Friday, September 28, 2012

Kerhsaw Zing SS Review

As custom knife makers go, RJ Martin is something of a celebrity, aided in part by his New York Yankee-like dominance at the Blade Show Awards--in 2010 his custom DRT won Best Folder, his Devestator CF won Best Tactical Folder in 2009, his Rampage won Best Tactical Folder in 2008, and his Q36 won Best Tactical Folder in 2008.  There is little more a custom maker could do to get noticed by production companies.  In particular the Q36 is one of my all time favorites, a knife I'd buy if I were a millionaire.  He uses flipper designs and many, including myself, think his flippers are the best in the industry (about a year ago Blade Magazine ran a piece on editor's choices for knives and RJ Martin's designs did quite well because of his skill with flipper designs).

If there is one drawback to Martin's designs it is their size.  All are tactical in nature and few are anything less than massive.  The "small" knife in his custom lineup is Contender, which stretches to a still very large blade length of 3.5 inches.  There is, of course, the hefty price tag and limited availability that comes with any custom knife.  So when Kershaw announced years ago that it was going to work with Martin on a flipper design, it was pretty exciting.  When the Zing came out that excitement quickly and almost irrevocably divided into two camps--those that liked the design and those that loathed it with a passion.  I was in the second, much smaller camp.  The knife's silhouette was fine, but the striations on the blade annoyed me to no end.  Year after year I'd think about getting a Zing and then put it back in the dealer's case perturbed that the knife was so garish and ugly.  The silly, curly q pocket clip didn't help matters.  But there was a faint siren's call to the knife in part because of the elegant blade shape and the allure of a Martin flipper design.

Years have passed and finally Kershaw announced, earlier this year, a Zing without the striations on the blade.  It would be a budget knife, with Chinese steel and stainless steel handles, but the amazing blade shape would survive sans the silly grooves.  And of course there was the flipper design.  I was pumped.  The Zing SS was totally overshadowed in the SHOT Show announcements by a budget Hinderer, the Cryo, but having used both extensively, there is no question--the Zing SS blows the Cryo away.

Here is the Zing SS's product page.  There are a few major differences between the original Zing and the Zing SS.  First, obviously, are the stainless steel handle slabs.  The Zing SS is assisted opening while the original is not.  Finally, the Zing SS has tiered as opposed to angled thumbstuds like the original had. Here is a video review for the original Zing, there are no true reviews for the Zing SS.  This is, apparently, the first written review of the Kershaw Zing SS.  Here is a link to BladeHQ where you can buy a Zing SS (they sent me this copy for review; all proceeds benefit the site's giveaways):

Blade HQ
 
Finally, here is the Zing SS I reviewed:

IMG_0010

Design: 2

Its that silhouette that makes the Zing so interesting.  The blade can only be described as a Martin blade shape, an organic form that seems to be biological in origin without the funky anti-utility design snafus of an Onion blade.   All of that curvy work-oriented cutting is backed up by a superb flipper.  Martin's flipper designs deserve every bit of praise they receive.  They are really first rate, even when translated through the sometimes flaw-inducing production manufacturing process.  Its amazing to compare this flipper to one on the Scallion.  Furthermore, here the flipper really does do double duty, whereas on other, less elegant designs it seems begrudgingly conscripted into the role of protecting your hand.  I like the subtle humps on the spine as they give the knife a bit of grip while adding to the aesthetic of the knife.  Removing the grooves does make this knife, finally, aesthetically appealing in every respect.  I only wish the vestigial thumbstud would have been left off this version of the knife.

The Zing's size goldilocks itself into well-loved company--hitting around the same size as the Benchmade Mini Grip, the Spyderco Delica, and the Small Sebenza to name a few.  It is neither too big nor too small for the average person.  I tend to like my EDC blades on the smaller size, so I found the Zing to be large not but too large.  Here it is in comparison to the ubiquitous Mini Mag AA (thanks for the size comparison suggestion):

IMG_0023

The blade:handle is a very excellent .78 and the blade:weight is exactly 1 (3 inches to 3 ounces).  It strikes me as odd how much better these ratios are than those found on the Cryo.  The handle is essentially the same length (3 7/8 inches to 3 3/4 inches) with a quarter inch more of blade and the weight, well hell, I can't even compare the two.  Exact same material, exactly the same--blade steel and handle slabs, and the Zing weights 3 ounces on the nose and the Cryo, aka Steel Turd, weighs 4.2 ounces.  This is a perfect example of why ratios matter.  For the same price, with the same materials, you get more blade per inch and more blade per ounce.  

Fit and Finish: 2

This will be a recurring theme, given how much praise the Cryo got in comparison to this blade, but again the Zing has the Cryo beat hands down.  There is no question that this knife is superior in fit and finish.  The edges were rounded, the blade was and remained centered, and the bead blasting was nice and even.  I have no complaints whatsoever about the Zing SS and for the price, I can't think of a blade that was better fit and finish-wise.  Outstanding achievement.  Only one note and it is not a big deal at all.  When the knife is between the closed and open position there is a bit of rattle in the handle from the torsion bar.  It does not affect performance at all and given how infrequently you carry or hold a knife in that position, it is really barely worth even a mention.   

Grip: 2

I went back and forth here and I would not argue with someone that awarded this blade a 1.  The stainless steel handles are slick.  There is a bit of jimping on the thumb ramp, the flipper, and the backspacer (the humps) but that's about it.  The difference in my mind and hand between this knife and the Cryo is the shape.  The shape, for me, gave me a sure purchase on the handle even with minimal jimping.  I took the knife along for some really great hiking with my son and wife in the woods and we had to cut all kinds of things.  I was hanging over a stream, cutting down a thin branch for my son, and I never lost the knife, even when deploying it.  There is a small sample size issue, as I had both knives for about three weeks, but still, in those three weeks the Zing stayed put and the Cryo did not.  

Carry: 2

Stainless steel is not my favorite handle material, but what you lose in grip you make up for in carry and here, where the handle is so shapely, its not that much of a trade off at all.  The Zing SS is thin.  Awesomely thin.  It is a bit wide for a non-Spyderco, but the thinness makes up for it.  This is an absolutely great blade in the pocket.  

Steel: 1

As I have said many times before, 8Cr13MoV is the very definition of blah steel.  Here, with the too-frequently used bead blasting, it is okay.  I had no rust issues, but it did lose its edge when cutting things like sapling and bark.  

Blade Shape: 2

If the flipper was the main attraction for the Zing SS, the blade shape is that really awesome ride that was at the carnival that you didn't see from the road.  I absolutely positively LOVE this blade shape.  It has enough of a belly and a point to do real work.  It has a nice thumb ramp but also has a finger rest for scalpel cuts.  It is one of my favorite blade shapes I have ever used, despite (or because of) being very unconventional. 

IMG_0009

Great job, Mr. Martin.

Grind: 2

The dished out, radius grind is nice to look at and helps produce a very fine cutting edge.  There is a bit of unevenness in the cutting bevel as you can see in the picture above, but nothing that impacted performance.  It is a hollow grind, if that bother's you, but it did not jam up when cutting cardboard. 

Deployment Method: 2

Martin flipper design = 2, that is all you need to know.

But really, here is some more.  The flipper is poised and balanced in a way that practically invites you to unleash the blade and because of the new assisted opening torsion bar it really is UNLEASHING the blade.  I don't think the assist is necessary but it is a way to cover over a cheap, rough pivot and a way to get rid of the work necessary to make a smooth manual flipper, which is not easy to do in a production knife.  Still, Martin flipper design = 2.

Retention Method: 1

Have you gone back and looked at your high school year book?  You remember those girls that you thought were super hot and had really sexy hair.  And now they look terrible, like a really young and trashy version of a country music singer?  The hair was a bold design move at the time and now it looks dumb.  That is the clip on the Zing SS, except instead of waiting 15 years to look ugly, it does so now.

IMG_0014

But it does work.  Tension is nice, probably aided by the slick scales, but it is so big that it loves to snag on stuff and scratch up cars as you walk by.  Dumb.  

Lock: 2

Cheap framelocks are a high wire act.  Sometimes they somehow pull it off and work well and other times, it is disaster, screwing up blade centering and messing up the knife in many different ways.  Not here.  The lock is solid and the blade is still centered when closed.  There is no blade play at all.  And there is this:

IMG_0012

Yep, a nice easy way to disengage the framelock.  See that Cryo?  Its called convenience.  Try it some time.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

I got a truckload of shit for hating the Cryo, but I had to be honest.  It was a terrible design, even for $30.  Now this is how you do a $30 knife.


I know quite a few people who'd be happy with a Zing SS for the rest of their life.  They aren't you and me, we are knife and tool addicts, but that is a different story.  This is a GREAT budget knife, beating out even my old preferred mid-size budget EDC blade the Kershaw Skyline.  The flipper is excellent and the blade shape is sublime.  For all of the people that thought I was a Kershaw hater after the Cryo review, I hope this (and all of my other positive Kershaw reviews) prove otherwise.  I try to be brand agnostic and even to the agnostic, this a knife worthy of angel song, all for $30. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The EDC Top 100 and Gerber

I would have titled this "Trolling for Hate" but EVERYONE loves hating Gerber, so I won't bother.  

Some of you might have noticed that I took down the Aeon Sign Up page, seeing as sign ups closed a while ago.  In its place I put this page.  I have always wanted to do this, as I am fascinated by lists and rankings.  Amazon creates and keeps track of a mind boggling number of statistics.  My favorites are the Top 100 lists.  In order to better ground discussion regarding production knives and, more importantly, to give you a better idea of what others are buying, I thought I would include them.  They function as a sort of New York Times Best Seller List for Gear, but are updated hourly.  

But there is a caveat.  A lot of the stuff on the Top 100 list in any category is absolute junk.  Yesterday, the first legit piece of gear I found on the flashlight list was a Surefire Fury around the mid-60s.  On the folding knife list there were quite a few SOG pieces, including an Aegis in the Top 10, but there were no Spydercos and the first Benchmade was around the mid 60s as well (it was the Contego, if you must know).  So much of the stuff on the list is PURE and COMPLETE crap.  There are the generic "300 Lumen Strong Bright" lights (though this one will take a long time to get here because it "ships form HK") and the "Twin Batarang" knives (in pink?) and a ton of soulless other items as well. 

A close analysis, or even a passing glance, tells you why Gerber is still in business--there are a lot of "unknowledgeable" (this is my euphemism for "dumb" as I try to not call people dumb) folks out there buying Gerber stuff by the dump truck load.  There is little doubt that Gerber is wildly successful.  Right now, a full ten of the top twenty is Gerber junk.  How is this possible?  How is it that there are LOTS people out there that: a) can read; b) have access to the Internet; c) want to purchase a knife; and d) end up buying a Gerber?  As if the horrible designs, ridiculous marketing, and overpricing aren't enough, three separate knives from Gerber have been recalled (see here and here  and here) in the past five years, two this year.  The first, the Instant, is the feature of their new marketing campaign and was recalled because the lock failed.  It is a "voluntary" recall on Gerber's part because, well, having your product chop people's fingers off while they are using it is bad publicity.  The other two are government recalls, one from 2008 on the EAB II, which is #1 on the Top 100 right now, and the other is on one of the dumbass Zombie Kit machetes.  Yet, this is what people are buying.  Clearly all of us that like and care about quality stuff have a lot of work to do.  Friends don't let friends: 1) drink and drive or; 2) buy Gerber knives. 

When I poke fun at Gerber and suggest they stop making stuff and refocus on quality, they laugh.  They have no reason to.  They are selling truckloads of knives even when they are failing in catastrophic ways.  It is as if their business model is: lots of awesome commercials with gritty fellas and Bear Grylls + hack designs that fail + substandard materials + denigrating a once good name + prices twice what they should be = lots and lots of sales.  Gerber says to me and other people that criticize them:

"Take that internet and gear folks.  Take that snooty gear reviewers.  We make shit, sell lots of it, and make tons of money.  Criticize all you want, but we will merely wipe away our tears with $100 bills."

At least the one good Gerber design, the Shard, is the #1 multitool as of this writing.  And to think they didn't want to make it, let it go out of production, and then brought it back.

Enjoy the Top 100.  They are most often hilarious and sometimes a sober reminder of the fact that most gear companies aren't like Spyderco, 47s, Benchmade, and Surefire.  Some gear companies are not in fact gear companies at all, but junk mass manufacturers that are trying capitalize on an increased interest in being prepared.  It makes you grateful for the companies that do give a shit.  The Top 100 also tells me we have a lot of work to do.      

Monday, September 24, 2012

Steve Ku Quantum DD Review

You are not used to this:


But, you know exactly what to do with it:


That is the difference, in visual terms, between the 40DD and the Quantum DD.  Unlike the two steering wheels above, the difference in performance between the two lights is insignificant.  The Quantum is just a much more consumer-friendly package and one hell of a light.  Its not impossible to think that this light should cost upwards of $150, what a similar package would cost you elsewhere in the high in light world (Lummi, for example, though that is the epitome of buyer beware).  But it won't even cost you $100.  And since this is a Steve Ku light and all of them have gone on to be collector's pieces that appreciate, it behooves you to track one down now before you have to resort to getting one on the secondary market.  This light is an unprecedent good deal.  You can read the rest of the review if you want, but I'd recommend you go buy the light first and then come back and finish this piece to whet your appetite while you wait for it to arrive from Hong Kong (which, as a total aside, has the most elegant looking package mailers I have seen).  If you are looking for a super small light and can't afford the Ti Aeon Mark 2, this is a more than suitable substitute.  Can you tell I like it?

Here is the Quantum DD product page.  Here is the one of two places to buy them, and here is the other.  Here is an excellent forum review over at CPF.  There are no video reviews.  Steve contacted me directly and asked if I'd like to review the light.  Obviously, I agreed (feeling a little like the editors of Motor Trend when Ferrari comes and invites them to test drive a new red beast of a car).  Here is the model I got for review:   

IMG_0018

Design: 2

The original 40DD is a super small light that uses high technology, like Quantum Tunneling Composite (QTC), to give you infinite variable brightness in a thumb sized package.  Steve puts his usual touches in the light, adding two tritium inserts to the tail so you can find the light in the dark.  The light itself is finished with a satin stainless steel, unlike the 40DD which was a matte stainless steel.  I really liked the Boba Fett look of the matte stainless, but the satin finish is equally useful.  The rechargeable only battery is capable of pumping out a ton of light for its size, hitting 100 lumens.  The Quantum package includes a very nice USB charger for the incredibly small 10180 cells, something the 40DD did not.  The charger is amazing and I wish Steve would sell it independent of the Quantum.  I can make do with my Cottonpicker charge, but I'd prefer the Quantum unit.  The long slots down the side of the light aid in grip and are deep enough to use as a flat facet to stop the light from rolling.

You can't really get a sense for how small this light is until you see it next to something else.  Here is a size comparison with a Zippo lighter on one side and a Mini Mag AA on the other:

IMG_0021

The light's ratios are, as you can imagine, unusual given its size.  The light weighs next to nothing at .64 ounces with the battery in.  The lumens:runtime is 12.5 (100 lumens for 8 minutes), which is not so good.  The lumens:weight is 156.25, a ratio that will probably remain unchallenged for a long time.  This is not a light designed to illuminate the side of a building for an hour, but if you need a short burst, it can still give you a decent amount of light, irrespective of size. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The QTC thing only works well with smooth threads and this gem has as smooth a set of threads I have ever seen on a light.  They are in the McGizmo range.  The external reflector fins for the tritium tubes are crisply cut as well.  See here:

IMG_0027

Everything that Steve did in this light or had his machinist do is perfect.  One issue I did have was with the 10180 cell.  No matter what I did I could not get it to fully charge or put out the 100 lumen hit, one or the other.  This is something that Steve did not make, so I can't really blame him.  I contacted him about it and he was really great.  There were only two errors out of the initial batch of 500 lights, so I wouldn't worry about it.  Rechargeable batteries can be finnicky and I can hardly hold that against the light.  Replacements are pretty cheap, clocking in around $5 on various internet sites.

One thing you should know, with a little this small and a battery this absolutely teeny, you might have a difficult time getting the battery out using traditional methods.  I have three suggestions, though Steve tells me he is improving this for future runs.  First, you can use the old "tape" grappling hook.  Take a piece of tape and just stick it to the top of the battery and pull.  Second, you can hold the battery compartment in one hand and tap the back with your other, using your index finger.  Finally, you can use a magnet to pull it out.  Personally, none of this is an issue for me as I could extract it with ease every time.  I am not sure I'd wait for the second run as this seems like an improvement for sausage fingered people only.  

Grip: 2

One of my big concerns with the original 40DD was that it was just too small.  This light is not huge by any means, but it is a bit fatter and that makes a huge difference.  Additionally the matte finish, which looked great, did wear a bit and became smooth.  The satin finish doesn't show anywhere near the wear and is actually probably equally grippy.  The long slots however crush the facets of the 40DD in terms of grip.  They are, again, precisely and crisply cut and therefore dig into your fingers a bit when you twist the light.  Here they are up close. 

IMG_0028

Really an outstanding job making something so small so tactile.  I had simply assumed it was too small to be grippy.  Steve proved me wrong with a few small adjustments.  Great upgrades.  

Carry: 2

Three quarters weigh about .61 ounces.  Have you ever felt encumbered by three quarters in your pocket?  Right.  The light is small and featherweight.  There is no reason not to carry a light when you could carry this thing. 

Output: 2

The Hi CRI version I have in my 40DD is not available, but nonetheless, the tint here is fine.  The high is very good, especially for a light this size.  The low is awesome, rivaling the low on the RRT-01.  All that versatility in a light this size for this price is just STAGGERING.   Love it. 

Runtime: 2

Okay, so you only get 8 minutes on high.  That is not so good.  But what did you expect?  This thing is the size of your thumb nail.  There is only so much current you can pass through a battery this size.  I would have dinged it severely for the 8 minute high had that been the only mode, like on the Lummi Wee, this light's closest competitor.  But with the QTC in place, you can use the light in real world conditions for a very, very long time.  I went about two weeks between charges carrying it daily and using it three or four times.  Excellent job.

Don't let the 8 minutes bother you too much.  Compared to similar sized lights, such as the generally awful Photon-style lights, you will get neither the 100 lumens output or the 8 minutes at that level.  In fact on those lights your lucky to get 10 lumens.  On the other side of the price tag, compared to other high end options, again like the Lummi Wee, you get the same runtime, but you can't choose the output level.  For lights of this size, there is nothing better.   

Beam Type: 2

Do not expect any throw at all.  There is a reflector, which is kind of incredible, but the lens is cover with a diffuser film of some kind and it makes the light's output smooth and pure flood.  Here is a picture of the film over the perfectly centered emitter (which is an XPG emitter).

IMG_0029

Beam Quality: 2

Perhaps its the diffuser film, but the 40DD didn't have any film and it too produced a wonderful and full blanket of light.  Again, its pure flood, but it is a very nice floody beam.  There are no rings, holes, or shadows in the beam at all. 

UI: 2

I am a fan of simple UIs and it doesn't get simpler than this: twist to turn on, twist more for more light.  Best you can get, in my opinion. 

Hands Free: 2

The long slots allow the light to sit still (as evidenced by my two pictures of it sitting on its side).  It is not all that rooted in place, but it can do it, something the 40DD couldn't manage all.  It also tailstands very well thanks to a perfectly flat bottom.  Excellent and a small change that made a big improvement.  Here is a picture of that flat bottom.

IMG_0026

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT SCORE


The differences in design fixed all of the problems this light had in its "prototype" run the 40DD.  A few more millimeters of girth and different grooves on the exterior made all of the difference.  This is a just a better light than the 40DD.  I still like the Fett-like matte finish on the 40DD, but in every other regard, especially those that count, the Quantum is the superior light.

This is one of the finest lights I have used, of any size for any price.  This is an amazing piece of tech. Now that we know the 40DD was a prototype, its clear why this light is so great--the starting point was nearly perfect to begin with.

GO

BUY

THIS

LIGHT

Saturday, September 22, 2012

5 EDC Myths

Myth #1: Sharpness Out of the Box Matters

Watch one or two knife videos on YouTube and you will hear, especially from some of the more high profile folks, that this knife did or did not "come sharp out of the box."  This is always struck me as a curious basis for praise or blame.

In the woodworking world hand planes, chisels and spokeshaves are in vogue again.  Lots of folks do hand tool-only woodworking and need their stuff razor sharp as they do not have the mechanical muscle to force their way through the wood.  Additionally they are willing to fork out tons of dough to get really high end planes, chisels and spokeshaves.  But even the high end stuff, things from Lie Nielsen or the like, have edges that require some work.  They NEVER come sharp straight out of the box.  They can cut, that is for sure, but they are not in their prime condition.  The expectation, even in high end stuff, is that you will do some finishing work on the blades to get them into tip top shape.

So when Nutnfancy dings a knife or a knife company for producing a knife that is NOT in tip top shape out of the box I am always a bit confused.  Sure, I'd like everything to come super sharp, and for the most part the knives do come that way, but getting them sharp is something I can readily do, especially now that I have added stropping to my sharpening regiment.  So long as the edge is not dull or dinged, I could care less if the knife is "sharp out of the box."

You wouldn't rate a car more or less highly if it came to you with only a little in the gas tank, so why do the same to knives?  I get that it is a nice finishing touch, but it is certainly not something to get bent out of shape about.

You might be saying "hey, I don't have a knife sharpener, my stuff NEEDS to be sharp out of the box."  Well, if you are saying this I can't help you.  No one can.  Go get a sharpening kit.  They aren't that expensive, they are very useful (even for kitchen knives), and your going to have to get one eventually.  Are you going to insist that your new car have a full gas tank because, well, you're never going to buy gas?

Myth #2: High Lumens Counts Matter on Small Lights

"Oh, man this little light really cranks out the lumens.  It is a single cell light that hits 500 lumens."  Great, fantastic.  You have a light with a feature that is almost COMPLETELY useless.  Lumens counts have been the red herring of the flashlight world forever, a benchmark and a number that is as meaningless as they come.  The reasons are many.

First, most tasks do not need more than 100 or 200 lumens.  Aside from tactical applications, there is no need to go beyond the 200 lumen mark.  Even the "blind an attacker" use is kind of silly.  Try to blind yourself, really blind yourself with a light and you will find that even the 500 lumen lights while being unpleasant to look at DON'T REALLY BLIND YOU.  You need to flash about 2000 lumens to really blind someone for a significant and useful period of time.  They may distract you, but even in dark conditions you can still see a little and all an attacker needs is a little sight to get you.  This is, of course, assuming that you think the "blind the attacker" strategy actually works or will be employed.  Quite frankly I think it is a dumb idea, something that probably will get you in more trouble, but I am not a tactics guy.  Commonsense, though, guffaws at the notion.

So aside from that one very specific and possibly silly use, a small light with high lumens counts is stupid for other reasons as well.  First, in a small light, one without a throw-type reflector, all of those lumens are wasted in a floody beam.  You do not have the ability to really light up a target a long way away because without the focus offered by a throw-type reflector all of those lumens are just dribbling out all over the place in a less than optimal beam pattern.  Second, these ultra high lumens counts come at a cost because flashlight design, like a lot of things in life, adheres to the famous Heinlein aphorism and acronym: TINSTAAFL.   Awesome lumens count equals ridiculous heat output and short runtime.

Myth #3: Spine Whacks Matter

You can find all sorts of silly things on  YouTube involving people utterly destroying their knives.  Like this:



I appreciate people's willingness to take one for the YouTube gear community and destroy their stuff, but what does this really prove?  In this particular video he does a lot of prying with the knife.  You shouldn't pry with your knife.  You shouldn't pry with your violin or your blender or your table saw for that matter.   Saying that a knife somehow "failed" a test when you are testing something that it is not designed to do just seems bizarre to me.  But you might say: "How awesome would it be if your knife could pry AND cut?"  Awesome, yes, I agree, but in the real world those two things require so many design compromises that I am just not willing to tolerate a folding knife that is bulky enough to both cut well and pry well.

Then there is the spine whack itself.  What are you proving by showing that knife can survive this test?  That it has a strong lock?  I guess, but how often in regular use do we test the lock in the way that a spine whack tests a lock?  Um...how about never.  Not once, ever.  But again, you might say "How awesome would it be if the knife could survive the spine whack test?"  To that I would reply: Not awesome at all.  I would prefer that designers and engineers focus on more practical concerns than spine whacks.  I like the static weight test that Cold Steel uses, found here:

 

This test is at least SIMILAR to real use stresses, albeit taken to an extreme.

I am not an advocate of or someone persuaded by grossly abusing a knife to demonstrate its performance.  I use my knife to cut stuff.  Show me that.  All of this horse shit reminds me of those dumb Mercedes Benz commercials where people sat on the door to demonstrate its strength and build quality.  This is a good test if you are a Duke of Hazard and slide through the windows of your car relying on the door's ability to hold weight.  For the rest of us--eh... 

Myth #4: You will ACTUALLY Use All this Stuff

Oh my goodness.  Some people carry SO MUCH stuff on them that I can't imagine them actually doing much of anything at all other than tending to their gear.  Despite writing this site you will never catch me with more than a phone, a wallet, a watch, a pen, and my light&saber combination for that day.  I have a bag for work and that is stuffed to the gills, but that is with work stuff.  i have a bag for hiking too. That said, I am not a believer in the one is none philosophy because it is an argument without a logical basis or logical limitation.  It goes on without end.  I am also not one to carry a tactical blade most of the time.  I guess there is some random chance that I get mugged, but I am pretty heads up most of the time.  Plus with a little guy around I don't do a ton of night time walking.

Then there are the folks that burden themselves with things I will never understand, like non-smokers that carry a lighter (smokes as an EDC item are even worse that silly, but that is straying too close to a political opinion).  Seriously what's the chance you actually use that lighter?  I guess if you are a park ranger or a rancher or something, but for the average urban or suburban dweller, a lighter is not that useful unless you smoke.

I'd much rather focus on a few nice items that I use all of the time than a bunch of middling stuff that I never use.  So put that spanner key, spy capsule, lighter, pry bar, medical scissors, and the bag to carry them in up on eBay and feel unencumbered for a change.  Then use that money to by a McGizmo Haiku.   

Myth #5: Manual Knives Aren't Fast Enough

Autos are fun.  I liked the Protech Sprint quite a bit.  I also like my Benchmade Aphid and the fast firing Zing SS.  They are both nice fidget factor knives.  But the deployment assist methods are completely unnecessary now.  I used to think that BIG blades still needed the help, but the CRKT Eraser has proven me wrong.  That is a pretty beefy slab of steel and it fires out of the handle like a rocket thanks a beautiful silken pivot and a masterfully designed flipper.  Its official now that that last hurdle has been jumped--there is no reason other than novelty to carry an auto or an assisted opening knife.  A well designed manual knife is insignificantly slower and has fewer parts and legality issues. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

CRKT Ripple 2 Review

As a way of opening a knife, flippers have a lot of innate appeal.  They are ambidextrous, simple, and when the knife is open they can offer a little more hand protection.  But a well-designed flipper is not easy to achieve.  Some are too loose and the knife falls out of the handle, others are too stiff and require an inordinate amount of force to deploy.  There is some degree of magic in the process.  Designers need to find the right shape, the right detent (the force that holds the knife in the closed position, usually created by a ball bearing or a bump on the blade that falls into a hole in the liner or handle), and the right pivot smoothness.  I have handled a few custom knives at local shows with amazing flippers, silken triggers that deploy a knife with silent authority.  But in the production world flippers are a tricky bit of business. Making them JUST right requires an amount of finesse that mass production usually precludes.

Enter IKBS, which stands for Ikoma Korth Bearing System.  It was designed by two knife makers, Flavio Ikoma and Rick Lala (who sells knives under the Korth trademark) for use in high end custom balisongs.  The system worked so well that they used it on regular knives and then the whole thing took off.  IKBS is often seen on high end customs for all of the reasons mentioned on their website.  It is smooth, wear resistant, easy to implement, and helps keep all of the parts of a knife aligned correctly.  Fortunately for those of us that cannot afford a custom knife once a month, IKBS and systems like it (such as the KVT system in Kershaw blades and the bearing pivot in the upcoming Southard Spyderco) are starting to pop up in production knives.  This is, in part, because they take the challenge out of making a knife quick and smooth to deploy, especially when used in flipper designs.

The Ripple, Ken Onion's first work with CRKT after a long history with Kershaw, was the first production knife on the market, along with the other Onion CRKT design, the Eros, to use the IKBS system.  It was a decidedly high end move by CRKT indicating an effort to position themselves differently in the market.  They used a premium designer, a high end custom pivot, and a new steel Acuto+.  The move was a success as the knife sold well, even at the higher than normal price point for CRKT.  That success led to a budget version designed for sale in places like Wal-Mart (where I first saw the budget version).  I was contacted by CRKT and they sent me the budget aluminum Ripple 2 (the smaller version of the original Ripple) along with a Liong Mah Eraser.

There are 10 versions of the Ripple.  Ready?  There are two sizes, the Ripple and the Ripple 2.  There are two colorations--blue and black.  There are two versions, the original stainless steel handle Acuto+ blade and the budget-friendly aluminum handle version.  Finally there are serrated versions of the large Ripple but not the small one or any of the budget versions.

1. Ripple, Acuto version black, plain edge
2. Ripple, Acuto version blue, plain edge
3. Ripple, Acuto version black, serrated edge
4. Ripple, Acuto version blue, serrated edge
5. Ripple 2, Acuto version black, plain edge
6. Ripple 2, Acuto version blue, plain edge

7. Ripple, budget version black, plain edge
8. Ripple, budget version blue, plain edge
9. Ripple 2, budget version black, plain edge
10. Ripple 2, budget version blue, plain edge


There, I think I got each of them, in all of the various permutations.  Variety is the spice of something, right?  I got #9 for review, a Ripple 2, budget version, black, plain edge.

Here is the Ripple 2 product page. Here is a video review by Nutnfancy.  Here is a really excellent written review from bladeforums.  Here is a link to Blade HQ where you can find the Ripple and proceeds benefit the site's giveaways (we have quite a bit in the Haiku coffers, BTW):

Blade HQ
 
Here is the Ripple I reviewed:

IMG_0006

Design: 2

If you want to change the course of your company, this is a design to do it with.  It is odd because it is more exotic than the traditional (VERY traditional) look of many CRKT designs, but at the same time is more conventional than many Ken Onion designs.  There is, of course, still the flowing organic shapes and lines of an Onion design, but the blade itself is surprisingly, and thankfully, straightforward.  There are no crazy facets or recurves.  No clunky flippers turned into finger guards.  It is, well, a drop point blade with a swedge and decent belly.  See Mr. Onion, that wasn't so hard?  Right?

That said, it is daring in its own right.  Compared to the regular CRKT line with their uber traditional shapes and materials, a bolster here and a skinner there, this is something as exotic as its visual reference--the work of HG Giger.  Nutnfancy remarked that this knife looks like the Alien, a Giger design, and he's right.  The handle slopes and slides into pleasing shape in the hand and yet is covered with traction lines that with the buffed finish look like struts on a plane or, better yet, ribs on a bug's exoskeleton (yes, I know there aren't ribs on an exoskeleton, but you get the idea).

Striking this balance is quite hard to do--traditional yet original.  The balancing act was worth the effort though.  This is not just an interesting looking knife. It is one where the design makes it more useful.  The size of the Ripple 2 works perfectly in an EDC role.  The weight is nice as well.  The ratios are quite respectable.  The blade:handle is .72, not bad but not great either, while the blade:weight is 1.5, quite good.

Daring on CRKT's part and restraint on Ken Onion's part work well here, both needed a little of what the other had and the mixture of the two makes for an excellent design.   

Fit and Finish: 1

There are lots of nice touches to the knife that are surprising at this price point.  I love the rounded over spine.  I also liked the buffed finish to the handle scales which removes a bit of the color from the peaks of the handle's ridges creating a "pocket worn" finish straight from the factory.  I also liked the crisply cut jimping and the precision drilling of the 44 lightning or lightening holes.  There was one ding against the Ripple though.  From the factory the pivot was very loose.  Eventually the blade leaned towards the non-lock side (a common occurrence in frame and liner lock knives).  Here is the knife pre-fix:

IMG_0003

Tightening the pivot fixed the problem instantly and had no real impact on deployment speed, but over time a very slight amount of off centering again creeped into the knife.  Nothing bad, no scissor effect like on the Cryo, but noticeable.  The blade never touched the inside liner after the adjustment, but it just always looked a bit askew.  Given the incredibly reasonable price point, even if this is a problem across the line, I don't think it is a bit deal.  Notable but not fatal, as far as flaws go. 

Grip: 2

For such a small knife you have an impressive amount of grip.  There is jimping everywhere, thanks in part to the skeletal design elements. The finger cut out for access to the liner lock is great for positioning the index finger in just the right spot for cutting chores.  I liked the gradual thumb ramp as well and the rounded spine allows for comfortable "scalpel grip" cuts (where your pointer finger is resting on the blade spine for guidance and leverage purposes).

IMG_0004
 
Carry: 2

This is a featherweight of a knife, a silent and untaxing stow away, should you decide to carry it.  It is light because the handles are made of aluminum.  That said, even the aluminum has been drilled out with strategically placed holes to further lighten the load.

IMG_0002

Steel: 1

8cr13MoV is the very epitome of meh steel.  It holds an edge okay, it is rust resistant okay, it doesn't chip or deform all that much.  But it does nothing all that well either.  I have found that there is varying quality among production knives with 8cr13MoV, with my Tenacious being a bit rust prone, and my CRKT and Kershaw versions being fine (even when bead blasted).  I find this to be like the CRKT stuff I have encountered before.  I'd love to know why there is a difference, if it is individual company heat treating or if it is just variations from batch to batch.  Something tells me that for proprietary reasons we won't find out. 

I'd upgrade to the Acuto+ steel if I could which, according to Mike Stewart of Bark River Knife and Tool (who seems to know a thing or two about knives), is like 440C with more larger carbides for more aggressive cutting.  For the price point though, this is an acceptable steel.    

Blade Shape: 2

I love it.  I went over why a bit in the design section, but I will break it down a little more here.

I have owned two Ken Onion designed knives (a Scallion and a ZT350) and each time I get one and think: ooh this is a good cutter.  And that initial thought is right.  But sharpening a recurve, while something I am capable of doing, is more trouble than it is worth.  Onion's flowing designs also tend to screw up the ricasso (the unsharpened back-most part of the blade right before the blade meets the handle).  The ricasso on most Onion knives is a problem because they mess up cutting.  In tough pull strokes you can end up with the material jamming in the ricasso.  Or, just as bad, you can lose the cutting edge at just the wrong time.  I remember a particular move of a relative where I was breaking down hundreds of boxes with my Scallion and after a while I just got fed up with having the cutting edge run out just as I was about to finish a stroke.  

None of that Onion design heritage comes over into this blade shape.  Thank--God--for--that.  It is a drop point, plain and simple.  It has a nice unobtrusive (in either way) ricasso.  It does downward cuts, it does roll cuts, and slices well.  What ever happened that got Onion to design a knife blade that is simple and effective, needs to happen again.

Grind: 2

Its one of those things--grinds typically indicate quality and price.  Good grind, good quality, high price.  The opposite is also true.  But here the grind is quite good.  The cutting bevel is nice and wide allowing for easier sharpen.  The swedge is nicely done.  And finally, the main grind is even and high.  Even plowing through cardboard boxes did little to jam the knife up.  This thing is on hell of a slicer and the grind is largely why. 

Deployment Method: 2

The flipper is so incredibly smooth, so fast, that I think we have reached a point in knife design where even an assisted opener is unnecessary to speak nothing of the actually auto knife.  A perfectly balanced detent and smooth pivot thanks to the IKBS make this knife a fast and sure pleasure to deploy.

A quick word about the flipper--it requires a bit of practice.  It always comes out, that is not the issue.  The issue is that without practice the jimping on the flipper and the knife itself can really wear out your thumb.  Part of this is breaking in the knife, which happens in every knife, but part of it is also technique.  It is a distinctly backwards pull toward the end of the flipper that gets best results.  Once you master that and the knife's parts are all broken in, it is fast and addictive.

If you want to speed up the break in process I recommend putting some graphite on the lock bar face.  I found a mechanical pencil was the best and easiest way to do this.  I am sure things would wear in eventually, but my reviews do require a bit more emphasis on timeliness than that would allow.  

Retention Method: 1

Jimping, jimping everywhere, shred my pocket, looks like hair.  Okay, so it is not SO bad to turn the edge of my pocket into fine denim color hair, but it is completely unnecessary to jimp the pocket clip.  It can make extraction a bit difficult on thin material and it is a little uncomfortable when squeezing the handle for more control.  I know why the did it, as it is probably easier to just cut the jimping all at once instead of before the knife is assembled (don't have to worry about misalignment of jimped parts), but that said, just jimp it and add the pocket clip last.  No review I have seen likes the jimping on the pocket clip and this is one case were consensus is correct.  

IMG_0007
Lock: 2

Look, liner locks just work.  I know there are sorts of theoretical problems with them.  I know that people like other locks better.  I also know that many locks, like the Nak-Lok and Compression Lock are just BETTER versions of a liner lock, but this one works and works well.  Even on a small, slender knife, I couldn't get any real blade play.  Prior to the pivot adjustment I got some side to side play, which is one reason I adjusted the pivot.  Now, I get nothing.  

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

Nutnfancy's fixation with the SOG Flash I has focused many people on the market niche the knife occupies.  For people that don't like the wide stance even the smallest Spyderco's necessitate, the knives in this market niche--blades around 2.5 inches, thin, slight slim builds with quick deployment, all under $100--there are are a bevy of choices.  I have reviewed quite a few of them: the Flash I itself, the Twitch II, the OD-2, the Benchmade Aphid, and now the Ripple 2.  This is one of the better knives in that class.  I would put it up against any of those knives and really only the Aphid felt like it was superior.  But alas Benchmade only makes two kinds of knives now--expensive knives or big expensive knives.  The remainders here all have some drawbacks, but among that set the Ripple 2 is probably my favorite knife I have reviewed. 

It is a daring move from CRKT, one that is the herald of a more aggressive company trying to leverage its mastery low cost, high quality blades like the Drifter as a way into the high end production market.  It is also a good design from Ken Onion, something that is distinctly Onion in origin, but without many of the quirks I find annoying (::cough:: recurve ::cough::). 

Just keep an eye on the pivot.  It is my only area of long term concern and it seems fine now that I fiddled with it.   

NOTE: the steel is, in fact, 8cr14MoV. I have noticed no difference between it and 13MoV, but one arises I will let you know.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time v. Tech

The Al Mar Hawk Ultralight was an eye opener for me.  It proved to me that there is another way to achieve high end performance.  Instead of traveling the path well-forged and going for simply the newest and the latest materials, the Hawk was built on finely tuning time tested materials.  The result is a knife that is incredibly light, incredibly thin, and yet cuts like a razor.  It is simple and elegant and it works very, very well.

Time

In particular I thought that the AUS-8 blade did an amazing job of cutting, resisting rust, and holding an edge.  I gave it a 2, meaning that its performance was excellent.  It was odd because I had tested other knives with AUS-8 steel and saw nothing like the cutting ability the Hawk had.  I tested two SOG blades (SOG Flash I and the Twitch II) and a Cold Steel (Mini Tuff Lite) blade most recently with AUS-8 steel and I was...um...whelmed.  Nothing great but nothing bad either, the blade steel was just meh.  But the Hawk's steel, which has the same chemistry, was just better.  It was neatly and meticulously ground to a perfect full flat grind.  The cutting bevel was even and precise.  And it must have heat treated more carefully because it just cuts and cuts and cuts. 



I know it is not magic.  I know Al Mar Knives do not transform a mediocre steel into a high tech, gee whiz steel.  But they do take a mediocre steel and get every last drop of performance out it.  They finish it perfectly.  They grind it perfectly.  And they use it in just the right role.  In the end the AUS-8 steel in the Hawk works so well because Al Mar Knives uses all of their skill and craftsmanship to make a mediocre steel perform well above its chemistry. 

The Hawk is not a cheap knife though.  It is not produced in the staggering numbers that most production knives are.  It is a $100 knife with $30 steel.  The handles are micarta, a nice material for sure, but not as expensive as Desert Ironwood for example.  The price point is so high precisely because of all of the time and craftsmanship that went into making the knife.  The knife makers in Seki City are amazing bladesmithes.  Paying them is not cheap.  Sure they could farm it out to less skilled (or less well-paid) workers elsewhere.  Ka-Bar does amazing job squeezing AUS-8 steel into its $15 Mini Dozier.  But that thing is no where near the knife the Hawk Ultralight is.  Craftsmanship can produce a superior product but it takes time and time is often money.

Tech

Instead, many knife companies don't fret so much over fit and finish and just get better performance by engaging in a technology arms race over steel.  First it was BG42, then ATS34, then 154CM, then S30V, then ZDP-189, then S35VN, then M4...and so on.  The performance increase was based solely on a technology increase.  All of the sweat and fastidiousness that makes the Hawk an amazing cutter is gone and in its place are super pure carbides and powder metallurgy. 

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of new steel.  I am an avowed and ardent steel snob.  But being a steel snob without an eye to performance is crazy.  If the sloppy grind lines on a ZDP-189 blade make it a poor cutter, it seems like a double waste--bad performance because of bad finishing DESPITE the amazing steel.  Spyderco's fit and finish is fine. It is actually quite good, somewhere behind Benchmade's but in front of Cold Steel and SOG.  It is nothing to complain about and on some sprint runs it is substantially better. 

But for many knives, like the Paramilitary 2 I reviewed, there is sloppiness everywhere--an uneven cutting bevel, a bit of tarnish or coloration on the blade, and some less than crisp edges. 

 
Again, nothing bad, just less refined.  All of those flaws though are covered up by the amazing properties of the high tech steel the PM2 uses--S30V.  It is getting a bit old, but S30V still is quite nice.  My suped up Buck Vantage is running Bos-treated S30V steel.  I'll let you know when I have to sharpen it for the first time.  Like sometime next year.

Time v. Tech elsewhere

The time v. tech difference plays out in other places as well. 

Look at high end sports cars.  The debate is a little different, but the fundamentals are the same.  Some companies decide to make cars as light as possible, tuning and tweaking every last unnecessary ounce out of their vehicle.   This is why a Lotus Exige or a Shelby Cobra can hang with cars that have twice or three times the horse power.  Then there are the tech cars--the Corvette ZR1 for example, with its massive 500 plus horsepower engine and equally bulky curb weight.

In woodworking, my other hobby, there is a direct parallel--hand tools v. power tools (literally time v. tech).  Hand tool guys rave about how easy and safe their stuff is.  They love the get back to the wood feel of their decidedly 18th century methods.  They still employ good design, a Bad Axe saw can run you $250 with all of the tweaks and updates that come with it, but the focus is on craftsmanship.  Power tool guys can get the same high quality results with amazing pieces of tech like a Laguna Band Saw or a Festool Domino joiner, but they eschew the hours of handplaning for the shrill rip sound of a powered saw.  It is a choice not in outcome--both methods in the right hands can produce beautiful results--but in process.

This dichotomy can be found many places.  It has to do with people's way of thinking.  Some people are results-oriented.  They care only about the final product.  They want high performance as quickly and easily as possible.  Then there are folks that are process-oriented.  The results are important too, but they are the result of the right process. 

Conclusion

I am not saying one is better than the other, but in knives the two methods seem mutually exclusive.  I understand that it does not make financial sense to produce knives on a very large scale, like the scale Spyderco does, using the Al Mar craftsman method.  I get that. But why can't we get both though on the other side?  Why can't we get an Al Mar knife with ZDP-189 steel?  Too expensive?  It can't be more than my Sebenza and even if it was, I'd save up. 

One place where you find the meddling of the two is in custom knives.  Yuna's custom blades, for example, meld ZDP-189 steel with handcrafted beauty. 


Depending on how things go over the next few months, I might put in an order with Yuna.  Many of Chris Reeves' knives strike me as a balance of the two, but so many of his "cheap" options are pretty clearly the product of great machining.  No one there is hand buffing the blades.  I'd also like to try out a William Henry knife as they seem like a company trying to do both, but so many of their offerings are so gaudy that even if they were free I wouldn't take one.  I am looking at a WH Kestrel Scout, so that might be a good way to find out if they have truly meld the two.    

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spyderco Junior Review

I hope, by now, that I have established the mantra of more for less as a base line for good gear design.  More for less money, more for less weight, and more from less size.  The ratios I had touched on before are all based around this idea of getting more utility out of your gear with less compromise.  We'd all like to have large blades but folding knives are an exercise in design compromises.  Large blades tend to be heavy and more difficult to carry easily and discretely.  So if you can find a knife that carries well and feels small in the pocket but offers a lot of blade length, its better than a knife with the same blade length but larger footprint.  The Al Mar Hawk is a perfect example of incredibly small footprint but lots of blade (proportionally speaking).

The Spyderco Junior pulls off a similar trick, but on a much larger scale.  This is a large, hard use knife (thanks to its thick blade stock, ginormous hand guard, and incredible lock) in a medium sized footprint.  The Junior is actually SHORTER than the Delica when all folded up (4.125 inches compared to 4.25 inches), but it has a much longer blade (3.218 inches compared to 2.875 inches).  This says nothing for the much wider blade.  Despite a blade as wide as a ironing board, the two knives are roughly equally wide in the pocket, as the humpless design and compression lock save a ton of space.  And then there is the weight.  The Junior has G-10 handles and steel liners with a much bigger hunk of steel than the Delica but weighs only a tad bit more (2.9 ounces to 2.3 ounces).  More for less is practically the motto of the Junior.

The Spyderco Junior was designed by Alexandru Diaconescu, a Romanian employee at Spyderco.  He has designed the Spyderco Adventura, a futuristic blade that would be quite at home as Rick Deckard's EDC.  Here is the product page.  Here is a good video review.  Here is a nice, written forum review.  I received my review copy from Blade HQ.  Here is the purchase link, with proceeds benefiting the site's giveaways:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is my review sample:

IMG_0009

Design: 2

There are few things about this knife that are conventional.  Here is a shot of the knife completely open:

IMG_0011

Its not even conventional for a Spyderco, a knife company virtually built on bucking convention.  And sometimes different is weird.  Then, sometimes different is better.  This knife, for me, is "different = better."  That said, I can see how some folks might not like all of the changes and dislike this knife.  It forces you to do things a certain way--you have to hold the knife in a certain way, you have to open it a certain way, you have to cut with it a certain way.  I happen to like, if not outright prefer, all of these forced uses, but some folks might not.

I used the knife to some pretty hard use tasks--cutting bark off wood, splitting small pieces baton-style, scraping off residue from metal and glass (why they put these impossible to remove stickers on kids toys is beyond me).  I didn't baby the knife because I wanted to make sure that such a radical design could handle meat-and-potatoes type tasks.

The blade:handle is a very nice .78 (tied for the second best ratio behind the Al Mar Hawk and tied with the SOG Flash I).  The blade:weight is 1.11 (inches to ounces), quite good (anything better than 1 is nice), better than the Cryo by a health margin but still behind the Hawk.   

Fit and Finish: 2

The fit and finish on the Junior is well above average for a production knife.  I have been spoiled a bit having the Al Mar Hawk around, as it really resets the scale, but if that were the standard for a 2, no knife other than the Sebenza would score that high.  The grinds were even, the finish on the steel was an excellent scotch brite finish.  The pivot was smooth as glass.  The knife remained centered the entire time I used it.  Very good. 

Grip: 2

This is the whole trick of the Junior--a knife built around a grip, instead of the other way around. 

IMG_0012

The handle affords a degree of protection I have never seen on a knife before.  You retain pinpoint control thanks in part to the balance of the knife (which is right around the deepest part of the choil) and the thin handle, but it is still almost impossible to cut yourself.  The jimping is Spyderco's simple and very nice jimping and the G10 is amazingly grippy, almost like sandpaper.  More on this in a bit. 

Carry:  2

This is a WIDE blade and a LONG blade, especially for the handle, but the humpless design makes it easy to get in and out of your pocket.  There is so much cutting capability in such a small footprint that you'd think that was the entire purpose behind the design (instead of the focus on the guard).  Amazing carry, but again check below for a problem. 

Steel: 1

Using this knife as hard as I did the Paramilitary 2 proves to me the inferiority of VG-10 steel.  It got scratched and dull over time and couldn't cut with the same razor precision.  The S30V of the Paramilitary 2 shaved even after the brutal floor material cutting tasks I tortured it with.  There is no chance VG-10 could have done that.  None.

It is time for Spyderco to step up the steel.  VG-10 is their go-to steel, their midline steel, and quite frankly its not that great.  I'd prefer 154CM or S30V.  It is only a matter of time before they upgrade, such is the march of technology.  I just wished it was marching a little faster in this case. 

Blade Shape: 2

Glory.  Nothing short of blade shape perfect.  There are quite a few things a good EDC blade should have and the Junior has them all.  First, it needs to be a good slicer and the Junior is that and more thanks to the full flat grind and extra wide blade that allows the thick spine stock to be tapered quite nicely.  Second, the blade needs to have plenty of belly.  You can see clearly that this thing has a massive belly, perfect for roll cuts.

IMG_0010

Finally, you want something with a little beef to it to absorb shock and stress.  Again, because of the wide blade, the Junior can start out much thicker and slim down easily.  Overall one of my favorite, if not THE favorite EDC blade shapes I have encountered.  EXCELLENT. 

Grind: 2

The Junior's grind is amazingly even across the entire wide blade.  Even the cutting bevel is nice and even, something that can go awry on Spyderco knives.  Really quite nice.

Deployment Method: 2

It is going to take some getting use to, but the thin handle on the Junior forces you to redo how you deploy the knife.  The Spyder hole is, of course, great, but there is a little bit of finger yoga required when you go from a regular sized handle to this spindly one.  Also, if you are not careful and do it incorrectly the compression lock bar can bit your fatty hand pad when engaging.  After a week or so, you'll have the modified technique down and you'll be fine.  The speed here, either with the unmodified deployment or with the Junior-specific deployment is smooth and fast thanks to a nice pivot and well-positioned Spyder hole.  

Retention Method: 0

Epic fail.  This wire spring clip is on the newer variety (which Spyderco has been producing since the G-10 Dragonfly) and it is too tight to use with G10.  My favorite shorts were chewed up because of this pocket clip.

IMG_0013

It places too much pressure on G-10 that is TOO grippy.  Worst pocket shredder I have ever used.  This was the only ding I had on the Mini Grip, and this thing is WAY worse.  It is not a fatal flaw, because the knife is so interesting, but it is a problem.  A smooth patch with a logo underneath the clip, like on the FRN knives Spyderco makes, would solve this problem.  Otherwise, it needs a homemade mod to fix it.  

Lock: 2

Compression lock for the win.  Again I was not nice to this knife and the lock laughed it off.  I am convinced that this lock or the Axis lock are the best out there.  I especially like the fact it takes up so little real estate in the handle, allowing for amazing and unique designs like the Junior.  If you can, take a peek at the Blade Show edition of Blade Magazine, it had an excellent rundown on the Compression Lock. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

If they fixed the overly tight clip (note this is point in virtual every review, so I know it is not just my copy) this would be an truly outstanding knife.  As it is, it is pretty darn good knife.  Offered a choice between this blade and the Delica, there is no question which I would take.  In fact, I can't think of a design in the Spyderco line up that runs VG-10 steel that I'd take over this blade, though the VG-10, G10 Dragonfly would probably also be in the hunt.  This is one hell of a good design and I'd love to see it become part of the annual line up with upgrades and different colorations.  A ZDP-189 version with FRN handles would be pretty amazing.

This also happens to be one of the smallest blades in the Spyderco line up with a compression lock.  The blade shape, the smallish size, and the lock all make this an excellent choice of EDC, if you can get around the pocket shredding clip.  The price is not outrageous either.  Alex D. thanks for a GREAT knife.   

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Four Sevens Maelstrom MM-X Review

The nightstand test is really helpful in evaluating lights, but generally bigger, more tactical lights don't do well here.  Even the G2X Pro, which starts on low, still puts out too much light.  With these bigger lights and higher lumens outputs, even the lows at 1% are still pretty bright.  But the MM-X did exceptionally well in the nightstand test.  It did well as a work light.  It did well in checking on stuff around the house.  It did well lighting up a scene down the street from me.  Frankly, the MM-X did well everywhere and in every way.  This is a really powerful, really refined light that has no major flaws and very few minor ones.

I received my MM-X from Trevor at Four Sevens.  Before the rebranding the light was known as the X-7 and may still be listed as such in various places.  There is a cheaper version of this light that looks identical, the MM-S.  The difference comes in the emitter.  The MM-X runs the XML emitter while its lesser twin runs the older XPG emitter.  The difference between the two emitters in single cell lights is pretty minimal, but in lights of this class, the difference is large.  The MM-X hits 480 lumens on high while the MM-S hits "only" 380.  It will be part of an upcoming 2-cell shootout along with the G2X Pro and the M7R (which technically only has one cell...).  Here is MM-X product page.  Here is a review of the MM-X and not just any review, but a Selfbuilt review.  You can purchase the MM-X through Blade HQ and the proceeds benefit the site's giveaways:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is the review sample:

IMG_0020

Design: 2

Built from the ground up by Four Sevens as a more tactical light than the Quark line offered.  I can't speak to its tactical nature, but I can speak to how it worked as a rugged larger sized EDC light.  Its funny going from the standard single cell, no throw EDC lights that I prefer to these throwers.  It is truly amazing the kind of performance you can get in these lights and of these lights, the MM-X is quite good.  I like the retention ring at the rear and the stainless steel bezel.  I like the size of the light, even if the head is quite bulky.  I really liked the simple UI, though one small touch would make it amazing.  Overall, this is a very solid two-cell like and much cheaper, on a per lumens basis than its Surefire competitors.  And make no mistake, this like it aimed squarely at Surefire, Fenix, and the other more established brands.  It is a performance-based wake up call to all those that thought 200 lumens were plenty in this product class.

Lumens:weight is (480/6.32 ounces) 75.95, while lumens:runtime is (480/60 minutes) is 8.  Both are excellent, giving you a lot of light for the weight and a lot of lumens for a while.

Fit and Finish: 2

The threads are well-cut and the heat sinks are even and beefy.  The light itself has a surprisingly solid and hefty feel, especially when you compare it to the almost paper thin walls of other Four Sevens lights like those in the Mini series lights.  I guess this light's more tactical design necessitates the difference.  Only one small drawback and I am not even sure if it is that.  When the light is all put together there is a very slight amount of side to side play in the body from head to tailcap.  If you take it in both hands and try to bend it, especially when the light is on low, there will be a minute amount of flex.  When you tighten the light to a higher setting this goes away.  It is not a big deal by any means but is something I have never seen before and therefore is noteworthy.   

Grip: 2

This is the first light I have had with the grip ring on it and I have to admit, this thing rocks.  I have always thought they looked interesting, like here on the Arc Mania Maxlite (I am unsure of which model this is, but you get the idea):


The MM-X's grip ring is a separate piece of aluminum and screws on to the body itself, meaning, of course, you can remove it if you don't like it.  Here is the MM-X's grip ring:

IMG_0018

Nothing like pinpoint control over almost 500 lumens of light with a throw that seems to be about a mile long.  GREAT grip and control. 

Carry: 1

Even for two cell lights, this is a pretty big body.  It is significantly taller than both the M7R and the G2X Pro.  Additionally, that ridiculous throw requires a positively massive head and that is what you get here.  The pocket clip does what it can, but this thing is just really big.  More of a backpack light than a pocket light.

Output: 2

THUMP.  That is the noise of billions of photons colliding with whatever you want to look at and doing it all at once.  With an output of 480 lumens, the MM-X competes quite nicely against a bevy of competitors.  Surefire puts out a 500 lumen light, the Fury, but they run you AT LEAST $50 more than the MM-X.  There are some Chinese-origin lights that do well in terms of high end, dollars per lumens, but nothing on the market has a low like the MM-X.  This is the very best feature of the light and makes it not just a light for running and gunning (of which I did and will do none) but also a good around the house or backpack light.  I'd give it a 3 if I could for the spectacular high and the impressive low.  

Runtime: 2

The low is best measured in days, but is close to being measure in weeks (144 hours is 6 days).  Can you imagine that?  A day and age when our flashlights can run for weeks and produce useful light all the while being small enough to fit in your pocket (with a lot of lumps here).  The runtime on the G2X Pro, even on low, is nothing like what you get here.  There are lots of modes in between with long runtimes as well.  The high hits an hour and half, though as with all lights this size and that brightness, I think that is a theoretical time because in all likelihood you'd have a puddle of molten aluminum by that time.  Still, all of these numbers are impressive, well above par.

Beam Type: 2

Where does that photon THUMP come from?  Right here:

IMG_0022

No bones about it or messing around here, this a pure throw beam.  Note the absolutely fat X-ML diode, that happens to be perfectly centered in a deep, smooth reflector.  It took some getting used to, because even though Surefires have a notoriously tight beam pattern (this is a trick behind their deceptive lumens count), it is nothing like this.  For the type of light this is I am plenty satisfied, but it is an adjustment over the floodier beams I get out of light of my preferred size.  If you are aware of the difference and prepared to accept the trade offs, this is an excellent throw beam. 

Beam Quality: 2

A gloriously neutral output with a steady, even beam.  It is also a nice perfect circle.  Lovely in every way and perfect for the throwy beam type.  Throwers with rings and holes really are a problem as the rings and holes get bigger the further away the target is.  Fortunately we have nothing but buttery smoothness here.

UI: 2

Oh my, so close.  Let me get this out of the way--this is a great UI, but the thing is, it could have been a revelation.  The clicky turns the light on and off.  Twisting the head from tight to loose changes the output from high to low.  You can set the output and then turn on the light, a masterstroke as it gets you the output level directly, no messing around with accidentally turning the light on in the wrong mode, no cycling through modes, just the desired output--bam.  But here is the thing, without playing around with the light or having an insanely good memory you have no idea what the light's setting is.  A few quick markings on the side of the light could tell you what the setting is and avoid the entire problem.  It was so close, so very close to perfection in a clicky.  Still, it is very, very good.

Hands Free: 1

The light can't tailstand, but it has no chance of rolling away, what with the grip ring and the clip.  It is also too big to really put in your teeth.  I also don't buy the argument that tactical lights can't tailstand.  Remember the gorgeous design of the TorchLAB Moddoolar's Triad tailcap.  Plenty of sure fingered access and still able to tailstand.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

This is a really excellent light for those looking for more than a single cell torch can offer.  It is not terribly expensive and compares well in many ways to the other lights in its class.  I also love the grip ring and the UI.  There is not much I'd change about the light at all.  It is another impressive entry in the Four Sevens product line up and a real shot across Surefire's bow.  It also has something that many other more tactically design lights miss--a true low.  By now Four Sevens and others have proven their point--moonlight low should be on every light with multiple outputs.  Every single one.   That one addition takes it from the realm of a pure tactical light to make it an all-star, something that works well at home, in your pack, or on your nightstand.  It also makes me hanker a little more for an Arc Mania MaxLight, if I could ever find one. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Zebralight H31 Flashlight Review by Jason

“Which light should I buy?” is very often the first question someoneentering the flashlight market will ask. The second question isusually “how much will it cost?” A veteran will try to suggest a lightthat can scratch every itch for a new consumer. For me, that light isthe Zebralight H31. Consumers need a light with a common battery, asimple UI, and most importantly, a nice balance of features and lowcost. While cr123a batteries may not be ubiquitous in availability, they are available with worldwide shipping all over the internet. A clicky UI does not get much better than the one Zebralight uses, and all the features I will discuss later make the price of this light anamazing deal.

Hereis the current Zebralight H31 product page. Here is a product page for the original, the one I’m reviewing. Hereis a nice review on CPF, of the similar H31w. Hereis a good street price (amazon.comprice is the same at $64). Please note that there are now multiple iterations of this light, including Blue,HighCRI, Floody,FloodyRed, FloodyBlue, FloodyHigh CRI, FloodyNeutral, Red,and XP-GNeutral White. Be aware that I am speaking of the original Zebralight H31, before any of these iterations were available. There has been one significant design change (thankfully), which I will note later.

Here is a picture of my H31, as I carry it. I keep the black rubber section in the middle for the purpose of grip, but it is designed tohold the paperclip pocket clip that I lost long ago.



I have owned this light for 2.5 years. It wasn’t my first majorflashlight purchase; even so, it retains that “first light” nostalgia- it’s the one I always come back to. It’s the first on my list torecommend. Is it amazing? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Let’s see.

Design: 1

One can’t look at this flashlight and not immediately wonder what Zebralight was thinking. Its design, with the reflector directing light out the side of the body, is called an “aerosol” design, because one holds it as an aerosol spray can. Functionally, this could take a little time to get used to, but it adds a very useful benefit to the light - that of doubling as a headlamp. With the [included]headstrap, the aerosol design allows the light to be worn comfortably, and direct light properly as a headlamp. Further to the usefulness as a headlamp, it has a “moonlight” mode. Not only that, but the UI allows one to directly access moonlight without ruining dark adapted eyes by needing to cycle through higher output modes. Fins around the head of the light disperse heat such that heat never become an issue.They are also functional as grip when holding the torch in it’saerosol position.There are even glow in the dark (GITD) rubber accents around the light. There is a pocket clip included. This is the lone mark against the design of the H31. The “paper clip” pocket clip is truly terrible. Fortunately the new models have addressed this issue,and the design now rates a solid 2.

Ultimately the design of this light just works. If you can’tget around the aerosol design, bear in mind that Zebralight parallelsmost of their lights by having a “regular” version. That line is called the “SC31,” and there are plenty of iterations of it to scratch that itch.

Fit and Finish: 2

This is a well made aluminum light. The threads are clean and smooth. The tailcap has very nice and useful reeding. The headstrap is comfortable and looks nice, and the rubber holders for the pocket clipand headband are well made and useful. The Alcoa aluminum is also hard anodized, which both looks nice and increases durability.



Grip: 2

The idea of grip on the H31 is a little arbitrary. When being held as an aerosol light, the fins on the head provide fair grip, and the ribbing on the tail cap is useful as well. The body of the light has enough variation to allow it to be held well, too. Which is to say, even without any knurling, it still holds well, simply because of thedesign. When being used as a headlamp (ie “hands free”), the grip maintained by the strap is excellent, allowing vertical beam adjustment with precision.

Carry: 1

As a cr123a light, the H31 not so big as to be uncomfortable in a deep pocket. If you do deep carry this light, particularly with other pocket items, it’s feasible that the light could activate (it’s a soft electronic clicky after all), heat your pocket and drain the battery. This has never happened to me - I utilize “hard lock” on the light.That simply means I unscrew the tailcap enough to disconnect the battery. And the light is designed for this - the cap and body have enough threads so this a feature, not a coincidence.

On my H31, the pocket clip is a true disaster. Called a “paper clip”pocket clip, it consists of a wire bent to the shape of a clip, and inserted into a rubber holster, which is then slid over the light. There are multiple problems with this: The clip was delicate and bent easily. The clip slides very easily out of the rubber holder. That theclip requires the rubber holder in the first place! You will not carry this light with this clip, period. In fact it’s so bad, I will resort to a stock picture, as I have long since bent my clip past the point of usability (or even “keep” ability!).



However! The new version of this light has an amazing pocket clip.Functionally much like the renowned and often copied McGizmo clip -the clip on the H31 is actually deeper carry than that of the McGizmo (which I consider a huge plus). The new clip gets a 2, easily. Unfortunately I am not reviewing the new clip.

Output: 2

The H31 has a huge array of outputs. Six possible modes, including amoonlight of 0.5 lumens, and a high of 220 lumens. The low is amazingly useful, and it's this light that made me realize I love (and now demand) a moonlight mode.

Runtime: 2

This light wins the runtime contest. Moonlight of 0.5 lumens worksfor an incredible twenty one days. Even on high at 220lm, you get almost a full hour.

Beam Type: 2

The original version of this light is [quite accurately] described asa "Spill + Spot" light. It has a very centered spot of very bright light, but not a huge amount of throw. The following are shots of thelowest and highest mode, at 1/60 sec at f / 5.0 and ISO 800. The third is a corrected picture of "high" to show that it still has the distinct Spill + Spot.







Beam Quality: 2

It’s a Cree XP-G Cool White, and so you get exactly what you expect. Comparing this light to some of my newer lights (the Aeon,for example), one would immediately notice the temperature of this light is very cool. Even comparing the H31 I am reviewing to the new H31 of the same flavor, this light is noticeably cooler. The Spot is specific enough to allow one to use the Spill area for task specific things. For example reading a map in pitch dark, even on low the spot might be too bright. The beam design allows me to use the even lower lumen flood area usefully.

UI: 2

Ah the User Interface, the elephant in the room for most lights. Most people want one thing out of a light when they need a light immediately. What is it? BRIGHT. With this light, that’s what you get:short click = HIGH. But maybe you need moonlight mode, because you are hiking and dark adapted eyes already, or you are checking on your baby but don’t want to wake her... Zebralight have an unsung winner with their UI, because a long click will get your LOW setting. It really is a thing of beauty. And “long” isn’t really: just 0.6 seconds worth ofclick yields “low.” Now there are other settings in the UI, but they are largely gimmicky, and are more likely deemed “user programmable” than bearing specific explanation. But to put it simply, each of the 3 modes has a lower-lumen sub mode, which can be set as the default.

As far as clicky lights go, there is not a better UI, period. This gets a 3 if it was possible.

Hands Free: 2

Both ends are flat and ideal for tail standing. Even better as an aerosol light, tail standing gives light in a usable direction.Furthermore, being an aerosol, the tail stand makes it irrelevant if the H31 has any roll, since it provides side-light anyway. Even so, the head shape dictates that this light does not roll anyway.





Doubling as a headlamp, especially considering the inclusion of ahead strap, make “hands free” demand a “2” for this light. The light can be adjusted so that the beam points higher or lower, and the grip while in the head strap is excellent - the light does not “roll” or droop.



Total Score: 18/20

In case you weren't keeping track, you might not have noticed that the updates would give this light a perfect 20/20, as every problem I have with the original version has been addressed in the new one.

Let me tell you this: I have owned and still own many lights, andthere is not a single light that I like or recommend more than this Zebralight H31. I have given them as Christmas presents, I recommend them to anyone asking for a small single battery flashlight, and I recommend them to hikers looking for headlamps. There is just no morefunctional, useable, reliable, cost-conscious light out there. Andthat was before the updates! The new clip is worlds better, and if Ididn’t have nostalgic connections to the one I’m reviewing, I would replace it with the new version.  And so reasonably priced, for an item from an American company (some of these lights are even Made in America now!)