Monday, December 30, 2013

Charles Gedratis Small Pathfinder Flipper

IMG_4532

I like to doodle.  Much to the chagrin of my coworkers I like to doodle pocket knives.  This doodle was done a legal pad over a year before I got the Small Pathfinder.  I had lost the pad in my office and when looking for the remote for my stereo at work I found it again.  That day I happened to be carrying my Pathfinder and I noticed the similarities.  Now mind you, I had no idea about the knife when the drawing was made.  None.  It was just a drawing of a knife that I'd like to own.  The fact that I now own that knife is really crazy.  Even crazier?  I did not design the Gedratis knife.  Charles did.  Notice all of the shared details--the bolster, the clip point blade, the jimping on the flipper--its all there.  What a crazy coincidence.

All of those similarities speak to just how much I like this knife.  Though this piece was not bespoke, it may as well have been.  This is a shameless love letter to the knife you see above, less objective than a normal review because, well, this is a knife I have wanted for a long time even if I didn't know it existed at the time.  Charles's (and yes grammar nerds, it is "Charles's", see here) work is simply superlative and the Small Pathfinder is an exemplar of his skill. 

As a custom knife there is no product page, but you can find Charles's work here.  This knife was originally designed for someone else and the deal fell through.  Charles offered it to me and allowed me to make some changes, like the handle scales and bolsters.  The entire knife cost $495, a reasonable sum for what I got.  There is a gallery of stuff here.  There are no reviews of this knife, as it is the only one, but here is a video overview I did a while back:



Finally, here is the knife in all its glory:

IMG_0008

Twitter Review Summary:   Refinement embodied.

The Process

Charles is very active both over email and in the shop.  He regularly sends out emails of newly finished knives for purchase, so if you want one and don't want to wait sign up for his emails and see what comes out.  Charles's work began mostly as art knives and his site shows off some of his most spectacular work, but recently he has started making simpler, more "tactical" designs.  I hate that word in part because it has almost zero meaning, but when contrasted with art knives I think its clear enough.  The benefit of going in that direction--from art knives to tactical knives--is obvious.  The level of skill required to make an art knife, of which I have zero interest, is much higher than that required to make a non-art knife.  The carving, the jewel settings, the scrimshandering (is that a word? Nope, its "making scrimshaw") all take skill that surpasses that necessary to cut out a lock bar from a slab of titanium.  If the person is making art knives correctly, as Charles is, they can easily "dial it down" and produce fantastic non-art knives.  Going the other direction is much harder.  

I mention this not only as a foundation for why the fit and finish on this knife is so high, but also as a way of finding value in a market increasing devoid of anything remotely approaching good buys.  Jim Skelton's recent video on the overeheated custom knife market make excellent points.  Guys that bought a 1x30 grinder two years ago are making, stop me if you have heard of these, titanium framelock flippers, by the dozens and selling them for four figures.  The secondary market prices are even worse.  In short, you really have to scour the web to find good values in custom knives.  

Charles's knives are such a value.  This is in part because he is less of a well-known name, but also because the fit and finish you get for the money is insane.  When a guy cranks out a gilded $8,000 dagger, he knows how to do the basics.  As such, for the money, your getting better fit and finish than you would elsewhere.  I know this is the case because I have handled quite a few customs and owned three and the Small Pathfinder is by far the best made and by far the best value.  This knife has the feel and finish of a high end watch, as opposed to the feel of a very well-made knife.  

I say this not slight anyone, but just to point out two things: 1) the market is going crazy; and 2) there are values out there if you can find them.  

Charles was very communicative during the process.  He responded to emails quickly and it was easy to set up a deal.  From start to receipt, the entire process took about a month.  This is probably not representative as the Small Pathfinder was already in the works when I contacted him, but Charles is fast, no doubt.  Charles also sent regular photo updates, which, if you are anything like me, is a huge plus.  Each email was a little present all on its own.  At the very end of the process when everything was done, he sent one final shot via email, with the knife completed to my specifications.  I opened up the email and it looks marvelous, but the bolster was originally not bronzed like the rest of the knife (my call).  I hemmed and hawed over this and then sent him an email back, asking for the bolster to be brozned as well. The knife was supposed to ship the next day and that seemed like a far fetched request, but when I woke up the next morning I had another email and photo.  The knife was done, bolster was bronzed, and it was in the mail on its way to me.  Amazing.  

Charles is fast, easy to find, great with emails (truly great), produces unique stuff, works well with his customers, and makes one hell of a knife.  The process was amazing, on par with the stellar service from McGizmo.  High praise indeed. 

The Knife

Design: 2

It is hard to be objective about a custom knife.  So much of the knife is stuff I chose, so it is hard NOT to like it.  This is part of the reason to get a custom knife.  The handle material--white linen micarta, is probably my overall favorite handle material.  It is a gorgeous cream color and it sets off the Damascus steel quite nicely.  The bolsters are titanium and are anodized bronze, another beautiful touch, one that again sets off the dark and swirling pattern in the Damascus.

Then there is the Damascus blade itself, patterned like smoke rising from the tip of a cigar.  I do not like Damascus, over and above other steels, but in the pattern welded variety (which is different than Wootz Damascus) it is okay.  When stainless as it is here, it is quite nice.  I'd love a Damascus blade made of Wootz Damascus, but really, at this point modern metallurgy has surpassed most of the performance benchmarks of the ancient, lost, and now-unmakable steel (wootz is no longer readily available).  Here is an excellent shot of the steel up close, with Charles' maker's mark:

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The knife's size is just perfect for me, again, something I specified from the beginning. Here it is next to the Zippo:

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The knife weighs 2.50 ounces on the dot.  The closed length is 3 1/2 inches, again, on the dot.  The blade length is just under 2 7/8 inches.  The blade:weight is 1.15, very good, fourth behind the Hawk, the Chill, and the CRKT Enticer.  The blade:handle is .82, second only the amazingly well proportioned Hawk.  This is a knife that CRAMS in the blade length as Charles pushes the pivot very far forward in the handle.

One fine touch, one that shows Charles's eye for detail is the carbon fiber backspacer that echoes the lines of the Damascus steel blade:

IMG_0023

This is a simple, small, gorgeous knife.  

Fit and Finish: 2

Among baseball fans there is a saying about the Hall of Fame--if Willie Mays is the standard there would be five guys in the Hall of Fame.  The same is true here about the level of fit and finish.  If this was what is required to get a 2 on the scale, there would be no other knives that scored a 2.  This knife has more in common, in terms of fit and finish, with a high end pen or a fine watch than it does with a knife.  Everything is snug, flush, and beautiful.  The blade centering is perfect.  There is no gap between the tang of the blade and the bolster when the knife is in the closed position, but just barely so, making the overall shape of the knife when closed quite pocketable.
 
IMG_0024

Every time I carry the knife, which is admittedly rare, I discover something else amazing about it's fit and finish.  It is like a good piece of music or a great book, there is always something new for the observant person. For example, as I was writing this review I noticed that all of the torx heads are oriented the same way.  It may be a coincidence, but it might not be.  Everything is superlative.  And this says nothing for the deployment of the knife.  More on that below.  

Grip: 2

There is a touch of jimping on the flipper and it is well cut, but not shreddy.  Beyond that, you have no real hint of "tactical" grip enhancing cheats.  This knife stays put because of an excellent overall shape, as the micarta and titanium bolsters are slick.  And really, in its intended role, as an EDC blade, the Small Pathfinder is plenty grippy.  

Carry: 2

The knife is compact, both in length and width.  It is also smooth and polished, allowing for effortless extraction and return to the pocket.  The clip is the right size and in the right place, giving you good placement in the pocket.  The weight is also just right at 2.5 ounces.  This is a superlative knife in the pocket as well.

Steel: 2

Okay, so we get to the steel.  I have long been a staunch detractor of Damascus steel.  The original Damascus was made with a material called wootz.  Wootz was a form of carbon and it is no longer available.  The steel made with wootz was very good, especially for the time.  In the Middle Ages, when steels dulled quickly, wootz Damascus held an edge forever and the edge was, comparatively speaking, a marvel.  The legend of Saladin's wootz steel sword was that it could cut free hanging silk.  That seems like a bit of hyperbole, but so would making a battery in ancient Babylon.  I am not willing to say its entirely impossible, but it is a sign of how well regarded Wootz Damascus is and was.  In 2006 material scientists discovered that Wootz Damascus contained carbon nanotubes, structures that lend material great strength and flexibility, hallmarks of the legendary steel.

I had, for a long time, looked at pattern welded Damascus as a bastardization of the original wootz steel.  Subsequent research showed me that the pattern welded variety was just as old.  It was really an entirely different material that happened to bear a passing similarity to the wootz Damascus.  The key with pattern welded Damascus, and the reason I am willing to buy a knife with such a steel, is that unlike some of the wootz variant, you can make pattern welded Damascus very corrosion resistant simply by using corrosion resistant steels in the recipe.  

Modern steels have surpassed the performance of the ancient Wootz Damascus, with scientists thinking that this occurred in the mid-20th century (a testament to just how high performing those medival steels really were).  Pattern welded Damascus, incorporating those steels, is also clearly a better material.  Its not as beautiful, in any pattern, as the wootz steel.  But it is very pleasing to the eye and, with stainless pattern welded Damascus, the traditional rusting issues that plauged the pattern welded steel, are lessened.

The steel performs very well in normal cutting tests.  I have not hammered on it as this is a pretty nice little blade, but I have used it more than its looking, price, and custom nature would lend you to think.  In short, this is no safe queen.  The edge is very toothy and aggressive, as is par for the course, with pattern welded steels.  I would imagine it is not terribly stable given that toothiness, but thus far is light but frequent use it has done fine.  Charles's edge is superb, as good as any I have seen.

Blade Shape: 2

This is a classic drop point and it works well.  There is a trick to the blade though, as you can see here:

IMG_0020

The blade has no recurve, but the angle of the blade's edge is such that you get the same effect thanks to the overall shape.  It is a little thing, but a very nice detail. 

Grind:  2

One thing that is hard to see in Damascus is the grind lines.  Here is no different.  The cutting bevel is well ground, wide enough for a good approach and even across the blade.  The main grind is a hollow grind, thankfully, and it appears even to the touch, as visual inspection is quite useless.  Overall I like it quite a bit, though I would appreciate a true choil for sharpening all the way to the edge.  It might be impractical on a blade this small and in a knife with such delicate use, so I am not willing to dock the grind a point.   

Deployment Method: 2

The action on this flipper is insane.  I have handled quite a few production flippers and a few customs and nothing, nothing flips like this knife.

IMG_0025

This is the thing, before anything else, that tells you this is a knife of refinement made by a master.  There is no movement whatsoever when the detent ball is in the detent.  Pressure builds and then the blade glides open and clicks into place.  Its not a loud thing, or a ping like you hear in so many other giant titanium framed flippers.  It is a reassuring but subtle sound.  This is not a bearing pivot either, all of the action is from a perfect detent tension and excellent bronze washers.  Overall, this thing flips like a dream, surpassing knives made by more famous folks and sold for a lot more money.  

Retention Method:  2

There are dozens of clip designs out there.  Many are terrible.  The best ones, by in large, are the simple ones.  Keep your paint scraping carved Ti clips and give me something more practical. I like this clip.  The tension is perfect, keeping the knife in place even with a smooth material underneath.  Don't screw around with clips, make them work, make them nice, and then leave them alone.

Lock:  2

Love the lock.  Easy to use, easy to disengage, no stick and perfect lock up:

IMG_0026

I could ask for nothing more.  This is another place, like the deployment where you can see and feel the custom quality.  Charles's work is outstanding and his locks are great.  

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

So much of this knife was made to order for me.  I can't reasonably complain about anything.  The fit and finish is so superb that it feels like a knife that should cost twice as much.  It is a vastly superior blade, in terms of look, quality and feel to the XM-18 and it is about $150 less in cost.  Charles's books are open.  He emails his list a knife a week or thereabouts for sale and a lot of them are beautiful and some of them are more straightfoward designs.  This is about as fancy I can go.  Any more and the thing ceases to be a tool and starts to be something else, something I don't want.  But this knife is something special, something beautiful, and something I am likely to keep permanently.

Why no perfect?  I don't know.  Partly I don't think I can be objective, which is why no custom I have owned has received that score.  I may come back to this after time.

For reasons that should be obvious I am not going to bother with a comparison to a benchmark.  This is a knife that was all but made to my exact specifications, so I obviously like it better.  This says nothing for the fit and finish and beautiful appearance.

Friday, December 27, 2013

High End EDC Knife Shootout

There is a space between production and custom where a few makers claim to live, but really it comes down to three (with Jason Brous waiting in the wings).  Reeve, Strider, and Hinderer--knives so iconic their creators names' are brands.  If you want the best you can buy without wasting money on bullshit like jeweled thumbstuds and ridiculous inserts, these are the alpha and omega of choices.  I'd not complain if a LionSteel TiSpine fell into my pocket, but like Brous, it has a few years to go before it enters this echelon.  Men and women of the gearhead world this is the place where three men have leveraged the power of mass production with the touch and pure tuned feel of handmade goods to produce three ethereal blades--the Small Sebenza, the PT, and the XM-18 3 inch.  In particular I will be comparing the Strider PT CC in S35VN, the Small Sebenza 21 in S30V,  and the XM-18 3 inch Gen 2 with flipper, slicer grind, and Duratech 20CV steel. 

You can find all three knives at (though the availability of the PT is limited and the XM-18s are usually of the 3.5 inch variety)

Blade HQ


and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through above link. 

Here is the PT CC:

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Here is the Sebenza:

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Here is the XM-18:

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The question is simple, but the answer is not.  Which of these three amazing blades should you buy?  One thing you don't have to worry about is getting a stinker.  A blind pick among these three will satisfy even the most stringent demands of the world's most finnicky gear geek.  There is no BAD choice here.  All are stupendously great.  All could easily be your favorite pocket knife ever.  But only one will win this shootout.

So let's do this.

Methodology

The rules are simple.  I will use the standard ten category scoring system.  Instead of awarding 0, 1, or 2 points per category, I am using a weighted system.  Among the three knives, the best blade will get a score of 5, the second best, a score of 3, and the worst, 1.  After that I will tally up points each blade earned and then divide by price.  The blade with the most points per dollar will win.  If there is a tie somehow I will break the tie.  There will be a winner here folks, no wussing out and giving you caveats and hedges.

Design 


The Sebenza would win more points if this was a ranking of their historical importance because without it, the other two would not be possible, but stripped of history, the PT comes out just a bit ahead of the XM-18.  The PT is a marvel with a large working choil and a great blade shape.  The handle is contoured and that is worth a lot to me.  I like the XM-18 too, but not quite as much.  I thought the Sebenza's ergo-free look would afford a variety of grips, and it does, but none are as good as either the forward or reverse grip on the PT.

P1010065

PT: 5
Sebenza: 1
XM-18: 3

Fit and Finish

Funny thing is that none of these knives are truly perfect.  On every knife the pivot came loose over time.  In took the Sebenz about a year, while the other two took about six months.  All of them could use some Loc-Tite.  The need for Loc-Tite itself is not unacceptable, but the fact that none of them came that way is.  Additionally, the PT and the XM-18 need a specialized driver bit, which, as I have discussed many times before, is perhaps the most annoying thing in the knife world.  Only the Sebenza used commonly available fastners and that is why it got the 5.  The PT's pivot slightly worse than the XM-18's.  This is not a big deal, but given the price, I expected perfection.  

The Sebenza's mythical perfect fit and finish is just that--a myth.  My sub-$100 Spyderco Zulu had better fit and finish than all three of these knives.  Its pivot has remained in place the entire time I have owned it.  There are quite a few knives in the production world that are consistently as good or better.  Virtually all of Taichung, Taiwan Spydercos can be superior (excepting the CF versions of the Cat and the Chicago).  Every Al Mar product I have handled, including my Hawk, was better finished.  The TAD Dauntless I handled was much better.  Brous's fit and finish on the model I handled was also better--tighter and more precise.  All three knives are very good, but not the best production knives I have seen in terms of fit and finish.  Hate to burst folks bubble, but I feel confident in this assessment given the number of blades I have reviewed and my long term use of all three of these knives.

PT: 1
Sebenza: 5
XM-18: 3 
 
Grip

There is really no question about which knife has the best grip.  The PT's choil, shape, and convex handle scales makes it not just a good knife in the hand, but perhaps the best knife I have ever held in my hand in terms of grip.  The XM-18 is very good too, but not in the same league.  The Sebenza is better in the hand than it looks, but that's not saying much.

IMG_0065
  
PT: 5
Sebenza: 1
XM-18: 3
 
Carry

The Sebenza is really great in the pocket.  It is thin and narrow, cramming a ton of blade into a very small footprint.  That, plus the perfect clip AND clip placement, make the Sebenza about as good as you can get in terms of carry.  The PT is way, way behind, but still very good.  Its lack of clip is an issue, but I like it.  The XM-18 is actually quite good too, but not even close to the other two.  Its quite wide and the jimping can snag, but nothing crazy.

IMG_0021
  
PT: 3
Sebenza: 5
XM-18: 1
 
Steel 

Its hard for me to know if this is the really good polish and sharpening job on the XM-18, but the Duratech has been incredible.  The S35VN and S30V are pretty difficult to differentiate in use, but when sharpening I like the S35VN better.  I think it is probably worth the upgrade, but if you have a knife you like in S30V, don't worry seeking out S35VN, especially if you can sharpen S30V better than I can.   

PT: 3
Sebenza: 1
XM-18: 5

Blade Shape

The classic is the best.  Blade shapes are always best when simplest (unless designed by Anso).  The classic drop point on the Sebenza is truly awesome and perfect.  The slicer grind on the XM-18 is pretty good, but not close to the Sebenza.  The spear point on the PT is also good, but really also well behind the Sebenza.

IMG_0025

PT: 1
Sebenza: 5
XM-18: 3
 
Grind

Again, the classic grind is best.  I don't get the whole full flat grind only thing, as hollow grinds are incredible at biting into material and getting a bunch of stuff out of the knife.  There the Sebenza is so much better than the other two.  The full flat grind on the XM-18 is good, much, much better than PT's grind.  The reason why is that the PT's cutting bevel is too thin.  This is, undoubtedly, because of the PT's hard use heritage where a very thin bevel lasts longer, but in the EDC/pocket knife role, I'd like something that can do detail work.  The thin bevel also makes the PT a poorer slicer than you'd expect for a knife like the PT.  

PT: 1
Sebenza: 5
XM-18: 3
 
Deployment Method

There is a reason Ti framelock flippers are so popular--they are incredibly easy to use.  Additionally there is a reason why the XM-18 is so popular--it is the progenitor of the entire Ti framelock flipper trend.  Even for all of the bitching, it still really, really works well.  It is an excellent flipper (not as good as the very best out there, but very, very good).  The PT's thumb hole is good, but not as good as a Spyderco thumb hole.  Finally, the Sebenza's thumb stud is a good thumb stud, but that's like saying someone is the smartest Hilton sister.  Its a complement only in context.  The Sebenza really requires  a perfect approach and without that approach, you get nothing.  With the right approach it is quite good.   

P1010187

PT: 3
Sebenza: 1
XM-18: 5
  
Retention Method

The Sebenza's clip is great, one of my favorites.  The XM-18's clip is good, but a bit of a paint scrapper.  Obviously the PT has no clip and I wish it did.  You have a choice, absent a MSC, with the PT.  You can get a great knife in the hand, the CC, or a great knife in the pocket, the regular PT.  Personally, I'd take a great knife in the hand.  Still, I'd like a clip (and I am having one made still). 

PT: 1
Sebenza: 5
XM-18: 3
 
Lock

All of the locks are good.  One is amazing.  It is almost as if the XM-18 can read your mind.  You want to disengage the lock and it glides open.  If you don't want it open, it stays closed.  Pretty incredible.  The Sebenza lock is definitely tight and bank vault-y, but still not as tuned as the XM-18.  The PT is a bit stickier and harder to disengage.  Really this is the XM-18 with only a bit of spacing between the other two. 

P1010125
 
PT: 1
Sebenza: 3
XM-18: 5

Total Points:

PT: 24
Sebenza: 30
XM-18: 36

Value Calculations

Okay, pricing the XM-18 is tough.  First, there are not a lot of 3 inch models out there.  Very, very few of the recent waves of XM-18s were 3 inch.  Almost all of them were 3.5 inch.  Then there is the price issue.  Directly from Rick they are $387.  No one, none of his retailers, sell them for that.  A good estimate is $600.  If you pay attention you can land one for that price, occasionally less.  I am going to use $600 for the value calculations. 

That means we get this:

PT CC: $300
Sebenza: $330
XM-18: $600

Sebenza wins.

We don't even have to add them up.  With a huge difference in price between the Sebenza and the XM-18, the XM-18's 6 points aren't enough to make up for the price difference.  The data shows and my sentiments agree--the XM-18 is not TWICE the knife the Sebenza is.  It is better.  Clearly better, in my mind, but not twice as good.

Here are the values:

PT: .08 points per dollar
Sebenza: .09 points per dollar
XM-18: .06 points per dollar

As you can see, this is close between the PT and the Sebenza.  The PT and the Sebenza are, as the scores reflect, very close in my mind in terms of value, with the XM-18 far, far behind.  The secondary market prices are just insane.   

But watch what happens if you change the price to the direct retail price on the XM-18 (roughly $387):

Sebenza: .090
XM-18: .093

In that situation, the value calculations comes out correctly again.  The XM-18 IS a better knife, in large part because of the effortless flipping deployment method.  The Sebenza is close, even with the adjusted amount, but it comes in second place.

While the PT's score really suffers in three areas, but it is actually a very close call between it and the other two knives.  The scoring system I chose to use for shoot outs is designed to create differentiation between the competitors, but here it is a bit unrepresentative.  Coming in last is a big penalty, even if the difference between second and third is very small, such as the difference between the Sebenza and the PT in terms of lock.  The PT is an excellent knife.  Personally I like it just as much as the Sebenza (maybe even a bit more), but I recognize that the Sebenza has a broader more universal appeal, hence the higher score.   

The places where the PT meaningfully falls behind is pretty straightforward.  First the lack of a clip is a real shame.  I am working with a machinist to get one made, but I can tell you it has been a chore.  With a good clip, the knife would be better.  Second, and perhaps most difficult to tell absent a direct comparison like this, the cutting bevel on the PT CC needs to wider.  As it is, it is too shallow and the approach to material is difficult, especially in hard mediums like wood.  The PT has a strong tendency to glance in low angle slicing cuts.  Finally, I really dislike the pivot on the PT.  This has been a constant source of problems for Strider and the model I have is either the third or fourth iteration of the knife with a different pivot at least two of those three or four revisions.  Its time to stop screwing around (ha, ha) with proprietary fasteners and just go with a flathead or torx bit.  I like the flathead fastener in a pivot as it allows for field adjustments, but anything is better than what they have now.  This leads me to a rant.

Here goes:

Somehow, in knives the proprietary fasteners are seen as cool, while in EVERY OTHER WALK OF LIFE THEY ARE AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER.  Let me be blunt--proprietary fasteners are nothing more than an naked money grab by the maker, hoping to sell you a multitool or a bit driver for some extra money.  Its like Rick Hinderer or Mick Strider first took money of out your wallet for their knives then decided to go back in for no reason whatsoever.  No thank you.  If it was really about performance--i.e. no cam out--they would opt for something like the Spax or a Torx head.  These proprietary fasteners are a money grab, plain and simple.  Do you hear me Microtech, Hinderer, and Strider?  NO MORE PROPRIETARY FASTENERS....whew.  I got that out of my system.

Sorry.          

Conclusion 

If you want the best EDC knife out there under $600 get the XM-18 3 inch.  If you want the best value, get the Sebenza.  The Sebenza wins and should win because again you are getting near custom quality at a high production price.  Its not a question--the Sebenza is, was, and always will be a benchmark blade.  The XM-18 is the new kid on the block, comparatively speaking, but the Sebenza is just sooooooo good. The PT is also a great choice, it has a bit more flavor than the vanilla Sebenza, and I kinda like it better, but in the end, the golden oldie wins again.  Now, if TAD ever releases a production Mini Dauntless, watch out...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Comes Early

One of the best things about writing this blog, writing for All Outdoor, and doing the podcast is all of the cool people I have met and become friends with along the way.  Andrew, Aaron, and Dan are three of the coolest dudes you will meet.  Getting an email response to a question from AG Russell is like getting an email about guitars from Les Paul.  Having Thomas W. comment on the Cryo review was both fun and educational.  As is always the case in any endeavor, people are the best part.

But gear is pretty cool.  Especially TAD Gear.  Imagine my excitement when I received this photo from Episode 21 guest Gianni from TAD:


Getting a prototype from TAD is like getting to test drive the new C7 Corvette before anyone else.  For a gear geek, this is nirvana.  Right?  I had a hint that it was something we had talked about on Episode 21, a certain sharp thing that I had basically begged them to make.  The box was long and slender and inside was exactly what I wanted from TAD for Christmas:


Here it is, the most tacticool of all Christmas items--the Ti Santa Beard.  That stocking with MOLLE on it is nothing next to the power of the ultra light, non-magnetic, and rust proof Santa Beard. 

May all of your gear Christmas wishes come true, not so you can have a pile of stuff, but so you can go out and have great experiences with the people in your life that matter.  Remember--people, good jokes, lots of other stuff, and then gear.  In that order of importance.

Merry Christmas. 

Oh and just for the completists:

Overall Score: 20 out of 20


Friday, December 20, 2013

Field Notes Pitch Black Review

"Black as midnight, black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch..."
--Blix, Legend

Okay so it is a horrible movie, but I was always taken by the quote, even my twelve year old self thought it sounded cool. 

At this point is probably wholly unnecessary to do a review on Field Notes notebooks, but I got the new black standard edition and it has been great to use.  As such, I thought I'd pass the word along.

Here is the product page.  There is no written review yet.  The three pack of 48 page notebooks costs $10.  I received my three pack of black Field Notes from E2Field Gear.  You can go there using the banner on the right and use the discount code for 8% off.  All proceeds benefit the site and its giveaways.

They were purchased with site money, but obvious I can't both test them and then give them away (used Field Notes aren't so popular), so I am keeping them. Honestly, this single point is why it took me so long to review these gems.  They fundamentally break a rule about keeping stuff purchased with site money, but I made an exception for two reasons: 1) it seems like a pretty important EDC related product and skipping a review does you a disservice; 2) they represent a very small purchase, so it won't take away from big giveaways in the least.  I hope you don't mind.  If you do, let me know in the comments.  This stuff really does bother me, so I want to hear what you think, either way. 

Field Notes are a small paper notebook, very similar to the Moleskine Cahier.  They have a cardboard cover and excellent paper inside.  The overall construction is simple and the books are designed for everyday carry (hence their inclusion in the reviews section of this site).  They are throwbacks to old garage journals that were issued in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  They'd have a nice thick cover with a logo or some folksy image and they'd have a few black pages on the inside to write stuff down in.  You could easily drop a Field Notes notebook in your back pocket with a wallet and never really notice the additional weight or even the fact that it was there.

The paper in the Pitch Black Field Notes is Finch Paper Opaque Smooth 50#T "Bright White",  with a fine, 1-color application of light gray soy-based Toyo Ink.  That's a lot of tech specs for paper, most of which I don't think are absolutely essential to know, but I'd rather they give us this information than not.  If this notebook was made by Gerber, the paper would be listed as "white paper" akin to their claim of "stainless steel" for the tools and implements found on their multitools.  In use, the paper is very nice and plenty thick for even bold lines.  I wouldn't recommend it for a fountain pen but for other kinds of pens, especially ball points, it is more than fine.  The paper is smooth and without defect.  It does not allow much if any ink bloom or feathering (unless you use a fountain pen) and it is look very white without being offensively bright.  Most of my use has been with either a Lami Safari or the Mont Blanc Fineliner refill in my Prometheus Alpha Pen.  Overall, I like it and it blows the Moleskine paper out of the water. 

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There are dozens of special editions and they have become collectibles, find out more about them here.  The original Butcher Blue limited release sells for more than $100 for a 3 pack, and recent eBay auctions have ended with prices in the $400 range.  Here is a listing of all Colors Edition Limited Edition books.  The black regular edition is very similar to the Night Sky limited edition, which was very popular and sold out quickly.  

Small notebooks like this offer a great deal of utility.  As Andrew put in a recent podcast, the fact you don't need batteries to run these things is great when you are out of range and your iPhone/Evernotes combo can't help you.  I have also found it is nice for storing notes about computer passwords, as it gives you a physical copy, something that does not, itself require a password.  Additionally, unlike the thick oil paper or leatherette journals from Moleskine and others, the Field Notes books easily slide into a pocket and go unnoticed, ready for you to jot down a quick reminder.  

The black edition has a dot grid pattern instead of normal lines.

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I'd prefer lines, but the artists out there or the engineers probably appreciate the dot grid matrix.  The paper in Field Notes changes from edition to edition and the paper used in the black regular edition is excellent.  It is smooth and works exceedingly well with ballpoint pens and my Fineliner refill in the Alpha Pen.  It does not do as well with a fountain pen, but much better than the Moleskines I have used. 

Overall, I like the Field Notes format.  It is very slim and easy to write on with a variety of pens.  Fisher refills work very well. I am not sure I'd ever need a subscription, called the Colors Subscription, as I just don't have that many written notes I need to make, but overall, a three pack once a year seems like a very good purchase.  They are not water proof or tear resistant, but they are pretty durable given the materials used. I gave one to my three year old and it has held up well.  You'd never know he was the Tasmanian Devil that he is just by looking at the notebook.  Here is the spine of his book after about three weeks of (ab)use:



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Go give them a try.  They are cheap, well made, and made in the USA.  They work with a bunch of different kinds of ink and the paper is a noticeable upgrade from the junk found in Moleskines.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

S'well Bottle Review

The story of this S'well Bottle review is a very long one.  S'well was one of the companies I first reached out to when I decided to start reviewing water bottles.  They had a great reputation online and a very nice looking bottle.  I sent them an email and they passed, understandably, on sending a review sample.  Not a whole lot of folks doing critical reviews of water bottles, especially on sites with a predominantly male readership.  I never take it personally when companies turn me down.  They only have so much for marketing and they have to spend it wisely.  I think its worth it for them to send me stuff.  I take a great deal of care in evaluating their products and I have a good readership (you folks), but its not my decision.  Again, getting turned down happens (ahem, Spyderco) and I definitely do not hold it against the company.

Determined to get a lot of the major players in the bottle market I used site money to buy a mid sized 17oz S'well.  I went to Amazon, put "S'well" bottle into the search bar, and found one for a good price.  I bought it and it arrived about three days later.  When I took it out of the box it was, well, not branded as a "S'well" bottle, but I thought it might just be a co-branding thing.  Then I noticed that the bottle was a little different in proportion.  It seemed a little squat for the 17oz model.  I filled it with ice and water and then went to rustle up my son for dinner.  About 30 minutes later I was sitting down to eat and I noticed there was no ice in the bottle.  It was strange as I had put ice in and now there was none.  I opened up the bottle and looked inside--only water.  Clearly something was amiss.  I tried it again and again the ice was gone in about a half hour.  I also noticed that the bottle was sweating, which is impossible with an insulated bottle.  It wasn't soaked but it was a little damp.  Finally I took a magnet to the bottle, which was supposed to be 18/8 stainless steel, and the magnet wouldn't stick. The bottle was aluminum.

I tried to contact the seller and got stonewalled.  Frustrated I sent an email to Amazon and an email to S'well warning them of the counterfeiters.  The next morning I had an email from S'well asking for help.  They were surprised to learn of the counterfeiters and said if I sent them all of the packing slips and material, plus the fake bottle they'd send me a S'well bottle in return.  With nothing to lose and a desire to support companies against counterfeiters, on my own dime, I mailed them all of the stuff.  Five days later the REAL S'well bottle arrived.  It was noticeably and obviously different.  The mouth wasn't as sharp, the proportions were correct, and it held a chill forever, keeping ice solid overnight plus some.  Oh and it was magnetic.  Real stainless steel.

Whatever the review says about the bottle, this is a company that treats customers the right way.  I am fairly certain they had no idea I was the guy that asked for a review sample months ago.  I think they were just doing the right thing.  So, to that end, I strongly encourage you to support the company.  The bottle is not perfect (no water bottles are right now) but among the sea of competitors, customer service like that deserves some real recognition.  S'well is a super awesome company.  

Here is the product page. The S'well 17oz bottle costs $35.  They also make a 9oz bottle for $25 and a 25oz bottle for $45.  There are ton of colors and unlike most bottle companies there are some hairy arm compatible shades including some with matte textured finish, called the "Stone" collection.  The gray Stone bottle is downright manly looking, a huge change of pace for the water bottle world.   Here is a written review. Here is a video look.  No sponsors or affiliates sell this bottle yet, so go to S'well's site and tell them Everyday Commentary sent you.  For reasons discussed above, skip Amazon.  Finally here is my review sample (purchased with site money, but not given away for reasons discussed in the Water Bottle Scoring System; basically, its nasty and not cost effective to mail them--$8 or $10 on a $20 item):

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Twitter Review Summary: Maybe the best insulated bottle on the market, stuff stays cold for days.

Design: 2

Overall appearance is simply stunning.  Literally everyone that saw the bottle was taken aback by how beautiful it was.  This is a sleek and gorgeous object, something from a movie set in the future.  But the design is not just pretty, its actually focused on making the drinking experience nicer.  There is no cap I have seen that is as pleasant to open and touch as the S'well cap, seen here:

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It comes off easily and with a few twists (though not as few as the Square).  It also a perfect texture, with enough grip from the ribbing to make you confident in your actions, but not enough to make it a pain.  Furthermore, the shape of the metal makes this an object that simply craves human contact.  Its reminds me of the feel of high end furniture like that from Thomas Mosier.  

While large, the 17oz model is not a behemoth. Here it is next to the Zippo.

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I would note that the choice to make it a 17oz bottle is a great one and unlikely to be a happy accident.  At 17 ounces it easily holds an entire bottle of water or soda (don't drink soda, is garbage, but...).  Great bit of forethought and a sign of how much attention to detail went into this bottle.

Fit and Finish: 2

The level of polish on the bottle and cap is really outstanding.  This is a glorious item.  The cap fits snugging and threads easily with no cross threading ever.  I also liked the finish to the mouth, but more on that later.  All of the brand labels were clear and well made, not that that matters to us, but it is just shows this isn't a sloppy piece of junk (unlike the fake one I got, which had crooked lettering).

Carry: 2

The bottle's size is nice.  It will fit in cup holders in a car (all bottle makers please take note, this is an essential feature, don't screw this up).  It also slides nicely into my briefcase.  Thanks to the superlative cap I have no fear of leaks.  I would like an attachment point, but that would mar the sleek aesthetics and is more of a plus thing than a requirement.  I could see a washer style attachment point hanging out around the cap area working well. 

Grip: 2

Though the exterior is very slick and clean, the overall shape and weight of the bottle, even with liquid inside, makes it great in the hand.  I haven't dropped it (on accident) yet, and I don't get a lot of sloshing forward even when filled. 

P1010618

Drink Quality/Mouth: 1

On paper, the mouth looked good--wide enough for some kinds of ice but still narrow enough for drinking.  Unfortunately, as implemented it was not so good.  First, the opening is not quite wide enough for ice.  Second, the rim is still a little too sharp.  Better than most, but still a little too crisp.  Third, there is definitely a metallic taste imparted by the rim.  Finally, and perhaps, the nail in the coffin for this particular S'well bottle is this:


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Yep, the 18/8 stainless steel rusted.  It is pretty noticeable and really unacceptably bad.  But I did some research and found out that this is pretty normal.  In fact, there is an easy fix.  Here is the mouth after a scrubbing with a brillo pad:

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Clean as a whistle and good as new.   Taken all together this is clearly worth a point, probably like a point and half, but drinking is actually quite good, so I think a 1 is pretty representative.  

Materials: 1

The coloration of the mouth is a concern as is the stainless steel walls which are usually dent magnets, but so far so good.  Still prior experience tells me it is only a matter of time.   Steel mouths just don't taste good either.  A narrow plastic one (to block out the odors which through a mixing of the senses seem to impart taste) or better yet a glass mouth is much better.  The coloration plus the normal ding prone nature of an all stainless steel bottle is a 1. 

Insulation: 2

There is no doubt that the S'well is the king of insulation.  In normal use, not leaving it in a frigid car over night, the bottle would keep ice solid for more than 16 hours on a regular basis.  Twice I had ice 20 hours later.  The claim that it keeps liquids cold for 24 hours is easily true.  That is a rare feat.  Lots and lots of bottles make this claim.  Only the S'well has actually done it, in my testing (three insulated Kleen Kanteens, the S'well, a few rebrands, a Camelbak, and my Nissan Thermos; the Thermos did it as well, but the bottle is HUGE and the actual liquid reservoir is tiny).  This is the best insulated bottle of its size (and size to liquid reservoir) I have used.    

Durability: 1

Nothing is outright busted yet, but even in regular commuting use there is noticeable wear:

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This actually looks kind of cool, but it concerns me that once the bottle is dinged it will start to fall apart.  Appearance is not the biggest issue, usability is.  Over time, dents and dings start to make the bottle wobble and eventually compromise the seal and the mouth.  Once that happens, and it has happened to me, the bottle is done.  Stainless steel this thin just won't last more than a few years.  I wonder if people so concerned with the environment realize that. 

Leak Proof: 2

As leak proof as a sub.  This is one of the reasons why it holds a chill so long.  I have carried this thing in my briefcase upside down with no problems.  Amazing.

Ease of Cleaning: 1

Nothing will be like the Square.  I get that, but this is worse than even the common wide moth Nalgene or Kleen Kanteen.  Decidedly average. 

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

On its own this is a beautiful bottle.  It works well and I think the coloration problem was a quirk as it was so easily remedied.  There is no question this is one of the most striking bottles on the market.  Literally everyone that saw it commented.  It is also great in hand, as all of the surfaces are elegantly contoured.  But the S'well bottle is more than a pretty picture, it works very well.  It is utterly leak proof and insulates like a refrigerator.  I wish it was a bit more ding resistant, but that is the nature of a stainless steel bottle.  Very good.    

The Competition

Okay, stacked up against the Readily Available Benchmark of the Insulated Kleen Kanteen, the S'well is a revelation.  It is much sleeker, with a better seal to guard against leaks and it looks much cooler.  In terms of insulation it is miles better, but not better than the also widely available Thermos.  This is a bottle with the capacity of a Kleen Kanteen (for the size) and the insulation of a Thermos.  Not too shabby.  This is the best insulated bottle I have used to date, but this bottle with a wide mouth to accomodate the CapCap or an insulated Square would kill everything on the market.  Good, better that a lot of stuff, but still not the iPhone of water bottles.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

47s AL Atom Review

47s is a flashaholics' flashlight brand.  They stay up on cutting edge emitters, they were one of the first makers to recognize the value in a good moonlight low, and they have a checklist of features that seem to be culled directly from feedback from the forums.  I love 47s.  I am not afraid to admit it.  They make great lights.

But I am not a fanboy.  I can recognize issues, even in my favorite brands.

Recently it seemed like they had stalled out a bit.  All of that innovation in the beginning gave way to a series of incremental upgrades.  If you make your name on the bleeding edge, you can't go back.  I noted in the review of the QP2L-X that 47s lights still hung with the big boys, but they were on the verge of falling out of the top tier.  An innovator must stay an innovator to stand out from the crowd.

Well, they have finally released a totally new EDC light.  This is not a new body tube or emitter slapped on an old light, but a new light with a new (for 47s) UI.  And it is a great light with two small dings.  The Atom AL, simply put, rocks.  It is worth your dollars and makes an excellent core to an awesome flashlight system thanks to the compatible headband. 

Here is the product page. The Atom AL costs $40. This is the first review of any kind. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you may be able to find the Atom AL, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (sent to me by 47s and returned upon conclusion of review):

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Twitter Review Summary: Superb illumination system with two minor dings.

Design: 2

47s flexed their muscles here and delivered a hell of a light.  The mule (reflector-free emitter) makes this the most compact 1xCR123a light on the market by a huge margin.  The Atom AL is smaller than my Aeon Mark II.  This is a tiny light.  But is quite well designed.  The look, the mule, and the magnet are straight from the P0, but the UI is entirely new and a welcome upgrade (more on that later).  The fact that the light can be used with an excellent headband shows a great degree of forethought on the part of 47s.  This is part of a trend--lights are now actually illumination systems, empowered by accessories to flex into a bunch of different roles.  Frankly, this is my favorite system I have used yet.  Getting a damn fine EDC light and a headlamp all in one is proof of how good 47s is at both designing tools and getting you to spend on dollar-worthy accessories.

Here is the light away from the beauty of that very rare piece of cherry (shot through with rust from buck shot embedded in the wood; I found the buck shot the hard way...and my miter saw has yet to forgive me):

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As you might expect, the lumens:weight is very good.  This light clocks in at 1.6 ounces with a battery, given you a ratio of 69 (110/1.6 = 68.75).  The total output is best on high where it can run for 3.5 hours at 110 lumens for a total output of 23,100 (110 lumens x 210 minutes).  Both are quite respectable and another this is a light that is among the best out there in its product class and price range.  Finally, here is a photo to convey just how small this little gem is:

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Fit and Finish: 1

When you look at the light in the picture with the Zippo above and compare it to the picture below:

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You might notice that the frosted aluminum, which is helpful for grip, has been marked up significantly in the top picture.  I don't normally care about this sort of use wear (see: the Fett Effect), but here I am concerned for two reasons, which, taken together, make me dock this thing a full point.  First, the scrapes occurred during pocket carry.  I didn't drop this thing down a mountain.  I just carried it in my pocket with a pocket knife.  Second, without the frosted finish, the light would be significantly less grippy.

All of the other parts of the light are well done.  The threads are standard triangle threads, but they are well cut and do not cross thread.  The emitter was well centered.  The polished parts looked gorgeous and the overall thickness of the body tube was fine, though thin (as is always the case with lights this small).  

Grip: 2

As mentioned above, the frosted finish really does help with grip.  This is a tiny light, but you can operate it with one hand.  I think that the extra diameter over other tiny lights, like the Mk II Aeon, gives the Atom AL a grip advantage.  The magic ratio, diameter to length, is present in this light.  

Carry: 2

Great carry is part for the course for a light this size.  It is one of the reasons why I prefer smaller lights.  You can easily tuck this light into a coin pocket and it would carry okay on a keychain (aside from the dings that would occur to the frosted finish).  

Output: 2

The Atom AL's decision to draw down the lumens on the high mode is a wise one.  110 lumens is usually enough to get most tasks done and I have found, over time, that I like longer run times over blinding highs, especially in EDC lights.  The lumens rating is right around the high of the Mk. II and the more I think about this light the more I realize that it is very close to what a product Mk. II would look and perform like.  The low is truly low and useful and it will run forever (40 hours).  This is quite good for a production light.

I want to make this clear--I have scoring this a 2 based on preference (runtime over lumens).  If you have a different preference, consider this a 1 as 110 lumens is probably below par for a CR123a.  I think it is plenty to get done what you need to do, but I understand that the lumens arms race has sucked in lots of people.  

Runtime: 2

See Output above.  Really this light is a perfect example of the tension between output and runtime and how that tension is resolved is largely a matter of personal preference.  I think 47s did it the right way here.  You might disagree.

Beam Type: 1

This light is a mule, that it, it does not have a metallic reflector.  Instead the light comes out the front without any refocusing.  Here is what the head looks like (the green stuff is glow material):

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I understand why they used a mule head, as it cuts down on size, weight, and cost, but the choice for ALL flood is something I don't really like.  Its okay in an EDC light where most tasks are going to be broad illuminations (like checking your yard for critters) or unfocused up close work (like changing a tire on the side of the road), so it is deserving of a point, but I really miss a hotspot.  Done well, you can have light, like the Haiku, that does both a good flood and good throw at the same time.  Understand why 47s did this, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.  

Beam Quality: 2

Despite its diffuse nature the tint, shape, and clarity of the beam are all there.  There is no artifacting or rings.  The XPG2 emitter produces a fairly colorless, neutral light, and the shape is perfectly round.  You are very unlikely to encounter any weird lighting anomalies here.  

UI: 2

Ah, and the big upgrade.  The Atom AL is a two stage twisty.  That's right, the UI is twist for on and twist more for high.  Elegant, simple, easy to use.  In a word--perfect.  This is one of my three favorite UIs and this version is well done.  The spacing between the modes (how far you have to twist) is just right.  Now 47s needs to implement this across their entire line of non-clickies.  

Hands Free: 2

The Atom can tailstand.  It can clamp on to ferrous metals thanks to the magnet.  AND it has some anti-roll protection, but the real trick is this:

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and this:

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Yep, it can work as a headlamp thanks to a $15 accessory from 47s.  Note that the headlamp works with the Atom as well as a bunch of other 47s lights, including the Minis, thanks to swappable inserts.  The headband, aside from looking tremendously dorky, worked well.  I used to in my basement, in a crawlspace, and in the attic and it was perfect.  I think a dedicated headlamp might be better, but certainly not enough to warrant investing in one when this is out there.  The fit between the Atom and the holster is tight enough that you can switch modes with the light on your head (again, tremendously dorky).  There is some padding between your head and the light holster for added comfort, and the strap is adjustable.  The entire unit is light and the holster can rotate so that you can point the light straight up, straight down, straight ahead, or anywhere in between.

 Let me be candid--if you are buying a light that is compatible with the headband, just buy the headband too.  That way you can have your EDC light flex into a headlamp.  This is yet another milepost on the road to illumination systems, like what we saw with the Eiger and the MBI lights.  Frankly this a trend we should all be thankful for--getting more out of what you have is great.   

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

The Atom AL is a great light.  Paired with the headband it is an amazing illumination system.  This little gem has a ton of features that make it essentially a production Mk. II Aeon and that is a damn good light to emulate.  I love the UI and the magnet in the tail cap.  The price is also excellent.  The frosted finish is a little weak and the beam type is not my favorite, but both of those are acceptable flaws.  This is a great light and proof once again of 47s credentials as an innovator in the flashlight market.  GREAT JOB!

The Competition

The Atom kills the Fenix PD22.  Its half the size, $20 less, and works with an amazing headband.  I like the the magnet at the bottom and though the scores are only a point apart, as you may have noticed, jumping from a 16 to a 18 on the scale is pretty tough to do.  When paired with the headband, you have both a very good headlamp and a superb EDC.  I strongly recommend you get the band.  It makes you look uber dorky (see that picture?), but for $15 it is a no-brainer.  Against other lights like the SC52, the Atom comes out at least tied thanks to is sub-$50 price.  When you get into the rarified air of the Peak Eiger or the HDS Rotary, I think the light starts to falter, but against similarly priced and made lights the Atom is very competitive.    

Monday, December 9, 2013

Emerson Mini CQC7 Review

I get it.  Now, I totally get it.

The cult following Emerson knives has is one of the most powerful in all of the gear world.  For quite a few people the only kind of knives that matter come in two versions: hard use and fancy Emersons (that is, production and custom Emersons).  From the outside looking in, it was hard to see why, especially with pretty strong rumors of below par fit and finish.  But then a new knife store, Merrimack Knife and Tool, opened up near my work and I recently spent a lunch hour oogling over their insane selection.  It was the first time I had seen the entire Emerson line in person and it was really helpful.  The Mini CQC7 was an easy choice.  First, it had the right size, with a blade at or just under 3 inches.  Second, I wanted to try the most "Emerson" of Emersons and there are few knives in Ernie's line that are more representative of the brand.  It has a wave, of course; it is chisel ground (meaning one side is a complete zero grind and the other had the bevels on it); and it was a tanto.  I don't normally like tantos and I have never had a chisel ground knife, so it was time to venture out of my comfort zone.

In the few days that I have had the knife before I wrote this intro (I usually write intros before the main review), I can see quite easily why people get obsessed with Emersons.  This is a dead simple, super solid, sharp knife.  Its not the prettiest thing in the world, but like big construction equipment, there is a beauty to its ruggedness.  What it lacks in traditional aesthetic appeal it makes up for in its feeling in the hand.  Emersons are the tools of BAMFs and it is, itself a BAMF tool.  This is as solid a knife as I have ever carried.  

One thing before the review starts in earnest (oh yes, I did that on purpose), the brand Emerson is as much about knives as it is about Ernie Emerson himself.  He is quite vocal in his opinions.  Here is an excellent interview with him by Nutnfancy.  Lots and lots of folks love Emerson knives in no small part because of Ernie himself.  I can see why that is the case (preaching to the choir is a valuable marketing approach, not that that is what he is doing, but bear that in mind), but that sort of "soft factors" stuff adds up to zero for me.  Just like I don't care about Mick Strider's past when reviewing the PT CC, I don't care about Ernie's "patriotism" or "family-values" approach.  I just don't give a shit.  I listen and pay attention the knife maker's opinions about knives, but that is it.  I could care less if they have opinions about war or politics.  It drives me batty when George Clooney or Angelina Jolie talk about politics.  Why should their opinions matter at all?  Or at least more than random dude down the street?  Because they are celebrity?  Because they are wealthy?  I just don't care.  The same is true with Ernie. I understand that stuff matters to him and he has every right to say what he wants (and I'd defend his right to do so in court, even if I disagreed with him), but the opinions themselves don't make the knives better.  If it matters to you, if it is a plus factor in favor of the Emerson brand, great.  It just doesn't matter to me and I wanted to state that up front so you know about and can factor it in when evaluating the validity of my opinion and this review.

Here is the product page. The Mini CQC7 costs $134.95, but this is street pricing.  Here is a written review.  Here is a quite decent video review.  This review sample was purchased at my NEW local knife store, Merrimack Knife and Tool, in Nashua, NH.  Here is my review sample (purchased with site money for giveaway):

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Here is my video overview:


Twitter Review Summary: Simplicity that works, but chisel ground on the wrong side.

Design: 2

There is very little here that is wasted, excessive, or unnecessary.  The handle is thick, but not too thick.  Curve and palm swell are quick nice.  The wave is really, truly an amazing innovation, and the thumb disk is better than I thought it would be.  This knife is a first for me in so many ways--the first Emerson, the first thumb disk, the first chisel grind, and by in large I like it.  Andrew has long been a proponent of trying new things and I was worried a while back that all I was doing was reviewing knives that were competitors for my beloved Dragonfly.  I am not so worried about that anymore, and I am truly glad I ventured out of my comfort zone.  This is a knife and company that is easy to recommend.  These are excellent hard use knives and quite solidly built.  Think of the design as Cold Steel, with better materials, better design chops, and liner locks.  Its not all bulky overbuilt stuff though--there is some real subtlety here, like the stabilizing detent on the side of the blade opposite the liner lock. Oh and made in the USA.  That matters to me and I am sure it matters to some of you too. Overall, very, very solid design.  

The size and ratios are better than you'd think given the hard use heritage.  Here is the knife up against the Zippo:

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The blade:handle is .67 (2.9 inches:4.3 inches).  This is roughly equal to the Delica.  Additionally I am willing to budge a little on the blade:handle in hard use knives.  The extra handle provides extra grip, always a good thing.  The blade:weight is .69.  This is not great and there is no way around it.  The Cold Steel Mini Recon, with the same or slightly larger blade size and G10 handles was a .82.  Here I think the thick stock is one issue, which I am willing to accept, but the non-milled out liners are really a waste of weight savings.  The milling out would drop weight and have nearly zero impact on lateral strength and stability. 

Fit and Finish: 2

When people complain about Emerson's it is almost always about a subpar fit and finish.  I found this criticism wholly misplaced.  This is not a mechanically complex knife.  It is not, for example, the poised, tuned machine that my XM-18 is.  But there is a difference between simple and crude.  A cantilever chair is simple.  A chopped log as a chair is crude.  For example, not the radius around the entire handle scale.

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That is a very nice touch.  And the knife is full of these things.  The spine is clean and the jimping is purposeful but not shreddy (as is the finish on the G10).  The blade centering is excellent and there is no blade play in any direction even after batonning through dry oak and stabbing the knife through metal (yup, I did it and the tip is perfectly fine).  I am sure there are people out there that got lemons.  Lemons are a result of the manufacturing process.  All manufactured products have lemon examples.  But one lemon does not mean the entire line or brand is junk.  I loved the fit and finish on my Emerson and it was representative of all the Emersons I handled at Merrimack Knife and Tool, which was about four or five.  I will note that the pivot was stiff when I got the knife, but three or four days of very good and hard use has made it quite smooth.  Smooth, but not loose.  Also, there is a secondary detent on the liner opposite the lock.  It both helps suck the blade into place and it keeps the blade centered through the arc of the pivot.  Bottom line: don't listen to the whiners.  The fit and finish here is fine, especially when compared to the hard-use knife darling of the moment, the Paramilitary 2.  That is a fine knife, one of my favorites, but the review sample I had, which seemed to be on par with those others had, was pretty crudely finished.  Not bad, but certainly not better than the Mini CQC7 I had a review sample.  

Grip: 2

Oh sweet mutha'  I love this knife in the hand.  Love it.  Here it is, doing its sweet siren's song thing...

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It breaks down like this--great G10 texturing, good shape, and ample thickness (insert: that's what she said joke here).  I am really impressed at how simple the shape the handle is, a small palm swell in the middle and a very mild hook at the end to hold your fingers in place.  The simplicity, again, works.  

Carry: 2

The G10 is grippy enough to worry about carry in dress pants, but this really isn't a dress knife.  In jeans or other pants (like in this picture, TAD RS Covert pants):

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the G10 is fine.  Though it feels chunky in the hand, in the pocket it is actually pretty slim and compact.  This is one reason I prefer the Emerson over a knife like the ZT0350.  That knife was too wide.  It felt like I was carrying a paperback book around in my pocket.  Here, it feels like, well, a knife.  Note that the wave feature forces tip up, right handed carry.  You can get the knife tapped by Emerson for left handed carry, but that will cost you an extra $20.  Tip down carry on a waved Emerson is not possible, or at least it shouldn't be.  That would be like getting a Ferrari with an automatic transmission--a grevious sin against the gods of badassery.  

Steel: 2

I have gotten over my phobia regarding 154CM.  This is an excellent steel, especially for the money.  It also makes an especially good choice for a hard use folder--hard and tough with sufficient stain resistance.  Ernie's no dumby and his choice of steels proves why.

I batonned with the knife, cut up a few metal cans, and the edge was still sharp enough.  It was never a laser, but the steel held a utility edge for a very long time, which I think is the point.  If you want a slicer, this probably not your best choice--paper cutting tests are not the ideal use of your new Emerson.  But if you are buying an Emerson, you already know that.

Blade Shape: 2

The tanto shape is good for hard use tasks.  I jabbed this thing through a few cans and it was not just fine, but identical to what it was before.  The tanto shape is so reinforced, with lots and lots of steel brought right up to the tip.  Moving outside of hard use tasks, the tanto was better than I thought it would be in utility tasks.

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That's not to say it is my favorite EDC shape, but it is not that bad.  It can be a bitch to sharpen and I think that no matter what I did, over time, the secondary point would get worn down (if someone knows the Japanese name for the secondary tip, let me know).  I'd still probably prefer a drop point, but after actually using the tanto tip in hard use tasks I can't say it was bad.  In fact, it was actually quite darn good.

Grind: 0

I know this is controversial.  Lots of people love the chisel grind.  I don't and here is why:

If you look at the Emerson website they will tell you the benefits of a chisel grind (over and over again)--its sharp, its durable, and it is easy to sharpen.  True, true, and true.  What they fail to acknowledge is that it is difficult to use, especially as ground on their knives.  In essence, they have ground the WRONG side.

Here is the angle I like to use in push cuts:

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The low approach gives me good long slices.  Here I am using a piece of scrap poplar to make kindling and the Emerson, because of the chisel on the wrong side, forces me out of this angle to something like this:

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The knife will cut, and cut for a long time, but these are more chops than slices or push cuts.

This is a way of illustrating the problem with pictures.  Here is what's happening.  Emerson claims: ...for any of you who have ever used a correctly sharpened wood chisel for woodworking, you know what a chisel can do..." See here for full quote.  I am guessing by the complete lack of discussion on this point anywhere on the Internet that very few Emerson users HAVE used a wood chisel.  Using one for five seconds will tell you why this is a false or at least poor analogy.  I have used a wood chisel, pretty extensively in fact, and I can tell you the problem both with the analogy and the chisel grind Emerson uses.

When using a chisel, the flat edge "references" the cut.  That is, you are cutting to the flat edge and this allows you to precisely cut things.  When a right handed user is using an Emerson the flat edge is not the "referencing edge".  Instead, the beveled edge is.  This means that unless you are taking very shallow, chopping cuts, the edge is hidden from your view or worse, glancing off the material because of the bevels.

I think it might be possible to learn how to use this grind over time, but coming from purely conventional knife grinds and the world of wood chisels I can tell you, this grind is a hassle.  In short, it may be sharp, durable, and easy to sharpen, but it is difficult to use.  And using it is the whole point (I did that on purpose too).  My humble suggestion to Emerson would be to allow the user to choose which side is ground.  Long time users probably have this down pat, but people coming to the product new or people coming from a woodworking background (like myself), would almost certainly prefer the grind set up differently. On a right handed knife, if the wood chisel is the model for the blade shape (and that is a good model to use, no doubt), the flat should be on the left hand side of the blade and the grind on the right, not the reverse.  That's what I'd prefer and allowing that as an option would be easy, as they already make left handed knives where the grind is on the side I'd prefer.  It would just be a matter of fitting those blades into a right handed knife handle.    

Deployment Method: 2 

The thumb disk worked fine.  It allowed you to slow roll the knife open and it did so quite easily.  I strongly prefer the thumb disk over a thumb stud, but probably not quite as much as a thumb hole or a flipper.  If the Mini CQC7 had just a thumb stud it would be on the border between a 1 and a 2.  Fortunately, I don't need to resolve this dilemma because of this:

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The wave feature is all it is cracked up to be.  It is one of the best deployment methods on the planet, faster than anything else, even a switchblade, as retrival and deployment are the same motion.  I have used a waved knife before, in the HEST 2, but the wave on the Emerson just works better.  I have no real use for a wave deployment, but gosh it is fun to play with, even if the tail of my jacket is now terrified of the Mini CQC7.

Retention Method: 2 

The Emerson clip is dead simple and it is all the better for it.

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The tension was amazing and the clip shape, perfected over time, was not a snag magnet.  Even with grippy than average G10, the clip still worked well.  Love it.

Lock: 2 

Okay, can we dispense with the notion that liner locks stink?  The Mini CQC7 proved to me that a well done liner lock is as good as any other lock.  Lock design, I have come to learn, is not as important as the fit and finish on the lock and here, you get a great version of the liner lock.  There is enough stick to keep the lock in place when open, but not so sticky that I can't get it closed.  Even when batonning, I didn't get a whole lot of lock movement.  Great, simple lock.  Just like this knife.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

This was my first Emerson, but it will not be my last.  This is a simple, durable, and capable knife.  The grind is not my favorite, but everything else is simple, accessible genius. 

The Competition:

Though the score is only one point better than the benchmark Mini Aegis, it is not really a good comparison.  The knives to fundamentally different things.  One is a large-ish but light EDC knife and the other is a compact hard use folder.  For me, there is no question here, I'd rather have the Mini CQC7.  It can do everything the Mini Aegis can and much more.  Conversely, there is nothing the Mini Aegis can do that the Mini CQC7 can't.  

The better competition would be other hard use knives like the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1, the Spyderco Paramilitary 2, and the ZT0350 (Hard Use Shootout between these three knives found here). The Mini Recon 1 is a good competitor, something of a budget Emerson and so if money is an issue, you get probably 60% of the functionality of the Mini CQC7 in the Mini Recon 1 at half or less the price.  The two big upgrades, and they are pretty big for me, are the wave feature and the clearly superior steel.  No question that the Emerson is a better knife.  As for a better value, that is up to you.  I actually like it better than the stock PM2.  S30V, especially that thinly ground, gets more chips than Tollhouse cookies.  I like the ergos and the lock on the PM2 better, but it is not a huge difference.  The wave, again, is a substantial upgrade.  Plus, right now with the PM2 shortage, the prices are the same.  The ZT0350 is a good knife, but I dislike the recurve, the assist, and how wide the knife is, especially in the pocket. I'd prefer the Emerson for all of those reasons.  This is a truly superior compact, hard use knife.

Giveaway Bonus:

I know that this will bum out folks out of the area, but I really do appreciate having a local knife shop and want to support them.  So, here is how this going to work.  The first person to go to Merrimack Knife and Tool in Nashua with a print out of this review will win the Emerson Mini CQC7.  Simply, go to the store, show them the review, and you get the knife.  Free.  That's its.  Its there right now.  I dropped it off in the middle of a snow storm this morning.  Tell Josh and Jeremiah I said hello.  Now, while your there, it might be nice to do your part and buy something, but purchase is not required to win. Oh and in case you need ANOTHER reason to go here is one:  in New Hampshire there is no sales tax.  Go crazy you libertarian loving knife knuts.

I know this in-person only is a bit unfair to readers not in New England, so here is the second part of the contest.  Simply comment below and in one week I will pick a person at random that individual will win a Kershaw Leek that I bought in person at Kittery Trading Post earlier this year.

Remember to go local if you can.