Thursday, December 18, 2014

Zero Tolerance ZT0770CF Review

Out of the ashes...or so the saying goes. In this case it wasn't so much ashes as it was a flaming shipwreck.

KAI is never one to go lightly.  They either don't show up or they do and they bring the thunder.  Case in point--the Zero Tolerance ZT0777.  It was an insane, blank check blade, coming off the heels of another stellar design, the Tilt.  The ZT0777 had Vanax steel on the cutting edge, damascus on the spine, a contoured carbon fiber body, a subframe lock, a sculpted pocket clip, and a bearing pivot.  It was, frankly, a knife no one other than KAI could make.  No custom maker has the ability to do the composite blade and no other production company has the time to fidget with all of the crazy components.  And the reality is that version of the ZT0777 was a knife even KAI couldn't make.  After a few stops and starts, the sale of a handful of blades, they through in the towel.  It wasn't for lack of trying, but they just couldn't get the blade to work on any kind of scale.  They took a long time but in the end it wasn't meant to be.

But the design was beautiful and others took notice.  After the ZT0777 was announced but before it was released (or they gave up) another knife, the Microtech Matrix was announced and it bore more than a passing similarity to the ZT0777.  Here is a piece on the controversy.   In the end, the Matrix made it to mass market first and the ZT0777 had to be scrapped and reinvented as the ZT0777 M390, a knife with all the features of the original but for the composite blade.  As a spin off, KAI announced a smaller version of the knife, the ZT0770, which was also beaten to the market by the Microtech...wait for it...Mini Matrix.  The whole thing is a really sad commentary on the knife industry--a company's willingness to push the envelope is rewarded with a blatant ripoff.  Despite all of that hassle and bullshit, something good came of it--this knife.

Until the ZT0770 (hereinafter the 0770) most ZT's ranged from boat anchor to trade paperback in terms of their carry profile.  They are great knives, built like vaults, but man are they big.  The ZT560 was positively massive and the ZT350, their small knife, is giant too.  This says nothing for the Bunyanesque ZT0200 (7.8 ounces! Ahoy Matey!).  When Derrick sent me the 770 he prefaced it by saying it was one of his favorite knives.  The minute its slim profile slipped out of the box I knew why.  This is a ZT knife in EVERY SINGLE WAY--the materials, the fit and finish, and the design.  But it is also a knife that regular folks in regular jobs can carry and use.   

Here is the product page. The Zero Tolerance ZT0770CF costs $180.  There was an aluminum handled version, but that appears to have been discontinued.  Here is a written review. Here is a video review (he either got an uber rare version or he got the steel wrong--its Elmax not M390). Here is a link to KnivesShipFree, where you can find the ZT0770CF, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:


Here is my review sample (to be given away; I am trying a new set up for pictures, let me know what you think in the comments):


Here is my video overview:

Twitter Review Summary: THE ZT for non-sasquatches--an awesome EDC blade.

Design: 2

The angles and cuts on this knife, the things that give it its shape, are so cool looking.  This is a knife that looks like a human muscle attached to the skeletal frame--taut, purposeful and poised.  I love the handle shape and lines of the knife.  Visual tension is here in spades.


But this isn't just a pretty knife, its a well designed one too. 

Here is a size comparison:


The performance ratios are very good: blade:weight is 1.08 (thank you Mr. Carbon Fiber) and the blade:handle is .76, the same as a SOG Flash I.  That last comparison is something I find stunning and testament to how great this knife is.  This is easily in the same class as the Benchmade 940-1 and the Spyderco Paramilitary 2--truly rarefied company in the production world. 

Fit and Finish: 2

At this point it is a cliche to talk about how wonderful the fit and finish is on a ZT knife.  Frankly I am at a loss as to how to do it other than to say that it is awesome.  Take a look at the decorative pivot screw borrowed from the ZT0777:


It fits the knife nicely and provides a bit of silver bling to match the flawless carbon fiber.  The centering is superb and that is something given how thin this knife is and how thick the blade steel is--there is no room for error.  The  stonewashing is even and excellent.  Everything is just great.  I feel like a Motor Trend writer trying to find new ways to say that a Ferrari is fast.  You get the point though--ZT is making some of the finest production knives in the world and the 0770 is no different.

Grip: 1

In a nod to the EDC role of the 0770 the jimping, which can be positively skin shredding on some ZTs, is toned way down.  The excellent grip, instead, comes from a wonderful handle shape.


As you can see the knife just nestles into my hand, with the flipper doing double duty as a finger guard.   Its a great shape.  One thing I would mention, not as a criticism so much, but as an explanation of a difference, is that the aluminum version, which was discontinued (probably because it was too much like the Mini Matrix) and the Microtech rip off, both had some sculpting to the handle and that did feel better.  The CF, especially on the clip side, is slick.  That's not to say the grip here is bad, its not, as the score tells you, but it could be better.

Carry: 2

I originally bought a ZT0200 as my first ZT.  Oh my god was that thing huge.  It felt like I was carry a hand grenade in my pocket (the scale's texture helped convey that sensation in addition to the knife's portly dimensions).  Fortunately I was able to exchange it for the diminutive (by comparison) ZT0350.  The effect was immediate--that knife seemed manageable. But when I got it home I was struck by how it felt compared to other knives.  It too was too big in the pocket.  In the end every ZT has had the curse until now.  The 0770 is just great in the pocket, truly superior. ZT now makes and EDC blade and the ZT0770 is it.

Steel: 2

This my fourth or fifth knife with Elmax and it never once let me down.  This is a great cutting steel and not hard to maintain.  In the holiday season my knives get a real workout.  I am still processing some firewood and I am also breaking down boxes like a fiend.  Our extra tiny recycling can has been, perhaps, the best thing that could happen to my knife testing regime.  The 0770's Elmax has been great.  Perhaps all of the Elmax haters out there haven't had enough experience with the blade, but as my number of reviews approaches 250 items, I feel confident in saying that Elmax is one of the better steels on the market.

Blade Shape: 2

Its too much to say this blade shape is innovative.  It bears more than passing resemblance to the modified sheepfoot on the Mini Grip 555hg. But it is not a stretch to say that it is different, and in this case


the difference is very good.  I like the less aggro shape, perfect for EDC and I truly appreciate the loss of a recurve edge. The ZT350 was a beast to sharper, what with the hard S30V steel and the recurve.  Thankfully, none of that exists here and the the 0770 was both easy to strop and sharpen.

Grind: 2

The high grind is even and thin (VERY thin compared to other ZT knives).  It is also very well done.  The cutting bevel is wide allowing the knife to register well for use on sharpening stones and the like.  I appreciated the true ricasso here as well.  Not a single problem with the grind. 

Deployment Method: 1

You can de-assist this knife, but the action is mediocre.  I know that assisted openers sell well, but this is an enthusiast knife, priced at $180, so I don't know why they left it assisted.  Enthusiasts do not like assisted knives.  They just don't.  If they did, there would be more assisted customs (I can't even think of any off the top of my head).  This knife with a bearing pivot or good washers would be awesome.  The flipper is a great shape and size, I just dislike assisted opening knives.  In addition to that, the assist felt balky in some ways.  It wasn't slow, it just seemed to engage at different places along the opening path at different times and for no real reason.  If you like assists, ignore this complaint and go back to your collection of half-serrated knives you philistine.  I kid, I kid...not really. 

Retention Method: 2

Look familiar?


Its the clip from the Cryo and it is one of my favorite production clips.  I don't need over the top but it is done so well here I don't mind.  It is also quite stable, long enough to lock the blade in place, and keep it from moving (though that probably has more to do with the size of the knife than the size of the clip).  Its not a paint scraper either.  Very good.  

Lock: 2

Man I agonized over this score.  The lock works.  Its strong and stable.  It engages easily. hard to get at.  The scales, as you can see:


Are cut up right around it, making it hard to wedge your finger in to disengage the lock.  The lock works perfectly, its just not brain dead easy to disengage.  If the scale were a little more refined, I would have given this something like a 1.5, but its not so I give it a 2 and note the shortcoming in the text.  If you have thin fingers, this will be a non-issue.  I don't have Polish sausage digits by any means and I still had a little trouble.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

There are three places I am not perfectly satisfied with the knife, but none are huge deals.  Each is a little niggling thing, like a mediocre side dish in an splendid seven course meal.  As a package, the ZT0770CF competes with the best the production world has to offer in terms of high end, larger EDC knives.  It is certainly in the same league as the PM2 and the 940-1.  Its also the cheapest of those three, other than the S30V PM2 (is it time to stop calling S30V a premium steel?  I think so...).  I liked the 0770 a lot and I can see why Derrick liked it.  If you don't have the coin for the 940-1 or you want a flipper, get the 0770.  Its heritage may have been godlike, but this blade ain't no slouch.  A demigod of larger EDC knives perhaps?



  1. It seems there are some issues with the blade shape paragraph, otherwise fine review


  2. Sorry to hear your 0770 didn't flip well deassisted - there seems to be quite a bit of variation on that point. Mine is an excellent flipper, on par with the newer limited editon Skylines, for instance, but other people complain that it's unusable.

    Also, there actually is a M390 version out there, for around $40 more. I'm not sure if it's a limited run or not, but it's still in stock in a few different places.

  3. Definitely the first zt I'm genuinely interesl ted since the size is finally manageable. And I do like that blade shape.

    Question on the assist - I have only tried assists on the "cheaper" kershaws, and I never liked the way they felt. The springiness always felt cheap to me. But I've never tried one on knife at this price point. Does it feel any nicer that the ones on lower end knives? Just curious.

  4. I like the later shots. The first two have a blue background to the light box, and it doesn't highlight the knife well, IMO. Additionally, I think some "action" shots are warranted: maybe at the cutting board, whittling, etc. In pocket shots would be appreciated as well, maybe from the side and the top.

  5. As far as the pictures go - if you're changing the way you do them, maybe add some size comparison shots with other knives? I know you do some of this in your video overviews, but I ALWAYS come back to the comparison pics I find on the web when I am deciding on a knife.

  6. This knife rates pretty "meh" for me. Strongly dislike assisted openers. Don't really love the liner lock. The pocket clip is meh for me, ZT's deep carry clip works a lot better. I'd be more interested if it was on bearings and no assist, but the 562 is just more appealing to me.

  7. Tempted since there are some good prices to be found on these now. Any thoughts comparing this to the 0566?

  8. Photo feedback: Pics 1 and 2 are a bit washed out, too much light? It's hard to get a read on the color of the scales in these pics. Have you considered a light box setup for these types of shots? I know there are several inexpensive options.

    Pics 3 and 8 suffer the exact opposite problem, not enough light. I understand in the Zippo size comparison that this may have been to reduce glare, but it's sharply inconsistent from the tone of the other photos.

    Pics 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 are more level in terms of light balance. The outdoor shots are great, of course.

    I would love to see a consistency to the quality of pics within a review. Somewhere between product glamour shots and amateur snapshots. Something that reflects usage but eschews pandering.

    I appreciate the Zippo size comparison (everybody knows how big a Zippo is), if glare on the Zippo is a concern maybe consider one with a matte finish. I also like that you always include an in-hand shot, and I feel between these two types of shot I have a good sense of scale.

    None of this is offered as a criticism, you are still and will always be my first stop for knife and EDC reviews. I hope this is the type of feedback you were looking for.

  9. I've EDC'd this knife since it was introduced. It has replaced my ZT566 and BM mini barrage...haven't touched them in months.
    It's light weight is awesome for a ZT as well as its' size and shape. My hands are small/medium and this knife fits like a custom piece made for my hands.

    I much prefer assisted knives and this knife rockets out compared to the 566 and as fast as the mini.
    I really like the blade shape...reminds me a little of the Insingo but at a much more reasonable least one I can afford hehehe. It is very useful and practical for my needs.

    I'm not a fan of the stone wash look. I'd rather have a satin finish...shows the blade steel more imo.

    The pocket clip is just right for this sits perfectly in the pocket and doesn't shout "I have a knife...looky looky".

    Overall my favorite ECD.
    Thanks for the review and Merry Christmas

  10. Mike, how does grip between the two 0566 and 0770Cf compare? I like G10 better than CF but think the CF would be better than the steel side.. Any situations where you would've preferred a traditional drop point blade shape?

    Thanks for the info