Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Flaws with Cold Steel's Test Videos

By now we have all seen the Cold Steel test videos where they pit one of their Tri-Ad locks against a competitor and show how the competition fails while the Tri-Ad lock succeeds.

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They are interesting to watch.  Demko seems like he kind of doesn't want to go through with the tests (especially the Paramilitary 2 test, he is definitely singing that knife's praises in a subtle way), but much like the strongest kid in your elementary school he is cajoled into showing off by some big mouth.  But there is more than odd interpersonal tensions in the video.  They are an example of one of the oldest tricks in marketing--the false comparison.

Have you ever shopped for a car online?  You go to various manufacturer's websites and do their "comparison" views.  Somehow, all or almost all of the green check marks line up for their car and not the competitors.  Then you go to an independent site and do the same comparison with much more mixed results.  What gives, right?  Well, often the devil is in the details.  Those comparisons on the maker sites are stacked to give you results.  For example, one comparison I did, I noticed that they used HIGHWAY MPG as opposed to both or an average of the two.  When I did the same comp on Edmunds, they used an average.  In the first comp, one truck one.  In the Edmunds comp, the other truck did.  This was a carefully selected set of criteria--choosing highway MPG--to make one truck look better than another when it really isn't.  Even sneakier?  When I did the comp on the manufacturer's site for another vehicle, they used Average MPG.  If I wasn't looking I wouldn't have even noticed the switch.  

In many ways the Cold Steel Lock Tests are doing the same thing.  The Tri-Ad lock, which is unquestionably one of the best locks on the market--is very good at a large number of things.  It's strong, low maintenance, and very easy to use thanks to the fact that it mimics at lockback.  It's mechanical advantages are all focused on one thing--vertical strength.  It can hold a lot of weight on the Y-axis, in either direction.  

But that is not all a knife must be able to do.  Conspicuously absent are tests that focus on horizontal pressure or torsional pressure on the blade.  I wonder how well the Tri-Ad lock would fair on that account.  Also missing is data on how well the knife locks up.  The complex geometry and openness of the lock interface portion of the tang, in my experience, invites gunk to jam up the knife lock.  In one instance, when I was testing the Mini Recon, I got some dirt and lint in there (stuff that is likely to be in one's pockets) and lock up was not automatic.

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Once I cleaned out the lock interface, the Tri-Ad lock worked fine.  Finally there is the fingers in the blade path issue.  Lock backs and the Tri-Ad lock usually prompt the user to close the knife with their fingers, at one point or another, in the blade path.  It is possible to close the knife without it, but doing so is not intuitive and can result in a less than sure grip on the knife.  And let's be honest--which is more likely: you are using a folder to the point of lock failure or you accidentally close the knife on your fingers?  The big, beefy blades of Cold Steel knives make the second option about 200 times more likely than the first option.

In the end, other locks would or do fair better in these three areas.  But these aren't things seen on the Cold Steel videos because, shocker, their lock might not fair so well on these tests.  Any time a maker does a comparison video, they are stacking the deck, no matter how transparent or fair it seems.  Sure, everything is on video here, but what aspect of the knife they choose to test is the thing that makes the comparisons unfair or inaccurate.  Their claim that these tests demonstrate which lock is superior (which Demko notably backs away from on a number of occasions) is absurd.  It is marketing and it's a particularly old and obvious marketing trick.

Claiming that this vertical hold strength is the end all, be all of knife lock strength is silly.  It's like saying the only thing that matters in pitching is velocity.  Sure, velocity matters, but durability, deception, control and movement matter too.  Who would you rather have?  The guy that throws the ball the fastest ever or Greg Maddux?  Right...

And here is the most condemning thing, at least for me, this kind of lock strength, the kind on display in these videos DOESN'T MATTER.  Only morons use their knives in a way that requires this lock strength.  Normal use NEVER needs this kind of lock strength.  In normal use, all well made locks pass the test.  And some don't have the flaws mentioned above like the Tri-Ad lock does.  

The Tri-Ad lock is a great lock.  One of my two or three favorites (liner and compression locks being the other two).  Andrew Demko's design is truly remarkable.  And if they just said "This is one of the best locks out there for the following reasons" I'd have less of an issue.  But they don't.  That's not the Cold Steel style.  Instead they go way over the top.  In fact, so over the top that the lock's inventor (and reasonable adult) Andrew Demko seems uncomfortable in a number of these tests.  The lock is great.  The knives are great.  But Cold Steel's marketing, as it has always been, is offensive and misleading.

In the age of Blade Magazine this kind of stuff was probably not that big a deal.  But today, with the online communities, content creators that work hard at getting good information to folks, and a vast number of choices, this kind of marketing is probably hurting Cold Steel more than helping.  The people that love Cold Steel love these videos, but they will be buying Cold Steel knives regardless.  For the rest of us, armed with better information than we were twenty years ago, these video ads are not compelling anyone to click the "Buy" button on Cold Steel stuff. 

The knives are good.  The steel is (now) good.  The lock is great.  Sell that stuff.  Leave the bro science to morons on Youtube stabbing cinder blocks with their 3V knives. 


13 comments:

  1. Excellent points. There's no shame in that they want to sell their knives. They absolutely have their merits and are good quality knives, a bit more expensive than they used to be but for good reason. I'm with you though. I'm just tired of seeing these insane and unrealistic tests of knives. I don't need the worlds strongest knife to open my latest amazon purchase...or cut a piece of fruit while I'm at work.

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  2. A million years ago (OK, it was probably 16-17), I owned a Cold Steel folder, tanto semi-serrated blade and all. Thought it was a super cool knife, but I was basically a kid--though in my defense, I wasn't alone in thinking it was cool, as it got stolen from my office desktop one night by the cleaning crew.

    Still have a 13-year old Bushman that has done yeoman service in countless camping trips (still waiting for that first time I need to use it as a spear). Even just put a new paracord jacket on the handle two weeks ago for the new year.

    But when I was in the market for a new hard use/camp folder this past winter, the combination of their heavy lockback designs and, frankly, too-tacticool-for-school marketing put me off, even though the upgraded steel and coatings should have made several of their designs a perfect choice at their price point. Silly to be swayed by such superficial things, I know. But tends to make me agree that their marketing and Lynn Thompson's antics are hurting them with at least some segment of the marketplace.

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  3. I am currently designing a tactical "folding railway spike" knife. It will be a lock back that will be welded open. I will then be doing a series of comparison videos, focused on vertical and lateral strength. I recommend watching them while eating fruit sliced with the SAK folder.

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  4. I will admit that I have watched quite a few of these videos and was entertained by them.

    That said, in addition to the tests being stacked, they are also completely unscientific. For example, the "spine whack" machine does not really take into account controlling the length of the lever arm (which, in this case, would be the distance between the lock interface and the spine's point of contact with the machine).

    I will be the first to admit that this probably isn't all that significant. However, it is one of only two variables in terms of how much force is put on the lock by the machine (the other being the torque of the bolt that affixes the knife to the machine - Demko does take this into account by re-torqueing the bolt after each "whack.") and CS sells these videos as true scientific tests of lock strength.

    The other thing is, I actually get enjoyment out of these videos for the reason that I just like seeing how much abuse these high-end knives can really take. What usually happens is I come out extremely impressed with both knives (the CS and its competitor). And since I think Cold Steel's aesthetic (and marketing) sucks, I end up just wanting the competitor knife more...

    The other

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  5. I actually DON'T buy Cold Steel knives because of the embarrassing way they are marketed. It just seems so...juvenile, it's a huge disincentive to own one, because I don't want to be seen as "one of those guys."

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  6. Your bias is shining through clearly. Cold Steel generally uses thinner stock and almost invariably has better cutting geometry than your beloved ZTs. They also make no claims of superiority of other attributes during those tests, only of strength.

    You claim they're misleading, point me to where? At what point do their videos make misleading claims?

    They almost invariably leave judgement to the viewer and attempt to make these tests as repeatable as possible.

    Frankly, you don't like Cold Steel due to their legal shenanigans (you've said as much in the past) and you're allowing that bias to shine through into making questionable claims yourself.

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    2. I don't think this is a fair criticism.

      First, I have been fairly clear both here and in the relevant reviews (see: Mini Recon 1) that I like Cold Steel knives. I actually do like their knives.

      Second, I think I have been equally vocal about my criticism of ZT. In fact if you look at the review of the ZT0450 or my Ti Framelock Shootout you will see that I do not have a thing for ZTs and I have been a consistent critic.

      As for the misleading thing I point you to two claims--the strongest locks and their much ballyhooed safety claim. Their locks appear to be the strongest in vertical hold, but they make not attempt to test their horizontal or torsional strength. They are missing major dimensions of measuring strength. Second, they criticized CRKT for their claims of safety but them neglect to mention the whole "fingers-in-the-blade-path" issue. Lots of locks have this problem, but if safety is your ONLY concern, then its worth mentioning.

      You are right to this extent--I dislike Lynn Thompson's public persona. Its just out of sync with the current market. I have heard from people I trust that the guy is a super great guy to work for, that he backs his employees to the very end, and that he is actually a hell of a lot of fun, but the grumpy, SCA, heavy metal warrior is just unappealing. Demko would be a much better spokesperson.

      You are also right that they are better slicers. Again, I will point you to my criticisms of the ZT0450 on this account.

      If you read those reviews and still think I am biased, I am not sure what else I can say. I like Cold Steel knives. I dislike their marketing.

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    3. Locks have basically nothing to do with strength on the horizontal axis, that's all handle, pivot and blade stock thickness. A friction folder with a beefy blade and pivot could easily beat out a locking blade in horizontal OR torsional strength. So your criticism is pretty far from valid as you're asking them to test things that have nothing to do with actual lock strength. Locks hold it open, they don't increase horizontal strength, as how would they?

      Basically, I don't think these tests are terribly useful, but I thinm your criticisms of them are on the deep end. This is like daying that Toyota brags about their engines fuel efficiency but doesn't talk about how good their engine is at keeping the doors shut on the highway. It's in no way a function of the mechanism in question.

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  7. Horizontal and torsional strength aren't functions of a knife lock. Both have far more to do with pivot hardware, blade stock and handle strength.

    This is akin to complaining that while Honda brags about their engines fuel efficiency it doesn't cover the engines ability to recline the seats or keep the doors locked on the highway.

    A nonlocking folder could easily provide greater horizontal strength than a locking folder, does that mean it has a stronger lock?

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    1. First, I notice that you have switched your argument. Instead of wrongfully accusing me of bias, you are now focusing on the things I wrote in the article. Can you at least agree, based on the reviews I referenced, that the bias accusation was unfair?

      As for the horizontal and torsional strength, it is of course more related to the pivot, but it is also part of the overall strength issue. Some locks are better at dealing with these forces than others and I find it suspicious that Cold Steel didn't reference them at all.

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    2. Yeah, the bias was a cheap shot and I apologize for that one. I just found the reference to beefy blades to be more than a little confusing given their tendency towards leaner blade stock and geometry.

      I still take some issue with your writing about misleading claims, as I feel like the issues you described are authentic bait-and-switch circumstances and CS does seem to be doing their best to avoid that.

      Honestly, the safety issue I would pick on them for is the difficulty of operation of their lock and the extremely strong closing bias it possesses, which can lead to bites.

      But I think the accusations of dishonesty are, at best, iffy. For one thing, they are going to be at least somewhat budget restricted and vertical hold through dynamic and static loads are the most obvious questions to answer with the fewest variables to contend with when it comes to lock strength.

      Essentially, I think many overvalue this testing, but given the utter lack of any kind of serious science and testing coming out of the cutlery industry I'll ALWAYS stand behind repeatable testing, even if it's the ignition point of handle materials in a live volcano.

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    3. If the tests weren't so hyped by Cold Steel, I wouldn't be so focused on them. As I wrote, Demko is quite good in these tests, explaining their limitations and praising the competitor when it is appropriate, like with the PM2.

      The bigger problem, is, as you point out, the lack of serious scientific testing available to the public. I know for a fact, talking to various people, that manufacturers DO have scientific testing done, either in-house, or through a contractor like CATRA, but those results are almost never released. If you go back and listen to the podcast with Thomas on it, he acknowledges this and basically says that so few people are interested in these things that there is zero value releasing the results, given all of the trouble they can cause.

      I see there point, but I'd like to see Blade or someone else do some serious testing. Alas, Blade is basically an infomercial so they are out. I looked into doing my own round of CATRA tests, but the costs were prohibitive, like $10K for something that I would feel comfortable publishing. That is well beyond my budget.

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