Thursday, March 14, 2013

BladeKey Review

If you care about the stuff you use everyday or if your the kind of person that is always looking for ways to do things faster, better, and more efficiently or if your the kind of person that likes to be prepared, your probably like a lot of other people that read this site.  Those are all good reason to care about gear and good useful design.  We strive to have better tools because we understand those tools make life a little easier and...hell...who doesn't like tools?

We search for a better light, a better watch, a better flashlight, a better pen, a better wallet, a better smartphone, a better water bottle, a better bag.  We are constantly looking for these things, but in the collection of stuff, stuff that modern life requires or at least strongly suggests we use, there is one item that we all hate but none (or an exceedingly few) can do away with--the keychain.  Even in my preferred set up, with a coated aircraft cable, the keychain is a wad of pokey, heavy, metal that sits in your pocket ready to abuse anything you stuff next to it.  You can't really do anything about it.  You have to have keys of some sort.

For a long time the approach was to minimize the keys and maybe throw a few tools on there, tacking on a bit of handiness to what is otherwise something you use for ten seconds a day and was inconvenient the rest of the time. 

A few enterprising folks modded a small multitool and made this:

That is Bernard's Micra Keychain Mod.  There are a dozen or so variations, but they all involve a substantial about of work.  You have to take the Micra or other multitool apart, you have to grind the keys down, you have to fuss with the pivot, and then you have to put all of the pieces back together.  You end up with a great looking, minimalist keychain, but the work necessary to get there is pretty complex, especially if you lack a grinder or a belt sander.  I'd happily do all of that though to rid my pocket of the dreaded key wad if it weren't for one small (or not so small flaw): changing keys.  All of us, at some time or other, need to add or take away key.  We might need to give one to someone to work on our car or get into our house.  And with this mod that is all but impossible unless you have a bunch of tools handy.  If you are in a situation where none of that will ever happen, and I doubt many people are, then this is clearly the way to go.  For the rest of us, this is a neat DIY project, but not all that handy, even if it does solve the key wad problem.

Then there is the Richy Rich solution, the Keyport.  This is a small box that holds keys that slide forward for us.  Imagine a deck of cards in their box sliding out the top, but instead of cards there are keys.  Here is a picture:

Keyport also offers a series of accessories that can fit into key slots--memory cards and bottle openers.  It certainly looks nice, but this whole product is very expensive.  You have to send your keys away or go to one a handful of authorized dealers to get them modified to fit the device.  And then there is the clearance issue.  What happens if you do all of this and spend all of this money and the box prevents you from inserting a key into a lock or rotating the key once it is there?  Eek.  That would be awful.  Then there are the problems I mentioned with the Micra Mod.  In my mind this is an even worse solution than the Micra Mod because it has the same drawbacks and two additional potential problems.  It looks cool, no doubt, but if you can't start your car because the Keyport is too big, cool looks won't be all that great.

So with all of this, I have, despite a constant search for alternatives, stuck with the coated mechanics cable keychain set up.

Then two weeks ago I was browsing around the Internet when I stumbled on this (my Google search was something like "coolest 3D printer products;" I am, like I am sure most of you are, fascinated by 3D printers and yearn for the day when I can print my own one piece multitools): BladeKey.  I then searched around and found the Shapeways page (Shapeways is a "3D Printer Marketplace," think Etsy for 3D Printers).  Finally, I found the Kickstarter page.  I was instantly intrigued, but suspicious that it looks cool on the Internet and is a stinker in real life. In an effort to figure out if that was true, I contacted the designer James Busch and he sent me three review samples.

I could end here with this: The BladeKey is what we have been waiting for--a simple, elegant, lightweight solution to carrying a pocket full of keys.  That would be boring though and frankly too short to give proper credit to a great design.  I have carried the three key bolt version for more than a week now and it is great.  So great, I totally ditched the keychain tools.  If my carry is going to be this simple, light, and compact, I am not going to bother trying to improve what was a necessary evil by adding a few gadgets.  The BladeKey converted my key wad into a quiet, discrete, handy keychain.

The BladeKey has two different designs each in multiple sizes.  You can get a BladeKey Bolt or BladeKey Zip.  The Bolt is based around a chicago screw, which is sold separately and available at any hardware store (you can even get ones with a slotted head wide enough to accept a US dime, allowing disassembly anywhere).  Here is a random chicago screw image taken from Google:

The Bolt uses the chicago screw as both a pivot and a locking device.  By fitting into the open end of the u-shaped BladeKey the chicago screw keeps the keys aligned and allows them to swing out for use.  The Zip uses a zip tie to do the same thing and one side of the BladeKey has a special mortised square to accept the head of the zip tie.  This mortised square also allows the zip tie to be threaded and locked in place.  Both designs come in three key, six key, and nine key configurations.  James has produced them using raw or anondized aluminum, but my review sample is a prototype made on a 3D printer using a resin or plastic material.  Even that version has been pretty durable.  The Kickstarter page offers a special gold anodized aluminum version for the $60 backers.

After a week of use, I am sold.  The design is incredibly simple.  It is one of those forehead slapping, why-didn't-I-think-of-that products.  That's no slight.  Those are the very best products and the very best designs.  It takes a truly brilliant design to solve a common, long-lasting problem in a simple and elegant way.  The pivot action is quite nice and the BladeKey body actually gives you a little something extra to hold on to (insert dirty joke here).  The slot in the bottom allows you to push up smaller keys and the loop on the top makes it easy to attach to other things.  The design is too small to use with large automotive keys, especially those that have remote operation features, but it can take all of those tiny brass keys and gather them into one compact and quiet space.  I use mine with a Nite Ize size 0 S-Biner, seen here:


Together they make a nice, small and silent keychain.  All closed up it is even more impressively slim:

It does take some getting used to.  The old "coat feel up" that you inevitably do when you misplace your keys won't work anymore, they are too compact and tucked away for that.  And the relate "coat frisk" is likewise stymied by your now silent keys, but not being able to do these two things isn't really a drawback because they are merely side effects of problems that we have used to our benefit.

In the end I think the Bolt is the way to go as you can swap keys at will with a simple penny or dime.  If you have no real need to do that the Zip is an excellent option to as you can, if necessary, cut the tie and replace it later.  The BladeKey has all of the advantages of the Micra mod, even the slim good looks, with none of the drawbacks.  And it is CHEAP.  The package deals on Kickstarter are the best buy, but even in ones and twos, they start at $12.99 for either model on the Shapeways page.  It might sound like a lot for a keychain, but if your still in the split ring camp I can't really help you.  No I take that back, I can.  Go buy this.  Try it.  I guarantee you will like it better.  Your pocket, your EDC gear, and maybe even your man- (or woman-) parts will thank you.   

Its not often that I review something this innovative and different.  This isn't a new version of a pre-existing product, but an entirely new thing. James even secured a patent for it. Its a great idea and great product.  Even the u-shackle sold on hardware websites like Berkeley Point is nothing close to this elegant.  This might be the EDC gadget that puts a smile on your face the most.  It will also be the one you get the most questions about.  Even non-gadget people will marvel.  "Oooo, that is a good idea," they'll tell you.

Finally and perhaps the coolest of all, James has opened up the design to allow other 3D Printer folks to make tools for the BladeKey.  All of the specs are readily available, so if you have a 3D Printer and want to, say, make a one piece multitool (ahem...anyone...ahem), it is totally possible and easy to do.  I, for one, would love to see a OPMT made specifically for the BladeKey, something with narrower than normal dimensions and the thickness of two standard brass keys. 


  1. I am going to look at this to solve my 2 keychain dilemma. Currently, I have one keychain for house, car keys and personal safe keys, and one keychain for work keys. It is a constant pain in the butt carrying both these 5 days a week as they really do take a lot of real-estate in the pocket. This might solve that problem. I am going to check out their page now and may order one to try out. If this works, I will suggest to my co-workers to check this out as they suffer from the same problem to.

    1. We search for a better light, a better watch, a better flashlight, a better pen, a better wallet, a better smartphone, a better water bottle, a better bag.
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  2. How size specific are they? Will the "6" flex down to hold 5 or up to hold 7?

    1. The Kickstarter page specifies using a washer to fill space to make up the total.

  3. Jay from my understanding of looking at the website you can use washers in the 6 or 9 etc to fill the spaces between keys

  4. I love this, but in thinking about it, I dont agree that an OPMT is the best use of it. Instead, Leatherman should do a collaboration with this as a mounted platform on a keychain sized tool. If it is workable, that'd be amazing.

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  7. Really this blade key quality is very good because i have use already.
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