Quick Hits: High End Stuff

WE Knives 717 Valiant


This blade is a porker and not all that different from the Custom Knife Factory Peace Duke.  Its thickness and height make it a “small knife” in name only, as it basically feels like you are carrying a metal drink coaster in your pocket.  The steel, S35VN, is of course good, but basically par for the course for knives over $75.  The flipping action is crisp and snappy, great like all WE Knives are.  The single screw construction is really innovative and applied on a correctly sized knife would be a huge plus.  Here the innovation is drowned out by the slabbiness of the design. Finally, the clip, which is as squared off and pokey as a Starett speed square, is just awful.  This isn’t a bad knife, but even in the WE line up there are like five better choices.  Given how fast they release new knives, I can’t remember their names, but you get the idea.  Oh, and by the time you finish this article that number will be up to 16. 

Overall Score: 15/20 (1 off for Design, 2 off for Carry, 2 off for Retention Method)

Bark River Mini Bushcrafter


If you are looking for an EDC fixed blade Bark River is the place to start.  The Mini Bushcrafter is, however, not the place to end, as the handle is just too small.  I’d much rather have a small blade and a full sized handle on an EDC fixed blade than vice versa.  The finish was, of course, glossy and nice but I do wish Bark River would produce cleaner plunge lines.  It doesn’t have a smidge to do with performance, but it would make their already sexy designs, even more appealing.  The Lil’ Creek is just better and costs around the same, so I can’t see a reason to purchase the Mini Bushcrafter over that knife.  Finally, and it bears mentioning every time, Bark River’s sheathes are boom or bust, great or terrible, and this is, unfortunately in the latter camp.  It is basically a leather sock.  Meh.    

Overall Score: 16/20 (1 off for Design, 1 off for Handle Design, 1 off for Sheath Carry, 1 off for Useability)

Smock Knives SK23


Innovation is the name of the game here and with so many new and interesting ideas it is no wonder Kevin Smock’s design was picked up by the most design-first of knife companies Spyderco.  I loved the flipping action, the button compression lock, and the overall feel of the knife with its crowned spine and buttered edges.  The real drawback here was the thickness of the knife.  For a 3 inch blade, this thing was massively thick.  A knife half as thick would have been great.  Still, it is amazing to see how much innovation one person can jam in a knife and this is undoubtedly the start of an amazing career making knives.  Now if only the wait lists weren’t so long.  I may be a bit biased, but an innovative design goes a long way.

Overall Score: 19/20 (1 off for Carry)

Dawson/Lum Malahini


My review sample was a copper version and not only was it depantsing heavy, it was also smelly.  Copper—yuck.  Those two things aside, the torch itself is amazing, with machining that rivals McGizmo in terms of its error-free nature.  The guts of the torch aren’t as advanced as the BOSS 35, but that is true of every light in the world other than other Torchlab lights.  The outputs are nicely spaced, this sucker is bright, and it renders colors accurately.  Overall, a torch this nice would make an excellent addition to your EDC rotation and there are enough options and additions that you could make your completely unique.  I have no ding here aside from the material and given that that is a choice, I will assume, for scoring purposes, that you will either a) make a good materials choice; or b) REALLY, REALLY like your pants to hang low and hands to smell like pennies from a subway car.   

Overall Score: 20/20 (if it were a non-copper version…I dislike copper)(review sample provided by and returned to Mitch Lum)

Klotzli AAC1-C


Yum.  A Walker design that is both affordable and relatively accessible? Yes, please. The entire knife is remarkably thin and remarkably polished. Every single part of this knife has been fussed over from the ultrahigh gloss carbon fiber to the thumb studs. In terms of craftsmanship this is probably the nicest production knife I have ever handled.

But there are two major drawbacks—the steel and the washers. The steel ATS-34, is in the 154CM family, a Japanese variant from Hitachi. It is not a bad steel at all and as implemented here, its quite slicey, but for the price, you get much better elsewhere. If you complain about 154CM on $250 Emersons, be prepared…this is even worse. Nick really didn’t like the washers, but for me, they were just fine. Not outstanding by any degree but they were good enough that I didn’t really think about them until Nick reminded me that they were teflon. Think of this as an even nicer Al Mar Ultralight. Its great.  

Overall Score: 18/20 (1 off for Steel and 1 off for Deployment Method)(review sample provided by and returned to KnifeArt.com)

Sharp by Design Micro Typhoon


This is, bar none, the best flipper, custom or production, I have ever handled.  It could not fail to fire, no matter how I tried to game the system.  And it would never shake out of the handle, regardless of my vigorous attempts.  The key is that Brian Nadeau, the guy behind Sharp by Design, uses a ramp instead of a detent.  It is, unquestionably, a brilliant upgrade.  The knife is made by Reate so you can be assured that the handle is gloriously well made.  The carbon fiber inlay was flngernail flush.  And, unlike all Reate knives I have handled, it was thinly ground.  Reate can make slicey knives when they try.

There were three concerns with the blade, none that were fatal, but all were puzzling.  First, the flipper tab here is completely and totally huge, three times the size that would be necessary for a knife of this size.  It was as if Brian ported over the flipper tab dimensions from the 4 inch version of this knife.  It made carry a bit unpleasant, as the knife was always poking and scraping other things in my pocket.  Second, the clip was too flimsy.  Mine was purchased used, and the clip was already worse for wear, but in regular everyday use it got worse over time.  Brian offered a replacement clip to whoever purchased the knife, so that is good—real customer service.  Third, and perhaps weirdest of all, the blade is awfully close to the spine when closed in the blade well.  Its not exactly capable of cutting you, but if you try you can definitely feel the edge. 

Brian is releasing more of these soon, so hopefully these things will be fixed.  I am definitely not the only person to complain about them. 

Overall Score: 17/20 (1 off for Fit and Finish, 1 off for Deployment Method, 1 off for Retention Method)

Knives and Tools Grailer 1


The Grailer is an exclusive house brand knife for the European site Knives and Tools.  It is made by Lionsteel.  Overall, the design is incredibly well thought out.  It is a big knife by design, so it is not exactly my preference, but it is an excellent blade overall and if you like beefy stuff, you should definitely check it out.  The design is by Dirk DeWitt and it has a truly pleasing blade shape.  The steel is great—M390.  The action is silky smooth.  Even the sculpted clip is awesome.  The knife is a bit slick in the handles and the inlay of burlap is about as ugly as wood panel stickers on the side of a station wagon, but the bones of the knife itself are excellent.  There are now a variety of inlays available each better than this one.  In particular the thumb stud with its quadrant design is worth a highlight.  It is familiar but different in a way that makes it quite grippy.  This knife is well outside the mainstream of the IKC, but its omission is a mistake, a sign that the IKC can always stand to broaden its horizons.

Overall Score: 19/20 (1 off for Design, 1/2 a point for the bulk and 1/2 point for the weird inlay)(review sample provided by Knives and Tools)

Northwoods Knives Hawthorne Jack


Its been a very long time since I had a Northwoods knife and getting one back in hand was quite nice.  The level of polish and fit and finish is very, very impressive.  This is a GEC made NWK and the steel was 1095.  The heat treat scaling was left on the flats of the blade and gave the knife an even more rustic feel.  I liked the long pull, but not as much as a traditional crescent-shaped nail nick.  I also found that while well-balanced, the knife’s shape was strange in the hand.  It was, in fact, too narrow at the “pinch point” between the thumb and index finger.  Overall, I am glad to have handled another NWK, but this one wasn’t for me. I can appreciate the technical achievement of a Lamborghini, but I would never want to own one, if you know what I mean. 

Overall Score: 17/20 (1 off for Grip, 1 off for Steel, 1 off for Deployment Method)