Monday, November 28, 2016

Cold Steel Espada XL Overview

This is bound to be a controversial week, if for no other reason than the vitriol of Cold Steel's legion of fanboys.  I have been fortunate, as internet gear reviewers go, in that I have not been invaded by a ravenous horde of them.  Unfortunately though, this it the flagship product and it will have lots of points of discussion:



Friday, November 25, 2016

CRKT and Brand Management

I am trying my hand at something a bit different here--more journalism-y.  If you don't like it, tell me in the comments section.  

If you follow knife subreddits closely you probably know this already, but for those of you that don't there has been something of a controversy surrounding two CRKT knives that were recently released. The first was a Blade HQ exclusive Lucas Burnley Squid. The second was a Knife Center exclusive Hootenany.

The problems were discovered probably a month apart and they were pretty similar. The Squid was labeled as having titanium scales when, in fact, they were steel. The item was marked as Ti, even the product number indicated Ti, but the scale was not titanium. The Hootenany was supposed to be a special edition with S30V blade steel, a steel rarely, if ever, found on CRKT knives. This was something that was on my radar when it was announced and then, for reasons I don't exactly remember, it fell into that pile of "next knife to buy" that we all have. When I circled back to see if it was still available, the Hootenany was gone and in its place was a true problem--the S30V steel was not, in fact, S30V.

CRKT tried to do some damage control.

They posted this on a thread over at BladeForums:

We are aware of the problem with the blade steel. We’ve taken immediate actions and the weight of the issue is not lost on us. An independent third party lab test has confirmed that the steel is not S30V. We were disappointed in the outcome of the test and we are currently revisiting not only our relationships, also our own processes. We have taken the following steps to ensure that history does not repeat itself: 

· Re-confirming our supplier certifications. 
· Developing an improved Quality Assurance process for all CRKT products. 

We care about quality here at Columbia River Knife & Tool and integrity is mission critical to how we have chosen to do business. We recognize that issues like these threaten that core attribute of who we are. We are working closely with Knife Center to “make it right”. Thank you for your patience. We continue to appreciate the support we receive from friends and fans, when circumstances arise. 

--Douglas Flagg VP Sales & Marketing CRKT

These two mistakes could not have come at worse time for CRKT. They just landed in Big Box stores, transitioning from the lower tier to the middle tier of production knives. They went from a strange collection of oddities (the "Edgie" anyone?) to some really great designs with big name guys like Ken Onion. And now this year, they released two knives, the M16 and the KISS in premium blade steels (Damasteel of all things). This after the Hi Jinx, their uber knife, won overall Blade of the Year in 2014. They had made the turn from low to middle and were clearly now aiming at the higher end of the production market. And then this happened. Really, really bad timing.

I have always had a good working relationship with CRKT. They have come on the podcast, provided review samples, and never complained when something scored low. In fact, they have always been grateful of the feedback. And I think they have been making some awesome and underrated knives (see: Liong Mah Eraser, see also: Eros SS). So while I am not a fan of any brand, it is has been fun watching CRKT pivot from one end of the market to another in an incredibly competitive environment.

But these two mistakes are concerning and the response has not been the best. In an effort to do due diligence, I reached out to CRKT and spoke to Doug Flagg by telephone. He has reviewed this article and approves of me releasing his statements. Here is a summary of what we discussed:

The two mistakes were totally unrelated but coincidentally, and unfortunately, happened at near the same time.

According to Flagg, the Squid mistake was caused by problems the OEM had with producing a consistent blackened finish on the titanium they were using. They contacted CRKT and informed them of the problem and changed the spec on the knife, switching from titanium to steel. CRKT approved the change, not noticing scale material was switched.

Having reviewed contracts professionally, I can tell you that this kind of thing happens all of the time. In fact, in construction contracts it is built in to the process--both sides negotiate a spec for the job and reduce it to writing and then as the job goes along the spec is changed. Once the job is mostly done and the specs are finalized, they produce a document called a punch list and then the builder must complete each item, including changed ones. It is a complex process of back and forth so I can see how this mistake would come about and go unnoticed. Even more problematic in this instance is that CRKT did release Squids with titanium scales, just not black version. So I bet a dollar to a donut they just used the old contract and old spec list and added "black coating" to it. Then when the problem came about they approved it and didn't realize it changed the spec.

Honestly, this one is not such a problem. Its easy to see how it occurs. That doesn't make it okay, but it does make it understandable.

The Hootenany is an entirely different issue.

According to Flagg, the OEM told CRKT that the steel was S30V steel. CRKT received the knives with the S30V mark and sent them along to Knife Center. It wasn't until that Blade Forums post that they realized there was a problem. They then got a unit and sent the blade off to SB Specialty Metals (a company that does a lot of business in the knife industry both as a steel supplier and processor, offering large batch grinding services and other things), which confirmed through testing that the steel was not S30V. Without a full metallurgical analysis, CRKT can't say for certain, but the Hootenany's steel is likely in the 107X-108X family (hence the crazy rust seen in the post). Tracking down the problem has been difficult. The OEM is overseas, presumably in China. This presents all sorts of language and economic barriers, but so far as CRKT can tell, the OEM was duped by the steel supplier. CRKT is meeting with the OEM in person, face to face in the coming month and they are investing in handheld steel detectors that can distinguish one kind of steel from another with the push of a button.

In both instances CRKT offered to refund all of the purchases.  They also worked closely with all 75 people that purchased the knives as well as Knife Center itself.  

In the end, I am not sure that was enough. Knife knuts are a passionate group of enthusiasts. They do not woo easily and have long memories. And while CRKT did release public statements and buy back the knives in question and issue refunds, this isn't exactly the most impressive response we have ever seen to these sorts of problems.

In law school and business school there are two paradigmatic examples of using a problem to improve your brand--the Tylenol recall and the Lexus repairs.

In 1982 someone (never caught, BTW, one of my favorite unsolved mysteries now that the Watergate source was uncovered and the identity of the Unibomber has been confirmed, though the DB Cooper mystery is equally interesting) tampered with Tylenol and put poison in the pills. Seven people died. Johnson and Johnson not only helped stop the sale of Tylenol they did two things that really switched this horrible negative into a positive for the brand. First, they took out ads on TV specifically telling people NOT to use their products. Second, at the same time the ads were running, they recalled EVERYTHING. In all J&J recalled more than $100 million in products and spent millions more on advertising. Tylenol got it--if they wanted to keep making medicine they had to prove to the public that their health was the #1 issue. In taking such radical and expensive steps Tylenol saved their brand and earned public trust in the face of a true disaster. That was an impressive response to crisis.

Lexus did something very similar when their brand launched. At the time, the idea of a luxury Toyota seemed ridiculous. BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes all laughed. And then the cars came out and they were damn good. A little less laughing. And then they started selling. Even less giggles. And then two customers, yes, just two, complained of faulty wiring that caused a breaklight to overheat. Lots and lots of laughing. Lexus recalled every car they made, all 8,000 at the time. BMW, Mercedes, and Cadillac all pause to scratch their heads. Lexus had employees, from dealers to receptionists, drive to where the owners had their cars and picked them up and drove them to dealerships to be fixed for free. In places where dealerships were far away Lexus rented garage space and paid local mechanics to fix the problems. And this move, costly as it was, saved the infant brand. Now no one, not BMW or Cadillac, laughs at the idea of a Japanese luxury car.

These two examples stand in stark contrast to what CRKT has done--they are obligated to provide refunds for mislabeled products. Almost every state in the US has consumer protection laws that cover this. So, yes, it is a good thing to do, but I don't think they deserve praise for merely doing what is required.

The question is twofold--1) what will this do to the CRKT brand; and 2) what could they do to make this their recall or repair moment, following in Tylenol or Lexus's footsteps?

I think the Squid thing is a very simple and common problem--Mr. Flagg owned up to the error and explained it. I don't think this error calls for anything more than a bit more attention to these special editions. Mr. Flagg has already said they have changed their special edition process. I doubt this error will happen ever again.

The Hootenany steel issue is a horse of a different color. This is a problem that strikes at the heart of their business. If they lie about their steel, they are lying about the very essence of what they sell. Its like selling a Ferrari with a Yugo engine.

Here are some things I would recommend doing. 


First, CRKT needs to be very public with their upgrades to their testing process. Second, they need to vet their OEMs better. If they contract with an OEM that contracts with a shady steel supplier, they are complicit in the problem. They shouldn't be working with OEMs that are either unethical enough or gullible enough to be tricked like this. Third, they need to do something special for those folks that bought the Hootenany with the bum steel.

I asked Mr. Flagg if this series of mistakes has persuaded them to bring manufacturing back to the US, but he confirmed what I suspected--they couldn't do that economically. That said, there are a lot of companies in the same boat as CRKT. If one of the US OEMs, like Millet or TRM, could scale up and serve CRKT, Kershaw, AG Russell, SOG and other folks that use overseas OEMs maybe there is enough business to use economies of scale and make things for cheap here in the US again. It wouldn't happen anytime soon, but I think there is money to be made doing this for anyone listening.

Well, there is my take on the CRKT issues. I hope it has been informative. I think CRKT is still worth a look, but these two incidents (really the Hootenany one more than the Squid one) has cost them some of their hard fought reputation. Their willingness to discuss this issue and their willingness to let me post basically exactly what I wanted shows that they are taking this situation very seriously.  Everyone makes mistakes, how we address them determines who or what we are.  And Doug's final message is something I believe--CRKT will not make this mistake ever again. 


Thanks to Jordan Wagner for bringing these issues to my attention. I am working on another piece based on info he sent it. It should be a good one. Keep an eye out for it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Deals

Its a tradition, so why stop now.  Here is a preview of some of the best deals from the site's sponsors:

Blade HQ will be doing amazing stuff on Friday and Monday.

Friday starts things off right.  

Want a Half Track from Rick Hinderer?  Done.

How about a Carbon Fiber Buck 110 (for either the Lulz or future retro chic)?  Got it.

Curious about the Vanguard line from Kizer?  How about a $40 sample in the form of the Bad Dog?

Are you an auto person?  The UTX-85 (in CF) and the Kershaw Launch will both be for sale.

Monday keeps the hits comin'

The Jade G10 Skyline I checked out here, is on sale for $49.95 in either black or stonewashed finish.

Inkosis of either size with CF inlays will be available.

ProTech Runts will set you back $99.95.

And spinner fans, get ready, the original spinner, the Torqbar will be available for $139.95.  These will sell out, fo sho.

Remember to use this link: Blade HQ to benefit the site, giveaways, and the podcast.

Urban EDC Supply will be offering Everyday Commentary readers a discount.  Drop in the code EDCOMMENTARY and it's good for 15% off the entire site, limit 1 use per customer. It'll be good from Wednesday until Monday.  And let me be clear--the stuff over there is amazing and this probably the only way to get some of that gear at a discount.

If you want more information how to score good gear and gear related stuff on Black Friday, here is a refresher. 


Monday, November 21, 2016

Classic Revisited: Kershaw Skyline

Given the leaps and bounds the gear industry has taken in the past three years, I think it is worthwhile to check back in on classics to see if they have maintained their classic status or if they have been surpassed by newer stuff. I do go back and update old reviews and change scores as things change, but sometimes, like in this case, I think the update is worth its own, new post (in part, in this case, because there is a new variant). 

Here is the original review (to which this will be appended).  Here is the video over of this knife. 
Here is a link where you can (maybe) find the Skyline in Jade G10. 

IMG_5923

I have owned four Skylines. And the funny thing about them is that I never paid the same amount of money for any two. One was an uber limited, blue G10 blackwash version, so that makes sense that it cost a bit extra. The other three were all "stock" or scale swap versions. But the Skyline, when it was originally released, was radically underpriced for what it was, compared to the market. It was a $50 knife selling for under $30. Now it is a $50 knife selling for $50. So naturally a bit of the value has been siphoned away with each price increase. But the price increases, coupled with continuous good sales numbers indicate that the knife is, was, and likely always will be, a very competitive offering.

I have always commented on the fact that the Skyline is the best readily available knife. If you are in a knife store desert (like I am) and want a good blade you can either order online or get a Skyline. They are stocked by almost every Wal-Mart and since there are Wal-Marts everywhere, the Skyline is basically ubiquitous. I have found them at other Big Box places--Dick's Sporting Goods, Cabelas, and Bass Pro Shop. My local REI also has them on occasion. So, if you want to handle a knife before buying it, the Skyline is your best bet. Unless of course it is in a blister pack--CURSE YOU BLISTER PACKS!

So, is the Skyline still hype-worthy? After a week with the Blade HQ exclusive Jade G10 version, I can say without qualification that it is clearly still worth the hype. It is still a phenomenal knife. And even with three or four successive price increases, it is still a good value. If you don't have one or you are looking for a first EDC knife, start here. Its better than the Delica and better than the Griptillian, once you factor in price. The innovative asymmetrical scales save weight, the flipping action is still decent, and the blade steel, 14C28N, is my favorite non-PM steel and still the best value in cutlery steels.

Score: Unchanged at 19 out of 20

Trending Up: The brilliance of Tommie Lucas's design is more clear now than before. With the success of the Skyline you'd think there would be more asymmetrical knives, but there really hasn't been. Some historical distance confirms what I suspected all those years ago--this is really an ingenious design. The blade shape and handle are also still clearly superior to the competition. And oddly enough, the steel remains as good as it was three years ago--this is a very good steel for the money.

Trending Down: Mid-tier knives have started to run bearings and the flipping action on something like the CRKT Eros SS is leagues better. The lack of pivot bearings combined with the light blade make flipping a bit of an effort. Its still above average, but this is one aspect of the knife that is not aging particularly well.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Survive! Knives GSO 4.7 Review

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

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

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

IMG_5521

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

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

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

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

Design: 2

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

P1070289

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

Fit and Finish: 2

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

Handle Design: 2

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

P1070291

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

Steel: 2

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

Blade Shape: 2

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

IMG_5528

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

Grind: 2 

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

P1070297

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

Sheath Carry: 2

P1070301

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

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

Sheath Accessibility: 2

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

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

Useability: 2

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

IMG_5526

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

Durability: 2

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

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT

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

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

 
The Competition

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

Monday, November 14, 2016

Survive! Knives GSO 4.7 Overview

The controversy over the Survive! Knives production schedule hit a nerve.  So let's get out of the realm of the theoretical and look at the product itself.


Review at the end of the week.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veteran's Day Fisher House Giveaway


This year's Veteran's Day giveaway came a little late.  Well, actually, Veteran's Day came a little early.  So instead of ending the giveaway on Veteran's Day, I'll start it then.  This year's charity is the Fisher House--the most highly rated, national-scope veteran's charity I could find.  I don't feel good about directing money to the Wounded Warrior Project after their scandal.  Fisher House, for those that don't know, runs a few programs--one is like a Ronald McDonald House for vets--putting up families in places where their veteran family is being treated, they also provide scholarships to veterans and their families.  And, most importantly, they have very good numbers in terms of financials and transparency and not even a whiff of scandal.  Good stuff.



This year's contest will end on my birthday, December 5.  Get your donations in by then and I'll do drawings.  As I mentioned on the podcast, this year's giveaway will be the biggest.  My hope is that we hit the magic $2,000 mark.  We have come close before, but this one should be the biggest thanks to awesome prizes.



Here is how to enter (same as always):

1.  Go to the Fisher House Foundation Donate page, found here.
 

2.  Make a charitable donation of at least $5.
 

3.  When you receive the donation receipt email, forward it to me WITH AN UNALTERED SUBJECT LINE (I need to have the subject lines be the same so I can sort them easily, you can delete any payment or other info in the body of the email if you want).  Altered subject line emails will not be counted.  Not only will I not be able to see them to sort them, but this provides a modicum of authentication that the donation was actually made. Send it to this address:
 

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com
 

in the normal format.  DELETE ALL OF THE FINANCIAL INFORMATION IN THE EMAIL, but if you could, please indicate how much you donated.  A larger amount won't make it more likely that you win one of the two grand prizes, but I want to keep track so that I can have a total.  I am always working on another giveaway and this data would be a nice selling point to make that one happen. 
4. I will pick the winners on December 5 with the prize packages as follows:



Here are the prize tiers:



Grand Prize Winner:  Full EDC Kit



Steelcraft Todd Begg Mini Bodega

OLight S1A Baton

SOG TOC Backpack

Tactile Turn Glider Pen in Zirconium

Saddleback Leather Window Wallet



Runner Up: Filipe De Coene Kitchen Camp Friction Folder in SG2



Big Heart (biggest donation): Jesse Jarosz Apple Jack Slipjoint (made specifically for the giveaway)



Veteran Only (provide proof of military service, and don't cheat): Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter



Cheap Ass:  Fieldline Backpack



Week 1 Biggest Donation: Army Tek Flashlight



Week 2 Biggest Donation: Kershaw Strobe (discontinued)



Week 3 Biggest Donation: Tactile Turn Slider Pen in Titanium

There is easily a grand in gear here, most of it purchased with money that comes from you buying things through the website.  There is a lot of win here.  I win because I get a steady stream of gear to review.  You win because you get to read the reviews and win the stuff.  And most importantly Fisher House wins because we all are donating (and yes, I donate every time too).  

Let's hit $2,000 this time.  We can do it.  

And to continue the running tab:

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)
74. Steelcraft Mini Bodega ($445)
75. Olight S1A Baton ($50)
76. SOG Toc Pack ($159)
77. Tactile Turn Glider Pen in Zirconium ($200)
78. Saddleback Leather Front Pocket ID Wallet ($70)
79. Filipe De Coene Kitchen Camp Friction Folder in SG2 ($300)
80. Jesse Jarosz Apple Jack Slipjoint (made specifically for the giveaway)($325)
81. Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter ($375)
82. Fieldline Backpack ($10)
83. Army Tek Viking($100)
84. Kershaw Strobe (discontinued, curse you THOMAS! ;) )($40)
85. Tactile Turn Slider Pen in Titanium ($100)

Total: $9172

In particular, I'd like to thank Olight, SOG, and especially Will Hodges of Tactile Turn.  As if you needed another reason to frequent his site and buy his stuff--he gave these pens away and as a small time maker they bite into his bottom line a lot more than they would if he were a huge company.  So, when you can, go grab something from him as thanks.  You can grab at random, its all awesome. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Son of a Flashoholic

Recently my parents and my grandmother came to visit.  It was a wonderful weekend with four generations in a house.  I was so grateful for the opportunity to see my grandmother and my two boys playing together.  I was also very proud of how tough my grandmother is--after losing her husband of more than 60 years, she flies on a plane out to see us, having been on a plane less than five times before in her life.  The idea that my then-18 month old would be interacting with a woman that had a profound impact on my life was just heartening.

We had to some serious sleep arrangement Tetris, but when we were finished my grandmother got my oldest son's room.  My oldest son has an affinity for flashlights.  Its not a full blown addiction, but he can still play with Nerf guns without getting hairy looks, so flashlights, comparatively speaking, are pretty boring.  But he likes mine and two years ago I got him one for Christmas.  I got him the Fenix E05 2014 Edition from Fenix.  It is a great light, for those of you unfamiliar.  Its small size and great performance make it one of my very favorite lights for under $20.  He took the E05 with him to his new temporary sleeping spot.

On the first morning they were there, my son noticed that my grandmother was using an old Energizer 2D cell light that was left in his room by someone years ago.  I saw him look at the light on his nightstand and he looked concerned.  The day flew by and when it was time to go to bed, I saw him rummage around in his things near the temporary bed and he grabbed something and then ran into his room where my grandmother was before I could see what he had.

In his tiny hand was the E05.  I heard him tell my grandmother this:

"GG, you need this.  It is a much better light than that one.  If you need to get up in the middle of the night or there is an emergency, this will be much better."

With that he dropped the little E05 in her hand and walked out.

I then did the same for him.  I gave him my nightstand light, the ridiculous SPY007, a light he knows and loves (and knows how pricey it is--"let's not throw the light on the pavement please...").  He was touched.  And my grandmother was touched, and now, as I write this I am kinda glad I have a good kid, even if he is silly about flashlights (like his old man).

Not sure why I shared this, other than to point out how silly our love of flashlights really is.  Oh well...

Friday, November 4, 2016

Steelcraft Mini Bodega Review

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

There, got that objection out of the way.  

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

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

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



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

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

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:

P1070238

Twitter Review Summary: Gaudy and great.

Design: 2

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

P1070239

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

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

Fit and Finish: 2

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

P1070241

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

Grip: 1

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

P1070243

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

Carry: 2

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

Steel: 2

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

Blade Shape: 2

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

P1070237

Grind: 2

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

Deployment Method: 2

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

Retention Method: 2

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

Lock: 2

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

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

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

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

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

The Competition

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

IMG_5476