Thursday, January 31, 2013

TAD Gear Dauntless Mk. II Review

In this age of the Internet, when Etsy and Kickstarter empower the small guy with the big idea, we are treated to a bounty of amazing things.  Craftsmen, lost for five decades in a march of machines, can now make a living, selling their wares directly to a buying public.  The small boutique that had no chance of finding critical mass in one of the many suburban malls that ring our metropolises can now live and thrive in a digital age.  The power to bring people together with similar niche interests has allowed specialty makers to gather enough numbers to make their enterprises profitable and sustainable.  We, those fans of quality and innovation, are the beneficiaries.  It is this trend, found in craft beers and $750 jackets, that makes TAD Gear possible.  And in this precious, precocious economic space, they have dared to dream of a knife like no other--the Dauntless.

The idea of the Dauntless or more accurately the entire Dauntless project is a genius one.  There is, you see, a form, an idea that is the Dauntless, a Platonic conception in the mind of TAD Gear's founder Patrick Ma, for a capable, rugged, and muted beauty.  It marked by fullers on the blade and the scales.  It has the heritage of a Strider, with a spearpoint blade and generous finger choils.  But that is all--this is an idea, not 4 apples or oranges, but simply 4 itself.  And that idea was given to masters of the form, folks like Rick Hinderer and Michael Burch, and each produced an iteration of the design adding their own aesthetic touches to the Platonic idea of the Dauntless knife.  Customs, resplendent in their quality and lines, are then sold in painfully small numbers on TAD's site.  They have created a following, a cult of cutlery--the Dauntless Owner's Group.  Here is more on the Dauntless project, with links to gorgeous photo archives.  For knife knuts, the Dauntless project was the culmination of the rebirth of the craftsman and the distillation of knife utility to perfection, with a dash of limited edition, hard-to-find scent thrown in for good measure.

Then last year, TAD announced that they would be making a production version.  The first batch sold out in minutes, even with the impressive $400 and $300 price tags.  The second run, a few months later did the same.  The production knives quickly paced into custom price ranges on forums and ebay.  Few blinked or hesitated when a production Dauntless came up for bid at $600.  It is a testament both to the knife and to TAD's meticulous management of the Dauntless brand.

All of this breathless text goes to one point that I must lay out before the review begins.  This was an exceptionally difficult knife to review.  I think I can say with little doubt that I have never been so eager to review a product before.  I have craved a Dauntless since I first saw its fullers and flippers and choils.  It was hard to modulate expectations.  As a person that has written reviews for two years now, I know that expectations are the most difficult thing to work around.  The over promise under deliver can make a decent product seem bad (the Kershaw Cryo for example) and the under promise over deliver can make a good product seem great (the Kershaw Skyline for example).  So my first challenge in writing this review was tempering my expectations.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  I got the review sample just weeks after my Covert pants (more on them in a later post) came in and after a few weeks with them, my expectation for TAD products was Everest high.

There are three production models--the Mk. I which has an all titanium handle (product page here), and the Mk. II in Black and Mk. II in Green (product page here), which have a titanium scale on the lock side and a G10 presentation scale.  Here is a video review of the the production Dauntless.  This is the first written review.  Here is the Dauntless review sample TAD sent me:

IMG_0018

Design: 2

The Dauntless idea, worked over by more than a dozen of the finest knife makers in the industry, has been distilled and focused to its purest essence in the design of the production Dauntless.  This is the Platonic idea of the Dauntless in material form.  Having done this for two years and been a fan of blades for much longer I can tell you there is no other knife that I find as aesthetically appealing as the Dauntless.  It has just the right amount of style (which also happens to be functional) and the style it has is a cool, muted functionality.  It is industrial, not organic.  Clean and functional, without being boring.  It is a serious tool, but does not look like the weapon of a Klingon warrior.  The fullers provide an almost, but not quite, an Art Deco look to the blade.  It is pulled back from the precipice of design excess by the color choices and materials--bead blasted S30V and smooth, large weave black G10.  The bright stainless steel pivot screw is the only piece of polish and it gleams in contrast.  This is a fully realized piece.  Everything is in service to function and that, in turn, gives the knife its solid aesthetic.

The ratios are slightly above par given the knives I have reviewed.  They are evidence of the fact that this is a big knife (at least for me), but still one conscientiously designed and proportioned.  I decided to do all my own measurements this time.  The blade is 3 3/8 inches long (with a much shorter cutting edge because of the large choil).  The handle is 4 5/8 inches long.  The knife weighs 4.3 ounces.   The blade:handle is .73, right in the middle of the pack of the blades I have reviewed, better than the Delica (.68), for example, but worse than the Al Mar (.84).  It is about the same as a Mini Grip (.75).  The blade:weight is .78, very decent.  Finally, here is a scale picture, with, of course, the Zippo:

IMG_0021

Fit and Finish: 2

At the beginning of one of the most challenging books I have ever read (because of the ideas, not the language)--Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, the French thinker posits an idea that has dogged science for ages--what if you could make a copy of something that is perfectly precise and accurate?  At what point does the copy simply become the thing itself?  In Baudrillard's example it is a map.  The map makers decide to make the map all encompassing and perfectly detailed.  Eventually they realize that the map is the size of the land it is trying to depict.

The fit and finish on the production Dauntless is like that map.  They have been so painstaking in making it look and feel like a custom that they have essentially created one.  The quality level is so high that when handling the knife you get this sneaking sensation that the production company, the OEM (original equipment manufacturer), just kept pushing and pushing until, well, they had made a large batch custom blade.  The fit and finish on the production Dauntless blows away virtually every high priced production knife I have seen.  Honestly, it is probably a little finer than my Sebenza and at least equal to the Al Mar.  There isn't a stray line or grind.  Each type of finish, the polish on the pivot, the bead blasting on the blade, and the buff on the G10 handle, is perfect.  The lock travels over about halfway and stops.  It disengages with ease but there is not a smidgen of wiggle.  The blade has no play in any direction when the pivot is appropriately tightened.  The jimping on the blade and the lockbar is aggressive without being shreddy.

IMG_0013


Frankly there is nothing I can fault on this knife in terms of fit and finish, even if I wanted to be a picky as the price tag and hype demand.  In terms of fit and finish, I have never seen a production that is its superior.   Only the most stratospheric and elite customs, such as those by Howard Hitchmough (who made surgical tools before knives), exceed the tolerances and fit and finish on the production Dauntless and even then it is not by a mile. 

As a side note there is something of a conspiracy theory developing around the OEM.  It was originally claimed that one of three custom makers--Brian Fellhoelter, Les George, or Brad Southard--were making the production Dauntlesses for TAD Gear.  One of the makers debunked that theory over on USN.  Another rumor popped up that it was Kershaw, the seemingly default company for OEM Ti framelocks, after it was revealed that the AG Russell Acies and Acies II were made by Kershaw (the Blur and the Acies's shared thumb stud was a giveaway).  One reviewer online thought that the OEM might be Protech.  Its fun to try and figure out who made this blade for TAD Gear, but whoever it is, they did one hell of a job. 

Grip: 2

I am not one that worries about the loss of cutting edge when it is taken up by a good choil.  This is just such a knife.  When both choils are used, this knife gives you rock solid control.

IMG_0020

I used it to cut out paper strips for a project at work and I was stunned by just how tiny I could cut them and just how easy it was.  This is a task better, or more commonly, given to a knife like the Al Mar, but even with a beefy blade, the Dauntless handled it gracefully.  The combination of the choils, the jimping, and the fullers, which are actually functional, make this an excellent knife in the hand, one of the best I have ever used, rivaling my beloved DF2

Carry: 2

I was worried that a knife this big and this heavy might be a problem, but it doesn't seem to take up any more real estate in my pocket than, say, the Spyderco PM2.  The knife is actually not that wide, lacking either a flipper or a thumb hole.  As you can see, all of the edges are all nicely rounded over and the rear tang is completely covered.

IMG_0011

The knife slides into the pocket like a bar of soap and stays there quietly until you need it. 

Steel: 2

S30V is still a very good steel and this is an excellent rendition of the material.  I'd prefer a stonewashed finish, as I think most people would, but the bead blasting doesn't seem to have encouraged rust to take hold.  I haven't babied the review sample, as you can see above there is a mark on the blade, but there is no rust and despite some heavy cutting including a lot of excess Christmas boxes, the S30V steel is still hair popping sharp.  This is a beefy slab of steel too, at around 1/8 inch thick.  

Blade Shape: 2

The blade shape is the place where the Strider influence is strongest.  The knife is a gorgeous spear point blade with a healthy choil.  There is a nice swedge on the blade taking the thick S30V stock down to a great tip.  The tip is actually something a masterstroke as it is not too pointy as to be fragile, but did quite well in my super detailed paper cutting task.  The spear point lends an excellent belly to the blade, something that general utility tasks benefit from and something I really like. 

Grind: 2

The cutting bevel on the Dauntless is wide, giving you plenty to sharpen.  The flats are, so far as I can tell dead flat, with the obvious exception of the fuller.  The main bevel is a flat grind that goes about halfway up the blade.

The thing that sets the Dauntless apart from other production knives in terms of grind is how the grind meets the choil.  Compare the picture above under the Grip section showing the choil on the Dauntless to this choil and ricasso:
 
IMG_0008
 
This is a picture of the choil area on the Spyderco PM2.  On the Dauntless the grind is elegantly swept down to the rear end of the cutting edge to give you flats near the pivot.  This is to accomodate the finger choil.  The grind, as it meets the choil (seen in the picture above), is perfect.  Unlike the PM2 choil, the Dauntless rendition lets you sharpen all the way up the edge, making sure the choil costs you absolutely no more cutting real estate than is necessary.  The grind is simple, yet thoughtful.  It is meticulous and designed for users to resharpen.  This is how you do a grind. 

Deployment Method: 2

The pivot itself is a liquid joint that flows smoothly and quickly, yet the blade doesn't swing free when between the locked and closed position. The thumb studs are big and sturdy.  They give you a lot of space to hold on to and, for thumb studs, they work quite well.  You can easily flick the knife open without the aid of any wrist action whatsoever.  That, my friends, is awesome deployment.  I'd give the Dauntless a three if I could.

Retention Method: 2

Here is a picture of the pocket clip:

IMG_0014

This is perhaps one of the few things that people have been complaining about on the Dauntless.  They claim that the clip is too bulky and hangs out of the pocket too much, but in my use I have found the clip to be nothing but stellar.  I love the over the top clip and the simplicity of the design, especially the screw holes.  

Lock: 2

This is how you do a framelock.  The cut is so tightly done and jimping is perfect.  The lockup is incredibly sound and the lock is around 40%.  There is no rock or wiggle in any direction.  I loosened the pivot on mine so the blade is a quicker, but it still locks up tight.  It compares favorably to the Sebenza.  That's about as good as it gets in a production blade. 

Overall Score: 20 out of 20 

After about a month of using it to do daily cutting tasks, outdoor work, roping cutting, and cutting up waste material (like pine door framing), I can say with certainty that this is an exceptional tool.  It rivals the Sebenza in terms of fit and finish.  It has an excellent blade steel.  It has unrivaled aesthetics.  This is a product that over promised and STILL over delivered.  I was worried that my expectations were too high, but as with all of the TAD stuff I have (a hat and Covert pants), your expectations, high as they are, are probably a little short of just how good their stuff is.  The production Dauntless's launch caused waves of excitement among knife knuts.  Having used one for a month now I can say those waves were warranted.  This is one hell of a knife.  It delivers in every possible way.

This is easily a 20/20, but in the end, I probably would prefer a smaller version.  This is a big blade, big.  I have found that I really never need more than 3.25 inches in a blade, and this is more than that.  The extra size and weight do nothing for me.  But, if you are someone that likes big blades, no question, this is a knife you need to look at and consider.  I said this in the video review (posted below) and it is true: it has the ruggedness and durability of a Strider, the fit and finish of a Sebenza, and a look all its own.  That is a winning combination in my mind.  A smaller version would be perfect for me, but if you are a fan of bigger blades, consider this your perfect production blade. 

BONUS:

Here is my video review of the production Dauntless:

Monday, January 28, 2013

My EDC 10 Most Wanted 2013

I know it is almost February, but before the first month of the year slips away I thought I'd lay out 10 EDC things I am really interested in this year.  A few things are new and a few are things that have been around a while that I just can't seem to get my hands on.  Some of them are pure fiction on my part, some of them are totally real but months off.  Here was an article I wrote last year with a similar take. 

10.  Krave Beef Jerky (particularly Sweet Chipotle): okay so this is a bit of a stretch in terms of EDC stuff, but if you think about it good beef jerky is a good food to carry with you.  I pack some on hikes (no super long ones as jerky is pretty dehydrating) and have some in my car.  I commute about an hour each way and then drive between courts so there is a lot of road time.  I used to eat chips and the like and I realized a) that beef jerky tasted better; b) good beef jerky, like this stuff, has better ingredients (unless you are a vegetarian); and c) it has less fat and calories.  Its not health food, but it is better than 99% of what you can find when your closest food is a gas station in Pittsburg (New Hampshire, not Pennsylvania).  Of all the jerky I have had, and being a jerky fan I have had a lot, this is by far and without question the best I have ever had.  It is pricey, but totally, totally worth it.  Gourmet beef jerky has arrived and it is delicious.

9.  Tom Bihn Wallet: I have no idea if they are making one, but good lord I'd die and go to wallet heaven if they had a small, thin number made of Dyneema.  They have a few wallet-like things on their site, but no pure, regular folded bills wallet.  I'd love them to throw a small Bihn tether loop on it and call it a day.  It would work with my Cadet and all of Bihn's other stuff and I am certain that his design genius could outdo all of the "thin wallets" out there made of nylon.  Wallet+Tom Bihn design+Bihn tether loop+Dyneema=WIN

8.  A real Kickstarter EDC project:  Kickstarter is a great place to find cool stuff, but there is a distinct clumping: i-accessories, pen barrels, and "card" wallets abound.  Those things are nice, specifically the Render K, the Hex Brite (which has a completely unnecessary programming feature), and the Brydge, but I want something truly EDC.  What about a one piece multitool?  How about a small, more gentlemanly Dragonfly sized knife?  And when will the CPF guys throw up a flashlight?  Custom knife maker extraordinaire Brian Fellhoelter already dabbled in Kickstarter with his bolt action pen.  I'd love to see other folks go there as well.   How about a McGizmo AAA light on Kickstarter?  Or a single cell Cool Fall light?

7.  Doane Idea Journal Small:  Right now my test notes go in a bunch of different places.  I'd really like to have a single storage place for them and the awesome grid+lines format of the Doane paper looks great.  The real selling point though is the super sturdy chipboard covers.  Great for taking notes anywhere.

6.  Pilot Vanishing Point: Okay this one deserves a picture:


This brilliant and innovative design is two things I am dying for in a pen: a fountain pen plus a clicky.  The retractable nib is an amazing masterstroke of design and makes the Vanishing Point literally in a class of its own.  It certainly won't be as tough as my Ultimate Clicky, but you can say that about a lot of things: my F-701, my suit, a brick, a bomb shelter, and a tank.  I am not going to avoid it simply because it might get beat up.

5.  Strider PT: Okay, this is a really nice sized knife.  It is one of my favorite blades, but for whatever reason I can't seem to line up funds and availability at the same time.  I finally had some dough to spend and unfortunately Strider informed me that they have none left and that they aren't intending to make more for at least 6 to 8 months.  Ugh...Hopefully they will use that time to improve the pivot, redo the lockbar face like they did on the SnGs, and add an overtravel mechanism.  Just a few requests.

4.  ZT556:  Hinderers are amazing knives, overbuilt, well designed and finished an awesome hihg polish stonewash.  Alas they aren't readily available and those that can be had cost an arm and a leg (usually).  The ZT56X series are all great knives, but they are big.  It is hard to explain how big they are until you actually have one in your hand.  These are beefy blades. In fact, I think they are a little too big for everyday carry.  The ZT556 is essentially the same knife in a smaller, 3 1/4 inch blade size.  Here is a comparison shot between the two:


The 556 is not a small knife, it is just tiny compared to the massive 560 its next to.  A few differences that make the 556 less than #1 on this list: the frame side is stainless steel (yuck), it has an assisted opener AND it lacks the KVT system that the 56X series has.  This is, again, circumstantial evidence that assisted openers are merely a way to cover up less than ideal pivots.  Other than those three differences, this is a 56X in a smaller size.  I can live with the stainless steel lock side, but the lack of KVT is a tiny bummer for an otherwise awesome blade.  Hopefully there will be replacement scales for this one as well.

3. Zebralight SC52:  You want this light.  I want this light.  We all want this light and it is because this is what happens when you relentlessly focus on a single battery format.  Zebralight has tweaked and tuned and pushed the AA battery to its very limits.  This is an AA light that runs lumen counts as high as most CR123a.  The flexibility of the outputs coupled with the nice pocket clip make this a real stunner.  I'd like to get all of the accessories, including the Zebralight band that converts this to headlamp.  I've said this before, but if you were starting over or just starting out, this is the light to get.

2.  Spyderco Native 5 CF in S110V:  Go back and read that again.  Yes, I wrote that right--S110V.  This steel was conceived of as Crucible's response to ZDP-189 and looks to be a killer.  I think this is the first production knife to use the steel and the Native 5 is already an awesome design.  Add on to that, CF scales and you have one of the things I am looking forward to most in 2013 (that and Wil Meyer's MLB debut).  Oh yeah and all of this super awesome design and cutting edge materials comes at a relatively cheap price--$210 shipped from Blade HQ.  Gather your pennies Spyderco devotees.  This is the secret best production knife of the year, if judged on specs and price alone.

1.  Muyshondt Aeon Mark II in Titanium: As a site we organized and persuaded Enrique to make one last run of the Aeon and once we hit enough people, he agreed.  The specs are leaking out and while the light has been delayed because of machining issues, this will be, in my opinion, the perfect EDC light--small, easy to use, plenty bright, moonlight low, and awesome Hi CRI output.  Its weird to think that something I had requested is, eventually, becoming real.  Having one in my possession will be one of those things that will always make me smile just a little.

It will be interesting to see how many of these things I can review in the coming months.  I really, really want that Native 5, but something tells me they will be hard to get.  I've heard that S110V is a bitch to grind.   
       

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ka Bar Mini Dozier Review

Bob Dozier is, perhaps, as high up in the pantheon of great custom knife makers as you can go and still be, well, alive. His drop point fixed blade hunters are as close as mere mortals can get to a Loveless of the same design and his folders are incredible. They are simple, seemingly unchanging, and cut incredibly well. I have handled three customs, all at shows, and the action on the pivot is superb, as good as an art knife, but the blade is, unquestionably meant to be used. An unused Dozier folder is like a dusty racecar--an embarrassment for its owner and a slight against the machine itself. But alas, the wait on a custom Dozier folder is stretching into "when its done" territory (officially all of the books are closed on folders as of 1/21/13) and the prices, while incredibly reasonable for the quality, are significant. The Ka Bar Mini Dozier shares virtually nothing with the custom folder. Both are knives, both were designed by Dozier, and both are utilitarian at heart, but the similarities end there. Dozier's blades are premiere customs. The Mini Dozier is perhaps the cheapest "legit" folder you can buy.

The question is whether enough of the Dozier heritage carries through to make the knife worth even the pittance demanded by sellers. Is this cheapest of budget folders worth your time? The short answer is yes. The correct answer is much longer. This is an extreme exercise in budget knife making. It is an engineering tightrope act where every single feature is in equipoise with every single penny. This is a miserly design--Bob Dozier sketched it and a bean counter approved its manufacture. I have never used a knife where the budget constrains were more obvious. Only one sided thumb stud? That's a dime saved. One screw to hold the pocket clip in place? That's a penny. Pin construction despite a screw pivot? Three pennies. These things are tough to ignore and they do impact the knife. It will take me longer than this introduction to explain if they impact it too much.

Here is the product page. There are approximately one bazillion variants. Different colored handles, a full sized version, an extra large version, a version with a thumb hole opener, etc. You have lots of options. Here is a written review.  Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Ka Bar Mini Dozier, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my Ka Bar Mini Dozier:

IMG_0021


Design: 2

The overall design of the Mini Dozier is very simple.  There is a gentle curve to the knife and the blade, a distinct drop point, is below the pivot making the knife an aggressive cutter.  The entire blade is marked by design choices that seem to be borne out of budgetary concerns, mainly those listed above, but the silhouette of the knife is very nice and utilitarian.  The handle shape is good and the overall look is quite nice.  I don't like the exposed rear tang when the knife is closed, but other than that I have no real complaints about the shape.

The ratios are very good as this is a feather of a blade.  The listed weight of .05 pounds is incorrect (that is .8 ounces).  The correct weight is 1.16 ounces, the second slimmest blade I have reviewed (the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight is .96 ounces).  The blade:handle is .70 (which is about par).  The blade:weight is 2.05, the second best of any knife reviewed thus far, second to the Al Mar.  Here is a size comparison with a Zippo Lighter:

IMG_0026
Fit and Finish: 1

Put simply everything on the knife is fine except for one thing and it is kind of a big deal.  The lockback flexes quite a bit during use.  I am not talking heavy cardboard, I am talking tyvec envelopes.  The flex itself is in an odd direction.  The knife doesn't wiggle down away from the lockbar, it actually gets pushed up.  In the end, no amount of messing with the pivot could fix this problem.  In the end, it concerns me a great deal because a knife is just not supposed to move in that direction.  It might just be a hiccup on my particular knife or an issue with the whole line that never amounts to anything, but it sort of gives me that feeling you get when seeing a bizarrely double jointed person showing off.  The rest of the knife, especially the blade, was very nicely finished. 

Grip: 2

The jimping is surprisingly great.  Here is a close up shot:


It reminds of the basic, but effective jimping on the CRKT Drifter.  The rest of the knife is plenty grippy for what you will use it for, though nothing outstanding.  A mediocre handle with great jimping is really quite nice for a small EDC knife.  

Carry: 2

I don't bust out this comparison often, but this knife really does carry like the DF2.  That is as high a complement as I can think of, as it means that this a discrete, so light you forget about it knife.  It is something that you can carry every single day and really never worry if it will weigh you down.  The knife is also quite slim, making it friendly pocket knife. 

Steel: 2

The AUS-8 here is really, really good.  Again, I think back to the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight and realize that steel is as much about application as it is about chemistry.  Additionally, given the incredible budget price of the blade, it is quite nice to see a legit steel inhabiting the handle.  If the bean counters truly made the knife, they spent beans in the right place--the steel.  

Blade Shape: 2

A simple, utilitarian drop point blade:

IMG_0024

This is perhaps the most direct design trait from the Dozier customs and it is a good one to choose.  I really, really like the blade shape and though it appears to have a slight recurve to it, it doesn't which saves the knife from a 1.  Its staggering to think just how many knives get something this basic and this simple wrong.  No fancy recurves, no shark tooth, no nightmare grind--just a straight cutting edge thank you very much.

Grind: 2

Once again the bean counter makes a good choice--a high hollow grind is an easy way to make a knife a good slicer (it makes me wonder why so few budget knives go the chisel ground route).  The full flat ground rage should subside sometime in the future and people realize that a hollow ground blade is pretty darn good its own right. 

Deployment Method: 1

I already poked fun of the thumb stud for including one one side, but it also, small, weirdly textured, and way to close to the handle for flicking open.  This is a "slow roll" style thumb stud at best and while it works it is pretty lackluster.  Bean counter messed this one up.  

Retention Method: 1

Bean counter also screwed this one up a little too.  When I got the knife the clip was very loose.  I tightened it and a few days later it was loose again.  Then I really wrenched on it is and finally it is staying put.  The problem, of course, is that it uses only a single screw to hold itself in place.  The result, even with the little footprint cut out in the handle, is a clip that likes to walk around.  I can easily see it falling out after months of no maintenance, but given how long that would be, you'd probably notice it before that happens.  

Lock: 1

The lock here holds the blade in place, but it has a lot of movement.  There is a pronounced flex, as I mentioned above.  It tends to move a lot even with mild pressure.  I can't see how a lockback moves in this way, absent some pretty lackluster fit and finish or a loose pin on the pivot of the lockbar.  I can't tell which it is, but either way it makes me worry.  Mind you this might be a little OCD that never results in a performance problem, like I mentioned before.  The issue is I just don't know which it is--a problem or a quirk.  Right now the lock is working fine.  

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

This is a perfectly acceptable pocket knife for folks that don't really care about their pocket knife.  At around $14 it is an amazing value, in large part thanks to its AUS-8 blade which is well above par in the ultra-budget market segment.  I like the blade shape and the grind as well.  Virtually everything about the blade itself is top notch.  The rest of the knife leaves something to be desired.  Lots of price saving shortcuts rob the knife of being a true top shelf value.  For the price though, it is awfully hard to beat.  This is will be the cheapest knife in the under $20 shoot out, so let's see if the lack of fit and finish can be overcome by the price tag. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Olight S10 Baton Review by Reed

A great flashlight, in my opinion, is harder to design and implement than most other EDC items. While Tony's reviews tend to rate knives lower than lights, my experience is the opposite; a knife is more likely to get a perfect score than a light because I expect/desire so many different things from a light whereas I look for knives to only do a few things well. (For those interested, as of this writing Tony has 37 knives rated with 4 receiving a perfect 20 (10.8%) vs. 22 rated lights with 4 receiving a perfect 20 (18.2%). The overall average of knife scores was 15.7 vs. 17.0 for lights.) This is not to say I'm correct or that Tony is wrong because a review is nothing but a subjective opinion anyway, but it is to say I come at a light review a little differently than what you normally see on this blog.  

EDITOR'S NOTE: I found this analysis to be fascinating and I can't explain why that's the case.  Also note that Reed did the calculations about three or four months ago so I wonder if this holds true. 

Today I will review the Olight S10 Baton. I've carried this light daily for nearly two months using primarily a RCR123 battery. Here are the basic specifications for the light: 4 brightness levels (high mode, 320 lumens for 1.5 hours; mid mode, 70 lumens for 7.5 hours; low mode, 5 lumens for 108 hours; and moon mode, 0.5 lumens for 15 days); side switch; magnetic, flat standing tail; strobe; reversible pocket clip; and total length of just 70.5mm. 

You can purchase the light here for approximately $50 USD shipped. Here is the Olight product page.  The light is reviewed here. It was also discussed by Tony here

 

Design: 2 

All in all, it is a well designed, well thought out light. There are a lot of features especially for a $50 light. 

Fit and finish: 1 

The finish is uniform but the HA isn't as tough as I would hope. It may be Type II rather than Type III. My light shows a little wear after steady use so if you like the Boba Fett look you'll be happy. The light survived being used as a toy for an infant's bath without any water intrusion even when the selector switch was used.

Grip: 2 

A bit small for a primary light, the light is a great size for EDC. The selector switch is well placed, the knurling well cut. 

Carry: 2 

This light is small and light. It carries well. I carry it without the pocket clip (no desire for a clip on a light this small) but I will note that the clip is the worst I have ever used. My nine year old son could design a better clip. Really, I can't emphasize enough how terrible the clip is designed. If you want a clip on your light, pass on the S10. I don't so no point is deducted. If the clip were included this would get a 0.

Output: 2 

No complaints. 320 lumens is a whole lot of light from a one cell battery, either primary or rechargeable. What really sold me, though, is the opportunity to have a very bright light in my pocket which also passes the important nightstand test with flying colors. 0.5 lumens is just right in the middle of the night to check on crying children or visit the bathroom. A particularly attractive feature is that the moon mode is directly accessible no matter what level is in memory. To access moon mode simply long press the on switch. In my view the light levels are well thought-out and appropriately spaced. 

Runtime: 2 

I have not performed a runtime test to verify the manufacturer's stated performance but I have no reason to doubt their accuracy. Over seven hours of 70 lumens (remember when Surefire said 65 lumens was an appropriate level for tactical use? I find that is a satisfactory level for general purpose work) from one CR123 is perfectly acceptable in my book. The light steps down from the maximum output after five minutes but I have not noticed this being a problem on evening walks. 

Beam type: 2 

I find the light has a good balance of spill versus flood, especially for being as compact as it is. Beamshots are shown below. 

High beam 



Moon mode:



Beam quality: 2 

I am not as picky as some regarding whether a LED is warm or cool. It isn't blue and I'm content. The reflector is an orange peel type for a smooth beam. 

UI: 1 

Life is a compromise. I agree that a selector ring may be the best UI available. The side selector on the S10 is convenient, better than a tail clickie, but it sill requires you to either pick one level for the memory function or go to moon mode. There is no way to instantly select another level without cycling. Olight did the best they could with the UI but it still isn't the best option available. That said, nothing is easier to access than a side switch so when the memory is set to the desired level the side switch beats the twisting of a selector ring. Strobe is available but requires a double press while the light is already on. A tactical light this is not. 

Hands free use (Tailstand and anti-roll): 2 

The head is slightly larger than the seven flats so the light still rolls a bit. The selector slows it so it won't roll off the table without a push but it isn't as roll-free as it would initially appear. Where the light excels, though, is the magnetic tail. I cannot say how much I've enjoyed this feature. As the photo below shows, the magnet is plenty strong to hold the light in a horizontal orientation using only a minimal magnetic surface.



On occasion the light has "stuck" to my keys or my knife and been pulled out of my pocket. One early morning business trip it fell into the grass faintly, such that it was a small miracle I wasn't without a light the entire trip. As with the UI, life is a compromise. I do not know of a way to make a magnet magnetic only at request. If one does not like this feature it is easily remedied with a candle. With a flat bottom the light tailstands well. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

With a few caveats based more on the user's needs than the light itself, I wholeheartedly recommend the S10 Baton as a quality EDC item.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

SHOT Show 2013: CRKT, Spyderco, and Kershaw

EDITOR'S NOTE: One last SHOW Shot piece before a guest review of the S10 Baton.  

Well, not a lot of big flashlight news out of SHOT Show as Surefire continued their parade of vaporware, so vapory in fact that it was much the same line up as last year with emitter upgrades.  That's a sign--when your products take so long to get to market that the PROTOTYPES get an emitter upgrade while still prototypes, there is a problem.  But, alas, don't be sad because I think this installment just might be the most interesting of the all (tied with the ZT installment).

CRKT

They came ready to rumble and boy did they ever.  They brought a massive Ken Onion designed fixed blade (over Ken Onion designs...he is straying into Brian Tighe territory with his unnecessary flourishes), two tomahawks, and a slew of new blades.  The first blade that caught my eye was the Enticer (yep, they have product pages already, awesome):

The trick here is that the blade is relatively large, 3 1/4 inches, but the knife only weighs two ounces.  TWO OUNCES.  It also carries a new steel for CRKT 1.4034.  CRKT also has a few Sandvik blades as well, showing the calls for new steel were not ignored.  There is the Endorser, a pretty plain jane blade, but sometimes in a world of recurves plain is welcomed.  They also released a new flipper, the Carajas, by Flavio Ikoma.  It clocks in at 3.12 inches and is a bit more staid than the normal, flamboyant Ikoma designs.  They have a Persian style blade, but Persian blades bore me.  The have a few new Liong Mah designs, all of which are slip joints (no!!!!!).  The final knife they have is the Swindle by...Ken Onion.  I know, I know I said his stuff was boring, but boy is this a cool looking blade:


The spine riding pocket clip is a first for a production knife (so far as I know) and the flipper/framelock combination is quite popular right now.  This is a sweet looking knife with a 3.2 inch blade. 

A very, very good showing by CRKT.

Spyderco

I thought that there was nothing coming out at SHOT Show and then Sypdercollector started releasing videos.  His last one is probably the most interesting but least news like--an interview with Ed Schempp about the Balance and Equilibrium.  Each one is more enticing than the next.  First there was the Sprint Run Goddard, which is pretty nice, but a bit big for me.  Then there is the really unusual Jot Signh Khalsa.  They have two new Emerson openers--a karambit and the Matriarch (which looks even more aggressive if that is possible).  But the show stopper is this little blade, the Domino:



It is hard to be more stoked for a blade than this.  A Spyderco leaf shaped blade with a flipper AND a framelock.  Somehow Spyderco intercepted by prayers to the knife gods and made this blade.  Hopefully it comes it at or around 3 inches.  It looks close in the video.  The blade steel is the awesome CTS-XHP (called stainless D2 by Sal).  Could be the knife of the show.

Kershaw

Here is the video from Blade HQ:


Knife Jen is an awesome spokesperson for Kershaw, the best in the business so far as I can tell.  She is quite knowledgeable and is comfortable enough to drop the street prices in the videos.  There is a small knife that looks choily and competitive with the DF, if not on the steel level, at least on the size level.  The Ti button lock flipper looks nice, but with 8CR13MoV steel, the MSRP of $99 is SUPER STEEP.  I like the Rexford from Kershaw, better than the ZT version, as the black looks very nice and it is not an assisted opener (as almost all of the Kershaws are).  The new Hinderer looks nice as well, and yes there is a larger Cryo coming.  I think it will weigh 9 pounds and people will rave about it, well everyone but me.

Remember you can order or preorder your blades through Blade HQ and the sales benefit the site.     Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find most of these knives, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Friday, January 18, 2013

TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky Review

One good sign that you need to upgrade your tools or gear is when you have maxed out the capabilities of what you currently own.  I am probably never going to max out the capabilities of my McGizmo Haiku, but I did so with my "extra durable" everyday carry pen.  I have used and loved the Zebra F-701 for over five years.  I posted it about it here.  But alas, the daily grind and wear and tear of court, travel, prisons, and jails took its toll on even the hearty F-701.  About two months ago it took a fall from the second floor of a building and broke.  The Fisher insert I had modded to take it was fine.  The barrel of the F-701 was okay.  But the knock (or clicky) no longer worked and no amount of disassembly could fix it.  Fortunately this was right around my birthday and so I asked for and received the TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky pen as a gift.

It is an outstanding pen.  Really, though, the writing part is what you make of it as it accepts standard Parker inserts (I have a Fisher refill in it right now), which is a very good thing as there are a bevy of choices.  The body or barrel of the pen is what makes this tool so impressive.  I'll detail all of the problems I have had with past pens and the solutions that are incorporated into the TuffWriter Ultimate Click that makes it so amazing.

The Ultimate Clicky began as a Kickstarter project by Jack Roman, the head honcho over at TuffWriter.  You can find the Kickstarter page hereHere is the TuffWriter product page.  Note that there are small differences between the Kickstarter version and the retail TuffWriter version.  I got the raw Aluminum version (which is $10 cheaper), but there two other models: a Black anondized pen and a Red anondized pen.  Here is the Pen Addict's brief write up on the Kickstarter version.  There are no written or video reviews of this pen, which is surprising as it hits a button for gear geeks and pen addicts at the same time.  Here is a place to buy the Ultimate Clicky, though you can buy it from TuffWriter as well.  Here is my Ultimate Clicky:

IMG_0029

The overall design is significantly different than the large majority of the ridiculous "tactical" pens out there, free of silly crenelations and spiked ends (which seem like a bad idea for something that gets shoved in your pocket close to your junk).  This is a pen first and foremost and I appreciate it for that.  I also like using o-rings for added grip.  It is unnecessary but an interesting touch.  The clip is perfect for a pen, though more on that later.  I loved the design of the clicky or knock as it is called.  It is brilliantly simple and the satin finish is nice.  The only thing, design wise, I wasn't thrilled about was the series of scallops with o-ring accents under the clip.  It serves no real purpose and gives the pen a 1950s ray gun look to it.  Overall it is a very good design.

IMG_0028

The pen is quite long, coming in at roughly 6 inches.  Here it is up against the iconic Zippo lighter (which makes everything look cooler when it is next to it, the Zippo is just a gorgeous piece of design).  The pen is also weighty, something that pen folks generally like, clocking in at 1.66 ounces.  Generally, the logic behind weighty pens is that they help your hand do detail work, as items that are too light feel difficult to control.  Additionally, the weight helps put the pen to the page, something that tends to happen a lot with pens.  Many of the extremely high end pens are quite weighty, the Montblanc Meisterstuck 149, for example has an internal brass piston for ink intake making it both large and very weighty.   As a person that likes to carry as little as possible that is as light as possible, I am not sure I LOVE a weighty pen, but I can tell you this--it is easier to write with this pen than it is to write with the Fisher Bullet Pen, which is both slimmer and shorter.

The balance of the pen is good for a pen this heavy.  I had a deposition a few days ago and it was a long one.  I took about fifteen to twenty pages of notes over a two and half hour period.  Knowing this review was coming, I used the pen the entire time.  My hand was tired, but not that much more than it would be writing that long with any other pen.  It is not that all of the weight is forward, that's not the case.  It is that enough of the weight is towards the writing end that the balance isn't an issue.  That is, it is heavy but well balanced. 

The weight helps with the carry of the pen.  I know that sounds a little contradictory, given what I just wrote and what I have espoused for 20 months now, but here is what I mean.  I have had a bunch of pens before this one, a Retro 51 Tornado or three, the F-701, and a half a dozen other lesser pens that looked nice on the sale rack, but were crap everywhere else.  Even the F-701 was a little too light.  I would forget it in my pocket or leave it in a jacket.  The Ultimate Clickly's weight makes that very, very hard to do.  It also makes it easy for you to remember you have it with you or not when traveling from place to place.  This is one of the best aspects of the pen and helps you make sure not to lose what is, in essence, a $100 pen.  Also, honestly I don't know if the 1.66 ounces is all that big a deal in the long run.  It is just slightly more than my beloved DF2, so I can't complain all that much.

This brings me to the pocket clip.  I love the pocket clip, love, love, love it.  So many pens have flimsy metal or even worse plastic clips.  They simply cannot withstand years of regular unpampered use.  I killed all three Retro 51s by breaking their clips.  I killed two Parker Jotters clip first.  Pulling a pen in and out of a pocket, taking it to a jail and a prison, and through countless court house security checkpoints means that my pens see a lot of action and their clips are especially vulnerable.  The Ultimately Clicky LAUGHS at these things.  They are nothing.  If the Vikings designed a pen clip, this would be it.  It is one BAMF pen clip.  It is at least twice as thick as a normal clip and pinned in place with two torx screws.  This last bit is important as almost every clip first got loose and then broke.  Other clips, like the washer style clip on the F-701 can pivot even when fulled tighted down, but there is no movement whatsoever here.  Brilliant job Jack.  

The thing that really kills it for me though is the knock or clicky on this pen.   Here it is in its polished splendor

IMG_0031

Using a cam mechanism instead of a spring, it is incredibly smooth.  So smooth in fact that the name is something of a misnomer.  There is no click in the Ultimate Clicky, only a glide smooth approach and release.  If anything makes this pen rank very high on the fidget factor scale, this is it.  Press, release, press, release.  I love it.

It is not all roses though.  This pen is complex.  There are a lot of pieces and like the Novatac springs of old, some fall out when you open the pen.  It is not a deal breaker by any means, but there is a spacer plug, a spring and both ends screw off.  Then there is the bearing clicky itself which also comes apart from the pen.  Do not change the refill in your car.  Don't think you can do this while standing up.  Find a desk or a table, sit down, and go to work.  It will make you look like MacGyver or an old world horology craftsman.  

Also, the tolerances on the pen are REALLY tight.  The cartridge from Fisher can be a little snug and I had to sand mine down to get it to work.  It was only one cartridge in five, but still.  But here is the thing that makes this okay.  I emailed Jack, not telling him I was writing this review, and he responded within the day.  Actually he responded within the hour and then two other times to help with the issue.  In the end, he wanted me to send it back, but I fixed it myself and held on to the pen.  All of the design genius and mechanical gee whiz means little if there isn't good support behind it and at TiffWriter, my experience indicates you get the best support there is--fast support from the man himself.

This is a great pen with a really good choice of refill--the Parker-style insert.  This gives you a ton of options.  I am not going to bother with a writing sample like so many straight up pen reviews do because, really, this is a Fisher insert that we have all seen a hundred times before.  The included refill, a Fisher, is very hardy and writes forever, but isn't the boldest or smoothest of inks (The Pen Addict recommends the Moleskine Gel Insert 0.5 mm, if you really want a gel insert; the standard Parker gel inserts are TERRIBLE).  I have also tried out the Moleskine (on the Pen Addict's recommendation) and it works fine in the TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky.  The .5 mm tip is very fine, perhaps too fine for everyday use, but perfect for sketchnoting (which is why I bought it).  Again, the tight tolerances made for a snug fit, but after a few clicks everything was fine.  There are simply a ton of options for refills because it uses the Parker-style insert.  You can switch to gels, roller balls, or ballpoints as there is a Parker insert for any style you like.  A Hi-Tec-C version of the Ultimate Clicky would be nice for artsy folks, but for those of us that write for utility's sake, the Parker insert choice is the best.

The pen has also proven to be durable.  In the month I have owned and used it I have dropped it, lent it to folks, taking into prison, court, jail, and juvy.  It has fallen in the water (a puddle) and the snow (everywhere).  It still works perfectly with that trademark gliding knock.

If you need a hard use pen and have already killed your F-701 or what something a little nicer but still need a clicky, this is definitely worth a try.  I like mine a lot and loved the support and service even more.     
 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

SHOT Show 2013: Benchmade and Leatherman

SHOT Show is an interesting mix of folks and while body armor is cool, I am not sure how relevant it is to EDC stuff (unless you are, of course, a mall ninja).  Wading through the torrent of information coming out of Las Vegas is still useful though because not only do you get a good deal of EDC related nuggets, you also find new people disseminating information.

Benchmade

Here is a video from Fate of Destinee at the Benchmade booth:




Her presentation is top notch and knowledge of steels is impressive (and not just "for a woman"; note that the equipped to endure guy mentioned nothing about steels until Ethan Becker did).  The Benchmade line up however is a bit staid.  The 300SN flipper has been covered extensively already, including this good review from Aaron.  The Volley looks, well, boring.  It seems like an answer to a unasked question.  I like that it is thin, but the market for 3-3.5 inch folders is already JAMMED with great blades and this looks like it offers nothing new.  The Sibert fixed blade looks great.  I am usually not a fan of Sibert's work, preferring lighter smaller folders, but I see the quality inherent in his designs and the Benchmade fixed blade is no different, except I am more willing to take the extra weight in a fixed blade knife.  The purist bushcraft folks will balk at the synthetic handle, but the overall shape and look coupled with Benchmade's always great fit and finish make it seem like a winner.  I am only afraid of its price tag.

Leatherman

Here is a video from friend of the blog Juli over at Leatherman:

First up are task specific multitools that appear to be based not on a butterfly opening multitool but last year's ZRex cutter.  There are a few new look updates for the OHT, the Charge TTi (my favorite large multitool).  The Surge (the extra large tool) gets a bunch of swappable options both for the saw and pliers.  It can now take any T-shank blade (like those used on a jig saw).  That idea alone is a master stroke, but with the upgraded plier jaws the Surge looks like the king of extra large multitools.  The Raptor is a EMT multitool shear.  I know nothing about what EMTs use it for, but I do not that most pitch their shears after a job, so I am not sure how useful they will be.  Of course, if you are an EMT, chime and tell me how dumb I am.  

Benchmade's showing was sparse, but the Sibert blade looks great.  Leatherman, on the other hand, had another great showing (after last year and the debut of the OHT).  They are the Tom Petty of SHOT Show--always consistently very, very good, never great, but very good.   

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

SHOT Show 2013: ZT and Surefire

As far as innovation goes, no two brands push the tech envelop in the production world more than ZT and Surefire. So when I saw tweets and posts about both I was excited to open them up and take a peek.

Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance has been on a roll of late, running the table at BLADE Show like a gambler with loaded dice at the craps table. They have a penchant for finding the hottest custom designer from the best custom makers and translating them into stellar high end production folders. First up is the Rexford ZT.   Here is the Blade HQ video:


The 801 seems to be modeled after the custom Rexford Singularity a gorgeous blade in its own right.  The price looks good to around $180 and the release seems to be like all SHOT Show releases--3rd quarter. The big drawback is, however, this is probably going to be a heavy blade.

That's not the only gem, or, in fact, the most brilliant one.  For me, the ZT 0556, is the knife to buy coming out of SHOT Show thus far.  For all those that read the Cryo review and thought I was bonkers, the 0556 seems to indicate that the KAI felt there was room for improvement.  The 0556 is a smaller version of the 56X series of knives, or, seen in another way, a slightly larger premium version of the Cryo.  Either way, this is as close to an XM-18 as most folks will ever get and the blade looks awesome:


This is only the second knife I have ever put in a notification for (the other is the Cryo). I am stoked, though I will admit there are a few things I don't like.  I hate assisted openers as they are both a cover up for a cheaper, rougher pivot, and they usually do away with a good detent on the blade (using the torsion bar or spring to generate the detent).  I'd also like it if they made the blade 3 inches instead of 3.25 inches, but that is quibbling.  The weight is not listed, but if you scale down from the 56X you get something like 5 ounces (5.8 ounces divided by 3.75 inch blade gives you 1.54; that times 3.25 gives you a weight of roughly 5 ounces).  This is significant because it shows that the Cryo was too heavy--less than an extra ounce but a full half inch more in length.  Oh and the price is not too crazy either, looking like something under $180 in terms of street pricing.

If you order through this link:

Blade HQ

the proceeds benefit the site and future giveaways.

Surefire

So much of what Surefire puts out at SHOT Shows is vaporware (where is the Aegis, for example?) that I am not sure how to really take their showing.  Here is a good link with pics.  Here is the CPF thread talking about the lights.  The 4000 lumen beast was shown last year as a 2000 lumen monster.  They appear to have upgraded its emitter, along with the emitters of every other light shown.  None of the stuff they showed that was ostensibly new was all that great for EDC.  Its little unfair though because they just released the EB1, the successor to the E1B.  I'd really like to see Surefire take advantage of emitter tech and release an AA or AAA light.  As Zebralight has proven, you can get amazingly high lumen counts using a single AA alkaline battery.  There is officially no excuse not to make an alkaline light. 

I think I can safely summarize the sentiments around CPF re: Surefire's SHOT Show wares: vaporware and yawn.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Early SHOT Show 2013 Information

Here is a very good interview with Ethan Becker by Equipped to Survive:

Ethan Becker knows so much about fixed blades that it is insane. He also coins an awesome word: slicier (as in more slicy). The BK10, of course, looks very good and I think thinner is a good.  I have found that the 1/4" stock is decent, but 3/16" stock is virtually just as strong and a significantly better slicing thickness.  It is, well, slicier.  The necker looks really cool.  Maybe I can swing a review sample form Ka-Bar and stack it up against the Candiru.  Also, the idea of the one match fire is pretty interesting. 

SOG has some new blades on display.  You can see more about them here.  There is something that looks Brous designed, a few skeletonized fixed blades, and weirdly some wood scale Twitches.  They also have some tomahawks because apparently 2013 is the Year of the Tomahawk (or perhaps because tomahawks are both useful and have good margins).  I sort of swore off the SOG brand for a while after a few less than stellar blades at pretty high prices for what you get and nothing in this brief preview changes my mind.

Not much else I can find on the web, but here are a few places to keep tabs on over the next few days:

www.itstactical.com
www.everydaycivilian.com (run by fellow EDCFer DemskeetSkeet)

More later.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Getting Your Money Back

Introduction

By now I hope everyone has heard about Aaron Solomon, dba BushdioMosquito.  If you haven't, here is the review of the custom SAK he made for me.  As the review notes he had to change the order around because things were difficult to make, though in hindsight I am not sure if that was actually the case or if there was something more nefarious going on.

Being ripped off on the Internet is a really crappy thing.  It is crappy because you got ripped off, of course, but it is also crappy because most of the time you are dealing with people you trust.  On EDCF I really do like and trust quite a few folks I have met through there even though I have never seen or talked to them in person.  If they ripped me off, I would feel defrauded AND betrayed.  Fortunately, they never have.  But I have gotten ripped off before and unlike it with Aaron it was someone overseas (Rob Cheetham of Lummi Lights, see here for more).  There was very little I could do to get my money back, but in the end the steps I took worked.

As a courtesy, I now do the following three things in exchanges over the internet: 1) I communicate with the buyer immediately and every day until the item is shipped (which is usually the next day); 2) I always send the buyer a picture of the package that is bundled up and stamped by the post office; and 3) I hold their money until I receive a reply that they got what they paid for.  These steps make it pretty easy to deal with folks and the good old USPS has never lead me astray, though I know it has for some people.   

I want to give you some pointers about how to do this, but there are two caveats.  First, this is not legal advice.  I don't know what your consumer protection laws are like so I can't even pretend to give you advice.  Second, your experience may differ than mine.  A lot of these things are factually dependent.

There are really three ways to go about getting your money back and they vary in effectiveness.  These are last choice options.  The best way is to try and work things out with the original person, but like with Aaron, that seems to not be a possibility for a lot of folks.  So if you have run out of do-it-yourself options, these are things to turn to.  The first choice is the Fraud Department of PayPal/eBay which is the way most of the money is sent over the internet.  The second choice is the Consumer Protection division of the Attorney General's Office.  The third is, of course, the police. Again, this is more of a practical guide than anything else, so it is incumbent on you to read the fine print, read the law, and have a good understanding of the facts.

PayPal Fraud Department

Of all the resources mentioned here only one has a financial stake in the outcome.  PayPal and eBay's Fraud Department is very sophisticated and very effective.  You can find it here.  My experience with them was simply wonderful.  The first step is a mediated effort to solve the dispute.  In my case they froze both mine and Rob's PayPal account.  This both allows them to look at the record, frozen in time, and it operates as a sort of incentive for both parties to settle.  Rob must have done a lot of business through PayPal because he dodged me for a long time over email, but answered me within six hours of the PayPal account freeze.  The freeze didn't really effect me, but it did effect Rob, essentially cutting off his income.  I imagine the bounce back payments sent to his customers during the dispute were also bad for business.  In the end, that was enough.  The dispute was settled and the hold was lifted.

Be careful as there are strict time limits on the time between when the payment is made and when the dispute can be lodged.  Go over the time limit and they will not be able to help you.  Also, save all of your emails to and from the person.  You never know when they might be helpful.  Finally, it is also not a bad idea to save your bank records.

In the end, PayPal's business model requires that people can trust sending payments over the internet, if they can't the business fails.  As such, the Fraud Department is extremely aggressive and according to various sources, including consumer groups, very effective.  They have the most incentive to settle your problem, they have immediate access to a person's funds, and, for an internet business, they can shut off all their income.  Try them first.  This is what they do and they do it very well.  Oh, one other benefit--they work even for folks outside your state or the US.  They have no geographical limitations on who they can go after.  The other two options can only work in the US, and maybe only in your state. 

Consumer Protection Officials

I live in Massachusetts.  We have high taxes, restrictive gun laws, fantastic higher education, excellent schools and the best consumer protection laws in the country.  Our statute, called 93A, puts the fear of God into companies.   Why?  If you lose a claim you pay the other person's attorney fees AND triple their damages.  That is a huge penalty.    

Your law may not be that strong, but all states have some form of consumer protection laws.  Here is a good list of them.   I would start by getting in touch with your state consumer protection officials.  They are usually part of the Attorney General's Office for your state.  They will likely have a set of forms or questions for you.  I have not had to use the Consumer Protection folks before, but they are very, very good as a rule (as are most folks that work for a state Attorney General).  If an email from you doesn't scare the person defrauding you, one from a state AG, with all of the official looking letterhead and seals, etc will.

These people though are tremendously overworked.  They are dealing with Super Fund sites and massive fraud cases so a few hundred dollars, while significant to you, might not be a big deal for them.  Be patient and reasonable and understand that, in the end, they only have so much time.  If they can't help you they might be able to refer you to someone that can.  

The Police    

So far you have some computer folks that hunt fraud, some lawyers that look at fraud, but now you have folks with guns.  Right, you don't screw with the folks with guns.  If you paid for a good or service and didn't receive it, that is likely some kind of theft.  You should check your state laws and see if they are applicable.  If they are, and all of your other resources are tapped out, you might ask the police to look into the matter.  Give them all of the documentation, if they need it and ask for it and be patient.  If the consumer protection folks have bigger fish to fry, then the cops, well they are whale hunting in terms of problems.  They are, without question, the scariest folks for your fraudulent double dealer, but they are also the busiest.

Conclusion/Changing your Luck

I hope this helps.  Its terrible that Aaron seems to have stiffed so many folks.  Not just here, but on the forums as well.  Hopefully he is just terribly behind and will emerge from hiding with a bounty of loot and beautiful SAKs for all those that paid and got nothing. 

Since you had bad luck with Aaron, maybe I can equalize your luck a bit.  I am lucky you read this blog and I am lucky that folks send me stuff to review.  I will share that luck with you.  If you are someone that reads this blog and got stiffed by Aaron send me an email at anthonysculimbrene at comcast dot net.  Two weeks after this post is up, I will choose a person at random from the pile of folks that got stiffed and you will win the MBI CoreTi I reviewed a few weeks ago.  At least you still have some awesome, exotic Ti bling on your keychain, even if it isn't a SAK.  If you cheat in a contest where I am trying to make things a little nicer for folks that got defrauded, well, I think there is a special extra hot and slow elevator ride to hell for you in the future.    

Friday, January 11, 2013

CRKT Drifter Review

You can wade into the waters of an EDC knife for as little as a dollar.  There is a three inch knife with "steel" blade and "plastic" handle at Wal-Mart somewhere in the hunting section for $1.  It is a lockback and looks vaguely like a Spyderco Delica with a black plastic thumb stud in place of a thumb hole.  It has no brand name that I can find and is in a clam shell pack with a yellow and black (or red and black) cardboard backer that says simply: "Knife".  I have seen it called "Folding Knife" or even "Hunting Knife", but none of those really describe what it is, though I don't think it would sell as well if they labeled it "Junk."

The low end of knives is a really murky place to be.  Sure there are good values here and there, but if you are in the Bee/Elan/San Ren Mu territory you have to be very careful.  Some of that stuff is excellent, some of it is terrible.  Some of it is outright theft of intellectual property.  Even the better models still have spotty fit and finish.  Finally, while the sale price of these items is usually temptingly low, the shipping can be as much or more.  You CAN find good deals in these murky waters, but it is almost a game of luck.

I have preferred instead to focus on brands I know and trust, not because I am slave to brands, but because I can get in touch with someone if something goes wrong.  I guess there is one other aspect to branding that I ignored--accountability.  With that in mind, I set out on a quest to find the best knife for less than $20.  That is a pretty difficult price point to hit.  The Skyline is more than that, even when on sale.  The Tenacious is more than that, as are all of its siblings.  Finding a good knife at this price is a daunting challenge.

It is, however, very much worth the effort.  A knife less than $20 makes an excellent toolbox knife.  It is a good blade to stash in a car glovebox.  It is a good knife to have on you when doing messy yard work.  It is also an excellent placeholder, in the event that you are saving up for a truly high end knife but don't want to go without during the interminable knife wait list purgatory.  If I were doing this over again, starting from zero, my plan, knowing what I know now would be to hop on a wait list for an awesome custom, save for the 6-9 months on on the list and, in the meantime, carry around a sub-$20 blade.

Which sub-$20 blade?  Well, after a lot of experience and testing, I would probably opt for the CRKT Drifter.  There is a sub-$20 shootout pending, so I'll have to wait until then to make sure, but let me tell you--this thing is in the running.  It is a great blade, and not just for the money.  It is simply a very, very good knife.  Note that while CRKT is the owner and designer of the knife and they sell it, the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) is in fact one of the better bargain Chinese brands San Ren Mu.  Before you condemn the knife for that reason alone, read a little more.  I promise you it is worth it.     

Here is the CRKT Drifter product page.  Here is a written review of the Drifter.  Here is a video review of the Drifter.  There are two models each with straight and partial serrated versions, a G10 handled version and a Stainless Steel version.  CRKT sent me both models, so this will be a review of both (the blades performed pretty much the same, but there are a few differences that are noted in the review).  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the CRKT Drifter, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is the Stainless Steel Frame Lock version:

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Here is the G10 version:

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Design: SS model: 1; G10 model: 2

There is something very Goldilocks about the size of the Drifter, hitting my idea size for an EDC knife, between 2.5 and 3 inches.  The handles are nicely shaped and everything is purposeful--the lanyard hole works (hey, Strider can't seem to get its lanyard holes to work on their $400 SnGs), the thumb studs are very good for what they are, and a lot of small touches add up.  For example, I really hate rear tangs that show in the closed position.  It is a debris catcher and a sign that the handle was not properly designed.  The jimping is among the best I have seen regardless of price.  It is grippy but not skin shredding.  Even the tiny swedge at the top helps to save weight.

The numbers are where the SS and the G10 model differentiate themselves.  They are the same in blade:handle, obviously, at a very decent .79, better, for example than the SOG Flash I.  It ranks as one of the three or four best blade:handle of the knives I have reviewed.  The weight is where the difference is.  The SS model is chubby with a blade:weight of .90 (2.875/3.44) while the G10 version has a blade:weight of 1.17 (2.875/2.18), a good number.  Its not that 3.44 ounces is a fat or heavy knife.  Its not.  But you get nothing extra for it, aside from a frame lock.  More on that below.  In my opinion that extra weight isn't worth the money or the additional effort, making the SS version a 1 in design, while the G10 is a 2.

Here is a picture of the SS version next to my Zippo (and no I did not clean either of them off):

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Fit and Finish: Both knives: 2

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One of the things you don't expect at this price point is that.  A dead centered blade on a frame lock.  That was something my Bradley Alias II, a knife that cost ten times as much struggled with mightily.  But the fit and finish on both the SS and the G10 version was the same and it was excellent.  There is a small scratch in the coating on the G10 blade, but it is so small I can lose where it is sometimes.

The G10 version has a nice little bonus.  The metal liners are nested.  That is, the G10 has a cutout inside that allows the liners to fall into the G10 handle scales instead of riding above them.  The result is a very easy edge to handle, a thinner profile, and cleaner look.  This is definitely not something you see on an $18 knife.  The PM2 had nested liners, but none of the Tenacious family did, nor did the Skyline.  This is a real treat and a fit and finish touch usually reserved for much more expensive blades. 

This is the thing that shocked me the most about this blade.  I have had a bunch of knives as you can see from the review page and a lot of them were great but fell down somewhere in terms of fit and finish.  These knives are really amazing.  Comparing the grind of the Drifter to that of the PM2 (just the cutting bevel) is revealing.  One is a US made, mid to high end folder made by one of the premiere cutlery companies in the world.  The other has an OEM in China that makes knives by the score.  Yet it is the cheap, Chinese made knife that has the clean cutting bevel.

Like I said, shocking.    

Grip: Both knives: 2

The lines of most folders are vaguely organic, rounded over jelly beanish shapes with curves and cuts for the hand.  The Drifters are no different.  But the jimping on the spine and the overall size of the blade handle in the hand make it very, very grippy.  Even the finish on the SS is ever so slightly a matte finish giving it some grip.  Companies trying to figure out how to do jimping, should really study this knife.  It is very large, very coarsely cut, but doesn't snag.  It is hard to put into words, but it is cut in a way or buffed after it is cut that makes it smoothish when you run your fingers over it lightly, but very grippy if you push on it.  Excellent. 

Carry: Both knives: 2

As I said in the design section, even the fatter knife, the SS version, is still pretty light so carry weight isn't an issue.  The blade is thin and slides in and out of the pocket easily.  Finally, as mentioned before, the handle covers the rear tang when closed limiting the entry of debris in the pivot.  Very, very good. 

Steel: Both knives: 1

This is 8CR14MoV, not the go to "made in China" cheap steel 8CR13MoV, but the difference escapes me in terms of real practical use.  It is probably exactly par for the steels presently available on the market.  On the steel trait "triangle" of hardness, toughness, and corrosion resistance it does very well on the toughness, but that is about it.  It is a little softer than I like and a little more rust prone than I like.  It seems to me that if you want to go the cheap steel route, do what Buck does with its 420HC or Victorinox does with its steel--max out the toughness AND corrosion resistance.  In those cases the lack of hardness actually works in the knives favor making sharpening a dream (having just given my Cadet a spa and done real sharpening I can say that with confidence).  

Blade Shape: Both knives: 1 

This is a close call because there is a very, very slight recurve to blade.  See here:

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I really, really detest recurves.  They make the knife hard to sharpen and add very little to the cutting performance.  A recurve would be a 1 to start with, but here the recurve is SO slight.  In fact, it could be that the slight recurve is cancelled out by the softer 8CR14MoV steel.  That said, there is no reason for the recurve, esepecially here, where it is too shallow to really hook into the material.  This is an unnecessary curve that could cause problems.  Avoid the problems and go with a simpler blade shape.  It was a close call between a 1 and a 2.  I just don't know how it will affect the knife long term, but why invite problems?  I can see this being either a 1 or a 2, but in the end my hatred of recurves wins out.  

Grind: Both knives: Both knives: 2

The grind is either a VERY slight hollow grind or a flat grind.  Either way it makes about 2/3rds of the way up the blade before it meets a nice flat that is used for labeling and helpful for those with an Edge Pro or Wicked Edge sharpener.  The grinds are crisp and even and the cutting bevel, as mentioned above, is especially clean on these knives.  This is surprising because grinds, especially the cutting bevel grind, is usually the first thing to suffer on a cheap knife.  Again, the Drifter defies its price point. 

Deployment Method: Both knives: 2

The deployment method is a simple terraced thumb stud.  Thumb studs aren't my favorite, but these are very nice, in combination with the silky pivot found on the Drifter.  The terraces are well cut but not obnoxious and they offer just the right amount of grip.  I like them quite a bit for what they are. 

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The interesting thing with the Drifter's deployment is the smoothness of the pivot.  The washers used in this knife result in a very smooth open, so much so, that you can easily flick the knife open with your thumb using basically the same motion you would use to flip a coin.  This makes for exceptionally fast deployment once you get the motion down.  To do the coin flip open method, you do need to loosen the pivot screw a bit which introduces the tiniest fraction of side to side blade play, but it is worth it if you need a quick opening knife.  Overall, I am again impressed at how much you get for the money with the Drifter.

Retention Method: Both knives: 2

I could complain about the lack of placement options, but I am a righty and the clip's placement just works for me.  It is not too wild in design, has good tension, and keeps the knife in place. 

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Where it excels is in the part that shows when pocketed.  Sometimes knives have these protruding clips that snag on everything as you walk around, but here, the clips are nice and tucked in, for lack of a better phrase.  Again it is a bit of forethought that you rarely see in cheap knives.  Often the clips are just mass produced for a bunch of knives and are used regardless of how well they work or match up with the knife.  Here you get a very good clip for the money. 

Lock: Both knives: 2

Okay, if you think frame locks are superior, fine, discount the G10 version, but in the role of an EDC knife I think a liner lock is more than strong enough.  Both locks engage early around 30% to 40% and both are easy to disengage.  I'd opt for the liner lock as it is lighter, but CRKT gives you options and that is a good thing. 

Overall Score: SS model: 17 out of 20; G10 model: 18 out of 20

Both knives, as I said before, are good knives, and not just good knives for the money.  They are just flat out good, if not great, knives.  The fit and finish really makes competitors look bad, as these knives blow away the Spyderco Tenacious and its siblings as well as the Kershaw Cryo.  They are very staid in their overall design, but they function well.  The steel is probably the weakest link, but even it is at par.  For the price, I have not seen anything that comes close.  But, a shootout is coming, so watch here for my final judgment.