Knife Review: Extrema Ratio Fulcrum II D Desert Warfare

Extrema Ratio have built a reputation for making super strong knives; in this review of the Fulcrum II D ‘Heavy Folder’, we are taking that detailed ‘Tactical Reviews look’ at this re-launched folding knife. ‘Overbuilt’ is often used to describe knives with heavy construction, but is not how I would describe Extrema Ratio’s Fulcrum II. ‘Overbuilt’ suggests excessive design, but behind every Extrema Ratio design is a purpose and intent to give the owner confidence in a tool that won’t let them down. Initially I was sceptical – would the build of the Fulcrum II hamper its usefulness? But it has surprised me; read on to find out more.

A few more details:

What’s in the box?:


A good look round the Fulcrum II – Things to look out for here are:

As you look round the Fulcrum II you will see how the design has been kept simple yet functional and how solid every part is.


The Locking-Lock:

There are other knives that have a secondary lock to secure the main lock of an open folder, and there are assisted-openers that have a safety lock to prevent the blade springing open in your pocket, but I have yet to come across another folding knife with a secondary lock quite like the one on the Fulcrum II.
A back-lock mechanism uses the lock-bar’s spring to hold the blade in the folded position and then to keep the lock engaged when the blade is open. The lock-bar needs to move to allow the blade to open and close.
In the Fulcrum II, there is a secondary manual lock that locks the lock-bar itself, preventing from moving at all. This means if the blade is closed, it cannot be opened, and if opened the lock cannot be released to allow it to fold. This single secondary lock can secure the blade in either the opened or closed position.
As this is not something that would be obvious to everyone, one use-case for this is to prevent someone taking the folded knife off you and then using it against you (unless they know). The more likely use being to effectively make the folding knife a fixed blade knife ensuring that it cannot be accidentally closed.


Explained by the Maker:


The following text is from Extrema Ratio’s own product description.

This model is the evolution of the FULCRUM Folder (out of production since 2005), the first folding knife produced by Extrema Ratio according to the specifics of an Italian counter-terrorism unit. The FULCRUM II is basically identical to its predecessor, the only variations being the addition of a reversible clip and a partially lowered surface on the handle which improves the ergonomics and makes operating the opening pin easier. A manual security lock holds the BACK-LOCK mechanism lever, preventing accidental unlocking of the blade block during heavy-duty use. It can also be used to lock the knife closed in the event it’s taken away from the user: then the FULCRUM cannot be opened, even if the mechanism is often irrevocably damaged. The back of the flat-ground blade offers a comfortable resting point for the thumb. The tempered steel tang can be used as glass breaker and is provided with a hole to affix a security cord. Available versions: FULCRUM II D BLACK, FULCRUM II D DESERT WARFARE, FULCRUM II D BLACK RUVIDO, FULCRUM II T BLACK, FULCRUM II T DESERT WARFARE, FULCRUM II T BLACK RUVIDO.

The Blade and Handle – Detailed Measurements:

Now even more detailed!

Taking things far beyond most knife specifications, in this section I will be carrying out a detailed examination of geometry, balance, edge bevels, factory sharpness and structural edge testing using the industry leading measuring tools.

These measuring tools include a Vernier protractor, callipers, fixed radius gauges, the unique Arc Master adjustable radius gauge, Edge On Up’s BESS Certified PT50A and SET tester along with CATRA’s Hobbigoni LASER Edge Protractor.
The BESS ‘C’ scale of sharpness (Brubacher Edge Sharpness Scale) will be used to verify the sharpness of the factory edge and allow the knife to be brought to a minimum standard sharpness before testing a blade’s cutting performance.


The measurements have been tabulated and are presented along with a few reference blades. The ‘Balance relative to the front of the handle’ tells you if the knife will feel front heavy, or if the weight is in your hand (a positive value means the weight is forward of the front of the handle). The ‘Balance relative to the centre of the handle’ indicates how close to a ‘neutral balance’ the knife has in the hand.

The first table in this gallery shows the standard review measurements, however, this is one of the first reviews on Tactical Reviews to feature a new measurement. Using the Edge On Up Structural Edge Tester (SET) to measure the resistance of a knife’s edge to rolling.

This is to be expanded upon in future articles, but for now, in the SET results the key factors are:
Series 1 Degradation – how much damage the edge suffers from one edge rolling cycle. The damage is represented by an increase in the BESS ‘C’ score. (Averages also shown for A and B)
Series 2 Degradation – how much damage the edge suffers from one further edge rolling cycle. (Averages also shown for A and B)
Degradation after strop – has the edge been permanently damaged/chipped or can it be recovered with stropping? A negative number means it actually improved from the starting figure, suggesting there may have already been some rolling of the edge before testing. (Averages also shown for A and B)


The blade is made from BöHLER N690 STEEL (58HRC).

What it is like to use?

Before I could really appreciate the Fulcrum II, the edge needed reworking. Embarking upon this revealed a few things you should be aware of.

The factory edge was very steep, a total inclusive angle of 64 degrees. Taking the BESS sharpness measurements with an average score of 409,and a small thick blade, you have a less than eager cutter. Should you wish to use it as an extraction tool and cut through metal sheeting and pry with it, this edge will quite likely serve you well, but I wanted to know if this knife would also serve for daily tasks.

With such a thick blade and a primary blade grind at 21 degrees my intention was to take the edge angle to 40 degrees inclusive. I’d generally take a pocket knife to 30 degrees inc, but this is not a normal pocket knife and the edge bevel would be getting a bit too wide.

So, check this first photo in the gallery and you will see that the thumb stud creates an angle of about 53 degrees in relation to the edge bevel, making sharpening to anything less than this difficult. The only option is to remove it. Thankfully Extrema Ratio have made the thumb-stud removable and provided the Allen key for it, so no problem there. However, remember that the blade-stop in the closed position IS the thumb-stud, so once you take it off, don’t go closing the blade or you will undo all your hard work.

The major edge bevel angle change was carried out with a small belt grinder. It was taken to a burr and stropped to remove the burr, but I could never quite get it as sharp as I wanted. This might be that the belt needs changing, but before confirming that, I just moved onto a DMT Aligner kit and got the edge shaving sharp. The new edge bevel is significantly wider than the factory edge bevel, especially at the tip (about 4mm wide), so it does change the look somewhat.


In all honesty, on first starting to use the Fulcrum II with the factory edge, I was underwhelmed and thinking I now had an overly heavy folder that was not much use to me; despite having a very satisfying presence. However, the 20dps (degrees per side) edge has totally transformed the Fulcrum II. I cannot recommend enough just putting this edge angle on it straight out of the box.

Changing the edge angle to an inclusive 40 degrees makes this a properly usable knife. You can now appreciate its substantial feel and operation along with its, now useful, cutting performance.

Despite this new edge bevel angle transforming it, the Fulcrum II does still have a very thick blade. It is never going to slice like a thin blade – but who cares?! That clunk of the lock as you open it, the handle size and ergonomics – you know you are holding heavy duty metal.

Ergonomics are good and functional even with the angular look. Thumb-stud opening is firm but not stiff. If anything is over stiff, it is the back-lock spring. Unlocking the blade is quite tough, and I need to change grip specifically to one where I can apply maximum force to the lock – I can’t see this ever releasing accidentally due to a firm grip.

I do find the secondary lock very satisfying. Perhaps oddly, I like locking it closed, keeping the blade safely folded and stopping curious people opening it. Then the secondary lock on the open knife making it close to a fixed blade. This extra level of certainty adding an extra dimension to the Fulcrum II. If I were to express a minor doubt, it is the amount of engagement of this secondary lock. The secondary locking button overlaps the handle slab (to create the block) and does so with less than 1mm of overlap. Enough to function, but not quite in fitting with the solidity of everything else.

Putting it to woodworking duty, the Fulcrum II was a pleasure to use. I didn’t want to stop carving. The new edge bevel, being quite wide, gives it a semi-scandi effect and it was just eating up stick after stick. I did remove the pocket clip as, for me, this significantly improved the ability to work with it for extended periods.

This knife demands attention. Attention simply due to its build and presence, and the attention you need to give it to get it set up right, as you will need to put that proper working edge on it to be able to appreciate it. I like big and heavy folders as long as they can be put to real work – exactly what I’ve been doing with the Fulcrum II.


Review Summary

The views expressed in this summary table are from the point of view of the reviewer’s personal use. I am not a member of the armed forces and cannot comment on its use beyond a cutting tool or field/hunting knife.

Something that might be a ‘pro’ for one user can be a ‘con’ for another, so the comments are categorised based on my requirements. You should consider all points and if they could be beneficial to you.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Proper ‘Heavy Folder’ with respected pedigree.
Secondary lock, completely locking the blade open or closed.
Excellent fit and finish.
Very satisfying action.
Large finger guard.
Ambidextrous pocket clip.
Not that heavy despite solid build.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Factory edge far too steep at 64 degrees.
Thumb-stud needs to be removed for sharpening.
Relatively shallow blade for its thickness.
For hard use it is much easier on the hands without the pocket clip.
The primary lock is a bit too stiff.
No pouch supplied.

 

Discussing the Review:

The ideal place to discuss this reviews is on a forum. If you started reading the shorter forum version of the review, but followed the link this full exclusive review, please return to that forum to discuss the review there.
If you read the review entirely on Tactical Reviews, please consider one of the following to join in any discussion.

BladeForums – Knife Reviews (US based Forum for Knife Discussion)

CandlePowerForums – Knife Reviews Section (Largest and Friendliest Flashlight Community Forum)

The BESS Exchange – A forum discussing technical aspects of sharpness and truly understanding your sharpening process.

News: ‘Sharpest Knife Competition’ at Knives UK 2019 – The Results

After its debut at Knives UK 2018 (where eyes were opened, hopes dashed, legends toppled, and shock results revealed), the quality of entries for the Sharpest Knife Competition 2019 noticeably improved.

Drama and enlightenment added to a day of excitement at Knives UK 2019, with the vast array of beautifully hand crafted knives and tools, what more could you ask for?

The Competition Table:

In case you were not able to come along, the competition table was setup in the ‘social/display’ area of the show.


The Competition In Progress:

A few photos of the competition measuring in progress.


The Results:

And the Results – an impressive quality to the entries with the overall second place score thanks to a superb BESS score of 51!! A typical double-edged razor blade fresh out of the packet scores 60, so this is very impressive.


 
See Announcement: The ‘Sharpest Knife’ Competition at Knives UK 2019 for more details.
 

Knife Review: Oberland Arms Jager Sepp

Finding Oberland Arms’ knives was an outstanding highlight of IWA 2018, and it became a mission of mine to review them. A happy coincidence that one other IWA 2018 highlight happened to be another knife designed by Tommaso Rumici who is the designer of the Jager Sepp on review here.
Everything came together nicely at IWA 2019, meetings with Tommaso, Viper Tecnocut and Matthias Hainich of Oberland Arms, and here is the first of two reviews for Oberland Arms knives (the Wuiderer Sepp is currently in testing).

A few more details:

No unnecessary frills with packaging that will just be discarded, the Jager Sepp and Wuiderer Sepp arrive in a plastic bag.

Starting with the sheath:

This is the one part not designed by Tommaso Rumici, but instead by the team at Oberland Arms. It has a lot of interesting features shown in the gallery.


A good look round the Jager Sepp – Things to look out for here are:

Overall there is a real sense of purpose and lack of unnecessary frills on the Jager Sepp.


Explained by the Maker:

The reasons for certain design choices may not be clear when simply looking at an object, so this section is intended to give an insight into the thinking behind a design by speaking to the designer themselves.

Tommaso Rumici has been kind enough to talk to me about this knife and the design process. I am also reviewing the larger Oberland Arms ‘Wuiderer Sepp’. The interview with Tommaso is in two parts, with this review containing Part 1:

This image of the first sketch of the final design of the Jager Sepp has been kindly provided to me by Tommaso Rumici.

How did you get involved with Oberland Arms to design these knives?

“Me and Matthias Hainich, CEO of Oberland Arms, met during an IWA Show. I was helping at Viper’s booth, and he was looking for someone to produce knives for his brand. At the beginning, we started with a lightly modified version of the Viper David, then we continued with exclusive designs, made for Oberland following his specifications and requests.”

Can you talk me through the design brief, and how far developed it was when given to you?
“During September 2016, Mr. Hainich sent me a list of specifications for the new knife, with some indications about the tasks it would have been able to accomplish, and a few examples of existing knives with the same characteristics.
The new knife was going to be a fixed blade, with green or coyote G10 handle, 11,9cm blade with 5mm thickness, flat grind, with stonewashed finish, and a Kydex/Nylon sheath.
I started working, exchanging emails with Matthias, and before October we arrived to the final design of the smaller one.
Since Mr. Hainich is a fan of my Carnera, we also tried a bigger blade with a similar Bowie design (but smaller than Carnera’s one, which is too big for a military knife). This blade became the bigger one.
(The Wuiderer Sepp.)

At the end, we had a meeting with Mr. Miniutti (Viper), and checked everything before production. During that meeting, we decided for the Black Stonewashed PVD, and to work on three different handles: OD green, coyote and wolf grey G10.”

There was a repeated question I got when talking to others about these knives – why D2?
AISI D2 is a good steel for hard working tools. It holds a good edge, it’s tougher than a lot of “inox”, and more stainless than high carbon steels, like 1095. It isn’t the latest alloy invented but, in my opinion, it’s a great choice for a military knife, that can be abused or lost in the field, because it gives you great performances, it’s difficult to break, while keeping a great price/performances balance.
Speaking of the real life, I tested several D2 knives made by Viper, and I’m really satisfied about how they work. Especially the Viper Tank, designed to be an heavy outdoor tool.

Part 2 of this interview will be in the Oberland Arms Wuiderer Sepp Review.

In the Lab – Technical Testing!:

Now even more detailed!

Taking things far beyond most knife specifications, in this section I will be carrying out a detailed examination of geometry, balance, edge bevels, factory sharpness and structural edge testing using the industry leading measuring tools.

These measuring tools include a Vernier protractor, callipers, fixed radius gauges, the unique Arc Master adjustable radius gauge, Edge On Up’s BESS Certified PT50A and SET tester along with CATRA’s Hobbigoni LASER Edge Protractor.
The BESS ‘C’ scale of sharpness (Brubacher Edge Sharpness Scale) will be used to verify the sharpness of the factory edge and allow the knife to be brought to a minimum standard sharpness before testing a blade’s cutting performance.


The measurements have been tabulated and are presented along with a few reference blades. The ‘Balance relative to the front of the handle’ tells you if the knife will feel front heavy, or if the weight is in your hand (a positive value means the weight is forward of the front of the handle). The ‘Balance relative to the centre of the handle’ indicates how close to a ‘neutral balance’ the knife has in the hand.

The first image in this gallery shows the standard review measurements, however, this is the first review on Tactical Reviews to feature a new measurement. Using the Edge On Up Structural Edge Tester (SET) to measure the resistance of a knife’s edge to rolling.

This is to be expanded upon in future articles, but for now, in the SET results the key factors are:
Series 1 Degradation – how much damage the edge suffers from one edge rolling cycle. The damage is represented by an increase in the BESS ‘C’ score. (Averages also shown for A and B)
Series 2 Degradation – how much damage the edge suffers from one further edge rolling cycle. (Averages also shown for A and B)
Degradation after strop – has the edge been permanently damaged/chipped or can it be recovered with stropping? A negative number means it actually improved from the starting figure, suggesting there may have already been some rolling of the edge before testing. (Averages also shown for A and B)


What it is like to use?

Of Oberland Arms’ three fixed blade knives (at the time of review), the Jager Sepp would be the all-rounder in terms of size (the main reason I’m testing it first). With a 12cm blade (just under 5″) it is in that ideal general-purpose-blade length. The high, almost full, flat grind gives the blade strength combined with powerful cutting ability.

Good handle design provides immediate indexing of the blade, comfort and grip options. On picking up the Jager Sepp, this is what strikes you straight away. It just sits in your hand, balanced nicely on your first finger, nimble and ready to work; a natural extension of your hand. The grip is a generous size without being overly large, and its size and shape have not presented me with any hotspots when working it hard. Grip indexing works almost as well in a reverse grip, considering the forward grip has that first finger groove, this is impressive.

For a working knife, three elements are as important as each other. The blade, the handle and the sheath. In some cases the sheath can become the most important element, as a knife is no good to you if it is lost, or you can’t get to it when you need to. The Oberland Arms sheath is a great mix of clever design ideas and hits a lot of sweet spots.

The nylon outer shell holds a kydex liner, meaning no additional knife retention is needed, the kydex lips hold the Jager Sepp firmly in place even when mounted handle-down. A thumb ramp is incorporated into the kydex so you can easily unsheathe the knife quietly and in full control.

Ambidextrous use is catered for in the simplest way; the kydex liner is held in the outer sheath with a single bolt. This allows you to remove the kydex liner and flip it round for left-handed use – an excellent solution. I’ll cover more on the sheath in a dedicated gallery following this one.

On its first venture into the outdoors, I went with the factory edge, but found this a little too steep an angle (52 degrees), so took this to a total inclusive of 35 degrees. I find this a good compromise when I don’t want to go all the way to 30 degrees, but want a finer edge than a typical 40 degree.

OK, perhaps the elephant in the room – D2 steel. Once the wonder steel of legend, then becoming more mainstream, before being mostly discarded in favour of steels designed specifically for the knife industry. Is it too hard to sharpen, does it chip, does it rust, does that edge last well?

The SET testing results, included for the first time ever in a knife review, have been shown in isolation, as at the time of writing this test is still not fully proven. What I can say is that the results were in line with what I expected of D2. Those figures are a strong performance and the ability to recover means that there was no chipping. I’d say the heat treat on this by Viper Tecnocut has got it just right.

D2 by its very nature is going to be a bit harder to sharpen. Although I use a belt grinder, it is easy to feel how hard the steel is to sharpen, and the Jager’s blade was firm but not excessive. The only chipping I have experienced was when I dropped the knife onto a stone!

I’ve given the blade no special treatment, but also no abuse, and I was keen to get a patina to add to the stonewashed PVD (being stonewashed a lot of the PVD has been polished off), but so far neither the bare edge bevel not any other part of the knife have shown any corrosion.


The Oberland Arms nylon sheath has MOLLE compatible straps that are unlike any others I’ve seen so warrant a more detailed look. In this gallery I’m fitting it to a drop leg platform.

Before getting onto this is does lead me to mention why I chose to fit it to a drop-leg. With MOLLE straps, I typically arrange them so as to form a belt loop for the majority of my testing. The strap fixing design on the Oberland Arms sheath is not strong enough to do this with confidence. Unlike a press-stud fixing the fabric tabs were becoming deformed when making a simple belt loop and I had to use some auxiliary MOLLE strap I have (for pouches without any straps).

Going onto PALS webbing, the strap design is perfectly strong enough, and the effect is for the cross webbing to take the load. For a full weave, you will need to remove the kydex liner. In this gallery I did not do that, so the last weave is left undone.


Review Summary

The views expressed in this summary table are from the point of view of the reviewer’s personal use. I am not a member of the armed forces and cannot comment on its use beyond a cutting tool or field/hunting knife.

Something that might be a ‘pro’ for one user can be a ‘con’ for another, so the comments are categorised based on my requirements. You should consider all points and if they could be beneficial to you.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Superb ergonomics / indexing / comfort.
High flat grind.
D2 with very good heat treat.
Great all-rounder size.
Versatile, ambidextrous sheath.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Sheath MOLLE straps – question over durability.
Sheath MOLLE straps – not strong enough for a simple belt loop configuration.
D2 – some would question using this steel in a premium knife.

 

Discussing the Review:

The ideal place to discuss this reviews is on a forum. If you started reading the shorter forum version of the review, but followed the link this full exclusive review, please return to that forum to discuss the review there.
If you read the review entirely on Tactical Reviews, please consider one of the following to join in any discussion.

BladeForums – Knife Reviews (US based Forum for Knife Discussion)

CandlePowerForums – Knife Reviews Section (Largest and Friendliest Flashlight Community Forum)

The BESS Exchange – A forum discussing technical aspects of sharpness and truly understanding your sharpening process.

Gear Review: Nordic Pocket Saw (Pocket Chainsaw)

Over the years I’ve used all sorts of two-handed flexible pocket saws, but none as effective as the Nordic Pocket saw pocket chainsaw. Many ‘survival’ pocket saws are wire, and tend to tear or abrade rather than cut. What caught my eye with the Nordic Pocket saw was the sawdust flying from the cut just like a petrol chainsaw – this flexible saw actually cuts.

So why not stick with a rigid bladed folding saw? Flexible saws give you amazing versatility, much larger capacity of cut, and the ability to cut high, out of reach, tree limbs using cord to extend the handles and a throw-line to pull the saw into place.

A few more details:

What’s in the box?:


A good look round the Nordic Pocket Saw – Things to look out for here are:

You can see the quality of manufacture throughout this set of images. The hand strap uses a strong webbing with plenty of stitching to reinforce it. The chain links both move freely and also with minimal play meaning it stays nicely aligned in the cut, but can be coiled neatly for storage.


What it is like to use?

Being such a dynamic saw to use, it is really best to show it in action, so here is a short video that should give you a very good idea of what it is like to use, and how to get the best from it.


What may or may not be apparent in the video is that it can be quite hard work. As the saw really bites in, and properly cuts chips of wood out (and the cut is quite wide), the effort level is relatively high. Unlike other pocket saws, you can do a two person cut where you each hold one of the handles and get into a sawing rhythm (so as to not jam the chain). Like this you can motor through even large logs, at least sharing the work load.

Hand-in-hand with this is that the workpiece does need to be well secured. The sawing action pulls on it pretty hard. In the video, the ground based cut I showed, had me standing on the branch (all 92Kg of me) and it still wanted to move about. The smaller the diameter of the branch being cut, the more awkward this can become, and is where a folding rigid saw becomes a better option.

At some point (I’ve not got there yet) the saw will need a sharpen. I’m assuming a normal chainsaw file will do the job.

The Nordic Pocket Saw is so easy to carry it can easily become part of your basic kit even when you are not planning any larger cuts.

Review Summary

The views expressed in this summary table are from the point of view of the reviewer’s personal use. I am not a member of the armed forces and cannot comment on its use beyond a cutting tool or field/hunting knife.

Something that might be a ‘pro’ for one user can be a ‘con’ for another, so the comments are categorised based on my requirements. You should consider all points and if they could be beneficial to you.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

It really cuts – the chips fly!
Can cut much larger logs than with other pocket saws.
Very compact and easy to carry.
Belt pouch provided.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Logs being cut need to be well secured.
Requires high levels of effort.
Not so well suited for smaller branches.

Announcement: Podcast Guest Appearance – TTCO

I’m excited to announce that this year while attending the IWA 2019 show, I was invited to be a guest on the excellent ‘Think Twice Cut Once Podcast’ hosted by Tim Reeve and Matt Fabbi of Chris Reeve Knives. (For those not familiar with this podcast it is definitely not the official opinion of Chris Reeve Knives.)

We all nearly ran out of steam, as this was recorded late on the evening of the third day of the show, but a beer or two, great company, and a good meal helped us make it through.

This was the same day as the informal ‘Sharpest Knife at IWA 2019’ competition which inspired some of the conversation.

The Podcast:

YouTube Version:


Video: Armourlite at IWA 2019 – Preview of Three New Tritium Watches

This is the first dedicated Video Post on Tactical Reviews – Look out for the Video Camera symbol. In this Video, recorded at IWA 2019 and presented by Armourlite CEO Ashley Diener, we get a preview of three new tritium watches. So new, the links included below might not yet be live, so if you get a ‘404’ error, try again a bit later.

Links to each watch featured – These are so new the links might not yet be live. Come back and check again if you were too early. The featured watches are the:
ENFORCER II ISO3007,
Isobrite Limited Edition Chronograph ISO3008 and
Isobrite Executive Series ISO702

Check out my Channel on for more.


Sharpest Knife Competition at IWA 2019 – The RESULTS

Fortunately, fitting the Sharpest Knife Competition into a very tight IWA 2019 schedule ended up working out perfectly. Huge thanks must go to Tim and Anne Reeve, Matt and Marissa of Chris Reeve Knives for being such wonderful hosts, as well as everyone who took part and joined in the interesting discussions this competition and the measurements sparked off. Here are the Results.

Photo courtesy of Troy from Benchmade

I must admit to being a little distracted by taking the measurement and didn’t take many photos. I have a small set of some of the entries along with their certificates. I did at least capture the winner!


And the winner was appropriately entered by Clay of Wicked Edge sharpening systems with a great average score of 139 BESS.

The Winner:

An honourable mention:

An honourable mention must go to an entry from Benchmade for being a very respectable runner up, but notably with the standard factory edge.


Knife Review: Lionsteel M4

If the Lionsteel M4 is not on your list of candidates for a utility / bushcraft / general purpose fixed blade knife, it should be. It is not a new model at the time of this review, now entering its third year of production, and the Mik Molletta designed M4 from Lionsteel seemingly finds that perfect – just right – size, weight and balance. Once you pick a M4 up, it feels like it was made for you, and simply belongs in your hand.

A few more details:

The M4 featured in this review is the Olive wood handled version. Given a choice, I thought what better handle material for a knife that is Italian designed and made (and grown).

What’s in the box?:


A good look round the M4 – Things to look out for here are:

Starting with the sheath, it is clear as you look through the photos how well made this sheath is.


Then the M4 itself. Lionsteel’s premium quality of manufacture shines through in every detail. The faithful reproduction of Mik Molletta’s design, including the sculpted handle, makes this a pleasure to handle and use.


Explained by the Maker:

The reasons for certain design choices may not be clear when simply looking at an object, so this section is intended to give an insight into the thinking behind a design by speaking to the designer themselves.

Mik Molletta has generously given his time to explain design choices, and give some background to the M4. The descriptions in this section come from our discussion.


The M4 was actually designed some time ago and because the project was so satisfying, Mik decided to propose it to Lionsteel.

Intended as a little multipurpose knife, the size and shape of the blade (A) allows excellent versatility in all aspects of outdoor life. The finger guard (B) has been sized in order to stop it being cumbersome but still protect the hand, and it also provides an easy reference for the index finger.

A spear point (C) was chosen as it is versatile and robust, and allows you to do hard work. For its size the M4 has quite a thick blade, this thickness (D) was chosen because the knife is still a tool that can be called upon to perform even heavy work like batoning.

M390 (D) is one of few stainless steels that with specific heat treating can have secondary hardening. It is Mik’s opinion that tempering this steel in the ordinary way, as most of the cutlery does, does not fully exploit the potential of this steel.

The flat grind (E) is ‘high’ but not ‘full’. Having a full thickness part of the blade reinforces it and makes it suitable for heavier work.

Mik’s designs tend to include a sharpening choil (F). This is because during the subsequent sharpening, if there were not the choil, that part of the edge would be rounded up because it would not be able to contact the stones properly. This would result in having a long piece of edge that cannot be sharpened which ends up growing over time.

The handle is bolted (G) on instead of riveted. In Mik’s opinion, bolts are a better fastener for more durable tools. Rivets can yield or loosen and cannot be tightened.

Handle shaping (H) is a careful process of sculpting the form while looking at the fit into Mik’s own hand.

When it came to the sheath design (I), this was collaboration between Mik and Gianni. The double stitching (J) guarantees greater durability at the cost of a small increase in size.

For left-handed users (K), Mik and Lionsteel are thinking of making some specific sheath or modular sheath like the one on M7, that can also be used by left-handed users.

The butt of the knife has an exposed tang (M), and can be used to strike or press.

When asked about the palm swell (N) Mik commented – during use of the knife, the hand tends to move on the handle to look for the most comfortable grip. It happens naturally. A pronounced palm swell limits this possibility. On the big knives, like the M7, the bigger palm swell helps to hold the knife firmly.

The Blade and Handle – Detailed Measurements:

Now even more detailed!

Taking things far beyond most knife specifications, in this section I will be carrying out a detailed examination of geometry, balance, edge bevels, factory sharpness and structural edge testing using the industry leading measuring tools.

These measuring tools include a Vernier protractor, callipers, fixed radius gauges, the unique Arc Master adjustable radius gauge, Edge On Up’s BESS Certified PT50A and SET tester along with CATRA’s Hobbigoni LASER Edge Protractor.
The BESS ‘C’ scale of sharpness (Brubacher Edge Sharpness Scale) will be used to verify the sharpness of the factory edge and allow the knife to be brought to a minimum standard sharpness before testing a blade’s cutting performance.


The measurements have been tabulated and are presented along with a few reference blades. The ‘Balance relative to the front of the handle’ tells you if the knife will feel front heavy, or if the weight is in your hand (a positive value means the weight is forward of the front of the handle). The ‘Balance relative to the centre of the handle’ indicates how close to a ‘neutral balance’ the knife has in the hand.


The blade is made from M390 steel.

What it is like to use?

Big knives; who doesn’t love them?! But the reality is that most of your normal ‘utility’ tasks are far better served with a smaller, lighter and more agile knife.

I have a confession – I very nearly passed over this knife. It doesn’t shout for attention amongst many other fine blades, and your every-day working knife is easily overshadowed by the glamorous show knives. Please don’t make the same mistake – it has been one of those small revelations as to how good this knife is.

Reflecting a little more on why I nearly overlooked this, I think it may stem from the general attitude the UK has towards knives and knife carry. If you have ‘good reason’ to carry something more than a SAK, the appeal is to take that big camp knife out rather than the more useful and sensible sized utility knife.

Before you even get onto using the M4, it really shows its quality of manufacture which marks it out as something special.

For reference I wear XL sized gloves, so even with reasonably large hands this knife doesn’t feel too small. It is very comfortable and nimble in the hand. The blade length lends itself to those controlled power cuts without any excess blade waving around. You only make a power cut with the first inch or two of blade next to the handle anyway. With only a sharpening choil (instead of a finger choil) you have that optimum power with all fingers on the wooden handle.


If the blade had a slightly thinner blade, it would make slicing cuts through thicker materials easier and the knife a bit lighter. However Mik Molletta’s designs tend to err on the side of strength, and so the blade stock used is just that bit thicker than many knives this size. This adds a reassuring solidity to the design without really impacting on its cutting ability. I can only really see an issue if cutting a lot of thick cardboard or similar stiff sheet material – not really a concern here as the M4 is described as a ‘bushcraft’ knife.

In its role as a bushcraft knife, the thickness of the blade means that you won’t have any worries batoning with it, and also being a full tang knife, it is just not going to let you down by breaking. Also importantly here, the comfort of the handle means you can carry out a lot of wood preparation without it causing fatiguing or creating hot-spots. Just going back to the blade thickness again, combined with the rounded spine, it is very comfortable to place your thumb on the spine for extra pressure or control.

As you will see in the summary section, I’ve been struggling to find things I don’t like about the M4. There are a couple of minor negatives. The first does not affect me, but is just to say that the sheath is right-handed only. The second has not yet fully become a problem, and might not, but I have found that when inserting the M4 into the sheath the blade tip has caught on the internal stitching of the belt loop. My worry is that if the threads get cut through they might unravel, and the belt loop then fail. I’ve started to be very careful and deliberate when sheathing the M4 to avoid this – not something I really want to think about.

The M4 is a superbly practical knife and in so many ways it is ‘just right’. Small and light enough for all-day carry without being weighed down. Large enough to be put to serious work. High performance steel without being impossible to sharpen. Strong enough to take everything in its stride. Manufacturing quality to make you smile without being ‘too good to use’.

Review Summary

The views expressed in this summary table are from the point of view of the reviewer’s personal use. I am not a member of the armed forces and cannot comment on its use beyond a cutting tool or field/hunting knife.

Something that might be a ‘pro’ for one user can be a ‘con’ for another, so the comments are categorised based on my requirements. You should consider all points and if they could be beneficial to you.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Super practical size.
Extremely well made.
Strong blade / full tang.
High performance steel.
Quality leather sheath.
Comfortable grip even for extended periods.
Beautiful Olive wood handle.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Sheath is only right handed.
Blade tip catches internal belt loop stitching when sheathed.

 

Discussing the Review:

The ideal place to discuss this reviews is on a forum. If you started reading the shorter forum version of the review, but followed the link this full exclusive review, please return to that forum to discuss the review there.
If you read the review entirely on Tactical Reviews, please consider one of the following to join in any discussion or start a new one.

BladeForums – Knife Reviews (US based Forum for Knife Discussion)

CandlePowerForums – Knife Reviews Section (Largest and Friendliest Flashlight Community Forum)

The BESS Exchange – A forum discussing technical aspects of sharpness and truly understanding your sharpening process.

Light Review: Armytek Prime Pro – PART 3 – The Results

In ‘Part Three’ we get to see how these lights really perform, what the beams look like, their output figures and insights into what they are really like to use. – This is Part Three of a group review of four models of Armytek’s ‘Prime Pro’ range of lights (plus the Armytek Uni C2 charger). When embarking upon this review I had not expected to generate quite so much content, so have had to split the review into three parts to make it more manageable. You will find links to these as each part becomes available.

Index:

Each title here will become an active link once it has been published.
Part One – A Detailed look at the Prime Pro Magnet USB C1 and C2.
Part Two – A Detailed look at the Prime Pro A1, A2 and Uni C2 Charger.
Part Three – Beamshots, Technical Testing and What they are like to use.

The beam

Please be careful not to judge tint based on images you see on a computer screen. Unless properly calibrated, the screen itself will change the perceived tint.

The indoor beamshot is intended to give an idea of the beam shape/quality rather than tint. All beamshots are taken using daylight white balance. The woodwork (stairs and skirting) are painted Farrow & Ball “Off-White”, and the walls are a light sandy colour called ‘String’ again by Farrow & Ball. I don’t actually have a ‘white wall’ in the house to use for this, and my wife won’t have one!

There are a couple of key things to mention before you dive in and look at the beamshots. It is possible to make lights look very bright or very dim, regardless of their actual output, by adjusting exposure. So when you look at these don’t be swayed by the ‘apparent brightness’ instead concentrate on the beam quality. the intention is to show how the beam looks, not how bright it is. that is shown definitively in the next section.

This gallery also contains firefly comparison beamshots, and uses the original Predator V1.2 as a reference. These Prime Pro lights have Excellent firefly output.


Batteries and output:

To measure actual output, I built an integrating sphere. See here for more detail. The sensor registers visible light only (so Infra-Red and Ultra-Violet will not be measured).

Please note, all quoted lumen figures are from a DIY integrating sphere, and according to ANSI standards. Although every effort is made to give as accurate a result as possible, they should be taken as an estimate only. The results can be used to compare outputs in this review and others I have published.

The runtime graphs contain a lot of detail. One clear aspect of the control systems of these lights is that they maintain a constant output level as long as they can before stepping down to another level.

The gallery also contains the tables of output figures. Note that when I have ‘0’ for the output on firefly modes, this is actually below the threshold of measurement for the equipment I have and is clearly not actually 0. The Prime Pro A1 is measured with AA and 14500.


 

* Beacon and Strobe output measurements are only estimates as the brief flashes make it difficult to capture the actual output value.

Charging results were a little bit unexpected for a couple of reasons. When checking the cells in the C1 and C2 after the included chargers indicated a full charge gave the following measurements:
C2 – 4.13V
C1 – 4.06V
Both seem low, but when checking these cells with a ZTS loading tester they both indicated 100% charge.
The C1 and C2 USB chargers are interchangeable so I tried them both on the C1.
With the charger that came with the C2, after a full charge the result was:
C1 – 4.15V
Using the Uni C2 charger the cells measured 4.16V once taken off the charger.

There is parasitic drain but is incredibly low in all models. The following list the drain in uA and how many years it would take to drain the cell(s).
Armytek Prime C1 Pro – 1×18350 – 2.8uA – 36.67 years
Armytek Prime C2 Pro – 1×18650 – 6.5uA – 56.16 years
Armytek Prime A1 Pro – 1xAA – 3.9uA – 55.58 years
Armytek Prime A1 Pro – 1×14500 – 3.8uA – 22.52 years
Armytek Prime A2 Pro – 2xAA 2S1P – 2.3uA – 94.24 years

The Prime Pro models in use:

I don’t want to come across biased, but I really do love these Armytek Prime Pro lights! If you give me a side-switch, choice of warm or cool output, no-PWM and properly-low firefly/moon modes, you will make me happy. So for these lights that is ‘check’, ‘check’, ‘check’, ‘check’ – bingo.

In terms of form-factor, AA lights have always been a favourite of mine. Now, with the NiMh cell becoming a preferred option for power (thanks to LSD cell technology, high output current, and inherent safety), with the added benefit of easy to find backup cells, the Prime Pro A1 and A2 become solid choices.

For that extra level of output power (thanks to li-ion power) and in-light charging convenience, the C1 and C2 step up.

To see how each of these compares in size, this is the full line-up together and then individual profile photos. Bear in mind for those individual shots that the head is the same diameter in each.


Normally I tend not to use the clips on lights, and often don’t fit them at all. All of these Prime Pro models seemed to be particularly ‘rolly’, wanting to find the lowest point of anywhere I put them down by rolling to it. So in this case, the clip has proven essential to stop them going wandering off and I’ve fitted it to all four lights. Although I am not particularly using the clip for clipping it to anything, as well as preventing them rolling, having the clip also provides indexing to make getting onto the switch quicker, and has been perfectly comfortable to have on the light. In this case I’d thoroughly recommend fitting the clip.

You can certainly get smaller EDC lights, but both the C1 and A1 are perfectly acceptable sizes to carry and not being too small, are comfortable and easy to use. For EDC, the C2 is pushing things a bit for me, and the A2 is for a larger bag. In terms of handling though, the A2 is a winner with the universally good handling 2xAA form-factor.

All these lights have an illuminated switch, and this illumination provides battery level information and a location function for the C1 and C2. For me the only time this switch illumination has slightly interfered is with the firefly modes. The instructions say the switch does not flash in firefly modes, but actually it does flash a couple of times when you first switch it on, and the flashes are about as bright as the firefly output itself. So when using these lights with dark adapted eyes, I find the need to keep the switch fully covered with my thumb for the first 10s or so until the switch flashes stop.

The programmability of these lights means you can change whether the location function is on or not (for the C1 and C2). When on, this uses the switch flashes all the time whether the light is on or not, allowing you to find it in a dark place. It does also mean that these switch flashes keep going all the time even in Firefly mode so the previous paragraph becomes more significant for firefly mode users. With Armytek’s low current circuit design you can leave this on permanently and not worry about draining the battery.

Also including a real Tactical monetary mode really adds another dimension. Make sure you correctly pre-select the mode you want to use, as in Tactical mode you can’t change level. Then to activate, from OFF, unscrew the tailcap slightly, press and hold the switch, and tighten the tailcap – you are now in Tactical mode. To get out of Tactical mode is not done the same way – you have to press and hold the switch (so it comes ON), then loosen the tailcap, then let go of the switch. Now when you tighten the tailcap again it will come ON, but be back in normal mode. If you don’t remember the difference of turning this mode on and off you can get stuck in Tactical mode.


A quick word on the in-light charging and the Uni C2 charger. In all cases the li-ion cell has not been taken up to a ‘full’ 4.20V, yet the discharge results have been good. For the health of the cells themselves it is actually good to not take them to an absolute 100% each time. So for every day use and frequent topping up, the Uni C2 won’t overwork your cells. Its memory means that if charging LiFePO4 cells and a power cut were to happen, it will safely continue the charging cycle for these cells – this is a detail often not included.

Magnetic abilities are a mixed bag for me. I’ve never been keen on the metal-to-metal contact these magnetic holding systems tend to use, plus their tendency to grab onto anything magnetic in bags and pockets. There are times a magnet holding your light is massively helpful though, so with the A1 and A2, their removable magnet is the perfect solution as you have a choice – thank you Armytek! With the C1 and C2 models on test here, you don’t have that choice due to the charger; but if you like magnetic tails on your lights then it is ideal.

With their feature packed user interface, you get great versatility. However, despite the single side-switch, these are not lights to give to non-technical people. With the variety of input clicks and wide variation in output levels, I can see those who are unfamiliar with multi-mode lights getting in a muddle.

Armytek’s interfaces are cleverly designed to give you great flexibility and functionality, I certainly appreciate the attention to detail.

Review Summary

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Side Switch.
True ‘Firefly’ low level output.
Warm or Cool tint versions.
No PWM.
Great UI with plenty of modes.
A1 and A2 have a removable magnet.
C1 and C2 have in-light USB charging.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Completely round design, so tend to roll if the clip is not fitted.
Proprietary USB charger.
Charger termination voltage seems a little low.

 

Discussing the Review:

The ideal place to discuss this reviews is on a forum. If you started reading the shorter forum version of the review, but followed the link this full exclusive review, please return to that forum to discuss the review there.
If you read the review entirely on Tactical Reviews, please consider one of the following to join in, or start, a discussion.

CandlePowerForums – Flashlight Reviews Section (Largest and Friendliest Flashlight Community Forum)

Sharpest Knife Competition at IWA 2019

This year at IWA, Tactical Reviews is throwing down the gauntlet and asking the knife trade “How sharp can you go?”. OK, it’s actually a lot less formal than that, a ‘just for fun’ competition to see who can create the finest edge on a knife blade, by any means they choose.

Entry is free and open to all exhibitors and visitors to IWA 2019 (see rules below). There is no prize beyond the warm feeling the winner will have, knowing they had the ‘Sharpest Knife at IWA’.

Come and find me with the awesome people at Chris Reeve Knives in hall 5, stand 5-135, on Sunday 10th March between 16:00 and 17:00. Get in early or you might miss out.

How is the sharpness measured? Using a PT50A BESS Certified sharpness tester:

The BESS ‘C’ scale of sharpness, developed by Mike Brubacher (Brubacher Edge Sharpness Scale) will be used to determine how sharp each knife edge is. The ‘Edge on Up’ PT50A tester uses a certified test media fibre and records the force required to cut it. The lower the score the better. As an example, a typical Morakniv factory edge scores around 250. See this guide:


Every knife tested will be given an official sharpness score and certificate. A measurement will be taken initially in the centre of the blade, then the heel, then the tip, and an average value taken. This will test the sharpness over the entire blade, not just the easiest part to sharpen.

‘The Sharpest Knife’ Competition – IWA 2019

Rules:

  1. Open to all knives, custom-made or production. – No Razors allowed.
  2. Kitchen knives, though allowed, are NOT eligible to be overall winner; they have been found to have too much of an advantage, so may be entered for an honourable mention only.
  3. Any knife deemed not to be in the spirit of the ‘sharpest knife’ contest will be disallowed (surgical/laboratory etc.).
  4. Open to anyone – Professional / Maker / Amateur / User.
  5. Knives must be submitted either folded or sheathed, with the cutting edge covered.
  6. Each knife will initially have a single measurement taken. If the result is within 50 BESS of the leading entry, further measurements may be taken (at the discretion of the tester).
  7. Subject to the previous rule, each qualifying knife will then have a set of three measurements taken along the blade (centre, heel and tip) with the average BESS score counting as the result.
  8. In the case of a draw, the lowest individual score will be used for secondary ranking. If there is still a draw, the first one tested will win.
  9. The tester’s results are final – No knife may be entered twice.

The winner will be announced at close of the competition.

IMPORTANT: You undertake the competition at your own risk and your health and safety is your own responsibility. By taking part in this competition, you agree to indemnify the organisers and their agents against all costs, losses, damages, injuries, expenses and liabilities suffered as a result of your participation. No liability can be accepted for damage to any knife entered.