Thursday, February 26, 2015

L3 Illumination L10C Review

NOTE: A regular reader purchased an L10C and it stopped working pretty quickly.  He has agreed to let me take a peek at it and see if we can get it working.  I may update the score and review after that. Just a heads up. 

This review, in a way, is perfunctory.  The L10C already won my pick for Overall Product of the Year in 2014.  It is, in many ways, a watershed product--serious performance at a budget price, in a great battery format.  It is the promise of the Eiger filtered through economic forces and competitive markets into a $30 light.  The L10C is a great light and an insane value.  But you already know that.  This review is designed to formalize all of that in one place, to give you a benchmark for other lights.  Suffice to say, going forward, production lights need to be insanely awesome.  The era of lumens upgrades is over--quality is now available on a budget.  So if you are making a me-too design bragging about a marginal benefit in output, go elsewhere.  The market has passed you by and thank god.  I just about lost touch with the production world of lights.  I couldn't take another tiny tweak in a light that manufacturers called revolutionary when it was, at best, hardly noticeable.

Here is the product page. The L10C costs $33 shipped.  Yep, shipped. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Amazon, where you can find the L10C, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Here is my review sample (purchased with change from inside my car...well, almost):


Here is my video overview:

Twitter Review Summary: The light found in Adam Smith's Invisible Hand

Design: 2

This isn't a titanium jewel.  It isn't a thrower.  It isn't all that complex.  In fact, this is probably one of the simplest lights I have reviewed.  But, it has all of the things that really matter and none of the bullshit that doesn't.  Let's run down the list:

1. Clicky: the clicky feels great here--responsive without being sensitive.

2. Clip: good bolt-on clips are my favorite and here you get one that threads relatively easily in place, though you don't have to worry as it comes attached.

3. Output: the whisper bright low is perfect and the high is about as good as you can expect given the battery format.

4. Emitter: Nichia 219 for excellent color rendering. 

Simply put--the L10C is shorn of baloney and focuses on the features of a flashlight that really matter. Its good--really good. And frankly the simplicity of the design is a pleasant change from uber complex lights like the Surefire UDR Dominator.  There is zero feature creep here and the light is all the better.

This is a slightly larger than normal 1xAA light.  Here it is with a standard deck of cards (a more colorful and easier to photograph size reference than the shiny Zippo):


The performance ratios are good.  The lumens:weight is 79.47 (120 lumens/1.51 ounces).  The total lumens output is found on high with 10800 (120 lumens for 90 minutes).  

Fit and Finish: 2

The hard anodizing has held up just fine over six months of use.  The clicky is still crisp.  And the threads are clean and smooth.  But there is feedback out there that the L10C isn't all that solid.  I will note that the feedback came from earlier than the date of my purchase so it is entirely possible my unit came from an improved batch, as I have had zero problems.  But I think it is important to note the issue.


One thing I will point out and this the thing that probably detracts from the fit and finish the most--the emitter is ever so slightly off-center.  It doesn't affect the beam, not at all, but it is visible.  Its just one of those things that flashaholics check for (like blade centering) and when it is off, you always seem drawn to it, no matter how little it sits to one side.  Also remember, this is a $30 light, so small cosmetic flaws like an slightly off-centered emitter shouldn't be a big deal.  You can get perfect fit and finish at any price, as the San Ren Mu 605 proved, but I wouldn't lose a second of sleep over the emitter placement here. 

Grip: 2

I have said this before but there is a certain feel, a well made and well designed flashlight has in the hand, and the L10C has it. It just fits. Everything falls in place and your hand is right where you need it to be.  It is, frankly, lovely.


The knurling pattern is effective without being shreddy and the pocket clip mostly stays out of the way. Very good and one of the reasons to buy this light over another very good cheap light, the Eagletac D25 AAA.  The reality is, some of the smaller 1xAAA lights are too small.  But here you get compact but not teeny.

Carry: 2

It is not exactly tiny, but the size isn't bad in the pocket at all.  The L10C is a slender, especially compared to stuff like the comparatively "bulky" SC52.  This isn't the shortest light running a 1xAA power source, but its not too bad. Finally, the clip is darn good. Its not the best ever, not Haiku good, but it is probably equal to the also refined SC52. 

Output: 2

Its funny, over the years, the top end of output has become pretty boring.  Everyone makes lights that are good, some are great. This is where the L10C sits--between good and great for the power source. But the real action, where the real performance jumps take place, is at the low end.  And here, like everything that matters with lights, the L10C comes up huge.  With a whisper bright .5 lumens low the L10C gives you a few slivers of light, enough to find your way, but not enough to wake a sleeping person or steal your night vision.  This is best in class performance here, on par with some uber pricey boutique lights like the HDS Rotary (though it is getting more common on midpriced lights).  Additionally, the two other medium type modes are adequately spaced and useful.  All in all, its hard to beat the L10C on the bottom, its decent at the top, and good in terms of spacing.  Superbly done.  

Runtime: 2

Like with output, the runtimes have become pretty staid.  The top end here is what you'd expect from a modern light, but again, the action and interest takes place at the bottom of the output.  Thanks to the very low low, the L10C can run for an enternity.  Its not unique in this regard, but the idea that you could get ultra long runtimes out of a 1xAA flashlight is quite nice and, if I had a DeLoren, it would have been stunning even as few as three years ago.  Flashlight technology changes quickly and this is one of the signs of that pace--amazing performance even on a budget light.  

Beam Type: 1

With a deep-ish emitter, I would have expected a bit more throw.  This is not the most terrible flaw, but I just can't figure out what is going on here.  Someone with experience designing reflectors could probably say why.  If I were L3 Illumination I would upgrade to a pure experience with a TIR optic.  As it is, you get a little bit of throw and a little bit of flood, but not enough of either to make one or the other 100% worthwhile.  You can cover up some beam type problems with good outputs and the L10C does that, but blah, I wanted more.  

Beam Quality: 2

Hello Mr. Nichia.  I didn't realize that you had become so egalitarian.  I am pleased that you have.  The results of your more democratic approach have been inspiring.  The beam is clean, round, and resplendently sun-like in its color rendering.  

UI: 2

Clickies aren't great.  I'd prefer a selector ring, but this clicky is surprisingly good.  I am not saying "good for the money," I am saying just straight up very good.  There is a strong feedback to the clicky and the spacing between the modes is perfect. I like the start up in whisper low, but I wish there was a mode memory.  Alas, the budgetary constraints come in. Of the things to not include, that's the thing I would have left out as well.  

Hands Free: 2

It stands well. It doesn't roll. And it does the always last resort, between the teeth grip, quite well.  

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

Its not a perfect light, but it is pretty close.  If it weren't for the neither here nor there beam type, this would be a perfect light.  As it iss you'll have to settle for damn good.  At the price its an amazing deal.  The 1xAA format has come a long way from the days of weaksauce output and runtimes measured in heartbeats.  In terms of EDC use the format pulled ahead of CR123as a while ago, but that was largely because of the performance of the mid-priced lights out there.  As it stands now, well, even the budget lights are screamers.  

When I gave the L10C my Overall Product of the Year for 2014, I got some feedback that the lights weren't all that well made.  I did some research and it is true that there are performance and durability issues reported on forums, CPF and Budget, but I have not experienced those problems nor have I been able to cause issues to occur with rough use.  I have mentioned this before, but evaluating QC is very hard to do for two reasons.  First there is the sample size issue--usually I only have one review sample.  Second there is the whiner issue--people on the Internet LOVE to whine.  Type in even the most beloved piece of gear, something that has a reputation for superior fit and finish, such as the Sebenza, and you will find dozens of threads containing people attesting to the poor QC out of Chris Reeve's shop. Be clear, I am not saying that the folks complaining about the L10C are whiners.  Its just that I have no way to distinguish whiners from sincere folks, hence the problem with Internet feedback. My review sample has been fine but as a tip of the hat to the reader who passed the QC tip along, I decided to include this paragraph. Its the best I can do.

Simply put the L10C is a great light, one that just about anyone on Earth could carry and use with no problems.  Its design and production budget was spent incredibly well, skipping baloney like a junky sheath in favor of a truly great emitter.  Every choice was made exactly as I would have made it.  Only the soupy beam type was an issue and even that was a small one.  With a TIR (also available on budget lights, see the D25AAA), the L10C could be a world beater.  As it is, it is probably the best 1xAA light on the market and a no-brainer recommendation for newbs all the way up to seasoned flashaholics.  Beware of QC problems, but delight--this is a $33 light that performs like a $100.  Its  not sexy.  Its not titanium. There is no Jetsonsesque selector ring.  What there is is everything you want in an EDC light and nothing you don't.  Just go buy the L10C.

The Competition

Pu-lease.  The Fenix PD22 is not even in the same league--the friction fit clip, thick body tube, and less than awesome UI makes the L10C an easy choice.  The thing I keep coming back to is this--the L10C compares favorably to the SC52 from Zebralight, probably the consensus pick for the 1xAA format.  While the SC52 is shorter, thanks to the side switch,  the L10C isn't giant and is actually a bit thinner.  In every other regard the L10C is as good or better.  Both run bolt on clips, the L10C has a better UI, a better clicky, a better emitter, and while its not as bright on high as the SC52, in terms of perceived brightness, there isn't much of a difference (again, remember that our eyes perceive brightness logrithmically, meaning that large increases in lumens are necessary in order for things to look different).  In short this is a better light than the SC52 and it costs 50% less.  And yes, Zebralight is a US company, but both L3 Illumination and Zebralight have their lights made in China. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Trolling for Hate: The End of Fatties

Over the past 18 months or so, largely because of listening to Jim and Kyle on the Knife Journal Podcast, I have become more comfortable with fixed blade knives.  During that say time I have become increasingly skeptical of the utility of large and ultra large folders.  It seems to me that if you can carry one of these knives, you should probably just carry a fixed blade.

Browsing the fora I saw a thread on BladeForum about preferences for large fixed blades.  The choice was between the ZT0200 and the Benchmade 810 Contego.  Both are massive folders with blades at or near 4 inches.  The ZT0200 (which is discontinued) is also a true boat anchor tipping the scales at almost 8 ounces.  I have handled the ZT0200. In fact, I bought one, carried it around the knife show, and then returned it for a ZT0350 when I realized that the ZT0200 was trying, hard as it could, to pants me in public.  To say the ZT0200 was big is like saying Robert Wadlow was tall.  The knife was positively massive. It was just too big to warrant carrying or buying.  

The problem with these big folders is simple--there is no time when I could carry them comfortably and not carry a fixed blade.  Additionally, there are no tasks I could where these big blades work better than a smaller and more convenient folder or better than a beefy fixed blade.  These folders, it seems to me, have taken the advantages of a folder--size and portability--and thrown them out the window.  They have also, it seems, avoided the advantages of a fixed blade--durability and uncompromised handle shapes.  

For me, personally, I can't imagine using or carrying a folder with a blade longer than 3.5 inches.  I know that there are guys out there that are much bigger than I am and for those folks, a 4 inch blade seems reasonable.  But these massive and overbuilt knives like the ZT0200 or, in the custom world, the Direware, I just don't see why someone would want one.  This leaves aside the Fox Meskawaki and Cold Steel Espada XL sized blades which, frankly, are in the same class of products as the United Cutlery Sauron glove Andrew pined over.  The Spyderco Military and the Benchmade 710 are all good designs with long blades but these aren't the knives I am referencing. Its not a prejudice against long blades, it is a prejudice against stupidly overbuilt blades.

This leads me to another point about the folding pry bar class of knives.  There doesn't seem to be much of an emphasis on blade geometry resulting in poorer than necessary cutting performance. Its a matter of basic physics--thicker objects cut worse than thinner ones, all other things being equal.   A reader recently emailed me and asked about my opinion on Striders.  I pointed him to my Strider PT review and then we emailed back and forth.


He was surprised to learn that while I thought (and think) that the Strider was a good knife, it was no longer a knife I loved.  The reality is that tastes and preferences change, but here it is not just that my tastes changed, its that I realized that those sorts of knives don't work for me.  

Last summer I decided I wanted to learn how to start a fire with no matches.  Very low bar, I know, but I have always been a Zippo fire starter.  Then my son and I read My Side of the Mountain and he asked what a flint was.  Sam, the book's main character, carried one and started fires all of the time with it, so I ordered one off Amazon and started working with it.  I also started making kindling.  Not only was it fun, it was also a great test for a knife.  Breaking up small branches, making feather sticks, and the like is a super simple test for a knife--the lock, the handle, and the edge/steel are all given a good workout.  Eventually we nailed the fire thing, even capable of starting fires in semi-damp conditions.  Over time, I also noticed that the Strider PT was just terrible at these tasks.  Its edge was just too thick.  It could pry decently well, but it had ZERO game when it came to pulling down big curls of wood for feather sticks.  It lacked an ability to slice.  I stropped and sharpened, but I came to realize that the blade just behind the cutting bezel was too thick.  Short of a full reprofilining, the PT was never going to cut and slice well.  My Indian River Jack, on the other hand, was a slicing demon, passing the feather stick test and others with aplomb.  

And its not just the thick blade stock that was a problem--the Techno (damn is that a great little folder) passed the test with flying colors too.  Spyderco shrank that thick stock quickly and the thickness just before the cutting bevel is still pretty darn thin.


The problem with the Strider PT was the grind (update now reflects that).  I found the Hinderer 3" slicer grind better, but still not as good.  These overbuilt beasts seem to forget that their first task is cutting.  

This isn't to say that these knives are a bad design.  They aren't.  Both are superior tools.  They are just tools I have little use for in my suburban life.  For hard use, metal piercing, door prying individuals the bulky cutting geometry of the Strider and the Hinderer is quite useful.  For me, where I place an emphasis on cutting and slicing in my normal use, I just can't except the tradeoff.  And really, I have found that the Paramilitary 2 has been plenty tough for the worst tasks I could give a folder including chopping up old linoleum, complete with hardened glue on the back. And the PM2 is still plenty slicey.  

Michael's email prompted me to write down what I had already known--in an EDC knife I want something that cuts.  These folding pry bars that are all over the place just aren't for me.  And really, if we exclude Instagram as a "use" I am not sure just how many of us really NEED a knife like that for our daily tasks.  Maybe my tastes will change back, but where I am right now, I just don't see the value in these massively overbuilt knives.  I am not saying they are poor designs or bad blades, they just aren't for me.  They might be for you, but looking at the tasks I do, even when I am outdoors, I am better suited by either a fixed blade or a folder that can slice.  These overbuilt blades are neither and thus I am just not interested. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Arno Bernard Bush Baby Caper Review

South African knives are a world unto themselves.  This is the place of the front flipper, made famous when Boker made a production version of the Burger EXK-1 (I reviewed the Boker version here).  Gareth Bull's super slim and clean Shamwari is like nothing else.  And in this world there is Arno Bernard.  Bernard and his sons made some of the finest semi-custom (yes, I used that term, its vagueness is fitting as it is hard to put these knives in a category) in the world.  Arno Bernard is to the South African knife community what Mike Stewart is to the US knife community--the minds behind the production of some of the finest fixed blades available.  His fixed blades are stunning tools with refinements, materials, and fit and finish found nowhere else.  For the money, the materials are really insane.  And, oh by the way, the knives are pretty damn good cutters too.  After some months with the Bush Baby Caper I can tell you that while there are somethings that I don't love, the knife, as a whole, is quite impressive.  Its performance and materials rival knives twice or three times as much.

Here is the product page. The Bush Baby Caper costs $160.  There are no written or video reviews. Here is a link to KnivesShipFree, where you can find the Bush Baby Caper, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:


Here is my review sample (provided by Knives Ship Free to be given away):


Twitter Review Summary: High style, high performance, great materials.

Design: 2

The Caper is a slender knife and the tapered tang, my first, along with the overall shape makes it feel like a scalpel in the hand and in use.   The blade is so fine it gives you the sense that, like a legendary blade from Tolkien's work, it needs a name more than product descriptor.  The blade is quite slender and everything about the Caper is fine tuned from the sheath to the pins holding the warthog ivory handle scales in place.  

A word on those before I get too deep into the review.  These are my first ivory scales and I can say without much hesitation that they are a superior handle material.  They are warm to the touch and as ivory aficionados know, they absorb a bit of your hand's natural moisture.  They are also resplendently beautiful.  Nothing else is quite like ivory--even the fake stuff, like Tagua Nuts, falls short.  In many ways ivory is to the knife making what true mahogany is to woodworking--an endangered product with legendary attributes.  Ivory is not just "pretty".  Its not just "jewelry".  There are real and tangible benefits.  This ivory comes from warthog tusks and thus is not covered by the government's recent ban on elephant ivory.  In fact, warthogs fall into the "Least Concerned" category in IUCN rankings (the ranking for a species level of endangered-ness).  They are the only creatures that produce ivory that have that ranking (sperm whales are data deficient).  Still, an animal died to make this handle, maybe not specifically for the production of this handle, but these scales came from a dead animal.  I am not so concerned about animals dying for my benefit--I eat meat and have leather products--but I want to mention it, in case your not.  I would also note that ivory from a smarter or more endangered animal, like an elephant or a sperm whale, would be significantly less desireable to me, enough so that I wouldn't want the product.  But here with an animal that is seen in many places as a pest, well, the scales are balanced so that I am not TOO bothered.  Bothered enough to mention it, but not so bother as to not buy or review the knife.  In short, performance/looks outweighs guilt when it comes to warthog ivory.  You might disagree and that's fine.  I'd love to hear it in the comments, but that's my position.  I am working on something on this topic that is a little more detailed, but that's the summary for now.


Fit and Finish: 2

Let me get one thing out of the way--the handle scales aren't perfectly flush with the tang of the blade.  At first I was a little bummed by this.  Bernard's fit and finish is something of legend and to see something so basic messed up even a little bit, as it was on my review sample, was disheartening. But then I did a little more research--ivory, like wood and unlike G10--swells and contracts.  It is a natural material and the elements can make it over around, even if we are talking about 1/1000th of an inch or so.  Given Bernard's reputation, what I know about ivory, and the rest of the knife, I will assume that this unevenness, however slight it is, is inherent in the material and not worthy of deducting a point.


The rest of the knife is immaculate.  The tang has been strongly tapered, altering the balance of an already gymnast-like blade, giving you something so quick and so responsive in the hand that it has to be used to be fully understood.  The pins are flush and the finish on the blade, a nice satin, is glorious.  With the ivory cavaet in place, this is clearly among the nicer finished knives I have handled.

Handle Design: 2

Simply put, no other knife I have reviewed feels as good in the hand and in use as the Bush Baby Caper.  It is a study in handle design and though it is controversial to say this the benefits of ivory as a handle scale.  Here is a close up of the coloring and streaks:


and here is the knife in hand.

During the testing period I used this knife as an EDC fixed blade and not as a caper (a knife designed for skinning the hand and face of an animal--it needs to be small, sharp and exceedingly precise).  In  that role I could see why it was such an exceptional tool for its intended purpose.  The knife moved and sliced as if it had a mind of its own, or more precisely, as if your mind controlled it directly without the clumsiness of hands and fingers to get in the way.  The Bush Baby Caper is just an extraordinary tool in the hand.

Steel: 2 

N690, a European steel, is a favorite of South African designers--the Burger knives run N690 as their entry steel before you step up to Damascus.  In my experience, three or four blades over the years, it has performed well and this knife is no exception. Its edge retention is good, just below the pinnacle tier of steels (ZDP-189, M390, M4...).  Its better than VG-10, but it has all of the other good qualities of VG-10--corrosion resistance and toughness, its just a bit better at keeping a hair popping edge.  The steel is probably something like a 1.5, but the scale is not that sensitive.  Bernard's finish on the steel is excellent, the edge came insanely sharp, so I am okay with saying that this is a good steel pushed beyond average by chemistry and finishing.  Simpler still--VG-10 but better. 

Blade Shape: 2 

A glorious, simple, and slight drop point.  It is hard to remember why we have all these funky blade shapes when you use a knife like this or the Fallkniven F1z--simple works so well for so many tasks.  

Grind: 2 

Remember before the Chopper Revolution when fixed blades had thin, slicing grinds?  Remember before the Chopper Revolution when you could do things like detail work (in my case, prepping nuts for holiday cooking and depitting cherries en masse)?  Remember before the Chopper Revolution when your fixed blade felt more like a scalpel and less like a pry bar?  Well, if you don't remember, pick up a Bush Baby Caper and you will.  And you will also come to know why fixed blades can and should be thinly ground in the right application.  This is just a master class in grind--here the handle shape, the tapering, and the grind work together to make something insanely great at slicing and detail work (hence the intended use as a caper).  

Sheath Carry: 1

The sheath, made from Cape Buffalo (also IUCN least concerned status) leather, is beautiful and unique.  It gives the knife a sort of out of time, legendary feel.  Its well made and sturdy.  

But, it is not super easy to carry.  Its too bulky for what it is, and while it is okay strapped on a belt, I'd prefer something other than what we have here.  As a collector's piece (this is a 20th Anniversary Edition) its marvelous.  As tool, its merely average.  

Sheath Accessibility: 1 

Given the knife's size and shape, this sheath, which is essentially a tube, ain't great.  One handed extraction, the goal all sheath designs should strive for, is very difficult to nigh impossible.  Again, the sheath is gorgeous, just not all that useful.  

Useability: 2 

As an EDC fixed blade, the Bush Baby Caper is exceedingly well designed.  This is a knife that won't let you down and can power through a lot of stuff, despite its elven size and feel.  It broke down boxes with ease and switched to depitting cherries with equal aplomb.  

Durability: 2 

Chopper, this ain't, but if you can have a fixed blade and not baton with it, you'll be fine.  There is nothing here, in an EDC role, that gives cause for concern.  More concerning is the current trend towards silly, overbuilt designs.  If your expectations are baton and slice through a soup can, look elsewhere.  If they are purpose appropriate, the Bush Baby Caper will last forever.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

When Derrick sent this to me for review I was a bit hesitant.  It was way out of my wheelhouse.  But once I started using it I realized just how much it WAS something I would like.  Bernard's reputation, built over years of working on knives in a small family business, is superb and the Bush Baby Caper is well in line with that reputation. Its materials are top shelf, well above par for the price.  Ivory, for all its controversy, is quite good as a handle material.  The sheath, beautiful and sturdy as it is, is the weak link here. I am not sure how I would fix it.  A kydex sheath on a knife this refined is like a Formula 1 car with wheels from my backyard wheel barrow.  The knife's in hand feel is superb and as an actual cutting tool you'll be hard pressed to find better.  With a smaller sheath it would make an excellent fixed blade EDC.  As it is, this is a piece with materials and refinement that remind me of a sword from Lord of the Rings, a legendary blade with suitably exotic materials.  For a collector, this is probably catnip. For me, a Luddite user, its still great, but not perfect.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Benchmade's High End EDCs: 940-1 v. Valet Comparison Video

In the past two years Benchmade's line up has been, well, a bit meh.  Last year only the 940-1, an upscale version of the Osborne classic, turned heads.  Its carbon fiber handles and S90V blade steel all screamed high end.  This year, Benchmade had a number of solid showings at SHOT including an ideal, if by the numbers, EDC knife, the Valet.  After a few posts on Instagram it became clear that folks wanted a comparison video, and I am aim to please, so here it is:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Muyshondt Giveaway Winners

Here are the five people:

1.  Free Spinner: Mike Rixman
2. 20% off: Nicholas Clayton
3. 20% off: JT
4. 15% off: Marcin Wolak
5. 15% off: Ben Snow

Those five people email me at everydaycommentary at gmail dot com in the normal format.  I will coordinate information exchanges with Enrique. 

Ver Steeg Blades Imp Review

Okay, I am a huge liar.  I said I would never review clothes and I dropped a TAD Gear clothing review.  Then I said I would never review something made by a friend and well, I am going back on my word and going to review Kyle Ver Steeg's Imp.  Its out of production, but he is making a beefier version called the Grendel.  The issue here is that the knife is so damn good its a shame not to put it into writing.

There are no product pages or reviews.  This was an extremely small run and Kyle doesn't typically go back to a design--every onward.  Here is Ver Steeg Blade Facebook page.  Here is my video overview:

Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money and mine to keep):


Twitter Review Summary: Fixed blade EDC greatness

Design: 2

Kyle described the Imp on a few different episodes of the Knife Journal podcast.  There he stated he wanted a fixed blade small enough to drop in a pocket and disappear.  He wanted it to so invisble that you could go into the fetal position and not notice that it was in your jeans pocket.  Mission accomplished. 


This is a two finger knife, with a third coming on board if you use the lanyard.  The idea is one a lot of companies have tried, from folders like to the Spyderco Spin to fixed blades like the Bark River EPK.  Generally the problem with two finger knives is one of leverage. In light tasks, like package opening, they are fine, but in anything more strenuous than that, you feel like your a giant playing with a toy.  But  here, thanks to the superior guard and the lanyard, even in real cutting tasks, like preparing meat for a campfire, the Imp worked exceedingly well.  Here is the knife next to the Muyshondt Aeon, Mk. II:


Fit and Finish: 2

Every surface isn't just clean it is remarkably polished.  The blade and handled scales are so smooth and inviting to the touch.


The sheath locks in and stays put.  There is no baloney here, nothing to complain about even if I was being nitpicky.  I'll save some bullets to describe the grind below, but suffice to say, even the most insanely demanding collector would be happy here.  

Handle Design: 2

If you want to make a fixed blade this small you have to make compromises.  But under those circumstances, Kyle's handle design is just perfect.  The "guard" at the front of the handle really works and the addition of lanyard gives you some real control. Despite the small blade, the knife works, even in medium sized hands:


The Imp's handle is a perfect example of constraints leading to superior design.

Steel: 2

O1 isn't a super steel.  It isn't even a stainless steel.  But here is the deal--finishing makes a huge difference when it comes to steel.  I have said it before, but it bears repeating--chemistry is the the third most important thing when it comes to evaluating steel--after geometry and heat treat.  As you saw in the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight review, superior finishing can take a meh steel and make it great.  And that is what we have here.


First, Kyle had TM Hunt, make of the M-18, do the heat treat, and though Todd is a young guy, he has his O1 heat treat dialed in.  If this knife is any indication, T.M. is well on his way making his O1 like Dozier's D2.  He really gets every drop of performance out of the steel.  But there is another thing here--Kyle's polish on the steel closed the grain and created a vastly more stain resistant surface than you'd think.  I used this knife extensively in food prep and while it discolored (as you can see above) it has never rusted.  And thanks to the almost mirror polish, that coloration came right out when I stropped the knife.  I had a 3V knife, the Lil' Creek, in for review at the same time and I can't say that it shed this coloration as completely as the Imp did.  As with many things, the devil is in the details, and here, that careful attention made humble O1 something very special.  It is this kind of performance boost that makes custom cultery 100% worth the time and effort. 

Blade Shape: 2

Like the rest of the Imp, the blade shape was designed with use in mind, and it shows.  Around the yard, out in the woods, or around camp, the Imp was awesome.  The slanted spine invites your index finger and the result is a knife that works incredibly well in precision tasks. Its not exactly a drop point or a clip point, but whatever it is, its superb.

Grind:  2

Its safe to say, after six or so months of use, that the Imp is the sharpest knife I have ever used.  The convex grind on a thin slice of steel is so keen, so sharp that the paper chunking stunt you see when folks are showing off on YouTube is not just easy, but downright addicting.  And most of those paper chunkings use much bigger knives.  

The grind is stunning, 100% stunning and the edge is so sharp it disappears.  The polish on the blade helps with friction and rust, and it leads to an impossible edge.  I can easily shave arm hair even after breaking down a box or two, especially impressive given that all of the edge is used every time (such are the limits of a sub-2" blade).  

I took this knife camping and used it to cut steak and bacon and potatoes and all sorts of kindling (in that order) and it did become noticeably less sharp (note that I did not write dull).


After a few quick swipes on a strop the edge came screaming back.  Convex grinds are a thing of beauty and this is one of the finest I have seen.  

Sheath Carry:  2

Taco-style kydex sheaths are my favorite, both for weight and simplicity.  The Imp's steath takes things up a notch by being very, very small.  Kyle cut off just about every piece of kydex he could without compromising the rivets or the fit and the result is a truly coin pocket friendly fixed blade.


The sheath more than anything is the part of the Imp that makes this knife my favorite EDC fixed blade I have tried.  It can also be used as a neck knife, but as I said before, the football coach look isn't my favorite.

Sheath Accessibility: 2

For a pocket sheath, this is about as good as you can get.  Going thicker is a pain as it makes the sheath hard to carry.  Smaller and you have to worry about it popping off.  Its not complicated, but the sheath is damn good when it comes to grabbing the knife and pulling out the blade.  The lanyard helps as well, another neat touch. 

Useability: 2

The handle is contoured and curved with excellent finishing.  The shape of the handle and the shape of the guard, coupled with the lanyard give you a lot of real estate on a small knife.  No hotspots were generated even when you use the knife in tough media, such as cardboard or kindling.  There is nothing I'd change, even the small and shallow jimping is nice. 

Durability: 2

The O1 stock isn't monstrously thick, but it is substantial enough to give you confidence in carrying the blade.  The handle is epoxied and riveted in place.  The kydex is quite sturdy.  Simply put there is no reason this knife won't work for five decades or so.  The convex edge adds to the durability.  It might be small and thin, but the Imp is plenty hardy for its role as an EDC knife and could handle more challenging tasks with ease. 

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT.

Its hard to figure out a way to make a better EDC fixed blade knife.  If you have bear paws, this probably ain't your deal.  But even then I think the lanyard might help.  Knives this small and capable really make me reconsider the need for a folder.  The whole package is smaller than the PM2 is closed and so I can't help but think that the Imp really is one of the best choices for EDC.  Its light, its small, and it is tougher than a folder could ever be.  The steel, humble as it is, has been put through its paces and the finishing really makes it perform like something much pricier.  I have used this knife for months now in lots of different tasks and I have never once been disappointed.  It came to me as the sharpest knife I have ever had and thanks to easy and regular stropping it remains that way to this day.  This is an amazing piece of cutlery and proof that Kyle Ver Steeg really knows what he is doing.  This is an easy and certain 20 out of 20 perfect score.  I consider Kyle a friend, but my worst enemy could have designed this blade and it would have still scored as well as it did.  In the end that is why I decided to publish this review.  Yep, I am biased.  But the knife is so damn good, bias didn't matter.  Anyone evaluating the Imp would have a hard time coming up with the different score, unless, as I said before, they had bear paw hands.

Monday, February 9, 2015

It was the best of times...

and the worst of times, or so goes the quote from Tale of Two Cities.  In many ways this describes the fortunes of Blade Magazine perfectly.  The Blade Show is growing every year.  Thanks to folks like Nutnfancy, Cutlery Lover, and Chris Weinstein, the tent that is the knife community has never been larger.  But the logistics of print are bonkers, especially for enthusiast press magazines.  If your Time or The Economist, there is a large enough subscription base that general interest advertisers can make it profitable to stay in business.  If, however, you are a niche publication--well, let's just say the math is not working for you.  

Here is that math.  

I get between 160,000-180,000 readers a month.  My total output for the site, other than review samples (which is BY FAR the biggest cost), is $15 a year for a domain registration.  I wish the podcast was as cheap, but that is another story for another day.  For simple math, let's say Blade is running a similar monthly readership (and yes I know that page views and readers aren't equal). Now let's say that every magazine costs 1 cent to make.  That's 1 cent for writer's time, editor's time, printing and distribution. 1 cent.  Blade's monthly costs are $2,000 a month under this scenario.  Some of that is off set by ads, of course (just as Google's ads offset the cost of this site), but even then we are looking at a daunting proposition.  $2,000 a month versus $15 a year for same theoretical readership.  I don't know what Blade's numbers are, either their readership or their costs, but I think it would be hard to imagine a scenario where they had costs less than a penny and more than a million readers (and note the second problem--more readers equals more costs, something I don't have to contend with).  I chose a penny to make the example as favorable to Blade as possible, but even under those circumstances the comparison is stark for print. 

All of this is a simple way of illustrating the problem, or perhaps the source of the problem.  My ability to pick up Blade in person, which I do whenever I can, has diminished to nothing.  Barnes and Noble, my local bookstore, and my local grocery stores, all of which used to stock Blade, no longer do.  And when I asked they told me they weren't willing to do so in the future.  Sure there are special issues and Knives Illustrated, but Blade Magazine is the standard bearer for knives.  Its the place knifemakers, knife collectors, and knife manufacturers all go. It is the lingua franca of the knife world and we'd all be worse off if it died.  But it looks, at least from my vantage point, that that is exactly what's going on.  

Its strange to have a publication dying as the topic its covering is growing, but I think this is a function more of print's impending doom than anything else. But I think Blade could turn things around.  Here  is what I would do if my name were on the mast head.

#1 Really Go Digital

I know that many folks inside and outside the magazine have proposed something like this in the past (both in the more long term past and the recent past).  The reality is that high end enthusiast information is best suited for digital.  I am not talking about pay gates to content that is identical to the print magazine.  I am talking about a fully digital experience.  A model that is an alternative to the pay gate model is something like USN.  I gladly pay dues to partake in the USN.  I rarely, if ever post, but I read a lot and it makes me a better knife reviewer.  If there was an annual subscription and true, digital-only content, people would pay.  The pay gate for access to digitized print is not enticing anyone.  

The other model is to go ad only and do something like what Polygon is for video games or Hodinkee is for watches--a high concept, high brow, long form piece of content.  Imagine how awesome it would be if Edge Observer did videos for a digitial Blade Magazine?  Imagine if he were paid to make not one or two a month, but four or five?  I'd drop cash to see that.  And there was enough content like that they could sell more and more profitable advertisement (opting to supplement the obligatory Jantz ads with stuff from premium outdoor brands like Filson and LL Bean).  What if you took the slick look and great photos of Pivot and Tang and made it Blade Magazine?  Again, the Polygon/Hodinkee model holds a lot of promise.

#2 Broaden the Audience

Lots of people like knives, especially today.  Ex-military and the Butterscotch Club are not the sole constituents of the knife buying public anymore (I doubt they ever were).  There are folks that get stoked about something other than ANOTHER Bowie knife (I think Blade used up their lifetime quota of Bowie photos some time in 1973, they used up the rest of the world's by is hoping there is life beyond Earth, otherwise they are really in the hole).  Guess what Blade and Steve Shackleford?  Women buy gear.  And it doesn't have to be pink to attract their attention (Kitri McGuire of Leatherman has a BlackOxide  custom Wave...distinctly not pink).  It would be interesting to have topics about knives in the workplace, the history of knives (told by historians not knife collectors), and making ofs, like those seen on Frank Howarth's YouTube channel (he does woodworking, but you get the idea).  Like other institutions, Blade Magazine needs to expand its audience if it wants to survive.  

#3 Focus on Good Writing

Lots of folks that currently write for Blade are very experienced with edged tools, but that doesn't, necessarily, make them good writers.  Many are, but there is no correlation between experience with knives and writing skill. Experience counts, of course, but voice and writing ability matter more.  As a magazine Blade's first and primary job is to communicate.  It happens to be a magazine communicating about knives, but the emphasis should be on writing first.  Good writers and researchers can learn about a topic, but the opposite is not always true. And its not the typos and grammar errors that bother me (God, I know I make enough of those).  Its the fact that some pieces lack voice, a narrative arc, and good structure.  Write good articles and the readers will come. The topic is almost irrelevant.  Good writing sells itself

#4 Do some REAL Investigative Journalism

We all know the pattern--picture, three paragraphs of backstory/description, quotes from maker, final "assessment" of the knife. That's like 90% of Blade's stories.  Why not leverage the power of Blade to investigate things like the "problems" with Elmax or the Tim Britton/Kizer controversy?  Why not look into things like the efficacy of the CATRA tests (they did run a CATRA test in the past, but there was precious little about what the results meant)?  People are and would be interested. We need the "pattern pieces" too but some real journalism would help.  Also, try to stick to established journalistic standards.  They will lend the pieces some credibility.

#5 Be Critical

I could never write for Blade Magazine.  One review like the Topo Daypack review and the manufacturer would pull ad dollars and that would be it.  I get that.  But the "reviews" that Blade currently does are so bland its hard to tell if they are reviews or manufacturer written product literature. Dan once worried that he was the Nickelback of reviews, and he not even close to that.  Dan isn't Nickelback, but Blade's reviews ARE the Pat Boone or Lawrence Welk of reviews.  There is a fine line to walk here, but if you aren't critical of some things then people will not take your opinions seriously.  Some gear (GERBER) is just junk.  Calling it like it is will make your good reviews more meaningful.  You might lose a couple of advertisers, but you will gain readers (and if you have converted over to digital, it won't hurt as much to lose a few advertisers).

Losing Blade Magazine would make the knife community a less interesting place, but if my vantage is even slightly representative, the magazine is ailing.  Fixing it would be great.  No one, especially me, wants to lose the New York Times of the knife world. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

The James Brand Chapter Knife Review

I really like the Chapter Knife.  Yes, it is a hipster knife.  So I'll come clean now--I like a hipster knife.

In many ways that is as much a betrayal to hardcore knife knuts as their teenage daughter departing on the back of a motorcycle driven by a 31 year old punk.  For guys that like only two kinds of handle materials--stag and torched stag--the Chapter Knife is anathema.  Its slick, overproduced look and high price tag just don't mesh with what knife knuts expect.  But this knife isn't made for us.  Its made for a guy that makes a decent wage and is looking for his first knife (you can feel free to swap in all of the female pronouns in that sentence). This is a person that has a design-first smartphone, clean Scandinavian furniture, and nicely tailored suits.  

But here is the truth--unlike some hipster gear--Topo Daypack I am looking squarely at your sorry ass--the Chapter Knife, for all its pretension and hefty price tag is a good knife. Its not perfect, but it is a pleasure use, hold and carry. It is, admit it, also pleasing to the eye. Hipster gear is something we should approach with caution, but we ignore it at our peril.    

Here is the product page (beware--the specs are incorrect, see more on that below).  While MSRP is $275, I bought the review sample through the podcast sponsor Huckberry for $239.95 shipped. Also, stock seems to be limited, as the knife is made in batches, but Huckberry has had them in stock for a while.  There are four variations--the uncoated one, the black coated handle with a stainless blade, the blackout version (everything coated), and this one, the so-called stormtrooper color scheme.  There was also a damascus bladed version, but that was a limited edition.  Here is a video review.  There are 1.6 billion shill site articles on this knife but this appears to be the first review.  Here is my review sample (bought with site money to be given away):


Twitter Review Summary: Hipster?  Check.  Good?  Check, as well.

Here is my video overview:

Design: 2

Let's be clear--this is a design-centric knife.  It is incredibly clean, minimalist, but not stupidly so like the Topo Designs Daypack.  The spare looks serve a higher purpose--impeccable function.  The thumb stud works. The  blade is an excellent shape.  The handle lays flat and looks clean.  The lock is easy to engage and disengage.  The pocket clip is truly great.  Its looks are polarizing, as the Chapter Knife doesn't look like a knife (or at least it looks like a knife designed by Apple), but if you work through that reflex, you'll find a very nice knife on the other side.  And if that aesthetic doesn't bother you, don't worry this is not the knife equivalent of a Monet.  Even under close inspection, this knife is quite good.


The performance ratios are little weird because, as you can see below, the blade is purposely shorter than the handle to accommodate the unusual tail stand off:


This results in a pair of strange numbers.  James' specs are incomplete, the weight and closed length are missing and the blade length is incorrect.  On the site it is listed as 2.33 inches.  My measurement puts the blade at 2 9/16 inches. The difference is a big one and I am not sure why they would undersell the blade length.  With the stated dimensions, the knife has TERRIBLE ratios (b/h: .62; b/w: .85).  Actually they are a b/h of .68 (2.5625 inches/3.75 inches), which is the same as the Spyderco Delica, and a b/w of  a truly terrible number and the blade:weight is .94 (2.5625 inches/2.72 ounces).  Both numbers are okay, but Al Mar has a thing to teach the new whipper snapper.  Its shocking that James would make a mistake on their specs in a way that hurt them, but they also told me the knife ran S30V when I did my initial preview for AllOutdoor.  This sort of inattention to detail is bad, but it has no impact on the knife.

Fit and Finish: 2

There is a break in period. Make no mistake--the knife you receive and the knife you will have two weeks later are substantially different.  James Brand decided to coat everything on this version (both the blade and the handle) and so there is a distinct tightness in everything--the pivot, the lock, the detent.  But after parts wear in, the knife becomes flickably smooth and precise.  The tolerances are good and the final touches are nice...


with one small exception--the coating on the clip is just a flake storm.  This picture was taken after less than three hours of use and really it was more "carry in pocket" than actual "use."  The coating elsewhere has been fine, but this is a bit of a grrr...Not worth a full point, but really, come on...three hours?

Grip: 0

There is no jimping. There is really no contour or cut for the hand.  The knife is a parallelogram with rounded corners.  It is not particularly good in hand.  Its not awful, but it is below average.


The Sebenza can get away with looking plain because of its matte finish and jimping (and the fact that it has a subtle curvature to it that gives you a lot of grip).  Here the whole thing is a bit slippery.  The only saving graces are the size of the knife, the comfort of the rounded edges, and the angled cut for the thumb stud which indexes your finger.  Its not much, but it is something.  Deer skinner this ain't.

Carry: 2

Well, for all of the shortcomings in terms of grip, the Chapter Knife is a blessing to transport.  Here are the relevant shots (thanks for the idea Grayson):

In the pocket, from the user's point of view:


In the pocket from the public's point of view:


With the unconventional shape and clip, the knife, even with its bright white handle, definitely doesn't scream "knife."  It is also quite slim and the clip is excellent at keeping the knife in place.  I loved carrying the Chapter Knife.  

Steel: 2 

The idea of a nearly $300 knife running D2 is not appealing.  

The performance is beyond reproach.  At this point you probably need another primer on D2 as much as you need one on AUS 8.  Simply put, D2 is a great steel, its historically important, and a fantastic performer, but it is not expensive.  For the price, you can buy almost 2 of the upcoming Benchmade Valet, which runs a clearly superior M390 blade.  I don't mind D2, but I mind the cost savings not showing up in the price tag of the Chapter Knife.  

That said, there are knives that run D2 that cost this much or more.  Many of the original HEST/F knives ran D2 and were around $200. Similarly, early Lionsteel's run D2 and cost around the same.  Then there are the Medford knives, all which cost north of $600 and run D2.  And no, I don't consider them aren't customs, so don't bother posting that below.  Brous's Silent Soldier Flipper in all titanium is much more and runs D2.  

The bottom line is that D2 is a good performer, and while the cost savings the steel represents doesn't show in how much you will pay for the knife, there are more expensive knives out there with D2.  As a performer, apart from value, D2 is clearly a 2.  

Blade Shape: 2

The choice of a classic drop point is never a mistake:

Here, the shape is wonderful and useful.  In addition to working well, the drop point also looks good--an essential feature of any part of the Chapter Knife.

Grind: 2 

Well, unlike a few things on the knife, the grind is conventional and wonderful.  A high hollow grind results in an insanely good cutting edge and my favorite grind for EDC purposes.  I did notice a little wobble in the cutting bevel, but nothing remarkable.  

Deployment Method: 2

In the first week of ownership, the thumb stud was nigh unworkable, but as the pivot and detent broke in, the knife became amazingly smooth.  In fact, the knife now flies open quick enough for a friend to ask if it was an auto.  I really have no complaints.  And yes, I like the green color. Its quite striking and well...the Usual Suspects like it, though I doubt this is their kind of knife.  Technically it is "moss green" but that is hard to distinguish from "toxic green".


I'll note that the placement of the stud is close to the handle scale, a little too close, but it is easy to use once the pivot breaks in and you get used to it.  

Retention Method: 2 

The clip is unconventional, but awesome.  I thought it would be more of a paint scrapper than it is, but its not.  Its simple, non-threatening, as the whole knife is, and classy.  It is also distinctive.  Good job here, by James.  The logo is nice too.  Very few will recognize it as a knife clip, but in my mind, that is a good thing. Don't court trouble, and trouble will find you less often.

Lock: 1

Lock up originally was so tight and sticky I couldn't dislodge the lock bar without changing my grip.  Once the coating wore away, it became smooth, maybe too smooth.  There is no blade play or lockbar wiggle, but there is no resistance anymore at the lock interface.  I don't want sticky, but I do want a little tension to overcome.  My custom framelocks have that and the sensory input it gives me is nice.  Here there is none of that.


Perhaps it is too much to expect from a production knife, but the reality is, I like it.  The lock bar itself hasn't moved over and the lock up above is representative of the knife post-break in (note the wear on the coating).  I don't know what to tell you though.  It was terrible, then got very good, and is now different.  Not bad different, but not my preference.  For that it gets a one.  I wonder what the lock up is like on the uncoated version.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

The Chapter knife is not perfect.  It is a hipster knife.  But it is not bad either and it has a look and feel unlike anything else on the market.  There are some boneheaded noob mistakes like coating EVERYTHING and zero traction plan, but there are also thing done here that are both different and meritorious, like the clip and the look.  New blood in the knife game isn't a bad thing.  Though there were no hipsters back then, I am sure that the hue and cry let out by traditional knife folks upon seeing a Spyderco C01 Worker for the first time was equally riotous.  This behavior the knife community equivalent of the public's reaction to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The reality is, this isn't as groundbreaking as the Worker, but it is a very good knife.  

But move past that.  Its all BS anyway (everything new and different is met with resistance).  The knife is a good knife.  Its a damn good knife.  Its not a perfect knife, but few are.  We shouldn't be so skeptical of the knife, even if we can be skeptical of the ludicrous and silly branding (no more surfers in the woods...please...ever). 

One concern I had is that the difference between the knife pre- and post-break in was so pronounced that I am afraid the knife will wear poorly going forward, but I have had the knife for more than a month post-break in and it has stayed solid.  The uncoated verison might be better and really this is a theoretical concern more than anything else, but I want you to know about it.

And so, I think it is safe to say this knife won't disappoint you.  If you like the looks and can tolerate the price, go for it.  Its a very good and reliable piece of cutlery.  You'll be a hipster, but you know what?  Who cares?  Grow your wild man beard, get garish tattoos you'll be embarrassed of in ten years, and drink your craft beer that tastes like ball sweat.  This isn't Dora the Explorer bag stupid or painted axe handle stupid.   This knife isn't stupid at all.  Its a bit expensive for the materials, but not outrageously so (like a Medford that runs the exact same materials and costs $600).  If you like it, buy it.  The Chapter Knife is 100% legit.

Here you go...the perfect pairing in Hipster Heaven:


And for some authenticity points, I will tell you I made the built in desk it is on, though if I were a hipster I would tell you I crafted it and used Ikea parts to make it.  But I am not, that's just some good old fashion A/A grade cherry ply.  Its pricey at $115 a sheet, but damn its nice.  Just like the Chapter Knife.

The Competition

Comparing the James knife to either the SOG Aegis or the Kershaw Zing G10 is hardly fair.  A more appropriate comparison, with a field of Sebenza alternatives (the Bradley Alias, the AG Russell Acies2, the Kizer Ki-3404), will happen soon.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Spyderco Jess Horn Overview

Okay, I know I said I would pick a winner for the Spinner, but I am giving everyone another week.  Here's why:  given the interest Enrique has decided to up the ante.  I will pick five people.  The first person will win the soon to be released Spinner.  The second and third person will receive a 20% off discount code good for the month of February.  The fourth and fifth person will receive a 15% off discount code.  So, if you haven't entered, go to the original Muyshondt Madness post, comment and this coming Tuesday I will pick five folks. 

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The words "Jess Horn" and "Spyderco" send collector's and the eBay search engine into a frenzy, but this is the OTHER Jess Horn and frankly, this is the one I like best.  There are bunch of versions--micarta, AG Russel special editions, and ones with ultralight linerless FRN.  But the jewel of the Jess Horn Lightweights is the 2006 Sprint Run with Burgundy handles and a laminated blade of ZDP-189 and 420J2 steel.  It combines the best features of an Al Mar Ultralight and a Spyderco making it a great light EDC.  Here is the video overview:

Here is some bonus content--my collection of ZDP-189 folders: