Saturday, February 20, 2016

Boker Mini Kwaiken Review with Extras

I feel like I have had my share of Kwaiken.  I bought the original Boker Kwaiken, with its exposed tip.  Then I had it modded to be a Dietz flipper (with the exposed tip taken down).  Then I bought the Mini Kwaiken.  It's informative to have so many interactions with a knife.  I feel like I can say things with a bit more certainty.

The thing is the Mini Kwaiken is a GOOD knife.  The original was not.  The original, for all its rugged micarta charms, was a fundamentally broken knife.  It's not that the tip was close to the surface of the knife--it was exposed.  I could slide a piece of paper underneath it without having the blade out.  I cut my finger a number of times (fuck you tip up carry).  It cut my pants pocket.  One of two things must be true--either this is the way Boker made it OR mine was a lemon.  Either way, this, along with other things, convince me that Boker's fit and finish is, was, and will forever be a thing of doubt.  If it was designed that way, shame on you Boker.  If it was a lemon, it was so bad it should have never passed inspection.  

All of this led me to doubt whether I should buy the Mini Kwaiken.  But I am glad I did.  This is a better knife in every way.  

Here is the product page. The Mini Kwaiken comes in two version (with more to come, certainly): titanium and G10.  The G10 version weighs a half ounce less and costs $109; the titanium version costs $119.  There are no video or written reviews yet. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Mini Kwaiken, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary:  Inching ever closer to greatness

Design: 2

Suffice to say based on the last post, I like the design.  I am really struggling with just how good it is. Burnley's eye is second to none (go follow him on Instagram and look at some of his sketches).  The Kwaiken design is somewhere between best out right now and all time great.  It seems highly plausible that this knife, this exact shape, is destine to take its place in the pantheon of great knives right by the Barlow and the Bowie.  It's that good.   


The performance ratios aren't terrible, aided by the inclusion of G10 scales, but aren't great thanks to the very high density of the knife.  With titanium scales this thing goes from "dense" to "porker".  The blade:handle is .70 which is pretty middling; the blade:weight is .92, which is also middling.  This is not a ratio champ, its a work of art...don't get to hung up on the numbers with a knife like this.

Fit and Finish: 1

Boker has had such a terrible history of fit and finish problems.  The full sized Kwaiken I had was a non-starter.  It was outright dangerous.  This is better.  The tip is still close to the surface, but it is not above it.  Centering is good and all of the surfaces are nicely finished.


The problem with the knife is that it demands a level of attention to detail that is probably just beyond what the Boker Plus line can handle.  If this was given to Kizer, Reate, or Chris Reeve, there would be no issue, but as it is, you get the sense that this knife is the limit of what is possible and the goal was just beyond that limit.  If they dipped that tip down just a smidge more, I'd have given this thing a 2.  Like I said it is not sticking out, but there is not much margin of error in the handle and even being poked once isn't fun.  If it were worse I would say that the knife is NOT RECOMMENDED, but, unlike with the original full sized Kwaiken, you really have to try to get bit.  

Grip: 2

It is surprising to say that a knife that is as stick-like as this is good in the hand.  In part this is because the scales are rounded over and they give the knife a three dimensional feel.  But it is also a commentary on how simple objects are better.  


Its not the grippiest knife in the world, but in the role of an EDC knife its plenty good enough.  I actually like it quite a bit.  

Carry: 2

The knife itself is very nice in the pocket.  It is very slim and quiet.  Its pleasingly rounded over and none of the handle edges are all that pokey. 


I didn't feel like it was fair to ding the knife twice for the near the surface tip, but if its going to bite you it will happen when you pull the knife out of your pocket.  That's when the full-sized version bit me three or four times.  In the months that I have had the Mini I have never hit the tip accidentally when reaching for it in my pocket.  I am always wary, but thus far it has been a superb pocket companion.

Steel: 1

I detest VG-10.  Its very corrosion resistant, but it is also not that good at holding an edge.  And here is the weird thing--I have never been a fan of sharpening it.  It seems like it gets sharp but only after a long time, comparatively speaking.  There are better steels out there in terms of edge retention v. difficulty of sharpening.  I actually prefer AUS-8 to VG-10, especially in a folder and for the effort it takes to sharpen VG-10, I'd prefer just about anything.  Again, its not impossible, like S90V, but the work to reward ratio is off.  

Blade Shape: 2

The blade is strikingly beautiful, just a jaw dropping elegant shape.  Researching the kaiken has convinced me that our version of the tanto is just a blocky, fat mess.  It is so much more crude than the Japanese version. 


This is clearly not a tanto, especially as we Americans see it, but it is derived from the Japanese tanto and it is quite good at slicing, whatever the genealogy. 

Grind: 2

For all of their ham-fisted imprecision and shitty fit and finish, Boker (or in this case their OEM, this is a Chinese made knife), does a decent job with grinds.  This is a high hollow grind and given how narrow the blade is, you need some serious dishing out to get to an acute edge.  Fortunately, Boker did it right and this knife slices well.  
Deployment Method: 2

I have to say, again, given Boker's history, the flipping action here is truly great.  In my experience only a few of the best production flippers have better action.  Honestly, I think this is part of the appeal of the Kwaiken.  Its fluid, almost liquid action (thanks to the IKBS pivot and a dialed in detent) and the pronounced snappiness of the flipper make it addicting to open--this ranks very high on the fidget factor scale.  


It is nice to see the jimping on the flipper tab as well.  This makes for a much, much better flipper and a much more responsive design.  Dan didn't like the flipper tab on his titanium Kwaiken and I can see why having handled this one.  Without the jimping the flipper tab shape is just to rounded off to get a good purchase.  With the jimping, the thing is perfectly sticky and lets you fire the knife open like pulling the trigger on a gun.  

Retention Method: 1

The pocket clip is serviceable, but not terribly flexible.  A thick pair of jeans challenges the clip and forget about using it on things like canvas or tin cloth pants.  I think if it was a bit longer it would give the clip more flex, but then it could impact the grip, so I am not sure if this design is the way to go.  I'd love to see a disappearing clip or a Graham style clip on the Kwaiken.  It would preserve the beautiful lines and be better than what is on the knife now. 

Lock: 2

Absolutely no complaints here.  I hate to say this, but I just prefer liner locks to framelocks.  No overextension issues, no pressure on the detent issues, just easy, reliable use.  This is an easy to engage and disengage lock with no play in any direction.  Boker's Chinese OEM is getting better. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

All told I think I have spent about $500 on Boker Kwaikens of one form or another.  In that time I think I have gotten a handle on how the knife works.  This is clearly the superior production version. I would like better steel and them to take the tip down even further (they clearly heard complaints and modded it from the full sized version).  But any way you look at it, the knife is a great blade.  Its not perfect, but it exudes character and is very fun to open.  The shape is elegant without being the least bit threatening.  This is a great knife to give someone who is interested in knives, but not a fan of bladey blades and the things they stab.  The Burnley Kwaiken is destine to become a classic and the Boker Mini is a good rendering of the form.  I like this knife a lot even if it has a few warts.  Plus, its not outrageously expensive.  A Kizer or a CRK version, with premium steel, would probably give me a heart attack given how fast I'd reach for my wallet, but this Boker version isn't bad at all.  Boker has turned a corner.  They were bound to eventually, what with this being their ninth or tenth version of the knife.  But this is the best one.  Go get one.  It can't be your only knife, but it might be your favorite to carry.  

Bonus Review:  The Full Sized Kwaiken


As smitten as I was with the look of the knife (and especially the rough micarta handles, which would work quite well on the Mini; don't worry I am sure they are coming Boker iterates on the Kwaiken like Capcom does on Street Fighter), the fit and finish was just not very good. The tip was poking out and I hit it more than once.  On one occasion it was quite bad.  I had a hard time stopping the bleeding as I was in my car at the time (what? you don't fidget with knives while your in traffic?).  I also felt like this version was a bit too dense.  It felt like a lead stick.  The Mini's density is the same, but the overall size reduction makes a difference.  Finally, the thumb plate thing just didn't work.  There was a special Blade HQ edition with a wider thumb plate and about five seconds with the stock version tells you why--this thing, even with the IKBS bearings (also found on the Mini) is damn near impossible to deploy.  Unfortunately, because of the exposed tip, I can't recommend the knife.



Second Bonus Review: The Smock Modded Kwaiken

Sometimes you take lemons and make lemonade.  Other times you make a delicious lemon meringue cake so airy and tasty that it alters brain chemistry and makes you crave the meringue like a drug.  The Smock Modded Kwaiken is that lemon meringue, and I don't say that solely because of the awesome jade G-10 scales:

Kevin's skill as a modder is top of the game.  His skill as a knife designer is right there too.  The reality is that the flipper mod done here and originated by Alex Dietz (who, apparently, fell of the face of the earth after falling behind on orders) is better than the Burnley designed flipper.  Dietz's clever innovation--exposing the rear tang by cutting off a portion of the handle--makes for a great action AND it preserves the gorgeous Kwaiken silhouette.  Kevin also took down the point and made the knife truly great.  Alas I would have kept it, but it was given away for a good cause.  I HIGHLY recommend Kevin's work and especially his version of the Dietz mod. Its great.



  1. Here's my Mini Kwaiken with Westinghouse Micarta scales and a regrind:

  2. Here's something surprising:
    My first caly 3 cf had the same problem as your full size kwaiken. I was shocked it got past spyderco qa. I returned it and bought a second one, which was perfect.

    It's good to hear the mini kwaiken is an improvement. Hopefully I'll have a chance to grab one.

    Great review(s), as always.

  3. How good would it be if Spyderco did a collab version of this knife with a non-functional SpyderHole a la Positron? I'd imagine it'd be pretty good out of Taichung.

  4. Does the clip have any hot spots, or does it help with grip since the handle is so smooth and straight?