Custom Knife Factor Trekoza
The Trekoza is weird. Its weird and beautiful, sort of like vintage Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway (one of my ten favorite movies ever, BTW). The flipping action on this knife, which I assume is representative of all CKF blades, is panther-level fluid. Its not as snappy or crispy as some of the other high end flippers out there, but that seems to me to be a matter of taste as opposed to quality. The grind here is really bizarre. It is not a compound grind in the traditional sense, where the cutting edge has multiple profiles. Instead, this is a hollow grind right in the middle of the blade. It had no appreciable impact on performance, but it is definitely eye catching. The pivot and clip screws are striking and strange. Speaking of the clip, the pocket clip is a sculpted clip and while it isn't awful, its not my favorite. The polycarbonate handle cover is, as with the rest of the knife, visually arresting and weird. I noticed that it was something of a gunk magnet and over time I wonder if it will stain or yellow as is often the case with polycarbonate. Finally, the blade shape is one of those vague amorphous drop pointy, wharncliffe-y numbers that really works. I like, as always, the continuous curve cutting edge. My least favorite thing about the Trekoza is the size of the knife. Like all but one of the offerings from Custom Knife Factory, the Trekoza is an anchor for your pocket. The knife is gloriously weird, finely finished, and runs nice materials (M390 for the blade and titanium for the handle). Its just too big for me.
Overall Score: 18 out of 20 (Design: 2; Fit and Finish: 2; Grip: 2; Carry: 1; Steel: 2; Blade Shape: 2; Grind: 2; Deployment Method: 2; Retention Method: 1; Lock/Safety: 2)
The story of Flowfold is pretty compelling. It was a small company in Maine that won a prize for being a new start up. So that makes me want to like the Flowfold. In addition to that, the material, high end sailcloth, is virtually indestructible. The wallet is a pretty standard billfold lay out. So what's the issue? Well, this wallet has more of that "Superheroes" feel than just about any wallet I have reviewed. Short of a Spiderman logo or a giant yellow and black bat, it couldn't get worse. The nylon edging is part of the problem. The puffiness of the wallet is the other issue. In the end, it is very good wallet with a very weird look. I'd love a redesign, something a bit smaller and less kiddie. I am not thrilled at the footprint of this wallet--it makes it harder to pocket and it allows cards to slip around. For the size, you'd expect more carrying space, as opposed to a few, pockets that are extra slippy. If those things don't matter and durability is the high priority item, get this wallet. Its absolutely bulletproof, on par with bulky leather items.
Overall Score: 16 out of 20 (Design: 1; Fit and Finish: 2; Materials: 1; Carry: 2; Accessibility: 2; Durability: 2; Retention: 1; Organization: 2; Efficiency: 1).
Baron Fig Squire
I have had a hate and MORE hate relationship with this pen. Its actually a decent pen, is compatible with Parker refills, and looks nice. But, and this is a huge strike against the pen for me, this is a "too cute" design. The gestalt here is minimalism, which is fine, but the pen itself isn't all that minimal. It has not one, but two "Apple-ish" logos. And zero pocket clips. And this is the essence of my problem with the Squire: its conception of "minimalism" and "good design" is that you have a product with two logos and reduced function. No thank you. The twist mechanism here is good, but not great. The fit of the mechanism is off and gappy. The finish on the body of the pen is consistent and provides very good grip, but the pen is just hard to keep track of, as it tends to roll away the instant you put it down. Like with the majority of Baron Fig products, the Squire looks nice and seems to work as a brand platform, but not much else. Put another way, the IDEA of the Squire is vastly more pleasing than the pen itself. I don't LOATHE the Squire as I did when I first got it, but I am more certain in my opinion that this is not a pen worth carrying. I had originally thought it was a travesty of product design. Now I just think it is a bit too indulgent, a bit too twee.
This is one of my issues with a lot of gear right now, especially in the stationary market--there is an over emphasis on brand and under emphasis on product design and innovation. Ideally it works like this: companies make a great product and a great product creates a strong brand. Trying, as Baron Fig seems to be doing (and as best seen in the Squire) to go the other way in that formula, "creating" a strong brand first, is just impossible. This is the branding equivalent of the early 2000s tech stock bubble, where companies were evaluated on their "culture" (i.e number of foosball tables and scooters) as opposed to crazy things like "profit" or "products." A brand without a good product is ephemera, just like stocks for a company that doesn't make anything. I am not quite ready to write off Baron Fig yet, but between this stupidly designed pen, their "experimental" notebook, and their attempt to launch about two dozen subscription services at once, its very close. They need a win and soon. They can't live on the fumes of their nice, but overdesigned notebook forever. Anyone can make a nice looking website and logo. Product design tends to be a bit harder.
Overall Score: 13 out of 20 (Design: 0; Fit and Finish: 1; Carry: 0; Appearance: 2; Durability: 2; Writing 2; Performance/Refill: 2; Balance/In-hand Feel: 2; Grip: 2; Barrel: 1; Deployment/Cap: 1).
I had hopes for the Mi7. I thought that it might be the third front in a Holy Trinity of awesome production lights. The Surefire Titan would please the 1xAAA fans. The oLight S1R would cover the 1xCR123a fans. While the Mi7 would been a good choice for the 1xAA diehards. Unfortunately, while they got the output right (this thing pushes 700 lumens on turbo), they got everything else not just wrong, but hungry-polar-bear-in-a-preschool wrong.
This is a master class of stupid product development decisions. First, the design is poor. Having a protruding side switch is basically a guarantee that the light will activate on accident. I am also not thrilled with the color. I like blue and on gear it can look great (see: Gareth Bull Small Shamwari). Here though the blue looks like it was taken from the color palette used to die the hair of 80s female rockers. Its terrible. The crippling issue for the Mi7 though is its UI. It should be a simple rule: one press on and one press off. Its not that complicated. Whatever else a manufacturer wants to implement is fine, but that is a basic tenant of flashlight UI. Unfortunately, Klarus missed that day in flashlight design school because to turn off the Mi7 you have to pass through multiple outputs. Ugh. Finally, there are the outputs. The high is great, but everyone nails that nowadays. The real problem here is the low. 5 lumens is not moonlight folks. 5 lumens will kill night vision. For a moonlight I want no more than 1 lumen and better yet .5 lumens. The flamethrowing masterpiece, the BOSS 35, goes down to .18 lumens. At 5 lumens, I'd rather not have the mode at all. It doesn't work as a low and it is too dim to work as anything else. Of course, as is usually the case, the clip, a friction fit number, is terrible and should be removed instantly. The output, while blinding has very little reach to it and the balance between hotspot and spill could be better.
In the end, the Mi7 is so full of flaws you shouldn't buy this light. None are crippling, though the UI is close. Its just that all together they make the light so unappealing in a market full of great designs. The Mi1C, a 1x CR123a light seems to have fix many of the Mi7's issues, but that is more of an acknowledgement of how bad this light is than anything else. The Mi7 is a perfect example of how a Spec Beast product goes astray. Oh well, maybe Klarus will fix the problems. Its a shame, really, when a Spec Beast can't carry through on its promise because it means that the company did all of the hard stuff correctly and just whiffed on the easy parts.
Overall Score: 12 out of 20 (Design: 0; Fit and Finish: 2; Grip: 2; Carry: 1; Output: 0; Runtime: 2; Beam Type: 1; Beam Quality: 1; UI: 0; Hands Free: 2)
Cold Steel Mini Pendleton
Cold Steel's "Proof" videos are hilarious. They are really the knife equivalent of adult films--terrible music, obvious studio/soundstage, and ridiculous acts being performed by things of exaggerated size. Generally speaking the "Proof" videos have zero useful information for me as a knife consumer and reviewer. But in terms of sheer destructive fun, they are hard to top. Imagine how funny it would be if, instead of tomahawking a blood filled zombie head, they did things like baton wood, break down boxes, or in the case the Mini Pendleton fire and food prep. The screen would start out black and then a blaring heavy metal guitar riff would be unleashed and as the picture resolved it would be a 50 something guy slowly and methodically peeling off huge curls of wood to make a fire stick. Okay, so they'd never do that. It would be hilarious, but a bit off brand for Cold Steel (though, honestly, I think tongue and cheek humor is more on brand for Cold Steel than anything else, so maybe...).
The reality is that in a line up of swords and choppers, this small, cheap fixed blade is one of my favorite Cold Steels of all time. The steel, VG-1 is a relatively old and uncommon Japanese steel from Takefu. It appears to be roughly similar to 440C or VG-10. In my experience it has been a good fixed blade steel. The blade shape, a tiny dropped point hunter, is also very good. The handle is covered in Kraton, a grippy, rubbery material, and it too is very good. I also love the size of the Mini Pendleton--it is a perfect fixed blade EDC, replacing large folders intended for hard use. But the crowning achievement of this blade is the sheath. This is, like all of the Cold Steel Securex sheaths I have used, excellent. Sheath making is exceptionally hard. Even fixed blade greats, like Bark River, have trouble with this part of the product design. But Cold Steel has nailed it, as the Mini Pendleton and many other knives in their fixed blade line up, show. It also bears mentioning that this knife was purchased for my oldest son. It is a perfect first knife for young ones, as the size are darn near perfect. Put next to my fully decked out Jarosz JFS, my go to EDC fixed blade, the Mini Pendleton fairs quite well. There is also an upgraded version with a black coated blade made of 3V. I'd be interested if it weren't coated.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20 (Design: 2; Fit and Finish: 2; Handle Design: 2; Steel: 1; Blade Shape: 2; Grind: 2; Sheath Carry: 2; Sheath Accessibility: 2; Useability: 2; Durability: 2).
CRKT Small Batum
I love the look and design of the Small Batum. This is a knife that could easily fit into the Little Big Knife line from Spyderco. The wide blade allows for a very fine edge despite the thick blade stock. There are plenty of places for you to put your fingers, though you should nip off a bit of the blade near the choil, its too pokey for hands. The clip is good. But, unfortunately, both versions of the Batums I had were beset with serious issues. The lock bar appears to be a thousandths of an inch or so short. After a day of mild use, the original review sample developed blade play. Over a week, it got worse to the point where I could feel the blade wiggle when it was open position. I sent it back to CRKT and in less than a week, I had a replacement. Unfortunately the exact same thing happened with the replacement. Its not that the knife is unuseable, its just not acceptable in today's gear world. The CRKT Pilar, which has a very similar design, had exactly zero problems. I assume this is not an issue with me getting two lemons--the odds of that are VERY slim. This appears to be something a fit and finish mistake. On the plus side, CRKT's service was amazing. Also, with the LA Police Gear running S35VN on a knife that costs less than this one, I think it is fair to downgrade the 8Cr13MoV to a 0. This knife with better finish and better steel would be a world class budget EDC. Imagine a run with BD-1 and actual lock up. So sweet.
Overall Score: 13 out of 20 (Design: 2; Fit and Finish: 0; Grip: 1; Carry: 2; Steel: 0; Blade Shape: 2; Grind: 2; Deployment Method: 2; Retention Method: 2; Lock/Safety: 0).
Many of Cold Steel's products have great names--they tell you exactly what the product is. The Recon is a blacked out knife, you know, for all of your recon trips. The Tuff Light is just that, a tough and light blade. The Mini Tuff Light is, you guessed, a miniature tough and light blade. The Lawman is a knife for law men. There is no requirement that you understand a metaphor, like with Spyderco's names: oh its tiny and cute like a Ladybug. With Cold Steel you usually don't need to put the phrase "like a" in your transition from name to product. The AK-47 is an exception to that rule because it is a rough and tough knife LIKE AN AK-47. Unfortunately, the Bushman can't even be explained by use of the phrase "like a." If its name were as on the nose as the Mini Tuff Lite, this knife would be called the Cold Steel Bloodblister. Doesn't that sound strong and sinister? Its got the word "blood" in it.
The Coldsteel Bushman was sent to me by a reader for review. He noted that it was one of his least favorite knives ever. I have very smart readers. This knife is positively awful. The handle is a single piece of stamped then folded steel. The edge on the handle positively murders your hands during use. The steel is 1.4116 steel, the same stuff found on Swiss Army Knives, which okay, but just barely that. The most offensive part of the Bushman (a.k.a. The Bloodblister) is the "ram lock." The parrot's beak at the back end of the knife is actually part of the lock, which is a piece of steel that rams into the tang of the blade and holds the knife in an open position. First, the spring is insanely strong, like difficult to deploy and very challenging to close strong. You absolutely need the lanyard here. WIthout it, the parrot's beak shearing past the thin steel handle will give you a bloodblister or worse. Even with the lanyard, bloodblisters are common. I got three in very little use of the knife. Then there is the size of this knife. It is monstrous and heavy. The tiny pocket clip is comically overmatched, like that famous picture of the World's Fattest Twins on motorcycles that appeared in every Guinness World Record book of my youth. I know that giant knives are a Cold Steel trademark, but with some of their beast blades they do that size elegantly. Even the world's best pizza cutter, the Espada XL, was surprisingly good in the pocket thanks to a thin handle. This thing is wretched. Honestly, this is the worst knife I have ever reviewed. If I were devising an EDC kit for my enemy, it would be this knife, the TWSBI Classic, the Gerber 600, the Nitecore EC-11, and the Topo Designs backpack.
Overall Score: 3 out of 20 (Design: 0; Fit and Finish: 0; Grip: 0; Carry: 0; Steel: 1; Blade Shape: 1; Grind: 1; Deployment Method: 0; Retention Method: 0; Lock/Safety: 0).
Its hard to complain about a knife is that is $30 something. I bought this blade locally, at a Dick's Sporting Goods more than a year ago. Since then it has lived in my workshop as my outdoor knife. When I am not testing fixed blades, this guys rides with me, chopping up branches and the like for fires. The real sign that it is a good knife is that fact that it usually goes with me even when I am testing stuff. This is a great fixed blade. And once you factor in the price, its outstanding.
This is a Chinese made knife, running 1095, with grippy rubbery handles. It comes with a nylon sheath, a small diamond plate, and a ferrocerium striker. I found that the non-knife components to be junk, but the knife itself is really, really good. Given that it is 1/3 to 1/4 the price of a similarly sized Becker-designed Ka Bar, the SCH36 is hard to ignore. The handle is not as good as a Becker handle, not really even close. I wish there was a sharpening choil. And man is this thing thick. Don't expect to do any food prep with this mid-sized fixed blade--this is a chopper pure and simple. But those drawbacks don't amount to much. This is a blade everyone that likes or uses knives should own. It makes yardwork much easier and twice as fun. Camp tasks and fire prep is easy too.
One concern--about a year and half after I bought this knife, Schrade altered the knife that started their rebirth--the Jessica fixed blade. Its designer is a YouTube reviewer and he noted the weaknesses, breaking one blade after another. I don't know if this change impacted the SCH36, but consumers should be aware of the issue.
Overall Score: 16 out of 20 (Design: 2; Fit and Finish: 2; Handle Design: 1; Steel: 2; Blade Shape: 2; Grind: 1; Sheath Carry: 2; Sheath Accessibility: 1; Useability: 1; Durability: 2
KaBar Jarosz 7075
Whoa, this thing is a chunk. As a production version of a custom knife I own and love, the 7075 was in a tough spot, review-wise. It was impossible not to compare this blade to is custom brother. Of course there were touches that are clear downgrades--the molded not contoured grips and the foggy grindlines, but these are things I can put out of my head. Of course these things will be different in a production version. But the thing I kept coming back to was the weight. Why in God's name is this thing so heavy? When it comes to steel liners, I am like an oil executive: drill baby drill. Besides that the knife is darn good as a $50-$60 version of a very fine custom blade. The blade shape is good, the handle shape is great, and the deployment is spectacular (like Ontario RAT good). Two objective dings besides the weight: 1) the molded handles had a bit of a lip to them--a rough edge that was hard on the hands; and 2) the clip is bad and positioned poorly (Jesse makes a fine stamped clip--why not go with that?). The AUS-8 was good for AUS-8, which is like saying my Outback is good as a race car, for a station wagon. This same knife in S35VN would be sweet.
Overall Score: 13 out of 20 (Design: 2; Fit and Finish: 1; Grip: 1; Carry: 0; Steel: 1; Blade Shape: 2; Grind: 1; Deployment Method: 2; Retention Method: 1; Lock/Safety: 2).
Eric Ochs Peregrine
I have always wanted to try an Ochs folder. Eric's unmistakable style and claims of outstanding fit and finish lured me in. When the chance came to pick one up, I jumped on it. The fit and finish claim was 100% correct. This was a marvelously finished knife with flipping action and a detent that is among the best I have seen and handled. But as is sometimes the case with "unmistakable style" the Peregrine was just homely. The clip was a sculpted titanium clip like I have never seen before, but its curly Q shape made for an odd grip. The rounded then straight spine allowed for a good resting spot for a thumb but looked rather strange. And the blade shape, while effective, lacked a certain coherence that defines some of the best, most visually appealing blade shapes in the business--Loveless Drop Point Hunter this was not. Finally there was the knife's thickness. If the Benchmade 300SN was a hamburger of a knife, this portly knife was a Big Mac. This was one of the thickest knives I have ever carried and yet its blade was just at 3" inches long. I am glad I owned this knife. I know Eric is a talented maker and a few of his designs still appeal to me (I love his Lynx folder), but now I know that "unmistakable style" just isn't for me. If you like his look, don't hesitate--get an Ochs if you can, you just won't be competing with me in that hunt.
Overall Score: 14 out of 20 (Design: 0; Fit and Finish: 2; Grip: 2; Carry: 0; Steel: 2; Blade Shape: 1; Grind: 2; Deployment Method: 2; Retention Method: 1; Lock/Safety: 2).
Spyderco's evergreen blades are some of the best designs available--the Dragonfly, the Native, the Stretch, the Manix, the Paramilitary 2 and so on and so forth (note the omission of the Delica and Endura). Their Sprint Runs also contain gems--Caly 3 in HAP 40, all sorts of designs in ZDP-189. They also have a series of knifes called Little Big Knives that are some of my favorite production blades ever--the Techno, the Chaparral. But the Spyderco line up is also sprinkled with a smattering of knives that could only be grouped together as the Weirdo line. The T-Mag (a knife with a lock made of magnets), the Introvert (a knife with a flipper that also acts a finger loop), and the Myrtle (a knife with a weird blade shape). Some of these Weirdo Spydercos are great. I loved the Spyderco Junior, for example. But a lot of them are just super weird. The WolfSpyder, a collaboration between Spyderco and noted outdoorsman Ray Mears, is one of knives that is just weird.
First, it is designed as a bushcraft knife, but it is a folder. Odd. Second, it has a grossly asymmetric handle scale. No great. Finally it is a scandi grind S30V blade. Yikes. This is not a knife that people need to buy. There are too many weird things and odd, contradictory design decisions to make it worthwhile. Of the three great sins, the grind/steel combo is the most heinous. Taking a hard, chippy steel like S30V and combining it with a very thin scandi grind is a recipe for disaster. This is an edge that will, after some use, look like a house key.
None of this is to say that the WolfSpyder shouldn't have been made. It absolutely should have. It is this experimentation and willingness to make crazy things that keeps Spyderco at the top of their game. Even if there is no practical reason to buy this knife, lessons learned here, if history is a guide, will be passed along and trickle down into the evergreen products and new designs.
Overall Score: 14 out of 20 (Design: 0; Fit and Finish: 2; Grip: 1; Carry: 2; Steel: 1; Blade Shape: 1; Grind: 1; Deployment Method: 2; Retention Method: 2; Lock/Safety: 2).