Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It Just Keeps Getting Better

I really like tools that continue to show you how well made they are. I've been carrying my small Sebenza for a week or so now and it came to me this afternoon that the backside of the clip should be polished so I don't wear out all my pants. So, I got home, whipped out the handy little allen wrench and discovered that, hah, I had wasted my time. Mr. Reeve (and here I've been pluralizing it all this time) had been there before me, the backside is smooth.

And is the fit of the clip to the handle tight or what? I can live with this knife.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Just what do you get for all that money?

Just purchased a Chris Reeves small Sebenza so I can now speak to the difference between a $159 knife and a $380 knife.
  • Is it sharper? Not really but it is a much more polished edge that makes it feel sharper.
  • Is it bigger? Actually, the small Sebenza is about 1/8" smaller than an Emerson Mini CQC-7A.
  • Is it better made? Oh yes, this is a Porsche among knives. Fit and finish are flawless and to obviously tight tolerances.
  • But, is it a better knife? See below
Let me put it this way. If I plan to be somewhere I might need to pry or dig with a knife, I'll carry one of my Emersons, otherwise I'll carry a Sebenza or perhaps the smaller, dressier Mnandi for dress wear.

A Sebenza is not a better knife than a CQC-7A but it is a more refined, minimalist knife. Chris Reeves has simply removed everything from the blade and handles that isn't absolutely necessary then assembled the rest to 0.002" tolerances (or so it is claimed).

Spend the extra time and your Emerson can have an edge like a CRK blade but you'll have to pay to buy it from Ernie like that. I would imagine you could also lap the liners, washers and blade to achieve a CRK-like fit but again, you'll have to pay Ernie for it.

That extra cash is what makes the difference between the two blades. Both knives use CNC machinery but Emerson accepts other technologies to reduce costs while Chris Reeves accepts lower production volumes to be able to work to tighter tolerances.

Emerson liners are stamped from sheet titanium and the edges still show stamp marks. They are precision stamped to thousandths of an inch tolerances and are free of sharp edges. Emerson handles are G-10, cut from flat stock or molded.

Chris Reeves frames are completely CNC machined to ten-thousandths of an inch tolerances. There are little touches like the two-step bevel on the frame edges and the dogleg exceptions around holes near the edges. At these tolerances, there simply are no misalignments whatsoever. There is a solidity in such tight tolerances and you feel it when you open or close a Sebenza.

Ernest Emersom builds what I consider one of the finest hard use knives in the world. He made a decision to go for mass production and makes well designed products at a reasonable price. There is nothing wrong with his knives whatsoever. I own and use them in preference to others in their price range.

Chris Reeves also makes "production" knives but he keeps his quality at the same level as the better custom knives and all the extra hand fitting work is reflected in the price.

At some point soon my new Sebenza will suffer it's first scratch. After that calamity strikes, I will be able to just drop it in my pocket along with my change without wincing. This is a finely crafted tool that I intend to carry for many years on a daily basis and I expect that it will gain character as it chronicles my pocket contents over time.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A woman is just a woman, but a clip . . .

I haven't owned my shiny, brand new Chris Reeve knife for twentyfour hours and already I'm finding things to complain about. Actually, no I'm not.

But I do want to tackle a subject that, at first glance, seems minor but is actually very important to both the draw and the retention of a pocket clip folder . . . the clip.

OK, back on my favorite hobby horse, Ernest Emerson; the Emerson clip is the best one I have seen on the market to date. It is elegantly simple in design, sturdy and, if necessary, easy to repair.

The top is broad to accommodate the three attachment screws, The gap is large enough to accommodate the heavy seams of Levis and there is only a single contact/tension point down near the flared bottom of the clip.

Nothing in the design and manufacture of this clip compromises the strength of the clip in any fashion. It appears to be stamped in a single operation then deburred and polished before being blued.

The Gerber Pro Hunter has a clip with too little gap to easily accommodate Levis. You have to shove to get the clip on a pair of Levis.

The Buck Strider clip is similar to the Gerber in having too little gap for Levis but it works just fine with the thinner fabric of military BDUs.

The Benchmade Vex has a clip with a cut-out right in the middle of the "spring" portion to allow access to the tension screw. I tried to reduce the tension of the clip when I first got it and almost broke the clip with very little effort.

The Buck Nobleman has a small but straightforward clip but then nulifies the entire concept by insttalling abidextrous thumb studs so that trying to draw the knife from the pocket immediately snags on one of the studs.

The CRKT M21-02 has a clip too narrow for it's weight so it sags. Other than that, it functions as expected.

So please knife manufacturers, even if you aren't going to provide tip-up carry, at least make sure your clip is broad enough to carry the weight of the knife and has sufficient gap user it to allow easy insertion and removal from a pair of Levis.

Even my remarkable little Mnandi won't fit well on Levis but that is OK as I usually only carry it with slacks where it works just fine.

So, the moral to this story is to make sure your potential pocket folder has:
  1. A clip that is proportionately wide enough to support it's weight
  2. A clip with sufficient gap for the pocket seam of the pants type you plan to carry it in
  3. No cutouts, protrusions or other items to weaken the clip or allow it to snag

How fast do you want to go?

Years ago I had an acquaintance, an old-time car racer and stunt man. Whenever anyone asked him how fast a car he could build, his response was, "How much money do you have?"

This also applies to knives. You can spend $50 or so on a folder and have a knife that will last for years and be just fine. You can spend $150 or more and get a much better designed folder with better steel and greater ease of use. Of you can spend $350 or more and step into the next level of cutlery, as I just did. My new Chris Reeves Mnandi is indeed the next level of cutlery in terms of both design and execution.

Not only is the fit and finish indeed up to CRK's 0.0002" tolerance claim but the blade pivot and tension design is a step beyond anything else and appears to be hand lapped and fitted. The blade has a large diameter hole that appears to have been honed/ground to size. A bushing, wide enough to accommodate the blade and the two copper washers is used to space the handles and set the blade tension. This completely removes the tension issue so often encountered on lesser knives. If, after a few years play in the blade appears, you just send it back to CRK and they will refit it to the proper tension. As a matter of fact, I was so impressed with the Mnandi that I ordered a small Sebenza with Micarta inlays for rougher work.

The Mnandi is a gentleman's folder with a 2 3/4" blade. The handles are minimalist with only enough to cover the blade and pivot yet they provide an adequate grip for such a small blade. Function is flawless with the thumb notch requiring only light pressure to open the blade. I am not a great fan of clip point blades but no other style produces such a small profile. This is not a tool to carry when wearing Levis but the titanium pocket clip works fine on slacks and the light weight ensures against unsightly sagging.

If you are looking for the highest quality in the smallest package for office and dress wear, the Mnandi fits the bill

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My Preferences in a Pocket Folder

Before I begin reviewing knives and other pointed objects, I suppose I should explain my own expectations of a knife. I am not a cop, a fireman or a soldier. I generally avoid dark alleys in bad parts of town at night. I am not a part-time SWAT member nor do I hunt, kill and skin animals with any great frequency. I live in an urban environment so I seldom have to build my own shelter at night. I'm an IT professional and there are lots of things I still use a blade for in my day-to-day life.

I have carried fixed and folding knive my entire adult life. For years I carried the little Victorinox classic but I went through several a year as I beat them up pretty regularly. I had an old Gerber Bolt-Action folding drop point I carried but then I discovered the pocket clip, the device that allows you to carry a larger folder with ease and convenience.

A pocket-clip folder should meet the following requirements:

2.5" - 2.9" length
Drop point style blade
Unserrated edge
Easy to open with wet or slippery hands

Wet gripability
No serrated or rough edges to abrade or snag on clothing
Sized appropriately to the blade

Pocket Clip:
Placed for tip-up carry
Broad base to support knife without bunching pocket fabric
Rounded tip with adequate tension

Overall Design:
Frame or Liner lock design
Tip-up carry position makes for fast opening
Handle designed to accommodate a fast draw
No sharply serrated edges or protrusions to snag or wear clothing
Blade has sufficient mass to "flip" open with a snap of the wrist
Clip is designed to enhance grip

I want a solid knife that won't wear out under reasonable use and is tough enough to handle the occasional abuse without failing. It should have a fine (non-serrated) blade that is sturdy enough to pry with if I have to. It does not require:
  • A recurved blade
  • Protruding guards or hilts
  • Extreme texturing of handles or sharply serrated edges

But All Is Not Lost

Just because I refer to the knives I've tested as "less than Emersons" doesn't mean they have no utility at all. Indeed, Most of them will find a home and a use somewhere. The Buck Strider will be fine in my tool box. The Benchmade VEX goes in my bug-out kit as a backup knive. The Gerber Pro Hunter and the CRKT M21 will end up in with my fishing and other outdoor gear.

Really, they are fine knives that will gives years of service but they are not THE PERFECT KNIFE.

I will continue to carry my Emersons as my daily first-line tools while waiting for the Chris Reeves folder.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Detent, What a Concept . . .

OK, I broke down and did a little tinkering this afternoon and the result of said tinkering is a pair of conclusions:
  • Ernest Emerson is a really, really remarkable knife designer
  • Every other knife I have looked at suffers in comparison to Emerson knives
It is possible to make other knives look and act like Emerson knives but not one of them comes out of the box with the same capabilities as an Emerson blade and primary among these is the ability to open the knife easily. Almost without exception, every other production knife I've looked at suffers from a over-stong detent that holds the blade in the closed position.

Without exception, every folder I have looked at uses the frame or liner lock as the detent spring, with the exception of Emerson knives that use a separate, smaller "spring" punched out of the other liner to perform the hold-closed action. This allows them to adjust the detent tension separately from the lock tension, a very nice touch.

More than 75% of the other knives I handled were difficult to open because of a very strong lock spring effect and many of the ones that didn't suffer from this problem had equally troubling issues.

I have remediated the detent problem for several of my knives by plugging the detent hole drilled in the blade with lead so the detent doesn't engage as tightly. While effective, I really am annoyed when I have to take something brand new apart and tinker with it to make it work properly.

I would not be surprised to discover that many of the knife manufacturers design their knives this way on purpose to avoid any potential liability issues rising from self defense use or perhaps it accommodates manufacturing tolerances to reduce the rejection rate.

All I do know is that the Emerson "top-hat" and the lighter detent make an Emerson one of the easiest knives to open that you can find without spending half a month's rent.

The Knives that Lawyers Wrought?

Over the course of the last three months I have been trying to locate a pocket knife. Not just any pocket knife but the pocket knife of my dreams - the right blade shape, the right edge holding characteristics, the right ergonomics, etc. You would think this should be an easy search, right? Drop in to any sporting goods store and browse through the dozens of knives they carry to find what you want. Hah! I have purchased cheap knives. I have purchased expensive knives. I have purchased moderately expensive knives but, you get the picture, no luck to date.

As a matter of fact, I believe one of my most common complaints is entirely related to a litigation-prevention measures taken by most knive manufacturers on their folders. More on this later.

I don't believe my requirements for a pocket knife are too terribly outrageous but . . . you tell me.
  • Blade - The blade should be a drop-point style without serrations between 2.5" & 2.9" with a V grind
  • Blade Material - Stainless steel with good edge keeping qualities.
  • Lock Style - Liner or frame lock
  • Carry Method - Pocket clip broad enough to not damage clothing
  • Handles - Any material that gives a good wet grip but is not so sticky as to impair drawing from the pocket
  • Handle Style - Easy-to-draw rectangular or lozenge shape with no sharp edges to damage or wear clothing
  • Carry Style - Tip-up
I do have one knife that is just about perfect but it is just a bit too big to carry and use conveniently. All the rest I have handled or even purchased suffer from one or more flaws. Some flaws are minor and easily ignored or remedied. Others are fatal to the utility of the knife. I will enumerate all the boring details in excruciating detail in later posts.