Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Death of a Legend

EDITOR'S NOTE: This weeks posts are all devoted to a topic that is near and dear to every Gear Geek but is hard to quantify and verify--quality control.  This first post is about quality control gone bonkers.

Everything in this post has been verified by use of the Consumer Protection Safety Commission website.  Where possible, links are provided so you can "see the work" and follow along.   

Here is the quote from Consumer Protection Safety Commission:

"The locking mechanism on the spring-assisted blade can fail to engage properly, causing the blade to fold during use, posing a laceration hazard."

That sounds bad, right?

How about this one:

"The Uppercut sheath does not hold the knife securely, allowing the knife to come out of the sheath unexpectedly, posing a laceration hazard."

Or this one: 

"The Parang machete can cut through the stitching of the sheaths when the blade is taken from or replaced in the sheath, posing a laceration hazard."

Or this one:

"The knife in the axe handle can come out when the axe is used for chopping or hammering, posing a laceration hazard to the user."

Or this one:

"During use, the back of the blade of the knife can slide past the blade support, posing a laceration hazard to consumers."

Or this one:

"The saw side of the machete can stick in wood during use, and if the user's hand slips off the handle and slides forward across the machete blade, this poses a laceration hazard." 

Or this one:

"The latching mechanism for the knife's interchangeable blades can unexpectedly fail and release the blade. This poses a laceration hazard to consumers."

Or this one:

"A weakness in the area where the handle meets the blade can cause the handle or the blade to break during use, posing a laceration hazard."

All of these recalls affect one brand of gear--Gerber.  Do you know how many recalls Spyderco, Benchmade, Kershaw, and Cold Steel had combined in the history of the CPSC database?  ZERO.  Buck Knives has one.  Since 2007 Gerber has 8. 

In order from above those are recalls from the Instant (no actual injuries reported, unit must be replaced), the Uppercut (one actual injury reported, unit must be replaced), the Bear Grylls Parang (eight injuries, unit must be replaced),  axe/knife combo (five injuries reported all requiring stitches, unit must be replaced),  the EAB (eight injuries, some requiring stitches, unit must be replaced), Gator machete (five injuries, all requiring stitches, units must be replaced),  Winchester Hunting Knife Set (no reported injuries, unit must be replaced), also the Bear Grylls Parang (one person injured requiring stitches, unit must be replaced). 

Gerber's track record is so bad--they release this brand new flagship knife, run a huge commercial campaign, perhaps the largest ever for a knife (the "Hello Trouble" ads spots, which appeared in TV broadcasts of major sporting events and were brilliant), and then a month or so later they had to recall the knives.  Ugh.  Since 2007 they have had 8 separate recalls (search results for "Gerber Legendary Gear" found here).  Its safe to say, I am not buying anything from Gerber other than a Shard for a good long while.

But it is worse than all that.  They have fallen from lofty heights.  The Covert was a great design.  In the early to mid 80s Gerber was hitting it out of the park.  They were the first US company to use ATS-34 (I believe).  They were just on a roll.  But this Gerber and that Gerber have very little in common, other than the name.  This isn't just a company that doesn't pay attention to details or has gotten unlucky.  This is a company that cuts costs to the point where they make unsafe things.  One recall is bad.  Two is terrible.  Eight over a span of 7 years, two of which involve the SAME PRODUCT is crazy.  A fixed blade knife AIN'T complicated.  Its not a car.  How can they screw it up so bad that it had to be recalled TWICE?  And this wasn't just some cosmetic flaw either:


Image courtesy of Bushcraft Romania

The recalls impacted hundreds of thousands of units--all of which were inexpensive, all of which were sold at large retailers, and all of which were made in China.  This is not an indictment of Chinese made goods.  There is a lot of good stuff being made in China, but just like everywhere else in the world, you get what you pay for.  You pay crap, you get crap.

Gerber has been adrift for a long time.  Since they were bought out by Fiskars, Pete Gerber, the founder of the Legend, is basically the landlord and that's it.  They have a few legacy models that are still well regarded, but they are exorbitantly expensive, given their materials and fit and finish.  Jeff Freeman, one of their lead designers, was on Episode 30 of the podcast and he believed that Gerber was in the midst of a turnaround.  The turn radius of the Seawise Giant was three miles. Given the size of Fiskar/Gerber and just how far they have to go back to get to respectable, its going to be a long haul.  Without folks like Jeff Freeman on board, that turnaround is going to be even more painful.

Gerber is a lost company, a withering brand, and a punchline at this point.  They are done as a serious gear company.  They have been for a while, but its taken me this long to see it.  They will release things like the 39 and get coverage on shill sites (because who doesn't?).  They will continue to populate the shelves at Dick's and Wal-Mart and Target.  But its over for us.  They aren't a gear company.  They are what the CPSC labels them as in their reports: an importer.  They make ads (or more correctly they get ads made for them).  They MIGHT design stuff.  Maybe.  But they aren't something folks like us need to pay attention to anymore. 

The legend is dead.  Gear geeks are worse off for it.  Hopefully a phoenix will rise from the orange and gray ashes. 

19 comments:

  1. So if the king is finally dead after a long, slow spiral into senility, then who shall be the new king? Spyderco? Leatherman? Both have revolutionised the gear industry with innovative designs.

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    1. New Spyderco stuff never strikes me as "revolutionary" or amazing. Kershaw has a better range of stuff from $30 to $300.

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  2. Kershaw for sure, they make excellent budget stuff and are making inroads into the big box stores. They absolutely kill Gerber on every metric I can think of, except marketing budget and distribution contracts

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    1. Yeah, kershaw is what I was thinking. And they seem to be scaling up at a well-calculated pace. I just saw a bunch of Kershaw options at my local Menard's last month and was pretty surprised.

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    2. Kershaw is now producing a line of "Duck Commander" branded knives at a low price, some even with 3Cr13 blades... hopefully this is just a move to push into the 'cheap knife at a big-box store' market, and doesn't indicate an overall company shift towards cost-cutting and big name marketing like Gerber.

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  3. Not to be a hater. Gerber Shard and Dime have done well by me. I gave my brother a Gerber Applegate - Fairbarn folder back before 2000 and he still carries and uses it. He is ex-military and corrections and the folder has served him well.

    It seems somewhat comical Gerber went marketing to the Bear Gryllis - Zombie Survival crowd. They might as well sell themselves to United Cutlery ( who is now making some acceptable stuff BTW and is channeling Cold Steel ) or Bud K.

    It would be possible Gerber QC and their bottom line might even improve with focus and restructuring. I suspect if they do they will go the way of Boker. The QC will be OK but their product line will be without focus. Stranger things have happened.

    Great article.

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    1. I agree, but I feel also, that people hit on Boker a bit too much. I think that Gerber could with a lot of hard work, and dropping all of that bull sh*t marketing crap they could maybe go the way of the Boker Plus line, yet I feel. It would take a miracle to be any where near as good as the Boker's made in Solingen, Germany.

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  4. The Instant was my first "real" knife when I started to get in to the EDC world. It looks cool, has good fit/finish to the touch and flips with a fun thwack. BUT I replaced one less than a month after buying it because because the torsion bar broke. Now that blade is boxed up ready to ship out due to lock failure. RIP.

    Long live it's replacement: Kershaw Blur Elmax Blackwash!

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    1. I was reading an article on Zero Tolerance Elmax recently. Seems they have an issue with edge retention, sharpness, and especially re-sharpening. I saw a lot of references to burnt edges.

      Some people even experienced rust spots but I suspect they did not wipe down their blades or lived in extremely humid environments. Dunno if Kershaw had the same issues.

      Cheers.

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    2. Yeah, no. ZT produced a small number of poorly HT'd ELMAX blades back when they started using the steel. The problem was solved within the first generation of ELMAX blades and poor HT is no longer an issue in the ZT lineup.

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    3. The term 'burnt edges' was coined by ONE PERSON which then got picked up and parrotted by a ton of people who had no first hand experience. The whole elmax heart treat 'issue' was propagated by a select few instigators who had a history of trying to claim fire when there was no smoke.

      The problem is everyone and their mom accepted it as fact and then it became a well known issue' even though only like 3 people actually complained about their edge retention.

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    4. ...hence why I don't hang out on "the forums" and listen to douches talk about metallurgy like they're experts on products they don't even own. The only issue I've had with my blade was liner lock is a little sticky sometimes. BUT... it's never prevented me from closing the blade or performance.

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  5. I surprised your just now realizing this. Everyone who is into knives knew it 10 years ago.

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  6. Yeah, I admit it. In the early '80s, I bought several Gerber knives. It was revolutionary to have synthetic (glass-filled nylon) scales (grips?). I still have two of the LSTs. I carried one or the other until I bought an early Spyderco Standard.

    At about the same time (1980's), Case Cutlery was owned by a conglomerate and headed to the trash heap. Fortunately, a cunning plan was hatched that rescued the company. Gerber can be saved, but it is necessary for Gerber to care.

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  7. This was well done.

    Some might call it low hanging fruit (I know why you didn't label it "Trolling for Hate": the site's readership is aware that Gerber blows) but it's still worth doing, putting it out there where newbs who are just getting into gear might snag on it with a random Google search and be enlightened.

    I look forward to the other QC related posts.

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  8. Wasn't Gerber the model for the knife company DeNiro worked for in the movie THE FAN?

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  9. I think the next company to really start making a strong pressence in the gear industry is actually CRKT. I love benchmade but they are primarily known for their knives and little else. Columbia River is one of the few companies that seams to have something for everyone... You have high end knife offerings like the HiJinx, and reasonable quality knives at low prices. The locking knives with a safety switch are dismissed quite easily by most knife enthusiasts, but that is a big selling feature to some one that's inexperienced. Aside from knives there's cookware, multitools, paracord, survival kits, pouches... They are starting to make everything. I realize how Mich this seams like an add for CRKT, but I can't honestly think of any other brands that have as much versatility. I think that Kershaw, benchmade, and Spyderco all make knives superior to CRKT, but none of them really make any other gear...

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    1. SOG also makes hatchets, machetes, multi-tools in addition to knives, but I agree with your choice of CRKT over the more dedicated knife brands.

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  10. My dad gave me the other day a knife he got from the company he worked for, a Gerber (I don't know the name of it, but it kind of looks like a mini Buck knife). It was made in the USA and is, to me, very well made (it most likely dates from the late 80s).

    This post makes me very sad. Outsourcing sucks.

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