Friday, March 1, 2013

Byrd Meadowlark 2 Lightweight Review

In the early 90s Starbucks was expanding east from Seattle.  They wanted to corner the market on high end coffee and they started using an unconventional approach to lay claim to every square inch of a given market.  They would get a store and then open another store very close, and another and another until they had a very high density of stores in a given location, something like four or five times the density of McDonalds.  Then the stores would compete with each other and eventually one or two would die off.  If they all made it, they might be joined by another Starbucks and this process of saturation and die off would continue until sales and stores stabilized and the entire area had its absolute carrying capacity of Starbucks.  It was expensive, but very thorough.

You can see the impact of this approach in many major cities where Starbucks are within viewing distance of each other.  When I used to take the T into law school in Boston, Newton Center, a suburb of Boston, had two Starbucks within about 1000 feet of each other, one at the T stop and the other around the corner.  Both are still there.  It is a perfect lesson is market optimization--why let a competitor get in the territory when you can take the whole thing for yourself with a bit of cannibalization as the only real cost?

In a way, the Byrd line of knives is sort of the vestiges of this approach in the knife market.  Spyderco had very few under $30 knives for the longest time.  Their line essentially ended with the Delica and there was nothing really below that.  In this situation the Byrd line made perfect sense.  But since then two things have happened that lead me to believe that it is entirely unnecessary.  First, the Tenacious line of knives was released.  Second, the Byrd line started to get really fancy, with things like a Ti handled knife, the CatByrd.  Was there really a lot of demand for a $200 knife in the budget line?  The CatByrd has since been discontinued, indicative of an unwise marketing strategy or a lack of sales or both.

But there are still a few places where Byrd makes knives that aren't competing with (and potentially cannibalizing) the main Spyderco line.  The Meadowlark Lightweight is a Delica sized blade for $18.  That is something unusual and interesting.  You get Spyderco's design sensibility for much less.  At least that's the hope.

Here is the product page for the Byrd Meadlowlark Lightweight.  There is also a "heavyweight edition" that uses G10 handle scales.  That version is out of the "under $20" price range.  Both versions come in plain edge or partially serrated edge.  The model I got is a "2nd generation" Meadowlark.  The difference between the two comes down to three things: 1) the gen 2 version uses the spoon style clip; 2) the gen 2 version has jimping on the choil and thumb ramp; and 3) the gen 2 version as a less awkwardly shaped blade, integrating the hump caused by the comet hole more smoothly.  Here is a video review of the Meadlowlark from the Late Boy Scout.  Here is a written review of the 1st gen Meadowlark (from the old but oft-used Cliff Stamp knife site, one of my go to sources).  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Meadowlark, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is the review sample I was sent from Blade HQ:


Design: 2

In many ways this knife is simply a Delica with a choil and worse steel.  That seems like praise, but it isn't.  In reality there are a host of small differences that make this knife worse than the Delica in a significant way.  Any one of these small differences, such as the texturing on the FRN or the comet hole versus the thumb hole, wouldn't be a kiss of death on its own, but taken together, they place this knife in a distinctly lesser class.  In many ways, this knife is to the Delica what the Delica was to the Caly Jr.--a similar but inferior knife.

Still, saying something is worse than the Delica can still be praise, as that is an excellent blade.  And in that vein, this is, very simply, a very good knife.  The blade feels excellent in the hand when cutting.  The size is okay.  It lacks the weird dip on the spine that the gen 1 version had.  It is a Meadowlark, all grown up.  The difference between this blade and the Delica is getting smaller with each successive remodel, much in the way that Starbucks cannibalized stores to ensure perfect market saturation.  

The ratios on this blade are decent and just better than the Delica.  Here is a size comparison with the handy Zippo:

The blade:handle is .72, much better than the Delica's .68.  The blade:weight is 1.20, also better than the Delica, which is a 1.15.  These ratios bring this blade much closer to the average for knives I have reviewed, but still pale in comparison to the slender and svelte efficiency of the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight (.84 and 2.81 respectively).  

Fit and Finish: 1

But here, in fit and finish, the Delica outpaces the budget Bizarro Delica.  Nothing is quite as nice.  The jimping is a bit rounded over, the handle FRN feels more squishy for some reason, and the ricasso is just a mess:


I know this is a place where lots of Spydercos fail, but the especially janky finish on the Meadowlark is an issue.  More than once during cutting tests I caught the material on the little hump and stalled out entirely.  It is just a crappy way to finish the blade out, making the choil a liability instead of a benefit.  There was also the smallest hint of blade play in all four directions, the result, undoubtedly of budget cutting on a lockback (which, for whatever reason, seems more prone to blade play than other locks, even when equalized for price and fit and finish). 

Grip: 0

Only the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 comes close to having as awful a handle as this knife.  The "omni directional" traction, which looks like fish scales is meh, but the border around the handle is actually painful in use.


It digs in, especially on strong pulling cuts and generates a hotspot all around the knife.  I actually took a picture of the mark it left on my hand after chopping up some boxes, but I must have deleted it.  This isn't just bad, it is a total fail.  

Carry: 2

This knife carries like all of the FRN Spydercos: very slim, light, but wide.  Its nothing awful at all, but if you need a knife to tuck away in a coin pocket and forget about, this isn't it.  Excellent, so long as you are used to the Canyonero-wide shape that accompanies almost all Spydercos (please for the love of all that is holy, click that link, it is hilarious). 

Steel: 1

Blah.  8CR13MoV.  Blah.

Blade Shape:  2

The Delica-like blade shape is excellent for cutting and slicing tasks.  It might not be the most beautiful blade shape in the world, but it does its job very well.  The added choil gives you more control too, but at a cost (really, a hitch; see fit and finish above).

Grind: 2

Boy is this a close one.  The best metaphor I can think of is this: it is sort of like the patterns you use to put ketchup on your hamberger--they don't need to be clean or crisp to be effective.


I was so close to dropping this down to a one, but after a good deal of cutting, paper and cardboard, up against other knives, I realized that the wavy, toothy, and downright dirty grind worked and worked well. 

Deployment Method: 2

Ack! Another close call.  I DO NOT like this as much as the hole, but the comet is effective.  Maybe I have extra fat thumb pads, but there is a point where my thumb gets all bunched up.  It is not a big deal and doesn't effect performance, but it does cause some annoyance.  Also, the registered trademark symbol next to the comet is a sign of defeat.  THIS is the one you trademark?  Sheesh.

Retention Method: 2

The Spyderco Spoon clip is a very good clip.  It works.  It doesn't snag or cause hotspots.  It happily bounces around to nearly any position, left or right handed, and it is aesthetically pleasing.  It is not an all time great, but it is very, very good. 

Lock: 2

Lock backs are so boring.  They have none of the fidget factor of a frame lock or, short attention span gods help me, the Axis lock, but they do work and they are bloody simple to use.  This is a good rendition of the lock back.  Something valuable in being familiar and easy to use.  It does give rise to a bit of blade play, but nothing bad at all.  That is really a fit and finish issue, as the lock back on my Al Mar is rock-friggin-solid. 

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

Perhaps this is the very definition of very good.  It is not a Delica.  It is miles away from a Caly Jr., but this is a good knife, for the money.  If you need a budget blade and want the convenience of thumb hole-ish opener, this is something you should consider.

Ironically, this is a blade I like better than the "superior" Tenacious.  Yes, it lacks the thumb hole, but the choil more than makes up for the difference and both have merely okay fit and finish.  It is so hard to understand why they made some of the bland design and performance choices they did with the Tenacious, but it does create product separation in the market with the Byrd line, just not in the right way.

This will be the Spyderco representative in the Budget Blade Shootout.  Note, the competitors have changed.  I received a Chill from Blade HQ and it was much closer in performance to the Drifters, so the Dozier has been dropped.  It would have lost to these two knives anyway, so I figured that the Chill would make it closer.  Plus, we have the beautiful variety of having three different deployment methods.  Keep your eyes open.  Shootout coming soon.   


  1. Hi Tony, Newton Center Starbucks at the T stop has been gone for some time now. There's a very good diner in its place.

  2. Up until about a year ago, we had 2 Starbucks diagonally across the street from each other, here in Vancouver.

    Great review on the Meadowlark 2!

  3. Being from Buffalo, where Tim Horton's reigns supreme, I never experienced this Starbucks saturation until I went to NYC. Boy was that an experience. I used the Byrd series of knives as a sort of intro into Spyderco...I bought a Cara Cara, then a Cara Cara 2, and that convinced me to purchase an Endura. Down the line I'll probably pick up a Delica, though I may just pick up a Meadowlark, since it's so cheap and will (for my needs) perform just the same. I don't mind 8CR as an EDC steel since I can touch it up if I need to. However there's a pride of ownership in the real deal, so I may go with the Delica. Either way, they're all good knives and I'm happy to read your opinion of it.