Friday, July 27, 2012

Dreaming Gear Dreams

We all have some ideal gear in our heads, maybe it is totally custom, maybe it is a production item altered a bit. I thought I'd share my top five with you (noting of course that the Custom SAK is pretty close to a piece of dream gear).

1. LSCF Bronzed Dragonfly 2

I love the Spyderco Dragonfly 2.  It is one of my favorite knives of all time.  The ZDP-189 version is awesome, but it is a little plain jane.  Even the British Racing Green is not all that distinctive because in most light it looks like plain old black FRN.  There was a carbon fiber version of the original Dragonfly, but they are so hard to get and lack the ergo upgrades of the DF2 design (not to mention old steel) that they are not worth tracking down.  That is, unless you are the most completist of collectors and even then the $200 plus price tag should dissuade you.  Here is a peek at the DF CF:

So we know it is possible for Spyderco to make the knife I am hoping for, as they have done it in the past.  But I want an updated version using the newest, hottest carbon fiber weave out there--Lightning Strike Carbon Fiber.  Here is a picture of what it looks like up close:

(Photo from

The material is normal carbon fiber with a bit of copper weaved into the matrix.  LSCF was originally developed in the aerospace industry.  It was designed to take the place of normal carbon fiber with all of its high strength low weight properties, with a small bonus.  By incorporating the copper wire into the weave, the material has better performance than normal carbon fiber in lightning strike scenarios.  This has nothing to do with knives, but the material itself looks really spectacular in person (I saw some on a custom knife at a local knife show and was BLOWN away).

The idea for the LSCF DF would be simple: take the FRN handle scales and drop them in favor of LSCF handle scales (no liners please) and then use a DLC coating on the wire pocket clip and the blade itself to give the knife an opulent two tone appearance of copper and black.  This little upgrade wouldn't be all that costly either as the amount of LSCF (which is more expensive than regular CF) would be minimal and the coatings would help with rust prevention.  I would, of course, still want a ZDP-189 blade.

Guesstimate on Price: $120-150 (based on prices for LSCF v. FRN; using the DF2 ZDP-189 as a price guide)
Feasibility: Very feasible

2. Flipper Sebenza

Oh the Sebenza, what a wonderful tool.  But it has my least favorite deployment method--the thumb stud.  The Sebenza thumb stud is probably one of my favorites, but it is still the runt of the deployment method litter.  Instead, why not take the simple graceful lines of the Sebenza, drop the thumb stud, and use a flipper instead?

Flippers have taken the custom knife world by storm.  I like RJ Martin's designs the best:

Nothing crazy, nothing complicated, just smooth and simple.  It also works as a finger guard.  Overall, it is an amazing example of design innovation.  There would have to be a little work done to the Sebenza handle slab to make it meet up with the flipper nicely, but that is not a big deal.  If anything, all of the special editions of the Sebenza prove that Chris Reeve is willing to alter his classic design.

Guesstimate on Price: $350 for small; $410 for large (referencing other variants of the basic Sebenza, like the Insingo)
Feasibility: Very feasible

3. Updated Surefire Titan T1A  in Titanium

For the love of God it is called the "Titan".  Can't we get another Titan in Titanium (there was a very limited run of Ti version, with a CR2 battery, a few years ago when the light was first introduced)?

Here is the original Titanium Titan:

And while Surefire is at it, why not bump up the specs and improve the design with a tailstanding tailcap.  Here is a prototype version of what I was referencing that somehow is up for sale on CPF.

Take the basic T1A design, give it a tail cap that can tailstand, sheath the thing in Ti, and drop in an XML emitter and call it a day.  If Surefire is feeling extra ambitious, a discrete pocket clip would be great too, something like the clip on the Mr. Elfin:


Surefire has the ability to do all of this.  I am not sure, however, that it would sell.  The Titan is already an expensive little light.  Doing all of this, with the Surefire price markup guarantee thrown in, would probably push the light into McGizmo territory.

Guesstimate on Price: $500-$600 (based on the original price of the T1 Titan)
Feasibility: Not feasible (solely for price reasons)

4. Titanium Zebra F-701

Okay, this is a cheap idea, but with the proliferation of ridiculous, expensive, and boat anchor-like "tactical" pens, the F-701 remains a cheap, durable, and well built alternative.  I love it for that, as you can see here.  It is not, however, all that exotic or unique.  Titanium would make for excellent little pen and the simple shape would keep it relatively cheap.   A Ti version would be just about perfect for me.  It would be interesting enough to seek it out and still cheap enough that I wouldn't worry so much about losing it or having it get destroyed.  Plus, the Ti would make it weigh only a few ounces.  With all of the pens on Kickstarter I am surprised that no one has built a Ti F-701.

Guesstimate on Price: $20-40 (base price for F-701 in B&M stores is around $7)
Feasibility: Feasible (but unlikely from Zebra where every penny in price equals many fewer sales; these are commodity items after all)

5. The Sleek Leek

There have been dozens of versions of the Leek, a staple of the Kershaw line up.  It is a very nice design, with a good flipper and a streamlined appearance.  They have done all different things with the knife including a rare Damascus version, seen here:

But the Leek needs more.  It is really solid design, but not quite perfect.  Here is how to get there.  First, drop the current grind and go with a full flat grind instead.  Also, because the knife is a flipper, drop the thumb studs and put in an internal stop pin or a stop break on the handle. Finally, and this may take a bit more work, make it an integral one piece framelock like the Lochsa:

The integral design will eliminate the need for all but the pivot screw, which can be concealed (like on stainless steel handled Spyderco's such as the Lava).  The end result would be an completely clean, smooth, and elegant folder.  And since we know that Kershaw does use ZDP-189 steel (they have produced a few ZT knives with it on limited runs), I'd love to see that as the steel.  If all of this is done the knife would be in a class Kershaw doesn't currently have--$100-$200 utility/gentleman's knife.  They make a lot of inexpensive stuff and a lot of high end stuff, but very little in the middle.  This redesign, the Sleek Leek or better yet, just the Kershaw Sleek, would be amazing.

Guesstimate on Price: $100-$200 

Feasibility: Very feasible (especially if the integral design is dropped in favor of a more boring but traditional handle construction)

6. Three Stage Muyshondt Aeon (oh hilarious plug)

So really, this is a plug for the upcoming 3 stage Aeon and a bit of an update as well.  Enrique is working on doing something a little different with this Aeon, something to make the run distinctive, though I don't know what it is.  Also, he is out of a town for a while, so once he gets back we'll have more information.  Look for an update around mid-August.

As for the light itself, the two stage Aeon is amazing, probably my favorite light currently available, but the RRT-01 has shown me the value in a very low low, so adding that would be awesome.  Making it a three stage version of the current UI would be even better.  Finally, through in a Ti body and you have a home run.

Guesstimate on Price: $300-$400
Feasibility: Well....things look like a go right now...stay tuned.

Any tweaks or dream gear you'd like to see?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Heads Up: Dauntless Drops Today

Some of you, I am sure, get the weekly Friday email from TAD Gear, usually with some wickedly awesome blade for sale.  By the time you check the site, poof, they are gone.  Well, I have been in talks with TAD for a while now, wanting to put together an FAQ on the Dauntless Series.  I had some sneak peeks at the design and some pre-release information.  Then we all got the announcement email telling us that the In House Production Dauntless Knives were "coming".  That's really super vague.

This is not: 

They are being released today at 10 am PDT. 

That's right, you have exclusive information.  Stay by your computers, check your email, because this week TAD Gear will have the In House Dauntless for sale.  Here are the specs from the internal sheets:

Specs for Titanium:

● Blade: S30V with Bead Blast Finish
● Handle: Titanium
● Hardware: Stainless Steel Bolts
● Overall Length: 8" (20.3 cm)
● Blade Length: 3.4" (8.6 cm)
● Cutting Edge Length: 2.9” (7.4 cm)
● Handle Length: 4.6” (11.7 cm)
● Spine Thickness: 0.136" (0.3 cm)
● Width of Handle (without clip): 0.49" (1.2 cm)
● 0.32lb (5.12 oz)
● Blade Type: Bayonet
● Grind Style: Flat
● Bead Blast Finish
● Deep Front Finger Guard
● Blade Fuller
● Three Fullers in Handle
● Forward Choil
● Three-quarter Swedge
Labels & Logos
● Laser Etched Triple Aught Design Logo on Blade
Made in the USA

Specs for G10:

● Blade: S30V with Bead Blast Finish
● Handle / Scales: Ranger Green and Black G10
● Hardware: Stainless Steel Bolts
● Overall Length: 8" (20.3 cm)
● Blade Length: 3.4" (8.6 cm)
● Cutting Edge Length: 2.9” (7.4 cm)
● Handle Length: 4.6” (11.7 cm)
● Spine Thickness: 0.136" (0.3 cm)
● Width of Handle (without clip): 0.49" (1.2 cm)

● 0.26lb (4.16 oz)
● Blade Type: Bayonet
● Grind Style: Flat
● Bead Blast Finish
● Deep Front Finger Guard
● Blade Fuller
● Three Fullers in Handle
● Forward Choil
● Three-quarter Swedge
Labels & Logos
● Laser Etched Triple Aught Design Logo on Blade
Made in the USA

It is a really spectacular looking blade with the muted ruggedness that is TAD's trademark style.  Here is a shot across the blade itself:

And here are all three blades side by side:

They are coming.  Get your wallets ready. & By tonight you could be an Dauntless owner. 

Oh and here are the links so you don't have to wait for the email like everyone else:


They will be live at 10 am west coast time (PDT). Good luck.

Monday, July 23, 2012

An Approach to Choosing Blade Steel, Part 3

We've come the part of the series where there is a big long obligatory list of steel.  Joe Talmadge's guide is pretty good on this account.  Instead of just rehashing what he and others have written, I am going to do this from a purely experiential point of view.  I am going to rank them in terms of my favorite steels based on my experience.  First, I am going to compose the list using the most common name, either the trade name or the AISI/SAE name, whichever is more common.  Second, I am going to rank the steels using the three tier scoring system I use in knife reviews.  I will only rank steels I have used.  I am going list all my 2 point steels, followed by my 1 point steels, and then my 0 point steels.  After that I am going to list the steels that I'd like to use but haven't.  Note that I am going to ignore older or less frequently used steels like 440A or 440B.  I am going skip steels that have been essentially made obsolete by similar but simply superior steels like BG-42 and ATS-34.  I will throw in a shout out to Spyderco and the Mule Project.  Finally, I am going to lay out a simple method for choosing blade steel. 

NOTE: If no brand is listed with the steel assume that it has performed similarly across brands (such as with S30V or S35VN which is a propriety mixture from Crucible Steels and has specific instructions regarding heat treating).  If a brand is listed I will explain why I did so and it is usually because of different performance of the same steel from different brands.  Note that 154CM is a special case, in my experience, so if you are looking at a knife with that steel, read that note.  Its complicated to say the least. 

2 Point Steels (in rank order)

ZDP-189: In my mind, this is the best utility/EDC steel out there.  The incredibly high carbon content and massive wallop of Chromium means that you get unprecedent edge retention, through high hardness, and a blemish free blade.  It is very difficult to sharpen, so touch it up and maintain it with a good sharpening routine including a strop.  If you do you will be rewarded handsomely with a blade that works forever.  It does have a tendency to chip.  The DFII has no chips, but the Caly 3 I got in trade had some towards the tip.  I worked them out and then stropped the blade to make it insanely sharp, but chipping seems like it could be a problem.

S30V: By now this steel is a last gen steel, thanks the S35VN, but I still like it a great deal.  It is a very good all around steel--excellent corrosion resistance, good hardness for good edge retention and wear resistance, and less chipping than ZDP-189.  Still worth the increased cost and even though it is "last gen" lots of makers are finding new ways to get better performance out of the steel, such as Spyderco giving the PM2 a super steep grind and a larger secondary bevel. 
S35VN:  I like it a lot, but I am not sure if it is all that much better than S30V.  The niobium might add a bit of hardenability, which is good for knife makers, but as a knife USER I am not sure it makes a difference to me.  Once people are more familiar with it, I am sure it will surpass its older brother.

N690Co: I have only one knife with this blade steel on it, my Fox Cutlery SpyFox, and it is really amazing how well it holds an edge and how well it resists corrosion.  The SpyFox is just such a tiny knife that it is hard to evaluate, but each time I carry it I marvel at how good the steel is and think that maybe my review was overly harsh.  Some guy named Sal, over on the Spyderco Forum, said that it was like European VG-10 and he seems to know what he is talking about.  I think it might be a tad better at holding an edge though.   

ESEE 1095: The Candiru proved to me that you can get a great edge with non-stainless steels.  Their heat treat on the 1095, done by Rowen Manufacturing, is really the secret sauce and a perfect example of how you can get great performance out of a cheaper steel if you do the heat treat right.  Coming in at 57 HRC, the ESEE 1095 is hard enough to get a good edge but not so hard as to chip a lot.  Really excellent steel in a survival blade and worth the extra dough you pay for an ESEE knife.

14C28N:  A poor man's S30V with no real meaningful drawbacks.  It cannot be hardened as high, hitting a 58HRC on most blades, but the two point difference in negligible in real world use.  I loved the steel on the Skyline because it seemed to be to be the best balance of the three main traits of steel, for the money.  This is the Manny Pacquiao of steels--dollar for dollar probably your best buy.  If the Cryo came in 14C28N, steel junkies across the globe would have passed out from anticipation a long time ago.

D2:  Steel, like all technology, is subject to a learning curve.  The performance you get out of an engine in a car or a graphics engine on a computer is always better at the end of the production run than the beginning.  D2 is like that as well.  It has been around for a long time and will be around for decades to come, but knife makers and production companies have been able to coax increasingly high performance from it over time.  Folks like Bob Dozier can harden it to around HRC60-62 through a proprietary heat treat, and others like William Henry have been able to get it virtually rust proof with DLC coatings.  

1 Point Steels (in rank order)

154CM:  I have had quite a bit of experience with this steel and it still is hard to rate.  I have had two Benchmade knives and a Leatherman Skeletool with 154CM and all three performed radically differently.  The 154CM on my Benchmade Sequel was a constant pain.  It rusted like crazy and it got dull quite quickly.  The 154CM on the Skeletool has stayed sharper longer but there is still, on occasion, a rust problem.  But the 154CM on my MiniGrip has been simply outstanding.  I can't explain the difference--maybe something changed, maybe it was a different heat treat (but that wouldn't explain the quality variance among the Benchmade knives).  If it were consistently as good as the 154CM on the MiniGrip I have, it would be my second favorite steel, better than even S30V.  It has been abused extensively in my MiniGrip and shows no wear at all.  When I average them, it gets a one, so that is where I put it.

VG-10:  Spyderco's go to steel and a very good all around choice.  It has a ton of stain resistance and gets very sharp.  My only complaint is that it does not hold an edge all that well.  I have had tons of experience with this steel and I have never found it to be an outstanding wear resistant material.  It is easy to sharpen, though.  If I had my choice I'd take 154CM in the same price range, but I'd probably prefer the cheaper 14C28N if I had to pick something.

Benchmade 440C:  I thought that the weak point for the Aphid would be the steel, having a less than stellar experience with 440C on the Boker Exskelibur II, but I was pleasantly surprised.  It was very sharp and has stayed sharp through quite a bit of use.  It was also easy to sharpen and proof that an old steel can still be a good steel.  

Buck 420HC:  This is a perfect example of a cheap steel made better by processing.  Some of the 420HC is marked as Bos heat treated and that stuff is really nice.  The rest isn't but I find it hard to believe that none of Bos's methods were used because this stuff is really quite nice.  It is significantly harder and holds an edge longer than, say, SAK steel or even Leatherman's 420HC.  It performs more like VG-10 in my experience than it does other 420 or even 440 series steels.


CRKT and Kershaw 8Cr13MoV:  I have used this steel quite extensively and for whatever reason it has always performed quite nicely in either brand's knives.  I really loved it on the little OD-2 and the McGinnis Tuition.  The steel holds an edge better than the same steel from Spyderco.  Note the mid point demarcation.  420HC is something that I find to be virtually always adequate and CRKT and Kershaw 8Cr13MoV is something that is usually adequate for a given task.

5160:  I have this on my Ontario RD-7 and I noticed that while it took a beating quite well and split wood with aplomb it had a tendency to chip (which is surprising given its 54-55HRC).  It also does not hold an edge as well as the ESEE 1095, another survival knife, high carbon non-stainless steel.  As between the two, the ESEE 1095 is a clear and indisputable winner. 

Leatherman 420HC:  I have seen this on the Leatherman Sidekick and my Leatherman PST and while it is okay it is merely that.  Edge holding is considerably worse than Buck's 420HC, but still enough for most tasks.  If an upgrade were available I'd take it.

Cold Steel AUS 8: I used this on an old Recon, an old Voyager, and more recently on a Mini Tuff Lite.  Overall, across the three knives, it was not so good.  No amount of voodoo or magic is going to make this steel perform better than just meh.  I liked how sharp it got but that was about it.  It tarnished, though never rusted.  I am not sure if I gave it a fair test though as I was opening bags of wet mulch with it.  It did not hold an edge.

Boker 440C:  Barely, barely, BARELY adequate.  This steel was something I debated internally a lot.  In the end it was not a total failure because it was okay for semi-regular EDC tasks, but if you do ANY unusual cutting prepare for lots of maintenance.  I have been disappointed by Boker in a bunch of different ways, but the steel was perhaps the biggest let down.  

0 Point Steels (in rank order)

Spyderco 8Cr13MoV:  This steel is just awful.  I used it on the Tenacious and it was tarnished out of box in a way I could not remove.  It was also hard to keep sharp and incredibly soft.  I got a rolled edge, where the actual cutting portion is hard to resharpen more than once with very little hard use.  Just too soft.  I can't explain the difference between this and the other two brand's 8Cr13MoV, but the difference is large.

SOG AUS 8: Cyro treat it, pray to the steel gods, sacrifice a goat whatever.  Two knives with extensive use on one and a month or two use on another have proven that this steel stinks.  It just cannot hold an edge.  Nothing I did with the Twitch II seemed to keep the steel sharp and as result, it was just disappointing, especially given SOG's ludicrous pricing.  There is no way that this should be the blade steel on a $50 knife.  NO WAY. 

Kershaw 420HC:  I used this on my EDC Scallion which I carried for years.  It SUCKED ASS.  There is no point in have a steel this soft on a knife other than like a pen knife or a letter opener.  It had to be sharpened almost weekly.  Horrendous, though still used on Scallions to this day.  AVOID. 

Up and Coming

CTS XHP (440xh): Sal Glesser called this a "stainless D2" which is sort of like saying "200 mph hybrid" the best of two possible different things combined into one.  I am still trying to think of ways to score a Techno or a Chaparral Titan just so I can play around with this steel.  Carpenter's stuff is really exciting and this is one of their cooler offerings.  Sal, any chance I could get a review copy of the Chaparral Titan or Techno?  You know, for science's sake?

INFI:  A proprietary steel made by Busse.  He lists it as a non-stainless steel but it has pretty good stain resistance.  Furthermore, it has toughness properties that seem almost impossible.  Some of the stress tests have recording INSANE durability.

RWL 34:  A powder steel very close to ATS-34 or 154CM.  The PM gives it more uniform carbides and given how much I like some 154CM, I can't see how this would be anything but awesome.

H1: A weird and quirky steel used mainly by Spyderco that is virtually rust proof.  I have heard that sharpening is difficult and it cannot be full flat ground for some reason (see DF2 in H1), but this is still something I want to see in person.  Oops into the ocean!

M4: The hardness scale is not the end all and be all, but when you see a steel that hits 66HRC you take notice.  Used in some high end Spydercos and Benchmades, I'd love to stack it up against my favorite, ZDP-189.  Diamondblade's friction forged D2 falls into this category as well.  

Spyderco: Keep Steel Junkies Addicted Since 1981

Yes, yes I know Spyderco was founded in 1978, but the Worker was not released until 1981, so that little section header is correct.  Lots and lots of companies use different steel and I am, as I have stated before, brand agnostic, but it is hard to disagree with Spyderco's approach.  They have a good entry level steel across various blades VG-10.  They use lots of ZDP-189.  And they experiment with steels all of the time.  The Mule Project is such an awesome idea--same shape different steel over and over and over again. As a steel junkie you can't ask for more than what Spyderco delivers.  No company has as wide a range of steels from ZDP-189 and M4 to decorative Damascus steels, they make something for everyone.  This willingness to try out new material is something every one of us should appreciate.  It is also something they deserve commendation for, as risk taking is not always profitable.  

The Method

With all of this information, how do you choose a steel?  How do you apply what I have covered here?

This way:

To figure out which is the best steel for your use (as there is no "best steel" period, like there is no best hammer or best saw period) ask yourself these five questions:

1. What are you using the blade for?
2. What of the three major traits of steel do you want to emphasize?
3. How was it heat treated?
4. How was it shaped and ground?
5. How and how often will you sharpen it?

Answer those questions and you will have an idea of what is the best steel for you. You will have a good starting point for research, at the very least.   In many cases, it comes back to use.  Hard, survival tasks do better with softer, tougher steels.  In that role I like ESEE 1095, but I would not turn down a peek at a Busse INFI blade.  In a pocket knife that will handle mostly utility tasks, I like the low maintenance of a ZDP-189 blade, though the MiniGrip's 154CM is pretty good too. 

Hope this has helped. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spyderco Calypso 3 CF Review

There are certain numbers that through sheer coincidence seem to come up in life over and over again.  The Golden Ratio is one, the Fibonacci Sequence another.  Sometimes these numbers are hidden in everyday objects and yield a great deal of satisfaction and understanding when discovered (noting, as an aside, that Thomas Aquinas's definition of beauty--the splendor of order--seems apropos).  And thus when I sat down with to write this review I noted the following numbers on the Caly 3 CF spec sheets:

Overall closed length: 4 inches
Overall blade length: 3 inches
Overall open length: 7 inches
Weight: 3 ounces

All nice round whole numbers (an update to the Caly 3 CF product page notes that the closed length is actually 4.063 inches; obviously the folks at Spyderco are taking no heed of my need for a good segue).  And thus, even the finest and smallest details are taken into consideration with the Caly 3 CF.  This is the perfection of a form, the result of an evolutionary iterative process.  It is the embodiment of constant and relentless attention to detail.  Even 6 years after its initial release, the Caly 3 CF remains one of the finest and best designed production knives on the market. In 2006 it was about a decade ahead of its competition.  And now, well you do the math. 

Here is the product page.  There are three variants.  First there was the VG-10 variant that had G10 handles, which is now discontinued.  Then there was the Caly 3 CF, the subject of this review.  Then there is a Sprint Run with Damascus steel and a bolster coming at the end of the year.  Here is the Spyderco Source page on the Caly design.  All of the Caly 3 designs are based on a locking version of the Sal Glesser designed UKPK.  There is a larger blade, the Caly 3.5 that has a few variations of its own and a smaller blade the Caly Jr., previously reviewed for the site hereHere is a link to BladeHQ where you can purchase the knife and benefit the site (i.e. contribute to the Haiku giveaway).  Here is a video review.  Here is an excellent written review.  Be forewarned when looking at reviews, the Caly 3 is something of a darling child among knife knuts.  The praise is effusive, but after owning one I can see why.  Here is my Caly 3 CF, which I received in a trade.

Design: 2

When you look at the Caly3 there are few things that stand out.  First this is a very slender knife.  The handle is curved and cut in just the right way to caress your hands into one of a few useful positions.  The size is bigger than I like, but for a knife this size, it is very very nice.  Here is a size comparison between my benchmark EDC, the DF2 ZDP-189 and the Caly3 CF ZDP-189.   


The design's small touches are what makes this such a great knife.  Three in particular stand out: 1) the rounded tip of the thumb ramp; 2) the positioning of the deep carry clip; and 3) the smooth transition from the thumb ramp to the knife handle when closed.  All three of these things exhibit an attention to detail befitting the finest and most astute designer (this a Sal Glesser design, BTW).

The rounded tip on the thumb ramp allows for a better precision grip when using the knife by having your finger draped over the spine.  In a knife as small as the DF2 that doesn't matter because you can easily place your finger correctly, but in a knife this size a spikey thumb ramp is no fun.

The position of the deep carry, over the top clip is really nice as well.  Look at the photo above and you can see that the Caly3's clip really does bury the knife in your pocket.  It almost vanishes.  It is even deeper than the DF2's clip position and I REALLY like the DF2's clip.

Finally, there is common trouble spot on a knife, the rear tang when the blade is closed.  The worst is an exposed tang.  It seems to snag on everything and collect lint like Jay Leno collects cars.  In some cases this is real problem, such as when the lint prevents the lock from engaging (this is usually an issue in lockbacks, in particular the Delica 4 has this problem, as does the Caly Jr. both of which I had to clean out frequently).  One solution, the sort of duct tape solution, is to simply raise the profile of the handle slab PAST the tang.  It works, but it is a halfway solution.  The Caly 3, however, completely eliminates the problem, making the rear tang and the handle slab meet up perfectly in one smooth, sweeping arc.  It is a flourish of design that only a master could recognize as important.

The knife's shape and form are nice, but this is a blade with a bit more class than others.  The twill carbon fiber is an elegant handle choice, one of my favorites as it is useful, beautiful, and light.  The choice of steels is top notch.  Everything about this knife screams useful beauty.  It is an EDC knife that comes pimped from the factory and for that, it deserves consideration.  If you have been through the Delica/Mini Grip/Skyline phase of knife ownership and are looking for something equally high performance but with a design nod towards style the Caly 3 CF fits the bill beautifully.  

Sal is the master of this form and the Caly 3 is Exhibit 1 in a long line of knives proving this point. 

Fit and Finish: 2

For a non-custom knife, the fit and finish is really remarkable.  Only my Sebenza is in the same league, and the Caly 3 is one third the price.  There are no sharp edges (other than the blade) and everything is cut and polished perfectly. The handle slabs are nice and radiused:


Even as a used knife, there were very few blemishes, a testament to good fit and finish.  One issue that may bother people is the exterior sandwich layer of steel, 420J, is very easily scratched and a great medium for fingerprints.  It does serve a purpose, in that it lends toughness to a very thin blade of hard steel, but this is something that might bother some folks.  If you are a "shelf queen" type, beware.  If not, don't worry about it.  

Grip: 2

The CF is slick, think of it as a smooth matte finish.  It is not as slick as the CF insert on the Protech Sprint, but it is also not grippy by any means.  The real grip for the knife comes from two places: 1) perfect jimping; 2) beautifully ergonomic curves.  Here is what I mean:


Each sinuous dip and point forces the hand to grip the knife one of three ways.  It traditional grip (like holding a hammer) works nicely.  An ice pick or reverse grip is also well-accomdated.  Finally, a precision grip with a considerable about of the blade close at hand is also something the knife accepts with ease.  The jimping is quite simply perfect.  It is hard cut but not grating and it is placed in the thumb ramp and choil providing excellent retention in the hand.  For as slick as the CF is, the shape of the blade and the superb jimping make it an easy to use and easy to hold tool. 

Carry: 2

Dropped into the pocket with a smooth handle scale, one might be concerned that the knife would or could slip out.  It never did.  The pocket clip carries so deeply that I have never once had it fall out, even with the wire clip (which is considerably less tensioned than the one on the DF2).  The knife's slim and rounded profile rides exceedingly well.  It is a bit heavier than it would seem, but nothing at all to complain about.

Steel: 2

The steel is actually a laminate of ZDP-189 and 420J.  The ZDP-189 makes up a very thin core while the softer 420J makes up the outsides.  I am not sure if they chose the laminate steel to make the knife cooler looking (which it does, with a line across the bottom 1/3 of the knife very reminiscent of a hamon line) or because they were afraid when the blade was first made that the ZDP-189 alone would be too hard and brittle to serve as a blade steel standing by itself.  If my research is correct this was the first production knife to use ZDP-189 and so maybe it was just Spyderco being cautious.  Either way, the effect is another feather in the style cap of Spyderco.  You know I love ZDP-189 and as the cutting steel it is superb.  One thing I will note is that the edge has some pronounced micro chipping.  As a used blade (again it came to me in a trade) it is interesting to see how ZDP-189 wears.  The chipping was concerning until I sat down with my Sharpmaker and a strop and made it disappear in a few minutes.  After that little touch up session, the knife cuts exceptionally well, pushing paper and popping hairs with ease.   

Blade Shape: 2

Here is a close up of the blade in profile.

I am not going to say that this is the perfect blade shape because that is task-depending, but the leaf shape, especially in this iteration is pretty nice.  I was worried that the Caly 3 would have no real belly like the Caly Jr, seen here:


Comparing the two you can clearly see that the Caly 3's leaf shape is more curvy and that extra curve makes for a nicer slicing action.  An excellent blade shape for EDC. 

Grind: 2

It is rare for a grind to add beauty, most aesthetic grinds tend to fall into the Klingon design school, but here the full flat grind with excellent secondary bevel highlights the hamon line and makes the knife very pleasing to the eye.  There is nothing I'd do differently with the grind.  Excellent.   

Deployment Method: 2

The Spyderhole is my favorite way to open a knife for reasons I have detailed many, many times before.  But the noteworthy thing about the Caly 3 CF's opening is just how smooth it is.  Lockbacks put pressure on the blade the entire way through the opening and closing cycle making the opening a bit slower than normal.  On the Caly 3 CF, the rear of the blade, the part that comes in contact with the lock, has been polished to a mirror shine and the result is a smooth and sweeping opening.  It will never be fast, because this is a lockback after all, but it is fast enough and glass smooth. 

Retention Method: 2

I love the wire clip.  It is a little springier than modern Spyderco wire clips, but it works very, very well.  It is also very, very low riding and over the top making carry about as discrete as it could possibly be.  Even with the smooth handle scales everything works exceptionally well.


Lock/Blade Safety: 2

The Caly 3 CF's lockback is executed perfectly.  It is smooth, there is no blade play, even on my used model, and the centering is perfect.  It is also plenty strong.  But the real thing that stands out is just how tight the tolerances are on the spine.  It looks like one smooth piece of metal and even the part between the lock and the spine of the blade is pretty darn clean.  All of this evinces an attention to detail that you just don't find on knives this cheap (noting of course this is not a CHEAP knife, clocking in north of $100).  

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

No real doubt on this one, the Caly 3 CF is one of the finest production knives I have ever used.  It has a level of fit and finish that most knives three times its price are lacking.  I recommended it as one of the top 10 best buys in gear last year in my Recommendations 2011 Series and I stick by that.  Here is what I wrote then:
Spyderco Calypso 3 ZDP-189
: I got a Sebenza for Christmas and in doing the research I had narrowed the choices down to four: the Sebenza, the WH EDC, the Strider PT, and the Caly 3 ZDP-189. It was a tough choice, but not between the knives you'd think based on the price. The choice was quickly whittled down to this knife and the Sebenza. The super refined design, the steel, and the Spyderco hole make it an excellent choice. It even has a high tech handle material to give it an extra bit of class. This is a high end knife in almost every way except for price. That, in my opinion, is the very definition of value. 

Everything I wrote there is still true.  This is a great knife, an excellent EDC knife for those looking for something with a bit more panache.  If you can't quite afford a Sebenza, this is a really good substitute and is different enough that it doesn't feel like a knock off.  This is a masterpiece knife designed by probably the best knife designer in the world.

So if it is all of this, why no perfect?  Well, I like my EDC blades a bit smaller.  That is it.  That small knock is based solely on a personal preference so I am not going to give it an Everyday Commentary Perfect Score Seal, but if you like slightly bigger knives than the DF2, consider this knife a "perfect" scoring blade.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why Carry a Flashlight

And now I shall preach to the choir....

A reader sent me an email letting me know that his Maratac flashlight had recently come in handy.  Apparently, the reader and a family member, his Dad I think, were flying in a small private aircraft when the overhead lights went off.  They were close to home and it was still a little light out, so they decided to try to make it home.  Then the main instrument panel lights went out.  Fortunately, the reader had his tiny little light on him, powered it up and they made it home safe.

Its not everyday that your flashlight comes to your rescue.  But when you need one, boy are they nice.  There is a logic that some use to govern their EDC:

I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 

I am not in that camp because I think that could be used to justify anything.  If taken literally, we should all carry snake anti-venom because there is no better definition of "need and not have it than anti-venom."  Instead I look at it in a more practical way:

What do I regularly use once a week when out on the go?

I came to this practical approach when I was early in my gear collecting mania.  I bought a very nice lighter, nicer than a Zippo.  I don't smoke but this was in my completist phase.  I wanted a backpack with gear that could get me through anything, including a massive Nor Easter.  I wanted to have it with me all of the time.  I never used the bag nor did I use about 95% of its contents.  It was expensive to assemble and I realized at some point it was just a security blanket for an adult.  I am not saying these bags never work and I still have something like it set up and ready to go at home, but I don't carry it with me everyday (it is a car companion when it snows in the winter though).  In the end I broke up most of the contents of the bag and sold some stuff and kept some.

The flashlight survived the purge.

The way I determined what to keep was uber nerdy and very rational (to me at least).  I kept a list of everything I carried and for one month I documented what I used each day.  At the end of the month all of the things used were tallied and the things that averaged out to once a week use were kept.  There were exceptions--my AAA card, for example, but that was part of the wallet so it was not tallied the same way.  Like I said, UBER-NERDY.  But if you do it once, you'll quickly see what you use and what don't.  I even published a week of usage of my EDC here.  That is basically what the list looked like.  

It hit me a few weeks ago why it is handy to carry a flashlight now.  It is always been handy to have a light source with you, but it has not always been practical to do so.  Anyone carry a torch around (insert British incorrectly using American words joke here and then British joke about Americans thinking they invented English here)?   Anyone want to carry around a massive 2 cell plastic POS?  No and no. 

But the flashlight has undergone a revolution, much in the same way that cellphones have.  30 years ago no one had a cellphone.  Some people had a car phone.  I remember them being called that.  "Oh, well Herb has a carphone" someone would say in a Thurston Howell III voice.  That was as mobile as you could get because even though it was smaller than a home phone it was not exactly what you'd think of when someone says the word "portable." 

Then there was Motorola brick phone.

Oh, isn't HE busy?  Again, not exactly what I would describe as portable either.  But then they shrank and got cheaper and cheaper and cheaper.  Then they started being able to do more and stay powered up longer.  While all of the technology was changing and getting more portable designs were catching up too.  And suddenly, bam, you get the iPhone--a small, convenient, and imminently portable device.  Nowadays I feel weird leaving the house without a cellphone.

Flashlights have changed in the same way.  They can do more with less for longer.  They are designed for everyday use and carry.  And when something is this small:


is there any excuse not to carry it?  Ten years ago the 40DD would have blown away any light not used by a top secret government agency.  It would have been, comparatively speaking, incredibly bright, small, and incredibly long running.  The infinite variable brightness would have probably had folks losing their mind.

But this still doesn't really answer the question of why carry at all.  It is really a matter of opportunity cost.  With lights being so small, cheap, and capable you really can't complain about carrying and owning one.  When the next best alternative ranges from "oh darn where is my favorite pen" to "oh shit the plane's lights all went off" there is a good justification for carrying a small capable light.  Furthermore, this test seems to draw the boundaries on a lot of things.  The lighter was small but not terribly cheap or easy to carry.  Finding butane is not that easy.  It can't be carried into secure locations.  It can cause problems if there is a leak.  And the chances that I am stuck in the wilderness with an acute need for a fire are VASTLY smaller than running into darkness, which seems to happen, predictably, about once a day.

The list of things I carry for pure utility is pretty small: an iPhone, a light, a knife/multitool, a watch, a wallet, and an insulated water bottle (which I like but is probably not STRICTLY a need; giving up soda is a really healthy thing to do and icy cold ice water is a great alternative).  All of them pass the use it once a week test.  And with the 40DD and the BushidoMosquito Custom Rambler the gear part of the kit weighs in around 1.7 ounces.  What else can you carry that weighs so little but does so much?  Okay a credit card, but other than that, what else?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Trolling for Hate: What are they waiting for?

I want a Strider PT pretty badly. Not so badly that I'd sell off the Sebenza, but the next big knife I purchase (in terms of price) is probably going to be the PT (though the AG Russell Acies 2 is really tempting as well). But the PTs are sporadically produced and leak out in dribs and drabs.

So, I thought to myself, you know what--just check the website. For those that haven't seen the Strider website, here is the link.  Yep, its a filler page.  It has been for months now, at least since Christmas of 2011.  What are they waiting for?

Not having a web presence in this day and age of cheap web servers and ten dollar domain names (yep, this was a $10 purchase) is unacceptable. There is absolutely no excuse.  They may respond with: Well we are making awesome knives, too busy for geeky nerd stuff like a website.  You know what?  Chris Reeve makes some pretty awesome knives, too, and he has a website.  You know, Chris Reeve, the guy that really cares about the fit and finish on his knives and gets them out the door and steadily produces all of his models and repeatedly wins Maker of the Year at Blade Show after Blade Show, that Chris Reeve.  He has a website.  It is not insanely complicated--no Flash demos or swirling graphics. It just works.  So why can't Strider update its website and produce the PT in a more consistent fashion?

If the Strider thing is annoying, the problem facing HDS Flashlights is more of an existential one.  The HDS Rotary light has been "released" for about a year and the light is a great light--a rotary ring on the legendary HDS (Arc4) chassis.  But availability has been, poor, shall we say.  You can order the light from the HDS website, but every single retailer has been without significant stock for about a year.  The lights that come from HDS itself are also on a significant delay.  I just don't understand how this happens.  I get that the new interface is complicated and I understand a few false starts.  But it is has been a year now without regular production.

And in the world of flashlights, a year is an eternity.  In that year the rotary interface has been significantly improved, in my opinion, with the release of the rotary-only lights like the previously reviewed (and recently given away) Sunwayman M11R and the under review JetBeam RRT 01.  Both of these lights have rotary controls without the fussiness of a button.  Both are compact and quite bright.  Finally both have good pocket clips.  The HDS Rotary, on the other hand, has the lowest output of the three (not that output is everything, mind you, but it is a good benchmark number to look at), a button (which I think is superfluous at this point), and is available in such small quantities that it is essentially an Atwood tool.  Oh and it is at least twice as much as the other options.  I know that the HDS build quality is substantially better, no arguments on that front, but with the rapid advance in technology it is only a matter of time before a light is made that is simply superior to the HDS in every way.  The lag in the production releases of the Rotary have been so bad that it has essentially been lapped by the field--its innovation is now one generation behind and it is output is as well.  For a small company like HDS this is really bad news.  HDS went from the premiere production light available to a niche custom maker to what?  That is not the normal progression we see, it is usually the other way around.  What I don't understand is how HDS can't get things up and running better.  If you are a custom maker, fine, then you better ship stuff like McGizmo does or its over.  If you are a production maker, then produce stuff.  I know I can't be the only one frustrated by the almost complete and total collapse of HDS's Rotary line.  Even their non-Rotary lights are getting harder to come by.  This is not a good sign.

The problems here stem from some sort of business mismanagement of some kind or another and if these companies were making shit, no one would care.  But Strider and HDS make awesome gear, some of the best available.  They also make it right here in the USA, which is a huge plus for me.  I WANT to buy a PT.  I WANT to buy a Rotary light (a little less now that I have used the M11R and the RRT-01).  Make them.  Sell them.  That is what a profitable company does. 

What are you waiting for?   

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Spyderco Paramilitary 2 Review

I could do this review in four words:


But I will be a bit more detailed not because the above statement isn't 100% true, but because this knife and the team at Spyderco deserve a thorough analysis and quite a bit of praise for their work.  The Paramilitary 2 (hence forth PM2) is one of the finest knives I have ever used.  It is not as perfectly perfect as the Sebenza, nor is it as pocketable as the Dragonfly 2, but it is an amazingly tough, incredibly precise, beast of a blade.  I am not a fan of big knives, but the PM2 is a great proselytizer.  Prop your feet up and grab a nice bourbon (I did when I edited this) for this review because this flows from a place of pure joy.

Cameron over at Blade HQ sent me the Paramilitary 2 as part of the sponsorship (buying the PM2 through the link in this sentence will benefit the blog and cost you no additional money).  I requested the PM2 as the second knife I reviewed because of its incredible popularity on the internet.  I am almost certain that CajunBlaze has married his and having spent a few weeks with the blade now I can see why.

Here is the product page with specifications.  There are too many sprint runs to track down, many with exotic steels, like S90V and CTS variations.  Here is a really excellent written review.  Here is one of a million video reviews, but this one is from CajunBlaze, a favorite reviewer of mine on YouTube.  Here is the PM2 BladeHQ sent me:


Design: 2

The overall design of the PM2 is very Spyderco--curvy organic handle, saber shaped blade with large opening hole, and half and half finger choil.  But the refinements between the PM1 and PM2 are really quite thoughtful.  The opening hole is significantly larger than any I have seen on a Spyderco, clocking in at glove friendly 14mm.  The end of the handle is very comfortable, shaped in a more ergonomic way than its predecessor.  The lanyard hole is positively huge, big enough to easily accept full 550 paracord.  There is a quad positionable pocket clip, G10 handles with nested and drilled out liners, and of course, the awesome compression lock (more on that later).  Blade:handle is .71 which is not good, but it was done on purpose to facilitate two different grips. 

All of this combines to make a big knife that feels like a small knife in terms of its precision, but clearly had the durability that its size usually indicates.  The PM2 is ultralight and ultra responsive, cutting with an almost missile-guided feel, as if it knows where you want to go.  These trait evince a design that goes beyond just good or excellent.  The PM2 is among the most refined designs I have ever used and it took three weeks of carrying to figure out what made it so great.  This knife is a stunning accomplishment of design and refinement.  

Fit and Finish: 1

The jimping on the finger choil was crooked.  The polish on the blade was uneven and patchy.  The secondary bevel was a little sloppy (see below):


But in the end, the knife really worked.  It is not a beauty, but a beast--a task-destroying, cutting monster.  All of the fit and finish deficiencies were merely cosmetic and really only noticeable upon a level of inspection probably inappropriate for a tool this visceral in nature.  Complaining about the fit and finish on a blade like this is sort of like complaining that the throaty roar of a 500 horsepower engine on a Lamborghini is too loud.  Both the PM2 and the Lambo will, if such complaints are made, turn to you and say "Shut up, sissy."  This is a tool to be used, not primped over or polished.  My fit and finish concerns, while worth noting, are not big deals. 

Grip: 2

With gloves, without; in the heat, or in the cold; under incredible amounts of stress or slicing paper, the PM2's checked G10 never slipped or shifted.  The handle is oversized on purpose, throwing the blade:handle ratio off.  In testing this knife I cut all sorts of stuff from yard waste (like weeds) to vinyl flooring.  The vinyl flooring is probably the toughest material I have ever used a knife on and the PM2 never slipped, even a little.

The handle is also large enough for a more tactical grip with the hand back off the choil and the blade further forward and a precision grip, using the choil.  This makes the handle pretty friggin' big, but I was surprised that it wasn't unwieldy.  In fact the exact opposite is true.  In tough cuts I was not worried about slipping forward and in regular cuts the choil gave me a lot of control.  Truly an amazing knife in the hand.  

Carry: 2

This is a big blade.  This is a size comparison (on my dirty workbench top...ugh never EVER paint a workbench) between the PM2 and my beloved DF2.


You can see, this ain't no dainty knife.  But it is amazingly light.  The nested liners also keep it thin.  A knife this size being as light as it is (3.75 ounces) and as large as it is really astounding and all of this combines to make the knife not significantly different from a Delica or an Endura in the pocket.  Amazing achievement. 

Steel: 2

S30V is really quite nice.  Even after the vinyl floor experience, it was still razor sharp, easily popping off hairs.  It also sliced through brush and twigs easily.  The hard steel is aided by a very steep secondary bevel, so even for a knife this large and thick, it is one hell of a slicer.  Very good steel used to its absolute best.  

Blade Shape: 2

The saber shape is not the most attractive or traditional looking blade, but it works and works and works.  This particular saber grind has more belly than the Delica/Endura lines or the Dragonfly/Caly Jr/Caly 3 lines and I like that a lot.  I also love the choil here and its more pronounced finger guard (compare it to the DF2 finger guard in picture above).  

Grind: 2

A deliciously flat, no nonsense blade with a great secondary bevel.  Spyderco really took advantage of the S30V steel's hardness by putting a wickedly steep angle on the secondary grind.  This makes the knife slice better and it also makes it is considerably easier to sharpen.  The broad secondary bevel allows the blade to register up against the sharpening stones more completely ensuring a better and more consistent resharpening grind.  It kills me to see these super hard steels come in blades with itty bitty secondary grinds, grinds that make the cutting edge very shallow and blunt.  Why bother?  Here Spyderco did it right and the knife is a supreme cutter because of it.  Even after chomping through some flooring it still was razor sharp and while chomping through that flooring the super acute angle made cutting much easier and more controlled.  I love everything about this grind.   

Deployment Method: 2

This is the largest Spyderco opening hole I have ever used and it is incredibly effective.

It is virtually impossible to slip out of the hole or not fully engage the knife.  Deployment is also smooth and as fast as any knife I have ever used, other than an auto.  The bushing system in the pivot is similar to that found on the Sebenza and is very nice. The compression lock places little to no pressure on the tang resulting in a buttery smooth, lightning fast deployment. 

Retention Method: 2

The classic Spyderco spoon clip is quad positionable and very effective.  Nothing terribly flashy, not deep carry or over the top, but still this clip works.  


Lock: 2

The only question I have is whether this is the best lock I have ever used, because whether or not it is effective is really not even a question.  This knife is so rigid when deployed that I seriously contemplated batonning with it.  If I owned the knife instead of just got it on loan, I probably would have.

Nonetheless, the vinyl flooring, backing and all, was an incredibly tough test.  Our city recently switched to city provided trash and recycling and the trash is smaller than the recycling.  In the past, I would have just set the giant plastic pieces out with the garbage, but now, I can't so I had to cut them into pieces small enough to fit into the trash bins.  The flooring itself is very hard, very tough plastic.  The backing is a bit of fiber paper and some stickiness to it, if not outright glue.  Once I got a good grip on the blade and the flooring, it shredding like paper and the whole time I never once felt the lock slip.  I was really wrenching on this blade, as hard as I have ever done with a knife of any kind and it did not budge.  When I was done I was covered in sweat as this was tough work (the plastic piece was quite large and just holding it in place was a task, especially with one hand).  The blade did not show a bit of wear.  It did not deflect or twist, even with considerable torque.  There is no blade play and lock still seats in the exact same place as before.  So durability and performance is not a question.

The real question is whether this the best lock available.  Here is a shot of the lock engaged.  


It works like a combination of a liner lock and an Axis lock.  It uses a leaf of steel that is bent, like a liner lock, and it engages the blade on the spine side between the blade and a stop pin, like the Axis lock.  It is easy to engage and easy to disengage.  It allows for wear as well, with plenty of space to slide over and still work.  It comes down to this, the Axis lock, and the Tri-Ad lock.  All three work very well.  The Tri-Ad lock seems to be a bit slower in deployment because of its lockback like functioning, but probably the strongest.  The Axis lock has a lot of parts but is easy and fast to engage and virtually as strong.  But if I had to pick one, it would probably be the compression lock.  It can be added to a blade easily, with every little weight and space.  It is fast and incredibly strong.  I am not sure if there are any meaningful strength differences between the three, but because of its minimal size and weight requirements, at this very moment, I'd probably opt for a compression lock, again if I had to choose only one. 

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

A while ago, there was a tag going around YouTube on the one knife you would keep if you could only keep one.  I chose the ZT350, an excellent knife to be sure.  But having used the PM2, I am convinced, that this is the knife I'd keep.  Nothing I have used has the same incredible responsiveness and precision coupled with the brutal and beefy strength.  The PM2 could be flexed into any conceivable role--from a utilty EDC knife to a survival blade to a self-defense tool.  I could even see it being used as a very big, though capable "nice pants" folder (it is too big to be called a gentlemen's blade, really).

A small ding on fit and finish can't really dent the overwhelming sense that this is a great blade.  Who cares if the grind is a little crooked or the jimping isn't perfectly straight when you have a knife that cuts like a scalpel and wears like an axe?

If you are new to the knife world, start here.  If you have a hundred blades but not the PM2, go get one.  There is literally no one that I could think of that would even have a passing interest in this site and not be happy owning this blade.  Eric and Sal did a superb job with this knife.  They made a classic better.  In all honesty, this could be your only knife and you'd be pretty darn happy.  It does so much so well. 

All of this is a long winded way of saying:


In fact, buy it here: Blade HQ

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What We Owe Nutnfancy

Nutnfancy has done a lot to make many of us better consumers.  The things he preaches in his videos on gear have helped me make decisions about how and why I spend my hard earned money, not just when I am buying gear, but when I am buying lots of other things.  Additionally, I have taken a lot of his gear lessons to heart.  You don't need big stuff for EDC.  You just don't.  You don't need the weight or the extra cost 99% of the time.  You don't need complicated stuff.  A simple SAK will do quite often.  You don't need an auto (though my time with the ProTech Sprint has proven that it is NICE to have).  You don't need expensive stuff.  Often times you are paying for things you will never use.

Nutnfancy gets maligned, like most "internet celebrities" do, because the internet is an interactive medium, but for all the criticism about how gabby he is, he really does us all a great service.  He has more videos than just about anyone and he does an excellent job testing gear.  A recent check shows that he has over 100 million video views on his YouTube channel.  That is an awful lot of eyeballs.  And with those eyeballs comes influence.

Under the Nutnfancy Agenda we have seen companies take heed of his ideas.  Jimping is probably a word none of us knew before Nutnfancy and now it is almost ubiquitous on most knives.  He has also done quite of bit of conversation shaping around the deep carry pocket clip.  We again have benefited.  Many makers are including these clips as standard features on their blades.  Look at the Dragonfly II, an update to a venerable little knife.  All of the major upgrades, the jimping and the deep carry pocket clip, are Nutnfancy hot button issues.  I liked the knife before, but with the Nutnfancy-driven improvements it is my favorite knife.  

His emphasis on value is also something I really appreciate.  I am at the point with my gear that I am no longer chasing every penny improvement, but when I was, I really valued his insights.  I still want my money to go as far as it can and having his opinion on a product is very helpful when doing research.

I also like his outdoors adventures.  Not so much because I like hearing him talk to Ali the Mountain Dog, who patiently listens to her master, but mainly because they inspire me to leave screens behind and go outside.  With a two year old son around getting away from the city is a truly rewarding experience.  Finding a frog or chasing a chipmunk with a two year old makes for an amazing morning.  Anything that prompts you to go do something and more specifically for us, go USE your gear, is a good thing.  We buy tools to use, not to serve as trophies.  I love seeing the battle scars on his stuff because it reminds me to go put some on mine.

For all of the complaining people do about the guy, really does put out a ton of useful and free information.  He did something that maybe someone somewhere had done before, but he is the foundation, the touchstone for gear information in new media.  We should all be grateful he does what he does for us.

There are things that he does that ARE problems.  Some of the older videos contained some insensitive homophobic remarks and he spends WAY TOO MUCH time on political issues (like Aneglia Jolie talking about politics--I tune in to both of them for reasons other than their political views).  Some folks might like the political stuff and I am glad I live in a country where people can express their views so freely, even if I disagree.  But in terms of his information on gear, there is no one that is more thoughtful or influential, and there is no one I tend agree with more on features and designs.  His relentless emphasis on small, useful, high value gear is really a boon to us all.   

Thanks Nutnfancy.   

Sunday, July 8, 2012

An Approach to Choosing Blade Steels, Part 2

The previous article in this series dealt with a little about why blade steel matters and a little with metallurgy with a good rant thrown in for measure.  It can be found here.  This article is going to lay out a little about traits steel possesses and how they work in tension with each other, a bit about heat treating and blade geometry, and then a word on the Rockwell scale and whether or not it matters. 

The Power of Three

All of the elements and processes discussed in the previous article combine to make steels with different attributes.  In cutlery steels there are three broad traits that exist in equipoise with each other--usually increasing performance in one will decrease performance in another or both.  Additionally, within these three traits there are sub-traits that again exist in a balance with other sub-traits.  The elements used and the methods of heat treating determine how well a steel performs, both on the big trait level and in each sub-traits.

The big three are:

1.  Corrosion resistance
2.  Hardness
3.  Toughness

Corrosion resistance generally means resistance to rust, though other things can and do cause corrosion.  Generally speaking lower carbon content equals less rust and higher carbon content equals more rust.  Other things make a difference too.  Chromium is the usual answer to rust problems, but recently some makers have taken a different approach to the rust problem.  The idea is interesting, instead of increasing the chromium content, these makers have REMOVED the carbon and added nitrogen.  This has traditionally been a huge no-no because the thing that makes (or made) steel better than straight iron was the hardness carbon lent the mixture.  Nitrogen can be used to harden iron, though until recently it was difficult to do.  Now that we can do it we are getting very corrosion resistance blade steels, like H1, X15TN, and Elmax that can be hardened quite high as well.

Hardness is usually represented by a Rockwell score, more on that later as well.  Generally it related to how resistant a steel is to wear damage and how long, in knife steels, it can retain an edge.  Carbon in large amounts typically adds to hardness.  ZDP-189, for example, has a HUGE amount of carbon proportionally speaking at 3.00%.  Many non-stainless steels don't even have that much carbon.  But with lots of carbon comes lots of potential for rust (hence the 20% chromium content in ZDP-189).  Many people have found that ZDP-189 can tarnish or get off colored even without actual rusting because of the high carbon content.  I am lucky in that I have not had that happen, but lots of folks have.  One caution about hardness--the harder something is the more brittle it is.  Diamonds for example are VERY hard and can shatter.  Ceramic is likewise very hard but can can shatter if impacted even moderately.

Toughness is a steel's ability to absorb shock and force and still retain its shape.  If hardness is best seen in something like ceramic, toughness is best seen in something like plastic or taffy.  You can smash a ceramic cup with a baseball bat, but you can't smash a piece of taffy (unless you freeze it, which is really cool to do by the way).  Iron is naturally tough and toughness is seen in steels with low Rockwell scores.  But sometimes toughness is really important.  In a survival blade that has to withstand tremendous forces, such as those seen in batonning wood, a hard steel would just shatter.

The trick with steels is that if hardness is increased, usually toughness and corrosion resistance suffer, and so on with each attribute.  It is not possible for a steel to be everything for everyone.  The question is how do you balance these traits with your intended use.

Finally a word about other traits of steel.  You might see someone say that they want a steel with good wear resistance, chip resistance, edge retention, or ease of sharpening.  Most of these different, more specific traits are related to one of the three major traits.  Wear resistance is highly correlated, but not the exact same as hardness.  Chip resistance is highly correlated but not the exact same as toughness.  So once you find a specific task and you have figured out how your steel to performance in the three major areas, further research might help you figure out which sub-traits to emphasize.

Just about any steel chart worth its salt will tell you what elements are included and at what percent.  They will also tell you about which elements promote one of the sub traits over another.

Heat Treat and Blade Geometry

If there is any part of metallurgy that is still shrouded in mystery, at least for the general knife-buying public, it is heat treating.  There are all sorts of methods and myths.   For example a lot of folks believe that hammer blows near the edge of a blade can "pack" the edge.  This is 100% horseshit.  The density of steel is controlled by the chemical structures and unlike sand, steel is not meaningfully compressible by mere hammer blows.  If anyone tells you that they can pack an edge or wants to sell you a knife with a packed edge walk away.  They are simply a more sophisticated pick pocket.  It IS possible to differentially harden steel, which is what proponents of packed edges seem to claim happens, but hammer blows from a human being will not do it. There is an old fashioned method of differential hardening used in Far East bladesmithing involving clay and selective quenching and there is a vastly more high tech method, seen in these blades, but Thor himself could not do what the charlatans claim they can do when making a packed edge.

But there are folks that can get better performance out of steel through finishing properly.  Paul Bos, a long time metallurgist associated with Buck Knives, has an amazing reputation for his Bos heat treat.  It is proprietary and a well guarded trade secret, and unlike the packed edge bullshit, it really is better.  A Buck Bos-treated blade will perform substantially better than the same steel treated by someone else.  My experience has proven this to be true as has the experience of millions of Buck knife owners.  Bos is for real.  It makes a difference and a substantial one.

Let's cut through all of the murky claims and reputations and look at what heat treating really does.  Heat treating steel is design to do one thing--control the chemical (crystal or grain) structure of the steel alloy.  When steel is made, the microscopic crystal structures are set into the strongest configuration.  As the steel cools, things shift around.  Think of the steel like instant pudding--as it cools things shift around and the pudding develops different textures in different places.  Steel acts the same way if it is not cooled in a very controlled way--the helpful properties of the steel are distributed unevenly.

This is because steel is an allotrope.  That is, it can have the SAME EXACT ingredients but produce very different materials.  Diamonds and graphite are good examples of carbon allotropes and a perfect example of why heat treating is important.  Diamonds contain a vastly more sturdy configuration of carbon atoms than graphite does and that is why, even though they are made of the same thing, carbon, diamonds are harder than graphite.  As the steel cools the chemical composition remains the same, but the chemical structure does not.  As the temperature changes, a different allotrope of the steel emerges, one with inferior properties.

Typically heat treating heats the steel up again, redoing the structure as this happens, and then cools in a very, very controlled and precise way.  This precision cooling limits the restructuring of the chemical components of the steel and forces them to remain in a closer to ideal configuration.  Conversely, some heat treat with cold temperatures (SOG does this).  In essence they flash freeze the steel, sealing the more idealized structures in their original positions through SUPER cold temperatures.

Heat treating is important, but it is really hard to judge the effectiveness of one heat treat over another.  I don't really like the SOG cryo treating, but that comes from lots of experience.  In contrast, I really like the Buck heat treating, but again this is from a lot of experience.  Because testing a heat treat requires multiple samples and lots of time, it is hard to convey one method's effectiveness in a two week long testing period (this is one reason I like to update the reviews a year later).  Good heat treat is really helpful, a cheap and easy way of improving lesser steels, but it is hard to figure out which ones work and which don't.

Blade geometry, however, can be readily subjected to immediate analysis.  Blade geometry is really, really important.  How important?  I think it is more important than the steel choice itself.  In fact, what knife makers call blade geometry I split into two categories in my knife scoring system--blade shape and grind.  So a knife with great blade geometry can max out a score of 4, while a knife with great steel can only get a 2.  In fact, I think if you know what you are doing you can make up for a subpar steel with good blade geometry.  Additionally, if you want to really take advantage of high hardness steels, you can play a little with the blade geometry and get truly spectacular results.  Blade geometry is a general category for two aspects of a blade, as I mentioned above--grind and blade shape, and it also interplays with how you sharpen the blade.

Grind is the cutting profile of a knife.  There are a ton of different names and grind types, but they all break down into three main groups--concave, convex, and flat grinds.  Concave grinds are called hollow grinds.  Convex grinds, which typically have no secondary grind or bevel (the cutting edge itself), are known by many names--appleseed grind, Moran grind (after Bill Moran).  There are some differences between appleseed grinds and Moran grinds, but in general they are all slightly bowed out if you looked at them from the tip.  These grinds are the most difficult to do because they essentially require the grinder to work the blade at all points, never simply resting the steel on the belt.  They are also very strong and generally more expensive (because of all the labor involved).  Flat grinds are just like they sound--flat.  Typically they have a secondary grind as well.  Finally, some companies, like Emerson, sharpen their knives only on one side.  They may have a typical grind and a secondary bevel on one side or they may grind only one side and leave the other completely flat.  This makes for easier field sharpening and a thinner profile, but it is a different experience using these "chisel" ground blades to cut with.  Additionally because of the thinner profile they can chip more often than traditional V grinds. 

There is a fourth grind, one that takes some three dimensional visualization to understand, called a Besh Wedge.  Here is a video of the Besh Wedge in action, as I have found it impossible to describe adequately in words:

It is like no other grind out there and has ENORMOUS tip strength comparatively speaking.  I could see this grind becoming more popular in the future, but for now it is relegated to a few Buck blades, a few Boker knives, Meyerco blades, Blackhawk knives and Beshera's own custom knives.  It is pretty freaking amazing though, and proof that even after 10,000 years of working with edged tools human beings are still smart enough to innovate.

In terms of grind, I like simple grinds.  The multifaceted grinds or the complex grinds can work in specific applications, but for EDC/utility tasks simpler is better.  I like Spyderco's full flat grind.  I also like SOG's full flat grind.  I think the high hollow grind on the Sebenza is great for slicing, but when you have to do heavy duty cutting it can bind.  This has not happened to be, but I imagine if you were cutting material that tended to bunch, like lots of cardboard, it could happen.  As with most things, grinds follow the simpler the better rule.  

In addition to the grind, there is also the blade shape itself.  There are literally dozens of blade shapes out there, but for me there are a few that stand out.  The classic SOG drop point blade is probably my favorite overall shape, seen in my Flash I review.   The long primary edge coupled with a nice belly provides a lot of cutting power.  I also like the leaf shape blade from Spyderco as well as their saber type grind seen on the Delica, Endura, Military, and Paramilitary.  All are excellent cutters and easy to maintain.

I dislike recurves of all kinds.  They are unnecessarily hard to sharpen and though they obviously give you a longer cutting edge in a shorter distance, it is not worth the hassle in my opinion.   I also dislike tanto points as they do not typically perform roll cuts well.  A reverse tanto, seen in the Benchmade 940, for example, is a very good design, incorporating the tip strength of a tanto and the belly of a drop point.

Again, as with most things, the simpler the better. 

Rockwell Scale

The Rockwell Scale is not so much a scale as it is a method and a set of different scales. There are four primary Rockwell Scales and the one used in the knife industry, the Rockwell Hardness C scale, is for medium hardness materials, such as hard steel.  Rockwell A is used for tungsten based materials, i.e. VERY hard stuff.  Rockwell B is for softer stuff, like brass.  All of the scales work the same way.  They are measurement of a material's resistance to deformation.  A tip or cone of a known hardness material, usually steel, is attached to a device that looks like a drill press.  The material being tested is laid in a bed beneath the tip and the tip is pressed down into the test material.  The depth of penetration into the test material is compared to other known hardness materials and the test material is then given a score.

Most cutlery steels score somewhere between 45-70.  A 45 would be very soft steel, used in very high impact operations like a ax or a maul.  Some of the hardest utility steels score closer to the 70, with ZDP-189 hitting 66 on a regular basis.  Typically the scores are given as a range, usually two points, so ZDP-189 will be listed as a HRC of 64-66.  This range reflects the variation between steels of the same make and it also reflects variations in test results.

Steels of a particular type have a "recommended" hardness.  That is, the maker of the steel has a target range in mind for the hardness of their steels and they believe that this range gets the best performance from the steel.  Crucible, for example, usually recommends between 58-62 HRC on S30V.  Knife makers can increase or decrease the hardness of a steel based on their heat treat method.  Bob Dozier, for example, gets very high hardness out of D2, more so than others, based on his high treat method, which is, of course secret.

I think that utility blades benefit from a high hardness because it means less maintenance.  I like ZDP-189, but I have seen some blades with micro chipping on the edge.  It can be fixed, but if you prefer no edge chipping, S30V or S35VN might be the way to go.  They are softer but still capable of getting hard enough for really steep cutting angles.  I also like D2, but it requires anti rusting maintenance, a tradeoff for the harder steel.  In a survival blade, I like 1095 from ESEE which hits in the mid 50s on the HRC.    

Hopefully, this second piece has been interesting and useful.  Next up, a list of steels and explanations of their properties plus a peek at my personal favorites.