Friday, November 5, 2010

Zero Tolerance 0350ST Folder. Precision USA-Made EDC At A Fair Price.

     Oregon's Kershaw Knives has a long history of high quality knives, usually at affordable prices.  I have found that whether a Kershaw is made in Oregon, or overseas in China, quality is a pretty consistent factor.  There was a time, shortly after they began to hit it big with Ken Onion's designs, and their Speed-Safe assisted opening mechanism, when their quality wasn't quite as consistent.  I was working in retail cutlery, and we experienced quite a few defective returns on Kershaw's inexpensive assisted opening folder, the Kershaw Blackout, and it's uncoated bladed cousin, the Whirlwind.  Both of which have handles of a fiberglass plastic (FRN, Zytel or what-have-you).  I also bought the original Kershaw  Random Task (the name is a play on the Austin Powers movie character who himself was a play on OddJob, from James Bond fame!).  The Random Task pattern has made a comeback recently, a new variation, the "II" model, should be available now.  The original RT was an assisted opener, I believe one of Kershaw's first, USA made, with highly polished G10 scales that looked great (almost lacquered), but bordered on slippery.  I believe the original had a Ti liner lock as well.  The lock on my Random Task consistently stuck in place so badly, that I had to wedge a dime, or a thick bass guitar pick into the handle and pry the liner lock free from the blade tang to close the knife.  However, the place where I bought my Random Task exchanged it without incident, and my replacement was just fine.  I carried it for a number of months, and I think I eventually used it as trade fodder in a partial trade for a Microtech Kestrel manual folder.  These details are however, irrelevant

       These instances of inconsistency seem to happen to just about every production knife company at some point, and they are few, and far between.  That was probably over a decade ago though, and those days are long gone.  I chalk it up to growing pains, a great company experiencing rapid growth & success at a critical time when the knife industry was undergoing some changes, and growing rapidly as a whole.  I have actually purchased a number of USA & Chinese made Kershaw folders since then, and even a few of their cheaper products like their simple, short fillet knife with a 5 inch blade, which is made in China.  I haven't had any problem with any Kershaw branded product with the exception of that one knife so many years ago.  My experience working in the knife shop that one year aside also, it's rare to see anything with the Kershaw name on it that isn't quality.  Zero Tolerance can essentially be thought of as Kershaw's all USA Made Military Products division.  Benchmade has their professional Black Class knives...well Kershaw (under their parent company KAI) have Zero Tolerance.  I will say with full confidence that the tolerances are TIGHT.  ZT just may be my new favorite large-scale manufactured knife company.

This image of the ZT 0500 was used on their site, & many retail sites where the knife was sold, this image sports a goofy CG rendered blade grafted to a photo of the handle.  I've noticed that some companies, like Boker tend to do that as well sometimes, but I have no idea why, unless certain images are produced for press purposes before the actual knife has been physically prototyped.
     A couple of holiday seasons back, I was out Christmas shopping and stopped into the little gun shop that is situated off of Interstate 5, behind Tactical Tailor's HQ & retail store.  I had been into Tactical Tailor to buy one of their great multi-tool pouches, and I decided it was time for me to finally check out the tiny gun shop.  Their selection of knives is spotty, but they always tend to carry high quality stuff.  To make a long story short, I impulsively bought the Zero Tolerance 0500 Mudd knife because I was so impressed with its quality and taken by its unique looks and sealed-pivot design.  I believe the 0500 has since been discontinued by ZT, but I love the knife, it's huge, rugged, beefy and reliable.  The overall quality is outstanding, and the 0500 Mudd by Zero Tolerance remains one of my favorite folders that I have purchased in the last few years.  I actually took it with me for a near-beach camping trip on the Southern Washington coast.  It performed admirably and true to its design, cleanup was a snap, all it took was a quick rinse in fresh water.  The sealed lock & pivot worked as intended, and kept all grit, dirt & mud out of the knife's inner workings.  So that was my introduction to Kershaw's sleek, well made sister brand, and I knew good things would continue to come out of ZT.

My Zero Tolerance 0350ST, the "st" indicates that it is the combo-edge/partially serrated version, while the plain model is simply dubbed the model 0350.

  The ZT 0350ST, a pared-down model for EDC.

   A short while back I stopped into my favorite local store, it's a warehouse yearly membership sporting goods store specializing in fishing, hunting and boating gear primarily.  I like to call this particular store my "Redneck REI", as, they do in fact carry much of the same exact outdoor & camping gear as REI, except these guys tend to be as much as 50% cheaper depending on the item.  The fifteen or twenty dollar yearly fee is well worth it, as it pays for itself instantly usually during the trip I make when I renew my membership.  Even their non-member prices are pretty reasonable.  They have a huge gun counter that alone stocks more guns than some entire mom & pop gunshops, and their knife counter has gotten progressively better as they have found more knowledgeable people to staff in various departments.  If I don't order knives from a handful of well-known retail sites, I buy them at the store in question.  Not only are their prices great, but the store is staffed with a significant number of gear-savvy people who know their stuff, with a particularly large ratio of attractive 20-something women among them.  Just a few reasons why I love shopping there!

Another reason I give these guys my business are the specials they run.  They mail out a flyer about monthly and run awesome specials ranging from significant savings to "buy X & get a free Y" sales.  In my case, I had gone in specifically to scope out the ZT knives, they just started stocking them late this past spring and I was sort of jonesing for something of significant quality to blow some cash on.  I'm an addict, I've known that for a long time.  Knives are pretty much where much of my income goes, even though I don't make much or have much else.  As I was looking over the whole of the Kershaw and Zero Tolerance shelves, the guy behind the counter informed me that they were offering a free Kershaw Leek with any ZT purchase!  That sealed the deal, a FREE USA made Kershaw Leek, the classic silver framelock, just for buying another knife from a related brand?  Sold.  So in the end, I paid significantly less than the MSRP for my ZT 0350ST and got a free American made knife as probably the best bonus buy I've ever experienced.  

ZT knives are serial numbered (the "Ser. 1918" above), or at the very least, marked with the month and year of production, (my 0500 Mudd)

     ZT's company line states that the 0350 models are the result of customer requests from folks who wanted a slightly smaller knife all around than the 0300 model.  "In response to customer requests, ZT is proud to introduce the 0350. It’s slightly smaller and slightly lighter than the 0300—10% to be precise—but just as aggressive." is how they put it on their site.  Don't misinterpret that statement though!  The 0350 is still a very good size knife, large in all the right ways but easy to handle, flat, and plenty comfortable.  It is in no way a "mini" folder, it's just a tad scaled back from the oversize 0300 model.

     The assisted opening of this knife is forceful & lightning quick, and feels very much like the USA made Kershaw Speedsafe knives with G10 handles.  I have the Kershaw "Needs Work" folder with G10 handles (not the FRN/plastic handled Needs Work), and the action feels unmistakably similar to the assist action on my new ZT.  Both knives seemed just a tiny bit stiff at first, right out of the box from the factory.  By "a tiny bit" I mean just that, VERY slightly stiff, in a good way, the way that new cars & some appliances feel "stiff" because they're brand spanking new, and you know they'll feel even better once you've "broken them in".  Indeed, I didn't use any oil, Tuff Glide or any sort of lubricant, as I've found that most brand assisted knives do not need any type of oil right away, whereas I have oiled say, new linerlocks or framelocks right out of the box to get a smoother action. It only took a few days of carrying the 0350, opening and closing, one handed, 2 handed, just enjoying the opening & closing cycle, for that brief & small "stiffness" to disappear.  It's likely that most people with less extensive knife experience wouldn't even notice this at all.  I'm just a bit O.C.D. & very attentive when it comes to every small detail of a knife's manufacture, I tend to notice stuff like that.  Please don't take the preceding sentences as any reason to avoid this knife.  Like I said, after a couple days of carry and use, the knife's action is buttery smooth when using the index flipper/guard. 

      It has dual thumbstuds as well, but it's a bit more challenging to open using the studs.  The studs act as the blade's stop pin, and are positioned so that you really have to give them a specific push at a certain angle.  I read one online retail review blurb where a customer gave the knife positive overall marks, but referred to the dual studs as "useless".  I disagree, yes, the integral flipper on the blade tang makes the knife open the most smoothly, and with minimal effort, but I believe the thumbstuds are there as a backup, I personally like the option of using a "flipper" or studs, it just makes sense.  If you handle this knife in person you'll know whether the opening is right for you or not.  If you typically don't like assisted knives, you may need to warm up to this one, but by far, the pros outweigh any cons.  I actually dig the 0350 so much that the slightly difficult thumb opening is the only factor I might even vaguely consider a "negative".  In fact, I'm one of those people that often prefers a totally manual folder over an auto, or assisted opening.   After all, assisted opening is one of those features that to me, seems sort of gimmicky.  Not to downgrade assisted knives, but it's a feature that is obviously not needed for a knife to work properly.  Knives, even the relatively young tactical folder market did just fine without A/O mechanisms until Ken Onion and other custom makers began to popularize the novel mechanisms.  The ZT 0350 is one of those knives that makes me like assisted openers because it works so well.  No matter if you prefer an auto, or a manual framelock or whatever, there is no denying that on a knife like this, it's the way an A/O folder should feel when deployed.

At a glance:


  • Blade Material: S30V stainless steel with Tungsten DLC coating, partially serrated
  • Blade Length: 3-1/4 inches (8.3 cm)
  • Blade Thickness: 0.121 inches thick
  • Scales: Textured, G-10 in matte black
  • Handle Length: 4-5/8 inches (11.7 cm)
  • Lock: Locking liner
  • Weight: 4.8 oz.
  • Includes SpeedSafe® Ambidextrous Opening System
  • Includes a quad mounting system for tip-up, tip-down, left or right handed clip carry
  • Made in USA
     The blade features Kershaw-esque scalloped serrations.  They aren't as pointy as say, Spyderco's widow's peak points, nor are they fine & toothy like Cold Steel's serrations.  The edge is ground thin, and where the "tips" or points of each individual serration are on other styles, ZT uses sort of a scalloped arc that reminds me of cartoon "monster teeth", like when children's authors want to draw a "monster", but they imply that it's dopey or friendly by drawing it with big goofy rounded off teeth!  This doesn't have any bearing on the sharpness or performance of these serrations, IMO if anything, it makes them last longer.  There are no fine tips to break off & they seem to do an excellent job of keeping materials "sucked in" between them, like paper and cloth, with this serrated edge style it's very easy to cut in a straight line, your cut tends to stay in line with the inner fold of each scallop.  These "monster teeth" serrations cut very smoothly, there's no trace of that feeling of a ripping or tearing cut that some toothier patterns can bring about.  I feel like the plain, full bellied portion of the blade cuts severely and smoothly, the scalloped combo edge cuts smoothly and wickedly.  Both aspects of this folder's edge are still scary sharp, even after a couple weeks of daily use.  Right out of the box it shaved hair.  Now, after daily carry & use for my mundane routine like breaking down household recycling, opening snack bags, cutting fruit & the like, the entire blade still shaves hair.  Impressive indeed.  The black coating is Tungsten DLC, diamond-like coating, sometimes referred to as diamond-like carbon.  It's extremely hard, far more durable than a teflon coating, like, ridiculously more durable.  It not only protects the bladesteel, but it acts as a barrier against staining & rust as well.  An S30V blade with a DLC coating like this is about as tough a blade as you'll find manufactured by any major factory company.  This knife is one of those that totally exudes its own feeling of total badassery.  Some knives are just like that, I don't intend to feel it, but when carrying some knives you just feel sort of a boosted, certain confidence.  My Darrel Ralph HTM Gun Hammer is that way, so is Benchmade's full size Neil Blackwood Rukus folding knife.  There are just certain knives that are so solidly crafted and feel so capable that a bit of that feeling rubs off onto the user.  Deny it all you want, anybody who has ever owned a high quality tactical folder knows exactly what I'm talking about!  The G10 handle scales are perfectly textured for a definite grip, and that's only the icing on a very well made cake.  As I mentioned before, I think ZT could charge more for this knife, and not only would it still sell, I think it'd still be worth it.  This knife is up there, on par with the best of the best American factory produced knives.  It's a joy to carry and use, it's comfortable, and it looks good.  Just a glance at the materials is enough to know that this is a folder that is capable of taking hard knocks.  The holidays are coming up, and at what I consider a reasonable price, this knife would probably bring a ton of joy to a soldier somewhere in the world, and you can bet he or she would get a ton of use out of a knife like this that pretty much has a guaranteed long life of service, based on it's pedigree and materials.

the "monster teeth" (a term of my creation) serrated edge that reminds me of the way cartoonists and other artists draw a monster's teeth when he's meant to be friendly or cartoonish, and not vicious.
     MSRP is about $140 USD, though they can be had for under $120 @ most reasonable retailers.  I got an unusually good deal on mine with my store membership in addition to their special free Kershaw Leek promotion.  I paid just a hair over $100, plus state sales tax.  MSRP & actual cost aside, there are certainly a large number of inferior knives out there that cost much more.  I contend that even at full MSRP plus shipping, or retail sales tax, this knife is still well worth it.  This line of knives (Zero Tolerance) seems to be the culmination of all of KAI & Kershaw's experience and success, coming together in an entire family of knives that is masterfully crafted, aesthetically pleasing (they look damn good!) and pretty affordable.  Not to mention American made.  I know it's sort of an "apples & oranges" situation, but I'm willing to argue that as a brand, Zero Tolerance is right up there with the best of Benchmade's line of folders & fixed blades, along with Spyderco's Golden, CO factory output.  

   Boom!  Awesome materials put together by a great company, here in the U.S. at a fair price with a lifetime warranty.  I don't think it'd be all that fair to ask for anything more.  Seriously, I know I tend to stick to reviews on stuff I'm happy with, but that's because I do my research, and crummy knives from crummy companies don't deserve mention.  That being said, this is one of those knives I was certain enough about to plunk down the cash, but I really did expect some design or feature to come forth at some point that might make me go "meh".  No such luck, this is a full size working knife that I have no complaints about.  As I mentioned, you may not like the fact that thumbstud opening takes a bit of finesse, but IMO, the flipper kicks off the assisted action perfectly, almost negating the need for thumbstuds at all, they're just there as an option, and also to act as sort of a reinforcing stop-pin.  I would encourage interested parties to take a quick look at the Zero Tolerance website to find what you like, and then narrow your choice down.  I like many of their knives, but I didn't need overly-large, nor did I need a tiger striped blade.  My 0350 is an ideal size, black, low profile and looks mean as hell...despite its "monster teeth".  HAHA!  I may have just created an alternative term for serrations that have a more gentle, scalloped look to them!

    You should be able to find the entire ZT line on better retail sites, and in most brick & mortar retail shops that sell Kershaw products.  Speaking of Kershaw, I recently got a hold of a pair of made-in-China Kershaw folders, 2 different models that I stumbled upon at the same store where I picked up the ZT.  I am pleased to report that they are nearly flawless in execution as well, especially for their respective much lower price range.  I just may bang out another review focusing on the Volt II, and the Clash (LOL, London Calling), no not THE Clash as in the seminal English band, but Kershaw's inexpensive and very well executed Clash folding knife. 

     Meanwhile, do yourself a favor, as an old friend used to say, "do yourself a favor man", and check out either of Zero Tolerance's 0350 models.  You may prefer a plain edge for ease of sharpening, but I like a folding knife with "monster teeth" serrations for overall utility!
F***in' Monster Teeth DUDE.  'Nuff said.

Can you see the resemblance of ZT/Kershaw's rounded serration pattern to silly cartoon monster teeth?
Monster teeth in S30V & black DLC

ZT serrations? or a monster's dopey mouth?
Monster Teefs everywhurr.
If you don't get it by now.....

ZT's 0400st also features a wide, rounded serration pattern, total monster teeth, I tell ya.

My final verdict on the Zero Tolerance 0350ST folder?  It's an ideal, capable size for general utility, defensive carry, or all around EDC.  The manufacture is nearly impeccable, it's finely crafted, priced right, and works exactly as promised.  The S30V blade, with the Diamond-Like Coating is about as premium as a modern folding knife can offer, plus it looks good, carries discreetly, and the assisted opening is nearly flawless.  A very high quality American Made knife at a very reasonable price.

No comments: