Monday, March 28, 2016

Trolling for Hate: Only So Much

The Kizer Gemini I have is just superior to the custom counterpart I owned the Laconico Jasmine.

Here is the Gemini:


Here is my Jasmine (really just as proof that I owned one):


Let's just go down the specs:


Jasmine: D2
Gemini: S35VN

Handle Scales:

Jasmine: Flat machined handles
Gemini: Contoured handles


Jasmine: No
Gemini: Yes


Jasmine: Polished Washers
Gemini: Bearings


Jasmine: More than $500
Gemini: $170

This says nothing about the fact that the Jasmine I handled had significant blade play in all directions and the Gemini is air tight.  Assuming that both were made to the same level of fit and finish, the Gemini is still better, and that's before you factor in price.

I have talked about this before, when I referenced Magical Thinking, but here the comparison is so stark.  I have tried to figure out why and then it hit me, especially after a comment by Andrew Lang.  With so many of the custom knives out there they are just not sufficiently complex, innovative, or interesting to compete with production versions of the same knife.  There are, after all, only so many things you can do to a simple framelock flipper.  You can put holes in the handle or work on the blade shape, but in the end, these are changes at the margin.  At some point when you are making minimalist knives, like the Jasmine and Gemini, you run out of ways to differentiate the custom from the production in any meaningful sense, especially when Kizer's fit and finish is so damn good. 

Thus I have come to a point where I think a lot of folks are at right now--questioning whether the horde of titanium framelock flipper midtechs and customs are worth the money.  When you look at something like a Rassenti integral or the Flipperless Flipper you see craftsmanship or innovation.  When you look at some of the more basic custom knives you see something that any sufficiently equipped machine shop can make.  The Jasmine/Gemini happens to be the perfect place to illustrate this point.  Kizer's machining capacities are world class (in the knife world) and Ray's original design is elegant but very simple.  And so it is easy to see how the production can surpass the custom.  Ray might be able to add some flourishes--damascus steel and the like, but there is nothing on any of the Jasmines, even the newer ones with updated features, that Kizer can't do.

I don't think we are at the point where production companies can replicate any custom perfectly.  But its not a matter of capacity anymore, its a matter of profit.  In a world where we can mass produce high complex cars and make things like a Gamma Knife industrial machining capabilities far exceed even the most complex custom designs.  The thing holding production companies back from making perfect replicas of Van Barnett and GTC knives is profit not prowess.  Can they make these uber complex knives and sell them in numbers and with margins sufficient to justify the production?  The answer is almost certainly no.  And so they remain the exclusive property of the custom world.

But this leads us back to the Jasmine.  This is not a complex knife.  It is much less complex than a GTC or a Van Barnett.  And it is orders of magnitude less complex than your iPhone.  Compared to high end computers or medical equipment is almost impossible.  The issue with a production version of the Jasmine is that there is not much to do.  Its not hard to make a perfect copy (or better) of a knife as simple as the Jasmine.

And there are a tidal wave of customs that fall into this category--relatively rudimentary knives that could easily be made on production scales without diminished quality.  As the hobby expands, the number of makers increases, but the skill necessary to make the GTC/Van Barnett level knives occurs at the same rate (this is true of almost every scarce resource, scaling up grows the overall number but keeps the ratio the same).  When the boom busts its these newer makers that will suffer the most.  The Ron Lakes and Michael Walkers of the world will always have an audience.  Folks that are pumping out one titanium framelock after another with only minor cosmetic differences won't survive.

This isn't to bash Laconico.  I love the design of the Jasmine, even if my personal example was lacking and it has since been updated.  As a production knife the Gemini is easily among the best blade released in 2015.  Ray Laconico has talent, there is no question of that.  But his talent might be in design more so than innovation and building.  My issue is that the knife community obsesses with new makers regardless of their skill.  There is no real assessment of custom knives, but brutally harsh criticism of production blades. And there is, for some odd reason, a gag order on criticizing custom knives and custom makers.

Any ideas why?  

Jonathan, is this enough of a spur?  Let's do the debate series.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spyderco Mantra 1 Review

What does a USER titanium frame lock flipper look like?  And by user I don't mean a knife that is used in Instagram photos or a knife that is used like a yo-yo--something to fidget with during the slow parts of the day.  That's not use.  I also don't really care that much about a titanium frame lock flipper that is encrusted with non-precious materials that knife folks think are precious materials (timascus, carbon fiber, etc).  What would the most utilitarian, pure user titanium frame lock flipper look like?  

I think it would be the Mantra 1.

So much of what we see now is overwrought, overstylized, and just plain overdone.  I want a knife that is simple, not for a style statement, but because I want something that is easy to use and maintain.  I don't want something fifty blood grooves and a bevy of inlays because after I cut up some food there is gunk all over those "style" marks.  But, alas, that is not what the market wants and so we are treated to ever more Baroque knives.  

As such, when the Mantra 1 and 2 were announced, stealth announced, BTW, I was really intrigued.  Thus far Spyderco's flippers have ranged from head slappers with lots of design and ergonomic mistakes (see: the Southard and the Positron) to gauche custom clones (see the Rubicon).  I wanted a Spyderco flipper that had the essence of what makes a Spyderco a Spyderco--good ergonomics and high functionality.  Also I wanted something a little less trade paperback in the pocket than either the Dice or Domino.  The Mantras fit the bill.  

Here is the product page. The Spyderco Mantra 1 costs $167.97. Here is a written review. Here is a video review by the always great Epic Snuggle Bunny. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Mantra 1, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: A flipper without the frippery.

Design: 2

The Mantra 1 is an updated Delica with a flipper.  It's not a massive design leap for Spyderco.  But it is a good evolutionary step.  The thing I find most intriguing is the parts of the Mantra that are updates over the current, by now long in the tooth, Delica 4 design.  For example, there is no exposed rear tang.  Second, the awkward "bent" tip has been straightened out, making the knife look nicer, cut better, and curing the poor blade:handle.  If the knife DIDN'T have a flipper, it would be very intriguing as an iteration on the Delica.  It's also a smidge bigger than the Delica, which I don't care about one way or another, but I thought you'd like to know for purposes of completing the comparison.


But this isn't the Delica 5, it is a flipper.  And it is a very competent design.  For me, it all starts with the shape of the flipper tab.  Done well and the rest of the design is on solid footing.  Done poorly and the rest of the design is compromised.  Here, like with most of the Spyderco flippers, the tab is excellent--the right shape and without finger grating jimping.  The hidden over travel feature is nice as is the wire clip.  All in all the Mantra is very, very good.  

I am curious about the Mantra 2, a knife with the exact same everything except for blade shape.  The blade is more like fillet knife shape and I personally like the thumb ramp Spydercos usually have.  But the slim profile of the Mantra 2 has me curious.  

The performance ratios are decent, a step up from the Mantra's forebearer, the Delica.  The blade:handle is .76 (the Delica's was .68); the blade:weight is 1.05. 

Fit and Finish: 2

This is a Taichung made knife.  Fit and finish is simple and immaculate.  The knife was perfectly centered, free of any marks, and evenly blasted on the handles.  Like all Taichung made knives I have had thus far, the Mantra 1 was technically perfect.  As a titanium frame lock it lacked the warmth and human touch that something like the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight does, but that's more of preference than a criticism.  

Grip: 2


With a profile nearly identical to the Delica, a nicely blasted handle, and a guard formed by the flipper tab once the blade is swung into the locked position, it's hard to complain about the grip of the Mantra 1.  The nicely rounded scales and the wire clip make it better than the Delica and far above average.  I'd still like to see a finger choil, but it's not necessary, just a bonus.  

Carry: 2

Thin?  Check.  Deep carry, over the top wire clip?  Check.  Light?  Check.  The Mantra 1 has all of the stuff necessary to make it a good pocket companion.  It's just hard to find faults with such a classic shape, especially when it's one ding I had before--the lint gathering exposed rear tang--is gone. 

Steel: 2

Hmmmm....this is controversial.  M4 is a wonderful steel.  It holds an edge forever.  It gets unbelievably sharp.  It is the steel of choice for almost all BladeSport competitors (a cutting competition for money). If you look at when it was developed and see just how good it is today, years later, you realize that Crucible struck gold when they developed M4.  But it has one drawback--it tarnishes rapidly.  I don't want to say that it is prone to corrosion, because that's not fair, but if you have had M4 for while or you look at its recipe, you'll notice that corrosion resistance was not given top priority. So, in theory, I would be worried about such a large piece of it on an EDC knife.  M390 would have been a much safer choice.  But that would have driven the costs up considerably.  Spyderco wanted a relatively inexpensive steel, one they didn't have to import from Europe to Taiwan (like they would have had to do with M390), that still was relatively rare and offered insane cutting performance.  M4 fits the bill perfectly.  But still...

All of this is just forum board-style theory reviewing.  I have had a knife with M4 before, the Spyderco Air, and it was perfectly fine.  This knife was greeted by a slathering of metal protector in the form of a Tuff Cloth bath.  And I have never worried about it.  I used it and used it and used it and it has been fine.  I used it to cut grapes and cantaloupe, two sloppy wet foods, and it was fine.  I used it outdoors to make shavings for a fire and it was fine.  

Sometimes I think we get so spoiled by having such amazing stuff in this Golden Age of Gear that we are looking for flaws instead of finding them.  M4 is an amazing steel.  Treat it with a smidge of care and you will be fine.  

Blade Shape: 2

The classic Spyderco blade shape from the Delica has been refined here with a true point, instead of the snub nose found on the evergreen blade used as the basis for the Mantra 1.  This small change does two things--one, it gives you a real tip to use and two, it makes the knife's line flow all that much better.  This not quite as ugly (Spyderco ugly) as the Delica and it does much better work on fine detail cutting. 

My son hates tags on his clothes and so often I am cutting them off for him.  With the needle tip of the Mantra 1 it was easy to get very close to the seam without touching it.  Thanks to the M4 and the amazing grind I sliced right through the tags with ease, leaving behind nothing that he could feel and only a small white line where the tag used to be.

Grind: 2

If you are still unsure of the beauty and efficacy of a full flat grind, get a tallish knife in M4 and let Spyderco and Taichung sharpen it for you.  This is one of two or three best slicers I have ever had.  I love this knife's grind.  If it were not for the also-in-for-review Perceval La Francaise I would be raving like a mad man at just how good this knife is.  Unfortunately for the Mantra 1, the La Francaise's grind is otherworldly.  Here we just have excellent.  "Just have excellent" yet another sign we are in the Golden Age of Gear.  

Deployment Method: 2

This is not a silky, snappy flipper like the Kizer Gemini.  There is some resistance here, but nothing worth complaining about.  The real reason this knife is among the better flippers on the market is the shape the flipper tab.  We still haven't seen consensus form around which shape is the best, but if I had my preference, this would be it.  There is no need for jimping on a flipper tab, especially if it is shaped correctly.  We also don't need the tab to be super pointy.  The rounded over, jimping-free tab here is just great.  There is very little possibility of a non-deployment as the detent is well balanced and the thumb hole, while completely unnecessary, still works.  This gives you the option to roll open the knife if necessary to avoid attracting attention. 

Retention Method: 2

I love the wire clip Spyderco uses.  This one is a bit stiffer than the one found on the Techno (which everyone complained about but I found to be quite okay).  It rarely creates hotspots and it is quite discrete.  I am sort of surprised that one of two things has happened--either Spyderco PATENTS the wire clip or someone copies.  As it is, this is one of the better production clips out there and leagues better than the vast majority of the awful "sculpted" clips found on some higher end flippers.  

Lock: 2


The the knife has a tiny, thin lock bar, appearances are deceiving because I have never had a single problem with it.  It's stable, easy to engage and disengage, and there is zero blade play or lock rock.  So often, the fit and finish score and the lock score are tied together because lock quality, 9 times out of 10, is a result of tight tolerances.  This is a Taichung knife and that means the tolerances are great and since the tolerances are great that means that the lock is equally great.  Only a boneheaded design decision can ruin the lockstep logic between fit and finish score and the lock score. 

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

This is a really great user knife. It is not as embellished or luxurious as some of the titanium flippers out there, but in terms of cutting performance you will be hard pressed to find better even at a higher price.  Epic Snuggle Bunny's review of the Mantra 1 is dead on.  He nailed it when he said that the knife wasn't something that blew him away.  There is nothing here that is top of the class, hence the lack of a perfect score, but on the other hand, there is no deficiency here.  Everything is just great and works exceedingly well.  

This is about as by the numbers a knife as Spyderco could make--take Delica, make a few improvements, add a flipper...viola.  But that's not an insult.  The bones of the Delica, as dated as the actual knife is, are quite good and the changes here are all upgrades.  I like this knife a lot.  

The Competition

I had planned on doing a shootout between the TRE G10, the Kizer Gemini, and the Spyderco Positron, but the Positron was just not in the same league as those other two knives.  It had too many issues to make the shootout interesting.  Ideally, I would get three knives of roughly the same price and size with very similar scores and the Positron hit on two of the three failing on the most important point--quality.  But the Mantra 1 is easily better than the Positron and fits nicely into that trio.  So expect to see a mid-priced titanium frame lock flipper shootout between these three knives in the very near future.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spyderco Mantra 1 Overview

Oh man, am I excited to share my thoughts on the Mantra 1.  Spyderco's recent production has been hit (Roadie) or miss (Chubby), so the quality of the Mantra 1 is hard to guess at unless you have one in hand.  Here is my overview with the companion review coming at the end of the week.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Gear Giveaway

Every May and November I do a giveaway with all of the review samples I have collected over the six or so months from the last giveaway.  Thus far they have all benefited the Wounded Warrior Project.  There has been push back before and I have always resisted using the logic that even if they are wasteful, they are the biggest and have the biggest impact. 

Well, the news has not been good when it comes to WWP.  Senators are questioning what happened.  This is not good.  So, at least for the upcoming May giveaway, I am not going to be supporting them.  If they turn things around I might go back.  If not, I will find a new charity.

I take this giveaway very seriously, often dropping in a few items of my own to spur donations.  So I do a lot of research on charities.  Given that the giveaway is less than 60 days away I am not sure I am going to be able to find one and vet it in time.

So I am a bit stuck.

One impulse I have is to go to a charity I have already vetted and know personally.  To this end I am thinking about doing a fundraiser for a local Drug Court.  The Drug Court movement started in the late 90s as an alternative disposition to drug cases in criminal courts.  I have been familiar with and taken part in three.  Additionally, I have done extensive research on the efficacy and accountability of these programs.

Drug courts have problems.  This American Life did a story on one drug court in Georgia and it was truly horrifying.  The science is sparse and bias to say the least.  There are no scientifically validated studies on drug courts that were NOT funded by a government institution related to drug court.  But that is the drug court movement as a whole.  My experience with my local Drug Court, as a lawyer, has been quite different.  I feel confident in saying that this is a well-run program worthy of charity.  A few dollars will have a huge impact.  They could be used as a scholarship for recovered addicts to go to school or to buy incentives to help people stay clean or to buy testing equipment to hold people accountable.  The money, even a tiny bit, would have real value.

But I also know that people have misgivings about drug rehabilitation programs.  I know a lot of readers are in law enforcement and sympathetic to law enforcement.  My local Drug Court has more law enforcement representatives than anyone else and they have bought in, but people in other places might have other experiences. 

The final thing I want to tell you before I put it to a vote is this--the herion epidemic you hear about in the news is not just media hype.  Its real.  I am on the ground every day and I see it.  People that used to smoke weed are dying of heroin.  People that used to experiment with heroin are hardcore addicts.  And thus far, only good Drug Court programs, in conjunction with superior treatment options, seem to work.  My local Drug Court is doing good work. 

So I put it to you in the form of a vote--should the gear giveaway be for my local Drug Court or not? 

I would love to pick a charity with broader scope so that it could effect everyone, but, as I wrote, I am not sure I have enough time.  If you vote no, drop a comment below with an alternative recommendation.  Do not, however, recommend an animal charity or an environmental charity.  Let's fix people problems first.  And don't badger me about the environment being a people problem...blah, blah, blah....

Monday, March 14, 2016

Apple Watch Impressions

Just before its release, I posted how I couldn't imagine liking an Apple Watch.  My conclusion was that it did not have all of the features I wanted in a watch.  Well, I got one for Christmas as a surprise and I think that approach was not nuanced enough.


Here is the thing--the Apple Watch is not for watch guys.  It's not really much of a watch.  The Apple Watch works best for folks that aren't convinced you need a watch in today's Smartphone Age.  If you want it to be a watch, which is what I wanted, you will be disappointed.  If you look at it as a piece of wearable technology or an accessory to your iPhone, it's pretty delightful.  

In many ways, the Apple Watch eliminates the need for a watch in the same way a flashlight app eliminates the need for a flashlight.  I talked about why I didn't think the flashlight app made sense here and I still believe that is the case.  The problem is that the flashlight app is inherently inferior to a good flashlight AND you need to risk your smartphone when using such an app.  Those problems do not exist when comparing an Apple Watch to a real watch.  The Apple Watch keeps perfect time, better than any mechanical.  And so at the most essential function the Apple Watch is better, unlike the flashlight app.  

But no one buys a nice watch because it tells good time.  People buy them because they look nice and to marvel at the craftsmanship.  I get that.  I bought a Sinn 556i for this very reason, and I am still happy with that watch even though I have the Apple Watch.

The thing that sells me on the Apple Watch as a device is simple--it does much more than even the most sophisticated Swiss watch can.  And while none of these extras are capable of justifying the Apple Watch purchase alone, when you combine them all AND you throw the watch feature on top, it is a justifiable purchase for iPhone owners.  

First, I love the activities monitor.  This tells you how many steps you have taken, how many calories you have burn, how much you have stood up during the day, and how much exercise you have done.  This little feature, like the +/- gauge on my car's fuel consumption, has spurred me to be a little bit more cognizant of my actions.  I am part of the video game generation and we all are, to some degree, completists.  If I am two minutes short on exercise for a day I will go and do that, even if it is 7:30 at night.  I want to see that circle made whole.  Again, it's not a big deal, but it is something I like.

I also love the ability to check emails, texts, and social media without having to access your phone.  When I get home from work I try to put my phone away until dinner is over and the kids are in bed.  But with the Apple Watch I can do this and not worry about missing a message.  The advertising campaign's notion that the Apple Watch helps you untether from your phone is, at least is one sense, somewhat true.

I have also found utility in a bunch of different small features.  We have a 10 month old in the house.  He crawls and loves to take our phones.  And so often my phone is not where I put it and the phone finder feature is tremendously useful.  Similarly, the Maps integration is quite nice.  I can drive with eyes on the road and not worry about missing a turn, as the Apple Watch pulses as you come up to a change in direction.  Finally, I really like the nightstand feature.  It is a simple thing, but when a baby is sleeping (or not) it's helpful to be able to roll over and get a quick time check.

The Apple Watch is not for everyone.  It's not for watch guys.  It's not for Android people.  But if you have an iPhone, it's not a bad accessory.  Just don't think of it as primarily a watch and you'll be happy, even if you do look like Dick Tracy talking into your wrist.  Finally, I do think the voice recognition software, used primarily for sending texts and emails, is much, much better than the disastrous voice recognition on the iPhone.  Instead of sending me to an Indian restaurant, I get what I am looking for (which is, coincidentally, sometimes an Indian restaurant).

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Spyderco Roadie Review

Knife knuts throw around the term "Spyderco Ugly" to describe all sorts of knives that don't look exactly like other knives.  When they first came out, the hole, the clip, and the hump all made Spydercos look avant garde compared to the stale stuff that was in circulation.  Fast forward 22 years and we have another "Spyderco Ugly" knife, the Roadie.  It looks like some kind of crazy pelican or bird, with its pronounced hump towards the end of the knife and its amorphous, jelly bean handle.

Over the years lots of things that were jarring to the sensibilities of the time turned out to be great.  Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, with its jarring percussive sound, was painfully different from the sweet melodies of Sibelius and Chopin pieces of the day.  There were, famously, riots in the audience.  Similarly, Tucker automobiles were seen as curiosities at best and weirdo machines at worst.  But decades later many of their features are standard on automobiles today.  It seems to me that sometimes genius is hard to swallow, it's greatness is precisely because of how far it varies from the norm.  Genius, sometimes, is not incremental but spastically different, it is a jump, a leap, guided by rarified intuition, into a place that few could have imagined based on what had come before.  Spyderco Ugly is just that sort of difference and the Roadie is just that sort of leap.

The Roadie is yet another exhibit in the argument I have been making off and on for a long time, that Sal Glesser is not just a great knife designer, but a great designer, period.  The Roadie is unlike any slipjoints before and it is better because of those differences.  It is a knife of compact dimensions but enormous utility.  It is a knife that anyone, soccer mom or Marine, could carry, use, and appreciate.  It may be Spyderco Ugly, but I am beginning to think that terms actually has two different meanings--one, it is a label of greatness and high utility and two, it is spoken by Luddites that do not see that greatness.

Here is the product page. The Spyderco Roadie costs $47.95.  There are five different colors--orange, red, blue, black, and gray.  Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Roadie, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Another Spyderco Home Run

Design: 2

The Roadie came out of the almost passed TSA regulation that was going to allow knives on planes.  Alas, the regs failed, but the Roadie was already in the pipeline, and thank goodness--this thing is a gem.  The only other knife that made to mock up stage was, weirdly enough, an Emerson.

The Roadie's genius comes in three forms--the handle, the blade shape, and the deployment method.  Each is surprising and together they add up to a damn fine little knife.  You can get four fingers on this knife if you have medium sized glove hands and yet it still would fit nicely on a keychain.  Then you have the blade shape.  On a bigger blade it might be awful, but there it urges you to place you fingers correctly and cut, cut, cut.  Then there is the "double dent" in Spyderco parlance that fixes all sorts of problems associated with slipjoint deployment.  Any one of these things would be sweet, but all together they show you just how good Spyderco is at designing products.

And then there is the fact that this design, unlike some of the Spyderco-fied collabs we have been treated to recently is a Spyderco through and through--weird, different, and great.  The knife is so useful and small, yet it is completely 100% unoffensive, even to the most anti-knife person on Earth.  The Dali Lama himself would carry a Roadie.   


The performance ratios, as a whole, are very competent.  The blade:handle is .69...good, but not insane.  But the blade:weight is BONKERS good at 2.09 (2.09 blade in a 1 ounce knife).  Only the Al Mar Ultralight Hawk does better at 2.19.  

Fit and Finish: 2

This is an Italy made knife and like many of the knives from that region of the world there is little to complain about.  Everything is well finished, though nothing has that warmth that something like an Al Mar possesses.  Its clean, well made, but clinical.  That's not a slight, per se, its just an indication that the Al Mar caliber of knives gets a bit more hand work and up close and personal time.

Grip: 2

I am still not convinced with certainty that there is not a bit of close up magic going on here with the grip on this knife.  It seems very hard to squeeze this much useful real estate into a knife this small, but it does work and it does make things seem spacious.    


Of course the choil matters.  Choils are great.  They make all knives feel bigger in the hand than they really are (choil haters, you can suck it).  But the trick with the Roadie, so far as I can tell, is the spine of the knife.  How is it possible that the spine of a knife can make it feel bigger?  Well, in this case the spine almost acts like a choil too, placing your hands into a specific position so that you can have a bit more grip on the knife and more sure idea of where the point is going.  The end result is a knife that feels much larger in the hand than it really is with a grip more like a good fixed blade than a tiny folder.  Super awesome job Spyderco.

Carry: 2

Something this slim, this light, with such a rounded shape is just great to carry.  The Roadie, of course, tucks into a jeans coin pocket, but it also is a true pocket knife, dropping into a main pocket with the promise, thanks to the FRN handles, to play nice with others.  

Steel: 2 

The steel is N690Co, which is a non-powder steel commonly found on Italian made knives and is widely used in Europe and Africa by custom makers.  My Gareth Bull Shamwari runs N690Co and I have found it to be an excellent all around steel.  It is not as great at edge retention as some powder steels, like M390 or ZDP-189, but it is a very competent package.  From my experience, this steel ranks up there with 14C28N and 154CM as one of the very best non-PM steels.  

Blade Shape: 2 

As mentioned before, the blade shape here is great.  Not only does it coax your hand into the right place (and I do mean "coax", unlike finger scallops you can use the blade however you want), but it is also pretty darn useful in cutting.  There is just enough belly to do rocking cuts, but really this knife shines because the tip is exactly where you want it to be.  In one of his videos, the truly great Spydercollector talked about a small EDC knife has making everyday objects seem like they come with a zipper.  I feel like the Roadie does that.  Packages zip open.  Clam shell packs zip open.  Tags zip off.  But unlike pointier shapes I am was never surprised where the tip went.  Oh and before I move on, yes, it is ugly, but no I don't care.  Randall this ain't.

Grind: 2 

This is the closest thing I have to a complaint.  In order to accommodate the double dent, the knife had to have a very thick blade stock.  This, combined with the short blade height, meant that I was very worried that it would be a poor slicer.  This was all just theory testing.  In practice, the Roadie was perfectly fine.  One of the things I am doing a lot right now is skinning grapes.  My one year old eats grapes in the same way and in the same volume that a monkey does, but the skins are a choking hazard, so I spend about fifteen minutes a night skinning grapes.  This is about as delicate a task as I can imagine and yet the Roadie did fine.  It didn't pop an apple either, though the short blade made it difficult.  It's not as good a slicer as, say, the La Francaise I have in for review from Perceval, but it is as good as just about any other knife I have.  The Perceval, just as a bit of a preview, is BY FAR the best cutter I have ever used--it's better than my wife's $200 kitchen knives.  So saying the Roadie falls short of that standard is like critizing a baseball player because he is not as good as Willie Mays.  

Deployment Method: 2 

BRILLIANT.  This complete reimagining of the nail knick is great, highly functional, and sticks with the Spyderco circle motif that is their distinctive brand identity.  I could write more, but it just belabors this point--the deployment method is fantastic.

Retention Method: 2 

I have done this once before, see Fallkniven U2 review, but I think the question for retention method is, at the top level, "Should the knife have a clip?" not "Is this clip good?".  Here the right design choice, unquestionably, is to have the knife be clip-free.  Dropping a clip on here would be very, very bad.  the knife would lose its shape, it would add weight, and it would mess up the magical in hand feel whereby a tiny knife feels huge.

Lock/Blade Safety: 2

I think you probably know where this is going, but I don't think you need a lock on a knife.  It's nice, but it is not strictly necessary in a pure EDC knife.


Here the choil makes it virtually impossible for the blade to close on your fingers and because the knife is so small, it's very hard to use the knife without the choil.  Even with the less than Herculean back spring, I feel like the Roadie is safer than some traditional slipjoints because of the choil.  There is also something of a half stop too, so this is about as safe as you get.  Lock not needed.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT

This is such a thorough rethinking of the slipjoint we are all familiar with that it is hard not to see it as a bit revolutionary.  The Pingo was good, no was great.  This is better.  The myriad ways in which the Roadie is surprising makes it a delight to carry and use.  If you want a knife that can go anywhere and do virtually all EDC tasks you'd be hard pressed to find something more portable, people friendly, and capable than the Roadie.  This is going on the Top 5 list with the next revision.  Its that good.

And more interesting, this is a knife with a form so good that eventual updates and sprint runs will be great.  I foresee a titanium handled version with premium steel, like the Pingo and there the small size means that the titanium will only add an incidental amount of weight.  At what will probably be 1.5 ounces, this is still a great knife.  With a powder steel it will be better.  But that's the thing, as is, it damn awesome.  I can't find a flaw.  

I love the Roadie.  And it makes me love Spyderco again, after a few years of stale offerings, sprint runs of evergreen stuff with new steel, and some pretty lifeless collabs.   It may be Spyderco Ugly, but that is really nothing more than a guarantor of quality.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Trolling for Hate: Lock Strength Doesn't Matter

Dear Lynn Thompson,

Lock Strength doesn't matter.



Okay, so that is a bit of hyperbole, but not as much as you might think.  For years, centuries actually, there were two kinds of knives--fixed blades and folders.  Neither had locks.  And yet both were used in self-defense, hunting, and every day tasks.  Generations of people used knives and never thought they needed locks.  Because they didn't.


It's not that locks are bad, they aren't.  But they aren't necessary.  It used to be, when I first started this blog, I wouldn't even consider reviewing a knife without a lock, but like a lot of things--with experience my opinion changed.  I have been using and carrying slipjoints for two years now and I have yet to accidentally lop off a finger.  Put another way: as between an ounce of what Knives Ship Free's Derrick Bohn calls knife sense and a 1000 pound lock, I'd take an ounce of knife sense. 

Here is the deal--the vast majority of knives made by reputable companies have sufficiently strong locks.  They may not be able to dead lift 1000 pounds, but under normal use they are more than adequate.  Cold Steel and their fanboys would have you believe that lock strength is like the top speed in a car--sure you can't drive 200 MPH on the highway, but it's nice to have it when you want to go a little faster than 65.  I get that, but I think the analogy fails for one simple reason--I am not convinced you need a lock at all.  If the analogy worked, a knife without a lock would be like car that couldn't move, but there are all sorts of very effective knives without locks.  Instead, I think the analogy would be to something like a spoiler--it can help, but is 100% not essential.  It also works in the sense that I think there is a huge cross over between aftermarket spoiler fans and Cold Steel fanboys--both groups have a penchant for gratuitous and tacky displays.  

Now, of course, there are going to be some people that protest and say that locks are necessary for self defense.  You might be right.  I know exactly nothing about the use of a knife in self defense.  Assume you are right.  But history and my professional experience says otherwise.  Brutus wasn't testing his knife's lock the night before he betrayed Caesar.  

And the vast majority of the stabbing cases I have seen involve none of the knives we talk about here.  Almost all of them involve kitchen knives.  So sure, you might need a lock for self-defense, I don't know.  But two pretty important data points--history and experience--don't seem to confirm these things.  

Someone else might claim in the comments below that you need a good lock for hard use, outdoors tasks.  I am not Paul Bunyan or a survival expert, but it does seem silly that you'd opt for a folder in this role when fixed blades are, by any account, stronger.  Why compromise on the tool, but insist on a uber lock, when you can get the tool without compromise and not have to worry about the lock at all? Occam's Razor, in a modified form, seems to apply here--the simplest tool is most likely the right tool, all other things being equal.  If you can get superior performance AND you don't need to worry about the lock, why bother with a folder?

One thing I think is a fair criticism is to point out that not all non-locking folders are the same.  I vastly prefer slipjoints to friction folders.  I also like the slipjoints that are more like lock backs than the Anso Monte Carlo style knives that use a detent (see also, Spyderco Dogtag folder).  That said, there are ton of slipjoints that I have found are truly superior tools.  I write this ahead of the Spyderco Roadie review and that is a knife, thanks to the choil, that feels just as safe as a locking knife of the same size.  Similarly, the pull on some of my GECs has been incredible--they aren't closing on accident.  

Finally, I think there is one thing that lock strength proponents ignore--accidental deployment.  I have no fear that my Indian River Jack is going to fall open in my pocket.  I have had that happen with locking knives.  It only happens with knives that have a flaw, but that flaw is more common on locking knives as the designers assume that with a lock all is fixed.  I'd much rather my 1 year old stumble across my GEC Small Jack #25 than the latest flipper I am reviewing.  


One is much more likely to fall open and cut him than the other and it is not the one without a lock.

The only place where lock strength matters is on the Internet.  If you want to make a video of you "testing knives" in your backyard doing silly things like 200 spine whacks or dead lifting weights, then lock strength matters.  The last time I checked two things are true: things that matter only on the Internet really don't matter AND in real world use I have never done something like a spine whack or dead lifting weights with my knife...never.  I am not sure what the proponents of these tests think they are proving.  As a dude, and the father of two boys, I appreciate the thrill and joy of blowing stuff up.  When our second most recent vacuum cleaner died we took it apart to see how it worked and then we smashed it up like it was a copier in Office Space.  I get the giddy glee that comes along with smashing stuff.  But it is not "science" or valuable performance evaluation to perform excessive spine whacks or to baton through a cinder block.  It's just abuse.  I wouldn't claim that a Veyron is a shitty car because it can't crush cars Monster Truck-style and I refuse to think that a knife is a shitty knife because it failed one of these bro science "tests."

I still prefer knives with locks, but that used to be more like a requirement than a preference.  I feel like it is at least possible that as I get older that preference will go away entirely until I prefer the opposite (as well as Werther's Originals).  This fixation on lock strength is just marketing.  Humans did well for thousands of years without cutting tools that lock.  I think we will be fine if our locks aren't super, uber, ultra overbuilt.  The majority of what we have is good enough, but that statement means that every knife, in this one way, is fine.  You only get the market differentiation that is useful to sales people when you make something important that isn't and then show how your product is better at that one thing than everyone else's product.  Lock strength matters more to marketing people than it does to you and me...or at least it should.  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Griffin Pocket Tool Review by James Mackintosh

The Griffin Pocket Tool is one of many One-Piece Multi Tools (OPMT) that have sprung out of the fertile entrepreneur land of Kickstarter. It is designed by Casey Deming and is sold through Coyote Mountain Outdoor and their storefront on Amazon. It’s available in a variety of materials and finishes, including stainless steel, titanium, carbon fiber, and a few limited edition runs like bronze and anodized titanium. Mine was a polished stainless steel version that I received as a gift from my fiancĂ©e for our anniversary.


Twitter Review Summary: A few small steps away from pocket tool greatness.

Design: 2

The thing that sets the Griffin Pocket Tool apart from other OPMT’s is that the design is based around the built-in pocket clip. The clip is integrated into the body of the tool itself, forming the “flat” end of the integrated box wrenches in the center of the tool. With the attachment point for a keyring opposite this clip, it makes the Griffin Pocket Tool an effective dangler-style key holder if you want to use it in that manner. They also put a lot more thought than normal into the function of the bottle opener, which I will get into in more detail later in the review.


Fit and Finish: 1

Not perfect. The first Griffin I received I actually sent back and exchanged due to the considerable number of crooked grinds and tooling marks on the tool – the end of the screwdriver, the bevel to the screwdriver, the bevel going down into the clip itself, and the grinds that form the scoring tool were all visibly lopsided. The second one I received was a lot better – still not perfectly straight on the screwdriver end, and some small tooling marks. But these tools are EDM cut and then hand ground, and no human is perfect. Coyote Mountain says that future Griffins will be EDM cut and then CNC machined, which I would prefer.

Theme: 2

An OPMT based around a pocket clip – or a useful dangler, if you will – seems to still be a unique idea in this field. If you choose to use this tool as an anchor for your key set, I think it will do so very well. I’ve decided to pocket carry the Griffin, because my “minimum” key carry would render a lot of the functionality of this tool useless, and I’m very comfortable with my basic black diamond spring-gate carabiner as it is.

Grip: 2

No issues here. The Griffin has jimping on both sides that help with traction while prying off a bottle top, or in the reverse grip, using the box wrenches.

Carry: 1

For my purposes, it works fine thrown into a pocket – although the long and skinny nature of the tool means that it sometimes lodges itself at the bottom of your pocket.


However, if you’re using the Griffin as a dangler with your keys on it, the actual opening itself is pretty small for a lot of belt loops.

Materials: 0

When I first started writing this review, I had rated the Griffin as a “1” in materials, which I’ve revised down to zero. I like the feel and durability of stainless steel; the heft is worth the strength. The stainless Griffin is approximately three times heavier than the titanium and five times heavier than the carbon fiber. But, umm, the bottle opener bent!


Maybe that’s a sign I drink too much. Maybe the geometry of the edge needs some work. Maybe they need to heat treat their tools. People complain that the carbon fiber versions chip when you open a beverage as well, which is disappointing. With a thick (3/16”) stock of stainless, you expect to not have to worry about this. Disappointing.

Deployment/Accessibility: 2

No issues with interference on the Griffin. Some features serve multiple purposes – the bottle opener is also a ¼” bit driver, and the key ring hole is a 5/16” hex driver, but you’re unlikely to need both at the same time.

Retention Method: 2

Well, the whole point is that it’s got a built-in pocket clip, which is clever. As a dangler it’s good, or you can also slide it over the lip of your “fifth” (coin) pocket as well. The non-linear gate (which reminds me of old Jaguar automatic shifters) helps hold the tool in place as well.

Tool Selection: 2

It covers the basic tenets of OPMTs – a straight screwdriver/prybar, a bottle opener, and a key-ring.  I like the inclusion of the 4 through 7mm box wrenches, but think about this – what exactly USES those size bolts? I’m a mechanic by trade and I’ll happily show you how clean my ¼” drive 4 through 7mm sockets are. The Griffin could benefit from “imbiggening” – multiply the size by 1.25 so that the clip is a little bigger, and it includes an 8 and a 10mm box wrench – which would actually be useful. The 6 and 7mm wrenches occasionally work on worm-gear type band clamps but of course you can’t fit the Griffin on those. The ¼” bit driver is a great “zero downside” addition, built into the bottle opener. And the 5/16” hex drive – a size commonly used on domestic appliances – is a boon. I don’t do any woodworking but I’d imagine Anthony has something to say about the uses of a scoring tool for marking things. And of course a Philips driver would be helpful, but is impractical from a machining standpoint.

Tool Performance: 1


Here we get to the Griffin’s strong point for me, a craft beer nerd. The bottle opener is the best short of a bartender-style, full-size tool. Instead of the opener being on the forward side of the tool, hooking under and leveraging UP, you place the Griffin over the top of a cap, hook the edge under, and push down. It is a fantastic single-pull opener, and it’s a lot of fun to use. Sadly after a few weeks of use, it bent, making opening bottles difficult and requiring straightening with a set of pliers. The straight screwdriver/prybar works well, but lacks leverage due to the size of the tool. The ¼” bit driver and 5/16” hex are situated at the end of the tool so you have maximum leverage when torqueing things down. There is no retention method for a ¼” bit, though. The box wrenches are in the middle so access and leverage are poor, but you probably won’t be using them anyway, so it’s a moot point.

Overall: 15/20

For things that I keep a one piece tool around in my pocket for, the Griffin suits my purposes especially well. Pop open a beer, tighten a screw, wedge open the occasional recalcitrant pistachio, etc. I think the Griffin could benefit from improvements in machining and materials, but for around $20 these are more observations than complaints. If you want to try out something new for light duty jobs around the house, it’s worth a try.