then, sometimes different is better.  This knife, for me, is "different = better."  That said, I can see how some folks might not like all of the changes and dislike this knife.  It forces you to do things a certain way--you have to hold the knife in a certain way, you have to open it a certain way, you have to cut with it a certain way.  I happen to like, if not outright prefer, all of these forced uses, but some folks might not.

I used the knife to some pretty hard use tasks--cutting bark off wood, splitting small pieces baton-style, scraping off residue from metal and glass (why they put these impossible to remove stickers on kids toys is beyond me).  I didn't baby the knife because I wanted to make sure that such a radical design could handle meat-and-potatoes type tasks.

The blade:handle is a very nice .78 (tied for the second best ratio behind the Al Mar Hawk and tied with the SOG Flash I).  The blade:weight is 1.11 (inches to ounces), quite good (anything better than 1 is nice), better than the Cryo by a health margin but still behind the Hawk.   

Fit and Finish: 2

The fit and finish on the Junior is well above average for a production knife.  I have been spoiled a bit having the Al Mar Hawk around, as it really resets the scale, but if that were the standard for a 2, no knife other than the Sebenza would score that high.  The grinds were even, the finish on the steel was an excellent scotch brite finish.  The pivot was smooth as glass.  The knife remained centered the entire time I used it.  Very good. 

Grip: 2

This is the whole trick of the Junior--a knife built around a grip, instead of the other way around. 

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The handle affords a degree of protection I have never seen on a knife before.  You retain pinpoint control thanks in part to the balance of the knife (which is right around the deepest part of the choil) and the thin handle, but it is still almost impossible to cut yourself.  The jimping is Spyderco's simple and very nice jimping and the G10 is amazingly grippy, almost like sandpaper.  More on this in a bit. 

Carry:  2

This is a WIDE blade and a LONG blade, especially for the handle, but the humpless design makes it easy to get in and out of your pocket.  There is so much cutting capability in such a small footprint that you'd think that was the entire purpose behind the design (instead of the focus on the guard).  Amazing carry, but again check below for a problem. 

Steel: 1

Using this knife as hard as I did the Paramilitary 2 proves to me the inferiority of VG-10 steel.  It got scratched and dull over time and couldn't cut with the same razor precision.  The S30V of the Paramilitary 2 shaved even after the brutal floor material cutting tasks I tortured it with.  There is no chance VG-10 could have done that.  None.

It is time for Spyderco to step up the steel.  VG-10 is their go-to steel, their midline steel, and quite frankly its not that great.  I'd prefer 154CM or S30V.  It is only a matter of time before they upgrade, such is the march of technology.  I just wished it was marching a little faster in this case. 

Blade Shape: 2

Glory.  Nothing short of blade shape perfect.  There are quite a few things a good EDC blade should have and the Junior has them all.  First, it needs to be a good slicer and the Junior is that and more thanks to the full flat grind and extra wide blade that allows the thick spine stock to be tapered quite nicely.  Second, the blade needs to have plenty of belly.  You can see clearly that this thing has a massive belly, perfect for roll cuts.

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Finally, you want something with a little beef to it to absorb shock and stress.  Again, because of the wide blade, the Junior can start out much thicker and slim down easily.  Overall one of my favorite, if not THE favorite EDC blade shapes I have encountered.  EXCELLENT. 

Grind: 2

The Junior's grind is amazingly even across the entire wide blade.  Even the cutting bevel is nice and even, something that can go awry on Spyderco knives.  Really quite nice.

Deployment Method: 2

It is going to take some getting use to, but the thin handle on the Junior forces you to redo how you deploy the knife.  The Spyder hole is, of course, great, but there is a little bit of finger yoga required when you go from a regular sized handle to this spindly one.  Also, if you are not careful and do it incorrectly the compression lock bar can bit your fatty hand pad when engaging.  After a week or so, you'll have the modified technique down and you'll be fine.  The speed here, either with the unmodified deployment or with the Junior-specific deployment is smooth and fast thanks to a nice pivot and well-positioned Spyder hole.  

Retention Method: 0

Epic fail.  This wire spring clip is on the newer variety (which Spyderco has been producing since the G-10 Dragonfly) and it is too tight to use with G10.  My favorite shorts were chewed up because of this pocket clip.

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It places too much pressure on G-10 that is TOO grippy.  Worst pocket shredder I have ever used.  This was the only ding I had on the Mini Grip, and this thing is WAY worse.  It is not a fatal flaw, because the knife is so interesting, but it is a problem.  A smooth patch with a logo underneath the clip, like on the FRN knives Spyderco makes, would solve this problem.  Otherwise, it needs a homemade mod to fix it.  

Lock: 2

Compression lock for the win.  Again I was not nice to this knife and the lock laughed it off.  I am convinced that this lock or the Axis lock are the best out there.  I especially like the fact it takes up so little real estate in the handle, allowing for amazing and unique designs like the Junior.  If you can, take a peek at the Blade Show edition of Blade Magazine, it had an excellent rundown on the Compression Lock. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

If they fixed the overly tight clip (note this is point in virtual every review, so I know it is not just my copy) this would be an truly outstanding knife.  As it is, it is pretty darn good knife.  Offered a choice between this blade and the Delica, there is no question which I would take.  In fact, I can't think of a design in the Spyderco line up that runs VG-10 steel that I'd take over this blade, though the VG-10, G10 Dragonfly would probably also be in the hunt.  This is one hell of a good design and I'd love to see it become part of the annual line up with upgrades and different colorations.  A ZDP-189 version with FRN handles would be pretty amazing.

This also happens to be one of the smallest blades in the Spyderco line up with a compression lock.  The blade shape, the smallish size, and the lock all make this an excellent choice of EDC, if you can get around the pocket shredding clip.  The price is not outrageous either.  Alex D. thanks for a GREAT knife.   

10 comments:

  1. If VG-10 gets a 1 I don't see how aus-8 or any of the 8cr steels or kershaws sandvik steel could possibly get anything other then a 0. I enjoy your reviews quite a bit but it seems like you're getting a tad snobbish over steels.

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  2. There are instances of those steels scoring zero, except for 14c28n, which is actually a good to great steel.

    I am a bit of a steel snob, sorry.

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    1. I have found that in addition to actual chemistry, the grind and the heat treat make a huge difference. The AUS-8 on the Hawk scored a 2 because it tackled everything I threw at it and still stayed sharp. That is one instance in which time and skill can make an inferior steel perform better.

      As a rule though, Spyderco's fit and finish is not the same league as Al Mar's, so their slightly better steel chemically speaking, loses out to an inferior steel that has been applied to a given knife and task in a superior way.

      I am working on post regarding this. I'll explain more when I post it.

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    2. Your enthusiasm over 14C28N (and you're not the only one) has me intrigued by that steel. What's so odd is that if you look at the chemistry of 14C28N it is a DEAD ringer for AUS-8 or 8Cr13 -- not bad steels but certainly not a 2/2 in most people's books.

      The only difference is there is also a little bit of nitrogen (the "N") added in the Sandvik steel. So either the smidge of nitrogen, or something about the Sandvik heat treat, or both, is making a big difference in users' perception of edge retention. That's what's so intriguing.

      Switching topics: it sucks that the Junior was so hard on your pocket. Again, that intrigues me, because two of my most often carried blades are the Caly 3.5 and the G-10 Dragonfly, which each feature the Spyderco wire clip against a G10 handle. I absolutely love the clip and carry on both knives and have never had any problem with pocket fraying -- not shorts, khakis, cargos, jeans, nothing. Perhaps it's something about the clip tension? But I keep the wire clips on my knives nice and tight.

      It seems, not subjective (torn is torn!) but very individual.

      Fascinating, innovative knife. Thanks for the review.

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    3. My understanding is that N is very important. It helps with corrosion resistance and it allows the steel to harden in a way similar to carbon without adding to the rust problem. Note its presence in both H-1 and X15TN. Also note its presence in the high end BU steels like Elmax.

      As for the steel itself 14c28n has done well in my experience and my experience matches the general feedback that it is close in performance to S30V with a much lower price tag. Here is a thread from BladeForums on the topic:

      http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php/757813-S30V-vs-Sandvik-14C28N

      Note Kevin Wilkins's post on the second page. As a high end and well-regarded knife maker I have lot of respect for his opinion.

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  3. Very nice review Tony! Beautiful pictures. This is an intriguing design made even more intriguing by your review of it. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. The pictures were taken in my lightbox using ACTUAL sunlight. The results are so much better than simulated sunlight from a bulb.

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  5. I read your review and then watched the Nutnfancy review. Interesting; I think I will add this to my collection before my next camping trip. I love the fact that the grip would work great while wearing gloves. Thanks for the review!

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  6. I am absolutely in LOVE with this knife. I have a Dragonfly II that is great but I needed a larger blade for work so I spent some time researching (even went through your reviews on this site) and ended up going with the Junior because of its minimalistic design and massive cutting edge. Everything about the Junior exceeded my expectations except for the steel, which admittedly does need improvement.

    I'm with you in hoping that Spyderco comes out with some different versions in the future. I do worry that the Junior hasn't received enough attention to warrant different steels and handle materials, but I really hope Spyderco realizes what an absolute gem they have with the Junior.

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  7. It makes some economic sense for Spyderco to use a Japanese steel for their knives made in Japan so I don't see them stepping up to 154CM or S30V in their mid-priced Seki City knives anytime soon. I think we will be seeing VG10 from them for a long time.

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