Friday, March 29, 2013

Steve Karroll EDMW Review

Custom knives are difficult to review because it is hard to get a review sample, but they are also hard to review because of biases we develop when making decisions and spending money.   I have written about this before, but it is worth repeating, especially when evaluating customs knives: we as human beings have a STRONG attachment to our decisions, right or wrong.  It is one of the things that gives rise to the fanboy phenomenon and it is so widespread that there is a psychology term for it--Post Purchase Rationalization or the sexier name, Buyer's Stockholm Syndrome.  In the invocation of the name "Stockholm Syndrome" can be appropriate.  People, having laid out a huge sum of money, identify not with their captors, but with their purchase.  Otherwise how can you explain the fact that there are fans of Saabs?

Getting my EDMW has undoubtedly blinded me a little.  I am telling you this up front because it is important for you to know going in to this review.  I have wanted this little folder for ages.  About 18 months ago I attended a knife show, the Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association Show.  At the show I met Steve Karroll.  He had a few fixed blades on the table and in front of him, in the very center, two small folders.  They were titanium framelocks.  Both were around 3 1/2 inches closed and both were beefy.  One was still a work in progress as the lock bar was VERY tight.  He let me flick one open and play around with it.  I was really surprised by just how unique it was.  The grinds were immaculate, the blade shape was unusual, and the over all feel in hand was surprising, given its size.  I contacted Steve later and was in the process of ordering one when finances got a little tight and told him to hold off.  Fast forward a year of saving pennies and I placed an order.  Less than three weeks later I had this in my hand:

IMG_0034

Steve has a Facebook page, found here.  There is no written review out there, but there is a video review found here.  Because there is no product page, and because this is a custom with significant variation between versions, here are the specs of my knife:

Weight: 3.56 ounces
Closed Length/Handle: 3 15/32"
Blade Length: 2 9/16"
Blade Thickness: 3/16"
Handle Scale Thickness: Just under 1/8"
Total Thickness (including pocket clip): Just over 3/8"

This is a titanium framelock.  The blade steel on my EMDW is S35VN.  I paid $360 for mine, included in that price was $10 for shipping.  Here is another shot of my EDMW:

IMG_0035

Yes, I know I could clean it up a little.  I was in the process of lubing it up and cutting stuff for testing when I took these shots.  Right now there is only one source for these knives, Steve himself.  He can be found at soulpatch at cox dot net (in the usual format).

Design: 2

This is a knife that has similar shapes and sizes to a good but flawed knife the Spyderco Leafstorm.  The blade shape is similar to the Leafstorm--a pronounced drop point or a modified wharncliffe.  Both are frame locks.  Both have thick blade steel.  But this knife fixes a lot of the problems the Leafstorm had--clip is straight, there is no stupid beard to the blade, and the handle is very comfortable in the hand.  It really does melt into the hand, even the pinky is not out there on its own as it works nicely behind the rear of the knife, clearly a design feature Steve had in mind when making the EDMW.

A great deal of thought went into the rear tang of the knife too.  It is hidden nicely the handle and does not collect lint or debris at all.  Furthermore, Steve crams the pivot as far to the edge as possible without any weird stuff.  Finally, the design makes for a nice lock engagement.  The thick steel and Steve's taut lockbar mean there is plenty of space for break in over the years.  All of this works with a positively massive stop pin.  The overall design is a superbly thought out framelock design.  

It stunned me when I pulled this guy out of his bubble mailer and felt the thunk.  It is a huge, thick piece of steel.  The blade, glorious S35VN, is truly massive in width, very close to 3/16 inches thick, but the length, in my mind is perfect for EDC use.  This is borne out by the ratios.  The blade:handle is .74 and the blade:weight is .72.  The blade:handle is actually quite good, closer to the SOG Flash I's very nice .78 (close to the record held by the Hawk at .84) than the Delica's .68.  The blade:weight is about par, nothing close to the Hawk's insane 2.81, but close to the Cold Steel Mini Recon I (which was .83).  Steve manages the first by tucking in the blade neatly to a unique handle shape and the second by saving weight on the pocket clip and the handle scales, both are made of titanium.   

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Fit and Finish: 2

One thing that concerned me a little when I first got the knife was some up and down blade play.  It was very slight, very slight indeed, but still there.  This is my first locking custom knife and I thought that it might be because of the really sticky lock, which barely engaged.  But after incessant (like wife-telling-me-to-stop-it incessant) opening and closing the knife, a miraculous transformation took place.  First, the lock bar got less sticky.  Second, the lock face engaged more of the blade tang.  Third, the blade play vanished.  With more of the lock pushing on the steel and an angle involved in their interaction, the blade was pushed forward by a thousandth of an inch or so and suddenly this thing felt as solid as any locking knife I have ever owned.  After perusing the web I found that this does occasionally happen.  Custom knives do need a bit of a breaking in period.  Now this thing is like a bank vault door--solid.

Other touches evince the work of a true craftsman.  The edges are nicely finished and the grinds are spectacular, of course.  The thumb studs, which are a new design just for my knife (how cool is that to write?), have a bit of texture to them, allowing for easy "coin flip" opening.  The pivot is gliding smooth and this, coupled with the textured thumb studs, makes for one hand, no wrist action opening.  Still more touches betray a fastidious maker--the ridge between the two cut outs on the lockbar has been smoothed out; the jimping is grippy but rounded over making for an inviting feel, and finally, the back spacer is perfectly flush with the handle scales.  Superb.

Grip: 2

This knife is a three finger grip that handles like a four fingered one.  Steve's handle shape gives you the ability to lock in your ring finger and the curve on the rear of the blade creates a nice refuge for your pinky.  I would imagine it would be even better with a lanyard, which comes standard (I hate lanyards so I declined, but I just might make one myself).

The jimping is outstanding, without question the best I have ever had the fortune to use.  Here it is:

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The rounding provides a smooth in pocket feel, but when oriented properly in the other direction they simply do not let your fingers move forward.  This is perfect jimping. 

Carry: 2

I bought this knife because I wanted something smaller than the small Sebenza.  Mission accomplished.  It simply hides in the pocket.  It fits in a coin pocket in even the skinniest of my jeans, which, admittedly are not too skinny (I am a Dad after all and we all know what Dad Jeans look like).  The knife is a bit heavy for its size, but nothing noticeable at all, especially because the clip is amazing.  More on that below.

Steel: 2

Don't buy the hype or the hate, S35VN is a great steel.  This is the third knife I have had with it and it always performs very well.  It doesn't chip or roll, and it is not a monster to sharpen.  It is as rust prone as plastic.  A great deal of the anti-S35VN backlash is very similar to what happened when CRK switched from BG-42 to S30V.  This is a natural by product of the dethroning of a king.  Sure S35VN is different, but it is not worse.  It is, in my experience, equal to or better than S30V, which was pretty darn good as a starting place.   

Blade Shape: 2

The modified wharncliffe is a perfect work blade shape.  Enough belly to do roll cuts and a good strong tip for piercing and starting cuts in the middle of material.  The swedge is effective and does shave off a few tenths of an ounce.  It also happens to be pretty aesthetically pleasing.  Here is the blade in profile:

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Grind: 2

This is thick hunk of steel.  That means you need a pronounced hollow grind to get a fine cutting edge.  That's exactly what Steve did.  The result is a stout blade that can still slice.  How good a slicer is it?  Well, in an effort to standardize my cutting tests I have started doing batch cutting tests.  The first thing I cut is some paper--10 cuts from an edge.  Then I cut some cardboard (I saved some scraps from the Christmas box overload)--10 cuts again.  Then I do some arm shaving and back to the paper.  I do this with three or four knives at a time.

In this batch I had the EDMW, the Native 5, and the Kershaw Chill.  The EDMW, despite the thickest blade and steepest hollow grind cut the paper most easily.  The Native 5 and the EDMW were virtually indistinguishable on the cardboard.  The shaving part was easy as well.  The final paper pushing was, again, better with the EDMW.  The Chill, unfortunately, finished in last place on everything.  More on that in the Chill review.

All this tells me one thing--Steve's grinds are masterfully done.  They made this thick steel cut like a flat ground thinner stock which is really amazing.  They look great, sure, and the cutting bevel is a nice size, but they actually work very, very well.  The Native 5 is a good test because it is the same steel in a thinner stock with a flat grind.  It should, in theory, cut the cardboard better, but it is hard, if not impossible, to match the quality of the grind on a custom, hand ground blade.  Its something that no matter how good the production quality is, you simply can't match in a mass produced good.  This is one truly large difference between a custom blade and a production blade--the grinds are sweeter than honey.  The EDMW proves this in spades.  You get the beefy stock with superior cutting performance.

From Steve, I have never had a knife this sharp and the grind coupled with the steel has kept it that way for about two months of very frequent use.  I'd give it a 3 if I could.

Deployment Method: 2

Thumb studs, it seems, aren't bad per se, I have just never had a good set.  I have changed my tune on battery choice over the years and the EDMW shows me why I was wrong about thumb studs.  The studs here, which are textured or roughed at the end on purpose, offer superior traction and allow for the knife to be flicked open one handed with absolutely no wrist action at all.  Using the coin flip method (placing your thumb finger nail under the stud, between the stud and the handle slab, and then flicking up like you were flipping a coin), you can pop this knife open as fast as any flipper or assisted opener.  The detent is excellent, helping quite a bit in this process.  Overall, I am extremely pleased with how well this knife deploys and I think it might be time to reverse course on the thumb stud hate.  Good thumb studs, it appears, are actually more than merely acceptable. 

Retention Method: 2

There are pocket clips that stink, pocket clips that are non-entities, and then there are truly great clips. 
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This is the latter.  It is wide and flat with no weird angles or abruptly up turned lip.  Instead it is incredibly tight to the handle of the knife and excellent during use.  It grabs on tight but still allows for quick retrieval in part because the clip itself is positioned on the knife perfectly, unlike, say the crooked clip on the Leafstorm.  I like it a lot.

Lock: 2

This is post-break in lock up:

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That is a lot of room left for wear in and a good sign of how durable this knife will be over time.  The stickiness scared me at first but after a few days and some feverish internet research (and asking Aaron) I found out this was normal and that it would go away in a few days.  After it did the lock up is perfect--solid, no lockbar wiggle, and still easy to disengage.  Excellent.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

If you want a great small custom blade you don't have a lot of choices.  JB Blout makes a few nice ones, as does the much more established Chuck Gedratis.  After that, the list is thin.  But this knife's size is on the start of the treats.  The fit and finish is amazing, the grind is lightsaberish, and the handle design is brilliant.  The price is great and this is a perfect place to start your custom obsession.  Steve's production capacities are limited, his workshop is actually about a half hour away from were he lives, but if you can, hit him up.  The blades are sweet.  In the end, this is why you buy a custom knife.  You get the size you want, coupled with innovation and immaculate fit and finish.  This is a tool that I will cherish and one that I will use for years to come.

One last note though.  I think Steve stole this design from someone and I wanted you to be aware of that.

Compare this, the Tyrant's Tooth:


and the actual Tyrant's Tooth:

Steve might need to pay some royalties to a certain giant theropod. 

10 comments:

  1. Awesome knife, one small criticism however. You say "there are fans of Saabs" in a derogatory manner. Saabs have some very good engineering behind them, and they appeal to engineers and people like that. Being a fan of a Saab is not a bad thing, in fact it is a good thing. They are very well designed and built cars.

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    1. The Saab thing is a two tier joke. First it is a joke about ardently loyal fans to a product that has died. Second it is a joke about the Swedish origins of the Stockholm Syndrome.

      On the issue of Saabs, I know that a lot of folks liked Saabs, but I did not. I think the market voted correctly here. They were just too different and difficult to work on. I know that different isn't per se bad, but it did make them more expensive and more difficult to maintain. It was like an entire line of cars based on the same principle behind Whitworth bolts.

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    2. Getting my EDMW has undoubtedly blinded me a little. I am telling you this up front because it is important for you to know going in to this review. I have wanted this little folder for ages.
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  2. That blade shape looks alot like the crkt liong mah #5.

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  3. Great review, I've been using my EDMW every day for almost a year now (one of the first batches Steve made) I love it! I am a little jealous of your ambidextrous stud though!

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  4. Have you handled a Techno? I'd be interested to see how it compares to this knife. Similar specs for about $200 less.

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    1. You know, that thought had occurred to me. I handled an older EDMW over a year ago, so well before the Techno. It would be a very similar knife, though I think the stock here is a little thicker. I would also note that the clip here is better than the loose Spyderco wire clip (the one seen on the Techno and the Caly3, but not the one from the DFII). The Techno is a great knife. I really wanted THIS knife, so no substitutes would work, but you might be perfectly satisfied with the Techno, a lot of folks are.

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  5. May I ask if you still have this knife?
    If not, what made you to let it go?

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    Replies
    1. I do not have this knife anymore. I needed money to pay for the Gedraitis that was coming in around the same time. Honestly, if I had to do it all over again, I would have sold something else. I miss this little knife and Steve is not making a lot of stuff right now. Wonderful design. I like the Gedraitis better, but this pretty amazing.

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    2. Judging from the pics and the review, it must've been an awesome little EDC knife: small, simple, rugged.
      If I'd ever think about having a custom knife made, it would look very similar to this. Sad to hear you had to let it go.

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