Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Buck 726 Mini Spitfire Review

Mini spitfire with 722 spitfire size comparison
August 2014 Update at bottom. 2013 gave us the Buck 722 Spitfire and it has been a great knife to carry over the past 7 or 8 months. It is a pure EDC blade that I was truly excited about from the time I first saw it and I think it is fair to call it the knife that has it all. I am attracted more strongly than for any other reason to a design that is exactly what it was meant to be and doesn't pretend to be anything else. Buck doesn't always get it right, in fact, it seems all knife companies have filler products and I am constantly left scratching my heading wondering why. Remarkably, I am certain the reason is because there are actually people who buy them. But the point is the Spitfire is an EDC knife in the sense that knives for a large portion of people who carry them are an extension of their personality. Any knife that you can fit in your pocket (or wherever I suppose) and carry every day is an EDC knife, but there is an obvious subculture which has grown, via the world wide web, to have significant influence on the market. Buck has been doing this a long time and they aren't dumb enough to ignore it. So when I say it has it all, I mean it has everything that it needs to be exactly what it set out to be. Some may be thinking, well it doesn't have S30V steel or titanium handles. No. What it set out to be was an affordable knife as well as an excellent EDC knife. Let me make a list. Light weight, slim, jimping, thumb ramp, anodizing, ambidextrous, thumb hole that kinda reminds people of Spyderco, color options, and a 4-way positional pocket clip (with 3 screws no less). This should sound pretty much like a knife forum wishlist to you dear readers and Buck said, let's put it all into one knife AND do it tastefully. How often do pocket clips look like after thoughts in the budget blade world? How often do lanyard holes (I left that off the list!!!) look like after thoughts? How often do we have to trade some of those things in order to get others? I recently got an A.G. Russell Skorpion and even after the pocket clip was given extra consideration (supposedly) it still looks poorly integrated into the design. Here's the thing with the Spitfire; it's not even so much that it has it all, it's that they got it right and even went a couple steps further to deliver a complete, well thought out design in an affordable, American made package. Bottom line is, people want something different, something with some personality and something with clean design. Coming back to the materials point, Buck isn't blind to the success of the Vantage line and I am hopeful that the Spitfire will follow in its cousins formula. In other words; higher end steel options. For 2014 Buck brought out the 726 Mini Spitfire. I said from the start that I like this knife well enough to get the variants and that really is the reason I got the Mini. To be honest, it's little and I think the 722 Spitfire is a great size, but it's an indication that the line is progressing. I didn't, however, get the WalMart Slimline. I'd call making some kind of WalMart exclusive a misstep on Buck's part, but they didn't call it a Spitfire and I suspect from a financial standpoint it was no misstep by any stretch.

Buck Spitfire comparison
So let's get to the 726 Mini Spitfire already! I can't help it, I'm going to nit pick the Mini so I'll start with the good. Lately at work I have been opening lots of various packaging and boxes, so I used it today and found that I'm not really hating the small size. I realize for everyday common cutting there is no need for more knife really and with medium hands I can get 4 fingers on it just fine. What's more it is like having nothing in your pocket. It's slim, weighs nothing and is very compact. For folks who work in knife unfriendly places or have to wear dressier clothing, it might be a nice option. For people who just don't go for larger blades, it's ideal. I would say it was an intelligent choice to make a somewhat larger (just right) size initially, and then a much smaller version for the mini because it is more likely to fit the two halves of the community. The beauty of the 722 is that it's not big, it's not small. Because it's so light and slim the length alone isn't enough to take it into the large knife realm the way I see it. Once again, the 726 is a damn good looking knife in my eyes and the subtle profile changes were well done. I like that they removed the re-curve from the blade and I like that it isn't an exact miniaturized copy of the 722.

You may recall that the 722 had this thing where the blade felt like it could move upward slightly when open. I saw where someone said that it's really the handle that is moving if you want to look at it light that. So I did look at it like that. And it's true. The blade does not move in any way against the lock bar. The 726 does the same thing, but in fact the "lockup" is actually very strong. Like before, opening is smooth, thought not as smooth as my example of the 722. Like every other Buck I've purchased it came razor sharp. To appease anyone who considers cutting cardboard and paper an exercise in knife testing I split up a bit of fine Red Elm kindling tonight to get my wood stove going. I used a twisting motion to split already finely split pieces into finer pieces still, and what do you know, the Mini did great. Let's do the picture thing.

Buck SPitfire review
BOOM! Green this time.
The pocket clip side here. It's plain to see that "Mini" was the right word choice. I wanted to point out, and it is more obvious on the other side, the screws are not centered in the countersink holes very well at all. Without taking it apart I can't say if it can be corrected by simply straightening things up like they should be, or if it's a matter of poorly located holes. I loosened the screws and attempted to just torque things into position, but no luck.
Blade centering seems to be important to people and it's good but what's more is the blade is stuffed in there keeping things as slim as possible.
Getting into the nit picking you begin to notice in these images that things aren't as nice and tidy as they were on the 722. It's almost as if the handle slabs were rounded by hand. There are grind lines in various directions and it's not consistent like a machine had done it, whereas the 722 is consistent throughout.
The 726 Mini Spitfire is slimmer than its sibling - Mini in every dimension.
size comparison
Some idea of the size of the Mini in hand.
Here, and I don't think I captured it very well, it appears as though the blade jimping is a little wonky - deeper to one side.
This shows the jimping a bit more clearly.
Couple of Ka-Bar Folding Hunters joined the gang recently as well. They aren't large folders at all but a bit bigger than the 722 Mini Spitfire.

Once again it looks like that nice polish helps keep the Spitfire running smooth.
I dug around and found a better shot of the finish work. You can see grind lines running parallel on one side, perpendicular on the other and it's particularly uneven in this area.

So what's the deal on the fit and finish? I know I'm being picky. I actually paid a few dollars more for the mini than I did the 722 which was partly my own fault, but urges me to be a little more critical. The 722 Spitfire actually shares many of the same "issues" that the Mini has but they are more minor. For instance, there might be a touch here or there where things aren't even on the 722, but barely. The jimping is maybe a little off let's say, but it's just a little more off on the Mini. As for the extra grinding, maybe it was intentional, and maybe the idea was to soften the feel just a little, but it looks unfinished. The marks left from whatever tool they used to accomplish it are errant and uneven. The backspacer doesn't look as well fit and the rounding creates gaps that give an overall less than precise fit. Are the workers pushing to get POs filled? Will things look a little neater in a few months time? Hard to say. The 722 Spitfire set the bar with good to excellent fit and finish and in that arena when paying roughly the same money, it's hard not to knock the Mini. And the 722 got away with not having amazing fit and finish because of the price point. With that said, everything else about the Mini is on par with the 722 and it is still hard to argue with those looks, great design, and a long list of features.

As a final thought, if Buck is taking suggestions, I really like what I'm seeing on the Rush. I think the Rush is weird looking myself, but I dig the new matte finished anodizing and I think the Spitfire is the first place I would expand that offering. Of course I got the gray versions. I like the clean look for the most part, but I really dig that splash of personality hiding there at the backspacer as well. Overall though, I'm not really into the loud colors myself. The Rush colors are more subtle and while they are kind of limited right now, I envision an opportunity to do something unique like bronze or warm gray with a faded rusty red accent. I can understand sticking to the bright orange or green, or the basic colors of the rainbow, but I think there is room for something that has basically not been seen on production knives.

August 2014 update. This has been a long time coming. Typically if I return something it's simply because it's screwed up. My Spitfire wasn't screwed up. I suppose it's a different perspective when you write a review. Even though I purchased the Spitfire because I like it, rather than having it given to me for reviewing, I feel like Buck deserves a fair shake. I don't really think they deserve a fair shake because my review has cost them money, or even has the potential to cost them money necessarily, I mostly just really like it. I was asked recently what I thought of the Spitfire and this is quite some time since I initially reviewed the 722, or the 726 Mini. Nothing has changed and I carry the larger Spitfire pretty often. Buck made a list of features an everyday carry styled knife should have, then they put it in the Spitfire and nailed it hard. There are things I don't like about it. The swedge is one of my main dislikes. It's attractive and appropriate esthetically for the knife's purpose. But for two handed cutting where pressure is applied to the spine of the blade with the thumb of the hand not holding the knife, it's very uncomfortable. The play that apparently all Spitfires have can be annoying when doing this sort of heavier duty work as well. When you have a product that's designed to be one thing, I think it's important for customers to understand that it's not all things to all people. However, I feel with the Spitfires, it's obvious and buyers take one look at this knife, love the way it looks, how slim it is, how light it is, and they're sold. You don't buy a slim knife for a work tool that sees regular heavy use. The bottom line is, I wanted the Mini Spitfire to be as good as the full size and so I sent it back to Buck to see if I just got one that slipped through the QC cracks. They weren't excited about replacing it, but they did and the replacement was no different from the original. If I was working that day I think I could picture specifically picking out one that was just like the return because some jerk didn't think it had good enough fit and finish. Oh well. So I was going to come back and say, yeah, this is pretty much as good as they look. But then I was in a local hardware store and had a chance to examine 2 of them closely - one orange, one gray and green like mine. They not only look as good as my 722, they might even be better. The handles have crisp, uniform machining, the jimping on the blade looked perfect, and the screws, while still not perfect, had very good centering. This makes me think that Buck did what was necessary to fill orders early on, and since that time, things have looked up in the fit and finish department. I am pretty tempted to go get another one just to restore balance in the world.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Not a Review: Kershaw Dimension

Photo courtesy Knifecenter and probably Kershaw.
This happens all the time so today I thought I'd write about it. The Kershaw Dimension is the subject of discussion this fine frigid Kansas morning to address knives you almost like, but were executed wrong. The Dimension is a good looking knife, has those fancy pants Titanium handles, some kind of high-tech assisted opening gadget, and comes in at a somewhat attractive price point for all that stuff you get. But, do I want any of that stuff? I don't, you might.

What are we getting from Titanium exactly? My understanding from the industrial side is that it's not even terribly expensive to make, just expensive to work with. Where is the benefit for knives from that aspect? I don't know either. It's tough, I guess? Resists corrosion. Knives made with wood handles routinely get passed down from generation to generation but Titanium, well that will last multiple life times. That's great, but the blade is still steel and anyone who uses a knife will sharpen the blade away long before the handles wear out.

But it's premium. The blade steel is 8CR13MOV and the knife is made in China ...... moving on.

Titanium saves weight. The all steel Kershaw Cryo 2 at 7.75 inches long weighs 5.5 ounces. The Kershaw Dimension at a half inch shorter with that super light Titanium weighs 5.0 ounces. A whole half ounce! Let's make everything Titanium.

And since we're talking about the handle, it's weird looking.

The blade rocks, which sparked this rant. Plus, the thumb studs are cool. I like me some Kershaw assisted opening a la Cryo with that flipper, but why are there 10 different ways to open the Dimension? A button and a flipper and thumb studs and probably a Harry Potter spell if you read the instructions. How will you open your Dimension today?

Put a different handle on it (ie, lose the square steps and the lines), make the handles from steel, lose the push button gizmo, used a frame lock, sell it for whatever the Cryo 2 goes for. Have nice day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Just Pics: Navy K-610

More of the Navy K-610 project just for fun. I guess I like taking pictures more than I like writing blog posts. Given my disgust toward snow, I tried to make the best of it by getting some photos, but I'm still sick of winter. The gray skies and abundance of white make for some nice desaturated lighting though you can hardly tell my backspacer is red.

knife modding projects

navy k610 custom spyderco tenacious DIY micarta

A.G. Russell Final Review

In my opening review I had already ripped the Skorpion apart - I tend to be impatient like that. It's known. But the final conclusion hasn't changed, though I do have a mostly working Skorpion now, and I'm good with carrying it day to day. A.G. Russell seems to like his knives slim and light like a lot of other folks that carry a knife and in keeping with that theme even the screws have to be skinny. I guess you would describe them as button head screws but the heads were made thin so that they almost sit flush with the handles. Similarly, they are very short and I couldn't find any screws that were short enough to begin with. You will find from my initial review that the pocket clip partially covers one of these screws and because they aren't perfectly flush, the clip isn't either. The chubby screws I have access to weren't going to cut it. I did get it all back together though and in the process improved the blade centering and to some degree the sticky lock bar. I actually just torqued the lock bar back a bit which does cause it to lock up sooner but if it's a bit too soon sometimes there is just a whisker of up and down blade play. It's not ideal and it is a factory defect that should not have been acceptable for sale. In the end though, this is a light duty EDC blade and I would like to believe lock up is correct on their first quality products. So all in all, I had to turn my screw heads down by putting them in my Dremel and hitting them with a file. The Dremel isn't exactly a lathe and I am sure it doesn't turn perfectly round, but they look pretty good. I also half polished the insides of the handles where the nylon washers sit. The sort of bead blasted finish covers the handles inside and out, detent ball and all. I expect that caused some friction worth getting rid of and the blade does open and close smoothly now, if still a little stiff. Pics.
The pocket clip layout is weak, especially when it covers up a screw head. I think it would have been cool to see that standoff screw be incorporated as one of the pocket clip screws. Yes, it would have to be longer and lefties would have to switch screws around, oh well. The only factory screw in good condition was salvaged so that the pocket clip could be attached. My screws are too fat. I just polished it to match the rest. 

I don't like seeing the detent and I think the stop pin should have been hidden. It is the pin you see below the pivot screw. The brown crud was a bonus with this purchase and won't come off without enough elbow grease to also remove the finish. Can you also see that weird dip in the blade by the thumb hole. It's barely there but shows up in this image.

budget knife reviews
This is probably about where the lock up should happen but the lock bar does wiggle a little while open. You can also see some less than amazing machine work going on in this shot.

I guess I just don't understand the deep pocket clip idea. It adds thickness to a thin knife and looks odd to me. It goes with the garbage hardware. Also, they didn't flare the end of either clip enough to easily catch the pocket. So today I am getting ready and standing there struggling to get the thing to go into my pocket - kinda annoying but one of those things where you "learn" how to use a new purchase.

The bottom line is the same here. I keep saying this is a $40 knife, but I'm not forgetting that a US made Buck Vantage Avid with better steel is also $40, or the Boker Plus Titan with titanium handles and similar steel is also $40. So for $75, this should be made in the US with at least an upgrade in steel and sorted out design.

Update 2/13/2014: I've carried my Skorpion around a few days now and it's fair to say that I keep giving this knife more blog time than others because it's so close to being a great product and regardless of the problems, I do like it. I've had it apart a couple more times, tweaking the lockup, the centering and the action. I criticized the pillar-as-pivot for not offering much adjustment. I would guess that a folder made with good tolerances needs very little wiggle room and I believe that is true with the Skorpion. One benefit that I theorize comes from this design is the ability to adjust from both sides of the handle. You are able to tighten a little on one side, flip it over and tighten a little from the other side. So with the bit of polishing I did to the inside of the handle, applying a little grease, tweaking the lock bar and patiently making miniscule pivot adjustments I have perfect blade centering, good smooth action, and solid lock up. The lock up is probably still a little late in order to eliminate blade play, but it's around 75% and there is no stick. Originally the bar moved so far over that it was centered on the blade - 100% of the bar touched the blade. What does this mean? It means, it works now. The detent is strong, so you do have to put some finger behind it to flip it open but it is smooth and feels like any of my other knives.

The Skorpion also has a distinct and satisfying sound to it. It's difficult to describe but it's quiet. You hit the flipper and with a quiet tick, it's open. It would be such an awesome knife with a few touch ups in design and value. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Navy K-610 Knife Mod Project Complete

For the first post on this project click here. Cold weather was trying to get me down as I don't have a heated place to make cancer causing resin dust fly and temps outside have been hanging out in the 20s and below. Finally this weekend I said, no more waiting, got things to do. I turned on a little space heater two feet away, pointed at myself and started grinding. There is work yet to be done but the images are of a pretty much finished product. I can't specifically say why, but right now the pivot screw bottoms out inside the pivot which isn't completely threaded inside. I guess I understand why. The dimensions have been exactly determined at the factory; the standoffs are so wide, the blade + bushings are the same, handle scales + liners + standoffs is all the more threading you'll need in the pivot. Fine. It would be cool to get a little wiggle room and I made my scales very close to the same thickness as factory, but I did countersink both the pivot screw and pivot itself which was apparently just enough that the screw is now too long. A little grinding should help. But that doesn't solve all the problems. The original scales had a small section milled out for the lock bar to over travel slightly and I am starting to think that relief is necessary for proper function. The blade is too stiff. It opens fine and is usable but it's not smooth and fast like it should be. I don't really know how I'm going to remedy the problem because I don't have a good way to create that very small relief.

It's actually exactly the width of the RAT 1.
You will recall from the last post that the tip of the blade contacted the lanyard tube in the closed position. That problem is as we theorized. The blade had been peened in an attempt to make it hit the stop pin sooner - it didn't work. I removed the peened steel which of course didn't help but nothing would have. I would have to add material so the bottom line is that the detent has to keep the blade where it should be and I can live with that. We're just lucky the problem wasn't reversed where the blade hits the stop pin in the open position. I am also seeing where the blade is leaving a mark on the stop pin. This makes me question the quality of the pin (which is a threaded pillar) and the overall quality of the knife. It's a shame because I like the shape and feel but it would appear that it's not quite the level of the Enlan brand. I might take a shot at a second one just to see if I got a loser, but so far I haven't found a model in all the Chinese brands that I really love.

For one more downside, I cannot find screws that fit this knife. After much toil and trouble I was able to find a reliable source for M2 and M2.5 screws with Torx heads in a variety of lengths, but neither of those work here. Only the pocket clip screws had thread locker and all the screws are in pretty good shape, so it's not as if the screws had to be replaced anyway.
Note the flat spot on the standoff. The liner has a mate to it for anti-rotation, a nice feature. I did polish the washers and I believe I would have a silky smooth folder with a little more work.

navy k610 acid washed blade
I kept working on the blade to see what would happen and I eventually got this fairly smooth gray. It's just darker than everything else. The pocket clip took a nice smooth wash though.
Here you see the slab of paper micarta I used for the backspacer and the matching red liner.

how to make micarta
The scales rough cut early on in the process.
440C stainless steel, Sypderco Tenacious knock off
The finished product!

custom paper micarta liners, every day carry
There are some blade centering issues that I can't seem to overcome. Here you can also see how huge that pocket clip is. I should cut it down before I destroy something with it.

home made micarta, paper micarta backspacer
I finished the scales with 80 grit paper. It takes some doing to get an even look with paper that rough, but it leaves a soft, dry feeling to the scales that makes it feel good and secure in hand.