Monday, December 17, 2012

EDC Mailbag: Tough Steel and Strong Clips

I get probably an email a day with EDC related questions and so often the questions are very good.  So good and helpful in fact I want to share them with other people.  So I have decided that once a month I will take a few of the best questions and answer them in a post.  I am not doing this because I think I have some kind of special knowledge or authority, but simply because its fun.  I'll research the question and give the best answer I can.  As always, feel free to chime in in the comments.  I learn so much from readers that often times I feel like I am getting information downloaded into my brain like on the Matrix.

So here goes the first edition of EDC Mailbag.

Question #1: Rank the Steel


I'm looking at getting a custom Bechmade Mini-Griptillian and I'm wondering what your opinion is on each of the available options for blade steel. I've seen that you rate S30V and D2 as 2 point steels and 154CM as a 1 point steel. Where would you rate N680, and which steel would you recommend for a Benchmade Mini-Griptillian (probably with the hollow-ground sheepsfoot blade)?


This is a great question for two reasons.  First, it lets me explain a little bit about the scoring system and second it brings up a topic that I find endlessly fascinating, which is the variability in the quality of 154CM steel versus other steels.

Danny is looking at purchasing a custom Mini Grip from Benchmade.  Here is the one and only Everyday Commentary Custom Mini Grip, in possession of Joeseph Wain, who designed the logo in the previous logo contest:


It is not necessarily a full custom knife, but more like a knife that where you choose the parts.  It is a great service and I did an overview here.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Not only is the knife itself a great design, but the materials are top notch, and the customer service, as you can see in that post, is amazing.

This gets me to the next point.  The rating system looks at the product as a whole.  It also looks at the intended purpose or likely use for a product.  So a knife that is used in a chopping role can use a non-stainless steel because they tend to be more impact resistant and less likely to chip.  In a folding knife the same steel would not fair as well in the scoring system, so use is important.  Second, some steels on some knives perform much better than the same steel on a different knife.  The AUS8 on the Al Mar Hawk is an amazing slicing steel.  On the Cold Steel Mini Recon I it is barely at par.  Both the steel's batch, heat treatment, and blade geometry all impact a steel's performance so asking which steel is better in the abstract is virtually a meaningless question.  See the Special Series tab above for the Steel Selection series of articles.

154CM is one of the most challenging steels to review.  I have had three knives with this steel and each had radically different performances.  The Benchmade Sequel's 154CM speckled like a red head on the beach.  It was quite awful.  The same formulation on my Skeletool CX has served me much better.  It still rusts, but in crevices and obscure places.  But on the Mini Grip the 154CM still was incredible.  It held and edge, took abuse, and still cut like a laser.  It was also quite pleasant to sharpen.  So on top of all of the other considerations I mentioned above and in the Steel Selection series, 154CM seems to have more variability than most formulations.  I think in the Mini Grip, you have nothing to worry about.  In that knife, in my experience, it is an excellent steel and therefore one that earns a 2 of 2 in my scoring system.

N680 is a steel I have no experience with, but it is a variation of N690, a steel I have on my Fox Cutlery Spyfox.  In that blade the N690 steel is quite excellent.  I can only assume that the two steels, both Bohler Uddeholm products function similarly.  N series steels are BU's conventionally forged (as opposed to powder metal) cutlery steel.  N680 has a carbon percentage of .54 while N690 has a carbon percentage of 1.08.  The additional carbon is offset by other chemicals in greater amounts.  The N690 hardens to a higher level than N680 (60-62 HRc v. 56-58 HRc).  The N690 steel compares quite favorably both chemically and in my experience to VG10 steel.  The N680 is more like AUS8 in its chemical composition, but experientially I have no information.

I would certainly take the 154CM steel over the N680 if prices were equal, but in the case of the custom Mini Grip, the N680 is a premium price, so the difference there is clear.  I am not sure about whether I would take D2 over 154CM.  That is a closer call that depends on what you are going to be doing with the knife.  If you cut boxes all day the abrasion resistance of the D2 will be your best choice.  If you have more normal EDC tasks, opt for the more rust resistant 154CM.  That said, I would definitely take the fourth option in the custom Mini Grip menu, the S30V steel, over all three other choices.  It is one of my favorite all around steels and for $20 more it is a no-brainer.  154CM can be good.  S30V is ALWAYS good.  In fact, the Bos-treated S30V steel on my TuffThumbz Advantage is still razor sharp after three months of use and I haven't touched it up yet.  So final ranking (price considered, normal EDC tasks):

1. S30V
2. 154CM
3. D2
4. N680

That is a long winded answer to a good question.  I hope it helps.

Question #2: Gym Shorts Carry


I have a friend who is looking for a small EDC knife, and I think the OD-2 might be the perfect knife for him.  He's an engineer type, so I expect the cam will be a winner with him.  Here's the question.  My friend likes to wear athletic sweat pants all the time, which have really thin pockets.  As a result, a heavy knife is a no-no, and he needs a really tight clip to hold the knife on the thin fabric.  He's tried a Tenacious, a Native, a DF 1, and the only thing that stays in his pocket is a POS Gerber Evo Jr.. Would the OD-2 hold his pocket, as I won't get it for him as a Christmas gift unless it will. (I bought him the Tenacious and the Native).

The Idaho Gunslinger

If you read this site regularly you'll know I like small knives.  In particular, after finding the DFII in ZDP-189, I searched high and low for a slim knife with the same blade length.  I ran through quite a few knives in this quest--the Buck Small Vantage, SOG Flash I, the SOG Twitch II, the Kershaw OD-2, the Benchmade Aphid, and the Al Mar Hawk.  In terms of weight they all work, except the steel sandwich that is the Twitch II.  That's out.  Next, only a few have tight enough clips for this application.  The Vantage's clip is one of my favorites but it is not super tight.  Additionally there is not much texture on the Vantage's handle scale, so it is out.  The Flash I's clip is a good design but poor in execution.  I found it to be flimsy.  Additionally, it too did not hold the knife tight.  Gone.  The Al Mar has no clip, so gone.  This leaves the Benchmade Aphid and the Kershaw OD-2.  In my experience both are excellent blades.  I like the assist on the Aphid, despite normally not liking assists at all.  But the clip is small, even for a knife as diminutive as the Aphid.  So, that, by process of elimination, leaves the OD-2.  Its clip is a no-fuss, no-muss design.


It is actually quite long, taking up a substantial portion of the body of the knife.  It is also sufficiently tight.  The handle scales are a bit slick, but it should work in this application.

All that said, I think the DFII's wire clip is just superior.  It would also work in this application and the texture on the handle scale would make it an extra bit clingy.  I know this is not answering the question directly, but if I had a universal of options, the DFII would be #1.  However, if you are asking if the OD-2 would work here the answer is yes.   

If you have a question you can send it to me at anthonysculimbrene at comcast dot net in the normal format.


  1. I'll chime in and say the custom Mini Grip is superb and I'm completely pleased with the steel in that blade shape.

  2. For gym shorts or sweatpants I like to wear the knife on my hip clipped to the inside of the waistband. Doesn't fall out of the pocket, doesn't have the tendency to drag the pants down as much. The mini-grip works well here but I prefer the dragonfly 2 since it's a little lighter and more compact (I do have to find the sweet spot so it doesn't dig into my spare tire.) If you're going to be using this while working out then I'd go for the DF2 Salt since it would be more resistant to corrosion from sweat.

  3. The OD-2 has a stiff little clip. I bet it would work for Idaho Gunslinger's pal. It is a great small knife with a sharp blade. I think it would excel as a gift, because it is such FUN to fiddle with the cam launcher, the recipient will be reminded of you when he flips the OD-2 open repeatedly while watching TV.

    For less than $19 it is hard to go wrong. (Maybe add a second one for yourself?)

  4. First of all, thanks for your input and your rapid response (he sent me an email back within a day)!

    I ended up going with the regular Mini-Griptillian 555HG instead of the custom, since I could find the regular version (which is 154CM)for ~$65 versus the custom one at $115+. I decided that the extra cost wasn't worth it just to get the colors I wanted in the handles, especially since I can still send it in to Benchmade to be laser engraved for $5-7 depending on whether I do a logo, text, or both. Plus my yellow one looks almost as good as the orange I originally wanted!

  5. For Gym Shorts,They are specialty athletic apparel used to create separation between the groin muscles and the hamstrings. Active men and women also wear Gym shorts for an extra layer of warmth and to guard against the possibility of developing rashes and chafing as the result of vigorous physical activity.

  6. I have the OD-2 with me every time I go camping and it's pretty reliable. Mine isn't that heavy as well, so I can still keep it in my pocket while on camp.

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