Monday, April 6, 2015

Trending: Q1 2015

Like you, I watch the forum boards.  They are the beating heart of the gear world.  This is where ideas start, trends emerge, and the coolest stuff in the world is shown off before everyone has one.  It is like the dumping ground for all of our googling and research.  And so I thought it might be useful to highlight some trends I have seen.  Not all boards are equal.  Some are more newb friendly than others. Some are more focused than others.  So if I highlight things you aren't seeing on your forum of choice, that's why.  I peruse a bunch of forum boards, but the ones I frequent most regularly are: Watchuseek, Fountain Pen Network, Mulitool.Org, Blade Forums, EDCF, CPF, and the USN.

Trending UP

1.  Traditionals are HOT

I used to be in the "I hate traditionals" camp.  But a few years ago I came around to the charm of wonderful slipjoint with jigged bone handles.  Since then I have been regularly checking in on the traditionals scene and it has absolutely exploded.  The recent issue of the Fremont Jack in Elephant Ivory by Knives Ship Free, was like the detonation of a nuke at the Bikini Atoll.

Image courtesy of Knives Ship Free

Not since the production Dauntless has there been as much online clamor for a non-custom knife.  Between Derrick Bohn's Northwoods Knives and GEC, the traditional knife scene is as hot as I have seen it in five years of gear watching.  

2.  Tom's Choice is Everyone's Choice

The Fremont Jack in Elephant Ivory was a one time shot.  But the Tom's Choice line of barlows, produced by GEC has been a series of knives that seem to be endlessly popular.


Its not exactly easy to find them either--they are commissioned by an individual, who then sells them to stores and sells a few himself.  Who gets them and when is basically a crapshoot.  If you hop on the right traditional knife retailer at the right time you might get one.  And if you find one on the forum boards, just buy it.  It won't last more than an hour.  The barlow form is so pleasing to the hand, pocket, and eye, its easy to understand why folks love TC Barlows.  But the handle selection, including a few varieties of saw cut material, is really the driving factor.  These TC Barlows are a collector's dream, but they are great users too, because, after all, that is the a barlow is at the end of the day--a pure user.

3.  Tain is Killing It

Tain's line of simple, single cell custom lights with musical names have been the hottest lights in the flashlight world for about a year now.  A wave is announced, fills up, lights are made, then a few are sold on the secondary market for a 100% premium.  Browse the BTS boards of CPF and you will see entry after entry after entry that simply reads: WTB Tain.  The reasons are easy enough to understand--the light uses a staged twisty (like the Aeon) with common batteries and delivers good output.  The trit slot in the tail of the light is the flashlight equivalent of a cherry on top.

4.  ZT is the King

The sheer volume of threads that reference ZT0XXX are staggering.  ZT's formula of custom collaborators, high end materials, and in-the-moment design choices is a huge reason why they are so popular.  But in the past two years things have been taken up a notch as they have started to make knives that non-gorillas can use (thanks for the phrase Derrick).  With the introduction of the ZT0770 (a criminally underrated blade), ZT has started to make knives that you can EDC and the result has been a white hot glow around the brand.


It doesn't hurt that Spyderco's new stuff in the past two years has been bland and Benchmade's stuff has been more boring AND confusing.  ZT has both changed for the better and struck while the iron was hot.  That is the REAL formula for success.

Trending DOWN

1. Custom Flashlights

I remember it like it was yesterday (because it almost was just yesterday).  2008...the halcyon days of the custom light revolution.  There were dozens of dudes making lights, all led by the light master himself McGimzo.  There were ArcMania lights, HDS torches in Ti, MilkySpit was a flasholics paradise. But then folks started to fold up shop and things just got weird (exactly what was the problem with ArcMania? He made people mad on CPF? there anything in the world less important and less interesting the forum board politics?).  Since then we have a few guys banging out great stuff, but not like the good ole days.  Fortunately, the production light makers have stepped up.  Everyone offers a Ti bodied light now.  Selector rings are everywhere.  There are even touch screen controlled lights.  And then there are the semi-custom makers, folks like Peak and TorchLab and Prometheus.  Good lights are still out there, they are just being made in different ways and, are, for the most part, cheaper.

2.  Hinderer Herd Needs Some Thinning

Ready?  The Cryo, Cryo II, Thermite, Ember, ZT0560, ZT0566, ZT0562, ZT0392, the XM-18 with four blade shapes and two sizes, the XM-24, and an assortment of fixed blades.


But its not really the proliferation of his designs that is cramping the market, it is the fact that its not clear what Hinderer wants to be.  Does he want to be a knife designer?  Does he want to be a custom maker?  Does he want to run his own production line?  Does he want to be a supplier for KAI?  Right now he is all of these things and it is clear, watching the forums, that this has over saturated the market.  He has produced XM-18s in staggering numbers recently and this, couple with the prodigious output from KAI, has lowered the price of XM-18s.  I bought mine and sold it about a year ago and I lost zero dollars.  I sold it for $636.  Now you can find them all day long on boards for $450.  Good sleuthing will land you one for just over direct prices--$425-430.  The days of $1000 XM-18s are over.  And if you bought one hoping to flip it...well ask Goldman Sachs.  This is a perfect example of why knives make bad investments.  But I think a bigger drop is coming.  There is only so many ways you can slice the baloney, and with all of those models and all of those knives in the market, I think we are going to see a collective overdose.  But what do I know, the ZT0562CF has been sold out everywhere.   

3.  Where is the middle?

Remember the Delica?  It is a damn good knife.  And the Mini Grip?  Its damn good too.  With the market booming, everyone is wisely getting while the getting is good, but this means that the average price of a newly released design is probably 50-100% more than it was five years ago.  The Benchmade Valet is $170 knife and for the steel, it is a good price.  But five years ago that would have been a VERY expensive knife.  Now, its almost like a mid-priced blade.  Geez.  When did that happen?  And then there is the San Ren Mu-ification of knives.  There are a ton of cheap knives from lesser brands and even some well known brands are dipping their toes into the bargain basement OEM waters.   The Delicas, Mini Grips, and Skylines of the world are starting to look quaint.

See you in three months.  


  1. Those Northwood knives are just beautiful. I wish I could afford one. That they sell out so fast doesn't help either. Maybe I'll try and save for the next wave of Indian River Jacks at the end of the year. They'll be in S35VN too!

  2. Number 3 is devastatingly correct. Knives like the delica the mini grip or he skyline are still great Knives, in fact if you're not a gear junkie any one of those could be the only knife you'll ever need. But what happens if you are a gear junkie? Or what about competitive options in general? What I would love to see is more well thought out and refined designs like the delica and the mini gripand so on coming in around the same price.I also think that we should be but companies should be bringing high and steals into those midrange knives like they did with the dragon fly in the Delica. solid designs great steel reasonable midrange pricesare something that I jump for consistently and I don't think I'm alone.

  3. I like the shape of classic knives, but I'm not too partial to not being able to disassemble them for cleaning. If anyone makes a Northwoods style blade put together with torx screws, I'd be all in.

  4. I feel TU 4 and TD 2 are paradoxical and in some ways contradictory. I don't see what the big deal is with ZT myself. I feel that it is because of everything centering around Hinderer being their flagship that makes me balk at looking at their knives any further. True ZT has been coming out with some interesting knives from other custom makers but it seems they are in the minority of the line. The rest is dominated by Hinderer or variants on the same theme. Overall, ZT knives are beyond reproach compared to what else is out there and at worst cost prohibitive. As for traditionals it would be nice to get my hands on a Northwoods Indian Jack. But at the end of the day, based on the great reviews on this site, I settled on the quite affordable SAK Alox Cadet and Pioneer. I even picked up a 50th Anniversary Buck 110. For the cost of one premium traditional at least the handful of knives I got won't be safe queens. Great article. Thanks.

    1. Speaking of which it looks like Cold Steel got out their Stockman knife Ranch Boss with CPM S35VN first. I just discovered a local dealer having them in stock and available for purchase. This is going to be epic for Cold Steel as a trump card in the traditional knife collecting community which is so hot right now.

  5. Honestly, I think the reality is that the middle is falling because you can get a lot more knife for not that much more cash. VG-10 and 154CM are totally solid steels, but it's hard for me to justify $60-80 for them when I can step up to CTS-XHP, S30V, S35VN, Elmax or, in one case at least, S110V for not that much more or sometimes even in the same price range.

    $100 right now can buy you more knife than you will ever realistically need, and there are some plenty of rock solid options for around $30. That makes it hard for the mid priced knives to thrive. If I need cheap and dependable I can get a Rat 2 or Zancudo for $30, if I need better steel I can get an XHP Code 4 or a Native 5 Lightweight for $75-80. Hard to offer something that's enough of a step up from the Rat but enough cheaper than the Native to entice educated buyers.

  6. All the knife stuff here is spot on. I don't follow lights much anymore.

    I am waiting for the "big hair" knives -- my term for bloated "hard use" titanium trendoid flippers with 250 thou thick blades -- to peak. Not here yet but it's coming. By 2018 knives like the Hi Jinx will look as dated as '70s shirt collars.

    At the intersection of Up #1 (traditionals) and Down #3 (where's the middle), I have gone on a bit of a buying spree of W.R. Case knives in the time-tested EDC patterns: Trapper, Med. Stockman, etc. If you get a good Case (which seems to be about 80% of them), that is a LOT of practical, nicely fit & finished USA-made pocket knife for $45 to $50. Not many GECs in the Skyline/Delica price range, but Case lives there.

    Only barrier to entry for some gear heads will be the Tru-Sharp stainless. I get that, although I don't mind the stuff. But that's why Case makes so many options in CV carbon steel, whose pleasing edge holding & sharpening properties should be broadly acceptable even to knerds.

    Last thought: while I am a GEC fan, they need to charge $10 more and give us a better finished factory edge. I have never bought a Case that I couldn't bring up to an acceptable working edge, out of the box, with 20 minutes on a Sharpmaker. I absolutely cannot say that about GECs. (Interestingly, Northwoods has done better by me.)

    1. I would be interested in what you think of Cold Steel's Limited Edition Stockman that just came out. The Ranch Boss with CPM S35VN has been just released and available for purchase. The price on it is quite steep as it is limited to 600 pieces. It looks like they had theirs made directly from the same factory as Northwoods. It looks just like one of Northwoods models but has the Cold Steel etch emblazoned on one of the blades. Interesting to say the least with Lynn Thompson now jumping on the traditional bandwagon.

    2. Very. That knife is going to be about $200 street. I'd say it's worth it if F&F is commensurate. Needs to be at least as good as an above-average Northwoods offering.

      S35VN is a reasonable choice for a high-end "modern" traditional. Honestly I think for the genre it's hard to improve on well executed D2 or the really nice CPM154 that Northwoods has used on some recent runs of the Indian River Jack. That stuff's a delight in use. S35VN is as crazy as I'd want to go.

      The usual result when a particular category gets "hot" in the knife world is that the marketing types push each trend to its ad absurdum limit. I don't want an Elmax or S110V traditional. I have no interest in those large-carbide, low-grindability, high-alloy modern ubersteels on a little slipjoint folder. Totally wrong steel for the application! Just to spell this out for any makers reading: not only will I not pay you more for these steels in a traditional, I will actively avoid them and seek out knives in the relatively sane, D2/154CM/ATS-34 family, maybe CTS-XHP or S35VN if run tough.

      Haven't folks gotten solid results from GEC's 440C stainless offerings?

      There aren't tactical folders and they aren't knives that a warehouseman needs to plow through leagues of heavy cardboard with.

      The only true "supersteels" that make sense (to me) in a traditional are the (mostly Japanese) high-carbon ones that aren't riddled with vanadium, and thus emphasize clean, precise razor edge taking and holding. I could see a high-end slip joint in ZDP-189 or Super Blue.

  7. I've succumbed to classic slip joints and lockbacks lately. Cant affort GEC or Northwoods, but Case are serving as a great introduction to the feel of traditional
    knives. Just have to sharpen it a bit more.

    I think people are starting to look realisticslly about how they use knives and tactical/fast deployment and super large blades and locks just arent essential. Opes up the market a lot when you break down the old 'must have' features.

    1. I, too, have been looking at Case. I was interested in the Copperlock and Cheetah series of knives. Pricewise they are still up there but not as expensive as GEC or Northwoods. I still am partial to Buck although one has to scrutinize them a bit more as the QC and QA can be somewhat spotty. Other than the SAK Alox Cadet and Pioneer I ended up getting a Douk Douk which I can keep on me anywhere. Right now I am looking for a Mercator 55K although they are hard to find where I am. Looks like I will have to go back to Case.

  8. I have been carrying traditional type knives for almost a year and have enjoyed it tremendously. For some reason I found that I will use my knives more if they are traditionals.
    One reason I think traditionals are popular right now is because of the exotic handle materials offered are at a typically lower price than if they were on a one handed opener.
    Excellent article, can't wait for the second installment!

  9. Great write up.
    I really think that we are entering a new "golden age" of knife production. You've got companies hammering out knives with exotic steels with tight tolerances only seen in high tech industries. On the other end of the spectrum, you've got companies like GEC recreating and mastering traditional folders like never before.
    You can truly have best of both worlds.
    It's great that I can carry my Sage in my back pocket and Tidioute in my coin pocket.

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