Friday, January 25, 2013

Ka Bar Mini Dozier Review

Bob Dozier is, perhaps, as high up in the pantheon of great custom knife makers as you can go and still be, well, alive. His drop point fixed blade hunters are as close as mere mortals can get to a Loveless of the same design and his folders are incredible. They are simple, seemingly unchanging, and cut incredibly well. I have handled three customs, all at shows, and the action on the pivot is superb, as good as an art knife, but the blade is, unquestionably meant to be used. An unused Dozier folder is like a dusty racecar--an embarrassment for its owner and a slight against the machine itself. But alas, the wait on a custom Dozier folder is stretching into "when its done" territory (officially all of the books are closed on folders as of 1/21/13) and the prices, while incredibly reasonable for the quality, are significant. The Ka Bar Mini Dozier shares virtually nothing with the custom folder. Both are knives, both were designed by Dozier, and both are utilitarian at heart, but the similarities end there. Dozier's blades are premiere customs. The Mini Dozier is perhaps the cheapest "legit" folder you can buy.

The question is whether enough of the Dozier heritage carries through to make the knife worth even the pittance demanded by sellers. Is this cheapest of budget folders worth your time? The short answer is yes. The correct answer is much longer. This is an extreme exercise in budget knife making. It is an engineering tightrope act where every single feature is in equipoise with every single penny. This is a miserly design--Bob Dozier sketched it and a bean counter approved its manufacture. I have never used a knife where the budget constrains were more obvious. Only one sided thumb stud? That's a dime saved. One screw to hold the pocket clip in place? That's a penny. Pin construction despite a screw pivot? Three pennies. These things are tough to ignore and they do impact the knife. It will take me longer than this introduction to explain if they impact it too much.

Here is the product page. There are approximately one bazillion variants. Different colored handles, a full sized version, an extra large version, a version with a thumb hole opener, etc. You have lots of options. Here is a written review.  Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Ka Bar Mini Dozier, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my Ka Bar Mini Dozier:

IMG_0021


Design: 2

The overall design of the Mini Dozier is very simple.  There is a gentle curve to the knife and the blade, a distinct drop point, is below the pivot making the knife an aggressive cutter.  The entire blade is marked by design choices that seem to be borne out of budgetary concerns, mainly those listed above, but the silhouette of the knife is very nice and utilitarian.  The handle shape is good and the overall look is quite nice.  I don't like the exposed rear tang when the knife is closed, but other than that I have no real complaints about the shape.

The ratios are very good as this is a feather of a blade.  The listed weight of .05 pounds is incorrect (that is .8 ounces).  The correct weight is 1.16 ounces, the second slimmest blade I have reviewed (the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight is .96 ounces).  The blade:handle is .70 (which is about par).  The blade:weight is 2.05, the second best of any knife reviewed thus far, second to the Al Mar.  Here is a size comparison with a Zippo Lighter:

IMG_0026
Fit and Finish: 1

Put simply everything on the knife is fine except for one thing and it is kind of a big deal.  The lockback flexes quite a bit during use.  I am not talking heavy cardboard, I am talking tyvec envelopes.  The flex itself is in an odd direction.  The knife doesn't wiggle down away from the lockbar, it actually gets pushed up.  In the end, no amount of messing with the pivot could fix this problem.  In the end, it concerns me a great deal because a knife is just not supposed to move in that direction.  It might just be a hiccup on my particular knife or an issue with the whole line that never amounts to anything, but it sort of gives me that feeling you get when seeing a bizarrely double jointed person showing off.  The rest of the knife, especially the blade, was very nicely finished. 

Grip: 2

The jimping is surprisingly great.  Here is a close up shot:


It reminds of the basic, but effective jimping on the CRKT Drifter.  The rest of the knife is plenty grippy for what you will use it for, though nothing outstanding.  A mediocre handle with great jimping is really quite nice for a small EDC knife.  

Carry: 2

I don't bust out this comparison often, but this knife really does carry like the DF2.  That is as high a complement as I can think of, as it means that this a discrete, so light you forget about it knife.  It is something that you can carry every single day and really never worry if it will weigh you down.  The knife is also quite slim, making it friendly pocket knife. 

Steel: 2

The AUS-8 here is really, really good.  Again, I think back to the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight and realize that steel is as much about application as it is about chemistry.  Additionally, given the incredible budget price of the blade, it is quite nice to see a legit steel inhabiting the handle.  If the bean counters truly made the knife, they spent beans in the right place--the steel.  

Blade Shape: 2

A simple, utilitarian drop point blade:

IMG_0024

This is perhaps the most direct design trait from the Dozier customs and it is a good one to choose.  I really, really like the blade shape and though it appears to have a slight recurve to it, it doesn't which saves the knife from a 1.  Its staggering to think just how many knives get something this basic and this simple wrong.  No fancy recurves, no shark tooth, no nightmare grind--just a straight cutting edge thank you very much.

Grind: 2

Once again the bean counter makes a good choice--a high hollow grind is an easy way to make a knife a good slicer (it makes me wonder why so few budget knives go the chisel ground route).  The full flat ground rage should subside sometime in the future and people realize that a hollow ground blade is pretty darn good its own right. 

Deployment Method: 1

I already poked fun of the thumb stud for including one one side, but it also, small, weirdly textured, and way to close to the handle for flicking open.  This is a "slow roll" style thumb stud at best and while it works it is pretty lackluster.  Bean counter messed this one up.  

Retention Method: 1

Bean counter also screwed this one up a little too.  When I got the knife the clip was very loose.  I tightened it and a few days later it was loose again.  Then I really wrenched on it is and finally it is staying put.  The problem, of course, is that it uses only a single screw to hold itself in place.  The result, even with the little footprint cut out in the handle, is a clip that likes to walk around.  I can easily see it falling out after months of no maintenance, but given how long that would be, you'd probably notice it before that happens.  

Lock: 1

The lock here holds the blade in place, but it has a lot of movement.  There is a pronounced flex, as I mentioned above.  It tends to move a lot even with mild pressure.  I can't see how a lockback moves in this way, absent some pretty lackluster fit and finish or a loose pin on the pivot of the lockbar.  I can't tell which it is, but either way it makes me worry.  Mind you this might be a little OCD that never results in a performance problem, like I mentioned before.  The issue is I just don't know which it is--a problem or a quirk.  Right now the lock is working fine.  

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

This is a perfectly acceptable pocket knife for folks that don't really care about their pocket knife.  At around $14 it is an amazing value, in large part thanks to its AUS-8 blade which is well above par in the ultra-budget market segment.  I like the blade shape and the grind as well.  Virtually everything about the blade itself is top notch.  The rest of the knife leaves something to be desired.  Lots of price saving shortcuts rob the knife of being a true top shelf value.  For the price though, it is awfully hard to beat.  This is will be the cheapest knife in the under $20 shoot out, so let's see if the lack of fit and finish can be overcome by the price tag. 

5 comments:

  1. Great review; spot on.

    Sorry that your Mini's lockback is futzed. Mine has a nice secure lockup so I'd come in at around 17/20.

    This is a good air travel knife for the checked bag. Lightweight, street legal almost everywhere, works fine for EDC, and cheap enough not to tempt the TSA handlers.

    As you said, Ka-Bar clearly spent the entire budget on the blade. Clean grind and wonderful jimping. I actually find this $16 AUS-8 blade performs better than the one on my $100 Al Mar! It seems that AUS-8 is like 420HC, a wild card. All depends on the maker and model.

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  2. Any thoughts on the full size Dozier? I was thinking of reviewing one...

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  3. It's nice to see your perspective on this blade. This is one of my favorite cheaper knives. Ages ago I picked up the thumb-hole version of the folding hunter, and while I don't like the design of the hole in comparison to the Spyderco hole, the knife performs flawlessly. I think your example with the lock-flex may be a lemon, unless there's been a drop in quality.

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  4. Tony,
    Just got the full size model w black blade and OD green handle from amazon for 18 bucks. I'm a lefty so I had to switch the thumb stud and the pocket clip which was a chore. The blade looks like it was dipped in black paint and I cannot open the blade with one hand. I should have put that money towards another Spyderco or BM. At the end of the day it looks and feels like a 15 dollar cheapie knife.

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  5. I bought three of these and gave them out as gifts, my buddy is a bakery manager and uses his every day, and never had an issue, except to come over and use my sharpmaker to touch up the blade, the knife itself is worn but has held up. Sorry you had issues with yours, I highly recommend them for the $$$$ they cant be beat for a light pocket knife.

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