Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tom Bihn Parental Unit Review

This is a review of the new Tom Bihn bag.

YAY!

Its a diaper bag.

Waa...

So, welcome to the blog all you Yoga Moms, Minivan Chauffeurs, and Working Mom Superheroes, here we usually talk about knives, flashlights, and other gear.  You may have passed through for a review of a water bottle.  Feel free to look around and comment.  And who knows, you might stay, fall in love with EDC gear and put a Microtech UTX on your Want List.  Or not.  Either way, welcome those of you that found this review via Google.  We are a friendly bunch, a bit odd, but friendly nonetheless. 

Its ironic that I have been slow to get this review out, in large part because of the increase in household work due to having a second child.  Bihn sent me the Parental Unit just before Thing 2 was born and now, holy shit, he is almost 8 months old.  Reviewing bags is a much more time consuming thing than reviewing the other gear I review here (especially pens...I write enough to review two pens a week).  But still, 8 months is a long time.  Think of this as my most thorough review ever.

Also, there was another person using and evaluating this bag--my wife.  She is, well, 100% more practical than I am--she is, after all, a working Mom of two.  Here is her take:

First, she loved the accordion pockets on either side of the bag.  She also liked the Bihn-style attachment points (which, frankly, everyone does).  She thought the strap was very well made and was quite comfortable.  The material was something she also liked.  She did not like the fact that the bag's bottom was smaller than its top because this caused the bag to fall over in use.  She was also not thrilled with the fact that the bag lacked a changing pad or a space for a changing pad.  She did note that while we never carried bottles in the bag (we did the au naturale feeding method), the side pockets would have been ideal.  Finally, I explained to her the notion that the bag could serve two purposes--one as a diaper bag and one as a messenger-style bag post baby.  She thought this was a dumb idea because, as she correctly pointed out, by the time you are done with one or two or more babies your sick of that bag and its probably not the cleanest thing in the world.

I am not sure I agree with all of her sentiments, but there were some very salient points in there.

Here is the product page.  As with all Bihn products, they are sold exclusively through the Bihn website.  Here is a review of the Parental Unit.  Here is the review sample (which I will be sending back to Bihn): 

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Twitter Review Summary: Capable during and after doodoo duty

Design: 1

Why the hell would I review a diaper bag?  Well, number one, I needed one and as you can imagine I went down a research rabbit hole.  Number two, Tom Bihn asked me to take a look.  And number three, this is a diaper bag with a trick.  Bihn designed the Parental Unit to be a great diaper bag AND to be a very good messenger bag after you no longer need it to do doodoo duty.  Thing of this as a way to get that Bihn bag you always wanted, but have it paid for by family members on a baby shower registry. 

Its certainly a step up from the dreadful, ugly, cheap garbage that is sold at Babies R Us and the like.  Unlike the horde of shit from those stores, the Parental Unit doesn't look like a diaper bag.  Also unlike those bags, this one is very well planned.  Making a diaper bag from the perspective of making bags in general is very helpful.  You know the importance of straps and zippers and the like.  While, if you just make diaper bags, you have no knowledge of these things and instead, seemingly, are making something to look cute on a stroller.  Obviously, one of these approaches produces better products.

The major drawback is something the Mrs. nailed--the fact that the bag is wider at the top than the bottom.  Often the bag would not stand up on its own, making it hard to retrieve contents when on the go or changing...um...well you know.   Straightening out the lines to make it a rectangle or even better, reversing its trapezoidal shape would make the bag better, though probably not as good looking.  


Fit and finish: 2

Tom Bihn's stuff has always been impressive when it comes to fit and finish and the Parental Unit is no different.  Compared to messenger bags, like the one in the picture below, it is nicer with better stitching and a more substantial feel.  Compared to normal diaper bags, the difference is dramatic.  The Babies R Us diaper bag is wretched, with material that feels like its thinner than a dinner napkin.  These flimsy bags lose shape over time and become hard to use, everything seems to flop around and get in your way at the least opportune times and when diaper bags, there are some VERY inopportune times.  

Carry: 2

I found the bag carried well for what it was.  Thanks to the more rigid form, it was less likely to snag on stuff getting in and out of a car or being moved through various storage compartments on godawful contraptions like strollers. 

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That said, the tear drop shape was a bit awkward to re-position on the body.  I'd much prefer something like the Cadet's (review and update) shape.  

Materials: 2

Bihn's choice of materials, from the lining to the straps to the padding to the all important exterior fabric is, has been, and hopefully always will be top shelf.  Just looking at the three bags above you can see that the Parental Unit just looks better.  The reason is simple--it is better.  And it all starts with the choice of materials. 

Accessibility: 2

The Parental Unit's special design purpose requires tremendous accessibility, something that allows instant, sightless access to things and here it succeeds in spades.  The two side accordion pockets are awesome and the main pocket is very nice.  The shape allows for good access even when the bag is being carried. 

Ease of Packing: 1

Huge, open pockets, lots of room and plenty of organization make the Parental Unit capable of holding a lot.  The only issue was that the shape made the bag fall over quite a bit.  Its not a huge deal, but one that I think is worth a point.  

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That said, once the Parental Unit transitions into being a messenger bag where you don't need to cram every cubic inch full of stuff, I think this problem will go away.  As a diaper bag, I want it to stand up on its own. 

Pockets/Organization: 2

When my wife comments on how well a bag is organized you know it is awesome.  This from the lady that once suggested we take a garbage bag on vacation to store things in (the pack rat in me died a little that day).  Her favorite bag is the giant shapeless, organization-free LL Bean tote.  She is not someone that needs pockets, but here she loved the Parental Unit.  

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Not only are there well-designed pockets, but they seem to be right where they should be when you are frantically dealing a poopocalypse on a quick trip to Target.  Good lay out Mr. Bihn.

Snaps/buckles/zippers: 2

Only the best.  Don't even think about using something cheap or junk.  I love and have always enjoyed Bihn's doodads.  Always, always good. 

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Straps and belts: 2

After running the Absolute Strap on my Cadet for years I was not used to this slipperier strap.  

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The one thing that the slipperier strap allows for is the spin move, rotating the bag from behind you to in front of you.  This was helpful when using the bag as a diaper bag and I imagine it would be helpful when using the Parental Unit as a messenger bag.  Its different but its comfortable and allows for lots of access.  Very, very good.  

Modularity/expansion: 2

Bihn's system of attachment points, straps, and accessories is impressive.  Not only is it versatile, but is not as "tacticool" as the MOLLE straps that deck out many of the bags that appear on this site.

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There are quite a few loop attachments for things like the key strap accessory and other smaller pouches.

Then there are some excellent triangle gated loops like this one:

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As usual, all of the attachment points are good.  My wife has a Bihn purse that she carries and while attaching it does throw off the balance of the bag if it is sitting on your shoulder, it is an excellent way to make sure you don't forget things if the bag is wedged under a stroller or in a locker in a public space.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

There is no question that this is the best diaper bag I have seen.  It is also bag that will make the post-baby transition to a messenger bag pretty seamlessly.  I am not sure it will be better than a purpose-built messenger bag, but I am sure that it will be close enough that have the Parental Unit pull double duty.  This is another in a long line of Bihn bags that shows an attention to detail and thoughtful consideration of use uncommon in mainstream consumer products.  This thing decimates the Babies R Us junk.  And even as an enthusiast messenger bag it works well.  Oh and by the way these pictures were taken after months of use.  The Parental Unit, like all Bihn products wears incredibly well.

Thanks for reading Mom from the Mom Blogosphere.  Stay tuned, I have a review of the Microtech UTX 70 coming and there is nothing that says "prepared minivan mom" like a knife that you can open with one hand so you can handle those gummi snack emergency on the highway with aplomb. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Kershaw Tilt Overview

Elliot kindly lent me his Kershaw Tilt for a review and let me say--this thing is amazing.  I love every single thing about the Tilt, even with its behemoth size.  It is a design triumph of the first order and now, even as other folders incorporate many of the features that made the Tilt awesome, I am still really impressed with just how awesome this design is.



Get ready for a review (not this week, though) of the foundation for all modern superfolders.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tactile Turn Gist Review

When the Gist slid from its package and into my hand I was immediately struck by how much I liked the way it felt--its weight, its shape, and its machined surface all felt just right.  When I unthreaded the cap and saw the gleaming gold nib and damascus section I was blown away. This was a pen that felt great in the hand and looked amazing.  I really wanted to know if Will Hodges had pulled off the hat trick and made a pen that wrote well, but alas, I got it on a Saturday and my ink is all at work (two kids, 5 and under equals ink at work).

Monday rolled around and I was so excited to try the Gist out that I was actually skipping steps as I walked up the stairs to my office.  A few dips later and the Gist was ready to write.  Quick aside: I got the fine gold nib with a polycarbonate body and a damascus finial and section.  I then used the Gist exclusively for an intense week of writing.  In one emotional, battering three hour court hearing I took a positively massive amount of notes and the Gist never skipped a beat.  At the end of the week, the notetaking continued as I attended an all day continuing education seminar.  In all, I probably took between 75 and 100 pages of handwritten notes, written fast and in tense situations.  I took notes that I NEEDED for later.  And in the end, they were clear, my hands didn't feel like eagle feet, and I knew all I needed to know about the Gist.  It was only a week, but I imagine I took more notes with this pen than some pen collectors will take with their favorite pen in a whole year.

I could stop here and just issue a simple command--BACK THIS PEN, but Will's work in designing, sourcing, and making the pen deserves more than that.  This is a pen that sits easily next to my all time favorite pen, the Pilot Vanishing Point.  I should warn you going forward this review is like gourmet comfort food--all pleasure, no pain and nothing to challenge your sensibilities.  The Gist is writing greatness with nothing remotely resembling a drawback.  Its Pixar movie good--so good that film snobs and popcorn munchers alike enjoy it.  My non-pen friends raved about it as did my fellow pen addicts.  The experience everyone had was universally good.

Here is the product page.  Here is the Kickstarter.  UPDATE: All of them come with a converter for bottle ink, but they accept standard international ink cartridges.  Also the sections and nibs are user swappable, so you can mix and match.  There are dozens of options.  As configured, the review sample costs $180 ($99 for the polycarbonate/damascus body and $79 for 14K nib).  Here is Dowdy's first look.  Here is my review sample (Can I mix gear blogging photography tropes with stationary?  I just did):

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Twitter Review Summary: Great fountain pen for everyday use.

Design: 2

Will's design video mentions that he wanted the pen to simple, and through that simplicity, a better pen.  It is a better pen.  Compared to something like the Schaeffer Sagaris, which is not a bad pen at all, the Gist is just leagues better.  The ridged barrel is great for grip.  The pocket clip is outstanding.  The finial is a nice touch.  Everything is very good.

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I do think that this version is probably the version to get.  A metal version of this pen would be exceedingly heavy and here, while it is light it is not Kaweco Sport light, i.e. insubstantial.  This is not to say that weight=quality, but in a pen weight does bear on your ability to use the pen for long periods of time.  The combination of the polycarbonate body and the damascus section is great.

A note on damascus for those reading this review from the pen world and not the knife world.  There were two kinds of damascus--wootz damascus and pattern welded damascus.  Wootz damascus is not available anymore and the pieces that remain are in collections or museums.  It is truly the stuff of legend, with hardness and toughness that only modern steels in the last fifty or so years have equaled.  The recipe and the main ingredient (wootz) are lost in the mists of time.  Pattern welded damascus, which is probably just as old as wootz damascus, is different.  Unlike wootz, pattern welded damascus is a combination of steels forged together and processed to produce contrasting elements.  These contrasting elements give the steel its swirled appearance.   In the knife world, high end blades often have pattern welded elements as a sign of craftsmanship and a bit of luxury.  Such luxury exists here.  

Fit and Finish: 2

Will's work on the Shaker was top notch.  The Gist is as good or better than the Shaker.  Every line is considered and every shape is perfectly cut.  The tension on the clip is fantastic, something that many pens seem to be lacking (at least for me and my dress clothes).  The threading on the cap is tight and smooth with zero slop and the two pieces fit together very well, just like they did on the Shaker, though, given the difference in material its hard to see the difference. 

Carry: 2

The clip, as I just mentioned, is remarkably good--not too tight and not too loose for use in dress clothes.  If you are jeans person it might be a bit snug.  The milled barrel does ad a bit of grip too.  That said I would not change a single thing about this pen in terms of carry.  Its light, discrete and the ribbing will work to hide dings and scratches especially on metal versions of the Gist.  

Appearance: 2

With a pen as plain as this, no swirling acrylic or blinged out sparkles, its the contrast of simple and complex that give the Gist its powerful appearance.  The damascus finial is especially captivating, seemingly shifting in appearance at all times.  Here it is in direct sunlight--almost gold and gleaming:

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and here it is indoors--bold and contrasting:

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I am a man that likes the spare look of the Sinn 556i, so I don't need the glitz of a Mont Blanc.  But the Gist's appearance is eye catching enough for someone that does like MBs.  I showed a pen friend of mine, a man with dozens of MBs, the Gist, and he was taken by its looks.  That is an impressive feat--works for minimalists and for bling folks.  Great job Will. 

Durability: 2

The materials here aren't "will it blend" tough, like some of the pens I have reviewed (Tuff Writer), but they are sufficiently durable for normal use.  I probably wouldn't use this pen as a police officer on the side of the road in the middle of winter, but for non-extreme note takers this is well beyond strong enough.  

Writing Performance/Refill: 2

14K gold Bock nib.  Thanks, that's all you need to know. 

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Okay, maybe not, but really that is a good combination of features.  I really like the nib here as did all of my coworkers who tried the pen.  Its a fine, which is smaller than I prefer, but even with the needle tip, it was still glass smooth.  I found there was little to no bloom or excess ink.  Its not as clean a nib as my VP, but it is still pretty darn nice and a superb writer.  

Balance/In Hand Feel: 2

Its not right to say that the pen danced across the page, but "glided" is not much of an exaggeration.  This is a pen that has a sublime sense of balance, thanks in part to the strategically placed bits of steel.  The section is very inviting and the whole pen, despite the ribbing, is very comfortable.  

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I am not sure how else to describe this so I will tell you what one of my non-pen friends said: "Oooo...this is so nice.  It feels JUST right."  Yep, JUST right.

Grip: 2

Its not the space ray gun look of many of the more crudely finished machined pens on Kickstarter and elsewhere, but the ribbing is effective.  The Gist has a very fine texture around the section and you never have the feeling that it is about to slip away.

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Fortunately, you also never have the feeling that its rubbing your fingers raw.  Overall, the feel and look of the section is just superb. 

Barrel: 2

Other than its damage hiding properties and superior balance, there is not much here.  But again, that is the design idea of the pen--a simple, elegant fountain pen.  So not much here is actually quite a complement.  Gilded pen fans, look elsewhere.

Deployment Method/Cap: 2

Try as I might through a week of stressful writing, the cap was never lost, the clip never wiggled, and it posted each and every time with ease.  The threading, as I mentioned before, is quite good.  

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Simply put, I love the cap, and this from a card carrying member of the We Hate Pens with Caps Club.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT


Go back this pen.  Its amazing.  If it is your first fountain pen, you will be very happy, at least until you try to find another pen that is its equal.  My pen friends and non-pen friends alike loved it.  I enjoyed using it every time I wrote with it.  It is superbly made, expertly designed, and very functional.  Its a very close call between this and my VP as it which I think is better.  It smokes a lot of the pens in its price range, murdering things like the Sagaris.  Decked out as it is here, the pen is in the same price range as the VP and they are comparable in virtually every performance criteria I could think of.  It literally is a toss up.  And a toss up with a perfect pen, means the Gist is also a perfect pen.

This is Will's second product I have reviewed and the second perfect score.  This might be the beginning of something very special.  Cal Ripken streak special.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Gamble Made Gatekeeper Review

Somewhere along the line to Internet and Pocket Frosting Godhood, Peter Atwood probably looked around his workshop and thought "This is an awful lot of work..."  But that thought didn't stop him and Atwood iterated on his designs over and over and over again until he arrived at where he is today--making some of the most superb, useful, and sought after one piece multitools in the world.  I have never doubted their superior design or finish, just their pricing.  Focus and iteration are key in making great pieces of gear.

And Gamble Stampfli has done the same thing with the gear dangler/pocket hook.  I have reviewed Gamble Made stuff before and while it was not the ideal thing for me, I could appreciate the clever design and the excellent craftsmanship.  His latest dangler/gear organizer, which went live on Kickstarter last week, is the Gatekeeper and it is, frankly, the only dangler or gear organizer that I have really liked.  The hook (or in this case, the non-hook) is that the dangler is a carabiner.

Here is the product page.  Here is the Kickstarter.  There are no reviews or videos.  Here is the review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary: Not strictly necessary, but one damn fine piece of pocket frosting.

The design of the Gatekeeper is pretty simple--its a carabiner with holes at the bottom, but Gamble's style is something different.  He has always made things with details and flourishes and the Gatekeeper is his most lavish and complex design.  Gamble's gear reminds me of brogue shoes (oh and by the way, fuck you Dan and Andrew Lang...I am falling down the shoes rabbit hole and I blame both of you a-holes) and while I am normally a fan of minimalism, I am willing to accept that not everything needs to look like an Apple product.

Fortunately for us Gamble's flourish are not just cool looking, they are functional.  The inclusion of thumb studs on the carabiner gate is quite useful and makes hooking and unhooking much easier.  The spring in the gate is also very nice, snappy but not crazy hard to pull.  Even the flourishes are helpful in lightening the overall design.

The fit and finish on the prototype is incredible, truly great.  There are, as you can see from the product page, a ton of parts and all of them are perfectly finished and the design is actually quite pleasant to hold in the hand and fidget with.  In fact, it was so pleasing to the hand that I thought I lost the prototype only the find it in my five year old son's room.  He loves to play with it as much as I do--flicking the gate open and watching it snap shut.  There are no rough edges here.

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Latched on to a pack, like I have used it most of the time, the Gatekeeper functions as an awesome, truly awesome carabiner.  I have laced a few things through the holes at the bottom, keys and the like and they work well.  This would be a VERY nice tool keychain hub.

I am not sure if this is a hidden feature or not, but I found the Gatekeeper to be a very effective pair of metallic knuckles:

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Gamble...is this something you intended?

I am certain that this is not a necessity, but its interesting design, its evident craftsmanship, and its fidget friendly nature makes something I really like.  Its pocket frosting, no doubt, but its not offensively so, like, say a Cobalt bead in the same of an octopus.  The price, on the Kickstarter early bird, $75, is fair for the handmade nature of the item, but I can see how someone would find it steep.  The fact that the Gatekeeper is compatible with a host of other Gamble made products is a boon, especially if you have gone down the dangler route with him in the past.

Not everything needs to be purely useful to be enjoyable and the Gatekeeper is one of those things.  In a world of things like the glass octopus from PDW and a million animal OPMTs, the Gatekeeper seems sensible and practical.  Its not an essential, but it is quite a nice bit of pocket frosting that actually functions.  Go check out the Kickstarter.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Angels on the Head of a Pin

Few things prompt me to groan more than the combination of the following words: knife plus Instagram plus controversy.  I feel like this is about as newsworthy or important as which celebrity with famously awesome abs is kissing another celebrity or what slutty former-ex-starlet crashed her car drunk or showed her snatch accidentally at some red carpet affair.  But this controversy is interesting because it illustrates where we are in the gear world right now.

Here is the nature of the row.  

Liong Mah contends that the Geoff Blauvelt produced a knife, the Switch, that is a copy of his knife, the Remedy.  For those that don't follow the knife community's characters, let me give you some background. 

Geoff Blauvelt, who was a guest on GGL, started out as a knife modifier and eventually made the switch to being a knife maker.  His first knife, the Tanic was a huge success, and still to this day, one of the more original looking knives.  Geoff's process involves design, production, and finish of batches of knives, models, produced to Geoff or the customer's liking.  Geofff does use some mass produced parts--screws and pivots--and he has some parts made for him--the handle scales and lockbars.  He has produced a few knives with mostly handmade parts, but by in large he is using off the shelf fastners and pivots combined with produced to spec parts with lots and lots of hand finishing and detail work.  Geoff earned an audience through his excellent YouTube videos that discussed his knife modifying and his opinions on the knife world.  Geoff's talents have allowed him to work as a full time knife maker for more than two years.  Since going full time, he has focused his media efforts on Instagram where he has a large following.  His knives routinely sell for more than $1,000 on the secondary market and he has been very good at following trends in materials like the use of mokuti, though he has not produced a large number of knives with exotic blade steel, opting for more tried and true steels like N690 (which he used on his Tanics).  Geoff's reputation is quite good.  His original customs had some issues with fit and finish, but he has both improved substantially and also taken good care of his customers that encountered problems.  He has one production collaboration thus far, a friction folder with Boker.  He has not produced a midtech as of yet.  I have found Geoff to be very generous with his time and very knowledgeable about knife design, making, and construction.    

Liong Mah is a bit more high profile (maybe not on Instagram...).  He is exclusively a knife designer.  He has produced collaborations with a vast number of custom makers and he has had many designs purchased and produced by production companies including CRKT and a number of high end Chinese makers.  His designs are very complex and in some cases eccentric.  Overall, the Eraser was my favorite Mah design.  The recent releases of the Remedy and other knives mark something of a departure for Mah, designing knives for production by a company that he sells directly.  All reports have been fantastic regarding the design and fit and finish on these knives, including the Remedy.  Personally, I have dealt with Mah via email and Instagram and he has been nothing but nice.  Reports within the industry indicate that he is creative, thorough, professional, and above all pleasant to deal with. 

Mah and Blauvelt have collaborated before and that design, the Ace, was especially nice.


Since then Blauvelt produced the Switch and Mah the Remedy.  

Here is the image comparing the two posted on Geoff's Instagram this week:


The top knife is the Remedy and the bottom knife is the Switch

They both look very similar, but I don't think this is necessarily theft or copying.  My opinion as to why has two parts.  

First, I think we are in a space where angels on the head of pin comes into play.  The trend, one that I feel is overdone, of titanium framelock flippers leaves very little room for experimentation, especially in the general purpose knife.  You can't REALLY vary the blade shape--karambits don't have mass appeal.  You can't do much with the handles other than cover them or anodize them.  There is just not that much variation possible.  And so, when there is superheated market and dozens if not hundreds of designers you are very likely to have two folks, independent of each other, design very similar knives.  Now, if there is some evidence of wrongdoing, that changes the whole thing, but to my knowledge there isn't.  More than anything, this incident points out just how overdone the titanium framelock flipper really is.  

Knife designers and makers here is the message: Enough already with the titanium framelocks.  If you keep making stuff to sell to people and their tastes are conditioned to like only one thing, eventually you will run out of customers.  If, instead of driving a trend into the ground, you innovative and persuade folks they want something different or something they haven't thought of (a la Steve Jobs and the iPad) maybe this kind of shit won't happen.  

Second, and let's just call this opinion part of a larger body of knife knowledge called Nowka Knows (imparted to me via emails, podcasts, and a guest spot on GGL from Jim Nowka), the idea of similar looking knives produced by different sources is a very old thing in the knife business.  It used to be that there were patterns--Barlows and Peanuts and Canoes and Congress--and the knife makers, Schrade, Case, Queen, and others, used to informally take turns producing them.  One year Case would drop its take on the Barlow and Queen would do a run next and so on.  The knives were the same in appearance, but the difference came in the choice of steels, handle materials, and fit and finish.  And the weird thing is that no one at the time thought it was copying because these patterns were essentially public domain, not some proprietary design.  And that system worked very well for a very long time, ending only when American labor became expensive compared to offshore labor.  

This has two parts--first, its only now in our hyper litigious age (let me take some responsibility for this as I am a lawyer--from me to society: I am sorry for all the dumb lawsuits filed by a-hole attorneys) that we conceive of knife designs as intellectual property.  And I think there is some merit to that, which is a topic I'll explore another time, but there is also merit to the other system, of shared resources.  Its not like these companies were friends.  They were vicious competitors that bought each other and put rivals out of business. But we all too often think our present age has the only possible answer and the truth is that the logic of capitalism encourages, but does not demand, our modern conception of intellectual property.  The shared system of the pattern era worked just as well within the logic of the same capitalist system.  

And secondly, also part of Nowka Knows, very little of what we think of as new designs or exclusive designs are either.  Knives have been made by people for millions of years and the formula isn't that complicated--sharp edge plus handle.  There are only so many ways to operate within that formula and have your knife be totally unique.  Michael Walker is often credited with inventing the liner lock, but he will be the first to tell you that someone else had the idea and registered it with government authorities in the 19th Century.  Walker tweaked the design and made it workable, but it was not a blank slate invention.  With such a simple task and so few parts, very few if any "new" knives are truly new.  

In the end, I don't think there was wrongdoing by anyone.  I think, instead, this incident points to the need for custom makers to vary their offerings and make things other than titanium framelock flippers.  I also think our belief that everything that is unfamiliar is new is silly.  Its been done before and a hundred years from now someone will do it again and claimed they invented it.  And it might be that they were unaware of the earlier model, but their lack of awareness doesn't mean it didn't exist. 

Bottom line: no evidence of theft, copying or stealing, neither are particularly new and goddamit we need some new custom designs besides titanium framelock flippers.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Difference between Acceptable and Good

As we move into the second wave of the Golden Age of Gear (boy did I get it wrong...have you seen Northwood Knives' Everyday Barlow?  Go through the link to the right, please!) the issue of acceptable gear becomes more important than ever.  The EDB is a perfect case in point.  In 1095 this was acceptable.  With CPM-154, well, holy moley.  And look how gorgeous the EDB is:

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If you had an infinite amount of money you wouldn't need to read reviews--you could just buy whatever you wanted or just have something made to your specifications.  Likewise, if you have no money, you have no need for reviews because you can't afford anything.  But if you are in the middle, especially if you are on the far end from wealthy like me (curse you daycare!), then reviews matter.  And it matters how you spend your money.

After reviewing the Helle Didi Gigalu I began thinking about why that knife seems so bad.  The reality is that it is not a bad knife.  In fact, its far above acceptable.  Its just not competitive.  And that's a big deal.  As we are treated to ever more amazing delights in the Gear World, competitive moves further and further away from acceptable. 

This is all a long winded way of saying this--we could get by with a lot of things, things that us gear snobs look down on.  We could, for instance, probably get by with any Case knife found at a Big Box or farm supply store.  Unlike Gerber, which is equally widely available, Case has a much better track record in terms of recalls.  Gerber, as a whole, is probably below what I would consider acceptable.  Case, on the other hand, isn't.  Case knives are quite acceptable.  They are thin, sharp, sturdy, and if you take care of them, will last a long time.

But for the same price as a Case you get can something much better than just acceptable.  Would you rather have a Case Copperlock or a Dragonfly II in VG-10?  Set aside the aesthetic issue associated with traditional and modern knives, and just look at the steel.  What if Case sold the exact same knife, one with Tru Sharp and one with VG-10, which would you choose?  That's not a tough call and I, for one, don't like VG-10 all that much.   

And so it is elsewhere.  You can get a nice steel nib like on my Scheaffer Sagaris, but really the gold nib on the Vanishing Point is almost incomparably better.

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That's an issue of price, but frankly, the gold nibbed Vanishing Point is probably five or six times better even though its just twice the price.  Its even worse in the flashlight world.  I didn't give the S1 a perfect score largely because I disliked the lack of a Hi CRI emitter.  I know it sacrifices a few lumens, but the difference at 500 lumens is barely perceptible.  The bigger problem is this--the D25AAA has a Hi CRI emitter and runs $30.  For a $50 light not to offer it as an option is just silly.

And so we arrive at a place where I think it makes sense to complain about (or more pointedly, to critique) acceptable stuff.  I thought the Gigalu came up short in comparison to something like the American Knife Company Forest Knife.

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It was not really all that close, even though the Gigalu is definitely acceptable.  Its why I feel like it is okay to say something like "The BK9 should really run 3V."  I know Ethan Becker's position on steel is correct, metallurgically speaking (there are lots of good steels and fewer good heat treats), but this is not a question of acceptable steels, but whether something is worth my money.  This is not an issue of what works out in the woods--both work fine, but what is the best way to spend my money.  Put another way--why settle for 1095 in an hard use application when 3V is available for an insignificant increase in price?  1095 is definitely fine in a chopper, but 3V is simply better and the price increase is small compared to the increase in performance.

There are instances in which newer is definitely not better, and that is a different argument than the one I am making here.  For example, I much prefer the grinds of traditional knives over the vast majority of the grinds of modern knives (the Dragonfly II notwithstanding).  Instead I am merely pointing out that it is not mere snobbery that we reject things like Tru-Sharp steel and insist on Hi CRI emitters.  This is the sign of progression and healthy development in the gear world.  After all, we don't TECHNICALLY need power steering but no car company of a significant size makes a car without it.  Its not laziness or snobbery--its the result of a thriving and competitive marketplace.

So when some crusty booger at a knife show scoffs at you because you "need" some fancy powder steel in your knife, don't feel bad.  Its not irrational or bandwagonning a trend.  Its about being reasonable with the money you spend.  Why settle for less when more is available at the same or slightly higher price?  Acceptable is just that, good is more, and right now goodness abounds.

Friday, October 9, 2015

CRKT GSD Review

The GSD has been an exceptionally difficult knife to test and evaluate.  I have the review sample in for more than two months and each time I think I have figured this knife out, I have to go back to the drawing board.  The reason for all of this indecision is because there are a few areas where the GSD is an great knife for the money and a few areas where I strongly dislike the production choices CRKT made.  My big hurdle here is that most of these drawbacks are based solely on my personal opinion.  

If you have read this blog for a while there are things you know I just hate, though I am willing to concede that some of those pet peeves are just my own opinion.  In the past I tried to review things from a more objective point of view, saying things like "I don't like X, but the majority of users will."  That sort of review never works well.  First, I don't know what the majority of users will like.  I can guess at it, but invariably guessing can go wrong.  Second, I don't think it is useful for you the reader to have a wishwashy opinion.  If you go to some of the shill sites you see this kind of language all of the time.  Andrew Lang and I talked about it on this episode of GGL.  Its a way of couching, so that the writer can explain a flaw that is evident to everyone and then cover up it so that the review or comment doesn't appear too negative.  That sort of bullshit is not what I do.  I am not good at it and I think it is deceptive.

That said, taking a more subjective approach to a knife with as polarizing a feature set as the GSD can make the overall review seem much more negative than it should be.  Oh well.  I'd rather the review appear negative but clear than some mushmouthed version of the product literature.  But this deliberation is why it has taken so long.

Here is the product page. The CRKT GSD costs $63.95. Here is a forum review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the GSD, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary: Charles Dickens EDC--it was the best of times and the worst of times. 

Design: 1

No aspect of the knife better captures my confused sentiments than the design.  This is a truly gorgeous knife.  Its aethestic attention to detail (such as carrying the line of the swedge into the handle) is really first rate.  And its not just little touches.  The overall look of the knife is quite beautiful--clean, with a confidence that every line matters.  This is a pushback, and an effective one, against the bling blades like the ZT0999.

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But it is not all good.  This knife is exceptionally thin for its size (which is good), but it is also exceptionally heavy and very tall.  The  heft comes from the unmilled stainless steel handles.  I know there is marketing data that shows people equate heft with quality (this is why Bang and Olufsen made their remotes out of zinc), but when you make products for an enthusiast crowd, that sort of trickery isn't necessary.  The weight is exceptional for a knife with a blade this long.  But that's only half the problem.  The  height of this blade is just bonkers.  It feels like you have a tradepaper back in your pocket.

Bang--this knife is 5.8 ounces. The blade:weight is a wretched .57.  No one will confuse this with the Al Mar Ultralight Hawk.  The blade:handle is .76 which is awesome (and a sign that Mah really knows how to design knives).  This is the same as the SOG Flash I, a notably good knife in this one aspect.

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Fit and Finish: 2

Fit and finish is simply superb. The blade is centered, the satin finish is quite nice, the chamfering is good.  Everything is very, very good.  The Taiwanese OEM is really quite capable.  The lockbar, however deserves special mention.  Look how tightly and cleanly it is cut:

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I have had customs (Bob Dozier customs) that didn't have a lockbar this well made.  Everything is just snug, tight, and clean.  And it is not just surface beauty.  I'll go into more below, but the well made lockbar is actually one of the best framelocks I have used.

Grip: 2

The knife does very well in the hand thanks to well placed jimping, the ample chamfering of the scales, and a nice, but not over done index notch.

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Its not great, merely very good.  My one small ding is that the clip can, in some instances, get in the way.  Not a big deal, but a noteworthy one.

Carry: 0

Yikes!  There are three problems here: the height of the knife, the weight of the knife, and the positively awful pocket clip.  I'll detail more on the pocket clip below, but this knife is just too big in the pocket for what you get in terms of blade length.  It is the inverse of the Paramilitary 2--a small(ish) knife that carries like a big knife.  That's not the way things should be.  And worse than three independent problems, these three problems play into each other--the ill-fitting clip and the weight of the knife mean that the knife sloshes around in the pocket, even when clip to your pants.  Ugh.

Steel: 1 

AUS-8.  Nothing to see, move along, move along.  
 
Blade Shape: 2 

The shape of the blade, aside from the extra wide swedge, is a classic drop point and it is very good.  Liong Mah, aside from the focus on looks, does blade shapes very, very well.  I have yet to see a Mah designed knife that did not have a good, useful blade shape.
 
Grind: 2 

The grind is quite good. It is a high hollow grind that allows for real slicing, something you wouldn't expect from a knife this heavy.  I would note that the blade is not sharpened all the way to the edge, which is surprising because the knife have a true ricasso.  That's not a big deal though, more of an aesthetic thing.
 
Deployment Method: 1 

IKBS is awesome.  CRKT really nails their flippers.  So why a 1?  Well, the placement of the flipper tab itself is quite awkward.  I'd like to have some real estate on the spine of the knife to approach the tab and here you get nothing.  See the picture above under "Fit and Finish".  That's not a big deal though.  The other issue is that this is a surprisingly lazy flipper.  Its right on the border of needing a wrist flick.  It is almost there, sort of like a Hinderer, but not quite as bad.  Together they are worth a point.

Retention Method: 1

Sculpted clips suck.  They are very good for collectors or Jim Skelton, but for folks that use their knives, for folks that take their knives in and out of their pockets, they are almost always bad.  They are bulky, lack the spring tension to really hold a knife in place, and they tend to get in the way more during use.

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But this is not just a sculpted clip--its mediocre one.  In the shot above you can see that the clip doesn't actually contact the handle.  I assume this was done because the clip lacked the springiness to open on thick material.  This is objective evidence that these clips don't work.  A spring (stamped) clip would have been 100% better.  As it is, unless you are wearing sweat pants, this thing will move on you.  Even jeans aren't thick enough.

Lock: 2

For all the crapiness of the clip, the lock is amazing.  There is zero stick (one factor is that the lock isn't titanium, a stickier metal), the action is smooth, the lock up is 100% perfect, and when locked there is zero bladeplay.  I have had many, many knives, some handmade, that did not lock up this nicely.

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All of that fancy machining makes a difference in performance and here is one example.  Very, very good CRKT.

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

This knife is very definition of the unrepresentative average.  If you can handle heavy knives, you'll love the GSD.  Its main flaws don't matter to you.  The only thing I think everyone will dislike is the stupid clip (actually it is a pocket hook).  But there are many things everyone will like--the lock, the look, and the slicey grind.  

In the end, I liked the GSD, but was always bothered by it.  It was like that friend you look forward to spending time with but a half hour into your lunch with them you are ready to go your own way.  Its a good and pretty knife with a few pretty substantial flaws.  I think the score is correct, but I have reworked it a bunch, going as high as a 17 and as low as 13.  In the end, looking at other gear that received a 14 I think its is the right score. 

Competition

Here is why I think the 14 is correct.  The SOG Mini Aegis is just flat out better.  It is a similar size and has a similar blade shape, but it weighs two ounces.  It is substantially better than the GSD.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

CRKT GSD Overview

Boy, was my first GSD overview video terrible.  It was 42 seconds long and despite that small timeframe I made two mistakes, on the country of origin and the steel.  So I deleted the video and posted a better one with more information.  The GSD is an interesting knife to evaluate, so look for the review at the end of this week.  Until then, here is the video overview:


Friday, October 2, 2015

Olight S1 Baton Review

In evolutionary biology, scientists long wondered why the chimpanzee and the human, separated by very little in terms of genetic makeup, were radically different in terms of intelligence.  As it turns out, the differences, though small individually, add up to make a huge impact when taken together.  An increase in brain size, an emphasis on different brain structures, an increase in height and a different posture, among other things, add up to a massive difference between the chimp and the person, even if we share a lot of our DNA.

And so too with the S1 when compared to the S10.

The S1 is a dramatic improvement over its predecessor, the S10 Baton.  The S10 was a good light, not a great one, but the S1, with its handful of modest upgrades, is a great light.  That is, like the human and the chimp, even though the changes are small, the combined impact is dramatic.  The size reduction, the modest improvement in the specs, and the TIR optic all together take this light from being a good production light to one of the very best. It does lack some of the elite features other lights have, such as a Nichia 219 emitter (come on Olight, you have to see the trend in the market) and crazy runtimes, but short of those two things, the S1 has everything you need to make it a great light.

Here is the product page. The Olight S1 Baton costs $50. This is the first written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the S1, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money and going in the Gerstner Chest!):

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Here is my video overview:


Twitter Review Summary: Evolutionary awesomeness

Design: 2

This thing is tiny.  I mean TINY.  Here it is in my medium glove (and distinctly non-lawyerly hands...I was splitting wood for the dark cold New England winter):

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It's older brother, the S10 was compact, but it wasn't this small and the difference is huge.  This light is much more like the Aeon in the pocket than it is the S10.  The 15% or so reduction in size doesn't SOUND like a big deal but it is.  The light goes from being a clip or pocket carry to a coin pocket carry light and is huge--it gives you a whole pocket to use unimpeded.  

The other major change, which makes the size reduction possible, is the TIR head and that too is amazing.  I will leave the beam pattern specifics to the category below, but the overall feel and look of the light is dramatically improved by switch from a reflector to an optic. 

The blue anodizing is nice because it is, well, my favorite color.  It also happens to break up the black monotony of the light, a dash of color to accent everything important--the head and the switch.  The labeling is a bit garish, but who really cares.

As a light on paper or in CAD, the S1 smokes it.  This is a perfectly sized and shaped EDC torch.  

The performance ratios are good, as you can imagine given the S1's Liliputian dimensions.  The total lumens output is 28,800 (80 lumens for 2,400 minutes) and is found on medium using CR123as (note that in a weird turn, the light does much better, both in terms of runtime and lumens using primaries instead of rechargeables).  The lumens to weight ratio (500:1.65 ounces) is 303.  Both are pretty staggering.  This is an amazing amount of firepower for a light this small.

Fit and Finish: 2

One of the most frustrating aspects of reviewing production flashlights is their widely inconsistent levels of fit and finish.  Nitecores have been universally wretched.  47s and Eagletac have been decent to very good.  Thrunite, Surefire, and HDS have all been superior.  The S1 falls into the category of the latter.  Its not as robust as a Surefire or an HDS, but every part is well-machined and all come together snugly.

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And its nice to know that with all of the doodad-ification (yes, linguistics researcher from the year 3121, this is the first instance of the word doodad-ification being used) of torches, Olight remembers that tailcaps need to be flat.  Remember the Jetbeam Raptor--what a dumb way to machine a tail cap.

Grip: 2

The ratio is there--the magic number between the length and width of the light.  But more so there is the knurling and the excellent hex head.

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Taken together these all make for a grippy and great light, despite the small size.

Carry: 2 

You might be looking at all of my pictures and thinking--Where the hell is the clip?  Gone.  The clip is wretched.  Its a friction fit clip, but given its size and the size of the light it hardly ever stays in place. So why does the S1 get a 2?  Because without the clip it is the perfect size to drop in a coin pocket and forget about it until you need it.  Its the same reason the Aeon scores well here. Just a bit of a decrease in size and all of a sudden you have a world beater in terms of carry.  This is why the S1 is so good--evolutionary upgrades.  Also, with a light this small you really don't need a clip.

Output: 2 

I have mentioned this before--Quickbeam's (aka Flashlight Reviews) flashlight design dilemma: small size, high brightness, long runtimes, choose two.  Well, Doug, the dilemma is clearly no longer an issue.  At a true 500 lumens, the S1 is amazingly bright for a light of its size.  Its probably 10% bigger than the Aeon and it is 500% brighter.  That's a big deal.  I am not a lumens whore by any means, but with the S1 you get so many in such a small package it is just impossible to ignore.  Why carry an 18650 light when you get this much output in a body the size of your thumb (and what is with everyone comparing lights to digits?  I get that it is convenient, but none of them are the same size...I digress).  Sinner's Tri-EDC is bigger and brighter, probably proportionally so, but other than that firebreathing dragon I am hard pressed to think of something so bright and so small. 

Runtime: 2 

And the second part of the flashlight design dilemma is also dead.  The runtimes here, even on primaries, are crazy.  I imagine that the number for the high is a cumulative one as an hour and half at 500 lumens would probably render the S1 into a puddle of molten aluminum, but still its impressive. I would note that the low should have a longer runtime.  I am not going to set the bar at Muyshondt-levels, but Olight could squeeze some hours out of the moonlight mode if they wanted to.  Its not a big deal, but I feel like I have to mention it.

Beam Type: 2 

Boom! Almost all flood.  I like lots of flood in my EDC lights, but some folks don't.  The spill is almost non-existent here, so be aware.  Compared to the two high achievers here--the HDS Rotary and the king of the beam, the McGizmo Haiku, the S1 looks like it has no reflector or optic at all, but compared to more pedestrian lights, its not crazy.  The "2" here is definitely a personal preference. If you need throw, you probably should look elsewhere.  But to be fair to the S1, this isn't a throw light and using that way is like using a hammer to make an omlet--its possible, but really messy.

Beam Quality: 2

I have gone back and forth on this score.  I want a Nichia 219b or some other Hi CRI emitter in all of my lights.  If you are going to bother to see at night, why not have it look like it does in the daytime?  Olight missed a big opportunity here.  Nichia emitters aren't expensive--the Eagletac D25AAA has one and runs less than $30.

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That said, the tint here isn't offensive, like early Preon purple.  Its just that it could be better.  But a score of "2" doesn't equal perfect or the best, merely excellent.  And here the rest of the beam pattern is so clean, so silky smooth, that I am okay with ignoring the less than the best tint. But Olight this is the place to improve--that and adding a recharge feature.  If you do that, well, geez....

UI: 2

Marshall Hoots of Going Gear helped Olight design the clicky UI and the result is an amazing interface, one that convinces me that clickies aren't dead.  I had long ago written them off as second tier, but thanks to simple and intuitive controls, I now think it is possible to make a flashlight with a clicky and have it compete with UIs like a selector ring or the Aeon's version of a twisty.

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But there is more than just ease of use, Olight included what I think is a flashlight first--a sleep timer.  You can program the light, using just the clicky, to go off at one of two selected time intervals.  Its kind of gimmicky, but when you add this interesting (but maybe not terribly useful) feature to an already superb UI, its going to scoring well.  

Hands Free: 2

The magnetic tail cap was the masterstroke feature of the S10 and here it is still very good.  It is a feature that has spread somewhat as lights like the D25AAA have magnetic tail caps.  Needless to say, the magnetic tail cap is a great feature.  It provides you with the ability to stick the light basically anywhere there is ferrous metal.  In particular I found it useful to stick it on the screws of a light switch plate.  In a power outage, this could be a great way to guide people from room to room. 

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The light's hex collar and the side switch make the S1 stay put when you put it down on its side.  The light's diameter makes it decent between the teeth, which is never advisable but always something people do.  

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

The Olight S1 Baton is not a perfect light.  I want a better clip and a Hi CRI emitter.  But it is an amazing light, definitely the best regularly produced production light on the market (the MBI HF-R is better but not really regularly produced or readily available).  The S1 bests the Peak Eiger, especially if you are comparing them out of the box.  The ability to hit highs of 500 lumens in a light this size with runtimes like the S1 has is truly groundbreaking.

Evolution is a complex process, in the natural world and in product development.  And its often times hard to see incremental improvements.  This is most obviously true in the flashlight world where the breakneck pace of emitter improvements moves the bleeding edge forward probably once every three months.  What, in actual practical terms, is the difference between an XML and an XML-2 emitter?  But every once in a while a evolutionary improvement will be one that is obvious.  The difference between an enteledont and a pig is pretty huge, even though they are closely related.  And here, the S1 is a tremendous upgrade from the S10.  Its smaller, brighter, and just better.  The size difference is quite important as it makes the light vastly easier to carry.

In the end, the S1 is a simple and whole hearted recommendation.  This is a damn good light and about as good as you will find in the production world.  Go buy it.  Its amazing.  

Competition

Compared to the fat, clunky Fenix PD22, the S1 is vastly superior.  In fact, its probably time to update the Readily Available Benchmarks as the PD22 is not all that great.  This means I have to buy a wretchedly overpriced light at Dick's Sporting Goods, but...If you have the choice, get the S1.