Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spyderco Mantra 1 Review

What does a USER titanium frame lock flipper look like?  And by user I don't mean a knife that is used in Instagram photos or a knife that is used like a yo-yo--something to fidget with during the slow parts of the day.  That's not use.  I also don't really care that much about a titanium frame lock flipper that is encrusted with non-precious materials that knife folks think are precious materials (timascus, carbon fiber, etc).  What would the most utilitarian, pure user titanium frame lock flipper look like?  

I think it would be the Mantra 1.

So much of what we see now is overwrought, overstylized, and just plain overdone.  I want a knife that is simple, not for a style statement, but because I want something that is easy to use and maintain.  I don't want something fifty blood grooves and a bevy of inlays because after I cut up some food there is gunk all over those "style" marks.  But, alas, that is not what the market wants and so we are treated to ever more Baroque knives.  

As such, when the Mantra 1 and 2 were announced, stealth announced, BTW, I was really intrigued.  Thus far Spyderco's flippers have ranged from head slappers with lots of design and ergonomic mistakes (see: the Southard and the Positron) to gauche custom clones (see the Rubicon).  I wanted a Spyderco flipper that had the essence of what makes a Spyderco a Spyderco--good ergonomics and high functionality.  Also I wanted something a little less trade paperback in the pocket than either the Dice or Domino.  The Mantras fit the bill.  

Here is the product page. The Spyderco Mantra 1 costs $167.97. Here is a written review. Here is a video review by the always great Epic Snuggle Bunny. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Mantra 1, 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 flipper without the frippery.

Design: 2

The Mantra 1 is an updated Delica with a flipper.  It's not a massive design leap for Spyderco.  But it is a good evolutionary step.  The thing I find most intriguing is the parts of the Mantra that are updates over the current, by now long in the tooth, Delica 4 design.  For example, there is no exposed rear tang.  Second, the awkward "bent" tip has been straightened out, making the knife look nicer, cut better, and curing the poor blade:handle.  If the knife DIDN'T have a flipper, it would be very intriguing as an iteration on the Delica.  It's also a smidge bigger than the Delica, which I don't care about one way or another, but I thought you'd like to know for purposes of completing the comparison.

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But this isn't the Delica 5, it is a flipper.  And it is a very competent design.  For me, it all starts with the shape of the flipper tab.  Done well and the rest of the design is on solid footing.  Done poorly and the rest of the design is compromised.  Here, like with most of the Spyderco flippers, the tab is excellent--the right shape and without finger grating jimping.  The hidden over travel feature is nice as is the wire clip.  All in all the Mantra is very, very good.  

I am curious about the Mantra 2, a knife with the exact same everything except for blade shape.  The blade is more like fillet knife shape and I personally like the thumb ramp Spydercos usually have.  But the slim profile of the Mantra 2 has me curious.  

The performance ratios are decent, a step up from the Mantra's forebearer, the Delica.  The blade:handle is .76 (the Delica's was .68); the blade:weight is 1.05. 

Fit and Finish: 2

This is a Taichung made knife.  Fit and finish is simple and immaculate.  The knife was perfectly centered, free of any marks, and evenly blasted on the handles.  Like all Taichung made knives I have had thus far, the Mantra 1 was technically perfect.  As a titanium frame lock it lacked the warmth and human touch that something like the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight does, but that's more of preference than a criticism.  

Grip: 2

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With a profile nearly identical to the Delica, a nicely blasted handle, and a guard formed by the flipper tab once the blade is swung into the locked position, it's hard to complain about the grip of the Mantra 1.  The nicely rounded scales and the wire clip make it better than the Delica and far above average.  I'd still like to see a finger choil, but it's not necessary, just a bonus.  

Carry: 2

Thin?  Check.  Deep carry, over the top wire clip?  Check.  Light?  Check.  The Mantra 1 has all of the stuff necessary to make it a good pocket companion.  It's just hard to find faults with such a classic shape, especially when it's one ding I had before--the lint gathering exposed rear tang--is gone. 

Steel: 2

Hmmmm....this is controversial.  M4 is a wonderful steel.  It holds an edge forever.  It gets unbelievably sharp.  It is the steel of choice for almost all BladeSport competitors (a cutting competition for money). If you look at when it was developed and see just how good it is today, years later, you realize that Crucible struck gold when they developed M4.  But it has one drawback--it tarnishes rapidly.  I don't want to say that it is prone to corrosion, because that's not fair, but if you have had M4 for while or you look at its recipe, you'll notice that corrosion resistance was not given top priority. So, in theory, I would be worried about such a large piece of it on an EDC knife.  M390 would have been a much safer choice.  But that would have driven the costs up considerably.  Spyderco wanted a relatively inexpensive steel, one they didn't have to import from Europe to Taiwan (like they would have had to do with M390), that still was relatively rare and offered insane cutting performance.  M4 fits the bill perfectly.  But still...

All of this is just forum board-style theory reviewing.  I have had a knife with M4 before, the Spyderco Air, and it was perfectly fine.  This knife was greeted by a slathering of metal protector in the form of a Tuff Cloth bath.  And I have never worried about it.  I used it and used it and used it and it has been fine.  I used it to cut grapes and cantaloupe, two sloppy wet foods, and it was fine.  I used it outdoors to make shavings for a fire and it was fine.  

Sometimes I think we get so spoiled by having such amazing stuff in this Golden Age of Gear that we are looking for flaws instead of finding them.  M4 is an amazing steel.  Treat it with a smidge of care and you will be fine.  

Blade Shape: 2

The classic Spyderco blade shape from the Delica has been refined here with a true point, instead of the snub nose found on the evergreen blade used as the basis for the Mantra 1.  This small change does two things--one, it gives you a real tip to use and two, it makes the knife's line flow all that much better.  This not quite as ugly (Spyderco ugly) as the Delica and it does much better work on fine detail cutting. 

My son hates tags on his clothes and so often I am cutting them off for him.  With the needle tip of the Mantra 1 it was easy to get very close to the seam without touching it.  Thanks to the M4 and the amazing grind I sliced right through the tags with ease, leaving behind nothing that he could feel and only a small white line where the tag used to be.

Grind: 2

If you are still unsure of the beauty and efficacy of a full flat grind, get a tallish knife in M4 and let Spyderco and Taichung sharpen it for you.  This is one of two or three best slicers I have ever had.  I love this knife's grind.  If it were not for the also-in-for-review Perceval La Francaise I would be raving like a mad man at just how good this knife is.  Unfortunately for the Mantra 1, the La Francaise's grind is otherworldly.  Here we just have excellent.  "Just have excellent" yet another sign we are in the Golden Age of Gear.  

Deployment Method: 2

This is not a silky, snappy flipper like the Kizer Gemini.  There is some resistance here, but nothing worth complaining about.  The real reason this knife is among the better flippers on the market is the shape the flipper tab.  We still haven't seen consensus form around which shape is the best, but if I had my preference, this would be it.  There is no need for jimping on a flipper tab, especially if it is shaped correctly.  We also don't need the tab to be super pointy.  The rounded over, jimping-free tab here is just great.  There is very little possibility of a non-deployment as the detent is well balanced and the thumb hole, while completely unnecessary, still works.  This gives you the option to roll open the knife if necessary to avoid attracting attention. 

Retention Method: 2

I love the wire clip Spyderco uses.  This one is a bit stiffer than the one found on the Techno (which everyone complained about but I found to be quite okay).  It rarely creates hotspots and it is quite discrete.  I am sort of surprised that one of two things has happened--either Spyderco PATENTS the wire clip or someone copies.  As it is, this is one of the better production clips out there and leagues better than the vast majority of the awful "sculpted" clips found on some higher end flippers.  

Lock: 2

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The the knife has a tiny, thin lock bar, appearances are deceiving because I have never had a single problem with it.  It's stable, easy to engage and disengage, and there is zero blade play or lock rock.  So often, the fit and finish score and the lock score are tied together because lock quality, 9 times out of 10, is a result of tight tolerances.  This is a Taichung knife and that means the tolerances are great and since the tolerances are great that means that the lock is equally great.  Only a boneheaded design decision can ruin the lockstep logic between fit and finish score and the lock score. 

Overall Score: 20 out of 20
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This is a really great user knife. It is not as embellished or luxurious as some of the titanium flippers out there, but in terms of cutting performance you will be hard pressed to find better even at a higher price.  Epic Snuggle Bunny's review of the Mantra 1 is dead on.  He nailed it when he said that the knife wasn't something that blew him away.  There is nothing here that is top of the class, hence the lack of a perfect score, but on the other hand, there is no deficiency here.  Everything is just great and works exceedingly well.  

This is about as by the numbers a knife as Spyderco could make--take Delica, make a few improvements, add a flipper...viola.  But that's not an insult.  The bones of the Delica, as dated as the actual knife is, are quite good and the changes here are all upgrades.  I like this knife a lot.  

The Competition

I had planned on doing a shootout between the TRE G10, the Kizer Gemini, and the Spyderco Positron, but the Positron was just not in the same league as those other two knives.  It had too many issues to make the shootout interesting.  Ideally, I would get three knives of roughly the same price and size with very similar scores and the Positron hit on two of the three failing on the most important point--quality.  But the Mantra 1 is easily better than the Positron and fits nicely into that trio.  So expect to see a mid-priced titanium frame lock flipper shootout between these three knives in the very near future.  

7 comments:

  1. When I handled the Mantra 1 I really liked it, and I liked this blade shape better than the Mantra 2. It just felt a bit stronger. On both it felt like a really weak detent, and like you said it's not a snappy flipper, but 1 in 5 tries it would only open halfway. Between that and the non-stainless steel, I'm really on the fence about this one.

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    1. My review sample had a very strong detent, I just felt like the pivot wasn't as fluid as the Gemini...but then again few things are.

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  2. Not really a flipper guy and I don't like framelocks at all, but these are the kinds of designs I'm happy to see Spyderco getting back to. Knives that just work. Now they just need to release the Chinook 4 with the powerlock and a buttonlock Sage and I'll be a happy panda.

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  3. Great review! I haven't had a chance to buy this knife, but the first time I handled one it jumped right to the top of my to-buy list.

    I've flipped the Domino and Dice many times, and I found that the Dice just didn't flip as well as the Domino. I think(with no evidence) that the Dice was just given the same action but they didn't tune it for the smaller blade. When it flips ok, it flips ok, but I found I sometimes misfired it and that never seemed to happen on the Domino(or other Spyderco flippers).
    All that was to say that I've flipped the Mantra 1 and 2, and I preferred their action to any Spyderco flipper, and couldn't tell any difference between them.
    I personally prefer the Mantra 1, because I like still having the Spyderhole and the additional opening options it gives me(especially that slow roll). I like a slender blade, but I also really like the Spyderco ugly, so I still prefer the classic Spyderco blade shape on the Mantra 1. I also agree with you from the video overview about this being a great in-house design, and(all respect to Sal) one from Eric. Not that I doubt him in the least, but Sal won't be around forever and it's good to be reassured again that the company is in good hands.

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  4. After reading this review, I am about 90% convinced that the Mantra 1 will be my next high-end knife buy. (The other contender is the new G10 Mini Griptilian with 20CV. But I really dig exquisite sliciness and sharpness on an EDC blade, so M4 is calling out to me to try it. Also the Mantra has more elegant lines.)

    Our climate is dry. I already enjoy carrying and working with slipjoints that bear non-stainless tool steel blades like Case's CV; this should be an upgraded version of that experience.

    I plan to treat the blade with mineral oil or FrogLube before carrying.

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  5. Thanks for the great review, Tony. I've been hoping to get your take on this knife for some time. The combination of a high fit-n-finish flipper; a superior performing blade steel; and a form straddling the Caly/Delica sweet spot have made this look really good.

    My first Spyderco was a Domino -- and it's been great. I hadn't thought much about the weight/size until a recent 5k. After an hour of banging around in my pocket, I went home and bought a hap40 DF2, and it's been eye-opening. I think the Mantra might prove to be a really nice size and shape.

    On the other hand, my wife can't thank you for making $150 knives irresistible. She DOES thank you for the zdp-189 DF2 I got her.

    She thanks you most for what I've done to her kitchen knives with the Sharpmaker.

    Thanks for fitting in the review -- day-job and growing family make it impressive to get anything done.

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  6. I've had this knife (happy birthday to me) for about two months now, and everything you said in this review is pretty spot-on. This is my first time with M4, and I've been super impressed. Very sharp, stays that way, easy to touch up.

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