Zero Tolerance zt0909 Review
By Matt, 10/12/2016
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.
I purchased this knife for $260 AUD from Australian Blade Forum's resident ZT dealer Shane (KnifeMad) who was a pleasure to deal with as always.
- Overall Length: 21.7cm (8.5")
- Blade Length: 9.6cm (3.8")
- Closed Length: 12.1cm (4.75")
- Blade Thickness: 4mm
- Blade Steel: S35VN
- Handle: G10 over 2mm thick steel liners
- Lock: Steel liner lock
- Pivot hardware: KVT steel bearings
- Weight: 196g (6 7/8 oz)
- Country of origin: USA
After being spoilt on a rich diet of titanium frame locks, the weight of the steel lined 909 is a bit of a shock to the system. I didn't know that they still made folders this heavy! That being said once I digested the weight, I must admit all that heft sure makes the 909 feel bullet proof. I know it is an illusion, but even after all these years my brain still seems to associate weight with quality.
The first opening confirms the fact of which most are already aware... ZT knows flippers. Smooth as silk, this thing fires out like a gun shot.
For a utility knife one would be hard pressed to find a better blade profile than Les George's signature drop point found on the 909 (it is funny how something as simple as a thumb ramp can identify a maker's work). The slight downward angle of the blade minimises the wrist movement required to present the sweeping belly to the cut and makes the 909 feel like a natural extension of your hand.
ZT have applied a 3/4 flat grind which gets nice and thin at the edge while retaining plenty of meat behind the tip. This results in a blade that manages to be both plenty tough and an excellent slicer (especially considering the 4mm stock). In all honesty the performance of the 909's really surprised me with the ease that it glided through sheets of cardboard without a hint of binding.
Finish is impeccable, with perfect grinds and a fine stonewash which looks great and has proved to hide wear well. The logos etched into the blade are really cool, appearing like tiny holograms with a bronze/green effect dependent on the lighting (I've seen this effect on Hinderer knives as well and wonder how they achieve it).
A special mention needs to go to just how much blade Les & ZT managed to shove into the handle. The 909's blade to handle ratio of 0.79 is better than most.
S35VN is probably the best all round steel on the market today and ZT have got it spot on. In use it held a great edge, handling tasks like cutting brick pallet packing straps (which would typically dull edges on my other S35VN knives) without any evidence of rolling or chipping. On the stones the 909 sharpened easily and took a nice fine edge.
There are a couple of minor hits that need mentioning. Firstly, the detent ball hole is exposed on the pile side when the blade is open. It would have been nice if they could move this back just a mm to hide it. Secondly, the jimping on the thumb ramp is not that aggressive. My thumb tended to just slide over the top of the jimping rather than 'biting' in.
The 909's handle follows that age old equation, simple = good. The handle's most notable feature is its weight due to the 2mm thick solid steel liners without any skeletonising. This lack of skeltonising is a plus when it comes to cleaning out the knife and personally I kind of like the heft they imbue. Interestingly, during my 'research' for this review I noticed that on the ZT website the 909's weight is listed as 7.5 oz. Perhaps my scales are broken, but my 909 came in at only 6 7/8 oz. Honestly I am not sure how there could be such a big discrepancy, my knife does feature the updated g10 milling so maybe that has something to do with it?
Construction wise, everything is held together with the beefy old school ZT hex pivot (which I love) and two oversized standoffs threaded with chunky torx screws. All edges are nicely rounded and the g10 is contoured steeply in the centre swell of the handle. The g10 is finely textured which provides adequate grip without being pocket shredding.
In just about any grip the 909's handle melts in the hand and actually manages to feel quite nimble thanks to the handle heavy weight distribution. Bare handed the handle was pretty much perfect, however, when wearing gloves I did find the handle to be around 1/2" on the short side. There is no jimping on the handle itself, but the flipper tab forms a guard preventing any chance of sliding forward.
After dissembling the knife for the review I did find patches of rust on the liners (see disassembly pics). While the knife hasn't been around salt water it has got wet on a number of occasions and I assume some water must have got between the liners and the g10. The rust wiped off easily with only some minor pitting left behind. Not a major issue but something to be aware of.
While looking a bit weedy when compared to the size of the knife (personally I think that the Emerson style clip from the 620/630 would fit the proportions of the knife better), functionally I have no complaints about the 909's clip. Tapped for tip up carry on both sides, in hand the clip is unobtrusive even when gripping the knife hard.
Clip tension is spot on allowing the knife to slide in and out of the pocket easily. Once in pocket the clip holds the knife securely. You certainly know the 909 is in your pocket, courtesy of the wide handle and chubby weight. Clip positioning is good allowing for enough handle to protrude from the pocket to give something to grab when drawing the knife.
The 909's black clip coating has held up really well, I'd be hard pressed to see a difference now to when it was new. I wish some other manufacturers would adopt this style of coating for their clips.
I really like a good liner lock and on the 909, the 2mm thick steel liner lock is nearly as beefy as some frame locks. Being steel it should also be a lot tougher and more wear resistant than titanium.
Initially there was a brief break in period where the liner had some stickiness and squeaking when disengaging. After breaking in the lock settled in nicely at 35 - 40% and locked up like a bank vault. The lock is easy to disengage even with gloves due to the cut out on the mark side handle slab.
While writing this review I did notice that I can get a tiny bit of movement (less than 1/2 mm) in the liner position by grabbing the blade and moving it up and down. Personally I think that this would be fixed by bending the liner for slightly more tension.
The action of the 909 is fast and as smooth as glass every single time thanks to the combination of KVT bearings, liner lock and a heavy blade. In terms of consistency of operation the 909's liner lock provides a real benefit over a frame lock as there is no chance of interfering with the deployment by pressing on the frame. In fact, using the light-switch method the 909 flips so aggressively and with such an authoritative audible 'clack' that sometimes It wish it had a thumb stud so I could open it more sedately.(especially if there are non-knifies around).
One down side of the bearing pivot is that it does seem to have a tendency to get dirt and gunk in it making the action gritty. Fortunately, this is an easy fix with a quick rinse under running water solving the issue 9 times out of 10. However, given the hard work focus of the rest of the 909's design I do wonder if washers would have been a more robust solution.
The blade is milled so that it wraps around the blade stop to evenly distribute the opening forces which should be better for long term durability. The flipper tab is very easy to operate even with gloves with the jimping providing good traction.
When disassembling the knife I did notice that the 'bolt' side of the hex pivot can move slightly (around 1/2 mm turn) in it's milled g10 housing. In practise this hasn't been an issue with the pivot staying nice and tight.
I don't think I have had a ZT yet that wasn't top notch, and the 909 continues this tradition. I appreciated how the 909 doesn't follow the current trend towards titanium frame locks and instead looks to ZT's past to produce an overbuilt knife completely focused on working hard.
If you are currently in the market for a folder that you want to abuse and you can deal with a bit of weight then the 909 should be near the top of your list. I am really looking forward to seeing what Les and ZT put out next (hopefully a VECP!).
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