The Gerber 600 multitool has the ignominious distinction of being the only 0 out of 20 I have given out. It was a fit and finish disaster. The Artifact was wretched as well, being the old “lowest scoring item.” In short, other than one anomalous knife, which i will get to briefly, this site has been very hard on Gerber. And for good reason.
For much of this site’s life, Gerber has been in what I like to think of as “Taco Bell” mode. One of my favorite podcasts, the Anthropocene Reviewed, reviewed the Taco Bell breakfast menu and in doing so it revealed a few fun tidbits about what is probably the worst place to eat, aside from a dumpster, on Planet Earth. On a penny per calorie basis, Taco Bell is the best buy on the market. Its entire menu is driven by making stuff as cheap as possible in an effort to sell as much as possible. And for a while Gerber was in Taco Bell mode making as many knives as cheap as possible to sell as many as possible.
The result is stunning. Gerber is now the largest knifemaker in the world. Gerber stuff can be found in every store that sells tools from Tractor Supply Company to Wal Mart to Home Depot. If you live in a place in America and can’t buy a Gerber blade locally something weird is happening. Gerber is the 600 pound gorilla. And yet, there is probably no market where the #1 maker is more disliked by enthusiasts than in the knife business. No one that likes knives likes Gerber, no one. Sure there were a few legacy models that are well done, hold overs from the Legendary Gear phase of Gerber like the Strongarm and the Air Ranger, but for the most part enthusiasts looked a Gerber like a rotten corpse—sure stuff was coming out if, but none of it was something you wanted.
Then the 39 series was released. It wasn’t given a prominent spotlight, other than on shill sites, which promoted those knives like fat kids eating from a candy bowl. My review of the 39 series knife showed it was decent—good bones, okay execution. But it also showed me that the talent was there. The 39 was a knife that could be great with a few tweaks. It also showed me that there was a faction within Gerber that cared and wanted to win over the enthusiast market. It was a herald.
Well, King Gerber has arrived. The Fastball is an unquestionably good knife, a cutter that hangs with the best the market has to offer right now. It even stacks up nicely to the Chinese made knives that are blowing cutlery fans away. This is a damn good flipper, with good steel, that is made in the USA and comes in at about $100. No matter what company made that knife it would be noteworthy. The fact that it comes from Gerber is stunning. If there is more stuff in the pipeline like this, we may be witnessing the rebirth of Legendary Gear. The Fastball is great and Gerber is interesting again. And I for one think that is really cool.
Here is the product page for the Gerber Fastball. It pretty universally costs $105 street. There are three variants thus far—models with black, sage, and gray aluminum handles. Here is a written review (of which there are a million on the shill sites, very few of which are actual reviews). Here is Nick’s video review. Nick and I interviewed the Fastball’s designer Seth Jaramus on a soon to be released episode of Gear Geeks Live, GGL118. Here is a link to Amazon where you can buy your own Fastball. Here is my Fastball, with sage handles, purchased with my own money:
Twitter Summary: Legendary again, at last.
With elements of the Leek and the Sebenza in it, the Fastball is a very stylish knife. As you will hear in GGL118, this was not a slapdash affair. There is a lot of thought that went into this knife and it shows. The effect is striking—a clean, minimalist design that looks familiar and different at the same time. Its as clean as the James Chapter knife with significantly less hipster buzz about it.
The performance ratios are good. The B:W is 1.11, crossing the 1:1 threshold, which is always the sign of a good knife. The B:H is .73, which is not amazing, but no slouch either. If this review were a movie, these performance ratios would be the precredit scene that ends in an explosion—a sign to get ready for some action. You know, reading-quietly-to-yourself-contemplating-the-design-of-a-folding knife action. Yeah, action.
Fit and Finish: 1
I take a point off for two reasons. First, Nick, who bought this knife at the same time I did (during a recording session for GGL), had real problems with the centering on his. Second, there are some markings on the knife that make it clear that Gerber was trying to hit a price point instead of a home run (they managed to hit a home run, despite the design influences the accountants had on the knife’s production). In particular the liner (there is only one), which was stamped, has some die tearing around the edges, resulting in a very rough and unfinished look. As Seth explained, this was a hard problem to solve and keep the price at around $100. But it seems like others have solved it. It also could be worth an additional $5 on the price to fix those edges. Or, instead, lighten the knife by added G10 handles and use the cost savings from cutting the aluminum handles to put a nice looking edge on the liner. In the end, the unkempt look of the liner is just an aesthetic thing. Nick’s problem is more troubling. Both, together add up to a point off, but neither is deeply concerning, especially because there are other signs that Gerber took fit and finish very seriously.
All of the work that went into the detent is one indication. The countersunk screws are another. The excellent finishing on the scales is a third. There are many signs that the Fastball was a knife that preened over at the factory. Which makes the centering issue and the rough liner even more likely to stand out. Such is the curse of high end manufacturing—the closer you get to flawless, the bigger each flaw seems even if it is truly trivial in nature. This knife made me wonder what it is like to do QC at Chris Reeve Knives. That must be a daunting challenge.
The powdery aluminum handles are a throwback to an earlier era of knife design, but they work well to help maintain your grip. The chamfering is nice—wide, clean, and even. The pocket clip, while an off-the-shelf part, is excellent at staying out of the way.
While the aluminum handles aren’t perfect for sliding in and out of slacks, they are great in jeans and cargo shorts (which, because I am a Dad in my 40s that constitutes about 90% of my wardrobe—slacks, jeans, and cargo shorts). The clip is decent and the overall package is slim in the pocket. The simple, clean shape also helps with carry. Nothing is the best here, but there were no mistakes and the knife is slim, slim, slim (all part of Seth’s master plan).
Over the years, as is the case with most knife knuts, steel has started to matter less and less. As steels get better and I care less, things have become much simpler—anything as good or better than CPM154 is a 2. And this iteration of S30V has proven to be quite good. It is not as chippy as some versions nor has been as difficult to maintain. S30V is all over the place right now thanks in large part to heat treat and Gerber’s ain’t bad at all here.
Blade Shape: 2
Blade shape taxonomy has gotten to the point where it makes no sense. The distinction between a reverse tanto, wharncliffe, and a modified sheepspoint is…um…what exactly? Its like all of the genres of electronic music. What is the difference, for example, between trance and chill-out? The Fastball’s blade shape is something like a reverse tanto and a wharncliffe, but regardless of the name I it is quite effective. The knife slices well, more on that below, and pierces with ease. Think of it like a Kershaw Leek with a tip that doesn’t break off when slicing the whipped cream on a piece of pie.
It is a bit aggressive looking, but not too bad. I’d give it an “okay in the Target parking lot” but not a “fine in the Target toy aisle” in terms of its scariness (that scale, for those that wonder is as follows from least scary to most scary: Okay at a kid’s birthday, Fine in the Target Toy Aisle, Okay in the Target Parking Lot, Suitable for Camping, and Prop in a Movie on the Cover of Fangoria).
Look, just make ‘em slicey okay? That is all I want in a pocket knife—an edge so thin you can shave tissue paper. The Fastball isn’t quite that slicey, but it is close. Thanks to thin stock, a good main grind, and a wide cutting bevel the Fastball is well above average in terms of its cutting power. You’ll like it.
I have handled a ton of flippers. The elite flippers in the production world are limited. The Kershaw Tilt was bananas. The Micro Typhoon was compelling. And I have a fondness for the Hogue Microswitch’s tuned detent, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the Fastball is in this same league. It and the FF x Drop Gent are really superb flippers that don’t rely on tricks or unusual detents to score big. There is very little to complain about here. The knife won’t deploy with a shake alone. The detent is crisp enough that failed fires are rare and two in a row, even when trying, are impossible. And finally this is not some finger shredder. The force needed to deploy the knife is less than what a pinky can muster. This is an elite flipper and if you listen to the podcast with Seth, you will know why. Lots of time and attention went into getting the deployment just right and suffice to say, they succeeded.
Dead simple clip and perfectly effective. As you will learn in GGL118 this was a total OTS part, but surprisingly, it works very, very well. Its low provide and wide (not pokey) point make it great going in the pocket and in the hand.
Lock/Blade Safety: 2
Even the 39 had a hard time here. Geber, when it was in its Taco Bell phase, just couldn’t get a liner lock right at all. They were either so stiff they hurt or they flopped over to the other side and contacted the handle scale, or both. It was a mess. But here, thankfully, we have a spot on lock that has exhibited ZERO blade play and is easy to engage and disengage. I like this liner lock a lot and the fact that there is only one liner is pretty cool.
Fidget Factor: Very High
With a fantastic detent and an excellent flipper design, this is a knife that simple begs to live in your hand. Even the sound of deployment is pleasing (and by “pleasing” I mean “certain to annoy your significant other if made repeatedly or while watching Netflix”—I know from experience).
Fett Effect: Low
Snail trails will develop and the handle will smooth out, but if you want a battered Slave-I esque knife this isn’t your jam.
Value: Very High
Good steel, good design, good fit and finish, good price=excellent value. And it is MADE IN THE USA. Yes.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
There are lots of flippers out there. Narrow that to good flippers and there is still a healthy population of knives to choose from. Now take that number and limit it to the those good flippers that are made in the USA. That pool is a much smaller number. Now take that number and include those with powder metal steel. Even smaller. Now, throttle the herd once more for knives under $100. Those traits are hard to find in a knife other than the Fastball. Only one knife comes to mind.
That knife is the special edition Kershaw Dividend with M390 steel. It comes down to this for me—if you don’t like assists, the Fastball is your knife. If you do, go for the Dividend. The two knives are very similar in design, look, and even country of origin. The Dividend is even slightly cheaper at around $80 and has a better steel. But those advantages are small compared to the Dividend’s one large drawback—the assisted opening mechanism. By in large, the industry has moved on from assisted opening knives. Only Kershaw and the gas station brands are making new ones (CRKT has a few still in their line up but hasn’t released a new model with an assist in a couple of years). I loathe assists. They add a part that can break, they can give rise to legal complications (check your local laws), and, frankly, they aren’t as enjoyable to use. That, for me, makes the decision easier. As between a knife with an assist and a knife with a snappy detent, give me the snappy detent every time, even if that later has better steel and is slightly cheaper. I also like the look of the Fastball slightly better than the humpback whale appearance of the Dividend, especially its blade, but I will acknowledge, these two knives are angels on the head of a pin. A Dividend without an assist would be a winner by a very close call.
If you broaden the number to include non-USA made stuff, or stuff more than $100 you get a lot of good blades. The MBK ECZ is awesome. The SOG Terminus XR is excellent. There are a score of Benchmades here. But really, the Fastball stands out. The closest two competitors I can think of, besides the M390 Dividend, are the TRM Neutron and the Benchmade Bugout, both of which are superlative knives. This is good stuff and the fact that it is so challenging to think of a competitor is an indication that Gerber nailed it with the Fastball.