Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 Wounded Warrior Project Veteran's Day Giveaway Rules and Prizes

We have a made a nice little community here.  Readers and comment writers have helped.  I have an awesome user submitted shootout coming.  Folks have participated in contests.  The podcast is rolling (Episode 20 will feature TAD, how awesome is that?).  But with all that growth, I think it is only appropriate to thank the folks that stand unflinchingly at Hell's Gate and tell the forces that would destroy this Great American Experiment: "I protect these people.  You will not get past me."  To that end, I am launching the Second Annual Wounded Warrior's Project Giveaway.

After the never really competitive poll closed, I purchased the Spyderco Domino from Blade HQ.  They were very decent on the price, which is awesome, so thank them by going and shopping around there.  But the generosity does not end.  No, no, dear reader, we haven't even started yet.  MBI so kindly sent me the HF-R Ti edition for review and I was allowed to keep it.  I keep nothing, as you know, and so this is also going into the hopper.   But wait, there is more.  The other sponsor of the blog E2Field Gear (click banner to right and use the discount code, proceeds benefit the site), also kicked in an awesome prize package: a Zebralight SC600 Mk. II, with the 18650 battery AND a top of the line Xtar battery charger.  No use in sending you a light you had to buy something else to use.  Then TT PockeTTool sent me the 69 and Thumb Drive, which I am allowed to give away.  Friends of the blog Huckberry have also stepped up, donating a Fire Red Tuff Writer Ultimate Clicky.  Finally, I have a Kershaw Cryo from the re-review.

There are actually 4 different giveaways:

Grand Prize Winner: Spyderco Domino and MBI HF-R Ti Edition

Big Heart (largest non-winning donation): Zebralight SC600 Mk.II package

Second Chance (chosen out of the pool of folks that did not already win): Kershaw Cryo (see, I gave the knife a second chance, see how that works?)

Veteran's Only: Tuff Writer Red Ultimate Clicky, TT PockeTTools 69 and Thumb Drive (no need to donate if your a veteran, you've already given enough)

Here are the rules for the WWP Giveaway:

1.  Go to the Wounded Warriors website.

2.  Make a charitable donation.

3.  When you receive the donation receipt email, forward it to me WITH AN UNALTERED SUBJECT LINE (I need to have the subject lines be the same so I can sort them easily, you can delete any payment or other info in the body of the email if you want).  Send it to this address (ones that go to the contact address I normally use will be disregarded, I can't sort them properly):

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com

in the normal format.  DELETE ALL OF THE FINANCIAL INFORMATION IN THE EMAIL, but if you could, please indicate how much you donated.  A larger amount won't make it more likely that you win, but I want to keep track so that I can have a total.  I am always working on another giveaway and this data would be a nice selling point to make that one happen. 

4. I will pick an email at random on Veteran's Day and that person will win the the MBI HF-R Ti and the knife that wins the poll.

Again, the amount of the donation doesn't matter and large donations won't be counted more than once.   I guess you could cheat, by faking a donation receipt email, but hopefully if you do you will be enjoying your free gear on the slow, hot elevator ride to hell.  I'll post how much we raise once everything is tallied.

Here are the rules for the Veteran's Only Giveaway:

1.  Email me with the word "veteran" in the subject line.

2.  If you are picked as a winner, scan either your Veteran's ID card or DD214.

If you are lying a) shame on you and b) I will tell Mitchell Paige's ghost to haunt you until you die.

Last WWP giveaway raised about $655.  I have two submissions already, which will count, but let's see if we can't smash that number.  The gates open as soon as this post goes live.  I will announce the winners on Veteran's Day and you can email me then.  And remember, thank a vet.

Thanks also to the giveaway's sponsors:

Blade HQ
E2Field Gear
TT PockeTTools 

Monday, October 28, 2013

TT PockeTTools 69 Review

This review is cursed.  First, when Todd from TT PockeTTools sent me the 69 I realized I could not fit my extra fat car keys on the split rings provided.  Curse #1.  Then I bought a split ring pliers online and it came but wouldn't work.  Curse #2.  Then I bought one in person at Wal-Mart (in the fishing section, thanks for the Twitter tip), and it worked, but the split rings provided broke under the strain of opening them wide enough for my fat keys.  Curse #3.  Finally, I got larger split rings and everything fit on perfectly.  I snapped some pics and dropped the review, written and formatted.  When I went to add in the picture of the bonus item the whole thing vanished.  Instead of pasting the picture in, I accidentally wiped the entire review and then Blogger saved over it automatically.  Curse #4.  Grrr...

What did Winston Churchill say about giving up? 

The TT PockeTTools 69 is an excellent dangler keychain.  It is a bit more than a regular dangler--it has the ability to open both pop top and twist off bottle caps and it holds more than one thing.  Ideally it will be a keychain or the hub in a microtools set up.  In either role it will work well.  Its light, well made, and titanium.  I like titanium.  Perhaps you have noticed.

Here is the TT PockeTTools 69 page.  This is the first review.  Here is the 69 review sample all set up:


Danglers are a growing part of EDC and for good reason.  There is all of this cool gear or boring keys that need some way to hang in place and a dangler lets you do that.  Here you accomplish the dangling via split rings, as is customary for danglers.  I hate split rings, as you probably know, but really there is no other way I can think of to make a dangler.  I am sure some clever inventor out there will prove me wrong, but until that happens, the 69's set up is one of the best given the hobbled design of split rings.  My difficulty fitting my fat keps and key fob on here are emblematic of the problem, but if you accept that split rings are a necessary evil for a dangler to work, then you can be confident that the rest of the design is actually quite good.  The overall size is nice, the spacing is good, allowing you to have up eight items hooked on, but with fatty Mcfatty keys four is a more likely number.  I should note that this 69 acts as an excellent hub for a keychain of microtools.  I loaded it up with a Gerber Dime, a MBI HF-R, a Shard, and an RFID tag from my gas station and it worked quite well.  As a keychain, its nice, as a tool hub, it might be just a bit better.

The 69 is made of titanium and the first thing that happened when I picked it up was my eye and my hand had a little disagreement with each other.  Something this thick and made of metal should not be this light, but you know how titanium works.  The edges aren't chamfered, but nicely eased.  The twist assist is cut very, very well and fits tightly on to a bottle top.  

The big innovation with the 69 is the hook.  Many danglers have these deep or complex hook designs to keep the dangler from falling out of your pocket, but here the hook is small but incredibly effective.  I went on multiple long hikes, up and down steep terrain with the 69 "locked in" to the fabric of my jeans like so:


Not once did it dislodge or come loose.  The incredible thing here is that most dangler hooks add a tremendous amount of size or material to the overall design and are still not as secure as the hook on the 69.  For me, this is what makes the 69 pull ahead of the pack.  It is also a sign of how danglers should be designed in the future.  

The 69 comes with dual action bottle openers (perhaps an allusion to the two at once name, though I am fairly certain it comes from the shape): a cap lifter and Todd's great twist assist.  No bottled beverage stands a chance against you and your 69.

The cap lifter works and works well.  It is a single pull cap lifter, as all good designs should be.  When a maker bills their cap lifter as a "double pull" design that just means the interior angle is not properly cut.  Here we have a talon like decapitates beer bottles swiftly and effectively. 


I normally grip the entire set up so the keys are in my palm, but I needed to show you the angle the lifter takes to a bottle.  Even loaded up the cap lifter was easy to use.  

Here is the twist assist in action (around an especially seasonal and delicious brew):


Again the fit is remarkable here as the entire set up stayed in place without me holding it.  I am duly impressed.  Like the cap lifter, the twist assist was a cap guillotine--swift and effective.

Overall, the 69 is a very good dangler, noting the limitations dictated by the form (namely, the use of split rings).  The two way bottle opening action is very good and the number of tools it can carry is impressive, though fully loaded you might stray into janitor territory.  As a keychain it is good and as a microtool hub its probably a bit better.  The real innovation here is the absolute lock down hook.  That thing will never come undone.  If my experience is any indication you will lose your pants or your pocket before you lose your keys.  The fact that this hook takes up so little space sets the 69 ahead of the crowd.

Thumb Drive:

Todd also sent me a sample of one of his smallest and simplest tools: the Chevy logo.  Oh wait, no not the Chevy logo, its a 1/4 inch hex bit driver and a wing nut opener called the Thumb Drive.  It too is made of titanium and it drives bits very easily, though torque is limited by your thumb and fore finger.  As a wing nut opener it works well too, though I am not sure how many wing nuts you'll encounter (unless you live in California or DC and are referring to the OTHER kind of wing nut).  Its not a lifesaver, but a neat little tool that is made well and made of titanium.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Spyderco Air Review

What would happen if you took the shape and weight of the Al Mar Ultralight and the cutting performance and opening hole of the Dragonfly and combined them in a single knife?  You'd get the Spyderco Air.

I am not going to waste time here--this is a superior knife.  This could very easily be your only EDC knife and you'd be perfectly happy.  This could very easily be your EDC knife in a collection that contains many $1,000+ customs and you'd be perfectly happy.  This could very easily be your EDC knife even if you don't care about knives and you'd be perfectly happy.  Frankly in two and half years I have found nothing that works better in an EDC role than the Spyderco Air (though the DFII is its equal).  Gayle Bradley, the designer, and Spyderco slayed it.  This is an excellent design.

It is so good very few other knives even come close.  In fact, to find its peer performance-wise, you have to float into other products.  It reminds me very much of the Pilot Vanishing Point.  That pen was so singularly focused on an immaculate and flawless writing experience that everything else, even the placement and shape of the pen clip, bowed to that lofty goal.  Here everything bows to one thing--unparalleled cutting performance.  The clip could screw up the ergos, so why bother?  This focus renders a knife so deviously genius in its design that it appears perhaps a bit too simple, a bit too undercooked.  Don't be fooled.  This is the apotheosis of the EDC knife.

Here is the product page. The Air costs $156. Here is an excellent written review from the Spyderco Forum.  Here is a video review.  Here is an interview with Gayle Bradley about the Air.  Its not great, but that is all there is. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Air, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Oh yeah, it photographs like Scarlett Johansson, looking good no matter the angle.

Twitter Review Summary: Sublime cutting in an amazing EDC knife.

Design: 2

It may not seem like it, looking at the knife, but there is an impressive amount of design that went into this blade.  Every single facet of this knife is focused on promoting a superior cutting performance.  The handle is perfectly sized, matching the length of both the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight and the Dragonfly II.  The letterboxing provides the handle a semi rounded shape.  The silver twill, which looks nice, is actually grippy.  Even the thumb hole hump is placed perfectly.


I can get four fingers on the handle without cramming and I just love the smooth opening.  The Air, thanks to its dimensions, is my favorite knife of this size.  Unlike the cramped feel of the Ultralight or the wide stance of the DFII, you get smooth open and a slender package.  Mr. Bradley, you did an excellent job here.

I shot this while outside so the Zippo wasn't with me.  I figured a dollar is another good size reference as everyone has a dollar. 


The ratios are a mixed bag.  The blade:handle is .74, which good, but not as good as I thought it would be.  It is worse, for example, than the blade:handle on the SOG Flash I, which is .78.  It is no where near the awesomeness that is the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight, which clocks in at .84.  The blade:weight is much, much better, almost hitting the 2:1 line at 1.96 (the Hawk was 2.81).  This is the second best number I have seen, ahead of the Chill, but behind the Hawk.    

Fit and Finish: 2

Jeez Lousie.  At some point we have to tip our hats and just say that Taichung Taiwan made knives aren't just the best Spydercos, they are perhaps the best production knives made.  Sure Chris Reeves are their equals and he has been doing it longer, but I think the pivot here and on my Zulu are better than the pivot on the Sebenza.  This is an immaculate and detailed fit and finish down the cut outs in the titanium liners.


All of this is in service to a supremely flawless cutting experience.  Really, truly a marvel of manufacturing. 

Grip: 2

Here is the Air in a full four finger grip:


I was surprised at just how much grip you get with this blade.  The letterboxed onlay makes the handles feel rounded and the twill provides more than enough texture.  I really like this knife in the hand.  Note that again jimping is unnecessary.  You won't be chopping here and stabbing is unlikely so why bother with jimping?  Don't need, don't want it. 

Carry: 2

As a true pocket knife, the Air is simply splendid in the pocket.  The silver twill is tough enough to hide dings and scratches and the entire knife is very thin.  The dimensions are virtually identical to that of the Al Mar Hawk, something I can't imagine was a pure accident.  This is the Spyderco version of that knife, complete with the steel junkie steel and opening hole.  

Steel: 2

M4 is amazing.  We know that because in a slow process of convergent evolution all of the BladeSport competitors now use M4 (with horse mat handles).  We also know that because M4 has received rave reviews on the Internet.  But this was my first time with M4 and I wanted to make sure that it was not just the new "flavor of the month" steel.  After two weeks of use, trust me--this ain't no flavor of the week.  M4 rivals ZDP-189 as my overall favorite EDC blade steel.  When a steel is called a super steel, it really means it is new (or new to the cultery world).  Rarely is the steel that much better.  But M4 earns its name.

I did a lot of fire prep and whittling with the Air and the ultra thin ground M4 took off big slivers of poplar from my fuzz stick.  Then it shaved my arm hair like a razor.  We got in three large packages this week and I broke down all of the boxes.  The Air passed through the massively thick cardboard so easily and quickly that it felt more like a zipper than a knife.  After this it still popped hairs off my arm.  I then did some food prep (after cleaning off the glue, Goo Gone is great in that role), slicing apples and peeling off shavings of potato skin and carrots almost transparently thin.  I then cut a bunch more cardboard and took shavings off some bocote leftovers from a handle mod I did.  Even in this tough oily wood, the M4 still took off even, thin chunks.  

I punished the edge on the Air and it did not relent.  I would imagine that Cliff Stamp's Gavko mod, where he thinned out the edge of the already thin M4 would make it a better slicer than the stock blade, but I have to tell you, I can't imagine that.  After all of the cutting, the edge still slices paper.  I am not exactly sure what I can do to kill the edge, other than straight up abusing the knife (which I am not going to do).  

Some slight coloration started to appear, but I was able to take it off pretty easily.  In that one regard I think ZDP-189 is better, but in terms of toughness M4 has an edge.  Both are pretty darn hard.  Again, steel is always a trade off between those three attributes and here M4 does something different than ZDP-189, but certainly not worse.  There is a reason all of BladeSport uses M4.  It is incredible.  

Blade Shape: 2

Wharncliffe blade shapes are excellent for utility tasks and the Air's is quite good, exhibiting the smallest amount of belly.  It makes slicing very easy and piercing simple.  This is not a blade shape for chopping, but with a knife this size chopping isn't practical. 


Note also the true choil here, a rarity among Spydercos and one of my few complaints about the brand as a whole. 

Grind: 2

I can't imagine it, but Cliff Stamp's Air is even thinner ground than stock.  This is an impossibly thin ground knife to begin with and that, coupled with the super steel, make this knife the best slicer I have ever seen.  Its a full flat grind and in a nice aesthetic touch, the grind lines are both prominent and at an angle.  Sweet.

Deployment Method: 2

If I have one criticism of the Hawk it is that it is hard to deploy.  Even with nice thumbstuds the whole blade feels really, really cramped.  Here thanks to the magic 1.1 inch distances from the pivot to the thumb hole the Air opens easily.  Additionally, the extra smooth pivot makes the knife feel extremely high end when deployed, similar to the sure and gliding open of a custom liner lock.  Enough cannot be said about how good the Taichung, Taiwan plant is at making knives.  

Retention Method: 0

This is the first and perhaps only knife I have ever considered given a 2 for retention method, despite the lack of one.  Hear me out.  Which kind of clip is a choice related to retention method, but having a retention method at all is also a choice and in some circumstances I can see where choosing no retention device is the right call.  In a Texas Toothpick or other traditional patterns a clip can't work without destroying the grip of the knife and so eschewing one in that situation would be a good idea.  Here though I can't rule out the possibility of a very good wire clip or perhaps a spine riding clip.  Either way, I think it is possible for a clipless knife to score a 2, but this isn't that knife.  

Lock: 2

Liner locks are so underrated.  They are virtually indistinguishable from framelocks 99% of the time and they still allow you to have a nice looking knife on both sides.  Here the lock is a little crunching making a squeak when disengaged, but that noise went away as the Ti broke in.  When I finished testing the Air, it was smooth. 


I do not like the extra divot in the handle for lock access.  The thumb hole cut out works fine.  But since it had no impact on performance and only a minimal one on aesthetics, I am not going to dock the knife a point.  Still in a future run of the Air (and their will be, this is a classic design) I'd like to see no second divot. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

I love the Air.  It is a thin, small, slender knife.  It is the knife I have been looking for a long time (the Hawk, the OD-2, the Aphid, etc...).  It has the ease of opening that comes from the Spyderhole, but little of the width the hole usually requires.  Even non-knife knuts will appreciate the Air.  Every single person that has held the knife commented on just how light it is.  It is a feather of a blade, a feather that is a razor as well.  I am still on the fence about whether or not the knife needs a clip.  This is a wonderfully sized blade and a clip might screw up that wondrous, focused design.  You cannot go wrong buying a Spyderco Air.  The $156 price tag is really nothing for what you are getting--a knife that performs as well as any I have used, custom or otherwise; a knife that is as light as you can expect; a knife that looks gorgeous as well.  This is the state of the art for production knives in 2013. 

Two peas in a pod:


With this knife and a few others recently I have tried to step up my photography, let me know how I am doing in the comments.   Also, if you have any photography book recommendations, let me know that too. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Click Carabiner Review

There are a lot of multitools out there.  There are even a whole subset of tools based on carabiners, but the majority of them are multitools with carabiners glued on.  Something like this design disaster.  They are generally shitty carabiners and shitty tools.  Leatherman makes a carabiner that has a bottle opener on it along with a hex wrench.  I have one and it is okay.  The reality is that everything has a bottle opener on it these days and what you really want for an EDC tool is screwdrivers.  You can get something that has drivers on it and it will work very well, but it will cost you ($200 if Ti isn't good enough for you).  There used to be very little of quality between the Leatherman and the Anso.  Now there is.  

When a reader sent me a link to the Click Carabiner Kickstarter page I knew it was something I had to see in person.  The design is quite clever and if the tools aren't out you might not even know it was a multitool.  In other words this is a carabiner with tools on it, not a random collection of tools glue to a carabiner.  The difference is important as this is a device that really does work and works well as a carabiner (it is not a mountain climbing tool though; the load rating for the tool is 250 pounds thanks to a stainless steel skeleton).  I contacted Click and they sent me a review sample out right away.

The Click is designed for use in skiing, snowboarding, or skateboarding, three things distinctly outside of my knowledge base.  But I do like and know a little bit about multitools and I can see how you could just carry this as part of your hiking gear or on a bag or even as a very big keychain.  It may be made for "extreme sports" but it can be cross purposed into the EDC world quite easily.  

Here is the Kickstarter product page.  The project funding period ends on December 1, 2013.  Here is a write up on the Click.  Here is a video on the Click:

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary:  An excellent carabiner-based multitool that won't break the bank.

Design: 2

Breaking the knife or pliers foundation for a multitool is risky, but here it paid off because the design is not an homage or a reference to a carabiner.  It doesn't work LIKE a carabiner.  It is a carabiner.  With tools.  By ignoring the trap of carabiner-like tools, the Click sets itself apart.  Additionally, the design is clearly modular as there are two other variants, an excellent mark for the design.  The fact that this is something you would carry without the tools really shows just how good an idea the Click is.  People lug around aluminum carabiners on EVERYTHING--their water bottles, their keys, those seemingly ubiquitous card holder neck things (really, why do the book sellers at Barnes and Noble need a RFID tag around their necks?  High security around the midnight launch of Harry Potter?  Can someone explain this to me, I genuinely want to know).  I dropped the Click on my Tom Bihn Cadet for a week and I found it had a bunch of uses.  But the reason I had it was because carabiners on their own are useful and here this is a pretty good, non-climbing carabiner.  Start with a solid foundation and it is hard to go wrong.

The Click's tools:weight is decent at 2 (5 tools in 2.5 ounces).  This number is hard to compare to other multitools because of the design, but I thought I should include it for consistency's sake.  The Charge TTi has a tools:weight of 2.32.   

Fit and Finish: 2

There is some slop in the pivots, even in the locking pivot.  There are some stray machining marks here and there, but none of these impact performance.  I though the rough steel used for the tools, seen here:


Would matter, but it didn't.  None of the small issues actually impacted performance and given the price tag, around $16, you'd be hard pressed to find something this cheap without some burred edged plastic. 

Theme: 2

I am not a snowboarder or an alpine skier.  I was struggling how to figure if the Click's theme works with the intended audience.  I went to work with the Click attached to my bag when a coworker, who, in another life was a semi pro snowboarder, said "Hey that would work great for my snowboard."  I had not told her what it was or even that I was trying it out.  She saw it, saw me flick open one of the tools and approached me.  Then, as if it were a commercial, she said: "I bet this works with gloves."  Target audience, check.  Theme, check.  

Grip: 2

The gray interior portion of the Click is rubberized plastic and it does lock your hand in.  Because of the placement of the tools some grips are better than others, but none are bad at all.  The size and shape:


also help out tremendously.  I would imagine even with cold, icy hands this would still work. 

Carry: 2

As a carabiner, and a non-climbing one, the Click is pretty heavy.  The steel frame and tool insets add a good deal of weight.  Its not bad, really.  Compared to other mutlitools, however, the Click comes out miles ahead.  A Leatherman Skeletool CX, their lightweight full sized multitool, weighs 5 ounces.  This weighs half that.  It has fewer tools, but again, the design has fundamental limitations on it.  For what it is, I don't think you can complain about how the Click carries.   

Materials: 2

The rubberized plastic and stainless steel work well here.  The load rating is 250 pounds, which is not bad at all.  I worry that the metal in the tools won't hold up, but only time will tell that.  In my use they were fine.  I actually like the mostly plastic exterior as it aid in grip and makes the Click less of a paint scraper.  

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

One of the bullet points on the KS page is the glove friendly tool deployment.  It is made possible by these:


The rear tang portions of all the tools are geared or jimped and the texture is enough to get the tools out even with gloves on.  I tried it with the classic yellow leather work gloves and it worked easily.  It also worked with bulky winter gloves.  Finally I tried them with Mechanix style gloves and it again worked flawlessly.  Deployment here is sure, one-handed, and easy with gloves.  Getting the tools out WITHOUT gloves is a dream.  In fact it scratches that knife flipper opening itch we all have a little bit.  Even my three year old son liked popping the tools out.  Very clever design in that it really works and adds to the technical, machine appearance of the Click. 

Retention Method: 2

Um....its a carabiner.  It works well as a carabiner.  It is its own retention device.  Move along...

Tool Selection: 1

The one concession that is made to the tool's origin as a snowboarding/skiing tool is the fact that it has two Phillips drivers.  I have never skied or snowboarded, so I trust that this duplicative set up is necessitated by the activity, but I'd prefer another tool here, a snag edge or a clamshell cutter, for example.  There is only so many tools you can put on a carabiner, given the size and shape, so two of the same kind is a small negative if you are using this for general utility tasks.


Tool Performance: 1

The tool performance is okay.  I recognize that I am using this specialized tool for general purposes, so I am not dinging it for things like having a really large flathead driver, seen here:

Its the bottle opener and the slick, rounded off bits used in the tools themselves.  The bottle opener is not the surest thing, decap(itat)ing bottles in one stroke is not guaranteed.  You can do it, but it takes some finesse.  The bigger ding is the steel on the tools.  Unlike the steel on actual screwdrivers it is very rounded over and somewhat slick. I'd prefer very crisply cast or cut implements to prevent or at least minimize the chance of cam out.  This is not the say they don't work, but merely to say they could be better.  Furthermore, in comparison to the multitool version of these drivers, especially the Phillips driver, the Click's true, non-2D bits are a step up.  If they weren't so rounded off, we'd be in multitool Nirvana. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

A minute with the Click Carabiner will convince you this is a brilliant design.  In a utility role it is very, very handy.  Its price point makes it a PERFECT stocking stuffer or small gift.  In role, my skiing and snowboarding friends assure me this thing would work well.  As a utility tool it is still quite useful--a Phillips and flathead driver with a bottle opener on a carabiner, even if there are two of the same kind of driver and the rounded tools can cam out.  As is, this version of the Click is a great companion for a bag or to drop on your pants or belt.  An EDC specific version would be truly amazing, especially if they added a package opener/snag edge/clam shell cutter in place of the second Phillips driver.      

Friday, October 18, 2013

47s Atom A0 Ti Review

When 47s started making lights they produced a whole line of Ti versions of the Quark flashlights.  They were a limited run, but that phrase has lost a lot of its meaning the in gear world.  I like a lot of people thought they'd be around forever.  But the reality was that when they were gone they were gone (except for a super small secret run that went out when the new site debuted).  Recently a set of all four Ti lights sold on eBay for significantly more than they sold for originally.  I think the set sold for around $250 and the eBay auction ended with a bid for more than $500.  When 47s says "limited edition" thus far they have meant it.  The Atom is so labeled, consider yourself warned.

When they contacted me and asked if I'd review a limited edition version of the P0, the Atom, in all Ti I said sure.  I am a Ti whore.  You know that by now.  But the P0 was probably the last light I expected to get the Ti treatment.  This was, after all, aimed at the absolute mainstream market--a simple light, small enough to ride on any keychain, with a common battery.  This was an unusual move for them, but the P0 had very solid bones, so why not?

There are really only two differences between this and the P0.  First is the Ti.  Second is the emitter upgrade that boosts the high to 30 lumens.  It may not sound like a lot, but 5 lumens makes a big difference at the bottom of the scale.  Remember lumens increases are perceived logarithmically. The light is slightly better for these reasons, but maybe not in the ways you'd think.      

Here is the product page. The Atom costs $39.00. Here is the written review of the Preon 0 the unblinged version of this light.  It was a very capable 16/20.  There are no written reviews of this light that I could find.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Atom, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Highly practical, plus a bit of bling.

Design: 2

The overall design of the Atom is the same as the P0 and that is not a bad thing.  This is a very simple, minimalist design.  It has virtually no frills and no flourishes, something that I think people that prioritize appearance will value and something that will make the light palatable to non-flashaholics.  The inclusion of the magnet is a great idea, but more on that later.

It is hard to state just how small this light is.  Its half the length of the Peak Eiger and just a half inch or so larger than the 1xAAA light that powers the Atom.  Here it is up against the size reference, a normal Zippo.


The performance ratios are about average for 1xAAA lights.  The lumens:weight is 39.74 (30/.76 ounces).  The total lumens output (found on the high of 30 for 120 minutes) is 3600.  This light really racks up the numbers because of the overall speck of a package here.    

Fit and Finish: 2

Like the P0 before it, the Atom is nicely made and finished.  The beadblasting on the Ti is either done a little more aggressively or it is simply the nature of the material, but either way it is definitely nicer.  The lens is nice too and the emitter is centered.  I have no complaints here.

Grip: 1

The original P0 was a tiny light and the finish did not give it much grip, but like I mentioned above, as it is now, the Atom is quite grippy.  Its the difference between the slick handle of the Benchmade Emissary (aluminum) versus the gritty matte finish of the Sebenza (titanium).  Again I don't know if it is the blasting itself or the material that makes the difference, but the difference is real.  This no longer a slippery booger.  Its still very small, just not impossibly slick.

Carry: 2

If you can't carry this light around its because your at a nudist camp and aren't that creative or aware of the drug trade's favorite method of carry.  Actually, this light like the Mk II Aeon, is in my mind, the perfect size.  It is not SO small that it can be lost in the pocket or missed as the laundry goes to the machine, but it is not too big that it clogs your pocket.  It follows the Goldilocks principle and it is just about the perfect carry size.  

Output: 1

The recently reviewed Beta-QR has shown that the market, even for mainstream lights, has upped the ante on lumens output.  I am not a lumens whore by any means, but I think 30 lumens is JUST under the minimum amount you'd need for a viable EDC light.  As a keychain light the 30 lumens is fine, but it is just not what it used to be.   

Runtime: 2

120 hours of useful light is incredible.  Its probably as good as the low on the Mk. II (though the Mk. II is a little better in the lumens count).  That is fundamentally impressive company.  The high of 30 lumens lasts for 2 hours and that is pretty good too. 

Beam Type: 1

Look, there is no reflector.  That's the trick that makes the Atom and the P0 as small as they are.  Here is a look down the barrel:

It is simply too floody for me.  I don't like mules (lights without reflectors).  Its okay here, in the keychain light role, but it has absolutely no throw making this a very limited use EDC light.  Fine but not as good as I would like.

Beam Quality: 1

47s lights have been known for their disco colored emitters and the Atom is no different.  There is a distinctive hue here and it is detracts from the light overall.  It has been that way for a while and though it seems like 47s is doing well, its probably time to upgrade the emitters used across the board and not just save them for special runs.  

UI: 2

I am not thrilled with the twisty anymore, but in this application--a keychain light it is actually decent.  It is very durable and easy to use.  I'd prefer a QTC UI, but given the size of the light virtually nothing else would work.  

Hands Free: 2

The light tailstands well.  It doesn't roll thanks the lanyard split ring.  But the most awesome thing about the Atom and the P0 is this:


Ladies and gentleman, I think we have reached the point, based on this light and the S10 Baton, that magnetic tails should be standard on lights.  They are incredibly helpful, making this light a very good task light around the workshop. 

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

This is an excellent keychain light, but a little too underpowered and too floody for EDC.  If you need a light for a keychain and don't want to spend more than $50, this is the best choice.  If you are giving a light away as a gift this is might be the best choice out there.  It is a very good light.  

Wait, you might say, how is this light better but received the same score?  Well, the output is no longer above par, so it lost a point there, but gained a point in grip.  This is a grippier version of the P0 with more output so it is a better light.  I'll update the P0 score when I get a chance.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

WWP/Veteran's Day Giveaway

Like last year, I am giving away a super hot product I got as a review sample, the MBI HF-R Ti.  This is a superb flashlight, with an insane high and an elegant form factor.  It is as blinged out as you can get--a Ti body, a Hi CRI emitter, and lots of Tritium.  But that is not enough, I want to crush our record from last year where we raised about $650 through the Dauntless/Two Year Anniversary Giveaway.  So, I am tossing another thing into the giveaway, but here is the twist--you get to pick what it will be.  My budget is roughly $200, so that is the limiting factor here.  There are four options, all listed in the poll to the left, all sweet gear that I have not yet reviewed.  The winner gets the MBI HF-R and the blade that wins the poll.  There will be a second chance raffle as well and that person will win a Kershaw Cryo

Once the contest starts here are the rules:

1.  Go to the Wounded Warriors website.

2.  Make a charitable donation.

3.  When you receive the donation receipt email, forward it to me WITH AN UNALTERED SUBJECT LINE (I need to have the subject lines be the same so I can sort them easily, you can delete any payment or other info in the body of the email if you want).  Send it to this address (ones that go to the contact address I normally use will be disregarded, I can't sort them properly):

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com

in the normal format.  DELETE ALL OF THE FINANCIAL INFORMATION IN THE EMAIL, but if you could, please indicate how much you donated.  A larger amount won't make it more likely that you win, but I want to keep track so that I can have a total.  I am always working on another giveaway and this data would be a nice selling point to make that one happen. 

4. I will pick an email at random on Veteran's Day and that person will win the the MBI HF-R Ti and the knife that wins the poll.

Again, the amount of the donation doesn't matter and large donations won't be counted more than once.   I guess you could cheat, by faking a donation receipt email, but hopefully if you do you will be enjoying your free gear on the slow, hot elevator ride to hell.  I'll post how much we raise once everything is tallied.

The contest will begin on November 1.  I will announce the winner of the poll.  You can start making donations on November 1.  You can donate whenever, but I will only start counting them after November 1, just to make the paperwork easier on me. 

So go vote to your right, then watch for November 1st.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

ESEE Zancudo Review

What do you expect for $30?  That is the refrain that you hear across the internet, all over YouTube when talking about budget knives (which I think of as knives at or under $30).  This is often a prelude to a discussion of the flaws, failings, or weaknesses of a knife.  But in recent months, quite a few intriguing $30 and under blades have been released and a few others I just got around to reviewing.  The reality is that you can expect quite a bit for $30.  We no longer need to settle in the budget price range for flimsy locks, chintzy 440A steel, or horrendous pocket clips.

Three knives I have had the change to review really bring this into stark relief: the CRKT Drifter (aka The King of the Budget Blades), the Kershaw Zing SS, and the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite.  Those are some ridiculous blades for the money and now they have a legitimate rival--the ESEE Zancudo.  I covered the extreme budget knives in this Shootout.   

Here is the product page from Blade HQ, as there is no product page on ESEE's website. The ESEE Zancudo costs $30.99.  There is a black coated version and a stonewashed version. Here is a thread on the Zancudo over at BladeForum, as this is the first written reveiw. Here is a video overeview. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the ESEE Zancudo, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Good affordable knife, a few dings, but an amazing blade shape.

Design: 1

I like this knife.  I really do.  It works well in the hand.  The blade shape is amazing.  But it is ugly.  The handle looks like it is pregnant.  It also looks like it has something of an ass.  I am not someone that really cares about a knife's appearance.  I like things that look especially good (have you seen, for instance, the Bark River Knife and Tool Essential?  Yowza, that is a good looking blade) and I dislike things that look really bad.  But the vast, vast majority of knives look fine.  This is one that is an exception to the rule.  Its not ridiculous, it just looks funny.  If you don't care how the knife works, then go ahead and give this thing a 2.  I, however, believe that good design is not just about making something that works, its also about making something that looks nice too.


The Zancudo is very close to the folding knife Golden Ratio, 3:4:7 and 3 (3 inch blade, 4 inch handle, 7 inches overall weighing 3 ounces).  Here is the knife next to the standard scale item, the Zippo:


The blade:handle is .73, which is good but not great.  The blade:weight is .94, which is quite good.  

Fit and Finish: 1

There are a few places where the Zancudo gets dinged here.  The first place is an actual ding:


There was a stray machining mark on the lock bar relief and it ends in a pointy ding.  Its not a big deal normally, but this is right where you hand goes.  This, alone would not be worth a point, especially on a knife this affordable.  The stonewash was also a little uneven.  Its nothing like the resplendent glory of the stonewash on  my Strider PT or the dark menacing stonewash on my XM-18.  It did get a little sticky when cutting food and gathered something a tint to it.  It was, okay really, but not ideal.  Again, that alone would not be worth a point.  Finally, there is the handle scale.  It is an FRN type material and it is grippy but feels overwhelmingly cheap.  I know this because I am a huge fan of FRN.  The FRN DF2 is probably my favorite knife, easily over the Nishijin and G10 versions.  I love FRN, so for it to feel cheap to me means that it will feel cheap to just about everyone on the planet.  Again, this isn't a performance impacting issue, just a feel thing.

Grip: 2

The jimping here is really "jimping" more than jimping, but that is not how this knife works.  The huge palm swell, that looks like a pregnant belly, is really great in the hand.  The tiny portion of the handle where your finge and thumb meet is great as well.  Here is the Zancudo in the hand:


I like this knife in the hand.  Everywhere else it is a meh.

Carry: 1

There are pocket clips and then there are ironing board refashioned into pocket clips.  This clip sits quite high and is very big.  As a clip it works decently (see below), but in terms of in the pocket, the Zancudo is a paint scrapper.  Look how pronounced it is here:


It is just a massive amount of surface area, given the size of the knife, with lots and lots of steel hanging out there.  

Steel: 1

AUS8 is fine in this role.  It gets sharp, doesn't hold an edge, and repels rust quite well.  I don't mind it at all.  In an inexpensive knife it is a good steel.  You are going to beat on this thing and AUS8's softness is perfect for that.  Beat it up, sharpen it, and don't worry about rust.  That is exactly what a $30 knife steel should do.

I pummeled the blade during testing.  I made two fires and horsed around in the woods with it and it did good.  I am not sure, at this point, which I perfer--this or a good satin or stonewashed 8Cr13MoV, but either way, the AUS8 worked exactly as you'd expect.  And that is another point.  Its quite handy to have a steel your familar with in a knife you intend to use hard or harder than you should.    

Blade Shape: 2

I almost did it.  I almost broke the scale here.  I LOVE the Zancudo blade shape.  It is simply sublime.  Simplicity in a Shaker sense--pure, unadulterated functionality.  Why hasn't this blade shape stormed the industry?  I have no idea.  

Grind:  2

The full flat grind here worked well in role.  The blade stock is quite thin, so the FFG allows for pretty damn good slicing abilities.  This thing slices like a razor.  Only the blotchy stonewash impeded the knife through material. 

Deployment Method: 2

The Zancudo uses very good, but not great thumb studs:


They are polished and smooth, but the terracing allows for good traction.  The knife can easily be coin flip opened.  The deep cut out in the handle allows for lots of purchase on the stud.

Retention Method: 1

The pocket clip itself holds the knife nice and tight to your pocket, though its position leaves a lot of steel exposed.  I do not light the tip though, as it can bunch on material.  Its a little too upturned for me, a problem here and on the Olight S10 Baton clip.  

Lock: 2

A steel framelock is quite a good lock.  This one took a real thumping and budged not at all.  The lock is stable as well, with no wiggle in the lock bar.  It is also easy to disengage.  Overall, I have zero complaints here.  

Overall Score: 15 out of 20

It seems like a low score, but this is a definitively DECENT knife.  For the money, you'd be hard pressed to find something that soaks up the beatings like this knife.  It is clearly the heir to the Ontario RAT lineage.  It has an awesome framelock that is probably a little more durable than the liner lock on the RAT.  It has a few drawbacks, but man is the blade shape awesome.   Go buy this knife.  Go thump on it.  You'll be surprised how much it can do.  It will be the knife you reach for when you don't want to mess up that $1000 custom.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

AG Russell Medium Barlow Review

Hiding things in plain sight is always wonderful design trick and here, in the AG Russell Medium Barlow, you have a traditional knife that is actually a modern one hand opening blade (for that reason, I am using the modern knife scale; I also haven't figured out how to score traditional knives yet...).  It looks like your grandpa's knife but performs like the very best under $50 cutlery made today.  It is elegant, yet plenty tough.  It is small enough to drop in the pocket without a problem, but big enough to handle almost every task I could throw at it.  The history of the Barlow is fascinating. The idea that this most traditional of patterns has been revamped with steel made from China and modern touches that make it exceed the original vision of the blade is a testament to the genius that is AG Russell.  AG proves, yet again, that greatness and creativity aren't limited by age (in fact, Time Magazine did an excellent piece on the notion that age actually enhances creativity because of the way the brain adapts to the aging process).  This is the 21st Century Barlow, an eminently pocketable blade that is probably the first knife pattern designed specifically for EDC (the pattern is at least 200 years old).  

Here is the product page. There are three models, the yellow delrin handled version that costs $35, the black Rucarta handle that costs $40, and the cocobolo handled version that costs $45. There are also large and small versions of the Russell Barlow. There are no review or video reviews, though there is a good thread about them over on Blade Forums, found here.

Here is my video overview of the knife:

Here is my review sample, which I purchased with my own money:


Twitter Review Summary:  A unique blend of traditional and modern knife design in a classy, well-made and affordable package.

Design: 2

The extra long bolster that is typical of the Barlow style is set off here by a strikingly colored slab of cocobolo, mine being a bit more purple than the typical cut of that species (which is usually a powerful black and tan color).  The design has been around for so long because it is so damn good--the shape is pleasing to the hand and the look is sweet to the eye.  The knife feels solid without being chubby, and the tear drop shape nestles into the meat of your palm quite nicely.  This is a knife that looks very, very good and handles equally well.

AG Russell's touch is two fold.  First he drops a lock back, of the tail lock variety, on this blade, which is not that big of a departure from the normal Barlow set up.  Then he adds a very deep french cut.  It, of course, facilitates two hand opening, but it also allows very easy one hand opening.  It is such a brilliant touch--it makes the knife look like an old timey blade, but it really works as a one hand opener.  EXCELLENT.

Here is the knife next to the MBI HF-R Ti


The knife's size is excellent.  The blade is a very good 2 7/8 inches in a 3 1/2 handle.  Of course, because this is an AG Russell knife, he pays attention to those details, cramming a lot of blade into the handle for a great blade:handle of .82, tying the ratio super champ, the Al Mar Ultralight Hawk.  The blade:weight is no where near as good, but it is still respectable at .99. 

Fit and Finish: 2

When people think of overseas made knives, there are Swiss blades from Klotzli, which have a reputation similar to that of Swiss watches.  There are German knives that people appreciate and Italian made knives that people are starting to really like.  Spyderco fans rejoice when Taichung Taiwan makes a blade, but thus far China has not received any love.  


The Barlow is proof that our old, simple "Where is this made?" line of inquiry is no longer helpful.  This is an expertly finished Chinese made knife.  The bolster gleams, the grind is clean, the cocobolo is nicely finished (it looks positively mesmerizing in the late day sun in the photo above).  The pins are amazingly flush.  They are smooth to the touch, an impressive feat, as finger tips can feel things down to 1/1000th of an inch.  The walk and talk is not a great as it would be on a non-locking slip joint folder, but that is because the pivot is smoothed out and the spring isn't as tight to allow for one hand opening.  This is a very well-made knife.  For $40 there is nothing to complain about.  For $100 there is probably still nothing to complain about.  Whatever AG did, others should take note--this is what you should expect from your Chinese OEMs

Grip: 2

I became aware of gear in a serious way through YouTube and that means that part of what I think of when I think of grip is jimping, but Anso has shown me a way out of the jimping maze.  A good well designed EDC knife doesn't need jimping.  The tasks don't demand it and a curve here or a cut there can do everything you need it to grip-wise.  The Barlow's grip secret is seen here:


The tear drop rear of the knife is perfect for nestling into your palm, sitting just below the muscle that controls your thumb.  Without a sharp or point edge, you get a lot of back up from the shape of your hand, especially in piercing cuts where grip is more important.  In slicing and roll cuts the nice rounded bolster helps out as well.  When a knife pattern is this old, you have to figure that it stuck around for a reason.  The nice grip is one reason why the Barlow is still around. 

Carry: 2

The knife's size and curvy tail end make for an excellent pocket companion, even without a clip.  The whole package is small enough to fit into your coin pocket (geez, I always want to write "coin slot" but that is something totally different).  The only ding I have against the knife comes in the form of the very exposed and pointy rear tang.  Its a minor ding, its not as sharp as it is on other knives, and the pattern requires it to be exposed, but still.  Very good, definitely above average, but not perfect. 

Steel: 1

Okay, I am going to admit it--I was wrong about 8Cr13MoV.  Properly done, it is a very passable steel, certainly average.  I know because I broke the edge on this knife down in one day.  I got the blade on a Friday and the next day, a Saturday, I absolutely massacred the edge, cutting down boxes, doing food prep, and starting a fire.  I did this purpose as I wanted to get an idea of exactly what the 8Cr steel can do.  After the extensive use, I was able to sharpen it and bring the edge completely back, maybe a little better than factory (it came especially sharp).  Aaron always says that really sharpening a steel gives you a feel for its performance and I agree.  This is a steel that can do quite a bit of cutting very well.  Why did I miss it before?  Almost all of the 8Cr I used was disguised.  It was disguised by a bead blast finish.

If you look back at all of the blades I have reviewed with 8Cr it had a bead blast finish or a bead blast with a coating.  Bead blast is known to open up the pores of steel to make them more receptive to rust and discoloration and my use with knives like the OD-2 and the Injection shows this is the case.  But what I was confusing was the properties of 8Cr13MoV with the properties of a bead blasted 8Cr13MoV.  The knife world has known for a long time that mirror polishing improves corrosion resistance making even high carbon steels behave more like stainless steels.  The same is true for bead blasted 8Cr13MoV.  When done right, like here, it is actually quite good.  The edge retention is lacking, but instead of being poor at both edge retention and corrosion resistance, it now seems to be just poor at edge retention.

In reality I struggle to find the difference between a good rendition of 8Cr13MoV and AUS-8, other than the country of origin.  Breaking the edge down completely, and I mean completely, this thing was dull, and bringing it back has proven that 8Cr13MoV is not the garbage that many, including myself, had thought.  

Blade Shape: 2

Russell calls this a Zulu Spear blade shape, but whatever its name, the reality is this a very useful profile.  The swedge cuts weight but still leaves enough steel behind the tip.  The drop point is nice and non-threatening.  The ricasso allows for the edge to be sharpened all the way to the end of the blade.


Again, I am struck by how successful and useful simple blade shapes are. 

Grind: 2

The Barlow's grind shows that the Chinese can make a knife and they understand in a fundamental way what makes it work.  Here the grind is a hollow grind, thankfully it looks like the FFG trend is coming to its end, and the cutting bevel is very clean and even.  The Barlow's grind blows away other Chinese 8Cr knives, most especially the Spyderco Tenacious.  There was no end to the messiness there, but here you get a clean, crisp cutting edge and after all, isn't that the point.

Deployment Method: 2

Surprise!  This is a one hand opening knife.  Of all the clever things about the Barlow design, this is the cleverest.  I had no idea this was even possible until I watched the AG Russell video.  I thought, at first, that the present was a finger yoga master (or a finger yoga yogi to be correct and precise).  But as it turns out that little French cut is plenty grippy to snag the pad of your thumb and help you pop this knife open.  The notion that this LOOKS like a traditional knife but works like a modern one is so appealing in an EDC blade.  Nothing is more people friendly then a blade that looks like something their grandpa used, but to have that look in a knife that works like a Spyderco is just awesome.  I'd give this a 3 if I could without breaking the scale. 

Retention Method: 0

No clip, no bail, just a lanyard hole.  I hate lanyards.  If the knife was bigger this would be an issue, as it is, I am not bent out of shape about it.  

Lock: 2

The lockback is a vastly underrated lock.  It is stable, low maintenance, and very sturdy.  Here the tail lock like placement of the release lever helps accentuate the traditional pattern and the lock itself induces very little blade play.  I genuinely like feel of its crisp disengagement.  A very good lock for the money. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

Few knives on the market make as interesting a choice for an EDC blade as Russell's Medium Barlow.  It has a fascinating history (article forthcoming on this topic, I feel down a rabbit hole here), an elegant appearance, very good performance, and as people friendly look as possible.  Plus it opens with one hand.  The AG Russell Medium Barlow is proof positive that the Good Ole Boy from Arkansas is still at the top of his game--satisfying olde timey knife fans and pleasing those of us of a more modern bent all at the same time.  For $40 you'd be hard pressed to find something that performs better, looks nicer, or is as unique.  When was the last time you saw this knife on a pocket dump site or a YouTube video?  That's my point.  If you haven't tried a Russell blade, you'll be pleasantly surprised.  I have a feeling that in 50 years people will be scoffing at how good a deal these knives are and a few will show up on the Antique's Roadshow 2063 where a person with a tiny wooden pointer will show the camera (a 3D holo-camera) all of the finer points and then stun the crowd at home by telling them that AG Russell knives sold for only $40 at the time.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Top Ten Folding Knife Designers

People love lists.  They really like top tens.  People also like controversy, so I thought I'd post a list on the best folding knife designers.  Before I get to the actual list, I need to spell out the criteria and then note a few designs or people that can't be included for various reasons (that I just made up but seem pretty good to me).  

First, by knife designer, I don't necessarily mean knife maker.  Many great knife makers work in the traditional style of folding knives but they do little to no design because they are making a specific pattern of knife.  They are knife makers but not knife designers.  Additionally, a knife designer could be someone that works in-house at a production company and sketches stuff out in CAD but never actually grinds a piece of steel.  Second, I am excluding from consideration two groups.  First, I am excluding people that make folders but are primarily famous for other things.  Bob Dozier makes some wicked folders, but his acclaim originated from and is largely because of his fixed blades.  This is obviously a judgment call thing, but I will try to be a consistent as possible.  Second, I am not really going to consider folks from ages past.  This is really a list of the last 20-30 years.  Going back beyond that is very difficult to do.  I'd like to put the guy that invented the Barlow on this list but that person has been lost in the mists of time (though no fewer than four people claim to be that guy).  Blackie Collins could be on here, but because of the lack of widespread coverage of knives at the time it is hard to figure out if he did something first or if he did something that publicized first.  Now, with Blade, the internet, and YouTube, it is pretty easy to source who did what first (though not always, see below: Kit Carson).

Here are the four criteria I am using to define the success of a knife designer: 1) market impact; 2) longevity and/or high output; 3) aesthetics; and 4) innovation.  It is rare, even on this list to find someone that does all four of these things very well.  Some of these have pretty objective criteria, such as market impact, which comes down to two things: 1) how well have their knives sold?  and 2) how influential were their designs on the market. That is easy.  Others, like design aesthetic are much harder to speak about in objective terms.  As a result, this list is a list of MY favorites and while I am more than willing to defend and argue about my list, I am sure your list is different.   

There are a few people that I want to include but can't for various reasons.  Here they are in summary. If there were one member of the Buck family that designed all of their knives, they'd be on the list, but there have been at least three generations of Bucks who have all contributed quite a bit.  Untangling who did what and attributing a design to the father or the son or the grandson is too difficult for an outsider to do, so they are all off the list.  The Buck 110 is arguably the most important folder ever and it seems odd to leave its designer off the list, but figuring out exactly who did what is pretty hard.  It seems like it was designed by or at least at the behest of a committee.  A lot of really famous knife makers just tweaked older designs.  Tony Bose makes some of the very best knives produced by humans, but his shtick is to resurrect old patterns.  So he is off the list as he is more a knife maker than a designer.  Ron Lake who invented the tail lock and the interframe is also off the list because, again, he is working within a tradition.  Additionally his innovations are so labor intensive they have not really trickled down to the masses and had a market impact.  Blackie Collins, mentioned above, is also off the list.  Al Mar could be on this list, but I am not sure of the scope of his influence.  So many people were doing similar things around the same time that like Blackie Collins teasing out who did what when is difficult for me to do.  

Honorable Mention: Gus Cecchini

There are very few knife makers in the world that have as distinctive aesthetic as Gus Cecchini.  Gus's knives, produced in Brazil under the GTC label, are angular and unusual.  They use top notch materials, have beautiful (usually hand rubbed) finishes, and most open with a flipper.  But he's not just a maker of beautiful things, he also pours in a ton of innovations.  His hidden pocket clip is both gorgeous and ingenious and his bearing based pivot receives rave reviews from customers.  His market impact, at this point is very limited.  His knives are very expensive, from him they start around two grand, and on the secondary market they are 50% to 200% more, but he does have a Boker production version of his Federal model (though really what custom maker doesn't have a Boker version of their knife?).  This ranking is really about his aesthetic vision and innovation.  He'll be on this list sooner rather than later. 

10. Ernie Emerson

If measured solely by the loyalty of one's customers, Emerson should be on the top of the list.  Emerson buyers rank right up there with Special Forces guys in terms of their intensity and loyalty (note the large overlap between Emerson buyers and Special Forces guys).  His innovation, the Wave, is very clever, solving a problem many knife designers couldn't.  It has limited utility outside of a tactical setting and is done better by others (the Wave on the Endura is sooooo good), but that's not all Ernie did.  Uber collector Justin Laffer suggests that the A-100 is one of the perfect knife designs and I agree with him.  Ernie's understanding of the market, knife construction, and his laser beam focus on products has produced a line of hard use folders that really are used hard.  His customs are equally tough, but just as beautiful.  Not the best at one thing, other than building brand loyalty, Emerson belongs on this list for his all-around excellence.  

9. Tom Mayo

With clean, almost antiseptic lines and exotic materials Tom Mayo's customs are chase items for collectors the world over.

Image courtesy of Aaron Shapiro at Practically Everyday.

His production knives, produced by Buck, are also sought after by collectors.  His market impact can be seen in almost 1/3 of the Buck line.  The high end Paradigm and the lower end Vantage and Vantage Force lines all borrow heavily from Mayo's designs.


His oval thumb hole and simple blade shape can't be missed.  On the innovation front, his TnT and Covert customs introduced the world to exotic materials--Stellite and Talonite as steel substitutes (the TnT stands for Talonite and Titanium).  Clean simple framelocks seem to have infested the custom world and they all owe a bit of their design DNA to Mayo.  

8. Jens Anso

No one since Sal Glesser has more radically rethought the folding knife than Jens Anso.  His customs are wicked and/or alien looking designs with odd blade shapes, topographical looking handle scales, and asymmetric grinds (though not in production knives).


But his market impact is probably equal to his innovation.  He has worked with three major production companies, a little with Spyderco and a lot with Fox Cutlery and Boker.  Boker seems to spin off a new Anso designed folder once a month.   Given that he has been actively making knives for around a decade, this much innovation and market presence bodes well for the future.  His aesthetic is a take it or leave it kind of thing but quite a few people have taken it, especially his ultra grippy "Anso" pattern handle scales.  

7. Bob Terzuola

Bob Terzuola didn't invent a locking mechanism or a deployment method, he invented a type of knife--the modern tactical folder--that has taken the knife world by storm.

 Image courtesy of Aaron Shapiro at Practically Everyday.

Not so much a mechanical thing, his influence comes from developing a certain style and build (overbuilt) of knife.  Personally, I don't like these big "tactical" blades, but lots and lots of people do. The market would not be the same without Terzuola and his long time custom business is still booming.  

6. Kit Carson

The first of the "Big Three" Innovators, and perhaps the most underrated.  Kit Carson invented the flipper.  Unless you have been following the knife industry for a long time, or carefully reading the Spyderco product literature (which goes out of its way to correctly attribute inventions), you might not have known that.  He also has been making gorgeous and minimalist custom knives for decades.  The Flipper is probably the biggest innovation in folding knives since the frame lock and I would argue that the flipper is even more important.  It solves a problem--opening a knife--in a fundamentally different and vastly simpler way.  Going back to what Donald Norman wrote in the Design of Everyday Things, the flipper has a perfect conceptual model.  Looking at it tells you instantly and without words, how it works.  You see it and your mind, naturally, understands it.  I like thumb holes a lot, but the design geek in me wants to say the flipper is the best way to open a knife.  The market seems to agree, as flippers are everywhere, from high end multi-kilobuck customs, like Aaron's Burch Tangent, to cheapo knives like the excellent RJ Martin designed Chill.  The flipper rocks, Carson invented it, and no one seems to remember.  Bad on us.  

5. Michael Walker

The liner lock is the necessary first step in terms of design for almost all of the major knife innovations we enjoy today.  Without it, the flipper would be impossible, the frame lock inconceivable, and the bearing pivot unnecessary.  Michael Walker invented the modern liner lock, with its elegant detent, and for that, he deserves to be on this list.  But his greatness is more than just that.  His customs have been sought after for decades, sitting as a high water mark for the art of knife design and they command prices only Ron Lake can exceed.  He is not just a custom knife savant though, his production designs, specifically the Spyderco Michael Walker, command a huge premium on the secondary market.  His output is not that great, but like JD Salinger, if you make something truly great, you don't need to make a lot of things to be noteworthy.  

4. Chris Reeve

The last and probably the most important of the "inventor" designers.  Chris Reeve's framelock is incredibly influential and innovative.


It has spread like a virus throughout the industry.  But if I were a financial analyst I would tell you that is only his SECOND greatest invention.  His real innovation is creating a market space where he can readily sell hundreds of high end production knives that START at $350.  The beauty of what Chris Reeve did is similar to what Starbucks did--he was able to convince consumers that there is value in paying 300% more for something pretty basic.  But unlike Starbucks, which makes dreadfully overroasted and overflavored coffee devoid of any subtlety, Chris Reeve used virtually unmatched quality and consistency to convince consumers.  Something of a prickly pear, Mr. Reeves annual acceptance speech at Blade for Best Manufacturing quality has become something of a tradition in seeing how pompous someone can be, but when you make knives this good and sell them for as much as he does, he can get away it with.  There is a point at which confidence seems like arrogance.  Holding a Sebenza in your hand will persuade you it is more the former than the latter.  He makes great knives.  

3. AG Russell

In Outlier, Malcolm Gladwell talks about a Chinese proverb about longevity and hard work.  Paraphrasing the proverb it is something like: "A man that wakes before dawn and works through the day for 300 days a year for 30 years will always be successful."  That seems to apply well to AG Russell, except he hit his 30th year 20 years ago.  In the last calendar year, the first of his ninth decade, saw Russell release at least four new knife designs--the Acies2, the Ti Button Lock, the Orca, and the Skorpion.  He also updated and tricked out his Barlow, released a lock back designed by Bob Loveless, and released a nuke-tough fixed blade with its own proprietary steel.


I hope to God I am that productive at his age.  He has been around for so long and made so many excellent designs that it is hard to not just say he is the best based on sheer volume alone.  But the quality of his stuff, even the stuff from his Chinese OEMs is really outstanding.  Additionally, because of his ability to sell direct to consumers, his style, especially as seen in his handle shapes on things like his One Hand knife and the Skorpion, is unfiltered by corporate concerns.  The only knock is that Russell seems to be something of a synthesizer and not QUITE as innovative as the other two men higher on this list.  Its a very small difference, as his innovation is still top notch (the One Hand Knife has its own ambidextrous lock design that is brilliant it is utility and simplicity), but not quite at the same level as #2 or #1. 

2. Ken Onion

Looking at Ken Onion's list of inventions makes him the Thomas Edison of the folding knife.  The Big Three Innovators all did one or two things that were truly remarkable, but Onion did a bunch more.  The Speedsafe assist mechanism, which I personally don't like because I dislike all assisted openers, is unquestionably an industry altering design.  Its release in the mid-90s changed the trajectory of Kershaw and the entire industry.  One could argue that that single innovation launched the Golden Era of Gear we are still basking in tp this day.  His aesthetic is very distinctive with its curvy organic feel.  I don't really like it, but he has shown with knives like the Swindle that he is not a one trick pony.


His market impact goes beyond the inventions though.  He is THE big name free agent designer in the production world.  His switch from Kershaw to CRKT a few years ago signaled a sea change in the production world and a shift of fortunes for CRKT.  Where Onion goes, success, innovation and profits follow.  Did you notice how many times he went to the award dias at BLADE?  That's my point.   

1. Sal Glesser

Among baseball historians there is a debate about the mark of a good pitcher.  Is it the pitcher that had the best peak or the pitcher that was good for the longest time?  In the pre-Pedro, Roger, and Maddux era, the debate came down to three pitchers: Lefty Grove, Cy Young, and Walter Johnson.  Grove, on a per inning basis, was better than anyone in baseball history with more than a ten year career.  Cy Young on the other hand was good for a long time.  Bill James said in his book ranking players that Cy Young pre-1900 was a Hall of Famer and Cy Young post-1900 was a Hall of Famer.  He was good for so long that half his career is better than all but 1% of all pitchers ever.  But he never dominated like Grove did.  But then there is Johnson.  He pitched for more than 20 years and racked up the second highest wins total ever (not that wins are the end all, be all).  He was 90% of Grove and 80% of Young.  His combination of concetrated greatness and longevity meant, at least for Bill James (and many others) that Johnson was the greatest pitcher of all time.  The debate is more interesting now because we have the Pedro/Roger/Maddux trio to look at, but still the point carries over well here.

Sal Glesser is the Walter Johnson of knife designers.  His innovations are staggering--the thumb hole opener, the pocket clip, and a myriad of lock designs including of my favorite lock (the Compression Lock).  His market impact, as head of Spyderco, is as great as anyone else.  His aesthetic is unmistakeable.


In fact, its striking character is lost only because he designed so many blades.  If he had a smaller output, his vision of the folding knife would stand out even more.  And that is the real difference maker here.  Sal has designed more than 100 knives over 20 some years.  Spyderco Source has his as the designer on about 115 knives and there are a few new ones they are missing. 

Sal is either the #1 or #2 person is each of the four categories I am looking at and even the #2 ranks are arguable. There can be no doubt, Sal Glesser is the greatest folding knife designer of the last 30 years.

I am sure people will disagree.  I feel a little weird placing Ken Onion so high, but his dominance of the Blade categories and the sales of his blades make him hard to ignore.  I also feel weird leaving pure custom makers off the list, guys like Jeremy Marsh.  Their market impact is limited to homages and a very few customs made or sold.  Hinderer was a consideration as well, but I couldn't figure out who to boot out to add him.  Similarly I was thinking that RJ Martin should be on the list.  Not only does he make great customs, but production companies LOVE working with him.  He basically delivers a complete CAD design making the production process super simple.  I think there is really no dispute with the #1 choice and I think all ten guys chosen are worthy members of this list, but beyond the #1 rank I am not sure of the order.  I wrote and rewrote this a couple of times and I am comfortable with the list now.