Thanks to THE Nick Shabazz, I was able to get some hands-on time with the Grimsmo Norseman. It is a knife that I wanted to add to the Review Archive for a long time--something of a milestone item. For those that don't know, John and Eric Grimsmo are a brother pair that used their machining skills to walk the oft-traveled path from knife modder to custom maker. Over the years, they have documented that journey on YouTube. Their videos give you a slice of their shop life, some good machining tips, and a bit of information about how they design, make, and assemble knives. After years of modding and making fixed blades, the Norseman was their first folder. When it debuted a few years ago people were impressed. To some, it seemed like an overnight success that came out of nowhere, but the reality is, the Grimsmos had been working for a long time to get the Norseman, and their knifemaking skills, where they wanted it to be.
For me, the size and shape were off putting. I just couldn't wrap my head around the odd blade shape, something like the knife equivalent of the Proboscid Monkey's huge honker. But the raves about the knife never abated even after the fickle, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately knife market had moved on to other new baubles. And so when Shabazz was on the podcast, he agreed to send me his beloved Norseman for review. A few days later it arrived. Word of warning--I didn't hammer on this knife because it wasn't mine.
Here is the product page. It costs $575-650 new, but availability is extremely limited as this is a full custom and the Grimsmos are focusing on their other knife, the Rask, right now. They go for a bit more on the secondary market. Note that there are bevy of options that all add to the final price tag. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is my video overview.
And here is the review sample (on loan from Nick Shabazz and sent back already):
Twitter Review Summary: An amazingly polished design, perhaps a bit too polished...
I am never going to fault a design for being different. Anso is, was, and always will be one of my very favorite knife designers ever. As such, the fact that the Norseman is quite different from a traditional knife, is, in my opinion, a plus. When a new maker, like the Grimsmos, comes on the scene and puts forth something completely different, its eye opening. It makes you go back and look at old designs.
The lines of the knife are certainly unique, with the very shallow finger grooves and the bulbous blade. Everything is highly functional, but in the end, it is not a look I find appealing. I am not going to dock it points for falling short of my own personal taste metrics, but I am going to note it.
The weird thing is that I love Anso's quirky stuff, so you'd think that would mean I love all quirky stuff, but I don't like the look of this knife. I am not sure why. In some ways I think of Anso's designs like the production design of some of the more utilitarian ships and vehicles in the Star Wars universe (best production design in the business IMO)--they have a purpose-driven look to them even if they aren't sleek. In particular, I am thinking of the design for the LAAT, which was, in turn, a Star Wars-ification of the Russian Mil-24. Anso's work has that same weird because-its-functional look. I didn't get that impression of the Norseman. It just struck me as weird. Again, this is all feels, nothing rational or really important, but something I just can't shake. The design performs marvelously, so just ignore me here.
The blade to handle ratio is .73 (.725 to be exact). The blade to weight ratio is also .73 (.729 to be exact). Something tells me this is not a coincidence. If you have the technical know how and machining prowess of the Grimsmos having these two numbers turn out to be so close can't be an accident. They also don't convey a simple point--this knife seems lighter in the hand and in the pocket. The balance between the blade and the handle is just great.
Fit and Finish: 2
People have raved about this from the time the Norseman was released. I remember when Double A, Aaron Shapiro, got his first Norseman (only?) and we chatted about it and raved how well made it was. Nick's disassembly video is again a rave about the craftsmanship of the knife. And having handled the Norseman, I can see why. Simply put, this is one of the best made folders I have seen. It does not have the sublime touches of something like the Sawby Swift, but those touches are really niceties that take the knife from great to insane. In terms of functional impact, you will not find a nicer made knife for anything like this price. Put another way, this knife shows there is still room for production stuff to get better. As nice as the Mini Bodega and its ilk are, this is noticeably nicer.
There is no way around it--this knife is just slick. The high polish, then stonewashed titanium handles make for a beautiful look, but in terms of sticking in your hand, there is basically no traction plan at all. I recognize that a knife this nice and this expensive is unlikely to be out doing yardwork any time soon, but the reality is that it will probably slip around (or out of) your hand, even in lower impact tasks. I also found that the slick handle combined with the gullotine-like action on the blade when closing made for some finger-threatening moments. Its praiseworthy in terms of fit and finish, but all this smoothness can have some negative consequences and they show up primarily in this category. I was always just bit worried about dropping the blade or slicing a finger. It never happened, so the score is a 1 instead of a 0, but it seemed easily possible at any moment.
This is a big knife, but a thin one and thanks to very rounded feel, it slides in and out of the pocket quite nicely. You won't find anything to complain about, even if you are, like me part of the "I Hate Big Folders" club.
RWL-34 is a very nice steel from Europe, designed in accordance with specifications laid down by some dude who made good knives and stuff. It is chemically very similar to 154CM (a recipe "family" that also includes ATS 34; each of these three steels is a similar formula produced in Europe, America, and Japan respectively...I am working on a piece on steel recipe families...). The protocols for RWL-34 have been refined over the years and it is quite good, especially in this knife. I have no complaints whatsoever.
Blade Shape: 1
It definitely works. I was very impressed by the blade shape, a bulbous sort of tanto or a recurve with a secondary edge. It is hard to really say what exactly this is. But for all of its uniqueness, it still has the basic problem all of these strange blade shapes have--it is hard to sharpen. I didn't actually bust out the stones (Nick sent it with a beautiful mirror edge), but when stropping I had a difficult time. There is no place to really "register" the edge on a sharpening surface and while the recurve isn't that bad, the fact that it exists AND there is a secondary edge (with a secondary point) makes the whole thing a bit too much for me. The Rask looks like a blade shape that is more my speed.
The stepped grind of the Norseman reminds me a great deal of the cool striation grind pattern on the first production run of the RJ Martin-designed Kershaw Zing. The effect here is just as visually striking, but with a much less pronounced tactile feel. There is no possibility of getting schmutz (technical term there...) stuck in the grooves and so, I have no problem with them at all. Toss in a sublimely precise cutting edge, and the complex recurve/tanto point and you can see that this is a grind that not only has high scores on execution but on difficulty as well.
Deployment Method: 2
Best flipper ever. Next.
Retention Method: 2
The clip here looks like a stamped clip and functions like one, but is, in fact, a very refined sculpted clip. I am not ANTI-sculpted clip by any means, but I don't think they are worth a premium and quite a few of them have real functional problems. The clip on the Small Shamwari is great and the clip on the Chris Reeve Mnandi is a joy, but most stink. This one does not. Its not as good as the Shamwari's but it is on par with the Mnandi. Good company to be in and good clip.
Its not fair to call the lock floaty--in never moved or wiggled when engaged, but the action is so smooth that sometimes it seemed to disengage by telepathy. I don't mean to suggest that it was dangerous. It wasn't. Its just that I would like a smidge (again with the technical terms) of resistance during disengagement, sort of like missing that tactile feel of typing on a touchscreen keyboard. This, of course, is a preference. On a performance level, the lock, like the rest of the knife, was pretty damn close to flawless.
Overall Score: 18 out of 20
As a machined custom, the Norseman is very interesting. As the first folder by two truly talented knifemaking brothers, it is wonderful. As a break from normal, it is a breath of fresh air. I feel like the 18 out of 20 score makes this knife seem less than it is. I am truly impressed by the knife and it is unquestionably a superior product. The two actual issues I had with it were worth one point each, but they didn't really impact the overall feel of the knife. Its a marvel.
My bigger reservations were with the aesthetics of the knife. I would probably never buy a Norseman. Its a marvel, but just not one I would crave. The Rask is more my speed, but if you are a fan of the looks, its worth hunting down a Norseman. It is one finely made piece of kit.