Sunday, August 26, 2012
There are a slew of firestarters flooding the market in the past few years. "Survival" gear is not going to disappear anytime soon. Just like the unjustified fears of "Y2K", 2012 "Mayan calendar" paranoia continues to fuel a need to stock up on essential gear among the "average" population, as well as we seasoned enthusiasts. Gerber's sub-par Bear Grylls line of 'knives' & 'tools' that are on hardware & specialty-store racks like a disease, illustrate this point perfectly. Anyhow, Light My Fire, of Sweden has always made useful, & often modern & artistic outdoor products that have found a place in my daily backpack or side-bag kit. Their odd-looking & non-traditional Spork is a prime example. Light My Fire teamed up recently with the legendary Mora of Sweden, manufacturers of VERY inexpensive fixed blade utility knives that perform like some exorbitantly expensive custom blades. I've had a Frost's of Sweden Mora style light military fixed blade in my tackle box since I was 15 years old. The temporary marriage of these 2 outstanding companies has produced a very useful & fairly priced knife, which contains a firesteel in the butt of the knife. It's available in five different colors as of this writing, & I'll be putting it through its paces & a review is on the horizon. Moving to a different state hasn't been super-conducive to updating this site, or even the Facebook page frequently. I'm still settling in & looking for work, but keep an eye open for the review of this ingenious design.
Friday, August 3, 2012
Waysun Johnny Tsai is sort of a martial skills Renaissance-Man. Johnny has built, & continues to build his reputation through his school, Tsai's Kungfu International, based out of Chicago. Johnny also is a dedicated knife fan, street defense instructor, and designer. He's the designer & co-founder of CUMA Ram, a USA manufacturing outlet that manufactures his CUMA Ram tactical pen design, one of the finest tactical pens I've had the pleasure to use in the past several years since the pen trend hit this industry. You can read my SB&T review of Johnny's pen HERE. That review also touches a bit more deeply on Johnny's wide-ranging credentials & personal background. Johnny is an avid knife collector, & is a man with a dedicated martial mindset. It makes sense that he'd collaborate once again with Mike Fuller's TOPS Knives, in Idaho. The two parties previously released a very successful fighter with outdoor-knife DNA, the TOPS CUMA Evolution. CUMA is the acronym for Johnny's street defense system; Combined Universal Martial Applications.
|The divot on either side of the micarta slabs assists the user in bow-drill firemaking, to stabilize the top of your stick.|
Bow Drill firemaking is an ancient technique that works as well today as it did hundreds of years ago, using basic friction to ignite tinder. I'm lousy at it, but my girlfriend has the technique ingrained in her outdoor-skill tool kit, due to a 6 month outdoor survival school she attended in her teenage years. We haven't had the opportunity to try it with the Tak Ri yet, though as soon as I'm done moving, I'm gonna have to get her to show me the "way", & we'll use the Tak Ri to assist. From what I hear, the handle divots work quite well for Bow Drill firemaking.
Here's an older, but still very relevant video of Johnny & a student in the dojo:
The Tak Ri is a hybrid of modern manufacturing (in Idaho USA) & ancient design-influence. Don't mistake it for a kukri, & compare the two. The Tak Ri is simply kukri-influenced, & shares some common features, like the useful forward weight, for chopping, & the belly curvature of the blade. The kukri, in a traditional sense, is probably one of the most useful general purpose knife designs ever, if properly manufactured. The deep belly curve sort of drags material into itself & the forward weight makes it a great chopper. The Tak Ri does chop well. I used it to split some kindling, & it cut cleanly & deeply, biting into the wood. I have heard a few critics mention the kukri's functional back edge, saying it's detrimental to batonning the knife through heavier thicker materials. Well, no single knife is perfect for every person, or every task. The Tak Ri was never advertised as a champion draw-knife, nor one that excels at being hit with a stick through various materials. Get a hatchet, or carry your more traditional bushcraft blade on excursions if you need that kind of functionality. Every single knife is a compromise, & will be decried at some point, by somebody who can't see it holding a place in their collection. Tops makes hundreds of designs, & plenty that don't have a fully sharpened back edge.
In addition to the divots, the Tak Ri 2 sports full-on handle slabs, what TOPS calls a Woodsman style handle, as compared to the thinner slabs on the initial release, which is still available through TOPS. I found the handle to be extremely comfortable while chopping, slicing, or just handling the knife. The slabs are bolted solidly to the knife with 3 screws, & I believe TOPS also adds high strength epoxy on many of their knives to further secure their high quality micarta slabs. Oddly enough, I found the robust curvature of the primary edge worked well in the kitchen on things like veggies, & did a decent job using a "rocking chop" as one would with a standard 8" chef's knife. The spine of the knife features a nice dip where the handle runs into the actual blade (though the knife is made from a single piece of steel). This little cutout acts as a comfortable thumb rest, & improves control of the relatively large knife. For the sake of size reference, see the pic of the knife in my large hand, above. The blade, or at least the primary cutting edge, is about 7 inches long, with the knife coming in at about 13.5 inches in overall length. The top edge is about 4 inches long, & fully sharpened & functional, like its brother, Johnny's CUMA Evolution.
|The original CUMA Tak Ri had partial slab handles, that work just fine, but customers wanted to see a more hand-filling slab on the beast.|
I like the width of the blade, which in an 'emergency' could be used to hammer tent stakes or small nails if the need ever arose & the Tak Ri was your primary tool somewhere. The butt of the knife features a semi V-shaped unsharpened chisel edge, for prying, or other tasks that would damage the blade's nice sharp edges. This pry-bar pommel would probably also excel as an impact weapon/skull crusher if a defensive situation arose. Of course a knife designed to Johnny's specifications will have martial applications as well. Like the Kukri, the Tak Ri (a name bestowed upon it by custom knifemaker Brent Beshara) is built to be used in defensive fashion as well. I can see devotees of the Filipino martial arts appreciating its weight & overall design. It feels great in the hand, & twirls well, just like an arnis/eskrima stick. The handle design, as I mentioned, is comfortable during these types of maneuvers as well. The sharp top edge also adds to its menacing vibe & defensive potential as well. The Tak Ri sports a unique serration pattern that reminds me of the outer grooves on a revolver's cylinder. There are just three hand-honed grooves without points, but they work well doing what traditional serrations do, I cut paracord, plastic strapping & zip-ties, the Tak Ri tackled every fibrous or flexible material like a champ.
|the Tak Ri shining in the sun, near Gig Harbor, WA|
The Tak Ri is emblazoned with the TOPS logo, the knife's title, & Johnny's full name. The blade is 1095 carbon steel, like most of TOPS' offerings, & takes a beating damn well. I used a snap-cut sort of motion to effortlessly slice through plant & flower stalks cleanly, without the blade hanging up, binding or uprooting delicate plants. If you were without a machete, this blade would do fine for trail clearing. Plant matter, food & other goo does no immediate damage to 1095, as it's one of the most robust & widely used carbon steels around. Sticky matter wiped right off, & to this day there are only a few tiny spots of discoloration on the knife's nasty-sharp edge. After I experimented with food, I treated the entire blade with Sentry Solutions' Tuff Glide liquid. It's the same stuff their Tuff Cloth is dipped in, & purchased as a liquid, is a much better deal, a tiny bottle typically lasts me well over a year, sometimes two.
The Tak Ri rides in a simple but effective ballistic nylon sheath which features a thermoplastic insert to secure the wide blade. Two hook and loop straps secure the throat & handle, & overall the knife rides comfortably & fairly quietly on the belt. My preferred belts are 5.11 TDU belts, because of their relative rigidity, & ability to tote sheath knives & multi tools without stretching or sagging too much. The scabbard is fully military-webbing compatible, & well-made, with plenty of outer grommets for securing the package with the included length of paracord.
Overall, I love the Tak Ri's look, intimidation factor, & good range of uses for outdoor excursions, or potential defensive use. Johnny's unique insight into the practical applications of knifecraft enable him to meld function with threat, & come out with knives that have a certain visual appeal. Much like Waysun Johnny Tsai himself, the Tak Ri is a mix of influences, from ancient, to very modern. TOPS has always excelled at big carbon steel knives that have "tool" written all over them, as well as "weapon". Mike Fuller's guys did it again with the Tak Ri, both versions, & have produced a unique & capable addition to any knife user's collection (or arsenal!).
Check out the links above in the first paragraph for more info on TOPS, Waysun Johnny Tsai, & Tsai's Kungfu International.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Apologies to Waysun Johnny Tsai himself & all who have been looking forward to the review of his TOPS collaboration; the CUMA Tak Ri. It's still coming, along with a video. I've been in the process of moving out of state & things have been challenging in regard to my free time. It's also been a tougher-than average review since there are so many great existing reviews for this knife. The knife has gotten very good remarks from people all over the knife & gun community, it's my hope that with the piece I'm writing, that I can bring my own fresh perspective to the 2nd edition of the CUMA Tak Ri, the one with the full handle scales. I can say, the knife is both attractive, comfortable & functional, & check back soon for my final edit, & more thoughts on the knife. Once things solidfy down here & I find work, a weight will be lifted, & I can start my attempt to spend more time here reviewing what I love, & less time simply updating the Facebook page. Thanks for your patience.