Friday, November 4, 2016

Steelcraft Mini Bodega Review

This is $445 production knife.  That is insanely expensive.

There, got that objection out of the way.  

The Mini Bodega is, in many ways, the very crest of the wave in this second era of the Golden Age of Gear.  I personally thought that the TAD Dauntless was the crest and that after that things started falling away, but the reality is, production companies were just gearing up for a second, even more impressive run.  And right now, as of October 2016, the crest of this second wave is this knife. 

The Mini Bodega is based on a Todd Begg custom, the Bodega.  For many years Todd made the exclusively as one-offs.  Then he started a "midtech" line of "field grade" Bodegas.  Then, after reaching a deal with Reate, he collaborated with them to produce the first Steelcraft knife--the Kwaiken.  Then this knife came out and now we are treated to a third blade in the Steelcraft line up--the Field Marshall.  Each has been a stunning achievement in production quantity machining.  Prior to the Steelcraft debut, if you would have asked me which "tactical" custom maker could not be done at any level by a production company, I would have pointed to Todd Begg.  The intricacy and complexity of his designs seemed beyond the realm of what was possible.  And so the Mini Boedga, like its two other brothers, seems to an obvious candidate for the crest of the wave.  These knives are high water marks right now.  

But part of me has been concerned that this knife is not really much more than a run of the mill TFF (titanium framelock flipper) with a ton of decoration--a Baroque version the Kizer Gemini, if you will.  And while it it is clear to me that the Mini Bodega is an achievement, the question for this review is whether it is more of an achievement in the "world's largest neon sign" achievement or a "Rape of Proserpina" achievement.



The comparison to Bernini's truly mind-blowing sculpture is relevant here--many could do the big complex lines of the human body in various contorted poses, but what sets Bernini's masterpiece apart from its peers, is the insane, complex, and intricate details.  The Steelcraft blades are clearly an achievement, but let's see what kind...

There is no product page. The Steelcraft Mini Bodega costs a staggering $445.00 and there are a few variations in color and finish, all of which cost the same. Here is a written review (by the always great Matt Davidson over at Best Pocket Knives Today, add the site to your bookmarks if you haven't done so already). Here is my video overview. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Mini Bodega, 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: Gaudy and great.

Design: 2

There is a moment when true greatness emerges--whether it is Usain Bolt breaking the world record by so much time that he can pose before the finish line or Bernini's masterpiece--and it is evident to all, even those not in the know.  Looking at the Mini Bodega is that moment for me in knives.  And here, on the Mini Bodega, its things like the backspacer where you see Todd flexing his design muscles like Bolt on the track:

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Todd Begg's designs are not my taste at all, but its hard to deny they are anything less than amazing.  He has a design language that is distinctly Begg and even when folks try to copy him, they fall short.  It is this idea that led me to think that Begg's stuff represented an unbreakable barrier in the custom tactical world--a knife that no production company could ever make.  And then, about a half year later, the Steelcraft line was announced. I was floored.  Two of the three blades are too big for practical use and carry, but the Mini Bodega, with its sweet spot sized blade of exactly 3 inches isn't.  This is a wild, machinst art piece you can carry around in your pocket and use everyday.   And I don't say that lightly.  I am pretty much convinced that the vast, vast majority of knives aren't art.  But here is something that you can buy, carry, and...what the fuck...use that is.  So yeah, I like the design even if I myself would never go for something this busy.  

Performance ratios are irrelevant to a knife like this, but even given that, they aren't horrendous.  The blade:handle is the classic ratio .75 and the blade:weight is .81.  Both are at least average and given that these considerations are clearly not the foremost important part of this design, they are respectable.  For me, I think every folder should have at least a .75 B:H and weigh less than Nutnfancy's arbitrary (but correct) 4 ounces.    

Fit and Finish: 2

Begg's designs are great and Reate's David Deng's fit and finish is its peer.  If the Sebenza and Chris Reeve stuff was the highwater mark 10 years ago, this is the new benchmark.  Reate has consistently produced awesome knives with features and fit and finish only seen in customs.  The Mini Bodega is no different.  In fact, I think the Steelcraft blades might even be a step up from Reate's normal awesomeness.  Don't believe me?  Check out this:

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This is a finish, cracked ice, I have never seen on a production before, and Deng bothers to go the extra step and do it on the INSIDE of the knife.  That's the backspacer in case you couldn't tell.  This entire knife blew me away.  So awesome.  

Grip: 1

Greatness isn't the same as perfection and here, the flourishes got a little carried away.  The jimping on the lockbar, especially located where it is, is a huge problem.  It is 100% unnecessary and it is makes cutting more difficult.  In fact, if you have a certain sized hand, this will be an almost insta-hotspot. 

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In the future, if they ever make the Mini Bodega again, they should just smooth out this section of the knife.  It is an obvious and real issue with an easy fix.  It is also clearly a case where design trumps functionality and for me, that is a no-no.  Its not the worst thing in the world and the rest of the knife is fine, but don't think this is your new whittling knife, unless, you know, your not a fan of having skin on the palm of your hand.  

Carry: 2

This is a great carry.  In your pocket, its just enough there to make sure you don't forget it, but not so pushy that you can't sit in a car seat with your seatbelt buckled, for example.  The 3:4 B:H is something like the Fibonaaci sequence for pocket knives and it bears out in the carry.  A 4 inch knife in your pocket works so well.  

Steel: 2

I can't complain about S35VN's performance, but it is not a top shelf steel.  This goes back to the acceptable versus good point I made a while ago.  The reality is S35VN will do everything you need for the rest of your life, but compared to stuff like 3V or ZDP-189 its not a powerhouse in any one aspect, its just good overall.  Problem is, 20CV is just better at being all around great.  The steel is great, but for $445 you can do better. 

Blade Shape: 2

The only thing on this knife that is simple and it, too, is great.  Drop point for the win.

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Grind: 2

The grind here is a bit short, I'd prefer something with a bit more height or a bit more hollow, but its fine.  The Mini Bodega passed the apple test and really I can't ask for much more from a folder.  The evenness and consistency of the grind are flawless.  Even complex grinds such as the top bevel are easily seen to be perfect.  Perfectly executed but a bit thick behind the edge by design.

Deployment Method: 2

Like the S35VN blade steel there is not much to complain about here.  The flipping action is good and does get better over time, but, and this is something unavoidable, it is not significantly better than the flipping acting on the much cheaper Kizer Gemini.  It is noticeably behind the ZT0450CFZDP.  And if we are talking the true elite of the production world--the Tilt and the ZT0454--there is a clear lag.  Its smooth and fires consistently, but it lacks that frictionless feel that the absolute pinnacle flippers possess.  Think of it as a comparison between Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.  Aaron is great, a inner circle Hall of Famer for sure, but Willie Mays has that bit of something extra even among the elite.  This is the Hank Aaron of flippers.

Retention Method: 2

Begg's ball bearing clip is not without precedent in history.  At a recent knife show I found a knife from the early 80s with the same thing, but I have no doubt that Begg thought of it on his own.  And it works GREAT.  Of all of the Beggian hallmarks this is by far the most function.  And it is, like all other piece of Begg's design language, complex and spectacular.  The fact that David Deng could replicate this in a production scale is jaw dropping.  I don't know how they made this work. 

Lock: 2

I love the lock, but for the jimping.  Its solid, unmoving in the locked position and yet it disengages with ease.  I like it very, very much.   Its not the replaceable/user tweakable lockbar you find on a true Bodega custom, but I always felt that feature was a bit like moveable shelves on a bookshelf, nice in theory but 100% never used.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

The Mini Bodega ain't my thang.  I get why it is great, and it is great, but it is simply too much for me.  My personal tastes however yield, score-wise, to the incredible detail and fit and finish achieved here.  There is no question that this knife represents a new standard for production blades, a step beyond the Sebenza and its ilk.  There are other productions knives in this category now, the other two in the coming shoot out for example, but even among those elite blades, the Mini Bodega still stands out.  Simply put--I did not think production knives could ever be this complex.  Raising the bar is always important and worthy of note.  But in the end, this knife is not for me.  It might be for you though.

As for the price, which is a huge issue, once you get the knife in hand you will see where all of the money went.  There are a seemingly unending number of finishing steps, one after the other.  Even with all of the gee whiz CNC tech in the world I can't see how this knife is simple to make.  I thought the machining on the ZT0560 was impressive.  This is ten times as complex.  Its not a value buy by any means, but even at $445 the price isn't excessive for what you get.  You may not need or appreciate all of that work, but its work nonetheless and time is money.

I have to the answer the question from the intro paragraphs (which I spend a great deal of writing and rewriting for each review--they are always the most work).  First let me say this--no knife, even the Buster Warrenski King Tut or a Van Barrett creation is nothing compared the Rape of Proserpina.  Simply put, that sculpture is a human achievement with few peers--the Sistine Chapel, Guernica, the 9th Symphony, Kind of Blue, those are its peers.  Not cutlery.  But really I was asking if this was the Rape of Proserpina of production knives.  And in that sense, I think the answer is yes.  At least as of 2016.  There is simply nothing this complex and well executed on the market (this applies to the other Steelcraft knives, but they would score worse because of their impractical size).  The Mini Bodega is a high water mark, a standard to aim at, and a technical achievement.  And while it is gaudy, it is in service to Todd Begg's style which is exceptional and distinctive.  So this isn't "World's Largest Neon Sign" though it is closer to that end of the spectrum than I am comfortable with.  It is not my style, but there is no denying is complexity, detail, and execution.  Begg and Deng hit an unqualified home run here.  If it is your style, snag one now.  Stock is dwindling everywhere, which is quite incredible because this is a $445 production knife.  

The Competition

The triad is complete now.  Look for the Shootout between the Wayfarer, the Neon (soon to be released on Gear Junkie), and the Mini Bodega.  

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9 comments:

  1. Not sure why you thought there was a barrier. The Bodega is a production knife, made in a small shop, mostly by cnc. The fact that the same thing can be done in China for much cheaper shouldn't be too shocking.

    That knife is almost the same price as the zt0606 which to me is way more impressive being that its USA made with a custom turned pivot by Matt Martin with better blade steel and similarly complex machining.

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    1. If it was readily available, it would be a different story. Its not exactly fair to compare the Limited ZTs to outright production knives.

      Also, I'd disagree that XHP is better. They are pretty much equals in my experience.

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    2. Is the Mini-Bodega a full production knife? Haven't all of the Steelcraft knives been limited productions?

      It is also completely fair to compare them when the price is the so close.

      The Bodega is a production knife through and through. From the one offs, to the Field Grades, to the Steel crafts.

      There was also some questionable marketing involved with the first series where Todd Begg's name was bandied about but there was almost no mention of them being made by Reate or in China.

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  2. They even have the same blue/gold and two tone blade style.

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    Replies
    1. Some might call that derivative. Yes, I am trolling you Jonathan.

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    2. Just pointing out that neither of those are novel features.

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  3. Great review Tony. It's a great time to be a knife fan right now.

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  4. I bought this as soon as it came out and came to the same conclusion: this is so cool and I'll never carry it. Sold it quickly, but still think it was pretty awesome.

    One note: I didn't think the clip was great. The ball bearing didn't seem to work well for me, but the big issue was the offset between the two screws...it creates an angle to the clip so that the top cannot sit flat on top of your pocket. It always felt like the knife was swinging around the lower of the two posts.

    The flipper landing strip combined with the position of the spine of the blade also seemed very impractical. I could never get my thumb in a position with any leverage...it felt very unnatural to cut anything with any force.

    Great review - I think you will enjoy the NeOn.

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  5. Great review. The aesthetic analysis is typically sound. I agree: this elaborate visual approach is not usually my style, but here I can't call it gaudy. It threads the needle and achieves a dynamic harmony. Kind of awesome to look at actually.

    Basically it's a baroque knife that successfully avoids being rococo.

    The only neg I notice is that lockbar jimping. It looks uncomfortable and pointless. I'd worry it would screw up my enjoyment of the knife -- at this price point any mild irritant would likely seem magnified.

    Still, thanks for telling us about this feat of design and production.

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