Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Night Tree

A few years ago my Mom sent us a book for Christmas called The Night Tree.  It is a delightful children's book about an annual adventure a family has that takes them into the woods to decorate a pine tree just before Christmas.  Since getting the book four years ago, we have always done our own little ceremony, but never at night.

This year we decided to try it.  Instead of a local park, which closes at sun down, we decided to go to one our favorite hiking spots and find a stand of evergreens.  About a mile in, we found our tree and decorated it with animal food ornaments--popcorn, bird seed pressed into gelatin (in Christmas shapes), and some apple bits.  

I mention this here as a good example of why we buy and carry gear.  I am sure, by now, you can guess that I have a pretty big collection of flashlights.  Some are exotic, custom made items like the SPY 007 and others are weird and clunky mass market products like the Maglight Mag Tac.  Last night, almost every single light I had was in operation.

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My five year old son had the Eagletac TX25C2.  My mom had the McGizmo Haiku.  My dad was sporting the HDS Rotary.  My wife had the 47s Paladin.  I had a Deuter backpack filled with a portly nine month old, along with a Black Diamond headlamp and the SPY.  We were ready to go.  

This, I think, is the reason to bother with gear in the first place.  It gives you the ability to do things you normally couldn't and it opens up adventures that you wouldn't even consider.  Sure we could have used a Maglight or a plastic 2xD Everready, but it would not have been as easy or as wondrous.  With the Eagletac, my son could illuminate tree lines a thousand feet away and shine light on a nearly frozen waterfall (it was around 15 degrees out).  Never once did I worry about what would happen if someone dropped their light.  Never once did I worry if a light would run out of juice.  This is the reason to carry and own top flight stuff--it just works, gets out of the way, and lets you enjoy the world around you.  

In the scrum of acquisition we sometimes forget why we have all this stuff.  This is why--a frozen hike in the pitch blackness.  It will make a memory for me and my family we won't soon forget and though none of them even thought about their lights, I was smiling as we tromped through the frozen forest knowing that we could hike for hours if we wanted to and be perfectly fine.

This brings up a final point, one that we don't think about often.  Even with the power out, living in a city is different.  In the woods, the dark is daunting.  There is a reason it stirs our primordial fear.  When I turns out my lights and walked away from the tree we were decorating I realized what our ancestors faced--unforgiving, unrelenting isolation.  I have been on night hikes before, but never with a kid or this far from the perma-glow of civilization.  A slip and fall could be awful and terrifying.  And I also now realize why most religious impulses started out as some variation of sun worship--the Sun was the vanquisher of this deep danger and isolation.  

Remember, we acquire gear to enjoy other things, not enjoy acquiring gear. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Muyshondt Aeon Mk. III Prototype Analysis

NOTE: This is not a review because I have the prototype (along with a few other folks) and there will be two changes between the prototype and the production model: 1) the switch boot and 2) the clip.  On the proto was a bit gushy.  It will be much firmer on the production model.  Additionally the proto and all of the photos on Enrique's site show the friction fit clip.  It will be replaced by a bolt on model in the production version. 

When you start really looking at the intellectual tradition of the West, time and again you come back to Aristotle.  Virtually ever academic discipline originates or was first systematically analyzed by Aristotle.  Many of his works were state of the art until more than a thousand years after his death.  Even today, more than two thousand years later, scholars still take his work on ethics very seriously.  Many of the most influential ethics thinkers take their starting point from Aristotle.  One of my favorite public intellectuals, Michael Sandel, starts with Aristotle.

But here is crazy part of this--all of these works (or almost all of them) are really just lecture notes from Aristotle's classes.  The actual works themselves have been lost in the mists of time and what we have left are his notes and drafts.  Yes, the most influential thinker of all time is known by his notes only.  Or put another way, Aristotle's notes are better than almost everyone else's studied and considered works, matters they worked on their entire life.  It is a sad and humbling thought, a good indication of just how important and intelligent Aristotle was.  There is you and me, then there are really smart people, then there is Aristotle, way, way, way far away from us.

That long winded and rambling discussion serves to illustrate a point by comparison.  There are folks that make and design flashlights.  There are folks that do that well.  Then there is Enrique Muyshondt.

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I have had lights from the best.  They are good.  But after handling the Mk. III prototype I think it is safe to say, Muyshondt is the best.  There are no better EDC lights than those designed by Enrique.  Why do I think his lights are that good?  Because I basically conscripted him to make the Mk. II to my personal preferences (which he kindly obliged) and even with my "perfect" light in hand, I think the Mk. III is just better.  How is that possible?  Enrique is that damn good.

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As shipped the prototype is one of the best lights on the market, regardless of price, for EDC carry.  The two main flaws, the clip and the switch boot, aren't big deals at all.  Left as is, the Mk. III is as good as anything out there.  Its close between it and the S1 and the HDS Rotary, but given the option (and I am fortunate enough to be able to make this choice) I'd take the Mk. III everyday.  But that's not the light that will be on sale.  That light is better.  And then there are the high end options like Timascus and Mokume Gane.  I am not a bling person, but if I were, those would be my number one most coveted items for EDC.  Simply put, the Mk. III is the ideal EDC light.

The clicky UI is good, not better than the Mk. II's twisty, but still very, very good.  Its the same mode memory UI (L-M-H) that the McGizmo Haiku uses and it is still more than competent (though behind the oLight S1 Baton's UI).  The fit and finish is insane on this little booger.

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The machining is a step up from the Mk. II.  This means that the feel--one of perfect solidity--is intact, but this time it is accompanied by a more sophisticated look.  I would note that the tail cap area has some pointiness to it, but nothing all that bad at all.

The light is small and carries very well in the pocket.  Its smaller size lends itself well to the clicky UI (this is one way in which the clicky is superior to the staged twisty of the Mk. II).

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The beam and the output were great, with 200 lumens coming out the front for a true, do anything you need, EDC.  This isn't a search and rescue light by any means, but you know that going in.  I also liked the tint here, with a Hi CRI emitter.

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Overall, the prototype is a great light, among the best as is.  The production versions, which will come in four price ranges $295 for aluminum, $450 for titanium, $1495 for mokume gane and $1795 for timascus (and #1 seed for the pocket frosting competition at the next Olympics).  Personally, I'd opt for the aluminum, as Enrique makes it plenty tough (his old site had an image of the old Mk. I grinding through a Mag light--that is some tough coating).

Honestly, I couldn't imagine a better EDC.  For all of the S1's awesomeness (and it is awesome), this light is just better--a bit easier to use, a better emitter (for tint), and a better beam.  Its not price justified, of course, but unlike with some custom knives, you still do find superior stuff in the custom light world and this is example.  That last 10% of performance and design perfection will cost you a ton, but that is the way it always is.  Going from a Corvette to a Veyron is a huge price increase for an extra 60 or 70 mph. 

The lights are on Enrique's site right now and they aren't sold out.  The lights should ship in February or March (you can contact Enrique for more details).  If you can (or you have some Christmas money left over), go grab one.  You won't be disappointed.  You will be amazed at how often you drop it in your pocket.  It will go in one day, then rotate out the next, the back in on the third day, and suddenly you realize you haven't carried another light in two months. 

Go buy this light.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Filip De Coene Large Friction Folder Overview

This is undoubtedly one of the weirdest knives in my collection.  It is also one of the coolest.  From the great form factor and clever offset pivot to the amazing suminagashi steel, there is a lot going on despite the simple look.  Here is the overview:


Friday, December 18, 2015

Quick Hits: End of the Year Round Up

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

Northwoods Knives Everyday Barlow (product page)

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

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

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

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

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

Lumintop Tool AAA (product page)

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

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

Ontario Knives RAT II (product page)

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

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

Blackwing Palomino 602 Pencils (product page)

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

Highly Recommended, but unscored

Edgevale Cast Iron Shorts (product page)

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

NOT RECOMMENDED

Scout Leatherworks Pocket Protector (product page)

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

Recommended

Pinch One Piece Multitool (KS page)

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

The American Knife Company Forest Knife Review

First off, to all of the folks that do branding and IP and come up with names like Lunestra, Cialis, and Finasteride because all of the real word names are already trademarked, how the fuck did you miss "The American Knife Company"?  By this time you'd think every permutation of "Product + American X Company" has been taken.  But apparently not.  Congratulations to Jim Nowka for grabbing this perfect name.

Second, I would consider Jim a friend (and I hope he'd feel the same in reverse).  He has been on the podcast.  We have emailed back and forth.  I appreciate his wisdom and his know-how when it comes to all kinds of things.  Jim once told me how to remove a giant tree limb that fell on a porch without killing myself or damaging the porch.  He is a bit more to one side of the political spectrum than I am, but I have found that life is made better when your friends are diverse.  All that said, I think I can set that aside and review the Forest Knife fairly.

Here is the product page. The American Knife Company Forest Knife costs $239.95 in the high gloss black micarta, with prices that go up from there depending on the handle material. Here is a video from Chance Sanders.  Here are some thoughts about the knife from Equipped 2 Endure.  Here is a link to KnivesShipFree, where you can find the Forest Knife, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

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Here is my review sample (from Knives Ship Free and to be given away):

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Twitter Review Summary: A great user, but not for the stupid.

Design: 2

Mors Kochanski outlined the ideal fixed blade in his book Bushcraft and that knife has been made a few times. Until the Forest, the most famous iteration of the Kochanski blade was the Skookum Bush Tool (or maybe the Fallkniven H1).  Like a Munroe Sigil for tactical folders, the Skookum Bush Tool became something of a legend.  It was hard to get one, waitlists were (are) very long, and they are quite expensive for what they are.  But they had that auroa attached to them because they were the the Kochanski knife and because they were handmade.

But the Bush Tools were, reportedly (I have never even seen one in person), very blade heavy and because of their price and limited availability, not the first knife you'd like to bludgeon in the woods.  In my mind, I can't see how the Forest is anything less than the Bush Tool (but for one thing, see Steel below).  Sensitive to the balance issue, I was curious when I got the Forest what it would be like and I can tell you that this is a very balanced blade.  I have had and used it for about four months now and the design is what you'd expect from a blueprint laid out by one of the most knowledgeable knife folks in the world, adapted by another, and produced by a third (that is, Kochanski, Nowka, and Stewart for those keeping track of pronoun antecedents).  

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One note here, this is not a newb friendly design.  I would classify myself as a newb to intermediate in terms of my fixed blade skills, and I found this knife very nice to use, but the lack of a guard, the lack of jimping, and the continuous curve of the blade all make the Forest something that rewards skill and punishes stupidity.  If you want to go into the woods and thoughtlessly hack some stuff, this ain't your knife.  A Becker will serve you fine in that regard.  If you want to do some serious work in the woods, this is a masterful design.

Fit and Finish: 2

As good as the design is the execution is just as superb.  I have handled a few Bark River products now and all of them, all of them, have been uniformly exquisite.  Jim did a fantastic job choosing an OEM for his knife brand and he clearly worked with Mike on making sure everything was executed well.  Even the small details are there--the handle feels positively perfect in hand, the butt cap balances everything out very well, and there is, of course, that extra layer of "Bark River" gloss.  I am hard pressed to think of a way that the pricier Bush Tool could be better made than this.  Its possible, I guess, I just don't know how. 

Handle Design: 2

I am a huge fan of the Becker handle.  Huge.  But, in my mind, this is an equal good, but radically different design.  I have struggled with how to describe it, aside from comfortable, and in the end I come to this--the handle just gets out of the way. 

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In many knives, folding and otherwise, there are times when the handle just seems to be fighting you, getting in the way, making cuts difficult or impossible, and just being an all around pain.  Not so here.  Never once in the cutting, battoning, slashing, chopping, slicing or other work did I feel like I was encumbered by the handle.  It was a remarkable experience and one that I understood immediately on an intuitive level, but only now, as I write the review, do I understand it in a way that I can verbalize.  

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The handle is practically invisible during use, letting you cut EXACTLY how your mind wants your hand to work.  This is the first time I have had that experience.  I am sure other knives work that way too, but this is the first I have used.  

This is why, perhaps, this is not a newb knife.  It rewards skill.  If you have the idea and the muscle memory to make a complex cut, the Forest's handle lets you do it.  If you are a luddite pounding on oak, the handle won't protect you from your stupidity.  In game design and theory, better games are those that reward skill and punish thoughtlessness.  This is why Go is a better game than Rock Paper Scissors (did you know there are Rock Paper Scissor competitions?  There is some skill involved in tracking nonrandom patterns, but still...).  The Forest is like that as a knife and it is largely because of the handle design.

Steel: 1

A2 is fine.  It works well. It holds an edge forever.  But it does patina quickly.  If I am in that territory, for the price of the Forest, I want 3V.  The Bush Tool is available in 3V at a huge premium, but it too comes stock in a lesser steel.  This goes back to what I wrote about in the idea of the growing distance between acceptable and competitive.  A2 is and probably always will be acceptable, but when you are paying $250 or so for a fixed blade, 3V is something you can get.  Why not offer it here?  I know Jim is a person that likes tried and true steels, and there are few as tried and true as A2, but for me, I want 3V (or an equivalent).

Blade Shape: 2

Again like the handle, the blade shape is a skill-rewarding triumph.  Simply put, the continuous curve blade is as useful a blade shape as I have encountered.  

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Also note that but for the straight spine, the Kochanski continuous curve blade shape is the Spyderco leaf blade shape as well.  There is a reason I liked the leaf shaped blade.

Grind: 2

This is a partial convex grind.  Over the years I have been persuaded of the superiority of a convex grind and the Forest has done nothing to convince me otherwise.  The grind itself is well executed, clean, even, and razor sharp. 

Sheath Carry: 2

The handle and the blade shape are excellent, old school designs.  The sheath, however, is decidedly different and innovative and I LOVE IT.  The x-shaped belt loop allows for horizontal and vertical carry and even on long hikes (my son and I walked a few miles down and back on an abandoned railroad line with the Forest on my hip) the Forest did well.  We did a few short uphill hikes and I switched to a "scout style" horizontal carry ("scout style" is internet knife nerd speak for horizontal carry in the small of your back, great for hikes with large elevation changes and for "covert" carry; obviously I was not in the covert carry mode).  

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Its hard to imagine why the x-belt loop isn't a standard feature and it is also nice to know that Stewart, et. al. is still working on sheath designs (the magnetic sheath from the Adventurer being another display of their ingenuity and focus on pushing sheath design forward in the production world).

Sheath Accessibility: 2

As with all leather, it was stiff and tight when I got it (there is a "That's what she said" joke in there somewhere, I will leave that to Andrew Gene...).  Over time it loosened up and while its still not as snappy as kydex, its more than fine.  

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Useability: 2 (with a major caveat)

This knife can do anything you would want a fixed blade to do.  Its big enough to do some real chopping and batonning.  Its small enough and well designed enough to do some serious precision work.  But if you are an idiot, the Forest will not save you.  The lack of a guard and the current trend in choptastic use of fixed blades leads me to believe that a lot of people will slide forward on handle and cut themselves.  If you are someone that chops cinder blocks on your YouTube channel, this is not your knife.  If you have an ounce of knife sense--here you go.  

Durability: 2 

SImplicity begets durability.  This is a thick chunk of A2 with G10 on the sides.  I beat this thing into thick green slabs of oak while processing wood for winter and it laughed at me.  I ran it next to the Didi Gigalu from Helle, doing a task for task matching test for an article for Gear Junkie and the Forest creamed the European blade. While the Gigalu looked like it had been through a chipper shredder, the Forest, but for the patina on the blade, looked brand new.  It may look like a glossy magazine, but the Forest can take a beating like a Kabar Becker can.  

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

When I was a kid my Dad did a lot of woodworking projects and I would watch him.  I remember him cutting dovetails, one after another, and I thought it looked so easy.  But he would always tell me--its harder than it looks.  His task and tool were things that reward skill and punished stupidity.  The Forest is that exactly.  In the hands of someone experienced it is as capable a fixed blade as I have handled.  I can tell during use that there are things, carving complex notches and the like, that it can do, but I cannot.  In the hands of someone like Jim Nowka or an experienced outdoorsman, the Forest's simple, elegant design could do just about anything.  This is a truly great blade.  Its also worth noting that it is size is just right.  If you aren't a fan of fixed blades but want one that can do a lot, this is a great knife and a great size.  Its not a chopper, but it can do some heavy work.  Its not a camp knife but it can do detail work.  In many ways, this knife reminds me of a fixed blade Paramilitary 2.  That's a medium sized knife that carries like a small knife that runs a large blade's lock.  It can do a lot of work.  So to with the Forest.

I was worried about bias in this review, but the moment the Forest slid out of the package from Knives Ship Free I realized I had nothing to worry about.  Its hard to imagine someone using this knife and not being enthralled with it.  Its so obviously well made and so obviously well designed that even Jim's most ardent enemies, if he has any (he really is a super nice and knowledgeable guy, willing to share information and tips on just about anything), would be hard pressed to bag the Forest.

The Competition

I can't see why you'd wait the YEARS it takes to get a Bush Tool when this is readily available for less.  If you really want the premium 3V model, okay, but I don't think the difference in performance is big enough to justify the wait and price increase.  It is unfortunate for the Helle that I had them both in at the same time.  They are roughly the same price, within $70 or so dollars, and the Helle came out looking very bad by comparison.  The real competition here is other Mike Stewart made knives.  Jim and Kyle both like the small Forest a bit better, but I like this size as it flexes both up and down the knife size spectrum quite nicely.   

Monday, December 7, 2015

American Forest Knife Overview

Its been a while since I have ventured into the fixed blade knife reviews, but boy do I have an awesome blade for you--the American Knife Company Forest Knife.  It is from a new brand, American Knife Company, a company started by one of the hosts of the Knife Journal podcast, Jim Nowka.  Anyway, here is the blade:


Friday, December 4, 2015

Kizer Gemini Review

A note before I get to the review itself.  This knife was sent to me, unsolicited, as a gift from a reader, Elliot.  Elliot and I have emailed back and forth and he is a super cool dude.  This gift is really something I am grateful for and happy to have.  He told me it was because I provided good content (which I think many would debate, see the Kershaw Cryo Review and comments).  Whatever the reason, the generosity is much appreciated.  This knife, like all gifts, is going in the permanent collection.   

Kizer is 100% legit.  I think that was established by the time I reviewed my first Kizer.  Aside from some skirmish with a wholly disreputable source (so disreputable that I am not going to link to his particular brand of baloney), which is an unfortunate part of starting in any business, they have a great reputation for making good blades at a reasonable price.  They were generally non-descript, but they were good.  Now with the collaboration with Ray Laconico, they have some true winners on their hands.  My favorite of the three collabs is the Gemini, as production version of the Jasmine.

Here is the product page. The Gemini is a production version of the Laconico Jasmine.  I have had both the custom and the production knife, so it will be fun to compare the two.  The Kizer Gemini costs $170. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a comparison between the Jasmine and the Gemini.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Gemini, 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: A-mazing.

Design: 2

Ray Laconico's original design was simple and elegant.   The Kizer production version is that plus more.  Instead of slab handles we are treated to fully contoured handles. There is a lock bar overtravel on the production that was missing from the handmade version.  There is a steel upgrade (my Jasmine ran D2, this knife runs S35VN).  And there are a few nice decorative touches with the blued screws and pivot.

But the bones of Laconico's knife were really excellent.  A simple, full-flat grind and the best flipper tab shape in the business are carried over and make this knife an excellent blade.  One complaint that I have is that I think, for whatever reason, that this knife would work better as a smaller blade, even if it were just a touch smaller.  Perhaps its the simple look or just my preference for blades under 3 inches, but if this thing came in at 2.75 inches it would be perfect.  In many ways, this is the same reason I like the Dragonfly II over the Caly 3--both are truly superb designs, but there are knives that lend themselves to smaller shapes and I think the Gemini is one of them. 

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Fit and Finish: 2

Kizer's fit and finish is on par with ZT, Spyderco, and probably a bit above Benchmade.  They aren't quite in that Al Mar/GEC/CRK tier, but its not too far away.    

Grip: 2

I am especially impressed with the contouring on the handles.  It is even, rounded, and quite pleasing to the hand.  The lack of jimping here is a perfect example of why jimping doesn't matter.  Jimping is a design crutch, not a feature.  If well-thought out, a knife never needs it and the Gemini is proof of that.   

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The previous Kizer I reviewed had a massive hotspot where the clip was, but here thanks to a more shapely and better positioned clip, the knife is fine, even during high pressure use.

Carry: 2

The river rock smooth shape that is good in the hand is also good in the pocket.  Nothing whatsoever to complain about here.  I wish the knife were a bit smaller, but that's just not what this knife is and compared to other similarly sized knives, like the Kershaw Strobe, I felt that the Gemini did well when carried. 

Steel: 2

S35VN is a very good steel.  I have no complaints whatsoever and Kizer's implementation of Crucible's flagship stainless formula is as good as any.  I am not sure where the heat treat is done, but for a long time that was a stumbling block (that and shipping costs) to getting go steel on Chinese knives. That problem is fixed and the market is better for it.

Blade Shape: 2

This is a beautifully simple blade shape, more of a drop point than anything else, but the Spyderco fan in me (the small part of me that I let enjoy branding) thinks this is very close to a leaf shaped blade.  Whatever the name (and really at some point, the name of the blade shape doesn't matter), its a good one allowing for a great deal of control and precision.  

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Grind: 2

Like everything else on the Gemini, this knife is expertly ground.  The grind lines were even and clean.  I wish there was a true ricasso, but a lot of knives, great knives like the PM2, lack that.  The cutting bevel was super clean, though I wish it were a bit wider.  These two points however are nothing but nits to pick.  This is a very good grind.  

Deployment Method: 2

No production knife I have handled, including some of the craziest blades ever, has flipping action better than the Gemini.  Only the truly elite handmade flippers match its effortless snappiness.   Stunning, instantly and obviously superior to the competition, and a testament to just how good the Chinese have gotten at making high end production folders--the deployment here is first rate.

Retention Method: 2

There is the clip:

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Its simple, very much like the Spyderco Spoon clip without the flared tip.  Its plenty tight and yet it doesn't require a ton of force to get the blade in and out of the pocket.  This is, however, the one place where the custom exceeds the production knife as the very end of the handle placement of the Jasmine's clip is great.  Not a big deal, but worth mentioning.

Lock: 2

The lock functioned flawlessly.

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It opened and closed without effort.  It stayed put.  There was zero blade play in any direction.  The lockbar stabilizer really worked.  As with most things about the Gemini, there are no complaints to register with the lock.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

This is a great knife.  Probably the best blade I have reviewed or handled in 2015 (note this is true by a technicality, I reviewed the Mnandi in December of 2014 and it is a clearly better blade).  This is not a perfect knife, but it is one without major flaw or even a drawback.  I don't like its size, but its not fair to ding every knife bigger than the Dragonfly.  I also think there is some things I'd do different on the grind, but nothing that effects performance.  In all this is a great blade and a wonderful addition to the market.  Kizer has a major hit here.  Chinese made knives are for real.  The American companies better pay attention or, like with the shelves at Wal-Mart, they will be driven out of the market by foreign competition.  Setting aside jingoism for a second--knife knuts are better for the competition.  Competition and markets are inherent in the American worldview and this knife is competition for everyone--ZT, Chris Reeve, Spyderco.  If you make a blade, regardless of price or country of origin, Kizer is your competition now.

The Competition

This is one of the better productions knives out there right now.  I think it is easily in the same class as the Lionsteel G10 TRE

For me, the more interesting comparison is how it stacks up to the custom original.  First, I will tell you that my custom Jasmine had some issues.  The blade play was really crazy bad.  But I think that is better explained by the vagaries of the secondary market.  Assuming that its fit and finish was perfect, I still think the production is a better knife.  Put another way, if they were marked identically and the coloration was the same I do not think a rational person would take the custom over this knife.  Both flipped great.  The custom had a better clip with better placement.  But after that the differences all favor the production.  It has better steel, S35VN to D2.  It has a lock bar stabilizer and insert.  The custom doesn't.  The production has fully contoured handles.  The production doesn't.  I can't really think of a major benefit to the custom, other than it is made by a very talented craftsman in the US.  In short, I think I'd take the production.  Of course, outside the thought experiment I would always take the custom because I could sell it, buy the production and end up with a superior knife in my pocket along with an extra $400-$600.  I am sure Ray can make a knife superior to the Gemini.  My Jasmine wasn't one of them.  And that, my friends, is as good an endorsement as I can muster.  This knife is superior to my custom version.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Where is the Podcast?

Its on hiatus. 

A few things are going on right now.

First, my newest son has decided to be a bad sleeper.  That and the new stuff associated with my oldest going to school has made my life and my family's life very busy.  This is 90% of it.  Once that calms down I plan on coming back and doing more shows.

Second, and more of a concern for you is this--I was greatly dissatisfied with the quality of the product.  The actual guests and cohosts were awesome.  The conversations were exactly, exactly what I wanted them to be, but the technical aspects were irksome to begin with and became an outright hassle towards the end.  The sound quality was never great, but the corrupted files and misaligned tracks and all of that bullshit just killed me.  I work very hard to make sure what I bring you is worth your time.  That's what you pay me in--time.  I don't and won't ever ask for money.  I am not about to put out a tip jar.  That's bullshit.  I know some folks do, but I never will.  If you want, go through the affiliates and advertisers, but I want to make sure that what you get is 100% free, but worth your time.  Your time is valuable and while many of you were grateful and put up with some total shit sounding podcasts I was not comfortable with them being representative of what I do and what I like about the gear community.

But I am not an audio whiz.  If I were, I'd love to devote the time and resources necessary to get NPR quality sound, but this is a hobby, actually an offshoot of a hobby.  What I need is someone that can do the audio stuff for me.  Ideally, I'd like to be part of a podcast network, just send in the audio recordings, have the network folks mix them and host them.  That's probably not going to happen.  First, we aren't commercial enough for that (Edge Observer alone makes us "not commercial").  Second, a lot of the networks want some kind of content control, and that will happen only when I am dead.  I have turned away too many offers and turned down writing for too many places out of concern for my content to have that change now.  So short of a network, I'd like to hire (yes, PAY) a producer. 

If you are a network and want a great podcast delivered with advertisers and everything, so long as you edit and mix the feeds, I have your content with a built in audience, contact me.  If you are competent with mixing audio and can work on a regular schedule and want to get paid cash for your time, contact me.

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com in the usual format

If neither of these things come through look for a new podcast in April or so.  Let's just hope my littlest one decides to STTN again.  I loved the conversations we had and I am not done doing what I set out to do with the podcast--to create a informed, intelligent discussion of gear grounded in higher principles like design concepts, business and management issues, science and engineering, and, on occasion, the law.  The audience is there.  My desire is there.  The industry is willing.  It is the time and technical ability that isn't. 

Gear Geeks Live isn't done.  When I am confident that the quality is worth your time and that I can put out the podcast without me or my family suffering it will be back.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kizer Gemini Overview

As the year winds down, we are being treated to an amazing array of awesome gear.  One of the best pieces of kit to cross my review desk this year is the Kizer Gemini.  Here is an overview, with the review coming at the end of the week: