Friday, August 12, 2016

Quick Hits: Two Wallets, Two Knives, and a Pen

Let's blast through that backlog with a few quick hits.  

Slimfold Micro Softshell

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Here is the product page.  SlimFold sent me this wallet for review and I will be giving it away.   

This is the slim wallet taken to one extreme (the other is a deconstruction of a wallet that leaves you with a plastic card and what is essentially a fancy rubber band).  The soft shell material that you probably have on your hoodie, as it turns out, makes for a great wallet material. 

The wallet looks great, very clean with a nice pop of color via contrast stitching. 

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It also happens to be more durable than I expected.  I carried this wallet twice, for a month each time, over a four month period.  It held up reasonably well.  I think we all need to expect that these super thin fabrics, while tough, can't match leather's durability.  If you are okay with that, and with buying a new wallet every 5-6 years, then the SlimFold is a fine choice.

There are two drawbacks.  First, the card organizer portion of the wallet is really flimsy with ultra-tight tolerances making it very hard to put cards back in your wallet.  I am no Costanza, carrying no more than four cards, but even I had a tough time wedging them back in the SlimFold. I also dislike the height of the bill pocket.  It's too small and with more than two bills in it, they start to stick out making it obvious how much cash you have.  This makes the SlimFold something like a large capacity card holder and not really a true cash and card wallet, something that the Big Skinny can easily do.  Maybe this is too slim....

Score: 17 out of 20 (1 off for durability, materials, and accessibility)  

Liquid Essentialist Wallet

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Here is the product page.  Liquid sent me the wallet to review.  After this review, I am sure they will never send me anything again.  

The Essentialist is a very neat idea.  The gadget fiend in me was super happy with this one.  The Essentialist is a hard side wallet made of aluminum and on the back side there are four posts.  You can put keys on these posts and or some of the device specific gadgets--a USB drive and a one piece multitool came with the review sample.  If the Essentialist worked out, it could be your wallet, your keys, and some essential gadgets all in one place.  

Alas, it is a fundamentally broken design. 

I am not sure who would actually like this wallet.  It was too big to be a minimalist wallet, but too small to hold any amount of stuff.  It's not really good at holding cards and stinks at holding cash.  You can't really use it for keys as putting them in the back side of the wallet makes it likely that stuff will fall out and gives you clearance issues around door knobs.  Good idea, but massive design fail. 

But more than just not having a market, it does a poor job of being a wallet.  Here is the problem with the wallet:

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That is four cards, a twenty and a one.  At four cards tall, they start to slip over the lip around the card holder portion of the Essentialist.  I noticed this during the testing period when, at the post office, at the front of a large line, I pulled out my wallet and out came a bunch of cards, clattering to the floor and making a mess.  Not what is supposed to happen with a wallet. The well is too shallow and the fancy rubber band is not strong enough or grippy enough.  The problem is worse than that though.  There is no retention at all if you have only one card or some cash.  It looks like this is a wallet only if you have a maifoso wad of cash or exactly 2 or 3 cards.  If not, it just doesn't work.  

The gadgets are a nice idea too, but they are also a problem.  First, they are very hard to get out, even with the cut outs.  Second, like with the keys the lack of clearance around the device makes them hard to use.  I have an iMac at home and getting this thing around the back to the USB ports was a bitch.  Again, good idea, fundamentally broken implementation.  

Do not buy this product.  It doesn't work.

Score: 12 out of 20 (2 off for each of the following: design, carry, retention and accessibility) PRODUCT FAILURE

CRKT Jettison Compact

Here is the product page.

There are a class of knives, below the size of the Dragonfly, that include things like the Ladybug and the Manbug and this knife, that sit between novelty and tool.  Some of these knives are just too small to do real work (Al Mar Osprey, I am looking at you) while some of them are quite productive despite their uber tiny size.  I am happy to report that the Jettison Compact is in the second group.

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Like a lot of these knives, there is no clip, they are just too small for a clip.  Instead, like the Osprey, the Jettison Compact has a bail.  It works okay.  Even de-cored paracord has a hard time fitting through this tiny opening.  The knife also has, almost by definition, a very, very small grip.  This is a two-fingers-and-a-thumb knife.  I am also less than pleased with the knife's edge as it came from the factory.  I normally don't bother mentioning this, but this knife was especially bad.   Also because of the small size, it was not all that easy to sharpen, but I did get it sharp.  One thing 8Cr13MoV is very good at doing is getting sharp.

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Those are the negatives.  The positives are much more important.  The design here is really fabulous, as the blade and handle shape really encourage you to hold the knife and use it in a bunch of different ways.  You can hold it as I show above, or you can really choke up on the knife.  When you do that, you get a bunch more control, which is hard to image, as you have plenty in the traditional position given the size of the knife.  The flipper was another surprise.  Given the size of the knife, you would imagine that flipper just wouldn't work, as the blade lacks the heft to generate sufficient moment to carry itself open once the detent is broken.  But by some form of thaumaturgy CRKT got the Jettison Compact to flip open with ease. The handles were tiny but nicely finish.  Over all I like the Jettison Compact so much, I might track down its big brother.  

All of this greatness highlights one other point--the designer Robert Carter.  Carter is a third generation of knife makers, following in the footsteps of Mel and Joe Pardue.  This isn't just any lineage, the Pardues are some of the best knife makers out there and Carter, with this collaboration and some of his custom work, proves that he inherited his progenitors' talents.  It's officially time to keep an eye on Carter's production collabs.  His custom stuff has been amazing for a while, but it takes a next level talent to translate a great one-off into a line of knives capable of being produced en masse.

Score: 17 out of 20 (1 off for Grind, 1 off for Grip, 1 off for Retention Method)

Spyderco Vrango

Here is the product page.

I wanted this knife from the minute I saw it.  It looked like it was just the right size (blade length around 2.5 inches) and it was different enough that it would stand out even my uncomfortably large (for me) collection.  I just thought it was fate--I was destine to love the Vrango.

Lady Fate is a cruel temptress.  This knife stinks.

In many ways the Vrango reminds me of a house that has been lived in by a tinkerer.  You, the non-resident, non-tinkerer, look at all of the unusual features and think: "What the hell is this?"  But for the tinkerer, each of those different things represents just what he or she needed just at the right time.

Michel Henningson, the designer of the custom version of the Vrango, comes from a small island in the Gothenberg archipelago in Sweden.  It is a place that is tied to the ocean and to fishing.  And for him, in that setting, the bizarre recurve tanto makes a lot of sense.  The blade shape is ideal at cutting fishing line, I would imagine.  It is also, and this I have lots of practical experience with, slicing draw cuts. 

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 That secondary point formed on a traditional tanto by the yokote (which is absent here; this is a tanto shape without the tanto grind) is exceedingly thin, so thin that it is something that concerns me about this knife.  If it were dinged or damaged I have no idea how it could be restored by a home sharper.  This is not a feature it is a liability.  But that is not the only sharpening problem.  When you combine S30V's unpleasantness at the grinding stone with a recurve, this knife is a nightmare to sharpen.  And its not like S30V is a permasharp (trademark, bitches...) steel, like M390 or ZDP-189.  You will sharpen this thing a lot.

Add to these two drawbacks an almost inaccessible liner for the lock, a tiny thumb hole, an ugly color scheme and very crude construction (this is just three slabs of poorly matched steel on my review sample) and you have a knife that is not worth your time and certainly not worth the $215 street price.  This is an expensive blade and in the end it just feels like a cheap ripoff of a Henningson custom.    

Score: 12 out of 20 (One point off for each of the follow: blade shape, steel, grind, and deployment; two points off for design and lock.)

Schaeffer Saragis

Here is the product page.

In a product category not known for its subtlety and understated the design, the Saragis stands out because it looks so normal.  No rainbow clip or snow cap, just a good looking, slender pen.  And it is not one of these modern minimalist designs either--this is a pen that looks like a pen not trying to show off.

And I like it.  The steel nib was pretty stiff, much stiffer than the the gold nib on my Vanishing Point, which is to be expected.  It is also significantly stiffer than the steel nib on my Edison.  Like the pen's appearance, the nib is a buttoned down affair.  But that doesn't mean it is a poor writer.  Far from it.  I found I actually liked the harder nib.  

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I was also pleasantly surprised at how durable the Saragis was.  It ran with me for months through court after court after court of use and maybe abuse.  And it never grimaced or made a complaint.  I wouldn't say this is "tactical pen tough" but it is plenty hearty enough for repeated regular use.

One thing worth nothing--I love the cap.  I am not a fan of caps, hence my love for the Vanishing Point, but this cap, with its strong clean detent was awesome.  It snapped into place with authority.

In the end, this was a very good pen, though not an elite writer.  The nib lacked that addictive, lets-write-a-page-of-flourishes-while-talking-on-the-phone feel.  The only real ding (being not great is not really a ding) is the grip section.  It got duller and a bit tacky with use as it is just a hunk of resin.  You can do much, much worse than the Sagaris, especially for the price of around $60. 

Score: 17 out of 20 (1 off for writing performance and 2 off for grip)

11 comments:

  1. The concept of having a liner lock cut from the scale itself seems pretty innovation, apart from accessibility how did you find this locking mechanism?

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    1. It's not cut from the liner itself, it's a separate piece of steel. The entire thing is three layer sandwich of steel--the two handles and then one thin piece for the liner. If it was cut from the handle that would be interesting and that is what I thought was going on from the press pics. Alas, this is as conventional of a design as possible.

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  2. You gave the slimfold a pretty good review but I think the durability is higher than implied. I really, really like my micro soft shell. I've had mine since they came out (two years ago I think?). Use it daily and I keep my office electronic key card in there so it's in and out of my front jeans pocket a lot. Inspecting it now I can't find a corner, edge or seam that's showing any wear at all. Mine's a rock.

    I've never had trouble with 5-10 bills though, certainly, it has a design range you're better sticking inside. 10 bills is at the top.

    Cards have also not been a problem for me. I carry six, one of which is the thicker door card. If anything, I'd like the front card spaces to be a touch narrower.

    Anyway, just chiming in that I really like mine.

    Thanks for all the reviews.

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  3. So, after reading this "review" of the Vrango I have to wonder: Have you actually go the knife? Is the one you have a counterfeit?

    I do think this is a specialized blade shape that might not be right for everyone and I would have loved to see full CF on the front and bead blast gray for the rest of the finish.

    That said, the blade is CPM S30V which Spyderco makes work pretty well with their heat treat and the handles/liner are titanium (minus the CF inserts). The grind is easy enough to sharpen on a rod based system. The Vrango opens as smooth as a bearing pivot folder without bearings. Could the lock be a little easier to access? Yes. Would this make it more prone to unintentional disengagement given the size? Hard to say but it seems likely.

    For a small, functional, EDC Gentleman's knife the Vrango works well. I don't love the aesthetics but I think it's a bit higher than a 12.

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    1. After reading this comment I have a few thoughts:

      I do actually have the knife. It was a lender from Blade HQ, so I doubt it was a counterfeit. I also doubt that someone would bother to make a counterfeit of the Vrango. Its not leaping off the shelves.

      I have had a lot of liner locks this size, and the access cut out has never made them more likely to disengage. The Cat, for example, is virtually the same size and is a liner lock with an access cut out and it is fine.

      I am going to have to disagree on the resharpening thing--S30V, with the uber-thin point, and the recurve all conspire to make this a high degree of difficulty regardless of the system and there are few that it just would be a chore on.

      This does not open like it is on bearings. I have cleaned out the pivot, used Nano Oil, and it still is slow. Compared to something like the Techno, its pretty bland.

      There are dozens of knives that are better gentleman's EDCs. And let's not forget the price--$215 street. Which would you rather have: this weirdo contraption or the Chaparral and $100 bill? No question, which is the better choice.

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    2. For the same price, I would rather have the Spyderco Firefly for a gent's folder. The colors may not be for everyone, but I think it's a better knife in all the areas that Tony dinged the Vrango. S30V is better than VG-10 yes, but the blade shape on the Firefly is so much better that I'd definitely take the "downgrade" (VG-10 is still good enough).

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  4. Great review! What's the white handle knife in the last picture?

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  5. What kind of flipper is that in the last picture?

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    1. The white handled flipper is a custom Charles Gedraitis Small Pathfinder flipper.

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  6. I think its a stinky design as well, but isn't the Vrango handle made of Ti?

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  7. Not enough handle on the little Jettison. Bought one, couldn't figure out a niche that would justify carrying it.

    Strongly prefer the Ladybug for $5 more ($15 if you go ZDP-189).

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