Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gerber Shard, minimalist keychain tool.

I first saw a concept drawing for Gerber's new keychain tool, the Shard, well over a year ago on a forum somewhere. I liked the looks. I've had a Gerber Artifact on my keys for close to two years, and I like it very much. The Artifact will open your beer, pull nails, pry, and even slice and cut cleanly and precisely with its little exacto #11 blade (which is replaceable, the Artifact comes with spares). The Gerber Artifact is great for those times where you don't need a huge blade, or you want to be discreet in public, instead of pulling out your six inch bladed Cold Steel Ti-Lite and scaring the shit out of good average folks say, when you're out and about, or working. I've found that after all this time on my keyring, the artifact's Ti-Ni finish is not so much scuffed, as it has been rubbed by keys and other metal and taken on sort of a bronze color on the back side, in addition to some very mild scratches. I'm still sold on the Artifact, I've used the prybar tip as a flat screwdriver and the back end's Phillips driver to disassemble guitar effects pedals to change batteries etc. I've given several Artifacts as gifts in the last year, when I was able to find them. In many stores here in the Northwest, they seem to go quick, especially at retailers like Target, around the holidays. So, my opinion is that the Artifact is a really cool piece of engineering that works well, and it's downright cheap, on average about $10.00 USD.


So, I've been browsing Knifecenter off and on all day, and this evening they added the heretofore unsen Gerber Shard pocket/keyring tool. Oddly enough Gerber's suggested retail is $7.90 USD, and that's exactly what is selling it for. I guess with an item that inexpensive, there's not much of a profit margin, so we probably won't see any deep discounts online, but hell, I spend well OVER $8.00 on lunch many days if I'm out roaming around!

Long story short, I just ordered two Gerber Shard tools. I need another knife/keychain tool/flashlight like I need to be a quadruple amputee, but hey, I live for this stuff! I couldn't resist getting two of them. When I come across a piece of gear I'm very fond of, I like to have a spare! I own 2 Surefire G2 lights, I own multiple Victorinox Swiss Classics, the list could go on! Maybe I'll give one of the Shards as a gift, who knows. I do know that I like the look of it, and its intended uses are immediately clear: Pry bar, lanyard/keychain hole, nail puller, screwdrivers etc. Plus the Shard is Ti-Ni coated, just like its slightly more complete cousin, the Artifact.

Gerber's new SHARD mini-tool:

Gerber caught my eye with this one last weekend at an REI location up North, by a friend's house. I ran into REI very quickly to see if I could score another Human Gear Capcap for my many Nalgene widemouth bottle. Mission accomplished, I found one, and I even found the harder-to-find blue version of the Capcap. Anyhow, over in the headlamp section was a strange new Gerber item called the MicroBrew. It's essentially a bottle opener and a bright white LED light that can ride in a pocket or on a key chain. The MicroBrew features a constant-on LED mode and a strobe/flasher mode as well.
* Powerful white L.E.D.
* Bottle opener
* Replaceable batteries
* Water Resistant
* Regulating circuitry for improved battery efficiency
* Silicone-based core to protect electronics
* Recessed switch to prevent accidental turn-on

If memory serves, I think the MicroBrew was about $10.00 USD also, about the same price as the Gerber Artifact. Pretty neat, though I decided to pass on it, A: I already have the Artifact with its bottle cap lifter built in, and B: I have a very good little Fenix E01 compact LED light on my keys, C: I'm not a huge beer drinker, at least not enough to justify another bottle opener that happens to have an LED in its durable frame. The MicroBrew will probably appeal to many people, it'd be handy to have while summer camping, pounding beer and wandering off to piss in the dark somewhere! So, bottom line, keep your eyes peeled for lots more cool stuff from Gerber this year.

So, when my Shard arrives, I'll fill y'all in on its features etc. I couldn't resist another little item, for about $16.00, the new and improved Juno, by Buck Knives. I'm really loving that knife and tool makers are going for brighter, more hi-vis colors. It's really a bitch to lose a knife it the woods because its got a camo, black or green handle. RAT Cutlery solved this problem with their incredible little Izula fixed blade knife, by offering them in light tan, and pink, in addition to tactical black and dark green. I have the tan version with a bright orange LanyardZone lanyard on it, When I use it for hiking/fishing etc, I always know where that thing is, because nobody else has a tan knife with a dayglow orange lanyard!

Here's the oldschool Juno, by Buck Knives, just a simple lightweight utility lockback:

And here's the new and improved USA-Made Juno, with safety orange handles:

Anyway, I've ranted on here about how glad I am that Buck Knives has returned most of their manufacturing back to the USA, in their new Idaho factory. I bought their Pak-Lite small fixed blade a few months ago, and while it doesn't use any premium super steel, it's a hell of a well made little fixed that is capable of much bigger work than you might think. This little orange Juno ran me about $16.00 USD, and it's nice because if it gets dropped, it'll get noticed (hopefully by me or whoever I'm with!). I actually have lost dark green, black and camo items on outdoor excursions. They blend right in with foliage, dirt, underbrush and bark! Back when I was a smoker, probably age 21 or 22, I went camping out here on the Northwest coast with my best friends (who are now married with twins now) and we camped, hiked, and generally ran around having a great time, drinking, smoking yet still being respectful of nature. Anyhow, we wandered around after dark a bit, back then, I wasn't the own-one-of-everything guy that I am now, and I believe I was using my camo Zippo to light the way on a path we were treading. In short, it dropped, we heard it click shut, no light, except for Dave's flashlight, we scoured the area, but that camouflage lighter was too Camo for its own good, and mine! We even looked the next morning, but if that Zippo was around, it was hidden in plain sight! So, that's my personal justification for buying an inexpensive little lockback with bright orange handles/ The Juno looks comfortable, and ergonomically sound. It has an aggressive serration pattern, and is now American made!
* Blade: 2 7/8" (7.3 cm) drop point, 420HC steel
* Length: 4" (10.2 cm) closed
* Weight: 2.5 oz. (70.9 g)
* Handle: Valox
* No clip; No sheath
* Made in USA

This year Buck is putting out tons of their classic designs in safety hi-vis orange, from their little mini-Buck lockback, to fixed blade hunters and more.

Buck Folding Bucklite MAX Large 3-5/8" Plain Blade:

These next few months will be filled with new product announcements from all major knife factories, keep your eyes peeled. Oh! And expect a full review (by me) of CRKT's amazing Tom Veff M.U.K. (Marine Utility Knife), I picked one up, and it'll do everything from fillet trout, to scale fish and slice the belly, not to mention non-fishing related activities like cutting rope and things like that!

3/1/10 edit:
So, I'm liking the Shard tool more and more. It's mega light and under 3" long. As for the Gerber Microbrew, I bought one as a birthday gift for a friend, the red one. It's very bright, even for a red light, and the half-brightness setting is good for when night vision needs to be preserved. The strobe function would be handy to have just in case, and it does its beer-opening job well too. Bravo to Gerber for continuing to put out lots of useful and fairly inexpensive little gadgets.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife, Roach belly, and Finn Bear, budget steel with classic appeal.

A few years back, Lynn Thompson's Cold Steel knife company introduced a series of extremely inexpensive fixed blades based on classic designs. They have thermoplastic handles and blades of Krupp 4116 German stainless steel which is highly polished to an almost mirrored appearance. Each knife comes with a simple pouch-style cordura sheath with a hard liner inside. Every knife in the series is super lightweight and stays surprisingly secure in its sheath, which has a simple belt loop on the back side. My first purchase in this series was the Finn Bear (top knife in the photo below), a knife that I've found to have excellent corrosion resistance, good edge retention, and decent sharpen-ability. The Finn Bear's handle is extremely comfortable as well. Krupp 4116 isn't the best steel out there, but it's far from bad. I live near saltwater and took the Finn bear out on my dad's boat several times 2 summers ago. I used it as an all purpose knife, everything from making sandwiches, to splitting clams and mussels. It excelled at nearly every task I threw at it, plus I made a concerted effort to avoid cleaning up the blade. Eventually, some little freckles of pre-rust appeared, but those were quickly wiped away with a dab of metal glow, followed by an application of Sentry Solutions' Tuff-Glide, the liquid ingredient that their Tuff-Cloth is impregnated with.

I think I paid between $12.00 and $14.00 USD for the Finn Bear, then I was impressed enough to buy the Roach Belly (the middle knife in the above photo). The Roach Belly has a simple upswept semi-skinner style blade and Cold Steel claims it's a tribute to the black-powder hunting and shooting community, evidently based on a very old early American design. My Roach Belly accompanied me on a camping trip to the Oregon coast last summer. I used it to prepare food for my friends' kids, and my buddy Dave used it to whittle sticks for roasting sausages and marshmallows, as well as just generally abusing the inexpensive knife by breaking down kindling for our campfire on the beach. The Roach Belly, like the Finn bear came away unscathed, a few light scuffs on the blade was all. It took me about 10 minutes with a Smith's diamond rod and a Lansky dogbone style ceramic stick to get the edge nearly as sharp as it came right out of the box when new. Needless to say, for a series of knives that can be found for well under $20.00 USD (usually about $12-$14), everyone who has used these 2 knives has been impressed with the performance-to-price ratio.

I recently needed a new bottle of Sentry Solutions Tuff-Glide, and it's impossible to find in physical stores out here for some reason, even better Western, WA gun shops don't carry it, and there's only a handful of knife shops that stock Sentry Tuff-Cloth, and never the liquid Tuff-Glide. A small bottle of Tuff Glide essentially turns any soft cloth into a Tuff Cloth. It's a dry metal sealant that goes on wet, with white mineral spirits as the carrying agent. I've found it to be one of the best things for cleaning, lubricating and rustproofing knives. Anyhow, I wanted to order a small bottle from but I thought it'd be ridiculous to pay $7+ in shipping for a single item that cost less than that. So I browsed knifeworks' selection, and remembered the Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife, based on the traditional Grohmann Canadian outdoor knives. Grohmann is still the manufacturer of the original D.H. Russell Canadian outdoor knife series. Grohmann's knives have a uniquely offset handle, and for such an old design, are fantastically ergonomic. Grohmann's knives have an outstanding reputation among boaters, hikers, hunters and general outdoorspeople. If the Bowie-style knife is uniquely American, the Grohmann D.H. Russell style blades are surely the more useful Canadian equivalent.
Here's an original Grohmann Bird & Trout, which I believe is roughly the same size as Cold Steel's version:

Here are the specs for Cold Steel's Canadian Belt Knife:
Blade: 4"
Overall: 8 1/2"
Thick: 2.5mm
Weight: 2.2 oz.
Sheath: Cordura
Handle: Polypropylene
Steel: 4116 Krupp Stainless

I'm not sure how much the Grohmann knives weigh, but with wooden handle slabs and thick leather sheaths, it's safe to say the Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife is a HUGE cut in weight. In fact, just for kicks, I've carried it around for a couple days in the front pocket of both khaki work pants and shorts on the weekend. Hell, I've got small folding knives that weight twice what this thing does! I mean, just over 2 ounces, and just slightly more in the sheath, that's nothing! This (and the other knives in the series) would be a great choice for hikers, backpackers or canoe paddlers wishing to keep their gear-weight to an absolute minimum, while still having a durable fixed blade knife for bigger chores than a small folder would be able to handle.

My new Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife alongside a Victorinox classic SD Swiss Army for size comparison:

So, I have yet to put the Canadian through its paces the way I've done with the Finn and the Roach, but I'm confident it's just as usable for pretty much any light to moderate outdoor task I could give it. Camping in Oregon, Dave really reefed on the Roach Belly, digging into hardened driftwood logs, whittling to pass the time, and generally abusing it. Like I said, all it took was a bit more pressure on a diamond rod, followed by touch-up with a medium grit ceramic sharpener to restore the edge back to useful, from butter-knife dull.

So, this lightweight series of cheap Cold Steel fixed blades aren't going to win any awards for aesthetic appearance, they ain't pretty, but they work. 4116 Krupp isn't the world's best steel, but it's by no means bad, and certainly very resistant to corrosion, in my experience so far. I think the biggest advantage to this series of knives is the nearly-disposable price point. It goes overboard while fishing? Not a huge deal, it's not your limited edition Chris Reeve Sebenza, or $1200 Allen Elishewitz custom! These knives practically beg to be abused, on average costing less than a new DVD, they'll perform and take all kinds of abuse. I love the light weight too, how many fixed blades are there out there that can ride nearly unnoticed in a hip pocket? Not many. The polypro handles and highly polished blades offer superior weather resistance in any natural condition you could think of, from snow and ice, to summer heat or spring rain. The sheaths are simple but do their job well. I forgot to mention as well, that the Roach Belly and Canadian sport lanyard holes as well, which would be great for attaching a float to keep these lightweight knives bobbing until you can get 'em back when you're out trolling a lake.

These are some of the best wallet-friendly knives I've ever owned and used. It seems a shame with such simple materials, that Cold Steel makes these in Taiwan, instead of the US or Japan. But hey, you get what you pay for, and in this case, Cold Steel gives you much more than you pay for, in a durable and lightweight package.

If your adventures call for a larger knife, Cold Steel offers their Long Hunter, in the same materials, with a 7" blade, for just over $20.00 USD:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Buck Knives goes green with 100% recycled paperstone handles.

New for 2010 is a line of knives based on Buck's timeless 110 folding lockback hunter series of knives.

The EcoLite 110 and the slightly smaller EcoLite 112 are both available in green or red handles. Buck has the following to say:

""We understand the importance of integrating eco-friendly materials into our products, and we are enthusiastic about our major step forward with the use of PaperStone for our handles. Made from 100% post-consumer recycled products, it's the greenest material you can find. More importantly, it's rugged, withstands heat or cold, and is very durable. First used on handles for our Metro, with positive results, it's now key to the beginning of our line of EcoLite knives, which are very light but extremely durable. Imagine a knife with exactly the same great features as our classic 110, but now with half the weight and without sacrificing any of the features and advantages you want and need on the trail or on the job.""

* Handles are made of eco-friendly PaperStone, the greenest material you can find, made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper and a proprietary petroleum-free resin.
* EcoLite knives are strong and rugged, able to withstand extreme temperatures and moisture, providing a very reliable knife.
* They are ultra lightweight, making them very convenient.

Paperstone is used in a variety of industrial applications including countertops, furniture and siding. From Paperstone's website

""PaperStone Certified is made of 100% FSC-Certified recycled paper, water-based phenolic resin with cashew nut shell binder and pigment. Heat and pressure transform this mixture into a thoroughly impregnated network of cellulose fibers that give PaperStone its hardness, density and strength in span or cantilevered designs.""

Wow! that's CRAZY! recycled paper, water based resin and cashew nut shells?! How Eco-Friendly is that. Way to go Buck Knives. Best of all, like almost all of Buck's current and future product lines, the EcoLite 110 and 112 knives are MADE in the USA! Ever since Buck re-dedicated themselves to USA manufacture, I've seen an immediate jump in overall quality, and it's nice that most of their prices haven't gone up as a result of manufacturing in their new Idaho, USA factory.

Here is a sampling of some of the colors in which Paperstone is available:

I'm willing to bet that Buck's use of Paperstone will be successful, and lead other companies in the same direction. From everything I've read, it's an incredibly durable material. Just think, if it can be used for exterior siding and countertops, it's going to hold up very well on a knife handle. Recycled materials just make sense, and often times companies in manufacturing can earn tax credits for reducing their carbon footprint by employing recycled or less environmentally harmful materials in their processes. Remember how damn heavy the classic Buck 110 folder is? Well, the EcoLite Paperstone series is said to weigh less than half of what its brass and wood cousin does! Hopefully we'll see some more tactical-flavored knives in other paperstone colors, with more aggressive texturing from Buck or others in the future. I'm curious enough about this material that I may just need to order the smaller EcoLite 112 (3" blade, whereas the 110 is 3.75" blade).

I really have to applaud Buck for living up to their reputation as a classic, innovative American sporting knife manufacturer. It seemed for a few years they were taking the almost all-overseas manufacturing route, and not really putting out anything that could compete with the countless other high quality companies that produce reliable factory-made bladeware. I can say from my ownership of Buck's USA made PakLite skeletal fixed blade knife, their USA stuff is far superior to some of the made in Taiwan designs they used to put out. Let's hope their example leads companies like Gerber back toward predominately American craftsmanship!
Many of Buck's upcoming 2010 items are available for sale or pre-order on sites like Knifecenter

Now that Buck Knives is neighbors with TOPS knives, keep your eyes peeled for future collabs between two knife factories with great reputations, and a wide range of quality knives and tools. It looks like a new seatbelt/webbing cutter/oxygen tank wrench tool will be coming soon, manufactured by Buck and designed by TOPS Knives.

Nalgene widemouth glow in the dark.

Regular readers might be aware of how last spring I upped my daily water intake to support the weight I wanted to lose at the time. I did indeed lose nearly 20 lbs, and since then, I've included LOTS of water in my daily diet. At this point, if I don't drink at least 32oz. daily, I feel really shitty. So I've amassed an army of Nalgene and other water bottles. I've reviewd HumanGear's awesome Capcap widemouth bottle cap replacement (I found a hard-to-find blue one yesterday when @ REI with SB&T's Eric). Anyhow, I like to always have a couple of full bottles in the freezer and one in the fridge. I take medication at night, and I also use a CPAP sleep apnea machine which has a humidifier tank that needs to be filled with water. It's much easier to fill my CPAP tank from a Nalgene with a HumanGear Capcap, or a Guyot Designs Splashguard, than to get up and go fill the tank at the bathroom sink.

So, I've always got a bottle on the nightstand, that way I have water ready for my morning meds as well. I've spazzed out in my sleep before and launched Nalgene bottles off the nightstand, waking me up, and scaring the shit out of me. Enter the new Nalgene Glow bottles! They come in green and blue, the blue one, in daylight, is sort of that milky white condom color, but when you kill the lights it glows a deep blue. It's not terribly bright, but it works well, and would probably work very well with the Firefly LED bottle lid lantern by Guyot Designs. I like the glow concept for camping as well, if you're sipping say, Gin and Juice by the campfire, after lights out, you can find your drink. I've also used widemouth bottles for bladder evacuation so as to avoid going out of a tent in total cold. With the glow bottle, you know where to reach if you've got to piss (just be sure to THOROUGHLY wash that bottle at your first convenience!).

The green version is visibly green in daylight as well, and seems to put out more light in darkness than its blue brother. These bottles aren't clear/transparent like the other Eastman Tritan copolymer Nalgene bottles (and the old Lexan/BpA ones), but they are translucent, and you can still get an accurate idea of how may ounces you've got left until you need a refill. As with most phosphorescent items, they glow brighter and longer when first exposed to a bright light source. The first picture above shows the bottles in front of my Phillips BriteLight energy light, which is used for seasonal mood improvement by emulating sunlight. I left the bottles in front of it about 2 minutes and they glowed brightly enough for me to take the next photo, with my phone in late afternoon darkness. Now, with a Surefire G3 light shone onto the bottles for several minutes, they glowed more brightly, like the last picture (this last photo I found on a site that sells these bottles). My results with various light sources on these bottles are consistent with other images of this product that are floating around online. Like I said, they're not mega bright, but they glow enough for you to locate your bottle in total darkness, which I can see being handy in any number of situations.

I picked up my GITD Nalgene bottles @ Sportco, in Fife, WA, they were just over $8.00 USD each, with my store membership, I think they probably retail for around $12.00 USD on average though, as they go for $11.50 USD on Nalgene's site. It's odd, I was unable to find a listing on Nalgene's official site for the green glow bottle, so I wonder if they plan on doing more colors, like reddish, or orange?

Either way, it was a good weekend for gear. I found the elusive blue color HumanGear Capcap (most are green),

in addition to getting a Fisher Spacepen #PR4 refill for my Benchmade model 1100 tactical pen. I picked up a black steel NiteIze S Biner for my keys as well, as I'm tired of the plastic one I've been using.

I finally picked up a Byrd lockback at a knife shop up by Eric's house. Spyderco engineers and designs the Byrd line to be manufactured in China as a lower-cost alternative to Spyderco's pricier knives. I'd always been curious, but could never find any Byrd knives I liked the looks of in physical brick and mortar stores. I picked up the plain edge BY07 Byrd Crossbill. Everything about it is very reminiscent of my first all stainless Spyderco Endura. It has a nice wicked sharp hawkbill blade, and has that heavy duty feel that all stainless Spydercos tend to have. I paid slightly less than MSRP at the shop we went to, though you can find this same knife for about $23.00 USD on many discount web shops. My only complaint so far is that it comes with the clip positioning the knife tip-down, an easy fix, holes are already tapped for clip reversal, which I'll do after I finish writing here! Stainless handled knives can be slippery under wet conditions, so I may think about having a talented friend help me make some friction grip grooves with a dremel, and keeping with the glow in the dark theme, I may fill and detail work I do with some sort of GITD paint or something. How cool would that look!? Anyhow, if I feel the need to write later tonight, I'll hop on here and give more detailed impression of my new Byrd Crossbill, but until then, I'll be guzzling cold filtered water, in the dark, from my new Nalgene glow bottles. :)