Monday, October 15, 2012

Victorinox Alox Cadet Review

Jacques Derrida, (in)famous French thinker (who I met in person a long time ago), once said that the mark of great texts was their "returnability."  He meant that over time you keep coming back to them and discovering new and insightful things.  This sentiment seems to hold true over a wide range of human experiences--studying religion, woodworking, even life itself (through the experience of having kids).  Things in life that are worthwhile work on a number of different levels.  Your appreciation for these things cycles as well.  When you are child or just starting out, there is a simplicity to the endeavor.  As you grow up or increase your focus, things seem to branch out in myriad levels of complexity.  Then as you pass into greater understanding the complexity falls away and simplicity remains--beautiful, elegant simplicity. 

So it is with my trip through owning knives.  I have arrived at the beginning again.  When I was ten I had a Tinker and a Mag Solitaire as my EDC, well before I knew what that term meant.  Now 24 years later after many tool and gear purchases, I decided to drop a few bucks (and I mean a few, like $23) on a Victorinox Alox Cadet, realizing that I have come full circle--through the layers of Spyderco knives and Leatherman tools, past the custom blades and Sebenzas, back around to the beginning--the Swiss Army Knife (SAK).  This time I can appreciate the SAK in a way that I couldn't before.  These knives have been around forever because they are truly great tools.  The Alox Cadet is among the best of the best, one of the most well-designed and executed pieces of gear you will ever have the chance to purchase or own.  There is no reason whatsoever NOT to own one.  They are incredibly cheap, incredibly durable and well-designed, and they work and work and work.

Here is the product page.  There was a previous model that had a saw instead of a file.  Here is the SAKWiki page on the Cadet.  There are also many different color variations.  See (picture by NutSAK on EDCF):

 
Here is an excellent video review by Nutnfancy.  Here is a very good forum review.   It seems as though Victorinox is not producing this knife anymore, so think of this as an "In Case You Missed It" and a review at the same time.  Below is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Victorinox Alox Cadet, and proceeds from sales through this link benefit the site's giveaways:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is my Alox Cadet:

IMG_0016

Design: 2

The SAK model of making a multitool around a knife has some inherent benefits--you know how everything works, nothing blocks anything else from being deployed, and the form factor can be smaller--but there are also drawbacks.  Personally, I like the Leatherman pliers-based multitool better.  Pliers and a blade are two of the most useful tools, but it is much easier to incorporate a knife into a pliers-based multitool than it is to incorporate pliers into a knife-based multitool.  For this reason I have been wary of SAKs for a while.  The Alox Cadet changed my mind.  It gives you so much utility in a gracefully slim package.   

How slim?  This slim:

IMG_0021

That is a Zippo lighter for size comparison.  Its thinner than a friggin' Zippo.  Crammed into that frame are a ton of tools.  This is not just slim and light.  This is slim and light and feature packed.

The Alox handles themselves have a minimalist appeal.  They look nice, but they feel GREAT in the hand and they are as durable as tank armor.  A week of carry in my pocket with keys and change did nothing to the Alox handles.  The silver is quite the classic choice for a pocket knife.  Overall the design is simply elegant.  No one will leap back when you pull out the Alox Cadet to do some work.  More likely, instead, they'll ask you where you got that fancy Swiss Army Knife.  Then you can tell them that actually it is not even $30.

The ratios are strong with this one.  If it were JUST a knife, the blade:handle would be a very competitive .79 (2.5265/3.25), bested only by the Al Mar Hawk.  The blade:weight would be an even more impressive 3.67 (2.5625/.7), besting even the Hawk (which was a 2.69).  As a knife this thing is a delight.  But it is not just a knife.  It is a knife-based multitool that kills the multitool ratios.  There are eight total tools on four implements (1. a large blade, 2. a large flathead driver, 3. a small flathead driver, 4. a bottle opener, 5. a cap lifter, 6. a wirestripper, 7. a file, and 8. a Phillips driver).  The tool:weight is again staggering at 11.43.  The Charge TTi, by way of comparison, has a tool:weight of 2.32.  It will be a while before any of these ratios are touched by another tool.

Fit and Finish: 2

All of the implements are high polished, both for looks and stain resistance.  They are carefully packed into that incredibly thin handle, weaving together in a watch mechanism-like fashion.  It goes without saying why (okay, maybe not--this baby is SWISS MADE).  You get so used to the Victorinox perfection, even at basement prices, that it seems like a given, but next time you have chance sit down and closely examine a SAK and, say, a Benchmade.  There is really not that much that separates the two and if there is, it goes in the SAK's favor, given its increased complexity.  The handles are equally nicely finished and the grinds on the implements are perfect, even on the thin cutting bevel.  It also helps to note that the blade has a great belly and a nice full flat grind--this thing is slicer city.
 
IMG_0022
Theme: 2

If anything really captures your imagination about the Alox Cadet it is this--there is no better, got most of your bases covered, minimalist multitool anywhere in the world.  Everything about this tool is minimal, from its size, to its simple aesthetic and in the process of honing that approach Victorinox crushed one out of the ballpark.  If you want a full-sized blade in a stealth mutlitool, this is it. 

Grip: 2

No funky experimental ergos here.  This is a time tested shape and the checkering on the Alox handles gives you plenty of traction when using each and everyone of the tools.  Nothing whatsoever to change or complain about. 

Carry: 2

Slip into the pocket, coin or otherwise, and this thing is gone.  You might even have it go through the wash forgetting that it is in there, but no biggie, this steel seems to be impervious to rust.  More on that in a minute.  I would imagine that the lanyard ring would work well too, but why bother?  This thing can soak up damage and still disappear in the pocket.   

Materials: 2

I am a fan of uber hard steels.  They let you get a much more acute angle on the cutting bevel which improves slicing performance and they retain an edge much longer.  But there are times, such as in a big chopping knife, that you want to ease of the hardness a bit.  The SAK steel, rumored to be 1.4116 steel, is very soft, hardened to around 54-56 HRc.  But the trade off is a blade that can be sharpened on just about anything, even the bottom of a ceramic coffee mug, and laughs at rust.  No really, these things just about never rust.  Some folks even wash them in their dishwasher. Victorinox doesn't recommend that, but I have a feeling if you really needed to you could send your Cadet through a cycle or two.  The soft steel works well on the other tools, too.  The Alox handles are, frankly, superb.  They show very little wear, they are thin, sturdy and still grippy.  I'd like to see better blade steel, but overall the materials are great.  I'm giving this thing a 2.  It seems unwise to disagree with a design that has been around this long. 

Deployment/Accessibility: 1

What's the drawback to all of this tight fitting, slim tooling?  Well, it is the fact that you need two hands to get to all of the tools.  They open only by nail knicks.  You can see them all clustered up at the top of the blade in this size comparison shot with a Zippo lighter:

IMG_0017

I am not going to beat around the bush here--they aren't great.  The problem is I can't think of another way to make something this size and still have all those tools on it without using a nail knick opening.  It is a trade off.

I debated this score for a long time.  I really like the knife and I was on the fence.  Is this one of those times when you concede that a design compromise is worth it?  I think it is, but the nail knick design is so bad and so unhandy, I am going to ding the knife a point.  You know going in that opening this thing quickly is not possible and I am almost certain there is no way to do this better, but still.

Retention Method: 1

BushidoMosquito proved on my custom SAK Rambler you can do a pocket clip on a SAK and still keep its slim profile.  A clip on the Cadet would make this thing perfect.  Alas there is no clip, only a lanyard ring and it is a good one.  I tried carrying this on my keychain for a while and I liked it quite a bit.  Still I dream for this:

IMG_0050

Tool Selection: 1

I like everything you get.  For a knife-based multitool this pretty awesome.  Still, if I could I would like a pair of scissors.  Here's how I'd do it and keep the thickness down.  First I would, of course, get rid of the can opener (you probably already know by burning hatred for can openers, even one this good).  Then I would make the file smaller so that it could share a layer with the bottle opener and use the freed up room for some tiny scissors.  The large blade and the flathead/bottle opener would remain the same.  

Tool Performance: 2

I am really impressed with how each of these tools work.  The blade is perfect.  The drivers, even the Phillips driver, seen here:

IMG_0027

works very well.  I tested it out driving a few screws into some tough 2x4s in my shop and it worked fine, as did all of the other drivers.  Even the nail file works well, smoothing out rough plastic and metal edges to my son's toys.

The hack use of the large flathead driver is my favorite though. Here is the driver:

IMG_0025

It works quite well as an Atwood-style pry tool.  I have really wrenched on it and nothing happened.  It pops staples out of paper with surprising ease.  I really, really like this tool.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

This is not a perfect tool.  It is, however, one of my favorite.  There is probably nothing better in terms of size to utility.  It looks very nice, shockingly nice, for the sub-$30 price point.  Knife-based multitools are really limited--they have a hard time breaking from the mode of being a "knife plus other stuff."  They also have a hard time incorporating tools like pliers.  At some point they just become a clunky mess--thick, heavy, and awkward.  But the Alox Cadet avoids all of the pitfalls of a knife-based multitool and instead really succeeds at being a knife plus more.  There is no reason whatsoever not to own one, though as referenced before, I am not sure about the tool's future availability as a lot of places around the web are out of stock.  Go buy one.  You won't be sorry.    

22 comments:

  1. You will wish you had that can opener when the zombies rise... 8)

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  2. The Ratios are Strong with this One.

    Luke, Go to the YouTube system

    There you will find Nutnfancy, who taught me.

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  3. What are the cadet's advantages over the Squirt (ps4)? I definitely think the blade is an improvement over the little 1.5 incher on the leatherman but trading that for no pliers, no scissors, and a useless can opener feels a little questionable. I EDC a squirt (which makes a really attractive EDC combo with my newly purchased Quantum DD) constantly and I'm trying to justify it versus the cadet. The cadet seems ubiquitous among the edc crowd but it's hard for me to give up my scissors and pliers.

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    1. I agree that the Squirt is better tool. That said, there are some instances where I want a better knife or where I know I will primarily be doing cutting with a chance of other things. In those instances I like the Cadet better.

      For example, if I am going to work (I work in an office) I prefer the Cadet. At most I'll be screwing something into the wall for a coworker. If I am changing a light socket around the house though, I'd much prefer the Squirt (I have used the Squirt alone to change out the switch on a ceiling fan).

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    2. The squirt has a chisel ground sorry excuse of the most used tool.
      Pliers only good for splinter removal and near useless drivers.
      Plus you look like a fool deploying the tiny plier.
      The Cadet oozes class and is a real workhorse dicuised as a gentlemans folder.

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  4. Great review. SAKs are one of, if not the best, values on the planet. I have an alox Cadet and a Bantam, and they're both great. Looking at a Rambler for my keychain next (I like how both the scissors AND the knife are opposite the ring, as opposed to the Classic).

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  5. This review captures the alox Cadet's classic appeal. Ultra thin and light with a nice blade and a well chosen handful of other tools. It makes a low-profile EDC for repressive places like NYC where you can't carry a folding knife with a lock.

    Blade HQ is sold out as I write this. However, Amazon still has both the silver alox Cadet (barely $20 for such high F&F!) and a few of a recent special run in red alox.

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  6. thanks so much for that review, the cadet is an awesome, easy to carry edc blade - i had it on me for the last years.

    after thinking about getting the dragonfly 2 in zdp, bc. you highly recommended it, i wondered if and how these knifes compare. what do you use the df2 for, what the cadet?

    thanks a lot for your answer, and for all your reviews.

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    1. They really fill an identical role. I guess I would say the Cadet is more friendly looking so I'd probably opt for it over the DFII in situations with lots of people, like the mall or something, but really I carry them interchangeably.

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    3. I'm about to get the Cadet and I already own a ZDP Dragonfly 2 and I thought I'd chime in as to what I'm getting a Cadet to cary BOTH for and their different roles. Frankly, I feel naked not having screwdriver capability with me (pitched Juice S2 for being too heavy) and I've discovered when I'm out the need for a CLEAN knife handy right away at times. The hard wearing but corrosion-weak ZDP of the dragonfly is great for tough (UTILITY knife) jobs and also the cutting up of nonsterile items(e.g. I took out the caulking of a sink with it, still sharp, WONDERFUL ergos for me) but after that nasty job I don't want to use the DF2 for food prep (CLEAN knife) as much anymore which is what the soft but corrosion resistant steel of the SAK combined with easy maintenance excels in. The tools for me are a bonus, might get them changed out ala Bushido Mosquito but I'm finding I'm not missing a pair of scissors as much as I thought given I keep my blades sharp.

      What's your experience with EDC knife use so far?

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    4. Dude just wash your knife with soap, then wipe down. Lube w/ food grade mineral oil if you insist on going further. All good.

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    5. Or whatever, do what you think best. I can see reason for carrying both Cadet & a locking EDC blade in any event. Cadet is uber-people friendly, even if you work in an environment w/ lame anti knife people.

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    6. i usually carry a cadet and one bigger blade (folder or fixed) when i am in the woods or hiking. the cadet is just so small and light, it's there when i need it and never is in the way.

      still wonder if it makes sense to carry two blades of the same size when in the city or at campus. for that small blade the df2 is pretty expensive.

      guess it's gonna be a christmas present.

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  7. Here's a tip for you from a long time reader. I've been about this close to a Cadet but I won't carry without a pocket clip, I do no tolerate anything that big on my keys from experience. I've been able to solve that problem with this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007CBSBM4/ref=ox_sc_act_title_7?ie=UTF8&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

    Also, while I'm on the recomending streak, this might just knock your Mechanic's key ring off it's pedistool. I've heard those have problems with a weak point where the wire meets the spool, espcially pocket carry: http://www.amazon.com/Lucky-Line-71101-Key-Ring/dp/B000JQ05B4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350600160&sr=8-1&keywords=lucky+line Note the ball and socket design, not the screw design one as that model made by them is no good.

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  8. It's funny how much this blog influences my EDC choices. I've been rocking the suave low key EDC in the office this week: Alox Cadet and aluminum Aeon. That's it. No separate MT, such as the Squirt PS4 I usually tote.

    I thought the lack of scissors on the Cadet would really chafe. But as it turns out, I can handle most small snipping & trimming tasks with the knife blade, and the other BIG use of the PS4 scissors -- fingernail grooming -- is covered by the Cadet's nail file.

    (I am not a big pliers user so that has not been a problem either.)

    The bottle opener merits praise too. It is fast and easy to use compared to the Squirt's.

    Basically the philosophy behind the Cadet is to give you just a few tools, but with each of them conspicuously well executed and effective.

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  9. I bought the SAK Alox Farmer a few years ago. Just a tad wider, but has a useful wood saw and a leather punch. It is the most usefull EDC tool I've owned. Ive often thought of ditching my pocket folders since I rarely use them but seem to carry simply out of habit.

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  10. Very good review. Thank you for your work.

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  11. Had a Alox Farmer as well. Lost it. I am planning on buying one this week for a gift. May have to go the Cadet route. Will see what Blade HQ has in stock tomorrow

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  12. very good review ! I love the possibele to engrave my name on the backside of the alox handle.

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  13. Lately I've noticed yet another facet of the Alox Cadet's greatness. Its drivers are perfect for impromptu gun maintenance at the range. They can adjust scopes, tighten sight bases, pry a stuck case out of the chamber, etc.

    I bet anyone with a gadget-heavy hobby would find a Cadet similarly clutch as an EDC.

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  14. You say you want scissors on that Cadet? Check out the SAK Compact. It's been my EDC for more than 2 years and I love it. Even has a small emergency pen, plus the toothpick and tweezers that the Cadet lacks. They merged the can opener and bottle opener into one tool to free up the extra space for the scissors, and just one blade. The nail file is integrated into the side of one of the tools on the flip side to save even more space.

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