Saturday, March 10, 2012

Zero Tolerance 0301 Review

NOTE: Click on any of the photos to view them at their full size

A couple of years ago, I started seeing a knife on the net that really sparked my interest; the Zero Tolerance 0300 series . The one I had my eye on was the ZT0301 (the 0300 & 0302 are the same just different color combos). Just from reading about the components, it seemed the ultimate pocket knife for me; I'm tough on knives sometimes :) The knife is a collaboration between Ken Onion, known for excellent custom made knives and Mick Strider, known for his beast-like military and hard use knives.  With these two in collaboration and Zero Tolerance as a builder, you know, the knife was going to be good. For a while, the $200+ price scared me away. Then I went to a local gun show and handled one...I HAD to have it. The thing just screamed quality and built like a tank. Shortly thereafter, I sold some things and bought one.

When I received the knife in the mail, I was reminded of how much of a tank this knife was; It's HUGE for a pocket knife. I couldn't wait to put it into use and carry it at work.

Handle Materials:
The handle of the ZT0301 is made from a combination of Titanium (lock side) and 3D machined G-10 on top of a stainless steel liner on the other. This combination is used on several modern hard use knives and has proven it's self well. The titanium lock side is machined to match the look of the G-10 side and looks very nice. While the knife is a collaboration between Strider and Onion, the titanium frame lock is a Rick Hinderer design (It's like a who's who of bad A## knives) The clip is a standard Zero Tolerance clip; it's short, stiff and grips like a pitbull against the contoured titanium. It is so tight in fact, that in a very short time, it demolished the pockets on the jeans I wore it on. The clip also makes it ride pretty high in the pocket, a pet peeve of mine. The one sided G-10 scale and contoured titanium makes for a perfect grip in less than ideal situations.

The pivot screw is unique amongst folders that I have owned and I actually like it.  It is an exposed 3/8" pivot nut designed so that it can be disassembled with common tools. The nut itself is not a size issue as one might think, I found it's presence to be a non-issue in the pocket.

Fit and Finish:
My initial impressions of the fit and finish of the ZT0301 were VERY good but that has been my impression with several knives out of the box so I reserved my review until after a few months of use. After using and carrying this knife for several months, I can honestly say that in a production knife, you won't find much better fit and finish. It becomes very apparent in use that ZT designed this knife to make a statement about their quality and the quality is GOOD. The knife uses ZT's (and Kershaw's) speedsafe assisted opening system for opening the knife. I was quite impressed at how well the speedsafe system opened this big blade. It snaps open with authority albeit a bit slow. Blade centering was very good for a frame lock.

Lock up:
The lock side of this knife as stated previously is a contoured titanium made to look like the 3D machined G-10 on the opposite side. It is a frame lock style lock with Rick Hinderer's Lock Bar Stabilizer. I have to hand it to ZT, they executed the lock very well and it locks up as good as any frame lock I've owned. It locks up like a bank vault at about 40% +/- and once locked in, it has no play in any direction. Well done ZT!

The blade is made of a powdered steel known as CPM-S30V. In blade form, it has a RC hardness of around 59 or so in most knives. S30V is being used more and more in high end knives due to it's ability to hold an edge, and supposed ease of sharpening (compared to steels like D2) and it's corrosion resistance. Some knife makers have complained that S30V is a bit tough to work with and indeed, I found it a bit tough to sharpen. Sharpening to a "chopping" sharpness was fairly easy but getting a hair splitting, polished edge was near impossible for me using lansky sharpening stones. That being said, I really like this steel. On a big tank of a knife not designed for delicate, shaving work, I think its a very good steel. It's edge holding ability was phenominal. The 0301 is also coated with what ZT calls DLC (Diamond like Carbon) to make their tiger stripes; paying homage to Strider, the "Original Tiger Stripe Guy". I found the coating to be VERY tough and even after lots of use showed little to no signed of wearing off.

The blade shape is called a modified drop point blade measuring in a 3 3/4" in length. I did not like the "belly" of the blade, I think it limits it's uses as an EDC but works well for hard use. Completely open, the knife measures a almost 9 inches long.

The ZT0301 also has two types of opening options, a flipper and a standard thumb stud. When I looked at the photos of the ZT0300 series on line, I thought that the thumb stud looked a little close to the scales to be useful but I was proven wrong. While the knife opens very well with the provided flipper, I found myself using the thumb stud more often as I could flick it open with more authority.The thumb stud also doubles as a stop pin.

While Ergonomics is a personal preference, I found the ergos of the ZT0301 to be very well executed for a knife of this size. When open, this knife fits my big mits very well and the jimping is in all the right places including nice jimping on the opposite end for reverse gripping the knife. The ergonomics were well thought out on this knife.

Size and Weight:
If you are looking for a small knife, then you'll want to look elsewhere. ZT0300 series knives are definite beasts of knives; made for abuse. That being said, when open it fills the hand nicely and feel right.  Closed at 5 1/2 inches and clipped in the pocket is where I had my issues with this knife. It fills the pocket so much that it becomes a "pocket snob" (a step above pocket hog) not allowing anything else to be retrieved easily in the same pocket. It simply does not like company when it in your pocket. When this knife was clipped in my pocket, it rode high and was very heavy. It felt uncomfortable in anything but jeans and slightly obtrusive even in them. In shorts or work pants, at half a pound, it was just a bit too much.

Smoothness of opening:

I don't often see this mentioned in reviews but to me it's an important factor. In a life or death situation, being able to snap your knife open with authority via muscle memory is a must. Despite the very large size of this knife, it opens extremely smoothly with the flipper or thumb stud. With the flipper, it flips open nicely and locks up very well; add some wrist flick and it goes even faster. With the big blade it does seem to be a bit slow with just the flipper but it still does what it's supposed to. Using the thumb stud allows for one to flick it open with a bit more authority and I found myself using this method more often than the flipper. Lastly, this knife is so smooth with the installed phosphor bronze washers that simple wrist flicking in any position is easily accomplished. All in all, I'd give the "flickability" rating a 9 on this knife. It would be a ten but the large blade slows it a bit.

If you are in the military or Law Enforcement, if you don't mind a big heavy knife, look no further. This knife was obviously built to be abused and used in the harshest environments known. It's size and weight (for me at least) limit it's use as an EDC knife. Opening this knife in a sheeple environment might cause some bladder control issues amongst the weak minded. In a knife friendly environment, EVERYONE is going to want to hold it, flip it, ask questions and drool over it.

Customer Service:
One of the best things about this knife is the company that makes it; Zero Tolerance. ZT is the sister (or brother) company to Kershaw and as any knife nut will tell you, in the customer service department, they have few rivals. While I never used their customer service for the ZT, I have used them for a speedsafe issue on my Kershaw Boa and even a broken tip on a leek that was my fault. In both cases, I was amazed at how well they took care of my issues. These guys score a solid 10 on the customer service scale! It should also be noted that the ZT0301 is 100% American made, that should count for allot in my book.

The old adage of "you get what you pay for" holds very true with the Zero Tolerance 0301. The materials, fit and finish, innovative design and a company that stands behind their product all score a solid ten on this knife. I really wanted to like this knife and make it an EDC, alas it was just not meant to be. The size and pocket snobberery was just a little too much. These issues are personal preference however and should not detract from the fact that this is one hell of a knife. If I had to ding anything on this knife, it would be the pocket clip design. It makes the knife ride a bit high for my tastes and it's tightness against the machined grooves of the titanium lock side wreak havoc on pockets. Maybe a longer pocket clip that allows for some flex and lower ride or maybe smoothing out the titanium in the area next to the clip..I don't know. All this being said, if you are looking for a BIG, heavy hard use folder that will last you a lifetime, this may just be your knife. It's a beast of a knife in every sense of the word. While I ended up selling this knife, I sold my Strider for pocket snobbery issues as well. If I were to have to choose between a Strider and a ZT0301, I'd personally choose the ZT. Thats's no ding on strider (they're great knives), it's just that the Zero Tolerance 0300 series is built that dang good.
Ergonomics: 8/10 (Great in the hand, not so much in the pocket)
Looks: 10/10
Materials: 10/10
Fit and Finish: 9/10 (only cutoms get better)
Camp Use: 10/10
Hard/Military/Police Use: 9/10
EDC Use: 6/10 (a big knife and it stands out; might scare sheeple)
Food Prep: 7/10 (a little big for delicate tasks)
Skinning/Game Prep: 8/10 (excellent for this purpose, belly good for skinning)
Warranty: 10/10 (as good as it gets)
Zombie Usefulness: 8/10 (lay some Tiger stripes on a Zombie skull and they're done!)


Friday, March 9, 2012

Spyderco Caly 3 - C113CF Review

Click on the photos to view a larger version.
The Spyderco Caly 3 (Caly is  short for Calypso) is a reiteration of Spyderco's Calypso 1 and 2 with some new high end materials. I had seen this knife at a gun show but the vendor wanted way too much money for it. Then I got home and started reading articles about it and how much people liked it. I began an internet search of my favorite vendors and found a good price through GPKinves and hit the buy button. When it first arrived at my house and took it out of the box, my first reaction was that this was a really cool SOLID knife. When I opened it, I could not beleive how sharp this thing was. I think it was the sharpest knife I have ever purchased out of the box; easily shaving sharp.


The first thing you notice about the Caly 3 is it nicely refined Carbon fiber scales. While beautify done, the carbon fiber's polish didn't leave much in the gripping department. When wet, I found it to be very slick. The carbon fiber scales were laid over solid steel liners that actually gave the knife a very solid feel.


The blade is another thing that really stands out on this knife. It is a flat ground, layered blade with laminated ZDP189 sandwiched between two layers of 420j2 leaving the cutting edge ZDP189. As I stated in the intro, out of the box the cutting edge of ZDP189 was easily the sharpest knife I have ever purchased. It was truly scary sharp. ZDP189 is usually reserved for very high end knives. It begins life as another of the high end Japanese powdered steels. In blade form, it is extremely hard tipping the Rockwell hardness scales at 64! While this bodes well for excellent sharpness retention, like all very hard blades, it can be tough for the average Joe to sharpen. Extremely hard blades also have a reputation for being a bit brittle. Reports I've read thus far on ZDP189 however, don't complain much on it's brittleness. The 420j2 portion of the blade is a very corrosion and stain resistant common steel usually used in other knife parts other than the blade. Most often found in liners and locks, it is a little prone to scratches but being a knife user (not a collector) this didn't bother me.This knife is an EXCELLENT slicer and would work great for food prep.

Jimping on the thumb ramp and finger choil of the blade is done very nicely and lends itself to EDC tasks very nicely.

The blade length is a short but very usable 3" with the thickest part of the spine at 1/8" inch. The overall length of the knife opened is around 7 inches, making a very EDC'able knife in my opinion.


The lock is a standard yet capable lockback style. Nothing fancy but it works and locks up very solid.


The fit and finish on my knife was very well done. All screws were tight, the clip was tight and the blade was centered well. When open, there is zero side to side blade play and zero up and down. A complaint I do have was that a knife of this price, I feel that rivets instead of screws were an odd choice. I would have preferred screws. Being a closed back knife and prone to get dirty, screws make them much easier to clean.


One of the things I kept reading about the Caly line of knives is that they handle very well and some claimed them feel like a natural extension of your arm. While I can't make the same claim personally, I will say that the knife handled very well and felt good in the hand. My personal technique for one handed closing knives however didn't jive well with the Caly 3. While I can't explain it without video (I really need to add some), I found that the choil was a bit small and I ended up with a couple of bites to my index finger; again this knife is SHARP!. Being a knife user, this presented a problem for me.


I have become a big fan of Spyderco's wire clips and the one on the Caly 3 is no exception. I like that it is recessed into the scales, thus less prone to loosening and moving around. As far as being clipped into the pocket, the combination of CF scales and the wire clip made this one of the smoothest knives going in and out of my pocket that I own. I really liked the combination for this reason.


As stated before, the Caly 3 is an overall seven (7) inches opened and 4 1/16 inches closed. It weighs in at a respectable 3 ounces but feels extremely solid. It is a perfect size for EDC as a gentleman's folder.


I was pleasantly surprised when I received the Caly 3. It opens very smoothly but the tang rubbed against the scratch prone 420j2 portion of the blade leaving half circle marks. I discovered that this is due to a lack of bushings, thus leaving the blade to rub against the tang. A design flaw? maybe. As a knife user, this would not bother me. I suspect however that due to the high end components of this knife, that some will purchase this knife from a collectors standpoint. In this case, the rubbing may be a concern. You can see the rubs in the photo below and a few other scratches from minimal use.


As I've stated above, I beleive this knife is intended as a gentleman's EDC folder or a collector's knife. In that respect, I think this knife fits those rolls well. As a heavy user or even a rough every day user (like me), this knife feels a little out of its element.


The Spyderco Caly 3 is a gentleman's folder and/or an EDC knife; it fits those rolls well. As a collectors knife, it may fall little short because of the tang rubs and scratching issues. I guess this could be avoided if made a drawer or safe queen. The collection of high end components on paper scream collectors knife. The steel(s) in the blade, the uniqueness of sandwiching of them with the visible delineation line make this a definite conversation piece. As an EDC gentleman folder, I think this knife works very well. It's as sharp out of the box as any knife I've ever owned. Being a knife user however (sometimes a bit rough on them), this knife in my pocket was out of it's element. This is not to say I didn't like the knife. Everyone I showed this knife to loved it and a couple even bought one. It fits in the pocket very well, clips in smoothly and comes out smoothly without any wear on the user's pockets. It can handle any cutting tasks you throw at it within the scope of an EDC and I think it will be one of those Spyderco's that becomes a collectors item one day. At a street price of around $120-$130, this knife is priced very reasonably. For me however, I sold it to fund another purchase.

Ergonomics: 8/10 (Feels great in the hand)
Looks: 10/10
Materials: 9/10 (knock off a point for being easily scratched in the 420 areas)
Fit and Finish: 8/10 (would almost be a ten if not for the lack of washers to avoid tang rub)
Camp Use: 6/10 (more suited as a gentleman's folder )
Hard/Military/Police Use: 7/10
EDC Use: 9/10 (a sheeple friendly, gentleman's folder)
Food Prep: 9/10 (nice sized blade and good slicer for food prep)
Skinning/Game Prep: 7/10 (decent shape for this purpose but a little delicate for tough use)
Warranty: 8/10
Zombie Usefulness: 3/10 (Zombie's might be impressed with your nice knife,...but they'll still eat you)