Monday, June 9, 2014

Spyderco Clipitool Driver Review

When Spyderco releases a new class of products, its worth it for gear geeks to pay attention.  They do so very rarely and with the design chops and market success Spyderco has had over the years, their big moves almost always warrant attention.  So when they showed off the Clipitool two years ago on Wueter's IWA videos, I was intrigued.

These designs are clearly aimed at the growing EDC market--the perfect gateway drug to a full blown Spyderco addiction.  They are very small, incredibly well designed, and surprisingly the stout.  There are a few issues though.

First, both the saw and the scissors version strike me as a waste.  If you only have two implements you'd want them to be as different as possible.  These two Clipitool are basically too much of the same stuff--lots of different ways to cut stuff.  But the third Clipitool, the one with the Driver/Bottle Opener hits the tool complement sweet spot.  It has basically the same tool complement the Victorinox Cadet has and that is one of my all-time favorite pieces of gear.  

Second, the Cadet is basically the same price as the Clipitool (curse Spyderco for thinking of such an awful, difficult to write name; how about the Spyderco Ensign?).  There is a huge danger in challenging a beloved product, be it the iPhone or the Cadet.  With a comparison so readily made, the new product needs to be outstanding, not just damn good.  If you want to make an iPhone killer you can't just mimic the original.  You can't just make something that's excellent.  You have to make something better and usually do it for less.  And that's the reason it took me a while to run the Clipitool Driver through its paces, but I feel ready to state my position.

There is no question this is a good tool, but does it do enough to displace the Cadet as, perhaps, the go-to EDC item on Planet Earth?  Keep reading.

Here is the Clipitool product page.  As I mentioned about there are three variations: the saw, the scissors, and the driver.  They retail for around $25.  Here is a video review of the Clipitool (it is so comically bad, I think this was done on purpose and I find the overall presentation hilarious).  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Clipitool, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is the review sample (purchased with personal funds):

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Here is my video overview:



Twitter Review Summary: Amazing Cadet competitor

Design: 2

In a world without the Cadet, this would EASILY be the king of the mainstream EDC gadgets.  Its so affordable, useful, and correctly sized that it is a no-brainer. But this isn't a world without a Cadet.  That's where the design comes in, because this is really a Cadet remade from scratch--same intended use, entirely different way of getting there.  

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In some ways this tool is better.  The main blade can, in a pinch, be opened one handed, though the spring tension is a strong suggestion you should use two hands.  The driver tool is impeccably designed.  The half and half finger choil is very good, not only giving your hand more real estate, it also makes the knife easier to control in the hand.  Finally, there is a pocket clip, something I still miss on the Cadet.

But here is the big thing--the Clipitool is no where near the looker the Cadet is.  One of the reasons the Cadet is so successful is that it has looks that appeal to the iPhone generation and at the same time doesn't look aggressive at all.  Its hard to call the Clipitool aggressive looking as it is incredibly tiny, but its not sleek, even with the stainless steel handles.  The Clipitool is, to borrow a phrase from GGL co-host Andrew (a.k.a. Edge Observer), kind of orthopedic looking.  Sure, the orthopedic shoes are comfortable, but they are not something you want to rock at the club (that's how it goes, right Andrew?).  

The tool to weight ratio is not bad, at almost two to one (4 tools: blade, driver, bottle opener and something of a pry).  At 1.9 ounces the Clipitool is dense. 

Fit and Finish: 2

This is a Chinese made Spyderco and those of you that have owned one of the Tenacious family of knives (which I think is about all of you) know what that means--this is a very well made piece.  I have no real complaints.  I don't like stainless steel handles, as they are heavy, slick, and transmit a lot of the shock of closing the knife to your hand, but that is not REALLY a fit and finish issue.  The one very small ding I would complain about is the fact that the edges (aside from the cutting edge, which is fine) are inappropriately sharp.

Theme: 2

This is clearly designed to fit on a keychain or some other small, always with you spot.  As is appropriate for a tool like that, the Clipitool has the exact right size and tool complement.  You can bust down boxes and bust open a beer with ease.  The driver is decent and can, in a pinch, be used as a pry.  I could see the Clipitool living on a non-knife person's keychain for a decade and that person being incredibly happy.

Grip: 2

Surprisingly the extra hump from the driver doesn't really bother your hand all that much.  This is in large part because the half and half finger choil works so well.  Here is the Clipitool in hand:

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Again, this is a three finger grip knife, but given that limitation I like it quite a bit.  

Carry: 2

The Clipitool is a bit dense for its size, giving off an impression that it is heavier than it really is, but aside from that it carries like a dream.  The pocket clip is excellent and the lanyard hole, while tiny, can work with a split ring or mechanics cable. 

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Finally, given the stainless steel handles you can drop the Clipitool in a pocket and not worry about the non-cosmetic damage (unless you hate the swirl marks that come with loose pocket carry).  

Materials: 1

8Cr13MoV is plenty good for what you need, but given Spyderco's wide variety of steels it uses, I'd love a VG-10 or H1 version.  Its not a big deal, but just something to note.  The real issue I have is with the stainless steel handles.  I'd much prefer aluminum or even G10.  The stainless steel handles are heavier than they need to be and they transmit a good deal of shock to the hand when closing the knife.  This is the same complaint I had with the Spyderco Lava.  Taken together those two complaints, one minor and one not so minor, are worth a point.  Also, the stainless steel looks swirly almost instantly while the Cadet's alox handle never looks bad.

Deployment/Accessibility: 1

 While the small size necessitates a smaller thumb hole, the deployment on the main blade is VERY stiff.  This is, in part, because the tool is a slipjoint, but the deployment here is much tougher than even my most traditional slipjoint (a Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack).  This is probably because of the fit from the pin-constructed stainless steel handles combined with the very tight dimensions of the overall knife. While the blade can, in theory, be opened with one hand, it is a tough exercise.

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The deployment on the other tool is exclusively a two-handed operation.  So little of the hole is exposed and its tiny to begin with, making this a much slower operation.  The two handed deployment on the driver tool doesn't bother me, but the slow difficult deployment on the blade is unnecessary.  That's where the point is lost. 

Retention Method: 2

It is really hard to complain about the Spyderco spoon-style clip and this one is especially good (and especially small).  Glorious, tiny Spyderco spoon pocket clip.  Works perfect, couldn't ask for better.  Next.

Tool Selection: 2

The tool selection is just right for an ultra small multitool.  The Cadet adds a can opener (which is practically useless) and a 2D Phillips driver with a file.  Only the 2D Phillips driver is something I miss.  If I had to choose one or the other set of tools, it would be a tough call.  The extra stuff on the Cadet just doesn't move the needle, except for the Phillips driver.  

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I think the scissors and the saw are totally redundant, but I am sure there are folks that would like those set ups too.  For my money, this is a great complement, especially for a tool this size.  I also like this complement about the same as that on the Squirt or the Dime.  This is not the same kind of tool those two are and the difference is an important one.  This is a knife with something else, not pliers with a knife.  Given that the knife is the implement you use like 90% of the time on a small multitool it makes sense to me to make that the central tool.

Tool Performance: 2

Not a complaint to be found.  The Clipitool exhibits that most precious of Spyderco traits--superlative functionality.  The bottle opener is a one tug decapitator.  The driver is good and actually can flex into a 2D Phillips drivers for larger screws.  It also works okay as a small pry.  The knife is actually darn good thanks to the belly, full flat grind (a partial grind on a knife this small work be very bad), and the half and half finger choil.  The Clipitool works and works well.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

The Clipitool would be the king of knife-based multitools in a Cadet-free world.  As it is, it is a very different tool that serves the same function.  In a vacuum there is little to complain about, other than the tight main blade and the stainless steel handles (this piece does it for me--I hate stainless steel handled knives--heavy, slick, and uncomfortable).  I know the stainless steel handles were a cost thing, but the backspring on this baby is insane.  Imminently pocketable, amazingly capable, and quintessentially Spyderco.  Damn fine showing.  

Competition: The Cadet Comparison

Its only natural to compare these two tools.  Here is my take.

First some size comparisons.

In profile:

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In hand:

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Thickness comparisons:

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Height:

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Gun to my head, I take the Cadet.  I like and probably love the Clipitool, but the Cadet wins out on three fronts: 1) better handle scales; 2) bigger blade; and 3) better looks. 

The Cadet's ribbed aluminum still looks brand new, even though my Cadet is two years older than the Clipitool which has marks already.  Its not a big deal, but again, if we are in the market space where the Cadet is, the new product needs to be better than the old product.  On the handle material front, the Cadet wins. 

Second, the blade on the Cadet is bigger.  The Clipitool's blade is fine for box opening but it is too small to really use to peel an apple.  The Cadet's blade can do the peeling quite nicely. 

Finally, there is no way around this--the Clipitool is not as clean and nice looking as the Cadet.  Andrew, you were right--this the orthopedic shoe version of the Cadet.

For those reasons I'd take the Cadet.  But it is not entirely unreasonable to say that Clipitool Driver is the Cadet's equal.  This is a "reasonable minds disagree" kind of thing, not "X is comparable and superior to Y."  I can see it having a place on a keychain, in a glove box, or in your pocket to be a damage sponge for a high dollar custom (though in that use I think it is stupid, as are all knives used in this way).  The Clipitool is awesome.  I just think the Cadet is a smidge awesomer. 

16 comments:

  1. That review video is hilariously terrible. It reminds me of UFC Iran.

    http://middleeasy.com/fighting/item/11764-watch-the-highlights-from-ufc-iran-10-you-read-that-right-ufc-in-iran

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    1. I looked through the rest of that kid's videos; he looks like a young Gabriel Iglesias without the stage presence.

      Good review. I agree with you that the Clipitool satisfies just about everything you'd need on a daily basis in a pinch but the Teutonic styling of a Cadet is pretty damn hard to beat.

      I wish there was an aluminum Victorinox with a big blade, can opener, nail file and awl. No need for both a can and bottle opener or two separate blades.

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  2. I've been waiting for this one, Tony. Very interesting. I haven't handled the clipitool but I was turned off by the steel handles and relatively clunky looks... doesn't make it a bad tool, but I guess I'm part of that iphone generation.

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  3. I love Spydies - and I love my Cadet. This was encouraging but the stainless handles are something of a non starter. G10 and I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Maybe even a skeletonized aluminum handle like the old almite Navigator. But slick stainless = meh.... kinda disappointing actually

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    1. I second you. I'm a sold out Spyderco fanboy, but I see zero reason to buy this. I think the Glessers are missing a real opportunity to challenge Victorinox by making real good modern knife-based multitools. Imagine a locking Delica (might need to be a liner lock) with a second pivot and the opener multi-tool as shown here plus a second tool : the file- spark igniter/3D driver.

      The only knock against Swiss is their unbending wedding with the traditional. If there is any company to knock them into 2014, it is Spyderco.

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  4. Yes, the stainless steel handle...yuk. Much like the feel of the stainless steel Quantum D2...yuk. Tactile is important and sholud get more thought.
    Nice review. Thanks.

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  5. I like orthopaedic as a descriptor.
    I don't get the need for a cap lifter. I looked in a corner store and the only bottles with lift caps were niche sodas and few at that. Even beer bottles are screw top now.
    Products that feature cap lifters as integral to their design seem outdated...

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    1. Bro what sort of questionable beer are you drinking?

      Tasty beers, aka microbrews and Euro imports, still routinely use non-twist bottlecaps.

      I use the cap lifter more than any feature of my Cadet except the blade. Phillips driver is 3rd.

      I like the Clipitool but will wait for the G-10 sprint run. Even FRN might be ok.

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    2. You sound like such a hipster talking about shit* beer.


      *All beer is gross. All you need is whiskey, water and coffee. Done.

      Delete
  6. Great review...I'd agree with you about the longevity of the stainless steel handle - I've had my Clipitool for a couple of months now and it gets used pretty much every day and the handle is pretty scuffed up. I'd disagree on the aesthetics though, I think it's a great liking little knife and it always draws attention. I'm probably the only person in the world who doesn't like Alox scales on a SAK though..I bought the knife in preference to a Rambler, figured I could live without the Phillips driver as I have one on my Shard. The bottle opener on the Clipitool is way better than the one on the Shard, and the driver has survived reject use building Ikea furniture when there were no other tools to hand. If it wasn't for the fact that the $25 price tag translates to £25 in the UK I'd buy the other two versions as well.
    Cheers,
    Rog.

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  7. There's now a Leatherman C33L awaiting your consideration. :-)

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  8. I'm intrigued by all these endorsements of the Spyderco's cap lifter. Don't you guys know how to open bottles with a knife / spoon / fork / counter-top, etc? Given the sharp-edged aluminium scales on this thing, you could probably pop a cap with the Spyderco without even deploying a tool. A cap lifter is probably the most redundant tool I can think of for a pocketknife.

    For me, scissors are a much more useful accessory than a cap-lifter on an everyday-carry knife. A lot of people say that scissors are redundant because they duplicate the blade's cutting ability, but I personally have never been able to trim my nails adequately with a blade. I also find myself cutting paper quite often with the scissors on my Victorinox Classic.

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    1. If you drank in college I think you know how to use a hard object and leverage to open a bottle. The reason it is noteworthy here is threefold: 1) its good compared to others on the market; 2) the driver, for me, is the bigger issue; and 3) it makes this Clipitool very comparable to the benchmark EDC tool the Cadet.

      Scissors are more of a redundancy on a knife than the driver/bottle opener and for that reason I like this configuration better. And I could point out, of course, that you could just fold and tear paper instead of using scissors. The fact that there is a tool free way to do something doesn't make the tool unnecessary. After all we all have teeth and opposable thumbs...

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  9. Yes you can tear paper, but you won't get a clean edge - and folding/tearing doesn't work for fingernails and other grooming tasks.

    I think that the fact you can easily do something without a tool does in fact make it redundant, especially on an ultra-small everyday carry device where there is limited space for useful tools. If you find the driver to be useful then that's fine, but the caplifter still makes no sense to me.

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  11. Hi Tony,

    Longtime lurker first time commenter. I enjoyed this review, and the blog overall for some time--thanks for putting all this info together!

    Your comparison of the Cadet and Clipitool is well reasoned and interesting as usual, but I wanted to point out that there is another Victorinox model, the Alox Bantam, which is actually a more perfect match tool-for-tool vs. the Clipitool, and makes an arguably more compelling comparison.

    The Alox Bantam is the same 84mm size as the Cadet, but with just one layer of tools instead of two. The Bantam tool set includes the same blade as the Cadet, plus the Victorinox Combo Tool, which is basically a modification of the screwdriver/bottle opener found on the Cadet, tweaked a bit so it can function as a can opener, too.

    So basically the same tools as the Clipitool in this review, but in a 6mm thick (vs. about 8.5mm for the Cadet and Clipitool) package that weighs about an ounce less than the Clipitool and a half-ounce less than the Cadet.

    Anyone who finds your arguments above regarding the non-necessity of Cadet's file and dedicated can opener persuasive should take a good look at the Alox Bantam, too. It's really nice for ultra-minimalist EDC.

    One last note, my research indicates that the Alox Bantam was discontinued a few years ago. However, a few days before writing this I bought a brand new one for about $26, so they are still obtainable, at least for now.

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