Monday, March 4, 2013

Zero Tolerance ZT 0777

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is probably the only preview that will also be an "In Case You Missed It".  The ZT 0777 was available for pre-order for over a year and the pre-ordered versions arrived at their buyer's houses this week.  Many sites are still hoping for a small lot of ZT 0777 beyond what was pre-ordered so there is a chance that you could land one, even if you didn't preorder, but those chances are incredibly slim given demand for the knife and the nano-sized production run.  For a tip on how to snag one of these, see the last paragraph.

It was the Blade Show Overall Knife of the 2012.  It was the subject of a firestorm of controversy when Microtech released an uncannily similar blade (I am working on an article on the subject and I don't have enough info right now to say if it was a copy or coincidence).  Then there was the sourcing and manufacturing issues.  The composite steel was complex.  The lock was unique.  The pocket clip was sculpted.  Every single thing about the ZT 0777 was a challenge.  It is a testament to the folks over at Kershaw and ZT that they were able to get this sucker out the door.  Here is a glamor shot (from ZT's Flickr feed):

But after an incredibly long wait, the Zero Tolerance ZT 0777, an in-house design by Kai USA's Jim McNair, has finally been released.  This is a blade to end all blades.  It weighs 4.2 ounces but has a 3.75 inch blade in a 5 inch handle (for a very decent pair of ratios: blade:handle of .75 and blade:weight of .89).  The handle is sculpted carbon fiber.  The lock is a fully adjustable titanium sub-frame lock.  The pocket clip is a sculpted number as well.  The pivot is the wondrously smooth KVT system and deployment comes easy in the form of a flipper (though the machined groove in the upper third of the blade could also aid in opening the knife).  The steel is a composite of Devin Thomas Herring Bone Damascus on the spine and Vanax 35 on the cutting edge, giving you the look of Damascus with less maintenance and the cutting performance of a powder metallurgy steel.  Overall, the features are first rate, running ahead of every production knife on the planet and besting the vast majority of customs as well.  Only the very top echelon of custom makers produce knives this sophisticated and complex.

It has the rugged overbuilt features of a ZT with the premium materials of a custom and the techno-gee-whiz awesomeness of the Kershaw Tilt.  That is a heady combination.  I am going to say this now, so you have fair warning--this knife will be more collectible than any other Kai release ever.  It will almost certainly jump directly into the Tilt/Jess Horn/Michael Walker Klotzli level of collectible production blades.  It has all of the right ingredients--preciously small run, incredibly high price, and unique look and materials.  Ever see a composite blade with Damascus?  Even on a custom this is unheard of.  I'd argue given its tortured release history, this knife could be even MORE sought after than the "big three."

Here is an excellent review of the newly released knife (I am writing this on 2/27/13 and the video was posted on 2/26/13).

As you can see from the video, this blade has everything you'd want and stuff so cool you didn't even think of it.  If you can, buy it.  Its like an investment that you can use to cut open boxes.  This blade also proves that when Kai is given a blank check design-wise, they can produce a blade that is unmatched.  With the gloves off and the budget listed as "whatever is necessary" there are few knife makers that can match this degree of beauty, technological wonderment, and cutting edge use, whether we are talking about a batch of handmade custom gems or the design embarrassment of riches allowed by a four-axis CNC machine.

The ZT 0777 is the pinnacle of knife making in 2013.  Get one if you can.  If you can't and still like the overall shape, try the ZT 0770, a slightly smaller, assisted open, "budget version" of the ZT 0777.  I say "budget version" in quotes because this blingless copy still has cutting edge steel and a heft $180 price tag.  Roll the dice on landing a non-preordered 0777 or line up for the 0770 at:

Blade HQ


  1. Honestly, I don't see anything special with the blade. Sure it uses a lot of "tech." However, there really isn't anything that really stands out (pun fully intended) design/construction-wise. It looks like any other high-end knife but more tricked out. Now, if they made it a full integral Ti-Framelock with an integrated clip, then that would be something else. Even the copper fused composite blade of damascus and Vanax 35 is kinda of old hat for KAI (they stated that they can fuse any two materials together, so it was bound that they would take something like damascus and fuse it to a high performing PM steel).

    Additionally for blades that small, it's so much of gimmick to have a composite blade. The price point between a composite blade and thorough blade isn't that great. As far as added strength goes, what's the point for a blades that are thin? They're not made for prying, so why the added strength? If there is actually any. In the end, all I see is a cool looking blade, that doesn't gain any benefit. Unnecessary complexity.

    Also, the idea of the subframe isn't new. It's just that KAI/ZT finally decided to market it that way. Microtech has been using "subframes" for years. Their SOCOM Elite's all have a 3/16" slabs of hardened steel inset in the frame of the folder.

    I don't like the the look of the TiSpine all that much. However, design/construction-wise it is much more impressive than the 0777.

    Don't get me wrong though, the 0777 looks sweet. However, that's as far as it goes.

    1. A few things I think you may have overlooked.

      First, I agree with you about damascus steel. I wish the blade was all Vanax 35, but there is something to be said for the technical achieve that the composite blade in the 0777 represents. The damascus is not for performance, but looks. It has become synonmous with high end for reasons I don't understand. That said, a lot of the super collectible production blades are just that because of things like technical achievements. The pivot or the lock bar overtravel on the Tilt are good examples of this.

      The Vanax 35 though is a different story. Hard blade steels are never about pry though (that would be high toughness). The main reason they are used is because they can take a much sharper angle on the cutting bevel than lesser steels, making them sharper when cutting. UB suggests a temper of 59-60 HRc and the PM process means the edge is super keen. Couple that with the virtually rust free aspect of Vanax 35 and you have an awesome blade steel. The Damascus is for looks and the Vanax for performance.

      I think you also overlooked the KVT pivot. It has shown up more frequently now, but the effect is still amazing. This is a GREAT pivot.

      The pocket clip being a sculpted clip is something of a novelty and a performance enhancement on a production knife. It is certainly not a deal breaker or maker, but it is stronger and more impressive than the stamped variety.

      Finally, unlike the Microtech subframe locks, this one is more adjustable, a feature I don't think I would care about, but some might. It too is an impressive technical achievement.

      A lot of the 0777 is just show, but there is more than just flash--the blade steel, the pivot, the adjustable lock, and the light weight all make this a legit performer. How about this: the 0777 weighs 4.2 ounces while the 0560, with the same blade length, weighs 5.8 ounces. That's pretty darn cool.

      The knife is definitely not for everyone. The looks are a little to bling for me, but I can see why this is going to be a hot blade. That was my basic point.

    2. Actually that really depends on the PM process and the steel composition. PM doesn't necessarily mean the smallest of grains and the super keenest of edges. Composition and heat treat will also be a factor in defining grain size and the ability to get a keen edge and have it stable. S30V is PM, but when comparing it to something like Elmax (different PM process and composition), S30V has rather large grains/carbides (comparing to CPM and BU standard protocol for HT). I'm sure the Vanax steel will be fine. The only thing that I find interesting is that fact that Vanax is nitrogen-based that can achieve hardness close to carbon-based steels. However, most people really can't tell the difference between this steel and that steel. Even knife nuts won't notice that big of a difference.

      As far as the KVT pivot. GTC's bearing system is much more impressive if you want to go there. Instead of bearings encased in polymer, GTC's bearing system encases the bearings in steel. RJ Martin's roller thrust bearings are also more interesting than KVT (I believe they are rolling cylinder encased in steel). Bottom line is that they all do the same thing.

      Yes, the carved clip is novelty in a production model. Many makers carve clips from blocks of Ti, G10, and even CF. As far as added strength to the clip, how many clips have been broken? Out bent, yes. Broken, no.

      Again, I have rarely heard of a well made frame lock needing to be readjusted. The insert is definitely nice. Since, if the lock face has worn down, the user can just replace a little bit of steel rather than needing to replace the entire scale or lock-bar. However, again, it isn't something specially or unique.

      I'm not really sure I understand how the angular cut of the Tilt prevents over travel. I sort of see how it would work. I believe people don't seem to realize that Hinderer developed the lock-stabilizer not to prevent over-travel of lockbar when disengaging the lock. Instead it's when one puts downward pressure on a open and locked knife that the lock bar goes up and through the open space (force from knife tang pushes lockbar up). The primary point of the Hinderer lock bar is prevent flexure of knife at the pivot by preventing the lock bar from traveling up, when putting pressure downwards on the handle, not out, when one disengages the lock. If you look at early examples of Hinderer's XM's (Gen 1 and 2), the cut out for the lock bar is extremely large while the lock bar itself is not very broad. Meaning that if there is pressure on the handle when the knife is locked open, the lock-bar will bend upwards and the knife starts to close.

      As for the weight issue, weight in a knife isn't as important as clip design and position. I like to carry larger folders. I've noticed that smaller ligher knives can carry just as bad as larger heavy knives. Deep carry can help, but if the clip angled incorrectly or in a bad position, it will make the knife awkward in the pocket. I have an XM-24 on me in relatively small pockets (compared to jeans, The Law from Kuhl has tiny pockets), and I honestly don't even notice that it's there while I sit down. Nor do I feel it when I'm moving. That is clip/carry performance. Another excellent example is the deep carry clip of the BM 610 Rukus. The 610 is a very heavy knife and the clip is very narrow and thin. However, I've had no discomfort carrying the knife and the clip has never been bent out of shape.

      And I truly did not mean to attack you. I understand the point of your article. I wouldn't mind owning one. I just merely wanted to engage another perspective...and play the Devil's advocate.

    3. I totally get all of your points. I appreciate the devil's advocacy (I do it for a living ;). DarkChild (in the links above) has a good video on the Tilt overtravel feature. It is hard to explain but simple in design.

      One big point I think you underestimate though is the rust resistance of the Vanax 35 steel. As someone that does not abuse his knives, I am always a little vexed when rust appears. I have had it happen with a few blades. Based on the chemistry I just can't see the Vanax 35 really ever rusting under normal conditions. That is something I think steel junkies, especially those in the tropics, would notice.

      This is, no doubt a statement knife. What the statement is, well, that is an individualized thing.

    4. Thanks Tony. I do really like how you tend to keep your opinions and views as unbiased as possible, as well, for most of your reviews.

      As for Vanax, I do understand that a nitrogen-based steel is almost completely resistant to stain. Much more so than any high chromium content carbon based steel. The biggest jump with the Vanax series is having an N-based steel that can keep up with the high alloyed C-based steels. If you look at the composition of Vanax, C is still part of the alloy. I really wish I got one of the Tilt series. To me, the Tilt was much more impressive than the new 0777. Really hope KAI will make a another run. Though, I'm sure they most likely won't make any more.

      However, I have never had much problems with rust with my folding knives. The biggest problem with rust for folding knives is the pivot (especially with PB washers). I use to be a proponent of folding knives having high blade to handle ratios. However, as I've used more and more folders, having the edge further away from the ricasso is a benefit. I makes it much easier to clean the blade and never have water go near the pivot. I never have to worry about meat chunks getting in the handle, drying, and being a pain to clean. I've actually had more issues with rust on the "stainless" steel liners than the actual blade itself when completely washing the knife.

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  3. Funny you say "get the budget version, the 0770!"

    Eh. Nah. I picked up an 0770 at my local gun shop for around $140 plus tax. I kept it for a day, returned it and bought an 0550 (and paid the 30 bucks difference in cost.) To me, it wasn't much of a ZT. Too thin, small liner lock, assisted open is not my thing, aluminum handles don't have much grip... just not a lust-worthy product. It did have Elmax steel though. I like my 0550 better - and now I have an 0561 that blows both out of the water.