Kizer Ursa Minor (ki3472) Review
By Matt, 30/10/2016
Since I joined Bladeforums in 2009 I have lusted after one of Ray Laconico’s knives. I love the flowing lines and simplistic elegance of his work. In late 2015 Kizer announced the Gemini, a production model of Ray's Jasmine model. Unfortunately for me (and all Aussie knife guys) the Australian knife importation restrictions at the time meant it was unlikely we would ever get to try one.
Fast forward to this year, surprisingly the import restrictions were lifted and I was all set to order myself a Gemini. During some internet research, I stumbled across the announcement of another Ray/Kizer collaboration, the Ursa Minor, which combined the harpoon clip blade of Ray's Bear model with the handle of the Gemini. I knew this was one for me, and I just couldn’t wait to get it in my hands.
The Ursa Minor is actually a Carmel Cutlery exclusive (at least until the end of 2016), however, I was able to order one through True Talon Knives (our local Aussie Kizer dealer) who managed to source one for me. The knife cost $270 AUD express posted.
- Overall Length: 18.4 cm (7 ¼”)
- Blade Length: 8 cm (3.125”)
- Closed Length: 104 mm (4.125”)
- Blade Thickness: 4mm
- Blade: CPM S35VN
- Hardness: RC 58-60
- Handle: 6AL4V Titanium
- Lock: Frame lock with steel insert;
- Pivot Hardware: Ceramic bearings
- Weight: 115 g (4 oz)
- Country of origin: China
After extracting the knife from the camo zipper pouch it is immediately apparent that Kizer have really stepped it up on this one. Holding it in my hand for the first time and running it through my fingers, the Ursa Minor feels like an eroded river stone. There is not a sharp edge anywhere on this knife (except for the one place there should be!).
The smoothness also carries over to opening the knife for the first time. Kizer really dialed this one in perfectly and it fires out like a rocket.
Well I must say that the aggressive lines of harpoon blade, along with the high hollow grind combine to make the Ursa Minor a much more purposeful looking knife than the Gemini it is based on.
The blade is made from 4mm thick S35VN and is finished with a fine stonewash. The hollow grind is nice and thin behind the edge and the clipped section of the blade is topped with an evenly ground swedge. Despite the relatively thick stock, the height of the hollow grind allows the Ursa Minor to be a great slicer and in use the blade didn't bind up when cutting sheets of material.
There is no jimping at all on the blade, but the hump on the spine creates a spot for the thumb to rest when choking up on the knife. The hump does get in the way if you want to grip the knife with your finger running along the spine, a grip I often find myself using for detailed or light cutting.
Out of the box the edge was shaving sharp, albeit a little course. Kizer have got the s35vn bang on, it is a pleasure to sharpen, taking a fine edge without too much effort. In use the edge holds up well, easily keeping a working edge for the week and there was no evidence of the micro chipping which effected the Kizer Escort.
One flaw I did notice was the misalignment of the Ray Laconico etch along the spine.
The Ursa Minor’s simple and smoothly contoured handle is the highlight of the knife for me. It is superb in hand with nary a hot spot in sight. However, I do wish that is was a tiny bit longer as my pinky feels a bit lost at times. Even though there is no jimping, the flipper tab prevents your hand from sliding forward during hard cuts. However, I would like the back of the flipper tab to be shaped to follow the lines of the handle contour when open. This would give a couple more mm of handle space.
The sandblasted finish looks attractive and has proved to hide the snail trails pretty well. As per most titanium knives, the handle is a bit on the slick side especially when wet. When dry, the sandblasted finish does give the handle a slight sticky grippiness.
The blue hardware against the matte titanium makes the knife pop. That being said the anodising on the pivot started coming off pretty quickly after some carry and use. Speaking of the pivot, I really don’t like the decorated ‘signature’ Kizer pivot. I think that it looks cheap and doesn’t fit in with the elegance of the design.
The titanium milled clip simply put is awesome. I wish that Kizer used this clip on the Escort. They have got the tension spot on in that goldilocks zone, it perfectly slides into and out of the pocket without being too loose or tight.
The clip is straight and flat on top, as a result, when in hand the clip doesn’t negatively impact on the ergonomics of the knife. Kizer could possibly have contoured the edges more to match the handle, but, I don’t think that would alter the feel significantly.
In the pocket the Ursa Minor carries well due to its slim profile and relatively light weight. There is just enough of the knife protruding from the pocket to make it easy enough to draw. Although, once in a while the milled lock bar relief would catch on the pocket when drawing the knife. This was an infrequent occurrence, but, I wouldn't mind if Kizer started milling the lock bar relief on the inside (ala CRK) to avoid this issue all together.
The only real negative I can see with the clip is if you are left handed. No love for lefties from Kizer here as the clip is tapped for right hand carry only.
Like the rest of the Kizer bladesmith series the Ursa Minor utilises a titanium frame lock to keep the blade in the open position. From my limited experience with the brand, Kizer really seems tobe getting their lock geometry right. Lock up is tight at around 25% and the steel lock insert gives me confidence that this will continue for a good while. Also, I really like how Kizer incorporate an over travel stop into their steel lock bar inserts, a really neat solution.
Most Kizers lack a cut out on the presentation side to allow easy access to the lock bar and the Ursa Minor is no different. Instead, Kizer milled out the inside edge of the lock bar and mark side handle slab in order to allow enough space for the thumb to slide in and disengage the lock. This approach works well while lock up is early, however, I do worry that this might change as the lock wears and the gap for the thumb gets tighter.
I must say that these Kizer ceramic bearings are smooth like silk. This combined with a perfectly dialled in detent make deploying the Ursa Minor damn quick and damn addictive. The flipper tab is easy to engage and the lack of jimping avoids any nasty chaffing of the finger.
When carrying the knife the bearings did seem prone to getting a bit gritty every now and then. However, this was resolved quickly with a rinse out with some soapy dishwater.
After a couple of weeks of carry (and fondling) the pivot did start to work its way loose. I thought I'd take it apart and have a look before tightening everything back up. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the Ursa came apart and went back together. However, I did note that the pivot was of the same design as the Escort, which makes me worry that the Ursa Minor might have the same issues in the future (refer to the Kizer Escort review for details) .
As per my review of the Kizer Escort, I have been pleasantly surprised with the quality that Kizer is churning out. With the Ursa Minor they have really stepped it up and the quality is most certainly on par with ZT in my opinion. A great little knife.
However, at $270 AUD you are most certainly paying for the quality you are getting. I do think that Kizer will need to be careful with their pricing moving forward to ensure they keep the value equation enticing.
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