Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Scurvy's Blade Show Adventure Part 3: The Flea Market

The last part of Blade for you to experience is the Flea Market aspect. There are several different components to this but I look at this as the silly side of Blade. Displays or pieces that amused or bemused me.



You can't have a flea market without a table full of ninja stars and gas station knives! Speaking of gas station knives...


Ok, so that one might just looks like it should be sold in a gas station.







and



Over the top displays and gimmicks are also another staple of flea markets. Seriously though, the Busse booth is so big, it makes you wonder if they are compensating for something.



Whenever you have a large group of people gathered in one place, there will always be tangentially related items trying to glom on in the name of making money. This lady was doing cooking demos the entire weekend trying to sell people cheap pots and pans.


That was my experience at Blade 2016. I can't recommend going highly enough. It's a pilgrimage worth making no matter what your proclivities are in the knife community. There is something for EVERYONE. Hanging out in the pit in the evenings is worth the trip in and of itself. Starting around 9pm, everyone piles into the lobby of the Renaissance Waverly hotel and proceeds to consume large amounts of alcohol until the early morning. It's amazing anyone can still function by the end of the weekend. It's a great way to connect up with friends, meet some of your favorite makers or maybe even run into a minor celebrity or two. This year, I ran into Alan Kay who was the winner of the fascinating survival show, Alone. He wasn't there promoting any knives or even the show, he just lives a few hours away and drove down for the day.

And with that, I leave you with a giant Case Swayback.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Scurvy's Blade Show Adventure Part 2: The Custom Knife Show

Blade brings together some of the greatest knife makers in the world under one roof. You can get lost for countless hours drooling over knives and still never see everything. I believe the show tends to lean more towards fixed blade makers than folder makers but not by much. As I have stated earlier, I really tried to capture unique items that I saw that I felt might have been overlooked elsewhere. I tend to lean towards the buy the maker as much as you buy the knife side of things so pretty much everyone here is a stand up gentleman who would be more than happy to spend a few minutes talking shop with you.

Michael Raymond is one of the top tier folder makers today. He learned his craft from Scott Cook of Lochsa fame. The sound his knives make when they lock open is indescribable. The first time I opened one, I just looking up grinning ear to ear. They are integral folders which mean the handles are milled from a solid piece of titanium. He uses a pivot bushing to ensure incredibly smooth openings. His knives are so well put together, it's the only knife I have ever handled that will function flawlessly with the male side of the pivot scree completely removed. Open, close, lock up, no blade play or lock rock with literally nothing holding the pivot in except extreme precision. One of his friends who manned his table while Michael was on break asked me if Michael had the nicest folders at Blade. I said he did, except for one man... 



and


Scott Sawby gets my vote for the nicest folders at the show. Scott creates truly masterpiece level of work. His knives border of art knives but they are completely usable and practical. Scott has developed his own unique locking system called the 'self-lock'. You can see it in the top photo above. I cannot do justice to how unique the mechanism is, it is something you have to handle. The sheer ease that the lock disengages compared to how solid the lock up is is astounding. It's completely ambidextrous as well. Just push up on the blade slightly and it unlocks and glides closed. The inlays in below knives are semi-precious stones.



and


Raphael Durand is a name I was not familiar with before Blade but I certainly am now. This is a full carbon fiber framed lock back folder. The way the carbon fiber and the damascus flows together is such a great detail, I couldn't put this knife down. Lock back, bacon damascus, and lack of a pocket clip are all features that usually turn me away and yet it just worked. Easily the best new (to me) folder maker of the show.


Michael Vagnino is a Master Smith in the truest sense of the words. I also consider him a friend. The shear breadth of what he makes from art knives, to crazy forged pieces, to his Zip-Slip, to his flippers and his collaborations with Ray Laconico, is impressive. Michael can truly do it all. I have been carrying his first collaboration knife with Ray Laconico (the LV Knives Lancer) for over a year and it gets more pocket time than all of my other folders, combined. The top two knives are what he calls his Mystery Knives. There is a bar embedded in the handle the free float that the hook catches and holds the blade closed. As a result, you have hold the knife a certain way to get it to lock and unlock. Michael does his own engraving work as well. The bottom knife is his Jaguar model and it a true sole authorship knife. Michael made everything on this knife (minus the mammoth bark) down to the screws which are timed perfectly so they all face the same direction.





and




Nowhere else but Blade can you watch someone on the level of RJ Martin put on a quick sharpening demo for a good sized group of onlookers.


Countless renditions of the Lanny's Clip pattern folder from several different makers at the Bose table.


The hallmark of any custom knife show, Tim Britton's table with no one there and full of knives late on a Saturday afternoon.


http://i199.photobucket.com/albums/aa27/Scurvy092/Knives/20160604_105113.jpg

A major aspect of Blade is the American Bladesmith Society (ABS) testing for Journeyman and Master Smiths. The ABS website has the list of all of the challenges you need to pass and the specifications you need to make your knives to in order to submit them for testing. Several makers will proudly display their test knives on their table afterwords and can begin stamping their pieces with the coveted JS or MS stamp. You may recognize the handsome fellow above as the winner of the very first episode of Forged in Fire. His name is Matt Parkinson and he earned his Journeyman Smith title at Blade this year. You can see in the top photo he is holding his test knife and his certificate. The test knife is submitted to a series of difficult and abusive tests before it it put in a vice and bent over to 90 DEGREES without breaking! The bottom photo is the full complement of his knives submitted for testing.


and


Sam Lurquin is a very popular fixed blade maker and makes some seriously jaw dropping pieces. Sam tested for Master Smith this year and unfortunately did not pass. He didn't let this get him down but it should be telling how hard getting that title must be. Unfortunately, this was the only knife of his I was able to capture but everything his brought to Blade was stunning.



http://i199.photobucket.com/albums/aa27/Scurvy092/Knives/20160604_143122.jpg

Jason Knight is a Master Smith and made my favorite fixed blade I own. This was the only piece he brought to display and I wish I has a reason to own a huge custom hand forged kukri. He has been wrapped up with a secret (maybe not so secret?) project and everyone will be seeing a lot more of him soon.


I don't want people to think that ABS certification is the way for every smith. Several makers make incredible pieces without going through the ABS and the Sobral brothers are perfect examples of this. My cell phone photos can not do these knives justice but everything they brought was on point and exceeded any expectations I had before handling them.



That was just a small sample of all of the amazing custom pieces at Blade. If you enjoyed the fixed blades, I would like to give a special shout out to my friend Joe Paranee. Joe is the person who got me into fixed blades and he puts together some amazing collaboration projects and always spotlights incredible makers and knives on his youtube channel. I cannot recommend his channel enough to anyone who is even remotely interested in custom fixed blades.

Joe Paranee's YouTube Channel.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Scurvy's Blade Show Adventures Part 1: The Trade Show

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due the fact that my son was born on June 9 there is little chance I will be going to a Blade Show any time soon.  Maybe when we can go together...But I didn't want to leave you folks hanging so I hit up friend of the site and podcast Mr. Scurvy to see if he'd be kind enough to do a run down with pictures.  He obliged.  I will put out all three pieces over the course of this week, so you can get a real feel for the show.  Jonathan did a great job. 

Twitter Summary: Part trade show, part custom knife show, part flea market.

Hello, my name is Jonathan. You may know me as Scurvy in some form or another or may have heard me on Gear Geeks Live episode 68. While I was at Blade 2016, Tony asked me to take some photos and give my thoughts and review on the show. This was my third time attending Blade and I had already spent all day Friday roaming the floor from 12p-6p when the request came in early Saturday morning. I quickly jotted down some of the interesting things that caught my eye from the day before and headed into the show.


While trying to think of a way to frame this article, I came to the realization that Blade is, in fact, three shows in one. It is simultaneously a trade show, a high end custom knife show and a flea market. I will try to present a glimpse into all three of these facets but I would like to start with a few caveats:

1. Recognize that when you go to Blade, you WILL NOT see everything. No matter how hard you try, no matter how methodical you are, you will miss someone/something. The show is just too big.

2. This article is about what interested me and me alone. This is not representative of everything available for you to see at blade. If it's in here, it interested, impressed or humored me.

3. I intentionally left out A LOT of big name tactical folder companies and makers. I understand that the average reader of this site is probably most interested in those aspects but they are also the most well covered aspects of the show as well. There are plenty of pictures and videos online available so I wanted to try and bring something unique that you might not see anywhere else.


If you are a major knife production company or dealer, you come to Blade. I would say that Blade and SHOT Show are probably equally important in the industry with SHOT getting most of the new release stuff as a result of it's place on the calendar. Still, we get to see plenty of new stuff debuted at Blade. Two of the biggest stories I wanted to check out were the new ZT 0427 and the new Chris Reeve Large Inkosi.

The ZT 0427 is a tour de force of a knife in my opinion. It is based on Dimitri Sinkevich's Do custom knife. I would say the reaction to the styling was mixed but if you like the custom, you should like this knife.





and



The knife features a composite edge (XHP cutting edge), custom pivot and 3d machined clip as pretty standard options for ZT's boutique offerings. The special sauce is in the detent and locking mechanism. Instead of running a standard sub-frame lock that ZT has used in the past, they have taken it a step further and inlaid a piece of carbon fiber to match the inlay on the other side. Additionally, instead of the whole lockbar being exposed, they cut a window in the frame just for the inlay. When the knife is closed, you can hardly tell there is a lock and watching the inlay drop in when the knife opens if pretty tricky. It's almost a liner lock/frame lock hybrid.

Traditionally, a weak point of frame locks has been riding the lock bar on deployment and causing binding due to the detent ball. The 0427 seeks to resolve this problem by moving the detent to the other side of the knife. On the show side, there is a small strip of steel embedded in the handle with the detent ball on it. There is still a detent ball on the lock side but no hole in the blade so the lockbar doesn't ride the blade. This is different from the Emerson Safe D-tent which I'm pretty sure was added just to help center the knives. Having the detent on the opposite side means no amount of pressure you put on the lockbar is going to effect how the knife opens. The strip of the steel the ball sits in also allows you to tune the detent on the knife. This is huge on a knife that has two legitimate opening methods. All of the ones I handled were set in the middle so they could be easily opened with the flipper tab of the thumb cutout but the end user will actually be able to tune it to their liking if they so choose.

Sadly, this knife did not win Overall Knife of the Year. Somehow the 80s gimmick of colors changing with the temperature was able to secure Lion Steel the win but Blade Show award logic is a whole different article. In my opinion though, this was the best production knife at the show by far. The look, the features, the ergonomics all resonated with me. It could quite possibly be my favorite Zero Tolerance since the original 0777, it is that impressive.

-----------------------------------------------------

The second big debut at Blade was the large Inkosi from Chris Reeve. This pairs with the original Inkosi that debuted last year that most felt was just the small Sebenza 25. With the debut of this knife, however; the Sebenza 25 has been officially discontinued. As a friend of mine put it very succinctly, 'It just wasn't a Sebenza.' Well it is no longer a Sebenza but Chris Reeve doesn't want you thinking that the Inkosi is just a renamed Sebenza 25.


According to the CRK reps, they have done a multitude of upgrades to the Sebenza 25 to make the Inkosi. They have changed the washers so they are identical side to side, which is actually pretty impressive considering there is usually a huge variation in washer size. The handle has been recontoured as well but it seemed really slight. The stop pin is a new design with no screw hole on the show side now. These are all very minor modifications and it's easy to just see this knife as a Sebenza 25 ver. 2.0 but like my friend said, 'It's not a Sebenza.'


Well now it is official.

Friday, June 17, 2016

May 2016 Giveaway Winners

Well, I have tallied up the donations and they came up to $718.00.  That is quite a bit of money to a very worthy cause.  I know from personal experience that the folks running the program do a very good job of using every penny wisely. 

Now on to the winners:

Grand Prize (chosen at random): Full Gear Kit: Mike Dixon

American Knife Company Forest Knife
Anso Matrix Card Holder Wallet
Limited Edition ZT Pen (Blue Anodized)
Fenix RC09Ti
1 sealed 3-pack of Field Notes Night Sky Edition
Zero Tolerance ZT0909

Runner Up (chosen at random):  EDC: Kolton Kilgore

AG Russell K12 One Handed Knife (original model with VG10)
FourSevens Paladin

Big Heart (Largest Single Donation): Mike Rixman

Jon Graham Stubby Razel Midtech

Cheap Ass (selected from all of the minimum donations): Trip Miller

Gerber 600

Part 1 (randomly chosen from donors that give from May 10 until May 25): Jeffrey Sweers

Ontario RAT II

Week 2 (randomly chosen from donors that give from May 26 until June 11): Jordan Wagner

Lumintop Tool AAA light

Surprise Bonus Giveaway: Matt Distefano

Perceval Le Francais

Instagram Giveaway: Michael Kalmbach

Matthew Martin CF Pen

Prizes Given Away:

1.  Custom Benchmade Mini Grip 555hg with S30V steel ($130)
2.  Inkleaf Leather Moleskine Cover ($70)
3.  Iain Sinclair Cardsharp ($20)
4.  American Cutlery Over the Top Pocket Clip ($7)
5.  Boker Exskelibur II ($40)
6.  Coated Aircraft Cable ($3)
7.  RoBoT One Piece Multitool ($57)
8. Leatherman Sidekick ($30)
9. CRKT Ripple 2 ($30)
10. CRKT Mah Eraser ($100)
11. Steve Ku Quantum DD ($60)
12. LED Lenser M7R ($120)
13. Sunwayman M11R Mr. Elfin ($80)
14. ESEE Candiru ($50)
15. TT PockeTTools TT-7 ($30)
16. MBI CoreTi ($75) 
17. Ka-Bar Mini Dozier ($15)
18. CRKT Drifter G10 ($18)
19. CRKT Drifter SS ($18)
20. Lighthound 1xAAA light ($25)
21. Lighthound 1xAA light ($25)
22. McGizmo Haiku Hi CRI edition ($500) 
23. TAD Dauntless Mk. II ($350)
24. CRKT Enticer ($40)
25. CRKT Swindle ($50)
29. MBI HF-R with Zoom Head ($150)
30. Bellroy Note Sleeve Wallet ($90)
31. Spyderco Domino ($190)
32. Zebralight SC600 Mk. II ($100)
33. Tuff Writer Ultimate Red Clicky ($100)
34. TT PockeTTools 69 ($40)
35. TT PockeTTools Thumb Drive ($10)
36. TAD Gear Camo Dispatch Bag ($200)
37. Brous Blades Bionic ($180)
38. 2x Micro Systainer (courtesy of Woodcraft)($100 total, $50 each)
39. 2x Obtainum Wallet (courtesy of Obtanium Wallets)($400 total, $200 each)
40. Spyderco Dragonfly II in Super Blue (courtesy of the blog)($100)
41. Thrunite T10T Titanium (courtesy of the blog)($50)
42. Inspirs TTi 120 Pen (courtesy of Inspirs Designs)($100)
43. Kershaw Skyline with Blue G10 and Blackwash blade (1 of 211 made)(courtesy of the blog)($100)
44. oLight i2 EOS (with bolt on clip, out of production) (courtesy of the blog)($25)
45. Masterstroke Air Foil Twisty (courtesy of Masterstroke Pens)($75)
46. James Chapter Knife ($200)
47. Prometheus Beta QR v2 ($80)
48. RC Fibers D15 Wallet ($50)
49. TT Keeper OMPT ($40)
50. Karas Kustoms Ink ($60)
51. Mini Mechanic's chest ($20)
52. ZT0770CR ($170)
53. Malkoff MDC ($100)
54. Bellroy Elements Pocket ($60)
55. Prometheus EKO OMPT ($40)
56. Smock Knives modded Kwaiken ($250)
57. ZT0562 ($200)
58. Arno Bush Baby ($140)
59. Kershaw Amplitude ($30)
60. Spyderco Cat ($50)
61. Lynch PM2 Upgrade Kit ($70)
62. Buck Mini Spitfire ($40)
63. American Knife Company Forest Knife ($240)
64. Zero Tolerance ZT0909 ($180)
65. Limited Edition Zero Tolerance Pen ($100)
66. Anso Matrix Card Holder ($200)
67. Field Notes 3-pack Night Sky Edition ($20)
68. Fenix RC09Ti ($100)
69. AG Russell One Handed Knife K-12 ($100)
70. FourSevens Paladin ($100)
71. Ontario RAT II ($30)
72.  Thrunite Tool AAA ($30)
73.  Graham Stubby Razel Midtech ($350)
 
Total: $6,998 in prizes given away; $3287 raised for WWP and now New Hampshire Drug Court.  Note that a lot of those initial giveaways didn't raise any money.  
 
Also note through some voodoo magic Mike Rixman has won the Big Heart two giveaways in a row.  He is a clever devil.  Especially because both times there were ties and the winner was chosen at random and he won the random toss twice.  

Winners, please send me your addresses so I can mail everything out.  Send them as soon as possible so I can do one big mailing.  

Thanks again for donating. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

May 2016 Carry

May was great this year--just warm enough that we could be outside all day long on the weekend.  I also happened to change jobs for the first time in my adult life.  While I am still a lawyer I went from a large office at the Public Defender to a small private firm in the same town.  In between the jobs I took a week off and flew back to Ohio.  All of this means I had a lot of chances to carry some different stuff. I also got sent a new pack, one from SOG, that I took with me on the vacation.  All in all, a lot of different stuff this month. Also, the Mnandi I bought on the podcast came in and it is so amazing.  Naturally it showed up and when in the pocket lot.

Here is the Mnandi with the Aeon Mk. 3:

IMG_4104
Chris Reeve Knives Mnandi in Snakewood and S35VN with 2nd gen. nail nick, Sinn Spezialurhen 556i and Muyshondt Aeon Mk. 3 in Titanium

This is a beautiful pair not just because they both look nice, but also because they both function so incredibly well.  It's hard to imagine something being more classy, compact, and high performance than what you get here.  I carried the Mnandi without the leather slip, preferring to drop it in the top pocket of a button down.  No one even noticed, as the clip looks like the clip on a very nice pen.  Hey Chris Reeve, would you make a nice pen?  Don't do some tactical piece of junk, gimme a metal version of an Edison.  I'd be stoked.  

The two Kickstarter knives both came, the Kadima and the HEST Urban.  The Urban is a big surprise.

IMG_4367
The Edison Pearlette in Indigo Flake with a Stub Nib, the DPx HEST Urban, and the Muyshondt Aeon, Mk. 3 in blue anodized aluminum

I was not expecting to like it as much as I do.  It is very heavy for what it is, the clip is a misery, but everything else is out of this world.  For a first production, this is a great knife.  DPx now has something that competes quite well with the Strider PT and Small Sebenza.  It's that good.  

The Kadima is a bit of a hard thing to process.

IMG_4229
Kickstarter Caston Kadima in G10

It's well made and well designed, but I am not sure if I "get it".  It's a lot like that butterfly pen that Spyderco makes, the Bali-Yo.  It is a great fidget thing, but I am not sure if it is a great knife yet.  I have to carry it around some more.  It is uber pocket friendly, so that is a plus.

In Ohio, we (my family and I) visited with my parents and everyday was spent outside.  We spent time in my old stomping grounds, a State Park behind the neighborhood I lived in.  Though things have gotten overgrown and a few landmarks (such as a fallen log that crossed a ravine) have been reclaimed by nature, I was still able to trace my steps using my 12 year old brain.  Almost all of the patches were still there and a few secret shortcuts still worked.  This part of Ohio is absolutely rich with fossils and so every creek bed was a gold mine of remnants from the Ordivician Age.  Because I had no idea what we'd be doing I settled for the most utilitarian and easiest to use carry I have--the Surefire Titan Plus (which runs on NiMH batteries but can use regular AAAs) and the delightful Robert Lesssard (SAKModder) custom Pioneer.  The Pioneer X just came out and though all of the tools are the same, my gem has a clip.  Here is this pair with a sample of the fossils we found:

IMG_4467
Top: Surefire Titan Plus
Middle: Fossilized Orthotetes, Rhombopora, Cephalopod, and another Orthotetes
Bottom: SAK Modder Custom Pioneer 

While looking for fossils (they are so plentiful we don't even have to dig--just sit down next to a creek and you will find them in massive handfuls), we also did a little crawdad (crayfish) hunting.  This was one of my favorite things to do as a teenager.  It took me a bit but I still have the touch, catching 15 in one morning all by hand.  A few more hours and we could have had a nice meal.  The technique is something I developed over the years and if you do it right you need nothing more than a pair of water shoes (such as Crocs), a pencil-sized stick, and your hands.  If you grab the little boogers behind their eye stalks they can't reach around and pinch you.  While I was doing this many of my peers 25 years ago, we're listening to MC Hammer, wearing Skidz, and covering themselves in Drakar Noir.  Is it any wonder why I didn't fit in?

The other thing we did outside was play around with this:

IMG_4402
My Dad's 2016 Corvette Stingray aka The Beast

My Dad has pined after a Corvette for decades.  When I was born he had a Porsche 914, which he got rid of because, well, it is pretty much the anti-family car.  So for 38 years, he was without a machine that was fun to drive.  Now he has this beast and boy is it a blast to drive.  Andrew Lang and I have talked about cars on the podcast before, he just purchased an old 65/66 Mustang, and I forgot how fun driving can be.  Again recalling things from long ago, I took the car, with my 5 year old son safely in tow, to the wide open cornfields where the roads are arrow straight and you can see for 10 miles and I hammered the gas.  The performance data read outs were insane--G forces, global positioning speed measurements, it was awesome.  Nothing like hitting triple digits with the top down.  One small point though--even with 10 miles of straight road you run out of pavement FAST when going three times the speed limit. Not that I would know ;)

After coming back I had this weird period.  I just left my job of 12 years and started a new one, but I needed to take a week off to make everything work with both places' schedules.  So I had three days all to myself.  One day I did a pilgrimage to Kittery Trading Post and I bought the Benchmade 555-1.  This is a stupendous knife and something that will make a lot of appearances on Instagram this next month.  Love this knife.

P1070125

Friday, June 10, 2016

Benchmade Mini Griptillian 555-1 Review

This isn't a full blown review, as you can tell by the length of the post.  This knife is very similar to the original Mini Grip and so I am cutting the review to the bare bones.  I am also not bothering to wait the normal month or so testing period.  No need here.  I am familiar enough with the bones and the improvements are so obvious, I don't need to wait any longer than I have (a week).  While the differences are few, they are tremendously important.  Going from a score of 18 or 19 on the scale to a 20 is very tough.  Going to that next level--the Perfect 20/20--is even harder.  Let's see if Benchmade can do it.

Before I get to the score justification part of the review, let's clear the ground and get to the point.  Should you buy the Mini Griptillian 555-1?  Yes.  Should you upgrade if you already own the 550hg? Yes.  Simply put, the 555-1 is one of the best production folders available.  All of the great design elements and features of the original are preserved in the 555-1, but the flaws, few as they were, are corrected.  But they didn't just fix mistakes, they added features that make the 555-1 a perfect EDC.  Finally, though it is hard to detect, especially if you didn't own the 550hg, Benchmade has gone back and made a few fit and finish upgrades that make this knife one of the finest the Butterfly has ever made.  In short, buy this knife.

Here is the product page.  The knife runs around $170.  There are combo edge and straight edge versions (buy the combo edge if you are a dummy).  There is obviously a larger version with both blade types as well.  The 20CV blade steel is not an option on the Benchmade customized yet, as such there are no handle color variations.  Here is a review of the 555-1's big brother.  Here is a video of the 555-1.  Here is a link to Blade HQ where you can find the 555-1 and all sales benefit the site:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is my review sample, purchased with my own money to keep and fawn over for all time:

P1070125

Twitter Review Summary: Iteration at its best--a perfect blade.

The upgrades are simple:

1. G10 handles instead of the hollow feeling Grivory scales.
2. A new deep carry, over the top pocket clip.
3. 20CV instead of 154CM

These are the big changes but there are a few subtler ones that make a difference as well.  

The tolerances on the Axis lock are the tightest I have ever seen.  Nick and Austin have rightfully taking Benchmade to task over on the Modern Neanderthal podcast for the inherent slop in the blade caused by the Axis lock.  Even very high end knives like my 940-1 have exhibited this.  But this version has none of that.  The pivot here is very smooth, the knife pops open with kinetic ease, and yet the blade is still rock solid--no movement whatsoever.  Maybe they haven't improved the tolerances at all, but given how much better this one unit is compared to all of the Axis locks I have handled (the original Mini Grip, the Sequel, the Emissary, the Valet, the 940-1, and the 300SN), I would not be shocked if they just dialed everything out a few more decimal places and got the lock dead tight.

The knife also has a flow through design--no backspacer anymore.  The standoffs are a gleaming blue and match the eye catching blue liners.  It's not just a better design, it is also aesthetically pleasing.  

Finally, and though again I am not sure this is a purposeful thing or just luck, but this is the sharpest production knife I have ever had out of the box.  Benchmade has traditionally had a hard time with this, falling well behind Spyderco and SOG, for example.  But here, the edge is so sharp that it gathered arm hair like a magnet picking up metal shavings--effortless and efficient.  Frankly, the edge is as sharp as some of the most proficient customs--Jesse Jarosz would be perfectly content with the edge here. 

Running this knife through its paces in a week has been fun.  The 20CV steel, which is an American made equivalent of M390 (though it is a touch easier to sharpen), is superb.  I think I may have relented a while ago and just conceded that it is the best all around performer out there, it's resistance to tarnish being better than ZDP-189 with only a modicum of lost edge retention.  I cut a lot of cherries with this knife in the week I have had it and it did great--slicing with ease, sculpting around the pit like a scalpel, and all the while rejecting anything that looks like stain.  I have had CTS-XHP stain with cherries.  I have had S30V look a little funky.  But nothing here--not a speck.  Benchmade claims that 20CV is easier to sharpen than M390. It is, but there is only a modest difference. Anything is welcome on this front as sharpening supersteels is almost a violation of bans on torture.  

The clip has also been sublime.   

P1070123

The clip, in addition to be being a better shape, falls on to a smoother spot in the handle, making the entire thing less shreddy and easier to remove from your pocket.  It's not a huge difference, but often the margin between good and perfect is a small upgrade. The clip has  perfect tension on almost any material.  Finally, there are no hotspots at all.  

Owning a thumb hole Mini Grip has reminded me of how much I love the blade shape.  It's just amazing.

P1070124

The hump going down into the point creates an aggressive profile, something like the silhouette of a Porsche 911.  The curve in the blade gives you good rocking cut abilities and belly.  As I mentioned above the Axis lock is great here and the deployment is butter smooth.

One thing that has come up in the community is that "liners" are actually paint.  Benchmade's product literature specifically states that they are "layered gray and blue G10."  It'd pretty hard to claim that and then just have them be painted.  I am not sure either way, but I do know that it has no impact on the blade's performance and painted or not, they look nice, at least for now.  I hope the blue interior is actually blue G10 and not blue paint on G10, but if its not I don't really think it matters. 

In the end, I lied.  I am not going to tally this thing up.  No need.  It's a 20/20 Perfect.  Even the additional weight caused by the G10 and full, but nested liners, is not enough to talk me out of the Perfect label.  This knife is just killer.  Summer has a new official EDC and it is the 555-1.  Go buy it.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, Perfect.


Monday, June 6, 2016

Iteration v. Innovation

It occurred to me recently that you can look at the major knife manufacturers in one of two ways--those that iterate and those that innovate.  This is a gross simplification, of course, and really a spectrum (the new version of the Axis lock is clearly an innovation in that it is new, but it is not really that different from the old Axis lock), but put those things aside and look through this particular lens with me for a moment.

On the side of iteration we have two companies--Benchmade and Spyderco.  These two companies have a core set of design ideas and they use them over and over again on their knives.  For Benchmade it is a lock and for Spyderco it is a deployment method.  On the other side, innovation, we have Kershaw and CRKT.  They produce dozens of new designs every year with little to no continuity with the past.  We may get a new steel in an old design, but very rarely do these companies revisit a design (the M16 from CRKT being a notable exception).  

So, using this lens, and recognizing that it is a warped and limited perspective (I happen to think Spyderco is quite inventive with their designs), which produces better knives?  

I think you have to favor iteration on a per knife basis.  Sure, Kershaw with their 40 new designs a year is bound to hit on some of them and get something in the 17 or 18 out of 20 range, but for those gleaming jewels of design and implementation it takes practice.  Just browse through the Spyderco catalog and look at their evergreen products--the Delica, the Endura, the Centofante III, the Dragonfly, the Native 5, the Paramilitary II...all of them are amazing knives, well above average.  Now compare that to the Kershaw catalog where you have a lot of good, but not great knives.  Those knives in the Kershaw line up that have been allowed to evolve, such as the Cryo, have become very good blades indeed.  The G10 Cryo is leagues better than the slippery turd that is the stainless steel version.

P1040018_1478

Similarly, the G10 Zing, a Big Box exclusive, is amazing.  But among these select few, Kershaw pumps out virtually interchangeable designs with a few tweaks.  Can you, without looking, tell me the difference between the Showtime and the Entropy or the Rove and the Grid?  

But this is not the only way to look at knives.  If a businessman was speaking, he'd tell you that the "fast fail" is the way to go.  In this way knife companies are imitating a high tech start up--they make a bunch of stuff, send it out in the market, and see what sticks, and then iterate on that.  The market is the testing group.  This has two advantages--one obvious and one not so obvious.  First, the test group is massive, allowing for kinks in a design to be found faster and more effectively.  I am sure Kershaw does internal QC testing, don't get me wrong, but a lot of the "is this a good product" testing comes from us.  Second, you get to charge folks to be part of your test group.  Instead of doing a lot of internal testing and weeding out lesser designs, Kershaw sends out 40 new knives a year, some fail and some don't, but everyone that wants to test one out to see if they like it, has to buy one.  Folks that read this blog aren't "one knife" people.  They recognize that they will do a lot of catch and release in the process of building a stable of blades they like and can rely on.  Kershaw feeds this impulse by making a metric ton of new stuff every year. 

CRKT does this too, but more with mechanisms and locks than Kershaw does.  CRKT releases at least two or three new systems a year, whether it is deployment mechanisms or locks.  It's clockwork.  The Homefront, just announced at Blade, has a toolless tear down system.  Personally, I find this innovation more interesting than two dozen flippers that have different colors and blade shapes, but it is more risky from a business perspective. While Kershaw is grooving in one pitch after another into basically the same part of the strike zone, thus guaranteeing a modicum of sales success, CRKT is throwing pitches all over the place. Consumers, like batters, are potentially thrown off balance.  Great stuff, like the Eraser, can slip buy in a flurry of new acronyms.  

But this debate has focused on folks that are, while caricatured for purposes of this article, in the middle of the spectrum--Spyderco is pretty innovative and CRKT has enough variants of the M16 to show they like iteration.  At the extreme tail end, we have the moribund corpses of iteration and five year old with ADHD of innovation.

Chris Reeve represents the most extreme of the iteration model.  At Blade 2016, they just announced the Large Inkosi.  I had parodied this a few posts ago, saying they were working on a new, slightly different sized Inkosi called the Iripzuoff, and guess what, it turned out to be true.  Let's walk through this.  First, they made the Sebenza, large and small.  Then they made the 21, in both sizes.

IMG_0001

Then they made the 25, only as a large.  Then they made the Inkosi.  Now we have the Large Inkosi.  There are three blade shapes for the Sebenza--a clip point, a wharncliffe-ish thing, and a tanto.  The handle comes in carbon fiber and titanium (let's ignore the inlay version for now). That's  roughly eleven different versions of almost the exact same knife.  Iteration in overdrive.

Then there is a company like Custom Knife Factory.  They basically make production versions of custom knives and as a result, each knife is pretty much entirely different from every other knife.  And some of these designs have a lot of promise.  I liked the Peace Duke, for example, but the actual blade grind, with its silly multiple grinds (all but useless on a knife this size) killed the design for me.  If CKF iterated (and they do sometimes, rarely) they could tweak this design and make it something more practical.  They remind me of the dogs from Up, just one second away from losing their attention and looking at something else, except instead of squirrels, they are smitten with titanium framelock flippers.  "Flipper!"

From a business standpoint, the Kershaw model of innovation and consumer-based product testing, is probably the best way to go.  It generate a ton of revenue, feeds the knife addiction, and, in the rare instance when one blade rises to the top, it gives you clear direction on which knife and how to iterate. But from a consumer perspective, I'd much rather the Spyderco path of iteration.  I'd lump Benchmade in here too, but they are perhaps too far over on the spectrum, closer to Chris Reeve than Spyderco.  Over a long process of distilling good design and listening to consumer feedback you arrive a gems, polished by years of iteration.  The Dragonfly 2 is one of these gems.  The new G10 Mini Grip, the 555-1 is another.

P1070122

Each is a truly sublime blade, something that even the best designers are unlike to stumble upon in their first go round.  It may be slow, it may result in a boring line up (I'm look at you Benchmade), but the end results are some of the finest folding knives in the world.  


Friday, June 3, 2016

Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter Review

I have carefully avoid many (though not all) of the pitfalls of fanboyhood.  I have remained unswayed by the waves of Emerson fans, the legion of Busse, and the herds of Hinderer enthusiasts.  As preferences in knives stray perilously close to titanic and gauche, I have maintained a preference for the small, useful, and unadorned Spyderco Dragonfly, with only the steel choice representing something trendy (ZDP-189 ain't 1095).  As folks went ga-ga for slipjoints, I tried (and probably failed) keep a sober perspective of the trend.  And has more and more people decide to backyard bushcraft, I have maintained a preference for different kinds of fixed blades, like the Ver Steeg Imp and the Jarosz JFS.

But at some point the hype train steams past my house and drops something off.  Once it dropped off the still awful stainless steel Kershaw Cryo and I tried to throw it back on when the train came around again.  It has also twice stopped to deliver a package containing a Spyderco flipper and, sadly, both packages contained something less than Spyderco's best work.  So when the cacophony rose to a fever pitch regarding Andy Roy's Fiddleback Forge I was wary.  All of the idiosyncrasies of the brand--the burlap handles, the faux heat treat scaling (called, humorously enough "spalted steel"; spalting, while beautiful, is a defect in wood caused by a fungal infection and it weakens the wood...), and the bullseye lanyard tube--make me cautious.  Then there is the price, the breathtaking, mind altering, insane price.  Custom (or more appropriately, handmade, according to my nomenclature) Fiddleback Forges start at around $300 and go up from there.  This for a knife that doesn't fold, doesn't lock, and runs O1 or on a particularly sophisticated model, hold your hat, A2.  And the money isn't found in the sheath--these are leather numbers produced by Bark River or the same company that makes Bark River's sheathes.  Toot, toot from the hype train, for sure.

All that said, sometimes the hype train drops off something sweet.  It did when it dropped off my first Paramilitary 2.  That is a gem.  So too with my beloved and still regularly used McGizmo Haiku.  And here is the reality--almost every material used on knives that is "exotic" or "expensive" isn't.  For Christ sake people both carbon fiber and Moku-ti are MANMADE, meaning we can make as much or as little as we want.  Invariably, unless you are setting gems or grinding gold like Van Barnett, labor is the truly expensive part of a handmade knife.  And so, even though the thing is made of burlap, glue, and a steel that was cutting edge in the 1890s (okay, maybe not...), $375 for my Bushcrafter isn't outrageous.  It's not because of the skill in making and designing this knife are obvious and of the highest order.  Simplicity is harder to do well than decoration and the Bushcrafter is a master class in superior execution of a simple idea.  Fiddleback Forges aren't great values, but they are great knives...read on for more as to why.

Here is the product page for the Bushcrafter.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review.  You can purchase the knife through Knives Ship Free and the proceeds go to site by using this link:

KnivesShipFree

Here is my review sample of the Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter:

IMG_3766

Twitter Review Summary: Well made collectible or fancy user?  Yes.

Is this a Custom?

Here is my article on the various terms relating to knife production.  Under that system I would classify the Bushcrafter as a single source, handmade knife, especially based on what is shown in this article.  To my knowledge Andy Roy cuts and processes all of the raw materials--the steel and handle materials--himself.  He spalts the steel and grinds it himself.  It also appears as though Andy designs each knife.  For more on the Fiddleback Forge creation process check out this link.  Also, beware--there are a line of "midtech" Fiddleback Forge knives where the knife blanks are pre-cut in batches.  They are about 2/3 the price of a regular Fiddleback Forge.  This particular Bushcrafter is fully handmade item.  

Design: 2

Simple is good.

IMG_3765

There is no question that the Bushcrafter was designed for a niche audience--the steel, the emphasis on the handle shape, and the size/proportions are all something that the bushcraft community (aka those that enjoy crafting bush) values greatly.  But despite its narrow audience, the Bushcrafter is actually a great all-around knife.  I have used it and tested it like a camp knife--flexing from food prep chores to batonning--and it is has done well in any role.  Don't be taken in by the hype train--anyone and everyone could use and benefit from owning a knife like this.  And the reason why is simple--this is a very solid design with few frills and zero mistakes. 

But the issue isn't the basics, it's the things that make this knife a distinctive Fiddleback Forge design.  I love the burlap micarta--its vivid coloration, here a bright tangerine aka orange, and grip are great.  The tapered tang, though not a distinctive feature, is something usually only seen on high end knives and, as you will see below, it works.  The bullseye lanyard hole is not that big a deal either way, but it is nice.  Only the "spalted" steel doesn't check a box for me.  It's not awful, but it's designed to look like either heat treat scaling left on or forging marks.  Either way, it strikes me as a bit of faux ruggedness--the knife equivalent of "aged blue jeans."

I have one uncategorized minor ding--I wish the ricasso was better done.  Not a big deal, but just a missed opportunity and one that is worth mentioning when the price is as high as it is here.  

Overall, the design is very good--solid basics and nice distinctive touches.

Fit and Finish: 2

Flawless.  This fixed blade is simply flawless. This is only the second fixed blade I have had with a tapered tang and the first, an Arno Bernard, was so light already it was hard to tell if it actually made a difference.  Here, the knife is quite beefy and it clearly does make a difference.  Andy took a lot of time to get everything to balance out perfectly.  How perfectly?  Well, it doesn't get much easier to see perfect weight distribution than this:

IMG_3767

Putting the balance point right THERE makes the knife super light in the hand, which contributes to an overall feeling that it is easy to use and control.  The rest of the knife is finished equally well.  There are no gaps in the handle.  The liners are completely smooth with each other.  The plunge lines are crisp and even from side to side.  The pins are flush.  In short, this thing is perfectly finished.

Handle Design: 2 

Fiddleback Forge fans, of which there are many online and especially on YouTube, will tell you that the state of the art part of Andy's knives are the handles, not the blade steel, something of a reverse of the traditional folder mentality.  My experience has been one that confirms this to be the case.  This is not hype, either.  

P1070039

That simple shape belies a great deal of design complexity and iteration.  If you go through the Fiddelback Forge catalog you will see a number of subtlety different handles, all of which come from traditional sources.  All of this handle designing leads me to believe that this simple shape is arrived at only after a long process of mastering the craft of handle making.  After all, it's only after extreme mastery can a sculptor do something as simple sounding as making a lifelike statute from marble.  This isn't Michalangelo's David, but the same concept seems to apply--mastery allows complexity to hide in simple forms.  

The handle has a nice oval cross section and a good palm swell with a very slight parrot's beak at the end.  The index finger falls into a gently shaped groove.  In all, despite (or perhaps becomes of) the simple appearance, the handle sings in the hand.  As good as the Becker handle is, as good as the handles have been on the Bark River's I have held, this is better.  This is truly state of the art.  

How do I know?  Well, aside from normal camp knife duties, I decided to sit down one quiet weekend and debark a piece of maple I am planning on using as a walking stick.  The stick was cut and still green and it was about six feet long.  So, while managing a fire and two little boys, I slowly took off all of the bark, piece by piece until the stick looked like a piece of ivory (for more on making a good walking stick, see here).  During this process, which lasted six hours or so with a lot of interruptions (two little boys, remember), I used the Bushcrafter exclusively.  At the end of the process, while my hands ached from the detail work of cutting in around knots and the like, there were no hotspots, no places where I felt like the knife chafed, and not a single place where I wish the handle was shaped differently.  

This is truly a state of the art handle and the best I have ever handled.  If it didn't break the scale I'd give it a higher score.  

Steel: Ugh...2

I say "ugh" because this just shouldn't happen.  I am a self-acknowledged steel junkie.  I like steels--the harder and the more advanced, the better.  But the reality is, you can achieve great results with old steel and O1 is OLD.  It is the last surviving member of the "O" family of steels (which went from O1 to O7).  All but O1 are out of production and have been for decades.  

My issue with awarding old and supposedly out of date steels such a high score is that it doesn't match expectation and it seems to border on magical thinking, something I am distinctly opposed to in gear.  I am dismissive of things like "oh this guy is a master of X steel" or "this secret heat treat is better than everything else."  This sounds like snake oil salesmanship to me--vague talk about indecipherable performance benefits that cannot be measured.  In order to come to the conclusion that something like this has happened, such as with the Bos heat treat, I need A LOT of data to confirm this is true.  With a steel chemistry, if you know what to look for, you can see the elements listed and deduce good performance.  This is why being a steel junkie is, in many ways, a cop out--I don't have to wade through tons of steels to find good ones, I can just cherry pick based on recipe.  With heat treat and edge geometry that sort of thing is much harder to do.

But there are people that do have expertise in heat treats and edge geometry.  There are folks that know exactly how to harness every last bit of performance out a steel and leverage their superior knowledge against another steel's superior chemistry.  Paul Bos does it.  Al Mar Knives does it with their AUS-8.  And after a lot of use, I feel comfortable in saying that Andy Roy has it when it comes to O1.  After hours of use in hard, green, messy wood this thing killed it.  I could still shave after batonning with the knife, after peeling the bark off a 6 foot staff of maple, and after lots of food prep.  Its not magic, its skill, albeit skill that is hard to quantify.  To deny that it exists, especially in light of a mountain of experiential evidence, is as silly as believing the snake oil bullshit sight unseen.

Fiddleback Forge's O1 performs at an elite level.  Sorry if that doesn't jibe with your sense of how steels work.  It doesn't exactly work with my expectations either, but my eyes and hands tell me this is a great steel in this application.   

Blade Shape: 2

Oh a classic--a fat drop point with a tall blade.

P1070038

Bob Loveless loved the drop point for a reason--it was an amazingly useful shape in a ton of applications and excelled in hunting uses.  I am not a hunter, but I can confirm the broad applicability of this blade shape.  It just does so much right.  The fact that this is a tall blade helps as well, as it gives the steel time to taper to a great edge...

Grind: 2

And the edge it does taper too is phenomenal--sharp and sturdy.  I wish this was a full convex grind like a Bark River, but the introduction of the cutting bevel doesn't really impact performance. I have just become used to seeing that clean continuous curve that Mike and company do so well that I sort of assumed it would be here.  

Sheath Carry: 1 

Sheathes, they is hard.

IMG_3765

Seriously though, there are so few great production sheathes out there.  The one that comes with the Bushcrafter is well made, sturdy, and looks okay, but it sits too high for me.  I'd also like to see the two way belt attachment found on the American Knife Company sheath.  These are all coming from the same source, I think (Mike Stewart), so I am not sure why they can't all have the same great features.  Not a big deal, but definitely something that irked me carrying the knife.  

Sheath Accessibility: 2 

Leather sheathes usually poor accessibility--either way too tight or way too loose.  Here, we have neither problem.  This is the Goldilocks sheath, it's just right.  The basic test is simple: can I get the knife in and out of the sheath one handed?  Here the answer is yes and that is rare for a leather sheath.

Useability: 2

Thanks to a great handle, the tapered tang, and a very good steel, the Bushcrafter can be used for hours at a time with no real problem.  Though there is always some fatigue associated with using a knife, there are no knife-centric problems here.  No hotspots, no awkward hand placement, and no get-in-your-way parts.  I don't use a knife as part of my job, but if I did, I'd want to function like the Bushcrafter.

Durability: 2

When you think of a custom knife you rarely think of something that can and will take a beating.  After all, it just feels weird to pound the snot out of a nearly $400 knife.  But, thanks to good readers like you, folks that purchase through the affiliate links, I have no problem beating the snot out of a knife like the Bushcrafter.

IMG_4010

I did quite a bit of batonning and prying with this knife and it is none the worse for wear.  In fact, if I had two copies, one unused and this one, you couldn't tell them apart sitting them side by side. I did take care to wipe the blade down after using it and I did oil it, but I think that is just good maintenance habits and not really babying the knife.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

This is a GREAT knife.  It is useful, unique, and well made. It is also an expensive knife.  But it has performed as well or better than any other fixed blade I have used.  The performance advantage is small, but as with all things, once you are at the very pinnacle of performance even small marginal increases cost a huge amount of money.  I have referenced this elsewhere, but I'll state it again.  It seems to me that rational purchasing conforms to the so-called 10/100 rule, whereby a purchase is irrational when a 10% performance increase costs 100% more money. I think the Bushcrafter sits right on the edge of this rule.  I couldn't argue with conviction against either position.  Regardless of the rationality of the purchase, I can say this--you will no be disappointed buying a custom Fiddleback Forge.  It may not blow you away sliding out of the box (if you are a FF collector it will), but go use it, really use it and I think you we will more than happy.  This is a fantastic user knife that happens to be an uber hot collectible.  

Competition

Let me be clear--in a world without Bark River or the brands it is an OEM for (like American Knife Company and Ambush Knives) the Fiddleback Forge custom would be insane--leagues better than any production fixed blade.  But this is not a world without Bark River.  And while Bark River blades aren't exactly a peer for the Fiddleback Forge, they aren't far behind.  Bark River represents the same price chokepoint that Chris Reeve represents in the folder market--they do so much for so little money that even custom guys have a hard time competing.

But this price first analysis, while important, isn't the whole story.  Really you buy a Fiddleback Forge for its completely unique look and feel.  The handle is state of the art.  The look is totally different than anything else.  I am not sure if, in 100 years, people will laugh at this thing or cherish it.  If performance is any indication, it will be the latter, but predicting future tastes is always an exercise in folly.  There is a reason to buy this knife over a Bark River or even a similarly price fixed blade like an Adventure Sworn--Andy Roy's style is so unique and the performance is so good there really is a bit of magic here.  It is a magic that is pure luxury, but even Bark Rivers are expensive in the mind of the average consumer.  I mentioned this on the podcast, but it bears repeating--I have every reason to think that this knife is going to be a tremendously popular collectible in the future.  It has all of the hallmarks of something people seek out--unique, limited, and high performance.  But lots of things fit that mold and fail to be collectible.  It could be, but we just don't know for sure.