Knife Review: Lionsteel T5 MI

Each year at IWA, there are a few blades that stand out and draw you back to them time and again. Lionsteel’s T5 was one of those, and may well have been my most visited blade at IWA 2017. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to spend a lot more time with it subsequently, as well as being able to discuss its design with Mik Molletta, the man behind this outstanding knife.

The Blade and Handle Geometry:

Most knife specifications have a basic description of the blade geometry, but in this section I will be taking a more detailed look at geometry and balance.

Using a set of gauges and precision measuring equipment including a Vernier protractor, callipers, fixed radius gauges and the unique Arc Master adjustable radius gauge (the one that looks like a crossbow).

These measurements have been tabulated and are presented along with a few reference blades (8″ Chef’s Knife, 5.5″ Santoku and the popular Fällkniven F1).

Key aspects such as the primary bevel angle, grind type, blade depth, blade thickness, length, weight are detailed, along with balance information.

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.

In the case of full convex grinds the approximate centre of the grind is used for the primary bevel angle estimate.

The blade is made from Niolox steel.

New for 2018! BESS Certified sharpness testing:

The BESS ‘C’ scale of sharpness, developed by Mike Brubacher (Brubacher Edge Sharpness Scale) will now become part of Tactical Reviews’ knife testing process. Initially this 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 Lionsteel T5’s factory edge has an average BESS ‘C’ sharpness of 233. This original edge cleanly slices 80gsm copier paper with an edge cut, but won’t quite push cut it. It slices into the rounded edge of a doubled over sheet of the same 80gsm paper. It also will catch the edge of green Rizla paper and slice halfway through (cross ways), but not all the way.

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, kindly agreed to go through many of the design aspects of the T5 and despite a language barrier, Mik has helped with the questions I put to him. These are the marked up images that allowed us to pick out details to discuss.

The following is derived from the points we covered. Not every label has a comment:

As with many other projects, it was Lionsteel who approached Mik regarding designing a multi-role compact knife. In this case the inspiration was from talking with soldiers who need a compact multi-role knife, and this was what determined the blade length (A), as it is a good length for bushcraft and survival work.
The blade tip (B) is positioned above centre line so that as well as survival duties, it will also be suitable as a hunting knife.
To best fit with the aims of this project and its multi-use capabilities, Mik chose a ‘straight’ knife without any rake (F).
Being a multi-purpose knife, a flat grind has been chosen as this is the best solution for a blade that has to do various jobs. The blade steel, Niolox, was selected for its fine structure, good wear and toughness.
It is specifically balanced (I) for agility ease of handling and control. Texturing on the handle (K) is not merely a remnant of machining the shape of the handle, but was intentionally applied with a CNC template to give this pattern.
The T5 uses a distinctive and unusual one piece handle (L) which increases stability, precision and overall durability. In terms of the handle contours and the amount of palm swell (M), as if often the case, it’s what the designer themself finds comfortable that gets chosen.
Blade thickness (N) at 5mm is intended to still provide excellent strength for the length of blade. The extended swedge (O) reduces the blade section without weakening the tip.

Moving onto the other labelled photo of the sheath:

Though the use of a double row of stitching (P) adds to the size of the sheath, although the welt does protect the stitching from the blade, the double row increases the durability and life of the sheath so is an acceptable trade off for a little increase in size.
It is very unusual to have a MOLLE compatible (R) leather knife sheath and the use of leather was dictated by the absence of noise compared to other options. How you carry your knife is very personal so the MOLLE compatibility was added so it can be attached to a backpack or to a belt.
There is a hole behind the MOLLE strap (S) which doesn’t look right for a drainage hole as it is too high, but this is actually a construction hole simply used during assembly of the sheath.

A few more details:

The T5 arrives in a cardboard box.

Inside, the sheathed T5 is otherwise unwrapped.

Along with the T5 is a small leaflet.

However, the blade is wrapped inside the sheath.

You can see that the plastic wrapping was not terribly successful, as the blade has just sliced through it when it was inserted into the sheath.

A very nice quality leather sheath is used for the T5.

The leather is double stitched for maximum durability and lifespan.

The maker is cleanly embossed into the leather.

Here the information leaflet is slipped into the belt loop to better show its position.

Very unusually, this leather sheath has a MOLLE compatible mount.

The MOLLE strap is very snug in the loops, so not the easiest to weave onto webbing. You won’t want to move this more than necessary.

A great looking knife and sheath. This is why I kept revisiting Lionsteel’s stand at IWA 2017.

The steel specification is engraved into the blade – NIOLOX. An increasingly popular steel.

A close-up of the blade tip.

Almost the entire blade length has a swedge to help reduce weight.

The flat grind is very high, but not quite a full flat grind.

Only visible along the back of the handle, there is a full length, full thickness tang.

Sculpted from a single piece of micarta, the handle has a wide and comfortable finger guard. The cutting edge is nicely terminated with a sharpening choil.

Grip texturing is machined into the handle surface.

Two stainless Torx bolts secure the handle to the tang.

Looking through the lanyard hole, you can see the hole doesn’t go through the tang itself.

The tang protrudes from the end of the handle providing a hammering surface.

A minimal amount of jimping is included next to a thumb rest.

With a well rounded plunge line, maximum strength is retained.

Excellent attention to detail in the sheath with a protective cover over the internal part of the rivets. Doing this prevents the handle being scratched by the metal fixings.

The sheath wraps around the base of the handle providing a very secure hold on the knife. Unfortunately this makes the sheath only suitable for right handed users.

An extremely refined package.

This really is something special.

What it is like to use?

I’m going to start with that beautiful and well thought out leather sheath. Fortunately I am right handed, so this presents me with no issues, and I hope Lionsteel will offer a left handed version of the sheath.
It is the first MOLLE compatible production knife leather sheath I’ve come across, and makes an excellent change from the typical MOLLE compatible sheaths. Some MOLLE mounts are more of a struggle to use than others, and this sheath is a bit of a battle to fit. It is definitely worth planning out the position carefully as I did not enjoy fitting or removing it. The webbing on the sheath that fits over the leather MOLLE strap is quite tight, and catches firmly on the edge of the press stud when you try to slide the strap out. Easy enough when the sheath is not mounted, but definitely a struggle when trying to unmount it.
The sheath wraps over the first part of the handle with the retaining strap fitting above the finger guard. This over-wrap serves two purposes, the first is a very secure hold on the knife, and the second is that the over-wrap helps keep the retaining strap out of the way of the blade edge as it is sheathed and unsheathed.

With its 5mm blade stock, the T5 has a bit of weight to it, but that fantastic sculpted handle allows it to sit in your hand so comfortably. For a multi-purpose blade, the extra weight from the thick blade is the small trade off for the gain in strength and robustness you want in a blade that might be used for just about anything.

Handling really is excellent, and there is a thumb rest on the blade spine just in front of the handle where the spine is full width making it comfortable for the thumb to press onto for penetrative cuts, or for fine control when carving. The finger guard in that well sculpted handle is also very comfortable to bear onto for additional control on certain cuts. With the light and decorative grip texturing on the handle, I found this very effective but not aggressive. No hotspots have been apparent during use, and it is comfortable for extended use.

Factory edges are a subject unto themselves, as for some it is the best edge they ever have on that knife, and for others the worst. On the T5, the factory edge was impressive, and definitely usable out of the box. Due to the blade thickness, the edge bevels are quite wide and this will only get more pronounced with further use, but is the norm for blades of this thickness.

Mik Molletta has done Lionsteel proud with this design, and Lionsteel have done Mik Molletta proud with the quality of manufacture of his design, and this knife, that stood out from the crowd at IWA 2017, continues to impress the more I use it. The full package is a pleasure to use, and has put itself firmly into my top 5 favourite fixed blades.

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.

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Things I like What doesn’t work so well for me
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Sculpted one piece micarta handle. Sheath is right handed only.
Strong 5mm blade stock. MOLLE Strap more fiddly than most.
NIOLOX steel. Thick blade results in a wide edge bevel.
Super quality, double-stitched leather sheath.
High Flat Grind, multi-purpose blade.
MOLLE compatible sheath.


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