Friday, November 30, 2012

In Defense of Tint Snobbery

You want a Hi CRI light.  You might not know it yet, but trust me, you do.  Let me persuade you:



If you watch the forums closely, especially CPF, you'll find a vocal and passionate minority of people that will accept nothing other than Hi CRI emitters.  These are the folks that held their Surefire Incans tight to their chests well after the rest of us had moved on the the icy illumination of LEDs.  They are to lights what fountain pen people are to regular pen addicts.  After having a wide range of lights to review and sample, including a few neutral and Hi CRI options, I can safely say that I like more revealing LEDs.  I am not a tint snob, I don't require a Hi CRI emitter, but if given a choice I'd happily sacrifice a few lumens for a Hi CRI emitter.

What is Hi CRI?

I am by no means an expert on colorimetry or an engineer, so this is going to be a rough and dirty guide.  Here is the wikipedia article on colorimetry.  Here is the wikipedia on color rendering.  Here is a great thread from CPF by the guru of illumination himself, McGizmo.  Here is some more information on CRI with some really good examples and photos. 

Hi CRI is generally an LED that has a color rendering index of 85 or higher.  That definition simply leads to another question--what is the color rendering index?  The color rendering index is a measurement of properties of light.  Specifically, it is a measurement of how accurate a light source is at illuminating colors.  That is, how good of a job does a given light source do at making reds look red and greens look green?  Note that color rendering and color temperature are two different things, but they are somewhat related.  We are all more familiar with color temperature from our experiences buying light bulbs at big box stores.  Color temperature is measured in Kelvin or K.  It analyzes where on the spectrum of colors a given light source is, with warm tones like red and yellow on one end (2,000-3,000K) and cool tones like blue and green (7,000K) on the other.  Here is the wikipedia article on that.  Think of it this way--color rendering measures what the light does and color temperature measures what the light is.  I know that is not exactly right, but it is close enough to make the difference intelligible. A light with a warm or neutral LED has a better CRI than a cool one, but being a warm or neutral LED is not the same thing as being a Hi CRI LED. 

The color rendering scale is pretty simple compared to the color temperature scale.  A light source that renders colors perfectly receives a score of 100.  The sun, on a sunny day, is the standard for perfect color rendering; it gets a score of 100.  After some extensive searching, the very highest score I can find for a manmade source is a CRI of 98.  The Solux halogen bulb has a CRI of 98.  It is used in art galleries and movie studios to bring out the finest colors possible and, in film, to make scenes shot inside to appear as though they were shot outside.  The LED in the Sundrop from McGizmo, a Nichia emitter, has a CRI of 93.  The traditional "cool" LEDs have a CRI around 70 (this comes from CREE itself, the makers of the XPG emitters).  Their cool emitters hit 70 while the neutral ones hit around 75.

All of this is nice, but why does color rendering matter?  Well, simply put, better color rendering makes lights more useful.  Part of the reason why sunlight is so amazing is because it allows the eye to pick up VERY subtle differences in color and these differences in color mean things.  For example, last Friday I was grilling pizza, which I really like to do, but as winter approaches the amount of light at dinner time, especially on the East Coast, is very small.  So I was grilling in the dark.  That day I happened to be carrying my Eagletac D25a flashlight, which I bought in warm.  The difference between the images of the pizza with a regular cool LED and the warm LED were tremendous.  I was able to tell when the cheese had achieved that golden brown color indicating that the pizza was done.  With the cool LED this is very difficult to do.  And this was just the difference between a cool and warm LED.  A Hi CRI light would have been even more revealing.  It is a difference you can't appreciate until you see it in person.  Here is a quick video demonstrating the beauty and power of a Hi CRI light:

        

If that video does not convince you to at least consider a Hi CRI light I don't know what will. 

How does it work?

Traditionally, incan lights were the only way to get good color rendering.  This was the reason why a lot of people still sought out these lights despite the waves of LEDs coming to market.  But LED makers have heard the shrill cry of those that hate cold light and have worked to improve their LEDs color rendering.

There are two ways to make an LED render colors more accurately.  Here is some more information on these two methods.  First you can have a light with multiple colors, all of which turn on at the same time.  Usually, these lights use a red, green, and blue emitters on a single chip.  This method is both complex and expensive.

There is a second method that is less expensive and less complex.  It is also more widely used and that is the introduction of "phosphors" into the LED.  Think of these phosphors as tinting the light.  The light goes out from the LED, interacts with the phosphors, and then comes out the light in a warmer and sometimes higher CRI than it was at the source.  This method has one major drawback--it cuts down on lumens.  Anything--a hand, a less transparent lens, or even phosphors that is between the light source and your eye makes the light appear less bright.  You need to know going in that a Hi CRI light based on the second method, will appear less bright.  There are less lumens coming out.  So it is a trade off--better color rendering or brighter light.  Generally Hi CRI lights and lights made warm by adding phosphors are 80-85% as bright as their cool LED brethren.

There is a third method, developed by an LED maker OSRAM, that combines the two methods reducing the complexity of the RGB LEDs and boosting the efficiency of the phosphor LEDs all in the same light.  They are not generally used in the flashlight world, but in lights for art galleries and surgical suites, places where color rendering REALLY matters, they are popular.   It would be nice to see this trickle down into lights and I really loved the OSRAM Golden Dragon emitter on my Nitecore EX10 back in the day.     

Hi CRI Lights 

Manufacturers and custom makers have taken notice of the desire for better color rendering.  There are now quite a few lights that come in warmer color temps.  But for the very best color rendering, aim for a true Hi CRI light.  Warmer LEDs will get you part way there, but true Hi CRI should be the goal.

Here is a thread of Hi CRI and Neutral lights drop ins from CPF.  A lot of these lights, like the 47s and the Sunwayman, are limited runs and may not be available outside the secondary market.  And now for the big list, drawn from the CPF thread, with updates and additions:

47s
*High CRI Preon 1
*High CRI Preon 2
*High CRI Quark 123
*High CRI Quark 123 2
*High CRI Quark Mini 123
*High CRI Quark Mini CR2

Armytek
Predator

Cabela's
*N Series light (technically not a Hi CRI light as it has a CRI of 80, not 85)

Cool Fall
Tri-V and Tri-V v.2

HDS Systems
EDC-E1S-Hcri
EDC Rotary

Mac's Customs
Tri EDC (limited availability)

McGizmo
Haiku
Mule
Sundrop

Peak
Eiger
El Capitan
First Responder
Logan
Night Patrol 300
Search and Rescue 450
Volcan

Prometheus Flashlights
XP18-B

Steve Ku
40DD

Sunwayman
Sunwayman V11R Hi CRI

Terralux
 (NOTE: Terralux does not publish its CRI numbers)

Lightstar 80 
Lightstar TruColor

TorchLAB
(NOTE: the specs list the Nichia 219 LED, which can be Hi CRI, contact Oveready for CRI numbers)
Moddoolar
Triple Copper E2E (full size and cut down)

Zebralight
SC51c
SC80c (also takes CR123a batteries)
H31c

H51c
H51Fc
H502c
H502d 

Bold: takes AA
Italicized: takes AAA
*: out of production

Lights with RGB output (the other way of getting more accurate color rendering, though neither light is Hi CRI):

47s
*Quark RGB

Surefire
Kroma

This list is probably not 100% accurate and comprehensive, but it is better than the next best list I could find, which is the CPF thread linked above.

Recommendations

If I were looking for my first Hi CRI light, I would almost certainly start with the TerraLux Lightstar 80 as it has the lowest barrier to entry.  It is a competitor to the Streamlight Stylus light, a well regarded light it its own right.  It is cheap and runs on common batteries.  If you later decide you don't like the light you can simply trade it or stash it.  It won't kill your wallet and you get to see whether or not you like the Hi CRI emitter (trust me, you will).

If you know you like or want Hi CRI and are looking for a good EDC light, I would probably go with one of the Zebralight options, probably either the SC80c or the SC51c.  I have not seen either in person, but I have handled some Zebralight stuff before and it is really high quality and Zebralight is a USA company.  The ability to make it a headlamp and the preattached clip are also huge pluses in addition to the golden light it produces.

If you want punch with your color rendering either the Prometheus or the Oveready will provide you with lots of sunlight-like lumens.  Both lights are beasts and both require special batteries, but if you want to turn on the Bat signal AND have good color rendering, these are your only options.  I have reviewed both (as evidenced by the links) and both are superb lights.  

Finally, if you want the King Daddy of all Hi CRI lights the McGizmo Sundrop is pretty much unrivaled in its color rendering in the flashlight world.  Its pretty much unrivaled in any illumination format.  It produces light that is as good or better at color rendering than the lighting in all but the highest end art galleries and surgical suites around the world.  It comes in the Ti-licious McGizmo clicky pack body meaning you can swap heads between the Sundrop and the Haiku, depending on your needs that day.

Another note, lots of folks on CPF mod lights to include Hi CRI emitters so if you have a favorite light body but hate the emitter, stop over at CPF and see if anyone can help you out.  MilkySpit has a excellent reputation as a modder, but he is really in demand.

Hopefully now you will be a tint snob too.   Also, I just checked, the Haiku is still available in Hi CRI, so that is an option if you win the Haiku Giveaway.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lighthound AAA Review

As we march forward in the evolution of LED emitters, people, including myself, have rightly pointed out that the difference between the "flashlight nerd" battery of choice, the CR123a, and the battery of choice for the rest of the world (stupid philistines that they are), the AA, is shrinking.  In fact, I think that with the release of the XML and the XPG2 emitters you can have a single cell AA light as your primary EDC and do almost every task you would need to do.  Of course, the flashlight nerd in me will tell you that the CR123a can do more and produce more light, which is true, but AA lights can now do most if not all of what you need.  The latest generation of emitters has pushed the lumens to power threshold down far enough that you can get 100 lumens in real world settings for a substantial period of time from a single cell AA light.  The EagleTac D25a proved that to me.

A clever person, however, would point out to both the flashlight nerd and the philistine, that just as emitter technology narrows the gap between the CR123a and the AA lights, it does so for the AAA light as well.  From a design point of view, the AAA offers substantial advantages over the AA.  First there is the size.  The AAA batteries are both thinner and shorter than an AA.  It seems to me that the difference in diameter between the AA and the CR123a is so small that essentially the AA is just a bigger, weaker light.  But when you compare either the AA or the CR123a to the AAA you have a real difference in size.  Obviously there is a difference in weight as well.  This form factor difference, coupled with emitter technology improvements means that the AAA just might be the the best everyday battery to use in a flashlight.  You have the availability and price of an AA with a smaller form factor.  And now, you have single cell AAA lights that, again, can hit 100 lumens in the real world.  Perhaps the technology increase means that we'll just skip over AA batteries altogether, going from the cognoscenti-preferred CR123a to the AAA.

The Lighthound AAA makes a good case that we should do just that.  It is a lumens bomb in single cell AAA form.  It is also a significantly better light than its badge brother, the Lighthound AA, which was, in my opinion, a fatally flawed light.  The Lighthound AAA is part of an exceedingly crowded field of low cost single cell AAA lights.  It has a trick up its sleeve that makes it a stand out.  The question is whether that one trick is enough, given the incredibly stiff competition.  

Here is the product page.  This light, like the Lighthound AA, is a badge swap with a Balder light, in this case the Balder BD-0.  I cannot find a working English product page for the BD-0.  There are no video reviews or written reviews of either light.  Here is a thread from CPF on the light.  Finally, here is the review sample from Lighthound:

IMG_0013

Design: 2

The light is quite small, even for an AAA light.  It is not quite as tiny as the Preon 0, but it is pretty svelte.  The head is nice and has a good deal of aggressive knurling which helps because this light is an old fashioned twisty (as opposed to a two stage twisty like on the Muyshondt Aeon).  The tailcap is very flat and a bit wider than the body tube.  The only real design issue I have is that the head is actual two parts, one for removal and one to access the LED.  Other than modders I am not sure who would want to access the LED.  I will not that this can cause some problems as it unthreaded instead of the actual head itself when activating the twisty.  A nice sharp twist locks is back in place, but it is a small bit of hassle for no appreciable benefit.

The big deal with this light is that it takes rechargeable AAA batteries (10440), allowing for an insane high, something like 243 lumens, though with this body size that is more theoretical than anything else.  That many lumens pumping through this small of a piece of metal would almost certainly cause spontaneous combustion.   The fit is VERY tight, so you might have to slice off the label on your 10440 battery before it will fit in the body tube. 

The ratios are decent.  The lumens:weight (lumens:ounces) is a very good ratio (as all quality AAA lights are): 126 lumens per ounce (the light weighs exactly one ounce).  The lumens distribution is 4914 on high (126 lumens for 39 minutes).  By comparison the JetBeam RRT-01, one of the better production single cell lights on the market has a lumens distribution of 19800.  For more on why I switched to this number, see the Lighthound AA review.    

Fit and Finish: 1

The threads are nice for the price and the emitter is centered.  Here is a view down the business end of the light:

IMG_0015

My complaint isn't a deal breaker but just a thing to note.  The idea that this light would retain anything like its coating while living on your keychain is laughable.  Anodizing is determined by chemical composition and thickness, so that Hard Anodizing II or III is a standard for anodization, not a specific thing, like lumens aren't a specific LED emitter, but a measurement of an emitter's output.  A HA II coating is thinner than a coating of the same chemical composition in a HA III.  This is to say that not all HA III is equal.   You can have thin and weak HA II and you have anondizing that barely meets the HA III standard and some that exceed it by twofold.  Here we have no idea what we are getting.  After two weeks the Lighthound AAA looked worn.  It wasn't flaking off, which is good, but it was clearly worse for wear.  It was still presentable and actually had a bit of Boba Fetting going on, so it looked kinda cool, but by comparison to the Aeon, this thing's coating is wimpy.  That said, anything's coating compared to the Aeon is kinda wimpy (YEARS later the Aeon still looks nice and I carry it A LOT).  Not a big deal, but something to note.  So many lights like this one have shitty anodizing.  To ding it more than a point would make virtually every light in this class below par. 

Grip: 2

As I mentioned above, the light's knurling is plenty grippy and the variations in the size of the body tube all make the light very grippy especially in the single cell AAA light format which is full of tiny, slick little lights.  A permanent clip would definitely make the light grippier, but compared to the competition it is already well ahead of the pack.

Carry: 1

This is the primary benefit of the AAA light over the AA light and like most other lights in this class the light carries nicely.  Then there is the pocket clip.  I simply cannot tolerate friction grip clips.  They do not work.  They slide, they scratch your light, and they don't offer a level of security I would expect for something that costs $20 or more.  Think of it like this--even cheapo pens have clips that are permanently affixed to the pen and they work.  Why can't flashlight makers do this?  There has to better places to save a few pennies.

Output: 2

If rechargeables are your thing than there is no better AAA light than this one.  Output-wise when running the right rechargeables it bests all but the very top tier of single cell CR123a lights.  On regular AAAs the high is impressive.  I'd like to see a moonlight low, but that is a feature that has not yet migrated to lights in this format. 

Runtime: 2

39 minutes on high is quite nice and the low, well, it is hard to evaluate lows nowadays because they are all ridiculous.  Some of the more powerful, bleeding edge 2xCR123a lights have low runtimes in weeks.  This is not there, but it is respectable.  

Beam Type: 2

This is a flood light and a quite good one.  There was a distinct hotspot and a nice spill.  It is important to remember that lights in this class will mostly be used for close up work, so the lack of a throw isn't that big a deal.  And you should know there is virtually no throw at all.  One common task that requires (or is better) with a flashlight is taking out the trash.  Living on the East Coast nearing the winter solstice means that it gets dark here quite early.  The floody beam did great for the most part.  I could distinguish between the recycling and trash bins (only the tops are different colors).  I could light up the walkway.  But one thing I couldn't do is hit the fence at the end of my walkway from the front door.  It is probably 40 feet and at that distance the beam had virtually disintegrated.  Still, this is a close up light 99.5% of the time, so I am not going to drop any points.  Just beware of that when you look into buying this light.  

Beam Quality: 2

The beam quality here is surprisingly good.  It is a very cool tint but there are no rings or holes.  I suppose the cool tint allows them to really smash the photons out the front and hit those insanely high output numbers, which is fine with me.  Its hard to say no to more lumens, especially when the cool tint isn't overwhelming weird like the purple on the early Preons.  

UI: 1

Okay, here is the biggest fault I can find with this light and I will note it is not a functional problem, but more of a conflict between my preferences and the light's settings.  The light starts on in high.  I know that has applications and good reasons behind it, but those reasons do not generally exist on a light in this format.  The single cell AAA light is not a tactical light and without that application, I think the UI has to be, absolutely has to be, low first.  Low first makes sense in almost every single EDC application--the quick search in the dark, the midnight sprint to the john--everything.  So, with the tactical UI, I am going to dock the light a point.  If this is not a big deal for you, give the light back this one point.  I will also note that this is done almost assuredly as a cost saving measure as a single CPU can be used across a wider variety of lights, amortizing the costs significantly.  This is emblematic of the choices you have to accept in budget lights. 

Hands Free: 2

This was a score I went back and forth on because you really can't tailstand this light if you intend on using it on your keychain.

IMG_0012

See what I mean.  Its not the biggest deal in the world because when the split ring is removed this guy is rock solid.  It just means that this is not both a keychain light and a tailstanding pocket light, at the same time.

The pocket clip and the attachment point for the split ring also work as anti-roll devices.   See:

IMG_0017

In between the teeth, this light does quite well, thanks to the very narrow proportions on the body tube.  It does kinda taste like your keys though, which, probably should be a sign that using a flashlight like that is not a good idea.   

Overall Score: 17 out of 20 (18 out of 20 if you like tactical UIs)

This is a light that can do something very few other lights in its format can do and that is hit 240 plus lumens.  That is the reason I wanted to review it and that is the reason many people will buy it.  The single cell AAA market is a crowded one so you need a standout feature and 240 plus lumens is certainly that.  The rest of the light is certainly fine, except the UI, but again that is a preference.  If are in the market, you should consider this light.  I'd probably go with something else, but even I can be swayed by the siren's song of BIG lumens, especially when everything else is pretty firmly at or above par.

Other Options

I am going to try something new and give you a little comparison between the reviewed product and its competitors.  Ideally, I'd do a shoot out or already have one done, but in this case, I don't.  In fact, I have only reviewed one of the lights listed below, the Preon 1 (the link there is to the review).  All of the other links are to the product page, except for the Eagletac which links to the Going Gear page, as that light is out of production.

There are really two distinct markets in the single AAA format--those lights that are designed to be simple keychain only lights, in large part aping the design of the Arc AAA and "full featured" AAA lights.  The Arc AAA-style lights tend to be inexpensive, have a single mode, and have very limited if any optics whatsoever.  I don't really think the Lighthound AAA competes with those lights.  In large part, it would destroy them in a head to head shootout. 

Instead the real competition comes from the "full featured" AAA lights.  These lights are more expensive and differentiated on the basis of having higher outputs, price tags, and multiple output modes.  Here are a few I think are legit competition:

47s Preon 1:  The review still holds true today.  This is, in my opinion, one of the top lights in this format.  It doesn't however, have the ability to take rechargeables and cannot hit a high even one third of what this light can.  I like the clip much better but the tint on the earlier models is distinctly purple.

Olight i3:  I haven't tested this light, but it is the next on my lights.  It is the culmination of years of product design through the iTP budget line of Olight, the Olight brand itself, and a collaboration with 47s.  The affixed pocket clip and better lanyard ring placement is a big deal, but again, the high on this light is more than three times what the i3 can product.  

Maratac AAA:  This is a real competitor.  The high with primaries is the same, but the low is better, a true moonlight low of around 1 lumen.  The clip is the same and the lanyard attachment is the same.  Really this comes down to whether you want an EDC or tactical UI and whether you run rechargeables.  If you run rechargeables and want an EDC UI, I think you have to wait. 

Klarus Mi6 and Mi6 Ti:  A hybrid between the keychain only lights and the full featured AAA lights.  This has a decent high and low, but no clip and no ability tailstand.  Personally I think it would work well on a keychain, but is quite expensive in that market. It doesn't exactly fit here either.
 
EagleTac PN20a:  An out of production light, but one that is still widely available.  It has a sweet little clip, a washer style clip from the looks of it.

Simply put: if lumens is your game, it has to be the Lighthound AAA and rechargeables.  If not, there are very good competitors.   

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Benchmade Mini Griptillian Video Review

A super knife and absolute classic gets a video review:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Black Friday--EDC style

I want to get this out there as soon as possible, so I am going to probably miss a few things.  The idea here is to give you links and info, then lay out some strategies for maximizing your dollars.

Links and Sales

The site's sponsor, Blade HQ is blowing out the doors on quite a few items. Here is a link to Blade HQ all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ
 
One of them is a new fixed blade sent to them by Kershaw.  It is the Skyline fixed blade.  They sent me one for review and while the review is not finished, I can tell you that this is a pretty nice little fixed blade.  The sheath stinks, but for the sale price of $18.99 you get a very solid blade with a great handle shape in Sandvik 14C28N steel which is one of my favorites.  That's a steal.  A good enough buy in fact that you can scrap the sheath and get a custom kydex one made to handle horizontal and vertical carry (which, with a knife this thin, would rock).

They also have a ZT knife on sale for under $100, a really cool looking set of "urban balisongs" which might be the only balisong I consider buying, well, that and the Benchmade balisong 62, which is also on sale.  Being Blade HQ and one of the major auto knife retailers in the country, they also have a slew of autos on sale.

FourSevens, a good friend of the blog and regular review sample provider, is running the same promotion they did last year, with a new light chosen to run at a discount each day for seven days, starting 11/21.  The Preon 1 is first out of the gate and is selling at a 30% discount.  That is a good, good light at a great price.  I'd stay tuned for what's next.  Last year a few titanium lights were discounted and sold out before the next light was announced.  I don't know about you but I am waiting for the XM-18 to go on sale.  I'll be able to afford one with a 93% or great discount.

Battery Junction is also running a few good promotions.  Here is a sneak peek page.  The best deal looks like batteries, but the best light deal is probably the Olight Warrior M20, a few good 2 cell light with a high output that is selling for 30% off.  I'll touch on this below, but these are ideal lights to buy on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

FenixGear is giving you 10% off everything with the code HOLIDAY12 and they have a good stock of, um, well Fenix lights, right?

REI, the go to place for knives for those of us that live in non-knife friendly parts of the country, is running a "winter sale" and will have additional deals on Black Friday, info found here.  Note that the G2XPro is on sale for a really good price of $63.95.  Go buy it, great light.

LA Police Gear, a good general supply place, has a discount code, BF10, for 10% off.  Note, that excludes Surefire and 5.11 gear.  Booo....

Optics Planet, a place that has a very good selection of flashlights, has a coupon code BWEEK for up to $200 off certain items.  I am sure this applies to their collection of incredibly expensive scopes and not, say, Surefire lights, but it is still worth a look.  I will note that they do not have real time inventory (like Blade HQ) and I have ordered things only to receive an email a week later saying they are backordered.

UPDATE: Chestnut Ridge Knife Shop, one of best places for kydex sheathes on the web, has a bunch of stuff on sale.  This is where I got the RD-7 last year and though the price is not QUITE that good this year, a lot of this stuff is very competitively priced.    

Leatherman doesn't have a sale per se, but they are always loss leaders at the big box stores.  Plus, they have been great friends of the blog. 
   
Goggling "EDC Black Friday Deals" turns up a lot of one off deals through Amazon and the like.  They are probably all one shot, until stock is gone deals.

Strategies

First, here is the article on this point from last year.

There are a few other things to bear in mind.  First, low margin items, things like new single cell EDC lights, probably aren't going to go on sale, so if you have a discount code, those are the items to target.  Second, some brands do not offer or allow sellers to sell at a discount.  Surefire is probably the most notorious of these brands (though for woodworkers, Festool is equally stingy).  So, again, target these brands if the discount codes or coupons will work on them.  They probably won't, but check here first.  Third, be aware of what is going out of production or what is being upgraded.  The REI G2XPro sale is hitting right before the lumens upgrade (200 to 320) goes into effect, so the old model is discounted.  Similarly, many Spydercos are going out of production and they are discounted all over the net.  Here is the list of the knives being discontinued:

C14SBK Rescue 93mm Black FRN SpyderEdge
C36GPLE Military Left Hand Black G-10 PlainEdge
C75STP3 Kiwi3 Stag PlainEdge
C83GP2 Persian2 Black G-10 PlainEdge
C94PBK UK Penknife Black FRN Leaf PlainEdge
C94PSBK UK Penknife Black FRN Leaf CombinationEdge
C94PBK3 UK Penknife Black FRN Drop Point PlainEdge
C94PSBK3 UK Penknife Black FRN Drop Point CombinationEdge
C94PBL UK Penknife Blue FRN Leaf Blade PlainEdge
C94PSBL UK Penknife Blue FRN Leaf Blade CombinationEdge
C94PBL3 UK Penknife Blue FRN Drop Point PlainEdge
C94PSBL3 UK Penknife Blue FRN Drop Point CombinationEdge
C94PGY UK Penknife Gray FRN Leaf Blade PlainEdge
C94PSGY UK Penknife Gray FRN Leaf Blade CombinationEdge
C94PGY3 UK Penknife Gray FRN Drop Point PlainEdge
C94PSGY3 UK Penknife Gray FRN Drop Point CombinationEdge
C94PMR UK Penknife Maroon FRN Leaf Blade PlainEdge
C94PSMR UK Penknife Maroon FRN Leaf Blade CombinationEdge
C94PMR3 UK Penknife Maroon FRN Drop Point PlainEdge
C94PSMR3 UK Penknife Maroon FRN Drop Point CombinationEdge
C101GS2 Manix2 Black G-10 SpyderEdge
C105GP2 Persian 75mm Black G-10
C128GP Leafstorm Titanium w/ G-10 Overlay PlainEdge
C132GP Chokwe Black G-10 PlainEdge
C133SET Bug Set SS
C135GP Perrin PPT Black G-10 PlainEdge
C139GP Jason Breeden Rescue Black G-10 PlainEdge
C140GP Superleaf Black G-10 PlainEdge
C143GP Lum Large Chinese Folder Black G-10 PlainEdge
C145GP Jens Anso Zulu Black G-10 PlainEdge
LFGS3 Ladybug3 Foliage Green FRN SpyderEdge

FB28WDP Puukko Ironwood PlainEdge w/ Leather Sheath
C121S Embassy Aluminum w/ Black G-10 Inlay SpyderEdge
C121BKS Embassy Aluminum w/ Black G-10 Inlay Black Blade SpyderEdge
BY03BKPS2 Cara Cara2 Black SS Black Blade CombinationEdge
BY08GP Raven Black G-10 PlainEdge
BY09GP Crow Black G-10 PlainEdge
BY20GP&S Wings Black G-10 Dual Blades PlainEdge and SpyderEdge

I have bolded the knives that I think make good EDC choices.  Here is the Leafstorm review.

I hope this has been helpful.  Post deals in the comments section to help out your fellow EDCers.  Oh yeah and I am thankful for folks being readers and manufacturers sending stuff to review. 



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 2012 Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association Show

On November 11, the Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association had a show near my house.  A fifty minute drive put me in prime custom knife territory with a bevy of productions models present as well.  There was the added benefit of the show being the weekend before the much, much larger New York Custom Knife Show.  Lots of folks going there stopped in Massachusetts on their way.  Overall the show was decent--there were a lot of custom fixed blades and a few custom folders.  A few USN folks were there with some impressive customs, a couple of high end dealers had some rare items, and there were a handful of custom makers there was well.  Here are some highlights.

Skiff Made Blades

Steve Skiff is a custom maker from upstate New York.  He had five or six folders and three or four fixed blades on display.  The folders were mostly art or collectors knives, which don't really interest me, though Steve's were especially nice.  It was his utility or tactical folders that were truly amazing.  Here is a model very similar to the one I handled:


I am a sucker for bolsters and clean lines and Steve's tools had them in spades.  The knife was a liner lock and was as smooth as glass.  Steve's attention to detail helped him get the pivot tolerances down to 1 or 2 THOUSANDTHS of an inch and the result is a blade that swings out with fluid grace.  Other nice touches include bluish purple titanium anodized liners that have been engine turned.  Steve's fixed blades were equally nice--clean lines, meticulous grinds, and excellent sheathes (which is also makes).  His prices were quite competitive and it took a great deal of restraint to not drop a few bucks on one of his blades, money I don't have to spend right now.    

Howard Hitchmough

When people throw out the phrase "it was a little gem" describing a knife it is usually hyperbole.  With Hitchmough stuff it is certainly true.  His utility knives are insane, having hand-made pins and beautiful wood inlays.  The lock is interesting--a modified liner lock.  Instead of having full liners, Howard cuts into the handle scale itself a small channel.  In the channel he inserts a very small piece of metal that pops out and engages the blade tang.  It works exactly like a liner lock, but the lock is not the liner.  It makes his knives very slim and very light, but I cannot even begin to imagine the effort it would take to do all of this routing work in metal as small as the interior of a knife.  Not a problem though because Mr. Hitchmough made surgical tools in his prior job.  Something tells me this is not his smallest work or tightest space.  Here is a picture of his "utility" folder:


He had two sizes available--a large called the Monarch and the perfect size in my opinion, a 2.5 inch blade called the Regent.  Both were stunning.  Both made me ponder how much I could get for my entire knife collection.  In the end they were, for the work involved and the fame of the maker, very modestly priced.

As beautiful as these two knives were, Howard's art knives were insane.  I am not normally a fan of art knives, but Howard's were so aesthetically pleasing I had to take note.  There were jewels and gold all over the place.  But unlike the pimpilicious looks of a WH knife, there were also design choices beyond "glue as much glitter on as possible."  One knife had an engraving of a duck in flight and the blade was the shape of a feather.  The pearl lever on the lockback looked like a feather as well and the gold bale set everything off.  He also acid etched the hell out of the Damascus steel.  The end result was a ridiculously high end blade that also happened to be pleasing to the eye of someone other than an art knife collector.  Some of these art knives were, simply, the finest blades I have ever handled, including the one Ron Lake I saw three years ago at a larger knife show.  Howard is a master of the form. 

USN Guys

There were three guys with a table that had a more informal set up, but the cool thing was they were more hanging out than selling.  I wish I would have gotten their names.  They did have a Gen 3 Hinderer with a flipper and a slicer blade (for a bargain price comparatively speaking).  It was, of course, buttery smooth and brawny.  They also had a Strider SnG with gunner grips that had a Krein regrind.  Talk about a dream blade--the gunner grips are awesome and the overall feel of the knife was excellent.  The Krein regrind put an incredible edge on the blade.  I tweeted after this that I have been bitten by the Strider bug.  The hunt for a three hole pivot PT is officially on (anyone want to help?  send me an email).  Finally, they had a Mayo.  This was the first Mayo I got to handle in person and the blade was stunning.  It was a hawkbill which is rare, even among Mayos, and the pivot was bearing-equipped making for lightening quick deployment.  If it were not so hard to get a Mayo that would be the thing I would save up for, but I could save for three years and never get a chance to buy one.  It was gorgeous though.  

Burchtree

Michael Burch's blades were there via a secondary market dealer.  He also had a few other customs, but the Burches were the stars of entire show (though I'd prefer a Hitchmough Regent in a heart beat).  He had five and when I swung back through an hour later he was down to three.  The cheapest was selling for $1600.  Burch's wide short blades with smoky hamon lines have taken USN and the custom world by storm.  His book seems to have been closed forever and what is out there rarely gets sold.  This was the first time I have seen a Burch blade up close and they are really excellent.  The use of 1095 steel allows for that trademark hamon and the silhouette is unmistakeably Burch.  I think the secondary market prices are a bit high, but I'd definitely consider one if I had the opportunity to buy one.

Overall the show was small.  I'd like to see them combine with an outdoor or gun show and attract more people, but the size was just right for me that day.  It was my second NCCA show and I will be going back.  Hopefully I can make the big show in Mystic Connecticut in 2013.  I'd love to walk away with a gorgeous custom knife if I could.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wounded Warrior Contest Winners

The Wounded Warrior Project giveaway was a big success.  Thanks to everyone that participated in the giveaway.  Here are the winners:

Logan Rhyne: LED Lenser M7R
Rob Yuen: CRKT Eraser
Andy Mullins: Quantum DD
Shawnis Low: CRKT Ripple
Michael Kalmback: Prometheus Ti Zipper Pulls/Lanyard Beads

I think it worked quite well, so I'll probably do this again once I have a large enough trove of prizes.  Each one of you have received an email from the Everydaycommentary gmail account.  Please respond with your address so I can send you your prizes.

I will note that with this giveaway, the total dollar value of giveaways through Everyday Commentary is close to $1000 ($832 to be precise).  That is is pretty impressive in the 18 months or so that the site has been up and running.  Here is the tally:

1.  Custom S30V Benchmade Mini Grip ($130)
2.  Inkleaf Leather Moleskine Cover ($70)
3.  Iain Sinclair Cardsharp ($20)
4.  American Cutlery Over the Top Pocket Clip ($7)
5.  Boker Exskelibur II ($40)
6.  Coated Aircraft Cable ($3)
7.  RoBoT One Piece Multitool ($57)
8. Leatherman Sidekick ($30)
9. TT PockeTTool TT7 ($30)
10. Sunwayman M11R ($80)
11. ESEE Candiru ($50)
12.  LED Lenser M7R ($100)
13. CRKT Eraser ($100)
14. Steve Ku Quantum DD ($60)
15. CRKT Ripple 2 ($30)
16. Prometheus Zipper Pulls/Lanyard Beads ($25)

Also, in case you haven't heard, there is still another giveaway going on and the prize is quite nice.

IMG_0003

Friday, November 16, 2012

Being Brand Agnostic

A few months ago I wrote an article about being brand agnostic.  It can be found here.  Dan from BladeReviews.com, published a response on EdgeObserver, found here.  After some reflection (and a few months of thinking about the issues), I have formulated my response.

My Position

Here is a quick summary of my position.   Brands are a marketing tool used by companies to help sell their products.  They engender a sort of following that sometimes gives rise to consumers identifying with a particular brand to the exclusion of other brands.  There are endless numbers of threads on gear and knife forums revolving around the idea of one brand versus another, Spyderco v. Benchmade, for example.  This form of fanboyism is essentially people providing free advertising for these companies, doing their marketing work for them.  I advocate a different position.  Instead of one brand versus another, it should be consumers v. producers.  Simply put: don't sell me your logo, your "brand philosophy", or your image.  Sell me quality items at a good price.  I refuse to identify with a brand.  I want quality and value.

Dan's Position

Dan's response was a very well thought out argument, and hopefully I will summarize it correctly.  Dan didn't have issue with the silly notion of being a fanboy.  But he wasn't sure a radical rejection of all branding is necessary or even a good thing.  According to Dan's argument, branding helps consumers wade through the tide of millions of products.  Branding operates as a shorthand, a cue or a signal, for consumers and helps them choose things intelligently.  Dan brings home his point by giving us an example.  Imagine if you had to choose cereal from an aisle in a big box store without any branding or logos.  Dan's point is that doing so would be difficult and, absent the signaling that brands send us, you'd only get the right thing, the thing you want by luck.

My Response

 Dan's notion of brands as signals and shorthand is true.  Furthermore, Dan's point about helping us wade through an ever-increasing tide of products is also true.  Standing in a big box store, like our newly opened Super Wal Mart, and picking a cereal without the aid of branding would be impossible and unpleasant.  It would make the shopping experience drag on forever and the chance that you get want you want would be very small.

But simply because branding works in cereal purchases, doesn't necessarily mean that we should use it when making decisions about gear.  The thing that I am so adamantly opposed to is this idea of brand being the central motivation to buy something.  The idea that just because a knife has a Spyderco, Benchmade, or Strider logo on it automatically makes it worthwhile is ludicrous to me.  Some of the contortions and justifications that people go through to satisfy themselves with purchasing a product of their favorite brand is insane.

Let me show you a symptom of the disease.  Strider has (or more accurately has had) a fit and finish problem that has dogged their knives for a long time.  Don't believe me?  Here is a quote from Plaza Cutlery's Strider page:

Strider knives are meant to be used & are not perfect. Most knives have a few marks, nicks, but that is the way it is.  Also the knife has to be broken in possibly if it is a folder.  "Each has it's own personality", as some of you have said!  If you want a perfect "looking" knife, do not buy a Strider!  If you want a tool you can use hard and not worry, buy a Strider.  No credit or sympathy will be given because "for $400 it should be perfect looking!"  That is not what these knives are meant for.  There are other knives that are better for a "safe queen".  Strider is not one!

The idea that a dealer selling these knives has to include a warning that they might not be up to the standards one would expect when paying $400 for a knife is silly.  As consumers, as opposed brand fanboys, we should not tolerate this horseshit.  How about a knife that is both hard use AND well made?  But the Strider brand seems to entrance people, persuade them somehow that you only get one or the other.  

Here's the even weirder thing about this whole brand loyalty blindness.  While all of this justification is going on by Strider fanboys, Strider, the company, recognizes this problem and is doing quite a bit to improve their knives.  They altered the pivots on some models, not once, but twice (the PT for example).  They changed the geometry of the lockbar interface on the tang of their blades.  They introduced new designs with improved fit and finish (the SJ75 and SJ75 Mini).  They know there is or was a problem.  The dealers know it as well (as is evidenced by the quote above).  Yet, for whatever reason, Strider fanboys still flock to forums espousing this idea that their knives are so hard use, so bad ass that you should expect defects.  No.  No you shouldn't.  Strider, the company, doesn't.  And neither should you.  Why? Out of some sense of loyalty to what?  A brand?  An idea some marketing guy made up to part you from your money more easily?  No thanks.

This idea of signaling is true, but pernicious.  Shorthand leads to short circuit.  People default to a brand because of what they think it stands for or what it was in the past.  There are very few reasons for consumers, who are trying to maximize their dollar, to be lured in by signaling and brands, especially when what your shopping for is something you are deeply interested in.  More on that in a minute.

And now to the heart of the rebuttal--when you are an informed and engaged consumer you should ignore brands.  Brands are important for two different kinds of people--unengaged consumers and engaged consumers.  But they have very limited utility for engaged consumers like we are about our gear.  

Brands are useful for unengaged consumers.  For example, when you are buying something you really don't care about like cereal.  You want cereal you like to eat and is healthy for you (or one or the other).  You don't really care if the wheat and oats are naturally sourced or from Wisconsin.  It doesn't really matter that much, unless you are some kind of cereal aficionado.  And yes, there are cereal aficionados.  Brands might also be useful to you when you are buying for someone else, a gift for your significant other, for example.  If you are like me you are just trying to avoid disaster and your not 100% sure what makes this purse or pair of shoes all that much better than another.  So you go to the brands you know.  

There are two very limited reasons brands should be something engaged consumers pay attention to--when the brand's policies benefit the consumer and when the brand's specifications or hallmarks benefit the consumer.  Both of these exceptions are oriented at what the brand DOES and not how it is marketed or what it "stands for" (because in the end brands stand for one thing--making money). 

An example of a brand with a beneficial policy is L.L. Bean.  Their brand wide free shipping and anytime no-hassle returns are prefect examples of when a brand and its policy means something beneficial to consumers.  In that regard brands are fine, but note that it is the policy that does the heavy lifting here, not the brand.  Then there is the brand that is synonymous with something specific--Subaru's near-universal requirement that its vehicles have All Wheel Drive is a good example.  Here the brand is a logo, a ridiculous slogan ("Love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru" has to be one of the WORST slogans in advertising history; esepcially because it is more accurate to say: "All Wheel Drive is what makes a Subaru a Subaru"), a design aesthetic and a very specific and nice feature--All Wheel Drive.  I'd throw in Lotus's relentless weight shaving and Spyderco's Spyderhole in this same category.  Here the brand doesn't just function as a signal in the marketplace, it is a signal of features.  Brand X means you get Feature Y.  But these examples are few and far between.  Their existence as an exception does not invalidate the general rule--brands are useless for the informed and engaged consumer.

In the end, engaged consumers don't need the information that brand signaling provides.  They know what they want and why they want it.  You could give me a list of specs, including price, and assuming that the fit and finish is up to snuff, I could tell you whether I want the piece of gear or not, regardless of brand.  Play along.  I am going to give you specs or features of a piece of gear.  Note when you become interested and then keep reading.

Approximately 3 inch blade
S30V steel
Frame lock

Your interested right?

Here are some more specs:

Titanium Handle
Deep carry pocket clip
Under 4 ounces

Based on those specs alone, I am sure you can tell whether your interested or not.  Those specs fit a lot of knives--the Spyderco Sage 2, the Bradley Alias II, and the Small Sebenza--all excellent and sought after knives.  The point is simple: when dealing with engaged consumers, especially gear buyers, brands mean very little.  I guess if you are a pure collector, like a sneakerhead, brands remain crucial part of the equation.  That is because, in essence, you are collecting a brand.  For gear geeks though, its what a piece of gear does and how it does it that matters. 

The signaling side of brands not only is unnecessary for the engaged consumer of gear, it can lead to problems.  Brands have been known to spread themselves too thin, entering market and product niches they shouldn't (who, exactly, made the flashlight and multitool in this Benchmade HK kit?).  Brand loyalty could lead you astray--you see the Benchmade name, all of the signaling that Dan referenced happens, and you end up with a clunky multitool, a cheap flashlight, and an okay knife, when if you had ignored the brand you could get the same gear at a much better price with probably equal or superior quality.

The point is, if you are an engaged consumer, brands don't have much utility.  You can weed through the hype and the bullshit on your own and arrive at gear that is worth purchasing regardless of brand.  It took me a lot of work to evaluate the excellent Gerber Dime, in part because I was not as brand agnostic as I should be.  If I hadn't stuck to it, I would have missed a truly great and affordable piece of gear.

Ignore brands.  Look at specs and see how something works and feels when you use it.  Leave the signaling to stop lights.    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 Spear Point Review

In the world of hard use EDC knifes you'll find that most knives tend to favor one or the other of those two things.  Few blades, very few, are both truly comfortable everyday carry and hard use.  The Spyderco Paramilitary 2 is definitely one of those blades, but it is more than $100.  Plus, some people (crazy people, in my opinion) don't like the Spyderhole opener.  For those people, the options in the tiny sliver of the Venn diagram where "hard use" and "true EDC" overlap can be counted on one hand.  One option, however, is exceptionally interesting both because it falls into this category and because it sells for around $65.  That knife would be the Cold Steel Mini Recon I Spearpoint.  Another would be the ZT350 (and yes there is a shoot out coming), but it is more expensive.  Among these choices, the Mini Recon is both the cheapest and the only one equipped with the seemingly unbreakable Tri-Ad lock.

There are tons of options in the Recon line--the full size Recon 1, a massive 4 inch knife.  Then there is the Mini, which is only appropriately called a Mini at 3 inches in Cold Steel's line up of 6 and 7 inch blades.  Finally there is the Micro--a series of Recons with 2 inch blades.  Each of these, the full size, the Mini, and the Micro all come in three blade shapes: the Tanto (a blade shape that made Cold Steel famous), the Clip Point, and the drop or Spear Point.  I like the looks of a spearpoint and the utility of the blade shape as well, so the decision was very easy.  I received this knife as a review sample from Blade HQ.

Here is the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 product page (which includes the Tanto, Clip Point, and Spear Point).  Here is a video review of the Mini Recon 1.  There are no written reviews, making this the first.  Here is one of the full sized Recon 1 Spear Point. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ
 
Here is my review sample of the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 (which will be shortened to the MR1 for the rest of the review):

IMG_0004

Design: 2

First, let me thank the folks at Cold Steel for not including steel liners in this knife.  They are not necessary and the knife is plenty, plenty strong without it.  I really thumped on this knife, really, and never once did I feel it flex or lose confidence in it or its insanely strong lock.  The handle is excellent in size and shape and the overall knife is well-thought out.  This is a knife clearly taking design cues from Cold Steel's new Andrew Demko direction.  More utility and less Mall Ninja is always a good thing.

There is one drawback to the design and it is significant enough to mention but not dock a point.  The rear tang of the knife, a pet peeve of mine, is too open.  The back of the blade is very exposed and twice during the testing period lint was lodged in there.  It is an issue and I would like to see it covered over by a portion of the handle in future generations.  I understand it is a cut out for the Tri-Ad lock stop pin.  Nonetheless the gap toothed look is both aesthetically displeasing and a potential weakness for an otherwise unbeatable lock.  Even when the lint made it into the gap, the lock still worked--twice.     

IMG_0006

The ratios on this blade are very decent.  The blade:handle is .73.  The blade:weight is .83, very good in the hard use arena and not too bad in general.  This is the blessing of a liner less handle and the very good weight on the G10 slabs.  Cold Steel needs to be praised for this, not only because it is quite impressive, but also because they need positive reinforcement not to slip back into their previous roll as Official Knifemaker of Mall Ninjas Everywhere.   

Fit and Finish: 1

First, and foremost, there is the G10 itself.  I am going to address that later in the Grip section of the review, but in summary, its terrible.  Since I docked the knife points in Grip I am not going to double penalize it here.  There are other places the fit and finish are subpar--the coating on the metal parts here is HORRENDOUS, for example.  As you can see, even with only two weeks of use it was flaking off.


IMG_0013

Cold Steel's coatings have been bad for a long, long time.  I had an original run of the Recon many years ago and it was terrible then too.  I want them to make these blades without coating, but if they are unwilling to do that, at least improve the coatings.  In the day and age of Cerakote and Durakote there is no excuse.

There is also a problem with the lock bar.  It is a little tight, which is fine, but the gaps between the lock bar and the handle (see above) when disengaging the lock could be problematic.  Oh, and there is this: 

IMG_0022

If you are going to go to the trouble of coating your blades for anti-reflective purposes having a polished and shiny pivot area defeats the purpose. 

Overall, there is no fatal flaw here. The blade locks up fine and the thumbstud is well done but there are a lot of nagging issues that lower the overall feel of the blade in hand.   

Grip: 0

The shape of the handle is great.  The jimping up top is useless, but there is nothing offensive about it.  The problem here is the G10.  This stuff is not grippy, it is destructive.  It feels like a wood shaping rasp.  It is not comfortable and literally pulverizes the pockets.  It is just too much.

IMG_0008

It is so rough that it feels unfinished, like they rushed it through, but it is clear that they didn't.  All of the Recons 1 I have handled have the the same level of grip.  They can totally take the handle, turn the texture down significantly, and still have an excellent and easy to hold knife.  

Carry: 2

The lack of a liner again makes a difference.  The knife is significantly lighter than its size, reputation, and maker would indicate.  I like the knife's shape in the pocket. It is a little thick, but nothing too bad.  The nicely radiused handle slabs are great, though, as mentioned above the texturing on the G10 is out of control bad. 

Steel: 1

I did some serious cutting with this knife.  I usually cut some paper and some cardboard.  I also always try to do a little whittling.  Here, though, with the promise of unbreakability thanks to the Tri-Ad lock, I also did some batonning.  The steel simply did not hold up.  Cardboard and paper dulled it after about a week of extensive use.  The batonning dulled it as well, but I am willing to concede that will dull any knife.  Still I had to go to the Sharpmaker more times than I want to with a knife of this price.  AUS-8 can be good, but here, it is just adequate, and just barely that. 

Blade Shape: 2

The tanto and clip point versions seem a little more Mall Ninja than this version for some reason.  Perhaps it is the fact that this blade shape is just plain useful.  It is not designed for stabbing, though it did fine there.  It is not designed to look like a bowie.  It just cuts, cuts, and cuts some more. 


IMG_0007

I like the ricasso here too.  It is very, very clean and never interferes with work tasks.  No silliness, no recourves or multifaceted grinds, no bullshit, just cutting ability and lots of it.  Overall an excellent blade shape.  

Grind: 2

The grind was a 2/3 grind with a nice swedge on top.  The cutting bevel was large but not huge, enough to get an easy sharpening session in without much time or skill.  I liked the grind, but the blade stock is so thick I think it could be thinned out a little more.  A full flat grind would also work, making this knife a little better slicer than it is, which would be a good thing.  

Deployment Method: 2

Applause for Cold Steel's innovative thumb studs.  They are just a giant bolt or screw.  A flat head driver can push them through the thumb stud hole one way or another to better favor a left or right handed deployment.  Clever.  But the threads on the screw add a good deal of grip making it easier to gain and keep purchase of the studs themselves.  Double clever.  The blade was heavy and fat making it fast, provided you give it a good kick.  You can snap the blade open without using the studs provided you have the right arm action.  The pivot is moderately smooth and fast, especially given the hard use profile of the knife.  

Retention Method: 1

The pocket clip is not ambidextrous, so Cold Steel includes two.  Awesome--a part to lose.  Plus, there is plenty of real estate on the handle for a straight clip, leading me to believe this was done as a cost saving, part sharing matter and not a design choice.  The clip is also quite stiff and small, accentuating the G10 ripping and tearing.  Finally, it is not a deep carry clip and with a knife this big a snag can easily happen.  It won't pull the knife out of your pocket, but it will destroy your pants.  

Lock: 2

I batonned with this knife and it never budged.  The Tri-Ad lock is clearly the strongest lock I have ever used.  I would not feel comfortable doing that with many other locks and here the MR1 just shook off the shock and stress like it was a gentle breeze.  Truly amazing.  I love the lock and here the lock makes the knife, along with the lack of liners.  This is why this knife can easily be thrown into hard use tasks despite some of the shortcomings I have mentioned.  It cuts and stays put no matter what and in this in role that is what you want.  

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

This is an excellent blade, despite some of my complaints.  It runs with the big dogs, the PM2 and the ZT350 quite well.  Better steel would make this a really interesting segment of the market.  As it is, this is clearly in a tier beneath the other two blades until you do value calculation (again, shoot out coming).  Then things are REALLY interesting.  I like the blade a lot and this is a score I stand by, but you should know it is a strong 16.  If you can't quite afford the Spyderco or the ZT, this is a good choice and not a loser's consolation.  The new Cold Steel design and engineering team is doing a good job.  They left Mall Ninja chic behind them.  Now if they could only do the same with the AUS-8 steel and one-size-fits-all pocket clip.  A new clip, a blade of good steel like 154CM, and less textured G10 would make this blade one of the best, if not the best, on the market.  True hard use EDC blades are hard to find.  This is a pretty darn good one. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gerber Dime Review

Though I try to be brand agnostic, it is hard to miss my decidedly anti-Gerber slant.  Perhaps it is the regular recalls on Gerber products (three in the last 10 years, one this year on their high profile new knife, the Instant).  Perhaps it is their overt abandoning of quality in favor of marketing, as seen by their relentless pushing of Bear Grylls branding on their products.  Perhaps it is their steadfast policy of over charging (the Venture, for example, is an $80 knife with 7CR steel, really?).  Gerber has been on a downhill trend in terms of quality and enthusiast interest since Fiskar took over.  They are the most high profile voluminous peddler of Chinese junk in the gear world.

But even with all that Gerber can still make good stuff.  I really, really like the Shard.  It has been my keychain OPMT for more than a year and I don't miss my Atwood in the least (though the TT Chopper has caught my fancy again).  But for every Shard there is an Artifact--an ill-conceived, poorly executed, hunk of junk.  The Artifact is, without reservation, the worst item I have ever reviewed.  So the question is: does the Dime belong to the collection of rare and seemingly random pieces of gear that Gerber produces that is good or is it like the majority of their product line--total and complete shit?

Surprisingly, the Dime is very good.  Not just very good, but probably the best keychain multitool on the market.  It's design is nice, its fit and finish is quite good, and its tool selection is the best ever for a keychain multitool.  Not just the best Gerber ever (after all, one of the Hilton sisters has to be the smartest), but probably the best ever regardless of maker, including the vaunted and beloved Leatherman.  The Dime is a premier tool at a bargain basement price.

Here is the Dime's product page.  I am surprised they did not find a way to cram it into the zombie kitHere is a good video review.  Here is a good written review.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Gerber Dime, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is my Dime (which I bought with my own money, it is a not a review sample from Blade HQ that will go back; this one will probably be my car MT):

IMG_0033

Design: 2

I know you have concerns about one thing so let me get it out of the way first: the bottle opener doesn't poke or really effect the carry of this tool at all.  In fact, I never once noticed it when I was carrying this multitool or when I was pulling it out of my pocket.  It looks like it might be a problem, but in practice it never was.

With that out of the way, let's look at the rest of the design.  While it is superficially a very standard pliers-based multitool, the tool designs themselves are quite ingenious (more on this later).  The handles are nicely shaped and the spring loaded pliers really do make a difference.  I also like the precision tip to the pliers themselves.  They are so precise in fact I used them to pull out a splinter.  It was a fat oak splinter I got from chopping wood for the winter, not a needle-like birch splinter, but still that is quite impressive and a good decision design-wise for a multitool of this size.  

As a pliers-based multitool of the keychain size, this is a bit on the bulky side--much bigger than the slim as a pin Style and slightly bigger than the PS4.  That said it is not so big or heavy as to be a problem.  In real world use it is about the same, in the pocket, as the PS4.  The tool to weight ratio is a decent 5.45 (by way of comparison, the tool:weight of the SAK Alox Cadet is a staggering at 11.43 and the Charge TTi has a tool:weight of 2.32).

Fit and Finish: 2

In the past, Gerber stuff has been felled by hellacious fit and finish.  Fortunately there is little to complain about here.  The tools snap into place with authority and stay there.  The springs on the pliers are quite strong.  The grind on the blade and the finish on the plier tips are superb.  The handles are nicely colored and the texturing is excellent.  The scissors are sturdy, a usual Achilles heel for mutlitool scissors, especially in tools this small.  Finally the handles align well and do not display the up and down play that many Gerber mutlitools do.  This is a sturdy and well made tool and I never once lacked confidence when using it. 

Theme: 2

Keychain multitools have to rigorously focused on convenience tools.  Doing otherwise doesn't just make the tool less useful, it can make it too big to carry.  For example,  a saw is a ridiculous item to include on a multitool this small, though Gerber does it on the Vise.  Can openers are stupid on mutlitools in general but even dumber on tools of this size.  Its tempting to lose focus and just cram a bunch of junk on these tools, but Gerber didn't do so here and the tool benefits tremendously from that restraint and focus.  The clam shell cutter is one of the best new implements on a multitool I have seen in years and a perfect example of what devotion to the tool's theme can bring about.  If convenience is the watch word, the Dime passes the test beautifully. 

Grip:  2

As a pliers-based multitool grip is a key factor in the tool's overall usefulness (or if I were a management consultant: "utility"; or if I where Nutnfancy: "useability;" why has "useful" become such a shunned word?).  Fortunately the size of the tool and the spring loaded pliers give the Dime an excellent grip in the pliers position.  The handles also work well when using the knife, the clam shell cutter, the scissors, or the screw drivers.  The handles even give you enough purchase to use the bottle opener easily.  Finally, I really like the texture on the handles.  Its not a big deal, but it does help. 

Carry: 2

My fear, as you can tell, was the bottle opener would be be pokey.  Its not.  The whole tool carries inconspicuously.  The rounded edges prevent anything from catching and none of the tools protrude (other than the bottle opener).  Excellent all around. 

Materials: 2

Okay, this is the first place where I was waffling.  The steel is Gerber's mystery meat steel, but prior history tells us it is one of a few choices.  It could be there old standby, 440A.  It could be there new standby 7Cr17Mov.  Regardless of what it is, it works well.  The blade, with its pronounced belly and reverse tanto shape is still sharp after three weeks of use.  The clam shell cutter is less sharp, because it is used more often, but still works well.  I was concerned about edge retention and then I realized this is not a tool that will be pressed into chores more demanding than opening a package or cutting some twine.  In this role, and perhaps this role alone, the steel is sufficient.  The aluminum handles scales are equally fine and the file is well cut and actually useful despite its tiny proportions. 

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

Generally the accessibility on the Dime is quite good.  All but the pliers are externally accessible.  But here is a potential problem area:

IMG_0031

If you use your keychain multitool drivers in tight spots this will be a problem as there is a bottle opener, a lanyard attachment, and the Phillips driver all in close proximity to each other.  I typically don't use my keychain multitool that way, so this is not a problem.  I find cramped quarters are never good for small multitools.
 
Retention Method: 2

Its a keychain multitool so you get the standard split ring attachment point.  Nothing special.  I have also used the bottle opener to lace my mechanic's ring through.

IMG_0030


I know they have to include the split ring for those that still insist on an old fashioned crappy keychain, but if you have the mechanic's ring set up, you can remove the small split ring and use the bottle opener instead, making more room for your driver.  Its not like you could use the bottle opener with the tool attached to your key ring via the small split ring.  

Tool Selection: 2

Here is where the Dime shines.  There is no keychain multitool out there that has as good a selection of tools.  This gem even bests the perfect PS4 (time to go change that score).  Here is the new attraction, the star of the tool that puts this thing over the top:

IMG_0026
This little implement is designed to ride underneath a clam shell package bubble, severing the puffy top from the rigid plastic backing.  It works incredibly well.  It might even work too well--I can easily see shoplifters carrying the Dime to defeat the clam shell packages that were design to foil their sticky fingers.  In terms of new ideas in the multitool world, this along with the one on the Leatherman Wingman, are among the best.

The rest of the tools are also nicely organized around the convenience theme.  There are a pair of tweezers tucked into the aluminum handle scales, a pair of scissors, a pair of pliers with the wirecutters at the bottom, a nice little reverse tanto knife, a flat head driver, a Phillips 2D driver, a fine and coarse file.  That, with the clam shell cutter, makes 10 tools, hence the name.
 
Tool Performance: 2

In the past Gerber's tools seemed to be there simply to add bullet points on the packaging.  No one really could imagine a use for the saw on the Vise, right?  And the scissors on my other Gerber multitool (review coming when I get a chance) are really scissors only in appearance.  Here they are beefy and can cut through plastic quite well (I used them to cut the nib stabilizer in a new F-701 to fit the Fisher insert after my old one was destroyed from a two story fall).

IMG_0029

The knife is likewise an actual useful implement, with a strong tip and plenty of belly for its size:

IMG_0025
None of the tools are slouches.  Even the tiny little files work.  I used them multiple times to round off seams on my son's plastic toys.  In this role they worked well.  They also took care of busted fingernails.  They won't help you sharpened a splitting maul, but then again only a moron would try to do that task with this tool.  For convenience jobs, they were more than fine, they were quite good.  The clam shell cutter worked well.  The pliers were exceedingly precise.   Every single thing worked well.
  
Overall Score: 20 out of 20

 
Normally when I get a piece of gear in, I put up a draft of the review and make notes on that draft as I use the thing.  Over the weeks I get an idea of what the score will be in each category.  The text comes next, then the pictures, and finally an overall score with HTML links and editing.  Here I just took some notes and purposely did not score any of the categories.  I wanted to be extra sure I was right.  I have really bashed Gerber, deservedly so, and before I put my stamp of approval on something they make I want to me 100% sure I am right.  I don't want the scores to create some sense of momentum.  So I took notes and pictures.  Then I wrote the text given each category a score as I went along.  When I was finished, over a period of two days, I realized, this thing got a 20.

Honestly, it deserves it.  This is a great multitool, regardless of who makes it. I know there are some reviews out there that claim the Dime has sloppy fit and finish, but that happens in any mass produced item.  Mine is rock solid.  This little puppy is so good that it really does raise the bar for all of the competition out there.  The PS4 is a great tool.  No reason to get rid of one if you have it.  But if you are looking for a new keychain sized multitool, the Dime should be your first choice.  The steel is still Gerber's mystery meat, but it works well here.  All of the tools really carry their weight and the bottle opener, the most unusual of design choices, is perfectly fine.

Gerber did it.  They made a tool worthy of the highest praise.  But here is the problem--it means they can do it if they want to, which leaves them even less room for excuses when they make absolute garbage.  I am not sure if this is a sign of a new Gerber or merely a broken clock being right twice a day, but whatever the cause, the effect is a mutlitool well worth owning, especially at the $20 price point.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Contests and Giveaways Update

Two big announcements.

Haiku Giveaway

We have a total of a little more than $325 in the bank for the Haiku give away.  At this point, I think the light will be going out some time in March.   There is still plenty of time to send in submissions.  The ones I have posted thus far have been quite good and it would be a very tight race, should the contest end today.  I have a few more to publish after I finish editing them, but keep sending them in.  This is a FREE McGizmo Haiku.  Here is the link again.

Veteran's Day Giveaway

Second, I have a pretty large collection of good stuff that manufacturers have let me keep after I have reviewed them.  As you know, I DO NOT KEEP ANYTHING.  So I thought it might be cool to do a larger giveaway but holding stuff until I had a sufficient amount of treasure built up to make it interesting.  Here is what I am giving away:

LED Lenser M7R complete kit
CRKT Mah Eraser Satin Finish
CRKT Ripple 2 Aluminum Handle
Steve Ku Quantum DD

That is an impressive amount of booty for you all to win.

Seeing as Veteran's Day is approaching I thought I'd try to send some help their way.  After a lot of going over details, I have worked out things.  Wounded Warrior is a great charity, routinely ranked as one of the most efficient and effective charities, and I couldn't think of a better cause.  This is a little way to say "thanks" to the folks that keep us safe and protect our way of life.  

Here's how the contest is going to work: 

1.  Go to the Wounded Warriors website.

2.  Make a charitable donation.

3.  When you receive the donation receipt email, forward it to me WITH AN UNALTERED SUBJECT LINE (I need to have the subject lines be the same so I can sort them easily, you can delete any payment or other info in the body of the email if you want).  Send it to this address (ones that go to the contact address I normally use will be disregarded, I can't sort them properly):

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com

in the normal format.

4. Some time after Veteran's Day, November 12, probably that Saturday, I will randomly select four of these emails as winners.

The amount of the donation doesn't matter and large donations won't be counted more than once.  I'd recommend something like $5, but again, it is up to you. 

I guess you could cheat, by faking a donation receipt email, but hopefully if you do you will be enjoying your free gear on the slow, hot elevator ride to hell.

I'll post how much we raise once everything is tallied. 

Also, I want to thank the folks donating gear: CRKT, Leatherman, and Steve Ku and Veleno Designs.  Everyone and anyone promote this where ever you can.  Also thank those folks by patronizing their businesses.         

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lighthound AA (and Balder HD-1) Review

What is so strange about reviewing flashlights is that things that were cutting edge less than two years ago are now so passe that they are standard features on budget lights.  The Lighthound AA light is a perfect example of this.  It is a $24.99 light.  It is, by almost any definition, an affordable light.  It blows away a Maglight or any other light you'd get at Target or Wal-Mart for the same price.  And it incorporates features that, just a few years ago, were the bleeding edge like a piston drive switch.  But even with great tech, there are basics that cannot be ignored.  Unfortunately on this light, the basics were completely neglected and it the result is something I can't recommend.   

Here is the product page for the light.  Note that it is a badge swap, or, more appropriately, a branded version of the Balder HD-1.  The reviews are of the HD-1 with the U2 emitter, exactly the same model I received as a review sample from Lighthound, minus the Lighthound branding on the silver band of the light.  Here is a comprehensive written review (some of those folks over at BudgetLightForum are really doing great work).  Here is a video review of the light.  Here is my review sample of the Lighthound AA:

IMG_0030

Design: 2

The light itself is pretty attractive.  The overall design of the body tube, minus the hollows, is superb, among the best I have ever seen for a production AA light.  The hollowing out is not my favorite, see below for why.  I think the tail cap design is great, making tailstanding easy.   I strongly dislike friction grip clips, which are uniformly terrible.  I love the bezel as it is perfect for letting light leak through, but not so pokey as to be ridiculous. 

IMG_0019

The piston drive design is a very good design, though it is weirdly implemented here, see below for more.  It is still shocking to see a piston drive on a light this cheap, given that less than 8 years ago it was the sole province of high end custom lights.  My how fast things change.

I also like the overall size of the light.  The diameter is small and the light, while short, is not so short as to be difficult to handle.  It does have that magic, ineffable ratio about it.  The measureable ratios here are okay.  First, lumens to weight: here the light fairs well--78 lumens per ounce, roughly (156 lumens to 2.02 ounces).

Second, the lumens and runtime.  I am, of course, using only the high output numbers from non-rechargeable batteries.  Some of the claims for rechargeables are just silly, like here where they claim the light can run at 448 lumens on rechargeable 14400.  I am sure it can, for about five useable minutes.  Then it is a puddle of aluminum.

But there was another problem with this being a straight ratio, as many readers pointed out.  Two, really.  First, the "burst" problem: a light that fires 500 lumens for 1 minute gets a ratio of 500.  That sounds impressive, but it is really not good at all in practice.  For example, here the ratio is 2.7 (156 lumens to 60 minutes of runtime).   Second, the "moonlight runtime" problem.  A light like the 47s MMX can run for 8,000 plus minutes at .3 lumens, a useful feature, but the ratio is terrible by comparison to the burst light, scoring .00003.  There is also no real way to fix this ratio because of the two problems.   What I was trying to express was the idea of total amount of high output light--how bright for how long.  This is not, as I discovered when thinking about the problem, a ratio, but a distribution of light--something that a multiplication of two numbers gets at quite well.  From now on I am going to look at high output TIMES runtime (in minutes) on high output.  This fixes both the long runtime low output problem and the super high output for a burst of time problem.  The RRT-01, for example, gets a score of 19800 (220 lumens x 90 minutes).   Here the Lighthound AA does well  (156 lumens for 60), scoring 9360, a respectable number by comparison to one of the finest under $100 lights on the market.

Finally, here is a size comparison shot between the Lighthound AA and the Mini Mag AA.     

IMG_0029

The light is quite small, around the size of the EagleTac D25a

Fit and Finish: 1

The body tube is well cut, the emitter is centered, the reflector is quite nice, but there were two major problems.  First, the friction fit on the pocket clip was quite weak.  Not a big deal, but notable.  The real problem is with all of the pieces to the light.  Sometimes, when using the light as a twisty, the one part would actually start to loosen from the body.  I'd want to twist the entire head, but what would end up happening is that I would twist just the reflector section of the head.  Not only would this sometimes just fall off, it would also make it difficult to turn the light on.  A little Loc-Tite might fix the problem, but better fit between the parts would work better. 

Grip: 1

The magic ratio is here, diameter to length, but the hollows are very sharply cut.  They make for an okay hold, but any amount of force makes them dig into your hand.  It is not an ideal set up, despite the fact that it does look pretty cool.  Function trumps looks everything though because a flashlight is a tool, first and foremost. 

Carry: 0

Here is a shot of the pocket clip:

IMG_0024

Its shape is actually great--it allows for an over the top, deep pocket carry.  There are quite a few lanyard point attachments for lanyard folks, and it does aid in holding the light.  The light itself is not too bulky, and is short enough to not interfere with bending and movement when in the pocket, even the coin pocket of jeans.  The problem here is all with the friction grip.  The clip is just not tight enough.  I really hate friction clips to begin with because they will, over time, ALWAYS loosen.  This one was too loose to start out with.  It fell off while I was carrying the light in my pocket quite a few times.  Eventually I just relegated the light to the coin pocket only.   The clip just doesn't work, which stinks because this is a very polite pocket companion otherwise.  

Output: 2

Output here was fine, plenty of punch, especially for the inherently inferior AA battery (yes, I said that).  I would have liked to see a true low, a moonlight low, but alas there was nothing like the 47s moonlight.  Very competitive with other single cell AA lights out there. 

IMG_0018

Runtime: 1

Runtime is really good, more than a hour on high and tons on low.  Nothing remarkable, except, of course the lack of a true low.  This is something that I think is required now to get the 2 point excellent score.  I have found that I use these low lows more than the high highs, so without it, the best a light can score is 1.  

Beam Type: 1

I know these single cell lights are all going to be flood lights, but this one, for some reason, is REALLY floody.  There is almost zero throw with this light and when I compared it to another single cell AA light, the D25a, I was shocked at just how little reach this light had.  Taking out the garbage, for example, with both lights showed me that in real world use, the lack of throw here is a problem.  Trying to hit the street from where the garbage cans are is impossible with this light, but definitely feasible for the D25a.  Strange thing is both lights are roughly the same size.  Why is there no throw?  Probably because the thickness of the body tube.  The thicker walls means that the reflector is not as wide and deeper than it should be.  That lack of width prevents the light from spreading well and thus limits throw. 

Beam Quality: 2

If you are looking for a warm beam, keep moving.  This light produces the coolest beam I have ever seen without being a funky color.  So cool in fact that it looked positively icy next to the D25a's warm, color revealing beam.  The shape is fine and there are no artifacts.  I actually like the cool beam as it does not require any lumens loss and really punches through the dark, but if you hate cold light, this probably scores a 0 for you. 

UI: 0

If it wouldn't ruin the scoring system I would have given this light a score less than zero.  I have never used a light, or any tool for that matter, with a UI as finnicky and as badly designed as this one.  The light uses a Piston Drive switch, found here:

IMG_0021

I generally like piston drive switches, so that's not the problem.  Instead its what happens when you trigger that switch.

There are two ways you can operate this light--as a twisty or the recommended way where the piston serves as a clicky.  I hate both, but the twisty, the hack way of operating, is best.  Here is the crux of the problem.  If you click the piston like a normal switch on a light, nothing happens.  Instead you have to hold it down for two seconds.  That doesn't seem like a big deal but it is incredibly annoying in practice.  You hold it down for a while and let it go only to have the dark stand as evidence that you let go a little too soon.  The same thing happens when you turn it off--hold down for two seconds.  A normal press simply switches modes when the light is on or does nothing when it is off.  This is a fundamental flaw and a fundamental design error.  Why would you use the less convenient method of input to do the thing that you have to do most?  It would be like starting your car using the power window button.  Furthermore, why use the more convenient method of input to do something you do less, by definition.  In practice the light just doesn't turn on when you want it to reliably enough to count on this light.

Fortunately there is a work around, though not one mentioned in the instruction manual (which is for the Balder HD-1, definitely a badge swap here).  Here is how I used the light.  First, I would turn it on using the piston, then I would loosen the head a bit and deactivate it.  Now it works like a twisty, with one annoying exception.  The first time you turn the light on when using it in this way, you have to do a double twist--twist once, return to start position, twist again light is on.  Another twist will go to a different mode, of which there are three, and a final twist without returning to the start position and the light is off.  It is faster and more reliable than the "hold for two seconds" method, but still its clunky.

This is the worst UI I have ever seen on a light and even with the work around, there are so many competitive options in this price range and battery size, why bother with the hassle?  This is the first time that a single attribute of a light has been so bad that even with all of the other positive things going for this light, I can't recommend this light, regardless of the score.  It just doesn't work correctly. 

Hands Free: 2

This light can tailstand and has a good anti-roll device in the form of the pocket clip.  Another example of this light's good body tube design.

Overall Score: 12 out of 20

I feel badly for giving this light such a bad review, but the UI here is just broken.  It does not work in a way that matches up with the norms of the market or how you would intuitively think it would work and that is fundamentally a bad product.  Tools should help us, not force us to pay a ransom in terms of changed behavior and then, after a ransom is paid, do what we want.  There is real potential here--the emitter is plenty bright, the form factor is excellent, the piston drive is shockingly high end for a $25 light.  The pocket clip stinks, but I could live with that.  I cannot live with the UI and for that reason, I can't recommend the light, regardless of the score and the many things it does right.

I am slightly concerned that the score indicates an endorsement of the light.  Its not.  It is an indication of good features of the light, but in the end all of those features were done in by the terrible UI.  After all the Arc 6 got a score significantly lower, but here is the way I think about it: the Arc was both unusable because of the exceptionally short runtime on high and a piece of junk.  This light at least stayed together well and had useful features.  The Arc didn't even have that going for it.  Fortunately, not all is lost.  The Lighthound AAA, which is coming up next, is an excellent torch...