Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interview: Are We There Yet Dad

So far I have posted interviews of people you probably know--Don McLeish and Bernard over at www.everyday-carry.com.  Today though I wanted to post an interview with a guy over on CPF that has one of the finest collections of lights out there.  Here is a link to his collection, which includes no less than 9 McGizmos and a full 3 Lunasol 20's (a light many consider the finest flashlight ever made).  It is the standard format of questions with a few modified for Troy.

There are a group of folks on CPF, like Troy, that drive the innovation.  They pay top dollar for custom lights and this allows guys like McGizmo, Steve Ku, and Mirage Man make expensive, unique, high end torches.  The folks in this group not only provide the money for innovators, they also guide the design of these lights.  They are tastemakers for flashlights and the features they like eventually filter down to the production lights we can all afford.  Have you seen McGizmo's clip on production lights? What about his piston drive?  It may not be Troy's intention to drive innovation, but that is what happens.  As such, this interview may give us an idea of where flashlights are headed in the future.   

1. What is your current EDC knife and light combo?



McGizmo Ti PD-S, Mac's Customs Ti EDC-XML and Chris Reeve small regular Sebenza.

2. Name one of your Grail items?



Lummi Original Orb Ti.  [Editors Note: He now has one, check the list; also this is a newer version of the Orb, not the original]

3. Twisty, clicks, or other (please specify)? Preference?

Piston.

4. What's the appeal of the Lunasol 20?

Piston drive, size, dual purpose.

Have you modded yours?

No.

5. If you had to suggest a light to someone that didn't have one what would you recommend in terms of bang for your buck?

Mac's Customs EDC series.

6. Who is the next up and coming custom maker?

Mirage Man.

7. Is infinite variable brightness a gimmick or useful?

If you like it, which method do you prefer (QTC, selector ring, other)? Useful, but depends on the mode. Can't stand QTC - too finicky. Like selector ring but still prefers just 2 or 3 momentary or click levels. Not really needing the variable brightness concept.

8. Most sentimental EDC item?


Mr. Bulk Brass LionCub.

9. MOMA contacts you and asks for one light to represent "the high end of flashlights" in terms of artistic value, what do you recommend?



Mirage Man customs [Editor's Note: Pretty hard to argue with that beauty].

10. Favorite gear sites or YouTube reviewers?

CountyComm, Blue Line Gear, several others.

Thanks to Troy for answering all of my annoying questions.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Taking Stock After Year One

I have been writing this blog for exactly one year.  In that time I have reviewed fifty products, or about a product a week.  Lots of different folks have sent me stuff to review from big, well know companies like Leatherman to small boutique craftspeople like Inkleaf Leather. I have made over 200 posts.  And I have given away quite a bit of stuff--an Inkleaf Leather moleskine cover, a Leatherman Sidekick, an Iain Sinclair Card Sharp II, and a custom Mini Grip.  In all, the total amount has come to well over $200 in stuff.  That is not a lot, but remember, I don't have ad revenue that goes directly to me nor do I have a sponsor of any sort.

ASIDE

I have been approached by a few people to review their products.  They are not makers, they are sellers.  Thus far I have been hesitant because I don't want to be seen as endorsing things for sale.  I don't want to have a relationship where I am just shilling things for a website.  But, I have done research on a few of these folks and some have turned out to be really stand up folks.  So, what do you think?  I would, of course, not keep anything for myself, but would it impact my credibility if I were reviewing things sent to me by a reseller?  Keep in mind this would greatly increase the number of things I can review as right now I am limited to my own budget and the Adsense revenue.  Post in the comments.  Your opinion really does matter.

END ASIDE

This has been money or products generated solely because of the website.  The more readers, the more stuff I can give away.  In the year since I started the blog more well over a quarter million people have stopped by and read my hopefully witty banter and your always perceptive comments.

I hope that this is just the beginning.  When I started this blog I had one practical goal in mind: I wanted Sal from Spyderco to send me something to review.  It has not happened yet, but I think eventually it will.  As the daily readership increases, eventually, hopefully, I will get a Spyderco blade to review (and then give it away to a reader).  The less practical goal was to create a library of reviews of lots of different products.  I wanted something that I would like to read (if I hadn't written it).  Now, with the aforementioned 50 reviews in hand, I think I about there, but I have no plans on stopping.

The next big giveaway is still in the works.  I am trying to figure out a fair way to do it, but there are always concerns that one person will just swamp my email and make it impossible for others to enter.  I would love to give the McGizmo away towards the end of the year and the Adsense revenue seems to be holding up.

In addition to giveaways, I have three new things I'd like to implement going forward.

First, I'd also like to do a few video reviews if I could.  I have to get over the fact that they are more difficult for me to do than writing a review (I need a block of about 20 minutes to do it and with a little guy around that is hard to find).

I also want to do updates to the reviews I have already done, checking in a year later to see if the score stays the same or changes.  Generally, I see two things impacting a score change: improvements in technology or ergonomics and long term usage performance.  For example, the Sebenza has gotten better with time.  I have played around with the pivot quite a bit and I like the action on the blade opening much better now than before.  I also cut off the lanyard and it makes the knife smaller in the pocket and cleaner in appearance.  It will obviously keep its score of 20/20.

Finally, I would like to create a database of small gear makers.  I have hinted at it here and there, but the idea would be to create a single listing of all different kinds of small, US based gear designers and producers broken down into the following categories:

Lights
Knives
Multitools
One Piece Multitools
Pens
Packs and Bags
Apparel

If you have any suggestions for a mention, here are the parameters:

1.  The gear maker needs to be a small set up.  Leatherman is too big.  HDS Flashlights are probably about as big a company as I would want to list.

2.  The gear maker needs to produce things ENTIRELY or as much as practically possible in the US.

3.  You need to have bought something from the gear maker so you can judge its quality and their service.

Send me an email or post in the comments section if you have any ideas.  Custom makers are entirely okay.

Finally, I still have a coated aircraft cable keychain to give away.  I have tried two different people, so go post on that thread and I will choose another person.

Thanks for reading.  Getting my thoughts out has been very therapeutic.  I hope it has been as fun to read as it has been to write.    

PS: I have just bought the first product I was sent for review.  I reviewed the Tom Bihn Cadet a few weeks ago, sent it back, and thought about it.  It is a great bag.  I just bought one.  It was a huge hassle to do it this way and shipping wasn't cheap, but I think this is only way to maintain an appearance of objectivity.   

Friday, February 24, 2012

Etsy No Brainer

Ritzy foodies just love small batch, handcrafted local food (my grandmother likes local food too, for a whole different reason).  But the Slow Food Movement is just one way in which people have turned to smaller economic networks in the past few very lean years.  The emergence of CSAs seem to be the perfect exemplar of this push (see government involvement isn't ALWAYS bad).  But as people that like gear, it is hard to find the equivalent.  There are, of course, custom gear makers like McGizmo, and the hundreds of custom knife makers, but there is no central marketplace for these folks.  That is, not one usually referenced in the gear community.

If you peruse the boards at EDCF, USN, CPF, or any other gear forum you will very rarely see a reference to a common marketplace for small batch custom goods, but there is one.  Etsy has been in use for craft people, mainly women, for years now and if you take a look at their offerings you just might be surprised at what you find.  If you are looking for small batch, custom gear, try Etsy.

Etsy is a virtual craft show, dominated by blankets and sweaters and other traditionally crafted items.  Etsy will only list things that are either vintage or are handmade.  The rule for vintage is straightforward--the item must be more than twenty years old.  The rule for handmade is a bit looser as any form of post-production modification counts.  There are a lot of junky things on Etsy that are "handmade" because someone engraved "Grandpa" on the side.  But if you look carefully you can find some pretty nice gear.  I am not able to vouch for this stuff, but there are signs the things are well made.  

My sister in law (who makes extraordinarily nice custom baby linens, here; they make great baby arrival gifts in case the women readers or the Mrs. wants some ideas) pointed me in Etsy's direction.  In the few weeks since I started looking I have found a wide variety of really interesting gear there, much of it at much lower prices than offered elsewhere (in part because Etsy, by definition, cuts out the distribution and advertising costs).  Don't believe me that a virtual craft show has things that are interesting for gear geeks?  Let me prove my point.

Looking for a custom knife?  How about this blade:

Custom Lockback Folding Knife

Here is a pic:


Not my cup of tea, but it is interesting and looks well made. Definitely different and the eagle wing as a thumb catch is pretty unique and functional.

Here is another knife from the same maker, a little more in line with my tastes, though still a little out there:

Custom Lockback Folding Knife Sunburst


There are quite a few rescaled SAKs on Etsy as well, many with visually pleasing wood handles.  There are even a few fixed blades.  Honestly a lot of the stuff is total junk that is rendered "custom" (as required by Etsy's standards, either custom or vintage, more than 20 years old) by a cheap engraving, but digging and checking back can reveal cool stuff.  I saw a damascus flipper two weeks ago (listing is long gone, people have to pay to keep things listed) for a very reasonable price.

Not looking for a knife, what about a pen?

Oh, Etsy has a ton of options for you.  Most are turned wood on pen "kits" but the results are unique and gorgeous.  Here is a really nice example:

Turned Redwood Burl Pen


The pen mechanisms look like a Rockler or Lee Valley purchase, and this particular guy uses Parker refills (meaning Fisher refills can work too) but the wood body is the thing that makes the difference.  If you read the page you can see that this particular maker knows what he or she is talking about, referencing the high grit micromesh used to finish the CA coats.  This has all the appearances of a craftsperson at work.

Here is another pen that caught my eye:

Kauri Wood Aero Style Pen


Kauri is a wood that I am familiar with from my woodworking projects.  I find it really surprising that knife makers have, by in large, ignored this really dense unique wood for handle scales.  Here is a bit more about it (if you even have a PASSING interest in woodworking, click that link and look as some of that stuff).  Again, this is a pen kit, but the work appears flawless.  This particular piece is listed at $50, a very good price for the materials and apparent craftsmanship.

No mighty pen or sword?  How about a really nice bag or two:

Leather Briefcase


The details and fasteners seem to be quite nice and the price is amazing, if the quality is there: $245 plus shipping.  The information on the bag's ad again indicate a knowledge of leather and leathercraft.

Want something more gear-like?

Minimalist Icon Small Bag

This bag seems to be a stylish carry around the size of a Maxped PFII.  There are two water bottle holders, one on each side, and a bunch of pockets.  It has a worn look that will probably age well and the leather zipper pulls look cool. It is not made of super water repellant nylon, but instead cotton canvas.  It also has a smaller price tag than the PFII, coming in at $45.00.

Alas, there are no real custom flashlights on Etsy (or none that I could find) but there was this:

Flashlight/Knife Holster


Again, not my style, but still, at least it is something. 

I am really quite pleased with the custom stuff I have bought off of CPF and other places, but sometimes I wish there was a clearinghouse for ALL custom gear.  Until then, it doesn't hurt to check Etsy. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Custom Knives, Part 4: Filip De Coene Hybrid Friction Folder Review

What would a pocket knife look like if it was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe?  How minimal can you get?  What does the Platonic essence of a folding knife look like?  It is a Filip de Coene Hybrid.  This knife is so different, so elegant, so masterfully designed and crafted that it is a revelation in the pocket, in the hand, and in use.  It is truly a masterwork of design and thanks to Filip's dedication that idea has been perfectly realized.  It is where, I hope, custom knives are heading.

Here are the previous installments in this four part review/commentary on custom knives:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This is not going to be a standard review.  It is unfair in many ways to use the same 20 point scale.  First, there is no lock, so it could only get a 18/20 using my regular scoring scheme, which is kind of silly, because quite frankly, this little marvel is about as perfect as I could imagine.  Second, a lot of the features, such as the pocket clip, were things I chose.  It would seem odd to award points for things I like when I was the one that picked them out (even weirder...what if I didn't like the things I chose?).  Finally, I feel like after three years of pining over one of Filip's blades I have lost any semblance of objectivity.

Here is Filip's site.  There are no reviews and I believe that my Hybrid is one of the first made, out of a batch of 6 or so.  It uses D2 tool steel.  My knife came to $296 for shipping from Europe.  The blade's overall dimensions are pretty nice for everyday carry.  The blade is 2.5 inches.  The knife closed is 4.25 inches.  Open it is 6 inches.  The blade to handle ratio is thrown off a bit by the flipper, but the knife feels compact when closed and plenty big when open.  It weighs 3.5 ounces thanks to the full titanium liners.

Filip is one of the best people I have ever dealt with in the custom gear world (rivaling the Hawaiian gentleman whose flashlights we all adore).  Here is how nice he is: three years ago after perusing the Archives section on Bernard's site I contacted him and asked him about a knife.  His prices were more than I had so I told him I would contact him again.  A year later I had some more money and contacted him again, but we weren't able to hammer anything out because of a mismatch of what he had and what I could spend.  Then, this Christmas, I just stocked all the gift money away and emailed him.  "Send me anything you have.  I want a knife of yours."  A month later a small package arrived that my mail man hoped was chocolate.  I told him it was something much, much sweeter and he gave the parcel and a curious look.  Normally I would have gotten a "stop bothering me" email, but Filip was so laid back about it.  I have no idea what the wait time is because things have developed around this knife in super slow mo.  The Hybrid has been under wraps since 2010.  He is working on other blades, kitchen knives and folders.  He had a few left when I emailed him in December 2011.  Only one, a pimped out Explorer, had a lock. 

The design of the knife is simply brilliant.  The pivot is offset in the handle and the blade in such a way that the massive, wide blade sits quite low in the handle when the knife is folded, see here:

IMG_0009

By doing this de Coene is able to not only squeeze a boat oar of a blade into the handle he also creates a great finger choil/guard when the knife is deployed, see here:

IMG_0012  

The choil/guard does two things: first it gives you the ability to really control the blade, providing a grip RIGHT NEXT TO the blade itself.  If you have never had a blade that allows you to do this, the difference it huge.  One of the reasons I love Spydercos is because many of their knives have choils allowing you to do this. The control it grants you is really nice.  Compare, if you can, the similarly sized Spyderco Dragonfly II to the Spyderco Leafstorm.  The inability to really choke up on the blade is one of the things that, in my opinion, prevents the Leafstorm from being a great EDC knife (and conversely, makes the Dragonfly an all time great).  You feel like your swinging a bat with only one hand holding on to the knob of the bat--lots of power but very little control.  In an EDC knife you rarely need power and almost always need control.  The second thing the choil/guard does is make it almost impossible to close the knife accidentally while in use.  Your fingers, when butted up against the choil, prevent the blade from folding into the handle giving you a surprisingly sturdy and stable blade for a knife without a lock.  This dual purpose is not only the hallmark of a great design, it is repeated elsewhere in the knife.  The flipper, for example, makes it easy to deploy the knife one handed, but also meets up with the spine of the blade handle to give you another safeguard against the blade closing during use.  The little flipper tail is the perfect size, large enough to hit with your finger without thinking about it, but not so large as to be an obstacle in your pocket.  But when the blade is the deployed that same flipper is held in place by the hand gripping the knife.  One thing--two uses: brilliant.

The fit and finish on the knife is really incredible.  As my first fully custom knife I was expecting a lot and the knife delivered in spades.  The G10 is a super smooth version and is so pleasing to the touch that the knife is hard to put down.  There is nothing quite like the texture of this material.  Furthermore, the G10 is sculpted into a wonderful convex shape, but it is not a symmetric convex handle when viewed in profile (like a rainbow).  Instead, the thicker portion is near the spine of the knife, fitting the curve of your hand perfectly.  The blade grind is unrivaled among the knives I have seen and handled.  It is clean and even throughout, even the secondary grind is perfect.  Filip uses a stock removal method and the D2 steel is nicely bead blasted.  Even the pocket clip is nicely made.  Sometimes the "over the top" style deep riding clips stand off significantly from the blade.  Not here.  It is tight, simple, and perfect for the job. 

This is not a grippy knife, but it does not really need to be.  Its shape alone provided plenty to hang on to and the slopes on the handle help even more.  And like the lack of grip, once I held the knife and used the knife (which I have quite a bit), I was not terribly concerned by the lack of a lock.  I guess I would like a locking version, simply because I am so used to a knife having a lock, but after using this blade I can see why so many people still carry Case knives and SAKs that have no lock at all.  Here is my Hybrid with its color coordinated light&saber companion, the Steve Ku 40DD.

IMG_0017

The knife is an expression of elegance--a sublimely simple design that wraps clever ideas, useful features, and a timeless look into a single eminently practical tool.  If you want a knife that looks like it came from Dieter Rams's brain, this is it.

In the lead up to this review I had a pretty strong critique of the custom knife market in general.  They are gaudy, overwrought, unnecessarily complex devices that make doing a simple everyday task secondary to their primary purpose--man jewelry.  No one would mistake the Hybrid for a super aggro custom Strider grind.  It is not going to win any awards for authenticity in Civil War reenactments.  This is not a bling platform.  It is a knife.  A good, simple, clean knife.  It cuts well.  It carries well.  It looks like it is from the very distant past where cavemen used chipped flint in simple shapes to cut stuff and at the same time it looks like it is from the distant future where everything is clean and uncluttered.  This is as close as we can get to a folding knife designed by Bauhaus faculty.

The Hybrid is a triumph of design over ornamentation and it is fun tool to use.  It certainly deserves the Perfect Seal and at less than $300 it is a bargain.

Bonus pictures:

In the pocket:

IMG_0038

And in the hand:

IMG_0015

And finally, opening without being gripped for cutting:

IMG_0016

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Common Man EDC Challenge

Suppose NBC's Today Show, that bastion of mainstream everything, contacted you and said: "We want to do a segment on tools and gadgets that people carry.  We'd like you to recommend to us five things that you think everyone should carry on their person."  What would you say?

I thought about this in the process of choosing gifts for people.  I find that people are genuinely surprised when they find out how much nicer a lot of gear is than the stuff they carry or use.  Perfect case in point: my Mom wanted a flashlight, but wanted to spend around $25 or less. I could have recommended the old stand by, a Mag Light 2xAA, but instead I suggested she buy a Maratac 1xAA (actually I bought it for her for Mother's Day).  The price was about the same but the performance was light years better and it was a smaller device that used half as many batteries.  We all know about these things, but the vast majority of people don't.  So with that in mind, let's get to the challenge.

Assume the person has nothing other than cash and a credit card--no wallet, watch, phone or anything.  Also assume that the stuff will not be babied and cared for like we care for our stuff.  Finally assume that the person will want something that is as broadly useful and easy to maintain as possible.  Given those criteria what five things would you recommend for the "Common Man EDC Kit"?  Here are my five things:

1.  Newest iPhone: A cellphone is required in modern life.  I have been without a landline for about a decade now and it has been a wonderful transition.  A smartphone is probably not required, but it is so nice and the iPhone, well, it deserves all the praise and sales it gets.  Dead simple to use, hundreds of thousands of apps, and Siri is an amazingly useful feature.

2.  Big Skinny Wallet:  There are bigger wallets, more expensive wallets, wallets that will last longer, but no wallet is as slim, sturdy, and cheap as a Big Skinny.  I can't see spending hundreds of dollars on a wallet--I just thrash on mine way, way too much.  So this cheap wallet seems perfect to hand out to folks raised on fatty leather wallets from the anchor store at the mall.  They'll be pleasantly surprised to learn you can carry plenty in a well-designed wallet that uses state of the art materials.

3.  Leatherman PS4:  The everyman would probably not really embrace a Cold Steel Voyager Vaquero but everyone, even the everywoman could embrace the practicality of the Leatherman PS4.  Its the scissors folks.  Pliers + scissors + small blade = perfect common man EDC.

4.  4sevens (or foursevens) Preon I flashlight:  Go look around for a better combination of ease of use, performance, size and price.  I believe that you will be back having concluded that the Preon I is as good as it gets.  It has AAA batteries, no weirdo cells.  It also has both a clicky and a twisty, making it more suitable for more folks.

5.  Coated Aircraft Cable (for a keychain): This is one of those items that folks around me always look at and say "Oh, that's a good idea."  I would love to pretend it was mine, but folks in the know have been carrying keys this way for years.  The average person would be stunned and grateful for the upgrade from the run of the mill split ring. 

Things that almost made the cut:

1.  Spyderco Dragonfly II in VG-10: I didn't think the everyperson would need a dedicated knife if they had a decent blade in a compact package.  That is exactly what the PS4 offers, so I think you can skip recommending a knife.  Also, the average person has such a mental block when it comes to knives that they'd probably just opt to leave it at home.  For some reason a Leatherman does not stir up those negative sentiments.  

2.  Modded Zebra F-701 pen: I am not sure you still need a pen in this day and age.  Everything that you used a pen for at a store has been replaced with a signing pad.  There are some places like restaurants where a pen would be nice, but they usually provide you with one.  If there were a sixth item allowed, this would be it.  

3.  Black Cover-type notebook:  I really, really like my date book even with an iPhone to keep me on task.  That said, this is a safety blanket for me and not really an essential.  I like them, but I don't think you NEED one.  If the everyperson happened to be 80, then sub this in for an iPhone. 

4.  Victorinox Alox Cadet:  If Leatherman don't stir up the reaction a knife does, then the SAK only stirs up a little bit.  The alox handled knives are so thin and the blade so nicely shaped and sized I have a hard time not recommending them, but none have scissors or pliers, so the PS4 gets the nod.

5.  G-Shock Watch: Ten years ago this would be a must, but I have found that even when wearing a watch I check my phone more often.  This would be item 7 on the list, and a G-Shock is a good entry level watch--durable and easy to use with zero maintenance.  They are ugly as sin, but they work so well.  

6.  Chawly Changer:  If I lived in the city and needed change more, I would totally carry this.  It is really well made and nicely designed, but as it is I just don't use change that much.  It was stolen from my car recently and though I was pissed, I don't think I need a replacement. 

I think some might say that you should carry a gun and I think there is something to that, but as an everyday item, I don't think I would.  There is a lot of liability that goes along with a gun and in my job, going in an out of jails and courts, I can't see it.  Also, if I am picking EDC stuff for the common person, there are so many irrational anti-gun people out there that recommending it would do no good, so it is off the list.  I think others might say you need a First Aid Kit.  I think that isn't a bad idea, but it really is cheating the purpose of the thought experiment here.  The kit is almost certainly more than five items, so it is not really fair.  Also, I have never carried one and never regretted it, so I am not sure that even if I counted it as one thing, I would still opt for it.  

So there you have it, my EDC kit for the common person--five items everyone should carry. 

Reply in the comments section with your five.  I will give a random reply a coated aircraft cable key ring.  Nothing huge, but hopefully enough to generate the necessary effort to reply.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Custom Knives, Part 3: Heading in the Right Direction

So far it may seem like I am pooping on custom knives entirely, but that is not my intent. Instead I want to show what I think are deficiencies in the form and then turn towards a more positive take on stuff that is out there. This is the start of that positive turn.

Any discussion of high end knives, custom or otherwise, has to start with Chris Reeve's Sebenza.  It is, for reasons I laid out in the Gear Recommendation Series, the starting point and ending point for many people.  It has a robust feel, fit and finish that are unrivaled, and a price, given what you get, that is pretty darn reasonable.  But it is more than just practicalities that make the Sebenza important.  The design of the Sebenza, especially the basic model, is so superb and refined that it embarasses many of the busier, less focused knife designs out there.  One of the axioms of good design (and life) is from Albert Einstein who was referencing multiple theories of reality: "Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler."  In the Sebenza we see that simplicity.  Its famous lock is a great example. One part, the handle slab, serves two purposes: lock and handle.  There is so little adornment on the knife that the blue anondized parts seem to gleam like little stars against the gray, matte finished titanium.  And then there is the blade itself--thick without being bulky, a classic clip point.  In the end, the Sebenza is a challenge and a dare--make it more simply I dare you.  To date, no one has out-Sebenzaed the Sebenza despite people trying for 20 years.  The Sebenza is to high end knives what the iPod is to music players--simple, accessible, and brilliant in its design.

But the Sebenza's simple beauty has created a problem for many knife buyers and makers.  As a maker, in order to justify a higher price you have to offer something significantly better and in all honesty that is pretty difficult.  Improving the fit and finish, while possible, is a proposition in diminishing returns.  There is only so much you can do to tighten tolerances and still have the higher level of performance be noticeable by a buyer.  So instead of trying to make something simpler or more elegant designers, even Chris Reeve himself, have gone in the other direction larding on layer after layer of unnecessary embellishment and calling that a good design.

But not all is lost.  There are a few areas where the Sebenza is lacking and creative and smart custom knife makers have gone all out in trying to make a better mouse trap.  One area I think we all can agree is lacking is the opening method.  A thumb stud is a cheap, clunky way to open a knife.  I prefer a thumb hole, but I also see a flipper being very nice.  Think of it this way--with both a thumb hole and flipper, both have additional benefits.  A thumb hole lightens the knife AND gives you a good thumb ramp for cutting.  A flipper gives you a bit of a guard for high pressure cuts.  Neither method adds parts, less parts means less can go wrong.  Finally, both the hole and especially the flipper do little to mar the graceful, smooth appearance of the blade itself, unlike a thumb stud which is like a pimple on the steel, whether it is jeweled or not.   Another area where the Sebenza could be upgraded is in the pivot.  The ball bearing based pivots are both smoother and sturdier.  

For the money, I think that Gerry McGinnis makes some of the nicest flippers around--simple, elegant designs.  One of my favorites is the Prawn.  Here is a picture:


It is a bit bigger than the Shrimp (both Terry's version and CRKT's version).  The overall size of the blade is perfect for EDC, hitting the sweet spot that the Dragonfly II occupies.  It is simple, laid out well, and has a nice useful blade shape.  The flipper, as is usually the case, does double duty--opener and hilt.  Gerry makes a ton of different flippers, some of which veer close to the Klingon territory, but most are quite elegant designs.

Another custom maker that hits the right spot is Dustin Turpin.  The Turpin Logic is what I would make if I had the ability.  It is a super simple flipper with a Ti handle and IKBS in the pivot.  The result is a buttery smooth knife that is quiet and unassuming, but a freaking cutting machine.  The Logic pushes the size limits I like on an EDC knife--clocking in at around 3.25 inches, but it is one gorgeous knife:





You all know of my fondness for the Dauntless designs from this post a few weeks ago.  They are more complex and more detailed than either the Prawn or the Logic, but they still have a bit of restraint, only straying into the messy area of design in some of the more extreme versions.  In particular, the JW Smith Dauntless is a nice looking, more detailed blade:

  
It is not that the blade must be plain or simple, but that the adornments should be in service to an overall aesthetic vision and they are in the case of the Dauntless. 

Another custom maker that I really like, design wise, that has a bit more flair is Neil Blackwood.  Blackwood's collaborations with Benchmade (the Rukus, Mini Rukus, Skirmish and Mini Skirmish) and Boker (the Pipsqueak) have all been well received by knife fans, but it is his custom knives that are truly spectacular.  Here is a very nice looking Henchman:


The knife looks like it could be from the 18th Century or from the 22nd Century and that ambiguity means that it is approaching a timeless design.  The yellowed Micarta, uninterrupted by mosaic pins or other unnecessaries, gives the knife a gorgeous sepia luster.  The simple, straightforward blade shape, made all the more elegant by a flipper, is just perfect for the knife.  Now if we could only persuade Neil to drop his silly pocket clip designs.  They are just too cutesy for blades that cost around a grand.  I know, I know, its clever that they are reliefs of the knives themselves, but that is something more appropriate for a gimmicky OEM Chinese made knife that sells at a flea market than one of the finest custom made knives available. 

There is a ton of talent out there.  A lot of it is going in a distinctly wrong direction, but some folks out there are really doing amazing work.  Flippers, it seems, are where the custom world is heading.  I don't think this is a bad thing.  I'd really like to see a Dauntless that is JUST a flipper, but that might violate the "Dauntless rules."  With all the praise I have heaped on these knives and their designers, they are still not exactly what I would consider inspired design.  They aren't the Eames chair.  They aren't in the same league as Thomas Moser's Continuous Arm chair I highlighted in the first article.  The next post in this series will talk about that knife--my Filip de Coene Hybrid Slipjoint.  Born from a lightning strike of inspiration on a truly clean design slate, the Hybrid is what I have been looking for for years. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

One ends and the next one begins...

This post has three purposes--first as an overview of the Custom Griptillian service offered by Benchmade, second to show off the cool giveaway item, and third to announce the outlines of the next contest.

I ordered Joseph Wain, the winner of the logo contest, a custom Mini Griptillian.  It is one of my favorite knives, an excellent buy, even in the stock version.  The custom service offers you the chance to pick quite a few options on the knife.  Here they are, with Joseph's choice in bold.

Knife (I chose this both because I like the smaller knife and there were some budget constraints):
Griptillian
Mini Grip

Blade Shape:
Drop Point in FFG
Tanto in FFG
Sheepsfoot in a Hollow Grind

Opener:
Thumb Stud (Drop Point or Tanto only)
Thumb Hole (Sheepsfoot only)

Handle Scales:
Dozen colors, Joseph chose orange

Blade Steel (no choice, I picked the blade steel because I really believe it is that much better):
154 CM
D2
N690
S30V

Hardware:
Satin
Black Oxide

Clip:
Standard Clip
Standard Clip Black Oxide
Standard Clip Black Paint
Spilt Arrow Clip
Split Arrow Clip Black Oxide

Images can be applied and I dropped Joseph's sweet logo on to the knife.  I wanted it to swap out for one of the two logos already on the knife, but I had a sneaking suspicion that would not happen.  Its placement is fine, as it is.  I had to change the order because Joseph changed his mind and opted for the thumb hole (good idea) and Benchmade was great about it.  The call was easy, the process was seamless, and the shipping was lightning fast.  I cannot recommend the service enough.  I love all of the options.  I called them this past Monday.  The custom knife arrived yesterday.  I took it out, snapped some pictures and sent the knife to Joseph today.

Here is a close up of the one spec that really matters:

IMG_0005


Here is a shot of the knife over all:


IMG_0009

Here is a shot of the knife with the split arrow clip installed (I really like that clip over the standard clip):
IMG_0004


And the money shot, Joseph's logo on his brand new knife:


IMG_0008

Overall, I think Joseph chose perfectly.  This is one hell of an EDC knife, all of the great ergos of the original Mini Grip with a truly great blade steel.  I would dare say that this is the best version of the Mini Grip available, better even than the Ritter version, as I truly believe that the thumb hole is superior to a thumb stud.  And, for Joseph, the price is unbeatable--FREE.

This leads me to the third topic, the next giveaway.  The AdSense revenue is averaging around $30-40 a month, which is not bad.  I would like to build up $100 and use that to purchase some items for review, specifically a Kershaw Cryo and a EagleTac D25a (those will also be given away, in due time).  After that, I would like to store up the cash for something big: a McGizmo Haiku.  That would probably take until the end of 2012, but that would be a hell of a giveaway.  The rules would be simple: you would need to write a review using the 20 point scale for either a bag, a multitool, a knife or a light, and submit it.  The review would need to be something I have not previously reviewed.  I would also like the person to have owned and used the item for a while before the review.  All of the reviews will be published, provided they meet a certain level of detail and coherence.  I will pick the best article and that person will win the McGizmo.  The entry period would start around March or April.  The end would be whenever the AdSense revenue reaches $500 (the price of a McGizmo Haiku).  I will let you know for sure.   Again, the AdSense revenue is key.  My wife would scalp me if I gave away $500 of our money, but for some reason the AdSense revenue is okay. 

So be thinking about what you want to review.  All things equal--the cooler the product the higher I will rank the review.  A review of a Hinderer XM-18 will beat out a review of a Buck 110 all other things being equal.

Congratulations again to Joseph Wain.   








Thursday, February 9, 2012

Zodiac Preon 1 Mod

A friend of the site's Rob Robideau, whose site can be found here, gave me the heads up on his book and a mod for one of the more popular lights out there, the 4sevens Preon (officially the Preon 1 and 2 now).  In the long term a post on the book is coming, as it is a hefty tome and definitely worth an in-depth look, but I wanted to get word out about the Preon mod in the short term.  Here is a picture, post mod of my Preon 1:

IMG_0013

The mod literally fixes all of the problems I had with the Preon light.  The light got a 17/20 losing three points, one each, for fit and finish, carry, and hands free use.  The head of the light did not fit tightly enough to prevent water from getting in.  Additionally, the clicky tailcap would regularly activate in pocket (aka "Hot Pocket" a dangerous flashlight related affliction).  Finally, because of the wobbly clicky, the light could not tailstand all that well, unless you had the twist tailcap on.

The Zodiac Engineering (an entirely made in the USA operation, run by a small business man) tailcap solves all three problems.  First, it now tailstands like a champ.  Second, the clicky is at the bottom of an indent in the tailcap, see here:

IMG_0014


This makes Hot Pocket a thing of the past.  The boot is a bit of a lint magnet, but other than there is no complaint.  Finally, because of new tailcap, but head cinches down tighter and makes the light more waterproof (it was fine, in clicky mode before, but the clicky caused Hot Pocket, in twisty mode, the head is looser).   The entire cap is made using titanium and the titanium tailcap from foursevens. 

Here is the best part--the whole process costs $16, if you provide the tailcap (warning older models have tailcaps that can't be modded, so contact Zodiac before sending one).  If not, it is the cost of a tailcap, $15 from foursevens, plus the $16.  Zodiac's service was excellent and the machining is top notch--like McGizmo nice.  Ken has some other plans too--including a scalloped bezel and a scalloped tailcap.  Here is a sneak peek of the scalloped version:


Great work for a great light.  Really, with the mod, the Preon becomes one of the best EDC lights out there--tiny enough to slip in any pocket, plenty bright for most tasks, easy to use, and using a universal and cheap battery.  This is very nice aftermarket mod, and it is cheap.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Custom Knives, Part 2: A Cowboy, Pimp, and Klingon Walk Into a Bar...

In the last part of this commentary I gave you an idea of what I liked and a general idea of what I thought was missing from a large percentage of custom knives these days.  I also gave you a preview of this commentary.  I broke down the folly of custom knifemakers into three categories: the Cowboy, the Pimp, and the Klingon.  Each of these categories represents a specific form of poor design, each is a one word summary to a larger critique.  This is that larger critique.

The Cowboy

The Cowboy's chief sin is unoriginality.  These knives, designed to look like something old, are just plain boring.  They are not pleasant to use.  The materials are chosen almost exclusively on the basis of looks and those looks are "I want my Grandpa's knife."  Nothing in these knives is exciting.  They take two hands to open thanks to the always inconvenient nail knick.  They have really unpleasant to handle materals like jigged bone or stag (though I can appreciate the look and feel of real wood and/or nice mammoth ivory).  Some of the fixed blade knives in this group are very, very well made. I tried to find a distinctive example, but the designs are so boring and so wrote that even Google Images couldn't help.  In fact when I typed in "Custom Knife Canoe" I am almost certain I heard my router yawn.  Here is as good as it gets, a nice, well-made Case Bulldog (I know it is not a custom, but since all of these knives look the same, it doesn't really matter what knife I chose):


Great quality, but snooze worthy design.  The problem with these knives is that they are such a slave to form that they lose any sense of innovation in a thick layer of polish and xeroxing what's been done before.  Suffice to say, if the knife has any of the following words in its description it is a Cowboy knife best avoided: peanut, sod buster, canoe, congress, jigged bone, nail knick.  BOR-ING.

The Pimp

The Pimp is not boring.  Far from it.  It is weird and unusual looking.  Instead, its chief design sin is gluttony.  This knife style is gauche.  It is over done, worked on, and over done some more.  Once the thumb stud has a jewel in the center, the bolsters are Moku Ti, the handle is Lightning Strike Carbon fiber, and the lanyard is ostrich leather, the Pimp design reaches for the epitome of over done--the jeweled lanyard bead or even worse something from Starlingear.  To me, the gauche, Liberace look of the Pimp style of custom knife design is best seen in knives from Brian Tighe.  Here is one of the worst offenders, the Tighe NIRK:



Pretty much every William Henry knife, other than their really quite pleasing EDC line, falls into the trap of the pimp knife.  There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in some of these knives, like the NIRK above, but it is lost in a sea of baubles and embellishments.  

The Klingon

Named for the warrior race of Star Trek lore, Klingon design is brutish, angry, and fearsome.  It's cardinal sin is its impracticality.  So many of these knives just strike me as silly.  What is the point?  I mean they are too weird and expensive to really help people who need knives in their job, like in the military or in law enforcement.  They are too difficult to carry and are guaranteed to land you on the terrorist watch list if you busted it out at Home Depot.  The market for these knives seems to exclusively well-to-do Mall Ninjas.  Because just about everyone else thinks these things are an embarassment:


What?  What is that?  How do you open it?  How do you cut with it?  How do you disengage the lock?  I see a flipper, a hole, and a cut out on the handle as if the knife had a thumb stud, but there isn't one there.  Seriously, load up on your body armor and go to your job at the Mall of America's SWAT team.  That little knife seems to offend nearly every one of the 10 principles of good design, laid out in the last post.  

There are, of course, combinations of the three types.

The Cowboy Pimp (that is one PISSED OFF bald eagle):



The Pimp Klingon (for those times when a jewel encrusted bah'leth is too conspicuous):



The Klingon Cowboy (what is "Howdy Partner" in Klingon?):



And the worst of all design sinners in custom knives--the Gil Hibben knife.  I picked one at random from United Cutlery's website, this particular piece of shit is called the Dragon Lord.  And again, yes I know it is not a custom, but you get the point.  Why if it is it he dragon lord, is the sheath made of mudane old cow skin?:


Note it incorporates the boring features of a cowboy knife--the leather sheath and checked handle, with the silly gaudy lines of a pimp knife, and with approximately 43 sharpened edges, it is unmistakeably the tool of a Klingon Warrior.   Shame that Gil Hibben is best known for these types of knives, as he make really fine custom blades.  Here is his site (not United Cutlery's).  Okay, not all of his customs are great.  There is this RIDICULOUS thing (it has an 8 inch blade and weighs OVER 2 pounds):


  Next up, well designed custom knives.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Gerber Venture

I have been pretty hard on Gerber.  Except for the Shard, pretty much any time I mention the name it is to bash a brand that used to be great and now occupies the same product niche as Matador beef jerky--junk full of odds and ends.  In the case of Matador it is cow parts that its higher end brother (Jack Links) refused to use.  In the case of Gerber it is all of the cast off, borrowed, or otherwise stolen engineering ideas of other companies. 

But when the Venture was leaked I thought maybe, just maybe they had turned a corner.  After all it isn't an UGLY knife:


It has Ti handles, it has a ball bearing pivot, it is not ridiculously large (3.2 inch blade).  Then I got some more details (here is the product page).  The price is pretty high--$74 MSRP.  That puts it in the same range (or a bit more) as the Delica and the Mini Grip, two EDC greats.  It has a tanto point which I really dislike for EDC (how many EDC tasks require piercing over slicing?).  The lock is a button lock, which I have never used.  My concern is that a button lock is a very fine tolerance design, even a smidgen off here or there and the lock becomes sloppy and there is not a thing you can do to fix it.  At this point, I'd say it is not a great choice for an EDC knife, but not an act of theft on Gerber's part.

But this is Gerber and you know, somewhere you are going to get robbed of your money and/or they are going to try to sell you something based on its ability to fend off the undead.  Here is the act of theft--the blade steel is...7CR17MoV.  Ugh.  They couldn't even muster the carbon content of Kershaw, Spyderco, and CRKT's budget steel, 8CR13MoV.  What's the difference between the Venture's steel and the well known 8CR formulation?  Here is a post over at bladeforum.  Consensus is that it is worse than 8CR and somewhere around 440A-440B.  It has less carbon in it than 8CR (hence the 7) and it has a bit more corrosion resistance chemicals.  It has .20 more carbon in it than 420HC (around .60 compared to .40).  Reports are that it does not hold an edge (thanks to the lack of carbon) and that it is easy to sharpen.  All in all, not the blade steel you'd imagine in a $74 knife.

This is really a Ti button lock knife with something marginally better than pot tin in the middle.  My 420HC Buck is $19 now and it has a very similar steel.  Are the Ti handles, ball bearing pivot, and button lock worth $50 if the blade is make of junk? 

If you are thinking about getting a Venture consider some of the following cheaper and better blades:

1.  Buck Vantage Pro (both with S30V steel)
2.  Aforementioned Delica and Mini Grip
3.  Spyderco Native 4 (also with S30V)
4.  CRKT Ripple (even the Wal Mart Ripple has 8CR13MoV steel)
5.  Any thing other than another Gerber

Only Gerber could ruin a knife with features like an all Ti handle and a ball bearing pivot.  Thanks to cheaping out on the single most essential part of the knife Gerber.  Legendary...or legendarily bad?  I'd love if someone bough out Fiskars and brought Gerber back home.  This is a really sad story of a formerly great American company. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Custom Knives, Part 1: Gilded and Hilted

This is a three part commentary on custom knives.  The fourth part will be a review of the Filip De Coene  Hybrid Slipjoint.

Someone once said that if you don't occassionally knock fence sitters off the fence, eventually everyone ends up there.  So I put this commentary forward with a warning: this is my opinion and my opinion alone.  I am well aware that many disagree with me, but I have thought about this for a long time and I am willing to back up what I am saying with arguments and examples.  I am putting my asbestos suit on.  I haven't worn it since my Tenacious review and it is getting musty. 

Before I went to law school I wandered around academia for a while, studying philosophy in graduate school.  Being a grad student in Boston is like being an elderly person in Florida--society revolves around you.  Going to world-class museums and meeting famous intellectuals was a regular occurrence.  In fact, I rode an elevator with Jacques Derrida once.  I was tasked with getting the famous French intellectual off the T and into an auditorium for a talk.  He was, well, all of the things that come to mind when I say "French Intellectual".  I saw John Rawls in person once about two months before he died.  I drove Tim Scanlon home after a long party.  I drove him home not because he was drunk, but because, as a quintessential Bostonian, he did not have a car; he lived within walking distance of his Harvard office.

In all of these random encounters and free time as a philosophy graduate student I often visited the Walter Gropius Center on Harvard's campus.  It was a place for graduate students to meet each other and when that became insufferable (which happened quickly) I would wander some more, ending up in an art museum or the peerless Harvard Film Archive.  Eventually I started reading everything I could about Walter Gropius

He was a really interesting guy and through researching him I found out a great deal about art, architecture, and design.  Gropius founded a school of art in Germany between the two world wars called Bauhaus School.  A few of the people that worked there had bizarre tastes and habits that again fit what the mind calls up when you hear the phrase "bohemian art-weirdo".  But others had a minimalist take on things.  They themselves were influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement in England who were in turn influenced by the Shakers in America.  A focus on how a thing is used and how to build things well and simply was essential to the predominent aesthetic that emerged out of the Bauhaus School.  It was this research that led me to an appreciation of good design.  I also had a friend at the time that was something of a renaissance man, a designer, sculptor, mechanic, philosopher bum.  We chatted a lot about silly stuff, but the thing that stuck with me was an appreciation for simplicity.  Even now when I am doing wood working I am always striving for an object as simple as possible in order to accomplish its intended purpose.

All of this is a long, roundabout way of saying that I like simple, design-first things.  A lot of what I like is encapsulated in Deiter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design.  I also really like the look, the evolution of Shaker, Bauhaus, and Japanese design seen in furniture by Thomas Moser.  Here is one of my favorite pieces of design ever, the Moser Continuous Arm Chair:

I would not sneeze at a Maloof Rocker either.  Both seem to speak to a design aesthetic that is unique, simple, and useful.

It is something that the custom knife world has, in many cases, completely forgotten.  As I see it, the vast majority of custom knives are nothing more than box cutters with rhinestones glued on them.  Sure the rhinestones might be Moku-Ti bolsters or mosaic pins, but the effect is the same--there is very little design and a whole lot of ornamentation.  This gaudy stylistic choice is something that I find entirely unappealing.  Furthermore it seems to be fallow earth to plow.  How much more ornamentation can one knife really take?  How many shiny baubles can be glued, pressed, riveted, and bolted to these things?  How many more swirly patterned steels and other metals are needed?



I appreciate all the work that goes into these knives, but in the end, they are still a boring tool with rhinestones.  They are the knife equivalent of Rococo interiors that were popular in 18th Century Europe:


These custom knives, crusted with oranmentation, and covered in swirly metal, are, like their Rococo counterparts--design vomit.  Take every shiny bit and bauble and CRAM it on a knife, charge $1000 for it, and call it a masterpiece.  Blah.  Give me something new, something simple and well made.  Give me a design first, decoration second custom.  Please, someone.  I'll buy it, and I think a lot of other people will too. 

The custom makers seem to be even a step behind some of the more innovative production companies.  I'd place the Spyderco Dialex Junior up against many custom knives in terms of design chops.

The Junior is a breath of fresh air in terms of design--it is useful and its form indicates function.  Looking at it tells you how to use it and what it does.  Spyderco has quite a few really innovative designs, many of which seem to outpace custom blades in terms of design chops by quite a large margin.  I understand that production companies are big business.  I understand they can absorb the losses caused by design failures more easily.  I also understand they can amortize the costs of new designs over hundreds if not thousands of blades.  All of these things mean that production companies can afford to take bigger risks than small custom makers.  But that said, for a custom maker, the costs of failure are high, but the potential rewards are equally large.    

Custom knives, in general, seem to break down into three aesthetic categories: 1) the Cow Boy; 2) the Klingon; and 3) the Pimp.  You can mix any of them--Cowboy/Pimp, Cowboy/Klingon, Pimp/Klingon and so on.  The problem with all of these designs is that they are not really all that innovative and instead more decoration than design.  I am not saying this to be offensive, but simply as a commentary (see blog title) on the state of custom knives in general.  There are exceptions of course, and I will get to those.  Next post I will go into detail about each type and why I think they indicate that custom knives, by in large, are a stagnant form.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Steve Ku 40DD Review

This was my birthday present from my wife, so it has a little extra sentimental value.  Even without that extra nudge, this is one hell of a light.

The Steve Ku 40DD is absolutely jam packed with technology.  This one tiny, fingernail-sized light has two tritium inserts, an infinite variable brightness twisty using QTC material, and my version has a Hi CRI LED for more natural color rendition.  All of this for a bargain price of $65 plus shipping and a few bucks for the tritium inserts.  As cutting edge lights go, this one is hard to beat.  One big problem is that the light is not for sale anymore.  Steve Ku, aka Veleno Designs, is one of the finest custom makers out there, did a small initial run and I signed up.  I think he will probably do another one, maybe in Ti this time (the original run was in stainless steel). 

The light presents a familiar dilemma to folks that like gear--no compromises on performance or tech, but not the most convenient thing in the world.  First, it uses small rechargeable batteries, 10180 cells to be exact.  These batteries are hard to find; available, so far as I can tell, only over the Internet.  This is not a light for your survival kit.  Second, the cells are so small that they don't charge well in a normal rechargeable battery charger.  They do fit in the Nano, a great little charging device, but the current is too high and will fry the battery after a few charges.  I had to go buy a specialized charger from a vendor on CPF, cottonpicker's USB charger, which can be found here.  If you can stomach all of that hassle--rechargeables, hard to find batteries, and a weird charger--the reward is an amazing high performance torch.  It is a trade off though and you should be aware of that going into this review.  Do you want a racecar with lots of maintenance and uncompromised performance or do you want a Toyota Corolla with unmatched ease of use and low maintenance but lackluster performance?  Sometimes, very rarely, you get both high performance and ease of use (like the McGizmo Haiku, for example), but generally this is a trade off you have to deal with when getting into the upper echelons of performance in any arena.

ASIDE

It is funny, but this problem exists in a lot of different places.  I call it the "racecar problem."  Very high end audio stuff is a pain in the ass to use, with massive transformers and 250 pound amps, but the performance is stunning.  Similarly, I am sure you work with people like this--if everything is perfect they are wonderful at their task, but if not they get just about nothing done.  Look at a guy like Nomar Garciaparra--when he was healthy he would hit .372.  If he wasn't PERFECTLY healthy though, he was all but useless.  The racecar problem is everywhere.

END ASIDE

Here is the CPF Marketplace thread for the 40DD.  There are no other reviews of this light that I can find.  There was another tiny Ku light, the 38DD (the name is a designation for the size of the light, not what your thinking).  Here is a review of that light.  There are obviously no Amazon reviews or other places to get the light so no street price.  Here is my 40DD in its beautiful utility/scratched up finish:
 
IMG_0027

Design: 2

You want a small light.  No, no...a REALLY small light.  Here you go: 


IMG_0022

From left to right that is my McGizmo Haiku, my Aeon, a AA battery and the 40DD.  How's that for small?  The idea is that the light can live on a keychain or a neck chain without any problem and still throw up a wall of light.  It isn't a wall of light like I have seen on other flashlights, but for the size it is amazing.  One thing that you might have a problem with though is the twisty.  If you have dawg paws, this is not your light.  Stick with the Photon.  This sucker requires some skillful manipulation and two hands to work.  No finger yoga can get this light to turn on with one hand.  Given its intended use, the size is not an problem, but a benefit.  In terms of day to day use though, it might be too small.  I like it though.  It vanishes in my jeans coin pocket and adds almost nothing to the weight of my EDC.  I like the tritium inserts a lot--they really do work perfectly.  I also like the lanyard attachment, though I have no intent on using it.  The flats work well for a bit of grip (more on that later) and they can, in very steady situations, stabilize the light enough to prevent it from rolling away.  The QTC insert is about as simple as possible, just drop the little bit of material in the battery tube, make sure it is flat and your good to go.  Excellent, small, simple design.

Fit and Finish: 2

Back to the threads for F&F check mantra.  Here the threads are perfectly cut.  This is key to making the QTC material work.  Lots of people complain that the QTC is too finicky, jumping brightness levels rapidly.  Not in the 40DD.  I think a lot of that finicky feel comes from slop in the threads.  Here, in order to activate the light by pressure alone, you have to have the head twisted almost exactly in the on position.  If not you get nothing.  This, in turn, prevents pressure from activating the QTC.  The smooth, precise threads mean you get smooth, precise activation through the QTC pill.  Additionally the tritium inserts were well placed and the reflector fins were cut nicely.  Everything was well done.  I like the matte finish as it picks up wear in the coolest way.  Boba Fett indeed.  

Grip: 0

Let me point out the obvious--there is no way to make this thing grippy.  It is just too small.  Like a gentleman's knife can't be sturdy, a light this small cannot be grippy.  It is just the way it is. 

Carry: 2

Here you have this flashlight, with infinite variable brightness, 100 lumen max output, and it weighs almost nothing.  Carry, as you can imagine, is an absolute delight.  I have never been a fan of bulky stuff, so this shouldn't be a surprise, but I LOVE dropping this thing into a jeans coin pocket or my button down dress shirt and rolling out, knowing that 99.9% of my lighting needs are met by a device that is probably 1/100th the weight everything else I am carrying (especially when I am loaded for court, ugh). 

Output: 2

Steve Ku confirmed for me in an email what my eyes have told me, this little guy is scorching bright, clocking in at around 100 lumens.  Mine, as a Hi CRI model is a little less, but still impressive.  But high highs only mean so much.  Here it is the tasty, almost infinitesimal lows that really do well for me.  I cannot properly photograph the low, but it is well under a lumen, I know that for sure.  It makes other lows look positively bright.  This means the light is useful in all kinds of tasks, again a huge plus in an EDC light.
 
Runtime: 2

It is hard to calculate a runtime because of the QTC and infinite variable brightness, but I can say I have been very pleased.  I am clocking around two weeks of regular daily use per charge.  And in a package this small and this bright that is really quite nice.   

Beam Type: 2

You can pick your beam type, flood or spot.  Mine, a spot version, is still quite floody (really, there is only so much you can do with a reflector this small).  Overall it is a very nice balance and great for utility tasks. 

Beam Quality: 2

Here is the miracle emitter, the XPG Hi CRI:

IMG_0024

Now I know why people are tint snobs.  It does make a difference, a pretty big difference actually.  Reds are red, not maroonish red.  Blues are blue, not sickly blue green.  It is awfully helpful at night, allowing me to distinguish between colors at night.  For example, diapers changing at night is easier (he needs special, "extra pee" nighttime diapers and they are a different colors that are, unfortunately, slight variations of red).  

UI: 2

I am not 100% sold on the need for an infinite variable brightness light, but if there is anyway to make it work, this is it.  A simple twist, twist more UI makes this just about as intuitive a light as can be designed.  Brilliant and excellent.  Also, Steve confirmed that the QTC chip can last 100,000 cycles and he has more if you need it. 

Hands Free: 1

This thing tailstands well, but even with the little flats on the side it has a tough time remaining stationary if laid on its side.  It just wants to roll away at the slightest movement.  I haven't tried the in the teeth move because of the tritium inserts.  They are supposed to be safe, but DRINKING it has to be bad. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

This is an amazing little light.  Some of the limitations are inherent in the size, but if you can get past that and the wonky battery, be prepared--this is a really high performance machine.  Only five or ten years ago this gem would have been hands down the best light in the world available to consumers.  Now, it is a darn good light.  The price, $65, makes this an unbelieveable bargain.  Problem is you aren't going to find them for that price on the secondary market.  A few have sold on CPF for around $120-150.  Even that is not a bad deal at all.

Or, and I am glad I can tell you this, I have confirmed today that Steve is doing a run in Ti this April.  Here is more information.  Tell him you heard about this on Everyday Commentary.  Enjoy some tiny, tasty, Ti goodness.