Saturday, June 6, 2015

Kershaw Strobe Review

I love little factually tidbits, pieces of trivia.  For example, did you know that one of Frank Lloyd Wright's sons invented Lincoln Logs?  Super cool, right?

How about this one: did you know that KAI USA makes knives designed by someone OTHER than Rick Hinderer or Ken Onion?  I know, its shocking, but it is true.

The Matt Diskin designed Kershaw Strobe is a really fun knife.  I had planned on picking one up and reviewing it in a Quick Hits, but the knife turned out to be so damn interesting that I think it deserves it own, full blown review.  This, folks, is why I like to review gear--surprising quality and design at bargain prices.

In many ways the Strobe is the nicest of the non-premium Kershaws (the Tilt, Ruby, and Speedform).  It is a rare bird--it is the only budget Kershaw with a bearing pivot (correction: the Nuras also have bearing pivots but they have been so universally panned I forgot about them. Thanks for the correction.). It is one of the few without an assist.  It is Chinese made, but with a raft of a higher end touches.  But oddly Kershaw doesn't seem to realize how cool this blade is.  Maybe its not selling.  Or maybe they aren't pushing it.  Or maybe one causes the other.  It is given a decidedly budget treatment--sold at Big Box, marked with the positively hideous and cheap feeling K-Texture handles, and rarely if ever featured in ads in knife magazines.  Its an afterthought in a marketing scheme centered on gritty dudes with blackwash knives and more Hinderers than Rick's family reunion.  That's too bad, because this is a sweet blade.  

Here is the product page. The Strobe costs $30 street.  Here is a written review on reddit, which is short but quite good.  There aren't any long form written reviews of the Strobe I could find. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Amazon, where you can find the Strobe, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:



Here is my review sample (purchased with site money to be given away in November):

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Twitter Review Summary:  The sneakily good Kershaw

Design: 1

There are very few things about this knife that are avante garde or weird.  The blade shape is pretty darn conventional, the handle shape is simple, the clip is nice and normal.  The only real eye-catching thing is the positively hideous K-texturing.  The FRN overlay is fine with me. I am not one of those people that dislikes liner locks, even though this is more of a frame lock with overlay. But the appearance of the FRN, festooned with "Ks" is so garish and ugly that I can't shake the notion that this knife looks awful.  Its  so bad that despite this knife being an absolute design rockstar in many ways, it loses a point.  If I were Matt Diskin I would have been pissed.  Imagine how much cooler this knife would have looked if it had a nice chamfered piece of FRN or G10 there instead of all these ugly "Ks".  Look at the also Kershaw-produced Diskin-designed Diskin Hunter.  That's the handle scales I want.  Not this mess. Nothing about this knife looks or feels cheap, but this.  Its not quite as ugly as the Ruby, in terms of its billboardiness, but this is starting to be a thing with KAI knives.  They tamed down the billboardiness of the ZTs, now its time to complete the sweep and get rid of garbage like K-texturing.  It is a branding move that does nothing but cheapen the brand.  Bad idea.

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Now if you read the ZT0566 review you might point out that this has the same heavy materials and you'd be mostly right.  But there is the difference--this knife, despite similar materials and virtually the same size (the blade here is a bit longer) weighs more than half ounce less than the ZT0566.  The redundant liners and unnecessarily thick handle materials made that design too heavy.  This is proof--the ZT0566 is just too heavy.  Given this the Strobe does much better in the performance ratio department with a B:H of .77, which is good and a B:W of .71 which is between "meh" and "bad".

Fit and Finish: 2

Proof that this knife rises above the crowd is just how nicely it is finished.  The grinds are crisp (for a production knife), the blade is centered, the stonewashing is nice, the flipper is well done and fluid when in motion.  There is literally zero to complain about here.

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One thing the Strobe makes me think about is the notion that perhaps bearing pivots are more important to a knife's cohesiveness than they are to its flipping.  Bearings stabilze the pivot by broadening its footprint and they also make centering easier and more consistent.  This is something I'll have to pay attention to more going forward, but the effect on the Strobe is clear--this is a well-made and nicely constructed knife.

Grip: 2

Diskin's hallmark narrow handles work well here.  The overlay's rounded portion makes a huge difference giving the knife a full feeling in the hand.  Additionally the negative angle produced by the handle greatly enhances cutting tasks.  The K-texture is barf-worthy, but I already deducted a point above, and from a purely "in-hand" perspective it doesn't hurt anything (though it also doesn't ADD anything either, this isn't Spyderco's bi-directional texturing).

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This is also another example of a knife that doesn't need jimping.  I like jimping the same way I like ibuprofen--its great when I need it and unnecessary when I don't.  A properly designed handle does not need jimping in like 99% of situations. 

Carry: 2

We are right on the fence on this one.  The knife is heavier than I prefer--crossing the heuristically created 4 ounce line, but its not as bulky as, say, the ZT0566.  I also like the clip, despite the fact that it is totally different than a lot of the KAI clips.  It works and it keeps the knife from swaying around. But, and this is my one reservation, a titanium version of this knife, or heck, a knife of this design that got the Skyline treatment (liner lock with a single liner) would be much better.  I know that "heavy = quality" in the mind of an average consumer, but you know what ACTUALLY equals quality?  Good design, and here, the design would be better without the steel handles.  Anyone out there bitching that the Skyline is TOO light?  That's my point.

Steel: 1

Do you want to read another assessment of 8Cr13MoV?  I hope the answer is "no" because I don't want to write one either.  It is a passable steel, nothing great, a little less corrosion resistant than AUS8, a little harder than 420HC. It is the very definition of a 1 steel.

Blade Shape: 2 

Behold the Diskin blade shape:

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Its simple, it has one stylistic point (the odd swedge-ish thing in the middle of the spine), and it has plenty of belly.  This is a very useful blade. It also happens to be very tall, without being too wide in the pocket, allowing for a great grind.

Grind: 2 

Great grind...right.  In a sense its all about geometry.  The wider the blade, the easier it is to thin out the stock before you get to the cutting bevel.  That is the case here.  The end result is a very slicey knife. This blade easily passed the Apple Test (something I first saw done by Blade Magazine's knife tester, Kim Breed) and moved around the kitchen like a paring knife.  It did quite well zipping apart boxes and it did good in the woods.  I liked the grind a good deal.

Deployment Method: 2 

Its clear--the KVT pivot is just wonderful.  For all of the sales power of the torsion bar Speedsafe, its nothing compared to the kinetic action of Kershaw's bearing pivot.  To find this nice of a pivot on a budget-ish knife is pretty awesome.  The Strobe is challenging a few CRKT knives for the cheapest bearing pivot blade and that is a very good thing.  This is just another milestone on the road to Gear Nirvana--something that was the exclusive feature of high end knives just three years ago is now on a blade sold at Dick's Sporting Goods (which is where I bought the Strobe) that cost's under $40.  

Retention Method: 2 

This is an unusual looking clip, a clip I believe is exclusive to the Strobe, and it is great on this knife.  I was worried that it was a bit small, that there would be some pendulum action going on, but there was nothing of the sort.  It can be a little pointy, as it narrows and turns up at the very end, but it is quite good otherwise.  

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One note--it might be a bear to switch for lefties, but as Thomas said--no one cares about lefties from a sales perspective. 

Lock: 2 

For all of the gushing over a titanium framelock, I have to say that I really like the ACTION of a stainless steel framelock. There is never any stickiness and it slides in and out of place correctly, displaying the right about of resistance.

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Here the lock bar is easy to reach and very stable.  There was no blade play and no lock bar wiggle.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

If this knife was a full titanium handle and had an Elmax blade it would be one of, if not my absolute favorite, ZT.  The titanium would lighten the load and the switch to the premium brand would kill the garish K texturing.  It would need an insert at the end of the lock bar, but that's not complicated.  Unfortunately, whatever magic formula KAI uses to determine which designers get ZT releases and which get Kershaw releases is clear enough at this point to say that Diskin designs are confined to Kershaw's line for now.  I'd love to see that change, as his trademark features are quite nice.  

In many ways this knife is a budget version of the Kershaw Ruby--similar size and blade shape, KVT bearings, a flipper, garish branding.  It lacks the high end steel, but the similarities are there.  And that is why, in the final analysis, this is such a fun knife--its a knife with lots of nice high end features for cheap.  But is not just a spec monster--its actually got some good fundamentals too--the blade shape is great and the roundish handles are very nice. 

If you have a few bucks to spend and want a fun knife, you can do a lot worse, WAY worse than the Strobe.  


The Strobe is squarely competing with the SOG Mini Aegis and while the Aegis is leagues lighter, the Strobe is better in just about every other way.  The difference between AUS8 and 8Cr is close enough to call it a wash and I vastly prefer the flipper on bearings to SOG's SAT assist.  Its  not a clear cut victory, the Mini Aegis is a very competent blade, but I'd probably choose the Strobe.  That said if I were buying my first and one and only knife, I probably would take the Aegis.  The Aegis is just solid and does its job very well, while the Strobe is fun in a way that basically only a knife knut can appreciate.  Think of the Aegis as the fuel efficient car that is wonderful every day and on your commute, and the Strobe as the impractical but not expensive sports car---something that's fun but not something you'd want to drive every day.     

16 comments:

  1. The Kershaw nura also has a bearing pivot

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  2. Peter MichalakisJune 6, 2015 at 9:10 PM

    A few people on EDCF and Bladeforums have taken the overlays off and the knife looks absolutely fantastic with that tiny modification

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  3. The Kershaw nura also has a bearing pivot

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  4. This review is dialed in. The knife has a beautiful and practical looking silhouette. I love the blade; it would be a hoot to play around with in the kitchen. I have actually put a Strobe in my online shopping cart, but could not pull the trigger... largely because of the trashy K-Texturing.

    More generally, in this review you put your finger on KAI's signal weakness. Each good knife company has at least one, to wit:

    * Benchmade - too conservative, not enough innovation

    * KAI - marketing department seems to interfere excessively with product design, in ways that subtract from the value of the finished product. Like you implied, it's difficult to believe Diskin ever chose something as ugly as that K-Texture. Someone probably stuck their nose in his design.

    * Spyderco - diluting their core identity (cerebral, highly engineered, function-based knives) to chase trends, which they are far less able at than KAI. More Para 2, less Rubicon, please. Also, Spyderco's overpricing is getting out of hand.

    * Cold Steel - inadequate attention to finish of secondary details. (Crappy painted finish on clips; unsharpened sections of blade after the sharpening notch.)
    (Notice, though, how CS indirectly sheds light on KAI's problem. Cold Steel's marketing is RIDICULOUS. Yet boundaries are maintained. It is hard to find post-Demko CS knives that are disfigured, like the Strobe here, by an overemphasis on marketing concepts.)

    * Chris Reeve -- product line plateaued a decade ago; hasn't seen a genuine improvement since. Admittedly, it's a lofty plateau to be stuck at!

    * Buck - trapped between an identity that privileges "Made in USA" and a price point that makes it hard for them to finish their made in USA knives adequately. Also, not enough good new designs.

    Etc.

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    1. I think this is a good summary.

      The Spyderco one has been bothering me lately too, and I've posted as much in other places (Dan's site, for instance). But here's what I HOPE happens with Spyderco - I think they are pushing their production facilities to their absolute limit right now, in a good way. I suspect this is how manufacturing innovation happens. Hopefully when the knife bubble bursts, Spyderco will still be Spyderco, but they'll be better at production knife manufacturing than anyone ever has before.

      I know others are also getting very good (zt, lionsteel, etc), but I don't think anyone comes close to what Spyderco is doing this year if you consider the combination of diversity of lineup AND quality. Hopefully something good comes from that approach.

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  5. I've talked to Matt about the Strobe and he's happy. Now this was before the production version came out when the proto was in g10 so I can't comment on his approval of k texture.

    I do believe Matt would much rather sell you the awesome Diskin flipper ti framelock with m390 direct from him than he would have a competing ZT design.

    I have a feeling that KAI thought they might have a boker kwaiken situation on their hands and threw k texture on expecting modifiers to just rip them right off.

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  6. OT - reponse to something on Twitter/Instagram: Yes, I'd be very interested to read a review of the AG Russell K12.

    I have thought about buying one. One reservation is that it looks like the base of the cutting edge begins kind of far away from the user's hand. Might impact control? Also, I wondered whether the grip was comfortable for your forefinger, since the liners protrude out past the G10 handles.

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  7. Yep, The K texturing has prevented me from buying one too

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  8. Tony,
    Since this is a Kershaw framelock, can the pocket clip be repositioned to the other side for left-handed carry? It would be nice to have some lefty ergonomics in your reviews of frame locks because they are more asymmetric than other knife styles.

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    1. Hey dude, I just saw your comment, almost a year later. I have the Strobe, and you can reposition the clip to the other side for left-hand carry. But its a bit of a hassle, and you need both phillips screwdrivers as well as torx to do so.

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  9. Went to Dicks and picked up a Strobe. Finish on the lockbar was rough and the grind on the blade where the lockbar interfaces was very rough, like 24 grit or worse. Plus I the lockbar tension was putting more pressure than I liked on the detent. Took it apart, no Loctite at all, so that was easy. I sanded the lock area on the blade with 600 grit in the action direction, and took a fine file to the lockbar face, being careful to maintain the factory angles. Reassembled a few times to adjust the lockbar tension. Made a huge difference, one handed closing is possible now, got rid of the lock sticking. Nice knife, especially for the price.

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  10. My favorite budget Kershaw is still the Knockout. It feels way more premium than this one.

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    1. The knockout is twice the price. $53 on Amazon. Not strictly a budget blade.

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