Thursday, August 28, 2014

Evaluating Quality Control

I received an email recently that asked me how I evaluate quality control.   This is a very, very hard thing to do, but when it is possible I will let you know.

First, everything produced by man, whether it is something as complex as a state of the art luxury car or as simple as brown paper bag from the grocery store, is subject to manufacturing errors.  A single lemon does not equal bad quality control.  People on forums seem to disagree with this sometimes, using a difficult-to-refute performative proof logic--if I got a defect, they must not have good QC.  But the truth of the matter is that no matter the skill or the scale of the producer, errors will occur and a single error or a few errors (depending on the scale of production) do not indicate poor quality control.  In industrial production, Lego is often cited in books on management and business as having the best QC around.  They produce literally billions of small items, all of which must be precisely made in order to work, and many of which have to be bundled together is specific ways to make the final product.  They have to do this quickly and efficiently to make sure they can turn a profit margin selling these tiny things (relatively) cheaply.  Despite this, the error rate coming out of Lego is regularly cited as 13 manufacturing errors per 1 million bricks made.  Think about that for a second.  13 out of 1,000,000.  That is below the error  accepted for convictions in criminal cases ("beyond a reasonable doubt" is often explained as 99% sure or 1 in a 100, Lego's error rate would be .0013 out of a 100, a much smaller rate of error).  An error rate of 0 is not possible when you have an endeavour performed by humans or machines made by humans, so the idea that one bad knife or light equals poor QC is absurd, despite the seeming power of the logic used.

So how do I evaluate QC problems or design flaws?  Its not easy, and I have to do it indirectly most of the time, but here is how I do it.

In some instances, its clear from the number of reported problems and the source of reported problems that there is a QC issue.  The most recent example I can think of is, the Elmax steel controversy.  Whatever you think about Cliff Stamp, it is pretty obvious that he is really methodical when it comes to his blades. The man keeps journals about sharpening angles for given knives.  He hunts down and consolidates CATRA numbers for steel.  He is a polarizing figure, but he is a good source of information.  He initially pointed out that ZT's heat treat on the first run of Elmax blades left they prone to rolling and dulling.  I noted this in my review of the ZT0560.  He put it out there and then not one or two people agreed (you can find agreement between one or two people on the internet regarding just about anything), but dozens of people agreed and showed pictures of problems.  This is the first form of QC evaluation--good and many sources complaining about a problem.

The second way I evaluate QC is by tracing design improvements and changes.  I noted in my review of the Strider PT CC that the lock face geometry changed and that the pivot design changed. Both of these things indicated a problem with previous designs.  This sort of iterative upgrading is common in the knife and light world.  When changes occur that aren't "materials upgrades" like better steel or a new emitter, it can (but not always) point to problems with the original production models.  Spyderco does this all of the time--the molded clip on the Delica, Endura, and Dragonfly, all gave way to steel clips in their iterative upgrade process.  They even have a name for it Constant Quality Improvement.  This behavior, displayed by both Strider and Spyderco, is a sign there were problems with the original, but it is also a sign of a superior maker. Everything could be made better and the fact that these two companies are always doing that tells you a good deal about why they are so well respected in the gear community (their knives, that is).  

The third way I evaluate QC is probably the easiest--recalls.  So few companies that make gear we are interested in have products subject to recall, but some do.  Gerber, for instance, has had many product recalls.  The Instant was recalled within a year of its very high profile launch because the button lock failed at inopportune times.  Their parang would break off.  And there are others.  The reality is that this many recalls spread out over many different designs indicates a problem with QC and given the scope, it indicates a company-wide problem with QC.  Fixed blades snapping in two is not like "my clip broke off" or "my frame lock has blade play".  This indicates a serious lapse in QC and is one of the reasons I don't really bother to review Gerber gear and regularly bash the company.  

Fourth, and rarest of all, is direct company input.  I have been fortunate enough to knows lots of folks that know way more than I do about gear production and every once in a while I will learn about problems with OEMs or other things of the sort.  It hasn't happened with a piece of gear I have reviewed, but if it does, you'll know.  

One flawed version of something is not a QC issue, but it might be indicative of one.  Its hard to evaluate, because of my distinct lack of sample size (usually only a single piece).  But in some instances when I have had multiple pieces (like I have for a review I am working on right now) I feel comfortable saying my experience is indicative of poor QC.  That is VERY rare.  Lemons occur everywhere, even in custom lights and knives, evaluating QC requires you to not focus on a single piece, but on the production run as a whole, and generally that's difficult.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Death of a Legend

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

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

Here is the quote from Consumer Protection Safety Commission:

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

That sounds bad, right?

How about this one:

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

Or this one: 

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

Or this one:

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

Or this one:

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

Or this one:

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

Or this one:

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

Or this one:

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

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

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

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

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


Image courtesy of Bushcraft Romania

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lionsteel SR-1a Review

The SR-1a is the Monica Bellucci of folding knives--curvy, stunningly beautiful, and utterly Italian.  It is a working sculpture and an statement of Lionsteel's impressive technical capacities.  But unlike a few of the modern marvels we have been treated to recently, a list of which includes the ZT 0777 and 0888, the Benchmade Dual Action Sibert, and the CRKT Hi Jinx, the SR-1a, it is imminently affordable.   Andrew has harped on this point for a while now on the podcast and the more he says it the more I think he is right--part of good design is affordability.  And while no one will mistake the SR-1a for a budget knife, given what you get, its price tag is crazy low.  It, like a few other blades and lights, is yet another sign that we are living in the Golden Age of Gear. 

Here is the product page.  The SR-1a as reviewed here cost $209.95.  There are a few variants.  First there is the SR-1, which is the original knife in this series and it had an integral Ti handle.  It came in a few different steels.  Then there is the SR-2, which is a smaller version of the knife, with a blade length right at 3 inches.  That knife also came in an aluminum version, the SR-2a.  There were a variety of steels there as well.  Though not technically in the same series, Lionsteel has lumped the SR series with its two other integrals, the TiSpine and the TM series.  Finally, Lionsteel did a Spyderco-ized version of the SR series called the LionSpy.  It comes in both the small and the large size.  The large is one of the most expensive Spydercos ever made, yet it does not have the integral handle, meaning that it is kind of like a sports car without the powerful engine.  Here is a review of the SR-1a in video form and here is one in writing.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Lionsteel SR-1a, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (sent to me by BladeHQ and already returned):

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Finally, here is my video overview of the knife:



Twitter Review Summary: A technical marvel with an ergonomic snafu.

Design: 2

Its hard not to be impressed with the SR-1a.  When it slid out of the box and into my hand for the first time I was a bit taken aback.  This was my first integral and I had for a long time though that integrals were more showing off than anything else.  But when I slow rolled the thumb stud and the knife clicked open I knew I was wrong.  The rigidity the integral design gives the knife is like nothing else.  It probably doesn't make a difference during use, but it is undeniable that the integral design locks everything in place in a way that a constructed handle doesn't.  Even the ping of the lockbar sounds different.  People that buy Sub Zero fridges often babble on about how the door sounds when it closes (in my previous life I was an installer of high end A/V stuff and saw many a Sub Zero fridge).  The sound of the lockbar popping into place on the SR-1a is the same thing--cool, distinctive, but probably not all that big a deal.

P1030974

At this point it is probably worth mentioning the aluminum handle.  I think the choice of aluminum was brilliant.  Normally aluminum is too soft to work in a framelock as the steel is so much harder and over time it will compress the lockbar and the lock up will not be as tight.  As such, titanium, which is still much softer than blade steels, is preferred.  But titanium is both heavier and more expensive than aluminum.  Lionsteel solved this problem by including a lock face insert made of stainless steel.  That not only prevents the compression problem, it also allows you to swap out the lock face when it wears in too much (where you get all of these replacement lock faces, I have no idea, especially if Lionsteel, God forbid, goes out of business).  Overall, I like titanium more, but in this role, aluminum works fine, especially with Lionsteel's very clever design.

The performance ratios are meh.  Here is the SR-1a next to the Zippo as a size comparison:

P1040005

The blade:handle is .80.  The blade:weight is .66.  The blade:handle is quite good, but the blade:weight is well, portly.  This is, even with all of the design feats and engineering tricks, a big, fat knife.

Fit and Finish: 2

Simply put Lionsteel's manufacturing and fit and finish is the best in the knife business right now.  No one, not KAI, not Spyderco, and not Benchmade, are as consistently innovative and meticulous as Lionsteel.  They got their chops as an OEM, making knives for other folks, and they did a great job.  But their own stuff is superb and the SR-1a is no exception.  There were no flaws, not stray machining marks (even on the inside of the knife where the channel for the blade was hollowed out).  The blade sat dead center and it too was gloriously finished.  They even took time, on this cheaper model, to round over the spine of the blade.  All in all, the SR-1a is a testament to just how good Lionsteel is right now.  They are amazing and so is this knife.

Grip: 1

The handle's shape is quite nice with a good cut for your index finger, a nice palm swell, and a mild parrot's beak at the end of the handle to lock your hand in place.  The overall size and shape was very comfortable.

P1030973

So why the 1?  This is putatively a hard use folder--the lock says so, the Rotoblock says so, the size says so, and the product literature says so.  But when I used the knife in chopping tasks I could help but have the knife move around on me.  The handles themselves are so smooth and slick.  The machining, those subtle and beautiful grooves, just did nothing to keep things in place.  So I am not sure if this is the Cadillac Escalade of folders--something that is so blinged out that its origins as a hard use device are forgotten.  But for the very nice handle shape (quite reminiscent of the classic Becker handle shape seen on his line of fixed blades), this would have a been a complete failure.  As it, both the shape and the minimal but well cut jimping put this in the average camp.  Compared to something like the PM2, there is no question which knife comes out ahead.

Carry: 2

Its slim, smooth, and not too wide (though getting close).  As such, it carries as well as anything that has the same size and weight. This thing is THIN:

P1030991

I really liked how thin it was when I was carrying it in my pocket.  That plus, the wonderfully fussed-over edges, all of which have been chamfered or rounded over, make this a great knife in the pocket despite is very heavy weight.

Steel: 2 

This model came with D2 steel and D2 is, has been, and just might always will be a great steel.  Its hard.  Its tough.  Its rust resistant enough to get by.  There is just not a lot of bitch about with D2.  Well, okay it is hard to sharpen, but in my testing I didn't have reason to do more than strop it and it was fine.  The knife did well cutting wood for fires, horsing around in the woods, and with EDC tasks.  Its kinda boring to write about D2 because so many people have experience with it, but its also hard to avoid the fact that even now, many years later D2 is still one hell of a performer. 

Blade Shape: 2

Who doesn't love a good drop point?  The most useful and generalized of blade shapes just about always works for a given tasks, even if something else does it better. Here, the belly of the knife is almost comically exaggerated:

P1030966

I liked this bold shape a good deal and the front sharpened edge was big enough to do push cuts with like the Spyderco Zulu or what I imagine one could do with a Jon Graham style knife.  Very beautiful, very bold, very curvy blade shape (hence the Monica Belluci analogy).

Grind: 2

As you can see from about the grind here is meticulous.  It is a high hollow grind, starting about 1/5 of the way down the knife.  This, combined with the width of the blade gives you a very, very slim edge. Despite the overall massively thick stock, the SR-1a is still a pretty impressive slicer and the wonderful grind is why.  Also, as you can see, it is clean and without wandering or unevenness.  Lionsteel's technical prowess cannot be questioned.

Deployment Method: 0

And here we are--the one flaw with the knife.  The deployment method suffered on a number of accounts.  First, the placement of the studs at the very edge of the knife can make it difficult to span the width of the blade to get to them.  Folks with small hands will have a time reaching them because this is a wide knife.  Hobbits, this isn't your EDC (Bilbo, I think Sting had better steel anyway...this won't glow around orcs).  Second, even if you have medium sized hands or larger, given how far away the studs are, it is hard to generate a lot of force. Popping this knife open quickly, as opposed to a slow roll, is a challenge.  It can be done, but it requires a lot of practice and focus.  Third and finally, there is really not enough to hold on to here.  The thin, curvy, smooth handle doesn't give your non-thumb digits a place to rest when opening the knife.

P1040037

The end result is one of the more challenging to open knives I have used.  It works, but just barely.  A thumb plate would have worked wonders and really, a flipper would be ideal.  I can't speak to a thumb hole as I have not yet held the Lionspy or its little brother, but I can't imagine it would be worse.

Retention Method: 2

I love the simple, small, and effective clip on the SR-1a.

P1030990

The fact that it can be switched to the other side easily and it is an over-the-top style clip makes it all the better.  It bears more than a passing resemblance to another clip I loved--the Buck Vantage clip and I can't complain here.  It works well.  

Lock: 2

The lock here is really nice, but the Rotoblock was a big fat meh.  This is my second knife review of a knife with the Rotoblock and while it is nice and it works, it is a bit gimmicky.  Its sort of like a spoiler on a sedan--sure it might make a bit of difference in performance but the difference is so small it is meaningless in the real world.  There were never any instances in which I thought: "Man I really need this Rotoblock lock."  That said, it didn't hinder operation at all and so it is a different kind of gimmicky from, say, the AutoLAWKS found on the CRKT M16.  The lock itself was vault tight, easy to engage and disengage, and wonderfully stable when in place.  

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

For the money there is nothing out there with the gee whiz factor of the SR-1a.  The idea that you can buy an integral framelock with this level of fit and finish for just over $200 is staggering.  It is easily one of the three or four most impressive values on the market.  But the deployment was slow.  I can't seem to get over that.  Slow rolling the blade open is basically all you can do without some focus or practice.  I don't think that is a killing problem, but it is annoying.  Even with that, this is superb blade.  It is a little blingy for my tasks, but its certainly not over the top.  Well, okay, maybe the orange version is over the top.  But all of the other colors are nice.  Blingy, but not insane. 

The Competition

Comparing the SR-1a to the SOG Mini Aegis is very difficult.  They are totally different kinds of tools.  That said, both are excellent values, and the scores being the same makes me happy in a way.  Obviously they are different prices, but I like the fact that flawed but great knives score the same, even if made by different companies with different design choices and methods of production.  They are different and not really comparable, but both are great values. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TT PockeTTools TT-Capper Review

A while ago Todd sent me a bunch of goodies, the Ti Spork that I liked (and my office found entertaining), a new multitool, and a pocket hook he calls the TT-Capper.  Pocket hooks are a funny thing, having become popular only in the last few years.  Deryk Munroe did a lot to make them awesome, using a pocket hook design instead of a pocket clip on some of his knives, perhaps to preserve the knife's clean look or to do something a bit differently.  The response was pretty overwhelming as he started making standalone pocket hooks he called Danglers and even released a series of them that culminated in the very impressive design--the Mega Dangler, which transformed the simple stylized hook into a full fledged one piece multitool.

Todd's TT-Capper doesn't quite go that far, and it is probably better for it.  At some point these pocket hooks became giant, complex beasts. I reviewed the GearPull a while ago and it was undeniably cool, but it was quite large.  That, it seems to me, is probably as big and as complex as you want a pocket hook to ever get. The real innovation is to make them slim but still useful.  That's exact what Todd did.

Here is the product page.  The TT-Capper sells for $30 shipped (CONUS).  There are no other reviews.  This review sample was sent to me by Todd and will be given away (see below for more). 

P1030671










Twitter Review Summary: Simple and Awesome. 

The TT-Capper is made of 154CM.  Todd has left the tool with a raw bar finish.  It has a generously sized split ring hole, some jimping to help with grip, and a very good one pull bottle cap opener.  The shape of the hook also allows you to attach the hook to the bill of a baseball cap style hat, hence the name "Capper".The hook is long and deep without being silly, and the overall package is quite discrete in the pocket.  I dropped the TT-Capper on my Alox Cadet and carried it around for a while.

P1030857

It worked quite well and the Cadet never accidentally fell off.  The bottle opener was redundant on the Cadet, but its ease of use and accessibility made it so that I never used the tool's built in bottle opener--an impressive feat given how awesome the Cadet's bottle opener is.

P1030672

There are cheaper pocket hooks out there, like the mass production Tec Accessories P-7.  That comes in around $12 plus shipping, less than half what Todd charges for this pocket hook.  But the built quality here is substantial and the addition of a bottle opener is nice.  Additionally, if you were truly pressed you could use the end of the hook as a flat head driver.  Combined with an uber simple pocket knife, like the excellent Fallkniven U2, the TT-Capper/U2 package would be impressively capable, with about 90% of the functionality of a Cadet with vastly superior materials and ergonomics.  The uber minimalist could also attach the TT-Capper to something like an Aeon and have a very complete kit in just a few ounces.  

If you are looking for a pocket hook, take a look at the TT-Capper. It is an outstanding and simple design.  It is effective and the finish is quite nice.  As with all of the stuff I have seen from Todd the Capper is just a solid, useful tool.  And the price is quite nice, especially in a market where Mega Danglers can't be had for $250.

Comment below and I will pick a comment.  That person will win the TT-Capper mailed straight to their door.  If you live outside CONUS, you might have to chip in for shipping.   

Friday, August 8, 2014

Thrunite T10T Review

EDITOR'S NOTE: I published this review from my iPhone and the result was that I had missed a save, the most up to date version.  I have gone back, the day after I posted the review, and put in the updates.

The 1xAA market is SO competitive right now.  The Eagletac D25, in both the twisty and clicky versions, is a great light.  The SC 52 from Zebralight is very good too.  These two, for the last few years, have been tossing back and forth the title of best 1xAA production EDC light, with shifts caused by upgrades in the body tubes, UIs, and emitters.  It has been a two horse race for a while.  Enter a third horse. The T10T by Thrunite is a titanium version of the T10A.  There is also a stainless version, the T10S.  All three are very, very strong lights.  The question is whether its merely a competitor for the title, or the actual title holder.


Here is the product page. The T10T costs $59.95. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Amazon, where you can find the Thrunite T10T, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:



Here is my review sample:

P1030777

Twitter Review Summary:  Not the best, but my favorite all around 1xAA EDC light available.

Design: 2

The T10T is just a simple titanium tube, with six milled lines on the head. The head has a very slight taper to it as it approaches the light producing end of the light.  It is not flashy.  But boy do I like the looks of the light.  Its absolutely stunning, especially when all cleaned up and polished.  There is nothing to dislike about the T10T's design.  Even the aluminum and stainless steel models are nice looking, but not quite as nice (this is titanium after all). 

The simple looks are complemented by the metal tailswitch, an excellent pocket clip, and a good tailcap, perfect for tailstanding.  Thrunite hit every bullet point with this light and the design stands up well against the best stuff on the market.

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Here is a size comparison of the T10T next to a AA battery.

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The performance numbers are decent. The total lumens output is is found on medium (20 lumens for 2,340 minutes) and is 46,800.  The lumens:weight is 79.34 lumens per ounce.

Fit and Finish: 1

The threads are clean and smooth.  The pocket clip is nicely centered.  The parts of the light are well made.  But the clicky, the metal switch in the tailcap, leaves a lot to be desired.  It feels squashy and unstable.  Its not so bad that it is broken, but there have been a few times when I have thought I had turned the light on, only to find out I hadn't.  A stiffer spring would be a huge upgrade.

Grip: 2

Thanks to a good length to diameter ratio, an excellent pocket clip that considers how the light will fit in your hand in use and a thoughtful tailcap design, the T10T is excellent in the hand, even with the uber clean titanium.

P1030803

There is not a check, knurl, or bit of crosshatching. Its just smooth, but again, its not that big a deal.

Carry:  2

Though the clip is a bit wide, the form factor here is excellent.  Nothing about this light makes it hard to carry.  Its nicely rounded with ZERO sharp edges. It goes in and out of the pocket with ease.  Its just nice.

P1030780

Additionally, while this isn't the most compact 1xAA light I have seen it is certainly not bad, given its battery and the space necessary to accomodate a clicky.  All of this adds up to a very good light in the pocket with no complaints. 

Output: 1

I don't want to say 169 or so lumens isn't enough.  It probably is, but it is not close to state of the art (which can be found on the Zebralight SC52) and, worse than that, its right on the edge.  At 200 lumens there is very light you can't do, especially in an EDC role.  Less than that, say around 150, and you are right on the edge.  You can still get a lot done, of course, but I'd be much happier with 200 lumens.  The .2 lumens is just perfect for a low.

Runtime:  2

147 hours on the moonlight low and more than a hour on high is damn good.  There are lights that do better, again the Zebralight SC52 comes to mind, but something can be very good without being the best.

Beam Type: 2

With a nice balance between spill and hotspot, the profile is exactly what you'd want in a do-everything EDC light.   

Beam Quality: 2

One of the better beams I have seen in a light less than $100.  No artifacts, weird shadows or shapes, a great truly neutral tint.  Very, very good. 

UI: 2

Here is where the T10T differentiates itself from the rest of the market.  First you can use the light like a normal, mode memory clicky.  But you can also turn on the light, tighten the head, and use it as a twisty.  This flexibility is a huge upgrade from the normal twisty or clicky. More than a few lights can do this, but it works well here. 

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Hands Free: 2

The light tailstands:

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It doesn't roll thanks to the pocket clip.  And its not agony when held between your teeth. Overall, this is a very good light when you are otherwise unable to hold it. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20 

The Competition

Oh man, there is really no competition.  Everything about the T10T is better than the Fenix PD22.  Its not even really close.  This light represents new generation of lights, ones that incorporate perhaps the most important feature on a modern light--a truly useful and low low.  Compared to the Eagletac D25 and the Zebralight SC52, both of which I have owned and reviewed, I like the T10T better.  It is not objectively better, the SC52, for example has a higher high and better runtimes, but I LIKE  the T10T better.  It's UI is much nicer than either "insert animal name" flashlight.  The low here is better than the  Eagletac and the UI crushes the finnicky Zebralight.  I could see reasonable minds disagreeing, but this is my favorite and is far superior to the PD22.  This light shows you just how far behind Fenix is in the EDC market space. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tactile Turn Shaker

When I was writing the Top 5 EDC pens list, I reached out to Brad Dowdy, the Pen Addict, and he recommended I take a look at the Tactile Turn Mover or Shaker (the Mover is the full sized pen and the Shaker is something like a 3/4 sized pen, between a full pen and a golf pencil).  I went to the site and saw the two pens and I was impressed by the impeccable lines and the stout materials.  But I thought that there was no reason to get one, having reviewed the Tuff Writer Ultimate Clicky, a very similar design using the same German nock mechanism. 

Safe to say after a good stretch of time with intensive use, I was wrong.  The Tactile Turn Shaker is a superior pen.  Its truly great and thanks to a cleaner design and thinner body, it is a true writer.  The Tuff Writer is great, but it is so heavy duty and so stout that over long writing sessions it begins to feel like your writing with a stalactite.  The Tactitle Turn Shaker quickly proved itself to be superior, as a writer to the Tuff Writer, and quickly challenged the MaxMadCo Bolt Action and the Prometheus Alpha as my favorite EDC pen.  That's some pretty hallowed company, but this thing is just amazing.  Right away you can tell, given the competition, its going to get a good score.  The real issue is whether it gets a perfect score.

Here is the product page.  Here is the Kickstarter for the new "Exotic Metals" runs of the two pens.  The exotic materials are 1) titanium (this review is the titanium model); 2) brass; 3) copper; and 4) bronze. Both the Mover and the Shaker ("s" is for Shaker and Small, that was my mnemonic I used for writing this review) are available in any of those four metals.  There are lots of pledge levels and pen material combos, but the basics are this:

Aluminum: $50 ($45 on early bird with 1 left at the time the review is written)
Brass: $60 (with $55 and one left on early bird)
Copper: $75
Bronze: $90
Titanium: $100

These prices are well within the norm and favorably compared to the Embassy Pen lines which have many of the same materials at a slightly higher set of prices without the click mechanism. 

Here is a written (and I mean written) review by Ed Jelley.  There are no video reviews, but here is the KS video:



Finally, here is the review sample with some of my favorite gear:   

P1040168

Twitter Review Summary: The high water mark for EDC pens.

Design: 2

Looks can be deceiving because while APPEARING simple, the Shaker is anything but.  The look is so clean in part because of some truly superior machining (more on that below) and because of Will, the maker, and his ability to hide fasteners.  The clip buries nicely into the tail area of the pen and the grip section is scored nicely with some machined in ridges.  The overall design is simply flawless.  There are so many small touches and neat ideas that it took me awhile to fully appreciate just how cool the pen is.  The size is also perfect.  Big pens are great if you work in an office or write only at a desk but if you are on the move, I have found that these 3/4 pens work perfectly.  Finally, and perhaps most noteworthy, Will did a lot of work on the pen to make it light despite the material.  Titanium is light in comparison to stainless steel, so on knives it feels different, but in the pen world, where a lot of high quality stuff is resin, it feels like a boat anchor most of the time.  Here, the Shaker design calls for a significant amount of material to be removed and the pen's feel is amazing because of it.  The pen is still plenty stout, but it feels much better.

P1040154

Fit and Finish: 2

Okay, here is a quiz.  Where does the pen body screw apart?  Not near the grip section, that is a machining line for added grip. Not near the top, close to the nock.  In fact, the pen unscrews at the midpoint.  You might be able to see it in this picture if you look very, very closely.  There is a hair line that is potentially visible on the lower half of the pen body, where the titanium looks more silver than black.

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This is a testament to the pen's fit and finish.  Frankly the machining here is off the charts amazing.  The nock feels great (as this nock always does).  The grip is well cut and effective.  The taper towards the writing end of the pen is consistent.  There nothing at all to complain about here, as it relates to how this pen was made.  There is some stickiness in the threading, but that has to do with the material (titanium is notoriously sticky) and not the fit and finish.  This is one of the finest items I have reviewed in terms of fit and finish, from custom lights to high end knives.  The Shaker's fit and finish is simply insane.  The seam isn't just finger flush, its almost invisible, and the rest of the pen is that good.

Carry: 2

As beefy has the clips have been on other EDC pens like the TuffWriter and the the Alpha, the Shaker's is thicker still.  It also has a nice round finish and it isn't so tight as to be annoying.

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The pen's heft is enough to remind you your carrying it, but not enough to be a problem.  I also like the sleek body, as it makes stowing and retrieving the pen incredibly easy.  The titanium is quite tough and dropping this in a pocket won't make you worry for the Shaker.  It can take a hit or two and still look just fine.

Appearance: 2

I get that some folks don't like the 1950's Space Blaster look of the TuffWriter.  I also understand that the Alpha can appear a bit ostentatious.  Both have strong looks that can polarize people.  But the Shaker's super clean appearance can't possibly offend someone.  It harkens back to the classic Parker Jotter, but with build quality and size that suggests the pen is tougher than the Jotter.  Every element works well and mates well with everything else and nothing seems disproportionate or out of place.  Simple, clean, and elegant.  Finally, the brushed finish will hide scratches well.  This is a gorgeous minimal design.

Durability: 2 

In the two weeks or so I had this pen, I put it through the ringer.  First I did not one, but two back to back depositions.  While they are audio recorded and transcribed, I am bit Type A and so I also try to do verbatim or near verbatim notes (using a note taking system I devised in high school).  The two depositions took about 3 to 4 hours.  I took roughly between 30 and 40 pages of notes.  It was exhausting.  After that I did the lawyer equivalent of lightning round hearings interviewing lots of people for quick court hearings.  I was in a secured facility, standing up, writing on cinder blocks and talking to very (understandably) stressed people.  It was a lot of pressure and a horrible writing environment.  Both these tasks, in the past, have killed lesser pens.  Here the Shaker was not just fine.  It worked superbly well.  I can't speak to long term durability, but my weekly routine was more than enough to kill not one but two Retro 51s in under a months time.  Given the materials and the build quality, I have no reason to think the Shaker would fall anywhere near that fast.  Its not the TuffWriter, but its plenty tough for 99% of the folks in the world. 

Writing Performance/Refill: 2 

The pen takes a number of refills and is most importantly compatible with the Parker refill.  This means it works with Parker refills which are available everywhere, Fisher refills which are great for EDC use, and it comes with the excellent Schmidt 9000 Easyflow refill, my favorite of the Parker refills.  Finally, if you want uber-fine lines you can pick up the Moleskine gel refill in the Parker format. The versaility of the refill format is second to none.

Balance/In Hand Feel: 2

This is where the Shaker kills everything else.  This pen is as balanced as a scale.  It has enough heft to feel "there" but not so much that it taxes you as you write.  The double depos would be enough, with even a decent "in hand" pen, to give me Captain Hook hand, but the Shaker didn't.  Instead, I was fine.

P1040157

Its not just the size here, though I like that as well.  Its the balance.  Loveless knives were known for their wonderful balance and I think, given Will's machining of this titanium unit, he might just be known for that same thing in the pen world.  Simply put, there is no EDC pen that I have tried that is better in the hand than this one.  Home run.

Grip: 2

The grip area on EDC pens is always a challenge.  The temptation to make it really pronounced (read: overdone) is huge.  But here Will's choice, as with all of his choices, was the right one.  The entire grip area is made of nothing but subtle machined rings.  They are hard to see and even harder to photograph, but I tried anyway:

P1040158

Despite their appearance they are effective at making sure the pen doesn't move around.  They do an excellent job of locking your fingers in place but they are not so prominent that they become uncomfortable over time.  Again, its clear to me that Will planned this pen as a pen first, and then made it substantial later.  This is a writer first and foremost and the grip is yet another thing that tells you that.

Barrel: 2 

The barrel's brushed appearance is not just perfectly in step with the pen's overall minimalist look, it is also great at hiding scratches and dings.  Additionally, it allows you to remove the pen from your pocket with ease.  There is no tugging or snagging that sometimes happens with the overly tactical EDC pens.  While I know it doesn't really do anything for the function of the pen the fact that the barrel screws together seamlessly is a pretty cool feet.

Deployment Method/Cap: 2 

I have always been a fan of capless pens for EDC use.  Its just one less part to lose.  If you aren't getting up and moving around a lot, this is no big deal.  But if you are moving around, writing in all sorts of places, in a rush, grabbing things and going, like I am, a clicky or twisty pen is really the way to go.  I can take a cap, especially if it posts, but in the ideal world, all EDC pens would be capless.  The Shaker is, as you can see, capless.  Yet another feather in its cap (PUNTACULAR!).

Overall Score: 20 out of 20; PERFECT SCORE


Simply put, this is my ideal EDC pen.  It is tough and durable, but doesn't forget that its main job is to write.  It has no delusions of grandeur that it is, in actuality, some kind of ninja weapon.  It doesn't look like a medieval torture device or a medical tool from a horror movie.  It looks like a pen designed by the Bauhaus (which is a very good thing in my mind), and it writes superbly well.  

In some cases I worry about giving out a perfect score.  It has happened very rarely, averaging about 4 per year.  I am concerned I didn't test the product long enough or I was enamored with some new feature.  But here, I have no doubt.  The Tactile Turn Shaker is the perfect EDC pen.  Go buy one before they are gone.  You won't be sorry you did.    

The Competition

I as mentioned above, the competition at the top of the EDC pen heap is pretty tight.  The Alpha's Fineliner refill is amazing, a better writer for those of us that like bold (and I mean BOLD) lines, but it has a cap.  The TuffWriter is tougher than this pen (hell, its tougher than most knives I own), but it is nowhere near the writer.  The MaxMadCo pen is also excellent, but the super slick body made it not as good in the hand and not as good in the pocket (or out of the pocket, because the clip and barrel couldn't generate enough friction to keep it in place).   The Shaker does everything exceedingly well and thus, while I could see purchasing any of the other three pens I listed here for specific reasons, the Shaker would do just as well in those roles most of the time and is better in other aspects.  If you don't have any high durability pen, if this is your first foray in to EDC pens, then the Shaker is the right place to start.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

AG Russell Odin's Eye Review

NOTE: This review was formatted for Everyday-Carry.com.  It was written when I worked for them and they decided not to run it.  However, Mr. Russell was kind enough to send me this product for review and when someone as illustrious as AG Russell sends you a knife to review, you are pretty much compelled to do it, even if, like here, its not in your knowledge base wheelhouse.  I gave him my word that the review would be published, so despite the delay here it is.  

Introduction

AG Russell is one of the finest knife designers in the business.  He also happens to be one of the best businessmen in the business, going from being a traveling salesman to using social media to promote his business.  His catalog is like a little knife magazine every two months and it is less of a shill piece than the other REAL knife magazines out there (the fact that is true shows the sad state of print right now).  Even though he has been in the business for 60 years, and the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014 he is still pumping out new designs.  One of those new designs this year was the Odin's Eye Neck Knife. 

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I wish I had more tactical experience to make this review better, but I did what I could.  AG chose this item for me and I appreciate that, but in the end I had to rely on someone with more tactical knowledge than I have to give you good and useful information about this product.  I am telling you this up front as a disclaimer of sorts.

Before I get to the blade itself, you need to be aware of a bit of history.  This design is a push dagger.  Push daggers were originally designed to be an easily concealable fighting weapon, not utility tools.  As such, there are widespread legal restrictions on carrying daggers, especially push daggers.  Check your local laws as push daggers, and daggers in general, are heavily regulated. 

Product Description

The Odin's Eye is a small push dagger style knife.  It comes with a hard plastic sheath, a ball chain necklace, and the knife itself. 

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It is small and light.  There is a finger hole for added control and to prevent the push dagger from being lost or dislodged from your hand.  The blade is made of 8Cr13MoV.  It is designed to be a neck knife for use in defensive situations.  The hope is that by being light and flat, Odin's Eye will always be with you and always be ready to defend you. 

Design

I have ZERO tactical experience.  My knowledge of tactics came from 8 years of taekwondo where people quickly realized that I was both uncoordinated and had an uncanny ability to absorb lots and lots of beatings.  In other words I have no relevant experience.  I was the guy that the referee had to stop the fight for at tournaments, out of fear that I was too dazed to realize I was bludgeoned.  Suffice to say, I am not your tactical guy. If you have any questions about how to be a punching bag, well...I am your man, but other than that...So I decided to ask a person that knew something about tactical and defensive use of weapons.  One of my good friends has been an martial arts instructor for over 25 years and black belt even longer.  But he is not just a strip mall black belt.  He also worked as a police officer for 20 years and led a significant amount of their training in fighting techniques.  He has extensive experience with bladed weapons having used them, taught others to use them defensively, and having made them by hand himself.  Given all of this history, he seemed like a good source.

I showed him the Odin's Eye, which I was carrying for testing purposes (by the way, I hate carrying a knife around my neck--the ball chains are necessary to prevent you from being choked by your own tool, but they irritate my skin; this guy rode in my top pocket).  He instantly recognized the design as a modified push dagger and he had a few comments.  First, he liked the finger hole.  It was clear to him that it both added a degree of control and prevented loss during a scuffle. 

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Both good things.  Traditional push daggers have a T-shaped handle that allowed for use with a closed fist, but it was not as secure as the Odin's Eye finger loop.  He also noticed that the blade was very keen and well ground, coming to a very nice point.  But he had serious reservations about its length.  In order to keep the knife small enough to work as a neck knife, the Odin's Eye has a very short blade, shorter than a traditional push dagger does.  Here is the Eye next to a Zippo:

image

The end result is a blade under 2" and something that may not, according to my friend, offer enough penetration, especially in cold winter environments where it may not make it through thick or layered clothing. 

Performance

Its hard to evaluate the performance of a fighting tool outside of a real fight, so I am not going to even pretend.  Having been beat up in tournaments many times (note I did not say: fighting in many tournaments) I can attested to the wisdom of that sage quote from Mike Tyson--everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.  Even those beatings are many steps removed from a true self-defense scenario so I can't imagine the nerves involved there.  I am, I hope it has been made clear, a huge wuss.  I avoid fights and I have, thus far, been lucky in doing so.  To that end, I am not going to offer any feedback on how this knife would perform in a real fight.  I just don't know.

But I can tell you that it is one hell of a stabber.  The 8Cr13MoV is super thin and super sharp.  I have never had a problem with 8Cr getting sharp and this was a perfect example of its optimum edge.  I was able to easily plunge it through about 100 pages in a phone book (it was a bear to find a phone book, let me tell you) with a punch of small force.  It was nothing at all really.  The blade is also good at slicing, which I would take to be a rough equivalent to slashing in a fight.  Aside from the penetration ease afforded by a dagger blade shape, it allows for pretty mindless slashing as either side is sharp.  I also liked the finger loop in both situations, thought it seems clear that the slashing scenario is the one where a push knife is most likely to be dislodged.  Here it seems almost impossible for that to happen.  This thing isn't going anywhere.  

Conclusion

The Odin's Eye is both a clever design and an indication of just how fertile AG Russell's mind is when it comes to new products.  I wish I had more relevant experience to do justice to the product he sent me, but I can tell you that this little blade does stab and slash well.  It is not as useful as a utility cutting tool as the angle your hand is at when gripping the knife does not afford any precision at all.  Additionally, I was very impressed by the sheath. 

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Sheathes are one of the great mysteries of production fixed blades and this one was nothing short of excellent.  The big question I have is how effective this would be as a defensive tool, given its short blade length.  Living in New England, I see people bundled like Ernest Shackleton 6 months out of the year.  A sub-2" blade just doesn't seem like its enough.  But maybe in the heat of battle with adrenaline pumping you could push it through all that mess.  I just don't know and frankly I'd prefer to not find out.  I am not going to score the Odin's Eye given my lack of experience, but I can tell you that it is well-made, well-designed, very sharp, and much harder to dislodge than the typical push dagger.  Its thin and light, and thus easy to have on you.  The sheath is quite excellent.   

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Hipster Test

Worried that I might be a hipster I did some research and after a good meta-analysis of the topic I have distilled what I have learned into this very useful Hipster Detection Test.

Category I (A "yes" answer to any of these questions is worth 1 point)

1. Do you have a mustache in a month of the year other than November and are not a member of law enforcement (there is a fascinating legal and cultural reason for the mustache--law enforcement connection leading back to a famous Supreme Court case)?

2. Do you own a Newsies-style hat?

3. Have you received your first non-military tattoo in the last seven years?

4. Do you have thick black frame glasses?   

5. Do you find pot bellies slightly attractive, especially if the person has legs that are wrist-skinny?

Category II (A "yes" answer to any of these questions is worth 3 points)

1. Did you discover Filson in the last five years?

2. Do you own a pair of jeans that tapers towards the ankle?

3. Do you wear wrist bands of any kind other than a watch?

4. Do you like the look of a vintage "Woody" Jeep?

5. Have you participated in any of the following: Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, or any other torture/endurance race?

Category III (A "yes" answer to any of these questions is worth 5 points)

1. Do you like craft beer?

2. Do you have a beard longer than two inches?

3. Do you regularly ride on a fixed-gear bike?

4. Do you consider city parks the great outdoors?

5. Do you occassionally not shower for more than two days in a row while sleeping in a normal bed (i.e. mattress and boxsprings)?

Category IV (A "yes" answer to any of these questions is worth 1,000,000 points)

1. Have you ever purchased any of the following: an axe with a brightly colored painted handle, an extension cord covered in cloth, a tool box that is painted red and costs $75, a Sebenza at more than MSRP, or any item colored "Famous Red."

Score Guide:

0-5 points: The Hipster stink is about you, be careful.  You can still turn this around.  Go to Target and buy a cheap digital watch.  

6-10 points: Quick!  There is a flea market with vintage stuff on Sunday morning in the large city near you.  You can pass in both normal and Hipster society without much notice. 

11-20 points: Full fledged Hipster.  Your handsewn, horween leather wallet is on its way with pocket chain attached.

21-1,000,000: Its over, you have made it to Level 10, Elite Hipster status.  As Andrew would say, buy some mustache wax and sit in the mustache growing chair at Best Made's New York store.  

Just so you know, I scored a 5.  I like craft beer.  I like bourbon better, but that just makes me a redneck.  Oh man, which is worse: redneck or hipster?  Time to do some more research.