Knife Review: Gerber Strongarm

Gerber’s latest incarnation of the military/tactical survival knife has taken its evolution to another level. Paring down each element of the design to provide the essential functions without any excess bulk has resulted in a tool that works with you and remains totally reliable.

 photo 00 Strongarm feature P1190485v2.jpg

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.
 photo 47 Strongarm grind P1200587.jpg

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).
 photo Knife measuring P1180483.jpg

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.
 photo 46 Strongarm balance P1200560.jpg

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

 photo 51 Strongarm Parameters.jpg

The blade is made from 420HC steel.

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.

Unfortunately I can’t always get time with the designer so will use this section to include relevant information about the knife and its designer.

The Strongarm is the result of an evolution of Gerber’s survival knives which I can trace back through several models. In this section I’d like to share a personal perspective of the evolution that has lead to the Strongarm. This might not be how Gerber would chart its development, but is based on my own knives and experience.

As any child of the 80s will know, the 1982 film ‘Rambo – First Blood’ has been one of the most influential films in terms of interest in survival and in knife design at the time. With Lyle knives way out of reach, I ended up owning some of the rather nasty cheap hollow handle Rambo style knives. There were other more serious designs available but pricing also made them out of reach.

Still hankering after a decent and stylish blade I was struck by the appearance of one in another film from 1988 staring Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger – Deadly Pursuit (Shoot to Kill). In this film Tom Berenger’s character is carrying a Gerber BMF (Basic Multi-Function) in its original pattern with 8″ blade, and this was the saw back version that wasstill in fashion at the time. I loved it and knew this was the knife I had to have. Unfortunately with the UK market starved of this knife I had to wait for one to arrive, and when it did changes had been made to the size and grind. It now had a 9″ blade and the one I found didn’t have the saw-back. It was still a meaty solid knife, so had to do. The BMF was produced by Gerber between 1986 and 1998 and had several ‘updates’ during this time.

In the following evolution photographs is the original pattern BMF I eventually found only a couple of years ago (and this one has been on active duty in war zones).

The sheath is as important as the knife in providing the overall package, so starting here we can see all the knives in this evolution in their sheaths. The knives shown are the BMF 8″ saw-back, then a LMF, the LMF II, a Prodigy and finally the Strongarm.
 photo 41 Strongarm evolution P1190818.jpg

With the BMF (first made in 1986) being a big knife there was demand for a similar design but smaller. In 1988 Gerber released the LMF (Light Multi-Function). In its first year the LMF had a full flat grind, but from 1989 onwards (until 1997 when it was discontinued) it was the style shown here. The original LMF had the bias towards blade length as a proportion of overall length. After a few years, the LMF was reborn in May 2005 as the LMF II designed specifically as a military survival knife. Becoming known as the standard by which all survival knives should be judged, many found the LMF II a little too big, so a smaller alternative was made with the name Prodigy. Working hard to make this knife all the more versatile, Gerber designed the multi-mount and tweaked the design further to create the Strongarm.

 photo 43 Strongarm evolution P1190839.jpg

Following the evolution series you can see how blade and handle lengths changed over time.
 photo 45 Strongarm evolution P1190832.jpg

A few more details:

Both the plain edge and part-serrated version were provided for review, hence the two boxes.
 photo 01 Strongarm boxed P1190423.jpg

A cardboard insert keep the knife in place and prevents the striker pommel breaking through the outer box.
 photo 02 Strongarm unboxing P1190424.jpg

Fresh out of the box, and as well as the sheathed knife there is the PALS webbing clip, a horizontal belt loop adapter and the instructions.
 photo 03 Strongarm unboxed P1190431.jpg

It is immediately obvious how much more streamlined Gerber have made the Strongarm compared to earlier knives in the line.
 photo 04 Strongarm sheathed P1190440.jpg

The moulded plastic sheath is suspended by a webbing hanger. For those sharp eyed readers you might notice that only a single press-stud is used for the hanger loop on the sheath, but even if this were to become un-popped, it cannot come out of the sheath while the knife is in the sheath.
 photo 05 Strongarm hanger P1190443.jpg

These are the parts of the sheath hanger/belt loop.
 photo 06 Strongarm hanger parts P1190445.jpg

To replace the belt loop, lay out the hanger strap as shown. (The cross piece is a knife retention strap for added security)
 photo 07 Strongarm hanger parts assemble P1190449.jpg

Fit the belt loop in place with the single press-stud on the underneath.
 photo 08 Strongarm hanger parts assemble P1190452.jpg

Close the belt loop with its two press-studs.
 photo 09 Strongarm hanger parts assemble P1190455.jpg

Then lay the hanger strap over the top and secure the two press-studs.
 photo 10 Strongarm hanger parts assemble P1190457.jpg

Taking the hanger off for clarity, here we are looking at the moulded sheath’s PALS fixing.
 photo 11 Strongarm PALS P1190460.jpg

Once in place over the PALS webbing you slide the locking bar through the loops to attach it.
 photo 12 Strongarm PALS P1190463.jpg

The PALS fixing can also be used to fit the horizontal belt loops.
 photo 13 Strongarm horiz Belt P1190466.jpg

Despite the blade being stainless steel, and having a black ceramic coating the Strongarm arrived with an oiled blade.
 photo 14 Strongarm oil P1190468.jpg

Each knife has a serial number and “Made in USA Portland, OR” proudly inscribed on the blade.
 photo 15 Strongarm serration back P1190472.jpg

The ceramic coating seems to have a slight non-stick effect as the oil beads up on it.
 photo 16 Strongarm serration front P1190481.jpg

You might also note that the length of the serrations is less than one third of the blade’s cutting edge.
 photo 17 Strongarm angle P1190484.jpg

The grind provides a powerful and strong point to the knife.
 photo 22 Strongarm tip P1190724.jpg

Despite the grip looking quite flat when in the sheath, you can see there is a definite palm swell.
 photo 23 Strongarm swell P1190725.jpg

The full tang protrudes from the handle providing a lanyard hole and glass breaking point.
 photo 24 Strongarm glass breaker P1190728.jpg

There is a rubber over-mould on the glass-filled nylon handle which has a diamond-shaped raised grip pattern.
 photo 25 Strongarm grip P1190735.jpg

Keeping the blade strength to the maximum the plunge line is a smooth curve transitioning from cutting edge to ricasso.
 photo 26 Strongarm plunge P1190738.jpg

Looking at how the cutting edge terminates for the plain edge version. I shall probably be adding a sharpening choil myself to this one.
 photo 40 Strongarm plain edge P1190804.jpg

As you would expect, when sheathed there is no visible difference between the plain and part-serrated versions.
 photo 28 Strongarm both P1190763.jpg

Let’s have a quick look over the difference between them.
 photo 29 Strongarm both P1190768.jpg

Starting with a simple side-by-side.
 photo 30 Strongarm both P1190770.jpg

Of course, the blades are made from exactly the same blade blank.
 photo 31 Strongarm both P1190771.jpg

Having that part-serrated edge always seems to make that version look as if it has more ‘belly’ near the front of the blade. This is because the serrations have to be cut quite deeply into the blade due to being a single bevel grind.
 photo 32 Strongarm both P1190774.jpg

Now we have had a good look over the Strongarm, it is time for that PALS attachment. Thanks to the secure retention system in the sheath, the knife can be happily mounted tip up or down.
 photo 18 Strongarm PALS P1190716.jpg

When PALS mounting you remove the belt loop and use the hanger strap to keep the handle from flapping. This hanger strap has one press-stud to secure it to the webbing and the rest of the strap needs to be tucked out of the way.
 photo 19 Strongarm PALS detail P1190713.jpg

The plastic sheath fits into the PALS webbing like this.
 photo 20 Strongarm PALS detail P1190710.jpg

A very neat PALS compatible system and far more compact than the LMF II or Prodigy.
 photo 21 Strongarm PALS detail P1190706.jpg

What it is like to use?

I’d like to start this section with a little comparison to its most closely related sibling, the Prodigy. I really like the LMF II and Prodigy, so if there are any comments that sound anti-either of them it is only by way of saying how the Strongarm has improved on them.

The most obvious difference is the size of the sheath and the retention tab. The new retention system is secure, but much easier to use. Overall the force required to remove the knife is slightly less with the Strongarm, but still plenty strong enough to keep the knife in place. There are also two thumb tabs moulded into the sheath to give you a leverage point for bringing the knife out of the sheath under much more control than just pulling it out. The streamlining of the sheath makes a huge difference to the apparent size of the knife when carrying it.
 photo 33 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190778.jpg

Once the Prodigy and Strongarm are out of their sheaths they are more similar in appearance but with several key differences that we will take a look at.
 photo 34 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190784.jpg

The area of the handle where the retention system holds the knife is quite different. For the older Prodigy, the normal moulded guard is gripped by the sheath, but in the Strongarm a clearly dedicated section of the guard is specifically shaped for the sheath to click into. In this way, instead of the sheath needing to grip the ‘normal’ handle, the new Strongarm has had the retention system designed into the knife handle making it much more precise.
Also of note is the handle texture on the Strongarm; while the Prodigy feels very comfortable and has good grip, the grip pattern of the Strongarm makes it feel rough and like it is positively holding onto you.
 photo 36 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190789.jpg

The part-serrated portion of the blade on the Strongarm has been reduced. This is most welcome as the serrated part of the Prodigy blade did seem to dominate it.
 photo 37 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190792.jpg

Two features we can notice here are the position of the striker on the pommel, and the grip length. The striker on the Strongarm is more central than on the Prodigy making it more natural to strike on target. Though the handle itself is the same overall length, the grip hook has been pushed further along the handle effectively making the grip longer giving more room for a gloved hand.
 photo 38 Strongarm prodigy compare P1190794.jpg

Finishing up in this comparison with an overhead shot which shows how similar the overall dimensions are to the older Prodigy.
 photo 39 Strongarm prodigy compare overall P1190801.jpg

In the Strongarm, Gerber have pitched the size bang-on for an easily carried but still capable survival knife. For reference, I take XL size gloves. Personally I prefer a little more body to the grip, but this does need to work well for the average hand and I can still get a good grip without it feeling too small.
 photo 27 Strongarm in hand P1190747.jpg

I don’t have the facilities to test the Strongarm in an escape/rescue/breaching scenario so instead have to focus on more of the survival and camping aspects. Both the plain edge and part-serrated version are on test, and personally I favour the plain edge as a general working tool, but do see a place for the part-serrated as a backup tool. One of the reasons I don’t like the part-serrated blade is for the wood preparation and carving round the camp. As shown here the serrations make significant shaping in those power cuts carried out close to the handle. It certainly cuts well, but serrations cuts best when slicing and not so well in push cuts. Also if your uses are for cutting a lot of fibrous material and ropes/cords, then the serrations are going to be a real boon.
 photo 48 Strongarm whittle P1250185.jpg

Thanks to the thick blade stock, the Strongarm’s blade has enough weight in it to work on its own hacking into branches. Here is a rather untidy job on some dormant wood and is my first attempt while I was getting a feel for the best grip to use (two or three finger).
 photo 49 Strongarm hack P1250188.jpg

So even before you have found yourself a baton, it gets through some smaller branches easily enough. More fatiguing than a bigger heavier knife, but it will do the job.
 photo 50 Strongarm hack P1250198.jpg

Having followed the evolution of the Gerber line to the Strongarm, there isn’t a single feature I would undo and want to revert to an earlier version. I still like and use the earlier knives, but the Strongarm is an improvement over them in every way, not least the ease of carry. Remember the ‘best’ survival knife is the one you have on you, so where I might not carry the LMF II, I would carry the Strongarm.

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 What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Simple and effective blade retention system. Retention strap press-stud was initially too stiff and caused fraying of the strap.
Part-serrated and Plain Edge versions available. Blade a little too thick for good food preparation.
Multi-mount sheath with belt, horizontal and PALS options.
Full Tang.
Ambidextrous sheath.
Enough weight in the blade to chop.

 

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Knife Review: Ontario Knife Company’s Ranger RD Tanto

The Ontario Knife Company RD Tanto is the first of a three-knife review series featuring the Blackbird SK-5, RD Tanto and RTAK II. (See – OKC Group Review.)

 photo 09 OKCtrio in log P1160300.jpg

The RD Tanto is one of the ‘Ranger series’ of OKC knives, a heavy duty high performance range of knives designed by Justin Gingrich.
 photo 11 RD Tanto angle P1140443.jpg

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.

 photo 36 RD Tanto flat grind P1140603.jpg

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.

 photo 38 RD Tanto angle P1140623.jpg

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.
 photo 37 RD Tanto balance P1140616.jpg

In the case of full convex grinds the approximate centre of the grind is used for the primary bevel angle estimate. This table includes the parameters for all the OKC knives in this series of reviews.
 photo OKC Parameters BlackbirdRDTantoRTAKII.jpg

The blade is made from 5160 steel.

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.

Though no longer directly involved with OKC, Justin Gingrich was happy to talk to me about the RD Tanto, how it came into being, and some of the design’s details.

As this was done by phone to help our discussion I sent this marked up image and include it now so I can use the same reference labels in the description.
 photo 24 RD Tanto with sheath front P1140515 002 002.png

The entire OKC Ranger series comes from Justin’s original company ‘Ranger Knives’ which he started in 2002 and eventually sold to OKC in 2008. Under OKC, Ranger Knives became the ‘Ranger series’. All Ranger Series knives have been designed by Justin and the original Ranger Series included four knives, the RD-4, 6, 7 and 9 as well as two versions of the RD Hawk. Justin continued to design the Ranger Series for around three years after selling Ranger Knives to OKC, and the RD Tanto was one of the knives designed for the OKC Ranger series.

During the time he worked with OKC, Justin continued to design various different knives and presented them to OKC for consideration. The Tanto was added as he had received a lot of demand for this style of knife.

With the RD Tanto being an additional design to an existing series, many of the design parameters were already set. Specifications such as the blade stock being 1/4 inch thick and using 5160 steel, as well as the handle design and materials, were kept the same to maintain continuity.

The final blade length (A) was chosen for a couple of reasons, but the main one actually being aesthetics. It had to look in proportion to the RD series handle and 6 1/2 – 7 inches was a sweet spot for this blade. To better understand the purpose of this blade length you need to consider that it doesn’t really fit into the category of a fine-work blade or a heavy-work blade. This blade length is a hybrid of the two and though it won’t do anything really well, it will do everything moderately well. For the person who doesn’t want to carry more than one knife, and doesn’t want to carry a heavy tomahawk or hatchet, the 6-7 inch blade allows them to more-or-less do anything they need to do, without it being too bulky to carry.
Looking at the very heavy blade stock (B), though this was carried over from the other knives in the Ranger series, the intention is to allow it to be a heavy duty tool with powerful stabbing ability. The design needed to be suitable to open a can of beans, dig, carry out extraction work such as prying open car doors or interior doors and to allow the user to really be able to lever on that blade without fear of it breaking.
Handle style (C) is something Justin has gone over with OKC a lot as he would prefer there to be more rounding on the handle slabs to increase comfort. The design originally comes from a time when the slab style of handle was very popular as a straightforward Tactical design. When working on the Ranger knives, Justin had just come out of the military so this tactical style was the one he adopted, however, his original knives had a more rounded handles than the current OKC versions.
Next to the handle, a thumb ramp with jimping (D) is included to provide additional grip strength when thrusting the knife.
Though the exposed pommel (E) allows the knife to be hammered with or hammered on, the jimping on it is not to stabilise the hammer strikes but is intended to keep your thumb in place when using a reverse grip for digging or stabbing.
There are well pronounced hooks front and back of the handle (F) as well as a palm swell (L), asking Justin how these were sized and spaced he explained that the handle shape and size came about because he designs so that it is comfortable for him to use with or without gloves.
Though views vary about the safety of using a choil (G) such as this for choking up on, Justin specifically did design this to be used for a finger to sit in and change the grip for finer work. It was sized for comfort and to enable one finger to sit in it without riding up onto the edge. He was careful not to go too big as it does increase the overall length of the blade. Asking Justin about the choil pushing the cutting edge further from the handle, he responded that with a 6 inch blade you won’t be doing a lot of food prep type cutting and if you are holding the handle you are going to be chopping, digging and slashing. For finer work where you want the edge as close to your first finger as possible you choke up on the blade and use the finger choil to get you back right up on the edge so you can apply more pressure. With a choil, when choking up on it, the change in grip takes a 6 inch blade and brings the blade back to a more manageable 4-5 inch length. Not leaving this subject right now, I pressed Justin as to why not just leave the choil out and bring the edge back to the handle? His reply was that removing the choil increases the blade length making it more daunting to do tip work with. The choil gives you two blade lengths in one knife for greater control in finer tasks.
A flat grind (H) was chosen simply for strength though this can bind or stick when chopping wood.
When asking about the use of a Tanto point (I), as mentioned earlier, there was a high demand for a Tanto design, so this piece was specifically added to fill that gap in the series.
Placing the tip position (J) directly in line with centre of grip was to make the tip as effective as possible. Whether stabbing/thrusting or using the tip as a drill, you get the most power behind the tip when it is in the centre line. If the tip is off centre the point has a tendency to travel in the direction it is already going.
The spine (K) has been kept plain and with no swedges partly for strength, but mainly to give you better purchase if you baton with it. A swedge grind chews up the baton and does not provide any real weight reduction.
Grind line position (M); though the steepness of the primary grind limits slicing sharpness, the more material there is behind the edge the less likely you are to chip that edge. When you are doing tasks like cutting through car doors, prying or processing a lot of wood, with all the material behind it you are less likely to chip the edge. You can still cut paper with it and you can still shave with it if you take the time to hone the edge, but it is not meant for super fine cutting tasks.
In the design specification, the steel is 5160. Though 1095 is a proven blade steel and has been around forever, 5160 is much tougher than 1095, and has the same or better edge retention as 10 series steel. At 56-58 HRC you will be hard pressed to break the knife because it is made from a spring steel. Typically 5160 is used for truck leaf springs as it is meant to take repeated abuse, back and forth motion, and flexing of the blade without forming stress risers or stress cracks in the steel that would lead to catastrophic failure. Failure should never happen with a knife made of 5160 and it should flex/come back, flex and come back for the life of the user.
Lastly looking at the Sheath (N), this is a standard item used by OKC and by Justin when working as Ranger Knives. It is a nylon sheath with a pouch and snap closures, plus a plastic liner to stop you cutting through it if you fall or drop the sheath. Working to a price point, the compromise of using a relatively basic but serviceable sheath was made rather than pushing the price up with a spectacular sheath.

A few more details:

Ontario Knife Company’s standard knife box.
 photo 01 RD Tanto Boxed P1140397.jpg

Inside the box the knife has a cardboard protector over the blade, and the knife is not fitted into the sheath.
 photo 02 RD Tanto UnBoxed P1140407.jpg

The first view of the RD Tanto – Heavy Duty! (Any marks on the blade are due to there being a waxy protective film on the blade.)
 photo 03 RD Tanto revealed P1140415.jpg

Before going back to the knife, a quick look at a few details for the sheath. Metal eyelet holes are provided for a leg tying point.
 photo 04 RD Tanto sheath detail 01 P1140421.jpg

An expanding pocket is kept closed with a plastic snap-buckle.
 photo 05 RD Tanto sheath detail 02 P1140422.jpg

Opening the pocket shows a fixed elastic strap keeps the pocket neat and tight onto whatever is held in the pouch.
 photo 07 RD Tanto sheath detail 04 P1140424.jpg

Two straps with popper closures are used to secure the handle when in the sheath.
 photo 06 RD Tanto sheath detail 03 P1140423.jpg

Both the knife retention straps are adjustable to allow the user to tighten or loosen the grip on the knife to suit.
 photo 08 RD Tanto sheath detail 05 P1140431.jpg

A kydex liner is provided in the sheath. Due to the thickness of the blade, the fit is snug.
 photo 09 RD Tanto sheath detail 06 P1140434.jpg

The back of the sheath has PALS webbing (MOLLE compatible).
 photo 10 RD Tanto sheath detail 07 P1140441.jpg

Enough of the sheath, back to the RD Tanto. Each slab handle is held in place with three screws.
 photo 12 RD Tanto angle reverse P1140445.jpg

The RD Tanto has an exposed pommel with thumb-grip jimping. You can also see the texture and layers in the micarta handle slabs.
 photo 13 RD Tanto detail butt P1140448.jpg

The Ranger Series handle around which this Tanto was designed.
 photo 14 RD Tanto detail handle P1140450.jpg

A finger choil allows you to choke up the grip for finer work.
 photo 15 RD Tanto detail choil P1140453.jpg

With the 1/4″ blade stock and V-grind, this tanto has a very strong point.
 photo 16 RD Tanto detail point P1140462.jpg

Another look at the grip hook. Here you can also see the micarta handle slabs extend slightly beyond the tang.
 photo 18 RD Tanto detail hook P1140472.jpg

At the front of the handle is a similar hook forming the finger guard, and in front of that the finger choil.
 photo 20 RD Tanto detail choil P1140481.jpg

Jimping on the thumb ramp is coarse but effective.
 photo 21 RD Tanto detail jimping P1140483.jpg

There is slight rounding on the plunge line. You can also see some evidence of the water-jet cutting used to create the basic blade shape.
 photo 22 RD Tanto detail plunge line P1140497.jpg

A closer look at one of the handle bolts and the raw sanded surface of the micarta grip.
 photo 27 RD Tanto detail grip texture P1140529.jpg

This is a HEAVY DUTY blade!
 photo 23 RD Tanto detail phat blade P1140504.jpg

Next to the sheath for an overall view of the RD Tanto and the front of the sheath.
 photo 24 RD Tanto with sheath front P1140515.jpg

Flipping both over to check the other side.
 photo 25 RD Tanto with sheath back P1140512.jpg

Due to its thick blade stock, the RD Tanto rubs all the way in when inserting into the sheath.
 photo 28 RD Tanto detail inserting P1140532.jpg

With both straps closed there is no chance of this knife coming loose.
 photo 29 RD Tanto sheathed P1140537.jpg

We will see more comparisons of blade thickness in other reviews in this OKC series, but here is a comparison to the RTAK II. The RD Tanto is substantially thicker.
 photo 30 RD Tanto thickness P1140552.jpg

Placed pommel to pommel, the RTAK II and RD Tanto compared again.
 photo 31 RD Tanto thickness2 P1140558.jpg

What it is like to use?

With a seriously heavy duty knife such as the RD Tanto, before looking at what it is like to use, it is important to consider your expectations for a knife like this and what it will give you.

There is little finesse in a knife of such heavy build – it is a bruiser and unashamed of that. Built for those jobs you would balk at using a knife for, but you want to be prepared for and can only justify carrying one knife/tool.

So if you want to do some delicate whittling and sophisticated food preparations but still want to be able to breeze through a fire door or release someone trapped in a vehicle, you will be disappointed.

For everyday tasks this knife is vastly over engineered and will disappoint most with its cutting characteristics. But, this is NOT why you choose a knife like this.

Look at it next to the Fällkniven F1 and a Spyderco UK Pen Knife. This photo doesn’t do justice of the heavy build in relation to those other knives.
 photo 32 RD Tanto size P1140581.jpg

Having put aside the notion that this might go on your belt or pack for ‘normal’ knife work, we can move onto its more serious purpose – Heavy Work.

My hands take XL sized gloves and the grip fills my hand well. When you are really going to be beating a knife the last thing you want is a slim grip, so a good handful makes for a solid grip.
 photo 33 RD Tanto in hand P1140587.jpg

As penetration is a Tanto’s strong point (pun intended) the thumb ramp combined with deep hooks on the grip gives you a great power behind the thrust.
 photo 34 RD Tanto in hand2 P1140589.jpg

You can either hammer on the exposed pommel or in this case give something a good pounding with it.
 photo 35 RD Tanto in hand3 P1140596.jpg

Taking the RD Tanto out for a few woodland tasks it was surprisingly capable, but does feel heavy. One of the comparisons I made to the other OKC knives was in putting a point on a stick. Due to the steep edge bevel, the RD Tanto had a tendency to slide off the stick and this resulted in a long point which was formed like this due to the cutting action tending to push away from the centre of the stick. The edge itself is sharp and cuts cleanly but needs to be angled far more ‘into’ the material than most.
 photo 07 OKCtrio RDTANTO stick P1160291.jpg

Will you want a knife like this? If you want to be prepared for all eventualities, then yes I would say you do. It would not be my every day choice, but it is a choice I want to have and a knife I continue to grab when preparing for certain situations.

To date I’ve not had any doors to demolish, or vehicles to gain entry to, but can tell you this is a tool I would happily take for the task. During some severe weather, which was threatening structural damage to buildings, the tool I kept within arm’s length at all times during the threat was the RD Tanto, and it gave me confidence to know I had it.

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 What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Super Heavy Duty Build in 1/4″ blade stock ‘Feels’ too heavy for daily tasks
5160 spring steel Steep edge angle
Tanto point penetration Edge can bind during wood preparation
You can confidently work this knife hard!

 photo 19 RD Tanto angle P1140474.jpg

 

Discussing the Review:

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Light Review: Olight M3XS-UT Javelot – Super Thrower (3/4xCR123, 2×18650)

Olight have been building up performance levels with the other Javelot models. These Javelots have been getting noticed for their enhanced throw, and then Olight released the M3XS-UT taking performance up another notch. The M3XS-UT is currently the top of performer amongst the Javelots.

Taking a more detailed look:

Like all the Javelots I’ve tested, the M3XS-UT comes with a plastic carry case rather than a disposable cardboard box.

Inside, the contents are held in place with a foam liner. The empty slot would contain the CR123 holder, but in this case this demonstration light had a set of cells fitted into the light when it arrived.

Included are the M3XS-UT, an extender tube, holster, two O-rings and the instructions. (the CR123 cell holder is already in the light here).

Out of necessity, the M3XS-UT has an open bottom holster.

You have the choice of D-ring or Velcro-closed belt loop.

This is why there is an open bottom in the holster.

This holster can be used with or without the extension tube.

The M3SX-UT has a removable grip ring.

Instead of standard knurling a very effective pattern is machined into the body.

In addition to the tail-cap switch, there is a side-switch for mode selection.

Either side of the side-switch are heat sink fins.

The switch boot is wider than most and the tail-cap has four small raised lugs which allow it to tail-stand (though not very stable).

Looking into the tail-cap, the negative terminal is clearly visible, but the contact for the battery tube is only seen as small glimpses. This is due to the design not using a contact point on the end of the tube, but instead fitting into the cone shaped inner edge.

Removing the battery tube completely shows the positive contact in the head as well as the circular battery tube contact.

For the tail-cap end of the battery tube, the threads are a square-cut.

At the head end of the batter tube, the threads are standard and two O-rings are used.

There is just a tiny hint of texturing in the large reflector, and at its heart, a fully exposed XP-L HI LED.

A closer view of the bare phosphor of the XP-L HI.

Making comparison to the M2X-UT (using 1×18650), this larger version is clearly longer from the lens to the battery tube due to the inclusion of the side switch and larger heat sink. The non-extended battery tube is also 3xCR123 in length.

Comparing again with the extension tube fitted.

Taking the M3X-UT at its smallest size, it runs on 3xCR123 and has a cell holder to stop any rattle.

Stepping up to the full length M3XS-UT it runs on 2×18650 or 4xCR123.

To get the most runtime out of the M3XS-UT use it with the extension tube fitted.

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 the wife won’t have one!

Starting indoors, it is immediately obvious we have a super-high intensity hotspot. In fact what you can see in this photograph is the effect of the hotspot being of such high brightness it is acting as a significant source of light. The edge of the spill is easy to see, but the whole scene is lit behind the spill edge due to the hotspot’s light bouncing back.

Outdoors the hotspot burns out the centre of the image.

To really appreciate the full power of the M3XS-UT we need a little more range. How about a driving range?

The beam is aimed at a set of four distance markers behind a circular net. The closest marker is 100 yards, with the others set 50 yards apart going up to the furthest at 250 yards.

The beam lights well beyond the markers.

Modes and User Interface:

There are four constant output modes, High, Medium, Low and Moonlight as well as a Strobe mode.

Access to these is via a series of clicks of the forward-click tail-cap switch combined with the side switch.

Turning the M3XS-UT ON with the tail-cap switch, the steady modes are cycled through using the side switch Low -> Medium -> High -> Low etc. The selected mode is memorised for the next time the tail-cap switch is used.

While ON, pressing and holding the side switch turns the output to Strobe.

From OFF, half-pressing or fully pressing the tail-cap switch activates the memorised output level.
From OFF, a rapid double tap of the tail-cap switch activates High. This is not memorised.
From OFF, a rapid triple tap of the tail-cap switch activates Strobe. This is not memorised.
From OFF, holding the side switch while activating the tail-cap switch turns the output to Moonlight. This is not memorised.

Batteries and output:

The Olight M3XS-UT runs on 3/4x CR123 or 2×18650.

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.

___________________________________________ ________________________________ ________________________________
Olight M3XS-UT Javelot using specified cell I.S. measured ANSI output Lumens PWM frequency or Strobe frequency (Hz)
___________________________________________ ________________________________ ________________________________
High using 3x Olight CR123 cells 1243 0
Medium using 3x Olight CR123 cells 678 0
Low using 3x Olight CR123 cells 118 0
High using 2x Olight 18650 cells 1234 0
Medium using 2x Olight 18650 cells 666 0
Low using 2x Olight 18650 cells 116 0

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

Peak Beam intensity measured 249000lx @1m giving a beam range of 998m.

There is no parasitic drain.

After 8 minutes on High (using either CR123 or 18650) the output makes a controlled reduction to 832lm which is then maintained as a regulated output for as long as the cells can manage.

Running on 2×18650 you have a huge difference in total runtime with the CR123s running into the ANSI cutoff at 35 minutes from turn on, but the 2×18650 (and only 2600mAh cells) gives you up to 1h51m at which point the protection cuts in and the output goes off.

The regulation used in the M3XS-UT means that you get little or no warning of the output cutting out. On 18650 the protection activates, and with CR123 the output plummets once the cells are depleted.

Troubleshooting

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

No issues were encountered during testing.

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 M3XS-UT Javelot in use

This light is an out-and-out throw monster. Unless the extra 3.5cm is a deal breaker, you will want to use the extension tube for the massive increase in run time and guilt-free rechargeable lumens.

At short ranges the M3XS-UT is too tight a beam for comfortable use. It is great for ceiling bounce, but not when directed towards whatever you are looking at. Of course if you are peering into a deep space, the tight beam works wonders, but for general use this extreme-thrower is not the right choice. What you want this light for is its throw and lightsaber like beam.

Due to the intensity of the beam, if you hold it too near to your line of vision the beam itself can obscure your view of what you are shining it at. It is best to hold the light away from your head to allow you to see further. This varies with atmospheric conditions being far more noticeable when the air is moisture laden.

Compared to the smaller M2X-UT (which has very impressive performance – see my review of the M2X-UT for more details), the M3XS-UT steps things up. At 182800 lux@1m the M2X-UT has a beam range of 855m, but with the M3SX-UT this is raised to 249000 lux@1m and a beam range of 998m. A significant jump in beam intensity from the same diameter reflector.

If you are using the momentary output to flash a signal, it is quite easy to activate strobe, and I’d much prefer there to be no strobe at all. In an extreme-range searchlight I see no point in strobe.

Much better is the partly hidden Moonlight mode. In practical terms, due to the highly focussed beam, Moonlight mode is not terribly useful. All you end up seeing is a small bright circle with very dim spill round it. Better than nothing, but this is not a close-range light even with moonlight mode. If only strobe were hidden in this way, then you could easily avoid it.

Handling with the extension fitted is really good. Though the grip ring is now further from the switch, it simply sits between your middle and ring finger, or ring finger and little finger, and gives you plenty of security. I particularly like the machined grip pattern on the battery tube. It is not as abrasive as knurling, but the knobbles give great hold without acting like sandpaper.

The lux figures speak for themselves, and yet the M3XS-UT is not overly large, so you get fantastic throw in a still relatively compact and easy to handle light.

It may not be an all-rounder, but that is not what this light is all about – give it some range and the M3XS-UT truly sings.

Review Summary

_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Things I like What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Super throw with 249000 lux @1m – 998m beam range Strobe too easily activated
1200lm output Not suited to short range use
Included extension tube allows for longer runtimes Regulated output results in shutdown with little warning
Holster accommodates extension tube
Bare XP-L HI LED used for highest lux
Relatively compact for its performance