Thursday, November 28, 2013

You Decide

This article is a little different than the normal article.  I am doing a bit of investigation here, hopefully it is helpful.  All of the information in this piece is public information or information sent to me and used with permission.  I honestly don't know how this will go over or who is right.  I am looking for input from you folks and I want to make sure that the trust you place in me is earned.  I am not playing favorites for anyone, except you the reader.  With that said, here goes.  

After review of the TT PockeTTool 69, a few comments pointed out the similarity between the TT PockeTTool 69 and the Bottle Grenade, a OPMT sold via Kickstarter.  I promised readers I would do some digging and then present what I found.  This article is a summary of that.  In preparation, I contacted both TT PockeTTool and the maker of the Bottle Grenade, Brad, for responses.

Up front I will tell you that TT PockeTTools has been very good the site.  He sends stuff for review and is a genuinely nice guy.  I like him and I like his designs (especially the Chopper), a lot.  But my loyalty is and always will be with you folks, the readers.  If required, I'll burn every bridge I have worked hard to build with folks in the gear industry to preserve the reliance and trust you place on my reviews and opinions.  I don't do this for a profit at all.  It is about getting good information out there.  If that means that a gear maker or company that is friendly to me is no longer friendly, then so be it.  I have been threatened by companies (like: "we won't support you"; not anything bad) after bad reviews before.  I am still here.  I don't do this for a profit, so threatening to take the site away from me or trying to shut it down is like trying to steal from a Buddhist monk--they have nothing to take and anything they do have, they give away.  I am giving away for free all of this information and all of the gear samples I get for review on this site and I have very little other than time invested here.  My goal is not to make money, but to have fun and get some information out there.

Know that I did not consider this post lightly.  I talked to a lot of people before I wrote and posted this.  But ultimately, if there is a question of concern the readers of this site have, it is also a question I have.  I am going to lay out all of the cards, everything, and then you decide.  

One thing though before I lay everything out.  I am kind of worried this was not a geniune controversy, but a ploy for free advertising.  The comments were anonymous and I have no way of tracking them.  Keep that in mind while reading, especially when you get to the section "other stuff."  If I find out that is the case (how, I have no idea), I will let you know.

TT gave me permission to post his email response (which is below, in full).  Brad contacted me over my Twitter feed and since that is public, I will assume he has no objection to me posting what is already out there.  

The Two Devices

TT PockeTTool 69:

P1000810

Bottle Grenade:


The Makers' Responses

TT PockeTTools:

Hi Tony,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show that the TT-69 and the Grenade are not similar at all.

Late today I received an email from someone who maybe the owner of the Grenade.  The email was unprofessional which is why I didn't respond.  Until receiving this email, I was not aware of this product being on the market.  I had not even heard of kickstarter or visited their site until after I designed the TT-69.

The TT-69 is a bottle opener and key chain dangler.  It encompasses none of the other specifics that the Grenade has. 
Comparing the TT-69 and the Grenade, it is not that similar at all.

The TT-69 was designed as a number "6" with 9 holes.  The Grenade design resembles, I suppose, a grenade.   The TT-69 was designed to hold keys, hang on your belt loop and open bottles. The TT-69 has a single short hook to latch to the belt loop (not a long one).  There are many other multitools in the industry with a similar hook like the Grenade.  The TT-69 also has a lanyard hole on top which the Grenade does not.  There is a totally different "pry" off bottle opener style (there are no pop off elements on the TT-69 like on the Grenade).  The TT-69 has nine of the same size holes the Grenade has different size holes plus hexes.  The picture below shows a similar pop off style like the Grenade.

I don't see how its even being compared or complained about. They are two completely different tools.

For example, is the maker to the Grenade ripping off this product? It has the same exact design of bottle opening. 





Or perhaps the parachute multitool which has similar features and looks the same as the Grenade except its not a circle. Does that mean the Grenade copied the Parachute design?





 Lastly, its very unprofessional to make false statements about a company when the products are not the same.

Thanks Tony for your time. I appreciate all that you do.

Brad:

I'd like to know his name.  I think he may have backed me and see my early prototype, looked just like his.

Here is my argument--Bottle Grenade--the last opener you will ever need. by Brad.

I then asked TT PockeTTools about this and he wrote back saying that he had not heard of Kickstarter and that he wasn't a backer.  Note that Brad again linked to his KS project page in the tweets and there was a link to his KS page in the comments.

Here is a piece about the similarity of designs of multitools.  Here is another.

What all of this means, again, I leave up to you.

Other Stuff

When TT PockeTTools started he got in trouble on EDCF for shill posting, that is claiming he was  buyer interested in a goods instead of a seller of those goods.  That's not cool.  I did not know about this prior to accepting review samples.  Now that I know this, however, I would have still accepted those samples for review.  First, nothing he did was illegal.  Folks shill stuff all of the time--its called advertising.  Do you really think the models on soda commercials love the soda?  They are shilling.  But doing this in a forum is worse because this community is small and based on honesty.  Shill posting isn't honest.  I am willing to give TT PockeTTools a second chance because: 1) he came clean and made amends right away; 2) he has done nothing since then, to my knowledge; and 3) he is hardly the first person in the gear world to make a mistake.  

Brad is not free of controversy either.  Perhaps you noticed a while ago that I had to amend my review policy to address requests I got for shill tweets and posts.  He is the reason why.  He asked for a tweet, then when I asked for a review sample, I got radio silence.  I didn't bother to make that public when it happened because, well, who cares?  Its not exactly news to tell people I DIDN'T get a review sample.  So I ignored it.  A lot of stuff happens like this, you'd be surprised.  The bottom line is I tweet out stuff on KS that I find interesting.  I do it without being asked, but I refuse to just turn the Twitter account or this site into a complex ad.  Additionally, the comments section of the TT PockeTTool 69 and the tweets Bottle Grenade sent aren't the first time Brad has claimed something is a ripoff, then posted a link to his stuff, as a way of getting free advertising.  Again, note the anonymous comments section posts in the 69 review.  Here is the link to the Multitool.org thread where he is admonished for doing the same thing (http://forum.multitool.org/keychain-one-piece-tools/new-flat-tool-from-stagejunk/). 

But bear in mind that there is a lot of "misdeeds" out there in the gear industry.  By in large, I think this the natural extension of a business where there is a lot of money floating around, vague notions of intellectual property (and until recently, zero patent protections), and, frankly, inexperienced business people.  

There is pretty substantial evidence that Mick Strider faked being in the military (or at least what he did while in the service) and got in real legal trouble for other things.  I am not someone's judge and as long as they offenses aren't SO bad (rape, murder) I can overlook them and focus on the gear.  Similarly, digging around and doing research on Bark River Knife and Tool led me to some information about the founder of that company, Mike Stewart.  The information is much less solid than the stuff on Strider, but again there appears to be legal problems.  This is a business and people get pissed off when money is at stake.  Additionally, this is a business where lots and lots of people got started making WEAPONS.  It would be unusual for the opposite to exist--everyone making gear is a bunch of angels.  Then there is the case of Microtech and ZT.  It seems clear to me that what happened there was not exactly honest either, but again, I am not a judge.  Gear is good=move on (absent, again, something very serious).  I am writing about gear, not the people that make it.

I am not condoning or approving any of these things.  I am simply taking the position that I am not the person to publicly decide what should happen.  So many of the problems in our country today stem from people trying to tell others what to do and think.  I am not going to contribute to that.  I'll give you the facts, you make up your own mind, and do what you want.  I would mention the Microtech thing in any review of their products, as I did with Strider's history in the review of the PT, but so far as I am concerned, I am going to just take that information into consideration and move on.  I want you to know about it so you can decide what you think is appropriate.  I am not in the business of trying to hunt people down.  No use crucifying someone.  I have more important things to do.  If you feel like doing so, great.  I'm just not going to get into it.

There is one exception to this rule and that is the case of counterfeits.  I would probably review the San Ren Mu 705 and note that it was a clone of a Sebenza, same blade shape, same handle shape, etc.  But I would not review a "Kevin Johns" Sebenza.  That maker is producing a clone and selling it as the original.  I am interested in supporting the people that put their time and energy into making good stuff.  Counterfeiting does the opposite of that.  And counterfeiting IS a crime.  Even if Brad is right, again something you have to decide, this is not a case of counterfeiting.  

Conclusion

I have no dog in this fight.  I have reviewed TT's stuff in the past.  He is a good guy to me.  His stuff is well made.  Other this little blow up, I have had no dealings with Brad.  Not because I haven't tried, though.  But this is about what you think.  I promised to look into the issue and I did.  You decide what you think should happen.  Comment in the posts below, but keep it civil.  My rule has been to never delete a comment for any reason, even if they personally attacked me (see the Cryo review), but in this one instance, I am going to make an exception.  If the comments get out of hand, I will take them down.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Deals

The two sponsors, Blade HQ and E2Field Gear are both running sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

E2Field Gear

Mike will be running short sales all weekend long starting on Friday.  Each sale will have a new item with low pricing.  Among the items will be the Fisher Space Pen, Field Notes, and the much beloved Zebralight SC52.  That last one will be at the lowest price Mike has ever sold it for, which means it will beat just about anyone else's prices as Mike had them low to begin with. 

Remember, click the banner to the right to support the blog.  The discount code will not work.  These are bare bones prices as it is.  Telling Mike Everyday Commentary sent ya'.

Blade HQ

They are blowing it out, really amazing stuff.  There will be all sorts of deals, but here are the main

Black Friday Deals:

Kimura VIII for $84.99 (Save 53%) - The Kimura 8 was discontinued after just a few were made. We have a bunch with stainless steel handles, no G-10. There are not many Kimuras left and once they are gone, there won't be any more. This one won't be on our site until the day the sale launches.

Kershaw Vapor III for $13.99 (Save 53%) - Model 1655ST on sale.

TOPS BOB Fieldcraft for $99.99 (Save 44%) - This is the Blade HQ exclusive version.

CRKT Crawford Kasper for $16.99 (Save 43%) - Model 6783N.

Lightning OTF for $19.99 (Lowest Price Ever) - 2 Models only on sale. Tan handle with satin serrated blade, and gray handle with satin serrated blade.

Protech Rockeye Automatic for $168.95 (Save 44%) - Les George design.

Boker Kwaiken Orange for $79.99 (Save 47%) - Blade HQ exclusive.

CRKT Carson Flipper for $39.95 (Save 56%) - Model M16-13ZLEK.

Boker Albatros for $73.95 (Save 57%) - Anso design.

Spyderco Sharpmaker for $49.95 (Save 47%)

Kershaw Echelon for $45.95 (Save 60%)

Kershaw Scallion for $41.99 (Save 65%) - This model only.

Of particular note are three knives--the Orange Kwaiken, an awesome collab that seems to avoid the flaws of many Boker knives, the Albatros, a Ti framelock at a bargain price, and the Echelon, a super cool looking knife with good steel and a great size for a low price.  The non-knife, the Sharpmaker, is always a good buy and rarely goes on sale. 

Like seen on TV though, wait...there is more:

Cyber Monday:

Get ready.  Wake up early.  Have your credit card ready.  Blade HQ has a run of exclusive HINDERER XM-18 3.5 knives for $499.95, an excellent, if not unprecedented price for a non-direct sale.  Here are some sweet pics:

 and

and


The Ti framelock side is blue anodized.  These look super hot.

Here are the other Cyber Monday deals:

Smith and Wesson Extreme Ops for $15.99 (Save 77%) - Automatic Knife. This model only.

CRKT Hammond Cruiser for $16.99 (Save 76%) - Model 7914CM.

Brous Blades Silent Soldier Ranger for $69.99 (Save 46%) - This model only.

SOG Tac automatic for $79.95 (Save 57%) - This model only.

CRKT Shinbu for $149.95 (Save 57%)

Boker Rhino for $42.95 (Save 50%) - This model only.

CRKT Shenanigan for $48.95 (Save 61%) - This model only.

Kershaw Leek for $32.95 (Save 59%) - 4 models for $32.95 each. 1660, 1660OL, 1660PUR, 1660SWBLK.

Boker Manaro Bullseye for $116.50 (Save 45%)

Spyderco Yojimbo 2 for $99.95 (Save 46%)

There are quite a few good buys here: the Brous looks nice and at a great price, the Shenanigan has gotten good feedback, I like the Leek quite a bit (especially at that price), and the Yojimbo 2 is a sweet, if specialized, blade. 

As always, buy through this link and support the blog:

Blade HQ

Oh, and good luck nailing one of the very limited edition Hinderers (the Blade HQ logo is tastefully done on the lock side as well):


Sunday, November 24, 2013

HDS Rotary Executive 200 Review

The history of the the HDS Rotary is a long one.  It was introduced and there were bugs.  Then it was tweaked and all but disappeared from the marketplace.  Ones and twos leaked out and Henry's waitlist grew very long.  I had written them off a long, long time ago.  My logic was pretty simple: a waitlist that long is the equivalent of saying "You'll get one eventually."  This indefinite wait in the world of flashlights and emitter technology is simply unacceptable.  By the time you'd get your light it would be outdated.  You would have paid for state of the art and you would received the best in class five years ago.

Oh how wrong I was.

I found a retailer selling the HDS Rotary unbranded, but a look at the light and the links told me this was an HDS Rotary.  I plunked down $200 and started to wait.  Unlike folks on Henry's list however my wait was about 4 days.  The Rotary arrived and I was instantly, instantly taken in.  From about the second day of the testing period the question changed from "Is this a good light still?" to "Is this the best light ever?"  I don't say that lightly.  I have had a chance to handle and own some of the finest illunmination tools ever devised by the human brain and the HDS Rotary rivals or bests most of them.  This is rarified air.

The 200 lumen output is not an issue.  Its more than enough, and it is a real 200 lumens, no baloney.  But the key to the Rotary's success is just how polished, worked over, and refined it is.  You can be best in class through sheer innovation or by taking a good idea and distilling it to perfection.  Its the Telsa v. Mercedes debate.  The MBI HF-R is the Telsa.  The HDS Rotary is the Mercedes.  The question I will answer by the end of the review is simple--is this the best light of all time?  Right now, writing this intro before I finish testing, I am not sure, but it is definitely in the running.  

Here is the HDS Rotary page.  Availability is still very limited.  The HDS Rotary Executive 200 costs $200.  There are three HDS models--the Twisty, the Clicky, and the Rotary.  They all come in a variety of outputs--100 lumens, 140 lumens, 170 lumens, 200 lumens, Hi CRI, and IR.  There are two tailcap configurations--Tactical and Executive.  The tactical tailcap protrudes making tailstanding impossible.  The executive is flush and tailstands well.  You can get a AlTiN coated bezel that is grayish-purple or a silver bezel.  You can get mineral glass or sapphire for the lens.  Additionally, you can mix and match features to make a full custom HDS light.  The HDS Rotary Executive 200 is my ideal configuration.  Here is Snareman's video treatise on the HDS Rotary (his is a Tactical model).  Here is the latest HDS thread on CPF (the HDS cult is powerful on CPF, now I know why).  Finally, here is my review sample (purchased with personal funds for my personal collection):

P1010532

Twitter Review Summary:  A gloriously refined light that is among the best in the world. 

Here is my video overview of the HDS Rotary Executive 200:


Design: 2

The Arc 4 chassis gave rise to the Ra lights that became the HDS lights.  It also begat the Novatac series of lights.  Over a decade old this simple shape still works very, very well.  Henry didn't just make the shape better, he essentially rebuilt the chassis from the ground up, all with an eye towards much, much better durability and functionality.  The position of the selector ring towards the rear of the light is a stroke of genius, making this one of the three best UIs I have ever used.  It is precise, easy, and functions without the ability to see.  I'd like a bit smaller body and the inclusion of a pocket clip, but the lack of those things is vastly overshadowed by just out stout and elegant this light is.

Fit and Finish: 2

If there is something askew about this light I couldn't find it.  The Rotary is so smooth, so tightly put together, it feels like it is made of a single piece of aluminum.  It has a heft to it, a solidity to it that is very rare.  The walls of the Rotary are significantly thicker than any light I have ever seen or handled.  The Rotary seems like it could be dropped off the top floor of my house on to the ground and still work. In fact, some of the endurance tests on the HDS site seem to confirm this.  The head is fully potted meaning the electronics are sealed in a resin or glue making them less susceptible to shock and moisture.  The threads are acme threads that are trapezoidal instead of triangular in shape.  This makes it much more difficult to cross thread.  It also makes them much heartier.  The bezel is stainless steel and it has a nice stonewashed finish to it.  It also seems to be as thick as the steel on a bulldozer shovel.  For all of this durability the Rotary still feels downright refined, like a well used tool a decade or two old with no sharp edges.  The fit and finish is worth more than a two, but it would break the scale.  This is one of the reasons why the Rotary is so extraordinary.    

P1010596

Grip: 2

I love the simple but usefil shape to the Rotary and the mild knurling is downright perfect--grippy but not offensive.  The grip is great because it also does this:

P1010544

The shape puts your hand in the right place to both control the selector ring and use the clicky.  All of this can be done with one hand and it makes the Rotary simply amazing.  In addition to these two things, the Rotary has that perfect length to diameter ratio that is the mark of quite a few great flashlights.

Carry: 2

The Rotary is JUST on the right side of big.  Any bigger and it would be too big.  A clip would be nice, but the selector ring makes it impossible for the normal HDS clip to work.  Don't even think about the old HDS clip, that thing was a design disaster.  The Rotary can still slip into a coin pocket and hide there.  It is also not terrible dropped in a pocket, even without a clip.

Output: 2

Look, the lumens arms race is a suckers bet.  You DON'T need that a 1,000 lumens.  Its fun to have, but in an EDC light it is almost always too much.  I like the max high here at 200 lumens.  Its fine.  Not the best out there, but plenty good.  The real star here is the low.  The low on the Rotary is the best I have ever seen in a light.  It is enough to illuminate stuff in the dark, but not enough to rob your night vision.  Furthermore the other 15 gradients of output all seem helpful and are easy to access.  The output here is great, even if the high end isn't record breaking.

Runtime: 2

Its hard to measure the runtime both because of the highly variable (though not infinitely variable) output and the fact that the Rotary takes both primary and rechargeable batteries.  Suffice to say the runtime on low is days and the runtime on high is listed at an hour plus.  Given the format of a 1xCR123a battery that is very good.  

Beam Type:  2

You might want to have more throw in a light this big and I think that is a fair criticism.  I wish it was more of a thrower too, the length is certainly there.  But in the end, this still a very good flood light.  EDC tasks are almost always flood tasks and the fact that you can precisely dial down the output to prevent bright flood lightning from blowing your vision is a big plus.  

Beam Quality: 2

There is a Hi CRI HDS light, but is not available in the Rotary.  Still the tint is actually quite good, no disco ball purples here.  Additionally like the Novatac, the Rotary also has a very clean and evenly shaped beam profile.

P1010542

The reflector is a very mild orange peel reflector and it produces a nice diffuse transition from hot spot to spill.  Nothing less than excellent here.

UI: 2

I had long thought that the clicky was unnecessary with a good selector ring, but the Rotary has convinced me that when done right a clicky is a helpful addition to the selector ring.  By keeping the clicky inside the selector ring, you get a ton of control, all with one hand.  It is easy to use and works without any light.  Additionally with the clicky you can still jump to high directly with a double click.

P1010538

Turning the dial also gives you direct access to high or low or anything in between.  Set it in the desired position and press the clicky.  Frankly, this set up, with the clicky and the tailcap accessible with one hand (as opposed to opposite ends like on the JetBeam and Sunwayman lights), is as good as any other UI out there.  As good as the MBI clockface UI and the mutli-stage twisty.  This is the second reason why this light is truly incredible.  

Hands Free: 0

Okay, here is the problem.  The light can tailstand but it does so poorly.  Additionally, it will roll like a stone.  Here is why:

P1010541

The light is perfectly, totally, and completely round.  This does stink, especially because there is an easy fix.  If the screw that stopped the selector ring from rotating was a smidgeon bigger it could also operate as anti-roll device.  Super easy fix.  Henry, you reading?

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

There is a good argument that the HDS Rotary Executive 200 is the best light in the world.  The build quality is insanely great.  The UI is perhaps the best on any light, equal to my two favorites.  This is a very good light.  I am sure that there are ways to add a clip and lot of folks have ported over the Fenix friction clip from the PD22.  I also think the raised screw would be great, but unnecessary with a good clip design.  Still, even without these features, the Rotary is easily worth the money and the wait associated with acquiring one.  A few retailers have had them pop up in stock recently and they are totally worth looking around.  They are GREAT.

CORRECTIONS AND UPDATES

On Monday November 25th, a great reader forwarded the review to Henry himself.  Henry kindly replied and made some corrections and updates.  Here they are.

1.  The EDC Twisty has not been in production for a while.  It was phased out a year after the EDC Clicky was released.

2.  The Arc4 was, itself, an evolution on Henry's Action lights.  More about the Action lights can be found here.  The Action light begat the Arc4 and the Arc4 begat the EDC Ultimate, more info here.  This is where Novatac (which went out of business 2 years ago) came into the picture.  That light was based on the EDC Ultimate.  The body of the Rotary is much closer in appearance to the EDC Ultimate and the Arc4, but the Action light was where it all started.

3.  Pocket clips for all HDS lights are coming, including clips that will work with the Rotary.  I think reading that I fainted a little.  All of a sudden I woke up and it was like 7:35 PM.  I can't wait.

4.  A Hi CRI Rotary is available through the Custom Rotary page on the HDS site.

5.  High is reached not by a double click, but by a press and hold.

6.  Tailstanding is possible and it will be perfect, not as wobbly as I had mentioned in the review if you depressurize the light.  I noticed that mine depressurized naturally over the course of a day or two and now it is completely flush.  There is a fix mentioned on the HDS site, found here.  I am not adding a point back in because this sort of work around shouldn't be necessary, but if it bothers you there is a fix.    

Friday, November 22, 2013

My BKR Review

There is no limit to what I will endure to get good information for a review.  For example, toting around the girly-est pink water bottle on the planet.  It was actually not the bottle, but the silicone sleeve that was rosy pink.  Still, it was an attention getting at work.  The My BKR was the first glass bottle I have used extensively and it proves the value of glass in a water bottle.  There are two flaws with the bottle, one major and one minor, but it is a useful bottle, and in the right role--as an indoor workout companion--it excels.

Let me be crass--this is a bottle made for and marketed to women.  If you look at the Press page on their website there is nary a single source, other than a sprinkling of newspapers ('member them?, how quaint), that isn't either for women or a celebrity endorsement from a woman.   What do Natalie Portman, Blake Lively, and Mylie Cyrus have in common?  Apparently, they like this bottle.  If that doesn't motivate you to buy it, well, never mind.  I am sort of over the idea of a celebrity endorsement.  I think most of you folks are too.  But just because something is marketed towards women doesn't mean it is useless to dudes.  It strikes me as a silly marketing strategy to alienate half the market.  After all, dudes drink water too.       

Here is the My BKR product page.  Here is a review of the My BKR.  The bottle will run you $28.  You can get the My BKR through their website or Amazon.  

 

If purchased through the Amazon link, proceeds benefit the site.   Here is my review sample (purchased with site money):

P1010485

Here is the water bottle scoring system again.

Twitter Review Summary: Glass is GREAT, the mouth is not.

Design: 2

Clean, simple, and elegant, the My BKR looks very good.

The idea of pairing up a silicone sleeve with a glass vessel is a good one.  The silicone adds grip and cushions any shock. Here they went a step further and added a splash of color.  The review sample happened to be pink, but you can get it in Smoke or Black or Dark Burgundy, if you aren't that confident in your manliness.  The cap is an wonderful thing.  By canting the connector loop at an angle it makes the bottle easier to carry and easier to open.  Plus it gives it a bit of design flair.  I know the Apple aesthetic of clean modernism is popular right now, but its hard to say this bottle is ugly even if it is very much Apple-esque in its appearance. 

Fit and Finish: 2

There are three parts here and they all fit together well, so fit is not much of an issue.  Finish on the other handle is something that can be meaningfully evaluated.  The bottle's sleeve was a point I was worried about and through my use and my wife's it has stood up quite well.  It did not lose its elasticity and it has stayed tight to the glass body the entire time.  Additionally, a small rubber seal on the inside of the cap makes the bottle shut tightly.  There are no seams or edges and the mouth is nice and round. 

Carry: 1

Pretty simple here: the bottle is too wide to fit into a few cup holders, such as those in my 2013 Subaru Impreza or my wife's Forester.  Its not a fatty, but there are a few other places it doesn't fit.  It also carries poorly in a bag, such as my Bihn Cadet briefcase.  The silicone sleeve makes putting it in or pulling it out a bit of a chore.  If you have a tethering device, like a Nite-Ize S-biner the connector loop on the cap is quite sturdy and works well.  Carrying it in your hand is also nice, either with the loop or holding the sleeve.

P1010477

Its just a bit portly.  Maybe that's why Natalie PORTman liked it.  Oh Jesus, I have a million of these make-fun-of-celebrity puns.  Oh wait, what, Natalie Portman's last name is a made up last name.  Damn it. 

Grip: 2

If it is hard to pull out of a bag because of the silicone is also hard to have it slip out of your hands.  Even when wet, which will happen a lot, the My BRK stays put.  I also like the fact that bottle is not too tall.  If it were, it would be much heavier, as glass is pretty darn heavy.  Overall, I liked the bottle's feel in the hand, a very important factor, especially in a bottle like this, which seems designed for the gym.  The gym?  Its where people who hate the outdoors and manual labor go to exercise and look like hampster doing it.  Yeah, I know, I have no idea why you'd go to the gym when you could just run around in a state forest for three hours.  Plus you have to pay to use the same equipment as other sweaty people.  It seems crazy to me. 

Drink Quality/Mouth: 2

Glass.  Glass rules.

P1010478

A smooth mouth with no seams or edges made of glass is as close to perfect as you can get.  The mouth here is VERY small, very, very small (again, probably a plus at the gym or on a tread mill where you are jostling around a lot), but when you are drinking that tiny opening is actually nice.  Its not sloppy or spill prone.  It allows for a nice flow and easy sipping.  GREAT.

The small mouth has one drawback though--it makes filling the bottle difficult.

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Also, it makes ice impossible.  The mouth is so small, so tiny that only a faucet or fountain works well.  Pouring water from a pitcher is nearly impossible to do spill-free.  The water then gets between the sleeve and the glass.  The mouth is just TOO small.  A little bigger would be fine and you could still have the nice glass opening for superior drink quality. 

Materials: 2

The glass is very thick.  Neither my wife (who helped out with product testing for the first time ever; she refused to take part in the Spyderco Rock review for some reason) nor I had any problem with the glass, not once.  I didn't drop it off the third story of our house, it it handled bumps and bruises with ease.  Don't worry about glass in terms of durability.  Weight is a bigger issue for me.  The silicone sleeve is also nice as it is a good cushion, adds a hint of color, and makes the bottle grippy.  A rubber seal on the inside of the cap is also nice.

Insulation: 0

Glass is a great electrical insulator, but not so good here.  There was no temperature retention at all.  Zilch.  As a gym/workout bottle that is probably not a big deal.  After all, it gives you a chance to walk around the gym, panting and sweating while looking for a water fountain, all in a show of how much of a workout you were getting.  For the rest of us, this is a downer. 

Durability: 2

The glass is tough, as I mentioned above, and the silicone seems springy enough.  The cap is also fine.  One point I worry about is the sleeve getting grimy over time.  Water and dirt can get in between the sleeve and the glass and it looks kinda icky, but you can wash both of them.

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Still I worry that a lack of maintenance could be a long term issue.  In the medium term, everything was fine.

Leak Proof: 2

A two week period with me and a two month period with the wife and this thing never leaked, even when jostled.  Much better than a Klean Kanteen in that regard.  This is a pretty darn water tight bottle.  I like that a lot. 

Ease of Cleaning: 0

You couldn't get a baby toothbrush through that tiny mouth.  This is a strict rinse out bottle, which I do not like.  Compared to the Square I reviewed previously this is night and day.  I am not sure if some clean freaks could take this.  Fortunately it is dishwasher safe, but still, the small mouth while good for drinking causes yet another problem.

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

The My BRK bottle is better than the Klean Kanteen non insulated bottle and the plastic Nalgene.  The glass ensures the very best and cleanest drinking experience possible.  But the small mouth on this bottle causes quite a few problems.  Filling the bottle is a problem.  No ice is allowed.  And cleaning is very difficult.  As a gym bottle, this is probably all okay.  In fact, in that role I think the My BRK excels, especially because the small mouth prevents spills.  For a general purpose bottle or a bottle you take on long hikes, ones where ice helps, this is probably not your best choice.  But don't take my word for it, Hilary Duff, Jennifer Garner, and Leighton Meeson like it.  Wait, who the hell is Leighton Meeson?  I have official entered that part of my life where I am confused and befuddled by gossip magazine covers and all of these new fangled semi-celebrities.  Let me go get my Barlow...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Big Plan

Okay, so things have gone pretty darn well. 

On a budget of 10 dollars a year, plus shipping costs, I have built this little site.  You have all helped out a lot.  But I want to make sure I have the best content out there.  I can't offer you flashy graphics or Pulitzer Prize winning photograph or even speel check (that one was on purpose).  I can, however, make sure that what you read is reliable, knowledgeable, and systematic.  I do lots of research before posting stuff and I have had scoring systems in the works since the site started, only a few of which have been implemented.  I would like to cover more stuff, but I don't have the knowledge base to cover certain things.  There are five areas I would like to have some help covering: bags, watches, jackets, electronics, and pens.

Bags are really difficult to test.  You can only use one at a time and even then it is pushing it.  Weather impacts a lot of bag testing and I can't very well hike 5-10 miles with a three year old in the snow.  I can always use a briefcase, but there are certain things I have no knowledge, time, or experience to test.  I'd love someone to help out testing and reviewing bags.  The scoring system is all done, but I need another person to help keep the volume up. 

As much as I try I cannot seem to penetrate the complexities of the watch business.  I would love to understand all of the ins and outs of horology, but I can't seem to do it.  I need someone that knows this stuff cold and willing to write about it.  I need someone to cover watches because I am interested in watches and I think you are too.  If someone could develop a 20 point scale for watches and implement it, I'd love to add those products to the stable of reviews.

I'd also like someone that is knowledgeable about outerwear.  I have tried, really I have, but I can't seem to motivate myself to think about jackets all that much.  My research putters out and I end up defaulting to: GOOGLE TAD GEAR JACKETS.  I know they make great stuff, but I wish I knew how to distinguish between their stuff and Kuhl stuff, as an example of another high end maker.  We all wear jackets every day or most days in the winter and having that information would be awesome. 

If I could I'd like to also have someone that covers electronics (phones, earpieces, and cameras) from an EDC perspective.  There are a million tech blogs out there.  I don't want that.  I want someone to talk about how these devices are used and how they work in day to day life.  I don't care if they have the newest processor.  I'd rather know how they hold up, how good they are at multitasking in real life, and how they can be made more useful through accessories and apps.  Just as I don't go crazy with the integrating spheres and runtime plots on flashlights, I'd like someone to knowledgeably cover phones for the site.  I hope this person would also be able to write intelligently about apps and accessories for these phones. 

I have stretched a lot to learn about pens and I have glad I did, but it'd be awfully nice to have someone with more knowledge and experience than me reviewing pens and writing about them.  I know there are folks out there.

Aside from specific areas where I am lacking, I'd like to have someone else to help out with product reviews.  As you have probably noticed, for the past few months it has been almost all reviews all the time and I like that, but I still have a backlog.  I'd love for someone with good writing skills to help out and process some of the products for review.  

In the end the problem is one of money.  I have 10 dollars a year to spend on the site.  The URL costs 10 dollars.  That means the writers, the Bags and Packs Editor, Watch Editor, the Outerwear Editor, and the Pen Editor would have to work for the same amount I do: zero.  This is not an entirely unfun situation though, even if you don't get a dime.  You get to handle a bunch of stuff.  You will get a ton of packages.  You get sneak peeks at new stuff.  And, let's face it, using and writing about gear is fun.  I have a video camera and a still camera to give away, so that might help you start doing reviews.  Additionally, if you write for the site, it would be easy to have you float on to the podcast whenever.  But the pay is still zero. 

Here are the specific requirements:

1.  A distinctive voice (be yourself, unless your boring, then be someone interesting)

2.  Knowledge about gear in general or specific topics mentioned above

3.  Ability to write an article a week (including choosing the topic), formatted in the Blogger format (I want to cut the HMTL out of an email and paste into an open Blogger window, no editing or hunting for pictures).

4.  A legit address, PayPal account, and email address

5.  A Skype account

6.  Knowledge of the Everyday Commentary scoring systems and/or development of a new system for a different category of products

7.  Prior writing experience is a plus

8.  Experience or connections in the industry a plus

If this sounds like a good idea, send me an email with a 1000 word article in the HTML Blogger in it.  I will probably just pick one person to start out, but eventually, I'd like to have folks writing in each of the areas outlined above.   

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com (in the usual format).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cold Steel Recon Scout Review

If Cold Steel had sleek packaging and an understated marketing presence, their customers would probably be equally loyal, but very different.  You see, the quality of Cold Steel's products is almost always above average and in the case of the Recon Scout, it is well above average.  But Cold Steel is a company where the products rarely do the talking.  Instead someone else does, usually by stabbing quarters, chopping up blue jeans full of beef, or plunging a knife through a car hood.  All of these ridiculous tasks are something that Cold Steel blades seem imminently capable of doing, at least in my experience, but really, why not show us knives doing things people do with their blades?  The marketing is laughable, but the designs are capable.  Its an odd juxtaposition in a world where the opposite is almost always the case.

I have reviewed three Cold Steel products thus far and all have been capable cutters, but none had that extra level of attention that sent it to the top of the scoring scale.  The Recon Scout proves just how good Cold Steel's stuff can be and it is one of the best choppers I have had the fortunate to use.  One slight drawback keeps it from getting a perfect score, but make no mistake--you will be very happy with the Recon Scout.  It blew away my current big chopper, the Ontario RD-7, by a wide margin.  It was better than the Spyderco Rock I had in for review over the summer.

Here is the product page. There is a high end version of this knife with San Mai VG-1 steel.  This version of the Recon Scout, with a black blade and SK-5, costs around $117. Here is a written review. Here is a video review (an old Nutnfancy video, back when he talked for 10 gloriously focused and rant-free minutes). Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Recon Scout, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:

P1010359

Twitter Review Summary:  A knife by and for cavemen--smart cavemen.  Great blade.

Design: 1

Put aside the axe v. knife v. saw debate for a second and look within the realm of choppers.  You'll be impressed at how well the Recon Scout stacks up even against much more expensive choppers.  The blade shape and handle design are dead simple and dead effective.  The weight and balance are great.  The guard is very sturdy.  The sheath is amazing.  So why the 1 instead of a 2?  Here is why:

P1010284

There is thick and then there is overbuilt and then there is the Recon Scout.  5/16 inch thick is quite a slab of steel and something that does effect performance.  There is never a second, not even a second, when you will think the knife will bend or break even in the hardest chopping tasks, but stock this thick does impact your ability to cut.  This is a knife and not a pry bar, but in some tasks, such as batonning I found it to be too brutishly thick.  It seems to me that 1/8 inch is a little too thin and 5/16 is too thick.  Perhaps 3/16 or 1/4 inch is just right.  My RD-7 is 3/16 and it chops quite well.  Ultimately, the Recon Scout is a bit too thick. 

P1010279

Fit and Finish: 2

For a knife so brutal, the finish is quite impressive.  The black coating, which I hate, was even and thick.  The kraton handle was well made.  The piped lanyard hole is a nice touch, something a bit more than what you'd expect from a knife in this range.  The sheath is immaculate.  Even the guard, which is often chintzy, was well done here.  There is not a lot to do on a fixed blade, but what there is was done well here, surprisingly well given the intended task.   

Handle Design: 2

If you listen to the Knife Journal podcast you get a lesson in handle design.  One of the cohosts, Kyle, is a hand surgeon so naturally he is a little fixated on handles.  He often describes just how lacking the "slab handled" knives are in the chopper category.  Until I handled the Recon I didn't get what he meant.  My RD-7 is a slab handled knife.  There is a thick piece of steel sandwiched between two micarta slabs.  The slabs are nominally contoured but that is about it.  The Recon Scout misses the palm swell that Kyle talks about but its rounded shape is quite comfortable in the handle.  I think the kraton is overrated but it is very high traction.  This is not a knife that will slip out of your sweaty mitts. 

P1010287

Steel: 2

SK-5 is a Japanese steel that is equivalent to a grade down from 1095, roughly equal to something like 1085.  It is a carbon steel, not a stainless steel.  It is often used is axe heads and other high impact tools because of its high toughness and impact resistance.  While it can be hardened to a very high level, in the chopping role it is often left in the mid 50s HRc.

I abused this knife.  I beat on it.  I delimbed pretty big branches and I processed my firewood for the winter.  Typically in late fall and early spring I will get a load of firewood, usually about a half a cord. We don't need it for heat, but its hard to resist the appeal of a real burning fireplace (those propane ones seem so sad or kind of delusional, like being attracted to a mannequin).  I go down the road to a site processing company and pick up the wood.  They have a splitter and chop it down considerably, but even then it is still quite big.  When I haul it home I bust up the big chunks, usually two or three times, with a maul.  I got a new maul this year as my old one was just a piece of junk.  The new one is not a super high end model, but it works very well and is very forgiving.  I don't split wood often so my technique is not perfect and my new maul shrugs off my neophyte mistakes with ease.  It also happens to be a Fiskars/Gerber product (yes, I CAN like their stuff, it just doesn't happen often).



At the end, there are a ton of massive chunks that have knots in them or are two narrow at the top and bottom to stand for splitting.  In those cases I usually either let them be or try to baton them apart.  Its a lot of work and something I wouldn't do in a critical situation, but when you have a knife like the Recon it seems like a shame not to test it out. The wood is generally relatively green oak.  Lots of dirt and grime (after all this is wood from a site processing place, not the home store) coat each piece.  This is tough stuff.  

The SK-5 came very sharp out of the box.  Not sharp enough to cut paper, but that's like criticizing a fighter plane for uncomfortable seats.  It was vastly sharper than an axe.  After a significant amount of chopping and batonning, the edge finally gave out.  By the last piece, which did not split either by maul or knife, the edge was done.  It was dull enough to grab bear handed and manipulate with force.  I was worried that I had pushed the SK-5 beyond the point of repair.

After the wood processing I went down to my workshop (where all my videos are filmed, usually) and did routine maintenance.  I resharpened the maul and coated it in WD-40 and did the same with the RD-7.  I then started work on the Recon Scout.  After some close work on the Sharpmaker, the SK-5 didn't just come back, it became better.  After the chopping and batonning, I was able to not just restore the edge, but improve it.  The knife was now able to slice paper.

This is really a commentary on the steel.  I am not a whiz at sharpening.  I am probably adequate.  I did not get lucky or have especially great technique this time around.  This is just a very good steel for a big chopper.  I like it better than the 5160 on my RD-7 and that is with a lot of experience on the RD-7's steel.  It may not be the most high tech, but the SK-5 did quite well in real world circumstances and for that, I can't give it less than a 2. 

Blade Shape: 2

I have said it perhaps a hundred times, but when it comes to blade shapes simplest is best and the Recon Scout is dead simple:

P1010290

Unlike in other knives the swedge here is probably essential.  That much steel that far forward would make this a horrible stabber (its actually quite good a piercing) and would make the knife weigh probably 3 ounces more (it already weighs a good deal 15 ounces). 

Grind: 2

Normally I don't really think the difference between a hollow grind and a full flat grind is that big a deal.  In an EDC folder there aren't that many times when it will matter, but in a chopper, especially one with steel this thick, a full flat grind CAN and will make a difference.  The grind on the Recon Scout is not only the right choice, it is also expertly done.  

P1010288

As you can see, the main grind is quite flat.  Additionally the swedge is even and again important here.  Lastly, the cutting bevel is even (or even enough given the task) AND very wide.  This gives you plenty of room to sharpen and makes registering the edge on the stones very easy.  With this big a blade it can be hard to do that, but the wide cutting bevel makes it a cinch.  It also gives you a very nice and sharp edge.  Overall, exceptionally well done and another indication that the Recon Scout is not just hype.  

Sheath Carry: 2

If you accept that the basic physics of the situation are going to be an issue, namely that your dealing with a long, heavy blade, the sheath carry is quite good.  The blade hangs in just the right spot and it is easy to pop the knife in and out of the sheath (please excuse the weirdo pose here, it is hard to get a picture of this, especially when I am not able to take that picture).  

P1010347

The real test was when I was loading the wood in and out of my SUV and again into its final resting place near the house.  There was lots of carrying and bending, lots of rotating and lifting, with a healthy amount of squatting and side to side movement.  Never once did the sheath get in my way.  None of the other choppers I have used can say the same thing.  This is a superior sheath on your body.  Finally, the sheath was 100% silent with no blade rattle or snaps or noise of any kind.

Sheath Accessibility: 2

The sheath is not just perfectly placed on the body, it is very secure.  The knife could not drop out via gravity or even some aggressive shaking.  Only a quick and purposeful tug in the right place can dislodge it.   Getting the knife in, however, is simple.  Put the tip in the opening of the sheath and drop the blade--the weight of the knife is enough to overcome the detents and lock the blade in place.  BRILLIANT.  

P1010277
 

I did not attach the knife to MOLLE but there are plenty of attachment points.  Additionally, the strap over the handle is a nice snap that can be opened and closed (with some finger yoga) with one hand.  There was literally nothing I could complain about regarding the sheath.  Okay I wish it had a drain hole, but that is it.  Nothing else.

Useability: 2

I am still not sold on a guard.  I suppose a knife this size is almost certainly going to be used by folks in combat and it serves a role there, but as a chopper I don't get it.  That one small issue aside, in the hand during hard use I have zero complaints. 

P1010352

At this point shown above, the blade got stuck.  A maul couldn't split this piece and neither could the Recon Scout.  Nothing I had could.  But the knife was not just lodged in there, it was jammed.  Tugging and pulling and using my whole body for leverage eventually got it out and not once did I get a hot spot.  I was wearing outdoor gloves, but that hasn't stopped the RD-7 from giving me blisters.  Limbing trees was easy and fluid.  The handle is so good, so amazingly good.  Its narrow cross section gives you an excellent purchase and makes the beefy blade feel almost nimble during use.  AWESOME.  I loved using this knife, so much so that I sent Blade HQ an email after some heavy chopping.  GREAT, GREAT, GREAT. 

Durability: 2

Drop this knife into a stump tip down and you will hear an authoritative thwack.  This is a club, a beast, a pry bar, whatever you want to say.  If you break this knife during use you had to have fought Thor.  Seriously the slab of steel was stiff enough to resist a massive amount of torque used while dislodging the blade. 

P1010356

If there is a spectrum of use it could go something like this: use--> hard use --> abuse --> gross abuse --> purposeful destruction.  Short of that last thing, I think the Recon Scout will be fine.  Romans figured out how to blow up mountains 2,000 years ago so nothing can withstand the glee and will of man to destroy things.  Not even this knife.

After all of the bludgeoning and prying I was, as I recounted above, able to restore the edge.  After some cleaning and lube here was the damage:

P1010368

That's it.  A little marking on the paint.  The paint itself was fine.  The handle had no chips or rips in the kraton.  I think eventually both of these things will go and I wish Cold Steel would use better blade coatings, but if your worried about the blade coating on your Recon Scout you have missed the point.  

Overall Score: 19 out 20

Choppers with blades over 7 inches are, in my opinion, to unwieldy for true use.  6 to 7 inches seems to be a sweet spot and in that sweet spot I have found nothing I like more than the Recon Scout.  It is a beast.  I wish the blade was thinner but a hair, but I am not going to get hung up on that.  I could easily buy this knife and never need another fixed blade chopper again (but when has NEED limited our purchases?).  Honestly, I could save up and get a Busse, but having used this knife I am not sure that would be the best way for me to spent my very little fun money.  I see the value in the better steel, but I am not sure that value would mean that much to me.  This is a great fixed blade.  Screw the ridiculous marketing.  This is one product that under promises and over delivers even with the ludicrous stuff Lynn and Co. put out.  Don't let them fool you.  Don't let them lead you to believe they are a bunch of know-nothing cavemen.  They are very good fixed blade designers and the Recon Scout proves that.  They are knowledgeable cavemen and using the Recon Scout very hard for a few days makes me want to join that clan.    

If I were king of the world, I would make three minor tweaks.  First I would swap out the kraton for a smooth and shaped micarta or G-10 handle.  Second, I would drop the blade thickness down to 1/4" from 5/16".  Third I would use 3V steel.  This is very close to what the War Hammer line of Cold Steel knives is, but that line has a tanto only.  A drop or clip point in the War Hammer line would sell like gang busters. 

The Competition

Its not easy to find an openly comparable (same size same price) knife that is just superior.  I think I'd prefer the 1/4 inch stock on both the Ka Bar BK7 and the ESEE 6, but I think the Recon has a better sheath than the BK7 and a better handle than the ESEE 6 (plus a bit more length, which is crucial at this size; its also about $25 cheaper).   The Ontario knives I have used aren't nearly as a easy to sharpen as the Recon Scout.  My RD-7's very thin cutting bevel made it hard to sharpen after it went head to head with the Recon Scout.  The Spyderco Rock is quite a bit more and its sheath, especially where it sits on your hip, is terrible.  If I were in the market it would probably be the Recon Scout, the ESEE 6, then the BK7, then the Rock, and finally the RD-7.   I'd love to do a shootout with the Recon Scout, the BK-7 and the ESEE 6.  Maybe I can get around to it... 

Monday, November 11, 2013

WWP/Veteran's Day Giveaway Winners

The WWP contest raised about $200 more than last giveaway for a grand total of roughly $805.  That's pretty good for a little blog that could.  Thanks to everyone who donated and thanks for playing along with all of the emails and tweets.  If it wasn't such a good cause, I would bother.  Thanks also to the contest's sponsors:

TAD Gear
Blade HQ
E2Field Gear
MBI
TT PockeTTools 
Huckberry

Here are the winners:

Grand Prize: Tom Swarbrick

Tom wins a TAD Gear Camo Dispatch Bag, an MBI HF-R Ti Edition, and a Spyderco Domino.  This prize package is worth about $500.  Not a bad ROI for Tom.

Big Heart: Duane Kuykendall

Duane wins a Zebralight SC500 Mk. II, an Xtar Charger, and the 18650 battery.  All of this was courtesy of E2Field Gear.  Even though he gave the most, it was still well short of the value of the prize package, again another good ROI.

Second Chance: Sam Ciocco

Sam wins the Kershaw Cryo, the one used in the Second Chance review.  Maybe he will like the knife better than I did.  Certainly a lot of folks disagree with me.

Veteran's Only:  Beau Chastain

Loaded up with a beautiful Tuff Writer Clicky and some TT PockeTTools, thanks Beau for your service and your dedication to our country.

I will be shipping all of the prizes out around the 22nd of November so as not to make multiple trips and to allow everyone to get their stuff via Priority mail (plus a few items are still en route to me).  Tom, Duane, Sam, and Beau send me your addresses and then wait patiently by the mail.  Your goodies are coming.

One more thing--all of the sponsors donated without solicitation.  Please return the favor.  They helped out with no promise of reward and no possibility of gain, all without being asked. 

Oh, and thanks to all of the people that have stood at Hell's Gate for me, for my family and for the rest of us.  Your dedication and sacrifice will never go unnoticed.
  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why I Do This

On the Review Policy page someone recently left me this comment:

Hello Tony, what motivates you to do reviews on items that you do not keep or use for long periods of time? Why spend all the time on the site?

I responded:

I like gear. Doing reviews gives me a chance to see a lot of stuff and help myself and others make good decisions on what to buy. I don't keep stuff so there is no sense that I am giving a good review in exchange for free products. I am going to write an article on this topic. Thanks for the great question.

This is that article.

The more I thought about this question the more I realized I had a a pretty good answer.  Really it comes down to two things: how this happened and why this happened.

First the how.  When my son was born almost 4 years ago my fun budget was shrunk from miniscule to nothing.  Preparing for a child and all of the attendant costs was daunting and any excess expenses were eliminated.  That meant that my budget for gear was zero.  The only time I got a piece of gear or a fun gadget was for my birthday or Christmas.  The problem with that was, as you know, having people buy you gear without being VERY (and annoyingly) specific is tough.  You end up with a bunch of Mag Solitaires and disappointments.  I had a pretty good collection at that point so I could sell stuff and buy new stuff, but the gear churn we are all familiar with would end eventually.  I needed another way to support my gear habit.  I just didn't know what it was yet.

At the same time this was happening, I was refining my research process.  I developed a weighted system to buy knives and flashlights that looks very similar to the review systems I use now.  It was very complex, it had lots of factors, and it was all in an Exel spreadsheet.  It was UBER nerdy.  I had used this same method to help my wife and I buy cars and houses.  It is one of the things I do.  

These two things came together fortuitously.  I was selling gear and explaining why I liked it a lot, referencing the scoring system.  I would snap a picture and then explain a bit about the item, link to the product page and a review for the potential buyer to see.  It was at this point that I realized that this would be handy information to have in one place for anyone to access.  I had started a blog for my son and then I realized I could dump all of this information on a blog.  There was very little on the Internet in terms of written reviews.  There are tons of folks doing YouTube reviews and some a very good, but written reviews are little more challenging.  They take some thought and editing (speeling is not my strong suit, I type too fast).  So with nothing out there doing what I was looking for and all of this information I had generated internally, I launched the blog.  

That's the how.

Now the why.  The why is a bit more complex.  First, of course, its because I like gear.  I like knives and flashlights.  I like nice stuff and well designed things.  Hell, I even went on a quest for a lunch bag this summer.  I also like researching things.  When I spend that very precious little money I have on something I want to make sure that it is the right thing.  So if you like gear and you like researching, its natural you stumble on gear blogs.  

But there was something missing on all of these blogs.  I have written about this before, but the scoring system is the heart of the blog.  It allows you as a reader to get a quick understanding of how good or bad something is.  There are nuances, of course, but in general a score of 17 or better is pretty darn good.  But the idea of a scoring system itself comes from the most important magazine of my childhood: EGM.  Their scores were the sole determining factor in where all of my paper route money went for a good five to ten years (and yes I had a paper route and I had one for at least 5 years; that happens when you start working at 10).  Scoring systems are fundamentally essential for consumers.  They help you quantify purchases and since a purchase is, at root, an allocation of a quantifiable resource (money), a scoring system can help people zero in on good value.  
  
Its not just about helping people find value, its also about challenging the prevailing attitudes in the world of gear.  There are a set of assumptions about knives and flashlights and backpacks that have dominated the gear world for years.  And gear and gear users are worse off for it.  Nutnfancy has done a substantial amount of work in challenging the assumptions about the size of a knife.  He is right, fundamentally right, about the fact that an EDC knife does not need to be large or heavy to do its job.  In fact, I would argue and I have argued that your BETTER OFF with a smaller knife.  I also think that the notion that you have to be equipped with a ton of stuff is silly.  Be prepared, don't be overwhelmed.  Take what you need and leave the rest.  Bernard's website influenced me here.  Get a few nice, well designed things, pair them with other things in an intelligent way and you will be better off than the guy with the loaded cargo pants and the MOLLE pack.  So that is one major reason why--to change assumptions.

I also love good craftsmanship.  I do woodworking and I am fascinated by the process of taking an idea and making it real.  It is important.  It is interesting.  And when done well it deserves acclaim.  There are gear makers, folks like Jason Hui and Charles Gedraitis, who make things with such care and precision that we are better off for owning these things.  We are better off for them existing in the world even if we don't own them.  They don't just make life easier, they make objects more interesting.  Providing a spotlight for truly great craftsman is something I enjoy immensely.  

Finally, there is this sense that things are changing.  The Internet has allowed small groups of people spread out all over the world to congregate virtually and pool their money.  This means that people can make and sell things that prior to the Internet they never could.  Without a way to get the word out to all of these groups of people they could never generate a critical mass of sales to launch a business.  To explain by way of example--TAD Gear could never exist without the Internet.  I think that in a very small way sites like mine help people connect and draw tighter the bonds of shared interest among all of these small groups of people.  The Golden Age of Gear is possible because of sites like mine and Andrew's and Dan's.  

I take evaluating gear seriously.  I work very hard at it.  It has forced me to improve and work on things I am not good at, such as photography and speeling.  In a way I feel like one of those first Jazz critics.  They were scoffed at by music critics that evaluated classical music, but they loved Jazz and because they took it seriously others did as well. They raised the level of the conversation and that, in turn and over time, improved the quality of the thing being evaluated.  That is important to me, not just as a fan and consumer of gear, but as a person that likes to say to friends and family: "Hey, have you seen how helpful these light flashlights can be?"  

In the question there is a hint that I am not getting anything out of this or alternatively that I am and I am not disclosing that.  I am getting something out of this.  Let me make explicit what it is I receive.  I get to see and play with a heaping helping of the most awesome kit in the world.  That is a pretty big thing, even if I don't get to keep it.  Second, I get manufacturers big and small coming to me and asking for my opinion on how to make things better.  It helps me and it helps you.  We both get better stuff and stuff we like.  On occasion, such as with the Aeon Mk. II, I get to buy products that I gave input on and that means I am buying something made for me.  Third, I have made a lot of awesome friends--gear bloggers and gear makers alike.  These are interesting people with interesting opinions and stories.  My life is better for knowing them.  I also got a freelance writing gig out of this.  I am sure you know, but in case you don't, I write for AllOutdoor.com, a site for and by hardcore enthusiasts.  This is not a shill site or a product placement site.  We provide what I believe to be some of the best information on the Internet about gear.  Look at Aaron Shapiro's work on custom makers.  There is nothing like that anywhere else.  That gig is something I am proud of and something that pays me.  Its not a lot, but it is (full circle now) fun money that I didn't have before.  I do occasionally get products through AllOutdoor that I do not return.  It is a different venture and one where I do not set the rules, but even there I have given a lot of what I get away.  

I have never taken money to write a review.  I have never taken a product on condition of a certain score.  If I don't think I will like a product I will refuse to take it.  I have never changed a score because a manufacturer told me to.  I will, as I have stated before, re-evaluate things in case I got them wrong, but I think that is the only fair way to do this.

Why do I do this?  Because it is fun and because I want to.  And all of the other reasons I listed above.  But most importantly I do this because you read it.  That's why all writers write.

Oh, and here is my current EDC as complete as I can get it, literally everything I carry:

From L to R:

Quo Vadis Sapa X Academic in Blue
iPhone 4
Prometheus Aluminum Alpha Pen
Citizen E760 Ti
Hinderer XM-18 Gen 2 Slicer Grind with Flipper in Latrobe Duratech 20CV
McGizmo Haiku XPG
Big Skinny Wallet
BladeKey
       

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

WWP Prize Update and Guilt-Inducing Story

Want another reason to give?  How about a FREE Triple Aught Design Multicam Dispatch Bag tossed in to the grand prize? 

DONE.  After all you need something to lug around your new Spyderco Domino and MBI HF-R Ti light.

Just in case you need another push (and at this point the next step will involve me knocking on your door tomorrow) here is a little story about a dear friend of mine (I cleared using it with him):
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 featured Triple Aught Design, 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." 
I am a lawyer, as many of you know.  I work with an amazing group of people.  One of them, a very close friend, served our country with two tours of duty in Iraq.  One tour came when he just got married, before he had children.  He was young and the trip taught him many lessons.  When he returned he was still a reservist, but eventually he settled down and started working on his legal career and family.  He had a few kids and did great work.  Then he got called up.  With a child on the way, a career in full swing, he answered the call of duty again.  Without a second thought (or maybe with them but he never let on) he grabbed his pack and went back to the Sand Box.  
As life would have it, while on his second tour of duty, he received a message that his wife was going into labor.  He was sent home for leave and after an exhausting journey across the globe he landed in Atlanta with one last connection before he got home to New England.  But technical glitches stood in the way.  The plane to Boston was cancelled.  He stood there in the airport, in his uniform, on the phone lamenting the fact that he was so close but still so far away from his family.  Then, like an angel, someone saw him and overheard the call.  He indicated to my friend to follow him.  They ended up at the counter of another airline.  A ticket was book, red tape cut, and the intractable bureaucracy was defeated.  He was on his way home.  He made it just in time to see his new baby be born.
And when that was done, when mother and child were safe and healthy, he loaded up his pack and went back to complete his second tour.  
People toss around the word "honor" a lot.  That, my friends, is honor.  They stand at Hell's Gate for us.  Let's make it a little nicer for them when they come home.  
Please donate to the Wounded Warrior Project.  I am friggin' bribing you.   Here are the rules and prizes again.
 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hinderer XM-18 Review

I am going to tell you this up front: there is no way to be objective about this knife.  The amount of hype, the pricing on the secondary market, and the difficulty in obtaining one makes the Hinderer XM-18 virtually impossible to talk about objectively.  Going through all of those hoops will make you have one of two reactions--overjoyed that you finally landed the grail or pissed off that after all that effort all you have is this.  Fortunately, I had to go through a process to get my Hinderer and in that process I gained a bit of objectivity.  This just might be the only fair review of the XM-18 on the Internet.

I bought a knife off the USN.  It was listed as a Hinderer XM-18.  I asked if it was a 3 inch or a 3.5 inch.  I didn't get a response to that question, but I got a response to others.  With the deal lined up, I sent the money.  Only after that happened did I realize that I never got an answer to the 3 inch vs. 3.5 inch question.  The mix up was totally and completely my fault.  I should have insisted on the question being answered before the money was sent.  It was one of about a dozen, so an omission on the other guy's part, in the blizzard of inquires, can hardly be deemed his fault (though the thread heading should have specified size from the outset).  When the knife arrived it was a Gen 4 3.5 inch flipper with S35VN steel.  It was a gorgeous knife, but it was just too big for me to carry.  There was no way I would ever carry a knife that big or that heavy on a regular basis so I decided I would sell it.  I had a few buyers, but in the end, I thought it was just too cool to let go so I reversed my decision and decided to keep the knife.  Later a trade opportunity came up for a 3 inch model and I made the swap.  I didn't want the 3.5 inch.  I didn't really want to keep it.  But I did.  Then the 3 inch came up and I hemmed and hawed and finally pulled the trigger.  I might be the only person on Planet Earth to have "fallen into" a Hinderer XM-18.  But in all of that back and forth I grew less attached to the knife and I am glad I did.  I can now evaluate it in a much more objective light.     

Here is the product page. The Hinderer XM-18 costs $387 direct from Rick.  Only military, law enforcement, and emergency medical workers can order them from Rick.  Otherwise you have to resort to waiting for the few dealers that Hinderer supplies directly to get them or pay equally high prices on the secondary market.  There are a significant number of XM-18s being made and the market is wise to the flip aspect of the knife, as an EMS guy can buy one, flip it, and use that money to buy another and make a tidy profit.  I paid $636 shipped for my 3.5 inch and traded it for a 3 inch with two scales and a Hinderer patch.  Here is a written review from BladeForums.  Here is a video review.

Here is my review sample:

P1010192

Twitter Review Summary: Overbuilt, finely tuned, excellent knife with crazy secondary market prices.

Design: 2

While the Hummer overbuilt aesthetic has blessedly worked its way out of the automotive world where it was, quite frankly, ridiculous when seen in the Target parking lot, it has not worked its way out of the knife world and...I am glad.  That might surprise you as I typically eschew the overbuilt look.  Here, in perhaps the progenitor of the overbuilt look, it works.  All of the exposed construction elements and polished screwheads just work.  It also helps that while the knife undoubtedly overbuilt it is not fat.  At 3.6 ounces, the 3 inch Hinderer is roughly the size of a Spyderco Delica, perhaps a tad thicker and a tad shorter.  This is not overbuilt for its own sake and Hinderer did not ignore the need to actually carry the knife when making his beefy blade.

P1010187

Here is a shot of the XM-18 in my medium sized hand:

P1010166

Again, sorry for the lack of the Zippo, I was at Walden Pond (yep, THE Walden Pond) when I took these pictures.  The ratios are what you'd expect from a knife known for being overbuilt.  The blade:weight is .83, not too bad.  The blade:handle is .72 probably something like average but nothing approaching the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight.  

Fit and Finish: 2

This is where the XM-18 really pulls ahead of other knives.  Like my Sebenza and the Strider it has immaculate fit and finish, but unlike those other knives there is a bit something extra.  Everything seems to not just be well made but made to work well with other parts.  I know folks complain about the detent, but the 3.5 inch was perfect and the 3 inch Gen 2 is perfectly fine.  The lock bar snaps into place and has early lock up, but releases equally easy.  It is just tuned.  The clip has perfect tension on it.  Every edge is chamfered and comfortable except for one (you know which).  There is a poise and balance present in this knife that is different from anything I have encountered in other knives.  Its not quite the mechanical watch precision of my Gedraitis custom, but its close.  If there is one reason why folks get addicted to Hinderers, more so than beefy build and geared look, this is it.  This is a knife built like a rhino that flows like a ballerina.  

Grip: 2 

The choil on the XM-18 is something of a controversy, as some really like it and others don't.  In actuality it is not as great as, say, the choil on the Strider PT.  But just because it is not the best doesn't mean that its bad.  In fact I liked it quite a bit.  Thus there are two legitimate forward positions.  The knife also feels very good in the reverse grip.  Here is the knife with my finger behind the choil (and Walden Pond behind my hand).  

P1010147

The jimping is very sharply cut and at the beginning it was too much.  Now that my fingers have gotten used to how sharply it is cut its not that bad. The knife does lock in to your and and the texture on the scales is quite nice.

Carry: 2 

Its surprising how nice the 3 inch carries as the 3.5 inch and the related ZT056X were really tough to carry in your pocket inconspicuously.  The chamfering allows for smooth extraction and the knife, despite it Hummer aesthetic, is actually pretty thin.  The pocket clip also positions the knife nicely:

P1010140

There is literally nothing to complain about regarding the 3 inch XM-18.  This is an excellent pocket knife.

Steel: 2 

Latrobe's Duratech 20CV (data sheet here) is very similar to M390.  Both are high hardness, high toughness steels with absolutely tons of chromium for excellent corrosion resistance.  It also happens to polish very, very well.  

In use over three weeks, the steel has cut exceptionally well, as good both M4 and ZDP-189.  I am not 100% sure this is the steel or the grind (more on this below).  It handled food prep, including apple slicing well.  High acid foods like oranges did not give rise to a patina or staining like they did on the bead blasted 8Cr13MoV on the Kershaw Injection 3.0.  It did very well in whittling and with fire prep chores like making tinder.  There was no real damage to the edge even when plowing through true hardwoods like maple.  Finally, it worked well breaking down lots of cardboard boxes.  Even after about 6 boxes of high thickness cardboard, it was still shaving sharp.  

Again, for reasons discussed below, I am not sure if this is the steel or the grind, but either way, its promising to know that when done well, 20CV can hang with any steel on the market today.  

Blade Shape: 2

The slicer grind is really an excellent blade shape, much simpler than the spanto tip.  Here is the blade shape:

P1010117

It acts much like a drop point, especially with the very curved arc that make up the spine of the blade.  Its much simpler than the spanto tip and I found it worked well. 

Grind: 2 

This knife came from a trade with Jared, who runs the sheath shop, Paw Paw's Knife Shop.  Not only does he make great sheathes but also put a beautiful, positively razor edge on the knife.  It was a mirror polish convex grind.  This complemented the already excellent factory slicer grind and it was a persuasive piece of evidence in the "convex is best" argument.  The end result is a grind that cuts like nothing I have ever used.  It is incredibly stable, brushing off dings and knocks that would damage lesser edges and yet it still parted material like a laser.  This grind with this edge and this steel makes the XM-18 the best overall cutter I have owned or used.  

Deployment Method: 2

I am sure this is going to generate some feedback, but I can't slight the knife.  The detent is not the best in the world.  It doesn't snap open like my Gedraitis custom, but it works and works well.  In a scale with more points I would probably give this something like an 8 out of 10.  Its still well above average.

P1010124

It large part the beauty of the XM-18's deployment method comes from the elegance of the flipper.  It is perfectly sized and shaped and makes flicking the XM-18 open incredibly fun.  

Retention Method: 2 

This is one place where the XM-18 kills the ZT Hinderer.  The clip is really well made and keeps the knife in place.  It also is perfectly tensioned with just enough spring to really lock on to your pocket.  

P1010195

Despite its size, which is a bit larger than average, the clip is not a paint scrapper.  This is an excellent clip and like the rest of the knife, beautifully stonewashed to hide scratches and knicks.

Lock: 2 

Ho...LEE...SMOKES.  This lock is awesome.  Early lock up is great.  The overtravel stop is nice.  It is stable and engages and disengages with ease.  But the thing that I cannot get over is just how nicely tuned it is.  Its like it can read your mind--if you want to disengage the lock, it happens, if not it stays put.  That subtle balance is like nothing I have seen before.  This is part of reason why this knife feels so well tuned.  It is never sticky, never wobbles, never moves...until you want it to.  This is perhaps the best implementation of the framelock I have ever seen.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

Its not the beefiness that makes the XM-18 so amazing.  It also not is refined feel.  Its the fact that you get both in one knife.  There is really nothing else out there like it.  It is unquestionably worth the price it will cost you from Rick, but the secondary prices are insane right now, even as production ramps up and more are available on the market.  I feel like it is probably not as good a value at $626 as my Gedraitis custom was at $500.  I can see how folks would think it is worth that price, I can see that quite easily.  Once it gets to $700 or more, the value proposition is increasingly poor.  You definitely get more than what you pay for at retail.  On the secondary market, its more of a personal call.  I am glad I bought one, even if I didn't intend to.

BONUS

The process of acquiring the XM-18 3 inch as well as the process of reviewing knives for two and half years allows me to compare the 3 inch model with the 3.5 inch model and compare both to the production version, the ZT 56X.  I know a lot of folks are debating between these three choices, so I hope this helps.  Also, there is a shootout coming between the Small Sebenza 21, the Strider PT CC, and the XM-18 3 inch.  Hang in there.

3 inch or 3.5 inch?

I found both knives to be solid, overbuilt blades.  The 3.5 inch was a Gen 4 model and because of the improved detent and larger blade it flipped better.  My Gen 2 blade flips regularly and consistent without wrist action, but the 3.5 inch Gen 4 was a real gymnast--flipping with ease and grace.  There is a level of focus required for the 3 inch is just different.  That said, the difference in size is pretty substantial.  There is no comfortable way for someone of a medium build to carry the 3.5 inch thoughtlessly.  The 3 inch is actually smaller than a Spyderco Delica when closed and at 3.6 ounces it CAN be carried without thought.  The 3.5 inch felt amazing in a reverse grip and slightly too wide and long in a forward grip, especially when you choke up and use the nice choil.  The 3 inch feels superb in a forward grip both choked up and in a standard grip.  For me this is not a tough call, the 3 inch is the model to get.  I cannot even imagine how big the XM-24 is.  All of this is ignoring the legality issues associated with blades bigger than 3 inches, which could make your decision for you.  Check your local knife laws.   
 
XM-18 or ZT056X?

So there is a pretty big size difference between the 3 inch and the ZT056X series of knives.  The 056X series has a 3 7/8 inch blade putting it between the XM-18 3.5 inch and the XM-24.  So to that extent, I would always side with the 3 inch XM-18 for the reasons I prefer it to the 3.5 inch.  The upcoming 3.25 inch ZT is not in the same class as either the XM-18 or the 056X because of the materials used--a stainless steel lock and an assisted opener.

The ZT056X knives are clearly some of the finest production folders ever made in large batches.  They have a deep carry clip that the XM-18s lack, but I really did not care for the clip on that knife.  It was too small and made the ZT56X a pocket pendulum.  The ZT056X knives have convex handles, something the XM-18s also lack and unlike with the clip, this is a big deal.  They afford a great deal of grip and they are a show off piece for KAI's machining abilities.  But this makes the ZT056X knives fatter than their XM-18 cousins.  I also think the XM-18s have a bit more tuning and better steel.  The Elmax on the ZT560 I tested was fine but the complaints have been to widespread to ignore.  Cliff Stamp did good work on this issue, found here.  I also find the curvier handle shape and choil a big plus for the XM-18s.

The ZT056X knives are an achievement, no doubt, but I still give the edge to the XM-18, even at Rick's direct price.  However, if you factor in the secondary prices, the ZT056X wins hands down when compared to the large XM-18.  There is nothing in KAI's line up that compares to the 3 inch model.  If size is an issue, you can't beat the 3 inch model, even when comparing it to the best ZT (or any other large company) makes.  

Update: Score 19 out of 20

Over time I have come to appreciate the benefits of a thinly ground blade.  It might not be the beast that the XM-18, but even the slicer grind is still too chunky to really do slicing work.  Trying to exercise some skill at shaving a featherstick is, essentially, impossible.  For that, I am taking a point off the Hinderer's score.