Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fallkniven F1z Review

Let your mind float back to college and Philosophy 101.  You sat there listening to someone drone on and on about some dumb cave and that guy from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure ("So-crates").  If, during this hazy time, you remember anything it is probably form v. function.  Unfortunately, your memory is like carbon paper and that idea is a mishmash of 20 century design principles and ancient philosophy.  The real distinction is form v. substance and forms play a huge role in the metaphysics of both Plato and Aristotle.  The idea is simple--there are certain irreducible elements that make chairs chairs.  For Plato there was an eternal chair out there in the ether, for Aristotle is was more an idea.  But the concept is a very useful one. Our brains operate as heuristic computers and use templates and generalizations to quickly assess the world around us (that's why we can be startled by hoses that look like snakes).  In all of this high minded stuff, there is this notion of a core, essential nature of a given thing (in fact, form is sometimes translated as essence, that Attic Greek was notoriously fickle).  And when you evaluate gear a lot you start to see forms and essences often.

When Massdrop asked me to review the Fallkniven F1z, I did some research about Massdrop (all of which turned out to be good) and the knife.  I said yes and a week or so later the knife landed on my doorstep.  When I opened the box I was stunned at just how simple of a blade this is. It is, perhaps, the closest thing I have used to the form of "fixed blade".  It is devoid of flourish or unnecessary features. It has a resolute and straightforward feel. The F1z is the essence of camp knife and, if you haven't picked up on it over the past 4 years and hundreds of reviews, I am a fan of simple things.

A word about Massdrop.  First, the site is not a traditional retailer.  You can't go on the site and order something.  Second, you have to "join" the site to participate and the participation is not nominal.  Users decide what is sold and for how much.  Here is how this works: users are allowed to nominate products in a specific class.  The products in that class, say "medium sized fixed blades" are then voted on by other users.  Massdrop then contacts the maker of the product or a large distributor.  They agree to buy a certain amount and the party supplying agrees to sell a certain amount.  The larger the amount of the product sold, the lower the price.  So, for example, you can get a knife for $100 with 20 promises to buy, you can get it for $90 with 30, and $80 with 50.  Those numbers are made up, but you get the idea.  I did some further research and there are all sorts of "communities" on Massdrop--pens, EDC gear, head fi...lots of stuff.  And generally the products nominated are good selections.  They had a Spyderco Rubicon win a vote a few days ago.  Massdrop works directly with makers most of the time, but they do use distributors.  They are a US company and all employees work in the US (San Francisco, to be precise).  They have done custom runs of items just for the Massdrop communities.  Finally, there is a limit on how low the product can go.  Using the example above 70 promises to buy won't lower the price anymore.  Finally, here is the FAQ that explains things in more detail.  

Here is the product page. The Fallkniven F1z costs $140, but with the right number of promises to buy on Massdrop the knife will sell for $119.  Here is the Massdrop page.  Here is a written review. Here is a video review.  Here is my review sample:

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Here is my video overview:



Twitter Review Summary: Uber tough and capable but light as a feather.

Design: 2

The knife is dead simple--drop point, clean handle, full tang, and a beautiful convex grind.  No fuss, no muss.  It is also the standard issue survival knife for the Swedish Air Force.  I am not a huge fan of "celebrity" endorsements, even the mil-spec ones we are treated to in the gear world, but man I can see why lots of folks like this blade.  Its pretty amazing.  Don't let the plain looks fool you, this is a knife designed to work and work and work outdoors.  It is, in many ways, the fixed blade embodiment of my design philosophy and approach to gear--more than enough, but never too much.  Its probably 90% of the BK-9 with a significantly smaller physical footprint.  And that's the key to the F1z.  Folks have raved it about it for years because this is a rough and ready outdoor knife that weighs next to nothing.  The knife alone weighs 6 ounces, a smidge more than many of the beefier folders out there.  With the Zytel sheath (hence the "z" in F1z, there is a leather sheath version, but it sorta defeats the design) it weighs...ready for this...7 ounces (7.02 to be precise).  That's just a few tenths of an ounce more than many of the more popular ZT folders.  The F1z is the PM2 of the fixed blade market--tremendously tough and capable with a stunningly light and small profile.

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Fit and Finish: 2

Fallkniven's fit and finish is simply superb.  I loved the simple lines of the U2 and I was deeply impressed with how it all went together.  The F1z is no different.  This is a taut, clean, resolute blade made to the highest standards.  Its equal to a Bark River and that is saying quite a bit.  

Handle Design: 1

The one comes down to this: I don't like the Thermorun handle.  I just don't.  The shape and curve of the handle is perfect, but the tackiness drives me nuts.  I realize these were "in" ten years ago, but just give me a grippy G10 handle and I'll be happy.

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Its such a shame too because this is a handle with curves, like Kate Upton, in all of the right places.  Unlike Kate Upton, its not flashy or exaggerated, just perfect.  I just don't like rubberized handles...

Steel: 2

VG-10 is not my favorite steel in a folder.  The original Dragonfly I owned had VG-10 and it rolled like a log.  VG-10 is just not a good steel for a thin high edge.  But in a robust convex grind, sandwiched between other steel, it worked quite well.  I did quite a bit of wood processing with this, both on a few hikes in winter and finishing up my stack of firewood for the season and it did supremely well.  It did spot a little, but I think that was my fault.  

Blade Shape: 2

There is something so charming, so elegant about the drop point shape. Its something my eye never gets tired of seeing, unlike, say, a nightmare grind.

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The drop point is both useful and easy to maintain and here, it is quite well done.  The thickness of the blade stock isn't a problem as the distinctive taper towards the point still yields a nice precise tip.  This is a perfect rendition of a drop point.

Grind: 2

I am a member of the Convex Grind Fan Club, having been persuaded of its clear superiority after handling a pair of Bark Rivers and a custom from Kyle Ver Steeg. Here the 3/16 inch stock is skillfully reduced to a razor edge.  Its both sharp and durable, the two hallmarks of a good convex grind. I found it easy to maintain as well, stropping back to lightsaber-like cutting power in a matter of minutes.  Its going to take something really impressive to convince me that there is an edge better than a convex edge on medium and large fixed blades.

Sheath Carry: 2

And now we reach the point in our story where the secret is revealed.  The F1z is, quite simply, the best carrying fixed blade I have ever reviewed.  The sheath, though not molded to the knife and quite rattle-prone, is light and allows for virtually 100% mobility.  You can strap this on and sprint through the woods (as you are want to do when you are trailing a sugar fueled four year old like I did for the outdoor shots).  Some fixed blades are so heavy and so pinned in place that they feel more like a splint than a knife.

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The superior carry of this knife makes it better than the splint carry blades (Spyderco Rock, you are the worst offender).  In fact after a few minutes, the knife becomes invisible, you'll have to check to see if it is still there (and given the straps and snaps, it certainly will be).  The F1z is a classic for a reason and this, above anything else is it. The best medium or large fixed blade carry I have ever seen.  The weight doesn't hurt, of course, but the sheath is what puts it into the stratosphere.  I'd give this a 3 if I could.  So much better than everything else I have used and reviewed.

Sheath Accessibility: 1

I love the knife in the sheath, but getting there is a problem.  This sheath requires you to put the knife back in one particular way.  If you don't the sheath doesn't work.  That's an issue, as truly great sheathes are either ambidextrous or provide you instant and obvious feedback on directionality.

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Here you won't know if you got it right until the very end, that is, unless you are staring right at the knife and sheath (which is infrequent when you are wearing it).  I also think they could improve the sheath's fit and make it rattle less.  Its not a terrible problem, especially when you consider how well the knife carries, but it is something to note.

Useability: 2

I took these photos on a pre-Christmas hike.  My son and I went into our favorite part of the woods and just started walking.  We were both bundled up and a good thing--it was about 16 degrees out.  This was a perfect time to try out the knife's chopping performance.  

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The knife, despite its relatively small blade (compared, say, to a chopper like the BK-9) did incredibly well.  There were no hotspots, of course, and the balance was just right, being probably an inch in front of the molded guard.  I felt in control 100% of the time, but when I need to I could lean way back and get some good chops in.  This is a really great all around knife with enough heft to chop and split, but enough grace and refinement to do precision tasks.  Very, very nice.

Durability: 2

While I worry that the rubberized handle could get chewed up over a decade or so of use, that's true for just about any handle material.  Aside from that there is nothing here that indicates a weakness in the F1z.

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Its a thick, full tang handle (as the exposed tang shows in the picture above), and its convex edge is durable enough to ward off concerns of rolling, chipping, or breaking.  I split small kindling, about wrist thickness, and it did fine.  I am  sure it would also split bigger stuff, but it might be hard to extract as the short blade (around 4 inches) wouldn't span the width of the wood.  You could stand on the blade, no problem.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

Light, easy to carry, tough as nails with a great blade shape and grind--the F1z is a modern classic and a great tweener fixed blade--big enough to chop and small enough to slice.  You can find its equals in the Bark River line and I am sure some of the small batch custom stuff is better.  But for the price, its hard to beat.  The VG-10 is used in an asbolutely perfect way--hiding the weaknesses of the steel and accentuating is positives.  Overall, this is a great knife for the outdoors.  It lacks the sense of style and visual delight of a Bark River Adventurer, but it is still a damn good knife and at the price Massdrop had it for, its a steal.  If you need a knife in this size, watch Massdrop for the F1z to come again.  Its a classic for all of the right and real reasons. 

8 comments:

  1. All the same reasons I love my S1. I opted for the S1 instead to get the swedge, longer blade (longer flat for draw knife stuff, longer overall for batoning), and larger grip (big hands).

    The rattly sheath is that way to allow it to still release the knife if it's wet and freezes. A tight kydex or leather sheath will hold on to the knife with an icy grip.

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  2. It's still available on massdrop (114.99, 4 days left).

    Is it worth replacing my BK9 with this?

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  3. Nice review, Tony. I actually just published some thoughts on the F1 myself, so it's interesting to compare notes. Good point regarding the sheath. It's lightweight and functional, but you are absolutely right in that it's hard to index without looking at it closely.

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  4. I posted as simple fix for the sheath rattle over on the multitool.org forum. It's been working very well for several months.

    http://forum.multitool.org/index.php/topic,56431.msg1007082.html#msg1007082

    I finally bought an S1 and now have the significant problem of having to decide which one to take with me when I go out!

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  5. Great review. I think form and matter might be better though. Substance is usually used philosophically as a synonym for essence, no? As in transubstantiation.

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