Friday, December 18, 2015

Quick Hits: End of the Year Round Up

Throughout 2015 I was the human guinea pig for you and tried out a bunch of different stuff.  Just we start 2016 with a clean docket.  Some of the items are things I can't really squeeze into an existing scoring system, so these will be simple thumbs up or thumbs down kinds of comments.

Northwoods Knives Everyday Barlow (product page)


As a reviewer you can sometimes get attached to products in the minds of readers.  I have, for better or worse, become something of a spokesperson for the Indian River Jack.  Even with that review more than a year old, I still get emails about it--both good and bad.  The IRJ has had some fit and finish issues over the life of the product, thanks to the less than perfect fit and finish by the OEM, Queen.  

Even with that in mind, I was one of the folks that took to Instagram with the beautiful EDB the minute I took it out of its package.  Unfortunately, since then I have been barraged by stories of poor fit and finish.  I ordered two, uncertain of which blade shape I would like, and both were less than good.  The spearpoint had a dent in the edge which I was able to strop out, but the clip point was seriously off centered and rough in a few spots.  Both had a significant number burrs along the spine, which I could remove, again with a strop.  But my experience wasn't an isolated one.  Reader after reader complained.  Even my uncle (whose gear addiction I am responsible for) got one and was disappointed.

The time has come to consider finding a new OEM for Northwoods Knives stainless steel models.  Most are GEC products and those blades rarely have issues, but if you want a traditional with new steel, like the CPM154 on the EDB and the IRJ, those Northwoods Knives are made by Queen.  The EDB is the second series of knives from Northwoods and Queen that was less than stellar.  

Its sad too because this is a pattern I really love.  The blue camel bone was stunning and everyone likes CPM154.  That said, the widespread, almost universal complaints lead me to give this knife a pass.  In the future, if Derrick can get the OEM improve the build quality, this could be an all time classic design.

Score: 16 out of 20 (2 off for Fit and Finish and 2 off for Grind, but really these are just so bad, this isn't worth purchasing) NOT RECOMMENDED

Lumintop Tool AAA (product page)


Lumintop sent me this light to review and I am always happy to take review samples, even if I am not happy with the sample itself.  Lumintop has a wide array of interesting lights and until I was contacted I was unaware that they made something like the Tool AAA.  There was a reason for that--this the most boring, by the numbers 1xAAA I have reviewed.  It is literally indistinguishable from a sea of other 1xAAA but for the branding.  There is a friction fit clip and it stinks.  The highs and lows are the same as just about every other 1xAAA light running the XP-G emitter.  The clicky is okay, but the light doesn't tailstand.  I am not sure who the intended audience is because this light isn't hardy enough for the tac crowd nor is it sleek or small enough for the EDC folks.  The only thing that is truly bad about the light is the UI which starts at MEDIUM.  There is precisely no reason to start at medium.  If you are using it as an EDC, you want to start in low for night use.  If you are a tac person you want it to come on in high.  Bad move on a light that is otherwise a 100% snoozefest.

Score: 13 out of 20 (2 off for an utterly boring Design, 2 off for Carry for a terrible pocket clip; 2 off for a mind boggingly UI; and 1 off Hands Free for an inability to tailstand)

Ontario Knives RAT II (product page)


Lightning is hard to capture twice.  The budget darling RAT I is a big but well-respected knife.  Ontario took an unambitious route to arrive at the RAT II literally shrinking everything about the RAT II irrespective of the ergonomic impacts.  This is an ugly and uncomfortable knife.  The blade has a weird gap between the cutting edge and pivot.  It not only makes the knife hard to use, kind of like typing on a keyboard via a broom handle, it also puts the edge at a weird cutting angle.  I could live with that because the deployment here is as good as I have ever seen.  I know it sounds weird, but this is the best thumb stud deployment I have ever had, including on customs.  It just flies out of the handle with a slight nudge.  It is hard to believe that the knife isn't an assist.  But the RAT II has another problem--the Honey I Shrunk the Knife approach to handle design results in a cramped and uncomfortable grip.  There are better budget blades out there.  If you need AUS-8 for some reason, I like the Ka Bar Doziers.  But if knife steel isn't an issue the CRKT Drifter is just better, still the King of the Budget Blades.  The RAT I may be a great budget knife but its little brother is a pale imitation.

Score: 15 out of 20 (2 off for a lazy, just shrink everything Design, 1 off for Steel for AUS8, 2 off for a weird, uncomfortable blade shape)

Blackwing Palomino 602 Pencils (product page)


Goodness are these pencils expensive.  I bought a pack of twelve for $22 at the Harvard Book Store.  But they are, simply put, the best wood case pencils (as opposed to mechanical pencils) I have ever used.  Only the best mechanicals with good lead rival this pencil.  The eraser is also quite good.  The lead is very soft and very dark, allowing for an insane amount of good shading.  My whole house fights over these pencils, even my wife who draws only in 3D and usually of molecules with carbon in them.  Fifteen seconds with a 602 will show you that wood case pencils can be truly great.

Highly Recommended, but unscored

Edgevale Cast Iron Shorts (product page)

Who loves short shorts?  If the answer is you, then these knife-friendly shorts should be in your dresser.  I am usually a jeans and cargos guy, but these shorts look cleaner than those do for semi formal summer events.  That said, they show a lot of thigh.  Too much for me.  Sitting in a lawn chair in a pair of Cast Irons makes you feel like you are at a photo shoot for Playgirl.  An inopportune move and it feels like the horse could get out of the barn.  I love the knife tab on the pocket though and in a pair of more traditional cargos, it would be a huge success.   As it is, I can't recommend these shorts.  Finally, if you do feel like you want to be in Magic Mike III and plan on ordering a pair of Cast Irons be aware that they run small.  This is not the normal waist sizing, it is hipster sizing.  I am a 34 in EVERYTHING.  Here I was a 38 waist and even then my non-spaghetti legs felt constrained.  Also, they are bit pricey for what they are, knife tab and all.


Scout Leatherworks Pocket Protector (product page)


The number of twee product sites on the internet has exploded in recent years.  Wanna pay Murray Carter prices for what appears to be a rasp shaped into a knife and completely untempered?  Chelsea Miller will sell a knife and tell you to experience it as "living art".  And you already know my love for Best Made.  Leather work sites are their own genre of baloney in this world of twee product sites.  Among the silliness there is Scout Leatherwork.  Sure they offer some uber lux items that are of questionable utility (hey, I'd sell handles that make Mason jars into coffee cups too if I could make a profit at it).  The Pocket Protector--designed to take a small 1xAAA flashlight and a traditional folder--is a great, but limited design.  If you carry that stuff as part of your EDC, the Pocket Protector is phenomenal, spreading the profile over a wider area and protecting other stuff in your pocket.  If, however, you don't carry that kind of stuff, the Pocket Protector is useless.  That said, it is good enough and the renaissance in traditional folders has created enough good stuff to make this piece of kit worth it for just about everyone.  The fit and finish is great and the look is amazing.  The leather is very high quality. 


Pinch One Piece Multitool (KS page)


This thing was a terrible expenditure of money.  The price was high, the delivery was delayed and the tool that I got is just about useless.  The finish on the tool is wretched--lots of folks got ones with inaccurate rulers and mine came with edges that looked like they were finished by someone with caffeine jitters.  The tool's size, its main selling point, is most of the problem as it gives you ZERO leverage.  Leverage tools, like pries and bottle openers need leverage.  This was a waste and a stupid Kickstarter.  In the future, please pinch me so I wake up and don't waste money on something this stupid again. 

Score: 11 out of 20 (2 off for a dumb, counter productive Design, 2 off for atrocious Finish, 2 off for no Grip, 1 off for mystery meat steel, and 2 off for dreadful Tool Performance)


  1. Insightful, funny stuff, as always, T. Never thought I'd read the term "traditional cargos" though.

    I have the Rat I and love it. You're right on about the fast opening. Love its ergonomics too. I'm guessing the Rat II would be just as good for someone w/ smaller hands, which is what they intended, I think.

    Appreciate reading about the Pinch multitool. I almost ordered one, but thought all the sharp/beveled edges would make it uncomfortable as a bottle opener or wrench/driver.

    1. "I'm guessing the Rat II would be just as good for someone w/ smaller hands, which is what they intended, I think."

      You are correct. We don't all have Man Hands ('member Seinfeld? ;) ). Larger knives are great for people with larger hands. For smaller hands, smaller knives work better. There's nothing wrong with the ergos on the Rat II; just not really meant for larger hands.

  2. I definitely got caught up in the hype of the EDB. It looked promising based on your post here:

    Now I wish I had waited. Lesson learned!

    Too bad. It had such potential. It's still an alright knife just not worth the money I paid for it.

  3. I think the reason why you got such withering criticism over the IRJ/EDB stuff is because you dared to invoke the name Sebenza.

  4. Every installment of Quick Hits is excellent. Plenty to chew on here.

    EDB: Mine (cocobolo) is a good 'un compared to what most others report. Imperfect but reasonable primary grind. The secondary grind was even but too obtuse, necessitating an annoying reprofile. Covers nicely shaped & fitted. The wood is dark and bland esp. for cocobolo. Queen needs to start sourcing from wherever Hogue gets the wood for their sweet cocobolo revolver grips. Bottom line, I do carry and use my EDB. Coulda been a contender.

    (PS: Isn't 440C stainless one of GEC's steels? I could be happy with a 440C EDB if it had GEC level F&F. Derrick would need to tell GEC to nix the fat >20dps edge grinds though.)

    RAT-2: 15/20 is quite fair. I love the grind on the RAT-2; Ontario is as good as SOG for grind. Deployment is a marvel. The original RAT-1 I'd score around a 17/20 and I carry the hell out of it. It's $28, I can thrash it with a smile.

    Pinch OPMT: I don't know this tool but in your photo it doesn't look like a good design. The point about leverage is really important for OPMTs. One reason the NiteIze Doohickey frustrates me is that it IS long enough to have reasonable leverage for the cap lifter ... but they needlessly screwed it up by cutting a big long gash down the middle, the dumb ass "multi hex wrench function."

    Yet I still carry the Doohickey because it is so CARRYABLE. Blessedly flat, the right size, and it will pry and (with a bit of hassle) open a beer. And it's cheap and utterly available. I didn't have to go on a waitlist to pay $75 for it.

    They need to do a Doohickey II, shrink the wrench to one hex hole improving leverage for the cap lifter, clean up the pry/driver end, and double the price. Would be best $10-$12 OPMT on the market.

    In closing, anyone who wants a Caly 3.5 ZDP had better buy one this year, wouldn't you say? The last Caly standing... for now. Spyderco's behavior looks like a rolling phase-out of the entire line.

  5. Oh yeah, Chelsea Miller Knives -- so glad you snarked in on that nonsense. She tries to pass off the rasp sides as a built-in "cheese grater" function. Uh, if I'm a Brooklyn hipster foodie I don't want my $23.00/lb Parmigiano-Reggiano smashed into the side of my knife; I want to use a grater than, you know, has actual holes in it. I didn't even think about the fact that the knives wouldn't be tempered, holy sh*t. CMK and those Daisy-Duke-for-males shorts with a dedicated knife pocket are ample evidence that the larger culture's embrace of geardom is going to yield plenty of mixed blessings as well as opportunities.

  6. The Northwoods really was a shame. Heck Queen is a shame. They have really nice designs but their QC ruins the whole thing.

  7. As a long time fan of the rat 1 I can confirm that the model two is just not as good. It might not surprise you to know that the RAT 1 was not designed by Ontario, but by the folks who are now esee. The model 2, by contrast can be blamed squarely on Ontario.

  8. you didn't have to tell me the Cast Iron shorts were hipster by the sizing; i could tell they were hipster from the James Brand chapter knife they use in the press photos :-D

  9. I've stupidly bought several small bobbles for my key chain. The Prometheus EKO is gorgeous but of limited usefulness (only a bottle opener and tape cutter, I wouldn't pry with it.) Obstructures pry/open and Griffin Pocket Tool have poor fit and finish and in the Obstructres case, kind of pricey. My Big I Design Pocketbit is very well finished and weights nothing, is very durable, but is itty bitty and therefore lacks leverage. I keep coming back to the first one I bought; the Gerber Shard. So good, so cheap, very hard to beat.

    Tony, would you say the Cast Iron shorts are the perfect accessory to a James Brand Chapter knife? haha

  10. Tony - looks like you have the Palomino Blackwing, rather than the Palomino Blackwing 602. The 602 is a harder, lighter lead, with a gunmetal gray finish on the wood. The regular Blackwing has the softest, darkest lead of all the Blackwing pencils.

    1. I thought something was funny but the box says 602 on it. Thanks for the correction.

  11. Tony, it looks like you have the Palomino Blackwing rather than the Palomino Blackwing 602. The Blackwing has the softest and darkest lead, while the 602 has the hardest and lightest lead in the Blackwing line (although it's probably still softer and darker than most #2 pencils).

  12. That Pinch OPMT just looks like trouble. When you use the bottle opener you're forced to, tightly, grip the box cutter for leverage! Thankfully given your description it's probably duller than a butter knife anyway.

    Thanks for the heads up on the EDB as well. I've been eyeing one, but now I'll save my money and wait.

  13. I'm happy to have your Northwoods EDB in my pocket, but I would have been seriously pissed had I paid for it. And I was tempted, they photograph well and seemed an affordable alternative to the IRJ as an entry point (or re-entry point in my case) to traditionals.

    As it is, I'm using it as a beater and it's serviceable enough.

  14. I fell for the Pinch myself. Bought two in fact, one for me, one for my wife. She wanted no part of it, mine hangs on a backpack, unused. Once again she proves that she's the smarter of us.