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April 17, 2013 Comments Off on City Knives: Compact Urban Companions Blades & Tools, Reviews

City Knives: Compact Urban Companions

 “Take care of the ounces and the pounds will take care of themselves.”  Olde Backpacker’s axiom, author unknown

It’s zero dark thirty in the morning, mid December.  There’s 6”+ of snow on the deck and the snow is still falling at around an inch an hour.  I’m working and out slugging through the snow.  It’ll be an hour or so before the plows get out.  I’m cold, wet, and becoming more tired with every step I take.  The knees and back are aching.  Now done with the neighborhood I’m in, I head back to the truck to patrol the next neighborhood.  As the truck starts, the radio fires up. The ad currently playing on the talk radio station is saying that, “… for every extra pound you’re carrying, it adds 4 ft lbs of pressure to the joints as you walk…”  Great timing.

It’s become time to revisit all of my gear selections and to lighten up my load.   It’s time to rely more on skill and to rely less on gear.  Inspecting my pile of EDC (every day carry) gear later that day, staring at me was a full sized Leatherman Wave and a medium sized Benchmade folder.  Great gear, but the combined weight of them alone was nearly 12 ounces – add in the sheath and bit kit for the Leatherman and the scale nearly hit the one pound mark.  In addition to that, I have a go bag that travels with me everywhere.  In the go bag rests a Blind Horse Knives Tiger Knapp and a Leatherman Skeletool.  Having those to fall back on, my EDC selections seem somewhat redundant and new selections could be made to lighten up without sacrificing utility.   

I went to my knife box and dug out a 2 ounce Leatherman Squirt P4 to replace my EDC Leatherman Wave.   I sorted out the most used bits from the Wave’s bit kit and assembled one sleeve of commonly used bits to add to my go bag to be used with my Leatherman Skeletool. 

Next, I started digging to find a suitable replacement for my EDC Benchmade folder.   I envisioned finding a respectable one hand opening folder that would also keep me out of trouble when we happen to venture into jurisdictions with draconian knife laws.  I have little interest in being politically correct, but I have a vested interest in not having my title changed to “Inmate.”

A little research reveals that most restrictive statutes seem to be from Chicago and Boston, where an adult can carry a blade of no more than 2.5”.  Additionally, in Chicago, a youth can carry a blade of no more than 2.0”.  Hence, in keeping with the city knife theme, only knives with blades of 2.5” or less were selected.  I like smallish knives, but I’m not so sure about carrying a knife that small as an EDC.  Testing is in order to see if I can really find a serviceable 2” – 2.5” blade EDC knife.

With a sizeable pile of knives at hand, I felt the need to weed out the lot.  I live in an area where it’s cold and wet most of the year and the rest of the year is July 29th.   This made the first test selection a no-brainer.  For the first test, I took the batch of knives outside where it’s windy, snowing and around 20 degrees F.  I made up and threw a few snowballs to the dog to get my hands really cold and wet.  Now the knife handling tests begin. With cold, wet hands and a pretty discernible shiver developing, I could not muster the fine motor skills necessary to safely manipulate lot of really good knives.  At the end of the cold weather test, knives remaining in contention were:

1.      Spyderco: Chicago, Cat, Ambitious, a Dragonfly 2 and a Cricket.

2.      BladeTech: Mouse Lite

Here’s some specs on the contenders mentioned above:

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2

Tip Position* L< = left hand carry  /  >R = right hand carry; where both are indicated, the clip is reversible.

Here’s my initial observations regarding the contenders- 

1.      Don’t let the MSRP prices intimidate you.  All of these knives can be had for significantly less than MSRP with very little online shopping search time.  In example, the highest MSRP price item was the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 at $119.95 could be found for around $65.95 and the lowest MSRP priced item was the Blade Tech Mouse Lite at $23.99 which could be found for around $19.95. 

2.      Fit and finish on the Chicago, the Cat, the Dragonfly, the Cricket and the Mouse Lite is top notch.  The Ambitious has some very minor cosmetic issues in the blade spine jimping and I’m irritated that the pivot pin and blade stop pin of the Ambitious are noticeably smaller than those of the Cat and Chicago.  The construction of the Chicago and Cat appears absolutely bulletproof with the Ambitious following closely behind.  Although the specs above might not clearly indicate it, in size, the Ambitious is the Beast of the bunch. 

3.      The Ambitious and Mouse Lite have blade spine jimping to aid in control.  The Dragonfly 2 has both spine and choil jimping to aid in control. 

4.      The Dragonfly 2 and the Mouse Lite both have full FRN scales without any type of reinforcing liner.  They are clearly the lightest knives of the lot. Even so, both models are sufficiently stout for serious use.  Some exemplary design engineering took place in the development of both the Dragonfly 2 and Mouse Lite handles.  Albeit small; both knives are ergonomic, easy to manipulate and capable of some serious cutting chores without undue discomfort to the user.  Although not tested, it should be noted that one newer model of the Dragonfly 2 is available with foliage green G10 scales and steel liners, another Dragonfly 2 model is outfitted with carbon fiber scales – really nice touches if you’re in the market for a very high end EDC “city knife” with all the bells and whistles.  It should also be noted that, if you’re looking for high visibility, the Dragonfly 2 is available with a safety yellow handle and rust free H1 steel blade and the Mouse Lite is available in bright orange as well as in purple or green.

5.      The Cricket is the smallest of the lot, albeit not the lightest due to its solid stainless steel construction.  It is the only small metal handled knife to pass my cold, wet hands test.  It is equipped with a “reverse S”, claw shaped blade design.  Not having experience with this unusual blade design, when I first opened the package, I had to wonder what I’d use this knife for and I had to wonder if I would feel “under-knifed” while carrying it.  It would pass muster in the first hour of the first shift spent being clipped to my pocket.

6.      I fell in love with the wire pocket clip on the Chicago and Cat.  The design allows for either to ride so low in the pocket that they literally disappear yet they remain instantly accessible.  This very discreet carry method could be a valuable asset in certain locales. While the Dragonfly 2 has a similar wire clip, when pocketed, a good portion of handle rises above the pocket and is not as discreet as the aforementioned.

Here are the tests I conducted with the contenders:

1.    1. Tinder prep and fire striking:

All of the knives tested excelled in this test.  Each knife has quality blade steel with the geometry that lends itself to taking and holding an edge for a good long while.  It was easy to quickly shave enough wood to obtain a decent supply of tinder for fire making. Blade spines on several of the knives were somewhat rounded from final factory polishing and they did not throw a decent spark from a 3/8” diameter FireSteel.  HOWEVER, all of the knives in the test had thumb holes for blade opening.  By inserting the FireSteel into the thumb hole and using the holes sharply ground edge to strike the FireSteel, plentiful hot sparks flew everywhere.   While fire was easy to obtain with all of the knives, top honors for sparking went to the ZDP189 Dragonfly 2, with the VG10 Cricket coming in a very close second.  For tinder prep, I favored the Chicago and Mouse Lite because of the larger bellied design of their blades.

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2.      2. Simple Food Prep duties

Anyone who hunts, fishes or camps with me knows that lunch frequently consists of sliced sausages or meat spreads, cheeses, apples and crackers.  As such, any EDC knife I select has to be able to handle those simple food prep chores as well as being able to tackle a big steak when we’re out dining and our hosts have graciously supplied with a glorified butter knife to cut steak with.  Most of the knives passed these tests without flaw.  The one notable exception was in using the reverse S blade of the Cricket when trying to spread anything onto a cracker.  It was a mess, clearly out of design element for the Cricket.  All of the flat ground blades were exceptional performers.  The .093” thick blades took top honors for slicing, while the bigger blades of the Ambitious, both Dragonfly models and the Cat took top honors for spreading chores.  The Chicago and Mouse Lite worked very well for getting every last bit of spread out of a pate tin and the new style individual serving sized cups of peanut butter.

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3.      3. Common cutting chores (package opening, recycling prep, cordage cutting and cutting zip ties)

Here’s where the Cricket came into its own.  While all of the knives tested handled these types of chores very well, the Cricket’s odd blade shape made easy work of the tasks assigned.  As I said before, the Cricket passed muster in the first hour of the first shift that I carried it.  I had gotten my feet entangled in some plastic snow fence that had been knocked over, ripped and was laying unseen under the snow.  I was easily able to get the tip of the Cricket’s blade between my boots and the fencing material. The Cricket zipped me free without skipping a beat and without causing any damage to my boots or pants.  The Cricket’s thin blade and great steel makes easy work of ripping seams, package opening and cord/webbing cuts.  The handle gets a little tiresome for prolonged use when it comes to heavier chores like recycling prep.  For recycling prep, the larger handled knives worked best with a slight edge going to those with the thinner .093” thick blades.  For zip tie cuts, the edge went to those knives equipped with the thicker .125” blades.  For the record, there was no clear winner in this series of tests.  It boils down to user preference.

By the end of these tests; the 440C, VG10 and 8CR13MoV blades all required some maintenance.  Simple stropping brought back all of them to nearly factory fresh edges.  I had to resort to the Spyderco Sharpmaker to repair an edge rollover on the tip of the 8CR13MoV blade that occurred when I dinged it on an unnoticed heavy package staple while doing some cardboard recycling. It took mere seconds for the 8CR13MoV to come back to true.  The winner on edge holding goes to the ZDP189 blade on the Dragonfly 2. It hasn’t been phased one bit and is a very impressive performer – it holds a great edge for a good, long while.

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Overall, there was one clear single winner in my test protocols – ME!  What I found was six great knives that each has their own strengths and idiosyncrasies.  Each of the offerings tested meets my personal requirements for serviceability and are worthy of inclusion in my EDC rotation.  I’ve carried and used each of them for a good while and have not felt “under knifed” in the least.

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Kudos to the fine folks at Spyderco and Blade Tech for designing and marketing superior offerings to fill this market niche!  Additional kudos to Spyderco for pulling out the stops and applying all of their innovations to the small knife lineup so that folks needing a great small knife have real choices available.

Need more info?  Try http://www.spyderco.com  or  http://www.blade-tech.com – Tell them the Woods Monkey sent you…

 

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