Sunday, August 7, 2016

Jesse Jarosz M75 Review

I have been fascinated by Jesse Jarosz's knives for years.  They are, in many ways, trend bucking designs--liner locks, thumb studs--they aren't the standard TFF (titanium frame lock flipper) fair.  But beyond the unwillingness to get along just to get along, they are also really fundamentally sound designs--a basic drop point blade shape is paired with a sublimely crafted handle.  

But there is a twist.  As I mentioned in Breaking the Embargo, Part II I came across a Jarosz Tetrad on the secondary market.  I bought it and it arrived.  It was beefier than I thought it would be, but the things that checked the boxes for me were all there.  And so was a weird lock up issue.  Lock up was fine until I grabbed the handle to use the knife.  A collector, that tests lock stability in a vacuum might never stumble on this issue, but I am not a collector and so when I went to use the knife I squeezed the handle and the pad of my hand pushed the lock bar out of engagement and introduced some serious blade play--tactile, audible, and visual blade play.  Alas, it was too much for me, and I sent the knife back to the seller, who was 100% awesome about it.  God Bless the USN.  

Undeterred I looked for an opportunity to get a knife directly from Jesse.  The Tetrad I got was a very early model and either that, or the fact that it was from the secondary market, gave me a bit of skepticism that it represented the pinnacle of Jesse's work.  At the time, like many knife makers Jesse had a book that was filled.  Then, like others, he filled the back orders and got rid of his book.  He made knives exclusively to sell direct from his site (or Massdrop, good on you Jesse for finding other ways to get to market).  After a few swings and misses I finally scored one on a Sunday sale of Jesse's.  Five days later it arrived.  

I have been delighted ever since.  In my mind the M75 that I have is one of the reasons to brave the custom knife waters.  This is a really excellent design, with top shelf execution, and a feel like no other knife on the market.  After all my bitching in the past two weeks, this is the exception.  It is the exception that proves the rule, but that is another debate for another time.  

Here is the product page. There are no written reviews. Here is a video review from Auston.  Here is my review sample (bought with my my own money for me to keep):


Twitter Review Summary: Curves are always great--in knives, cars, and....

The Process

Jesse stopped using books a while ago.  It was a revelation.  Books are terrible for the creative process.  They take a task that is supposed to be inspired and make it into something that is an accounting chore.  Not good.  So Jesse posts knives in ones and twos on his site randomly and then every once in a while he has a big sale with ten or so folders.  I got this in one of those sales.  The process, other than availability (I wanted a micarta one), was great.  It arrived about 8 days after purchase.

Jesse's lock up is solid, but sometimes the lock bar scoots a bit.  The Tetrad did that a bunch and this knife did it a smidge.  I sent it back to him and he fixed it, cleaned the knife, and shipped it back, free of charge in about a month.  He told me it would be a bit when I emailed him, so the month wait was not an issue.  Now the lock is tuned just to my liking.

Both the sale and the refinishing went perfectly.  I'd rather not have to send the knife back, but this is right between being an issue and being a preference.  I scored the lock with this in mind.

Is this a "custom"?

I put the question to the man himself and this is what he wrote:

M75s are a majority hand work and a little bit of outsourced CNC. The profile work (the shapes of the blades and liners) are cut using Wire EDM. A very high precision machining method that holds extremely tight tolerances. Everything else is done by hand. Handles, grinds, sanded flats, finishing pocket clips, lock fitting, and all of the finish work is done in house on grinders, drill presses and with files and sandpaper.

Under my taxonomy of custom knives, the M75 would be a Handmade knife.  Because a few parts are outsourced, it is not a Single Source Handmade knife, but because the majority of the work is done by one person with basic tools (Jesse's work does not use CNC), I think it is still fair to call it a custom.  

Design: 2

Jim Nowka, of Knife Journal Podcast and American Knife Company fame (among other kinds of fame) talked about a concept that Bob Loveless used to discuss the aesthetics of a knife.  He used the term "visual tension."  The idea is there is some combination of curves and straight lines that emphasizes a balance between the components of the knife--the handle and the blade and the interplay between the two.  Jesse's knife, especially when open, displays that tension perfectly.  The blade itself is perhaps the Platonic idea of a drop point.  The handle, though not classically styled, is, frankly, on par with other great handle designs like the Becker fixed blade handle.  On paper, few knives match the kinetic grace of the M75.  Ironically, I would concede that closed it is not that pretty.  In fact, it seems pretty plain.  I don't know exactly how that works, but that's just my take.

The blade:handle (3.0625 by 4.125 inch) is .74; the blade:weight (3.74 ounces) is .82.  Neither are close to the record, but they are in the upper middle part of the range.  This is a solid, dense knife, not something you'd mistakenly leave in your pocket.

Fit and Finish: 2

Even if all of the parts aren't produced by Jesse himself, the end result is a symphony of precision.  Everything snaps together, the handles are meticulously curved, and the grind, oh...let's save that for later, because it is worth its own paragraph of praise.  

Grip: 2

This is the best handle on any folder I have ever used.  Its contoured in every way, sliding into your hands with comfort and ease.


There is a degree of mapping going on--nudges or light suggestions about where your fingers should go, but nothing bossy or overt.  It is more like dancing with a partner that knows the next step.  In a reverse grip, the handle works just as well.

Carry: 2 

For a dense hunk of steel and resin, the M75 is a positive joy to carry.  It is not something that you can carry distraction-free like the Dragonfly or Roadie, but it won't bang around like some of the bigger ZTs or other "custom tactical" knives.  The clip, deserving of special mention, is an aid in the M75's polite pocket presence. 

Steel: 2

AEB-L steel was developed for razor blades and it takes a very keen edge.  It is not a PM steel, but performs well.  It is very chemically similar to 13C27 and 14C28N, steels I find to be very good performers, among the best non-PM steels on the market.  In addition to its ability to take a keen edge it is also very stain resistant.  I have stropped it and it gets sharp quickly.  I imagine that this somewhere in the rankings above VG-10 and though not as complex as S30V, I like it better as it makes tradeoffs I'd prefer when balancing attributes.

But all of this ignores the crucial point of this knife--Jesse's grind.  If the three parts of good blade performance are geometry, chemistry, and heat treat, the AEB-L is a perfect choice for Jesse.  Geometry, by far, has the biggest impact on cutting performance and thus, when you have an outstanding grind you get outstanding performance even from steel that isn't the absolute latest and greatest. Jesse grinds his blades so incredibly thin and precise that it is hard to imagine a sharper edge.  In short, if you have the grinding abilities Jesse does, you will get the most out of a steel like AEB-L given its original application. 

Blade Shape: 2


Grind: 2 

I own two of Jesse's knives and I have handled a few others.  His grinds are phenomenal, insane, and eye catching.  With a symmetry that seems to be machine in origin, I have inspected the grinds here for months and I have found zero lacking.  The plunge line, in addition to being symmetrical, is quite crisp and the main bevel is a gleaming, mirror polished razor.  The decision to go stonewashed on the flats and grinder satin on the main bevel is striking and raises the eye-grabbing nature of Jesse's grinds to the next level.  I know there are makers that are known as grind masters--Mick Strider, Gus Cecchini, and a few others.  Having handled Strider and GTC customs, I can say without reservation that in terms of grind Jesse is at least as good.  This is the one thing that is truly superb on the M75, leagues better than average and probably the best I have ever reviewed.  

Deployment Method: 2

Nudge the thumb stud and you'll swear the knife is on bearings or uses an assist.  It is neither, just a well-tuned set of washers and a good detent.  The blade rockets open, deploying with a solid and ear-pleasing click.  It is addicting to do, as much so as a good flipper (you feelin' me XMachiavelli?).  The thumb studs are great, a good match for the knife and the deployment method.  Overall, I didn't buy the M75 because of its deployment, but it was a nice surprise.

Retention Method: 2

I thought I hated sculpted clips.  I actually hate bad clips, which, for reasons unclear to me, seem to occur at a higher than average frequency among sculpted clips.  This little unadorned booger happens to be just about the ideally clip when it comes to utility.  It's melted butter edges allow the clip to fall into the palm of your hand unnoticed, even during heavy cutting tasks.  I broke down some big boxes for the recycling bin after my son's birthday with this knife and it did very, very well.


This was the first generation of the Jarosz sculpted clip.  In the future, I'd like to see his logo on it.  That's the only thing I do differently and it is purely an aesthetic thing.  Great, great clip.

Lock: 1

Okay, so the Tetrad I had had a weird lock issue.  When I would squeeze it and the lock bar would scoot over.  The lock up geometry on Jesse's stuff is very precise and so with that smidge of scooting, the entire thing was thrown out of whack and the blade would actually click and had blade play in all directions.


On this model the lock up was much, much better.  Unfortunately, it too would scoot over a bit as well, never enough to induce blade play, but enough to make me uncomfortable.  It is probably fine to use the knife, but seems like something that I would worry about over time.  I sent it back to Jesse and the knife now locks up with vault-like precision.

In the end, I think it might have to do with how Jesse likes locks to work.  Talking to a few people, it seems like he follows the Terzuola model of lock construction, preferring a well engaged liner lock.  This, combined with a cutout to access the lock AND contouring around that cutout, means that it is possible that the pads of your palm could push the lock over just a bit.  It's hard to do on Jesse's new models, but it was easier on older stuff.  In the end, it's something like a preference.  I'd like something different, but I am sure there are Jarosz aficianados that like it just as it is.  

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

This is a great knife, a really amazing design and brilliantly executed.  As this review is coming out, Kabar released a slightly larger version of this knife as a production model, with a drop point and a tanto.  It is a Taiwanese made knife and it has AUS-8 steel with FRN handles, so it is not exactly the same, but it sure looks good.  Normally, I'd say buy that model, see if you like it and then hunt down the custom, but if you have the funds, just get this blade.  You won't be disappointed.  It's classic blade shape, amazing grinds, and superb handles are a great way to start in on custom knives.

The Competition

At this price point ($595) you are going to be very hard pressed to find a nicer custom knife.  I have played in this part of the market for a long time and there are some gems out there, but Jesse's handles and grind work in particular set this knife apart from similarly priced competition.  I like the Shamwari as much, it's a cleaner design, but neither trumps the other.  Lesser makers or newer makers have knives in this price range and they are generally much less refined, both in terms of design and execution.  This is a simple and simply excellent blade.


  1. My only issue with that beautiful knife is how high the clip is mounted, there's like an inch and a half of knife sticking up.

    That said, the handle looks really nice, the AEB-L is a solid steel choice.

  2. If you still want micarta, I'd recommend contacting Steve Ketchen to have him make you custom scales. His work is better than anyone I've seen. He could do beautiful micarta scales (could even use some Shadetree micarta!), and could omit the lefty-carry clip holes in the process.

  3. The AEB-L is actually exciting.

    Despite the lack of exotic chemistry, that steel gets LOTS of praise from aficionados who actually use knives. (I have had great experiences with Swedish steel.)

    Do you have enough use in to characterize the heat treat employed here?

    The deal with sculpted clips is they have to be both designed and machined EXACTLY right to have proper retention. Their presence generally makes me less likely to purchase a knife. The exception is if a trusted reviewer specifically vouches for the clip, as you've done here.

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  5. Hey Tony, in talking about makers who are known as grind masters, have you ever handled a Marcin Slysz custom? I've heard him described as a "human CNC machine" and I wondered how he measures up to Jarosz.

  6. I can't believe you advocated for more branding on a knife, Tony. Yuck. Otherwise, this sounds like a very interesting product.