Friday, March 7, 2014

San Ren Mu 605 Review

Until now I have been reticient to dive into the world of ultra-budget knives.  The wildly varying fit and finish and the lack of a real warranty (or one that makes it worthwhile to exchange an $8 knife) means that you are essentially gambling.  Its not a lot of money, but it is frustrating throwing about $8-$15.

But the throwaway factor was only one reason I didn't want to dip my toe in the world of ultra-budget. The other was a concern for supporting companies that steal intellectual property.  San Ren Mu's Sebenza clone is a message board lightning rod, eliciting fiery opinions from both sides.  But the clone is not, per se, a theft of intellectual property and there is no indication that San Ren Mu is engaging in true theft like Kevin Johns is, so I decided it was time.

The first ultra-budget knife I am going to review is a knife that has received good reviews AND is unique.  Too many San Ren Mu knives were just clones of more expensive knives.  But the 605 is really a new design by San Ren Mu and, here is a bit of a spoiler, it is a great little blade.  My 605 happened to have immaculate fit and finish, but some quick looks around the Internet show that I got lucky.  And that is the reason these ultra-budget knives are so frustrating.  If they came together well, great.  If not, you threw away your money.    

Here is the product page. The San Ren Mu costs $9.95. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Amazon where you can find the San Ren Mu 605, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:



Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money):

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Here is my video overview:


Twitter Review Summary: F&F lottery aside, one of the best small knives available.

Design: 2

Like the much more expensive Spyderco Dragonfly design, the 605 incorporates a half and half finger choil that allows for a full four finger grip, despite the knife's overall tiny dimensions.  The blade shape is an excellent utility drop point and the pocket clip is good.  In short, despite its size and price tag the 605's design checklist is impressive.  This thing does a ton of things right.  I even like the splash of color on the handle instead of the normal, boring black G10.  This is an instance in which a company uses the knife design checklist, but because of a few things, creates a product that is more than the sum of its parts.  Hell, the knife even flicks open with insane and impressive speed.  Virtually everything about the 605's design was a pleasant surprise.  

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One small complaint for some might be the fact that the small blade is actually even smaller in terms of cutting length thanks to a very large finger choil.  I never really registered this complaint as I'd always trade control for blade length, but I have seen it leveled against Striders and Spydercos in the past and it would apply here if you are of that mentality.

Here is a size comparison between the San Ren Mu 605 and the standard Zippo:

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The blade:handle is .76 (2.25 inch blade with a 2.95 inch handle, the product page specs are wrong, in a good way).  The blade:weight is 1.56, getting very close to the Al Mar Hawk territory.  This is a great little knife by the numbers.

Fit and Finish: 2

On MY 605, there is not a single fit and finish flaw.  None.  No blade play, no overkill lock up, no blade centering issues.  Nothing.  But this is the trick with all of these ultra-budget knives.  From model to model the fit and finish can vary considerably.  If you get a good one, its easily on par with the best Chinese knives from Kershaw or Spyderco.  If not, well the fit and finish can be pretty awful.  I'd like to hear from folks, so comment below if you have had negative experiences.  

Grip: 2

As I mentioned above, I love finger choils (especially ones like this one that allow you to sharpen the knife all the way to the end of the cutting edge), and this one is great.  The two finger choils are very well done and given the size of the knife, give you ample control over everything you'd do with a knife of this size.  Again, no complaints whatsoever. 

Carry: 2

And here is where we get to something that is not just good, but truly great.  The 605 is small.  Much smaller than it looks, even compared to the Zippo.  So it can fall into a jeans coin pocket with no problem, but it also comes with a very well positioned clip.

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Because of the lack of a hump for a thumb hole, the overall size and shape of the 605 is perfectly slim. It just melts into the pocket--vanishing until you need it.  It might be the best carry knife I have ever used, understanding, of course, that smaller knives always carry better.  It carries better than even my beloved Dragonfly 2.  Really only the Small Sebenza 21 is clearly superior in this regard.  And that's great company for a $10 knife. 

Steel: 1

I am still not sold on 8Cr13MoV.  It is much better than I thought it was, especially after busting down the edge on my AG Russell Barlow and rebuilding it entirely.  It can get razor sharp and it is easy as pie to sharpen, but man I'd like a little more edge retention.  Also, if you are going the 8Cr route be sure to skip a beat blast.  That opens up the already rust-loving pores of the steel even more.  In this shiny satin rendition its actually quite good.  Not great, but good. 

Blade Shape: 2

No screwing around, just a simple perfect drop point blade.  I like it a lot.  Its clean and easy to manuever.  It doesn't get junked up with tape or residue from cutting.  There is a good amount of belly. Really, nothing has better demonstrated Occam's Razor for Gear better than the drop point and the drop point here is awesome.  

Grind: 2

I like the full flat grind, especially on a knife this small.  In bigger blades I prefer the slicing ability a hollow grind affords, but on this scale the difference would be negligible.  I will tell you that the grind is kind of weird in that there is a bend right around the 1/3 mark of the blade (counting from the tip towards the pivot).  It looks like a cheap and easy way to thin out the point for piercing, functioning much like a swedge does.  Its appearance is odd, but has no impact on performance.  

Deployment Method: 2  

Oh baby.  A drop of nano oil on the pivot and this thing became a rocket.  It flicks out with telepathic ease.   The thumb stud is well textured and the approach is nice and clear thanks to a cut out that doubles as a finger choil in the open position.  I was shocked at just how good the pivot is on this knife.  Its also worth pointing out that the distance between the pivot and the thumbstud is just right, giving you a great deal of torque or leverage when opening the knife.  

Retention Method: 2 

The 605's small clip is just about perfect.  Its amazingly simple and very polite.  The 605 proves a point and the clip does it the best--simplest is best.  

Lock: 2

If you were worried about the fit and finish of the 605, this is probably the reason why, but in all honesty, it was absolutely fine.  If you poke around on the forums you'll see lots of complaints about the liner lock going too far over to the other side.  I am not sure how much I would rely on complaints about fit and finish on forums, as they are hard to show or verify, but I can see how their could be an issue.  The lock engages and disengages with ease.  There is no rocking when in the locked position and there is a very good detent.  

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

The 605 isn't just a good knife--its a great one.  Its tiny, it falls well into the hand, it hides in the pocket, and it cuts very well.  For about $9 you can't go wrong.  Even if you get one with shitty fit and finish, its not like its unusable and the knife was only $9 after all.  If you get one that has good fit and finish its as close to a $9 Dragonfly as you'll find.  Even with ZERO warranty, or a price that makes shipping a faulty item back silly, I have no problem recommending you try the San Ren Mu 605.  Stop fretting about all of the non-performance related issues with San Ren Mu knives and try this out.  

The Competition

The Mini Aegis and the 605 are in different categories, the 605 is really small, so a direct comparison is hard.  No doubt the Aegis can do all kinds of tasks the 605 can't handle.  Cutting pepperoni would be impossible unless it was the diameter of a Slim Jim, but for a package opener I like the 605 better than the Mini Aegis.   Among other small cheap knives, I llike this much, much better than the Kershaw OD-2.  Its not as taut or elegant as the Benchmade Aphid, a criminally underrated knife, but its close.  Given the price difference, its hard to justify hunting down the Aphid when the 605 is out there.  Both are or were overseas made knives, so that's a draw too.

20 comments:

  1. Actually 605's street price in China is a little bit less than $3 :)
    Sanrenmu 681 is another good little lockback knife in 6 series, which I prefer more than 605.
    Another good small knife is Sanrenmu 401, which is smaller than 6 series, you can only get 3 finger grip, but slightly longer blade length than 605.

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  2. I can confirm troubles with the fit and finish. In my case, some of the screws were so tight that no amount of penetrating oil could loosen them. I even managed to strip the head on one of the screws whilst loosening it.

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    Replies
    1. They often use a pretty tough thread locker.
      Lighter fluid or heat will soften it.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for this review. I got a couple of SRM's stainless 701 knives a while back and absolutely loved them. Unfortunately when I recently bought a replacement they made a few small changes that make it very uncomfortable in my hand. The handle just isn't comfortable. This is a design issue and not a fit and finish issue.

    After your review here I think I'm going to take a chance on the 605. It looks like it would better fit may carry needs anyway.

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  4. Well I got the OD-2 partially based on your recommendation, so if you think this is better I might have to give it a try. What are the key differences? I know you don't like the bead blasting on the OD-2, but you gotta love the unique flipper, right?

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  5. I own a 702, a 710, and a 763. The 763 is a terrific knife with a good axis-type lock and a built in bottle opener. It has no flaws at all. The 702 I keep as a letter opener. it is a bit stiff and has some side-to-side blade wiggle. The 710 has real bad up-and-down lock rock and I don't use it at all, despite loving the feel in the hand. So yeah, you got lucky.

    For people who are not sure, I'd advise they step up to the Mini Dozier / Drifter/ Vantage range.

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  6. I got mine for $5. :)
    That and my olight I3s for $19.
    $24 for a almost perfect EDC.

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  7. Nice review Tony, nice to see an unbiased review of ultra budget knife...

    However, comparing your review and and one you linked to has reminded me of something l noticed about reviews - lack of any information of the product being suitable for both left and right hand use (only time l recall mentioning such info was in one emerson knife l believe).

    While most of the population indeed is right handed, that shouldn't be a reason not to point out in your reviews if a piece of gear being reviewed is in some ways not suitable for lefties. E.g, having one sided thumbstud only or being built in such way handling with left hand would compromise lockup etc.

    Best regards,
    M

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    Replies
    1. thanks. That is a good idea. Hard to remember, but I will try. Oh, the 605 has a thumbstud set up for right hand only.

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    2. That was the detail that reminded me to write that comment in the first place. Having the thumbstud on the opposite side makes it very hard to open knives onehanded (istead of using thumb, l resort to index finger - very clumsy if pivot has much resistance/is badly situated).
      Therefore, a leftie review of this knife would have 0 or 1 point in deployment category. Hope you will note such things when reviewing in the future.

      Keep up the good work,
      M

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    3. P.S. -
      This knife (if l see correctly) also has no predrilled holes for clip on the left side of the handle, which would in a leftie review also ding a point or two.


      And yes, while both the clip and the thubstud could be altered using the right tools, the review is about status quo, not about what the knife could be modded into ;)

      Delete
    4. Just got my 605 yesterday and I wanted to point out that while the thumbstud isn't designed to be left-handed, it can be reversed. The whole is countersunk for the right-handed set up, but after reversing it the torx screw only stuck out a little bit. Nothing that would impacted the functionality in my opinion.

      That doesn't change the fact that left-handed people are often overlooked in product reviews, but it might mean this knife is more suitable for left-handed people that you thought. For just shy of $10, it's a great little knife!

      Delete
  8. Andrew @ 555 GearMarch 8, 2014 at 12:45 AM

    My 605 came with great fit and finish in general, but 50% lockup, and it was pretty dull. It is fantastic to carry and has excellent ergos-- I'll be buying more of them for sure. Punches way above it's weight.

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  9. Tony, just a heads up. I subscribe to your blog in Feedly and the way you did your Amazon purchase link with the picture does not show there. Your other photos do and the links you embed in the text do show, but not the small picture with the Amazon link. And I appreciate the review of a lower priced knife. I'm carrying a Gerber Dime based on your review and something like this would be something I would consider purchasing as I really can't justify spending more on something I would rarely use. Thanks for the great reviews!

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  10. Cannot get the SRM 650 in Canuckland for less than $20 so looked around for alternative price range before picking it up. The only thing I can find comparable in price range is Ka Bar Mini Dozier or the Leatherman Blade Launcher Crater. Unfortunately they are both a bit bigger than the SRM 650. Why no reviews on the Leatherman Crater? Lots of good reviews from laymen and outdoorsman.

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  11. Great review, Tony. I've been looking at getting one of these for a while. I would be tempted to get the 704 instead if it wasn't chisel ground.

    Is the 2.25 blade cutting edge, or tip to handle?

    -Jacob

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  12. I have a Sanrenmu 7010LUC-SD, that I paid about $12 for through Amazon. I have a bunch of higher end production folders, mostly Spyderco and Kershaw, and the Sanrenmu gets used more than any if them, because: 1. I'm not afraid to beat the crap out of it, since it only cost $12, and 2. It can take the abuse.

    It came shaving sharp in the package. The pivot took very little time to break in, and now is as smooth as glass. The frame lock handle is all steel, and just big enough to allow for a four fingers grip. The blade has a nice, deep hollow grind, and came with a nice satin finish that I was able to bring to a high polish shine pretty easily.

    It really is a great knife. I almost feel foolish for spending over $200 on other knives. Like I said, it gets used more than all my other folders now.

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