Thursday, May 22, 2014

Zero Tolerance ZT0801 Review

Look around at the knife market right now. This is what an embarrassment of riches looks like.  We live in a Golden Age of Gear, and there is, perhaps no better sign of that than the fact that the ZT0801 is merely a knife in the ZT line up.  A decade ago, the 801 would have been the best production knife on the planet.  Two decades ago it would have been a singular piece, custom or production.  But today, when you can practically swim in a pool Scrooge McDuck-style of titanium framelock flippers, the ZT0801 is just "another knife".  But it doesn't deserve to be.  In fact, among the ZT knives I have handled and reviewed, the ZT0801 is my favorite.  This is a truly awesome blade. 

Here is the product page. The ZT0801 costs $192 street.  There is an upscale version that runs M390 steel and has a copper colored handle set off with some carbon fiber inserts.  The ZT0801 is a production collab between KAI USA and Todd Rexford.  The ZT0801 takes a lot of visual cues from Rexford's amazing full custom knife, the Singularity.  Shocking as it sounds, Google turned up ZERO written reviews (most non-Edge Observer video reviews are so much less work than written reviews).  Here is a video review.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the ZT0801, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (on one of the first big hikes we went on this spring):

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Twitter Review Summary: Amazing blade but a bit heavy.

Design: 2

Rexford's lines are always very nicely thought out, harkening back to the old design principle of visual tension from the master himself Bob Loveless.  There is a sense of the knife being poised or coiled up with the flipper and arcing spine of the handle.  The blade picks up on this line but doesn't go crazy with the blade shape, sticking with a much appreciated and highly useful drop point.  While the pronounced grooves look sleek, I do not like the faux bolster look.  I would have preferred something else, like a real bolster or a different design.  Its not a killer point at all.  Visually this knife is a striking blade.  I like it much, much better than the overly busy gilded lily special edition.  That knife takes these great lines and makes the knife look like a pimp job done for someone with deep pockets but no taste.

The design, aside from the very pleasing visuals, is what you'd expect from a mid- to high-end production titanium flipper.  The pivot is a caged bearing system that was oddly pronounced.  It seemed to be asked for dirt to stop on by, though this never happened during the testing period.  Here is a shot of the pivot "guts":

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The knife is not just stout, its a bit portly.  The handle slabs are thicker than they need to be and the blade stock is quite robust.  The result is some pretty poor ratios.  The blade:handle is .74, which seems about average.  The real bummer is the blade:weight at .60.  At 5.8 ounces the ZT0801 is clearly and firmly in the "depantsing" category of folders.  That weight is just unacceptable.  I am not going to dock the knife a point here, though because I don't want to double penalize it and because the overall design, underscored by the amazing look, is quite good.  

Fit and Finish: 2

ZT's fit and finish is really incredible.  The ZT0801 is no exception.  There was nothing at all to complain about.  Lock up was nice, early, and stable:

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The stonewashing was even and scratch-hiding.  The jimping, what little there was, worked well and was nicely cut.  The entire handle was chamfered for comfort.  There was nothing that could have been done better here.  Nothing.  

Grip: 2

I am not a fan of big blades, but this one gave me a grip I really liked.  It wasn't quite as good as the grip on, say, the CRKT Eraser, but it was plenty comfy.  Here is the knife in hand:

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This is one place where a bigger knife can be a better knife.  The handle on the ZT0801 doesn't just look nice, it works quite well.  The simple basic shape puts your hand where it needs to be all of the time.  During slicing tasks, the finger choil/guard is nice.  In chopping tasks, the palm swell and mild hook at the end are nice.  Even in chopping tasks or making fire starters, tasks that generally create hotspots, the ZT0801 did well.  Overall, another exhibit in the argument regarding the efficacy of a simple design.

Carry: 0

The ZT0801 is a pocket brick plain and simple.  This isn't a heavy knife, its a boat anchor, given the blade length.  Its more than 2 ounces heavier than the Paramilitary 2 with basically the same blade length.  This thing is a chunker.  There are guys that prefer heavy, curvy companions.  I am not one of them.  I don't mind a little weight, I liked the Techno after all, but this is too much.  Also, this vague reference is skirting too close to the not vague territory. 

Steel: 2

Complain all you want about Elmax, I have never had a problem with it.  This is my second knife with the steel and it takes a beating and still shaves arm hair.  In this go round with the UB steel, I did a lot of the normal EDC tasks one thinks of with the knife--opening packages, food prep, and the like, but since this is marketed as a hard use folder, I put it to harder tasks.  I did a significant amount of chopping with the knife, cutting off small limbs for use as firestarters.  I then made feather sticks from these limbs as well as the random tent stake like object.  It almost all pine and lots of the pine was very dry, but the knife held an edge much longer than, say, 1095.  Even after this thumping, the edge was still sticky sharp and stole the arm hair on my left forearm with ease. 

Blade Shape: 2

I love Rexford designs.  The Injection was a great blade.  In part it is because of Todd's ability to balance spectacular lines, classic blade shapes, and subtle decoration.  The ZT0801's blade fits perfectly into that three part formula for success.  As you can see, it is a classic drop point:

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In the assorted tasks I marched the ZT0801 through, I confirmed, perhaps for the millionth or so time, that simple is best when it comes to blade shapes.  There is nothing this knife couldn't do and while it is not the best piercing blade, because of how thick it is, it did okay there too.  

Grind: 2

This is a stout blade.  It is very, very thick.  In fact, in all honesty, its too thick.  If the scoring scale was more refined I'd give it something like a 1.5, but in the end I think a 2 is right on target because the cutting edge is so well done.  While the main grind is a bit thick, the actual cutting bevel is quite wide resulting in a very nice edge.  Eventually the tactical crazy will run its course and knife companies will abandon the silly notion that blades have to be massively thick to be capable.  Until then a good thin cutting bevel is a requirement. 

Deployment Method: 2

There is positively nothing to complain about here.  This is a great flipper with effortless action once the detent is overcome.  Its kind of funny that in all of the time and effort focused on praising other KAI USA flippers like the ZT0560 and the Tilt no one mentions the ZT0801.  Its easily the ZT0560's equal (though, alas, I still can't comment on the Tilt's performance as I still haven't landed that white whale).  I actually might like it a bit better as the flipper tab is more discrete but still as effective.

Finally, I think we need to forget the whole emperor's new clothes thing, and admit that production flippers can be just as nice as all but the most expensive custom versions.  Custom flippers are nice and they are testament to the maker's craftsmanship, but they generally do not flip "better" than their production counterparts.  Having recently owned a Laconico Jasmine and handled two or three dozen flippers at the Mystic show I can state that with some confidence.  Yes, the full custom Tim Gaylean was better, but it was $4,000.  In the realm where even more than mere mortals live (say between $500 and $2000) there is generally not a noticeable difference between custom flippers and good production ones.  Fetishize it all you want, but great production flippers like the ZT0801 work just as smoothly as the exotic custom.  Sorry. 

Retention Method: 2

A carved titanium pocket clip would have been SO sweet.  But alas, as Thomas mentioned when he was on the podcast, pocket clips just aren't his thing.  And frankly when the standard clip, borrowed from the Cryo, is this good, why mess around? 

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Sure, it looks a bit out of place, like something of an afterthought, but it does really work.  How cool would it have been if the clip was simply a bead blasted titanium version of this clip?

Lock/Blade Safety: 2

I have gone back and forth about this, but ultimately I have decided that this knife should get a 2.  Here is the problem--there was a weird sticking point in the lock up on the review sample.  The blade would ride fine and then hit the detent and get stuck.  But after searching and searching I found no other ZT0801 owners complaining about this and I am convinced, given how weird the issue was, it was a problem unique to my actual review sample and not indicative of the line.  Given that, I will give the knife a 2 instead of a 1.  Even with the issue it was a close call between a 2 and a 1, but given that there were no other complaints about this issue I feel safe say it was a glitch.

Just for your information here is more about the issue I was experiencing:  The ZT0801 that I reviewed had a bit of hitch in its giddy up.  There was a point when closing the knife that the EXTRA strong detent ball would stop the knife.  Because of the bearing pivot and its incredible smoothness, I was always worried of losing control during one handed closings.  Here is the point at which the problem arose:

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Its not a big thing, but it is noteworthy.  It is also entirely possible that this is just an issue with my knife and not the entire line.  If you paid attention it was not a problem at all.  If you didn't, it might be.  The lock itself was actually very good.  It was stable, had no rock, and was easy to disengage.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

I really liked the ZT0801.  It is easily as nice as the more expensive and more complex to make ZT0560.  In fact, in many ways I actually prefer it to the ZT0560, mostly because of the smaller size and the better flipper.  The handles on the ZT0560 are better and that is a big plus, but it is pretty darn close, despite the price difference.  I think the lock thing was a glitch that arose only in my model, but I am not 100% sure.  The knife is extra beefy, way more than is needed for actual use, but weight and thickness sell right now.  Even with the extra bulk ZT was careful to thin out the cutting edge and give you something that can still really cut.  I am also something of a Elmax skeptic skeptic.  Yes I know all of the stuff Cliff Stamp did and I think Cliff is one of the more interesting and thorough knife reviewers out there, but I just haven't seen those problems on the knives I have used.  Everyone has a bad batch, even Chris Reeve.  I think that was what a lot of early adopters of Elmax blades were seeing.  This is one hell of a knife and a sign of just how amazing the market is right now.  10 years, 5 years, or even 3 years ago this would have been one of the most amazing production knives on the market.  Now its part of a growing class of amazing blades.   This is probably the most easily recommendable knife in the entire ZT line and that says something.   

The Competition

Against the Mini Aegis, you can see a few places where SOG really used their pennies wisely and caught lightning in a bottle.  I think I'd rather own the Mini Aegis than the ZT0801, but it is all preference.  The ZT0801 is a better knife, even if it is not a better value.  The performance of the Elmax steel just crushes the AUS-8, but the Mini Aegis is not much smaller and lightyears better when carried.  This is not an indictment of the ZT0801 so much as it is an indication of just how sweet a blade the Mini Aegis really is.  Price blind, however, there is no question--the ZT801 is a better knife.  With a scale that is more refined that would be born out in the score, as this is probably something like a 85 or 87 out of a 100 and the Aegis is an 80 or 81.

One other knife that may come up in comparison price shopping is the Spyderco Paramilitary 2.  Its probably a better knief, but the stock version's S30V is not the same performer as the ZT0801's Elmax.  If you are truly going to thump on the knife, and assuming, without knowing for sure, that the locks are equally strong, I'd opt for the ZT0801 because of the Elmax steel.        

8 comments:

  1. Great review (as always). I really want to try a zt but just can't justify the purchase because my experience with knives this size is that I usually reserve them for using around the yard because I don't like carrying them otherwise. But if I decide to bite the bullet, this is the one I'll get.

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  2. When closing knives, try to get the blade past the detent ball before you release the lock bar. The 0801 has a flattened off detent which is what makes it snappy. That's also what is causing your snag. You don't want to keep riding the detent against the tang like that every time you close it though because it will just accelerate wear on the detent ball.

    This is a pretty common rule of thumb when dealing with higher end knives that you are trying to maintain long term.

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    1. This is useful information that I did not know. Is it true of all/most lock types? And couldn't it be a little dangerous on, say, a backlock, where you have your finger in the path of the blade? For example, if you have a very smooth pivot and you don't release the lock bar until you've moved past the detent, the blade could fall onto your finger.

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    2. Lock backs don't have a detent ball.

      You don't have to close it much further to avoid riding the ball, just a few degrees. Once you get used to it, it's automatic. I've never had an issue.

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  3. Nice review, Tony. I am honestly shocked to see this thing rank so high, but I've never handled one myself and really have only heard good things about it... so maybe I shouldn't be shocked.

    Dan

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  4. Thank you. This is my only ZT and probably last one I will but, despite the immense quality- these knives are just too big for me to carry. I'd say the 0801 is at my upper limit and frankly a bit over. (I might have given it a 19 out of 20, -1 for carry, but still.) It feels so great in the hand though, and makes me feel like I could cut through a cinder block wall. I've also not had any stickiness when closing the blade. So I can't recommend it enough if you want a big blade and don't mind the heft. I'll prefer my Manix 2 LW or Stretch ZDP-189, but this is a nice knife to show off.

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    1. Sounds like you should sell it and get the 0770cf

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    2. Have considered it but already have more knives than funds (probably sounds familiar to many here). If I get to handle one and like it I might do just that, but my next big purchase will probably be a Slysz Bowie, then a Sebenza 21.

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