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SHOT Show 2004 Report - Knives

2004 Shot Show logo Nobody told the knifemakers there was still a recession on. With a few exceptions, all had lots of new sharp edges with points to get excited about. However, more often than in prior years, I was shown prototypes but then asked not to write about them. Many manufacturers are holding their cards close until they are nearly ready for production as they fear knock-offs and competitive moves that can develop these days in much less time than used to be the case. Technology has significantly shortened development time when it's not creativity and innovation that is required.

This is a very personal report on SHOT Show. What follows are just the highlights from the show that caught my eye. It is hardly all-encompassing, many new knives are too wild and impractical to meet my criteria for a functional and practical wilderness survival knife. For the most part, I have not included tactical or martial arts knives. Also not covered, with a few exceptions that tickled my fancy and which also were reasonably practical, are fancy knives designed primarily to look good or impressive. Due to press of time and various critical time-sensitive projects under way, this review is somewhat shorter than usual. I have not spent time or effort, for the most part, on the more trivial stuff and minor things like new finishes to old products. I appreciate your understanding.

Unlike years past, I have relied upon the manufacturers for much of the photography. We'll see how that works. It certainly made for a much more enjoyable show for me; I had time to actually have a conversation in many of the booths. My wife joined me for the first time and that also helped to encourage me to take it a little easier and to have some fun and to introduce her to my many friends at the show that I generally only see once or twice a year.

Assisted opening folders were again popular. Virtually everyone who didn't have one yet, finally succumbed, those that had them introduced variations and line extensions. For the uninitiated, we'll repeat our brief overview on the subject: By "assisted opening" we are talking about a spring-powered mechanism that opens the knife once you have started opening the blade. This is differentiated from an automatic (commonly referred to as a switchblade) that opens with just the press of a button or lever or by gravity alone. Some argue it is a distinction without a difference and many fear that assisted opening knives are a potential legal minefield, but for now they are legal in most places and the feds haven't made an issue of it. Mind you, laws against automatic knives are bogus anyway and were enacted in a moment of political hysteria, but that's another issue.

In most, but not all cases the spring takes over almost immediately after you start opening the blade, thus for safety's sake in such designs you really need to lock it closed and such knives are equipped with safety locks, which often pretty much defeats much of the supposed advantage the mechanism might provide. Forgetting to lock the safety can result in an assisted opening folder opening in your pocket, with resulting damage to your person or your clothing (been there, done that!). The alternative, which a few manufacturers have implemented, and which we prefer, is to ensure the assist doesn't start until the blade is opened manually a considerable ways.

It seems that the traditional drop point blade shape, our favorite, is continuing to make something of a comeback, though nobody had any explanation as to why, other than it's a shape that works. Perhaps it's just one of those everything-old-is-new-again sort of things.

We have provided the specifications we received from the manufacturers for the most part; some are much better than others in what they provide, so blame them if you are missing some spec you'd have liked to have seen.

Prices quoted are manufacturer's suggested retail price as of February, 2004 (we don't waste pixels, or your intelligence, on 95 cents, we just round up). Most gear covered here can be purchased at significantly discounted prices from those quoted.

Assembling this SHOT Show Report is a major undertaking for this one-man show. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Equipped To Survive Foundation if you find this report to be of value to you. The Equipped To Survive Foundation is a tax-exempt non-profit corporation that supports the continued operation and expansion of Equipped To Survive and which allows me to attend shows such as this and report to you on the latest and greatest gear. In many cases Equipped To Survive has been first by months to publicize new and exciting survival and preparedness gear. Again, donations are fully tax-deductible. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation or to find out more. Thanks very much for your support and consideration.

Click on photos and links for larger image.
All prices MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail pricing) as of February, 2004)


We saw the first examples of Benchmade's new Red Class product line of knives made over in Asia for the "casual" market.  Price points are lower than what has been traditional for Benchmade. The existing line of U.S. production knives have been renamed as the Blue Class or, for tactical, Black Class and their specials are now the Gold Class. 

Benchmade Rant DPTThe Mel Pardue designed Model 10505 RANT DPT ($60) is a traditional drop point hunter with a 4.5 inch blade of N690 stainless. This is an Austrian made stainless steel that is supposed to be equivalent to 440C.

There is a stainless bolster and butt cap. Benchmade's "BILT System" (Blade Inline Tang) incorporates a long nut inside a slot in the full tang, then the butt is secured with a through bolt that is tightened down to lock the polypropylene handle with black Krayton overmold in place.  If desired, it can be disassembled for cleaning.   The nylon sheath has a plastic insert and there's a cross strap with metal snap to retain the knife securely in the sheath. The only real complaint I can make, at first glance, is the lack of a lanyard hole.  A bowie version (Model 10500) with molded leather sheath is also available.

Benchmade MonochromeThe Red Class Model 10300 Monochrome ($50) is a Steirer Eisen designed, integral lock folder with stainless handles and a 3-inch N690 drop point blade.  It has dual thumb lugs, but the removable pocket clip is right hand only. There's a lanyard hole in the butt and lots of ridges all over the top and bottom for a secure grip. The lock-up felt solid and there's little to indicate it's anything other than the sort of product you'd expect from Benchmade.

Benchmade Model 960Back to the Blue Class, one of the more strikingly pretty, but still functional new knives is the Model 960 ($200) designed by Warren Osborne.  This was originally a limited production design, what would now be called Gold Class, that has been put into production.  The detailing is very nice for such a practical knife. It builds on the ergonomic handles of the Switchback, minus the second piggyback knife blade and with a rounded butt.  The handles are anodized red aluminum with black G10 inlays. 

The 3.12 (9.92 cm) "modified drop point," very nearly a spear point, plain edge blade is of D2 steel. The lock is AXIS retained by stainless steel liners. The thumbs studs and pocket clip are ambidextrous. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a lanyard hole. 

Benchmade ApparitionAnother practical and functional beauty is the Model 670 Apparition ($140), a Mel Pardue and Warren Osborne collaboration and the first assisted opening knife from Benchmade. The assisted opening mechanism is a new, patented design given the moniker "Optimiser" and it has a couple interesting tricks up its sleeve. Most innovative is that the assisted opening function is optional, the user can add it or remove it as desired. Given the legal cloud that's hanging over assisted opening knives in some areas, that could be a mighty useful capability.

Without it, the knife is just another one-hand opening liner lock, but add the Optimzer spring rod and it provides the necessary tension for the assist.  One of the features we like about this opening assist is that it doesn't become effective until the blade is opened 30 degrees.  This eliminates the need for a separate safety and as we have noted before, we prefer this sort of action for assisted opening knives.

The 670 features polished stainless steel bolsters and molded imitation kudu horn scales. The back spacer has ersatz file work and the ambidextrous pocket clip is polished. The 3.4-inch (8.64 cm) drop point blade is of 154CM stainless with a plain edge riding between titanium liners. There are dual thumb studs.

Bencmade ActivatorThe Mike Snody designed Model 210 Activator ($140) is a compact drop point full tang fixed blade utility knife.  The 2.5-inch (6.35 cm) drop point blade has a high grind.  The sculpted three-inch handles with carbon fiber and G10 bolster and scales is both functional and sharp looking. There's a deep finger recess for safety and the spine is ridged for secure thumb purchase.  They didn't forget a lanyard hole.  It's one of those rare small blades that fits a large hand comfortably.  The friction fit sheath is textured black leather and it is designed to slip into a deep pocket.


Boker LamdaBoker added the Lamda 189 ($180) to complement last year's small Zeta with a 3-inch Cera-Titan sintered titanium drop point blade. The is a right-handed thumb lug, a plastic half disc actually.  The handle is the same Zytel with Kraton insert as used on the Gemini series.  It has a pronounced finger guard and an inset stainless steel liner lock with a fixed stainless right-handed pocket clip and a lanyard hole.

The Cera-Titan blade is 40% lighter than steel, the whole knife weighs in at 2.7 ounces, and Boker claims it retains an edge very nearly as well as ceramic, which would be very well indeed.  Unlike ceramic, if necessary it can be sharpened using normal sharpeners and it is flexible, thus more tolerant of abuse.

Magnum KALS 74The Dietmar Pohl designed KAL/KALS 74 series ($33 - $35) in Boker's Magnum line is said to be influenced by the bayonet of the AK-47. They must be talking about the handle, because blade shape itself is a practical modified drop point, something no self-respecting AK-47 ever got close to.  Both knives share ergonomic aluminum handles with pronounced finger grooves, ridges on the butt and top fore end and a lanyard hole with a small Kalashnikov medallion inset. The KAL version has a slightly recurved AUS 8 stainless 3.5-inch blade with a thumb stud and stainless liner lock.  The KALS has a more traditional drop point style, no thumb opener, and Magnum's pushbutton lock.     

Robinson - Opinel style folderBoker also showed us a sample of a new line of Opinel influenced knives they will be soon be selling. The sample was of a double locking bladed knife, clip point plain edge and blunt tip serrated, with a molded handle and the usual twist style locking mechanism.  For those who like the Opinel design, but have despaired of ever seeing anything in modern materials or more innovative designs in that vein, these may well prove to be what they had hoped for.

Buck Knives

Buck Alpha Crosslock PBSThe Crosslock is back at Buck Knives, the latest iteration being called the Model 183 Alpha Crosslock PBS.  The "PBS" stands for Portable Butcher Shop, so it's easy to see what market this knife is aimed at. We always liked to Crosslock design for its two full sized locking blades, but the notable drawback was the lack of any finger guard and weight was also an issue.  Buck has addressed both issues with this latest evolution.

The blades incorporate a flipper style opener that becomes a finger guard when the blade is opened; the handles are machined anodized aluminum (black or camo) with a series of five lightening holes and the whole knife now weighs in at only 4 ounces (113 gr). The pocket clip is ambidextrous and there's a lanyard hole at the top of the butt.  While the thumbs studs are set up for right-handed use, the flippers serve to make the blade opening ambidextrous as well. For those who carry in the provided nylon sheath, they also make it easier to grasp and pull from the sheath.   

The primary blade is a 3-inch (7.6 cm) modified spear point, very nearly a drop point, with a cut-out on the spine, in 420HC stainless. The other blade is an aggressive crosscut saw with a gut hook on its spine. We're pleased to see the Crosslock back with these better features and hope that Buck will produce additional versions with more blade options, as they did before.

Buck Rush assited opening knifeThe Model 290/291 Rush ($73 / $90) is Buck's first assisted opening knife and it incorporates a number of unique features. The skeletonized handle is possible because the assisted opening mechanism is powered by dual coil spring at the fore end around the pivot, what Buck is calling "ASAP" for Advanced Spring Assisted Performance.  It incorporates a flipper for quick opening, as well as ambidextrous thumb studs. Another innovation is the Cam Lock Safety, which is located immediately behind the flipper on the top of the knife. The lock is a lever that is easily engaged or disengaged with the same finger used to open the blade, making it far less of a hassle than other locks we have experienced to date.  We prefer designs that make such locks unnecessary, but if it needs a lock, it should be as convenient to use as possible and this appears to do just that.

Buck Cam-Lock SafetyThe two models are identical in other details except that the 291 has an ATS-34 stainless blade while the 290 is 420HC.  Handles are anodized aluminum with a 2.5-inch (6.4 cm) drop point blade.  The liners and liner lock are stainless. The pocket clip is removable, but not ambidextrous and there's no lanyard hole.  

Columbia River Knife & Tool

CRK&T RealEase liner lock release on ConvergenceColumbia River Knife & Tool's Convergence folder ($70) is a slim clip point knife that we normally wouldn't make much note of due to its blade shape, but it caught our attention for its unique (patented) "RealEase" ambidextrous liner lock release invented by custom makers Charles Kain of Indianapolis, Indiana, and Steve McCowen of Iola, Wisconsin. This is another of those deceptively simple mechanisms that leaves you shaking your head.

The "button" is located between the frame sides on the bottom of the knife at the fore end. When you pull the release back, using pretty minimal pressure from either index finger, the sloped face of the lock release moves the liner sideways, wedging the liner open and releasing the blade.  It's almost too easy for a tactical knife, but we anticipate we'll see a good deal more of this mechanism going forward.

CRK&T R.S.L.The Van Hoy R.S.L. Snap Lock ($50) is another unique offering, worthy of mention if for no other reason than virtually everyone we showed our sample to thought it was cool. The Rotating Snap Lock takes some practice to get used to it and to do it quickly without much thought. Pushing the top sideways spreads the stainless side pieces that form the handle apart allowing the blade to pivot on its pins until it locks in place again. The tighter you squeeze the handle, the more secure the blade is held. Release is just the same; push the lock to the side spreading the handle and the blade can be rotated back.

Van explained that the knife is designed to ride next to the seam in a pair of blue jeans. Due to its design, the ambidextrous pocket clip requires a different clip depending on what side you wear it on; both clips will be included. Remove the clip and it is fully ambidexterous. The lock also serves as a quick release; wearing it as a neck knife is a viable option.

The AUS 6M blade is 2.5 inches long and the warncliff style is reasonably practical.

CRK&T M21Kit Carson's new M21 series is based on his popular M16 and M18 designs.  It features the trademark open skeletonized handles from the M16, this time in hard anodized 6061 T6 aluminum, no scales, and the robust recurved spearpoint blade design of the M18. 

The blade is AUS 8 with a frosted finish.  It incorporates Kit's "flipper" that forms a true finger guard when the blade is locked in place by the integral liner lock. There's CRK&T's LAWKS lock to prevent inadvertent release of the liner lock. The removable stainless pocket clip is not ambidextrous. 


Gerber Freeman FolderThe success of the Gerber's Freeman Fixed Blade (nee "Hunter") introduced last year, one of the nicer affordable practical drop point  "hunters" around, prompted an explosive extension of the line this year from Gerber. The Freeman Folder ($60) has a 3.25 inch drop point blade of 440A stainless steel.  Stainless liners and liner lock are covered in pear wood scales.  I has ambidextrous thumb studs for opening, a good finger guard and thumb rest, but no pocket clip. It comes with the traditional Gerber nylon sheath which can be carried horizontally or vertically.

Gerber Freeman Exhange-A-BladeThe Freeman Exchange-A-Blade ($100) is a fixed blade with two sets of multiple blade options. Both versions come with a drop point and saw blade.  One comes with a gut hook, the other with a boning blade. The blades slip in the fore end and a push button release on the side of the bolster releases the blade to exchange it. A nylon sheath with pocket for the alternate blades is included.

Gerber Freeman Caping KnifeA Freeman Caping Knife ($40) is also offered, a fixed drop point 2.5-inch blade.  It lacks the lanyard slot of the other Freeman knives, but includes the pear wood scales over the full tang. A molded nylon sheath is provided.

The Nautilus ($60) is Gerber's entry this year into the tool wars.  This is not a pliers-equipped multi-purpose tool, more of a tool in the SAK tradition. Its claim to fame is an automatic opening coin-cell powered LED flashlight that flips out from the curved ergonomic handle with a press of a side stud, like a "switchblade."

Gerber NautilusThe handle gives a good grip for the light, which has a couple tricks itself.  Besides a single white LED on the fore end, like a traditional flashlight; it has a second white LED on the underside. This illuminates the blades and tools in use, allowing the user one-handed operations in the dark.  The rubber encased switch on the side of the light cycles it through four modes: fore end light, underside light, both lights and a fore end flashing mode.  It would be nice if it also automatically shut off the light when you folded it back into the handle; on a number of occasions we found ourselves leaving the light on.

The 2.25-inch spear point one-hand opening blade and the rest of the tools lock in place with the same slide lock arrangement as the Legend. There's also a medium size common screwdriver and cap lifter, a #2 Phillips driver and folding scissors.  Somewhat surprisingly, the scissors have no spring; there's a large round ring on the moveable handle that you slip the end of your finger into in order to operate the scissor blades. The scissor blades are only 5/8-inch long.

Gerber Nautilus with SheathThe handle is covered with blue rubber inserts making for a secure grip. Overall length is 4 7/16 closed, it's 7/8 inch thick and it weighs 3.6 ounces.

The sheath is molded to fit the curved handle and lies flat, much better than typical envelope style nylon sheaths (similar in concept to Bianchi's excellent AccuMold style sheaths).  And, at least on the prototype we were provided, the Gerber trademark square corner that usually drives us nuts was trimmed so that it didn't scratch us every time our arm passed over it.  We hope that sort of finishing touch makes it into production, and it would be welcome on all their nylon sheaths. On the down side, it was not easy to grab the Nautilus and pull it from the sheath and on a number of occasions we managed to open squeeze the opening stud for the LED light in the process, which was something of an annoyance.

Cerger Gator Combo-AxeGerber also introduced the Gator Combo Axe ($40) with a small drop point fixed blade slipped into the hollow handle of what is, essentially, their diminutive Back Paxe. We've seen this done elsewhere and questioned the practicality, we prefer having our knife always immediately available, but it is space efficient.  The pair weigh in at 19.2 ounces with nylon belt sheath. 

On the other hand, we love the Gator textured rubber applied to the handle.  One of the most dangerous attributes of small one-handed hatchets/axes is the smooth handle is just a slip away from disaster.  We hope they offer the Gator grip on the other small axes in the line.  In the meantime, the Gator Axe will also be available separately ($38).


Kershaw  Blur in RedThe Ken Onion designed Blur ($90 - $100) from Kershaw is another Speed-Safe assisted opening knife along familiar lines, but with a noticeable difference--no flipper! We were told this is in response to the negative reaction in some quarters to the perceived "switchblade" action that the flipper encourages. That aside, the knives present an unmistakable Onion profile with anodized aluminum handles with stylized inserts of what Kershaw is calling Trac-Tec, for added grip. The 3.375 (8.6 cm) 440A stainless blade is a recurved drop point profile. A rescue version is equipped with a blunt rounded tip and a carbide glass breaker in the butt end of the handle.  There's a "tactical" tanto blade version as well. Liner and liner lock are stainless steel and it is equipped with dual thumb studs.

The handles are available in either black or red anodized with black inserts, the latter is both eye appealing and a nice change from the usual black. If dropped, the red is lot's easier to find, a feature we prefer. The pocket clip is reversible and there is a lanyard hole, albeit a bit on the small size.

Kershaw Bear Hunter IIThe Bear Hunter II ($40) is an affordable conventional sheath knife with a 4.5-inch (11.4 cm) AUS 8A stainless traditional drop point blade. The co-polymer handles have finger scallops and a large integral single guard. The sheath is black leather.  There's no lanyard hole, unfortunately.

Kershaw NakamuraThe Nakamura ($180) incorporates a stunning, if somewhat subtle and subdued, bolster comprised of a total of 19 layers, including 10 layers of stainless steel, 5 layers of   "vari-colored" copper and 4 layers of brass, which are exposed to reveal an intricate pattern. Subtler yet is the layered 2.875 (7.3 cm) modified recurved drop point blade comprised of a VG-10 core clad in a single layer of 420J2 stainless. The bolsters are paired with attractive quince wood handles over the stainless liners and liner lock. The pocket clip is removable.


New Leatherman Charge Ti, Charge XTi and Wave (top to bottom)It was out with the old and in with the new at Leatherman this year as they introduced five all new models, improved and revised the Wave (at $87 it's also priced $7 less than previously) and in the process are replacing all but two of the full-sized portion of their multi-purpose tool line.  The Model-T of the multi-purpose tool industry, Leatherman's original Pocket Survival Tool (PST), is gone at the end of 2004. Also history will be the PST II, Pulse, Sideclip and Mini-Tool. The Super Tool 200 and Crunch are the only unchanged holdovers of what is now called the "Classic" line. They even introduced a new corporate logo.

Two new "Charge" models now lead the line-up. The Charge Ti and Charge XTi (both $124) are nearly identical; the "Ti" part of their name signifying the new cast and machined titanium handles. The interior frame and liner locks are still stainless steel, only the exterior handles are titanium. The machined surfaces serve to provide a much better grip than the smooth stainless handles of the Wave, a feature I liked a lot.

These tools retain the familiar Wave format with two blades, file and saw opening from the exterior and the other tools opening from the interior. The interior tools on both the Wave and the new Charge all lock in place, a welcome addition. The lock release is similar to that used on the Crunch, an easily operated lever.  Leatherman claims this lock is double the strength of the blade lock used on the current Pulse model.

Charge Ti (left) and XTI (right)The saw and file remain the same. The primary plain-edge and serrated blades are more robust, wider and with a larger opening slot allowed by the wider blade. This causes them to protrude a bit more from the body of the tool, but that's a fair tradeoff for easier and safer opening. The added width reduced the chances you will slice your thumb when opening the blade, a drawback of the original blade design, and the additional meat makes for a stronger blade with a bit more metal carried all the way to the tip, a weak point (unintentional pun!) in the previous design.

Bronze bushings have been added to the blade pivots on all the external opening blades to ensure smoother and more consistent opening forces. Spacers between the interior tools now allow them to rotate individually, no more "clumping."  The down side is that this wastes space, which impacts either width or tool selection. While I personally never found this to be a major issue, they apparently felt it necessary to respond to competition that has successfully made this a marketing issue.

Leatherman Blade comparison: New (top), Old (bottom)While the blades on the new Wave remain 420HC stainless, the primary plain edge blade on the Charge is 154 CM, a premium high carbon stainless steel formulation which offers a huge improvement in edge holding. Leatherman claims a three-fold improvement over the 420HC and that wouldn't surprise us. Blade length on all of these is increased slightly to 2.94 inches.

We also noticed that on the new Charge the blade aligns such that the handles angle up away from the blade slightly, which is much better than the original Wave where they were in straight alignment. The angle makes them much easier to use to cut close to the bottom of something. (see image to right for comparison on new (top) and old(bottom))

The serrated sheepsfoot blade has a more angular tip than the traditional curved tip of the previous blade, but still plenty safe.  On the XTi, a cutting hook has been incorporated into the spine of the serrated blade, for use slicing through seatbelts and the like.  The top of the serrated blade above the opening hole has some ridges to identify it by feel, no need to use a file to add your own as many of us have done to the original Wave.

New Leatherman Charge/Wave Pliers (top), Old style below)All the new tools share a new and improved pliers jaw and wire cutter design.  The jaws have been beefed up and the area around the pivot joint is now elliptical, reportedly resulting in an overall strength increase of 133%.  (see comparison in photo at right of new (top) and old (bottom) style pliers jaws) The attachment of the jaws to the handles has also been beefed up and when closed, there is much less movement of the handles than before, which if nothing else, just feels better and higher quality, even if the functional effect is nil. 

The length of the wire cutters, including the  hard wire cutter at the throat of the pliers, has been increased 58%.  The XTi model features a built-in crimper for blasting caps and split shot.

Leatherman Charge and Wave bit holderThe new Charge and Wave incorporate bit holders instead of conventional screwdrivers (with a single exception). There are two sizes.  The small one holds a double-ended  .058" flat diver and a Phillips that Leatherman tells me is between #00 and #000 for the really small stuff like eyeglasses and electronics. The larger takes a multitude of double-ended bits, but not the common 1/4-inch hex bits used by others.  These bits have unique flattened hex bodies so they are much slimmer.  As a result, at least for now, you'll have to buy extra bits from Leatherman. Leatherman claims the S2 tool steel used is 35% stronger than stainless. They have a zinc phosphate coating for corrosion protection. Leatherman believes the zinc phosphate coating "is safely characterized as offering a 'high' degree of corrosion protection." We'll remain a wee bit skeptical of that until we can test them ourselves.

The good news is that the bits take up a lot less room. The flatness of the carrier and bits make for compact storage in a sheath. With all the bits double ended, you also gain there as well. These bits also have double ground common screwdrivers, not the single-ground Leatherman has always used, which is better (Leatherman retains the ground sharp edges to its flat screwdrivers which are much better than the eased edges that you get from polished drivers). The larger multi-fluted drivers and hex drivers, such as the #3 Phillips, are truncated slightly on two sides due to the narrow width of the bits; we'll have to wait until we have samples to determine how well that works.  Unlike the Tool Adapter which accept normal 1/4 drive hex adapters, Leatherman doesn't yet make one of its "flattened-hex" adapters that will allow you to use a conventional 1/4-inch drive socket. I suspect that it's only a matter of time before someone else does, if Leatherman doesn't.

For those who prefer the flexibility of Leatherman's original accommodation for interchangeable 1/4-inch hex bits, their Tool Adapter, and don't mind the extra bulk, the existing version that fits the Wave ($28 including plastic case with belt clip and 6 bits) is also compatible with all the new tools.

Leatherman Charge included Bit SetThe Wave and Ti come with a double ended #1/#2 Phillips on one end, a la the current Leatherman combination Phillips bits, and a 3/16" flat on the other. The XTI has one bit holder with a double-ended #1 and #2 Phillips and adds another bit holder with 1/4" and 3/16" common blades.  The Wave and Ti also include a fixed large common screwdriver, as of old. Leatherman offers a set of 21 double-ended bits in a pair of convenient holders (click for list) ($20) that slip into a pocket on the tool sheaths.  One set of 9 or 10 (respectively and including what's installed in the tool) is included with the Charge Ti and XTi. (click for list)

Charge Ti (left)  XTi (right)There's also the usual can/bottle opener and on the Wave and Ti, the fold-out scissors, which have been modified.  While the blades are shorter, Leatherman claims they cut better and retain sharpness longer. The XTI eliminates the scissors, replacing it with that second bit holder. 

There's a lanyard ring with a large hole, which is good and an improvement over that of the original Wave, but it cannot be deployed without use of some sort of pointed object to pry it out, which is bad, or at the least, inconvenient.  Nor does it lock in place and the sliding design could result in the lanyard being cut if it is collapsed in use, also bad.  We suggested a few simple modifications to the prototypes they were showing that would address both issues; we'll have to wait to see if they fix that for production.

So, just to review, you can click on each tool that follows for photos of the individual tools opened to show how they are equipped: Wave and Wave interior tools, Charge Ti and Charge XTi

Leatherman Charge & Wave Auxiliary setThe Charge models also come with accessories that are also available separately ($5) and will also fit the Wave, a removable pocket clip and larger, quick-release lanyard ring.  There's a slot in the pouch to hold the pocket clip if not attached, and while Leatherman says you can use this same slot to hold the lanyard ring, we're not inclined at first glance to find that very practical as implemented.

Leatherman Sheaths - Wave (left) Charge (right)Sheaths come in both nylon and leather with elastic side pieces. They will hold the tools both closed and open with the pliers sticking out the bottom. The Charge sheaths include two elastic side pockets that can hold small items such as an ARC AAA light or a knife sharpener.  The prototype Charge sheaths we saw had metal logo plates attached, which seems like a bad idea to us.  One advantage of a well-designed full sheath is that it prevents the metal knife or tool from scratching stuff your scrape against, like your car, for example. These metal plates seem to be just a scratch waiting to happen.  For that matter, the bright yellow logo on the Wave sheaths didn't  do much for us either. I am sure I wouldn't be the only one cutting those off the nylon sheath and declining the leather one for that reason. I don't mind too much being an unpaid advertising billboard for companies whose products I use, I do mind it when it isn't done tastefully.

A ruler is included on the handles. Weight of the Charge models is 8.4 and 8.3 ounces (Ti and XTi, respectively), the new Wave weighs in at 8.5 ounces. All are 4 inches in length closed. The Wave is 0.687 inches thick, a hair thinner than the current model; the Charge is 0.75 inches thick.

Leatherman Kick, Fuse, BlastThe new Kick ($37), Fuse ($49) and Blast ($62) models will replace the PST, PST II, Pulse and Sideclip and all open in the traditional PST manner. Some basics carry through all three new models. All incorporate the improved pliers as used on the Charge and Wave models. Ergonomic Zytel grip inserts along the edges of the handles provide a much improved and more comfortable grip than the older plain steel edges.

Fuse and Blast have locking tools and blades using the same lever lock used on the interior tools of the Charge and Wave and the tools and blades open independently. The Kick has neither lock nor independently rotating tools and blades. The included lanyard ring is plenty large, no need for a split ring anymore.  Blade length on the Fuse and Blast is 2.94 inches; on the Kick it is 2.56 inches.

A comparison of the three tools (images not to scale):

Leatherman Kick
Leatherman Fuse
Leatherman Blast
Needlenose Pliers
Regular Pliers
Wire Cutters
Hard-Wire Cutters
Clip-Point Knife
Large Screwdriver
Small Screwdriver
Phillips Screwdriver
Ruler (8 inch/19 cm)
Bottle/Can Opener
Wire Stripper
Lanyard Ring
Needlenose Pliers
Regular Pliers
Wire Cutters
Hard-Wire Cutters
Locking Tools & Blades
Independent Rotation
Clip-Point Knife
Large Screwdriver
Small Screwdriver
Phillips Screwdriver
Ruler (8 inch/19 cm)
Bottle/Can Opener
Wire Stripper
Lanyard Ring

Needlenose Pliers
Regular Pliers
Wire Cutters
Hard-Wire Cutters
Locking Tools & Blades
Independent Rotation
Clip-Point Knife
Wood/Metal File
Large Screwdriver
Small Screwdriver
Phillips Screwdriver
Small Bit Driver with
   Phillips and Flat Tip
   Eyeglasses Screwdriver bit
Ruler (8 inch/19 cm)
Bottle/Can Opener
Wire Stripper
Lanyard Ring

4 inches / 10 cm long
4 inches / 10 cm long
4 inches / 10 cm long
0.625 inches thick
0.656 inches thick
0.75 inches thick
5.2 ounces / 147 grams
6 ounces / 170 grams
6.9 ounces / 196 grams

Sheaths are similar to current offering in both leather and nylon.

Leatherman Auxuliarry Pocket Clip and Bit Driver and Bits setA bit holder that slips over the end of the Phillips screwdriver (al la Gerber) and which accepts both Leatherman's unique flattened hex bits as well as standard 1/4-inch hex bits is an available accessory that fits all three models. The basic set includes the bit holder and five double-ended bits in a carrier ($20). The molded carrier even has storage slots for two standard bits. The set comes with the Wave style sheath with a storage slot for the bits. Plus, as noted previously, the existing Wave Tool Adapter fits all of these new tools. In addition, there's an optional removable pocket clip ($5) for the Kick, the result being a replacement for the Sideclip, which is being discontinued.

Lone Wolf Knives

Lone Wolf Knives Harsey Ranger Lone Wolf Knives added a drop point blade version of the Harsey Tactical Folder, the Harsey Tactical Ranger ($299). This is essentially the same knife with the false edge removed, creating a more traditional looking knife. With their 4.8-inch blade, nearly 6 inches long closed, these folders are a bit large from my perspective, though many love the concept and execution, witness the many sold and this year's extension of the line. On the other hand, if a fixed blade is a problem, for whatever reason, this is about as close as you'll come to a full size fixed blade in a folding knife. A nylon tactical sheath is included.

Bill Harsey also downsized his Tactical Folder to become the Harsey T-2 Ranger ($239) with a 3.9-inch CPM S30V drop point blade. The T2 is one of the nicest large folders we've seen, with a practical utilitarian blade shape and excellent ergonomic handle. The liners and liner lock are titanium. The fiberglass reinforced nylon handles have a nice tactile non-slip surface and the scaled-down handles, 4.9 inches overall length closed, fit the hand comfortably. This is a comfortable size for the pocket, and like the original, the ratio of blade length to handle length is very high. 

There is a full-sized lanyard hole in the butt and the open back makes it easy to clean. While it has ambidextrous thumb lugs, the stainless pocket clip is right-handed only, about the only shortcoming, such as it is, that we identified during our brief examination. Bill and Lone Wolf appear to have hit another home run.

Ontario Knife Company

Jeff Randall's RAT knivesJeff Randall was in the Ontario booth showing off the latest iterations of the RAT (Randall Adventure & Training) knives.  All three, RTAK, RAT-7 and TAK-1, are now available with partially serrated blades and the TAK-1 and RAT-7 are also now available in D2 steel with a bead blasted finish, both plain edge and serrated ($91 / $94 and $128 / $134, respectively).  The RAT-7 sheath has been upgraded with Cordura n ballistic nylon, a gear pocket and a Kydex lining.

The new U.S. Marine Corps Bayonet ($186) is the first such designed exclusively for the Marines, as the Marine Corps crest molded into the handle attests. It bears a whole lot closer resemblance to the old KA-BAR/Marine Combat knives than the issue M7 bayonet and is more akin to the Army's M9 bayonet functionally. In other words, it is designed to be a functional and practical field knife, not just a pointy piece of steel to stick the enemy with, which makes a great deal more sense these days.

Ontario USMC BayonetThe 8-inch full tang clip point black phosphate coated blade has 1.375 inches of serrations at the base of the blade. The handle is molded "Dynaflex" and there's a metal butt cap which retains the bayonet latch plate.

The molded "low noise signature polyester elastomer" scabbard (bayonets have scabbards, knives have sheaths) has a stainless steel spring device at the throat to secure the knife, as well as a retention strap that snaps into place over the guard. On the back, protected by a nylon webbing strap, is a ceramic-coated aluminum honing rod.  

The ASEK ($160) is Ontario's entry into the competition to replace the current issue Air Force Survival Knife, which nobody would miss. Unlike some entries, theirs is a "system" comprised of the Aircrew Survival Egress Knife and a separate strap/shroud cutter, both fitted into a common sheath.

Ontario ASEKThe knife has a 5-inch 1095 carbon steel phosphate coated straight short clip point blade, a practical utility blade shape. The base of the blade has some relatively fine serrations and there are some moderately aggressive saw teeth, more so than the current issue knife, on the spine.  The rectangular oval coss-section ergonomic handle and double guard are molded rubber material of some sort over the full tang with lashing holes in the guard. The substantial octagonal metal butt cap has a lanyard hole and a pointed cone in its center that is theoretically to be used to break glass or Plexiglass. I have my doubts how effective it would be on the thick Plexi used in most military aircraft.

The flat anodized aluminum bodied shroud cutter has a large screwdriver blade on one end with a hook style safety cutter at the other end.  It is equipped with dual replaceable razor blades. There are three deep finger grooves in the handle for a secure grip and a ceramic-coated aluminum honing rod, for the knife, on the spine of the handle. The cutter is also available separately ($23).

The green nylon sheath has a Kydex insert for the knife with dual retention straps that snap over the handle, one down near the guard and the other up near the butt cap. A pocket holds the strap cutter behind the knife with its lanyard outside for easy retrieval. Leg straps are included, but may be removed.


SOG Flash II Search and Rescue At SOG, the Flash II Search/Rescue ($63) adds a rounded tip safety blade to the assisted opening Flash II. The 3.5-inch AUS 8 blade is about 60% serrated and is fitted to the Zytel handled version.

SOG TridentSOG's new Trident ($77) assisted opening folder has a 3.75-inch AUS 8 severe SOG trademark clip point blade, which is not a blade style I prefer. There is, however, one unique feature of this knife that is worth mention, its "Groove."  A slot cut down from the back of the handle past the edge of the blade, in the folded position, allows it to act as a safety cutter for seat belts, line and the like.

SOG Hunter RevolverThe unique Revolver now comes in two additional models, the Hunter Revolver and the Double Action Revolver (both $87).  The Hunter replaces the original SEAL Revolver's clip point blade with a 4.75-inch AUS 8 stainless drop point blade incorporating a gut hook and comes with a nice leather sheath emblazoned with the new Revolver logo. The Double Action replaces the saw blade of the original with a 4.75-inch AUS 8 tanto blade and comes with the Kydex sheath. 

SOG's Kydex sheaths now come equipped with a patented quick release belt attachment that slides over a belt and then locks in place.  Squeeze the clips together to slide it up and release.  Simple and not very bulky, will be interesting to see how it does in the field.


Spyderco Para-MilitarySpyderco's Model C81 Para-Military ($160) is basically a two-thirds size version of the original Military with a flat ground 3.1-inch blade of CPM S30V stainless.  Like the Military, it has a relatively narrow tip to the clip point blade. Spyderco's exclusive Compression Lock (liner lock) is nested into the black G-10 scales. It's equipped with a generously sized 14mm ambidextrous Spyderco opening hole.  The blade spine ramps up to clear the hole, providing good thumb purchase with ridges and there's a shallow finger guard at the base of the blade which flows into the handle. The point-down carry pocket clip is ambidextrous and there's a lanyard hole. It's available with plain or combo edge. 

Spyderco Native IIIThe C78 Native III ($70) is the latest iteration of this popular mid-sized small folder, this time made over in Japan to moderate the price. The 3.125-inch spear point blade is VG-10 stainless and the back lock continues with the Boye detent to lessen chances of inadvertent release. The black handles are glass-reinforced nylon with plenty of texture. The wire clip is ambidextrous and is retained by a hollow fastener that also serves as the lanyard hole.

Spyderco Salt 1Salt water and knives have always been at odds, even though those working around salt water are necessarily constant users of sharp edges. Often the answer has been to use low carbon steel that resists corrosion, but results in a relatively low hardness and very poor edge retention. Spyderco's answer is the C88 Salt 1, their first knife with H1 blade steel. H1 has only a trace amount of carbon and a relatively high percentage of silicone and nickel and as a result is virtually impervious to salt water corrosion. H1 is precipitation-hardened, not heat-treated, and a small amount (0.1%) of nitrogen serves to promote adequate hardening (Spyderco lists it as 57-58rc) during the process.  

The Salt 1 is similar to the best selling Delica model, but the tip of the 3-inch blade has been rounded to more of a sheepsfoot profile and the opening hole enlarged to 14mm for easier use with gloves on.  The glass reinforced nylon handle and back lock are identical in profile and size to the Delica, but with more aggressive checkerboard pattern and the stainless steel parts have been "treated to be impervious to rust and pitting." Blade lock is the back lock with Boye detent and the pocket clip is ambidextrous and is retained by a hollow fastener that also serves as the lanyard hole.


Swarovski knivesSwarovski, better known for optics, introduced an "Outdoor Collection" that included three eye-catching knives.  There's a matched pair of folder and fixed blade, Osprey smart 101 ($310) and classic 101 ($287.78), produced by Benchmade for them with a drop point CPM S30V blade and sculpted aluminum and green polymer handles. The folder has a 3.375-inch blade, the sheath knife a 3.63 inch blade.  The folder locks with a stainless liner lock and the blade is fitted with an ambidextrous opening disc, of sorts, with the top textured to serve as a thumb rest.  The handles incorporate a deep finger guard. The stainless belt clip is removable. No lanyard hole, unfortunately.  The sheath for the fixed blade is fitted leather.

The third knife, the Classic Versa 101 ($98.89) is a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife clad in Swarovski aluminum and green polymer matching the others with an "specially formed ergonomic thumb depression." The blades and implements are standard Deluxe Tinker with the exception that the Phillips screwdriver has been replaced with a corkscrew and there's no tweezers or toothpick.

TOPS Tactical Ops

TOPS Cherokee Hunter and Walkabout Hunter PointMike Fuller at TOPS had his usual vast assortment of new blades.  A few that caught my eye included the Cherokee Hunter  ($179), a larger traditional hunter with a 5-inch 1095 carbon steel wide drop point blade that is flat ground nearly to the spine. The black linen Micarta handles have a false bolster created by polishing the Micarta for a unique look. 

The Walkabout Lite Traveler Hunter Point ($149) has a 3.75-inch epoxy coated 1095 carbon steel recurved drop point blade and the usual TOPS black linen Micarta handles. The tang ends in a "prybar/scraper," but there's no lanyard hole. Mike indicated that could be easily added at the customer's request.

TOPS PasaytenThe Pasayten Lite Traveler ($179) was designed by Steven Dick and is equipped with a wide, short straight clip point blade, 5.25 inches long of 154CM stainless. The base of the blade serves as the half guard and it has a black linen Micarta handle as standard with shallow grooves cut on top of the handle and on the back spine of the blade for better grip.  Mike also showed it with an optional handle (no added cost) of bright orange material which is dimpled for even better grip.

TOPS DARTThe DART (Direct Action Rescue Team) has a 7-inch bolo style blade of CPM S30V ($329).  The variable height grind creates a particularly attractive looking blade.  The blade extends down to lengthen the half guard below the base of the Micarta handle and there's a large choil/finger groove ahead of this. Mike also showed a version with the handle made of stunning "brass bullet" Micarta scales, material used in some of the bulletproof cockpit doors installed in airliners for anti-terrorist purposes. 


There was nothing new in the Victorinox booth relevant to our interests that I can show or discuss in detail, but I can make mention that I had the opportunity to handle a prototype of a new more compact, lighter and more ergonomic SwissTool. They asked that I don't say anything more or publish a photo, and it will be a while as it's still in development, but it is coming. 

As one of our curious readers discovered, apparently it isn't nearly the secret Victorinox insisted it was: SwissTool Spirit

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Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
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First Published: February 22, 2004
Revision: 03 Feberuary 25, 2004
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