Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 Spear Point Review

In the world of hard use EDC knifes you'll find that most knives tend to favor one or the other of those two things.  Few blades, very few, are both truly comfortable everyday carry and hard use.  The Spyderco Paramilitary 2 is definitely one of those blades, but it is more than $100.  Plus, some people (crazy people, in my opinion) don't like the Spyderhole opener.  For those people, the options in the tiny sliver of the Venn diagram where "hard use" and "true EDC" overlap can be counted on one hand.  One option, however, is exceptionally interesting both because it falls into this category and because it sells for around $65.  That knife would be the Cold Steel Mini Recon I Spearpoint.  Another would be the ZT350 (and yes there is a shoot out coming), but it is more expensive.  Among these choices, the Mini Recon is both the cheapest and the only one equipped with the seemingly unbreakable Tri-Ad lock.

There are tons of options in the Recon line--the full size Recon 1, a massive 4 inch knife.  Then there is the Mini, which is only appropriately called a Mini at 3 inches in Cold Steel's line up of 6 and 7 inch blades.  Finally there is the Micro--a series of Recons with 2 inch blades.  Each of these, the full size, the Mini, and the Micro all come in three blade shapes: the Tanto (a blade shape that made Cold Steel famous), the Clip Point, and the drop or Spear Point.  I like the looks of a spearpoint and the utility of the blade shape as well, so the decision was very easy.  I received this knife as a review sample from Blade HQ.

Here is the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 product page (which includes the Tanto, Clip Point, and Spear Point).  Here is a video review of the Mini Recon 1.  There are no written reviews, making this the first.  Here is one of the full sized Recon 1 Spear Point. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ
 
Here is my review sample of the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 (which will be shortened to the MR1 for the rest of the review):

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Design: 2

First, let me thank the folks at Cold Steel for not including steel liners in this knife.  They are not necessary and the knife is plenty, plenty strong without it.  I really thumped on this knife, really, and never once did I feel it flex or lose confidence in it or its insanely strong lock.  The handle is excellent in size and shape and the overall knife is well-thought out.  This is a knife clearly taking design cues from Cold Steel's new Andrew Demko direction.  More utility and less Mall Ninja is always a good thing.

There is one drawback to the design and it is significant enough to mention but not dock a point.  The rear tang of the knife, a pet peeve of mine, is too open.  The back of the blade is very exposed and twice during the testing period lint was lodged in there.  It is an issue and I would like to see it covered over by a portion of the handle in future generations.  I understand it is a cut out for the Tri-Ad lock stop pin.  Nonetheless the gap toothed look is both aesthetically displeasing and a potential weakness for an otherwise unbeatable lock.  Even when the lint made it into the gap, the lock still worked--twice.     

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The ratios on this blade are very decent.  The blade:handle is .73.  The blade:weight is .83, very good in the hard use arena and not too bad in general.  This is the blessing of a liner less handle and the very good weight on the G10 slabs.  Cold Steel needs to be praised for this, not only because it is quite impressive, but also because they need positive reinforcement not to slip back into their previous roll as Official Knifemaker of Mall Ninjas Everywhere.   

Fit and Finish: 1

First, and foremost, there is the G10 itself.  I am going to address that later in the Grip section of the review, but in summary, its terrible.  Since I docked the knife points in Grip I am not going to double penalize it here.  There are other places the fit and finish are subpar--the coating on the metal parts here is HORRENDOUS, for example.  As you can see, even with only two weeks of use it was flaking off.


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Cold Steel's coatings have been bad for a long, long time.  I had an original run of the Recon many years ago and it was terrible then too.  I want them to make these blades without coating, but if they are unwilling to do that, at least improve the coatings.  In the day and age of Cerakote and Durakote there is no excuse.

There is also a problem with the lock bar.  It is a little tight, which is fine, but the gaps between the lock bar and the handle (see above) when disengaging the lock could be problematic.  Oh, and there is this: 

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If you are going to go to the trouble of coating your blades for anti-reflective purposes having a polished and shiny pivot area defeats the purpose. 

Overall, there is no fatal flaw here. The blade locks up fine and the thumbstud is well done but there are a lot of nagging issues that lower the overall feel of the blade in hand.   

Grip: 0

The shape of the handle is great.  The jimping up top is useless, but there is nothing offensive about it.  The problem here is the G10.  This stuff is not grippy, it is destructive.  It feels like a wood shaping rasp.  It is not comfortable and literally pulverizes the pockets.  It is just too much.

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It is so rough that it feels unfinished, like they rushed it through, but it is clear that they didn't.  All of the Recons 1 I have handled have the the same level of grip.  They can totally take the handle, turn the texture down significantly, and still have an excellent and easy to hold knife.  

Carry: 2

The lack of a liner again makes a difference.  The knife is significantly lighter than its size, reputation, and maker would indicate.  I like the knife's shape in the pocket. It is a little thick, but nothing too bad.  The nicely radiused handle slabs are great, though, as mentioned above the texturing on the G10 is out of control bad. 

Steel: 1

I did some serious cutting with this knife.  I usually cut some paper and some cardboard.  I also always try to do a little whittling.  Here, though, with the promise of unbreakability thanks to the Tri-Ad lock, I also did some batonning.  The steel simply did not hold up.  Cardboard and paper dulled it after about a week of extensive use.  The batonning dulled it as well, but I am willing to concede that will dull any knife.  Still I had to go to the Sharpmaker more times than I want to with a knife of this price.  AUS-8 can be good, but here, it is just adequate, and just barely that. 

Blade Shape: 2

The tanto and clip point versions seem a little more Mall Ninja than this version for some reason.  Perhaps it is the fact that this blade shape is just plain useful.  It is not designed for stabbing, though it did fine there.  It is not designed to look like a bowie.  It just cuts, cuts, and cuts some more. 


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I like the ricasso here too.  It is very, very clean and never interferes with work tasks.  No silliness, no recourves or multifaceted grinds, no bullshit, just cutting ability and lots of it.  Overall an excellent blade shape.  

Grind: 2

The grind was a 2/3 grind with a nice swedge on top.  The cutting bevel was large but not huge, enough to get an easy sharpening session in without much time or skill.  I liked the grind, but the blade stock is so thick I think it could be thinned out a little more.  A full flat grind would also work, making this knife a little better slicer than it is, which would be a good thing.  

Deployment Method: 2

Applause for Cold Steel's innovative thumb studs.  They are just a giant bolt or screw.  A flat head driver can push them through the thumb stud hole one way or another to better favor a left or right handed deployment.  Clever.  But the threads on the screw add a good deal of grip making it easier to gain and keep purchase of the studs themselves.  Double clever.  The blade was heavy and fat making it fast, provided you give it a good kick.  You can snap the blade open without using the studs provided you have the right arm action.  The pivot is moderately smooth and fast, especially given the hard use profile of the knife.  

Retention Method: 1

The pocket clip is not ambidextrous, so Cold Steel includes two.  Awesome--a part to lose.  Plus, there is plenty of real estate on the handle for a straight clip, leading me to believe this was done as a cost saving, part sharing matter and not a design choice.  The clip is also quite stiff and small, accentuating the G10 ripping and tearing.  Finally, it is not a deep carry clip and with a knife this big a snag can easily happen.  It won't pull the knife out of your pocket, but it will destroy your pants.  

Lock: 2

I batonned with this knife and it never budged.  The Tri-Ad lock is clearly the strongest lock I have ever used.  I would not feel comfortable doing that with many other locks and here the MR1 just shook off the shock and stress like it was a gentle breeze.  Truly amazing.  I love the lock and here the lock makes the knife, along with the lack of liners.  This is why this knife can easily be thrown into hard use tasks despite some of the shortcomings I have mentioned.  It cuts and stays put no matter what and in this in role that is what you want.  

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

This is an excellent blade, despite some of my complaints.  It runs with the big dogs, the PM2 and the ZT350 quite well.  Better steel would make this a really interesting segment of the market.  As it is, this is clearly in a tier beneath the other two blades until you do value calculation (again, shoot out coming).  Then things are REALLY interesting.  I like the blade a lot and this is a score I stand by, but you should know it is a strong 16.  If you can't quite afford the Spyderco or the ZT, this is a good choice and not a loser's consolation.  The new Cold Steel design and engineering team is doing a good job.  They left Mall Ninja chic behind them.  Now if they could only do the same with the AUS-8 steel and one-size-fits-all pocket clip.  A new clip, a blade of good steel like 154CM, and less textured G10 would make this blade one of the best, if not the best, on the market.  True hard use EDC blades are hard to find.  This is a pretty darn good one. 

9 comments:

  1. Nice review Tony. $65 seems steep, especially when compared to the full size version, but if it's anything like the full size Recon 1 / AK / American Lawman / etc you are getting a quality piece of gear.

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  2. Thanks for the on-point review. The Triad lock gives these Demko-era Cold Steel folders a surprising appeal.

    It's the pants-shredding clip setups that hold me back from purchasing. That would drive me nuts. I would have to spend time doing a jerry-rig fix, like sanding the scales under the clip or doing Nutnfancy's JB Weld modification.

    And then I would think, "WTH, Spyderco doesn't make me go through this crap, and they give me a VG-10 blade for the same price."

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  3. Tony,
    Excellent review. I have been feeling the need for a HARD USE knife lately (okay, I just want a new knife), and I will probably be going with one of the Voyager models. They might fix a couple of your gripes, re: G10, and blade finish. I'll let you know if I get one how it works. Both my birthday and Christmas are coming up, so I have my fingers crossed
    IG

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  4. If the scratches on the black coated parts bug you, they can be scraped off with a razor blade. The knife is easily disassembled to allow this. Paint stripper helps a little to soften the coating. but will not remove it by itself. The rough texture of the G-10 seems to lose a little of its bite over time, but you can go further by rubbing the handle scales on fine grit (2000 - 4000 grit) sandpaper on a flat surface. It doesn't take much at all to make it acceptable. The gap between the lock bar and the handle scales is due to the large engagement area of the lock bar/blade tang. It requires a lot of travel to release the lock, but it's also inspires confidence when you compare it to the lock engagement of other lock back designs.

    I find that AUS-8 works best when you set the primary bevel at 30 degrees inclusive and finish the edge at 40 degrees or higher. Aus-8 rolls too easily to get a long lasting edge at 30 degrees.

    For those that haven't handled recent Cold Steel knives, they are really in a different category than most other brands. Forget the hype of their overboard marketing efforts and their more ridiculous products. The Demko designs really are solid. I have a lot of more expensive knives, but none feel as solid or inspire more confidence than the recent Cold Steel models I've tried (Recon, American Lawman, AK-47). There are things I don't like about them (yes, I would prefer better steel, uncoated blades and parts), but with the solid lock-up and rigidity they really do feel like fixed blade knives. Sort of make my Spydercos feel like toys as far as that's concerned.

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    1. Great tip on the sanding, just to add though- I've read that g-10 dust can be very bad for you. One should wear a dust mask in a well ventilated area if attempting. Also if you carry tip up, sand the pointy G-10 areas near the pivot, as they will wear right through jeans.

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    2. Great points. I really do like the knife. With some tougher steel, like D2, this would be hands down the best knife of the three I referenced.

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  5. Great review! I reviewed the full size version and found it to be a great hard duty folder.

    http://www.bladereviews101.blogspot.com

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  6. The handle is a little rough on the hands, so I used a piece of leather to make it less abrasive. I just rubbed the handle of teh knife with the leather. Very easy fix as was the minor bend I did on the pocket clip. I've heard a lot of complaints on those two issues but either can be remedied in a matter of minutes.

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  7. Honestly, I consider the G10 texture to be great except for the pocket shredding effect. A few strokes of 220 grit sandpaper under the clip's tension point will clear up that problem.

    I also used sanding to round off the sharp point of the finger choil between the first and second fingers. This notably improved grip comfort.

    With these easy tweaks the Mini Recon is an EXCELLENT knife, probably in the 17-19 pt range. It is winning a lot of pocket time.

    I will eventually try to strip the Teflon coating from the blade, although it does seem to reduce binding and friction when cutting with the Recon 1's fairly thick-stocked blade.

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