Monday, February 29, 2016

February 2016 Carry

In New England we expect one thing in February--misery.  This year we got just enough snow to remind us what real New England winters are like.  To that end my carry was a bit different than last year.  Last year was the snowiest in the last 100 years, so it was a lot of Leatherman Skeletool (my favorite carry for snow removal) and HDS Rotary (my go to light in tough situations).  This year I was able to carry a much wider array of things.  The ability, however, didn't mean that I did.  A lot of flashlight carry was confined to the Surefire Titan Plus.  As I noted in my review, it's a somewhat dated design (it would be goddam perfect if it had a staged twisty like the Aeon Mk. II), but that didn't stop me from reaching for it a lot.  The reality is that it's just a great sized package with tons of light.  That's a combination that is hard to complain about (even for me, a professional complainer--I am a lawyer remember).

The knife that I had a lot of the time was this blade:


I really, really like the Mantra 1.  It is definitely my favorite flipper from Spyderco and the question for the review, which is in the works, is whether or not it's as good as some of the best flippers on the market.  The choice of steels results in complex feelings--one one hand M4 rusts almost as fast as Corten, but on the other it holds an edge and slices better than any steel out there.  Spyderco really should have used one of the M390 family of steels, but then the price would have been much higher and the knife would compete with their premium flippers in terms of price.  

I also had a chance to play around with two new CRKT fixed blades, the Mossback Hunter


and Bird and Trout.


Both are Krein creations and both sport Krein's awesome handle design.  The sheathes stink, but the blades themselves are quite handy.  The Hunter fits into a sweet spot for fixed blades for me--choppers can't do much else other than chop (yes, I have seen the videos of machete masters getting all sorts of performance out of their Tramontinas).

In addition to the CRKT fixed blades I got a Jettison to handle.  It is a positively tiny knife, but it flips with an impressive snap.  Here it is with Surefire Titan Plus at the Beneski Museum of Natural History, which is a free and wonderful place on the campus of Amherst College (the background is a piece of polished petrified wood):


Another piece of kit that came in recently, one that has really captured my brain, is the Edison Pen Company Pearlette (here is the link to Edison).  Here it is with the Shamwari:


The Pearlette is modeled after a Nakaya, which, I think will eventually be a will be a while though because the Pearlette is pretty darn spectacular and has worked very, very well thus far in my really unfairly hard fountain pen testing regime.


I am looking forward to March as I have a few new things in that have really intrigued me. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

FourSevens Paladin Review

Remember that Star Trek The Next Generation episode when Picard and Worf, on an away mission, have crash landed their shuttle craft on a planet while the Enterprise is fighting space pirates in orbit?  In the episode, their Federation issued "palm beacons" go out and Picard and Worf have to rely on Klingon flashlights.  Worf pulls out his warrior's light and hands it to Picard.  It looks like this:


Okay, that never happened.  First, if you are a real ST:TNG nerd you'd know that Riker NEVER let the captain go on away missions (per Star Fleet regs...that Kirk, what a rebel).  Second, their palm beacons NEVER died, though they did, mysteriously, all run on incandescent bulbs...which is surprising given how far in the future they are.  Maybe incans make a come back.  The point is--this is one ugly, crenellated, knurled, mess.  The Paladin is just a hideous light.  It also has some serious design flaws.  In short, it is a sorry entry into the product catalog of FourSevens.  If you were waiting for them to release a new and innovative light, keep waiting.  This thing stinks.  Stinks like skunk road kill.  In the middle of summer.  During a heat wave.  

Here is the product page. The Paladin costs $150.  There are a host of accessories, including different colored strike bezels (which, to me, look like skirts...we have a year in which a flashlight toupee and a flashlight skirt are weird).  There is also a less blingy version of this light called the Knight--same features, just all black aluminum instead of colored titanium for $80.  There are no written or video reviews.  

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: The flashlight equivalent of spinners--lots of bling and lots of stupid design choices. 

Design: 0

There are two things I really like about the Paladin, unfortunately neither of them actually make the light better.  First, I love the fact that Paul Kim is working with a major company again.  For those of you that don't know, Paul Kim aka PK, is probably the most important flashlight engineer ever.  No I am not giving a shred of credit to the Maglight guy--he is a mean, sue-happy crazy person.  PK worked for Surefire for years.  Many of the most important design features on modern lights sprang from PK's brain.  A few years ago PK and Surefire parted ways and he went out on his own.  He released a few lights under his own brand (which, unsurprisingly, look a lot like the Paladin), but none had any major market impact.  David Chow decided to team up with PK and the Paladin (and it's less blingy brother, the Knight) are the result.  So, yeah, one good thing--PK is back at it.

And there is another good thing about the Paladin: it's user configurable. There are four pieces that can be moved around and swapped in and out to create a myriad of different lights.  There is a screw down retention ring, a strike bezel (which is truly the dumbest feature on a light), a pocket clip, and the light itself.

Here are a few different configurations:

As shipped:


and "naked":


and "Worf Mode":


and, "Sane Person Pocket" mode:


and Clip on the Head:


As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to set up your Paladin.  Unfortunately for the user, none are all that good.  I prefer the clipless set up with retaining ring attached as a bezel.  Even that version, though, is pretty sucky.

First, the tailcap is horrible.   Without a shroud or even a lip to protect the switch, the Paladin comes on at all sorts of inopportune times.  It is virtually impossible to not accidentally activate the light.  I am not a tactical person so I am not worried about the light giving my position away, but I am worried about running down the batteries, overheating the light, and a serious case of hot pocket.  Sure there is a lock out feature, but in my experience, it was more hassle than it was worth, locking down too tight on a number of occasions.  The easy solution is to just change the tailcap or change the UI.  As it is, the Paladin is busted. 

Second, the light is very pokey.  The head is pokey, the strike bezel is pokey, and the clip is insanely pokey.  The strike bezel is not actually the most offensive part (when it is stowed).  Its actually the spikes on the side of the pocket clip.  Why someone thought that a pocket clip needed spikes and why that design choice, as obviously stupid as it is, made in to the final design is pretty stupefying.  Maybe PK had a blank check from David Chow, like Terrence Malick typically does when he makes films (one awesome Malickian stip: he does not have to do promotional work like interviews AND the film company cannot use his likeness in promoting the movie--talk about anti-celebrity).  I get that and PK does deserve this treatment, but even Malick has to have someone around him to say things like "Terrence, we have waited 93 days for the sunset to be perfect for this shot...perhaps we can move on..."  He says no and does what he wants anyway, but a little push back, even against genius, is not ALWAYS an act of folly from a lesser mind.  Here, the spiked pocket clip is just a bridge too far for me.  Maybe I am like one of the critics that hated Tree of Life (note to critics--you are morons and Terrence Malick is smarter than you...oh wait I am a critic of sorts), but this thing is just terrible is so many ways, right there at the blueprint page.

Other offensive design quirks--the weird look, the difficult to use lock out feature, the not completely protected lens (which David Chow notes as particularly weird in his video previewing the Paladin, found here), the proliferation of threads on the main body all begging to be dinged and rendered inoperable.  The list goes on and on.  Each of these is probably worth a half point, putting the Paladin at something like a -4 to start out with, but that would break the scale and really when its this bad its like winter in Siberia--what practical difference is there between -40 and -60?  Its all just really fucking bad.

The performance ratios are weak because of the poorly chosen outputs.  Lumens:weight is (450/2.16): 208.  While we are on this point, flashlight companies, do not give us the specs of your light with the light empty.  It doesn't work empty so those specs are representative of nothing.  It would be like a car's curb weight not including an engine.  I know batteries have different weights, but its not that big a variance.  The total lumens output is found on high (450 lumens x 120 minutes).  This is unusual and a sign that the lower outputs are not terribly efficient.  

Fit and Finish: 2

No question about it, this thing is a gleaming jewel.  It is very, very nicely finished.  The entire light has a polish that I have never seen before on a flashlight--custom or production.  And the machining greatness is more than skin deep.  The threads are marvelously clean, especially important given the UI, more on that below.  The clicky offers some great feedback and everything just slips together with a degree of tightness and precision that is hard to find an equal to in the production world.  Its just a shame that it was all wasted on a light this terrible.  And yes, this light is terrible.  

Grip: 0

Nope, not good.  Not remotely good.  If you have the pocket clip on this thing is as comfortable on your hands as a pair of thumbscrews.  PK--no spikes on pocket clips, okay?  None.  Especially not FOUR.  Without the pocket clip things get a bit better but the tailcap clicky is so big and hard to miss that even normal use is likely to cause accidental activation.  


This is just not a good light to hold or use or own.  Its good to look at, if you like the Worf aesthetic, but beyond that...ugh. 

Carry: 0

This is easily, without question, and by a large margin, the worse pocket clip ever.  I love the double clip, S design (which I believe is a PK original), but adding spikes to it and making it not actually come in contact with the light were really poor ideas.  This is more a pocket hook than a pocket clip.  


That would be bad, but not epicly terrible if it weren't for the tailcap.  Without a shroud or a protector, you have two choices--leave it on or lock it out.  The lock out is really tough because even a small amount of force makes the tailcap impossible to activate quickly.  If you leave it in the "go" position, just toss a microwave pizza in your pocket and let it cook because I have never experienced as much hot pocket with a light as I did with the Paladin.  The clicky is just too big.  It is very hard to carry this light without locking it out and NOT activate the light.  And forget about dropping it in your jeans coin pocket--it ALWAYS comes on.  Instead, why not light match and drop in down your pants?  The effect is the same.  I never thought it would come to this but I think the design, given the output on high, is actually dangerous.  The light can get hot enough to singe you.  I am not saying the light should be recalled, but it is a pretty crummy thing to have in your pocket because your choices are burning or completely gummed with nothing in the middle.  Again, I'd go for negatives, but that doesn't seem necessary.  You get the point--this thing sucks worse than a black hole.  

Output: 0

David Chow, et. al. flashoholics adore you for one main reason--you listened.  When we needed a night vision preserving output mode you made them standard.  When we complained about disco ball tints, you gave us choices.  When we clamored for special editions, you obliged.  As I said in the overview--FourSevens is a flashlight company run by flashoholics for flashoholics.

And then you released this light--with two modes and high and a medium.  25 lumens is just too bright for a light's main "low" setting.  Essentially there is no low and there is certainly no moonlight low.  Its nothing close to something that is useful or preserving of night vision.  


Its just sad to see, like saving up all year to go to a baseball game and seeing Mike Trout go 0-5 and injure himself in the outfield (side note: has Mike Trout ever gone 0-5?  Baseball Reference Play Index people, let me know in the comments).   You wanted this light to succeed.  I wanted it to succeed.  I bought it pre-release I was so excited.  It was the next generation of FourSevens, one of my favorites, and then we all get this.  Simply put there is no excuse in this day and age to have two outputs as poorly chosen as these two are, especially for a company as progressive as FourSevens.  No excuse. 

You might be tempted by the hidden modes, but they are siren's call.  There is nothing remotely useful hidden away, junky SOS/beacon modes and, ready for the this, a medium mode of 100 lumens.  No thank you.  Oh and there is the always useless strobe (well, I guess some SWAT guys need it and you know how SWAT guys love blingy flashlights).  

Runtime: 0

With shitty outputs comes shitty runtimes.  The high is fine 450 lumens for 2 hours is decent, but the real problem is that the "low" has a runtime of 30 hours.  Nowadays you can get an EDC light, like the S1 Baton, that can run for WEEKS in low.  The S1's moonlight can go for 600 hours.  Its only .5 lumens that is enough to get real work done outdoors at night.  600 hours equals 25 days...compared to 30 hours.  This is just not competitive with other lights on the market.  You have to go back three or five years to find a light that has such a bad low and such long runtimes.

Beam Type: 1

You get a ton of flood out the Paladin and that's fine with me.  I like the fact that they don't try to make the light something its not.  Its decent in that respect.  That said I think I'd prefer either a smaller body like the TIR-based S1 or a different pattern like on the Surefires (with their very distinct hotspot and very broad spill).  Its about average, not bad but not a standout.  

Beam Quality: 1

The actual hotspot and spill are smooth, but the weird bezel (in any configuration) creates distortions at the edge of the beam pattern.  These distortions can impact the field of illumination and, in some instances, make things look different than they would in full light.  Its not a big deal, but it is noticeable and in the modern era its something of an oddity.  Perfect beams are still rare, but very good beams aren't.  This is average given all of the silky smooth patterns out there.

UI: 0

The UI on the Paladin would be OKAY, not great, but passable if the tailcap wasn't such a problem.  Think of it as a light with two mode momentary on and a normal twisty interface.  It, like the amount of knurling and machine, is well done but totally unnecessary.  When you take this different system, pair it with the awful tailcap and add in two poorly chosen output modes, the whole thing is a mess.  AWFUL.

Hands Free: 2

It doesn't roll and it can tailstand.  Yipee.

Overall Score: 6 out of 20 NOT RECOMMENDED

The tailcap is enough to cause the light to be a failure.  The pocket clip is as well.  Together, this is an easy "Not Recommended".

This was an excruciating product to review.  Normally reviews this bad are fun to write, an exercise in creating mean zingers, which, if we are all honest with are ourselves are both fun to read and fun to write.  Not so here.  I have so much respect for David Chow and Paul Kim that this review felt like a betrayal to write, as if I were stabbing the gear community itself in the back.  There have been few things that I anticipated this highly and even fewer that turned out this bad.  The Cryo was a disappointment, but still a good knife.  This is just an awful flashlight.  Its so bad I am not going to give it away in the WWP giveaway.  A disappointing product is one thing.A product this bad from a company with such a sterling reputation is another. 

David Chow literally changed the flashlight industry when he launched FourSevens.  So much of what makes a modern light a modern light came from the engineering genius that is Paul Kim.  Together these two guys have taken lights from giant night stick sized wastes to small, pocketable flamethrowers.  Without both, we still have lights that don't justify daily carry.  So, it is a truly sad thing to hate a product these two guys made.  I really do feel like I am betraying two Gear Head Brother.  Its like breaking Reagan's Primary Politics Rule--I am speaking ill of one of our own.

Unfortunately there is no way around it--the Paladin and the Knight (by extension) are terrible lights with antiquated features, a tailcap that is a liability (maybe even a products liability issue), and a hideous overwrought look.  The fit and finish is spectacular, teasing us about FourSevens' capabilities, but in the end, nothing can save it--the Paladin is the Devil's Spawn of Flashlights.  Its not just bad, its broken.    

Monday, February 22, 2016

47s Paladin Overview

Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

I have written a review that offends one of the hallowed brands of the gear world, a brand run by a gear geek for gear geeks.  Here is the overview:

David Chow and Paul Kim, please forgive me.  You both are amazing guys that make great gear.  The Paladin just doesn't happened to be one of your better pieces of kit.

Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Boker Mini Kwaiken Review with Extras

I feel like I have had my share of Kwaiken.  I bought the original Boker Kwaiken, with its exposed tip.  Then I had it modded to be a Dietz flipper (with the exposed tip taken down).  Then I bought the Mini Kwaiken.  It's informative to have so many interactions with a knife.  I feel like I can say things with a bit more certainty.

The thing is the Mini Kwaiken is a GOOD knife.  The original was not.  The original, for all its rugged micarta charms, was a fundamentally broken knife.  It's not that the tip was close to the surface of the knife--it was exposed.  I could slide a piece of paper underneath it without having the blade out.  I cut my finger a number of times (fuck you tip up carry).  It cut my pants pocket.  One of two things must be true--either this is the way Boker made it OR mine was a lemon.  Either way, this, along with other things, convince me that Boker's fit and finish is, was, and will forever be a thing of doubt.  If it was designed that way, shame on you Boker.  If it was a lemon, it was so bad it should have never passed inspection.  

All of this led me to doubt whether I should buy the Mini Kwaiken.  But I am glad I did.  This is a better knife in every way.  

Here is the product page. The Mini Kwaiken comes in two version (with more to come, certainly): titanium and G10.  The G10 version weighs a half ounce less and costs $109; the titanium version costs $119.  There are no video or written reviews yet. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Mini Kwaiken, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary:  Inching ever closer to greatness

Design: 2

Suffice to say based on the last post, I like the design.  I am really struggling with just how good it is. Burnley's eye is second to none (go follow him on Instagram and look at some of his sketches).  The Kwaiken design is somewhere between best out right now and all time great.  It seems highly plausible that this knife, this exact shape, is destine to take its place in the pantheon of great knives right by the Barlow and the Bowie.  It's that good.   


The performance ratios aren't terrible, aided by the inclusion of G10 scales, but aren't great thanks to the very high density of the knife.  With titanium scales this thing goes from "dense" to "porker".  The blade:handle is .70 which is pretty middling; the blade:weight is .92, which is also middling.  This is not a ratio champ, its a work of art...don't get to hung up on the numbers with a knife like this.

Fit and Finish: 1

Boker has had such a terrible history of fit and finish problems.  The full sized Kwaiken I had was a non-starter.  It was outright dangerous.  This is better.  The tip is still close to the surface, but it is not above it.  Centering is good and all of the surfaces are nicely finished.


The problem with the knife is that it demands a level of attention to detail that is probably just beyond what the Boker Plus line can handle.  If this was given to Kizer, Reate, or Chris Reeve, there would be no issue, but as it is, you get the sense that this knife is the limit of what is possible and the goal was just beyond that limit.  If they dipped that tip down just a smidge more, I'd have given this thing a 2.  Like I said it is not sticking out, but there is not much margin of error in the handle and even being poked once isn't fun.  If it were worse I would say that the knife is NOT RECOMMENDED, but, unlike with the original full sized Kwaiken, you really have to try to get bit.  

Grip: 2

It is surprising to say that a knife that is as stick-like as this is good in the hand.  In part this is because the scales are rounded over and they give the knife a three dimensional feel.  But it is also a commentary on how simple objects are better.  


Its not the grippiest knife in the world, but in the role of an EDC knife its plenty good enough.  I actually like it quite a bit.  

Carry: 2

The knife itself is very nice in the pocket.  It is very slim and quiet.  Its pleasingly rounded over and none of the handle edges are all that pokey. 


I didn't feel like it was fair to ding the knife twice for the near the surface tip, but if its going to bite you it will happen when you pull the knife out of your pocket.  That's when the full-sized version bit me three or four times.  In the months that I have had the Mini I have never hit the tip accidentally when reaching for it in my pocket.  I am always wary, but thus far it has been a superb pocket companion.

Steel: 1

I detest VG-10.  Its very corrosion resistant, but it is also not that good at holding an edge.  And here is the weird thing--I have never been a fan of sharpening it.  It seems like it gets sharp but only after a long time, comparatively speaking.  There are better steels out there in terms of edge retention v. difficulty of sharpening.  I actually prefer AUS-8 to VG-10, especially in a folder and for the effort it takes to sharpen VG-10, I'd prefer just about anything.  Again, its not impossible, like S90V, but the work to reward ratio is off.  

Blade Shape: 2

The blade is strikingly beautiful, just a jaw dropping elegant shape.  Researching the kaiken has convinced me that our version of the tanto is just a blocky, fat mess.  It is so much more crude than the Japanese version. 


This is clearly not a tanto, especially as we Americans see it, but it is derived from the Japanese tanto and it is quite good at slicing, whatever the genealogy. 

Grind: 2

For all of their ham-fisted imprecision and shitty fit and finish, Boker (or in this case their OEM, this is a Chinese made knife), does a decent job with grinds.  This is a high hollow grind and given how narrow the blade is, you need some serious dishing out to get to an acute edge.  Fortunately, Boker did it right and this knife slices well.  
Deployment Method: 2

I have to say, again, given Boker's history, the flipping action here is truly great.  In my experience only a few of the best production flippers have better action.  Honestly, I think this is part of the appeal of the Kwaiken.  Its fluid, almost liquid action (thanks to the IKBS pivot and a dialed in detent) and the pronounced snappiness of the flipper make it addicting to open--this ranks very high on the fidget factor scale.  


It is nice to see the jimping on the flipper tab as well.  This makes for a much, much better flipper and a much more responsive design.  Dan didn't like the flipper tab on his titanium Kwaiken and I can see why having handled this one.  Without the jimping the flipper tab shape is just to rounded off to get a good purchase.  With the jimping, the thing is perfectly sticky and lets you fire the knife open like pulling the trigger on a gun.  

Retention Method: 1

The pocket clip is serviceable, but not terribly flexible.  A thick pair of jeans challenges the clip and forget about using it on things like canvas or tin cloth pants.  I think if it was a bit longer it would give the clip more flex, but then it could impact the grip, so I am not sure if this design is the way to go.  I'd love to see a disappearing clip or a Graham style clip on the Kwaiken.  It would preserve the beautiful lines and be better than what is on the knife now. 

Lock: 2

Absolutely no complaints here.  I hate to say this, but I just prefer liner locks to framelocks.  No overextension issues, no pressure on the detent issues, just easy, reliable use.  This is an easy to engage and disengage lock with no play in any direction.  Boker's Chinese OEM is getting better. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

All told I think I have spent about $500 on Boker Kwaikens of one form or another.  In that time I think I have gotten a handle on how the knife works.  This is clearly the superior production version. I would like better steel and them to take the tip down even further (they clearly heard complaints and modded it from the full sized version).  But any way you look at it, the knife is a great blade.  Its not perfect, but it exudes character and is very fun to open.  The shape is elegant without being the least bit threatening.  This is a great knife to give someone who is interested in knives, but not a fan of bladey blades and the things they stab.  The Burnley Kwaiken is destine to become a classic and the Boker Mini is a good rendering of the form.  I like this knife a lot even if it has a few warts.  Plus, its not outrageously expensive.  A Kizer or a CRK version, with premium steel, would probably give me a heart attack given how fast I'd reach for my wallet, but this Boker version isn't bad at all.  Boker has turned a corner.  They were bound to eventually, what with this being their ninth or tenth version of the knife.  But this is the best one.  Go get one.  It can't be your only knife, but it might be your favorite to carry.  

Bonus Review:  The Full Sized Kwaiken


As smitten as I was with the look of the knife (and especially the rough micarta handles, which would work quite well on the Mini; don't worry I am sure they are coming Boker iterates on the Kwaiken like Capcom does on Street Fighter), the fit and finish was just not very good. The tip was poking out and I hit it more than once.  On one occasion it was quite bad.  I had a hard time stopping the bleeding as I was in my car at the time (what? you don't fidget with knives while your in traffic?).  I also felt like this version was a bit too dense.  It felt like a lead stick.  The Mini's density is the same, but the overall size reduction makes a difference.  Finally, the thumb plate thing just didn't work.  There was a special Blade HQ edition with a wider thumb plate and about five seconds with the stock version tells you why--this thing, even with the IKBS bearings (also found on the Mini) is damn near impossible to deploy.  Unfortunately, because of the exposed tip, I can't recommend the knife.



Second Bonus Review: The Smock Modded Kwaiken

Sometimes you take lemons and make lemonade.  Other times you make a delicious lemon meringue cake so airy and tasty that it alters brain chemistry and makes you crave the meringue like a drug.  The Smock Modded Kwaiken is that lemon meringue, and I don't say that solely because of the awesome jade G-10 scales:

Kevin's skill as a modder is top of the game.  His skill as a knife designer is right there too.  The reality is that the flipper mod done here and originated by Alex Dietz (who, apparently, fell of the face of the earth after falling behind on orders) is better than the Burnley designed flipper.  Dietz's clever innovation--exposing the rear tang by cutting off a portion of the handle--makes for a great action AND it preserves the gorgeous Kwaiken silhouette.  Kevin also took down the point and made the knife truly great.  Alas I would have kept it, but it was given away for a good cause.  I HIGHLY recommend Kevin's work and especially his version of the Dietz mod. Its great.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Plato's Knife

This week's review will be the Boker Mini Kwaiken.  Before I get to the review, I want to take a minute to look at knives that have become styles.  Kyle Ver Steeg did a good job of articulating this notion on the Knife Journal podcast when they were talking about the Tom Brown Tracker knife.  Basically, he said that he thinks that some knives are so iconic and different that, over many, years they become a style of knife.  He points to the Bowie as the example--that original, long, lean blade with a dramatic clip point has gone from a single knife to an enduring kind of knife.

I want to make a distinction between the knife that has become a form, like the Bowie, and the knife pattern.  Generally, it is very hard to trace back the lineage of a knife pattern.  I have tried very hard with the Barlow pattern, but there doesn't seem to be ANY consensus on the origin of the knife.  In fact, about a half dozen different stories claim to be the origin story of the Barlow.  Similarly, the Peanut, the Texas Toothpick, and the Congress are all similarly difficult to trace back to their origination.

The original Kwaiken, spelled kaiken (as transliterated from the original Japanese) was the smallest of the three weapons of a samurai.  The largest and most famous was the katana.  They also carried an intermediate sized blade called a wakizashi.  Finally, they carried the kaiken.  It had two roles--one as an indoor weapon for use when space was too tight for the other blades, and, more famously, as the blade used in samurai ritual suicide.  The kaiken was also used by females in Japan during the time of the samurai.

The knife is characterized by two things, it's curved shape and the long slender blade that ends in a Japanese tanto, a blade shape significantly different from the blocky (and ugly, sorry Aaron) American tanto.  Lucas Burnley's version of this knife, in folding form, is, on a purely formal basis, one of the most beautiful knives I have ever seen.  Even Boker's drunken gnomes fit and finish (which, as you will see on Saturday, is getting better) can't take away from the splendor of this design.  It is so bare, so sparse, that it is KNIFE in its most Platonic form.  

This leads me back to Kyle's point about the Tracker.  At some point a knife design is so successful and so iconic, that the design, the exact design, gets made by others.  It transitions from a person's knife to a pattern.  We have already seen this to a certain extent.  Both Jack Hoback and Todd Begg make their own version of the kwaiken style, but I think this trend will go keep going.  I think, in twenty or thirty years, we will have a huge variety of kwaiken-style blades, including some that belong to people other than Boker and Lucas Burnley.  

In a way this will be sad, but I also think it is a good thing.  This is a design that rewards study, patience, and craftsmanship.  As built by Burnley and copied (with permission) by Boker, it is a knife that needs attentiveness to every line.  The tolerances are tight (in fact, probably too tight for Boker...I'd love to see a Chris Reeve Burnley Kwaiken), the design is challenging, and the pay off is one spectacular stick of a knife.  The blossoming knife modding cottage industry around the Kwaiken is further proof of the design's steadiness and appeal.  It is also a sign that conscientiousness is rewarded--the Dietz flipper mod is genius and in classic design fashion an improvement on the original by removing and not adding parts.  

In the end, there is simply no way around this fact--the Burnley Kwaiken is a design of sheer delight.  It is something that hits all of the points us knife folks look for in a knife.  It is a knife's knife, one of a few handful of blades that I think can rightly contest its place as the Platonic ideal of a knife.  Damn good job Mr. Burnley.      

Friday, February 12, 2016

Microtech UTX-70 Review

As is par for the course, I am going to lay out some of the dirt on Microtech and Anthony Marfione before getting to the review.  There are always rumors of more nefarious stuff than this, but this is what my research found.  To reiterate my policy, when there is something negative associated with a brand or its head, I feel obligated to warn you as the consumer.  Unless it is something REALLY bad, such as being a racist or a rapist, I am going to note it and move on.  If it is really bad, I won't review the product (and concomitantly I won't own or buy the product nor will I provide them with publicity by naming names).  Also, I am going to only reference things that I think have been clearly proven, such as the Tim Britton/Kizer thing or Mick Strider's problems with how he represents his military service.  Skirmishes between people over possible money deals, failures on warranty claims, and general bitching will be ignored.

The case against Microtech and Marfione is simple--they stole a KAI USA design, rushed it to market, and tried to capture some of the hype KAI had built up for the product.  Here is Thomas's comment on the matter.  Here is a video on the issue.  Here is a side by side of the two knives:

In particular, after the ZT0777 won the overall knife of the year award from Blade Show, Microtech rushed to develop a ripoff of the knife, the Matrix and got it to market first.  The ZT0777 was marked by a ton of delays--the concept of the knife was a tough one to pull off (to this day no one else, custom or production, has even tried a composite blade with Damascus), and so all of the positive momentum from the Blade Show win was just hanging out there.  Marfione and company copied the design, lowered the difficulty level, and put out the Matrix.  This isn't just a similar looking knife or a situation where the knife's lines are so generic there are dozen blades that look like it--this is a straight up ripoff.  To make matters worse, when the baby brother of the ZT0777 was shown, the ZT0770, Microtech had another ripoff waiting in the wings, the Mini Matrix, and again beat KAI to market.  

For all of the bitching people do about Chinese knockoffs of US products, this is worse.  The ripoff is obvious and it comes from a company with a history of great designs.  Microtech doesn't need to ripoff KAI.  They have proven time and again that they can do great stuff on their own.  It's not clear to me that Kevin Johns and the other counterfeiters out there have the same creative spark.  And so, to me, the Matrix is just as bad as a Kevin Johns knife, and probably worse.  

Honestly this is the single reason why it has taken me so long to review a Microtech product.  That behavior is both egregious and shameless.  But they haven't done something like that since and so I am willing to chalk it up to someone being a petulant child, throwing their toys out of the crib once, and move on.  

On to the review.

In this day and age, with flippers, bearing pivots, and superior designs, no one but a handful of folks NEEDS a switchblade.  Even as legal restrictions are rightfully coming down all over the country, we are  in a position where, with a choice among legal options, the auto is not clearly a winner.  Frankly, the legal restrictions have been in place so long that innovation has passed them and the need for an auto by.

But no one needs a car that can go 240 MPH either.  The UTX-70, even for folks that can legally own a switchblade, is a luxury.  But what a fun luxury it is.  If you are the kind of person that understand the logic of having a "drive to work car" and a "fun car" then you get the reason to own an OTF knife.  They aren't terribly practical, but they are fun, fun, fun.  The fidget factor on this little guy is SUPER high, even more than a good flipper.  There is nothing quite like the bang of a good, well made OFT firing in your hand.  I get why that sound scared the US Congress enough in the 1950s to pass the stupid Switchblade ban.  Like a whip cracking, a sword being unsheathed, or a shotgun being racked, the sound of an OFT firing is intimidating.  But the odd thing is, given its size, the UTX-70 is actually a pretty practical EDC knife.  There are a few things inherent to OTFs that make it less practical than, say, the Dragonfly II, but I was really surprised at just how convenient this thing really is.  

Here is the product page (note: Microtech cycles through the production of many of their blades and so not all models are always in stock--the UTX-70 is one that comes and goes).  The UTX nomenclature is a bit wonky, so here goes: the original OTF from Microtech (one of their first knives in fact) was the Microtech Ultratech.  After the success of that knife, they released two scaled down versions--the UTX85 (which is 85% the size of the original Ultratech) and the UTX70 (which is 70% the size of the Ultratech).  There are dozens of variations of all of these knives--dagger blades, serrations, full serrations, black coated blades, and different colored handles.  I went with the UTX-70 with drop point, stonewashed blade with black handle. Here is a video review from Jim Skelton.  There are no written reviews. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the UTX-70, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link (this is a keeper--I can't mail it because of all of the legislation involving autos):

Blade HQ

Finally here is my little gem:

Twitter Review Summary: Very fun, surprisingly practical, and quite nice to carry

Design: 2

First a bit of lingo.  I love the fact that this knife is a "dual action" OTF.  That is mall ninja for auto deployment and retraction with the blade coming out the front of the knife.  It is 100% unnecessary and 100% cool. 

I want to ding this thing for the use of proprietary fasteners, but unlike with a manual, these screws are never meant to be adjusted and tightening or loosening them does nothing to tweak the blade.  The could, for all intents and purposes, be pins.  If this was a knife you could tweak, I'd deduct a point.  Beyond that, this is a superb design--smaller than a pack of gum with a great and discrete shape in the pocket.  You'd be hard pressed to find something to bitch about here.  Note that the other blade types are all harder to sharpen, especially the dagger grinds.  If you are an OTF newb, like me, opt for the drop point.  Also, if you aren't a mall ninja, opt for the drop point.  Anything else and I am afraid that the innate Mall Ninja-ness of an OFT will have you buying a $249 katana in a week's time.

The ratios are competent.  The blade:handle is .70.  The blade:weight is 1.91.  For reference the best ever ratios are found on the the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight with a .84 and 2.81 respectively.  Not all time great, but very good. 

Fit and Finish: 1

Here is the deal--all of these scores are, as I have said before and occasionally note--subject to change.  S30V is soon not going to be an automatic 2 in the Steel category and similarly, an OTF with blade play is no longer state of the art.  Granted it has taken a very long time for someone, the Hawks, to solve the problem, but the Dead Lock, from all reports (including two hands on reports from Blade Show by Dan and Andrew) is exactly what it claims to be--an OTF without blade play.  That is state of the art.  This is not.

Aside from that one major issue, the UTX-70 is a virtually flawless blade.  Everything about it is smooth, precise, and clean.  The blade is nicely finished and the handle is pleasing to the touch.  Even the firing button is nice--grippy but not shreddy.  

Grip: 2

You wouldn't think something shaped like a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum would be so good in the hand, but it is.


There are few reasons.  First, it is not EXACTLY shaped like a pack of gum.  Like with the Sebenza, there is a subtle curve to the handle and it gives you a surprising amount of grip.  Second, the finish on the handle is quite grippy.  Finally, the clip, thankfully, just stays out of the way.  I was concerned on a knife this small it might be an issue, but it isn't.  The entire think just works in the hand.  Now all of this should be seen in the correct light--this is a knife that can't even remotely be seen as hard use.  It can whittle (and has).  It can open packages.  It does okay at mild food prep, but this is a purely light duty EDC knife.  Even a larger UTX would scare me off because of all of the complex internals, but you get the idea--in role, it's quite good. 

Carry: 2

The square shape may be slightly odd in the hand, especially today when EVERY knife is ergonomically shaped, but in the pocket it is a dream.


A knife this thin and small is easy to drop in a pocket and forget about until you need it.  Even in thin dress pants, the UTX-70 was an ideal pocket tenant.  The clip is excellent and thanks to a grippy but not shreddy surface underneath it worked wonderfully.  Overall, this might be one of the best knives in the pocket I have ever had.  It's incredibly lightweight means that it is good even in the shirt pocket.  Simply awesome.  Oh, and just in case your wonderful, there is almost ZERO chance this thing is deployed in the pocket accidentally.  The firing button requires just too much force for that to happen.

Steel: 2

It's Elmax.  I like Elmax.  Shut up Elmax whiners.  Even if there were some truth to the tale, they have fixed whatever the problem is by now and the UTX-70's steel (along with every other Elmax knife I have had) is just fine. 

Blade Shape: 2

You can get a dagger blade with two edges, but an OTF veteran warned me against it, point out how hard they are sharpen, especially when there is a bit of blade play, as there is with this knife.  The drop point is not as Greaser cool, but it is still very good here.  

Grind: 2

It's hard to screw up a blade this thin and make it a bad slicer, but even with that reduced difficulty score factor, this is still a very well ground blade.  The main grind is even with crisp lines and a sharp plunge line and the cutting bevel is wobble free and very nice.  Impeccable is not a stretch.  

Deployment Method: 2

It was about a week before I stopped audibly laughing with each firing.  It took about a month and half for me not to smile each time I fired the UTX-70.  This is a delightful and addictive thing.  BANG, BANG.  Double action OTFs are awesome.  And they lead to lots of hilarious stuff, like opening a candy  bar with an automatic.  When retracted the whole thing just looks innocuous.


You'll be shocked at just how powerful the spring is when you pull the trigger.  The pull weight is VERY high, so high that accidental deployment is inconceivable to me.  You'd have to be a real dumbass to accidentally fire this thing off, I guess that is possible, as there are a dozen or so videos of yahoos chopping up cinder blocks on YouTube, but in normal situations the UTX-70 will never fire accidentally.  

Retention Method: 2

Simple and great clip.  I like the double dip in it that is a straight up rip off of the Sebenza clip, but it's such a small thing that I have seen elsewhere that I am not about to howl about the IP "borrowing".


Good, good stuff. 

Lock: 1

The Deadlock makes this thing a lesser knife.  Sorry, it just does.  But in terms of failure, given the size of the blade, I don't see that happening, unless, again you use the knife like a moron.  A bit of knife sense, to use Derrick Bohn's phrase, goes a long way.  There is, obviously blade play and no problems with engagement and disengagement.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

This is a delightful, useful, and well made little knife.  It's almost at the point of being a novelty, it is so small.  If you like the design but don't share my affinity for small blades, the UTX-85 or the original Ultratech is probably the way to go.  This is a really slick little package, though, and easily the most fun to digest with knife I have ever owned.  It's not a necessity.  It's not even a nice thing to have.  This is a pure luxury, but like any good luxury item it is eminently pleasing to handle and own.

The Competition

There is a wide array of competitors, but the most directly comparable knife is the Benchmade Mini 
Infidel. It is a more sinuous and curvy package--the BeyoncĂ© to the UTX's Kate Moss--but it's steel isn't quite as good.  For me it is really a toss up.  I prefer the smaller footprint of the UTX series, but any Benchmade Infidel is quite good.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Microtech UTX-70 Overview

Its time I review an out the front auto and if are reviewing an OTF it has to be a Microtech.  As much as I wanted to review the Halo V practicality bit me on the butt and I ended up with this gem:

Friday, February 5, 2016

TWSBI Classic Review

Are you familiar with the Crazy/Hot Scale (its been around for a while but was popularized on "How I Met Your Mother")?  It is a very useful social rule that goes something like this: the more attractive a person is, the more crazy they can be and have people tolerate them.  This means that people like Kate Upton and Brad Pitt can be pretty much straight up bonkers and they get a pass, while the rest of us, the less beautiful people, we have to either have some modicum of self-awareness and restraint OR we have to bring something else to the table.  Suffice to say, in dealing with people as I have grown up, the Crazy/Hot Scale has come to explain a lot of otherwise mystifying social interactions.  Why is my male friend tolerating this bullshit from his girlfriend?  Oh...because she looks like THAT.  Why is my neighbor allowed to yell at everyone, barbecue smelly beasts at 12:30 at night, and park his car on his front lawn?  Because at one time he was probably damn handsome.

The TWSBI Classic is the pen equivalent of the Crazy/Hot Scale.  It does one thing so well, so incredibly great that for a second, you are willing to look past its one million flaws and just go with it.  Justin Verlander, I can never know how you felt, but I can at least, in some ways, imagine.  You think to yourself--this is going to work out, I know it's a bunch of work, but it is going to go right I can just feel it.  Then you come to your senses and you realize, nothing is worth this amount of bullshit.  Suffice to say, FUCK THIS PEN.  

Here is the product page.  Here is a video review.  Here is a written review.  No link here, you probably deal with enough headaches in your life.  Here is my own little pain in the ass:


Twitter Review Summary: That's it...get the fuck out.

Design: 0

Let me just get to the point--this is a piston filler pen that requires you to dunk the entire nib and a portion of the grip into the bottle of ink to fill the pen.


Yes, you read that correctly, you are dunking the end of the pen that YOU HOLD into the bottle of ink every time you need a refill.  TWSBI, this is the pen equivalent of sharpening the handle of a knife and leaving the blade dull.  It is stupid.  It is messy.  It is unintuitive.  But there are a few pens out there that do this.  The big difference here is that the plastic collar around the nib leaks like crazy.  Eventually mine just broke completely.  This is a terrible, terrible design.  Simply put, fuck me in the fill hole. 

Fit and Finish: 0

In the flashlight world, the lights that are made like this--with cheap materials and o-rings aplenty as a way to make up for poor tolerances--are sold at Home Depot on Black Friday for a buck.  But for some reason, in the pen world, this shitacular fit and finish is tolerated.  I say "tolerated" because there are folks in the pen world that have sworn off TWSBI, but some haven't.  They have a reputation for making stuff that just breaks and, as par for the course, mine broke.  Right around the nib there is a collar of black plastic.  That collar, without ever being touched, broke.  

But that's not all.  The piston filler is a disaster.  First, the piston filler is hard to use.  Its virtually impossible to fill the entire ink reservoir.  It is also hard to tell when it is full as you can't see the whole thing due to a TINY ink window.  A standard cartridge fill would be much, much better.  Second, the pen has threading all over the place, one set to unscrew the tail cap (to again twist to pull up the plunger) and another to remove the tail cap entirely to work on the guts of the pen.  When I first got the pen I was instructed to apply silicone grease to the actual plunger piece, which I did.  It then prompted felt off.  I had to make a tool out of a paper clip, tape, and a piece of wood to get it out.  This is after they gave me a wrench in the box.  Which, by the way, is a piece of garbage.  In fact, the entire kit is WAY TOO complicated and all of the constituent elements are garbage.  There were times when I just couldn't get the thing back together because of the bidirectional threading on the tail end of the pen.  I had to just let it sit, semi-assembled and come back later.  SHIT, SHIT, SHIT.


The tale of woe continues.  The cap doesn't really post.  It is sort of like that person on the couch next to you during an important televised sporting event--inert enough to be annoying when they get too close, but mobile enough to jostle you and spill your drink at the exact wrong time.  It just stinks.

And like with a good infomercial, wait, there is more.  I have had piston fillers before, but this one was just a mess.  It was impossible, literally impossible, to refill the pen without getting ink on your hands.  A brain surgeon, at the top of his or her game, with all of the dexterity in the world, couldn't do it.  I thought initially it was bad technique (so I watched the awesome video from Goulet Pens) and nailed that.  The reality is, this thing is as water tight as a sponge--touch it and it leaks.  

Frankly, the TWSBI Classic is going to take the crown from the Gerber 600 as the worst made product I have reviewed.  It is excrement.  

Carry: 2

Surprisingly for all of the leaking and ink mess, the pen never did what the Karas Customs EDK did twice--kill a shirt.  I was always worried, but it never happened.  I wrote with the pen in harsh environments and I was fine.  It's a good size and the clip ain't bad.  The pen sucks, but the clip is fine.

Appearance:  1

This is the pen equivalent of a Potemkin Village--it appears all serious and impressive, but upon closer inspection you realize it is a mirage.  


All of the stuff that should be metal is plastic.  All of the parts that should be precision fit are covered in o-rings (seriously, what the fuck TWSBI?  Upgrade your machining).  The plastic is especially cheap feeling, perhaps because it is so thin or brittle.  Screwing in the cap was also something I was a bit fearful of as it creaked ominously each time.  This the pen version a cheap stripper, this thing looks okay from very, very far away.  When you get up close...phew it is a mess.

Durability: 0

I am fairly certain TWSBIs are made from the same material that Inspector Gadget's mission disks were made of--they are designed to disintegrate.  If the pen didn't ship broken, it broke the second I took it out of the box.  I thought it was a little thing, but as it turns out, the whole pen is rather rapidly falling apart.  

Writing Performance/Refill: 2

Ah...the siren's song.  This is the equivalent of Brad Pitt's abs or Kate Upton's breasts.  This is the thing that lures you in and makes you think, for a brief second, all of the pain and suffering is worth it.  This pen, for which I chose a steel 1.1 mm stub nib, writes like a dream--a lucid, graceful, smooth dream.  I was absolutely addicted to writing with it.  I scrawled notes everywhere.  I wrote out to do lists over and over again and I am NOT a to do list person.  I hand addressed all of our Christmas cards (did you notice Andrew?).  It is an intoxicating experience to write with this pen.  Too bad the rest of it is all hangover.  Like worst hangover ever.  Like wake up in Vegas with a face tattoo and a tiger in your hotel room caliber hangover.   

Balance/In Hand Feel: 1

One thing that happened while I was using this pen is that I noticed that while it looked substantial, it didn't feel substantial in the hand.  That was the big deal for me, the thing that made me think, initially, that this was not the pen I thought it was.  It's just too light for how it looks and because of the weird cap, clip, and finial on top it's out of balance.  Add to that a cap as wobbly as drunk doing field sobriety tests, and you have a recipe for underwhelming in hand feel.  This is just not right.  I like the lightweight, but it seemed oddly distributed in hand.  After a few hours of use I wanted to either take the cap off or switch to a different pen.  I realize that few people write for hours now, so I don't think it is fair to dock the pen more than one point, but it is something to note.  I'd much prefer the unabashed featherweight appearance of something like the Lamy Safari to this pen.  

Grip: 0

On a different pen without the feed hole at the base of the grip, I'd give this shapely form a two, but as it is, I was constantly getting ink on my hands.  This isn't to say that I need to have pristine hands after using a fountain pen.  I get that it is impossible to avoid some ink, especially with a non-cartridge design, but this was insane.  Every use resulted in stained fingers.  Personally I really like my Pilot Iroshizuku, but some folks thought I had an accident or something.

Barrel: 1

Hex barrels are great--they don't roll but are still comfy in the hand.


My big beef was the fact that the barrel was flimsy.  It creaked like an old ship at sea during a storm.  Every squeeze or grip resulted in some kind of noise.  And the barrel didn't do well when it had to interact with other parts--the threads were sloppy.  Finally there is the fact that everything here is just cheap--cheap plastic, cheap thin o-rings, cheap chromed parts.  It looks nice and in theory the hex barrel is great, but as applied here it is something of a whiff.

Deployment Method/Cap: 0

I have always preferred cap less pens for fear that the cap would get lost.  The TWSBI Classic is exactly that fear embodied.  Because the machining tolerances are less precise than a kindergartener's outside the lines coloring, TWBSI resorted to using o-rings (shitty o-rings) to keep parts in places that are supposed to friction fit together, like the cap and barrel when the cap is posted.  Unfortunately, they don't work.  The cap was constantly wiggling around and falling off.  No amount of force that I felt comfortable applying could keep the cap put. And if you lose the cap with this leaky mess, your done, just throw the pen away.  Actually, even if you DIDN'T lose the cap, just throw this pen away--it's not worth it.

Overall Score: 7 out of 20

After the sixteenth time that your supermodel date throws soup on your shirt and storms out of the fancy restaurant you are in because, how dare you, you said hello to the waitress, you realize that, well, even with that much beauty there is a limit to what you and your dignity can tolerate.  Even supermodels can break the Crazy/Hot scale.  It takes a long time, a very long time, but it can happen.  And after a month and a half of use, where there were three or four times when the piston fell out or couldn't be reseated even with the terrible wrench they send you or the entire cap is filled with ink when it is opened up, the TWSBI Classic broke the pen equivalent of the Crazy/Hot Scale.  If you are tempted to buy this or any other TWSBI, please email me and I will send you, via email, either a punch in the face or a kick to the nuts, for free.  Both will serve you better than this pen.  

The Competition

This pen is so bad that the only real competition is either that cursed gold that burned your hands from Harry Potter or getting your fingers shut in a car door.  Those are the only two things I can think of that we're as difficult for my hands to deal with as this piece of shit.  This is an awful pen.  And I know, given TWSBI's reputation, that this pen while bad is nothing out of the ordinary for them.  Yes, they give you mechanisms and designs that usually cost four times as much, but there is a trade off and here the trade off is not worth it.

Just to make sure I wasn't crazy (and because I have always wanted on) I ordered an Edison Pearlette with a Stub Nib and bottle fill and guess what?  It's awesome.  Still messier than cartridge fill, but nothing like the Exxon Valdez that is the leaky TWSBI.

Monday, February 1, 2016

January 2016 Carry

January is about to go out and I thought before it did, I'd run down what I was carrying this month.

There was a lot of stuff debuted and released this month, but my carry stayed pretty consistent.  The Surefire Titan Plus dominated by flashlight carry.  Its size, battery life, and output are pretty awesome.  If it wasn't the Titan Plus, I was carrying the very excellent Muyshondt Aeon Mk. III prototype.

While December was dominated by traditional knives in the Scout Leatherworks Pocket Protector I opted for other blades.  One common carry was the Boker Mini Kwaiken:


The Mini Kwaiken is a noticeable improvement over the original, with a few small tweaks that make a big difference.

The cold weather militated towards thicker pants and that means that some pocket clips are just maxed out.  The Mini Kwaiken's clip was an issue, but the always excellent Jon Graham tail clip can handle just about any pants pocket:


I was very, very happy carrying this set up.  The Stubby Razel is awesome and the entire set up was small and very capable, doing pretty much whatever I needed.

Going back to work after the holiday led me to carry more pens.  I tried the TWSBI Classic with a Stub Nib and after a month or so, I am done with it. It is a wretched piece of shit.  That said here was a typical carry:


Note the always great Karroll SES.

The last major addition was a great surprise gift for Christmas--an Apple Watch.  Its not a replacement for high end horology, but as an iPhone accessory I like it quite a bit.  The real issue isn't is competition for Rolex or Patek Phillippe, but the notion that it is useful enough to persuade a lot of non-IWS folks into avoiding anything like a classic watch and opt for the Apple Watch instead.  I'll get into my impressions on the Apple Watch later, but suffice to say, I am impressed, not necessarily as a watch, but as a piece of tech.


I really do love the Shamwari.