Saturday, August 20, 2016

Darriel Caston Kadima Review

Let's just get this out of the way at the beginning of this review: this is not a "serious" knife.  It is not a knife that you take in the wilderness to fight off bears and survive for 63 days at high altitude.  It is not a knife that will help you fend off a pack of assailants.  It is not a knife that will baton wood.  

Are you okay with that?  The reality is most of us don't even do those things with the knives we own that are DESIGNED to do those things, so really, is there harm in having a knife that is a convenient cutter with a bit of yo-yo tossed in for those of us with a fidget affliction?  Put another way--think of this as a Torqbar that cuts stuff.  

The essence of the Kadima is some seriously sweet flipping actions.  The geared tang and the pivot disk put your fingers in the exact right place to grip and rip this baby open and the action is so satisfying that you will want to do it over and over and over again.  And, as a package opener, the Kadima is quite proficient.  Again, I wouldn't think of this as a replacement for a Paramilitary 2 or a 940-1, but it is perfectly capable in an EDC role.  And you have the side benefit of a super fun fidget-friendly flipper.  But if you only like "serious" knives that are tactical or survival oriented this ain't the knife for you.

A lot of product reviewing is about understanding what the product is trying to achieve.  It's not about having a universal approach to everything or demanding that everything be able to do a certain set of tasks.  If that was the case, people would poop on a Bugatti Veyron for its lack of trunk space.  Take products as they are and see if they carry our their promise well...that is what I try to do.  

Here is the Kickstarter campaign.  There were too many variations to keep track of, but base model, which I purchased, was $150.  Some of the fancy ones were around $500.  The Kadima was released via Kickstarter and there are about a dozen variations, including different blade shapes, blade materials, handle materials, and pivot disks.  I got the basic of basics--the black G10 Kadima.

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Fun as a Torqbar, useful as a knife.

The Process

So the Kadima was the second folder offered through Kickstarter after they changed their policy on knives.  Since then there has been an explosion of blades--Paul Balzano's knife, a D2 number that has made the rounds at the shill sites, and many more.  But the Kadima and the Urban came out around the same time but the Kadima was shipped to backers first despite what Darriel Caston said was a "huge" delay.  The reality is, nothing on Kickstarter ships when its creators think it will.  That's not exactly true, as the Anso Matrix card holder shipped BEFORE it was scheduled to, but the reality is, most stuff is delayed and here the delay wasn't even that big a deal.  A good, but not great job by Caston, with a legitimate reason for the delay and excellent communication.

Is this a Rip Off of the Serge Pachenko Dog Tag?

This comes up an awful lot on Instagram.  I was aware of Caston's stuff before the Kadima and he had been making squarish one handled knives for a long time.  Based on my own personal knowledge, I couldn't say who was first, but I knew Caston was making what he was making AT LEAST as early as I saw the first custom Pachenko Dog Tag folder.  

If we want to be clear--both designs are nothing more, really, than a variation on the original one-handled knife--the Ed Halligan KISS.  The reality is that almost all knife designs are, in some way, a rip off of another.  Well, except the KISS, that think was brilliant.  But even this argument is not fair.  The innovation here with the Kadima isn't the single handle scale design or the square shape, it's the flipper design.  Too me, that alone distinguishes this knife from the Dog Tag (that, and the lock).

But I wasn't about to settle for simple logical arguments.  I needed some facts.  In doing research I have found early design information that I think is 100% persuasive to show that Caston did not rip off Pachenko.  This is not public information and I do not have the ability to publish it, but I have seen it and it is clear.  

But here is the confirmation that I think seals the deal--Spyderco made both knives.  In my mind, Spyderco's ethical standards in terms of knife design intellectual property are above reproach.  They go out of their way to credit designers for new ideas.  In all of their official material, it's not a frame lock or "mono lock" (for shame Benchmade), but a "Reeve Integral Lock".  They actual pay Emerson for the use of the Wave even though, frankly, their design is significantly different and (yikes) better.  The list of examples of their ethical behavior with knife designs goes on and on--the Boye Dent, the Black Collins Bolt Lock.  No one in the knife business is as careful with IP as Spyderco, no one.  And they produce both the Squarehead from Caston and the Dog Tag from Pachenko.  If Caston's was a ripoff of Pachenko's that would NEVER happen.  

My own personal knowledge, the lineage of knife design in general, the information I was made privy to, and Spyderco's behavior tells me beyond a shadow of a doubt that Caston did not rip off Pachenko.  

Design: 2 

Ed Halligan's KISS was a huge innovation in knife design--the knife equivalent of the cantilever chair.  The variations on the KISS have all been interesting in some way, design tricks and iterations on the original single handle design.  But for my money the Kadima is the most interesting.  Making such a small knife with so few parts such a good flipper is quite impressive.  Add to that the fact that Caston's flipper tab isn't a tab at all, but gearing, and there is enough innovation here to have the Kadima stand out from the crowd, even among KISS-derived, single handle knives.


Toss on to this gee whiz design flair, the fact that the Kadima is actually a useful little EDC knife and you have something that is delightful to have in the pocket.  This isn't the most versatile knife--it can't cut an apple for example, something I like my EDC knives to do, but as a knife with a less than 2 inch blade, the Kadima is a good convenience EDC.  

The blade:handle is .61 (1 5/8: 2 5/8); the blade:weight is .94.  Because of the design these numbers don't tell us a lot.  The reality is this is a small knife of novel design and the performance ratios don't really capture the knife's size and proportions.  

Fit and Finish: 2 

So, what do you consider an inappropriate amount of maintenance when a knife comes from the factory?  If you are a person that demands a knife to fall from the box with a perfect edge and a perfect pivot, then give the Kadima a 1.  I am not such a person.  Coming to knives from woodworking, where maintenance is expected on high end edged tools like planes and chisels, the notion that I might have to tweak something doesn't bother me.  Here the pivot was a bit loose, so I dropped some Loc-tite in there (Blue 242 formulation is my favorite after much trial and much error).  Once that was done, the Kadima was downright awesome.  Take a look at the wonderful machining on the pivot disk:


The entire knife was like this--a reveling in the details that makes the Kadima a fun object to holding and operate.  The fillers were sharply cut enough to allow them to work as a one handed deployment method, the gearing on the tang was grippy without being shreddy.  And the jimping up top was perfect.  Overall, once I dropped some Loc-tite in, the Kadima was ready to go.  

I'd concede that in an ideal world things would arrive perfectly, but this is not the best of all possible worlds (much to Leibniz's chagrin), but there are hardly any knives I get that don't need a drop or two of lube, a run across a strop, or something of the like, even if it is just cleaning up production grease and swarf from the sharpening process.  BTW, I love the world "swarf".

Grip: 1

There is going to be some concession to the design's unique look and this is it--the grip is not the greatest.


When open the blade guard portion of the single scale creates a weird and awkward spot for your thumb.  It's tough to use the the knife for a long time because this spot usually creates a hotspot.  And there is really no fix for it.  If the knife truly laid flat on the scale, like the KISS, the flipper wouldn't work anywhere near as well.  If the blade guard was smaller, it might make the knife less safe.  This is just a compromise made necessary to get the overall design to work well. 

Carry: 2

If there is one thing about the Kadima, other than its gee whiz design, that just works it's the carry.  This knife, even without a clip (or perhaps because of its lack of a clip) is just a joy to carry.  It fits in coin pockets and that pocket in a pocket in dress pants so well.  It is very small and quite light.  Everything is rounded and all of the surfaces of the knife have a texture that hide scratches.  For as unconventional as this knife is, it does carry right because Caston brings good knife knowledge to the table in addition to his design chops.

Steel: 2 

Okay S30V is not my favorite steel.  In fact, I think that given the market, it is probably no longer an automatic 2.  It's just too difficult to sharpen compared to its performance to warrant an automatic 2.  There are some heat treats that are really dialed in that I like and there are some ways to get around its drawbacks that make it a 2, but absent those things, I am no longer auto scoring it a 2.

Here in the Kadima, Caston made some wise decisions to get the most out of the S30V steel (note that the upscale models had CTS-XHP and various forms of Damascus).  First, Caston made the edge small (1.4 inches) and the stock relatively thick, making chipping unlikely.  Second, he did not, on this model, introduce any elements that challenge the steel or the person sharpening it, like a recurve.  Third, he gave this knife a chisel grind, which means you have to sharpen it half as long as you would otherwise.  Given these three things, S30V really works where.  It's corrosion resistance is and always has been great, and if you treat it right (no pounding or smashing) the chipping issue is non-existent.  

Over the years I have come to realize that the choice of steel is not just "gimme the newest, most expensive stuff" (though that is fun), but a pairing of the purpose with properties and here Caston made a wise decision--every Kadima released in the Kickstarter campaign had a very good steel because in this application even S30V's weaknesses are accounted for and to a certain extent, covered over.  

Blade Shape: 2 

If you have only 1.4 inches to work with its wise to keep the blade shape as simple as possible and Caston did that with this base model:


The good ole wharncliffe blade shape--it is a utilitarian dream.  For all those boxes and packages you have a good sharp point and for those press cuts and slices (though, let's be serious, given the size slicing ain't something you will be doing a lot of) you have a nice straight portion.  Also, on a blade this size a wharncliffe makes for some easy sharpening.  Beware though there are Kadimas out there with crazy blade shapes, such as a hawk bill number.  That just seems like a self-inflicted wound to me.  How in the hell will you sharpen that thing?

Grind: 2 

I dislike chisel grinds that are ground the "Emerson way" (flat side on a right handed knife is to right of the spine when looking down on the spine) as they do not allow you to easily register cuts, but here, Caston overcomes the necessary but annoying Emerson style chisel grind, by eliminating the handle scale that impact cut registration.  It doesn't make it perfect, but he didn't have much of a choice given that the knife is a single handle design and does make things better.


It is also important to remember that given the knife's size and intended use (convenience EDC) it's unlikely that you will be doing a lot of super precision cutting that requires you to have perfect edge placement.  Debarking and whittling are a challenge even here, but it is better than on an Emerson thanks to the missing handle scale. 

Also, the grind is pretty darn clean--the back is as flat as I can detect and the front main bevel is even and the cutting bevel is quite nice and very consistent over the run of the edge.  Caston did a good job overcoming some of the limitations of this style of grind.

Deployment Method: 2 

Ah and we have arrived.  The Kadima Flipper is a good knife.  It has some limitations because of its size, but it is a good knife thanks to Darriel Caston's thoughtful design and consideration of materials.  But as a fidget thing, it is out of this world.  The flipping action is so satisfying that even if this didn't have an edge, it would be Torqbar level of fun.  

The geared tang flipper design is awesome and I would love to see it on other knives, giving you plenty of purchase.  It also allows the knife to look as clean as it would with a front flipper like the Shamwari, but still allows you to use the traditional flipper muscle memory to power the knife open.  It's a great and innovative design.

But it's the implementation that has me so stoked about the Kadima.  The use of a caged bearing system and the pivot disk make flipping a dream.  Once you overcome the detent, the knife pops open with a solid "thuck."  It's a very distinct noise, as distinct as the RJ Martin "Ping" (which is a glorious sound in and of itself, hear it once and it is like a siren's call).  I am not saying the Kadima is the equal of a Martin flipper.  It's not, but that noise, perhaps because of the single handle scale design, is just as different compared to other flippers.  

Ultimately it comes down to this--the Kadima's deployment method is superbly effective and insanely fun.  Auston said on the Modern Neanderthal podcast that a good flipper is like sex--people don't use it just because it is effective, they do it because it is really fun.  And here, the Kadima is really fun.

Retention Method: 2

This is a bite sized knife.  Adding a clip would ruin it.  There is just no way to get around the fact that sometimes knives just shouldn't have clips.  As it is, the knife is thin, flat, and fits well in the pocket.


It's best retention feature is its thinness and size.   Call it a cop out if you want, but with any design the first question should always be: do I need this to make the product as a whole work?  And here the answer is a definitive NO.

Lock: 1 

Is this the strongest lock in the world?  Nope.  Are you a moron?  If you answered yes, then skip this knife.  The Kadima's small and visible lock bar does move if you put a significant amount of pressure on the spine.  Maybe a lot of locks do this, but just can't be seen.  Or, maybe, this lock just wiggles a bit.  But, in all honesty, I have moved beyond lock strength a long time ago.  The lock works here.  Sure you could do things that are abusive to spring the lock if you wanted to, but you can do that with just about any lock.  


If the only way to get something to fail in a product review is by pushing beyond what it is supposed to do, it is hard to attribute that failure to the product. Here, in role, as a pure convenience cutter, the lock is strong enough.    

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

I really like the Kadima.  It is amazingly fun to play with.  It also happens to be a good little cutter.  It's not a knife I'd carry every day for the rest of my life, if I were forced to choose, but if you have a few knives already, it will make a nice addition to your rotation, especially if you have a long commute, a lot of time on the phone, or some other extended period of time when you can fidget to your fingers and heart is content.  

The Kadima is different, but Darriel Caston knows what he is doing.  He made a lot of smart, subtle decisions that take the Kadima out of the realm of novelty and make it something much, much cooler.  Drop it in your pocket and it will be a good companion.  If you are pining for a Torqbar (confession: me too), get a Kadima, it actually cuts stuff too.

1 comment:

  1. New KS for Caston: