Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kershaw Skyline Fixed Blade Review

First there was the iPod.  Then there was the iPod Mini.  Then there was the iPod Shuffle.  Then things really started to change--the iPhone, the iPad, the iPad Mini.  Iteration is a sign of success.  A company wouldn't bother making lots of variations of a product unless that product was successful.  When it comes to folders, few knives hit that perfect point between value and performance like the Kershaw Skyline.  There is a tremendous amount of agreement across the forums and amongst reviewers--the Skyline is beloved.  There is a Damascus version, a digi cam version, a black and tan Guinness beer like version, and one of the knife forums even has a limited edition S30V Skyline.  Now Kershaw extends the Skyline further and releases a fixed blade version.  Same excellent, value priced steel.  Same great ergos.  Same excellent grind.  Same perfect Goldilocks size.  All without the lock.  It is, simply put, a versatile and amazing fixed blade.  There are some drawbacks, but given the price, they shouldn't stay your hand at all.  Go buy this knife.  Even if you're not a fixed blade person, go buy it.  You'll be surprised at how often you use it.

Here is the product page with all of the specs (this is one reason why I link to the product page, because listing specs is friggin' boring).   There is no official product page from Kershaw because this knife started out as a special edition for Caleba's and Blade HQ and Knifecenter each got a special shipment.  There is no written review for the Skyline Fixed Blade yet (the hyperlink in the first paragraph is to my review of the folding version of the Skyline).  Here is a video review, from Nutnfancy, no less (he is representing the loss leader Black Friday price, it is slightly more now).  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Kershaw Skyline Fixed Blade, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is my review sample of the Skyline Fixed Blade:

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Because this is only the second scored fixed blade review I have done, here is a refresher on the fixed blade scoring system.

Design: 2

The original folding Skyline was an amazing design--one of the lightest, cheapest flippers on the market.  Despite the flash of a flipper the rest of the knife was pretty straightforward, a blessing when compared to the bizarre lines of many knives on the market.  The "in the hand" experience of the folding Skyline was really quite great.  All of that is carried over to the fixed blade version.  It is a testament to Tommie Lucas's basic sketch.  The overall form factor is genius.
 
The fixed blade Skyline, like its folding brethren is a featherweight, clocking in at 2.8 ounces without the sheath.  The blade:weight is 1.12, a great number.  Here is a size comparison to the standard Zippo lighter (which comes in handy more often as a size reference than a lighter):

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You need to bear in mind that while being a fixed blade, this isn't a chopper like, say, the RD-7.  It is meant to be an EDC fixed blade knife.  I used it as such over a period of three week and it worked well, with one exception, that I will spell out below.  All of this was aided by the wonderful flow of the handle and the blade's light weight.  

Fit and Finish:  2

The original folder version was bead blasted, but the fixed blade is stonewashed and the difference is quite nice.  I much, much prefer stonewashing as it hides wear well and it does not open up the grains of the steel like beadblasting does.  Instead it gives the blade a beautiful and useful finish.  The handle scales were perfectly grippy, not too much like Cold Steel's G10, but more than the nominal traction seen on other knives.  This locks in the hand without ripping off the finger tips.  Even the sheath, which is an abomination in design, is nicely finished.  

Handle Design: 2

The handle design is excellent for a fixed blade EDC.  There is not enough of a back end to lock your hand in place for it to be a chopper, but that is not what this knife is supposed to be.  The handle makes stabbing and piercing cuts easy:

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plus the handle makes it nice and easy to do slicing, roll cuts, and generally cutting tasks, such as...wait for it...:

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cutting the cheese (OH YES!  I DID IT.  After 336 posts, many about knives, I finally made the cutting the cheese joke! YES!).  Seriously though, in utility tasks that you'd use a fixed blade EDC knife for, the handle of the Skyline Fixed Blade is great.  

Steel: 2

As I said in the Steel Selection series, Sandvik 14C28N is Manny Pacquiao of steels.  For the money I can't think of a better value.  It is priced at or below the cost of something like AUS8 or VG10 and I have found it to be simply superior to those steels.  It sharpens well.  It takes impacts well.  It holds an edge.  It never rusts.  All of these make it an excellent steel in the role of a fixed blade EDC knife.  If your looking for a chopper, again something this knife ISN'T, you'd want something a bit tougher, but in role it is excellent.

Blade Shape:  2

I mentioned this above and it holds true for both versions of the knife--this is a great and simple blade shape.  Nice acute and useful point and plenty of belly.  In an age of weirdo multifaceted grinds and utterly useless recurves, this is simple proof that a straightforward approach works and works well.

Grind: 2

In the folding version I dinged the knife a point for the grind.  It was sloppy and the cutting bevel was uneven.  Additionally, the grind took away a lot of the tip and its strength.  Here both problems have been addressed.  First, the grind is much cleaner, something I would imagine comes from refinements to the production of the Skyline over its long tenure (long relatively speaking).  Second, because the stock of the steel is much thicker, even with an aggressive tip, it is still adequately strong.  Here is a shot of the knife dropped into an oak stump (I did this repeatedly):

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I pulled it out with a prying motion and the tip was absolutely unblemished.  Great job and nice touch.  

Sheath Carry:  0

If this knife has an Achilles heel, and it does, it is the abhorrent sheath. Here it is:

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Problems abound and it is clear this is where they saved money in making the Skyline Fixed Blade.  It is simply a single piece of leather cut and folded with a spine of harder leather in between.  The white contrast stitching is even but instantly became dirty.  Here is the fundamental problem: the sheath makes this svelte slicer a positively mammoth thing to carry.  It has very few carry options as the belt loop is really just a piece of the sheath bent backwards.  Even the best leather sheath has problems--they hold water, they are poor in cold conditions, and they are bulky, but this is a shitty leather sheath.  It doesn't even seemed to be mated to the knife.  It seems like a sheath designed for knife, as opposed to this knife.  If it were not incredibly easy to replace, I would have given the knife overall lower marks, but the number of aftermarket sheathes and even affordable custom kydex sheathes available means this is a minor stumbling block.  Think of this knife as costing $40 bucks--the knife plus a replacement sheath.  Even then it is still a screaming good deal.  I find it hard to believe that this sheath was cheaper than the infinitely superior but no less plain nylon sheath on the ESEE Candiru, my current benchmark EDC fixed blade knife. 

Sheath Accessibility: 1

The one thing this sheath does is hold the knife in position.  It fits tight, too tight in fact, but that is necessitated by the material.  The shape memory that leather builds over time means that if it didn't start out over tight, the blade would fall out in a year or two.  Even with this caveat, the sheath doesn't afford great accessibility.  With a kydex sheath, for example, the handle is usually protruding from the top, meaning that when you grab the knife, you can do so with your whole hand.  Here the awkward belt loop makes it just a bit harder to grab the knife and pull it out.  Additionally the fact that belt loop is HIGHER than the handle means that it does not rest well on your belt, especially when you go to extract the knife.  This is a strictly two handed affair even when the knife is lashed around a belt.  It works, but not well.  Blah...

Useability: 2

When I talk about useability I mean how well does the knife do work.  Does it cause fatigue?  Is it well balanced?  Is it hard to use?  Here, when used as an EDC knife, the Skyline flourishes.  The letterboxed blade tang worried me.  I thought it might cause fatigue.  But it didn't.  It was just proud of the handle, enough to see it and make a nice design statement, but not so proud that it made it difficult to use.  Additionally the balance of the blade was perfect, hitting right around the finger choil, or just a bit ahead of that position making cutting nice and easy.

Durability: 2

I did a lot of different work with the knife clearing brush, cutting small limbs from trees, cutting the...um...cheese, chopping up candles for firestarters.  It worked with the grace you'd expect from the elegant lines it has.  I liked everything about it.  It is not, as I have said before, a chopper, but if you need a fixed blade that can handle the dirt and grime that would kill the pivot on a fixed blade, this is an excellent choice.  I especially appreciated the wear resistance and edge holding of the 14C28N steel.  The extra thickness on the blade stock when compared to the folder makes a big difference.  The knife never flexed or creaked.  It soaked up hard and filthy use (the sap from tree lines coupled with the hard wax from candles was a true bitch to get off) and the stonewashed finish looked only slightly worse for wear.  Only batonning marked the knife blade permanently, but that usually happens when doing that task.  

Overall score: 17 out of 20

Kershaw has a winner here.  It is a perfect extension of the Skyline line and an excellent all around performer as an EDC fixed blade knife.  It is not big enough to handle chopping tasks, but as a yard work knife it is a bitchin' tool.  The sheath is shit, but that can be replaced easily and customized when you do so, so I don't think it is all that big a deal.  I also thing this is an interesting competitor to the ESEE EDC knives, the Candiru and the Izula.  Both are really excellent designs and as a package coupled with the sheath the Candiru is better, but the steel here is more advanced than even the best heat treated 1095.  With a better sheath the Skyline would definitely give those two knives a run for their money.    

4 comments:

  1. I agree on the sheath, but you missed one of its "characteristics" that is visible in the photo of the knife. The sheath also sheds color/dirt onto the orange scales. I can see the same sheath marks of blackness on your knife that are on mine. This POC was not worth the time it took to make it. I would have happily have paid 5 or 10 dollars more to have something more serviceable.

    I have handled the knife a few times, but I have never used or worn it because of the lousy sheath. Is anyone offering an alternative specially made for this nice knife?

    I am glad Kershaw made this knife. But their effort to be the low-price leader undercuts the otherwise excellent usability of this fine development in their proven winner.

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  2. I loved everything about the folder except for the flipper look. I can't get past the little piece of the blade sticking up when closed. But the fixed blade is fantastic. Good write up. I have an old fixed blade in my tool box that I'll likely replace with this one, so the sheath is no biggie; When I need it I'll simply shove the knife and sheath in my back pocket.

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  3. I agree with everyting you said in your review. I'm a bit short on cash at the moment, so a kydex sheath will not be an immediate possibility. I do think the sheath is crap, but it works so I don't mind going with it until it breaks or wears down.
    I love the steel too, but for a fixed blade of a similar size, I do tend to prefer the Becker BK14 with the factory scales. It's fatter in my hand, and the blade shape and full flat grind make it excell at outdoor tasks such as fire prep, cleaning wood, making woodshavings, field dressing,... I see the Skyline FB more as an indoor fixed blade, ideal for opening boxes or letters (because of the somewhat spearpoint design and the fine tip) and for food prep.

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  4. Check it out, Blade HQ had some fitted Kydex sheaths made just for the Skyline fixed blade, $26. Great move.

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