Friday, May 8, 2015

Zero Tolerance ZT0450 Review

The ZT0454 is one of the most impressive knives I have ever handled.  It blows away almost everything--custom or production--that I have been lucky enough to put my mitts on.  The size, the blade, the flipping action, all of it was superlative.  But in the end, it was too big for me to keep, too bulky for an EDC, and since I am not a collector the Beautiful Beast came and went.  Part of me was sad as it was such a sweet blade, if it were only a bit smaller and I would have kept it.  Then after SHOT Show 2015, I learned that ZT did have a smaller version in store for us and I was elated.

After two hundred or so gear reviews, I don't get super excited anymore when I get a package.  I still love getting packages, don't get me wrong, but the hands-quivering moments are few and far between.  When I slid the ZT0450 out of its package, it was one of those moments.  This is a beautiful knife and the promise of a ZT0454 in a small, carry-capable package made me stoked.  After a while carrying and using the knife I can tell you that some of that enthusiasm has waned.  This isn't a perfect knife.  Is it worth your money?  Probably, but man is the market crowded right now.  

Here is the product page. The ZT0450 costs $160. There aren't a whole lot of good written reviews on the knife. Here is an excellent video review from Epic Snuggle Bunny, one of my favorite YouTube reviewers (note that we both have the same problems). Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the ZT0450, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

and here is a link where you can buy the knife at Knives Ship Free:

KnivesShipFree

Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money):

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Twitter Review Summary: Great in many ways but one.

Here is my video overview of this knife:



Design: 2

This is a Dmitri Sinkevich design and an obvious homage to the epic ZT0454.  The lines are distinctly organic and the overall size is just about perfect for a midsized blade.  I like small blades, like the Dragonfly, but in the Mini Grip/Delica/Skyline group the ZT0450 fits in quite nicely.  The overall appearance is quite classy, with the stonewashed titanium handle, the two toned blade, and the uber slick polished pivot (custom makers please take note this is how you upscale a pivot, not by making it a proprietary fastener).  ZT, as they always do, hit all the bullet points--a lanyard hole, dual position clip, and good jimping.  Overall, the knife looks good and yet, despite the wave of titanium frame lock flippers, it looks unique.  That is quite the feat by ZT, Thomas, Jim McNair, and Dmitri Sinkevich.  Tip of the hat, fellas, this one is an awesome design.   

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Size wise the design awesomeness continues.  The knife is slender in the pocket and weighs a svelte 2.9 ounces.  The difference between this and ZTs of old is striking--this is a knife that is meant to be carried in a pocket of normal people, as opposed to in the pack of a commando (or commando wannabe) somewhere.  The performance ratios reflect the overall slender package.  The b:h is .79, better than the SOG Flash I, a knife known for its compact dimensions.  The b:w is excellent as well at 1.12, compared to say the Cold Steel Mini Recon I, which was a .83, this again is well above par and testament to the design's grace and greatness.  Here is the ZT0450 on top of the Badge of Hipsters a.k.a. Field Notes:

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Its not the Al Mar Hawk, but then again nothing has even come close to that rarefied air.  For non-Al Mar Knives this as good as it gets.

Fit and Finish: 2

Look at the pivot/lock interface area:

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Its clean, every cut is precise and chamfered, and the pivot gleams.  This is a gorgeous, gorgeous knife.  Even the monochromatic look of the knife is broken up tastefully, as the ZT0450 borrowed some standoffs from the Kershaw Ruby (ironic, isn't, that one of the ugliest knives in history lent out pieces to one of the most tastefully done blades on the market?).

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As with all things ZT, this sucker is just dialed in.  Its well made and amazingly executed (mostly...see Deployment below). 

Grip: 2

Sinkevich's knives really work in the hand.  Everything seems like it is in JUST the right place.

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The index finger notch is good and the rest of the handle falls into place.  Its especially nice to have something of a small parrot's beak at the end of the handle to gather everything up into the right spot.  Dmitri knows what he is doing folks.

Carry: 2

Thin, not so tall, and just the right length the ZT0450 carries well. The pocket clip is positioned in the right place and there is little to no pendulum effect. 

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I like this knife in the pocket almost as much as I like it in the hand.

Steel: 2

Though I hope that the Internet tomfoolery over Elmax didn't scare KAI away from that excellent steel, S35VN is a perfectly great steel in its own right.  I like this steel and always have.  Not much more to write. 

Blade Shape: 2

Its basically a drop point, but a stylized version of that blade, a particularly good looking version too.

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I am not 100% convinced that the swedge is necessary or even beneficial (more on that below) but the overall shape and look is again unique and well done.

Grind: 1

Geez...I thought, I hoped, I wished that this thing could slice, but just couldn't. It did okay with wood making feather sticks quite adeptly, but put into a food prep role, it failed miserably.  It cracked apples apart instead of cutting them and it made an absolute mess out of some cheeses I cut.  I am not sure if it was the swedge that forced the main grind down the blade, thus making it a much steeper grind, or if it just the thickness of the steel.  Either way, I was hoping for a ZT that finally could cut like a Spyderco.  Alas, it was close, but not quite there.  Comparatively, the Paramilitary 2 was a deli counter machine and that's a shame because it has both a thicker blade and a longer blade.  Close, but not quite ZT. 

Deployment Method: 0

The effusive praise for the ZT0450 is now at an end.  This knife doesn't flip well at all.  Unless you get the EXACT right purchase on the handle the knife just won't deploy.  The detent is quite strong and when you place your fingers on the lock bar, the detent engages too much and no amount of pressure on the flipper tab will kick the knife open.  

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Once you get the hang of it, once your fingers of placed EXACTLY right, you can pop the knife open with lightning speed.  Once you get the hang of it, it deploys much like the Tim Gaylean custom I handled a few knife shows ago with its kinetic opening.  That knife was the best flipper I have ever opened.  This knife isn't.  You shouldn't have to "get the hang" of a flipper.  Its intuitive nature is the primary basis for its appeal.    

Retention Method: 2

For a company that doesn't care much about clips, this is ANOTHER good clip.  Its simple and clean.  It doesn't look like a billboard and it is not a paint scraper.  Pretty darn good.   

Lock: 2

Like a lot of ZT features, the lock here is dialed in.  The integrated overtravel stop and the user-replaceable (though I question how this happens as they are not available for sale) lock interface is clever and simple.  The engagement and disengagement is silky smooth.  The stability is amazing. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

Whatever else, I can't help shake the fact that this knife would be a better knife if it were a liner lock instead of a frame lock.  This blade, with carbon fiber scales on both sides, would be amazing, fixing the major problem with the knife.  And I want to be clear--while you can learn to deploy the knife despite the finicky flipper, its bad, quite bad.  And unlike what a lot of folks contend online, this is not a problem related to being a small frame lock flipper.  My Graham Stubby Razel GMT is smaller in every dimension and still flips fine regardless of grip.  This is a design or product flaw in my opinion, one that should be fixed.  As it is, you can work around it, but let's not get too crazy here--while $160 isn't what it used to be in the knife world, that is still a pretty penny and well beyond the price range where you have to worry about something as basic as deployment.  The rest of the knife is a gem, for sure.  Lots of folks will love this knife, even if they concede the flipping action is terrible.  For me, I prefer slicier blades than this, but that's more preference than problem.  This is a very competent knife with one big flaw--a Mercedes that has a driver's door that is hard to open.  Not a deal breaker, but it holds the knife back from being the game changer I thought it would be. 

The Competition

Compared to the SOG Mini Aegis, the ZT0450 is in a different league.  But, within that bracket, boy is competition stiff.  The Kizer Ki-3404 is just a better knife--same materials but fewer flaws for less money.  If both were equally good, I'd always opt for the USA-made ZT0450, even with its $40 premium, but they aren't equally good--the Ki3404 is a vastly better flipper and somewhat better cutter.  The Benchmade Valet is also in this price range and while it too has some flaws, it has a superior steel in M390 and it is a bit more pocketable.  And while the Native 5 FRN version isn't as classy, it is a better slicer, with the same steel, and available at 50% the price. Here is the real killer though--I like the ZT0770CF much better.

In a vacuum, this is a good to great knife.  Problem is, right now there are a lot of knives in that quality range that are cheaper than this one or knives that are a step up that are the same price.  The fact that the ZT0450 wouldn't be my first choice isn't, however, a reflection on the knife itself, but really the insanely awesome market right now.    

29 comments:

  1. I was just researching this knife yesterday and watched the SnuggleBunny vid and this morning I find this wonderful gem of a review. You did hit a lot of the same points. Does the knife do most other cutting roles well, besides food? My purposes would consist of mostly shaving wood and cutting cardboard, and I was curious if you'd tried any cardboard slicing? Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. Michael it did fine with those chores but almost all knives do those things well.

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    2. Having used my 0450 on quite a bit of cardboard, I can say that it will cut, but the relatively steep grind makes it bind a bit. I'd advise going for the 0770CF if you want a better slicer - the blades are the same thickness, but the 0770's grind is over a much broader area.

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    3. Thanks Elliott, I appreciate the input! I just hate the looks of the 0770cf, but I can see how that type of grind would slice much better. The problem is I'm looking for a slim knife with a wider grind, and I guess the swedge on the 0450 just doesn't help.

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    4. I have the CF version, which has a DLC coated blade (and weighs a half ounce less), so not sure if that makes a difference, but mine sliced through everything right out of the box. It was also was excellent at slicing apples, as good as my expensive Caphalon kitchen knives I compared it to, but again the coating may make a difference. Mine also has no issue flipping open, very easy from the natural grip as you pull it out of the pocket, and takes 4.5 lbs of force to instantly and crisply flip open--about the same as with a very good single action pistol.

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    5. I have the carbon fiber version (half ounce lighter), which has a DLC coated blade so not sure if that makes a difference, but mine cuts through everything I've tried (normal EDC type cutting). I would add mine slices apples very nicely, just like my expensive kitchen knives. Mine also flips open easily from the natural grip as I pull it out of my front pocket (using the clip to hold it at the top). It takes 4.5 lbs to rocket open with a very crisp break, feels just like a nice single action pistol trigger.

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  2. Personally I found the grip a little annoying for my large hands - the handle grooves were fine in certain grips but I didn't like having to alter my grip definitely prefer the neutral handle on my paramilitary!

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  3. Thanks for this review. I considered it but the handle disuaded me. I hate being told where to put my fingers. Any chance you will review the 0808? I love the 0801 but it is too big to EDC, for me. Maybe the smaller one will be perfect, but I wonder about the weight...

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. I was able to get around the flipping action by making sure my grip landed my fingers on top of the pocket clip instead of the lock-bar. Since the pocket clip rests on the frame side, it acts like an extension of the frame and allows the lock bar to flex underneath without pressure being applied on it. This might actually be easier with larger hands than smaller. What I was less impressed with was the lock bar geometry. While exerting force on the handle while cutting (i.e., squeezing) to cut through, for instance cheese, the lock bar can be pushed all the way across the blade to the opposite handle. While I certainly wouldn't be worried about the lock failing, it nonetheless creates terribly bad lock stick making it somewhat dangerous to disengage the lock. I have several small frame locks and I don't have this issue with any others.

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  6. Minor typo alert: Galyean is misspelled Gaylean.

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  7. I'm wondering; would you have this one or the Techno?

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    Replies
    1. The Techno is a much better knife. No deployment issues or weird slicing problems.

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  8. Yeah I was kinda hoping you'd say that. I now lust after the Techno after handling one, so if I get a nice Christmas bonus in the next couple years I'll probably have to pick one up.

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  9. Disappointed this knife didn't get a better review because the looks of it have had me salivating for several months. Its been on the top of my "want" list, just been waiting for it to become available and to accomplish something "worthy" of treating myself to a $160 pocket knife.

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    Replies
    1. It's a good knife but there are better for the money.

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  10. It's a shame that your review will turn off a lot of people because I couldn't disagree with you more. It's also a shame that your review is listed first when you do a google search for reviews for this knife since many people will look no further. I was guilty of this several months ago until I finally decided to order it anyway. Well, I'm absolutely blown away. This knife may just be the perfect EDC blade. As far as the SnuggleBunny vid, He doesn't trash the knife as you imply but instead repeatedly says "I'm Impressed". As far as deployment, I was able to rocket the blade out with no problem or special technique right out of the box. There is no design flaw as you state. It says it right in the manual and it's also common sense to keep your fingers off the lock bar when deploying the blade. Why would you put you fingers there anyway? It's much more natural to keep your fingers on the clip. Can't cut cheese or an apple? What man cuts an apple? This thing slices through cardboard, wood, and everything else like a demon. I have a large collection of knives including 2 paramiltary 2's which you seem to favor and this knife blows them all clean out of the water. The feel, fit and finish, ergos, size, weight , looks and materials kill it on every front. I can't believe just how amazing this knife is. The only thing that amazes me more is what a disservice you are doing to ZT as well as the entire knife community by wrongfully steering people away from this gem of a knife.

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    Replies
    1. I think that the fact that both Epic Snuggle Bunny and I noted an issue, it is safe to say that the issue is endemic to the design and not a lemon. The issue is pretty simple--if you have to hold the handle in a particular way to make the knife deploy correctly there is a problem. Its not the fact that all small framelocks have this problem. My GMT Stubby Razor is singificantly smaller and has NO problem with hand placement.

      As for cutting apples, lots of people do this. It is also a good testing medium for a knife's capacty to slice material. The 450 could NEVER slice an apple. My PM2 in Elmax NEVER FAILED to do so. I realize that the 450 is a more slender knife, but the cost--a poorly slicing knife--is too high to pay. Slicing is one of the primary tasks you do with an EDC knife so a knife that does this poorly is less than ideal.

      I can't see how this knife is better than the Kizer. The Kizer has the same materials, S35VN and Ti, its a flipper, and its better in both the deployment and the flipping category. Oh and it is $40 cheaper. If you simply can't stand overseas stuff that's fine, but you are settling for a lesser product comparing these two knives.

      All that said, if you want to post a counterpoint review, send it to me and I will publish it unaltered.

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    2. I meant to say that the Kizer was better in both the slicing and deployment category.

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    3. Sorry, I find this knife to be close to flawless.
      It deploys better than my Reates.
      Maybe you got a bad one.

      Delete
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