Medford Dress Marauder REVIEW
By Matt, 17/5/2017
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. 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…
Now, the ordering process was simple enough and I was quoted a 30-week delivery time. Unfortunately, it was over a year before I actually got the knife in my hot little hand, which was a bit disappointing to say the least. This was exacerbated by Medford’s strict pre-payment and no-refunds policy which I could live with if an honest time-frame was provided up front, however, once it was evident Medford could not hold up their end of the bargain, an opportunity to cancel my order and a full refund would have been nice.
To compound matters, a couple of months after I placed my order Medford decided to drop the price from $650 to $500 USD. A smart move given $650 USD is the same price as a larger sized Marauder. But, given that my knife was to be made in the first run and be exactly the same as those $500 USD Dress Marauders it would have been a nice gesture Medford had offered to pass along the price cut to their pre-paid early adopting supporters. However, given I did sign up on the dotted line at $650 I will cop that one on the chin.
Anyway, on with what I hope will be a most interesting review!
(Note, as at the time of writing the $500 Dress Marauder now has a carbon fibre presentation side in lieu of titanium, this was not the case when the price drop first occurred and the full ti version can still be found at dealers for $500 USD)
Overall Length: 14.4cm (5.66”)
Blade Length: 6.5cm (2.55“)
Closed Length: 7.9cm (3.11”)
Blade Thickness: 3mm
Blade Steel: D2 Vulcan finish
Handle: Anodized Titanium
Lock: Frame Lock
Pivot hardware: Stacked phosphor bronze washers
Weight: 64g (2 1/8oz)
Country of origin: USA
While I’m normally not one for caring too much about packaging, I must admit that the Medford Pelican case is a nice touch. I like how they have left the case with the standard foam insert (as opposed to one tailored for the knife) so it can be put to use for carrying other things (in water proof safety no less) long after the knife has been removed. In addition, you also get a business card with Greg’s contact details (including his direct mobile number) and the ‘ACHTUNG!!!!’ letter which lists all the things you can’t do with your new knife lest you void your factory warranty. This includes no disassembly, no lubrication, no throwing, no lock testing (aka spine wack’n) and no pimping/ modifications. Some of which are fair enough and others which are kind of annoying – I’ll let you make up your own mind as to which is which.
Upon extracting the knife, it is love at first sight with the Dress Marauder appearing to be combination of elegance and brute I had hoped for. Fit and finish appears spot on, the contouring and anodising job is first rate and the blade action is silky smooth. All in all, looks like it will be a perfect little knife for office duties and I’m smitten. She was worth the wait. Or so I thought…
One thing I will say is that in my experience Medford is meticulous when it comes to grinding his blades and the Dress Marauder is no exception. The hollow grind is perfectly even with rough vertical striations accentuated by the vulcan finish (i.e. heat treat scale left on) adding some visual flair to things. The fuller/thumb groove is machined very neatly, with no sharp edges and is symmetrical on both sides. The press fit Strider style bladestop was initially favouring the lock side by a mm or two, however, this was fixed on the Dress Marauder’s trip back to the factory and is now perfectly aligned (more on this later).
The blade to handle ratio is an impressive 0.82 which is well above average (average is around 0.75). This largely due to the extremely forward placement of the pivot. The flip side of this is that the detent ball and track is exposed when the blade is open as there is not enough handle slab forward of the pivot to hide it. Additionally, it means that the width of the washers is quite narrow in order to avoid them sticking out past the end of the handle. As a result, the contact patch between the washers and blade is quite small which could limit their effectiveness.
Medford’s D2 has impressed me in the past and the Dress Marauder was no different. It came wicked sharp out of the box with a beautiful polished edge and perfectly even bevels. In terms of cutting performance the little guy didn’t disappoint performing officey type chores (clam shell packets, plastic packing straps around photocopier paper, breaking down thin cardboard boxes etc.) easily enough. I also flexed its muscles into cutting some heavier cardboard, rubber sheeting and some pruning in the garden. The short blade length doesn’t make it ideal for cutting sheets of heavy card or rubber as I quickly ran out of blade, but, it managed handle things without much issue or binding. Albeit mostly handling lighter tasks the D2 held its edge well only requiring light touch ups with a fine stone to return it to a razor edge.
A couple of points to note; firstly, the kick of the blade (which forms the rear of the finger choil) can nick you if you aren’t paying attention and slide forward onto it (which I did once or twice); and secondly, with my 187RMP the vulcan finish developed small rust spots after a while. This hasn’t been an issue yet with the Dress Marauder but I suspect it will happen eventually (my bet is it will happen in the vertical striations of the grind).
When I got an email from Medford saying they had ignored my request for a tumbled finished handle and instead decided I would like one with some nice yellow-purple anodising, I was ropable. Fortunately for all involved the follow up email with images quickly placated my rage and I’ll admit that Medford may have been right. The anodising on this little guy looks freaking awesome!
In use the finish wore quickly, picking up scuffs, nicks and snail trails from the slightest of touches. Weirdly, after holding the knife for any length of time a smattering of blotchy spots appear in the anodising. I have no idea what causes these (I’m guessing oil from my hands) but they just as quickly disappear with a wipe of a damp cloth.
Construction wise, things are pretty simple. Two slabs of titanium held together with an oversized pivot and a couple of threaded standoffs at the base of the handle. Unlike the 187 RMP, which was held together with screws threaded directly into the titanium handle slabs, the Dress Marauder’s solution of screwing from each side into the standoff seems like it will be more robust. Not that you would ever need to worry about stripping a screw, given you aren’t allowed to disassemble it…
In hand, the simple handle works well and the optional contouring ($50 extra from the factory) has eliminated every semblance of a sharp edge from the titanium. For its size, it is a pleasant knife to hold in most grips. The finger choil formed when the blade is extended allows you to get a three and a half-finger sabre grip. Most often I found myself using a pinch grip with the knife on its side and my thumb and forefinger locating in the thumb groove. When used this way the butt sits comfortably in the palm and allows you to use the blade with great dexterity.
Personally, I’d never use this knife in a reverse grip if I could help it. There is space enough to hold it this way, however, I would almost guarantee your pinky would end up a bloody mess after it slides down onto the sharpened kick of the blade.
The Dress Marauder has the oddest pocket clip I can recall, being more of a hook than anything else. Now I’ll give props to Mr Medford for trying something new, but, this thing shouldn’t have made it past prototype stage. Frankly it is useless for retaining the knife in the pocket.
The ‘clip’ literally has no tension or spring and so relies on the pocket having the correct thickness of fabric in order to retain itself. Jeans seem to be the sweet spot in terms of fabric thickness, but unfortunately, none of my office slacks meet the pocket fabric thickness requirement. At best the knife just slid around all over the place and at worst it just fell out. As a result, I rarely carried the Dress Marauder clipped, instead letting it travel along in the watch pocket of my pants, in which it fits perfectly and unobtrusively.
In hand it causes no issues, but I do think that the knife would be much better without the ‘clip’. Admittedly, I knew at first sight I would hate this little hook clip thing, so much so that I requested the knife be made without the clip. However, after being informed that my knife sans clip would still have the two mounting holes in the handle I rolled over and told them to just install the clip. I wonder if removing it would void my warranty…?
My previous Medfords have all had crazy early lockup out of the box which has broken in over-time for a nice solid lock-up. The little guy came out of the box with the signature early lock up but unlike my other Medfords there really hasn’t been much further break-in with the lock-up remaining at around 10-20%. According to the ACHUNG!!!!!! letter, the lock-face isn’t carburised and has instead been designed to work harden over the next five years of use. Glad they are thinking so far ahead…
That being said, for the purposes I’ve put the lil Maraudy through the lock-up hasn’t missed a beat, staying reliable and solid. Disengagement isn’t an issue thanks to a neatly milled groove in the lock bar.
Out of the box the Dress Marauder deployed nice and smooth with the blade opening easily via the thumb groove. After a bit of trial and error I found the easiest way to deploy the knife was to pinch it past the detent with my thumb and forefinger, then thumb it the rest of the way open.
Interestingly, the blade rides on a series of small stacked phosphor bronze washers (three per side) which is something I hadn’t come across before. I do wonder if it allows the factory some scope to adjust tolerances by adding or subtracting washers or perhaps Medford just believes stacked washers to be superior in some way.
One thing I did notice right away was that there was some light but noticeable resistance when the blade was around 40 - 50% deployed. After a bit of puzzlement I found that the cause of this resistance was in fact due to a design flaw (in my opinion) as the detent ball slides off the edge of the blade at this point only to hop back on when the blade is around 60% open.
So, all was well for a few days and I was enjoying the knife. Then one fateful morning I noticed that the blade did not look straight, leaning noticeably to the lock side. At this point I also noticed that the stacked washers had come out alignment, appearing to have slid past one another. I’m really not sure how this could have happened if the washers were the correct size for the pivot so I can only assume that they were not.
Being suitably annoyed that my $650 USD (or $500 USD according to the Medford site by then) knife had these issues I emailed Medford customer service with some photos of the situation. Knowing Greg Medford’s reputation for losing it at unhappy customers I was sure to be polite and tread lightly. This was the first email response I received:
Response 1: What you are seeing is a slight asymmetry in the blade grind…it is not bent. As you know, we hand grind the bevels on our blades, and due to the size of this particular model, it is exceedingly difficult to achieve perfect symmetry on the smaller blades. This does not affect the functionality or the blade centering of the knife at all.
I followed up with the picture above where I traced red lines from the handle slabs forward showing the lean in the blade. This time I continued to persist after each response maintaining there was an issue, extracts of the subsequent responses as follows:
Response 2: I showed the picture to Greg and we had a lengthy discussion about the blade and your knife. Basically, what he explained to me is that due to our process of hardening the steel and rough grinding it afterwards, checking the parallel line up and centering the blade upon…all of this passing final inspection leads him to believe that the blade is straight. There could be the possibility that the pivot hole is off, but if that were the case, the blade would not swing and functioned properly. He looked at the picture and he said he doesn’t see a bent or warped blade. He said the light could be playing tricks on your eyes, maybe?
Response 3: Greg and I looked at the picture on the lined paper, and his answer is that the knife is perfect. There are optical illusions with lined paper, and it is exceedingly difficult to lay the knife down perfectly on the lines so that you can judge the evenness of the blade and handles. We use micrometers and calipers to measure everything within two thousandths of an inch, and make sure that everything is perfect. It sounds like the knife is functioning perfectly, the detent ball is doing what it is supposed to do, but if you would feel more comfortable shipping the knife to us so we can take a look, you are more than welcome to do so. But at this point, Greg is confident that you have a perfectly functioning knife, and he would hate to mess with it.
Response 4 (at this point I asked them if they were looking at the same image I was): Yes…we both did. And we both agreed that the alignment of the top handle looks like it is slightly off…just a kitten hair. Again, it’s really difficult to get the knife lined up on the lines perfectly. As I mentioned before, the measurements on our end are undeniable. If it’s driving you crazy and you want to send it in, then we can take a look, but that is completely up to you.
Response 5 : Maybe you need more sleep 😊….
So, we went from an asymmetrical grind, to light playing tricks on my eyes, an optical illusion, then an admission the knife was off before finally concluding that I needed more sleep…
Throughout the whole exchange, I was disappointed in their treatment of me as a customer and what I felt was a resistance to acknowledging there was an issue. I got the impression that if I sent the knife back nothing would really be achieved. Frankly I also found some of the suggestions insulting. While inside I was fuming, wanting to scream ‘DON’T YOU KNOW I’M A FAMOUS (bit of a stretch I know) KNIFE REVIEWER’, in my emails I remained polite and accepting of the Medford’s wisdom.
So, I continued to carry and use the knife, even though I had now grown to hate it as a result of the email exchanges. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the issue continued to progress until the blade was rubbing against the liner. After another email with the below picture, Medford finally sent me the warranty return form and the next day the lil Maraudy was jet setting across the pond back to the good old US of A.
Now I will give props where due, Medford fixed the knife the day it arrived and had it posted back to me the next (albeit slugging me another $90 USD shipping which was mildly annoying). It arrived back with the issue rectified, washers replaced and the blade now perfectly centred and straight. However, disappointedly the pivot hardware came back marred from its factory visit.
I’m pleased to report that the knife has operated without issue since its return.
Well just a few lessons learnt out of this one, some of which I already knew but just ignored.
Firstly, I won’t be placing any custom orders where pre-payment is required (this is one I already knew but stupidly broke my own rule). I don’t want to be left high and dry with a maker stringing me along who doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
Secondly, I’ll be buying any future Medfords from a reputable dealer so I can return any lemons and not deal with trying to sweet talk Medford into accepting a defective product back for repair.
Finally, when you are shopping for a knife in this price bracket, customer service and warranty should make up part of your consideration. In my experience companies like Strider, CRK and Emerson go above and beyond for the customer and have a no questions asked warranty service. When a company adopts a model of accepting a knife for repair based solely on the owner’s mood there is a problem.
In terms of the knife. Despite a few design flaws, I have been really enjoying it since it got fixed and I hope to see Medford continue to continue to experiment in the sensible knife space.
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