Monday, June 30, 2014

TT PockeTTools TT Spork Review

I had long operated under the assumption that the Ti spork was like the Ti toothpick and Ti chopsticks, and more a sign of someone addicted to titanium than an actual useful tool.  After a few weeks of using the TT PockeTTools TT Spork, I am not sure it is an essential item, but its definitely a well made and well designed piece.  I am not going to use the formal multitool scoring system as it really stretches the term (and the system) to think of a spork as a multitool.

Here is the product page for the TT Spork.  There are two options--a flat version or a spooned out version.  I went with the spooned out version.  Both run a very reasonable $15.  There are no reviews or affliate links.  Here is the review sample I was given (to be given away):

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Twitter Review Summary: Why do you need a Ti spork?  The real question is: Ti not?  

First, you might be asking why a Ti spork?  Well, the answer is not that hard to imagine--lots of things that need to be tough but light are made out of titanium.  I would imagine a Ti spork would work well in an ultralight kit.  I could also see a person not thrilled with the usual office flatware, which looks about as clean as something pulled up from the wreck of a 17th century Spanish galleon, dropping one in his or her pocket or lunchbox.  Its super tough, super light, and titanium has hypoalllergenic properties.  I used the TT Spork both on hikes and at the office and it worked very well.

In use the TT Spork was very good as a fork and a bottle opener (this is a single pull decapitator).  The spoon is very shallow, but for most non-liquid meals its fine.  The hot dog off the fire or the steak from the grill were handled well.  The tines aren't sharp, but they are plenty pokey for even tougher materials like steak.  

The real test was whether or not the spoon could handle soup.  I try to eat healthy and one way to do that is to have premade, homemade meals.  Soup does great as a healthy meal for lunch.  It heats up nicely.  It doesn't stink (goddam it who made fish in the microwave again?).  It carries well as I travel around to all the courts I go to.  But a shallow spoon like on the TT Spork might just be pushed to the limits by soup.  

So for a week I used nothing but the TT Spork. By this point my coworkers are used to me using a bunch of unusual pens and the like, but for some reason the TT Spork was a showstopper. Everyone wanted to see it and hold it (after which I cleaned it).

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They were all surprised at how light it was.  They were even more surprised that someone made custom Ti Sporks.  Finally, they were interested to see how it worked as a spoon.  So that first lunch, my soup eating was a great deal of entertainment.  

The spoon portion of the spork works.  Its not great.  It made me slow WAY down when eating soup.  But it could do it.  This is not like "Smart Car going 90 MPH" could do it, but more like "regular axe can split wood, but not as well as a splitting maul."  With a little change in my eating habit, I made it work.

Overall, this is not an essential, but it definitely is quite nice.  Its also $15.  The CRKT spoons are cheaper, but not as nice or as light.  The Snow Peak Ti Spork is around $9, but I'd much rather pay $6 more to support a small time custom maker.  The spoon is much less shallow than the one on the Snow Peak, but the addition of a bottle opener and the small sense of a good deed that comes from buying from a person instead of a corporation is probably worth the extra $6.   

Thanks for endulging me in this overly detailed review of a spork.  I did it half as a joke and half serious, but the quality of the item, like virtually everything from TT PockeTTool was undeniably high. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack Review

NOTE: I have decided that it is unnecessary to score traditional folders and modern folders separately.  From now on, they will both be scored using the knife scoring system.  

Tumbled by time, the smooth stones of the rocky beaches on Mount Desert Island are fascinating.  The granite crumbles under the pounding surf and eventually the jagged rocks become irregular shapes.  Decades and centuries later the tide pulling them out and pushing them in, tumbling them on each other has taken these shapes and smoothed them to almost perfectly round objects.

In many ways this is the perfect parallel to the process that was used to bring us the Indian River Jack, the flagship knife of the Northwood Knives brand.  It has been smoothed over time, drawing on a lineage more than ten decades old.  In many respects it is the most traditional of knives--the slipjoint jack knife.  But in other way, it is at the forefront of the knife world.  Its a fascinating story, a great knife, and, frankly, the best deal that I have seen in gear since I have started this site.  If you have a passing interest in traditional folders, don't wait--go buy the Indian River Jack.  I bought mine minutes after I found out they came back in stock, doing so over my phone in a parking lot, so as not to crash.

This is one of the few reviews that I can't even hide my bias.  I really, truly love this knife.  It sings.  It has soul.  It has a profound sense of purpose.  It has fit and finish that is easily on par with knives made by Chris Reeve.  It has cutting edge materials paired with covers that were in vogue a hundred years ago.  The Indian River Jack, in many ways, is the Dauntless of the traditional knife world.  It is a superlative design made possible by the internet's power to gather critical masses of people with niche interests.  This ain't a review.  Its a love letter.  

Here is the product page.  There have been four runs of the Indian River Jack (hereinafter, IRJ).  One had D2, one had 440C, one had ATS-34.  The current run uses CPM 154.  Each run had various cover materials.  The current run has four materials--smooth bone, jigged bone, mammoth ivory, and ebony wood.  I got a smooth bone model. It cost $129.  There are no video or written reviews of the IRJ.  Here is a thread about them over on BladeForum.  Here is Derrick Bohn's video from his YouTube channel.  Derrick is the man behind the IRJ.  He owns KnivesShipFree and Northwood Knives.  He designed the IRJ (and all of the other Northwoods Knives) using traditional knife patterns.   Here is a link to KnivesShipFree, where you can find the Indian River Jack, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

KnivesShipFree

benefits the site.  Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money, never to be sold, traded, or given away unless I bequeath to a relative):

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Twitter Review Summary:  If any traditional knife has appealed to you before, go buy this knife immediately.

Design: 2

The blade size is just right at around 2.5 inches. The thickness and weight is just right (boy how much I would love to have a way to reliably measure a knive's volume).  Looking at just the measurements, the IRJ makes a good first impression.  But this is not a knife you buy for its dimensions.  The double bolsters are truly striking, and the arrowhead shield will undoubtedly appeal to folks that like traditional knives, young or old. The cover material (its not a scale; structurally, the scales on a traditional knife are beneath the covers, hence the name) is a bone material polished to a gleaming shine.  The knife will appeal to demanding EDC folks, fans of traditional knives, and really anyone that wants a knife that works but doesn't demand a pocket clip or a one handed opening knife.

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The good performance ratios are heartening, as this is not just a beautiful blade.  The blade:weight is
1.13 (2.5 inch blade in a 2.2 ounce knife).  The blade:handle is .67 (2.5 inch blade in a 3.75 handle).  The blade:weight is especially nice, but the blade:handle is merely Delica good.  

Fit and Finish: 2

Knife fans are treated to a litany of praise for blades made by Chris Reeve, but in my experience there are other blades that are its equal.  Al Mar Knives are at least as nice.  The Taichung Spydercos are on par with the CRK stuff I have handled.  Lionsteel makes quite high quality knives.  My IRJ is at least equal in fit and finish to the CRK blades I have held.  Its as good as any production knife I have handled, plain and simple.  There are no rough seams, everything gleams with a high polish, and the entire knife looks lustrous without looking gilded. Its a very nice work knife or a very good working art knife.  

Grip: 2

In role, as an EDC cutter, the knife is fine.  The handle is just the right size and shape.  For peeling an apple, cutting a package, or trimming a thread, you don't need much more (and you certainly don't need jimping).

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In tasks that require more force, it worked well too.  I did some whittling and fire prep with it (making feather sticks) and it was excellent.  I have to give props to Kyle Ver Steeg and Jim Nowka--they opened my eyes to the value of a rounded handle and the IRJ is just that.  Really, really good.  Oh, and just so you don't worry, its not so slick as to be slippery.

Carry: 2

I am willing to have an open mind.  I have long held the belief that folding knives don't need sheathes, but after a few weeks of carrying the IRJ in the slip case (see below) it came with, I can admit I was wrong.

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Perhaps it was the experience I had with squred sheathes, the like one found on the Leatherman PST, or perhaps it was a bad encounter with some nylon and velcro monster.  Either way, those experiences don't prepare you for the quiet subtle carry of the IRJ in the KnivesShipFree slip case. Not only does it protect the knife, it disperses its bulk and weight nicely, and it protects the other stuff in your pocket.  Its very small and carries like wallet. Any bigger and there might be a problem, but as is, I am not just willing to use the sheath, I am pleased to do.

Steel: 2

The steel is CPM 154, which is different from 154CM. CPM 154 is the powder metal version of 154 CM.  Because it is a powder metal, the grain structure is more uniform.  This uniformity, along with 154CM's other all around good attributes, makes CPM 154 a very common choice for high end customs.  My Fellhoelter Custom Dauntless runs CPM 154, making this knife my second knife with this steel.

My testing including the normal run of EDC tasks--opening packages, peeling an apple or two, especially when on a hike, trimming material (which includings cutting tags off my son's clothing, he hates them for some reason), and breaking down boxes.  I also used the knife to whittle, make firestarters, and as a marking knife in my workshop.  

The steel is quite a performer--an all around all-star.  Its easier to sharpen than S30V (though in this case I merely had to strop it) and it held an edge wonderfully.  I also loved the look of the steel.  With a grinder satin finish, the CPM 154 gleamed.  Having it on two knives gives me a good feel for the steel and thus far on both blades I am very happy.  Though this has no impact on you and I, custom makers rave about the steel because it is easy to grind, has less occlusions or weak spots that can ruin a blade, and it takes a nice polish.  

Blade Shape: 2

The simple spear point blade shape did a mountain of work with ease.  Breaking down boxes is a regular occurence now that we have recycling and our bin is roughly the size of a coffee cup.  Add to that my son's recent birthday and I put this thing to good use.

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I have said this before, but simple is always best when it comes to blade shape. You don't need much more than this to get work done.  

Grind: 2

This is a very shallow hollow grind, not a convex grind like I mentioned in my overview.  Previous iterations of the IRJ ran a convex grind,  but after interviewing Derrick from KnivesShipFree for episode 36 of the podcast, he confirmed that this run did not include that grind.  It seems previous runs may have been made by a knife company famous for convex grinds and with a change in maker, having them convex ground was not possible if they wanted to keep the price point the same.

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I would have probably opted for the convex grind as I found the price very reasonable, but the shallow hollow grind works just fine.  I had no problem with the thin blade stock (as is the case on most traditional knives) as it makes this thing an amazing slicer.  One day, someone with more knowledge about knives than I have will explain to me how you can make a great cutting knife with blade stock thicker than a smartphone like on some of the ZT knives and on customs like those from Direware.  Until then, I much prefer the IRJ's thin hollow grind.

Deployment Method: 2

The nail knick isn't my favorite way to open a knife, but in a traditional folder that's pretty much your only choice. Here it works well for what it is.  The spring is a tight one but the knick gives you plenty of grip.

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Another point--there is really no other opening method that would work and allow the knife to retain its wonderfully slim profile.  Its a trade off I am okay making in this role.  There is something disarming about opening a knife with a nail knick in public.  No one freaks out.  No one gives you that weird look.  And without that you are much more likely to carry and use your knife.  Try opening a yogurt tube at a kid's birthday with your ZT0350 assisted opening flipper.  Okay, don't.  You might be arrested.  I did that with the IRJ and the only comment I got was from a woman next to me who said that her Dad had a knife "just like that" when she was a kid.  I wanted to tell her that it almost certain didn't run CPM 154, but I was afraid she would think I was a super snob.  I am a super snob when it comes to knives (and many other things), but she didn't need to know that.

Retention Method:  2

As I mentioned in the review of the Falkniven U2 there are some knives that would be screwed up by the inclusion of a clip or a lanyard.  The IRJ is just such a knife.  Not only would it totally not work with the traditional folder look, it would screw up its svelte lines, and given the pocket slip, is totally unnecessary.  The decision to have no retention method on this knife is the right one given the design and overall package.  The leather of the slip case is sufficiently textured so that it does not slide around to much in the pocket, keeping the knife right where you want it and preserving the great look of this blade. No clip is the right choice here, especially with the slip case.

Lock/Blade Safety: 2

This is a slipjoint with a distinct half stop (as you can see below):

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The back spring is VERY strong, much stronger than the one found on my AG Russell Barlow, and equal to the strength of my Queen Copperhead.  With non-idiotic use, there is no way this thing will close on your fingers.  The knife also has great walk and talk (the smoothness of the opening and the clack of the knife shutting), something that is important to traditional knife knuts.  It compares nicely to some of the custom slipjoints I have seen at shows.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20; PERFECT



Its been about a year since I gave out a perfect score, but the Indian River Jack earned it, with ease.  A perfect score is not simply getting a 20/20, it means there is nothing I would change.  And here, there is nothing I would change.  The knife is simply outstanding.  It is such a good buy I would have purchased it even if it were $200.  At double the price it would have taken me longer, but I still would have pulled the trigger eventually.  How many things can you say that about--that you'd buy them if they were twice the price?

In the long search for a great traditional folder the IRJ is it.  It has the steel and finish of a custom at the price of a Spyderco.  The slip case is brilliant.  Derrick did everything right with this knife and his attention to detail shows.  If you want to see what the very finest production traditional folder looks like, try the Indian River Jack.  They are going quickly, so you should try sooner rather than later.  During the time I was looking for one exactly ZERO came up for sale on any of the forums or eBay. Once purchased, they tend to stay owned.  And now I know why.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack Overview

The review is coming later this week, but I have been so pleased with this knife I didn't want to skip the overview.  Suffice to say, this is about the perfect traditional knife for me.  Don't underestimate how cool the slip case is because it is awesome.  Also I confirmed that unlike prior runs, this version of the Indian River Jack did not come convex ground as I stated in the video.  This is a $129 knife that has the materials and fit and finish of a Mnandi with an olde timey appeal:




Here is a link to KnivesShipFree, where you can find the Indian River Jack, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

KnivesShipFree

Friday, June 20, 2014

Trolling For Hate: Shill Sites Suck

When the Internet was new, folks marveled over the technology and told us that all of this bandwidth would soon be filled with content. They had this idea that the Internet was like a cup and that it was built before there was a lot to drink. In the fifteen year since, the content has come and the cup has filled up. We now can get movies delivered to our TVs at the click of a button. Music is just a hop, skip, and click away. So much of the content out there is not content, but "content."

Ads are the fuel of the Internet. Without them everything we peruse for free would either not exist or be prohibitively expensive. But the effectiveness of ads of all forms has been dropping for a long time now. But once with money, always with money and the ad agencies and marketers are clever. In place of the old form of advertising, companies have found that product placements work better. Things that seem like "news" but are actually ads are more successful and influential than regular ads. In this space, especially in the gear world, has risen the Shill Site.

Shill Sites aren't evil. Many are quite well done. In particular, I enjoy Uncrate and I like Gear Patrol, which is still, at heart, a Shill Site, though they are moving away from that model. We all go to these sites and read them. They follow a formula: gear picture, "sale-itorial" paragraph, and link. They cover a wide range of products, not just gear. You can learn about new stinky jeans (apparently your not supposed to wash "premium" denim) and see a beer frother all in the same place. Generally they have good web designs and high quality pictures, some of which are original, but many of which are press pictures. While they do occasionally cover true boutique stuff, its mainly a parade of goods that merely look nice.

The big problem I have with these sites is threefold: 1) they do not provide any actual new information; 2) they are all covering the same stuff; and 3) they are not up front about what they are doing. There are so many of these sites with more springing up everyday. In the "content era" of the Internet, we are getting a heaping ton of these Shill Sites. This is no more "content" than infomercials are television shows. They are just more crafty about their informercialing than Billy Mays ever was.

The first big issue I have is that these sites write about a lot of stuff without saying much at all. They have staff or freelance writers that produce a huge volume of "product blurbs" every day. These blurbs usually take the product description, render it in a narrative form, and say something mildly (very mildly) amusing or pithy about the product. In some cases, the writer may have even Googled the product. In very rare instances, the writer has some experience and knowledge of the product and industry. Either way, the product blurb contains only the most superficial information. There is nothing new, nothing insightful, or even interesting. Picture, useless blurb, link. Don't be fooled. Uncrate isn't "bringing you the latest in stuff you like" or whatever the slogan is of the Shill Site. They aren't a news agency. They sometimes don't even know what they are talking about (watch for claims of things like "high performance" or "surgical" steel when a knife runs 420HC).

A few weeks ago when the Gerber 39 Series knife was released, every single Shill Site I visited was "covering" it. They all had the same picture with basically the same text. Not one of them mentioned the fact that the knife was WAY overpriced. None of them referenced Gerber's embarrassing streak of product recalls. None of them wrote about the fact that the Gerber product text implied American production but carefully avoided using the federally regulated term "Made in the USA". It goes like this all of the time. At least two or three times a week I will see the same product pop up on multiple Shill Sites, sometimes even on the same day. Its embarrassing when magazines have the same celebrity on the cover (a few months ago Jamie Foxx was on the cover of two magazines promoting the same thing in the same pose on both publications). But Shill Sites do this almost as a matter of course.

My biggest complaint is simple--they aren't up front about what they are doing. I could tolerate the useless text and the same-same coverage, if they were clear about what they are doing. Tell us "we are advertising products." I like infomercials, not only for their slick talking sales people, but also for their up front, we are selling stuff approach. I could watch Ron Popiel sell just about anything. But a Shill Site tells you its about covering things you like. Its about finding authentic goods that speak to you. Its about...blah, blah, blah....Cut it out. Uncrate's not on a mission to make you a better man. Stinky hipster jeans won't help you get your target in the sack. A watch will not make a you a person of distinction. This is hucksterism at its most clever.

Don't be sucked in. Being a decent person will make you a man of distinction and it seems to me that unwashed jeans might have the exact opposite effect of getting someone in the sack. Its all sales bullshit masked as some burgeoning men's movement. Remember Transformers the cartoon? Its job was to sell you toys. The idea that there were commercials during Transformers blows my mind. Shill Sites are the modern equivalent of the Transformers cartoon and you should approach them with all of the respect that deserves, which is to say, very little.

I have no illusions. I understand that this site, in a round about way, is a Shill Site too. But here is the difference--I don't do this for a profit. I have two motives: 1) have fun; and 2) raise the level of discourse about gear to a point where the conversation is befitting the quality of goods we are seeing now. Sure a review is, in a certain way, an ad. Heck, I even insert a link for you to buy stuff. But unlike the Shill Sites I have total editorial independence. If I think my readers would want to hear something is substandard, I will say so. The comments bloodbath in the Cryo review and the hammering Thomas gave me on the podcast prove that much. Even review samples sent to me still get hammered, if they deserve it. The Armytek C1 Partner was a ho hum light and that's exactly what its review said. The Viking, on the other hand, was damn good and the review reflected that as well. My singular goal in writing is keeping the faith of my readers, not selling them stuff. The ads and the links are there solely as a means to provide funds to get more products to review. This is not my job and having a stream of income lets me go out and buy products without any strings attached. A manufacturer can't buy a good review because there is nothing to buy. Since I don't run the site for profit there is nothing for money to buy. With Shill Sites its basically product placements paid for, directly or indirectly, by the manufacturer with very little editorial independence or insight.

The reality is we don't need more Shill Sites. Really one or two is more than enough. Its heartening to see Gear Patrol moving away from the Uncrate model. They have folks that have real talent and real information. Hopefully they kick the ladder away very soon and drop the product shilling entirely. Once they do, they will be better off for it. Another model I like that seems successful is the Huckberry model, which is essentially what TV networks do--you have two sides: content and ads and never the twain shall meet. I could happily read the Huckberry Journal every day, its that good (if you don't get their email newsletter you are really missing out; nothing makes a better post workday lunch read than that email). But there is a new Shill Site almost every day and that does nothing but muddy the waters with crass salesmanship pretending to be insightful and funny.  

Then there are enthusiast sites like this one. In my opinion these sites are where the real content promise from 15 years ago is being fulfilled. The democratization of access to the Internet has meant that a guy or gal with a passion, a camera, and a passable ability to write (though in my case passable means an unacceptably high number of typos) can become a content provider.  Every gear geek should be a member of the Knife Thursday community.  This is the promise of the internet realized. 

Look at Edge Observer. He is not simply providing content, he is providing content so good that no one else, even the big marketing companies, can match what he is doing. The Pen Addict is doing much the same thing--the website and the podcast create a focal point for pen fans that simply didn't exist before. Then there are the master of Instagram. Justin Laffer's good nature from the forums carries over into a compelling feed everyone must follow. The mix of cutting edge customs and shamelessly cute dog pictures is a mix that is hard to ignore.

But these places, aside from not being disguised ads, have an authenticity, voice, and expertise that is missing from Shill Sites. These aren't written failed English major freelancers getting paid by the word to say something quippy about a $80,000 jetpack then a beer frother then a handkerchief (can we all agree that handkerchiefs used as intended are disgusting?). The Edge Observers and Pen Addicts of the world are love letters written by a person and shared with everyone else.

We do not need more Shill Sites. They spread like a contagious disease. That age of "content" needs to be abandoned in favor of REAL content. Advertainment is scores worse than informercial as it lacks the clear and humorous absurdity of the "set it and forget it" crowd. They also confuse the consumer. The Series 39 might be a darn good knife, but it is horrendous value. The materials do not justify the $80 or so price tag even if it is actually made in the US. For $10 more you can get a Spyderco Manix LW that is vastly moore capable and a significantly better design and is definitely and for sure Made in the USA. And this is the heart of the critique of the Shill Site--it pretends to be something its not. There is no information there, no content, just a sales pitch in wolf's clothing. And I am fairly certain that like me, you have had enough sales pitches to last you a lifetime.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Quick Hits: Leatherman Style PS, Tombow Airpress, Kaweco Sport, NiteIze Doohickey, and Boker JDR Toucan

So there are bunch of things I have had for a while that I'd like to get off the "On Deck Circle".  I'd also like to get you scores for these items.  For one reason or another though, I haven't been able to actually get around to writing full length reviews.  So to clean out the backlog, I am going to do a bunch of quick hits.

For reference: here are all of the scoring systems.

Leatherman Style PS

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I bought the Style PS before going on a flight.  It was basically a test to see if it did as advertised and passed TSA screening.  It worked.  There was an initial hub bub but after a few minutes I was sent on my way.  Its probably not worth the stress that it can cause in long airport lines (is it just me or does everyone hate flying since 9/11?  The airport experience is miserable now.)

Its essentially the only real option if you want to EDC something while on a plane and it is packed with a lot of the goodies you've come to expect from a Leatherman--good pliers, excellent scissors, and nice styling.  I especially like the carabiner attachment point that doubles as a bottle opener.  Copying and then shrinking the Skeletool is a good thing.  Until the TSA changes its regs, this is your very best choice in a very limited market niche.  

I am taking one point off for fit and finish as there was a surprising amount of slop in the joints and pivots; doubling surprising given its producer.  Overall, an excellent design that doesn't make you feel like your carrying some botched, half-baked tool. 

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

Tombow Airpress

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This is something of the Fisher Space Pen of Japan and as such its actually quite a good little writer, with better lines and page feel than its oil slick 'Merican counterpart.  It also lasts a long time, as I have had the review sample for over a year and it is still doing well.  The trick to the pen is that pushing the knock to extend the writing tip pressurizes the refill.   This, of course, makes me wonder if I can make the pen explode clicking the knock repeatedly.  Thus far, no kaboom.

The pen's body is very small, the clip is horrendous, and its not the best thing to pull in and out of a pocket.  It also looks like something from a Duplo set (all of them do, regardless of which of the many colors you choose).  I am taking a one off for fit and finish, two off for appearance, and two off for carry (thanks to the stinky clip and the sticky barrel).

All of that said it is an excellent value at around $8 shipped from JetPens or another online retailer.  I have yet to see one of these on the store shelves.  Compared to the much pricier Space Pen, the Tombow Airpress is a good budget option that does the task of writing better, but pretty much everything else worse.  

Overall Score: 15 out of 20

Kaweco Sport

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The score warrants its own review, but the problem is that it would be a short and boring review.  It would go something like this: BEST STARTER FOUNTAIN PEN EVER.  I know folks love the Lamy Safari and the Pilot Metropolitan, but I think those two pens miss the core fountain pen experience--the incredibly smooth and responsive writing.  The Safari does an okay approximation but in the end I liked the Kaweco nib better.  The Metropolitan similarly LOOKS like a fountain pen should, but I just can't get by the sub-par nib.  If you want a GREAT writer and don't want to spend a lot, get the Sport.

Its my go to pen for long notetaking sessions and I can easily go for hours with it (if you listen to GGL, this where Andrew or Dan usually drops a "That's what she said...").  Its so light you don't notice it in your hand, doing something as close to pure brain to page as you can get.  It rides nicely in the pocket and takes a beating well thanks to decent black plastic.  It feels flimsy, but over eight months of use it as proven to be anything but that.  I haven't babied the pen either.  I have yet to flush it out and I don't spare it from sharing a pocket with keys and it still works and writes incredibly well.  Even the lack of a pocket clip doesn't bother me.

The one ding I have is the size in hand.  When posted it is still a BIT small and some I am taking off a point for balance/in hand feel.  But don't let that discourage you.  This is an awesome pen and probably one the better fountain pens for EDC use.  I wouldn't take it to the construction site, but its pretty damn tough.  

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

NiteIze Doohickey

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"What the F is this?" I said to myself as I walked into an EMS a few months ago.  There it was, yet another tool in the growing stable of NiteIze tools.  I am wary as lot of them are good ideas on paper and no where else.  The DoohicKey is $5 so don't fret too much.

The connection point is unique for a one piece multitool (which this is technically not anymore), but the tool itself is so pared down I am not sure exactly why it is better that a dedicated keychain bottle opener.  The pry tip is so thick as to be useless.  The bottle opener is a two pull design and the thick stock makes it hard to balance.  Finally there are no real drivers as the pry tip is just too thick and there is an angle towards the end to make the snag edge.  Overall, this is exactly what you'd expect for about $5.  Skip this.  Go for a Shard.  Its better.  

I am taking 2 points off for tool selection, 2 point off for tool performance, 1 point for grip (this thing is tiny), 1 point off for design (its just too pared down), and 1 point off for fit and finish.  There are better options everywhere. 

Overall Score: 13 out of 20

Boker JDR Toucan:

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Jared Price's custom Toucan is one a handful of One Piece Multitools I like (the Chopper, the Shard...).  Its design is incredible and the kydex sheath is amazingly brilliant.  I love the design and Boker carried that over to this tool.  Unfortunately, they did as they are want to do and totally screwed up the fit and finish.  Its really an insult to the design for them to be this far off.

The Toucan is probably the one OPMT that I would consider as having a viable, true cutting edge (the RUT does as well, but it is technically not a OPMT).  Unfortunately Boker decided not to go with a chisel grind as Jared does on some of the custom versions and the grind the did put on it looks like it was done by blind and spasmatic monkey.  It is atrocious.  Everything else is okay...the pry tip works to the same extent that any of these other tools can pry, the bottle opener is okay.  And even on the production version, the sheath is very good.

I am dinging the tool 2 points for the fit and finish and 2 points for the tool performance.  The grind on the blade is not just uneven, its so acute that this thing can't slice AT ALL. 

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

Leave me feedback.  If this works I may consider doing it for other, less complex items in the future.  If it doesn't, this was a one time thing. 

All of these items can be purchased through Amazon: Everyday Commentary's Amazon Link All purchases benefit the site. 


Thursday, June 12, 2014

All of my Light and Saber Pairs

Here are all of my pairings of lights and knives as of June 2014.  This is basically every piece of gear I own other than multitools and fixed blades.  It feels like a lot of stuff.  

Grail:

SPY 007 with Nichia 219 Emitter
Triple Aught Design Compact Dauntless by Briann Fellhoelter

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Custom #1:

Muyshondt Aeon, Mk. II
Steve Karroll SES

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Custom #2:

McGizmo Haiku
Charles Gedraitis Small Pathfinder

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Heavy Duty:

Eagletac TX25C2
Emerson Horseman

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Large Production:

Thrunite T10T
Limited Edition Blue G10 Kershaw Skyline

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Small Production:

Peak Eiger
Spyderco Draongfly II Super Blue Sprint Run

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Office:

Steve Ku 40DD
Fox Cutlery Spyfox

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Budget:

OLight i2
San Ren Mu 605

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Spyderco Clipitool Driver Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blade HQ

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

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Here is my video overview:



Twitter Review Summary: Amazing Cadet competitor

Design: 2

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

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

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

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

Fit and Finish: 2

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

Theme: 2

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

Grip: 2

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

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

Carry: 2

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

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

Materials: 1

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

Deployment/Accessibility: 1

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

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

Retention Method: 2

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

Tool Selection: 2

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

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

Tool Performance: 2

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

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

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

Competition: The Cadet Comparison

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

First some size comparisons.

In profile:

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In hand:

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Thickness comparisons:

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Height:

P1030140
 
Gun to my head, I take the Cadet.  I like and probably love the Clipitool, but the Cadet wins out on three fronts: 1) better handle scales; 2) bigger blade; and 3) better looks. 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Inspirs TTi-120 Review

Unlike with a knife or a flashlight, part of the functionality of a pen is its appearance.  Sure, we all like good lookin' blades, but ugly blades, if designed well, can perform as well as their more comely brethren.  But its different with a pen.  In many settings you are using a pen and that alone is making a statement.  The type of pen, based solely on its appearance, has a big impact on people around you.  Fountain pens elicit more comments than another other piece of gear I use or carry.  There is a reason the Mont Blanc "snow cap" is clearly visible when the pen is clipped to a pocket.  With pens appearance is part of their function.  How they look is part of what they do.

So when Inspirs Design reached out me and offered a review sample of the TTi-120, I was very surprised to see what it looked like.  This was no ordinary hard use pen.  It didn't have the battleship appearance that many tough, EDC style pens do.  In fact, it was even more stately looking than the indisputably flashy Prometheus Alpha.  In fact, the TTi-120 looks downright professorial compared the pens I am used to reviewing.  In short, the appearance of the pen communicates a lot about how it works.  I am not going to go so far as to throw out the bullshit lines from watch and fashion ads and claim that it is a sign that its user is a person of distinction (acts, not possession distinguish you), but there is no disputing it--the TTi-120 is a beautifully conceived package.

Here is the product page for the TTi-120.  Here is the Kickstarter page.  This might be the first review.  Finally, here is the review sample sent to me from Inspirs Design:

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Two notes on this item.  First, the Kickstarter is over and the project was funded.  Inspirs is currently in the process of setting up a retail store.  At the KS price of $125 this is a very competitive option.  The Ti body and wide range of refills that can be used make it an outstanding choice.  I contacted the company and they don't have a firm price, but the whole package, pen and case, may be as expensive as $200.  At that price it is a less competitive option.  It would be more than a lot of very good EDC pens and regular pens.  Second, Kickstarter's MO used to be small one or two man shops doing stuff locally.  I am unsure of the size of Inspirs.  Additionally this pen is made overseas, in China, if I am not mistaken.  I don't think that is a big deal, but some people do so I want to make it clear up front.  

Twitter Review Summary: Super clean, executive look with EDC pen durability

Design: 2

The Inspris TTi-120 is one of a dozen or so Ti Kickstarter pens, but it is a pen made better by the fact that there are no design gaffs or mistakes.  This is simply a very good pen.  Its not the design masterpiece that the Vanishing Point is, nor does it have a classic look like a Meisterstuck, but it is a good, clean tube of Ti.  One touch that I really liked was the ultra cool CARVED Ti clip.  Carved as opposed to stamped clips have become all the rage on custom knives, the knife equivalent of dovetailed drawers.  This sign of quality and attention to detail is nice to see in a pen and rare here.  Even Mont Blancs and other high end pens lack a carved clip.  The carry case is quite a statement maker too, but more on that later.  The final cool touch and a nod to the TTi-120's EDC heritage is a hidden tungsten tip--a great window breaker or pressure point, in case you ever need one. 

Fit and Finish: 2

How good is the fit and finish on the TTi-120?  So good that I couldn't figure out where the tungsten tip was.  The small cap that fits over the tail of the pen is so well machined that even knowing (or being told) that it was there, I still couldn't find it.  Worried, I gave the tail a sharp twist and finally I realized it was there.  All of the threads are clean and crisp.  The finish is a nice, even matte that held up well to a month or so of hard use.  The clip stayed put and had just the right amount of tension.  

Carry: 2

The pen, of course, has a clip.  But its the slim carry case that really got me.  Its not a big deal.  It doesn't really matter all that much.  But, as with many things in life, it is the little touches that count.  Keeping the pen in the case will help preserve the matte finish, which eventually will show wear. 

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Its funny what catches non-pen folks' eyes and the case is definitely one of those things. I will note, only because the bag itself is so cool, the ring is compatible with Tom Bihn latches (and other things as well).  As such, it rides well in my Cadet.

Appearance: 2

In this world we live in Apple dominates both the market and the aesthetic of consumer goods.  Everything looks like an Apple product.  Everything is minimalist.  The TTi-120 definitely lives there too and it in a pen I like that.  Fountain pens tend to be a bit to gauche for me--massively oversized, covered in swirly acrylic, and touched off with polished metal accents (okay, so not EVERYTHING has been Apple-fied).  EDC pens are no better--similarly thick and bulky, covered in grooves and notches.  So in that regard the TTi-120 is a break from the pen norm and more like the rest of the world of consumer products.

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But this is not another plain jane Kickstarter pen either.  Its clean, for sure, but there are a few snazzy touches.  First, the carved clip is really outstanding.  It looks different and feels different.  Then there is the hardware--here a custom fastner at the top of the clip, a really nice accent.  Inspirs clearly has the capacity and ability to bling this thing out, given the clip and fastner, but they didn't and in the end they created a nice balance between an Apple-fied pen and a the blingtastic stuff you find in other high end pens.  I like the appearance quite a bit.  It does the job quite well--telling others this is the a serious writing tool.

Durability: 2

The matte finish has me a bit worried for extended use, but I imagine that will simply go from even to scuffed to something like stonewashed (which is what happened with my Tuff Writer Ultimate Clicky--it looks better than ever now).  That point aside, the rest of the pen is very well made.  Inspirs levered the titanium nicely--the pen feels robust and durable without being a clunker.  I would note that the threads, which are well cut, are very fine.  There was no issue during the testing period, so this is a hypotethical concern, but I could see them cross threading pretty easily.  
 
Writing Performance/Refill: 2 

The refill is a ceramic ball roller ball from Schmidt.  Schmidt's refills are among the best on the market (they are the source of the Retro 51 magic) and it does not disappoint here.  The other trick for TTi-120 is the wide range of compatible refills.  Check the KS page for a complete listing. The highlights?  It will take a few different Schmidt refills, the Fisher refill, and the Hi-TEC-C refill.  That should have you covered, refill-wise.  

Balance/In Hand Feel: 1

Okay, here is the first minor issue.  This pen, especially when the cap is posted, is tremendously long.  The carved clip also adds a small bit of weight to the end and this combination occasionally gives you the cantaliever effect, making the pen feel unbalanced over long writing tasks.

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The unbalanced feel isn't bad or even overwhelming.  It might be that 99% of folks never notice it, but I take a TON of handwritten notes.  Here is where the issue came up for me.  I had a very long hearing in a recent case with one witness.  He talked for about an hour or an hour and half straight.  No breaks, no stopping.  It was a very important hearing with lots of details and a complex narrative.  In the end I had taken approximately 20 pages (probably more, but I stopped counting) of nearly verbatim notes.  By the end my index finger felt like it was holding up a weight.  The effect is easy to explain--like a see saw, the more weight you have further from the balance point (here right where the pen rests in the hand), the weightier it feels.  Again, it only came up once during the testing, but it was noticeable.  If you don't take a lot of notes or you can pause when doing so, you'll probably never notice this issue (other than noticing it now because I pointed it out).

Grip: 2 

The grip section typifies the entire pen--clean, simple, and without mistake.  Its nothing...to write home about (rim shot, please), but it works very well.  It boggles my mind how bad the grip section is on some EDC pens, covered with harsh knurling and jagged edges.  Why anyone would want to write with something like that is beyond me.  Here we get a plain comfortable grip.

Barrel: 2 

The barrel is smooth, well balanced (especially when not in the posted configuration), and pleasing to the eye.  Again, its not complicated, but it just works with the pen's overall aesthetic.  A half or quarter inch shorter barrel would fix the balance problem, but as barrels go, this is a nice one.  I have yet to reach the swirly acrylic stage of my pen appreciation and so, at least for now, I like clean and simple and that is what you get here.   

Deployment Method/Cap: 1

The cap can be engraved for custom graphics when you order the pen.  The review sample had no such labeling and because of that I can't really give you information about that part of this design.  What I can is that the cap's threads are very fine and because titanium is a galling metal, they tend to get noisy or sticky.

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Over time, titanium tends to wear well and the stickiness goes away, but until then, the cap's threads are my least favorite part of the pen.  I have never had the cap get stuck, but the squeaky feel of the threads doesn't mesh with the TTi-120 otherwise refined look and feel. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

The Inspirs TTi-120 is a very good EDC pen.  It is light and durable, but doesn't look like the writing instrument of a Klingon as so many EDC pens do. It accepts a wide variety of refills including many community favorites.  It looks very nice and the slip case is an excellent touch.  This is a perfect example of good product design through zero mistakes.  Think of the TTi-120 as a baseball player with enough talent to make the majors but with EXCELLENT fundamentals (say, Torii Hunter).  I'd worry about the matte finish over time, but with the slip case it should be okay.   At $125 is a very solid purchase.  At something more than that the value proposition gets less certain. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

TAD Gear/Rexford RUT Overview

The RUT (Rexford Utility Tool) is a new take on keychain multitools.  It has a bottle opener, a driver/prytip, and a quasi-framelock razor blade.  The design is quite ingenious and the piece is well made. There are two versions--a Rexford only version and this co-branded one. The big issue is the cost.  At $150 with insanely low availability, RUT is difficult to track down.  I got lucky and snagged one from TAD.

Here is the overview: