Monday, March 25, 2013

Curtiss Nano Review

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This week will feature two reviews, this one and the review of the Steve Karroll Everyday Modified Wharncliffe, both of which are custom knives.  This is a happy coincidence, but really both are nice entries into the world of custom blades.  If you have listened to the podcast, you know that Aaron and I both have a thing for custom blades and once you are bitten by the bug, it is hard to not be at least interested in the hand made side of things.  You can get a custom blade for less than you think and doing so supports small craftsmen, people that often drive the tastes and innovation of the entire market.  Things you see in the custom world have their way of finding a home in production knives sooner or later.  With that said, enjoy Custom Knife Week.  I'll try to do the same thing for flashlights down the line.  Also, if you are a custom maker looking for some additional exposure, contact me at anthony sculimbrene at comcast dot net (in the normal format), and we can arrange something. 

Custom knives seem to come in two varieties--big and ginormous. The celebrity knife makers, for reasons unknown, make products as if no one will touch a knife under 2.5 inches. I guess it is an issue with scale--it is harder to charge $500 for a 2.5 inch knife, but honestly you rarely, if ever, need more than that. So when the Curtiss Nano was released I thought it looked exceptionally interesting, neat because of what it wasn't--silly stupid big.

It is very hard to review custom gear. There is never any extra stock, as most makers are small time producers and anything made must be sold. So when a reader of the blog offered to send me a Curtiss Nano for review in exchange for touch ups and sharpening, I leapt at the chance. A few emails later and the Nano was on its way. It was the reader's wife's knife, stowed away in a purse for a while. The clip was loose as the screw was removed and the scales were loose as well, again due to a missing screw. Finally the blade and pivot were coated in some surface rust. The reader told me all of this and also told me it needed to be sharpened. All of this was a small price to pay for a chance to review such a nice knife.

Here is the product page. Here is a video review of a special edition Nano. Here is a written review of a Nano. The review sample I received was a gen 1 Nano, missing Curtiss's SPOTs pivot (the pivot acts as an over travel stop for the lock bar, similar to Warren Thomas's pivot over travel). As a custom knife it is available from Mr. Curtiss directly or from one of his resellers.Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the custom Curtiss Nano, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ.

Here is my review sample (thanks Seth):


Design: 1

After about an hour in my workshop I got the knife into very good shape, razor sharp and tight as a drum. There is no word that better describes this knife than solid. It is a small, curvy folder that locks in your hand resting between your ring and middle finger on one side and your thumb on the other. The frame lock thunks into place with car door like authority.

There are a bevy of nice touches. The lock bar has a raised and jimping spot for your thumb to disengage the lock bar. The clip is a bit of whizz bang water jet cutting. The G10 has an Anso pattern that really locks in the hand. But the nice touches give way to a fundamentally solid and tiny design. The Curtiss Nano Custom is, perhaps, the finest backup blade of all time, perfect for handling utility tasks while not scaring anyone. The gentle S-shape to the entire blade is simply perfect. Here is a good shot of the knife closed:

The ratios are hard to overlook, they reason this knife gets a 1.  They clearly demonstrate the big boned nature of this little blade.  Here is a size comparison to the Zippo:


The blade is 1.75 inches and the knife closed is 3.00 inches for a blade:handle of .58, the worst of any knife reviewed so far. The blade:weight is equally bad, as this knife tips the scale at a bulky 2.8 ounces, giving it a blade:weight of .63.  Hardly the Al Mar Ultralight. But you know this going in.  You know this is a chunky hunk of metal.  Still, if one or the other were better ratios I wouldn't be so critical, but both being bad is tough.  Certainly not a deal breaker, but just a little lighter would have been nice. 

Fit and Finish: 2

It is one thing to feel solid right from the factory. It is another thing entirely to still feel solid after being rebuilt from a state of relative dissasembly. Once I put in all of the screws, torx BTW, and tightened them down the Nano was a brick, a tiny hunk of tight, taut steel. Everything is precisely cut, a given in light of Curtiss's waterjet business, and the blade was finished nicely. I really liked the vaguely Anso pattern cut into the G10 scale.

Grip: 2

The knife is small. You know that. The name tells you that, but what you might not know is that this thing locks into your hands like it was glued there. Sure you only have a two finger grip, but the curve of the handle coupled with the sizable and effective jimping and the G10 pattern means that this little blade ain't goin' no where.


But in case you thought that was it, there is more. The pronounced indentation on the spine of the blade is a perfect rest for your thumb in real power cuts (which are easy, given the knife's heft) or your pointer finger in precision slicing.

Excellent and versatile grip all on such a tiny knife. Quite the achievement.

Carry: 2

The knife is short but wide and it weighs a lot for its size. You know that going in. This isn't a Hawk Ultralight. But it can handle tasks you'd never conscript your Hawk into doing. It slides into a coin pocket on jeans with NO complaints.  It's clip puts it snug against your leg.  This is a beefy knife, a hard use folder that happens to be less than two inches long. That is a positive most of the time, but when you are on a hike and this thing is banging into your leg, the almost 3 ounces will feel excessive.  Very good, but not the best ever.

Steel: 2

This is my first experience with CPM 154, the powder metal version of 154CM. The experience has been an overwhelmingly positive one. The knife came to me with some rust and after some cleaning and buffing I got all of the rust out but the blade was marked. I don't know the conditions it was in when it acquired the rust, but it cleaned up well and held an excellent edge. Furthermore the rust didn't spread and new rust didn't show up during my review period.

Blade Shape: 2

There is no other knife that looks or cuts like the Nano.


It is a testament to Dave's design chops that this little blade can do so many different things. I cut paper, cardboard, twine, plastic, and lots of tape (wife's bday was March 3). It handled everything with simple grace. There is plenty of tip and plenty of belly. None of it goes to waste. The shape and size are amazingly efficient in every task I put before the Nano.

Grind: 2

This is a simple grind on a unique blade shape. It works well and it is a flat grind. Additionally the swedge does save weight as this is a thick blade. Finally, the swedge makes stabbing a bit easier. I also like the wide, pronounced cutting bevel, which allows for easy sharpening.

Deployment Method: 1

The thumb oval works, but it is neither fast nor comfortable. In part the deployment might be slow because of how tight the knife was after I touched it up. In reality thought the thumb oval was merely okay. It was too narrow, it caught a good portion of the thumb pad, then bunched it up. A thumb disk or a thumb notch (like on the Mnandi) would work better. The disk would have the added benefit of giving a wider spot for you thumb to rest on in high pressure cuts.

Retention Method: 2

Curtiss's pocket clip is something a polarizing thing. Some people thing it is gauche and over done, more complicated than needed. Others love the machining talent that the clip evinces. I don't think I need to resolve this split to tell you that the clip works very well--great tension, smooth going in and coming out, and not a snag magnet.

Lock: 2

Oh I love the Curtiss version of the frame lock. I especially love this:


Lock disengagement is wonderful, actually. Easy and fluid. Engagement is about 25%. This is an excellent rendition of a beloved lock.

Score: 18 out of 20

This is a stout blade, but in the end you can overlook the weight because this knife can do virtually anything short of batonning wood. I am so grateful for the opportunity to review this knife. It is a excellent knife, absolutely worth the money. Dave Curtiss also has an amazing reputation.  Among knife knuts few makers are seen as being as accessible and prompt with custom blades.  His waterjet abilities give him the capacity to make a TON of stuff in batches virtually eliminating the wait associated with other custom knives, making his stuff the PERFECT first custom blade.  The broad utility and clever shape of the Nano make this a great place to start among Curtiss's wide array of great knives.  Version 2, with the SPOTs looks like it makes a good knife better.

The Boker version, a production blade, has cheaper steel (440C) and certainly lacks the level of refinement you'll find in a custom. The Boker, however, keeps the overall shape and that is the thing that makes this knife a winner. I haven't reviewed the Boker version, but it seems like only the fit and finish could derail it from being at least a decent knife.

If you are looking to get into a custom knife or want an excellent backup blade, this is it.


  1. Once again, another great review Tony. This looks like an awesome blade. I looked at the Boker version just as a thought to play around with it but your review confirmed my skepticism about the thumb oval. It reminds me a lot like Striders which I found uncomfortable as well. Can't wait for the EDMW review!

    1. It is very hard to review custom gear. There is never any extra stock, as most makers are small time producers and anything made must be sold.
      Polymer Reinforced Concrete
      Steel Reinforced Concrete Detailing
      Steel Truss Detailing
      Reinforced Concrete Foundation
      Reinforced Concrete Columns

  2. As ever, a very thoughtful and useful review. However, I disagree with the penalty you imposed on the design of this knife.

    I, too, have a first generation Nano. Mine, a full-titanium framelock with an ovoid honey-comb pattern on both scales, weighs 2.74 ounces and has a blade that (from tip to the back of the grind) is a full 2 inches long rather than the 1.75 inches of your sample.

    At least for a knife of this size, any insistence on "ideal" blade/handle proportions can easily become an abstraction. On my sample, for example, when the blade is closed its tip is just covered by the scales - it would be very difficult - design wise - to suggest there is any wasted space here. As far as weight and its distribution is concerned, given the perfect pragmatics of the Nano, I would find anything lighter to be too unsubtantial: this is a large, usefully beefy knife almost ideally minimalized. More importantly, the deployed knife is perfectly balanced - something all too often overlooked in knife design - if I release a tight grip on the knife, it remains perfectly balanced on the part of my index finger that always contacts the handle when it is fully gripped.

    I think the Nano should be awarded full points for its design.

    1. I can see your point. I went back and forth on this review and I couldn't really argue with your points. Ultimately I decided that since BOTH ratios were bad, I'd dock it a point, but reasonable people can disagree on this.

      Either way, GREAT knife.

  3. Regarding the ratios, I am wondering whether they might be less appropriate for knives that are not designed within the most traditional of parameters. When a knife is this small overall, the extra weight created by the curvature and thickness that make for good grip cannot be numerically compensated over the length that would normally contribute to a "better" ratio. The weight of the blade is higher than normal for a blade this short, too, but it allows a substantial build quality that a traditional penknife blade does not possess. Likewise, a finely made sword would have a truly odd set of ratios. A fencing foil is a type of knife, too, but it would score poorly on cutting tasks. The Boker Subcom is more traditional than the Curtiss Nano, and I'd guess it has "better" numbers. Does that make it a better knife? Just thinking out loud.

    1. Obviously the ratios don't PROVE that one knife better than the other, it is a total picture kind of thing. But, in this case, the ratios do capture my biggest complaint with the knife--it is unnecessarily heavy. It could be lighter and still as versatile and effective. Your point is an interesting one, and, if I thought that the ratios were UNREPRESENTATIVE I would have not docked the knife any points.

      For reference, the ratios on the EDMW are similar, especially blade:weight, but the blade:handle is actually quite good and that again gets at something that seems "true" about the knife. It is bulky, but the blade is really "packed" in the handle.

      In this case, the ratios are bad AND indicate a weakness, but let me be clear--this is all picking nits. This is an amazing knife, a great but flawed design, and a really great EDC knife. Its like complaining about the color of your Ferrari--small concerns no one wants to hear about.

  4. I've reviewed your site to serve as a particular purpose. Your site has not featured much in my few they are my own blog, mirc indir , mobil sohbet are bizim mekan and mynet sohbet site.