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:
and here is a link where you can buy the knife at Knives Ship Free:
Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money):
Twitter Review Summary: Great in many ways but one.
Here is my video overview of this knife:
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.
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:
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:
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?).
As with all things ZT, this sucker is just dialed in. Its well made and amazingly executed (mostly...see Deployment below).
Sinkevich's knives really work in the hand. Everything seems like it is in JUST the right place.
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.
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.
I like this knife in the pocket almost as much as I like it in the hand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.