Monday, July 28, 2014

Standard Bearer Blades

Almost every one of the major knife companies has a standard bearer knife in its line up.  Boker's line up is too large and unfocused and Buck seems to be unsure of what kind of knife company it is,  but for Benchmade, Cold Steel, CRKT, Kershaw, SOG, and Spyderco, there is a knife (or pair of knives) that is perhaps the perfect representative of the company, the best value, and the best seller.  Having finally reviewed all of them, I am going to summarize what I have found.  I was going to do this as a Shoot Out but it got very unwieldy very fast.

First, let me define the standard bearer--this is the blade that rests in the hallowed spot in the market--above entry level but below the expensive enthusiast only blades.  They usually have better than entry level steel, they have been in the company's line up a long time, they are frequently used in marketing campaigns, and they have roughly the same size. Often there are two models--a big and a small one (in sticking with my preference for smaller blades I systematically reviewed the smaller of the two or three standard bearer blades).  They also have step up features, usually the company's signature technology.  They are also the platform for sprint runs and variations.  Finally, they are usually the company's best seller.  These are the Honda Accord/Toyota Camries of the knife world.

Here are the standard bearer blades I have reviewed (in alphabetical order, no favorites yet):

I would have included the Gerber Instant on this list, but the week I was intending on buying one, they issued a recall because the lock failed on many models.  Boker's line is too mixed up and Buck really hasn't figured out where to go yet.  The Vantage line was good, but troubled.  The 110 is great, but not exactly in the same league as these knives, design and features-wise.  Victorinox makes a little thing called the Cadet, maybe you have heard of it, but again, not what I am looking at here.

So with no possibility of a coherent shootout here I am going to rank them from worst to best, with comment about why the knife is where it is on the list.

#6: Kershaw Leek


This Ken Onion design is long in the tooth.  The newer Hindered models, like the Cryos and the Thermite are much better, but they don't have the history that the Leek does (the Cryo 1 in G10 would rank second or third, I am not sure).  The Onion knives really put Kershaw on the map in the mid-90s.  I wish they would have kept the Random Task in the line up as that is better knife than the Leek.  I dislike the weak tension spring and the uber-thin tip.  The pocket clip is meh.  But this is still a worthy EDC.  It is super slim and slices like the Devil.  Its a bit chunkier than it needs to be thanks to the steel handles, but it is a darn good blade.  Its worst here because the other knives are so damn good.  Just like one of the Kardashian sisters has to be the smartest, one of these knives has to be the worst.  Have I ever told you about my dream for an integral Leek with the Random Task blade shape?  Oh it would be awesome.

#5: Cold Steel 3" Voyager


Its a small knife with none of the benefits of being a small knife or a big knife with none of the benefits of being a big knife.  As Anonymous A.D. pointed out in the comments on the review of this knife--it is a total afterthought in the Voyager line, which really starts at 3.5".  But even an afterthought that weighs this much and runs the fabulous Demko Tri-Ad lock is really damn good.  Its not too pricey either.  If you need a beater for an EDC, look no further.

#4: CRKT M16

More features does not equal better performance and here nothing could be truer.  The additional lock for the lock is as ridiculous as that phrase is describing it.  The grind is really ugly and awkward.  But the price is good, the handle is nice, and the flipper works like a charm.  There is a reason this thing has sold like gloves in winter.  Its the best of the "flawed" standard bearers.  The rest are amazing knives and I am just picking nits, but even here the knife is special.  

#3: Spyderco Delica


Ah, my first real knife and even now, three models later, I am still enamored with the Delica.  It is practically perfect--thin, light, easy to open.  With a full flat grind it is probably a better slicer than the standard model.  With ZDP-189 it is a world class production knife.  I don't like the VG-10 steel, but it is definitely decent.  I am not thrilled with the exposed tang in the closed position.  And the blade:handle stinks.  Other than those three things, there is nothing bad here, and those three things are like complaining about Kate Upton's lip mole.  

#2: SOG Mini Aegis


Color me shocked.  After one bad experience after another with SOG's SAT pivot I was ready to throw in the towel.  Good thing I didn't.  This is an AWESOME knife.  Complaints, hmmm, let me see, complaints....I'll let you know when I think of some. runs a merely average steel, using AUS-8, but that's about it.  Its a three inch blade that weighs two ounces.  What else do you want? How about a price at or under $50.  Pretty amazing.  And then there is the deep carry clip.  Very, very good SOG.   

#1: Benchmade Mini Griptilian 555hg


The thumb stud version would rank behind the Delica, but the 555hg, with its thumb hole opener and sheepsfoot blade is awesome.  I wish Benchmade would make their split arrow clip standard, as it would move the contact point out beyond the handle texturing and fix the only very small flaw I had with this knife.   The Mini Grip 555hg is a knife anyone--workaday guy/gal or knife knut--can be happy with for a very, very long time.  I love this knife and this is one reason why Benchmade is always in the discussion when someone asks for a recommendation.  The knife also happens to weigh 2.56 ounces.  Great, nearly perfect blade.  

Here are some other notes, left over from the potential shootout that got to complicated.

Best Steel: 14C28N (on the Kershaw Leek)

Designed as a inexpensive steel just for Kershaw, this Sandvik steel is very good.  In my use it has stacked up nicely to steels perceived as more premium, such as S30V. 

Performance Ratios: SOG Mini Aegis

Nothing is really close here.  2 ounces in a 3 inch blade is kind of ridiculous. Super, super awesome. 

Favorite Deployment: Thumb Hole (on the Mini Grip)

I like the thumb hole a lot, better than the flippers on both the M16 and the Leek and leaps and bounds better than the thumbstuds.  The smoother pivot and less friction between the tang of the blade and the locking mechanism makes the Mini Grip smoother. 

You can find all of these knives at:

Blade HQ



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nilete Quiete Review

In the gear world, innovation is king.  And if innovation is king, the Nilte Quiete is downright regal.  This is a pocket knife completely rethought from the ground up.  Every single feature, every design choice is carefully and meticulously considered.  The end result is a knife that is without peer.  It is completely and utterly unique.  This is minimalism scrubbed to is purest essence.  The Quiete is a glorious blade, but it is a knife so shorn of adornments and features we are used to, it might be too much for some folks.  Those that can see the beauty are handsomely rewarded.

In the Al Mar Hawk review I compared that knife to a Ladderback chair--light and solid with all of the parts working together to improve the whole.  If that Hawk is a Ladderback chair, this is the cantilever chair, a form so pared down that it is almost completely different from its predecessor.  There is no question this knife is innovative and beautiful, but the real question is whether or not it is a good EDC knife.  I think it is, and hopefully I can defend that position in this review.  

Here is the product page. The Nilete Quiete costs around $300 plus international ship (as there are no US distributors, you can find them at Lamnia FI here). The knife is designed by Massimo Fantoni.  Here is a written review. Here is THE video review.  Here is the review sample (sent to me by Nilete):


Twitter Review Summary: Like nothing else in the world.

Design: 2

The Quiete has more in common with sculpture than it does the horde of G10 handled tactical knives being sold today.  Every screw and line has been carefully considered and the end result is a superb tool, both in the hand and to the eye.  The Quiete makes a statement every time you pull it out of your pocket and instead of offending people or scaring them off, they just might come over and ask you about the knife.  The funny thing is when you tell them it is Italian made they give you a look that says: "I knew it."  For all of the precision the Swiss bring to the table and all of the bombast that American designs are known for, no one makes a knife look as sexy as the Italians and the Quiete is one of their best examples (NOTE: By way of disclosure, I am biased as I am Italian).


The knife's ratios are very good.  The basic specs are good and I am going to give them here because the product page has them in metric.  The knife weighs 2.14 ounces and has a blade length of 2 7/8 inches.  The closed length is exactly 4 inches.  This results in a blade:handle of .72.  The blade:weight is 1.37.  This puts the Quiete into the second tier of performance ratios, right there with the SOG Mini Aegis, but just short of the Al Mar Hawk and the Kershaw Chill.  The difference is largely found in the very wide and perfectly flat ground blade.   

Fit and Finish: 2

The fit and finish here is marvelous, better than that found on the "Big Three" (CRK, Strider, and Hinderer) and equal to that found on Taichung Taiwan Spydercos and Al Mar Knives.  In short, the Quiete is as fine a built knife as you can buy without spending four figures on a custom.  The interesting thing here is that unlike many knives where the fit and finish is so high to appeal to finnicky knife knuts, the fit and finish here is necessary to fully exploit the materials and the design.  Anything less than perfect and the knife might not work.  You'll see why as we go on in this review. 


Note the bright stonewash finish the beautifully rounded handle scales (they aren't just chamfered, they are rounded on both sides for an excellent in-hand feel).  

Grip: 2

Simply put, the grip on the Quiete will surprise you.  With all of the curves around the edges and the fantastic choil (Spyderco take note--THIS is how you do a choil), the Quiete is really, really good in the hand.


It doesn't hurt one bit that the knife is incredibly light and perfectly balanced.  Given the knife's size, something equivalent to a Mini Grip, the amount of control you have is really amazing.  This is also another exhibit in the argument against jimping.  The gentle rolling humps on the spine of the blade are definitely NOT jimping, but the knife's shape is just right, making them or even real jimping entirely unnecessary.  The gentle bumps do look very nice though.

Carry: 2

The size, the rounded edges, and the incredible weight make this knife a perfect pocket companion.  You could carry it every day of your life, in slacks, in jeans, in shorts, and it would be virtually invisible.  Despite is nearly 3 inch blade, the knife can hide in your jeans coin pocket (depending on the brand).

Steel: 2

14C28N is an American exclusive to Kershaw, made for them by Sandvik.  Here is the data sheet.  Its a steel I really like, capable of holding an edge well, not chipping, and being very corrosion resistant.  It is significantly less expensive than other new steels, in part because it was designed to be inexpensive, but on a dollar for dollar basis, there is no steel I have used that is a better performer.  Sure, M390, M4, Super Blue, and ZDP-189 are better, but they are also much more expensive.  The trick is that this is a stainless steel hardened by both carbon AND nitrogen (usually steels are hardened by one or othe other, with nitrogen being used in steels that are in tools used around water).  
Because of its high hardeness, around 60 HRc, the 14C28N can take a very thin grind and the Quiete has that grind.  The end result is a slicer that works very, very well.  I have used the knife for food prep (cutting up grapes and fruit for my son's lunch) and never had a problem. This is a great all around steel.

Blade Shape: 2

The blade shape, like the rest of the knife is not like anything else.  It is part sheepsfoot, part wharncliffe with a bit of a belly.  Its like the Benchmade 555hg and the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite had a baby.  


Weird as it is, it works very, very well.  I had no problems whatsoever with the knife in any task.  In slicing and chopping food it was great.  In package opening and box deconstruction it was fine.  In thread cutting and very light precise work, it was excellent.  There was really nothing this little blade did poorly.  Well, okay one thing--it doesn't stab all that well.  But it stabs more than the enough for an EDC knife.  

Grind: 2

Oh my, what a grind.  SOG is generally the company I think of when I think of impeccable production knife grinds.  But this grind, this super keen full flat grind is, perhaps, a step above even that.  It is really a marvel.  


The blade is quite tall and all that height is truly leveraged well, bringing the actual cutting bevel to an impossibly thin edge.  I wouldn't chop with the Quiete to vigorously, but this is a kitchen knife level slicer.  

Deployment Method: 0

I know, I know--there is really no deployment method that would work with the Quiete.  Anything would screw up the aesthetics.  But as much as looks matter, and you're lying if you say that don't at all...after all few people carry plain old box cutters, I just couldn't get over nothing.  I'd even take a nail knick.  Really anything at all.  As it is, you can get the knife out one handed, as the video review shows, but its not pretty and really even in a two handed grip, you are getting the blade all funky.  I love the look, but I'd kill for a thumb hole.  I know it would require a redesign of the handle, but all of this sculptural beauty sorta jibes with the Spyderco vibe.  If you are an aesthete then just ignore this score and consider the knife perfect.  But if you have even a passing notion of being a knife user your going to want something that isn't here.  

Retention Method: 2

I already laid out why I think certain knives, like the Fallkniven U2, don't need a clip.  Here the case is even stronger.  The Quiete's handle is quite comfortable and a clip would certainly ruin that.  Additionally, it would screw up the aesthetics and unlike the lack of a deployment method, you can carry a knife quite nicely without a clip, especially one of this size.  Finally, the lanyard hole is excellent, large enough to accept the included yellow paracord.  I am still not IN LOVE with laynards, but this is a darn good knife to lanyard up. 

Lock: 2

This is a lock back that has ZERO, absolutely ZERO blade play.  I was surprised given the miminalist construction and the thin G10, but this thing doesn't move a smidgeon.  I loved the feeling of rotating the knife into the locking position and hearing, feeling, and seeing the lock bar snap into place.  


The  innovative rendition of the lock back, using a single spring bar of 14C28N, gives the knife a look and feel like nothing else.  The Pure Lock Back, the name Massimo gives his design, is to traditional lock backs what frame locks are to liner locks--its just cool.  And here, it is in service to the sublime minimalist aesthetic--it makes the knife simpler, cleaner, and lighter.  Amazing job.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

The Quiete is, quite simply, an experience.  Holding it, using it, and carrying it, are all sublime joys.  Opening it...not so much.  But with all of this innovation and flowing curvy beauty its hard to get worked up about the need to use two hands.  As a cutter the Quiete kills it.  As an EDC, its light weight and people friendly blade are great.  And you can be pretty certain you'll be the only one of your knife buddies carrying it.  There are less than 500, in all six variations, of the Quiete in the world.  And they are pretty awesome.  But the Quiete is not for everyone, just for those with good taste, which means you.  For those that like the Gerber may not work so well.   

The Competition

Being 100% serious, there is no competition for this knife.  It is so unlike anything else on the market that it just doesn't make sense to put it up against anything else.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nilte Quiete Overview

Thanks to a good word by Andrew, Nilte sent me a Quiete for review.  The knife is a spectacular blade, leveraging all sorts of brilliance--both design and mechanical--to come up with something completely and utterly unique.  Here is my video overview:

You can find the Nilte Quiete here. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Xtar B20 Pilot Review

The flashlights on the market right now, especially from reputable makers, are really incredible.  Flashlights have basically adapted Moore's Law to output and performance.  Lumens counts double every 18 months or so.  Runtimes do the same.  Stuff that was esoteric a couple of years ago, like color rendering, is now front and center in product literature for many lights.  Exotic, high powered rechargeables are in the same boat.  We have been treated to lights the size of your thumb nail with itty bitty batteries and we have been treated to photon cannnons with positively massive batteries.

All of this change though, is tough to keep pace with and sometimes, when markets change so fast, people might decide to wait things out.  After all, if you are looking for a cutting edge light you can wait a week and something new will come around.  This is even more true when the price of products increases at a rate proportional to their performance.  It used to be unheard of to spend $150 on a production light.  Now there are dozens if not hundreds of lights that cost more than that.  The pressure these two trends create may make some folks just sit on the sidelines and watch.

But the Xtar B20 Pilot just might change your mind. 

The B20 is a great entry point for a person looking to get their first 18650 powered light, especially if you buy the kit option which includes the battery and a charger.  The non-kit version is cheap for what you get.  The kit version is a little more, but still inexpensive.  It has cutting edge performance, very good build quality, and all of the accessories you need to really get an 18650 light up and running. 

Here is the product page. Here is an amazing review of the night on Candlepower Forum.  The Xtar B20 costs $46.  The kit, which I got for review, costs $76, but is definitely worth the extra money (more on that later). Here is a written review. Here is a video review. You can purchase the Xtar B20 from E2 Field Gear and get a discount of 8% using the coupon code "Commentary" and the sales benefit the site and its giveaways.  The review sample was provided by E2 Field Gear and it was already returned. 

Twitter Review Summary: An excellent choice to be your first 18650 light

Design: 2

Aside from some crazy, out of the box designs like the SPY 007, there are very few ways to make a light look different.  The Xtar B20 looks like a lot of other lights, but a good deal of the details are better than average.  The tail cap is nice.  The knurling is well-balanced--not too grippy, not too smooth.  The heat sinking is pleasing to the eye and functional.  The appearance is very standardized, but the details are good.

This is an average sized light for an 18650.  Its bigger than the Zebralight SC600 Mk. II and the TX25C2, but thoughts are both designed to be ultrapocketable.  Compared to the 47s 18650 lights and the ArmyTek lights I have reviewed, its right down the middle in terms of size.  


Fit and Finish: 2

In budget lights there are some flaws that you come to expect.  Generally cheap lights have crappy threads that are rough.  They either cross thread or stick.  And when they don't the parts don't synch together well with a lot of slop.  But that's not a problem here, despite the very modest price.  Another common flaw is poor centering on the emitter, but again, the B20 doesn't have that flaw.  The flaw here is simple: a squishy tails switch.  Its not worth a full point, but it is noteworthy.  Also, while it didn't impact performance during the review period, it seems like it might with more wear.  I am not able to say that for sure, so I am going to keep this as a 2.  If reports come in over time that report problems, I'll update the score.    


Grip: 2

The B20 offers very good grip.  The diameter of the light is just right, the placement of the clip is good, the knurling is good, and the tailcap is excellent.  As with many other things on the light, it is not flashy, but it just works.  Here is the B20 in hand. 


Carry: 0

While the placement of the clip is good on the body of the light and the clip itself works with many grips.  The clip, as a clip is, well, blah.


I hate friction fit clips, but some are worse than others and this one stinks.  As can see from the photo above, the milled out portion is quite large and the clip is loose in there.  A tighter groove and the clip might have been better, but here it is dreadful.

A few people have asked for a non-EDC flashlight Scoring System and I have thought about it, but for now I am going to continue to use this system, but I would note that given the intended use of this light, pocket carry being bad and the clip being terrible aren't deal breakers.  If there were a non-EDC system, neither of these issues would matter much at all.  Keep that in mind. 

Output: 2

BAM.  1000 lumen high (a real 1000 lumens) and a low of 30 lumens.  I'd like to see a true moonlight low on an 18650 light, but absent one of the weirdo modes on the SC 600 Mk. II, there isn't an 18650 light that can do that.  30 lumens is fine.   

Runtime: 2

Its an 18650 light.  Runtimes are insane.  70 hours on low isn't great, but it is more than you will probably ever need.  One thing to note is that the runtimes and the outputs are very good for the price.  There are a few 18650 lights out there even from major companies that don't have such good highs and consistent good runtimes.  Both are still well above average and for a very affordable light, that's impressive. 

Beam Type: 2

With a smooth reflector and a large head, the beam type is all about throw and given the intended use of the light, that's perfect.  Even on lower lumens modes the brightness is SO intensely focused that it can mess with your night vision.  But you don't buy an 18650 light to work on your desktop's hard drive.  You buy it to blind your neighbor, if you live in Alaska and your nearest neighbor is across a lake three miles away.  

Beam Quality: 2

The beam is quite pleasant with a strong concentrated hotspot and a lot of spill.  The tint was fine, nicely neutral.  It is without artifacts and is perfectly rounded.  The corona of spill is even, without much in the way of diminishing brightness towards the edge.  The transition is smooth, but quick.  All in all, an amazing beam for the price.  

UI: 1

You can use the head or the tailcap to switch modes and you do so by doing a half press.  Its a clicky but the UI works.  I'd like something more and I think nowadays a clicky is average.  With all of the selector ring lights and QTC lights we are a little spoiled and I know that, but better is out there.  Still, this is perfectly serviceable.    

Hands Free: 2

The clip and the head prevent rolling and the clicky stays out of the way.  The light is a bit big to use in your mouth, but it does everything else well.  

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

You don't NEED an 18650 light, but if you want one and don't want to drop an arm and a leg, get the XTar B20 Pilot.  It is a great light and the kit is useful even if you decide to upgrade later.  I was really surprised at how well it was made and how nice the beam was.  The lumens are cutting edge anymore, but they are just behind the cutting edge.  Excellent offering and a fun light.

The Competition

This isn't really in the same product category as the Fenix, so I am going to compare it to its true competitors.  The B20 is significantly cheaper than other 18650 lights from reputable makers.  You can, of course, go find a Fandy Fire that is less money, but the quality and customer service is suspect.  With the Xtar you have a real company with connections to the US and a real distribution chain.  Other light companies in a similar position charge a lot more for their 18650 lights.  The TX25C2 costs around $100.  The SC600 Mk. II is similarly expensive.  If you look at lumens, battery, and price, there is nothing really competitive with the non-kit version of the B20.  This is, in large part, why I want to recommend this light to folks looking to upgrade to a photon cannon powered by an 18650 battery.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Xtar B20 Pilot Overview

The market for lights has never been hotter and right now you can find a ton of stuff out there.  The top end is very nicely populated with quite a few lights between $90-$150.  The bottom of the market is, as always, populated with a bunch of...stuff...too.  But the middle of the market, especially with lights that run specialized batteries like 18650s isn't all that crowded.  Enter the B20 Pilot from Xtar.  Here is the video overview:

You can purchase the B20 Pilot through E2FieldGear and receive a discount as well as benefit the site.  Click on the banner to the right and enter the discount code Commentary at check out.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kershaw Cryo G10 Review

"Le bon Dieu est dans le d├ętail"
--Gustave Flaubert

Indeed it is.

In the original Cryo review I wrote:

The bones of a great knife are here.  Kershaw, here is how you fix it:

1.  Bring production to the US

This allows for better steel, like the 14c28n on the Skyline, or even better S30V.  It also allows for an upgrade in the fit and finish, which will get rid of the centering issues.

2.  Make the frame lock easier to disengage

3.  Get rid of or slim down the thumbstuds

4.  Use titanium or Ti/G10 on the handle scales with matte finish on the Ti.

This is will make the knife lighter and grippier.

This new blade would be much more expensive, probably around $100, but it would be a great knife and fill a hole in the Kershaw line up.  They have very few mid priced knives, going from the $30 blade to the $300 Tilt with little in between. 

I am not sure if Kershaw took that to heart, but I meant it.  The Cryo is a knife that can be great.  The G10 Cryo is a vast improvement over the original.  Because the knife is so substantially different, I have opted to review the G10 version.  I know this knife has received a lot of attention on this blog, but the Cryo deserves it, Kershaw deserves it, and frankly, folks looking for a good EDC deserve it.  As someone that reviews gear, as a critic of sorts, its important to acknowledge when a company takes steps to fix a problem.  Otherwise I run the risk of just being a snarky a-hole (I AM a snarky a-hole, but I want to be other things as well).

Here is the product page. There are quite a few versions of the Cryo: the original all stainless steel handled model, that model in blackwash, a tanto/recurve in blackwash, and the G10 version that is the subject of this review.  There is also the larger Cryo II that comes in the same variations, though I don't think the G10 model is out yet.  The Cryo costs $36.95. I wrote two prior Cryo reviews looking at the original stainless steel handled model: here and here. There are no written reviews of the G10 model yet. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Cryo G10, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money, for me to keep, yay!):


Twitter Summary: The Cryo we have all been waiting for; this is the one to buy.

Warranty Report

Just like when I review items made by custom makers, I want to give you information about the processing of my Cryo for a warranty repair.  Why did it need a repair?  I am a moron, that's why.  Talking to Dan and Andrew, I was convinced that I should try to de-assist my Cryo and so one day I laid out some paper and a magnetic parts dish and went to town.  It got everything apart and took out the torsion bar (brilliant design by the way, so simple yet so effective).  Then I dutifully put everything back together.  And it didn't work.  It wouldn't open at all.  Rummaging around I noticed a pin still in the parts tray and I remembered where it went.  It took the whole thing apart again and put it back together.  This time the thing flopped open.  I played around with it some more and got it a little better, but even when the torsion bar back in, it still wasn't really working right.  The lock bar was all screwed up.  I decided that I would just take it on the chin and send the whole thing back to Kershaw.  I am sure I could have got it working again, but I didn't want to evaluate the knife without giving it the benefit of "factory" tolerances and fit and finish.  That wouldn't be fair.  So I sent it back with credit card info in tow, to pay for the repair.  It was, after all, totally my fault (and I noted that in the warranty claim form).

Two weeks later the Cryo came back and was as good as new.  And there was no charge.  TuffThumbz referenced this when he was on GGL and my prior experience with them in my "real life" tells me this is a company that stands by its customers and stands behind its products.  The speed of the repairs and their cost (zero) is just impressive.  Kershaw is really killing it right now; no one can match them at the bottom end of the market, at the top end of the market, in the quality of collaborators, the performance, the value, and the service they provide.  It is a highly competitive market right now and Kershaw is doing amazing stuff.  

Design: 2

My two biggest criticisms of the original Cryo were its weight and its lack of grip.  Both complaints had the same origin--the slick and heavy stainless steel handles.  They were coated and made to look like titanium, but in the end, they were just colored stainless steel.  The original Cryo clocked in at 4.2 ounces, which is quite portly for a knife this size.  This model slims down by about 10% squeaking under the 4 ounce mark at 3.7 ounces.  That's still a lot for a blade this size (the Paramilitary 2 has a 3.44 inch blade and weighs 3.75 ounces, for example), but it is better. I'd love to see the G10 side be all G10, like on a Skyline or a Strider, but alas, that's not what Kershaw did.  Without the liner on the G10 side we might be looking at a 3 ounce knife. But still, I'll take 3.7 ounces.  Its not great, but its better.  The real improvement comes in the area of grip, but I will leave that for below.  

The performance ratios are good, but not great.  The blade:handle is .73.  The blade:weight is .74.  Here is a shot of the Cryo to demonstrate scale:


Overall the Cryo G10 fixes two of the original's biggest problems.  They aren't perfect fixes, but each is worth about a point, so the G10 gets a 2 while the stainless original gets a 0.  
Fit and Finish: 2 

Oh my...much better.  Before the warranty repair the fit and finish was superb.  After, it was still superb.  The blade traveled a bit because of the loose pivot, but that is something I expected upon return (I cracked the pivot to take it apart and I didn't expect them to Loc-tite it for me).  A dab of Loc-tite (Loc-tite Blue 242 is my preferred formula for this task) and the problem was gone, as you can see: 


The edges of the handle are nicely rounded over, the blade centering is dead on, lock up is good with no stick.  The detent on the torsion bar is perfect.  Frankly, I think they did some tweaking from the stainless version.   I have owned three Cryos now and handled another three or four and this one is, by a wide margin, the best I have seen. Huge upgrade, from 0 to 2.

Grip: 2 

Well, well, well...this is an easy upgrade.  G10 may not be exotic or pretty, but it is as functional as it gets.  It resists temperature changes, provides good grip when properly textured, and is very dimensionally stable.  The G10 here is grippy without being offensive--pretty standard issue Kershaw G10, very much like the Skyline's G10.  


This is a no-brainer upgrade and makes me wonder why this wasn't the standard issue set up (more on that below). 

Carry: 1 

This is still a heavy knife. The thumbstuds (which are 100% vestigal, as useful as your tailbone) still act as a snag hazard.  I just can't think of a reason why they need to have them.  These two things make this a less than perfect carry.  The knife is slim though and the pocket clip is placed well, but I can't say this is a great knife in the pocket.  Its probably average, or a smidge better than average now. 

Steel: 1 

I have come to hate bead blasting of all kinds.  It robs your stainless steel of its stainless character.  Why pay for a stainless steel and then bead blast it into something less?  At least 1095 has a good carbon content to offset its lack of stainlessness. The stonewashing is a big plus, both for looks and corrosion resistance.  I have also come to appreciate the utility of 8Cr13MoV.  I am not yet ready to give it a 2, but its perfectly average.  Together, the stonewashing and my greater familarity with the steel make me want to give it a higher score, but the scoring system isn't subtle enough to allow for a higher score here.  The steel on the G10 version is better because of the stonewashing, but not a point better. 

Blade Shape: 2 

I have no complaints with the blade shape.  I never have.  Its great.

Grind: 2 

Okay, this is one place where I think even in the re-review I was too harsh.  The grind here works.  Its not pretty, but it works.  The same flair out at the ricasso end of the grind that I had on the two stainless models exists here.  I prefer it not be there for ease of sharpening, but it is.  Also, the blade stock while thick, is nicely thinned out towards the cutting edge.  I have had more time with the knife and it cuts quite well.  This isn't "custom knife" nice, but the price is also not "custom knife" high.  For a budget blade its quite good (though not as good as the CRKT Drifter, a knife I appreciate more with each new knife I review).    

Deployment Method: 2

The thumb studs now work.  They aren't ideal and are totally redundant, but they at least work to deploy the knife.   The flipper is nice as it was before.  I am not sure if the detent on the torsion bar is different between the stainless model and this model, but I can reliably deploy the knife using the thumb studs.  

Retention Method: 2 

Once a great clip, always a great clip.  


The only limitation, it seems, to the clip is when it is used on very, very large knives.  Here, though, it works great.

Lock: 2 

As I mentioned in the re-review, I think I was overly harsh on the lock.  The lock, once you get used to it, is quite good and my model had no stickiness to it at all.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20 

There is no question this is a great budget knife.  In fact, if you wanted to you could go back and take out the word "budget" in that sentence.  This is just a great knife.  And the really amazing thing is that Kershaw made a bunch of improvements but the price didn't change all that much.  One thing that I am afraid of is that Kershaw, getting a bunch of push back from the Internet because of their 2012 line up and the heavy use of black G10 and bead blasting, put out the stainless version instead of a G10 version.  I hope that's not true in one sense, because it means we had to wait to get the "real" version of the Cryo.  On the other hand, if it is true it shows why Kershaw is at the top of the game right now--a willingness to listen to its customers.  Even if it is not true, the G10 version of the Cryo shows a willingness to listen as well.  For all of the flack I got over the first two Cryo reviews, I am perfectly happy with this new version of the knife.  Its a very good EDC.  Its not perfect, but its darn good.  Talking to Chris from Knife Thursday, he summed up the Cryo G10 best when he said: "This is the knife as it was meant to be." 

The Competition

Compared to the equally widely available SOG Mini Aegis, the Cryo probably comes out a bit ahead.  Its a thinner knife with a better pocket clip and a hardier grind and blade shape.  I also prefer a flipper to a thumbstud, but this is not a total trouncing.  The Mini Aegis still has better steel (though marginally so), and it is significantly lighter.  Both are overseas produced, so that's not an issue.  The real issue comes when you look at price.  The Cryo is a sub $40 dollar knife.  The Mini Aegis is $10-$20 more.  Its not that much better of a product, if at all.  It might be time to change the Readily Available Benchmark.   

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cryo G-10 Overview

The first go round with the Cryo didn't turn out well.  The second wasn't much better.  But, as I stated a few times in the reviews, the bones of greatness are there.  The G10 Cryo is the knife that I wanted the original Cryo to be.  Its a very good knife.  I mistreated my Cryo, but KAI USA fixed it up.  I wanted to de-assist it, but when I did the thing didn't go back together very well.  I got everything to work well, but the lock up was WAY off.  I could have still used it, but I didn't think it would be fair to review it in that state, so I sent it back to KAI for service.  This was totally my fault and not the knife's at all.  That said, I did get to do a video overview and I really like the Cryo G10:

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cold Steel Voyager 3" Clip Point Review

Its been more than three years since I started this site.  In that time one of my goals was to review each of the standard bearer knives for each of the major brands (post forthcoming comparing all of them).  Cold Steel's standard bearer is the Voyager line.  And this review marks the final standard bearer blade to be evaluated.

The Voyager has been in production for years and over time, it has changed many times.  The handle shape has become more nuanced, less "jelly bean".  The lock has been upgraded to the excellent Demko Tri-Ad Lock.  The pocket clip has been altered, unforunately for the worst.  Has all this change been for the better? Let's find out.

Here is the product page. The 3" Voyager costs $46.95. Here is a written review from some guy named Dan. Here is a video review from some guy probably not really named Nutnfancy. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Voyager, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (on loan from Everyday Commentary contributor Ben Schwartz):


Twitter Review Summary:  Quirky, beefy, and capable, but not great.

Design: 1

While the jelly bean handles were bland looking they afforded a wide number of grips.  The new design essentially tells you how to hold the knife.  That's a design flaw, but one that I will look at in more detail below.  The big sin here is the bulk, in particular, the thickness.  This knife is positively chubby.  Including the clip it is three times as thick as a Cadet.  But all of that thickness is really a waste.  It was done, undoubtedly to accommodate the aluminum liners, which even Cold Steel has proven are unnecessary (their Recon line has no liners under the G10 handles and is more than strong enough).  If there was some trade off, some reason why, I would have less of an issue with the thickness.  In the end it makes this knife a true pocket hog.  Its virtually impossible to carry anything else in that pocket.  Forget about coin pocket carry (but, to be fair, if you are thinking about a Cold Steel knife coin pocket carry ain't your thing).  


Here is a good size comparison (or a fun picture, one or the other) between an larval form of the Lithophane Atennata and the Voyager:


The performance ratios are good.   The blade:handle is a very respectable .70, just about middle of the pack for the knives I have reviewed.  The blade:weight is even better, around .97.  The issue with the design isn't its size, its the knife's volume.  I am still working on how to measure that (thanks for the suggestions folks).

Fit and Finish: 2

For a company with a remarkably cave man image and advertising, Cold Steel regularly and consistently nails the fit and finish on its knives.  The Voyager, like the Mini Tuff Lite, the Recon, and the Mini AK-47 has a very smooth pivot with excellent action, well above average for a lock back.  The blade centering is excellent as well and the stonewash is very nice and even, just short of the stonewash found on uber premium production knives like the Strider and the XM-18.  Nothing on the Voyager disappointed in terms of its finish.  All around excellence.

Grip: 1

Its odd to find a folder this thick.  In one sense it makes for an excellent knife in the hand, with a palm-filling feel.  Unfortunately all of that material is rounded and cut into a shape that demands you to grip the knife in only one of two ways.  The handle is vaguely reminiscent of the handle on the Mini AK-47 and that knife lots points for poor affordance. 


That alone is worth probably a full point, but just in case it isn't, the position of the hand, about 3/4 of an inch from the blade gives you well below average control, something unacceptable on a knife this small.  

The texturing is, thankfully, tamed down from the insane grippiness of the Recon G10, with a pleasing to the eye and pleasing to the handle, cruciform pattern.  The chamfering around the handle is good.  There is no jimping to speak of, those grooves are mere decoration, but with the shape of the handle, its not really much of a concern.    


In all, the grip on this knife is very complex.  In one sense it is good and hand-filling.  In another sense it is awful, bossing you around and telling you how to hold it.  That's a 1, but I wouldn't object if someone scored this knife as a 0 in terms of grip. 

Carry: 1

For a 3 inch blade this thing carries very large.  Not only is it very thick, the clip is placed awkwardly and the knife is quite wide. There is a good deal of blade sticking out of the handle, making the Voyager a pocket road block.  Its very light, even with the liners, so you can't complain too much, but I think I'd rather have an older model with its slim profile and no liners.

Steel: 1

AUS-8--the very definition of an average steel.  Cold Steel's version tends to be soft and tough, never chipping but often in need of sharpening.  Its a good choice on a beginner's knife or on a knife you plan on thumping on (which is perhaps, the very best application for Cold Steel blades).  Thankfully, this knife does not run Cold Steel's wretched blade paint.  Be clear, its not coating, definitely not PVD or TiNitride or ceracote.  Its paint and bad, flaky paint at that.  None of that here and everyone's better off for it. 

Blade Shape: 1

The tip is fine, the belly is fine.  In terms of performance, the blade shape is great.  But it is so aggressive looking, so antisocial, that its uncomfortable to use the blade in public.  This isn't the knife you open your kid's toy with, it will scare the bejesus out of people.  


And there is no real reason for the shape.  A simple drop point would work just as well or better, as proven by the Recon 1.  I'd much, much prefer that shape than this uber-aggro clip point.  I'd even prefer a more modest clip, like those found on Case knives, to this Sinbad looking thing.  It might be great in tactical applications, but the rest of the time (read: all of the time) something more modest would be better. 

Grind: 2

Cold Steel's simple full flat grind is excellent.  The cutting bevel is nice and wide and the main grind is consistent and even.  I still think SOG does grinds better than everyone else, but Cold Steel is the Tom Petty of grinds--consistently good, but never great (I am a Tom Petty fan, so don't complain). 

Deployment Method: 2

Cold Steel's screw thread thumb studs are a rare design masterstroke in the Cold Steel design language.  They have a lot of brilliant engineering and tons of overbuilt stuff, but the simple and switchable thumb studs no only provide great traction, they look good and allow for ambidextrous deployment quickly.  


Retention Method: 1

I don't like the fact that the clip is not ambidextrous.  It just gives you one more part to lose.  I am not going to say I hate it, but a little forethought could eliminate this problem.  


It works well, is nicely tensioned, and isn't a paint scraper, but it is average if not slightly below.

Lock: 2

Tri-Ad lock rocks.  Ambidextrous, easy to use, tough as a rhino.  AWESOME. 

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

The Voyager has a big knife feel and lock with a small blade.  It is chunky and awkward in the hand, but it does cut well and is insanely tough.  Its hard to say its a bad blade, but it is not as good as the Recon series.  In the end, the changes, other than the lock and the thumb stud, are not improvements.  I'd love to see the old Voyager handle with a Tri-Ad lock and a threaded thumb stud.  The Voyager isn't bad but in this part of the market you can do better.  And for a little more money you can do better in the Cold Steel line up.   

The Competition

The Mini Aegis is one of the very best EDC knives out there, for the money.  The comparison here is really interesting.  The materials are essentially identical--AUS 8 and FRN.  But the designs and the purpose of the two knives are diametrically opposed.  The Mini Aegis is fast, convenient, and light.  Its big for a 3" blade and the assist can appear to be an auto to the untrained eye, but it is much more people friendly than the clip point Voyager, which just looks Iike a murder weapon from a Dateline "crime" episode.  I would almost always opt for the Mini Aegis, but those with lots of heavy duty tasks would almost certainly prefer the beefy Voyager.  Can't beat a 2 ounce knife with a 3 inch blade for EDC, but if you are a knife torturer, the Voyager will last much longer before it breaks.