If you read reviews you understand that they aren’t objective, so much as they are an attempt to make an objectively valid argument in support of a subjective opinion. My hope is that in reading my reviews that you can agree with the argument even if you don’t necessarily agree with the score. In other words, we may not agree because we have different tastes, but we can agree on objective things—like a high blade-to-handle ratio is a good thing. With that in mind, it is probably worth laying out who influenced my tastes when it comes to gear.
Tastemaker 1: My Grandfather
My grandfather was a country boy raised in the isolated hollers of southern Ohio, a literal stone skip away from Kentucky (the two states are separated by the Ohio River). Portsmouth was the biggest city near where he was born and raised and it was in the process of rebuilding from a massive flood when he was a kid. Prohibition and the Great Depression had a tremendous impact on his life and led him to strongly prefer small, simple, easily maintained tools. Over and over again as I grew up, he impressed upon me a preference for simplicity. When we bought our first house, he came up and helped me do some moving in renovations and again impressed upon me the need for simplicity.
In his mind and hands life had enough variance and enough problems that your tools shouldn’t be one of them. Steadfast and reliable were more important than fancy flourishes. This led to his most impactful statement of gear criticisms: “That’s handier than a whistle on a plow.” It has taken me years to unpack that statement, but I understand what it means now. In theory a plow with a whistle could be handy, but in all likelihood it is a waste of time. A farmer would be too tired and too far away to make it work. And so, this is a countrified version of Dieter Rams design axiom: “Good design...involves as little design as possible.” There were other sayings that offered insight: “That’s handier than teets on a boar hog” and “That’s handier than a screen door on a submarine.” Both of those are obvious negative reviews.
His preference was for small, multibladed traditional folders, but I am confident if he would have had a chance to use modern, PM steels with better edge retention he would have opted for one of those over more complex designs. He was also a fan of non-locking folders as really, only a dummy is strictly in need of a lock. I think if he were around and interested in gear something like the Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack would be his jam.
Tastemaker 2: Nutnfacy
Nutnfancy has been a regular voice for gearheads for years. I don’t agree with him on a lot of his opinions (fanny pack…no, mixing gear and politics…no, weird initialims…no), but his insistence on a small, light knife for everyday carry led me to my perpetual love affair with the Spyderco Dragonfly. Do you REALLY need more than that? Honestly, the ZDP-189 DF2 would be a fine knife for me, should I decide to become a Buddhist monk and forego all (but one) of my earthly possessions.
I also like the fact that Nutnfancy remembers that knives are tools and not jewelry (they can be both, but they start as tools). He prefers cheaper knives and I think his review of customs can be counted on a single hand. Lots of people own expensive knives, but even those people mostly use inexpensive knives. Why the IKC has continued to up the ante on production knives and spend more and more on features that matter less and less makes no sense to me, and I think that is largely Nutfancy’s fault.
Tastemaker 3: Andrew Gene
Andrew is one of the more interesting people I have bumped into in the gear world and his refusal to accept norms and preferences foisted upon him by others and his willingness to embrace the weird have pushed me to find and enjoy knives I never thought I would like. The Spyderco Zulu, the Spyderco Roadie, and the Darriel Caston Kadima are all massively rewarding knives to own and use and I would have never tried them without Andrew influence (or my brain’s conception of Andrew acting as an entity on my shoulder influencing me…you figure out if he was a devil or angel).
Tastemaker 4: Piotr Ma
If you don’t know Piotr’s style, find him on IG (here) and take a look at his adventures and the gear that goes with him. Its all beautifully photographed and more than anything else well-chosen. After reading Piotr’s writing I started focusing more on a few nice items instead of having a huge stable of gear. I also stopped REALLY obsessing over the best and latest. What was good and comfy and gear I learned with became more important. The amount of use and love that the Bark River Bravo 1 gets is insane and I have to think that Piotr’s writing had a lot to do with that. Use your shit, learn on your shit, and it won’t be shit anymore.