Sunday, October 7, 2012

Zero Tolerance 0550 - 2nd Gen. (Hinderer Colaboration) Review

The Zero Tolerance 0550 Hinderer Design Knife
NOTE: Click on any of the photos for an enlarged view

My favorite knife in my collection is my Hinderer XM-18 3.5" knife. Several knives have come out over the years with similar attributes, using the Hinderer lockbar stabilizer, Ti side/G-10 side, heavy use blades, etc. but few have been patterned exclusively to somewhat mirror the XM-18 enough to be called a collaboration. Thus far only Gerber and now ZT carry those badges. I picked up the Gerber version a while back and promptly got rid of it. Unfortunately for Gerber  when you own the real XM-18, expectations are high and the Gerber fell very short. Well the same expectations unfortunately applied to the Zero Tolerance version. How did it stack up? Read on...


The lock side of the ZT 0550 is made of 6AL4V titanium while the non-lock side is made from Textured G-10 with a thin stainless liner underneath (I'm guessing 420) . The blade is made of Crucible's "super steels" in S35VN; more on the blade later. The materials speak to the fact that this is a high quality, hard use knife, much like my XM-18. Very nice material specs on paper and one of the reasons I picked this knife up.


Out of the box, the ZT 0550 was BUTTERY SMOOTH opening and closing. There were no issues with the pivot screw turning while opening like I've had with a few of my other Ti frame locks. The screws were all nice and tight and nicely recessed. The Standoff's were some of the most substantial I've seen on a production knife. The clip was tight and there were no burs on any of the milled areas. The edges on the G-10 and Ti lock side are nicely beveled for comfort and all the jimping lines up with their counter parts. The one ding I have to throw out there on this knife was that it came as sharp out of the box as some of the butter knives I have in my kitchen. See video below:

Fortunately, a few strokes with my trusty Lansky Sharpening System and it was hair splitting sharp. I have to say, S35VN is VERY easy to sharpen. Which kinda worried me as to it's toughness, more on that later...


I cannot stress how pleased I was/am with the lock up of this knife. It inspires as much confidence under heavy use as my Hinderer XM-18. It snaps open with authority and locks in place like a bank vault. The Hinderer lock bar stabilizer looks nice and adds the the "Hinderer look" to this knife. The lock -up on this knife, dare I say it, is as good as my Hinderer; absolute zero blade play in ANY direction.
ZT 0550 on the left and Hinderer XM-18 3.5" on the right. VERY nice lock up on both

As stated previously, the 3.5" S35VN blade is one of Crucible's "super steels" and it seems very easy to sharpen. The blade is extremely thick for a folding knife and in the hand inspires confidence as a hard use folder. Due to it's thickness, it's not as well suited as a delicate slicer as it is heavy duty but I have prepared food with it and it works well. Chris Reeve knives uses S35VN in many of their knives now and as any self respecting knife nut knows, Chris Reeve uses only top quality materials.  Still, I'd prefer a different steel in the blade as the steel on this blade has rolled slightly, under heavy use. Nothing bad mind you, just minor rolling in a couple of spots. To be fair, I was cutting very heavy Texas Ebony wood and very few steels stand up to this wood (CTS-XHP on the XM did) S35VN is classified as a stainless or corrosion resistant steel and I have had no issues thus far with rust.

Ergos on the ZT 0550 are very well done for such a big, hard use knife. This is my third Zero Tolerance knife and like the other two before this one, it is built like a tank! Unlike the ZT 0200 and ZT 0301 that I had before however, this one carries very nicely in the pocket with very little pocket hog issues. The beveled edges on both the Ti side and G-10 side makes for a comfortable knife under use. It fills the hand nicely when open and is EASY to open and close one handed. VERY nicely done ZT. 


The ZT 0550 is a slightly heavy 5.8 ounces. The weight is very good however considering how heavy duty this knife is and it carries well in shorts or jeans. The open length is 8.125 inches and thus like any larger sized knives, must be opened around sheeple with some sense of  it's size. For those of us with a little common sense however and not scared of our shadows, this knife is a very nice size, substantial enough for many EDC tasks AND many heavy duty uses. The closed length of this knife is comfortable 4.625 inches and fits nicely in the pocket. 
Ti Frame lock goodness from left to right; the Spyderco Sage 2 , Hinderer XM-18 3.5" and the ZT 0550

To tell you the truth, after reading about a few detent issues with the generation one ZT 0550 from some owners, I was a little concerned and half expected it to be little tough to open when I received it. Once I opened the box however and flicked it open, a smile quickly developed. This thing reminds me so much of my Hinderer flicking it open. I literally mumbled, "WOW" the first time I opened it. ZT has either addressed the detent issue with the second generation or some owners are smoking crack. This thing is smooth! For a knife of it's size and heft, I could not see any knife opening any smoother. This thing flicks with almost the ease of a lighter weight Spyderco; the kings of flickers. Very well done Zero Tolerance.


In truth, when the ZT 0550 came out, I was impressed with it's materials but due to three things, I held off from buying one. One, I thought the G-10 scales were about as ugly as any G-10 scales that I'd seen on a knife; unfortunately, I still feel that way. Fortunately, apparently Rick Hinderer and host of other folks realize this and have offered aftermarket scales that can remedy the ugly scale issue. I'll be purchasing one of the aforementioned aftermarket scales soon. The second thing I wasn't particularly a fan of was the Ti side lock look. For one, they put the cut out towards the inside so it didn't resemble my favorite XM-18. Fortunately, with the second generation, they remedied this and now the Ti side looks very similar to my XM-18. Lastly, I was never really a fan of the pocket clip on the ZT 0200 and ZT 0301 . It was too short, too stiff and rode to high in the pocket. This was also the case on the first generation ZT 0550 . Fortunately, the owners of ZT interact on the various knife forums with end users. They listened and even remedied this issue. The pocket clip on this knife is as close to perfect as any clip on any knife I own. The second generation ZT 0550 is a definite improvement in my book!
The much improve Ti side frame lock and pocket clip of the 2nd generation ZT 0550

While the ZT 0550 is classified as a heavy use folder, it has served me well thus far as a EDC folder. I have prepped food with it, used it for every day tasks but I have also whittled and carved with it. I tried to peel an apple and while I accomplished it, it was a little awkward. For a Police officer or someone in the military, the ZT is one seriously bad a$$ knife. I've carried it on duty and it carries well albeit a little heavier than my regular every day duty carry, my Spyderco Endura 4. Then again, the ZT is designed for heavier use. The ZT 0550 would work great as a camp knife, hiking knife, and as a job site hard use knife. I think it's only limitation would be delicate jobs such as (like I stated) peeling apples :).


I don't usually include a section in my reviews regarding Warranty issues and customer service but KAI / Kershaw / Zero Tolerance deserves a mention on this subject. Two things stand out about this company in this regard; one, Zero Tolerance is made in the United States by craftsmen at their factory in Oregon. Second, Kershaw and Zero Tolerance have EARNED a reputation in the industry for their rock solid customer service and warranty. In short, it does not get any better that I know of within the knife world. Purchase a Kershaw or Zero Tolerance knife and you have bought a knife from a company that stands behind their product. Nothing else needs to be said....


So the question remains, is this as good as my Hinderer XM-18? Well, it comes close in my book. I like the blade steel much better on my XM, the scales looks MUCH better on the XM and the ergo's on the XM are a little better.  Other than that, I have to say, the ZT 0550 is one hell of a good knife for under $200. Given, it's never going to be as collectable as the Hinderer XM but if you're buying a knife to use it's pretty close for the price. I think I would have preferred that ZT would have remained with their Elmax that they had on their ZT 0551 but this steel seems to work fairly well for most purposes. So should you purchase a 0550 when you save up $200 or hold off, save some more and wait to get the Hinderer? While I'm a knife user, I also like to own the best quality money can buy. The Hinderer XM-18 is at the very top of the quality scale by any measure. The ZT 0550 is NEAR the top of that same scale. If you collect or plan to collect knives that hold their value (or even rise in value) wait and get the Hinderer; I would never part with mine. If you're buying a knife strictly for using it, you won't miss a whole lot buying the  ZT 0550.

In case you haven't figured it out, I REALLY like this knife. In fact, I'm considering buying another as a back up. The knife is just that dang good. As far as production knives go, I have not found many that I like better than the ZT 0550. I buy and sell knives fairly regularly and sell the one's that don't live up to their billing or just plain don't work for me. This one does and I'll be keeping it. Lastly, this knife is made right here in the good old US of A and that counts for a lot in my book! In short, if you are in the market for a heavy duty folder that carry's well in the pocket, one that will last you a life time, look no further, you have found it in the ZT 0550 . Well done ZT! Now I just need a ZT 0560 to put through the paces...must save more money :)
Ergonomics: 9.5/10 (almost as good as the XM)
Looks: 8/10 (will be a 10 when I replace the scales)
Materials: 8/10 (S35VN blade steel is nice but there are others I like better)
Fit and Finish: 9/10 (only a 1 point ding for coming new as dull as a butter knife, otherwise perfect)
Camp Use: 10/10
Hard/Military/Police Use: 9/10
EDC Use: 9/10 (might scare some sheeple)
Food Prep: 8/10 (good for most things, not so good for delicate uses)
Skinning/Game Prep: 9/10
Warranty: 10/10 (ZT & Kersahw are one of the few companies that score a solid 10 in this department)
Zombie Usefulness: 9/10 (only fixed blades get a 10, but this one's made for dang zombies)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Spyderco Sage 2 C123TI - Review

A Spyderco Sage 2 and Texas Sage blooms

NOTE: Click on any of the photos for an enlarged view  

About 9 months ago I picked up a NIB Spyderco Sage 2 Chris Reeve Integral Lock Titanium knife from someone on bladeforums. I had read many good things about the Sage series and loved (and missed) my small Sebenza so I thought the Sage 2 would hold me over until I purchased another Sebenza .

At first glance any self respecting knife nut notices the similarity to it's name-sake the Chris Reeve Sebenza . I used to own a small Sebenza but sold it to make a 1911 purchase (I'll be getting another one). In fact, the Sage 2 has been given the nick name in some circles as the "poor man's Sebenza ". Does it live up to the quality, fit and finish, and ergonomics of the real Sebenza? Read on to find out. 

The Sage 2 is the second (obviously) in the Sage series from Spyderco. The Sage series of knives pays tribute to the various lock styles from different makers. The Sage 1 payed tribute to Michael Walker's liner lock and ball bearing detent to lock the blade open. The Sage 2 pays tribute to Chris Reeve and his Integral Frame Lock made famous by his highly touted Sebenza knives. The Sage 3 is a homage to Blackie Collins and his bolt action lock. The most recent iteration of the Sage series is the Sage 4 and pays tribute to Al Mar's simple yet elegant designs.


The frame (and lock) of the Sage 2 is made of 6A14V titanium and makes for an extremely light knife for it's size. The blade is made of very good CPM S30V steel and is nestled between the two titanium slabs separated by Phosphor Bronze Washers, which makes for VERY smooth opening and closing. The materials alone speak to the fact that this is by all accounts a high end production knife.Fortunately, the price doesn't reflect that.


Out of the Box, the fit and finish was very good. While the blade was centered very well and it locked up nicely, the pivot screw was turning every time I opened it and closed it. Since this would eventually loosen, I decided to fix it immediately. It took quite-a-bit of adjusting trial and error on my part to get the knife back to the correct tension, re-center the blade and a drop of loctite blue on the pivot screws to get it locked in where I wanted it. If you've ever tried to center a blade on a frame lock, let me tell you, it takes a bit of art to center the blade (because of the lock pushing against the blade), make the tension correct and do it in the few seconds the loctite is drying. Overall, it's no big deal and once you get it down, you'll get a sense of satisfaction. 

Out of the box, the blade was razor sharp like all Spyderco's. The edges of the titanium scales are nicely beveled for comfort with zero sharp burs found on some titanium framed knives. The jimping on the thumb ramp and on the choil are nicely done with no burs and no hot spots under use. All of the torx head screws were nicely recessed. The stand off's between the Ti scales are substantial enough for semi heavy use. Once I got the pivot screws tweaked, the lock up on this knife was excellent and provides an pleasing "snap" when it locks closed. There is zero blade play in any direction. Truthfully, fit and finish on this knife is top notch and it does remind me of my small Sebenza


Lock up on this knife as stated above is nice and tight at about 50% with zero blade play in any direction. Even after several months of use, the lock face against the blade hasn't moved and still nice and tight. VERY WELL done Spyderco. 


From the factory, the blade came nice and sharp; hair shaving sharp. The three inch flat ground blade is made from very nice CPM S30V. S30V is another of the powdered "super steels" from Crucible Materials Corp. in blade form, S30V has nice corrosion resistance and holds an edge very well. It has similar toughness to 154 CM, 440C and even D2 but exceeds those in wear resistance. I have heard a couple of people state that their S30V blades have micro chipped but I have not experienced this with this blade. I don't know how Spyderco does their heat treat but whatever they're doing, they did it right. The thin .125" flat ground blade makes an excellent slicer but is a tad too thin to be considered a heavy use blade. In an EDC scenario, it just plain works perfectly for 99% of tasks. This is an excellent blade!


If you check on any of the knife forums, I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who complains about the ergonomics of any of the Sage series of knives. The wire clip in my opinion is one of Spyderco's best. It allows for deep pock carry and never wiggles itself loose. As an EDC, knives just don't get much better.


The opened length of the Sage 2 is 7.125 inches, the blade length is a sheeple friendly 3 inches, and the closed length is 4.188 inches. The Sage 2's weight is a nice and comfortable 3.2 ounces. This knife is so light that I often carry it in my uniform shirt pock when on duty and forget that it's there. Again, perfect size for EDC knife.
The Spyderco Sage 2 compared to the much beefier, hard use Zero Tolerance 0550

Like most all of my Spyderco's, the Sage 2 snaps open with authority and locks in place nice and tight. The titanium frame lock provides a nice snap as it locks into place. It also closes easily with one hand. The smoothness of the opening again reminds me of my Small Sebenza only with the flicking ability of a Spyderco. The "flickabiltiy" of this knife scores a perfect 10. 


The best use for this knife in my book would be as an Every Day Carry (EDC) knife. It will accomplish 99% of your everyday cutting tasks but it's not quite beefy enough for very hard use and it's no pry bar knife. The pivot screw is not as substantial as the Sebenza knives. This being said, I have carved and whittled with this knife and it does an excellent job and holds it's edge nicely. The wire clip allows for deep pocket carry. It would make an excellent gentleman's folder.
The wire clip makes for easy sliding in and out of your pockets.

So the question remains, is this a "poor mans Sebenza "? In short no. Not because it's lacking but because (and I'll probably get hate mail for this) it in my humble opinion is 95% of the knife the small Sebenza is at less than half the price. Where it falls slightly short is in the heavy/hard use category and the fact that it's not made in the U.S.. The blade and pivot screw did not inspire the same sense of indestructibility of the Sebenza. Other than that however, the Sage 2 opens just as smoothly, closes just as smoothly, locks in place just as good, the materials are comparable, and it's just a VERY nice every day carry knife. In one department, it exceeds the Sebenza; it's "flickability". This knife flicks open lightning fast just like other Spyderco's. For the materials found in this knife, the build and the fit and finish, in my opinion, it's a steal for it's price. If this knife had been made in the United States, it would probably have been priced out of the range of many buyers. Spyderco's Taichung factory continues to produce top quality knives at very reasonable prices. The Sage 2 is another home run for Spyderco. 

Ergonomics: 10/10 (Spyderco got this one right)
Looks: 9/10
Materials: 9/10
Fit and Finish: 8/10 (The knife came with a loose pivot screw but once adjusted and locked, F&F is great)
Camp Use: 7/10
Hard/Military/Police Use: 6/10
EDC Use: 10/10 
Food Prep: 9/10 (a a great sllicer)
Skinning/Game Prep: 8/10 
Warranty: 8/10 
Zombie Usefulness: