POHL FORCE MIKE ONE Desert Tactical REVIEW
By Matt, 8/1/2017
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!
My version of the Mike One is the limited Desert Tactical version, which, including express post from Germany to Australia cost me 267 Euros (not having to pay VAT was a big plus).
As an aside, I must admit that I do find the Pohl Force method of naming/numbering their range somewhat confusing. For instance, I am still not entirely certain if the Mike One has in fact been discontinued and replaced with the Mike Three, which for all intensive purposes appears to be an improved version of the Mike One. Not a big deal but I do wonder if I am the only one with this issue.
- Overall Length: 220mm (8.6")
- Blade Length: 95mm (3.75")
- Closed Length: 25mm (4.9")
- Blade Thickness: 5mm
- Blade Steel: Niolox, black stonewash
- Handle: G10 & 6AL4V Titanium
- Lock: Titanium frame lock
- Pivot hardware: Teflon washers
- Weight: 153g (5 3/8oz)
- Country of origin: Italy
Thank goodness Pohl 'European Strider' Force didn't get the memo about Strider packaging! The knife arrives in a rather plain white cardboard box, however, inside is zippered pouch which is literally stuffed with patches, stickers, brochures, a zertifikate and a very cool skull bead lanyard. I wish more companies would do the same as it makes unboxing the knife feel just that little bit special.
First impressions of the Mike One are very good. Like the SnG, because of that two piece handle it is a lot lighter in hand than your brain thinks it should be. Fit and finish is impeccable as you expect coming from LionSteel. However, trouble arises when trying to open the knife for the first time due to the hard to overcome detent. This is further exacerbated as seemingly every way I grip the knife when opening seems to put pressure on the lock bar or clip (which subsequently pushes on the lock bar) pushing that detent ball harder into the blade.
Given the combination of seriously thick 5mm stock and a slender blade profile I honestly expected the Mike One's cutting performance to be reminiscent of axe. However, I am pleased to say that this isn't the case at all, with the slender drop point proving ideal for everyday use.
The high flat grind gets quite thin behind the edge making the Mike One's blade a reasonable cutter despite its girth. In use, while not gliding through sheets of cardboard or rubber like a FFG Delica the Mike One performed well and the blade didn't bind. The tip is very stout with a heap of material behind it and held up well to some light prying.
My version is finished with a black stonewash which looks great and has hidden wear well (but not quite as well as a traditional stonewash). The primary grind and swedge are perfect, however, the edge grind heavily favoured the pile side which was a bit disappointing (and not to mention somewhat annoying to even out).
This was my first experience with Niolox steel, a stainless relative of D2 manufactured by Lohmann in Germany. Funnily enough, even before doing some research on the steel, my first thought after the initial sharpening was 'this reminds me of D2', so I was quite chuffed with myself when I read that they were similar (although I make a point not to mention all the times I have been wrong!!). In use it has held a great edge with no evidence of chipping and only minor rolling even after striking the edge on some bricks when cutting pallet straps. On the stones it was a pleasure to sharpen with the burr being easy to work. I found the best cutting performance came when sharpened with a slightly toothy edge.
All in all the Mike One's blade strikes a good balance of usability and strength with a lean towards the latter. In order to boost cutting performance I would personally like to see the 5mm stock reduced to something closer to 3mm (like that found on the majority of Emersons).
Edit: I note that the blade stock on the Mike Three has been reduced to 4.2mm. I'd be keen to get one in hand to see how the cutting performance compares.
While it looks a bit unusual, the Mike One's handle is actually a refined piece of ergonomic design. All those angles, curves, edges and bumps somehow conform to the contours of the hand resulting in a handle which feels natural and secure in a multitude of grips. The Anso style contoured scalloping is a bit 2010 but it does provide good grip (just not as much as a typical g10 texture). The balance point is spot on just behind the pivot making the knife feel nimble and balanced.
In a sabre grip the Mike One feels super secure, almost like it is wrapped around your hand. I especially like the depression along the spine which locks the thumb in with a short, yet effective run of jimping. The butt of the handle angles downwards with the chunky jimping digging into the palm during hard cuts. Much like a kitchen knife the curvature of the handle presents the blade to the cutting surface, minimising the wrist movement required to make the cut.
In a reverse grip the Mike One works well with the fat of the palm sitting in the spine depression and the the jimped butt providing good grip for the thumb.
Choking up affords great control thanks to the placement of the forward finger choil and the rear spine depression. However, I did nick myself once or twice on the heel of the blade, but I'm sure most folks are more careful than I am. I really like how the forward spine depression locks the forefinger in place when additional presure is required on the spine of the knife.
The Mike One's two piece construction is the bee's knees, with the combo of titanium lock side and monolithic G10 handle slab and backspacer providing both lightness and strength. I really wish that more manufacturers would build knives this way.
Overbuilt pivot screws hold everything together at both ends along with a couple of smaller T6 screws for good measure. The pivot screw is slotted on both sides for a flat head screwdriver making it very easy to adjust. Unusually, there are actually two loose fit stop pins (in lieu of the typical one), one for the closed position and one for open. I assume that this was necessitated by the design.
Fit and finish is pretty much impeccable (as I've come to expect from LionSteel), in fact, everything is fit so tightly that I don't think it would be possible to easily field strip the Mike One. I actually had to use a punch to get out the female side of the butt screw and the T6 sleeves. The only missteps I found was some rough cutting around the lock bar, and discolouration of the clip screw, which I hypothesise was been caused by a reaction with the rusting wire clip underneath (I'm sure some smart science type will be able to explain how this reaction works).
The wire clip was actually a big reason I chose the Mike One over the Mike Three (which uses a solid clip). I know some guys don't like them, but, personally I think wire clips are an elegant and functional solution.
The Mike One's clip slides into and out of the pocket easily on most types of pants. In pocket the knife carries well with a couple of centimetres of handle exposed allowing the knife to be drawn easily. In pocket retention isn't great and the knife fell out of my pocket on a couple of occasions while working on my back. On closer inspection, it appears that this is due to contouring of the handle resulting in the clip only contacting the handle on one side.
The shape of the clip with its flat tapered end looks like it should be great in hand. Unfortunately, this is not the case and it does create a bit of a hot spot at the joint of my middle finger when gripping the knife hard. Personally I think this could be solved easily if the slip was angled a little more towards the centre of the handle rather than running along the bottom edge of the knife.
The Mike One can be configured for both left and right hand tip up carry. However, as the tip of the clip is not symmetrical,, instead bending inwards to follow the handle contour, I do question how the clip would go when set up for a lefty. If it was reversed the end clip would nearly stick out over the edge of the handle potentially being a bit uncomfortable in hand.
In all honesty a titanium frame lock would not be my first choice for a hard use knife. In my experience if they are not well executed they are prone to failure and the soft titanium can deform a little to easily. Thankfully, LionSteel have done a great job with the frame lock for the Mike One.
In my three months of carry and use there has been no movement, minimal stick and lock up has been rock solid at all times with no play in any direction. The lock bar does look a little weird and somewhat delicate as it dog legs around the pivot, however, functionally this does not seem to be an issue.
The lock face is carburised to combat wear, something that I wish other makers would do more frequently. That being said, I am worried about lock wear in the future, especially since the geometry of the blade tang is scalloped like the old Striders (refer to my Strider SnG review for details). Strider moved away from this style of lock-up due to the frequent development of lock rock.
Disengagement is smooth with easy access via a generous cut out in the G10 handle slab. Like most LionSteel made framelocks, the Mike One features the Rotolock. For those that don't know the Rotolock is a lock over travel stop which and can be rotated to wedge the lock in an open position. If you listen to the marketing, engaging the Rotolock effectively turns the Mike One into a 'fixed blade'. Personally I hate the damn thing and would never use it to turn the Mike One into a 'fixed blade' unless I wanted to permanently deform the soft titanium lock bar (see here at 25 min in). In use the Rotolock would frequently loosen up and lock the knife open when I didn't want it to. Fortunately it can be tightened so it doesn't engage.
Now we come to the biggest issue I've had with this knife, that being, for the first month or so I had no confidence I would be able to get the knife open first time. There were several reasons for this;
Firstly, It needed to break in. Like the construction, everything was super tight out of the box. This included the detent which over time slowly wore a track out of the detent hole making things a lot easier.
Secondly, the thumb disc was not tapped centrally and favoured the pile side by a couple of mm. This meant that there was not much meat for my right handed thumb to grab onto when trying to deploy the knife. Fortunately, I was able to undo the little T6 screw and flip the thumb disc around 180 degrees so the additional material was on the mark side. This change along made a world of difference when opening the knife as I was able to get a much better purchase on the disc.
Finally, I needed to learn the best position for my hand when trying to deploy the blade. I'm a bit of a slow learner so I think this probably took me longer than most. The trouble was that when drawing the knife from the pocket my hand naturally fell at the base of the blade. When trying to deploy the knife in this position my fingers pressed down on the lock bar for leverage, making the blade nigh on impossible to open. Things got a lot easier once I worked out that my hand needed to sit higher up on the blade with the fat of my fore finger in the spine depression.
Fast forward to today and the broken in Mike One is a pleasure to open. Deployment is glass smooth riding on those teflon washers (although I would prefer phosphor bronze) the Mike One opens with a nice loud 'clack', more than passingly reminiscent of a Strider.
This review has been a long time coming. If I had written it a couple of weeks into ownership it would have been quite different due to the deployment issues I experienced. However, the longer I carried the Mike One the more it grew on me, to the point where it has now joined my select group of a dozen or so 'keepers'.
While the Mike One isn't perfect, the design is very refined and it is exceptionally well built. If you are in the market for a tactical folder I highly recommend checking out the Pohl Force Mike One (or others in the Mike series). I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on a few more Pohl Force knives in the future (I especially like the looks of the bocote Mike Four).
UPDATE - 11/3/2017
Well as I suspected might happen, after a couple more months of occasional use the Mike One developed some slight lock rock. I suspected that it would be solved by adding some more tension to the lock bar.
On attempting to take the knife apart I realised that one of the steel sleeves for the small handle screws was stripped and the screw spun freely (probably my fault but if anyone asks I'll blame the construction!). In my frustration I sent Dietmar Pohl an email and promptly received the response below:
simply send the knife back to us. Please clearly mark, that the knife will be returned for repair to the manufacturer!
Mit freundlichen Grüßen/ Best Regards,
Props to Dietmar, after my recent experience with Medford Knives (to be outlined in an upcoming review) it is refreshing that there are still companies out there that value customer service and will stand behind their product.
Fortunately, I was eventually able to get the knife apart and tweak the lock bar tension to solve the lock rock but I may test out the Pohl Force repair department if it develops again (and hopefully they can fix the stripped steel sleeve!).
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