With 2017 behind us I thought it might be fun to take a look back at my favourite tactical folders of the year. Before anyone gets upset, please take this list with a grain of salt. As you may have noticed my tastes are a bit ‘old school’ when it comes to folding knives insomuch as I prefer the classic style of the 80s and 90s rather than the latest and greatest ball bearing flippers. The arbitrary list of rules I concocted for this exercise is as follows:
Rule 1 – Production knives only;
Rule 2 – Must have been produced in 2017; and
Rule 3 – Only one knife from each company.
Oh, the thrill of a custom knife. I am sure that, like myself, many a reader has been enticed by the irresistible siren call of a custom at one point in their collecting life. There is something positively titillating about having a knife built to your exact specifications by a skilled craftsman. The advent of the internet has only further expanded the reach of custom knife makers and enabled poor cutlery addicted souls, the likes of me, to connect with them.
During my two-odd decades of collecting I have had numerous custom knives from pass through my hands. Along the way I have made some good friends and ended up with some exceptional knives. I have also had some disasters which cost me a hefty amount of money, time and effort. The unfortunate reality is that there are some real and present dangers of which an innocent collector need be aware before venturing into the deep dark world of the custom knife.
A scan of the 1999 Terzuola Knives Catalogue and Century Starfighter supplemental which may interest some folks.
Back in the mid-2000s the Chris Reeve Sebenza was arguably the most desirable and sort after knife on the market. Unlike the smorgasbord of options available today, in those days a titanium framelock was a rare bird indeed. However, like most knives which get on the bubble, demand for the Sebenza far outstripped supply. It was in this environment of high demand that, unsurprisingly, other manufacturers sought to jump on the bandwagon and get their own slice of the Sebenza sales pie. Such knives were affectionately known by the moniker ‘Sebenza killers’.
At the forefront of these ‘Sebenza killers’ was the Bradley Alias, built by Benchmade, it offered the same materials and construction as the Sebenza in a more streamlined shape for less dollars. All in all, it was a great knife, well built and attractive, however, sadly it was discontinued a few years ago.
Well after a few years hiatus, Benchmade jumped back into the ‘Sebenza killer’ game with the release of the spiritual successor to the Bradley Alias...
Great Eastern Cutlery (GEC) was started in 2006 by Bill Howard, a former Queen Cutlery employee, with the intent to produce high quality, affordable, traditional pocket knives. GEC’s first production patterns were single blade recreations of the classic R1123 Remington Bullet and R1173 Baby Bullet which GEC designated the #23 Pioneer and #73 Scout.
My first experience with GEC was in 2008, when I purchased a lovely #73 in green jigged bone used from a member on Baldeforums. I was immediately blown away with the quality and now, nearly a decade later, I can’t even count the number of GECs which have passed through my hands. But even after all these years and numerous different patterns the good old #73 is still my favourite of the bunch...
Recently I had a realisation, namely that, despite collecting and enjoying knives for at least the last 20 odd years, I was ignorant (perhaps blissfully so) of a significant portion of modern knife history. I speak of course (as the more intelligent readers may have already guessed) of the period of transition which resulted in the modern tactical folder which we know and love today.
Now first things first, this term ‘tactical’. It has become part of the vernacular when talking knives, but, where does it come from? What does it mean? Is it just fancy-pants marketing spin or something more?
I decided to ask some of my more intellectually gifted (i.e. Western Australian) knife enthusiast alumni what the term meant to them and if they knew where it came from. Strangely enough, I couldn’t get a straight answer, one said survival knife, another said something black and serrated, yet another said it implied a military weapon and on and on it went…
If you are a film buff it is possible you have heard of the term ‘nanar’. For those uneducated amongst us (including myself until last week), it is a French term which essentially means ‘something is so dang bad that it is actually good’. Typically applied (but not limited) to various dubbed Eastern European and Hong Kong B movies.
It occurred to me that, rightly or wrongly, ‘nanar’ perfectly describes how I feel about Medford knives. When I look at a Medford, nearly everything about their design seems so foreign to everything I thought I knew about what makes a ‘good’ knife, and yet despite their obvious flaws there is something about their child-like frivolity which just draws me in and makes me smile.
In saying all that the subject of this review, the Medford Dress Marauder, may possibly be the most sensible un-nanar knife which Medford has produced to date. When the Dress Marauder was announced at Shot Show 2016 it was touted as the sensible Medford you can take to the office each day. At the time, I was enjoying the charms of the 187RMP and thought to myself 'yeah that’s a great idea, why not have a Medford I can use in the office!’ and I promptly emailed in an order to the factory. However, that is where all the troubles started…
It has been nearly a decade since a CRKT product graced my knife drawer. The fateful knife which ended my relationship with CRKT was a nice little M16 which I purchased for work because I thought the design was cool. Unfortunately, that knife could be best described as a piece of utter trash. The handle flexed when gripped hard, the blade barely held an edge and the lock somehow managed to fail despite the protection of the patented 'autolawks'.
Since then I have avoided CRKT products like the plague. It is a shame really as every year when Shot show rolls around I see them partnering with some top notch designers but no way in hell was I going to waste my dough on another CRKT. That changed this year when I saw Mr Bill Harsey Jr's name on a CRKT product and my fanboyism got the better of me...
First Kizer, now Reate.... I am starting to feel like I have subconsciously enrolled myself on a three (3) step program to get over my ingrained prejudice against Chinese knives. Rewind a couple of years and I would never have considered parting with my hard earned for any knife made in the middle kingdom. However, I must say that recent rise of 'high-end' Chinese knife manufacturing has been remarkable to say the least. These days I am actually interested to see what the likes of Kizer, WE, Stedmon and Reate are coming out with (although I must admit I still have some hesitation when laying down my cash for one... old habits die hard as they say).
Reate has arguably positioned themselves at the top of the proverbial 'high-end' Chinese knife pile. This is in no small part due to their reputation for cutting edge manufacturing processes and meticulous quality which has seen them produce mid-tech lines for industry heavy-weights Todd Begg and Long Mah...
When I heard Pohl Force described as the 'European Strider' closely followed by the phrase 'made by LionSteel' I had a pretty good idea that I would like their stuff.
For my first taste of the Pohl Force brand I was keen to try a 'Mike' folder, which, if you hold to the Strider comparison, is the 'SnG' of the range. Funnily enough, purchasing the knife proved to be a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated primarily due to Pohl Force's limited distribution network (which I understand was recently restructured to limit the number of distributers in mid 2016).
After attempting to order through Pohl Force USA and finding that they will not ship down under, I applied my Google Translate skills in an attempt to navigate the German website (it would be nice if they added an English version). Eventually I ended up placing my order by contacting Dietmar Pohl (the company's owner, designer and German knife legend) directly. All in all, a bit harder than it should have been!
You may be surprised to hear that amongst the smattering of carbon fibre, titanium and M390 which adorns the current Zero Tolerance (ZT) line up, the Les George designed ZT0909 was the knife I was most interested in.
Les George is a knife maker who's work I had admired from afar but not been able to experience (a VECP midtech has been on my wanted list for what feels like years now!). Mr George's form follows function approach to knife design is a great fit for ZT and the similarities of the 909 to his Rockeye and VM-1 folders are immediately apparent.
With the 909 Les has combined his design ethos with the classic ZT formula for a no compromise, over built, hard use folder. Unlike much of the current ZT line up, there is something about the 909's portly weight, oversized hex pivot and thick liner lock which evokes fond memories of those classic over built, working folders like the 200, and 350 that ZT built their reputation on...
Queen Cutlery holds the mantle as my favourite 'currently operating' knife company (if you were interested, Schrade holds my 'all time' favourite crown).
Now you may ask, why are Queen and Schrade my favourite knife companies when there are so many magnificent knife companies out there? Simple, their products make me feel good. I imagine like many, nothing brings back good childhood memories quite like a Schrade Old Timer or an old winterbottom bone Queen like my Grandpa used to carry.
In recent years Queen has had a bit of a wavy ride, with continuing quality control issues and the 2012 sale of the company to Ken Daniels (of GEC fame). Thankfully through all this they still continued to produce the classic patterns that I grew up with including my all time favourite, the #2...
A modern classic of the knife world and one of Spyderco's perennial best sellers, the Delica really needs no introduction. Positioned as Spyderco's entry level working folder, the Delica has been made in a multitude of iterations and configurations over the years.
For a long time the Delica was available with only a sabre ground blade, the thinking being that the sabre grind offered the best compromise between cutting performance and blade durability. However, after the release of the G10 Delica model with a full flat grind (FFG) there was increasing demand from Spydy fans for the FFG blade to find its way to the lightweight versions of the Delica. Spyderco listened, and in 2010 the FFG Delica 4 Lightweight was added to the lineup.
Personally, I have had numerous versions of the Delica come and go from my collection and none ever really grabbed me as anything special. However, around five years ago I went through a process of selling off the majority of my collection (not sure what came over me if I'm honest!). The full flat grind (FFG) Delica wasn't the pick of my collection, not by a long shot... but, for some reason it survived the clear-out....
No discussion about tactical folding knives would be complete without mention of Strider's SMF and its more pocket friendly little brother the SnG. The Strider Military Folder (aka the SMF) is famous for being the first folding knife issued to a unit of the USMC. Among knife nuts, the SMF and SnG are regarded as part of the tactical knife trinity alongside the Sebenza and the Hinderer XM-18.
The first time I saw a Strider folder I wanted one. There was just something about the design which spoke to me on a different, more primal level than other knives. Unfortunately for me, the steep price tag ($400 USD +) was to keep one out of my reach for many years. I tried to fill the void with the Buck version of the SnG, unfortunately, despite being a great folder, it just made me pine for the genuine article all the more...