CLASSIC Knife Review: Spyderco Schempp Bowie

Part of the Spyderco ‘Ethnic’ series of knives, the Schempp Bowie is collaboration piece designed by Ed Schempp for Spyderco. Ed’s priority in the design was to convey an ethnic American Bowie and wanted to demonstrate a coffin handled, clip-point Bowie knife that originated with the Sheffield Bowie imported into the USA.
(Classic review – First published in August 2015)

The Blade and Handle Geometry:

Most knives 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 Fallkniven 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 CPM S30V.

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.

Ed Schempp spent time with me going over the fundamentals of the design at SHOT Show 2015, but as a follow-up I sent over a marked up image, to go over the details.

Many thanks go to Ed for taking the time to explain the details of the design to me.

Though not quoting Ed directly, the following is an explanation of how the final design was arrived at and a few insights into the design process.

As mentioned in the introduction, Ed’s priority in the design was to convey an ethnic American Bowie, but this design was also influenced by the German short hunting sword. Ed wanted to produce a piece that was a coffin handled, clip point, “S” guarded Bowie.

Ed, like many US custom makers, introduces many ergonomic aspects into his designs and is very personally connected with this ethnic piece.

In line with his design principles, Ed generally drops the angle of the blade and develops the grip accordingly. This is done for the ergonomics of cutting, control and torsion. Ed refuses to design what he terms a “sharpened tent stake”.

Starting with the size of the blade (A), this has been maximized for the length of blade that can fit into the handle, along with as much cutting edge as could be accommodated by the handle.

When he designed the piece he actually made 4 different sizes to try and gauge a preference in size for the design. These prototypes ranged from a 3 inch blade to a 5 inch blade. In the end Spyderco chose the size they considered to be the best match for the most number of users.

The clip point, (B) is iconic to the ethnic version Ed was striving to attain. The clip was made slightly more than half the overall length to make it a significant feature. A flat grind was chosen as it has more material left in the blade and is therefore stronger. Flat grinds are one of Eds preferred blade grinds and are used in the majority of his designs.

As part of the ethnic design, to define the “S” shaped cross-guard there is a curved transition in the bolster (C) from the ricasso that rises up to the pressure ramp (E). The pressure ramp keeps the hand from slipping forward in use, giving additional control and power during cutting. The traditional Bowie knife is usually double guarded, so this ramp is part of the ethnicity of the piece.

Due to the Spyderco specifications, the hole had to be about 1.1 inches from the pivot. The hole has to nest into the handle, and yet offer easy access (L).

This meant there was minimal room for a specific finger choil, instead the area under the bolster is curved (D) allowing your grip to move forward and choke up on the blade.

The blade tip height (F) is closely related to the rake (I) used in the design. This is distinctive Ed Schempp styling as he finds a knife with this much negative rake more comfortable and more ergonomic in use. It begins to align the edge with the major forearm bones, reducing fatigue when using the knife for long periods, and lets the blade get good purchase on the medium to be cut without making the wrist force the edge down. The rake angle chosen (I) is an angle that Ed prefers as in a normal grip it brings the edge square to the cut, and keeps the blade from sliding away from the medium you are cutting.

In this design, the opening hole is nearly half the blade height (G). The lack of metal is a slight concern as this blade is 2.5 mm thick, but in proper use is not a problem. Every design has an intended use, and when used as intended this blade is strong enough.

Taken from an earlier interview with Sal Glesser this is a relevant point for a digression from the Schempp Bowie:

As safety is a very important consideration, Spyderco break a lot of their blades on purpose with a special machine that records various measurements. Spyderco have a set of standards for blade strength in relation to the intended purpose of the blade, and how strong the lock needs to be for its intended purpose.

Another slight digression:

A few years ago a Rescue model was made, and then a smaller Rescue model. Because of needing to be used with gloves, Sal thought the hole needed to be a bit larger so he redesigned the blade increasing the size of the hole but also raising the top of the blade to leave more steel. When the first manufacturing run was carried out the maker increased the size of the hole, but did not retool to raise the position of the hole. The first run of 1200 knives were received with the hole well down into the grind line. For a normal knife this might be OK, but not for a ‘Rescue’ knife. Sal’s immediate concern was over the strength of the blade and immediately put the blades through the breaking machine. That night Sal dreamt that a fireman was rushing into a building and he pulled out his knife to cut something; the blade broke and cut him (the last thing a fireman needs on a rescue mission). The next day all 1200 knives were put in a barrel which was filled with concrete and taken to the dump. Sal sets his own standards and won’t sell underperforming products, failures are either repaired or disposed of, but never sold as seconds.

Back to the Schempp Bowie…

The balance point (H) falls in line with the narrowing of the grip where the opening hole is nested (L). The opening hole is as deeply nested as it is to minimize the folded knife’s profile and optimize access to the opening hole.

Narrowing of the grip at this point also accommodates a natural grip, and achieves the best balance for all the grip positions.

The index finger is the ‘pivot’ of your grip on the knife, so its position on the handle acts as the ‘fulcrum’ of the knife grip. The narrower the handle at the point the index finger lies, the larger the range of movement available to the user. Using thumb pressure forward and aft you can swing an arc with the tip, and the closer the thumb is to the index finger the wider the range of arc. Having as large a range of arc as the Schempp Bowie has the more the user can manipulate the blade when cutting.

When looking at the knife from both sides, you will notice that from one side you cannot see the lock release….

…but on the other side, the bolster has been subtly pushed back (J) to expose the lock for ease of operation.

Ed doesn’t like exposed tangs on folders as he finds in many cases it is difficult to remove from the pocket and wears the pocket out prematurely. Careful attention has been paid to this detail where the bolster has been shaped to ensure it covers the blade tang (K).

With this knife being an American ethnic piece, brass was chosen for the bolster material (M) as this was of course a material used on many traditional pieces and is part of the iconic attributes of the knife. However, it is a modern Spyderco, so the Carbon fibre (P) is consistent with the modern design and blends traditional design with modern materials. Carbon fibre in particular was chosen as the modern material for its light weight and high strength.

The dovetailed scale bolster (N) is a detail Ed generally uses on all his bolstered knives. When the handle is radiused, this gives the appearance of a radiused joint between bolster and scale when looking straight onto the face of the handle.

A deep carry pocket clip (O) was chosen by Spyderco and means the knife sits well down in the pocket making it more secure. Being made of round stock it doesn’t scratch car doors and furniture (as much). Though this was not specifically chosen by Ed, he believes that it augments the design.

Ed Schempp with his Bowie at the Spyderco booth at SHOT 2015.

A few more details:

To get an idea of the size of the Spyderco Schempp Bowie, it is shown here with the Fallkniven F1 with the blade open.

And straight on.

The deep clip of the blade allows it to sit well within the handle.

Blade centring on this sample was perfect.

The liner lock has been recessed into the bolster and handle making it very low profile.

Lock engagement is excellent.

What it is like to use

When I first saw the Schempp bowie, my immediate reaction was that it was “definitely not for me”. It seemed a curiosity that I would never choose for myself. However I was fortunate enough to meet Ed Schempp and talk to him about the design. My eyes were opened to the ‘intent’ in its careful design and combining this with handling the knife it all fell into place. More and more I found I could not put it down.

It is not a heavyweight knife, but much more an elegant, controlled, slicer. The blade opens so smoothly and easily on its phosphor bronze washers, making this one of the nicest one handed openers I’ve handled.

Open or closed this is a very sleek organic knife.

All the control afforded by the handle design and raked blade becomes obvious as you use it. I did find however that this did not work well carving wood, but excelled at opening sacks and boxes, cutting sheet materials and shaping foam amongst other tasks.

Looking at the different grips you can take shows the many ways you can use it. (For scale, I wear a glove size of XL in case you are wondering).

This knife is very hard to put down!

Review Summary

_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Things I like What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Distinctive Ethnic design Possible blade weakness at opening hole
Multiple grip options Styling may not be for everyone
Excellent control and ergonomics Rake can make certain types of cut less effective
Slim, recessed, liner lock Lock more suited to right-handers
Super slick OHO

Knife Review: lionSTEEL Thrill

I could not wait to get hold of a lionSTEEL Thrill when I saw it. It’s a slip-joint, and that is part of the attraction, as in the UK, for EDC-legal carry, it has to be non-locking – but there is so much more. The handle and spring are machined from a single solid piece of titanium, it has IKBS pivot bearings, a M390 blade and the stealth ‘hideaway’ pocket clip, making it a fully loaded package. Join me in this review of the lionSTEEL Thrill, a slip-joint pocket knife.

What’s in the box?:
Very well presented packaging.


A good look round the lionSTEEL Thrill – Things to look out for here are:
This gallery has a lot to look at (and we take a closer look at the pocket clip separately): the quality of machining and detailing of the solid handle, the steel ‘spring liner’ protecting the titanium spring from the blade tang, fit and finish of the fixings, and machining of the blade.


H.WAYL pocket clip:
The Thrill uses lionSTEEL’s ‘Hide What Annoys You’ H.WAYL clip system that allows the pocket clip to sit flush with the rest of the handle, instead of sticking out and sticking into your hand when using the knife. When hidden, you press the button to open the clip and allow it to slip over your pocket.


The Blade and Handle – Detailed Measurements:
For full details of the tests and measurements carried out and an explanation of the results, see the page – Knife Technical Testing – How It’s Done.

Torque testing:


What is it like to use?
There was one thing I just had to include here, which is the sound of the Thrill opening and closing. The combination of the titanium body and steel spring liner gives it a kind of ‘sheeesh sheeesh’ sound I’ve not heard on any other knife. Well here it is, I love it…

That action feels great with the pivot bearings making the motion super slick, yet the spring strength makes the blade feels secure. A half-stop lets you change grip as you open it all the way, keeping control of the blade.

With the H.WAYL clip system, you can completely forget this knife has a pocket clip. Personally I would not want to trust this clip for two reasons; firstly, the clip’s ‘spring’ pressure is provided by the button spring, and this is not very strong (or you would struggle to open it), and secondly, the underside of the clip is straight and smooth, so has no ‘bump’ or texture to resist sliding off a pocket edge (in fact it gets easier to pull off the further up it moves, without that final clinch).

Because of this, and the lack of lanyard attachment, I have taken to carrying this in a belt pouch (as in the gallery below) which has proven to work very well.

My nails are not very strong, so I don’t like to open stiff blades using a nail-nick; there is, however, enough blade accessible when the Thrill is closed to allow me to pinch grip the blade to open it, so it has been completely comfortable to use.

Blade shape and geometry has proven itself time and again. A full flat grind combined with a blade that is not too thick and not too thin, means it cuts really well. The point of the blade punctures eagerly, helped by the narrow point-angle and swedge. (Of course you must always be careful and utilise correct technique when using the point of a slip-joint, as if you get it wrong you can make the blade close on your fingers.)

Being a slip-joint provides you with a freedom to carry the knife that far outweighs any limitations of not having a locking blade.

The Thrill has been my EDC for a good time now and takes all those daily duties in its stride while leaving you with the feeling it IS something special.


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.

I’m starting with what doesn’t work so well, so I can finish on a more positive note

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Weak pocket clip.
No Lanyard hole.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Lovely action.
Slip-Joint (UK EDC legal).
Firm back-spring pressure.
Versatile blade shape.
Possible to pinch grip the blade to open.
M390 blade steel.
Superb fit and finish.
Single-piece solid handle.
Hideaway pocket clip.

 
Discussing the Review:
Please visit the Tactical Reviews Facebook Page to discuss this review and start/join the conversation.

First Look: Extrema Ratio Sethlans Knife

This is a first look at the just launched Extrema Ratio Sethlans knife. This knife is designed to be used for bushcraft, survival, and as a backup blade, so is also ideally suited for prepping. But you are going to want to use this, not just leave it sitting by ‘just in case’.

The ‘First Look’ Video:


What’s in the box?:


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.
Quoted directly from Extrema Ratio –
““EXTREMA RATIO SETHLANS” a fixed blade work knife born to face a wide range of situations, suitable for survival, bushcraft, prepping, but also as a backup blade.

SETHLANS was designed in collaboration with Daniele Dal Canto, Master Advanced F.I.S.S.S. instructor (Italian Federation of Sports and Experimental Survival).

SETHLANS is available in two different versions with two different kinds of steel.

The stone washed version is produced with böhler N690 heat treated at 58 HRC, chosen for the reliability it has demonstrated over the last 20 years due to its resistance to oxidation and durability of the edge.

The black version is produced in D2 steel, heat and cryogenically treated at 60 HRC, which presents an high resharpening capacity even with makeshift tools. In order to give greater qualities of hardness and resistance, the blade is coated with the new Teflon-based product “EXP DARK”, proposed by Extrema Ratio.

The knife comes with G10 grips that feature the ergonomic design characteristic of Extrema Ratio handles. They can be removed by releasing the skeletonized structure of the knife, that allows maximum lightness with minimum thickness. For lovers of extreme customization, the full-tang structure allows the handle to be covered with a paracord cord.

The sheath is composed of a part in very light and minimalist Kydex. It can be disassembled and can be adapted for both left and right handed users. The addition of an optional belt clip allows the knife to be positioned both vertically and horizontally and makes the sheath much more versatile than the textile version. It is also equipped with a mini pouch with M.O.L.L.E. system. containing a two-sided stone for sharpening and a Firesteel for lighting fires”.

Type: Fixed blade
Use: Survival
Blade Length: 107 mm (4.21”)
Overall Length: 224 mm (8.82”)
Blade Thickness: 6.3 mm (0,25”)
Main Grid: Flat
Weight: 207 g (7,30 oz)
Blade Material Sethlans Stone Washed: Böhler N690 (58HRC) steel
Blade Finishing Sethlans Stone Washed: Stone Washed
Blade Material Sethlans Black D2: D2 (60HRC) steel
Blade Finishing Sethlans Black D2: EXP DARK
Handle Material: G10

 
Discussing the Review:
The ideal place to discuss this review is on the Tactical Reviews Facebook Page
Please visit there and start/join the conversation.

Light Review: Fenix TK30 White Laser LEP

LEP, what is LEP? Laser Excited Phosphor, the new super thrower with a highly focused beam; and I was certainly excited to try out the Fenix (see MyFenix in the UK) TK30 White LEP light. I first came across the concept of LEP to be used as a long range tactical scope illuminator for snipers, and there is no doubt this is a highly specialised type of light. For long range scope illumination it is outstanding, and for the general lighting enthusiast it is a lightsaber, with near laser beam like projection.

First up is a video which covers the basics of a look round the TK30 and some outdoor video to show the incredible beam. This page has a lot more detail including the measured output figures, runtime graph and photos of the beam.

What is in the box?:


A good look round the TK30 – Things to look out for here are:
The TK30 comes with an excellent belt holster, and a 21700 cell that has a built-in USB-C charging port (in the cell, not the TK30).


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!

Yes, this really is the beam, not a mistake. There is a small bright spot with all 500lm (422lm measured) in it.


Batteries and output:

The runs on the included 5000mAh 21700 cell.

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.

Peak Beam intensity measured 469000lx @1m giving a beam range of 1370m!!!

In this gallery are measurements of the built-in USB-C charging for the 5000mAh cell, and the runtime graph (with active cooling).


Troubleshooting

This section is included to mention any minor niggles I come across during testing, in case the information helps anyone else.

It was noted that when the low battery warning is shown with the flashing indicator in the side switch, this makes the main beam output flicker. More on this is included in the ‘in use’ section below.

As per the description of this section, this information is provided in case anyone else finds a similar ‘issue’ that might be fixed in the same way.

The TK30 in use
Let’s first just get the minor quibble out of the way with the output that starts to flicker when the low battery warning comes on. It is shown in the marked copy of the runtime graph and only affects the very last part of the run. I personally take this as a point of the output being so near the end and not able to maintain the full output, that I would want to recharge the battery anyway at this point.

In some ways, the visible beam flickering is only further indication the battery is too low, so is not a problem so much as a ‘feature’. Moving on…

So the operation of the TK30 is just fine, a tail-switch, and a side switch for the mode. Easy and straightforward to use.

Although the high beam output is only in the region of 500lm, I would say that the heat generated and felt at the head of the TK30 is more than I would expect for a 500lm light. But this is no ordinary 500lm light. Inside the head is a UV Laser module that is then illuminating a phosphor surface to produce the beam, so overall it is not as efficient as a typical LED emitter and so generates more heat.

Swapping from the included 21700 cell to an 18650 (with adapter), the runtime is much less, and the lower efficiency of LEP to LED becomes even more obvious. A trade off in efficiency in exchange for a beam unlike any other.

Just take a look through this gallery. (I have used the Moon to cheat with a couple of these, it’s not quite that amazing.)


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 that covered in the review.

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.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Not really a ‘con’, but a warning – this is a specialist light and is not suitable for general use due to the tiny hotspot and no spill.
Shorter runtime compared to an LED light.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Super focused beam with 1370m throw!
LEP – Laser Excited Phosphor.
USB-C rechargeable 21700 cell and cable included.
Very good belt holster.
It’s just superb fun to have a lightsaber / white laser.

 
Discussing the Review:
The ideal place to discuss this review is on the Tactical Reviews Facebook Page
Please visit there and start/join the conversation.

As well as the Tactical Reviews Facebook Page, please consider visiting one of the following to start/join in any discussion.

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

Gear Review: Wiley X Captivate Lenses (Models shown – Contend, Peak and Breach)

In this review, it’s all about a lens; a new Wiley X lens. As someone who relies daily on the best quality sunglasses, but that also needs EN. 166 & ANSI Z87.1 safety standards, Wiley X has been my go-to brand and has never let me down. I also, in most cases, prefer polarized lenses for glare reduction and enhancing colour depth. Wiley X have now produced a further enhancement to the polarized lens by increasing colour contrast with the CAPTIVATE lens. In this review the focus is primarily on this new lens itself, but can be seen in three of the first models to feature the lens; Contend, Peak and Breach (which also has the gasket technology).

What’s in the box?:


Here is what is included for all three models.


A look round the Contend:
This ‘Contend’ has the Blue mirror version of the CAPTIVATE lens.


A look round the Peak:
For the ‘Peak’ it is the Copper CAPTIVATE lens.


A look round the Breach:
Lastly the ‘Breach’ has the Bronze Mirror CAPTIVATE lens. Also look out for the gasket, and in this model, the side vents that can be opened and closed as required.


What is the CAPTIVATE lens like to use?

First impressions? That is actually very difficult to describe when you go from one of Wiley X’s already superb polarized lenses to the new enhanced CAPTIVATE polarized lens. Between one Wiley X polarized lens and the CAPTIVATE lens, is there a marked difference? It is simply not possible for there to be a massive difference. Instead it has taken a longer period of use to really appreciate the improvement, as I have now experienced a wide range or lighting conditions and locations with differing colour ranges.

None of the lens versions on test are completely neutral, so all give a slight colour cast to the overall rendition of what you see. This is one aspect of the eyewear we choose that adds an extra dimension and allows us to see more and differently than without any lens.

Since getting to know the new CAPTIVATE lens, I’ve been trying to work out how to best show what this lens does, and am still no satisfied, but here goes with my attempt.

Bear in mind, that like all of our senses, we have our own built in ‘automatic balance’, so like a camera has a White Balance setting, and this can be set to Auto White Balance, our eyes also do this to some degree, and after wearing a lens for a period of time our eyes adjust to them.

Coming from daily use of Wiley X lenses already, first impressions were of an excellent lens, but could I see what made them different? Over time, and with swapping back to the standard polarized lens, the answer was yes. What I was seeing through the CAPTIVATE lens was clearer and more defined. It was subtle, but the impression was of sharper edges, and a higher clarity. As we are seeing objects which don’t typically have a ‘border’ or ‘outline’ in a different colour, we are seeing the edge of an object as its colour meets the next background or object colour.

The intent of the CAPTIVATE lens is for it to reduce light in the parts of the light spectrum where Blue merges with Green, and where Green merges with Red so that you see a more significant difference between blue/green and green/red boundaries.

This is not done to such an extent that you can’t see certain shades, but so that you have an impression of higher contrast between colours. As I said before, this is not so marked you put them on and see something so unreal, but rather that with more use you can appreciate how clearly you are seeing your surroundings.

In an attempt to show the effect of these lenses, I am including two galleries with photographs taken through the different lenses. In the first set, the camera is set to a fixed Daylight White Balance (so is not adjusting the colour balance), and in the second set the camera is set to Auto White Balance to try to introduce some of the acclimatisation our eyes have.

There is a control shot first with no lens in front of the camera, then the three different models.

Daylight White Balance set


Auto White Balance set
This is the set I feel, more closely represents what your eyes see (but not exactly) for each lens type. The stand-out photo is probably the one of the metal cover in a pavement which has weeds growing round it and when you go from the control shot to the Contend lens. The green really stands out.
Another characteristic I like about the Bronze Mirror lens in the Breach was how it gave a pleasing deep bronze cast to the rusted metal surfaces in road furniture (manhole covers etc).


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 that covered in the review.

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.

I’m trying something slightly different and starting with what doesn’t work so well, so I can finish on a more positive note

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Sorry, not being biased, but really nothing.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Lens quality.
The clarity of vision.
Subtle effect of the enhanced colour contrast.
Strong and comfortable frames.
More innovation from Wiley X.

Light Review: Weltool 365nm UV/Red lights – M2-OL, M2-BF and M7-RD

For my first Weltool review I’m taking a look at some specialist lighting options; no white light here, instead it’s two lights with 365nm UV output, and one pure Red 625nm output. The models on test are the M2-OL (flood beam 365nm UV light kit with charger and cell), M2-BF (pure 365nm UV output, light only), and the M7-RD (625nm Red output with USB chargeable cell).

What is in the box?:
A quick overview of the three models and how they arrived. The M2-OL also includes a single-bay USB charger in the box.


A good look round all three of the models – Things to look out for here are:
The first one to be unpacked was the M2-OL. All three use a very similar chassis, with minor differences. For the two that included 18650 cells, each had an insulator disk to prevent accidental switch-on during transit. The lens/bezel arrangement is different in each of the three.


Taking a more detailed look at the charger and cells:
The M2-OL included a flat top 18650 with USB charger, and the M7-RD came with a USB rechargeable 18650 (no cell was included with the M2-BF). After looking over the set of contacts and the image of the flat top cell, you can also see a side shot of the cell in the charger where the negative contact end is raised slightly. This was required for the positive contact to touch the positive terminal in the charger.


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!

In this set of beamshots, the only outdoor beamshot is of the M7-RD red beam, as the UV lights do not show up anything significant for this type of image. However, where it gets interesting is indoors. For this gallery, the first image is for the M2-OL, which is not pure UV, having some blue light. The next image is at the exact same exposure with the M2-BF that has a filtered output so it is pure 365nm UV light, and the only visible features are those fluorescing in the UV. The last two are of the red beam of the M7-RD.


Special beam galleries:
To properly appreciate the output of these dedicated UV lights the next two galleries are needed. In the first gallery are two sets of images, each set of the same scene, starting with a control image using a warm white light, then the M2-OL, and finally the M2-BF. The results are very clear.


In this second special gallery are two views from a pebble beach, where the confusion of the stones easily hides details that UV can reveal. In this gallery, a control warm white light is used, and the M2-BF. The last image shows bank note security features and the glow around the spots on a banana skin.


Batteries and output:

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.

Included here are two charging traces, first for the USB charger and 18650 cell that came with the M2-OL, and second for the USB chargeable 18650 that came with the M7-RD. Lastly is a runtime graph for the M7-RD (which should be showing the actual lumen output), and the M2-BF showing a simulated output. The integrating sphere sensor does NOT measure UV, so in this run for the M2-BF I included fluorescent material inside the sphere to convert some of the UV to visible light. Doing this allows for a ‘relative’ output trace over the full runtime, but is not a measurement of actual lumens.


Troubleshooting

This section is included to mention any minor niggles I come across during testing, in case the information helps anyone else.

As mentioned in the previous section “Taking a more detailed look at the charger and cells:” The flat-top cell supplied with the M2-OL would not charge in the supplied USB charger. This was because the plastic wrap on the cell left the positive terminal slightly recessed. To allow charging the negative end of the cell just needed to be raised slightly.

Not a big issue and easily rectified. I mention it here in case you find the same and need to use this simple fix.

As per the description of this section, this information is provided in case anyone else finds a similar ‘issue’ that might be fixed in the same way.

The M2-OL, M2-BF and M7-RD in use:

These are specialist lights, so really shine (pun intended) in specific situations. If you are an enthusiast in portable lighting, then you might not really ‘need’ these lights, but they will be great fun to add to your line up.
If you are in need of them for their special purposes, then you have some really strong performers to choose from. Before getting to the model-specific comments, a quick look at their sizes; I am slightly surprised there is so much variation when based on the same body and switch, but each of these three is a different length, and has been fine tuned to the LED and lens configuration. All three lights have two output levels selectable with a quick on-off-on via the forward-clicky tailcap switch; all three start on low if left off for 2s or more.

M7-RD RED: Weltool describe the M7-RD as a choice that won’t affect dark adapted eyes. For this I partly disagree; yes, red light does have less of an effect on your night vision, but the M7-RD is very bright, and will still affect your night vision. Use this at a star party (if that is your bag) and you will be shouted at. However, I find it particularly useful for hunting. The quarry I often target does not appear to react to pure red light, and this means I can use a good brightness red light to help me, instead of a super dim light where I’d struggle to see (especially when using a gun light that is much brighter).

M2-OL UV: After looking at the special beamshot galleries, the M2-OL, might seem a lesser choice for a UV light, but the mix of UV with some blue light has a place. It means that you have some ‘supporting’ light to see other features in the scene even if they don’t react to UV. This mix of light is helpful and gives a different view of the area.

M2-BF: This is the most specialist of the three, as there is a filter lens to remove all but the pure 365nm UV light. If there is nothing to fluoresce, you won’t see anything. In the photo below, the M2-BF is on, but apart from the glow of the paper surface in front of the lens, you might not know it was on at all.
With this super pure UV you can reveal hidden details, and often show things you might rather you hadn’t seen! The M2-BF is the ultimate in true ‘black light’ as long as you don’t need any visible light mixed in.


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 that covered in the review.

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.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Minor issue with the USB charger and flat-top cell.
M7-RD’s Red output is too bright for saving night vision.
They are 18650 powered only, so no option for primary cells.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Great fit and finish for all models.
Choice of different beam profiles to suit your needs.
M7-RD has a USB chargeable cell that does not need a separate charger.
M2-OL includes a full kit including a cell and charger.
M2-BF outputs pure filtered 365nm ‘black light’.

Knife Review: Fallkniven A1x

Not that I have ever doubted the strength of Fallkniven’s knives, but as soon as I saw there would be full exposed tang versions of their popular models I had to get hold of one! So the ‘x’ series delivers the A1, S1 and F1 with full tang and removable scales as the A1x, S1x, and F1x. The ‘x’ series also boast new updated sheaths with locking system. In this review of the Fallkniven A1x, join me in taking a good look at how this new version of an already tried and tested knife stacks up. It’s a beast!

A few more details:

What’s in the box?:

A sad sign of the times is that a ‘genuine product’ sticker can be found on the box (sad that the unscrupulous are selling fake Fallkniven knives).
The Alx is simply presented wrapped in bubble wrap in its sheath.


A good look round the A1x’s sheath – Things to look out for here are:

Fallkniven have put a lot of thought into the x series sheath, building on previous versions and the ‘Pro’ series sheath to make this more secure and versatile than ever.
On the side opposite the finger guard, there is a locking lever which makes it impossible for the knife to fall out of the sheath, no matter how much it gets shaken around.


A good look round the A1x – Things to look out for here are:

Onto this chunky piece of laminated steel with removable Thermorun handle scales. The lamination of the steel is easily visible in many of these photos.


The Blade and Handle – Detailed Measurements:

For full details of the tests and measurements carried out and an explanation of the results, see the page – Knife Technical Testing – How It’s Done.

The blade is made from Laminated CoS steel. This has the layers 420J2 – CoS – 420J2.


What is it like to use?

The A1x is one of the first blades to appear to contradict the SET testing in the previous section. The results for this CoS steel were not as good as I thought they would be, and this normally translates into real world edge retention. However with the A1x, the edge has been holding up fantastically in normal use, better than blades with superior SET results.
Considering my testing of the A1x involved plenty of heavy chopping as well as fine carving, and the edge just kept on going and going, there may be other unexplained factors at play.
I also found that when sharpening the A1x it proved very easy to get a really good edge. Some steels are more difficult to get a good edge on, but despite the high spec of the steel, it was very accommodating.
Of the three x series knives, the A1x is the biggest, and although the A1x blade is still only 160mm long, it has enough weight with the 7mm blade stock to be a very effective chopper.
7mm, YES, 7mm full exposed tang knife – that is 9/32″ for anyone preferring imperial.


7mm blade stock and a blade depth of only 31.5mm And a Convex Sabre grind, does mean the A1x is not a great slicer when deep cuts are needed. It is much more of a woodsman/bushcraft knife and well suited to wood processing, but less so for finer tasks. You can prepare food, and with the right technique use it for general cutting tasks, ensuring you use shallow cuts and allow the cut to open up to give the blade room to move through.

Fallkniven plastic sheaths can rattle a little, and the supplied sheath is right handed only due to the design of the knife retention. There are some left handed options available, so you might need to check this in advance.

A new development in the x series is the sheath lock, which works very well and negates the need for a fabric retaining strap. Once engaged the lock blocks the knife from moving so it can’t be released from the sheath. Security and peace of mind, a great new addition.

The A1x in its preferred habitat…

Everything about the Fallkniven A1x is simply reassuring – the blade thickness, the full exposed tang, the sheath lock, the steel, the convex grind, and not forgetting the pedigree. This is a knife I feel I really could trust my life to, and if I had to pick one blade to get me out of anything, this is right at the top of the list.

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.

I’m trying something slightly different and starting with what doesn’t work so well, so I can finish on a more positive note

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Very thick blade makes it a poor slicer in thicker materials.
Sheath rattles a bit.
Right handed only sheath.
_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Thick super-robust blade.
Very effective chopper.
Secure blade retention sheath lock.
Excellent edge retention.
Takes a great edge easily.
Full, exposed tang. Totally reliable.
Handle provides good comfortable grip.
Reassuringly solid.

Light Review: The 10,000 lumen Fenix LR35R

Can it be true? 10,000 lumens from a light you could fit in your pocket? In this review of the Fenix LR35R I put Fenix’s claimed output figures to the test. As well as this companion review there is a full length video review, with behind the scenes insights into the testing. It turns out that this light went beyond the limits of my test equipment and meant making modifications to allow an accurate reading to be taken.


Here is the video review:

INDEX:
00:00-01:20 Intro
01:20-07:31 Looking over the LR35R
07:31-13:28 Measuring parasitic drain
13:28-19:56 Troubleshooting – comparing cells
19:56-20:43 Troubleshooting – benchmark measurements for sensor modification
20:43-24:28 Modifying the integrating sphere
24:28-26:02 Results – USB charging
26:02-26:57 Results – Thermal imaging
26:57-30:40 Results – Runtime Graphs
30:40-32:11 Results – Beam shots
32:11-33:35 Summary


What is in the box?:
As this is a pre-production sample, there is no un-boxing as only the light was supplied.

A good look round the LR35R – Things to look out for here are:
Be sure to check the video for many of these details.


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!


Batteries and output:

The LR35R runs on two 21700 cells which can be recharged in the light.

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.

Before getting onto the output graphs, let’s quickly look at the USB charging graphs. Fenix have use a pulse charging approach which the three images show clearly. Peak charging current is 3A.


And the three runtime graphs which show the effect of the thermal regulation, and how this is countered with stronger cooling.


A thermal image taken during the runtime testing.

The LR35R in use

A real surprise that this output can be achieved in a light smaller than one of my old favourites, the TK35. It does heat up very quickly, and in normal use, hand held, the thermal regulation kicks in much faster than on the runtime graphs which had strong cooling.
The built in charging is very useful, especially as all the 21700 rated chargers I have would not take the long Fenix 21700 cells. It also means you don’t need anything else, and can swap the cells if needed.
As the LR35R is so small, I really wish Fenix had added a lower sub-lumen mode, as for me that would make it a fantastic all-rounder.
Be aware that the headline 10,000 lumens is only short lived, but if you take it down a notch or two, the performance is very very strong.
Beam tint and beam profile are very useable, and overall this is a powerhouse that is easy to live with.


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 that covered in the review.

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.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Lack of a sub-lumen mode.
Heats up very quickly.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Hits that 10,000 lumen headline figure.
Very strong performance on High and Medium output.
Surprisingly compact.
USB-C charging built-in.
Comes with two high-capacity 21700 cells.
Great Beam tint and profile.

Light Review: Fenix HM65R Headlamp

With the HM65R, Fenix have fitted in so much, but have kept this headlamp small and light enough that you don’t have to think twice about taking it with you on any adventure (or even just taking out the rubbish).
The 18650 li-ion cell used to be the ‘enthusiast’s choice’, being unfamiliar to many users, even more so when strapped to your forehead – not any longer. The Fenix HM65R comes with a high capacity 3500mAh 18650 cell, and there is a built in USB-C charging port. The ONLY thing you need is a USB charger of some kind to open the door to this powerful and capable light.
Join me in this review of the Fenix HM65R to take a look at all the details and how it performs.

What is in the box?:
For maximum stability the HM65R has a top strap, and the full head strap comes assembled and neatly tucked away in the packaging.


A good look round the HM65R – Things to look out for here are:
I’m splitting this detailed set of photos into two galleries for a more manageable tour of the HM65R. The HM65R is almost ready to go out of the packaging, but first you need to remove a small insulator that keeps the battery from running down or the HM65R from being turned on accidentally. From the appearance of the threads of the battery tube, you can see that this is made of magnesium, a material chosen by Fenix to shave off a few more grams of weight.


Taking in more details:
First up in this gallery are the twin lenses – the larger spot emitter with clear lens, and the smaller flood emitter with honeycomb type diffuser lens.
For a more stable fit to your head, the inside of the front part of the headband strap has a grippy strip. Flipping the HM65R forwards gives access to the USB-C charging port and shows the angle adjustment mechanism.


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!

For both indoor and outdoor beamshots, the individual spot and flood beams are shown, then (as both can be turned on at the same time) the combined beam. Each of the photos in the set of three is at the same exposure and white balance.


Batteries and output:

The HM65R runs on a supplied 3500mAh 18650 Fenix li-ion cell.

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.

Take note of the very good (low) parasitic drain measurement.

Also shown in this gallery is a charging graph for the built in USB-C charging. Although USB-C is capable of up to 3A, the HM65R seems to top-out at about 1.4A when charging.


The HM65R in use:

Straight off the bat, the HM65R makes itself a success with the stable and comfortable head strap (with top strap), and the choice of spot or flood beams (or both combined). Then, in using the high capacity 18650, you get a great runtime and powerful output (yet without too much weight), and the built in USB-C charging means you actually don’t need anything else – The HM65R is a complete kit.

There is one thing missing for me though, and that is a very low output. Even 9 lm, and even with this being on the flood beam, it is still too bright for dark adapted eyes. Frequently when I’m using headlamps, I will have dark adapted eyes (waking from sleep, or when I don’t want to disturb others); if only Fenix could squeeze in that lower mode, a sub 1 lm mode for both spot and flood output, it would make the HM65R a fantastic all-rounder.

If you want to go full blast, then your wish is the HM65R’s command – perfect visibility.


It is very helpful having the quick charge level gauge, with just a click letting you see if you will want to top up the battery.

Having used many Fenix headlamps over the years, and many competitors headlamps too, the HM65R definitely goes down as a choice for Pro users. I use the term ‘Pro’ to indicate this is a serious tool, capable of hard work, versatile and something worth investing in.

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 that covered in the review.

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.

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Lacking a sub-lumen output level.
USB-C charging limited to 1.4A.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Independently switch-able Spot and Flood beams.
Stable and comfortable head mount with top strap.
High capacity 18650 cell included.
Built in USB-C charging.
Very low (negligible) parasitic drain.
Nearly 1400 lm combined beam output.
Light weight.

Gear Review: NexTool Frigate 14-in-1 Folding Shovel

When I first picked up the NexTool (14-in-1) ‘Frigate’ shovel I was struck by how solid it felt, this was no ordinary folding shovel. Large and substantial, with plenty of heft and leverage to make this a properly effective tool. With a head that can be set to multiple angles to enhance its digging ability, changing from a shovel to a grubbing hoe, and a few extra functions thrown in to make it even more useful. Keep reading this review of the NexTool Frigate 14-in-1 Folding Shovel for all the details.

A few more details:

What’s in the box?:

Revealing the contents layer by layer.


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

As well as the well provisioned case and carry strap, it is supplied with an Allen key and small spanner (to maintain the shovel’s folding mechanism) and some paracord. Inside are compartments for each section of the shovel.


A good look over the handle and included tools – Things to look out for here are:

One handle section incorporates a standard magnetic hex screwdriver bit holder and comes with a double ended bit. The end-cap of the handle incorporates a fluid compass, and removing that end-cap reveals a glass-breaker spike. Unscrewing the glass breaker part reveals a dual purpose whistle and firesteel. The two other handle sections are simple empty tubes.


A good look round the head of the shovel – Things to look out for here are:

The main event, the head of the shovel. There is a protective slip covering the shovel head when packed away. A ball-detent system locates the head at one of three angles/positions, 45 degrees, 90 degrees open (from closed) and fully open. Once the head is located by the detent, a locking collar then secures the head in the chosen position. The shovel head has an incorporated saw, two spanners, a bottle opener and a line cutter. The side opposite the saw could be sharpened for chopping, but is not sharp as supplied.


What it is like to use?

I’ve split this section’s photos into two galleries as the first relates to some general observations and the second to the results of the actual testing.
This first gallery is intended to give an impression of its portability and size. The fully packed tool weighs in at 1.68kg which is more than many folding shovels, so the important factor here is to decide how much work you are really going to do with it. Light weight shovels are great in most ways up until you have to use them, and may as well have a garden trowel. With that weight comes ability to do serious work. Look at the shovel leaning against a high-back garden chair, it is a size you can use standing up, you won’t need to be on your knees to dig.
The compartmentalised carry case ensures it easily all fits together and is surprisingly compact.


With the shovel begging to be used and do some serious work, I quickly came across a consideration and suggestion for anyone using this shovel – Take out all the ‘extras’ from inside the handle tubes and keep them separate.
The hex bit immediately comes out of the magnetic holder and then just bounces about. More annoyingly, the whistle and firesteel quickly shakes loose, falls into the tube and the firesteel will break. This is not a fault as such, but a practicality for when you start digging properly, so avoid the broken firesteel and annoying rattles, and just take these parts out before you start.
This is the most comfortable and effective folding shovel I have used. Its weight allows you to easily stab into the ground (as there is not a suitable surface to apply foot pressure) and then a long lever to make quick progress.


Personally I would not count on the additional functions but focus on the effectiveness of the shovel and its digging ability. The saw is useful for small notches, but not much more, and things like the spanners and bottle opener in the shovel blade might have use for prying and twisting jobs, but anything really needing these tools will want proper versions. Of course having is these functions is better than not having them.
Unlike some folding/telescopic shovels (that are less capable), the NexTool shovel becomes a little fussy when packing away. There is a separate shovel blade cover needed due to the saw, and the handle breaks down into a set of completely separate tubes. Depending on how far (or not) you travel each day, you might be leaving the full handle assembled and just fold the blade over for carry to your next camp site.
Having said this, the NexTool Frigate Shovel is actually a serious working tool, that can be packed down very neatly when you need to.

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 that covered in the review.

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.

I’m trying something slightly different and starting with what doesn’t work so well, so I can finish on a more positive note

_______________________________________________
What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________

Overall weight makes this a more considered carry.
Some extras (whistle/firesteel/screwdriver) need to be removed for digging.
Slightly fussy to pack.

_______________________________________________
Things I like
_______________________________________________

Seriously good at digging – far more so than most folding shovels.
Long handle makes digging while standing easy.
Very strong all metal build.
Takes-down into a very neat package.
Additional functions useful.

 

Discussing the Review:

The ideal place to discuss this review is on the Tactical Reviews Facebook Page
Please visit there and start/join the conversation.