Friday, September 20, 2013

AG Russell Small Skorpion Review

There are very few people that can operate at the top of their game over a span of 50 years.  Nolan Ryan, perhaps the most durable pitcher of the last 100 years, was effective into his mid-40s, but he started pitching in his twenties.  He lasted 26 years.  Sir Neville Marriner, one of the finest conductors of the 20th and 21st century was a premiere force in the classical music world from roughly 1969 until 1992, but he toured until the early 2000s (I saw him with my wife at Tanglewood in 2005 and it was amazing).  Those two legends didn't quite make the 50 year mark.  In the knife world, we are lucky enough to have someone that has.

AG Russell started selling knives and knife accessories (such as sharpening stones) in 1964.  In 2013 he released the Skorpion, an innovative and very trendy knife.  That span of time is truly remarkable and a sign of greatness.  More remarkable is that in those 50 years he has embraced new technology and used it effectively almost right away.  You'd think that has he enters his ninth decade that Russell would have a set style and format for his knives.  You'd think he'd be in the cruise control period of his life or maybe just hitting rinse and repeat.  But he's not.  He's making good stuff that's both new and different.  He'll pump out an incredible budget knife like the AG Russell Barlow, a pattern that first came on the scene in England in the 1600's and then he drops the Skorpion with its framelock flipper and ultralight and ultrathin handle scales.  This is a new knife that competes quite well in a very crowded market--the mid price, mid sized EDC market.  The Delica, Mini Aegis, Mini Griptillian, and the Leek have competition.   

Here is the product page. The AG Russell Small Skorpion costs $65. Here is a written overview. There are no video reviews.  The knife is available only through AG's site.   Here is my review sample:

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 Here is a video showing the size of the knife and how it opens:



Twitter Review Summary: Very competitive new design from AG Russell, proving that he's still one of best knife makers in the world.

Design: 2

The Small Skorpion drops into the knife market segment equivalent of downtown Tokyo.  The mid-sized, mid-priced niche is as densely populated with competitors as any part of the gear market.  You have an embarassment of choices.  And the best knives in this market segment are unquestionably the best values in the gear world.  On a dollar for dollar basis it is pretty hard to beat the Delica and the Mini Grip.  But the Skorpion manages to stand out even in this cast of thousands thanks to a simple and effective design and a size and weight that make other knives very jealous.  The handle is a classic AG Russell form, a nice finger groove followed bby a gentle curve up to the end of the blade.  It is found a quite a few of Russell's modern folders and the reason it simple--its very effective.  The overall shape of the Skorpion fits the hand and the pocket well and it promotes good utility cutting.  Its design is very good, but the real impact of this knife can be found in the performance numbers.

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Here is the Small Skorpion next to the Zippo:

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As I mentioned in my preview article, the ratios are awesome.   The blade:handle is .80, third only to the Al Mar Ultralight Hawk (.82) and the Kershaw Chill (.81).  The blade:weight is very good 1.67, second only to the Hawk and better than the Chill.  Very few knives in this market segment can match those numbers.  Only the much thicker SOG Mini Aegis can match the weight.  This is a good useful knife that reached the top of the mid-price mid-size market thanks to a focus on blade length and weight.

Fit and Finish: 1 

There are lots of nice little touches to this knife, things that make it worth more than its $65 price tag.  But there are also a few things that make me wonder about the production.  First, the good.  The handles are billed as "Featherlite" steel.  We talked about them a lot on episode 16 of GGL (found here).  Basically it is 420 steel, which is more than adequate as a handle scale, that has been milled out significantly.  There is no  special formulation to the steel, having confirmed this with AG Russell prior to the podcast.  The idea is that you can get titantium-like weight from steel which is both cheaper and stronger than titanium (on a volume basis).  While both Andrew and Aaron thought this was a bit of marketing speak, and I agree that it is being  oversold, it is important to note what this gives you in terms of the knife in your pocket.  You get a framelock that is both strong and light but not terribly expensive.  Titanium is a notorious material to work with, causing sparks and chewing up tools.  Its not terribly expensive as a material, but it is labor instensive and expensive to work with, raising the cost of production.  To my knowledge, no one has tried exactly what was done here--lots of folks mill stuff out, but doing it to steel to approximate the weight of titanium is new.  It is yet another sign that AG Russell is one of the finest knife designers working today and a touch I appreciate.  He predicted it would be copied and I have no doubt it will.  

But for all of the gee whiz technology, there little things that bothered me.  First the blade was significantly off centered.  It didn't touch but it was noticeable.  Additionally a few readers reported to me they had the same problem.  Additionally the pivot, when I first got the knife, was a real grinder.  Flipping was possible but noisy and slow.  This was also confirmed by another reader.  A few drops of Nano-Oil and the knife popped open swiftly and silently.  Third, the matte finish on the handle scales was a scratch magnet.  

None of these were fatal flaws by any means and I'd probably still give something a 2 if it had one of them, but taken together and confirmed by other sources, I have to dock the knife a point.  It still worked and worked well, but the presentation was mildly lacking.  

Grip: 2

The Al Mar Hawk is a great knife and THE benchmark for light carry knives, but one reason it doesn't just permanently reside in my pocket is because it can, in certain instances, feel TOO small.  I was worried about that when I pulled the Skorpion out of its box.  This is a very thin and very light knife.  But the shape of the knife, a classic AG Russell profile, plus the matte finish on the handle and run of jimping on the bottom do good work at locking your hand on the blade.  Furthermore, the pocket clip, as it does in a lot of brilliant designs, really helps with grip.  

Carry: 2

Something this thin is always a great carrying knife.  How thin is the Small Skorpion?  This thin:

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That's the Zippo laid on its side.  Both pocket clips are positioned well and the knife's thin small profile just disappears in clothing.  I carried this knife exclusively for 10 days on vacation and it proved to be a very nice companion, never obtrusive even in shorts. 

Steel: 1

Andrew and I talked about this on GGL 16 (found here, check out the new site), but the reality is that in the right application and with the correct blade finish (i.e. not bead blasted) 8Cr13MoV is definitely acceptable.  I will admit it.  I was wrong about this steel on the Tenacious (score correction complete).  I did all sorts of things over that 10 day period--fire prep, hiking in the woods, cutting apples, cutting paper, cutting packages and cardboard--pretty much all of the EDC tasks and the 8Cr held up fine.  It also took a good edge when I got back home.    

Blade Shape: 2

The blade shape is very similar to that found on the Mini Grip 555hg, a knife I really like, and like there the utility/sheepsfoot blade does very well.  It is an all around exceptional blade shape, doing everything well and nothing poorly.  It is easy to sharpen, it has just enough belly and it still allows for good piercing cuts to start cutting into packages like clam shells.   I really, really like this blade shape and I am glad AG chose it for the knife. 

Grind: 2

The primary grind is a good hollow grind, which I prefer, and the cutting bevel is wide without being overly sloppy.  I like both bevels and I am impressed that they were able to get such good grinds on such an inexpensive knife.  My AG Russell Barlow proves that they can do this repeatedly as its grinds were just as good if not better and it is a cheaper knife.  This is a skill and not some lucky strike lotto winner in the production run.  

Deployment Method: 2

The flipper works very well, especially after a dab of Nano Oil (which is miracle fluid as far as I am concerned).  It pops open with authority, as you can see above, and it is almost foolproof in operation.  You have to actively try to get a misfire and that is a very good thing.  This flipper is proof that an assist is totally 100% unnecessary.  

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As you can see from above, it does have jimping on it, which I would prefer it not have, but it is not as abrasive as that found on the other ultralight smooth flipper in this size category--the CRKT Ripple 2. 

Retention Method: 1

Here's the thing, there are two pocket clips include and both had issues.  Their positioning on the knife in any of the four mounts is good, but one is too low profile to easily jam on to the edge of your pocket, even in thin material and the other is too high profile, sticking out way too much.  

Lock: 2

This is a very snug and tight framelock.  It has very little stick at all, one benefit of using steel over titanium.  It also has an overtravel stop, something that again seems odd for a cheaper knife (though the Cryo has one too, so I am not sure if it is still fair to think of this as a high end touch).  There is also a subtle yet effective run of jimping:

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This allows the knife to be disengaged with ease. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

There is no question in my mind that AG Russell is one of best knife designers in the business today.  I am equally certain that he is among the most underrated.  I think a lot of people hear or read "AG Russell" and think of their grandpa's knife.  Its true that he still makes traditional folders (and very good ones, a review of his Barlow is in the works), but he has made quite a few very good modern folders as well.  The Small Skorpion is one of those modern folders and it has as many new and modern features as you can find on a knife.  The steel handle is excellent, giving the knife the weight of titanium with none of the drawbacks (high costs, sticky lockbars, etc.).  Whether the steel is worth a new name, Featherlite, is debatable.  It seems like a bit of marketing speak, but lingo aside, it is a very good idea.  And the handle is at the heart of what makes this knife a very competitive offering in the most crowded knife market segment.  This is a slim, thin blade with an excellet design and good flipper opening.  The blade shape is utilitarian and easy to sharpen.  The steel is merely average, especially for the $65 price point, but this rendition of 8Cr13MoV is not as bad as I had initially thought.  There are some minor fit and finish issues, but it is possible the I (and some readers) got lemons or quality is being evened out as the production of the knife continues.  There are no fatal flaws or even big issues with the Small Skorpion and you get a ton of blade for the size.  This is a knife you should absolutely consider when looking for a new vlade for your daily carry and if you are new to knives, you'll be happy if this is your first EDC.  

8 comments:

  1. Nice write up. I really think you should try to get your hands on a William Henry E6 or E10, especially if you want thin and light. My e10 is the perfect small carry knife. 3.25 inches of D2, button lock and under 2 ounces; what's not to love?

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    Replies
    1. The $325 price point...

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    2. The E6 is only $250-295 depending inlay material. ONLY $250-295.

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    3. They are worth every penny. The fit and finish is perfect and stacks up well to every other knife in that price point. If a spyderco pm2 is an expensive grail knife then yes the price point is high. If you have/like crks, striders, limited edition zts and customs, it's a great value.

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  2. The blade shape reminds me of the Sebenza Insingo. Looks good.
    That said, I doubt any knife would beat the Delica and the Mini Griptilian in their own class any time soon.

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  3. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but why are your deployment videos always filmed from that car seat? Acoustics?

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    Replies
    1. Acoustics is one reason, but the other is that I am in my car a lot when it is light out.

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  4. 1. I wonder if A.G. uses a different factory for his modern knives. These reports of F&F issues with the Skorpion contrast with the widespread praise for the fit and finish on his China-made traditional knives. I have two of the latter and I am delighted by how well made they are, just as you were with the Medium Barlow.

    2. A.G. is a brilliant designer of useful blade shapes. He seems to struggle a bit with pocket clips. Note how many of his iconic designs eschew a clip, like the trad knives and the Featherlite One-Hand. I would totally save up for an Acies2 if not for the huge, incongruous looking clip tacked onto its side.

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