Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rethinking EDC

EDITOR'S NOTE: A while back a reader sent me an email pointing out a few different things about a review.  This is nothing new.  The Cryo review generated more email than I ever thought possible.  But this reader's comments were particularly insightful.  The reader basically pointed out that gear reviews and mine in particular have certain assumptions built in that made them harder for this reader to use.  The funny thing is that these assumptions, while 100% pervasive, have a huge impact on about 50% of the potential gear carrying world and I, for one, never even stopped to consider them.  I asked this reader for some insights and here they are.  

What were these assumptions?  That the person carrying the gear is a man.

Here is Jenna's quick look at how to EDC stuff if your a woman:

When it comes to EDC everyone has their own tastes and needs, but for women a little more thought goes into what is carried due to the size of women overall as well as the impractical trends of women's fashions.

Choosing to carry a knife or EDC gear often means the style of clothing has to be well thought out. Women's clothing can be exceptionally limiting, especially when it comes to dresses. Additionally, pocket carry is often difficult for most types of women's pants. From skinny jeans to dress slacks, there generally just isn’t space for a large knife or flashlight.

Carrying anything for EDC must take into consideration [often impractical] clothing that women wear.  For me, what works best is carrying any EDC item at home first.  I do this to determine if a knife is too big for my jean pockets or if a flashlight is too bulky.  This also to help me adjust to how I can carry an item best for my daily routine. In this “at home" phase, I realized knives with blade lengths over 3 inches usually do not work well.  Over the course of a day they become uncomfortable in the pocket and usually completely pop out of the top of my pants when I sit down. The low rise style of the pants that I wear is not accommodating to carrying around a fixed blade.

Fixed blades are reliable and very useful tools, but it becomes difficult to carry a fixed blade since they are not usually made with women in mind. They are often thick and heavy, which makes them very exhausting to have on a belt.   Additionally, if a woman was to EDC a fixed blade her shirt is either too tight resulting making the blade print or the shirt is too short and the knife sticks out.  While fixed blades are great to use in the backyard or camping, it is hard to actually use them for an EDC item.

Here are some things to consider that will make it easy for any women to EDC gear.  First, pick a knife, usually a small one, that will fit comfortably in the pocket all day because larger knives are more challenging to carry in a jeans pocket. Second, distribute the bulk of your EDC evenly since pockets on women's clothing usually can't handle more than one item in them. It may also help to carry a keychain flashlight instead of trying to have it in the same pocket as a knife.  Make sure fixed blades are small, concealable, and relatively light carry.  Finally, smaller EDC items can, understandably, be easier to carry without requiring a dramatic change in wardrobe for women.

Some ideas may be obvious to women who already EDC knives, flashlights, and any other gear. But what I'd like this article to accomplish is to have my EDC experience from the female perspective shared so that others can benefit from it. The more sharing I do, the more other women can give feedback.  Hopefully, this can lead to solutions that women face when planning their EDC. 


Here's Jenna's typical EDC:

The watch is a Coach watch, the pen is a Matthew Martin pen (gotta get me one of those), and the rest of the stuff you probably recognize: a Boker Gnome, a SAK Bantam, and the Spyderco Techno.

Thanks for the comments, article, and pic Jenna.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Using Everyday Commentary

So many of you have been with the site since the beginning.  You can skip this article.  But for those of you that are new let me give you a tour.  We no longer live in an age where it is simply a matter of going to a website.  There are so many ways to get there and so many offshoots from a website.  So I thought it might be useful to give everyone a tour of the whole thing. 

First, the site, with its written scored reviews, is the hub.  Its where you can find all of the information I have produced about gear.  But there are a lot of spokes coming off the hub.  

There is a YouTube channel.  I try to put out a video a week.  I don't do reviews, but overviews of products plus some specific topic videos.  I rarely go over 10 minutes.  I don't have time to be more chatty than that.

Then there is the podcast, Gear Geeks Live.  I do the podcast once a month and put out a new episode every two weeks.  Andrew of Edge Observer and Dan of Blade Reviews help out.  We have guests on occasion and they have ranged from a listener that won a topic contest to the guy that runs the show over at KAI USA.  We've had adventurer Kyle Ver Steeg and custom knife badass Tuff Thumbz on.  

Then there are the social media outputs: the Twitter channel and the Instagram feed (search: "Everyday Commentary").  I try to post one thing a day to each.  Twitter gets a bit rambly, as all Twitter feeds are want to do.

Finally, there are places I have freelanced for: AllOutdoors, the New Artemis, Huckberry, and  

On this site you will notice that articles come out at least once a week.  The reviews are all kept in a centralized place, see the "Reviews" tab above.  I also have a Top 5 that is regularly updated for given categories.  Both the review scoring systems and the Top 5 categories are always subject to expansion.  Right now I review knives, folding and fixed, flashlights, multitools, water bottles, pens, bags, and watches (more on this in a second).

I write a few regular series: EDC Primers, Trolling for Hate, and In Case You Missed It.  The primers are pretty obvious.  The Trolling for Hate series is basically my chance to editorialize a bit on the gear world.  In Case You Missed It is my effort to point on discontinued stuff that deserves a second look before the eBay prices go bonkers.   

The site is really a team effort.  Steve helps with editing and hyperlinks.  Ben, Aaron, Andrew provide additional content.  Andrew is doing watches right now and we are looking for ways to tweak that 20 point system.  I am always looking for folks that have some specialized knowledge and writing ability.  

If you have any questions or want to submit a product, see the "Contact" tab above.    

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):


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":


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:


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:


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:


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? 


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:


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.        

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Zero Tolerance ZT0801 Overview

The Zero Tolerance ZT0801 is a damn fine knife and one that I think is criminally underrated in the current discussion among knife knuts.  In particular, I like the original version far better than the CF version which looks like a knife mod done for someone with more money than sense.  The stock ZT080 is a superb blade with good blade steel, a great flipper, and a tremendously useful blade shape.  Here is my overview:

Review coming Friday.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Top 5 EDC Pens

These aren't the best pens out there. They aren't the most beautiful.  They aren't the best writers.  In fact, some of them are downright junky writers (Fisher, I am lookin' at you), but these are pens that will write and endure.  This leads to three attributes that make for a great EDC pen: 1) low weight but high durability; 2) low maintenance; and 3) long lasting refills.

Though the tactical pen trend tells you otherwise, you definitely don't want some thing heavy.  This means stuff like the cigar-sized Benchmades or the seemingly made of lead Rotrings are a non-starter.  If this is the pen you use all of the time, every day for every writing task, having something that weights a lot will kill your hand and the quality of your handwriting.  After hours of taking verbatim notes in court, I can tell you your hands will be mad at you if you choose one of the heavy, battleship designs.

Second, lots of fountain pens are great writers, but they can be a hassle, especially on the road or in less than ideal conditions.  If you work in an office all day with zero interruptions or challenging environments, then a fountain pen is perfectly fine.  But if you find yourself traveling a lot, writing in weird places or while standing up against walls, they just don't work.  Plus all of the ink maintenance rituals are a chore--flushing the pen, getting new cartridges or ink from a bottle, keeping the nib clean. It can be a hassle and this is supposed to be your zero-hassle, always writes pen.

Third, you want a pen that can write for a long time.  I don't just mean that it allows you to write comfortably for a long time.  I think it is important for you to have a pen that can use a refill that lasts.  The Fisher refill is a great refill in this regard, but others are good too.  In fact, some fountain pens can store a huge amount of ink, letting you write with them forever.  

I have some preferences and I think you should know them going into this list.  First, skip the frail fountain pens--only a few will hold up. Also, and I know this is a bit of heresy, skip the Fisher Bullet Space Pen. Its too expensive for what it is and really you just want the refill.  Third, I don't like the County Comm Embassy pen.  It is too big and too heavy, plus the cap doesn't post.  A cap that doesn't post is a like a car that doesn't drive.  I will also admit that I am not a fan of uber thin lines and so I have basically ignored all of the microtip pens and pen bodies from Kickstarter.  If you are fan of those, I'd look at the Karas Customs Render K.

With all of that out of the way, here are my top 5 EDC pens:

1. Prometheus Alpha Pen

The Fineliner refill is an amazing writer. Its smooth and bold, like a good bourbon. The blue (more specifically Pacific Blue) is truly brilliant. The metal body holds up over time and the electroplating on the aluminum version patinas to a cool gun metal gray. A clicky version would be awesome, but as is this is the best combination of durability and writing performance out there. The one knock I would have against the Alpha is the fact that the Fineliner refills aren't the longest lasting refills in the world.

2. Zebra F-701 with Fisher Space Pen Mod


I understand the EDC crowd's adoration for the Fisher Space Pen refill. It lasts forever, it writes anywhere and under most conditions, and it is very durable. But it is an awful writer. Even the fine refill is still slick and oily. But, over time, you get used to it. What I don't understand is the obsession with the Bullet pen. It has no clip. Its very slick in the hand. The cap and pen body are simple and beautiful, but they look much less so over time. Of course there are upgraded pen bodies from Fisher, but they are exceedingly expensive (the clicky version runs around $60).

With very simple modifications, outlined here, you can have an amazingly tough pen body, the F-701, with the durable, long lasting performance of the Fisher refill. All of this comes very cheap--around $8-$10. That is simply too much value to ignore. Its about half the price of the Bullet pen and twice as functional and durable. Additionally, this is a heavy duty pen that avoids the tank-like weight that some other pens have, making it a good writer over the long haul. If Zebra were smart, they'd make the pen compatible with the Fisher refill out of the package. They've got to know that there is a healthy contingent of folks modding their F-701s.

3. MaxMadCo Bolt Action Pen

Its durable, relatively lightweight, not insanely expensive, and it is compatible with Parker-style refills. The bolt mechanism is lightyears better than the competition as it is fast and discrete. The barrel is a little plain, lacking anything like a grip area, but it has a minimalist feel to it. The pen is also a bit slick in the pocket, as the well tensioned pocket clip is merely pushing fabric on to a slick barrel. Those to dings aside, this is one of the best EDC pens you can buy.

4. Kaweco Sport


The lone fountain pen on the list is a great, budget-friendly fountain pen.   I love the Vanishing Point much more, but its complex mechanisms make me weary of pressing it into EDC duties. The Sport, on the other hand, is dead simple. This is the pen equivalent of the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight--a sub 1 ounce tool that has been refined to utter perfection.  Its not the most durable or hassle free thing in the world, but the writing experience is glorious.  It writes like a much more expensive pen and though it lacks a clip (an accessory clip is available), its diminutive size makes it easy to carry. Unlike the Bullet Pen, this pen has an excellent grip section and the cap stays put. There is no better example in the pen world of accessible, high quality German design than the Kaweco Sport. The fact that it runs on very widely available International size ink refills is another plus. Oh and it is pretty darn cheap too.

5. TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky


The only traditional "tactical pen" on the list is here primarily because of how it diverges from the horde of crenelated beasts. First there are no pokey or pointy parts. It doesn't look like a castle tower. Second, it is a clicky, which I greatly prefer for EDC use (no cap to lose). Third, the grip section, a rudimentary as it might be, its actually quite good. This pen weighs more than I'd like, but if you opt for the aluminum version is not too bad (though the titanium version is much prettier). The clicky is an amazing clicky and the pen just impossible to destroy. Nothing has held up to the rigors of lots of travel and daily use better than the Ultimate Clicky. Its expensive, and the Karas Customs Retrakt uses the same clicky mechanism for less, but its singular ability to write well and absorb damage makes it worth the price and better than its competition.

Honorable Mention: Pilot Vanishing Point

The Vanishing Point is a truly amazing piece of design and engineering. It writes supernally well. It can take refills or use bottle ink. It has a pocket clip. It looks like a million bucks. But my experience tells me all of those mechanisms associated with making it a retractable fountain pen would get messed up if I took it with me from court to jail to prison and back again. This may be a theoretical concern, but given the price (its the most expensive pen on this list), it would be painful to find out. That said, the allure of the new metallic bodies will probably make me buy one sooner or later. I wouldn't be surprised if it vaulted up the list once I did.

Second Honorable Mention: Tacticle Turn Mover or Shaker

Consulting with the Emissary of Ink before releasing this list was a crucial step.  Brad Dowdy's knowledge of pens is unrivaled so when he suggests you listen.  I haven't personally used these pens, which are just now being sold directly after a successful Kickstarter campaign, but they look very good.  They share a lot of features with the TuffWriter, but they are cheaper and sleeker.  One of these will almost certainly come my way for review sooner or later.

You can find the Fisher Space Pen refills, the Mont Blanc Fineliner refills, the Zebra F-701, the Kaweco Sport, and the Vanishing Point on Amazon and the sales benefit the site.  Use this link:


Sunday, May 11, 2014

JL Lawson Tops

Please I am not going to pretend these have any utility whatsoever.  They don't even have a bottle opener for Pete's sake.  And everything has a bottle opener these days.  But they are damn cool.  I dropped the two sent to me for review in my top shirt pocket over the course of a week and they entertained me, my three and half year old son, my two nephews (ages 4 and 7), and my entire office at lunch.

Lawson and his Dad are both machinists and they work out of Joshua Tree, California.  Lawson has made a name for himself with exceptional machining skills and a minimalist aesthetic.  Through his site and a few retailers, like Huckberry, he sells a wide assortment of stuff, from bottle openers to lanyard beads to cufflinks.  The two tops, one made of brass and the other of stainless steel, can be purchased through Kickstarter (they have to fund, etc.) found on this page.


I have zero expertise in reviewing tops, but then again who does (not this guy but how about these folks)? Perhaps someone on the top spinning forum, yes there is one, should weigh in.  Hell, one of the competitors in the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TOP SPINNING COMPETITION would be more qualified.  I am sitting in my home office typing this, utterly astounded that there is such a thing.  I heard a rumor that the slogan for Prague 2014 is "Spin Big or Go Home", but again, that is just a rumor.  I make fun because, well, its kind of ridiculous.  No more ridiculous than four figure flashlight, I get that, but its a form of ridiculousness that is new to me.  Behold the power of the Internet.


Here is the weird thing though--after playing with Lawson's Kickstarter Tops I can see how this form of ridiculousness came about.  Lawson's site shows him getting a ridiculous time out of his stainless steel top, well over 8 minutes.  So naturally, when I got the review sample, I started spinning.  I realized that there was a lot of technique involved.  But I also realized that the surface had a great deal of impact on how long the top spun.  I feverishly when through my house looking for smooth flat surfaces.  I cleared off tables and rearranged desks.  I even started taking dishes out of the cupboard, as their gentle sloping sides discouraged energy-wasting "walking".  Eventually I found that my home office desk was a very good surface.  After some real practice I got a 7:46 spin.  I am planning a trip to the local home store to try for an even better time on one of their kitchen counter top displays.  Its really a sickness--I am scouring my environment to ultra-smooth, ultra-hard, and ultra-flat surfaces.  I might even venture into my wife's lab where all sorts of exotic tools and materials like to live.


All of this is a complex way of saying just how cool these tops are.  They surpass the plastic and wood tops by lightyears.  They are easy to spin, steady, and spin silently forever.  The brass model has a bit of antiquing to it that gives it a sense of history and personality, while the stainless model appears every bit the modern marvel that it is, even including a micro bearing on the bottom for better spins.  But the long spin times come from the superb machining skills the Lawson boys have.  These tops have a fit and finish that rivals the best custom gear out there--the RJ Martin/Cool Fall gear of the world.


If you have kids, a passing interesting in fun pocketable gadgets, or an appreciation for fine craftsmanship, you can't go wrong with these two tops.  Both are genuinely cool.  If I had to pick one, the long running stainless steel model would win out.  They come in a handy cinch sack to keep them from getting dinged and off balance.

So much of the gear world is deadly serious.  People virtual shouting over the difference between 3V and S90V, when the reality is that doesn't matter all that much.  Sometimes stuff in your pocket should be fun.  And these tops are fun.  They are transfixing.  There is really nothing useful about them, but not everything in life or in your pocket needs to be useful.  Lawson's tops ARE fun, no doubt.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

ArmyTek Partner C1 Review by Ben Schwartz

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Ben Schwartz's first review for the site.  Ben is one of two folks that have kindly offered to throw their hat in the ring and write about gear.  Ben won the Topic Submission contest for Episode 21 of Gear Geeks Live.  

When I was younger, and more obnoxious and sincere than I am now, I was in love with a girl who matched him in both obnoxiousness and sincerity. We encouraged in each other a penchant for philosophizing, and over the course of a year or so we cobbled together a philosophy of the world, in which all the different peoples and behaviors we had observed up to that point in their young lives were assiduously catalogued in a process that we called, in their esoteric two-person argot, “compartmentalizing.”

Thinking about the Armytek Partner C1 brought that word back to me. The world of gear is filled with categories and subcategories. When we talk about a piece of gear in a review, to be fair in that review we have to keep in mind what the piece of gear was designed for, what set of needs it was made to meet. To get a little more pretentious (because I only said I was less obnoxious now) we can imagine the world of gear as a fantastic, massive chest of drawers, with hundreds of little drawers with meticulous, exact little labels on them that say things like “Knife, folding, EDC,” in which we would find, say, both the Kershaw Skyline and another drawer that says “Knife, folding, EDC, under 3 inches”, and that contains the Strider PT-CC and the CRKT Drifter, and another drawer that says “Knife, folding, EDC, under 2.5 inches” and contains things like the Bug and the Micron. I think it is part of the reviewer’s job, before he even goes about the messy business of articulating an opinion, to take a piece of gear, and put it in the right drawer or subdrawer—to compartmentalize it.

When I look at the C1, I find it difficult to find the right compartment. It seems to have been designed, not haphazardly, but perhaps too broadly: Armytek seems to have wanted to make a light capable of being both a straightforward, pocketable EDC light, as well as something robust and bright enough to be used in the outdoors or put into a tactical role. And while it can be said that it is possible to flex the C1 into both of these roles, I don’t think it excels at either.

Here is the Partner C1’s product page. It costs $42.95, and comes with a belt holster, a lanyard, two replacement O-rings and one replacement button. The Partner C1 comes in two flavors, one with a Cree XP-G and one with a Cree XM-L emitter; neither light uses a reflector; instead, Armytek uses TIR (Total Internal Reflection; see Surefire EB1 review here for more information) optics to shape the beam. It should also be said that the Partner C1 is only one branch of the larger Partner series, which also includes the A1 and A2 models, which use one and two AA batteries respectively, and feature the same options for emitters; here is the incomparably thorough Selfbuilt’s review of many of the Partner models.  Here is the review sample (I was contacted by Armytek and they provided the sample for review):

Review Summary: An interesting, but unsuccessful, attempt to straddle the line between EDC and heavy-duty flashlights.

Design: 1

"Armytek Partner flashlights are designed to be effectively applied for Hunting and Fishing, Sports and Camping, Work and Rest, as well as for other activities where a reliable pocket light source powered by wide-spread batteries is needed.” So saith the Partner C1’s user manual. Now, that’s a wide swath of activities, and it implies a variety of conditions: indoors and outdoors, near and far, urgent and everyday. The idea of an all-purpose flashlight is a good one, but transmuting that idea into something physical is a difficult, if not impossible endeavor, and the actual design of the Partner C1 indicates that this is so. It’s almost as if the designers realized they couldn’t quite make their light do everything the way they wanted to, and so instead of focusing on either EDC or tactical/outdoor uses, decided to retain, almost at random, elements of both: it uses a single CR123a to maintain both decent outputs and pocketability, for example, and yet is much thicker than the average CR123a EDC light, with the stout walls and matte, rough-and-tumble anodizing of a tactical light.

On the subject of output, the total lumens output is 510, and the lumens: weight is 212.9. I hesitate to say anything more about specific elements of the light here because they’ll be discussed in depth in the different categories below, but the reason this light is docked a point in this category is for the vagueness, or incoherence, of the design. Here is the light compared to the standard Zippo (it is a wee little thing):


Fit and Finish: 2

There’s nothing to complain about here. The anodizing is even, the threads are cleanly cut, the emitter centered beautifully (emitter centering, to me, is like blade centering: something that I think we should expect on every light we purchase). And all this on a light that’s only forty bucks. This is the first Armytek product I’ve ever handled, but it’s clear from this light alone that they’re a company that prides themselves on what they put out. Great job.

Grip: 1

The anodizing job, which I mentioned briefly above, is great for an EDC light: just grippy enough to ensure purchase.


But I wonder about its effectiveness in a tactical/outdoor situation: it becomes somewhat oily-feeling when wet, and the knurling and grip-patterns throughout the body are less useful than I think they were meant to be.   (EDITOR'S NOTE: There is also no knurling whatsoever and the body tube is basically the same size throughout).  So, I’m going to give this light a 1 here, because as I said above I think that it was designed with both indoor and outdoor use in mind, but if you’re looking to use it in an EDC-type role, add a point here.

Carry: 1

The light’s a bit wide in the pocket. Nothing offensive, but it certainly is more noticeable than I thought it’d be, and it’s definitely not carryable when I’m wearing my favorite hipster cords (EDITOR'S NOTE: hipster cords are fireable offense, just kidding; not really, but okay). Again, the dual-focus design works against the Partner C1: it’s nearly small enough to be pocketable, but not quite large enough, in my opinion, to make the belt holster worthwhile—unless I were out hiking or something with it, of course. I tended to keep it at the very bottom of my pocket, which makes retrieval a bit of a hassle, which I guess is one reason they give you the lanyard, but it’s not quite enough and feels, to me, like a half-measure. The fact that this light does not have a clip irks me, because that’s a desirable feature in both an EDC and a tactical/outdoor light.

None of these issues would bring the light down to a one on their own, but together they become significant enough to dock the Partner C1 a point here.

Output: 1

So we have two levels on the Partner C1: a high of 330 lumens and a “low” of 85. In reality, there’s much less of a difference between these levels than the numbers would indicate. In the week or so that I carried the light, I could use the levels almost interchangeably, and when I first got it was unable to tell which level the light was on at any given time.

I don’t think that it’s fair to give the light a zero here, both because of the split nature of the design and also because it always gave me enough light to do whatever needed to be done (including changing a tire in the dark on the side of the highway on a frigid Ohio night: not recommended unless you like seeing your life flash before your eyes every couple minutes as a truck or a shuttle bus roars by you). But I do think that the level choices are strange, and I want to point out that I think that this is the biggest issue with the Partner C1 (and one that may possibly be getting fixed; see the end of the review for more details).

Runtime: 2

So you get your 330 lumens for 1 hour and 15 minutes, and your 85 lumen “low” for 6 hours. To me, those numbers are decent, especially given the brightness of the 85 lumen “low.” Again, it would be really, really nice to have a genuine low level, and the runtime would be exponentially better of course, but as it stands I don’t see anything to complain about here.

Beam Type: 2

The TIR optic makes for an interesting beam type: you get great throw on both levels, and the low’s hotspot is chilled out enough to make it not impossible for close-up tasks I’d normally prefer something a little more floody for (hi, Peak Eiger).

Beam Quality: 1

Decent. The tint is fairly neutral. The way the optic’s textured does give the beam a shape that’s nearly square, with four distinct points radiating out from the center, almost like petals on a flower (the first time I turned the light on, it reminded me of the enormous celestial rose of divine love at the end of The Divine Comedy), but it’s not distracting. That being said, it’s not perfect. The texturing on the optic itself gives the fringes of the spill an odd, dimpled look.


If you open the light up, you’ll find there’s a film over the lens to make the beam appear smoother than it actually is. I understand that to a great extent you get what you pay for, but I try not to allow budget products to get away with obviously cut corners, and so while I can say that the beam is perfectly serviceable, it’s also the case that it could’ve been better, and seems to be one area where they tried to save a few shekels in manufacturing this light, when it should’ve been the one area where little to no compromises were made.

UI: 1

Is it right to penalize a clicky light that works perfectly fine on the basis that there are simply better UIs out there? Additionally, given the Partner C1’s tactical heritage, is it right to want something better? In this particular case I’ll say yes, because again, the light is not just a tactical light. If it’s supposed to be a kind of appeal to more mainstream needs, which I think it might be, then why not have a better UI?

That being said, the clicky interface here is completely serviceable. I like that you can half-click it to switch between the two modes without having to turn it all the way on and off again. It has a weirdly long mode memory, too, which, given the half-click mode switch option, seems superfluous.

Hands Free: 0

The Partner C1 can’t tailstand because of its clicky. It has nothing to stop it from rolling (EDITOR'S NOTE: there are some flats machined into the body but they are ineffective, especially because they do not align front to back, as you can see below, when the rear portion and the body tube are screwed together):


This is probably the second biggest issue I have with the light.

Overall Score: 12 out of 20

Yikes. That score makes me pause for a minute, because it makes it seem like I like the Partner C1 a lot less than I do. It’s fine in a lot of ways: it’s super sturdy, it uses an extremely cool TIR optic, and it comes with a bunch of extra stuff, all for around $40. There’s not a single thing that’s really offensive about the Partner C1—although the output levels do come pretty close.

No, the problems with this light, and they are pretty grave problems, are all under the hood. Actually, let’s scratch the metaphor and say that the problems are almost...metaphysical problems, intellectual problems—design problems.

Every well-designed object, be it a light or a knife, a car, a house, or (to draw from my primary field) a book, has at its center a single purpose. Everything about that object should accrete around that purpose—the materials, the fit and finish, the diction, the tone—and should be gathered towards that single end. It’s a question of focus. Again, the Partner C1 is by no means a bad piece of kit. The build quality is superb; I have not spent as much time as maybe I should have conveying how pleasing this object is to have and hold. It can be used in many roles. But in the end that lack of focus, or rather that sense of too many focuses, reveals itself again and again, and of all the many roles it can be placed in, I can’t say that it excels in a single one of them. If I were looking for an EDC light, I’d reach for my Peak Eiger first every time; if I were looking for something more “tactical,” there’s a bevy of choices. Heck, even if I wanted a sort of “do-it-all” light, the Zebralight SC52w is available for not a whole lot more money, and let’s face it: if I’m even looking at something from Armytek, I’m consumed enough by that dread disease, flashoholism, to be willing to drop not that much more cash on something quite a bit more capable and rounded out feature-wise.

So, I can’t change the score, even if I am garlanding it heavily with caveats. In a place as rich with options as the gear world is, it’s tempting to attempt to stand out by trying to make something that eschews the compartmentalization that gives shape and order to we gear geeks’ obsession. By trying to speak to everyone at once, though, you risk being heard by nobody.

A last note: Armytek are apparently in the process of updating this light: adding a low level, eliminating the weird mode memory, and adding a clip. These are quite possibly huge changes, and I’d be interested in seeing that light when it’s released.

EDITOR'S OPINION: Ben nailed it on this one.  I had the light for about a week and half before sending it out to Ben for review and I think he spotted every one of the criticisms I had on his own.  This is a decidedly last gen light with the design, the lack of tailstanding, and the output levels.  But there is reason for hope here.  The fit and finish, the robust overall feel, is pretty impressive.  This is one of the very few lights that I can say with confidence feels like it is as stout as a Surefire.  If Armytek updates the design and the UI, they have the potential to have a real winner on their hands.  My experience with the Viking, a more advanced light, proves this is true.  The Partner isn't all that impressive, but good bones are there.  Think of the Partner as the team that finished in 4th place, but got a superstar in the draft.  You get the sense that Armytek is about to unleash it...

The Competition

Ben doesn't have the Fenix PD22 to run as a benchmark comparison, so I will do this portion of the review.  Frankly, other than fit and finish and build quality, the Fenix light surpasses the Partner in every way.  While I dislike two-button clickies they are better than normal one-button clickies and comparing to the proves the point.  Additionally a crappy pocket clip is better than none at all, though I would imagine you could pry a friction fit number on the Partner.  Finally, the weird texturing on the optic is just kind of odd and I like the disco purple beam from the PD22 better in shape though the tint is clearly worse.  Here, the artifacting is so prominent that I'd take the off color tint and no artifacting from the PD22.   

Buying A Custom Knife by Aaron Shapiro

EDITOR'S NOTE: A long, long time ago I asked Aaron, former cohost of the podcast and your congenial host at the now-defunct Practically to write a primer on how to buy a custom knife.  The process is daunting and the prices make a mistake super-painful.  Aaron has a great deal of experience in the custom market, both on the primary and secondary market.  Here is that piece.  All of the words and pictures are Aaron's.  Enjoy these glorious shots.  I know I did.

Breaking into the custom knife world can be difficult. The costs are high, especially to begin with, and there is a steep learning curve to catch the trend. The difference between what is “in” now and what is on the decline tomorrow can change in the blink of an eye, but it’s important to know how the market is trending so you don’t lose your shirt.

There are three major venues to purchase a knife from: Direct order, Secondary Market, and Knife Show.

Direct Order

This has to be the most “expected” way to get a custom knife right? Find a maker you like, place an order with them for what you want, and then receive the ordered knife from the maker. This is partly true, however a lot of the really “hot” knife makers have closed their lists. The wait times have gotten so long they’ve stopped taking orders in order to get caught up. Fear not however! The fun part in this game is finding the new makers, who will be the NEXT big thing, and getting on their order lists early. Additionally, old makers tend to open up their lists from time to time, if you’re plugged in enough you can catch those opportunities.

Once you get your order in, and you’ve waited your year or so for your name to come up, it’s time to place your order. That’s the simple part, pick your model (assuming the maker in question has “models”), materials, and whatever other options are available to you. You should be quoted a price, or a break down of pricing options. Following is an example pricing breakdown from a popular maker I just finished dealing with (Ed. note: NOT RJ Martin):

$485.00 base price for the knife model
$45.00 for M4 blade steel
$25.00 for acid wash blade
$25.00 for IKBS
$75.00 for Carbon Fiber scales
$150.00 for Zirconium bolsters
$75.00 for Zirconium back spacer
$75.00 for carved clip

You can pick and choose from these, or suggest a configuration and get a total. From there the maker will start on your knife, and hopefully update you along the way. The struggle for you from this point on will be just waiting till it’s delivered.

The Secondary Market

This particular method of buying custom knives has a lot of…different opinions regarding it. Some people have issues with the value custom knives gain after they’re delivered from the maker. Some custom maker’s knives can gain 2-300% in value the day they are delivered. So, if you’re willing to pay a premium a lot of knives are available to you. If you think this is ridiculous and unfair, I refer you to the above or below method.

There are two methods for finding knives on the secondary market. Either via a dealer, or via a forum. There are a ton of custom knife dealers out there. A quick google search can help you find them. Otherwise there are several knife-forums out there. Bladeforums and the USN amongst others, both have classifieds ads, and both will have a TON of options for you to blow a solid mortgage payment on.

Knife Shows

This is probably one of the hardest to understand methods of acquiring a custom knife. Knife shows will be an opportunity to skip the lists for some of the more popular makers in the business. Most of the makers will be doing lottery sales, where you enter for the chance to buy a knife, and if drawn you can pick from what is on the table and pay the maker price. You might get luck and find a maker that has their knives “first come, first served.” Knife dealers will also have tables setup at most major shows, so you’ll have another chance to look through their inventory. Other collectors will also be buying and selling… Knife Shows basically turn into a hybrid of all the other ways to get a custom knife, if that makes sense.


I hope this is somewhat helpful for you to get started in the “knife-game.” In spite of the varying ways and prices to acquire different knives, let me stress to you one thing: Buy what YOU LIKE. Too many people get caught up thinking their knife collection is an investment opportunity. The market is way to volatile and reactionary to be a safe way to grown your money. With that said, buying and selling can be a good way to grow your collection just be careful to not get to “in your head” about it. Before I quit let me offer a closing note: I sincerely think that the custom knife market bubble is going to pop, people who paid $2500 for a Mayo folder (in one instance) will be stuck upside down in their collections. IF you bought the knives you like and enjoy to carry…. Then who really cares right?


Monday, May 5, 2014

NCCA Annual Mystic Show 2014

Last weekend was the Annual Mystic Connecticut Show for the Northeast Cutlery Collector Association.  It was a modest sized show, and as my local show, I thought it would be fun to go.  I went with my father-in-law and his brother (my uncle-in-law).  It was a great deal of fun and I got to see some really cool pieces of gear.  I tried, best as I could, to stick to my plan, articulated here.  As you will see over the course of this post, I failed.  Oh well.  Also, sorry about the shitty lighting.  This was in a ballroom with no windows.  Also, there were a ton of other makers and dealers there that I did not get to take pictures of, and I am sorry I didn't.  This is just a sliver of what was there.

As usual the best part of the show was chatting with folks.  I caught up with some makers I had purchased stuff from before and met some new folks.

Charles Gedraitis

Chuck had a bunch of folders out all of which had something cool or unique about them.  He mentioned that he was working on a sculpted pocket clip (see picture below), which is all the rage thanks to Jim Skelton and he had at least one to show me and it was quite good.  He also had a few thicker folders.  Here is a flipper using almost the exact same materials as my Small Pathfinder:


Like all of Chuck's work, it was smooth and fired like a rocket.  The overall look of the knife reminded me a bit of Michael Burch's work, with harder angles.  I really liked this knife a lot and had I not already owned something very similar I would have bought it on the spot.  And this was the first knife I saw at the show.  That was a bad portent regarding my ability to stick to my plan.

Paul Farina (Paul needs a working website)

Paul is famous.  Not internet famous, but real, I-have-been-on-TV famous.  He played himself on an episode of Blade Brothers, the short lived, but fun reality show about the Begg brothers making knives (rumor has it A&E might pick up the show, let's hope so).  Paul doesn't make knives but as a knife purveyor, he had some of the best blades on the planet.  I have seen Paul's stuff quite a few times and he always has some ridiculous top-shelf gear.  The Mystic Show was no exception:


That's probably about $100,000 in knives maybe more.  In the case on the left hand side, in the right hand row, second from the top is a Tim Gaylean flipper.  I have been critical of flippers before, but this one is on a different level.  There is no knife, no flipper, I have ever seen or held that worked as well as this one did.  It fired so quickly and quietly, I thought for a second Gaylean had solved the fundamental problem behind a perpetual motion machine.  There was absolutely no friction whatsoever.  The price tag on the blade was $4,000, but give its unique feel the price is understandable (too high for me, but understandable).

Kevin Cross

Kevin was a new maker for me.  He had a wide variety of custom fixed blades and they were of the highest quality.  The seams were glass smooth and the rivets were completely flush.  He had a wide and interesting selection of blade steels and handle materials.  He had a ton of great blades, but this one was my favorite:


Again, I was tempted (are you noticing a theme), but I hadn't made my first loop so I decided to hold off.  If you are looking for a nice kitchen knife for either mother's or father's day, Kevin had some outstanding pieces at reasonable prices.

Jonathan Fullen

Jonathan is 18 years old and he and his Dad make a line of fixed blades.  I saw them at a previous NCCA event and I promised myself that I would buy on of their blades at the next show.  Here were some of the smaller fixed blades they had laid out:


One of these would be mine before the end of the day.  Its hard for a Dad to resist a knife made by a father/son team.

One really cool part of a knife show is the fact that you will find tons of out of production knives that seem to evade the reach of eBay and the forums.  Here is a small corner of one display case with three really cool OOP Spydercos:


That's a good line up for the collector.

Steve Karroll Knives

Steve had quite a few blades, a handful of folders and about a dozen sweet kiridashis.  Here is his table:


My uncle was very close to buying his first custom folder, the one second from the left.  Had I not already owned two Karroll knives, I might have bought the one in the center.  Again, I had to hold fast to the plan.  One of those knives really caught my attention.  Here it is up close:


The big deal, aside from Steve's amazing nightmare grind, is the blade steel--3V.  The steel junkie in me is feeling the pull of 3V.  It will probably be the steel on my next blade.

We walked around some more and I stumbled across a beautiful Bob Dozier DK-FH Ti.  These aren't knives you see everyday and they have a lot in common with the Sebenza, I knife I still love.  It wasn't on the list, so I moved on...or tried to.  I did a lap, and then another and I asked the guy selling the Dozier to set it aside for me.  It had a three inch blade, which was in my wheelhouse and a gorgeous grind.  But it wasn't on the list.

After my third lap, all of us decided to breakdown.  My uncle went first and bought a Spyderco Native 5 with G10 handles.  That broke the seal because I then bought a JMF knife (as did my uncle), then my father in law went back and scooped up that Gen 1 Dragonfly.  The pressure was on and the price was right, so I went back and got the Dozier.  We took a break and got some Subway near the ocean.  After eating a bit we went back and I bought a Super Blue Dragonfly 2, sold a knife for cash, and then my uncle bought a Paramilitary 2.  My father-in-law found a $5 bin and bought some workhorse traditional folders that something tells me he will distribute to his grandsons sooner rather than later.

Here is my haul from the very fun show:

Dozier DK-HF Ti:


JMF Drop Point Neck Knife:


Spyderco Dragonfly 2 in Super Blue:


Here are all of the photos from the show (with a cool Reese Bose in there).

Finally, here is my father-in-law with the scariest, bad assest knife at the show:


Because who doesn't need a turquoise inlay on a 5 inch hawkbill?

Thanks to everyone I met and to my uncle and father-in-law for going with me, for breakfast and lunch, as well as good conversation on the ride there and back. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

CRKT M16-01Z Review

GE The current craze of titanium framelock flippers that dominates the custom world right now (and frankly has me burned out on most custom designs) is only possible because two major innovations--the frame lock, popularized by Chris Reeve, and the flipper, popularized by...anyone?  Oh, Kit Carson.  Its strikes me as odd, or perhaps indicative of the power of marketing, that everyone in the knife world associates Chris Reeve with the frame lock but not a soul associates Kit Carson with the flipper.  In my mind, the flipper is so much more of an innovation.  The frame lock is a liner lock without the handle scale, while the flipper fundamentally alters how one makes and uses a knife.  But no one seems to remember Kit Carson (though over on Gear Geeks Live we purposely talk about Kit Carson and the flipper a lot).

The M16 is similarly important but overlooked.  As one of the first production knives with a flipper and one of the cheaper "standard bearer" blades (more on this later), it is receives a paltry amount of attention compared to the similarly sized Spyderco Delica or Benchmade Mini Griptillian (links below for a reason).  Its easy to say that has to do with the materials used, especially the blade steel.  But there is a lot of performance packed into the M16's small package.  This is an innovative knife and an important one in the development of the production knives we see and love today.  The question, though, is whether the M16 is a good knife, leaving aside its unheralded historical importance.    

Here is the product page. There are probably ten or so versions of various sized and blade shapes.  The M16 has a cousin in the CRKT line, the M21.  Note that the 01Z is a smaller than normal M16, specially designed for EDC use.  The M16 is a collab with custom maker Kit Carson, as I mentioned above. The M16-01Z costs $30 or so. There are no good written reviews I could find. Here is a video review (an old one from Nutnfancy). You can find the M16-01Z all over the place.  Here is the Amazon link and sales benefit the site:

Here is my review sample (sent to me by CRKT and to be given away in this review, comment below and in a week I will pick a winner, you know the drill):


Twitter Review Summary: Good bones, couple of ORG dings

Design: 1

There is a reason this was the review that was pared with the post on the Occam's Razor of Gear (ORG).  The M16, as it is produced by CRKT, has a few too many features and baubles that are both unnecessary and detract from the overall performance and enjoyment of the knife.  There is, indisputably, a great design at the heart of the blade, but it is held back by a few things.  First, the AutoLAWKS system is awful.  It is not necessary at all and it makes the knife harder to use.  That is ORG violation #1.  Then there are the "lightening holes" on the handle scales.  They are lint and dirt magnets.  But more than that, they serve no real purpose as they are drilled through the very light FRN handles, but stop when they get to the very heavy (relatively speaking) steel liners.  A reverse of that design would both improve the function of the knife and not make the handle such a dirty mess (see photos below).  That is ORG violation #2.  Finally, there is the blade grind.  I'll leave that for the section below, but suffice to say, it is ORG violation #3.  An M16 with no AutoLAWKS, hole free handle scales (and lightened liners), and a simpler grind would be an amazing blade and no more expensive to make than the version we have now.  It would also be more faithful to Kit Carson's own custom blades.

This is a very slim knife.  The numbers reflect that but they fail to convey just how slim this thing is.  Here is the knife next to the Zippo:


The blade:weight is 1.36.  The blade:handle is .78.  Both are well above average, like just under the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight and in the SOG Flash I range.  But there is the crazy thing--this doesn't truly convey just how slim this knife FEELS.  It is not wide by any means or thick.  Instead, it just sort of melts away in the pocket because of the volume of space the knife occupies.  I wish there was a way to measure this, but short of a water test, which may not work so well with pivots, I am not sure how to get at this.  Suffice to say, this is a very slim package.

Fit and Finish: 2

I know this is going to get a reaction.  Truth is, I wish I could give this knife something like a 1.5, but it would make the scale messy and really not convey what words can.  Nothing about this knife is busted.  Nothing fails or doesn't work.  The handles are nicely rounded, the blade is centered, there is no blade play (once I played around with the pivot).  There is nothing at all wrong.  But I can't shake the feeling that this knife is somehow flimsy.  When the blade is in the handle there is a significant amount of blade play, but that is not uncommon on liner locks in this price range.  And it has no impact on performance at all.  But it is the only factual thing I can point to that backs up my sense that this is a cheap knife.  Frankly, this could all be bullshit, stuff osmotically absorbed from reading complainy reviews online about the knife.  Its totally fine.  Something just feels a tad bit askew or off.  I can also see where the complainy reviews are coming from.  Its entirely possible that I got the best of the best M16 and that the next one on the line was a stinker.  I can see where problems could arise--a wobbly pivot, a wonky liner lock that walks too far over--but on this model I had none of that.  Once the super loose pivot was fixed there was not a single thing I could point to that impacted performance.  

Grip: 2

Again, this is not a perfect score 2, but a "better than 1" 2.  The little groove where the thumb stud rests on the handle is annoying and right in the middle of where your index finger goes, but that is made up for by a great "parrot beak" at the end of the knife.

In the hand:


the knife worked surprisingly well.  During cardboard processing for our accursed recycling bin, the problematic thumb stud resting place caused a mild hotspot.  The handle scales' rounded edges and the parrot beak more than made up for that problem. 

Carry: 2

Something this slim is simply a joy to carry.  I never had any problems with the M16 hanging around in my pockets and it was a good companion on long hikes or while doing grubby yardwork (like stump removal).  Its not really a ding against how it carries, but this thing collects lint like Larry King collects wives.  Those holes on the handle scales are practically made to store gunk in.  

Steel: 1

8Cr15MoV. basically performance like 8Cr14MoV which is just a hair better at retaining its edge and resisting rust than 8Cr13MoV.  I'd really love to see all of CRKT's knives get a steel upgrade.  Their "premium" steel is AUS-8 and that's not a bad steel, but it is no one's idea of a premium steel.  There is hope yet.  The special Buy Tighe Commemorative knife runs 154CM.  

Blade Shape: 2

The M16's simple spear point blade shape is quite good--enough belly to do slicing and roll cuts and enough point to do piercing cuts.  Like all of Kit Carson's designs this is a no-nonsense blade that just works.  The M4, especially the custom version, looks wonderfully utilitarian, and the M21 looks good as well (though the recurve looks less than sharpener-friendly).  

Grind: 1 

This knife would benefit tremendously from a simpler grind.  The swedge is too wide and the main bevel too narrow.  The end result is a geometry that binds quite a bit.  The cutting bevel isn't bad, but in processing cardboard the knife hitched up a few times.  In making feather sticks for a fire, again the knife got stuck in the material.  The problem comes from a simple matter of physics--you cannot have this many facets on a blade this narrow.  The narrow blade is an asset when you are carrying the knife, but it means the grind needs to be simpler than it is.  The grind works, in large part because of the appropriately-sized cutting bevel, but it is not ideal. 

Deployment Method: 2

People get carried away with flippers.  So much so that they seem to forget that the main purpose of a knife is to cut things, not flip open (well, for some people I am convinced the main purpose of a knife is to pose for pictures to post to Instagram, but that is another topic for another day...).  Here you have no bearing pivot, no rolling detent ball, or gravity-fall closing.  You just have a flipper that works every single time.


The shape of the flipper and its size are ideal.  The speed is nice.  Even when I tightened the pivot to rid the knife of blade play, the knife still fired open.  This isn't a fancy flipper, but it is one that works incredibly well.  

Its worth noting that CRKT's flippers work flawlessly well on every knife I have owned or reviewed from them.  This is perhaps the advantage of being one of the early adopters of the flipper among production companies.  They have been at the forefront of flippers for a long time now, starting with this knife and carrying through to the Eraser and then to the Swindle.  Given my sample size, and the diversity of designs and designers, I think you can count on a CRKT flipper to work well, regardless of the model.

Retention Method: 2 

Like the flipper on the M16, the pocket clip just works:


There is no funky shape or carved titanium, just a simple steel design.  It doesn't change positions, either for handedness or tip down, but it does work.  It also doesn't generate a hotspot during high pressure cutting tasks, though I think that has more do to with the well rounded handle scales than anything else.

Lock: 1

And here is the biggest problem I had with the M16--the AutoLAWKS.  Let me cut straight to the point--these kinds of features sell.  They do well in the marketplace.  My discussions with people in the industry over the past three years has proven to me that there is no question that assists and secondary locks boost sales.  This is not just a phenomenon confined to one brand--its industry-wide.  For folks that buy their knives at Lowes (and you can get an M16 and as well as other CRKT blades there), this is a huge selling point.  But if you are a user, a knife knut, or someone that appreciates good design, the AutoLAWKS is nothing short of a contraption.


Its not that it doesn't work.  It does.  But what it does is 100% unnecessary.  It also makes closing the knife much more complicated than it needs to be.  In short, this is an offense against the Occam's Razor of Gear.  This is a feature that is unnecesarry, but for its ability to spike sales.  Its useful for the profit it generates but detrimental to how the knife works.  A well-made liner lock has no need for what is essentially training wheels.  Here, even with the lower price tag, I couldn't find a use for the AutoLAWKS.  The liner lock itself was just fine.  

Here is another reason why you know this "feature" is totally unnecessary--the two inventors--Ron Lake and Michael Walker--don't use it on any of their custom knives and Kit Carson, this knife's designer, doesn't have it on any of his customs either.  This is a marketing feature plan and simple.  For the impediment to closing the knife that the AutoLAWKS represents, the lock gets a 1.

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

There is no question about it--with a few minor corrections, none of which would be expensive, the M16 would be the best of the "standard bearer" knives.  I am working on an article summarizing my experiences over the years with the "standard bearer" knives from each company, the sort of sweet spot in the line up in terms of size, weight, and price.  The M16 marks the second to last blade, with only the Cold Steel Voyager remaining untested now (for the record I considered the following to be standard bearer blades: the Spyderco Delica, the Benchmade Mini Grip, the Kershaw Leek, the SOG Mini Aegis, the CRKT M16, and the Cold Steel Voyager; Boker and Buck aren't on the list because their product lines are too large and chaotic).  Imagine an M16 without the holes in the handle, without the silly AutoLAWKS, with a high hollow or full flat grind, and a blade of 154CM or Acuto + (both steels are already in the CRKT line up).  That would crush the competition.

As it is, this is a good blade.  It is certainly the best value of the standard bearer blades.  It holds up well and the flipper is excellent.  The M16's sins are not in design, fit and finish, or any of the normal issues.  It is the fact that this knife has "features" designed to sell the knife as opposed to letting the elegance of the design do the marketing work.  They don't make the knife better.  In fact, they make the knife worse.  These are sins against ORG.  But even in its "as delivered" state, this is a much better than average blade, a great EDC, and one of the better values out there.  Its not quite the value that the Drifter is, but very few knives can compete at that price point.  The M16 is very good knife after all of these years, and looking back on it, we all missed just how innovative this design was.  Now, years later, the market, especially the custom market, is positively clogged with flippers.  For all intents and purposes the production flipper started here.  Sure there were others, but none that have sold as well as the M16.  There is a reason why.   

The Competition

The M16 01Z compares very favorably to the SOG Mini Aegis.  Essentially they are the same weight and blade length.  The Mini Aegis is, however, a simpler blade and it is a better blade for it.  The grind on the Mini Aegis is vastly superior to the faceted grind here.  The lock on the Mini Aegis is not dead simple, but it is simpler than the AutoLAWKS contraption on the M16.  The steel on the Mini Aegis, AUS-8, is very decent and probably marginally better than the 8Cr found here, largely because of its superior corrosion resistance.