When $600 small batch production knives are talked about amongst the IKC (Internet Knife Community) as a good value, as I have implied in the Millit Torrent review, there is something wrong with the knife market. For most people $40 is too much to spend on a knife and a Benchmade Mini Grip is an extravangance. $600 on a knife should be viewed as an Undiscovered Country, not a place you frequently visit. But as is often the case with Internet-driven hobbies, ever greater extremes drive folks and the power of that keeping up with Joneses mentality pushed the knife hobby from production knives to almost exclusively custom knives about 7 years ago. A few of us, Nick, Dan, Grayson, Ben, Pete, and I still mainly focus on production stuff, but the vast majority of IG pics are of lavish, Moku Ti Latte customs. Value has lost its meaning when you refer to a Reate with Moku Ti inserts as a “good value.” Its all about crazy materials, exclusive productions, and one offs. True value has lost its meaning.
And yet, the Final Frontier (see what I am doing here) of good design is design with an eye towards value. And while my reviews never explicitly reference value, because value is about available free-to-spend money, it is something I am always on the look out for, even as the market kind of loses its mind. And so when Three Rivers Manufacturing announced that they were releasing a locking knife with 20CV steel for $159, I set a calendar alert on my phone for its initial release. Yes, I set calendar alerts for knife drops. How else do you explain that I got a Survive! Knives blade? As of the writing of this review, the TRM Neutron is the least expensive knife on the market to run 20CV, one of my three favorite steels ever (20CV, ZDP-189, and LC200N). But the Neutron is not just an comparatively modestly priced knife. It also happens to be a superior everyday carry blade. This is one of the best blades available.
Here is the product page. It costs $159.95. The scales are swappable and you can buy them separately for $15-$20 depending on the material. This knife is a locking version of the Viator. There is no other a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link where you can buy Neutron. And here is the review sample (which I bought with my own money):
Twitter Review Summary: Thin, slicey, light, with kinetic action—what else do you want?
The Neutron is a very solid design with a silhouette that reminds me of the SOG Mini Aegis. But unlike the Mini Aegis, the Neutron is thinner than a Thin Mint. But like with many great knives (such as the Bark River Bravo 1) the details exhibit the work of a superior designer and craftsman. There is a good shaprneing choil, the index notch is subtle and allows access to the thumb stud. The thumb stud itself is different from any I have seen before but is truly great. The clip, like the rest of the knife, is simple and effective, no silly carved titanium clip here. Over and over as I used the Neutron I came to appreciate design choices, even ones that I wouldn’t have made myself.
The blade:handle is the Golden Knife Ratio of .75 (3” blade in a 4” handle). The blade:weight is 1.2, meaning that the knife weighs less in ounces than the blade is long in inches. Like with AG Russell blades, its clear that TRM didn’t just sketch something on a napkin and render it in CAD. They considered how everything related to each other.
Fit and Finish: 2
Measured, precise, smooth, and polished—those four adjectives apply to everything on the Neutron. It just works, fits, and carries perfectly. Lock up has been stable, dead rock solid since I got it. Here is another little highlight—the fit between the swappable scales and the pivot screw is so fine that it looks like the pivot covers over the scale instead of being set down inside it. There is simply nothing that wasn’t perfectly cut, shaped, or sharpened.
Its not my favorite as the rear of the knife has a pronounced taper, something I could do without. Think of handles like the excellent Strider handle or the palm swell found on the Benchmade Mini Grip. For me, I’d prefer a little junk in the trunk, in terms of handles. Bird’s beak, palm swell, Coke bottling, something...It never actually slipped out of my hand, but it always felt like it could. Its the same sort of sense of instability you get walking on a slanted surface for a long time. You never actually slip off (hopefully), but it feels like you could.
The Neutron’s wafer thin profile and featherweight make it the perfect carry knife. It is always nice to get a knife that is all but invisible, but deploys to a full apple-spanning blade. I got two scales, the blue and the Jade G10 (to spite Nick, really) and one was significantly grippier than the other. The grippier one made retrieval a bit of a challege, but the smoother scale (the blue one) was perfect.
20CV is in the M390 family (M390, CTS 204p, and 20CV). Of those three, the differences are very slight and all are easily a 2 on the scale. My preference, however, is 20CV as its larger grain structure allows for quicker and easier sharpening than the other two. None are bad, not at all, but 20CV is bit better. I also doesn’t hurt that this is a USA produced steel unlike M390.
Blade Shape: 2
The pronounced drop point isn’t the sexiest looking blade, it kind of seems droopy, but it really works. Given how thin the blade is I wouldn’t do any sort of drilling or stabbing, but that is not something you should do with any folding knife really. High utlity here.
Okay, I think this is the point where I actually say that a grind is too thin. I got a significant bit of roll over on the edge in the first week of use. I was able to sharpen and strop it out, but given how tall the blade is and how thin the grind is, I think its probably a bit too thin. This, of course, makes the knife crazy slicey and I didn’t have the same problem with the Viator which is almost the exact same blade, but it was a pretty significant issue and happened after only modest use. The options, as I see it are thicker blade stock, harder steel (which is tough), a shorter blade, or a different grind. A shallow convex grind would probably eliminate all rollover or edge deformation issues, but it would likely double or triple the price of the knife, given how labor intensive they are. I wouldn’t balk at a less tall blade.
Deployment Method: 2
The Neutron’s thumb studs are the best on the market but a large margin. Once I got the hang of them and the pivot broke in, opening the knife became an almost telepathic affair—think of opening it, and the knife opened. With a slight edge to them the thumb studs hit just right and given the fluid pivot you can coin flip the studs or open them with any number of different digits, even the spine down pinky flip.
Retention Method: 2
Everyone, everyone, look over here! This is how you do a good pocket clip. If it isn’t the Spyderco wire clip, just do this. Its simple, light, thin, and effective, basically the same thing as the Neutron as a whole.
This is an easy to engage, easy to disengage, rock solid liner lock. Over the years, I have come to love the liner lock. Its basically a better frame lock as there is no need for an overtravel stop. I still like full ambi locks like the backlock or the Axis lock better, but this is a great liner lock.
Fidget Factor: Very High; once the pivot and the lock bar break in, the knife flies out of the handle, its easy to manipulate and carry and can even be popped open with a variety of fingers and methods. Any more fidget friendly and the knife would be a Rubic’s Cube.
Fett Effect: Very Low; these materials—stonewashed stainless steel and G10 don’t show wear. If you want a knife that looks new ten years later than this is a good choice. If you want something to look like a battered oil tanker, this is not your knife. Maybe other scales will be released, copper or micarta, and then, obviously, the knife will rate differently.
Value: Very High; this is the cheapest 20CV knife on the market and unlike the LA Police Gear TBFK, this isn’t a spec beast that underwhelms a bit in person. This knife feels and performs like a piece of high end cutlery. And yet it still costs $159.
Overall Score: 18 out of 20
This is a great knife. The scale’s insensivity doesn’t allow for half or three-quarter points and because of that the score doesn’t match how good this knife really is. If half points were allowed the two places where it scored a one would both be a 1.5, resulting in an overall score of 19 and that feels more correct. This is a truly great knife but it isn’t perfect. The flaws are small but real. But for the price and given the performance, they are worth overlooking. I love the Neutron and it is yet another hit from TRM.
The story of 2018 in EDC knives comes down to two blades—the FRN Chap and the Gent. Those knives have steel that is a step down from the Neutron, but they are both significantly less money, around $60 less. Most, if not all people would never noticed the difference in steel and so the price difference is glaring. Both the Chap and Gent are overseas produced, so that, and not the steel, explains the price difference. I have always been willing to pay a price premium for USA Made stuff and this is no exception. If you are looking for a good knife, this favorably compared to both the Chap and the Gent. Its not better, but it is in the same class. Its also basically the same price as the Benchmade Mini Grip, which also sports an M390 family steel. There, I don’t know what I would choose. Both are great and both have their pluses. In the end, the Neutron is certainly in that top echelon of midsized EDC blades.