Friday, November 18, 2016

Survive! Knives GSO 4.7 Review

Well, the Small Batch Insanity article (and its follow up article) I posted got noticed and posted on Blade Forum.  There it stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest when I mentioned the fact that Survive! Knives business model needed some work.  Basically I pointed out three problem areas--wait times, order status on the website, and taking money prior to making knives.  All of these things have a long tradition in the knife world of causing problems for consumers.  To their credit, Survive! Knives hopped on the forum and was very forthcoming about their growing pains.  Additionally, they cleared up the order status issue I had mentioned.  And, if it is representative of their new production model, I got my GSO 4.7 in about a month to six weeks from the date of ordering it.  In all, a lot of issues were addressed.

But all of this leads to one thing, the one thing that really matters in the final analysis--is this a good knife?  The answer is an unqualified yes.  This is an amazing piece of cutlery and unlike a lot of what I have been reviewing lately it is a supremely good value. Survive! Knives has some work to do to rebuild consumer confidence outside their small (but feverishly devoted) fanbase.  But with a few tweaks to the website that were made after the controversy (I am not so arrogant as to think it was because of the controversy) and products like the GSO 4.7, they can rebuild consumer confidence and expand.  This is a knife that builds a company.

Here is the product page.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review (Wildsoul Vee is fun to watch and really knows her stuff).  You can't really buy Survive! Knives through dealers, and Blade HQ has been out of stock for about a year or so, so I won't bother with a link.  Here is my review sample (purchased with personal funds):

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Twitter Review Summary: Well worth the hassle...hang in there if you are waiting.

Testing Note:  This knife, the Fiddleback Forge, and the Bark River Bravo 1 LT in 3V were all tested during the Chopocalypse.  This is a pretend holiday for knife knuts that I just made up.  We had our trees on the property trimmed back, two large oaks and a large maple.  I negotiated with the tree company to leave the branches in exchange for a discount.  I then built a sawbuck and Wranglestar's chopping stump (complete with a tire I found near the railroad tracks).  In all I spent about $30 for the two chopping stands and a few bucks on knives, but the tree guys knocked off around $700 and we don't have to pay for firewood this year.

Over a Saturday and a Sunday I used all three knives for hours at a time.  On Saturday we (my 6 year old son helped too--he has very good knife sense and plenty of safety equipment--gloves, eyewear...you name it) started around 8 AM and cut until 6 PM with a hour break for karate and another 30 minutes off for lunch.  On Sunday we started around 7 AM again (thanks daylight savings time) and again went until 6 PM or dark.  This time we had an hour off for lunch.  It was a lot of work.  Many of the branches were waist thick and 30 feet long.  A chain saw helped as did my GB hatchet.  In total I walked about 18,000 steps the first day and around 20,000 the second according to my Apple Watch.  All three knives did a lot of delimbing and chopping.  All three knives did more than their fair share of batonning.  All three knives did fire prep work--feathersticks and the like.  And all three knives did their fair share of food prep (we had camp food for lunch both days).  I feel that this was an exceptionally thorough test for all of the knives.  There were a wide variety of tasks and two very hard woods.  It even rained on the second day, so we had some waterproofing testing as well.

One last note--the pictures were taken BEFORE the Chopocalypse.

Design: 2

Like all of my favorite things in the world, this knife is very simple with a ton of attention to detail and refinement.  The silhouette, which I like quite a bit, could literally be one of a dozen knives, but once you start looking closely you see that what is there is quite extraordinary.   There is a real sharpening choil.  The plunge line is crisp enough to scrape with.  The jimping is effective but never offensive.  The handle is a wonderful shape.  The lanyard loop is cleverly designed.  There is an unending cascade of beautiful details here.  Even that steep curve at the index notch is very nice once you get the knife in the hand.  

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Simple, mindful, and attractive...what more could you ask for in a knife?

Fit and Finish: 2

Befitting a knife this lovingly designed is a blade this pleasingly finished.  There is zero to complain about here.  Even the coating, which I typically hate, is not bad.  The transition from scale to tang is fingernail flush and the plunge line, as I mentioned above, is a balanced thing of beauty.  Even the handle screws seem to have been focused on.  Normally, the pins or bolts on high end fixed blades have been ground away and polished, but the GSO 4.7 is supposed to be a working knife and so the scales need to be removable.  This sometimes means that the screws create unsightly and painful spots on the handle.  Not so here.  They were never once an issue.  Overall, even on my pickiest day I couldn't find fault with this knife.  

Handle Design: 2

There is palm swell and then there is pregnant whale.  This is a pregnant whale of a handle.  Don't believe me?  Check this out:

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That is some serious Coke bottling.  But, in the end, I found it to be exceedingly comfortable and actually better in a gloved hand than less aggressively shaped handles.  Even the steep indexing notch caused no problems.  In fact, it was quite good at preventing my hand from riding up on the knife.  

Steel: 2

To know a steel you must work a steel, both in the sense of using it and in the sense of sharpening it.  And having done both I can tell you that I LOVE Cru-Forge V.  Survive! Knives chose it as a budget alternative to 3V and I am not sure there is a big difference between the two, other than price.  Here is the datasheet for the steel.  Cru-Forge is basically 52100 with vanadium added and that vanadium gives the steel large and hard carbides that promote wear resistance.  For knife makers it forges well and uses protocols similar to that of other high carbon steels.  But for users these two points don't matter so much.  What does matter is performance.  And perform Cru-Forge V does.  I beat this edge to smithereens.  I was just merciless.  And yet after 16 hours or so of chopping, cutting, slicing and (shhh!) prying, I was able to restore the edge to 100% chip free, hair-popping sharp.  All I used was a strop.  I can't think of any steel I have used that has performed better in hard use tasks than Cru-Forge, and that includes 3V (heresy alert!).  That said there is some sample size issues--I have had lots of 3V fixed blades and only one Cru-Forge.  Maybe this was an insanely perfect gem because of a fluke in heat treating or something else.  Whatever the issue--the performance leaves me wanting more Cru-Forge V, especially for my fixed blades.  It has also piqued my curiosity about 52100, a favorite steel of the bowie making Butterscotch Club.      

Blade Shape: 2

Nothing crazy here, just a more spearpoint-ish drop point.  The result is a really simple, but really great blade shape.  I have found that this blade shape is actually quite good for batonning, as the tip of the knife doesn't dig into the batonning stick nor does it want to break off.

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This is just another place where Guy Sieferd did a very good job in making decisions.  Its clear that a lot of thought went into this knife, all the way down to the blade shape.

Grind: 2 

One thing that is hard to do on a fixed blade knife of this size is getting the blade thickness right.  As the knife equivalent of the No. 5 Jack Plane in the woodworking, the person doing the grind (or designing the grind, depending on how big the company is) has to decide if they want to make the knife a short chopper or a long slicer.  Its not an easy decision.  As you can see below, the grind on the GSO 4.7 is immaculate:

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But clean doesn't necessarily mean correct.  In fact, the GSO's grind is correctly done.  It took a pounding, then sharpened back to a razor, hair popping edge pretty quickly.  I even cut grapes with the GSO 4.7 and it did fine.  Given the huge compromises that come with a design like this, Guy did a great job with the grind here--a little bit of everything with nothing completely out of reach.  The choice does favor hard use tasks a bit as I wouldn't fillet an expensive slab of tuna with this thing or make flower rosettes out of radishes, but for most tasks you'll be fine.

Sheath Carry: 2

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When I got the sheath I was puzzled.  No Tek-Lok, it rode high on the hip and it looked like it would be a splint more than a sheath.  But after the Chopocalypse, I can report that despite its unorthodox design, this a masterfully made sheath.  Riding high on the hip means that you can carry the knife and still sit down, such as when you hop on an ATV (I don't own an ATV, but we will fix that soon enough).  I was also surprised at how well the belt attachment hooks worked.  The knife never slid around and it never got bunched up.  It  lacks the versatility  of the Tec-Lok, as you can't switch to scout style carry, but aside from that, this is one hell of a sheath and easily the best sheath I have received with a fixed blade.  My Bayou Custom Sheathes sheath for my Jarosz JFS is better, but that is the best sheath I have ever used.  This is second.

After I wrote the main portion of this review I went on a hike with my youngest son.  Stowed in his pack on my back, complete with a waist belt, I hiked about 5 miles across varied and rugged terrain (an old river valley with boulders and the like).  The GSO 4.7 was on my hip, under the strap.  Only at the very end of the hike did it become an issue.  The high carry sheath is great--hell, I jumped in my car and drove around with zero problems.  This is a great sheath, even with the rib tickler height.  

Sheath Accessibility: 2

You want it.  I want it.  Everyone that has ever carried a fixed blade wants it.  What is "it"?  How about a true one-handed sheath?  By that I mean a sheath you can both stow and retrieve the knife from with one hand.  No sheath I have, even the Bayou Custom model, does that.  The Bayou Custom falls short because the knife it is stowing is too small, so that is really not a fair criticism, but you get the point.  The GSO 4.7 sheath is a one-handed sheath.  Better yet, thanks to the large opening hole and distinctive snap when the blade is pushed into place, its a "blind" sheath too.  No need to look down, just drop the knife in, wait for the click, and go.  

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The difference is tremendous.  During the Chopocalypse the time and energy necessary to unsheath and resheath a knife over and over again is wearing.  Eventually you just don't care and leave the knife on the ground.  But with a sheath this easy to use, it is stow and go.  Truly great.  Most accessible sheath I have ever used.  

Useability: 2

All of this design panache is great, but the thing that won me over, that made my Gear Geek heart sing when I picked up the GSO 4.7 after hours of use, was just how good it was when it was working.  I never got a hotspot even when doing really intense cutting tasks.  I never worried about the edge after I saw how much punishment it could take.  And the sheath helped me hang in the chopping game long after other sheathes on other knives drove me bonkers.  

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Even the tip is nice (oh man).  It is surprising to me how good the balance is between stabbiness and beefiness.  In the end, this is a knife that works exceedingly well, better, perhaps than any other knife I have owned.  Some knives were more refined or more of a treat for the eye, but if I was compelled to change professions and forced to do a job that required a lot of cutting there is no question that the GSO 4.7 would be my tool of the trade. 

Durability: 2

Matching the gusto with which the GSO 4.7 tackles tasks is just how resilient it is after doing that work.  There was no chipping.  The sheath remained snappy and grit free.  The handle was still a nice matte G10.  The coating...well...coatings all suck, but this sucked a little less.  And given the carbon content in Cru-Forge V its definitely needed.  Ever seen 1095 untreated?  Oh yeah, like this.  I would imagine Cru-Forge will freckle as much or more if untreated.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT

Its been a while since I doled out a Perfect Score and it has happened only once before in a fixed blade, but this one is an easy Perfect.  The reality is, this knife is a marvel, a stunning blade that held an edge through a 16 hour torture test and came out the other side with an edge that was easily restored to shaving sharp.   Every design choice was the right one, even if it wasn't one I would have made at the start, meaning that Guy Seiferd really knows what he is doing.  If you make a choice radically different from one a consumer would make and you turn out to be right, well that is Steve Jobs-level product design.

But all of this superbery (yep, just coined the term) misses the real trick here--this knife is CHEAP.  The rough equivalent of this knife, an ESEE 5, runs just a few dollars less ($30 to be exact as of the date this review was written).  And even for the cheapest bastard out there there is an easy $30 difference.  If you are a Mora-only guy, you probably won't find $30 in value, but nothing, to a Mora guy, is worth $30, not even, ironically enough, a Mora.  For the rest of us though, this is knife that would still be a good buy at $100 more.  Great knife, great design, and great price.  This and the Dragonfly II in ZDP-189 are probably the only two items that scored a Perfect that are also high value items.  Really, truly a remarkable feat.

 
The Competition

The Shootout will be coming soon--this, the Fiddleback Forge, and the Bark River Bravo 1 LT in 3V are in the fight.  I will be very excited to see who wins, but when you factor in price, as my Shootouts always do, I can't see how the GSO 4.7 will lose.  But that is just a guess.

8 comments:

  1. What is the blade stock thickness on this guy?

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  2. "This and the Dragonfly II in ZDP-189 are probably the only two items that scored a Perfect that are also high value items. Really, truly a remarkable feat."
    Did you mean the only two *knives* to score Perfect and also being high value? The Aeon Mk. III scored perfect.

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    Replies
    1. That's probably a bit too expensive to be a value item. This is right on the edge and it is $180.

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    2. My question would be: how exactly "value item" is defined? I'm assuming it's something along the lines of: exceptional performance at a better price than that performance would otherwise warrant, often in comparison to similar products in a similar price range.
      Other reviews of Perfect score that might be a good value by that definition:
      Spyderco Roadie/Manix: These are good values in terms of performance vs price, but may not be in a wider sense as there are other very good options in a similar price point.

      Olight S1 Baton: Not a Perfect, but pretty close, and a great value for a 20/20 product. The S1R is probably a better value as well as being a better light.

      Tom Bihn Synapse 25: This is not an inexpensive backpack, but combine the quality, design, and warranty it is, IMO, a great value, even at near-$200. I bought one, and I consider it an investment that will pay itself back. I have yet to think that I didn't get a great deal spending that much more than a cheap disposable Walmart backpack.

      I'd also say the Tactile Turn Mover/Shaker/Slider/Glider pens are good examples of being a good value relative to other high-end pens, but if you can get a Pilot G2 (for example) for super cheap and get the exact same writing performance, the TT pens aren't a good value by comparison. Conversely, the Dragonfly is clearly a better cutting tool than a $5 Walmart special.

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    3. Sorry I misunderstood your comment. This is just semantics but I read high value as an expensive item as opposed to "good value" for the money. To me, the dragonfly, GSO 4.7 and Aeon mk III are all expensive items, objectively speaking.

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  3. O.175

    http://surviveknives.com/gso-4-7-cru-forge-v-out-of-stock/

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  4. It sounds like you did get some micro chipping but the edge was restored with stropping. Sounds like that puts the RC at 60 to 61. I'd be interested in your subjective opinion about how it re-sharpens.

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