Tuesday, September 30, 2014

USN Gathering 6 Round Up by Justin Laffer

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This is a guest post from Justin Laffer.  He was kind enough to share with us his experience at the recent USN Gathering 6.  I added the pictures to make this a bit more visual.  If I got the models wrong, blame me not Justin.

Hey guys, Anthony asked me to do a write up of my experience at G6 so here’s some highlights of the trip and some pointers for those looking to go to their first Gathering or knife show.

The trip starts at 9:30AM when I get to the airport in Nashville Tennessee. I pass through security and meet Jeremy Horton and his amazing wife Kristen at the bar. We have a beer and get ready for departure. During the flight we have a blast talking about the industry and various trends and changes we see happening. Turbulence hits. A Bloody Mary winds up in my lap. Oh well.

Touchdown in Las Vegas. We meet Gerry McGinnis at the baggage claim. After getting our stuff together we find another buddy who has rented out a limo. We get to arrive at Planet Hollywood with some style. In the hotel I find my roommate and good friend Eric Ochs and we unpack some and charge our phones before heading to the show floor.

On to the showroom floor and some of my most notable makers and tables…

Steven Kelly brought some awesome folders, the most memorable of which was his Tank model, which is insanely overbuilt.

Image courtesy of GP Knives

I ended up buying a set of titanium-anodized straws for my wife. Steven makes a bunch of great titanium products and is now the guy that makes all the Ti hardware for Strider’s new line of folders.

Eric Ochs had another remarkable show and solidified why he is one of the top knifemakers in the industry. His mokuti open bid folder was exceptional and I loved the V.2 Gyrfalcon flipper he brought as well. Eric brought about 10 knives to the show and his beep beep lottery Saturday was a huge success.

 I was very lucky to take delivery of an Airborne prototype folder from Gustavo Cecchini of GTC knives. It’s a breathtaking design with an entirely new flipper opening system, its very hard to describe how the system works so here’s a link to a video I made on her:



Des Horn brought some very interesting knives to the show from South Africa. Normally Des makes a much fancier knife but he toned it down for G6 and brought some very nice tactical folders that were very, very cool. Des brought some folders in Nitrobe 77 steel, which is really impressive stuff. If you want to have your mind blown, just google it and watch some of the testing videos.

Pat Pruitt debuted a new folder design at G6 and it was exceptional. I tried pretty hard to win one in his lottery but without any success. Pat is a great guy to talk to and his jewelry work is unsurpassed in its complexity and uniqueness.

David Sharp of Sharpwerks was another very memorable maker from the show. What’s so cool about David is that he is putting out a wide variety of types of knives.

Image courtesy of BladeHQ


Yes, David is pretty well known for making Loveless style fixed blades, but his tactical folders are also exceptional and he even makes leather sheathed pocket tools and friction folders, which caught my attention.

A table over Todd Rexford, Jeremy Marsh, Brian Fellhoelter and Nalu set up camp. This was an all-star line up. Notable among them was Fellhoelter’s new axe sheath system, Todd Rexford’s unreal open bid knife and Nalu’s Capitalist XL model, seen below,


Image courtesy of Justin Laffer's Youtube channel
 
which is fast becoming one of my favorite knives.

Next table was Lee Williams who brought his Iceman flipper and Crux models for the show.


Image courtesy of Recon1 

Lee’s work was exceptional and its amazing to the masterful work he puts into his flippers with their kickstop opening system. Though Lee may not get the same name recognition as a Tom Mayo or Bob Terzuola, his work is just as sought after by high end collectors.

It was great meeting the Munroe’s at the show. Jana is just as nice in person as she is online and D is one of the coolest guys you will meet. The Munroe table was dominated by folks trying to score a Sigil MKIII flipper.


Image courtesy of Munroe Knives Tumbler

The demand for these folders is truly insane, I scored one in the lottery before G6, the knife cost around 750 dollars direct from the Munroe’s and I had offers north of 3500 for her…this is a case of the secondary market recognizing the quality of the people and the product. Of course the Munroe lottery was a tremendous success with crowds of people lining up to hear if their name was called.

Ken Onion came back to G6 after a few years of missing the show (it coincided with Burning Man which Ken is a huge fan of) and he brought some amazing models. My favorite from his table was the Military inspired folders. It’s a non-assisted flipper with IKBS that perfectly matches the aesthetics of WWII. Ken is a great guy to talk to and a huge asset to the knife community.

Brad Southard had a very exciting show as he launched his performance line at the Gathering with the Avo model.





Image courtesy of Southard Knives


The first-come-first-serve Friday morning was pretty nuts with around sixty-to-seventy people crowding and lining up to get twenty-five knives. There were some pretty annoyed folks but thankfully another twenty-five knives were released Saturday morning to the lineup of people outside the showroom floor. Brad also brought some amazing custom folders, which impressed everyone that got a chance to fondle them.

This was the second year that John Gonzales of Dervish Knives exhibited at the show and his folder line up was very impressive, notable among them were the Alchemy and the Alchemy XL. John was next to Ram Mramba of Zero knives, who had an equally impressive show with his Mezcal model knife being the real hit Friday night in the Cove.

Strider debuted their performance line MSC SnG at G6 and I was very lucky to snag one. This knife is amazing, incredibly smooth, absurdly sharp with its asymmetric grind and rock solid in typical Strider fashion. Also the new deep carry pocket clip and lanyard attachment area is a welcome evolution to the classic SnG design.

Ok, how about some tips for those planning on attending the Gathering in the future or any large knife show:
  • Get in line early. If you want to have any chance at some cool first-come-first-served gear or knives you better line up at least an hour before the show opens. 
  •  If you see a knife maker and it doesn’t seem like he’s busy, go up and introduce yourself to him. You would be amazed how nice and accommodating these people are and how appreciative they are of all their customer’s support. 
  • Buy drink tickets. This is a great way to save money at night in the cove. You can supplement this by buying a bottle of booze in the mall attached to the hotel. 
  • After the show closes around 4 and before the Cove opens around 7 is prime naptime. You’ve been on your feet since 630 AM, don’t underestimate the power of a siesta. 
  • Find some like-minded people at the show and go have lunch with them. This will give you a different perspective on how another individual approaches the Gathering and some more insight on the best way to approach it. 
  • Bring comfortable shoes. Your feet are going to HURT by the end of the day on Saturday. 
  • As with any knife show, cash is king. Make sure to visit the bank before heading to the airport. 
  • Book your trip early and try and stay at Planet Hollywood. Yes it’s a bit more expensive but the convenience of having everything under one roof is well worth the added dough. 
  • I know this seems counterintuitive and schmaltzy but go to the show with the mindset that it’s not all about scoring knives. If you go with the singular goal of scoring as many knives as possible you will undoubtedly be disappointed. Go for the people, the experience and the chance to come home with something special. 
I could go on and on about the show but hopefully this gives you a taste of the experience of going to the Gathering. I hope all of you get a chance to come to Vegas soon and experience the most personal and friendly knife show on the planet.

If you guys have any questions whatsoever, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at jlaffer@gmail.com

Friday, September 26, 2014

Masterstroke Airfoil Clicky Review

The original Masterstroke Airfoil pen looked crazy cool, but there were some rough edges, literally.  The fins that gave it is distinctive appearance could, in certain instances, be uncomfortable.  I noted that in the review and Grant (Grant Takara) must have kept it in mind.  The Clicky is an entirely different beast.  It still has the sweet exposed/cutaway look, but all of the edges are pleasingly round.  There is no question this will be a conversation piece pen, something that provokes comments and glances among coworkers.  It did in the two weeks I carried and used it.  Everyone, every single person, that saw or used the pen commented on it's appearance.  It was polarizing--people loved or hated it, but there were many more in the first camp than the second.  It is truly a looker.

But is it a good pen?  Pens are different from lights and knives in that their appearance is part of their function, not necessarily something that follows from it, but being a beauty queen is not enough for folks like you and I.  If you were cavalier with your money or superficial with your purchases you wouldn't be reading this blog (that's what shill sites are for, ZING).  

Here is the Kickstarter (its funded already, so pigpile).  The aluminum version is $57 and the titanium version is $125 on Kickstarter.  There are a wide range of colors and color combinations (including an extra blingy gold plated version).  Here is Brad Dowdy's review.  Here is the pen, and aluminum gray matte version, sent from Grant to me for the review:  

P1040531

Twitter Review Summary:  Sweet looks, weak clip.

Design: 2

A clicky and curvy update of the original Masterstroke Airfoil seems like an obvious iteration, but is one that changes the original enough to warrant a purchase.

P1040530

In many ways, this is a more user-friendly pen.  The original was a tough, wicked, design-first pen.  This is a bit more staid and pen-ish, for lack of a better word, but all of this refinement works to the benefit of the user.  The Clicky is a better writer, if a less bold design and for all of the value I place on design, a tool's performance comes first.
 
Fit and Finish: 2

As before, Grant's care and attention is evident from the moment you pick up the pen.  It just feels right.  All of the curves and cuts are smooth, even inviting to the touch a change from the original Airfoil.  I found the threads smooth and even, the clicky good (this is the same clicky about a dozen different pens use and it is a good one).  I liked Grant's choices of matte and polished metal surfaces in this version of the pen.  No complaints at all, but the gold plated version is probably too much for me.

Carry: 1

The clip on the review sample was pretty weak.  If am I not mistaken it is aluminum or some lesser tensile strength metal.  The end result is that bent almost instantly and did not lay flat against the pen's body, as you can see in this picture:

P1040534

Aside from the puny clip though, the Clicky was much nicer to find in my pocket than its sharp finned brother. 

Appearance: 2

This is, in my opinion, where Grant hit a home run.  I simply cannot state how gorgeous this pen is in person.  It was so gorgeous that the minute I opened it, I ran to my wife and showed her.  She did not share my opinion and gave it a blah.  "Too weird looking," she said.  So I tested this reaction out at work and I got 1 "blah" for every 10 or so "that's sweet."  There was no one in the middle.  For me, this is a no brainer--its damn gorgeous.

P1040536

It in a way the long cutaway reminds me of an iconic picture from the cover of Sport's Illustrated's mid-90s swimsuit issue.   I am not going to go overboard and say that this pen is THAT sexy, but it is pretty damn good looking.   

Durability: 2

Other than the weaksauce clip, I found the rest of the pen to be plenty robust to hold up to my daily and weekly pen torturing sessions that I can court.  Frankly, a two week test is pretty brutal and the Clicky made it through with flying colors.  This is an EDC pen you can count on working for years to come.  

Writing Performance/Refill: 0

Ah, the weakness.  The refill is a Schmidt style refill and while it wrote nicely it wasn't supernal, say, like the Mont Blanc Fineliner.  Additionally it wasn't as "all surface" as the Space Pen refill.  And worst of all, it is not widely available.  The most commonly available swap out is for the G2 rollerball refill, but my local Staples (two actually) didn't sell those refills, though I could buy the pens and switch them out.  In my opinion, its a mistake not to be out of the box compatible with a Parker style refill, but plenty of folks like G2 refills.  I just can't get them.  This, in the end, is my problem.  I could probably drop some kind of round piece into the pen and get it to work with Parker refills (this is what the Tuff Writer does), but that's a lot of hacking for a nice pen.  

Balance/In Hand Feel: 2

I found this pen, like its brother, to be superbly balanced in the hand.  There was no awkward fins to contend with though and the pen is all the better for it.  

P1040533

This is a sterling example of a pen that looks could and works in the hand too.  

Grip: 2

The grip section is simple with no knurling, cross hatching or other "grip enhancers".  You have three lines near the tip, but they are aesthetic.  In all, I liked the pen's grip primarily because of the matte finish my review sample had.  I would worry too much about slipping around with this finish, but a polished finish might be a bit slick.  

Barrel: 2

Aside from being awesome looking, with a polished cutaway, the barrel does what good barrels do--go unnoticed in the hand.  I don't want gaudy furniture (the metal accents) or bulging lines.  I want something simple and clean and that's what we get here.  Excellent.

Deployment Method/Cap: 2

The Schmidt clicky, as I mentioned before, is almost universal for these mid priced, small batch clicky pens and there is a reason--its damn good.  I still have no complaints.  

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

The Masterstroke Airfoil Clicky is a pen that will garner attention.  Its durable, except for the clip, and it writes well with the stock refill.  If you have access to G2 refills, then this could easily be the star of your writing tools EDC rotation.  If not, you have other options.  I'd really like to see Parker-refill compatibility, but the frame here is so sexy it might make you go hunting for refills.   This is not as tough as the Tuff Writer is, but it is plenty tough to see daily rough use.  And it looks much, much cooler. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The World's Most Popular Flashlight Stinks

If you own an iPhone you own a flashlight.  Since your iPhone is probably always on you, so too is a flashlight.  There are a dozen or so apps, all of which are bit wonky, but with the release of the last version of iOS 7, there was a built-in flashlight feature, in the slide up menu.  The light is produced by the iPhone's flash.  I have seen so many posts where people explain that their smartphone is their flashlight and seeing as I had an iPhone I decided to try it out.  I think my experiences would carry over to other smartphone flashlight features, but I am not sure, so Android readers take this with a grain of salt.

I am always on the hunt for the smallest, most useful, most full featured items to carry with me and if I can drop an item out of my EDC, I am thrilled to do it. I am not a person that believes in carrying a backpack full of gear on an everyday basis. So I thought I'd see what would happen if I dropped a flashlight from my daily carry.  I wasn't seriously considering this as a long term plan, but just an experiment--I like flashlights too much to leave them at home permanently.  Think of how sad my Spy 007 would get, just sitting there on my shelf all day.

I carried just an iPhone as my flashlight for about five days, two of which were consecutive, and here is what I found.

First, the tint on the light is quite good, better, for example than the tint on stock 47s cool emitters.  There is very little in the way of purple or blue or green.  This is probably due to the fact that it needs to be able to take relatively lifelike pictures.  

Second, I have to commend Apple for a great interface--the ability to access the light on the slide up menu is awesome.  It is easy to use and intuitively place, exactly like Apple products should be.  It also blows away the fiddly apps out there that just never seem to work right. 

Third, I really did try to like the flashlight feature.  I hoped that I would be persuaded enough to occasionally leave a light at home even if it didn't replace the lights entirely.  

But there are few problems with the iPhone flashlight that convinced me that it was not a replacement for a standalone light.

The iPhone itself is an awfully expensive piece of equipment.  Out of contract replacement costs start at $600.  That is more expensive than all but one of my flashlights and I have a pretty darn nice flashlight collection.  So the idea that you would want to use your iPhone as a flashlight instead of a $60 Zebralight doesn't make a whole lot of financial sense, especially when you consider that at least some of your flashlight use will occur in adverse conditions (down in a basement with a water leak, outside in the cold and dark, etc.).  

Additionally the shape of the iPhone does not make it easy to use.  Holding a slick, thin, wide device is awesome for talking and browsing the web, but when you need to point your iPhone light at something it can be quite awkward, bringing to my its replacement cost. Additionally, many times I use my light in my teeth, doing handsfree work.  This is impossible with an iPhone.  

Then there are the limitations of the emitter itself.  First, it has no reflector at all.  This means you cannot get a focused beam and a ceiling bounce is impossible.  Second, its not all that bright. Essentially the iPhone flashlight is as bright as an LRI Photon.  In fact, the iPhone light is almost a perfect replica, in performance terms, to the Photon.  Its great at illuminating doorknob in front of you (though the grip problems make this unadvisable), but forget about checking around your yard for bumps in the night.  

In short, the iPhone light is not good enough, even though it is essentially free (in terms of space, additional cost, and batteries) to make it worth not carrying a good, compact modern standalone light. If you carry nothing, its a good feature.  I'd probably never buy a Photon style light if I owned a smartphone with a light feature, though I have a special hatred for button cell lights.  

The iPhone light is basically the equivalent of keys for people that use their keys to open packages--it sometimes, under perfect circumstances, can do okay.  If that limited use profile is good for you, then you probably aren't a regular reader of this site.  Furthermore, with the improvement in emitter technology over the past five years, the size and capabilities of standalone lights has improved so much. Your not lugging around your Surefire 6P anymore.  Its probably something with a single cell that is no bigger than your index finger.  And given that competition, the iPhone light stands no chance.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kershaw Emerson CQC6K Review

There is a fine line between imitation and innovation.

For many folks Emersons are the very definition of a hard use knife.  It is hard to dispute this, having owned two.  They are truly simple, overbuilt tools.  They have beefy liners, no-nonsense G10, and thick blades.  But for the average person, they are hard to carry around, and as I pointed out in the Mini CQC7 review, they are chisel ground on the WRONG side (we know an Emerson's handedness based on the clip placement and the need for the knife to be tip up and we know the proper side to grind a chisel based on...well...real chisels).  They are not tools for the masses and I think Emerson fans dig them more because of that. 

When Kershaw announced the collaboration there were a lot of strong reactions.  From a business point of view it makes a ton of sense for both Kershaw and Emerson.  Kershaw gets the benefit of the collaboration and the use of the Wave.  Ernie gets the royalties from the use of the Wave in what is probably one of the two or three last years the patent is valid (patents generally last about 17 years from the date of issue and the Wave patent was granted in 1999 meaning it is likely going to expire in 2016).  But there was also a lot of grumbling about the Kershaw Emerson's being "fake" Emersons.  Emerson fans loudly proclaimed that they were nothing more than a way to migrate new folks to the Emerson brand.

ASIDE:

To be frank, this claim is a little silly.  It echoes what you hear and read online about the difference between production Emersons and the very hard to get custom Emersons.  With waitlists years long, most folks have to "settle" for a production.  Really, aren't the production Emersons just mass produced versions of the customs?  And if that is true, aren't they another form of simulacrum?  

END ASIDE

So is the CQC6K an imitation of the true Emerson or is it an innovation on an Emerson--a knife with the functionality of an Emerson but the features needed for more everyday use?

Here is the product page. The Kershaw/Emerson CQC6K costs $35. Here is a written review (More than Just Surviving is one of my favorite new sites, BTW). Here is a video review.  Here is Edge Observer's overview of the entire Kershaw/Emerson line.  Here is an amazing Reddit review of the knife.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Emerson CQC6K, 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):

P1040125

Twitter Review Summary: An Emerson for the rest of us.

Design: 2

In my experience with "true" Emersons I have found the simplicity of the knife to be a huge boon.  There is nothing frivolous or extra to screw up how the knife works and feels in your hand.  Such simplicity is often missing in Kershaw knives where they seem to think that an extra flourish here or a pattern there (see: "K Pattern handle") will make the knife feel more expensive than it is.  The reality is that Kershaw knives feel more expensive than they are because they are well made, but the temptation for adornment is hard to resist.  And yet, when forced by the tastes of the collaborator, to go simple Kershaw pulls it off very well. The Kershaw/Emerson CQC6K is just great.  The blade shape is simple yet useful.  The handle is simple yet grippy.  The entire knife is like this--simple and great because of it.  Watch and learn fellow production companies (Quartermaster I am looking first at you): simple is best.  

The size of the CQC6K is really nice.  Its out of my sweet spot of under 3 inches, but thanks to well proportioned materials it is easily carried and used.  It is not as thick as a production Emerson, but for EDC use that is a good thing.  This knife carries like you hope the smaller Emersons would but never do.  Here is a size comparison shot using the classic Zippo as a size comparison:

P1040127

Here is the Zippo and the Emerson:

P1040128

The performance ratios are average.  The blade:weight is .65 and the blade:handle is .72.  The blade:handle is slightly better than average and the blade:weight is slightly to moderately worse.  Even though this is a thinned out Emerson its still chunky.

Fit and Finish: 2

Kershaw's Chinese OEMs are, as a rule very good.  The fit and finish here is just a step above good.  Everything was spot on and even the relatively complex stuff, like the two different finishes on the blade, was well done.  Here is the lock up on the frame lock:

P1040129

Simply put, there is nothing to complain about whatsoever. Really, really great.

Grip: 2

The combination of a good size finger choil, a thumb ramp, and and excellent shape to the rear of the handle makes the CQC6K very good in the hand.  I would note that the G10 here is virtually texture free, being the mildest G10 I have ever had the chance to touch.

P1040135

Worse yet, given the ready comparison, it is nothing like the production Emerson G10, which is perfect in its grippiness in my opinion.  Its less grippy than the offensively grippy stuff on Cold Steel knives, but more grippy than the stuff here.  Its not a big deal because of the other things this knife have going for it, but it is worth nothing.

Carry: 2

With its slimmer dimensions and exceptional rounding of all major points on the handle, the CQC6K is great in the pocket.  Having just owned an Emerson Horseman I can tell you this carries better. You are, of course, giving up some durability, but in an EDC role that won't matter as much as easy carry does.

Steel: 1

8Cr13MoV is a mid-tier steel.  In some instances it is better than others--in particular I find the AG Russell knives with 8Cr13MoV are great at taking an edge.  In the CQC6K it was utterly unremarkable, both in a good and bad sense. It is perfectly average, better than 440A, 440B, and all but Buck's version of 420HC.  I also have always liked the 8Cr13MoV as used by Kershaw better than the same steel used by Spyderco.  I don't know it if is a different heat treat or if it is attributable the finish given, but whatever it is, Kershaw's 8Cr13MoV is better.  Not good, not bad, just average.

Blade Shape: 2

Clip point.  Perfect belly.  No recurve.  No bullshit.  Thanks Ernie.  Done.

P1040131

Grind: 2 

All right, I know Emerson fans, members of the Order of the Black Shamrock, as they call themsevles, love the chisel grind.  And I do to.  They love its keen edge and simple straightforward sharpenability.  The problem is, for close work, its hard to use.  For example, in making firestarts and feather sticks, it is uncannily difficult to register the cutting bevel to start a cut.  The reason is simple--the chisel is ground on the wrong side.  In a woodworking chisel, which Emerson discusses when hailing the benefits of a chisel grind, the flat side of the cutting tool is placed at the line and then the cut is made ABOVE.  Here, on an Emerson chisel grind, the flat is on the top, forcing the angled part of the blade to register the cut.  This is very, very difficult to do.  Because we know Emerson knives are handed, we know this isn't an issue of user error.  Simply put, the grind on a right handed, chisel ground blade on a production Emerson is best set up for a left handed person.  The edge is still super keen and easy to maintain, but you lose the ability to performa great deal of precision work.  The chisel ground cutting bevel on the "v-grind" Emersons is better, but the problem still persists.

In the end, I can't say the chisel grind is done correctly.  Its just not. It is, in my opinion, a problem and one there is no fix for--except for buying a collab (to be fair there are a few sources for waved knives with correctly ground blades: a few Spydercos, a Southern Grind Bad Monkey, the Kershaw collabs and the ZT collabs; then there are the "wave like" blades which includes DPx's HEST/F).  The traditional grind on this knife is much better than the "chisel" grind on the Mini CQC7 I had and better (though not significantly so) than the grindon my Horseman.  Now, if the grind on the Emerson chisel grind was on the correct side of the blade, well, then we'd have a real competition.  As it is, this is the biggest reason to avoid the production Emerson and opt for one of his many collabs and licensed blades, including this one.

Deployment Method: 2

We all know the Wave is awesome and here it works exceptionally well (I would note that my experience tells me you need a liner or frame lock to make the Wave work optimally well, otherwise you get jumping where the force of the wave action bounces the blade off the lock face before it can engage).  This is no surprise.

P1040130

What is a surprise is how much I have come to appreciate thumb plates.  I like them quite a bit more than the average thumb stud.  Not only do they not mar the blade's appearance as much, but they are also a bit easier to use.  Bernard over on the original Everyday Carry Tumblr once explained why he liked the Spyderco hole better than thumb studs. His point was this--with a thumb stud you have focus on keeping your finger on the thumb stud, but with a hole, your thumb is "captured" and thus you have very little to focus on when opening the knife.  This makes it eaiser to open a knife with a thumb hole. Much the same can be said of thumb plates.  Your thumb is essentially just butting up against the plate.  Push and the knife opens.  Its not a easy as thumb hole, you do have to think about it a bit, but I found it worked with less effort than the thumb stud opener.

Retention Method: 2

The Emerson clip is, like virtually everything else on an Emerson--simple and very useful.  The clip here is virtually identical.  There are three differences--first the material is not as robust, second the edges are rounded, and third the clip is bead blades with the logo lasered in.  None of these small changes alter the clip too much.  Sure, I'd like it not to have some garish skull on it, but whatever.  The little changes don't take away from the clip's function--its still great.

P1040134

Also, if you have ever used the Wave you know that a deep carry clip wouldn't work (or work as well).  By giving you some space at the top of the blade you can grab the tip of the handle and pull the blade out activating the Wave.  A deep carry clip would make that much more difficult.

Lock: 2

You know the frame lock has gone totally mainstream when it shows up on a budget version of a liner lock knife.  Who would have thought, ten years ago at the peak of Sebenza mania, that the frame lock would reach the point where its a cost savings feature--eliminating the need for a second G10 handle scale?  That's speculation, but it doesn't seem to far off.

P1040126

The lock here is quite good--no play in any direction, easy to engage and disengage, and wonderfully easy to use with the Wave.  Some knives with Wave features, like the Delica and Endura, have lockbacks and when waved vigorously, have been known to not engage.  I was accutely aware of this and tried on a number of occasions to get the frame lock to fail to engage.  No luck. The lock works exceptionally well,especially given the price point.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

Is it heresy to say I like this better than a "real" Emerson?  I think the hard use traits of an Emerson just don't suit my uses and needs.  For me, this is a better knife.  Its easier to use, more functional, and vastly more affordable but still possesses many of the traits that make production Emerson's great (not the least of which is the Wave feature).  This is an awesome knife and for the money you'd be hard pressed to find better.  I am not a huge fan of the bulky look and the skull aesthetic, but I know a lot of people are.  And even if you aren't this is just a solid knife.  Kershaw's Chinese OEMs are very good.  This is a damn good knife, regardless of price.

The Competition

Against the readily available benchmark, the SOG Mini Aegis, this is a substantially better knife.  It is not lighter (few knives are), but it is better designed and has much better features.  It feels like a real knife compared to the Mini Aegis which sometimes feels like a toy.  That one point is a big deal at the top end of the scale and here this is just a better blade.  It is every bit the winner that the Blade Show trumpeted it to be.  It also achieves that final bit of design innovation that has evaded Emersons for so long--financial accessibility.  

  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kershaw Emerson CQC6K Overview

Well, I, like a lot of other folks, took the plunge and bought an Kershaw Emerson collab.  As it turns out its not just good, its quite good.  I have owned and carried two Emersons and there are reasons to buy this knife even if you: 1) own an Emerson; 2) swear you'll never buy an Emerson; or 3) have no idea what an Emerson is, but still like knives.


If you are interested in the CQC6K you can get one at Blade HQ or KnivesShipFree. Purchases on either site help the blog. That said, if you have a knife store in person, try them out. I got this knife at Merrimack Knife and Tool in Nashua, NH. Tell Josh and Jeremiah I said hello.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Knife Thursday's Discussion of Custom v. Midtech v. Production Knife

In case you haven't heard, the Knife Thursday podcast is dedicating the entire third seasons (10 episodes) to a discussion of what it means to say a knife is a custom, midtech, or production.  They plan on asking a bunch of people--knife knuts and industry folks--about what they think each of those things is.  It is such an interesting discussion, I thought I'd offer my two cents.

First, let's clear the ground of weeds--the terms here are MARKETING terms.  People claim their knives are customs to make them seem more prestigious and more exclusive.  There is an element of craftsmanship about these things, no doubt, but really this term allows makers to ask for higher prices for their knives.  A knife being a custom doesn't mean that it is better than a production.  It doesn't mean that it has better fit and finish.  And it doesn't mean it has better materials.  It could mean those things, but it doesn't have to.  Custom means money, hence the proliferation of the term.

Thus far everyone on the podcast has focused on how something is made and I think that is a logical starting point.  The problem is that how a knife is made rapidly becomes unhelpful once you consider boutique brands and unusual cases.  Instead, I think the best way to capture what knife knuts mean by these terms is to focus on WHO made the knife.  After all, we don't say a knife is a Bob Smith custom, if it was ground by Bob Smith at the Spyderco factory.  Instead we call that a production knife and the reason why is because WHO made it is 1) not necessarily important; and 2) no single person did everything.  Additionally, the how definition starts to make less sense when you consider some of the high tech toys at the disposal of some of the best makers.  Brian Tighe's machining ability dwarfs some manufacturers, but he is still a one man show and thus I think his stuff is most properly considered a custom.  

Some History

The distinction between custom and production is a relatively recent one.  When the advent of mass production capabilities brought about by the Industrial Revolution, humans gained the ability to make objects quickly and in large numbers.  One of the hallmarks of a production item was the fact that it had interchangeable parts with others from its production line.  Production pieces looked and functioned the same.  Their parts were identical.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution EVERYTHING was custom.  

Until recently, the idea of a custom item, pejoratively called handmade/homemade, meant that it was basically a homemade take off on a production item, a lesser piece.  The term "homemade" conjures up images of a ghost sheet halloween custom and a lumpy, ugly cable knit sweater.  In some areas custom always had a positive connotation--furniture, cars--any item that is sought out for how it is made.  But in many areas, the idea of something being handmade implied it was a patchwork, a rough fascimile of the original.  Handmade suits were of suspect quality because while a few could tailor them better than any machine, most did not have that skill and so the suit was, in some way, of lesser quality than the production suit.  

But in the past 50 years or so, we have had a desire to get back to authentic roots.  We have also seen a proliferation in craftsman with superior skill and machines that allow them to capitalize on that skill. And so, over time, the term custom or handmade has become a marker of quality.  And so it is in knives as well.

The Definitions

Single Source ("Handmade") Custom: a knife designed, fabricated, ground, and finished by a single person holding themselves out as the creator.  Essentially the person is using only raw materials and maybe a few common off the shelf parts (a pivot, screw, or bolt).  I don't think it is important that it be made solely or even partially with hand tools so long as all of the work is done by a single person.

Custom: a knife designed, ground and finished by a single person with a few off the shelf parts or the use of fabrication operations in certain stages. 

Midtech: a knife in which the designer had some hand in the final creation of the knife.

Production: a knife in which no single person is holding themselves out as the creator of the knife; a knife designed by one person and made by another or many others.

Modified: a previously finished knife changed by someone else other than the person or company that made it.

Applying the Defintions

First, lets look at the most hands-on of hands-on makers--Aaron Gough.  Gough made the "viral video" rounds when this video surfaced:



Gough makes fixed blades and he does virtually everything not only by himself, of course, but with hand tools.  He cuts the blade shapes with a hack saw.  He does the grinding with a file (though he has upgraded to a motorized grinder).  He does the handle work the same way.  Gough, it seems to me, is someone that virtually everyone on planet Earth would agree makes a custom knife.  Its easy to apply the custom label, any custom label, to him.  But some would say that a custom knife uses NO off the shelf parts.  If you look at a Yuna knife, he doesn't just fabricate the blade and grind it, he makes everything himself going so far as to make his own screws.  


Image courtesy of Yuna Knives.
 
By this definition, basically Gough, Yuna, Howard Hitchmough and a few others would truly be custom makers.  

That doesn't seem fair.  It also doesn't seem to capture what we knife knuts mean by the term "custom."  It is a definition with virtually no utility because it doesn't mean what we want it to mean.  But, if you apply the "who" made it definition, these definitely work.  They are customs by the "how" it was made definition, and the "who" made it definition.  So it works there.

Let's jump to the other end of the "how its made" spectrum with guys like Brian Tighe and John Grimsmo.  If custom requires handwork these guys ain't custom makers, but that doesn't seem to make sense.  It would be like saying that a person is only the author of a book if they wrote it with pen and paper.  The fact that they have new technology in the production phase seems, to me, to be immaterial.  They designed the knife.  They made it (with the help of machines).  They finished it (again with the help of machines). The problem is that what constitutes a machine? A grinder is a machine.  It has a motor.  And so you fall down a rabbit hole that, in the end, has to do with defining "machine" instead of trying to make sense of what constitutes a custom knife.  But if you take the "who made it" definition, these are easy cases.  Both Brian and John designed, fabricated, ground, and finished the knives AND they hold themselves out as the creator.  


Image courtesy of Grimsmo Knives.

These are single source custom knives, too. 

But the single source custom seems to miss a lot of folks out there, folks that have real talent but are limited in some way by either a level of demand and/or a lack of certain machines.  These are the guys that use water jetted parts or outside heat treaters.  As a woodworkers I can identify with these folks--I use premade hinges and drawer slides (though the best drawers I have ever made were ones I made of wood).  I also don't have the room or money for a lathe, so I used premade turned legs.  For knife makers in this category, they face similar limitations.  The monetary investment a proper heat treating oven represents is just too large.  Additionally when you have a list three years long, having mass produced lockside and show side handles is huge boon.  These aren't the parts that knife folks find interesting and so I am not averse to knives made this way (though I do not own any; the Pathfinder, the SES, and the Dauntless are all, to my knowledge, single source customs).

Many folks fall into this category.  TuffThumbz has been very open about his use of water jet.  I also think that many, many folks use outside heat treaters.  Lots of folks think that using outside produced parts makes a knife something other than a custom.  Its not fair, it seems to me, to say that these folks are in the same category as the Yunas and Goughs of the world.  


Image courtesy of Blade HQ

At the same time, these folks are clearly not production scale makers or even midtech makers. One on needs to look at the lavish detail and amazing individuality of a TuffKnives creation to see that it is far from the world of production blades.  By separating out single source customs from other customs we can still capture the essence of what we mean--knives that are designed and finished by a single person are special and worth distinction and more money.

Midtechs are knives that move much closer to full production.  Often the designer (the name on the midtech) creates the CAD drawing and then outsources production of nearly everything.  The only hands-on work is in the final grinding, assembly and fitting.  The designer/maker might grind the blades or tune the lock up, but the parts are made by someone else and usually assembled by someone else.  Chad Nichols is doing a lot of the midtech work right now.  Jon Graham's recent midtech release seems like the emblematic knife of this class.  Jon does some final work on the knife and designed it, but everything else is done by others.  Similarly the "semi-custom" Bodegas offered by Todd Begg fall into this category.  


Image courtesy of FortHenryCustomKnives.com

There is nothing wrong with this at all, but it is different in substance from the other two classes of knives.  It is also something worth less, it seems to me, though not much less.  It is even further removed from the custom idea and is edging closing into the production world.  There is, obviously a spectrum with customs on one hand and midtechs on the other.  The less the knife maker does on the final product the more it is clearly a midtech until the maker does nothing in which case it is a production collaboration.  Not all midtechs are created equal, but when you start talking about outsourcing more than a few water jet parts or heat treat, I think it is clearly a midtech. 

Lisa Pelton of DPx Gear contends that midtechs are knives that are limited in number.  I don't share that opinion.  To me, the limited number of knives produced is wholly immaterial to its status as a midtech.  Afterall, Kershaw only made 211 Blue G10 Blackwash Skylines, but that is no one's idea of a midtech.  Midtechs tend to be limited in number because, as Steve pointed out on the podcast, the amount of work a maker has to do, while greatly lessened from a full custom, is still time consuming enough to make the final numbers tiny by comparison.  But limited numbers are a secondary attribute of a midtech knife, an effect, not the cause.  A midtech needs to be touched, worked on, by its designer. Otherwise it is just a small batch production knife.  The issue of limited numbers is a secondary thing, not essential to the nature of a midtech.  It would be like saying all loud cars are fast.  Many cars are loud because they are fast, but a jalopy can be equally loud but no where near as fast.     

Production knives seem easy to define, but throwing things off are knives like Bark River blades.  They are handmade.  They assembled by hand.  They are ground by hand.  They are assembled from raw materials and very few off the shelf parts.  But they are assembled in mass with interchangeable parts (returning to the original definition of production outlined at the time of the Industrial Revolution).  They are very nice, but they are still productions.  

Finally, modified knives.  In a real sense these are the knife equivalent of fan fiction.  They take something that pre-exists and is crafted by others and change it.  But having had a few modified knives (I refuse to use "pimped"; giving that work a good connotation is something I refuse to do--a pimp is a sex offender and a slave trader) and they were great.  The Dietz mod to the Burnley Kwaiken, for instance, is actually better--from a design standpoint--than the Burnley flipper.  It retains the beautiful elegant silhouette of the Kwaiken, AND offers better flipping action.  Tough to beat that. 

Conclusions

In all, I think the distinction is really a classic Wittgensteinian language problem (see: Wittgenstein's quandary over the definition of the word "game").  We have a general intuition about what the words mean, but the closer we inspect them the less certain we are of their meanings.  Human brains do not do well with these problems.  They are particularly vexing to how we think because generally get greater insight with closer inspection, not less.  But in terms of the gear world (departing quickly from the philosophy world), I think the better way to figure out what these words mean is to first focus on not the how, but the who, and then second distinguishing from types of customs.

More importantly, we have to realize this is a spectrum.  Watching Gough take that slab of steel and G10 and transform it into a very elegant blade is fascinating.  But putting the bar there for custom knives is not only silly (sort of like insisting that Willie Mays is the standard for Hall of Famers), it robs the terms of meaning.  The differences are ones of degree, not kind.  Gough is on one end of the spectrum, along with a handful of other folks, and Spyderco is on the other.  Guys that buy, as oppose to make, their own screws, but nothing else are much closer to Gough.  Guys that get parts water jetted are substantially further away from Gough, but I think still properly seen as custom makers.  

For some folks, the work done by the "custom maker" is important.  Some kind of work is more true to the sense of a custom knife than others.   In my mind, having someone else anodize the knife is not as big a deal, for classification purposes, as having someone else grind the knife. It seems to me, whether I agree with this proposition or not, that most people feel like the most important thing a knife maker can do to impart his or her own touch to the knife is to do the final grind.  I'd argue that fitting the lock is just as significant, but I think most hold out grinding the blade as the emblematic way of put a person's authorship on a blade.  

In the end, this is about money.  Customs demand higher prices.  And if you could claim something you are selling is worth 600% more depending on the label its given, you'd call it a custom too.  I'm not saying that to imply that any custom maker is dishonestly claiming something to be a custom when it isn't (though I have reason to believe this does happen), but simply to remind people of why the terms matter in the first place.  Its about money and then probably about pride.  Its not about fit and finish, craftsmanship, or materials because in the modern market you can find productions that rival the vast majority of customs on any one of those counts.  

Interestingly for me, this exercise is not so much about knives, but about language.  We, as the knife community, have a vague intuition about what these terms mean, but at the edges these intuitions fail.  I think that the definitions I laid out above, both meaningfully distinguish between different kinds of knives and, at the same time, match up well with those intuitions we all share.  I hope this helps and I hope it contributes to the excellent discussion on the Knife Thursday podcast (though from when I started writing this until I finished, Chris and Steve seemed to have moved on somewhat to other topics).  I'd love to hear everyone's take, so comment below.        

Monday, September 8, 2014

Freedom Bottle Review

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Freedom Bottle is a water bottle produced by individuals associated with the American Water Federal PAC.  I did not know this at the time I accepted the review sample, though knowing this would not have changed my mind.  The American Water Federal PAC is a group that provides funds to candidates that "support and understand America's water infrastructure."  I have no idea what that means.  Who exactly is opposed to water?  Cacti, I guess, but they can't be a large percentage of the electorate (though you never know in Chicago).  I mention this because if you google the bottle you'll find the link right away.  For the record in 2014 they gave 34% to Democrats and 66% to Republicans. I mention this in the same way I mention the Strider scandal--I don't think it bears on the product at all, but it is something some folks will be interested in and deserve to know.  And this concludes, hopefully, the one and only discussion of politics on this blog.

Sometimes folks offer stuff for review that looks interesting, but when I get it I realize that it is so different that my normal scoring systems won't work.  This is one of those products.  As such, no water bottle score.

The Freedom bottle is a collapsible water bottle.  It is not insulated and is made of a plastic material.  The bottle, when fully extended, bears a passing resemblance to a disposable water bottle.  It has a pull top lid, a see through body, and tall cylindrical shape.  But this bottle is not designed to be disposable. Instead, its designed to fold down to a small shape and be easily carried.  If you do day hikes or have lots of people on your hiking crew, this little bottle is quite handy, especially for the $5 cost.  

Here is the product page.  The bottle costs $7.99.  There are no reviews.  Here is the review sample (sent to me by Freedom Bottle and kept, per the review policy, no one wants a used water bottle):

P1040451

Twitter Review Summary: Limited use, but does things no other bottle can do.

The design of the Freedom Bottle is clever, but it takes some getting used to.  If you think of this bottle as a replacement for your bladder system or your stainless steel water bottle, you missed the point.  This is not what the Freedom Bottle best use is. Instead this is a perfect bottle to be used in conjunction with other, large insulated water carriers, so as to take advantage of his packable nature:
 
P1040456

This summer when me, my wife, and my four year old son went hiking, we'd take some large insulated bottles of water with us and drop the Freedom Bottle in the backpack.  It was easy to carry and when we took a break for lunch, we could unfold (unfurl?) it and drop some ice cold water in it for our son.  I would imagine that a collection of Freedom Bottles would do well with an even larger insulated water carrier and it would save on space and weight too.  Instead of having one heavy bottle or bladder per person you could have one big insulated container and a bunch of Freedom Bottles.

Here are two size comparison:

Collapsed:

P1040457

Open:
P1040453
The fit and finish is fine for the given use.  Its not a Hydroflask (review coming), but given what you would use it for, it is fine. It definitely doesn't feel like the cheap crinkly plastic used in disposable bottles.  That said, this is not something that has an indefinitely lifespan.  It will break or degrade eventually.  The collapsible section seems especially prone to failure, but for the money, it will work fine.

The botttle is not super easy to clean as the collapasble section is just a bear.  I cleaned it by pouring water inside with some soap and swishing it around.  After flushing it out, the bottle was fine.  One note--using the bottle with its pull top cap blocks most odors, but as a plastic bottle odors are something you can't avoid.  They are there, you just might not smell them.  

The bottle has no insulation at all, but that's obvious from the outset.  And again, the ideal use for the bottle gets around the need for insulation.  

Overall, the Freedom Bottle is not a bad camping or hiking option.  I would never have it as my main way of carrying water, but as a back up or an packable, its quite good.  At $8, its not a bargain, but it does something very few bottles can do--pack well.  I suppose you could use a bladder system, but they are hard to pass around to folks, difficult to clean, and strictly limited to use with a backpack.  With the Freedom Bottle you get most of the packability of a bladder.  For $8, its an interesting option. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

Obtainium Wallet Review

"Its great if..."

That could be the name of this wallet.  This is clearly a product borne out of superior design and great machining capabilities, but it has a list of caveats.  If you can get around these things then the Obtainium is probably the best wallet in the world for you, but a few of them might knock the Obtainium out of contention.

Here is the product page.  There a few different colors.  I got two review samples, one in black, and the other in the blue seen below which can only be described as a true royal blue.  The wallets all run around $200.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review.  Here is the review sample:

P1040116

Twitter Review Summary:  Amazing if you can deal with its limitations.  

Design: 2

Until now hard side aluminum wallets were the exclusive territory of As Seen on TV and Wal-Mart junk.  They were thin, the interior pockets were plastic accordion-style sleeves, and the entire set up felt cheap and flimsy.  Nothing about the Obtainium feels (or is) cheap.  The hinge is made of a metal pin.  The body is two pieces of carved aluminum.  This is entirely different from the hardside aluminum wallets you are used to.

But there are some compromises.  First, as one of my product tester put it: "This ain't the wallet you use if you are high rollin'."  While the wallet can hold cash, it does so only to a certain extent and then it becomes unsightly.  It doesn't fold flat or close.  Second, because of the RFID blocking design, if you use a badge or a card to access areas, this wallet can be a frustration.  I need to tap a card every day to get into court, and so the Obtainium's security feature became an annoyance.  Finally, if you can't tolerate front pocket carry, this thing will give you a totally sore ass and crooked spine sitting in your back pocket.  Its too thick and hard to sit on comfortably.  I guess you could solve two of the three problems above by getting two Obtainiums, one for each butt cheek and one for cash and the other for cards, but that seems like a bit of overkill (that was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek).

For its intended use--as a front pocket wallet for mainly card carrying folks, the Obtainium is superb.  For other folks, the design is too clunky.  But design is all about making choices.  If you want to have a wallet that is perfect for cards, it will be less so, almost by definition, for cash.  Given Obtainium's explicit claim that this is primarily a card wallet, I am not docking it points for being less than awesome outside its intended use. 

P1040121

Fit and Finish: 2

Every single edge is chamfered not only making the wallet comfortable, but also easy to slide stuff in and out of.  The cash bridges (the plastic straps held in place with rubber o-rings) are nicely made and have been updated since the first generation.  They are now less brittle.  Everything is nice, but one thing was especially glorious--the hard anodizing on the aluminum.  I am not sure if you have taken a look at the review list in a while.  Its pretty long.  I have had my share of experiences with anodized aluminum.  This is the best I have ever seen. It is insanely tough, but more than that is so pleasing to the touch that during the review period I'd occasionally find myself mindlessly running my fingers across the embossed and anodized logo.  Its so luxurious.  It really is a step up from everything else I have seen. 

P1040122

Materials: 2

With the new plastic in the cash bridge the suite of materials used on the Obtainium is now completely top shelf.  There is nothing that is cheap or chintzy here.  

Carry: 1

Even as a front pocket wallet this thing is something of a beast.  Compared to a leather number or a money clip, the Obtainium is a pocket brick, akin to carrying around two smartphones at once.  All of that durability and RFID blocking comes from somewhere and a hefty weight of 3.0 ounces unloaded is the result.  In the breast pocket of a suit the weight is totally fine, but you might mistake the Obtainium for your iPhone. 

Accessibility: 2

In a stroke of true inspiration, the folks at Obtainium cut two v-notches in the shell of the wallet, making it possible to access cards while the wallet is closed.  Thanks to the good design on the cash bridge straps, you can even slip cards back in without opening the wallet.  All this means that the Obtainium takes accessibility to another level.

P1040123

I found that if you REALLY stuffed the wallet it might be hard to get cards out of the middle of a stack without pushing them all around.  Cards in the middle of a stack also require you to open the wallet too, but some careful planning can allow you to put the most frequently pulled cards on the outside and this can be a boon when using the Obtainium.  I'd give it a three if it didn't break the newly minted scale.

Appearance: 2

I have this theory bouncing around in my head that there are certain sized objects that we find naturally appealing, like a Zippo or a deck of playing cards.  I have had this theory in a nascent form since I became obsessed with consumer electronics (i.e. when I first saw and held a Sony D-35 Discman at a Service Merchandise, remember those?).  Its hard to pin this idea down, but it does play into how we relate to things in a "I know it when I see it" kind of way.  Here the Obtainium has that "just right" size. Couple that with the brilliant blue anodizing and the please angled shape and you have a winner.  Unconventional wallets tend to look more "unconventional" than "wallet" and while folks might not guess right away what the Obtainium is, it doesn't look childish or silly.  It looks like many of the gadgets we are so used to seeing on people these days, so it definitely doesn't look out of place.  I found that when people realized it was a wallet they were really taken by how it looks. "Oh, that's really nice looking" was a refrain I heard more than once while using the wallet.  I agree.  It is unconventional, but in a good way and in a way that doesn't look out of place.  

Durability: 1

It is probably just a fluke, but I need to be honest--one of the o-rings that holds the cash bridge in place broke during transit.  I had a pack full of extras and you could probably just go to a local hardware store and find a dozen for .79 but that was not an auspicious beginning.  Fortunately, things did not go down hill from there.  The replacement o-ring is still tight and secure. 

The rest of the wallet is simply rock solid.  The hinge never got gunky or stiff.  The wallet itself is milled from som substantial aluminum.  And the anodizing was practically bulletproof.  I did notice some minor flaking around the top lip of the two card "channels" but nothing worth getting stressed about.  I imagine, over time, more anodzing will flake off, but that is the nature of the material.  And if your wallet looked brand new all of the time, that would be a bit weird.  If any everyday carry item should have a bit of the Fett Effect imposed on it, its your wallet.

Retention: 2

Though the o-ring snapped right away, once replaced, the card bridges did their job well.  You can take the wallet, flip it upside down and shake it, and the cards won't fall out.  If you do the same thing, but smack the wallet at the hinge you can get them loose, but short of that, the cash bridges keep everything put.  A single card in ecah channel will stick (though not as well) and a bunch will hardly budge but there is a tension in this design between retention and accessibility and I think the Obtainium folks hit it just right.

P1040119

I'd put the ideal configuration at 3 or 4 cards per side with no more than 4 to 6 brand new bills as well. That can give you a good deal of capacity, both physically and financially, but if you are set up to go to a low rent strip club or jjust partial to 1s and 5s you'll find the cash bridges are really tight.  

One note that is important and perhaps explains a bit of the retention set up--this wallet is made in Australia and they have polymer, not paper bills.  According to my source (Andrew), these bills fold differently and wear differently than the US's paper money.  That might play into how Obtainium balanced out the retention vs. the accessibility of contents in the wallet.

Organization: 2

You don't have an ID window and there are only two slots for cards and cash, so you need to be thoughtful in how you pack the Obtainium, but if you are the wallet can be great.  First, in the state I live, we are required to show our IDs with many purchases, so I usually put the ID on the front of one of the card stacks.  Then I put my most frequently used credit cards on the bottom of the stacks so they can be removed without opening the wallet.  I have a pass card that lets me in to various places and the Obtainium blocked it (as it is supposed to) so I put that on the top of the stack opposite my idea, allowing me to open the wallet, tap the card, and go.  Finally I tucked in one or two $20s for my cash carry.

The design of the wallet requires you to rethink how you organize the wallet, but if you do that you are rewarded with an elegant and very functional set up.  It took me a while to see this, but that was because I was stuck in the "six pocket" mindset of traditional wallets.  Leave that behind and you'll be rewarded.

Efficiency: 1

Given its size and weight the Obtainium doesn't hold a lot of stuff, but that is a problem inherent in all hardside wallets. Its a tradeoff but simply being a hardside wallet doesn't mean they will always score low here.  The problem wit the Obtainium is that the wallet itself is made of very thick, perhaps too thick, slabs of aluminum.  A smaller overall form factor with more substantial milling could have resulted in a slimmer, lighter wallet that carries the exact same amount of stuff.

P1040118

Score: 17 out of 20

This is not your wallet if: 1) you want to carry a lot of cash; 2) you need to tap cards for access to places (fetching the wallet and opening it up is annoying compared to just tapping your wallet); or 3) you want to back pocket carry a wallet.

If you are still in contention, then the Obtainium is a must consider.  Its pricey, sure, but not so pricey as to be insane. Most good leather wallets cost around $100 and the Obtainium is just twice that price.  And for what you get--a well designed, virtually indestructible piece, the additionally money can be justified.  I loved the look and feel of the Obtainium quite a bit and many of the limitations inherent in the design didn't bother me (I am not a cash carrier; what do muggers do now with the decline in cash carry?).  This isn't MY wallet because of the RFID blocking but for most people I can imagine this is a feature instead of a problem.  Overall, the Obtainium is a well-realized design and a gorgeous object.  It is also a damn good wallet.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Wallet Scoring System

I have had more a few scoring systems in the works since the beginning of the site and over time, some have been scrapped and others have been tweaked.  The scoring system for wallets has been tweaked a few times and yet I never put it out because I was always afraid that I was coming too close to reviewing something related to fashion.  I know nothing about fashion.  I can't even match clothes (this is the one way in which being required to wear a suit is a good thing--I don't have to worry if my pants and jacket go together).  So I was hesitant.  No wallet scoring system.  But over time reviews of wallets have been among the most viewed articles on the site and folks have requested more of them and scores for them.  With that in mind, I am finally ready to unveil the scoring system for wallets. But remember, this is not a fashion review, but a review of how they work. 

As with all of the scoring systems on the site it is provisional, and subject to change.  It is also evaluating something from my perspective only.  There are many finely made wallets that I do not like and thus they would receive a poor score.  I do not know or care about the fashion statements wallets make.  I want it to work well.  As with almost every item I carry I want something as small and light as possible so long as it still works.  I am merciless on my wallet and it returns the favor, so I want it to be as tiny as I can get it.  The giant purse wallets that women sometimes carry baffle me.  Hamburger wallets aren't my favorite--their stacks of cards are annoying and can cause pain. But at the same time, I want something more than a rubber band and a paper clip (which is what a lot of the Kickstarter wallets seem to be made of these days).   With that said, here's the scoring system, again out of 20.

All of the scoring systems can be found under the Reviews tab above.

Imports from other scoring systems:

Design: how something would appear in blueprints or in CAD.

Fit and Finish: how something is made, the ability to translate the design into a real object with as few errors as possible.

Materials (from the bag and pack scoring system): the quality of the fabrics/leathers/zippers etc.

Carry: how the wallet rides in the pocket.

Accessibility (from the bag and pack scoring system): how easy it is to get things out of the wallet.

Unique or altered for wallets:

Appearance: 

Generally wallets come in a few flavors--there are what I (or more accurately my wife) calls the Spiderman wallets, then there are the classic bi or trifolds, then there are the hardside wallets, and last there are what can only be described as the inventor wallets--the contraptions from Kickstarter.  Only a few of these are categorical failures in my opinion.

The Spiderman wallet, a fabric wallet with a velcro or snap enclosure is just not a good design.  Here is a classic example of what I mean by "Spiderman wallet".  I am sure they are functional and they hold a lot of stuff, but that's the only thing a wallet needs to do.  It also has to look a certain way.  I hate to write that, but it is true.  These fabric wallets look childish, wear poorly (they last forever, but look like a shirt on the highway after about 10 minutes), are conspicuous to open and close, and just don't fit as part of things an adult carries.  Additionally, I'd probably prefer the super hero themes to the dull parade of black, brown, gray, camo, desert camo and green (and why exactly do I want a wallet that is hard to find and blends in if I drop it in the grass?) we are treated to with these wallets.  At least the super hero themes are interesting.

Classic wallets are fine, like this Bellroy bifold, the Note Sleeve:

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Whether made of leather or other materials (like high tech sail fabric) these designs seem to work, though I can't see a reason to carry a trifold.  The design necessarily makes the wallet thick and bulky.  It basically tells folks where your wallet is and if that doesn't happen it can make you sit lopsided.  I am sure there are good trifolds out there.  I just haven't seen one.  

Hardside wallets are something I have always been conflicted about.  Clearly they can't be back pocket wallets (most wallets should be back pocket wallets), but for folks that need a lot of durability, they may be the only way to go.  Personally, I am not thrilled with the idea of a hard side wallet, but unlike the trifold or the Spiderman wallet, I can see how they can be useful.

The "wallets" that I have no real experience with are the card-and-band wallets from Kickstarter.  They come in all sorts of configurations and they all seem focused on the design limbo game of how low can they go with materials and still call it a wallet.  I am not sure if I could pull one of these off, but they don't seem per se bad.  They all, almost uniformly, tend to be expensive for what your getting.  After all many seem like nothing more than a credit card with a woman's scrunchy. 

Durability:

One of the problems with a wallet is that you have to use it, carry it, sweat on it (oh wait, that's just me, the sweaty Italian), and manipulate it every single day, multiple times a day.  Its not like your knife or your flashlight, which absent some gadget fidgeting, you might not handle on a daily basis.  Other than my phone, nothing I carry gets handled as much as my wallet.  And so a wallet needs to be durable.  Leather is a great choice as it wear well--typically looking better as it gets older (until a point).  The sail fabric wallets also wear well, though not as nicely as the leather versions.  The Spiderman wallets have a hard time though.  They will last forever, but they will look okay for about ten minutes.  Then they look like something you pulled out of a lake while fishing.  So by "durability" I mean both the ability to last and the ability to look nice over time.  Its a difficult feat, but lots of folks have figured this out.  

Retention:

This category is looking at how well the wallet retains its contents, not how well a wallet sticks in your pocket.  That's covered by Carry.  Some wallets, like the Big Skinny, do this very well thanks to special material in the pockets and sleeves.  Other wallets, leather wallets, have the unfinished reverse side of leather to hold stuff in place and that works well.  The issue arises we we get to more high tech wallets, like the hardside, Spiderman, and card-and-band wallets.  They need some pretty clever engineering to keep stuff in place. 

Organization:

This category is looking at a wallet's pockets and how well they are laid out.  Some wallets, like the Bellroy Note Sleeve:

P1030113

do great things with just a few pockets.  Note how the diagonal cut on the front pocket allows you to show your ID without having to remove it.  That's genius.  Other wallets just load up on pockets without consideration for how they will be used and this, it seems to me, is a sign of poor organization.   

Efficiency:

So I decided that in order to best explain how a good wallet works, I needed a concept that captured what we all want in a wallet--the Mary Poppins bag:



We want a wallet that is small and easy to carry, but capable of holding a ton of stuff.  So this category will look at the size of the wallet compared to the amount of stuff it can hold.  Obviously hardside wallets will do comparatively worse here, but even with a hardside wallet good design can lead to an efficient wallet.

Hopefully this will work out well.  I like wallets and I am particularly fond of my Bellroy Note Sleeve.  I have a few wallet reviews in the pipeline and they will get the scored treatment from now on.  Up first--the Obtanium Wallet.