New knife brands face a daunting market these days. There is stiff competition at every point along the price spectrum. Knife knuts are ever more picky. Trends from custom knives seem to drive the market. And steels are just getting more and more expensive.
The real issue though is overseas competition. It used to be that in the knife world Chinese knives were either OEM knives, junk, or rip offs. There was very little in the way of high end stuff coming out of China. Then in about a year all of that changed. Kizer and Reate seemed to lead the way. Kizer had a huge catalog of knives and Reate focused on a few, very clean designs and cranked up the fit and finish to near-custom levels. With these two competitors (and WE Knives joining the fray in 2016), competition is really stiff right now.
Until now, though, I have had little desire to review a Reate. It seemed that outside their OEM work for others (like the Steelcraft series), their knives came in two sizes: too big and way too big. Given the US's patchwork of knife laws, having a blade that does not come close to 3" seems like folly, but Reate (and a few other companies) fell into this trap. With the Baby Machine things were different. And that is the theme of this knife—everything is a bit differernt. From the look, the size, the steel, and down to the deployment method—everything is a bit different. Let’s see if that difference is a good thing.
Here is the product page. There is, of course, a larger version just called the Machine. There is also a silver version of the Baby Machine, which, by the way, is an interesting name. If it is the BABY Machine that makes sense, given Reate’s product line up. If it is the Baby Machine, well, unless my wife is an anamoly, knives are generally not an aphrodisiac, so, you know, a bit of false advertising there. Anyway...there are no written reviews because, well, if I haven't reviewed it and Dan hasn't reviewed it and Matt at Knife Informer hasn't reviewed it there are no other sites that consistently produce written reviews anymore. Its us three or some folks that sporadically release reviews. Here is a video review. Here is a link where you can buy the Baby Machine from Blade HQ. Finally, here is my review sample (this is my personal knife):
Twitter Review Summary: Delicious differences hampered by book-thick blade stock.
The Machine and the Baby Machine are a collaboration between Reate Knives and Tashi Bharucha. Bharucha has made a series of customs, all of which have vaguely the same lines—wide wharncliffe-ish blades and handles with pronounced index notches. Those lines carry over to this knife. And, as with most forms that have been worked over and tweaked for years, the Baby Machine, on a basic level, works well. Its different but not bad. Reate’s version of Bharucha’s design is quite good. The choice to do fully sculpted 3D handles is a smart one. Not only does it give the knife a sense of solidity, but as you will read below in Deployment Method, it makes this very unconventional opener, really easy to use. The knife is quite bulky, a bit of a tub-o, but I don’t think that it is fair to penalize it twice for that.
The performance ratios are what you’d expect for an all metal components knife—this thing is heavy. The blade to handle is .75, which is good. The blade to weigh is .81, which is good...if it were the other ratio. This is a chubby bubby. Neither are outstanding. But this isn’t a spec beast piece of gear, this is an exercise in design difference and refinement.
Fit and Finish: 2
Like with elite slicers, there is a clear breakaway group of knife makers that just kill fit and finish. Chris Reeve obviously is in this group. But Reate clearly belongs here too. Among production knife makers I can’t think of anyone that is clearly BETTER than Reate. And the Baby Machine oozes details that prove why.
When I first got the knife I was unsure as to whether it was an integral or not. With no screws show-side and a smooth spine I had to turn the knife over to figure out its method of construction. Only then, when I saw the screws, did I realize that it was not an integral. It took some close inspection to find the seam of the spine after that. The machining, especially the decorative dots on the handle, are crisp and well done. The stonwashed and anodized handle is wonderful. The grind is clean. The deployment hole is chamfered (which is okay here, but not on a tradition hole opener). The knife’s action is truly great, something that has to be felt to understand. I see now why people love Reate so much. Its just a shame that none of their knives, aside from this one, are all that pocket friendly. Many customs I have handled are not this nice. If you want something that blows away a Reate in terms of fit and finish be prepared to drop four figures and even then, you need to pick your spots. This is an impeccably well made knife.
Bharucha’s classic handle shape is a good one. It gives you purchase, thanks to the prominent indexing notch, despite the tapered end to the handle. The 3D machined titanium is also quite nice. Even the 3D pocket clip helps a bit during opening, though, it is, of course a hot spot in use.
There is simply no way around it—the Baby Machine is bulky. With fully contoured handles, thick blade steel, and lots of weight the Baby Machine is the quintessential pocket pendulum. It doesn’t help that I reviewed the knife in the middle of the shorts-wearing months, but given its bulk, I don’t think it would matter. This is not a knife you will forget you are carrying, even in heavy clothes. I get that the trends that influence high end knife design these days strongly militate towards bulky blades (all titanium construction, chubby blade stock, bearing pivots), but tuly great design is about bucking trends in favor of functionality. A Baby Machine that is 10% thinner would be an outstanding knife.
RWL34 is clearly the one of the two best members of the 154CM family of steels (ATS-34, 154CM, CPM 154 and RWL34). It, like CPM 154, takes the good, solid steel recipe from 154CM and makes via the ultra clean powder metal sintering process. The end result is a good balance between toughness, hardness, and corrosion resistance with a workability that makers and manufacturers really enjoy. It also takes an easy mirror polish, though, here, it is left a nice grinder satin. When offered the option, like I was on my Sawby Swift, I usually choose CPM 154 and now, with more experience, RWL34 is in that same group. While other steels have technical superiority, getting bleeding edge performance from them is difficult. Not so with CPM 154 and RWL34. This is an excellent steel and an excellent choice to give the user a steel with high end performance and still save a few pennies.
Blade Shape: 1
At this point the taxonomy of blade shapes is about as silly and pointless as the taxonomy of techno music—true angels on the head of a pin territory. The real problem here and something I am going to be more cognizant of going forward is the blade length. Blades that are just over round numbers, like 3.25 inches, such as here, are problematic. Lots of knife restrictions are based on round numbers and having a blade JUST OVER a round number makes the knife a greater liability than it needs to be with no real additional functional value. If a knife maker decides to go over a round number in blade length they need to do so for good reason. There is no reason ever for “barely over” blades. Obviously, the penalty is less if you barely go over a smaller round number—the difference between 2 and 2.25 inches isn’t that great, but at 3, 4, and 5 inches the problems get real fast.
The blade stock here is unnecessarily thick. At a quarter of the thickness you’d be looking at an elite slicer. Here all you get is a real performance liability. Its not that the cutting edge isn’t sharp, it is, but that sharpness really has nowhere to go after that. Slicing paper and grapes was fine, but anything like corrugated cardboard was more challenging than it should be given how refined everything else is about the knife. The old maxim about blades is proven true here—recipe and heat treat matter, but blade geometry matters too. Reate’s simplest option would be, of course, to start with thinner stock. RWL34 is hard, it can take it. But supposing they don’t want to do that, a pronounced hollow grind would really work here. Plus, I’d love to see how it would come out given how delightful all of the other machining is on this knife.
Deployment Method: 2
And so we get to the star of the attraction. If this were a Star Wars movie this would be the part when John William’s score swells and a lightsaber is ignited. This is, along with its cheaper compatriot the Prism, the only knife I know of designed to be deployed with an index finger flick. You’ve seen this move a thousand times on Instagram—some cool cat wants to prove how smooth his Spyderco or Strider is and they pop it open with their index finger. That is how the Baby Machine is INTENDED to be opened. And, it works fantastically well. This is a knife that rockets out of the handle each and every time thanks to the smooth and satisfying pivot and Tashi’s clever opening hole design. You won’t find a more satisfying knife to open this side of a Tim Gaylean custom.
Retention Method: 2
I am not a fan of sculpted Titanium clips. They are basically the spinner rims of the knife world—a part purely for show. They add to the cost of the knife, they make the knife heavier, and they cause more hotspots than the corner of a baking tray just out of the oven. Normally, with a knife like this—already a bit chubby—I’d happily score it a 1. But the thing is, not only is this sculpted clip good for sculpted clips (insert smartest Kardashian sister reference), it actually really helps when opening this knife. The funky and fun deployment method is made much, much better by the clip being where and what it is. So, well, I give it a 2. On any other knife with any other design sculpted clips are worth a 1, but different is good here.
As with almost all knives that do well in terms of fit and finish, the Baby Machine locks up smoothly and solidly. Once locked up there is no blade play in any direction and dropping the blade closed, even with the heavy blade stock, is quite safe thanks to the handle shape and the finger placement it demands. The lock is easy to disengage too. Overall, very good.
Fidget Factor: Very High
With a deployment method that is designed differently and a smooth kinetic action, the Baby Machine is an ideal fidgeting knife. The smooth stonewashing on the handle helps as well, making this one sterling yo yo.
Fett Effect: Neutral:
WIth a medium bright satin finish and a wonderful stonewashing this knife will suck up dings and nicks all day long. If you are looking for that grizzled warrior look, go elsewhere, but if you want a knife that looks box-new for years, this is a good choice.
Its not as bad as the Reate’s with Moku Ti inlays, but this knife is no one’s idea of a sterling value, unless your buying it as a substitute for a Tashi custom. How bad a value is it? Reate released a very similar knife through MassDrop, the Prism, and it is basically the same blade for much less money. I am not sure why they’d undercut themselves, but you aren’t looking at Reate because you are penny-conscious and the Baby Machine continues that trend.
Overall Score: 16 out of 20
The Baby Machine is not QUITE a fondle-and-photo blade but it is close. The thick blade stock all but overruns the nice edge grind. The fit and finish are absolutely top shelf, but given the size, weight, and price, if actual cutting tasks are the reason you buy a knife you can look elsewhere. But the deployment method is unique, Tashi’s design is, of course, brilliant, and this knife proves definitively that the best of China can hang with anyone anywhere.
The 16 seems a bit low given how much fun I had carrying the knife, but in the end, I buy knives to cut stuff and this wasn’t all that good at doing so. Once Reate has truly established their reputation as top end makers maybe they will have the confidence and customer base to make some knives that cut as good as they look. It wouldn’t hurt if they made a few smaller blades either.
There is a lot of competition in this beefy, small high end folder part of the market. The PDW Badger looks good, though its indecipherable availability (don’t ask) makes it something that has eluded me for review purposes. In this same range is the Hinderer Half Track and that is just a better knife. Its equally well made with a few touches that make it more useful though not as pretty. I’d love to see someone remake the Strider PT and put a good grind on it, but alas that theorycrafted knife doesn’t exist. The originals like this knife took a good edge grind and rammed into a main bevel that was thicker than a slice of pie cut for and by a fat person. All this ignores just how good Tashi’s design is here. His basic lines are some of the most unique and instantly identifiable on the market. I’d love to see them in a smaller form factor with some really good, thin blade stock.