Monday, July 29, 2013

Cold Steel Micro Recon Review

In the game of limbo that is finding the right blade length, I have tried everything from a 1.5 inch blade all the way up to a monster, a 4 inch Cold Steel Recon (this was many, many years and knives ago).   It is a tough thing, that exact right proportion is not something I can reel off in my head.  It is a matter of how something feels in the hand.  Right now I'd say the PT CC or the Small Pathfinder are just about perfect.  Right now.

But going down the scale in terms of blade length doesn't really bother me all that much.  I do a lot of utility cutting and you know what, a utility knife (a Stanley for all you Brits) has a cutting edge of about an inch and half.  So when I saw the Cold Steel MICRO Recon, I thought it was worth a look.  After all I really liked the Mini Recon and I was quite smitten with the Mini Tuff Lite, so much so that last year I awarded Cold Steel "Best Year by a Gear Company" my version of the overall best gear company award.  All of these knives eschewed the bigger is better mantra of the old Mall Ninja Cold Steel in favor of more restrained and compact designs all with the very excellent Tri-Ad lock.   I am not a Cold Steel fanboy, but I recognize a turn around when I see one.  This is a company that has risen to meet the ever more vicious competition out there.  Even now, their Warcraft series of fixed blades looks awfully interesting because of the steel, and how cool would it be if the company known (in part) for super rugged knives adopted a high end line of their folders with that most rugged of production steels--CPM 3V?

But the Micro Recon is proof that no one is perfect.  This is a meh knife from a company that seems to either get a very good (though not perfect) score or make stuff so ridiculous I have no interest in it.  The Micro Recon is not Gerber-bad, but in the current marketplace, you need to make something better than the Micro Recon to get noticed.  I am going to lay out why that is the case here.

Here is the product page. The Micro Recon will run you $25.  There is a Tanto version and there are four handle scale colors: pink, green, orange, and black.  I like the colors a lot--they are vibrant and a good change of pace from black everything.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review.   Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Micro Recon, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary:  Ergonomic disaster saved in part by a great lock and good blade shape.

Design: 0

The hump on the spine of the knife caused all sorts of problems for me.  I couldn't figure out a way to have the knife sit comfortably in my hand, and even though the thing is tiny and has no pocket clip almost every task produced some kind of hotspot.  I get that this knife, or any knife of this size, is going to have some serious handle issues, but comparing the Micro Recon to something like the Spyderco Ladybug, Manbug, or Jester proves to me that you can do tiny and not have a terrible handle.  The problem is so bad that in terms of how this thing would look on a blueprint or in a CAD drawing, I can't give it anything other than a zero.  The hump seems like such an obvious and serious flaw from my perspective.  There is no grip in which this knife is comfortable to use, even for a limited time.  Maybe it works if you have REALLY tiny hands (I can safely assume big mitts don't do better because big mitts always have a hard time with small blades), but I don't see how that is possible.  It was so bad that unlike many flaws, I saw this one as soon as I pulled the knife out the of box.  My first impressions were confirmed again and again by daily use and by other reviewers impressions of this knife.  The Fox Knives/Spyderco SpyFox, OD-2, the Benchmade Benchmite, and all of the above listed Spydercos prove to me that this not a flaw inherent in the super small knife format, just a flaw with this design.  

The ratios are both above average.  This is a tiny blade, so there is not a whole lot of weight.  The blade:weight is 1.81, which is quite good.  The blade:handle is .76, very good.  Note that the blade:handle is helped out a lot by the fact that the pivot portion of the blade actually sticks out of the handle.  I don't think it is an issue, but if you dinged it or dented it, deployment could get screwed up.


Fit and Finish: 1

Dear Cold Steel,

Please stop using this black paint on your knife blades.  First, very few of us need black blades. Second, because is not PVD or TiN coating and is really just paint, it as actually pretty darn glossy, defeating the purpose of a black blade.  Third, it has horrible wear properties.  Even the lightest uses produce instant flaking:


Sincerely, Everyday Commentary.

Seriously, I get that the blade coating is supposed to come off.  Over time every coating comes off (I will note here that the ESEE Candiru's coating did not come off during the testing period AT ALL, and it faced more difficult tasks than this guy did because it was a fixed blade).  But this stuff comes off like dandruff.  That's not the biggest deal, more of an annoyance than a fit and finish issue that impacts performance.  The second ding is the handle material.  Faux G10?  Blah.  Why fake something that is so cheap in the first place?  The faux G10 is quite thin and flexes a great deal.  I am not a fan of liners and this flex doesn't make me change my mind, but wow.  The final piece of the less than ideal fit and finish is the lock.  I really, really like the Tri-Ad lock.  It is strong and tough and easy to use, but the lock on the review sample tended to stick quite badly to the point where I had to use another tool to disengage it.  It didn't happen every time, but it happened enough to annoy me.  This knife has a bunch of small niggling issues none of which are fatal, but all of which detract from the knife.

Grip: 0

This is a total and complete failure.  The hump on the spine is very bad, almost always creating a hotspot, but the slippery handle material is also bad.  Again, I know that knives of this size represent a compromise, but this is not just a compromise, it is compromised.  

Carry: 2 

This is a tiny blade, as you can see from the above picture, so it carries very well.  There are no snags or hitches, in part because there is no pocket clip.  The knife comes with a split ring (you know my hatred of split rings; this like a candy bar that COMES with a cavity) as a carry option, but I never used it other than to test things out.  The knife carries slightly worse with the split ring, but it still is a nice slender knife, excellent to drop in your pocket or tuck in your coin pocket.

Steel: 1 

AUS8 is the averagest of average steels.  It gets sharp and is easy to sharpen but it doesn't hold an edge all that well.  I hate black coating on the blade, but the steel is perfectly average.

Blade Shape: 2

Skip the tanto, you'll never, in one million years, use a knife this small to pierce cut ANYTHING.  The drop point is amazingly nice, especially in a knife this size.  For all of the jankiness associated with the humpback whale handle, the blade shape is perfect.  Simple and perfect.  The drop point here is the perfect example of "If it ain't broke don't fix it".


Grind: 2 

The Micro Recon has a very good hollow grind, like the blade shape this is a don't-mess-with-success success.

Deployment Method: 2

The threaded thumb studs are decent and easily adjustable for lefties or righties.  Like the Tri-Ad lock they are an ingeniously simple innovation and, the better thing, they really, really work.


They kinda look weird on such a small knife, but they actually do work well.  I'd prefer another kind of opening method, but these thumb studs are very, very good. 

Retention Method: 0

The split ring included is too big.  I hate lanyards, but really the problem is the lack of a pocket clip.  You CAN do a pocket clip on a knife this small, but it is a challenge.  But that is not the only solution.  Some of the smaller AG Russell knives have a bail and that would work here.  The inclusion of a split ring is a concession to the fact that a retention method on this knife is nothing but an afterthought.

Lock: 2 

The Tri-Ad lock's brilliance comes from two things--its strength, which is well documented, and its familarity.   The Tri-Ad lock is just a modified lock back.  The lock back itself is a simple yet effective design.  They have been around for so long that virtually everyone knows how to use them and so by using the lock back as the foundation for a new design means that knowledge is imported over right away.  The Tri-Ad lock shows good stability and is easy to engage and disengage.  This is a very good lock and it is well implemented here, aside from the initial stickiness mentioned above (it went away over time).

Overall Score: 12 out of 20

Overall, this knife is not quite what I would want.  Sure it is cheap (though the OD-2 is cheaper and better), but even at the price it is available for, it is not a good value.  I'd much rather have a Spyderco Ladybug or Jester in this product class.  The problems arise from both the incredibly bad handle shape and the less than impressive fit and finish.  Its nice to see Cold Steel releasing smaller knives, but this one is clearly an afterthought.  If you want something small from Cold Steel opt for the Mini Tuff Lite, its only $6-8 more.  That is a very good blade.



  1. Thanks for the review, I was considering this as a slightly stronger blade to my little Manbug but I think I will pass considering all. Might pick up Spyderco Byrd Robin2 as compromise. Too bad since Recon series got a lot of love for their larger knives, I guess Micro is too small to carry over the quality.

    Thanks again

  2. I think you have again misjudged a knife based on a very narrow view of what how a knife can be for its purpose of cutting, the act of which has been different approaches. Here with the micro, your understanding of the grip and the hump, which on this knife is a primary feature that contributes to grip. This isn't a full four finger handle; it's a two finger handle, with the upper portion of the hump used as a counter with the thumb placed on it. There actually is no lower half of the handle by design and it works. It worked on a full handle making the lower half largely unnecessary without consideration to comfort but it isn't uncomfortable. It's just the upper half. It's a hook design, as I call it hooking over the index finger so it has a firm fit when placed right in the hand, no slip.

    Yeah, it's gonna feel awkward holding it like a full finger led handle, but who would do that? Cold Steel. I don't think so.

    1. The problem with this knife, the handle, is pretty clearly an issue, especially when you compare it to other small knives like the Spyderco Ladybug, Manbug, Dragonfly, or Jester. I also think the Benchmade Aphid is just a better knife.

      All of the caveats you put out there are true, but why bother with them when you can just buy a better knife with a better handle that is the same size?