Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Gear of the Year Ballot

Like last year I am going to open this up to everyone for voting, but before I get there, I wanted to post my ballot.  I will also post ballots from a few other folks in the gear world.  I imagine voting will be open at the end of January (I am still shipping GAW prizes as more winners than average were overseas--5 pound package to Australia is $125...).  Here is my ballot (with the usual two caveats--a piece of gear can only win once and it has to be new this year, with a loose definition of new):

Overall Product of the Year

Muyshondt Aeon Mk. III

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As I wrote this article our lights flickered as a Nor'Easter blew into town.  It was a lot of wind and a lot of heavy snow.  So as I gathered my stuff just in case, I opened my embarrassingly well stocked flashlight drawer and picked one light for myself--the Mk. III.  If I had to go get wood outside or check the oil tank, there is no light I'd rather have than this absolute diamond.  Its pricey on a dollar per lumen basis, but in terms of runtime, output, and ease of use nothing matches it.  Its better than the Mk. II and that light was made for me.  Enrique had a great year, and this was his crowning achievement.  And to put the final exhibit up in favor of this light--I had the prototype in for review in 2015 and it was great.  The final version is significantly better.  This was the best piece of gear I handled all year.

Other notables: Survive Knives GSO 4.7 (I am boycotting the silly wordmark Survive! Knives, BTW), Olight S1R Baton, Spydero Manix 2 LW in Maxamet

All of these are discussed below, but let me say this--in any other year any of these would have ran away with the crown.  Every single one of them is awesome.  But this year was incredible in the gear world, probably the best year since the site started.  

Best Value

Survive Knives GSO 4.7 in Cru Forge V

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Yes, I know that even now it is still not readily available.  And yes, I know that even with a PERFECT score some of the Survive Knives fans were disappointed with the review (seriously, what else could you want?).  But whatever the issues, the knife itself (and its sheath) are All Stars.  These are winners.  This is how you make a knife.  And as good as the knife was, the sheath was as good.  Throw on an awesome and rarely used steel and you have a winner.  Price it the same as an ESEE of equivalent size and you have the Best Value of 2016.

Other notables: Victorniox Pioneer X,  Schrade SCH36

Best Company

Zero Tolerance

It was a close call between ZT and Olight, but in the end, the spectacular ZT0999 pushed me in favor of the knife brand.  Olight's dominance over the production light EDC market is probably as great as any one company has had since Surefire's heyday, but they achieved greatness through iteration, while ZT both iterates and innovates.

ZT's 2016 line up was strong, diverse and interesting.  They made improvements to stalwart designs--my beloved ZT0450CFZDP for example--and they released some solid new designs such as the ZT0909 and the ZT0300.  Its hard to beat ZT either in terms of quality or quantity.  They make something for everyone and everything they make is at least above average.

Other notables: Olight, Muyshondt

Olight makes a great light platform.  They iterate on it well.  It sells a ton.  Simple.  Muyshondt, on the other hand, does something completely different each time and each light is a masterpiece.  He has clearly moved past the other custom light makers into a new tier--untouchable quality, impeccable design, and multiple lights a year.  He is McGizmo with more lights.  
 
Best Production Knife

Spyderco Manix 2 LW in Maxamet

It got in just under the wire and I strongly prefer the Native 5, but it is still not out.  Either way the value proposition the Manix 2 LW Maxamet represents is truly remarkable.  The only other folder with Maxamet was a $1,000 Triple Uber from ZT.  I love the Manix 2 LW platform--it works marvelously well as a large EDC blade.  Adding a truly bleeding edge steel to that recipe will only make things better.  And pricing it under $200 makes it an easy winner in my mind.

Other notables: ZT0450CFZDP, DPx HEST Urban, and Steelcraft Mini Bodega

The number/alphabet soup blade is probably one of the best EDC knives I have ever seen and a notable improvement on the original.  I really, really like this knife.  The Urban is important because it represents a new way of knife companies doing business, and it happened to be a decent knife.  The Mini Bodega is a new high water mark in machining in a mass produced blade.  Each are pretty interesting, but none represent the value the Manix 2 LW in Maxamet is.  Value for the win.   

Best Production Light

Olight S1R

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Eons ago I learned about lights on Flashlight Reviews, Quickbeam's old site.  There I learned about the Flashlight Design Conundrum: Size, Runtime, Brightness; pick two.  And for years this has remained hard to break.  No light was near the top of the spectrum in all three categories.  Until the S1R.  With 400 more lumens than the S10, it is a huge upgrade.  And with the battery charging system it is a splendid do-everything kit.  The side switch is nice and the UI is outstanding.  This is clearly the pinnacle of production EDC lights and it may be the first light to truly break Quickbeam's Design Conundrum

Other notables: Other S1 series lights

I have had them all and its basically a pick-your-poison kind of thing. I think the S1R is the sweetspot in terms of size and performance, but if you want a common cell or massive runtimes the S1 series has you covered. 

Best Custom Knife

Jesse Jarosz Apple Jack

Great design, great size and weight, comes with the hallmark Jarosz edge, and is actually not that expensive for a custom knife.  Sounds like a winner to me.  Keep your two kilobuck Oeser, I'd rather have this gem. I handled one before I gave it away and boy was that hard to do, sort of like turning away Kate Upton when she comes to your college dorm room looking for a random person to chat with, but I did it.  

Other notables:  Gareth Bull Small Shamwari

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Look, this is my list and that is my knife and so I am going to give it some love.  And it is hard not too when someone with skill makes something to your EXACT specifications.  This is the second time this has happened, the first being the Aeon Mk. II, and both times have left me more than happy with the end result.  I don't think it is fair to give this the winning award because I might be a touch biased, but also it is smaller than most people (incorrectly) think they need. 

Best Custom Light

Torch Lab BOSS 35

This is the Ferrari La Ferrari of flashlights--a hypercar flashlight.  With best in class output, insane emitter options, build quality as good as anything out there and the Triad tailcap, the BOSS 35 is a masterpiece flashlight, justifiably sitting alongside the SPY007 and Haiku in my flashlight drawer.  Only its size holds it back from being the perfect all around light.  It combined with the Aeon Mk. III gives me a pair of lights that can do just about anything.

Other notables:  Sinner and OKLuma

Both have been making lights for a while now, but 2016 saw both of them come into their own.  Sinner's new flourishes have been well received and they are really good upgrades to an already great light. 

Best Pen

Piuma Fountain Pen


The EDC pen market has been pretty quiet this year, but Brad Dowdy's spotlight on the Piuma has me very excited.  It technically won't ship until 2017, but its just too cool to pass up.  Its a Fisher Space Pen shape in a fountain pen.  That's a yes for me.  I loved the Kaweco Sport and this looks to be a nicer pen in the same size.  Great for EDC.  


Other notables: Baron Fig Squire, Tactile Turn Slider


Both pens have flaws, but both are better than average and quite interesting.  I really, really like the look and feel of the Squire, and the Slider was a stellar offering.  Either will make you happy. 

Best Pack

Prometheus Design Werx SHADO

They did it!  They finally turned the corner and released a product that is truly great and is not derivative of Triple Aught Design's stuff.  After years of trinkets and bear squeeze bottle bullshit, PDW finally made something amazing and it is a perfect piece of kit to unify their entire product line.  Everything they make can be carried or support the SHADO.  It took a while, but Patrick Ma did something very difficult--he proved people can have second acts in the gear world.

Other notables: BO Gear Subbie, Mystery Ranch's EDC line

Both of these packs represent something new--a boutique brand producing packs with their trademark features at a price and quantity that make them accessible to normal Joes and Janes.  YIPEE!  Now if the shipping from Australia wasn't so much.  Its like 60% of the price of the pack.  

Best Accessory

Colored Gerber Shard

I am cheating here.  I am trying my darnedest not to award a spinner or a bead.  And the Shard is awesome.  Good of Gerber to bring it back and make them in a few colors other than black.  I like the blue quite a bit.  Even now, years later, there is not an OMPT that is clearly superior.  Some of the TT Pocket Tools stuff are its equal, but nothing blows it away.  And its not shaped like genitals, which is a good thing in this weird part of the market.

Other notables: Not Spinners

Outstanding Contributor to the Community

Nick Shabazz

No one tackled gear with as careful an eye as Nick and no one did it with half as much humor and clear joy.  Its hard to review anything and remain positive.  But Nick does it and does it well.  His focus on taking knives apart is unique and leads to some interesting insights that the rest of us miss.  It is one thing to be a collector of gear and a review.  Its another thing to be a user and review.  And yet another thing to do what Nick does.  Good for him and good for all of us.

Other notables: Grayson Parker, Epic Snuggle Bunny

Grayson's output on Blade Reviews has been consistently excellent.  Additionally, Auston's approach to videos has been refined and polished to the point of perfection.  Its a good sign that the community is healthy that each year we have new people stepping up to make great new content. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Spinners are Stupid and so am I

Oh God!  What have I done?  I am such a huge hypocrite.  I cannot believe after lambasting the stupidity of the custom tactical knife scene, I have gone out and spent a combined total of $215 on spinners.  Spinners are so stupid.  They are so goddam stupid.  Let me be clear--they are a tremendous mark up, a waste of space in your pocket, and an unjustifiable expenditure of money.  In a world where people still die of malaria, there is no rational way to justify buying a spinner, let alone one that costs $180.  These are stupidly simple devices that, even in their most exotic form, probably cost less than $10 to make and yet, given the hype waves that wash through the gear community, they are appreciating in value on the secondary market, if you get the right one.  No one said us gear geeks were brilliant with money.  I am so stupid.  

I resisted the Torqbar's siren's song for a long, long time, then for no real reason at all I bought a cheap 3D printed spinner.

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It cost $25 and ran on bearings that worked like bad breaks.  It didn't spin so much as shuffle.  But it gave me enough a feel for the spinner thing that I was intrigued.  I have two sons, one is six and the other is 21 months old, and both were transfixed.  But the three wings on the spinner were too big and unwieldy for little hands.  In all, I would strongly suggest avoiding all spinners, but if you can't then get a small one.  These big ones, especially non-metallic ones, are pretty bad.  They do not have the features that allow collectors to fetishize them and they lack that addictive feel  that made spinners so intriguing in the first place.  The best I could do with this spinner, with my air compressor was about 28 seconds.  Again, it shuffled more than spun.

But then I hopped on the Mass Drop for the Vorso Spin Flat Top v.2 for about $180.  The wait was, of course, longer than Mass Drop advertised, but that is to be expected.  The end product, however, was a gleaming beautiful gem of machining.  Its not Steelcraft levels of machining prowess--its a simple shape and there are marks that should have been cleaned up--but it is still quite nice.

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The design, aside from being a superior way to siphon money out of your wallet, is decent.  The spinning column in the middle of the unit, which slides out for replacement, stands proud of the two wings, allowing it to act as both a spinner and a top.  I guess that is what qualifies as versatility in the spinner world.  The Flat Top v.2 that I got ran ceramic bearings and stainless steel.  The heft is nice and the ceramic bearings run very smoothly.  I have hit spins 3 minutes and 1 second using the same air compressor set up.  Finally there is a small divot on one side of the spinning column allowing you to balance the spinner on a ball point pen or something else of the sort.  I have yet to get that trick down.

Overall, I would advise against buying any spinners.  They are really stupid and the nice ones are stupidly expensive.  I had thought that the custom OPMTs were the height of gear excess.  They look like expenses made by a financially prudent Shaker by comparison.  My wife, the tolerant soul that she is, doesn't balk at most of my gear purchases.  As she reasoned a knife, even an expensive one, can still cut, and a light, even a pricey one, can still illuminate things.  But a spinner, it does nothing. And she is right.  These things don't do anything.  AT ALL.

That said, I find the Flat Top v.2 a very fun trinket to play with.  I do carry it regularly (it is sometimes half the weight of my carry--the Dragonfly II and the MBI-HF-R don't weigh much at all). It is a good thing to play with when in stop and go traffic or talking on the phone.  But it is the height of first world excess.  When archeologists unearth these in a million years they will either think they were some how related to a game of chance or that we were a bunch of morons.  And just so we are clear, one of those two conclusions is clearly correct.  

If the Vorso Spin was $35, which it easily could be--there is nothing expensive here--it would still be a bad way to spend money, but its purchase would not be a moral failing.  For me, spinners are just too expensive and too wasteful.  I am done buying these things and, having bought two now, I wish I wouldn't have bought either. 

And before you run to defend the spinner or notions of absolute freedom and spending money as one chooses, do two thought experiments with me.  First, go find someone that lived through the Depression and explain to them your desire to own a $180 spinner.  That will work well.  Second, imagine owning a $180 yo-yo.  Because that is what the spinner is--a yo-yo for people that lack hand-eye coordination.  

I hope the spinner craze dies a horrible death.  Until then I will have to survive on knowledge that I too am a sucker.  

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The James Brand Folsom Review

The James Brand Chapter knife was an excerise in branding. How much branding and overwrought design work could a single knife take and still be a good knife? Well, if you look at the Chapter knife you will see that the answer is a lot. That knife is singular in how much it focuses on appearance. But the bones of the blade were quite good. Ryan over at the James Brand did a lot of stuff right in that first launch. And the second release, the County, has a similar looks-first approach and it too has received good feedback. Ryan knows a thing or two about knives. But the knife knut in me had always wondered what a knife from James would looks like if it didn't prioritize looks.

Now we know. 

The Folsom, a knife released with surprisingly little fanfare (compared to the effusive praise the Chapter knife generated from the shill sites), is a James knife that doesn't worry about winning a beauty contest. And in the end, it shows, indisputably, that Ryan, and by extension, the James Brand, knows how to make a good knife. The Folsom is a sweet little blade. With a super slim handle, a classic blade shape, and the Folsom is a distinct departure for James. This is a knife first and a branding device second.

So how does the Folsom stack up? Let's see.

Here is the product page. The Folsom costs $99. There is a murdered out version (all black), a stormtrooper version (white with black blade), and a version with blue G10 handles and an uncoated blade.  Given the color and the lack of coating, that would be my #1 choice.  There are no reviews, written or video.  If you want a Folsom, well, tough luck as they are all sold out at the moment on the James Brand site and there are no other retailers.

Here is my review sample (sent to me via The James Brand's ad agency and to be returned), resting on my favorite woodworking tool, my Grizzly bandsaw (a G0555LX, if you must know):

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Twitter Review Summary: A marked improvement over the Chapter knife.

Design: 2

There is clearly a bit of Jesper Voxnaes in the design here, but that is not surprising. When you go for clean, minimal looks there is only so much you can do. A lot of these blades have converged on a very similar appearance, regardless of who designed them. Looks aside though Ryan, the guy behind the James Brand, did a very good job of choosing the right things. The knife is very thin, its wide in the blade, but not tall in the pocket, and the blade length, right a 2.8 inches, is short enough to keep someone clear of legal trouble in places where the laws prohibit 3 inch folders, but it is still long enough to tackle most tasks.

The only choice I do not like is the presence of a coated blade. I am not going to dock the knife a point because you can get the Folsom in an uncoated blade (the blue handle...hmmm...I like blue....). That said, with a steel like BD-1, a blade coating is done purely for looks as that steel is corrosion resistant enough not to need one. The Chapter knife was D2, and a coating, while not strictly necessary, is probably an okay idea. Here, there is no justification for it other than looks. Which is ironic because blade coatings only look cool for about fifteen minutes. Then they are just trash. So, if I had my druthers there would be no blade coatings ever, on knives. And if you had to, because it was a non-stainless steel, then okay, but that's not the case here.

The performance ratios aren't as amazing as I thought they would be given all of the other smart design decisions. The b:w is .82, nothing crazy good or bad and the b:h is .70 again nothing remarkable.

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Fit and Finish: 2

As with the Chapter knife, there is a lot to like here. Everything is tight, clean, and sure. There are no errant burrs or wobbly edge profiles. The plunge lines are as perfectly symmetrical as my eyes can determine. And unlike with the Chapter knife, Ryan did not coat the lockbar interface on the tang of the blade. Everything is great and the knife looks and feels like it earns its $100 price tag.

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Grip: 2

I really like the Folsom in hand (but for one small issue I have with the clip, see below). The shape, the thickness, and the grippiness of the G10 are all amazing. Its hard to overstate just how thin this knife feels in the pocket. Its not just thin, it feels like the knife equivalent of switching from a hamburger thick tri-fold wallet to a thin bifold. Its almost like there is nothing there. And you should know, I am not comparing this to some Direware TFF brick, I am comparing it to stuff like the Jarosz M75, which is probably my thickest knife and is, objectively speaking, not that chunky. The cuts and curves in the profile of the handle are good too, suggesting, but not demanding, your fingers go in certain places.

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Good, Spyderco-esque, job. But the real delight is the G10. I am not sure why it is better than most. Maybe it was hit with a sander or something, but it is Goldilocks-levels of "just right." Cold Steel, this is how you do G10.

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Carry: 2

Theory-reviewing this knife told me that a knife this size and possessing such a slim profile (both in thickness and height) is going to carry incredibly well. Once I had it in hand, I was proven right immediately. This is the British equivalent of a pocket inhabitant--quiet, resolute, and never complains.

Steel: 2

After Jesse Jarosz was on the podcast I got to thinking about the new class of "easy to sharpen" steels, like BD-1 and AEB-L. I am still shamelessly addicted to the high hardness stuff, like ZDP-189 and 20CV, but after a real struggle with some of the uber hard steels in sharpening (my Mnandi, in particular, has given me a hard time), I am much more open to these truly user serviceable steels. AEB-L is pretty darn nice on both my Jarosz blades--the M75 and the JFS. And here, like on the original Manix LW, the BD-1 is awesome. After some serious recycling processing the blade here was not hair popping sharp. A few minutes, literally a few, with a strop and it was back to an aggressive, cunning edge. I was quartering grapes with ease. It also helps that the blade stock here isn't brick thick. BD-1 may not be the most expensive steel, it may not hold a shaving edge for years, but it is capable of excellent performance and you never have to worry about being so lost in the sharpening process that you can't find your way back to a good edge.

Blade Shape: 2

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I am a sucker for a drop point. Call me a Loveless fanboy, but there is so much utility and visual delight in a well-executed drop point. And here, the drop point does not disappoint, either on the visual scale or the utility scale. Its a bit over done, maybe a comic book version of the regular drop point, with its exaggerated, almost Lionsteel SR1-level of drop point exaggeration, but the reality is, it is a great and useful blade shape. Even on a 2.8 inch blade, which is just about the ideal blade length in my mind, there is enough belly and enough straightaway to do real work. This blade shape, combined with this grind, makes the Folsom an apple slicing machine.

Grind: 2

Here is a neat trick--make a blade that is nearly the exact height of the handle, start with thin-ish blade stock, and then taper via a full flat grind until you get to the cutting bevel. The end result is a knife that slices exceptionally well. Its not as good a slicer as, say the Al Mar Falcon, but it is clearly well above average. Its not complicated to execute a superior grind, and here we have one with nice symmetry and crisp plunge lines (though the grind is clearly a CNC grind, no grinder does plunge lines like this). Be mindful of these details and anyone can make a good grind.

Deployment Method: 1

I get it. The upside down equilateral triangle allows for the blade to rest deeply in the handle and still be accessible. Its clever and it makes the knife not quite as tall in the pocket. But in the end, I feel like that was more of a style choice than a utilitarian one. A Strider-style oval hole would work just as well. In then end, it makes the knife look a little weird in the open position, which, alone I would not care enough to dock the Folsom a point, but the opening is not a smooth as it could be compared to say, a Spyderhole opener. The pad of your thumb has a tendency to get caught in the "corners" of the triangle making opening a slower than necessary affair.

Retention Method: 1

The clip is not bad, its just not great either. But it is a collection of small things that make it less than good.

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First, there is the slightly weird tension. I like my clips to be springy, yet snappy. A few clips that get this just right--the traditional Spyderco spoon clip and the KAI clip found on the Skyline and the ZT0350. For the record, the clip on the Small Shamwari is the perfect clip, but its hardly fair to compare. That was a clip designed just for me, so I am bound to like it. Here the clip is not tight enough. Its not loose or floppy, it just lacks that "grab" factor. Second, while I am not one that needs a deep carry clip, I can't think of a good reason not to have one. I do, however, think that even if you don't go the deep carry route, a clip should be as close to the end of the knife handle as possible and here, unfortunately, it is not. Finally, and this is the smallest of dings, the clip has a tendency to dig a bit in the palm of your hand because, unlike most clips, it does not angle back down at the end. If you look at clips that are this long, like the Spyderco spoon clip, it dives down towards the handle, then goes up to allow the clip to go around the lip of your pocket, and then it flattens out at the end to prevent the clip from creating a hotspot. The Folsom clip doesn't do that. And that can, in some instances, cause problems. Nothing serious, but taken together with the other issues, it is enough, in my book, to take a point away.

Lock: 2

So its not super detent-y, but the lock works well. It snaps into place, easily but with conscious effort disengages, and it has zero blade play (once I adjusted it). But this is not a liner lock you can pop open. RAT 2, this is not. But really that has more to do with our preferences at this very second in time and less to do with the performance of the lock. I am not going to dock the knife a point because it has different design features, all of which still work very well, than the current flavor of the month.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

There is no question in my mind that the Folsom is a very good knife.  It is clearly better than the Chapter knife (even though the score is the same, the reality is there is a little play in the points awarded, something could be just average and get a 1 and something else could be clearly better than average, but not great and also get a 1).  The knife reminds me a lot of the Native 5, which is sort of like saying someone plays the violin like Paganini, a complement that non-aficionados would miss.  The Native 5 is one of the best Spyderco designs--versatile, small, and capable.  Being compared favorably to that knife is a huge deal and I think the Folsom earns the comparison.  The things that held the Folsom back from a perfect score are easily corrected.  This is not a knife that cannot be improved, but the improvements are niceties and not necessities.

More importantly, the Folsom represents real progress for the James Brand.  The emphasis on performance and not appearance, the improvement of functional aspects of the knife, and the small touches all indicate that Ryan is pushing is brand forward.  If the Chapter knife caught the eye of the shill site readers, the Folsom will too, but it is this increased refinement of the tool that will enamor (or should enamor) knife knuts.

If you like the look, don't worry about the function.  This knife can do work.  And you will be pleased.   There is only one issue with the Folsom, and it is not really a problem of the knife itself.  It really has to do with...

The Competition

There is really only one blade in $100 range that I feel competes with the Folsom.  The Delica is a bit long in the tooth and if you exclude sprint runs with better steel, I am not sure why anyone would choose the harder-to-sharpen-and-just-as-quick-to-dull VG10 over BD-1.   I also like the Folsom better than the basic version of the Mini Grip.  The handle feels better than than hollow jelly bean and the steel isn't all that much worse, overall.  The much cheaper Kershaw Skyline is a viable competitor, but not squarely in competition.  The real issue, for me, is that the Native 5 in S35VN is $83.95.  I think the Native 5 in S35VN is a clearly superior choice--the round hole, the forward finger choil, the awesome standard spoon-style clip, and the categorically improved steel make it an openly comparable, but better, knife.  Its not as thin and lacks G10 handle scales (which I could care less about), but it is also almost $20 cheaper.

In the end, I feel like the Folsom, while very good in a vacuum, faces stiff competition from the Native 5 (as do all other sub-$100 knives).  And the fact that the Folsom is an overseas made product, compared to the Native-ly produced Spyderco blade, makes the choice easy for me.  If the Folsom were $80, then it would be a more interesting debate.  That said, if you like the looks go for the Folsom, it doesn't disappoint.  Its the Willie McCovey of the 1960s Giants--an all time great, but always in the shadow of Willie Mays.       

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Part III: Welcome Back to Reality

EDITOR'S NOTE: Every once in a long while my evil twin escapes and writes something that is funny but also terribly mean.  He last appeared here (though some would argue he also tore Anne Trubek's anti-cursive argument to shreds...that's not Tony's Evil Twin that is Cross Examination Tony, a perhaps equally inappropriate approach for an enthusiast website and someone my wife really hates).  Alas, he escaped just in time for the series on the collapse of the custom tactical market.  I apologize for him right now.

Hello Dummies!  I hope you're happy.  Your plan "investment grade cutlery," unsurprisingly, has failed.  I hope you weren't shocked.  You probably were, but whatevs...

Well, the custom tactical market turns into a smoking, fiery Super Fund site of overpriced, overbuild, same-same titanium turds, the production market has been chugging along. For those of you that have a few spare bucks after dropping $2,800 on a knife that both looks like and cuts like a brick, there are quite a few impressive options out there.

Remember before you "ascended" to the world of custom tactical knives? Remember when steel actually mattered because you actually cut stuff with your knife? Quaint, right? Well, production knives offer you a huge range of steels, some that are never seen in the custom tactical world. So put your acid/stone/tumble washed N690 away (even though it cost $1,500) and return to the world of performance steel.

Spyderco has continued to put out high end designs with uber steels. There was a run of HAP40 blades for their ever green knives and people really liked them. They also have updated quite a few knives with S110V, which is 75-80 more Vs than you get on most custom tacticals. The PM2 in S110V and the lightweight Native 5 in the same steel both look really great. Hell, they are even doing a run of Maxamet on sub-$200 knives, knives that, if you remember, worked well and were light enough to actually carry (the Manix LW and the Native 5).

ZT has decided to do custom tacticals without the spotty fit and finish (which you lauded as a sign that it was hand made) and the exorbitant price tags. You know that Sinkevich you have pined after? You can buy one of his designs for under $200. And guess what? Unlike the gorilla-sized custom, the ZT0450 actually cuts things AND fits in a pocket.

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Crazy, I know. And if that is not enough, they have Hinderer flippers that actually flip, RJ Martin knives that...well...I can't think of a snarky way to describe them...but look....RJ Martin knives that you can afford and are semi-available! And if you are really daring you can buy one of their Uber Triples, knives designed by Jim McNair and others, who, while lacking the name recognition of famous random guy with a garage grinder and IG account, are people that actually know how to design and make knives.  Its strange how that works--knife companies, unlike IG fanboys, require actual skill at knifemaking.  This is a wacky world we live in.

Bark River continues to plug along releasing at least one blade each week that hasn't seen use since 1910 when it last slayed a buffalo.

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But unlike the custom fixed blades you are used to, these quirky designs use, brace yourself, something other than O1 or A2. They run all sorts of steels--3V, M4, and lots of other letter number combinations you probably forgot about as you journeyed through the land of half-baked designs put out by some guy that has a beard, a grinder, and one tenth the talent of the guys on the line at Bark River.

One sad bit of news, though, Benchmade has pretty much become irrelevant to knife fans. When you left, their line up had five or six different brands, many of which competed with each other. Each year since you have been gone, they have either added or dropped a brand or both. Also, right before you left their line up was approaching critical mass with Axis locks. Well, they reached that critical mass about two years ago and the plant in Oregon exploded releasing one of those ring things like when the Death Star blew up in the updated Star Wars. That ring thing sent out a massive wave blades that, by design, have blade play and mediocre lock up. They also have sketchy fit and finish and grinds that look like they were done by a person with an inner ear infection. These are great features for you, as the sloppy craftsmanship can ease you back in to a world of knives where tolerances and fit and finish matter. You can start out with an Axis lock and the blade wiggle will remind you of the custom tactical you bought from the maker on Instagram for $700. Then, when you are more comfortable with the idea of precision, you can upgrade to a ZT or a Spyderco where there is no blade play. It will be a hard transition, but you can do it.

You could also look at some of the Chinese brands--Reate, Rike, WE, and Kizer.

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There you will find the exact designs you wanted from a custom maker that had a two year wait, but with better materials, equal fit and finish, and 1/8 the price. Its so amazing to get what you want without having 85% of the joy of knife ownership being found in waiting and anticipating the knife's arrival.

There are bevy of surprises waiting for you.  All with great steels, good designs, low prices, high availability and...guess what...you don't have to fawn over them on IG.  You can just buy one.  You don't have to be pretend to befriend a knifemaker or tell him he is an artist every time he posts a picture of an unattached pocket clip.  You can just buy stuff.  The dude a Spyderco grinding Maxamet blades has more important things to worry about than your IG likes (such as changing belts twice per blade).  So welcome back.  We missed you while you were out being stupid.  So sad about depleting your children's college fund though.  That's a bummer.

And for those of you that have moved on to watches...good luck with that.  I am sure it will turn out just as good as your investing foray into the custom tactical world.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Customs Gone Crazy, Part II: End of the Boom

Knife News, a great site, recently had this article up on their site discussing the weaker demand for custom tactical knives. Blade Magazine also had a similar article tolling the bell on the custom tactical market in favor of other trends. Finally, a scan of the forum boards selling custom tacticals is one sad thread after another--unsold knives with repeated markdowns. This seems like something I have been talking about for two years. The growth we saw in the past five years in prices for custom tactical knives has been crazy, like tulips-in-the-17th-century crazy. I wrote about this here. We have talked about it on Gear Geeks Live for a long time. Aaron Shapiro pointed this out on GGL 74.

The bottom line is pretty simple--the vast majority of these blades aren't that complex, don't require all that much work, and once the trend passes, look pretty damn ugly. Loveless Drop Point Hunter, these things are not. I could see the pressure playing out at knife shows I attended. Old school collectors, guys with collections of WWII-era Randall's and Case Tested knives, were shaking their heads as they saw yet Hinderer sell for $1,000.

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And then a month later, that same Hinderer was selling for half that, and a few months after that it drop by half again. And the pattern repeated itself over and over again for the new flavor of the month. Borka, Dalibor, Oeser...the list goes on and on.

I was never one to go in with the Butterscotch Club, but I could see what they were talking about. I had seen this happen before in the 1990s when I collected baseball cards. Cards that were actually rare, like 1952 Topps cards, were being pushed aside by rookie cards with bits of foil and holograms on them. People were getting $1,000 for cards of guys that hadn't played five years in the majors yet and cards that there were thousands of coming on the market daily. It made no sense. Then the baseball card bubble burst and the market still is not back to its peak (its clear, like tulips, it never will be as that was a bubble too). The Butterscotch Club's point was simple--if you are a collector you should value rarity, complexity, and top-shelf design. Many of the tactical folders had none of these things going for them.

So I never really strayed into those waters. Other than the Anso Ziggy, which I returned for a full refund, I never payed more than $500 for a custom tactical knife. I had thought about pulling the trigger on four figure knives many times, but I never did. In part (in LARGE part), it was because I am cheap. But there was also this nagging feeling I had "Man, there is no there there." I just didn't get it--what made the Ray Laconico Jasmine an $800 knife?

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Why is it so much more expensive than the production version that runs the same materials (or, in my case, better--S35Vn compared to D2)? The market is finally saying: "We don't get this." I feel more than a bit vindicated.

Then there is this fact--some of the production knives coming out now are better than what 90% of custom makers can make.  I have discussed this all over the place, but its hard to imagine a custom tactical knife surpassing a Rockstead, for example.  The stuff coming out of some of the small batch guys like Millit are incredible.  Reate's Steelcraft stuff is amazing.  ZT's Uber Triples (the 777, 888, and 999) are as amazing as anything I have seen in the custom tactical world.  The list goes on and on. 

The last custom I bought, and probably the last custom I will buy for a long time, was the Scott Sawby Swift.

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To me, this is a horse of a different color from the Dalibors of the world. It is distinctly different from a custom tactical folder. It uses hard to find, natural materials (you know, actually rare stuff as opposed man made Moku Ti). It has a classic design. It is made completely by hand by a person with a very restricted (and lessening) output. And it is a marvel of complexity. Simply holding it in your hand explains why this blade is so amazing. Like a magic trick you see it, but you can't figure it out. Faced with a choice of buying the new flavor of the minute custom tactical or the Sawby, viewing both as a long term collectible (but NOT investment), the choice was clear--go with a classic design, superb craftsmanship, and truly rare materials. Leave the me too, acid/black/stone washed flipper to someone else. It wasn't a tough call and it is almost certainly the right one.

The effect on the market will be swift--there will be a flood of customs out there, ones that are cheap by the standards of a few months ago. But it might be time to buy. I'd wait a few months, maybe a year, and see how far the floor falls. And then, when it is at is low, buy a good knife, something with a nice design (none of these blades, by definition, are complex or contain exotic materials--carbon fiber doesn't count) that you couldn't afford at the top of the market. But buy it because you like it, not because you think it will appreciate in value at a rate that outstrips the stock market (good rule of thumb: if the value of a given item appreciates faster than the stock market and it is not a painting or sculpture, it is probably a bubble.)

The effect on makers will be equally swift. Guys that have table prices at four figures for slab handled titanium framelock flippers with baubles attached will be gone soon. Folks that focus on value or have the talent to make truly great stuff with survive and rise to the top. I imagine that Jesse Jarosz will weather the storm--his pricing philosophy of always being at the bottom of a price range will serve him well (as well his top shelf designs and excellent fit and finish). Guys like Scott Sawby, with truly insane levels of skill, will survive because they produce the exact thing that stands the test of time--well design, useful, and unique items.

Good riddance to the silliness. Now we can get back to knives as opposed to the arbitrage of knife flipping. Remember knives? The things we all love to use and carry--those things. They are great, even if you can't flip them for a cool $1,000 profit. And now that people are sobering up, they are going to realize that there is a whole universe of amazing production knives available for very little money.  Maxamet Native 5 anyone?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Customs Gone Crazy, Part I: Irrational Exuberance

This is part one of a three part series on the state of custom knives at the end of 2016.  Its a weird place.  I posted a picture of the price of an Oeser/Pena flipper on IG and it sparked a really good conversation.  I thought that conversation, in expanded form, would make an excellent post, especially this week when I am going to focus on the custom knife market.

That tongue twisting phrase, irrational exuberance, was coined by Alan Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve, to describe the overheated stock market at the height of the Dot Com boom. He saw things like IPOs of companies with no products raking in cash equal to what GE made in a year where they produced things like 1,000 new jet engines and sold them all. Greenspan spoke like a disclaimer reads, but in that one instance, he captured an idea perfectly. And he did it with a twinge of moral judgment.

For me, the custom market has become a bizarre place. Its collapsing in many ways and at the same time something like the Oeser/Pena Flipper collab is selling for $2,000 direct from the makers. This is irrational exhuberance. In three years, five years, and in ten years, when folks have a bit of perspective, this will look incredibly silly. For the record, 99% of the population, including many knife knuts and myself, thinks this looks silly now.

But let's be clear--this is not to say that Oeser and Pena are bad guys for charging that much money. Its not like they are engaging in EpiPen price gouging. Their flipper, despite what some crazy people on IG think (those aren't the people that commented on my post, BTW, those folks seemed pretty reasonable), is not a necessity. It is a luxury item and if you want to charge an exorbitant amount for a luxury item regardless of its inherent value, so be it. That's the business model of virtually every high end watchmaker out there. Without people being willing to pay lots of money for things of questionable value (see Panerai's Brooklyn Bridge LE), the high end watch market would collapse.

Let me also be clear--if you want to pay $2,000 for that knife, I cast no moral aspersions on you. We live in a free society and if you earned the money legitimately and you are not depriving yourself or your family of necessities, spend it how you want. I think there is a moral limit to this logic--it seems unjustifiably wasteful to burn money, for example, but buying the Oeser/Pena Flipper for $2,000 is not that level of waste.

So this is not a judgment of the makers or the buyers. It is simply a comment on the market. And the market is, right now, exceptionally and historically stupid. I have mentioned this before, but the Tulip Craze seems like an excellent parallel.

 
This is a bubble market to be sure. And the fact that prices are collapsing all over the board should indicate to people that 1) it is a bubble market; and 2) the high prices we are seeing on stuff like this are unsustainable.

And suppose that you intend to buy this knife and flip it. Again, we live in a free society and you are free to do that. But let's not pretend like the knife is a good use of money. Its not an immorally bad use of money, but its not a bright idea. Even if you are a knife collector, it seems like an unwise investment. And this is with the caveat that ALL knives are bad investments. You know what is a good investment? Yep, investments--stocks, bonds, financial products. If purchased wisely, they provide a reliable return on your initial money.

Knives, even the highest end collector knives, rarely do that. So if you are a collector, think twice. The simple probabilities are not in your favor. Of the thousands or tens of thousands of knife makers that have produced a blade, a very small handful, maybe ten or twenty, have made knives that retain a large amount of value over many years. And an even smaller amount, maybe five, make knives appreciate in a way that is equivalent to real investments. Five out of ten thousand. Those are bad odds my friend.

And those five guys, let's say its Michael Walker, Bob Loveless, Buster Warenski, Bill Moran, and Bill Scagel, they made knives for years with designs far more complex, with skill far more evident, and materials far more rare compared to the Oeser/Pena Flipper. Like this one--the legendary King Tut Dagger from Buster Warenski:

 
So not only do the random odds favor my argument that this knife will be a bad choice for collectors, the actual comparison to truly collectible stuff favors my argument. This isn't a close call either. Take a look at the King Tut Dagger. Then go back and look at the Oeser/Pena Flipper. Putting aesthetics aside you will see that Warenski's creation used more complex methods, more original designs, and more rare materials than the CPM154/G10 exposed screw construction on the Oeser/Pena Flipper.

And finally there is this point--these five men plied their trade for decades before asking $2,000 for a knife, even adjusted for inflation. No Walker sold direct from maker for $2,000 in his third or fifth year of making knives. These folks earned those prices because the market, over a long span of time, held constant on the evaluation of their output. They were knives people liked and like now even decades later. That sort of stability is hard to earn and it makes me more confident that their work and not this knife will retain value over time.

The Oeser/Pena Flipper looks great. I am sure someone bought it (what did PT Barnum say?). And more power to both parties. But let's not pretend like this is anything other than irrational exuberance.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

November Fisher House Giveaway Winners

Well, it took me a while, but I finally tabulated all of the winners.  First, let me say that while I wanted to raise $2,000 that was an awfully ambitious goal.  We actually raised $1,371.78.  That's about $600 more than the last giveaway, so awesome job everyone.  The average donation was $34.29, also up from last giveaway.

Finally, some trends have emerged.  Some people are consistently winning, and winning more than they donate, which is awesome.  I knew from the outset of these giveaways that there were ways to consistently win and if someone wanted to game theory that out and win again and again, so be it.  That said, now that it has happened multiple times I feel like I have to let the secrets out.  First the Price Is Right trick, donating $1 more than big round numbers, would work to win a lot of the prizes including the Big Heart Prize.  Additionally, one way to almost guarantee a win is to target the Week 2 prize as most of the donations come in at the beginning and at the end, the winners for the Week 2 prizes have been lower, on average, than the first week (and the third week when there was one).  Finally, the Veteran's prize has insanely good odds, never more than five or six people, and usually it is three.

I am working on a new prize scheme to make some of these tricks impossible or less likely to be successful, but it was fun to watch folks break the system.  Anyway, enough rambling.  Here are the winners:

Overall Winner: Mark Woodhouse
Runner Up (and multiple GAW winner): Colton Kilgore
Big Heart: Mark McKinley
Surprise Big Heart (winner gets the now very hard to find Caston Kadima): Chad Shoopman
Veteran Only: Eric Beerbaum
Cheap Ass: Chris Lewis
Week 1 (and multiple GAW winner): Matt Distefano
Week 2: Dwayne Lively
Week 3 (and multiple GAW winner): Mike Rixman

I have addresses for everyone but Eric Beerbaum.  I will send out the packages this week.  Lots of boxing up stuff...

Thanks again and thanks to all of the people that, without hesitation, leave their lives and their families to defend us and our ideals overseas.  No payment or thanks can balance the debt all Americans owe you. 

 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Everyday Objects Described in Silly Gear Company Ad Copy

The second post of the week will tabulate winners for the Fisher House giveaway.  Its a lot of bookkeeping, so until then enjoy this frivolous post.

Of all the industries in the world car ads are by far the most insulting.  The blowhard bullshit ad copy would have an alien convinced that a Hyundai goes fast, sips fuel, and scores you a cabin full of chicks.  But gear ad copy is not far behind in terms of layers of crap.  For more baloney than a kids cafeteria see the companies listed below.

Object: Umbrella
Company: Best Made

Man's best friend against the elements. This umbrella was made by the oldest umbrella manufacturer in Slovenia and our team traveled there in-person to appreciate the fine points of handmaking artisanal umbrellas (that is, we took a photographer with us and watched other people do work while standing around stroking our three month old beards). From the brass fittings on the handle to the hand-dyed waxed cotton fabric of the upper, this umbrella is made the same way it has been since the Slovenian factory opened in 1917. In fact, Ury Gleshnev, owner of the factory and son of the founder, oversees every element of the construction of these fine tools, as he has for the last 59 years. If you need an umbrella to last you a lifetime and want to be able to pass down heirloom tools to your children (because that is exactly what people want when their parents die--old shit), then you need to come with us on a journey of discovery in to the world of umbrella construction.

Retail Price (that you think it will be when reading the copy): $179.95
Actual Retail Price: $685.95

Object: Corkscrew
Company: Cold Steel

If you have seen our latest video Absolute Mother Fucking Proof, you know the power that is concealed within this simple object. While it can behead capped bottles and gut wine corks with ease, its the self-defense features that make the Skull Crusher Corkscrew a Cold Steel product. Equipped with a PPE handle, which resists cracking, warping, splitting, and rot, it is designed to provide comfort and a sure grip even when your hands are covered in blood or wine or both. The Skull Crusher's fluted screw tip digs into cork and human flesh with like they are butter. And in a reverse grip the twist/bottle opener acts as a blunt weapon so that you can repel attackers as they pillage your picnic. If you have found yourself unarmed in a park while sipping Chardonnay with a loved one you owe it to them and yourself to be prepared for any danger with the Skull Crusher Corkscrew. Finally, just to make sure there is no possibility of collapse during the heat of battle, the screw is held in place by the Tri-Ad lock which Lynn Thompson personally designed with some small inputs from Andrew Demko (who really didn't do all that much, because, well its LYNN FUCKING THOMPSON and he is an amazing jack of all trades, handsome guy, athletic 10th degree black belt, amazing shot, my boss, and the editor of this ad copy).

Retail Price: $34.95 (sold out of our Arizona Office Only)

Object: Office Chair with Wheels
Company: Fenix

In-joy State of Art comfort as you work. This chair features seven smoothing run casters that allow you to pivot and roll around as you switch from desk to desk in you're office. The twin side levers allow you to addjust the height of seat and of the position of the back. Too padded armrests let you take a break from typing. All of the surface have memory foam and is covered in top grain leather.

Made in Guangdong China. Ad copy by Google Translate.

Object: Step Stool
Company: Benchmade

Using state of the art, high precision machinery, Benchmade brings you this latest addition to its line up--the Pine Step Stool. Taking what we have learned for years of producing knives we have added features to the Step Stool that made it both more complicated than it needed to be and less sturdy. We have also added, for no apparent reason, an Axis lock to the Step Stool. This Step Stool is the first of a wave of different sized step stools, all with Axis locks, that are part of the Benchmade Stand line. We will discontinue this line in two years and integrate them back into our main brand. Oh, and the "h" in Benchmade Stand is a little step stool. Wasn't that clever of us?

Retail Price: $179.95
Retail Price of a simpler, sturdier Cherry or Maple Step Stool from Spyderco's Step Stool line: $49.95

Object: Door Knob
Company: ZT

Go Bold.

Open Doors.

That's what you get when you go with the Zero Tolerance ZT014DKGB. The ZT014DKGB is a factory custom collaboration between Zero Tolerance and Rick Hinderer. It features state-of-the-art high impact glass surrounded by a geared brass collar and attached to your door with purple anodized screws. We are announcing the ZT014DKGB here today, but you will need to wait a week for another spammy email to tell you where you can buy the ZT014DKGB. And it will be a limited edition, in the sense that the purple anodized screws will only be available in this run. We have seven more runs of this exact same product ready to go, all with different colored anodized screws. So, yeah, its a limited edition.

Price: $500 (and there will be no variation or discount because we have somehow circumvented federal laws and regulations on price fixing).

Friday, December 2, 2016

Cold Steel Espada XL Review

BAD BEHAVIOR DISCLAIMER: If you pay attention at all to the knife world you know Cold Steel behaves like a bunch of jerks, from their suit against CRKT (my commentary here and here) to their threats to sue custom makers for the use of the San Mai designation (I think they were on good legal ground vis a vis the trademark but just because you have a right doesn't mean you need to enforce it--see Spyderco and the thumb hole for an example of a good corporate citizen on this front).  Calling Cold Steel repugnant is offensive to repugnant people everywhere.  You get the point though--their behavior is uninspiring.  Legal, but dreadful. And for those of us that like their knives, its something that is embarrassing (along with Lynn Thompson's Boop Your Dead video).   

Part of the difficulty in reviewing something is figuring out exactly how the maker of that item intends for it to be used. To a certain extent this doesn't matter--the Zebra F-701 is a pen that is great precisely because you can use it in a way that the manufacturer probably didn't intend. But, for the most part, if a maker puts out a flashlight as an EDC light, that is how I will review it. Its hardly fair to dock an EDC flashlight points because it doesn't throw well. So intended use and context matter.

With that as background, let me say that the review of the Espada XL has been very difficult. Not because I couldn't figure out its strengths and weaknesses, but because I am not sure what Cold Steel thinks is this product's intended use. If they think this is a serious knife that has high utility, they are wrong and if seen in that light the knife is an utter failure. But that seems like an improbable intended use for a knife with a 7 1/2 inch blade. If they view the knife as a folding fixed blade, a pocket chopper, if you will (said with a Dusty Rhodes voice), then, again, it is an utter failure. This is a knife that did not fair well in chopping tasks for a slew of reasons.

There are three other possible roles: 1) as compensation device; 2) as a weapon; and 3) as an emblem for the brand. In these three roles, only two of which I care about, I can see the Espada XL doing well. There is no question that, short of a Corvette or other sports car purchased in late mid-life, the Espada XL is a fabulous compensation device. Given its size and intimidating appearance, I would imagine that it would be successful as a weapon, but I have no expertise or concern for a knife as a weapon, so I will leave that function alone. But perhaps the best intended use (or reason for the Espada XL to exist) is as a emblem for Cold Steel itself. In that intended use, it hits a home run. The Espada XL is Cold Steel in a way that no other knife encapsulates a brand.

Why? Well, like Cold Steel the Espada XL is BIG, BOLD, and VICIOUS. It is also chocked full of flaws, flaws that indicate that Cold Steel, even to this day, does not understand what makes its brand and its blades liked among those that eschew the label and look of the Mall Ninja. And finally, and perhaps most sweetly for people that tire of Lynn Thompson's legal bullshit, it involves a bit of intellectual property scandal. Its not outright theft, but like many things Cold Steel does, the Espada XL makes a very bad impression, legally speaking.

Then there is a final possibility--this knife is designed for fun.  For all of the gory violence over on Cold Steel's video page, in the end I think Cold Steel is a company made of and for adult men that want to indulge their inner 12 year old boy.  Who doesn't want to see shit blow up?  Well, aside from adults and females.  So in that vain, the Espada XL is supposed to be fun and any utility you get out of it is a bonus.  In the end, this is the approach I chose.  Is it fun and is there a dollop of utility on the side?  

Finally, I think it is important for me to state by bias up front--I hate big, weapony knives. I would much prefer a small, quiet pocket companion that help with everyday chores. Big knives slow me down and make everyday life a bit more cumbersome. They also scare people, which, having long since left my teenage years in the past, I have no interest in doing. I am also not much of a fan of stabbing people. So the Espada XL as the biggest and most weapony knife in the world, starts out with a serious handicap.

Here is the product page (please ignore the obnoxious, breathless copy). The Espada XL costs $259.95. Here is a written review (for Dan, this is a normal sized knife--dude is giant). Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Espada XL, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary: Knife Jalopy.

Before I get started on the actual review, let me show you this little disclaimer that comes in the XL's box (which did not come in other Cold Steel boxes):


Um...remember when Cold Steel tried to sue CRKT?  For false advertising...yeah that's why Lynn Thompson has as many friends in the knife world as a leper does as at a wrestling match.  This is the very definition of hypocrisy.  

Design: 0

There is no question that you will smile as this thing slides out of the box.  It is positively huge.  Not just long (okay...there will be one million and one "That's what she said..." jokes in this review) but really tall as well.  This thing is easily two inches wide.

But once the glee wears off you are stuck with a blade, even for an object of pure cutting joy, is impractical.  The handle is a mess.  There is no chance you can get this open with one hand (unless you Wave it out), and the blade is impractical for anything other than running through the forest delimbing saplings like a jackass.  Oh, and in an odd twist, it was a fantastic pizza cutter.  I would love to see that in a Cold Steel promotional video.  
 
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The blade to hand--screw this--the knife weighs more than a pound and has a 7 1/2 inch blade.  Its not even worth busting out a calculator for the performance ratios.  Even if they are good, the knife is just too big to take seriously.  

Fit and Finish: 0

Here is where I was truly surprised.  I expected this to be a design I didn't like.  But Cold Steel has sneakily done very well in terms of fit and finish in the last three years.  Even their cheap stuff, like the Mini Tuff Lite was solid, centered, and sturdy.  What you get here is a clicking, clacking, crunching mess.  After even a few minutes of use the leverage put on the handle basically does in the knife, but for the Tri-Ad lock.  The side to side blade play after some use was incredible--enough you can see the blade wiggle in the air as you wave it back and forth.

And I don't think this is a fluke or a bad egg.  The physics here are terrible for a knife handle.  Cold Steel has torqued way down on the blade with the Tri-Ad lock so that there is very little up and down blade play.  The spring here is tremendously strong.  But all of that force, generated by a boom arm of 7 1/2 inches of steel, has to go somewhere and here it goes out into the sides of the handles resulting a staggeringly sloppy knife.

I would be willing to concede that even this error is not fatal given that it is all but required by the design (this is one of a million reasons why a 7 1/2 inch blade is impractical), if the rest of the knife was good.  But it wasn't.  As you can see below, even before use the blade was out of alignment.  Out of the box it rubbed the handles.  After some tweaking of the pivot, it was better, but the instant I used the knife it returned.  

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If you suspend your prejudice against Mall Ninja gear and trying out something like the Mini Recon 1, you will see that this knife, with the identical materials, is far below what it could be, simply because folders shouldn't be this big. 

Grip: 0

There are about seven different grips that this beast of a handle can accommodate, unfortunately none of them are good.  Aside from the issue of a handle like this telling you where to put your hands, which is a problem to begin with there are three other issues here.  First, because of where the liners are, when you strike something you intend to cut with force that force is transferred through the handle to your hand in way that is surprisingly painful.  If the liners were fully nested like they are on the Paramilitary 2, for example, this wouldn't be an issue.  As it is, steel on flesh and bone is no fun. 

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Second, the G10, even though is tamed down from what Cold Steel used to issue, is still to rough.  As the overview showed, its just too rough to be used by non-gloved hands.  I suppose if you are the biker gang enforcer type, gloves are a necessity for fingerprint concealment reasons, but for the rest of us, gloves are a sometimes thing and so sometimes this knife is just AWFUL in the hand.

Third, and finally, because the handle and the knife are so long and so thin, regardless of what you do you will experience fatigue quicker than you would if the knife were a fixed blade with a nicer, fuller handle. 

Carry: 1

This knife is really, really wide in the pocket.  Its as wide as an iPhone and twice as long.  But really, the width is the only issue.  The knife's thin shape, and curved spine allows it to play nicely in your pocket and not stick out so much. 

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For its size, it is surprisingly easy to carry and that's pretty impressive given that this knife, even when closed, is longer than a football.

Steel: 2

XHP rocks.  I wish it wasn't coated, but that is not XHP's fault.  This is a very good all around steel.

Blade Shape: 0

Bowies look OK and that's about it.  On some fancy art knife I guess they are better than that, but on this knife they are incredibly impractical.  It was darn near impossible to do any practical tasks.  Opening boxes was possible, but getting a blister pack open was a dangerous and terribly unpleasant task.  

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The tip was very fragile, and I was always worried about breaking it off, but it survived some serious chopping.  The pronounced and exaggerated belly made this a world class pizza cutter.  In the end, a nice drop point would be better, even for pure fun.  

Grind: 2

I can't complain about the simple, flat grind.  There is a small sharpening choil, everything was clean and even.  In short, it was quite good.  

Deployment Method: 1

I am not going to subtract a point from the knife, but it bears mentioning that the thumb plate acting like a Wave hook is awfully close to just stealing Ernie Emerson's idea.  The legal issue is a bit murky, but the moral one is not--this is crass theft, if not under the letter of the law, then in principle.  Boo on Cold Steel.  I'd be more forgiving if they weren't the knife world equivalent of Legal Trolls, suing and threatening to sue everyone and their mother.

But aside from the shameless, yet effective Wave/thumb stud, this knife is a beast to open and close.  The size makes anything but two handed opening an exercise in Cirque Du Soleil-level finger gymnastics.  And closing this knife is a harrowing act, especially if you like your digits intact.  You can't even gravity snap this knife open, the spring is too strong.

Retention Method: 0

Cold Steel's clips are so terrible they are in a class all by themselves.  There is remedial design, such as some of the crappy Benchmade numbers and then there is this.  Its not just that they cause hotspots, which they do, but the fact that Cold Steel, unlike EVERY OTHER MAKER ON THE PLANET, has yet to figure out how to do reversible pocket clips.  These things are just impossible not to lose.  For the review I taped the spare one into the box (which is something Cold Steel should do) just so I wouldn't lose it.    

P1070421

Its a small point, but this sort of pathetic design kills me.  If the clip was good, I'd put the two clips per knife thing aside, but its crappy, pokey and ugly.  

Lock: 2

Tri-Ad lock rocks.  This knife stinks.  Even a great lock can't save it, especially when the spring on this thing requires a ton of pressure to disengage the lock.  I am not even going to bother taking the point off for that because the fact that the Tri-Ad lock keeps this thing held open (even if there is a price to pay for that) is a miracle.

Overall Score: 8 out of 20

If you want to have fun with a big ole hunk o' steel, get a Becker BK-9 from Kabar.  That thing is bigger, badder, and bolder than the Espada XL.   Once the gleeful novelty of a 7 1/2 inch folder wears off, which it will in about five minutes, you are left with a mess of a knife.  It does quite well as a pizza cutter and I would imagine it is all kinds of stabby.  But this is not a fun knife, not a good knife, hell its barely a knife.  Its either a sword that is broken in the middle or a collection of knife pieces that at one time formed as solidly-built folder.  After even a modicum of hard use, the Espada XL was like a totaled car--more useful for its pieces than as the thing it used to be.  Skip.

And no, RD, no amount of reasoning will convince me otherwise--even as a fun knife, a ridiculous spectacle of blade this thing is still the knife equivalent of dog shit on your manicured front lawn.