The recession was nowhere to be found at SHOT Show 2002 held in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 3 – 5. The mood was upbeat and there were record numbers of both attendees and exhibitors. As one might expect considering 9/11, there seemed to be a larger law enforcement and military presence than normal.
Our primary focus at SHOT Show continues to be knives and flashlights as well as any other wilderness survival related gear we might come across. As large as it has gotten, there's barely enough time for that alone. This year there were far fewer developments on the lighting front, but the knife manufacturers seemed to take up the slack.
This SHOT Show review covers only the highlights, the gear that caught our eye as being particularly innovative or appropriate for survival use. It hardly skims the surface of all that was new or even all that was new from each manufacturer.
One development that we found truly confounding, from our perspective, was the increasing use of camouflage on knives for civilian use. Admittedly, the hunters that are a primary market for SHOT Show are into camo big time, there is even camo intimate apparel at the show, but why would anyone buy a camo knife, unless they really want to support their local knife dealer. It's difficult enough to find a dropped knife when it's got black scales or handle and a bright shiny blade, let alone camo. It just defies logic, but then I suppose that's what marketing is often all about.
In a first for Swiss Army Knives, Victorinox (Swiss Army Brands over here in the U.S.) introduced the One-Handed Trailmaster ($37). It's about time they jumped on the one-hand opening wagon with all the advantages it offers. Based on the large frame lock-blade Trailmaster, the spear point blade has a hump with an asymmetrical oval thumbhole for opening.
Unlike most purpose designed one-hand opening knives which generally do little to restrict blade movement for opening, Victorinox left the conventional spring retention system in place, so opening the blade takes a bit of extra effort. No one will be opening this one with a flick of the wrist. The liner lock mechanism doesn't even really lock in place in the conventional sense, the blade is normally held in position by the spring action as usual, with a small gap between the back of the blade and the lock. The lock is only engaged when the blade is moved off its open position ever so slightly to close. Then the lock prevents further movement. Thus, it doesn't lock solidly in place as you might normally expect.
There is also some slack in the mechanism, typical of this large frame series of SAKs, such that it allows some side to side flex as well. This may annoy some users who expect a blade to lock rigidly in place, but for most uses we haven't in the past found it makes much difference. On the plus side, without contact the lock should not wear with use. Only time will tell how strong the mechanism is.
Unfortunately, from our perspective, Victorinox chose to only offer a partly serrated blade (the standard Trailmaster has the plain edge we prefer). Moreover, the forward approximately 60 percent of the blade is serrated, the aft portion is a single ground plain edge, just the opposite of what we might normally expect. Convention is to have the aft portion of the blade serrated in a partly serrated blade to leave the plain edge more readily available for the uses for which it is better suited. The good news is that the Victorinox serrations are so shallow as to present far less of an impediment to use than more common deep aggressive serrations.
As long as we are talking about oddities, the final one is that the liner lock is set up for left-handed use, based again on conventional one-handed designs we are used to. This made for slightly awkward one-handed closing for your right-handed scribe, though we expect that owners will quickly adapt to pulling on the lock to release, rather than pushing on it.
Included in the One-Handed Trailamaster is Victorinox's excellent saw blade, non-locking unfortunately (and it would be so simple to have made it a locking tool), as well as a combo large screwdriver and bottle cap lifter and a can opener with small screwdriver. Unfolding from the back side are a #2 Phillips and an excellent awl. The traditional SAK toothpick and tweezers are also included. It's only available in black, sad to say. This is a good minimalist combination of blades and tools for general survival use if you don't carry a multi-purpose tool.
Hopefully, this is only the first of many one-hand opening SAKs from Victorinox, a development we have long awaited.
Also introduced was the WorkChamp ($70), another addition to their large-frame
Lockblade line-up. It has the most tools of any of the
Victorinox Lockblades, including pliers, scissors and a file. The blade is plain edged.
This one is available in black or red.
Wenger, the other Swiss Army Knife company (represented over here by Wenger N.A.), also showed a long overdue innovation for SAKs that has been common elsewhere for years, introducing a non-reversible stainless pocket clip on their latest pair of large-frame liner lock knives in their Realtree Advantage camo line, the Century and Century with Woodsaw.
Both Century knives sport a clip point 60/40 plain and serrated edge blade with the non-locking saw the only added tool on the second knife. The liner lock is operated via a side slide, which keeps your finger out of harm's way when closing the blade, a welcome safety feature.
The two Century knives will also be available in Realtree's new HD Advantage camo come April. The stainless blades and tools are finished in a non-reflective tumbled natural finish, much nicer than the usual matte natural finish we generally see used for this purpose.
Wenger was also showing off their not quite new Survivor in their traditional SAK line. This knife incorporates a tubular whistle along with the usual selection of various blades and tools, including their exclusive (to conventionally sized SAKs) locking main blade, a feature we especially like and which is only available from Wenger in traditional size SAKs. In this case, unfortunately, it's a fully serrated blade.
The bulky and only moderately loud whistle takes up quite a
bit of space, perhaps better used for more tools while carrying a far more
effective whistle separately. There are times when it isn't necessarily an
advantage to combine some survival gear into a single tool. When the
effectiveness of the tool must be significantly compromised compared to having
a separate tool, we think two tools would be better than one. We hope to get a
sample to test the whistle properly to see how well it stacks up against our
top rated survival whistles.
Gerber Legendary Blades' Multi-Plier line has evolved again with the introduction of the “Evolution” Multi-Plier ($96). The model 650 is based on their original model 600 line of Multi-Pliers with a unique twist—interchangeable pliers heads. Four heads are offered; traditional Needle nose jaw, which is included; Blunt Nose jaw; “Technician” jaw (which is identical in features to the Model 600 “Fisherman's” pliers jaws introduced last year with extended needle nose and the carbide wire cutting inserts); and a Cable Cutter jaw. The latter three must be purchased separately.
The heads are easily exchanged, slipping in and out of the end of the tool. Two spring-loaded buttons on either side retain the head in place. Depressing the buttons allows the head to be removed. The new head is just inserted until it locks in place. It does take a little practice to get the hang of it, the tool handles must be spread apart ever so slightly to slip in the head. Not enough and it won't go in, too much and it won't work either. It shouldn't take long for it to become second nature.
The only obvious compromise that might give one pause is that the interchangeable heads do not retract as on the conventional Gerber MultiPlier line. This makes for a bulkier tool to carry as well as for when you use the knife blade and other tools, unless you remove the head to use them.
The sheath, the usual Gerber nylon design with its annoying flap, is designed to accommodate the tool and a single additional head. An alternative sheath designed to hold additional heads is in the works we were told. It will be interesting to see if they can accomplish that with a package that isn't too bulky to be comfortable.
Our first impression is the most viable combination pair for most uses may be the Blunt Nose and Technician jaws. This provides the advantages of a long needle nose pliers with a sturdy working pliers, the best of both worlds in a single tool. Only time will tell how strong the tool is, whether the interchangeable heads sacrifice strength for flexibility in use and whether the bulkier sheath is a problem. We're really looking forward to testing this tool.
The Ridge Knife represents Gerber's take on the Halligan designed K.I.S.S. integral lock minimalist folder concept. The “mid-frame lock” of the Ridge and the namesake slight raised ridge on the handle that serves as a guard for the blade edge when folded apparently help avoid patent infringement issues.
The single edge ground two-inch tanto blade in AUS-6 steel is available in either plain edge or 50/50 serrated edge. The knife is all stainless with black Teflon coating, no other colors currently offered. We'd prefer a natural polished or bright colored version. A pocket clip is provided. We found the knife easy to operate and the protective ridge seems like an excellent idea. With the ridge, you could safely have a double ground blade in this same sort of package.
The Urban Companion folder has a 2.6 inch long partly serrated drop point one hand opening blade and a pair of Gerber's Fiskars scissors. It appears they have taken them directly from the Legend and installed them in an aluminum handle with rubber inserts to create this folder. Both lock in place with the same sort of “SAF.T.PLUS” slide lock as used on the Legend. The blade's thumb stud, the same triangular shape from the Legend, is set up for right hand opening; it isn't ambidextrous.
Designed by Bill Harsey, the new Air Ranger series of folders are available in two sizes, 3.2 inch and 3.75 inch blades in both partly serrated and plain edge. The blade is a mild clip point with ambidextrous thumb stud and a nice thumb ramp at the aft end of the blade. Combined with the built-in guard depression in the handle, it all makes for a secure grip. The handles are machined aluminum with a fine checkered surface, almost like knurling. The aluminum, anodized in red, blue or green, looks quite sharp and the knife is comfortable in the hand.
There is also Gerber's “Inter-lock” double lock for added security. These added safety locks are becoming ever more popular and appearing on more and more knives with traditional liner locks. The pocket clip is permanently fitted and cannot be swapped side to side.
Gerber also introduced a number of other knives including:
the LST II, an updated version of the venerable LST with ambidextrous one-hand
opening studs and rubber inserts in the polycarbonate handle; the E-Z Out
Utility and E-Z Rescue, based on the E–Z Out series handles, but this time in
bright yellow, and features fully serrated blades. The Rescue has a rounded blunt tip for safely cutting seat belts
and the like with people in situ, the Utility has a blunt tip, sheepsfoot style
blade, both 3.5 inches long.
The big news at Imperial Schrade has been the introduction of their i-Quip ($250) multi-purpose tool late last year, but we have been unable to get our hands on one. At SHOT Show they brought along some to play with as well as showing their new Navitool ($90) based on the same design. They are essentially identical except that the former incorporates a “computer module” with digital compass with other digital capabilities besides direction finding, the latter includes instead a conventional compass with an accompanying marked reduction in price.
Covering the similarities first, both units are built upon the same anodized aluminum and hard rubber chassis. The tools include a variety of blades and implements that unfold out of one side. These include a spear point plain edge blade, scissors, wood saw, Phillips screwdriver and cap opener, can opener with small screwdriver and a corkscrew. The blades and tools al lock and are released by pressing down on the tools that remain in place.
There is a red single LED flashlight at one end and the other end has a cap that hinges open on the side to reveal a cavity large enough to hold a typical Bic style butane lighter (there's a cardboard representation of one inside, HAZMAT shipping restrictions prevented them from including one). We won't know if it rattles annoyingly until we try it, but it would be a good excuse to add some tinder anyway. The compartment isn't waterproof, unfortunately, so if you wanted to put matches inside, you'd probably want to ensure they were properly protected.
The compass comes off the body with a twist to reveal a small circular mirror that can be used for signaling. While Schrade refers to it as a “signal mirror,” that's something of a misnomer since it is just a reflective surface, it doesn't include any aiming aid. There's a protective paper sheet attached which must be removed to use the mirror.
There is a short nylon cord lanyard that attaches the compass to the tool and threaded on this is a black plastic ACME Tornado SOLAS specification survival whistle.
Note: Schrade improperly refers to this whistle in their literature as “SOLAS certified.” SOLAS doesn't represent an organization that certifies or approves anything. They also apparently don't even know what SOLAS stands for, misinterpreting it in their literature as “safety on land and sea.” (Do you know what SOLAS stands for? Click here to find out.)
A stainless belt clip on the back finishes off the shared features. The i-Quip weighs in at 8.5 ounces, the Navitool at 8 ounces.
The computer module on the i-Quip includes a digital compass with declination adjustment, digital clock with stopwatch, alarm, date and backlight, a barometer including “standard and metric” thermometer and barometer readings; and an altimeter. It cycles through the modes easily and seemed easy enough to use, but we're not sure that a battery powered anything makes for the best survival tool. The Navitool's compass is liquid filled with declination adjustment.
We're looking forward to finding out how good an idea it is to combine all these functions into one tool. Is it really practical or is it just an exercise in pushing the limits?
Also new for Schrade is their Tough Grip ($34, $37 with sheath), following in the path pioneered by Kershaw with their needle nose locking jaw Multi-Tool. Schrade has joined forces with American Tool Companies' Vise-Grip to produce this tool and the pliers and locking mechanism is pure six-inch needle nose Vise-Grips locking pliers. The lower portion of the pliers handle incorporates a selection of locking blades and tools, with two models offering a slightly different selection of implements. The model ST6 includes a clip point 50/50 serrated edge blade, wood saw, large screwdriver and wire stripper, and non-locking can opener and cap lifter. The model ST6H replaces the can opener with a small screwdriver. The blade has a very large relief (distance between the blade and the bottom of the tool/handle), which could make some uses more difficult.
(Vise-Grip is offering their own version under the “Toolbox” moniker with blunt nose large capacity jaws based on their new 6LC pliers and a different selection of tools, including a hex bit holder.)
Without the normal release lever of a Vise-Grips pliers, you have to manually open the pliers when they are locked onto something. Depending upon how tightly they are locked, that could be easy or somewhat difficult. The locking blades and tools release by pressing down on the remaining ones in typical Schrade fashion, easy enough.
Schrade's answer to the K.I.S.S. integral lock minimalist folder concept is the Simon SS1, as in “Simple Simon.” This integral lock folder has a 2.25 inch Wharncliffe single ground plain edge blade. An asymmetrical oval thumb hole allows for one handed opening and there the de rigueur integral lock. A black anodized aluminum guard encompasses and protects the blade edge when closed, so there's no real reason to stick with the limiting single grind edge.
The handle incorporates a wire spring gated clip, what
Schrade calls a “plunger device,” to allow you to quickly clip or unclip the
knife from a key ring. The marketing pitch in their literature is to airline
travelers who must now deal with absurd security regulations and having to throw
their sharp objects into their checked baggage every time the fly. It's a
practical idea in any case as it is often much easier to use a keychain knife
without it being attached to the keys.
Columbia River Knife & Tool's Kit Carson designed M18 folder builds on the success of his M16 model. The solid aluminum handles have textured G10 inserts in a choice of red, blue or black. The AUS 8 steel spear point blade has a slight recurve to it with a false edge extending about two thirds the way up the spine. Both plain and combination plain and serrated edged blades are available in 3.25 ($100) and 3.63 inch ($110) lengths.
The M18 incorporates Carson's “Flipper” for easier opening and once open it serves as an effective lower blade guard. The ambidextrous thumb studs nestle up tight to the fore-end of the handle when open, leaving virtually the entire blade clear, a feature we very much appreciate. The aft portion of the spine is machined with ridges for a non-slip thumb rest. The butt of the handle has machined ridges for improved grip. Backing up the liner lock is CRKT's LAWKS safety lock.
CRKT showed their production version of Ed Halligan's latest K.I.S.S. knife, named S.S.T., for Short, Stubby Thing ($37). Only 2.8 inches long overall, is still has a 2.25 inch long modified Wharncliffe blade with either plain or partly serrated 60/40 cutting edge 1.75 inches long. The blade has a false edge extending back nearly the length of the cutting edge, making for a smoother ride in the pocket.
It appears that the body/handle/integral lock has been shortened mostly by eliminating the extended rounded tail from previous versions, so there's no room for a lanyard hole and the blade covers the entire handle, allowing a larger bade for the overall length. Blade and handle are AUS6M steel and the standard knives come in matte finish. There's a pocket/money clip on the obverse side and given its size, it does make for a dandy money clip. There's also the 24K S.S.T. plain edge version having high polish with 24K gold plated hardware including pocket clip ($47).
CRKT introduced two small fixed blades. One is the Ryan Plan B, 6.75 inches overall, with a 3-inch recurved spear point blade in both plain and combo edge ($40). The handle has molded Zytel scales in a sort of zig-zag pattern that looks cool and feels good in the hand. There's a deep finger recess and integral guard up front and a lanyard hole in the tail. Ridges on top of the blade and on the tail also assist control.
The sheath is molded Zytel. There's an included beaded chain for neck carry, in which case you want to remove the clipped-in belt clip, it just pops out with its lock depressed.
Kit Carson's F4 fixed blade ($35) is also new to the CRKT line, 5.5 inches overall length with a 2.5 inch long spear point blade in AUS6M stainless. Both plain and 60/40 serrated edge are offered. The full tang knife has textured molded Zytel scales and incorporates a modest flare top and bottom approaching the choil. The flared area has grooves top and bottom for better grip, a good thing since there's no real guard. A tied lanyard cord is attached to the lanyard hole in the butt which makes for better control if left there, effectively adding half again more to the handle length.
The convertible molded Zytel sheath allows a variety of carry modes. As above there's a beaded chain for neck carry and removeable belt clip. There's also a nice selection of two wide slots and a half dozen holes in the sheath for easily strapping to your gear, though it does add bulk for neck carry.
Fans of Carson's M16 who found the originals too dear now
have a less expensive option in the M16Z range, with molded Zytel handles and
AUS6M steel at a significant reduction in price, with very little reduction in
utility. For those like us who prefer bright handles to black, the new M16-FD
lineup (as in Fire Department), offers red G10 handles on the original M16, a
very nice addition.
Benchmade Knife Companyintroduced their Mel Pardue designed Griptilian line in mid-2001 and has now expanded it with a smaller version, the Mini-Griptilian. The Griptilian line features molded textured glass filled Noryl GTX handles with Benchmade's Axis Lock stainless cartridge inset. The handle has a modest finger guard up front and ridges top and bottom, fore and aft for better grip. There's a lanyard hole in the tail and reversible stainless carry clip.
Two blade shapes are offered, a drop point with a false edge and what Benchmade calls a sheepsfoot, but which has far more point that a traditional sheepsfoot which is a safety blade; so we'll refer to it as a modified sheepsfoot. The drop point has ambidextrous thumb studs, the modified sheepsfoot incorporates Benchmade's oval thumb hole. Both blades have a nicely grooved thumb ramp.
The Griptilian comes with a 3.45 inch long blade ($95-$110), the Mini-Griptilian has a 2.91 inch long blade ($85), both are 440C stainless. Both sizes and both blade styles are available with plain edge or combo plain and serrated edge and with or without black BT2 Teflon coating.
The Mini-Griptilian is also available with brightly colored handles, currently lime green and purple. More colors are expected to be released over time. That's the good news. The not quite so good news is that currently the brightly colored handles are available only with the combo edge blades.
Benchmade AFCK fans can rejoice in the latest iteration of the AFCK ($170) and TSEK ($140) with the added improvement of the Axis Lock replacing the former liner lock. Two models are offered, the 806D2 has the AFCK's original clip point blade shape with Benchmade's oval thumb hole in D2 steel with BT2 Teflon coating, in both plain and combo edge. The Model 805 TSEK has a drop point blade in 440C with a long false edge and ambidextrous thumb studs. Both have ridges on the aft end of the spine for a thumb rest.
The handle shape and G10 scales remains the same with a sizeable finger guard. For a short time in the beginning the knife was produced with a a reversible pocket clip could only be used for either left- or right-hand carry, later production reverted to that of the prototypes shown here which allow either point up or point down carry.
The latest fixed blade from Benchmade is a classic looking drop point utility from Bill McHenry and Jason Williams, the Modle 180 Outbounder ($100). It's got a 3.75 inch blade of 440C stainless with full tapered tang and rosewood scales. The tapered tang (meaning it becomes thinner as it moves up the handle) does seem to perform as expected, resulting in a nicely balanced knife. The self-guard behind the choil is of only modest size and there's a grooved thumb rest on top. A lanyard hole is incorporated into the tail. The sheath is a traditional molded leather pouch with belt loop, there's no keeper or strap.
Benchmade's Model 5 Rescue Hook ($25, $35) represents a minimalist approach to a seat belt/shroud cutter/rescue knife. Basically nothing more that a protected hook blade with a single finger hole for a “handle,” the combination looks to be effective while also being compact and light weight. The blade is single ground and polished and can be resharpened if necessary. There's a hole for a lanyard and a bottle cap/pop-tab lifter is built in. Available in matte or black oxide finish.
Two sheaths are offered. The basic soft sheath has a belt loop, Velcro closure and a readily gripped plastic tab for quick access. There is also a molded Delrin sheath with a variety of attachment options including integral slots and holes, lashing tab and a metal belt clip. The Rescue Hook is held securely, but easily snaps out of the sheath with a good yank.
The finger hole of the Model 5 is relatively large, but I suspect a heavily gloved hand might present problem, a liability in colder environments. It might well make sense for Benchmade to produce a version of the Model 5 with a more conventional handle for when using a single finger just isn't practical. It could still use the same molded sheath.
While not as compact, sometimes you must compromise an otherwise desirable attribute for practicality.
A new blade shape has been added to the Osborne 940 line with the Model 943, this a straight clip point with a anodized blue handle. Benchmade
also joined the camo brigade, introducing camo handles to many of the knives in
Spyderco's C71 Salsa is a compact folder with a handle large enough to feel comfortable, not the easiest combination to pull off. The wide drop point blade is 2 7/16 inches long and is available in straight ground plain edge and Spyderco's SpyderEdge serrated. There are actually two models, one having a natural colored titanium handle ($150) with integral “Compression Lock” and an anodized aluminum handled version in green, blue or gray with an inset compression lock ($90).
The titanium model comes with an ATS-34 blade, the aluminum comes with AUS-8 steel. Both blades have the typical round Spyderco hole, but they are also equipped with Spyderco's new “Cobra Hood.” This is essentially a modified thumb disk that is attached to the curved top of the blade surrounding the hole, the result looking a bit like its namesake cobra hood. It provides a wide and comfortable thumb rest when open and also eases opening the folder. On the down side, it does interfere with some potential survival uses, reducing the effective length of the blade when splitting wood, for example.
The handle incorporates three moderately deep finger grooves, plus a fourth half groove matched to a wider rounded recessed choil on the blade. This makes it easy to choke up on the blade for detail work. On the aluminum model, this is also where the compression lock release is found. There is also a reversible wire pocket clip.
The M64 MeerKat is in production with its unique Phantom Lock. You move one scale sideways to unlock the blade. Available in both a drop point and a less practical “S” blade style, hollow ground, plain or serrated edge, 440C and AUS-6 steel, respectively, 1 15/16 inches long.
The latest fixed blade from Spyderco is a Fred Perrin design, FB04, with a 5-inch straight clip point, VG10 steel, flat ground, plain edge blade. The FRN (fiberglass reinforced nylon) handle has Krayton inserts. There's a very deep finger guard behind the choil and the aft portion of the blade's spine is grooved for thumb purchase. The handle's rounded butt is equipped with a lanyard hole and attached lanyard. A Kydex sheath is provided.
Joining the ever-popular Ladybug on the small end of the scale is the Jester ($32) with a 1 15/16 inch hollow ground snub nose blade downsized from the Pro-Grip in AUS-6 steel with plain or serrated edge. It has ridges cut not only behind the opening hole hump for a conventional thumb rest, but also up front on the spine over the tip of the blade. The molded FRN handle has ridges on top and on the tail and relatively deep finger grooves, all contributing to a better grip, always an issue with these small knives. For such a small knife, it fits the hand quite well.
There's a good-sized lanyard hole and we predict a lot of these will find their way onto key chains. Just don't forget a quick release to keep it out of the pockets of the airport security Nazis. Available in black, lime green or fushia handle colors.
Spyderco also introduced their first non-locking blade knife ever, the C72 Pride, for sales overseas in countries with asinine laws prohibiting locking blades. It's really a shame that a company must take such a step backwards in safety to market their products.
On the sharpener front, Spyderco introduced Diamond Coated
Sharpening Triangles for their Tri-Angle Sharpmaker. The pair of one-piece
triangular rods replace the former diamond coated slip-ons that slid over the
regular ceramic triangular rods.
Buck Knives is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, certainly something to be proud of, and we all enjoyed the birthday cake.
The Navigator ($57), Buck's latest multi-purpose tool, represents another offbeat approach by Buck to this market. It's a conventional Leatherman style folder, handles opening out and back to access the blunt nose pliers jaws that are of two piece laminated construction that buck says adds to their strength. There's a soft wire cutter in the pliers' throat. Any similarity to a conventional tool stops there.
One entire handle is taken up by a clip with spring loaded wire gate. Developed in conjunction with mountaineer Peter Whittaker, the clip, with a wide slot big enough to accommodate a carabiner, probably appeals to someone who hangs from ropes hundreds or thousands of feet above a ledge wide enough to stand upon. On the down side, it takes up a lot of valuable volume and real estate in the tool.
The result is some compromises in the implements category. There's a 2.5 inch drop point one-hand opening partly serrated blade with a right-handed thumb stud. An integral liner lock was easy to operate. The remaining tools include a file whose end could be used as a very large screwdriver, a single stubby medium size screwdriver and a somewhat unusual looking can opener/cap lifter. There's no Phillips driver to be found. Guess they don't use those on mountaineering gear.
The handles are anodized aluminum over stainless, available in three colors, purple, blue or black.
As long as we are covering unique, Bucks new Metro ($20) fills that bill. This liner lock folder has a diminutive 1 1/8-inch drop point blade with a triangular shaped opening hole. The handle incorporates a bottle cap and soda can opener via a large opening in the upper portion of the handle. There are anodized aluminum scales covering the portion of the handle enclosing the blade in blue, purple or black. The large (relatively to blade size) oval handle seems to provide a decent grip. We're looking forward to testing this one to see just how useful and practical it will be in everyday use as a pocket or purse knife.
Buck's Alpha Hunter line includes both fixed blade and folding knives with similar attributes. Both come with either black rubberized or impregnated rosewood slabs for the handles. The rosewood handled knives come with ATS-34 steel blades, the rubberized models use with 420HC steel.
The full tang hunter has a wide drop point, 4.25 inch, hollow ground, plain edge blade. There is a deep finger guard integrated into the choil and ridges cut into the spine of the blade. The aft end of the tang/handle is also grooved on top for a better grip. A lanyard hole is provided in the butt of the tang.
Buck offers two sheaths in the Alpha line, leather or Cordura. The rosewood handled fixed blade ($106) has a very nice leather sheath. Unfortunately, the rubberized handled model ($80) comes with Buck's usual low-end Cordura nylon sheath, one of the worst fixed blade sheaths in the business, as we have noted previously on a number of occasions. That's really a shame, since this knife has a lot of nice features at a very modest price. We sure wish Buck would upgrade its basic sheath to match the utility of the knives it's meant to carry.
The folder is essentially a down-sized version of the same knife with a 2.5 inch blade and a liner lock ($86-Rosewood, $66-rubberized). Buck uses a thumb stud for opening. No pocket clip, just a leather or Cordura sheath, rosewood or rubberized, respectively. One nice feature of the leather sheath is that it has a cutout for the lanyard hole so it's easier to use with a lanyard attached.
The Strider Solution ($220) is a heavy duty “tactical” fixed blade of more conventional blade design that will appeal to many as an all-purpose field knife. It comes with a wide 4.75 inch, drop point, flat ground, plain edge blade in ATS-34 steel. The full tang is covered with thick G10 slabs. The handle has a very deep integral guard which combines with the ridges on the blade spine and butt for a firm grip. The wide recessed choil allows for choking up on the blade easily and safely. The multi-function Cordura sheath has a Kydex liner. While on the subject of Buck's Strider knives, a new Mini-Strider folder with spear point blade has been added ($180).
Buck's Grip Saw ($24) is a fixed blade companion to the Buck Folding Saw with a smaller blade, heavier weight with its included molded sheath and full enclosed tang and costing $2 more. The big finger hole in the Kraton handle's fore end (along the same lines as Gerber's Chameleon line of folding knives ), along with the rest of its ergonomic shape, allows a solid and very comfortable grip. How well that would work over a period of time sawing remains to be seen.
Buck also introduced a Camp Axe ($36) with a 3-inch blade
and 13-inch molded plastic handle. We especially like the molded plastic sheath
that slips over the axe blade and secures with a Velcro strap--minimalist and
Ethan Becker was happy to show us his latest two creations for BK&T (now owned and produced by Camillus Cutlery), the Combat Utility 7 and Patrol Machete. Both utilize the proven Becker standard GV6H glass-filled nylon handle bolted on the full tang and providing a deep guard, front and rear, and a lanyard hole. The steel is the same 0170-6C tool steel, .188 inch thick as used on all the knives with a black powder coated finish.
The Combat Utility 7 ($70) has a 7-inch blade (Okay, we know where that seven came from) with a short straight clip point. There's a generous thumb ramp on the spine and the tang is extended out the end of the handle for use as a hammering pommel. The front guard extends down below the handle for added protection. You want to cut yourself sliding your hand onto this blade; you're going to have to work at it.
The sheath is OD green ballistic Propex nylon with a Kydex liner. There's an auxiliary pocket on the front with an elastic top and Velcro closure. It's big enough to accept most any folder, multi-purpose tool or even an Altoids tin (I was skeptical, but we found one to slip in--tight fit, but it works.).
The Patrol Machete ($100) has a blade 14 inches long, with a tip configuration matching Becker's well regarded MACHAX, moving the weight forward to assist the user when swung. It is surprisingly lightweight for something built of such thick steel, just over a pound at 17.8 ounces, in large part because it has a flat grind all the way from the spine to the cutting edge. That removes a lot of steel, but still leaves both a sturdier blade than you'll find in most machetes and one that should cut better compared to a typical machete which has a flat piece of steel for a blade with just a sharpened edge. It comes with a black nylon sheath with plenty of grommetted tabs to secure as desired.
The other significant news at Camiluss was in their Darrel
Ralph designed EDC (Every Day Carry) line of folders. An EDC Enhanced series
features either 154-CM steel ($70) or Talonite cobalt chromium alloy ($220)
blades. The 154-CM blade is available either in plain edge or partly serrated,
the Talonite is plain edge only.
Ontario Knife Company had their new Air Force Survival Knife ($46) that we saw in prototype form last year, but about which we were asked not to write since they were still negotiating with the military. This has improved handle material, an improved sheath and other detail changes. We hope to have some samples in hand soon to compare with the old style. We still can't get excited about the deep clip point blade, but no matter, lots of people will continue to buy them because they are mil-spec, if no longer inexpensive.
The model SP-25 retains the 5-inch 1095 carbon steel blade, now epoxy powder coated. The handle is now Kraton instead of leather and is thinner. The double guard is modled at part of the handle. There's finally a lanyard hole in the butt cap. The sheath is Cordura nylon with steel back and tip guard and a molded plastic pouch for the same old mediocre sharpening stone.
Besides the standard version, they also had one with a line cutter on the spine ($45) and a similar one with a line cutter and partly serrated blade ($50) that the Navy has reportedly purchased. These have phosphate coated blades.
Jeff Randall was in Ontario's booth showing off a prototype of his Ontario produced RTAK ($90). This large jungle knife has a 10-inch sharpened edge (or possibly a wee bit longer, it hadn't yet been finalized), straight clip-point blade of 1095 carbon steel, 3/16 inch thick, with a black phosphate finish. The full tang is covered with linen micarta slabs.
come with a Cordura nylon ambidextrous sheath with an auxiliary pocket large
enough to store an Altoids tin sized survival kit. Jeff also told us that a
downsized version is in the works and should be introduced at the Blade Show
later this year.
KA-BAR Knives added a Warthog liner lock folder ($23) to their line up, using the same blade shape as their popular Warthog fixed blade. These are being made in Japan for KA-BAR with a 3-inch 8A stainless blade, black coated and with a hollow ground plain or combination plain and serrated edge. There is a thumb stud for opening. The generous swept up aft end of the Warthog blade shape allows for a generous grooved thumb rest. The molded Zytel handles have a pocket clip attached, but no lanyard hole, a serious omission in any utility knife from our perspective.
For those interested in large knives, KA-BAR added to their Black KA-BAR line the Camp Knife with an 8-inch hollow ground blade, two inches wide at its deepest. As with the rest in this line, it has 1095 carbon steel blade with black epoxy powder coating, an oval shaped Krayton handle and a metal butt cap. No lanyard hole, unfortunately. You can select from a traditional leather or Kydex sheath with multiple mounting option ($38, $43 respectively.)
KA-Bar also introduced a line of KA-BAR/Maserin folders
built in Italy. Two of these captured
our eye, KM231T ($52) and KM600T ($38).
The 600T has a drop point blade, the 231T a long straight clip point blade.
Both liner locks have black anodized aluminum handles with pocket clip and
lanyard hole. The 231T has an
asymmetrical oval thumb hole and both also have ambidextrous thumb studs. We especially appreciate how the thumb stud
on the 231T nestles back into the handle when open, out of the way.
My first sheath knife as a young teen was a Puma White Hunter that I saved my allowance for a year to purchase (and I still have it), so I admit to having some sentimental affinity towards the venerable German firm. However, over the past decade or two they have had precious little to attract me. They offered no one-hand opening folding knives and most of their blade styles, folders and fixed blades alike, were ill-suited to survival use from our perspective. In the past few years they have introduced a few nice fixed blades and offered some lower priced versions of knives such as the White Hunter II and the latest, Hunter's Pal II. Still, innovation isn't a term we've come to associate with the company.
Thus it was a pleasant surprise to see Puma's latest offering (distributed over here by Coast Cutlery), an interchangeable blade sheath knife. While it likely doesn't equal the inherent strength of a full tang knife, it does seem sturdy and solid and may be as strong at a enclosed tang knife which also results in a reduced strength tang. Designer H.P. Knoop was over from Germany demonstrating his baby.
The basis for the Puma System is the handle and blade holding system. There are a variety of handles, from utilitarian to fancy, aluminum or stainless ($80 - $120), and a series of nine blades at this time ($60 - $80). Pulling up the hinged lever on top of the handle allows you to remove or insert a blade. The blade tang is inserted into the handle and then the lever is pushed down, capturing the depressions in the tang securely in compression. Only some field testing will be able to determine how secure and sturdy it is, but it felt good.
The Puma System is available in three sets at this time:
Hunt ($330), Fish ($260) and Horse ($300).
The Hunt includes a White Hunter blade, a bit smaller than original, a
drop point and a wood saw. Both the
White Hunter and the saw have an added guard below the handle for safety and
protection, a nice feature. There's a
partly serrated straight clip point in the Fish set that might also be a nice
addition. The hoof pick and comb from
the horse set probably won't be much use to the majority of us. There's a
leather sheath to hold the knife and a pair of alternate blades.
Leatherman Tool Group's aptly named “Squirt” ($39) are the smallest tools the company has ever offered, being slightly smaller than the Micra, a mere 2.25 inches long and 2 ounces in weight. The Squirt follows in the footsteps of last year's Juice, using similar modular construction to provide two models with many shared features. Expect availability in September.
The P4 features needle nose pliers, the S4 a pair of spring-loaded scissors. In addition, both include a 1.5 inch knife blade (double ground, a big improvement over the Micra's), a bottle cap lifter, three screwdrivers (medium, extra small and Leatherman's flat Phillips) and a lanyard attachment.
The P4 also includes a metal file (single cut and cross cut), sharp awl and soft wire cutters. The S4 also includes a nail file/cleaner and removable tweezers with wide and angled tips (a huge improvement over the Micra in both regards) and a necessarily short ruler.
Perhaps taking a lesson from reaction to the single color offerings in the Juice line up, both model of the Squirt are available with anodized aluminum scales in Glacier (blue), Inferno (red) and Storm (dark gray).
Leatherman is also now offering the entire Juice lineup in the Storm color. Those desiring bright colors in their Juice are still restricted to a single color per model.
Leatherman also introduced two innovative sheaths for the Juice tool line, both adaptable to all the models (available in June). The clear plastic sheath ($7) is made of polycarbonate and polyester. The tool slides down into it and is held in place with tabs that fit into existing recesses in the tool. The more conventional and secure leather sheath ($9) is expandable with elastic Spandex sides to accommodate the Juice line's different thickness and has a Velcro'd flap closure.
The leather sheath also allows the Juice to be stored in the open configuration with a hole in the bottom to allow the pliers jaws the stick through. Not sure if this would be a great idea for everyday carry, but very handy if your working on a project and just want to secure the pliers while you accomplish another task. Both sheaths feature a belt clip for attachment to your person.
On the improvement front, Leatherman has introduced a production change that they claim solves the problem some have had with the can opener on the large Juice XE6 that could twist out of alignment and cause problems. We've traded in our injured XE6 sample and will report on how well the fix works. They have also gone to an overlay for the colored Micras, a la Juice, in anodized aluminum or translucent plastic, to eliminate the paint that often chipped off in use. This adds a slight bit to the width of the tool.
The SOG Specialty Knives Flash introduces an assisted opening folder to the SOG line (available in May) with a patent pending opening mechanism developed by SOG's Spencer Frazer. Available with either machined aluminum or molded Zytel handles, the Flash comes in two sizes: Flash I with a 2.5 inch blade ($45 in Zytel, $75 in Al) and Flash II with a 3.5 inch blade ($60 in Zytel, $90 in Al), both drop point with plain edge and of AUS-8 stainless. Black Ti finish is an option on both (+$5 and +$10 respectively). The handle has a pair of deep finger grooves for improved grip and a comfortable shape. The aluminum handle version will be available in black, blue or red anodizing later this summer.
Opening is via an ambidextrous thumb stud that, as we prefer, is out of the way when open. Once you start the blade opening, it takes over and opens it the rest of the way in a “flash.” There's a bolt-action blade lock that is easily released via a slide on the right side. On the right side at the tail is a sliding safety lock to secure the blade to prevent accidental opening. When off safety, it shows red in the slot. A reversible pocket clip extends bayonet style out the end of the handle, allowing for deeper pocket carry and less conspicuousness.
The X-42 Field Knife we were shown in prototype form last year will finally be available in May ($110). It will be joined by a downsized version, the Field Pup ($50) with a 4-inch drop point blade of AUS-8 stainless and a molded Kraton rubber handle on the full tang blade. Both come with traditional black leather sheaths.
Spencer also shared with us his latest prototype, the Team Leader, an assisted opening folder with SOG's Arc-Lock.
SOG has also updated their venerable Tomcat to the Tomcat II ($130) with ambidextrous
one-hand opening studs and added machined ridges along the blade spine for a
better grip. The PowerLock multi-purpose tool line all receive a hard wire
cutter at the base of the pliers throat.
They have also added an EOD version with blasting cap and wire crimpers
The Ken Onion designed Vertigo ($60) is his first fixed blade for Kershaw Knives. The 4-inch drop point blade of AUS-8A stainless is Ti-nitride coated black and has a partly serrated edge. The polyamide handle slabs are similar in shape to previous molded folder handles from Onion, with a somewhat deeper finger groove up front. There's a ridged thumb rest on top and ridges at the tail top and bottom, along with a generous lanyard hole. A Kydex sheath is provided. Available in April.
The original Onion designed Chive (1 15/16 drop point blade) has been joined by two fancier models, both with the same unique Speed-Safe assisted opening system. The 1600BLK Black Chive ($75) features a high polish with a tough black boron-carbide finish on both handle and blade, making for a stunning beautiful small knife. There is also a 1600SS model with just the high polish on the stainless handle and blade ($60). The only drawback we noted was that the high polish and resulting rounded edges made it a bit more difficult to work the integral liner lock to release the blade, particularly with wet or sweaty hands. It might be better if they could leave that one edge square.
Kershaw also released a new Onion designed series, the Vapor, this time without the Speed-Safe assisted opening mechanism and made in China. These are a conventional integral lock with stainless handles and AUS-6A stainless drop point blades, available in either plain edge or partly serrated. One-hand opening is by a thumb stud and there's a non-reversible pocket clip. There are two sizes, the Vapor I with a 3-inch blade ($35) and the Vapor II with a 3.5-inch blade ($40).
Boker showed off a prototype of a hinged folder. Opening is accomplished by pushing against the blade through the hole in the handle. The lock release involves depressing the ring in that same hole with one finger while pressing the blade down and against the spring and folding it with the other.
The ORCA fixed blade of salt-water resistant X15 T.N stainless steel with black titanium coating that was introduced last year has been joined by a skeletonized version, the Beluga ($170), and an outdoors and hunting version, the ORCA II ($210). This version has a plain edge without the titanium coating or the sharpened spine. The Beluga comes with a Cordura sheath with hard polymer insert. The ORCA II comes with a molded sheath that can be reversed for right- or left-hand carry incorporating an integral lock with thumb release.
Fans of the Applegate-Fairbairn Fighting Knife have another, more practical version available from Boker, the “field version” model A-F 543U ($125). The 6-inch 420 stainless blade retains the spear point/dagger shape, but is flat ground from the spine with a partly serrated edge. Boker's version of the A-F knives feature a fiberglass reinforced Delrin handle and brass cross guard. A Cordura sheath is provided.
The Gemini line of X15 T.N salt water resistant stainless steel folders has been joined with a bright yellow handled version with partly serrated edge. We like bright colored knives, they seem to stay found longer.
The big news from Chris Reeve this year isn't a new knife, it's a new steel. Chris has introduced CPM S30V to the world in all his folder blades: Sebenza, Umfaan and Mnandi. The new steel replaces the BG-42 used previously. S30V is a brand new specialty stainless steel produced by Crucible Steel in Syracuse, New York. Chris was intimately involved working with Crucible for two years in developing and testing the new steel.
S30V is produced using a powder metallurgy process. The molten alloy is reduced to powder, or really very minute balls, via gas atomization that is then isostatically compressed into 100% dense compacts. Such steels have no alloy segregation and exhibit extremely uniform carbide distribution, ideal for knife making. (see the Crucible Web site for more information on this technique) S30V is alloyed with:
Chris isn't claiming that the new steel is a giant leap forward, rather it is an incremental improvement “on the order of 5% over BG-42,” particularly in the area of toughness as measured in better edge retention in everyday use. In other words, typical abuse won't result into the fine edge being nicked or chipped as easily as previous steels, which in turn translates into an edge that lasts longer. Toughness isn't an attribute that necessarily shows up in typical edge retention tests, slicing hemp rope or cardboard. But, used in the real world, where blades are not always treated with the respect they might prefer, it makes a difference. It's a difference the average user might not normally be aware of, but that becomes apparent when a blade is pushed to the limit.
Chris was looking to develop a steel with improved performance while at the same time offering excellent machining characteristics. Some potentially high performing steels they tested were so difficult to work with that they would discourage widespread use. His aim was a steel that would offer quantifiable improvements while attracting quantity use by the large production knife houses so that Crucible would sell lots, make money, and thereby be encouraged to develop more and better steels in the future.
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Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
Email: Doug Ritter
First Published: February 12, 2002
Revision: 07 November 4, 2002
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