web analytics

Archive | Reviews

Evolution of a Knife Design

A few years ago Ray Laconico introduced a knife design called the “Explorer” and it was immediately successful. I believe it was one off the first “patterns” that Ray offered consistently. Ray introduced the knife in this BladeForums thread.

This will not be a true review but rather a window in the processes that a knife maker goes through to improve a product. I find it pretty fascinating. The mark of a good knife maker is a continual drive to improve designs based on feedback from users and their own experiences.

Stats
Ray is a true custom maker so the dimensions can vary by customer request. However, his pattern knives like the Explorer tend to be similar from knife to knife. The Explorer features a blade that is 5 1/2″ from tip the scale. Overall length is about 10 1/2″. It is made from 1/4″ thick 5160 steel and wears black micarta slab handles.

The Same but Different

The Explorer’s striking looks come from it’s angular handle and tall, slightly drop point blade (or recurve on the original) with some extreme belly near the tip. This nearly straight spine blade profile and distal taper give the knife a very fine point. None of the recognizable features of the original have changed. All of the usefulness and quality of the original is built right into the newest iteration.

The butt of the knife has been made more perpendicular to the spine. This makes the knife more useful as an improvised hammer.

The slightly thicker handle slabs are now more contoured. This gives the very angular looking grip a more organic feel in the hand. The grip on the original Explorer was excellent but this new one will blow you away. You will also find that the new grip is slightly taller and more hand filling.

Ray also changed the design off the guard to be smaller and less obtrusive. The original guard on my Explorer used to rub my knuckle a bit until I broke its edges with some wet-dry sand paper. The new guard is hardly noticeable while still being very effective. If you like a guard on your knives, you will like this one.

My favorite modification of the design is that Ray moved the edge MUCH closer to the handle. This allows for much more powerful cuts while doing tasks like notching and whittling.

The Laconico Explorer is a fine knife for those who favor a larger and thicker knife. There is not much penalty in cutting performance from the thicker stock thanks to Ray’s tall flat grinds and polished convex edge. This knife will shave hair easily and push cut newsprint. Thanks to its thick spine and differentially tempered 5160 steel and can take a serious beating. I tend to favor thinner knives but I do appreciate having thicker ones at times – especially they cut as well as this one.

Overall, the new Explorer is a worthy successor to the original.

CLB Designed Boker Plus Keycom

Boker Plus Keycom Review



The Details

The Keycom has been out for more than a year and I have had this one for quite some time. It is another Chad Los Banos design that is manufactured by Boker in their Boker Plus line. The Keycom features a 1 1/2″ AUS8 blade. It is just longer than 2 1/4″ long when closed and about 3 3/4″ long when opened. It weighs in at a scant 1.4 ounces. You can read these dimensions all you want, but nothing will prepare you for just how small the Keycom truely is.


Shown with an SnG for scale

The Keycom has a black FRN (fiber reinforced plastic stuff) scales that is textured similarly to G-10. It is attractive and provides good grip. The frame lock side is steel and sports a very secure pocket clip set up for tip down carry.


Frame lock scale and pocket clip

The blade can best be described as a clip point. It is made from very thin stock and is flat ground which renders a very thin edge that cuts like a laser. The edge is offset to the grip which is very nice in a knife this small. It features spine jimping and a thumb stud for righties only.


The Keycom features a clip point blade

Fit and Finish
If you have owned any of the Boker/CLB designs you are already familiar with the excellent level of fit and finish that these knives offer. These knives are an excellent value. The Keycom features all screw construction. The blade comes out off the box shaving sharp. All metal surfaces are nicely bead blasted. The frame lock is fit perfectly with very early lock up.


Perfectly fit lock with very early lock up

As I stated earlier, the blade came shaving sharp. I immediately laid it on some 2000 grit wet/dry sandpaper and finished on a strop. It went from shaving sharp to molecule splitting sharp in short order. The AUS8 takes a startlingly fine edge very quickly and holds it reasonably well. Steels like this make me wonder if super steels are even worth my time.

How does it work?
I purchased this because I wanted a small blade that could be carried as a back up to a much larger knife like an SnG or SMF. I needed something that was small but still usable for those times when I did not necessarily produce a large folder for a small cutting task. Also, I needed a knife suitable for zombie squirrel combat and leprechaun deanimation. The Keycom delivers.

It is usable thanks to Chad’s command of ergonomics. The knife has a small cutout in the grip that allows the forefinger to nestle in securely. Jimping on the spine locks the thumb in place. This allows for a very secure grip for power cuts. A small lanyard would provide something for your ring and pinky fingers to hang onto but it isn’t necessary.


Locked into the grip – note the fine jimping on the spine of the blade

When you need precision over power you can run your forefinger out onto the spine of the blade. Here you will find that the nicely shaped clip will make a perfect finger rest for fine work. The tip is very controllable in this grip.


The “clip” is the perfect place to rest your forefinger for fine work

The Keycom comes with a split ring for key chain carry but I do not care for knives that are tied to a key ring. I feel that this knife really comes into it’s own when it is clipped in your pocket. This knife will disappear in most any pair of jean’s coin pocket. I like to carry mine in the coin pocket with my SnG or SMF in my main pocket. The Keycom is so small and light that it is easily carried as a companion to larger folders.


Disappearsin a coin pocket

The only complaint I have is that it can be tricky to open. However, this is not a true criticism since it should be expected with a folder this small. Compromises must be made when you makes a knife so small.

Overall
I could not be more pleased with this knife. I paid less than $18 for this knife including shipping. You can’t beat that with a stick. This would make a great addition to a Altoids tin kit or your key chain. It offers an incredible value, it cuts like crazy, it absolutely disappears in your pocket, it is secure in the grip and is very controllable. I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet…

The best part about this knife is that it looks like a tiny elephant peaking out of your pocket… maybe.


Is that an elephant in your pocket or…

The Laconico HWK+ – the HWK but Bigger!

Below is a review that I wrote a while ago regarding the HWK+. Like the HWK, it was made by Ray Laconico and designed with my input. It is no longer being made but can occasionally be found on the secondary market.

The Laconico HWK+
The HWK+ (bottom) with the original HWK (top).

I could not have been more pleased with how the original Laconico HWK (Hazard Woods Knife) turned out. It is proving to be a great all-round tool that I am more than proud to have my name on. In fact, it went so well that I immediately thought it would make a great larger knife as well.

HWK+ Stats:
3/16″ thick O1 steel
Ray’s typical tall flat grinds with polished convex edge
5″ blade
10″ overall
Green G-10 handle slabs


The HWK+ with Victorinox Farmer and Original HWK for scale.

Getting it Dirty
I removed the HWK+ from the package and, as is my custom, began to cut up the wrapping materials that it came in to test the edge. This knife came from Ray shaving sharp, as usual. There is something satisfying about a knife that can easily push cut the newsprint in which it was packed!


The HWK+ has a thick spine and nicely contoured handle.

The HWK+ has a phenomenal handle. It is very hand filling and has excellent contours. It promotes a very secure grip without forcing the hand into any one grip. The green G-10 handle material has a very cool translucent quality to it that makes this knife very attractive.

The blade shape is designed for versatility, just like its smaller sibling. There is plenty of belly, a large section of straight edge close to the grip for cuts that need leverage, and a point that is dropped to be inline with the handle for drilling. Ray does a great job of creating a tip that is fine enough to cut very well without being prone to breakage.


Fine curls are no problem for HWK+ in spite of its thickness.

The next test for the knife was some fire prep. Shaving “feather sticks” can be a test of a knife’s sharpness and edge geometry. Even though the HWK+ is 3/16″ thick at the spine, Ray’s use of tall flat grinds yield excellent edge geometry. The HWK+ is capable of very fine curls.


Deep, precise notching? No problem!

Another test of geometry is how well a knife performs at notching. This is a difficult task for thick knives but the HWK+ holds its own. It simply can’t bite as deep as thinner knives. However, by using a stop cut and then working the notch deeper one slice at a time, you can achieve very precise notches.

The HWK+ has all of the makings of a versatile and dependable woods companion. It would be at home on the belt of anyone who loves time spent in the outdoors whether they are a hunter or a hiker. The HWK+ would even make a fine knife for a soldier.

Matt Hazard

The Laconico Hazard Woods Knife (HWK)

Below is a previously written review of a knife that I designed with Ray Laconico. It was successful enough that Ray got tired of making it. They can still be found occasionally on the secondary market on places like BladeForums.

The Laconico HWK

This afternoon I received a package from Ray Laconico. Inside was the newly christened “HWK” or (Hawk or Hazard Woods Knife). This is a design modification that I requested from Ray after seeing his Hiker’s Utility Knife. I requested that the point be dropped a bit (closer to a spear point) for drilling. I also requested new handle materials and pins. The intent was to make a “bushcrafter” that still looked, felt, and cut like a Laconico.

Stats
This knife is crafted from 1/8″ thick O1 steel. The blade is 3 3/4″ long from tip to scales and the knife is 8 1/4″ in overall length. The handle slabs are black linen micarta with a slight palm swell at the middle.

The Reveal
As soon as I got home from the office I cut open the box from Ray with my trusty Endura. I found a well packed bundle of newspaper inside. Once I unraveled miles of newspaper I was left with the HWK in its sheath.

The sheath is exactly was I hoped. I asked Ray to make it so that it sat a little lower on the belt so Ray included a drop loop that holds the knife lower and slightly away from the belt. It is very comfortable and out of the way of my pack’s waist belt. Ray molded this sheath from two pieces of kydex. It has generous thumb ramps to aid the user is drawing the knife.

Getting it Dirty
I took the HWK out to the creek on our wooded lot and set about putting it through its paces. The first thing I did was test the spine on a fire steel. I was rewarded with a huge shower of sparks. Ray does a great job of squaring the spines on his knives and the O1 steel can really throw sparks.

Next I set about prepping some tinder. The fine polished convex edge made short work of the jute twine. The belly of the knife made rocking cuts in the balled up twine a cinch. I also tested the spine and edge on fatwood. The HWK’s squared spine made achieving very fine curls of fatwood easy and the acute edge sliced larger curls with ease.

Next I tried my hand at some notching. For notching wood, it is hard to beat a scandi grind. However, with the excellent geometry that Ray graces his knives with notching is no problem at all. Ray typically uses a full height flat grind and a polished convex edge. This gives even his thickest knives keen edges.

After the notching and tinder prep, I wanted to see how the edge was holding up so it was time for a few fuzz sticks. I am happy to report that the HWK is very capable of marginal fuzz sticks (probably had something to do with the user)!

Finally, I went to the wood pile and selected a lovely section of sycamore that has been seasoning for just short of two years. The HWK was able to baton through it, though somewhat slowly. I sectioned the log into 4 smaller sections and then split off some kindling. When I was done, the edge would still scrape hair off my arm.

Clean Up
The sheath was full of dirt, shavings, and other assorted grime after the short workout. I simply rinsed it out with water and set it up to dry. The HWK it self came back to shaving sharp with a few licks on the strop.

Conclusion
The HWK, so far, has shown itself to be up to a variety off tasks. One short afternoon of testing is hardly enough to show this knife’s true colors but so far it has been up to whatever I have asked. I will continue testing and report back. I want to see how this does in the kitchen and I imagine that this design should be pretty handy dressing deer (if I can manage to get one this season). Ray makes a fine knife at a fair price – what more could you ask? Overall, I am very proud to have my name on this one.

Matt Hazard

Update: I have owned this knife now for about 2 years. I am happy to report that it is still going strong though it looks much more used. The best way to contact Ray Laconico is to send him a message on BladeForums.

Spec Ops T.H.E. Pack Review

Spec Ops Brand THE Pack Review

When people are talking about 3 day packs, I generally do not see this one mentioned. I suppose it is probably because it is not a new design. However, it is still a great pack that can be had at a great price if you know where to look. I have been using several of these packs for about 4 years. I recently purchased two more for friends and thought I would take this opportunity to do a review with 2 basically new packs.

Overview
The THE Pack by Spec Ops Brand is a fairly straight forward “3 Day” type pack. It is extremely well made and covered by an excellent warranty. It is made in the USA.

The Stats
Here are the dimensions for the pack and some key features (taken from the Spec Ops Brand website).

  • PACK DIMENSIONS: 19″ high, 13″ wide, 12″ thick at bottom tapering to 9″ at top.
  • MAIN COMPARTMENT: 19″high x 13″ wide x 7″ thick @ 1730 cubic inches.
  • TOP POCKET: 8″ high x 10″ wide x 2.5″ thick @ 250 cubic inches.
  • BOTTOM POCKET: 10″ high x 12″ wide x 3.5″ thick @ 570 cubic inches.
  • TOTAL CAPACITY: 2550 cubic inches.
  • 1000D Cordura┬« nylon construction
  • YKK #10 zippers on main compartment and large outer pockets.

NOTE: I am not sure if many manufacturers are over stating their capacity or if Spec Ops understates, but the THE Pack, with it’s 2550 cubic inch capacity seems larger than many similar packs with larger stated capacity.

Details
The THE pack has a lot of subtle features that have sold me on this pack even when I have tried newer designs from other manufacturers. One thing that is rarely considered when selecting a bag is the actual shape. The THE Pack is basically a large rectangle with a domed top. This is a very efficient shape for a pack; allowing it to be stuffed efficiently and to stand upright when full.


The THE has a simple and efficient shape.

It also has simple but very effective compression straps. The straps work to compress not only the main compartment, but also both front compartments. They are also mostly out of the way so that you might not even need to release them to access the pockets.


Note the two out of the way compression straps on the side of the pack.

This pack has a lot of MOLLE webbing as you can see in the pictures. It has several areas that have enough rows and columns to be very versatile. Each of the two front pockets are faced with webbing, the sides are covered, and the bottom has a large area as well.


The bottom of the THE is flat so the bag can sit upright and has plenty of MOLLE webbing.

The straps on the THE Pack are extremely comfortable, well padded, and very ruggedly constructed. There is a foam pad that sits in the hydration compartment to pad your back while you are wearing the THE pack. There is also an unpadded, and fairly ineffective waist belt as is the case with most 3 day packs. The pack is not tall enough to put the waist belt on your hips anyway. This pack is very comfortable to wear with moderate loads as is.


Note the well padded straps with quick release buckles, sternum strap, waist belt, and stitched reinforcments where the straps are attached to the pack.

If you need to load the THE Pack a little heavier or just want to make it even more rigid then consider purchasing the frame sheet. It is made from a flexible plastic and has two nylon pockets for bendable aluminum stays. This can be installed in the hydration compartment and works very well to handle heavy loads.

The THE Pack is hydration compatible. You simply direct the hose of your hydration bladder through the one of the ports which are located on either side of the heavy duty grab handle.


Routing your hydration hose is simple with these hook and loop hydration ports.

The interior of the two front pockets is very straight forward. They are simply wide open pockets. The main compartment however, has much more going on. One of my favorite things about the THE Pack is that it is lined with bright yellow nylon. This high visibility lining not only makes finding items easy but also reinforces the exterior 1000D Cordura®. There is also a mesh pocket located at the top front of interior of the bag. The hydration and/or frame sheet compartment is located at the back of the main compartment.


The main compartment is cavernous and features a high viz lining.

This wouldn’t be much of a review if I didn’t show you what you can do with all that MOLLE webbing. I keep mine covered with Diamondback Tactical (DBT) utility pouches (tall on the sides and short on the bottom front), a Maxpedition flashlight sheath on the clever horizontal webbing between the front pockets, and a DBT abmin pouch on the top front pocket. These pockets easily add around 650 cubic inches of storage. The compression straps are designed in such a way that they can easily reach around side mounted pouches to compress them as well.


Plenty of pouches and room for more!

Conclusion
This is a very straight forward and simple pack but it allows you to add as much complexity as you want with its ample MOLLE webbing. It is certainly big enough for its intended purpose and can easily be expanded. This is an efficient, functional, and well made bag that will work well for the camper, casual shooter, or soldier.

This is more of a true 3 day pack made for wearing with armor and possibly a load bearing belt. For a different style of 3 day pack stay tuned for the Kifaru Molle Express review.

Benchmade Snody Shakedown – 14205, 14210, 420

14205, 14210, 420… A Benchmade/Snody Shakedown!

I just reviewed the 14205. I was taken with it how it mixed tank like toughness with refined EDC-ability. So I thought that I check out some of the other Snody designed Benchmade offerings.


The 420 and 14205 have similar blades while the 14210 sports a subtle recurve (420 on top, 14205 middle, 14210 bottom)

As you can see, the 420 and 14205 are very similar in the size of the blade. Both measure about 3.4″ and both are made from .150″ thick 154CM. The 14210 is smaller with a 2.95″ blade. You can also see the differences in handle size. The 420 has a longer, thicker handle than the 14205.


Note the beautiful texture on the 14210 (420 on top, 14205 middle, 14210 bottom)

Here you have a better look at the handles and handle scales. Again, the 420 is the largest, while the 14210 is VERY compact. The 14210 would be a great compact choice for locals that require a sub 3″ bade. Also, notice the striking appearance of the 420. The black G-10 overlays on the gray anodized aluminum scales makes for a very unique appearance and give great grip.


Very classy open construction with sculpted stand-offs (420 on top, 14205 middle, 14210 bottom)

All three knives feature open construction using stand-offs instead of a one piece back spacer. This gives a very classy look. In this picture you can really see the thickness of the 420.


The 420’s pocket clip

Finally, check out the great pocket clip on the 420! It absolutely disappears in the pocket because it rides so low. The clip actually fits in a milled groove behind the G-10 scale and screws to the aluminum. It can be attached to either side for left or right hand carry. This is a very elegant solution. What a great design!

I am really coming to appreciate the Benchmade Snody designs. They give you a whole lot of knife for the money. They are nice to look at and easy to use. What more could you ask?

Benchmade 14205

The HK 14205 – A Serious Sleeper
I have been able to spend some quality time with a knife that isn’t really new to the market but you don’t seem to hear a lot about it. It seems to be overshadowed by several other “hard use” knives and never comes up in EDC conversations, yet it will fill both of those roles easily. So why should you pay attention to the Benchmade HK 14205? Let’s take a look.

Stats and Features
The 14205 is designed by Mike Snody, the money man himself. His finger prints will be obvious to anyone who is familiar with his work. It is manufactured by Benchmade and features their excellent Axis locking mechanism.

The blade is made from .150″ thick 154CM steel and is 3.40″ long. The blade features a spear point shape with an unsharpened swedge which renders a very sharp and usable point. The handle slabs are thin, textured G-10 over full steel liners. There is a large, aggressive thumb ramp. It is 4.5″ long when folded and 8.19″ long opened.

As you can see, this knife was made to be used, and used hard. However, it is also very slim and refined. So is this a hard user, an edc, or both? Maybe we can find out by comparing it to a more well known Benchmade folder.


14205 top, 520 bottom

A Comparison
The Benchmade 520 is a knife that does get talked about, at least more so than the 14205. Before I saw the 14205 in person, I figured it would just be another 520-like knife. While there are some similarities, these are two very different knives.


Note the blade thickness and large stop pins – these are beefy folders!

Both knives have 3.40″ blades made from 154CM. However, the 14205’s blade is thicker .150″ versus .130″ on the 520. Both have the large, beefy stop pins and rock solid lock up. Both offer a good grip and enough handle for your whole hand. This knife, like the 520, is obviously built for abuse.


Open construction and classy stand-offs of the 14205 versus the closed back spacer of the 520

However, the similarities end there. The 14205 features beautiful, sculpted stand-offs. This open construction is attractive, makes it easy to clean, and keeps the weight down. It is slimmer than the 520 without really sacrificing grip. It weighs only 4.92 ounces versus the 5.68 ounces that the 520 weighs. So not only is this a hard user, but it is also a refined EDC worthy knife.

Nitpicking
I am going to pick a few nits. I think the 14205 falls just touch shot of what it could have been were it not for two small items. If the full steel liners were skeletonized (like they are on the 520), it could have been even lighter without sacrificing strength. Also, it would be great if the pocket clip was attached as high as the one on the 520. This would allow the 14205 to sit lower and more discreetly in the pocket. In the scheme of everything that this knife has to offer, these are very small issues.

Conclusion
I really like this knife. It is capable of everything the beloved 520 is capable of, but it is far more pocketable. It almost seems to be having an identity crisis. Maybe that it why it doesn’t really get mentioned often – it just fits too many categories. This knife is definitely worth talking about mroe often, especially for the price. These can be picked up from very reputable sources for just over $100. This is one serious sleeper!

NWA Knives – Customer Service is NOT Dead

Background
Some time ago I completed a trade on BladeForums for a NWA W&SS Forum Knife which is now known as the Sierra Scout. I was quite excited to try my first knife from NWA based on reviews from folks on the W&SS.

I received the knife and quickly found that it was not what the person trading it had described. I immediately noticed that it has several chips in the edge that would seem to indicate this knife had been rode hard. No problem, it can be fixed. I contacted the other party in the trade and found out that he had already used the brand new knife that I traded him. To his credit he offered to pay my shipping to send it to custom knife maker Ray Laconico to have the edge repaired.

The knife arrived and Ray immediately noticed that the knife had a bend in it. It wasn’t terribly bent but it was noticeably bent. It seems this knife had lived a harder life than I thought.

I was frustrated. I loved the look and feel of the knife but now I was somewhat stuck with a knife that I could never hope to get any of my investment back from if I ever did decide to sell it. I wanted to love the knife but the experience had soured my feelings toward it.

I finally decided to contact Nick Allen (the owner/operator of NWA Knives) to see if the knife could be straightened. Nick took the time to answer all my questions and pointed out that this is one of the reasons that he differentially heat treats his knives – so they bend instead of break. He said that he thought he could straighten it and that there would be no charge. What he said next blew my mind. He offered to make me a new one. I resisted at first since it didn’t seem right for him to have to take the hit for another person’s mistake. But Nick emphasized that his main goal was to make sure I was happy with the knife.

That is called customer service. We are blessed with many great makers on BladeForums and Nick is certainly one of the best. I got the replacement knife from Nick yesterday and I haven’t had time to use it much, but I couldn’t wait to get the word out about Nick and NWA knives.

The Good Stuff

The knife that I sent back to Nick had his normal handle on it. It was well shaped with a slight finger groove for the first finger. This is the handle that you will see on most of his knives. Recently he has begun offering a more contoured handle without the finger groove which I believe he calls the bushcraft style handle. This is the handle style that I requested for the replacement. The result is excellent. The handle is comfortable in all grips and fills the hand well.

The fit and finish are excellent. The edge was nicely finished and very sharp. The scales are expertly fit to the tang with no gaps or ridges that I can feel. Nick even took the time to chamfer the lanyard hole. The temper line is visible and very beautiful. All grinds are crisp and even. Speaking of grinds, the cutting geometry is very nice for a knife that is 3/16″ thick. Nick’s use of full height flat grinds really renders an edge that cuts well. It is an impressive knife.

The sheath is one of the finest I have seen. Nick builds sheaths that are made to last. It made from very thick leather. The sheath features a fire steel loop and boasts full welt construction. It is dipped in melted bee’s wax and allowed to dry rendering it very weather proof and extremely stiff (a good thing in this case). The knife actually locks into the sheath with a click similar to kydex. Many makers provide sheaths as an afterthought, but Nick makes them just as tough as his knives.

I tend to be drawn to knife makers who have a unique style. Whether it is the intentionally rustic beauty of ML Knives or North Branch Knives, or the clean simplistic lines and modern design of Ray Laconico – make mine a knife with style. Nick has style and he has it in spades. The lines on this model (and all his knives) really flow. They have a really organic look and feel. They look like they grow on trees or drip from cave roofs over thousands of years. Even his makers mark fits the style of his knives. You know when you are looking at an NWA knife, even from across the room.

So if you are looking for a capable knife from a maker who stands behind his work, check out NWA Knives at their website www.NWAKnives.com or visit the NWA Knives forum where you can talk directly to Nick and actual users of his knives.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes

%d bloggers like this: