Saturday, November 23, 2013

Wilder Forge Necker Review

The BEAUTIFUL custom Wilder Forge Neck Knife
Click on any of the photos for a larger view

A while back, I saw a Texas knife maker on blade forums offering $60 neck knives. As I was browsing through the photos of his previous works, I really liked what I saw. As a custom knife maker, you have to tell him what you want and wait for it to be produced. I thought these knife can't seriously be THAT good for $60 but I figured I'd give them an shot and see. So, I placed my order and waited...


When my long awaited Wilder Forge Necker arrived and I took it out of the box, all I could say is, "wow! that is fine Texas craftsmanship". My family really doesn't comment on my knife collection that often but this little knife got comments from everyone; they all wanted their own. :) The size was perfect for a necker and thoughts of whittling with this little knife got me to breaking out some pine.


The blade of this litte knife is made out of high carbon 52100 steel. Like all high carbon steels, it will rust if not taken care of. My thoughts on the use of this knife would be as a backup to my larger bushcraft/outdoors knives and a high carbon steel would work perfect for this. The handle I opted for was Orange G10 overlaid with Black Micarta. The scales came out perfect! The scales are held together and to the blade by two large stainless tubes.  Overall, a very nice collection of materials.


Fit and Finish on this little knife is very nice. All of the G10, micarta and steel line up perfectly with no machining marks anywhere. There were some buffing rubs near the back of the knife blade but nothing too distracting. VERY impressive for a $60 knife.


As stated previously, the blade of this little necker is made of 52100 steel. 52100 is a high carbon steel and as such will rust if not taken care of. Many folks who use high carbon steels in their knives like to develop their own patina with a whole range of techniques. Patina nips the rust issue in the butt and depending on the technique you use to put the patina on the blade, can be very artistic. People use everything from coffee grounds to mustard to merely sticking their knives into a grapefruit for an extended period. For my bushcraft, I'll let it develop naturally with use and use a Tuf-cloth to beat back rust. The cutting edge on the blade is a tiny but very useful 3" blade. Most bush crafters will agree that a good bushcraft combo consists of two knives; a larger more robust knife and a smaller knife for more fine tasks (think peeling apples, cutting meat, general food prep, etc.). This little necker fits this bill perfectly. I have found over the past several months of owning this little knife that 52100  holds a good edge very well and sharpens easily. I really liked the flat ground (with secondary bevel) blade for finer tasks and sharpening it was easy.


For such a small fixed blade, I can't enough good things about how well, it fits my big hands. The handle shape wouldn't be great for heavy duty tasks but this little knife was not made for that. As a  whittling knife, it works great; no hot spots. The little finger groove near the front of the handle makes a nice little choil for fine work.


The Wilder Forge necker comes with a no frills folded and molded Kydex sheath. It's nothing fancy but it fits the knife securely and works OK for it's "necker" purpose. I would have preferred a leather sheath but then it wouldn't be a $60 necker :) I like this knife so much, I'll be getting a leather sheath made for it.


The Blade is 3" in length and I measured the handle at 3.25", perfect size for a necker, boot knife, food knife, et al.. My 10 yr. old daughter says it's the perfect size for her :)
My 10yr old daughter holding her favorite knife in my collection


The uses for this little knife are pretty much endless except maybe heavy duty tasks. That being said, take a look at what Jason (the maker) did with his here. I've prepped many many food items with this little knife and it works GREAT, I've whittled with this knife as well and couldn't be happier. If you scratch the heavy duty jobs, I really can't think of much this little knife can't do.
The Wilder Forge Neck Knife working on some home grown Jalapeno's, Chili Pequins and lime for a batch of Salsa..mmmm

If you haven't figured it out yet, I really love this little knife. For the $60 price tag, it's a steal. After handling and using this knife, it's easily in the same class as some of my $150+ knives. I'd feel comfortable paying much more for this one. For the outdoorsman, I think a knife like this is a must have. This makes a great little bushcraft knife, food prep knife, camp knife, a boot knife, neck knife or even a good backup knife for a law enforcement officer. Add to this, you get a custom knife made in the USA to your specs, made of quality materials, this knife is a steal. To top it all off, this is a Texan-made knife. That alone makes this knife a little tougher, a little better and a little more special than knives made in lesser locations :) I do wish he would have kept using his Texas stamp on his blades...but that's a personal thing. Jason Wilder is a fine craftsman who puts out a fine product. I wouldn't hesitate a second recommending his products to a potential custom knife customer.

NOTE: Jason's current price as of Nov. 2013 is $80; still a steal for a knife of this quality.


Jason opens an order thread occasionally on blade forums where you can order here. You can also find him on Facebook here.

UPDATE 8-27-15: Jason at Wilder Forge has a website:

Spyderco Bushcraft G-10 FB26G - Review

The Spyderco Bushcraft laying in the Frio River of the Texas Hill Country
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I've been an outdoor nut for years. Anytime I go in the outdoors, there are certain things I always bring with me; a good knife is one of them. I have several knives that can loosely regarded as "bushcraft" by today's standards. Bushcraft, if you are reading this searching for a "Bushcraft Knife" is a term that was recently made popular by several folks who like going out in the sticks and playing wild-man for a few hours to a few days. In some places like the UK, "Bushcraft" has pretty much become it's own sport with it's own superstars like Ray Mears. Just like any other sport with it's superstars (think Michael Jordan's name on shoes), throw a superstar's name on a product and it commands a few extra dollars despite whether or not it actually a better product. Many bushcraft knife makes have bought into this tactic. Well, Spyderco didn't and just went out and found some of the worlds best bushcrafters and asked them to assist in the design of a good Bushcraft knife (without name endorsement). Spyderco's first try was a truly beautiful knife with a Spalted Stabilized Maple Burl. The only problem was that the wood turned out to (in some cases) not to have been as stabilized as they had desired and some cases cracks developed. Spyderco stopped production and more recently introduced the G-10 version.

When I was young, we would have just called bushcraft knives, good outdoor knives. To me a good outdoor knife or bushcraft for the purposes of this review means a knife with a good steel (in most bushcraft circles, this means high carbon) that holds up to abuse, is easily sharpened, doesn't beat the snot out of your hand with prolonged use and is the right size for a multitude of tasks. I have several knives that fit this bill but the Spyderco bushcraft always looked like a good one to me and I'd never tried O-1 steel so I thought I'd give it a try; so I bought one off of Amazon.


When the Bushcraft arrived in the mail and I took it out of the box I was pleasantly surprised. It's a big, thick, heavy knife that you KNOW is begging for some serious use. The G-10 handle fits my big gorilla hands very well and it's well balanced. I immediately noticed that I wasn't going to be a fan of the sheath with it's plastic insert. It sometimes took me a few insertions into the sheath to get the knife into the right spot. 
The Spyderco Bushcraft is truly a beautiful knife


The handle or scales of the Bushcraft are made of very smooth G-10. The G-10 has a pattern on it that almost looks like black wood, I like it. The blade is made of a steel that I've had no experience with previously but O-1 being a high carbon steel, I knew there was potential for rust. The steel runs through the handle and brass pins hold it and the G-10 scales together. Lastly, there is a brass lanyard hole near the end of the handle. It feels solid!
Very nice G-10 Scales


The Spyderco Bushcraft out of the box, is one beautiful knife. The G-10 and steel are even on the handle with no visible machining marks or unevenness on either. The blade itself came out of the box, hair splitting sharp! Very well done.

The sheath while not may favorite, will serve it's purpose. What surprised me was the plastic insert (which some people remove) and the lack of a drainage hole at the end of the sheath. I'm assuming that the plastic insert was for either safety or to keep the blade from sweating against the leather but many, like myself, don't like it too much. Other than that, the sheath is well constructed and if you choose to use it in it's factory configuration, should last many years.


As stated previously, the blade of the Spyderco Bushcraft is made of O-1 steel. O-1 is a high carbon steel and as such will rust if not taken care of. Many folks who use high carbon steels in their knives like to develop their own patina with a whole range of techniques. Patina nips the rust issue in the butt and depending on the technique you use to put the patina on the blade, can be very artistic. People use everything from coffee grounds to mustard to merely sticking their knives into a grapefruit for an extended period. For my bushcraft, I'll let it develop naturally with use and use a Tuf-cloth to beat back rust. The cutting edge on the blade is a significant 3.9 inches; a length considered ideal (by most) for most bushcraft applications. I have found over the past several months of owning this knife that O-1 holds a good edge (as long as it's not a FINE edge) very well. It also sharpens very easily with any sharping tool(s) and some stropping. This was my first Scandinavian/Scandi ground knife so it took some getting used to to sharpen but I've found it works very well for heavy duty cutting.
The Bushcrafts Scandi Grind takes some getting used to for sharpening but it's VERY useful in the brush


The Spyderco Bushcraft wins hands down in this department over all of my other fixed blades that I have used over the years. The ergo's just feel right in the hand and in heavy use, I have found zero hotspots. While the lack of a hilt concerned me in the heavy use department, I have figured out that those fears were unfounded. The collaboration that Spyderco did with other bushcrafters paid off in this department; this is a REALLY comfortable knife to use and abuse. Well Done!
The Bushcraft compared to the ESEE-4 (another good Bushcrafter)
The Bushcraft compared to the Mora Companion in Stainless (another good bushcrafter)
The Bushcrafter compared to the best folding bushcrafter around, the Spyderco Gayle Bradley

Well, I have to be truthful here. I'm no fan of the sheath that comes with this knife BUT I will use it. Don't get me wrong, the sheath holds the knife in place securely, it doesn't rattle in the sheath and I've had no issues with the knife falling out after many a long hike.  What I don't like is the plastic insert, the black color (black scratches easy and doesn't look to hot), how high it rides, the lack of a drain hole and how deeply the knife rides in the sheath. The plastic insert while it serves a function, takes some practice sticking the knife into the sheath correctly. The black dye IMO should have been left off. I think natural leather color looks so much better. The provided belt loop makes the knife ride high which is a personal dislike of course. I ended up adding a leather snap loop and a screw latch carabiner to make a dangler sheath which worked well. Lastly, the knife rides deep in the sheath which makes getting it out a bit difficult. You have to grip the top portion with your hand and pry against the sheath with your thumb. Again, don't get me wrong, the stock sheath serves it's purpose, I would have PERSONALLY just designed it differently.


This Bushcrafter begs to be used and when you first get one, you'll want to immediately use it. When the knife arrived, out of the box, it was RAZOR hair splitting sharp; a little too sharp apparently. One of the first things I did was to carve up some Axis deer on a cutting board. While the blade worked great for this purpose, the razor sharp edge rolled in a couple of spots. After I used it and washed it, I hit it with a strop and knocked the rolled edge right out. I was surprised how easy the rolled edges smoothed out. I've since hacked allot of branches, done some whittling, carved tent stakes,  and just general outdoors use. I have resharpened the bushcrafter many times and stropped it several times as well. I'm pleasantly surprised how good it holds and edge and how easily it sharpens. Admittedly, the blade is a bit thick with it's scandi grind for dicing onions and peeling apples but I did manage to finely dice some onions for the Axis Cheese Steak sandwich below. I really like this steel for bushcraft type work!
The Spyderco Bushcrafter vs. Axis Deer
Philly cheese steak (from Axis Deer) with diced onions compliment of the Spyderco  Bushcraft
The Bushcrafter making Tent stakes

The over all length of the Bushcraft is 8.75 inches and weighs in at a significant 7.8 ounces. This is not a small knife but assuming you use it for it's intended purpose, it's just fine. This is an outdoor knife, not an EDC knife. It's meant to be used and abused and you'll know with your first use, you'll be able to depend on it.


Spyderco has designed a winner with the Bushcraft . It's VERY comfortable in use, the steel is very nice and the knife just plain looks good. My ding's on this knife are the sheath and (a small ding) that it's made in Taiwan. The Spyderco Taiwan factory churns out some amazing knives but having, "Golden Colorado, USA Earth" or something like that would make it just that much better. That being said, while I have many outdoor/bushcraft knives, I think the Spyderco Bushcraft is going to be my favorite. Is it worth the $180-$190 asking price compared to a $15.00 Mora ? Well, I look at it like this, The Spyderco is MUCH tougher, better built and will last me a life time. The Mora has a flimsier/flexible blade, a very comfortable handle and will accomplish probably around 80% of the tasks that the Spyderco Bushcraft will in bushcraft conditions. Don't get me wrong, I love my Mora's and have one for everything from my tackle box, to the side pocket on my truck door. The Mora's peel apples better than the Spyderco Bushcraft but they are just not built as tough. I also will not panic if I lose a Mora, I'll just buy another. SO would I recommend the Spyderco Bushcraft ? Absolutely. It's a great knife, a knife that I'll be using for years to come. I'll also be using my Mora 's and my ESEE. If I had to pick one knife for Bushcraft and had the money, I'd definitely go with the Spyderco.  If money is an issue, I would not hesitate to recommend the Mora either.The ESEE is a great knife as well but falls somewhere in the middle for the bushcraft purpose.

Ergonomics: 9.5/10
Looks: 8/10 (the Spalted Maple Burl was a 10)
Materials: 8/10
Fit and Finish: 8/10 (Knife perfect, sheath, not so much)
Camp Use: 10/10 (best bushcraft I own)
Hard/Military/Police Use: 6/10 (could serve as a belt knife but kinda big)
EDC Use: 5/10 (not really meant for EDC for most people save outdoor nuts, bikers, etc., might scare some sheeple)
Food Prep: 8/10 (good for most things but blade is kinda thick)
Skinning/Game Prep: 9/10
Warranty: 8/10
Zombie Usefulness: This should be on the Walking Dead :) Zombies fear bushcraft!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fenix HP25 Headlamp Review

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Fenix HP25 Headlamp


I've been an avid outdoors guy for years, fishing, hunting, herping (snake hunting) and wildlife photography. For some reason, many of my pursuits take me outdoors at night, especially the herping.  For years I resisted headlamps because for lack of a better term, they looked like birth control to me. Then one day while fishing with a friend about 8 years ago, we arrived before sun up. As we put our boat on the water in the dark, he slapped on a headlamp and started doing his thing while I fumbled with my handheld light trying to pull out back lashes, tie on lures, etc. He finally said, "here, try this". I reluctantly put on his headlamp and I've been a believer since then. Soon after, I went out and bought a cheap headlamp at my local WalMart and used it for many things but I longed for something better, more powerful. So I at the reccomendation of a friend, I got on Amazon and bought a Petzl Tikka headlamp; much better. While I loved the Petzl Tikka and it worked great for small chores around the house, reading in bed, great for early morning and evening fishing and as a focus assist light for photography, it still didn't have the power I was looking for. I tried it looking for snakes at night in the wilds of West Texas and it just didn't have enough juice. So after lots of research and reccomendations by others in the herping (snake hunting) community, I bit the bullet and picked up a Princeton Tec Apex; now we're talking. This light did it all. For years as a snake hunter, I carried around a florescent wand powered by a big, heavy 6V battery and always wished for something lighter but provide the light I needed, the Princeton Tec Apex provided that and worked great for all aspects. It even completely replaced the florescent wand for snake hunting. It would take a heck of a light to trump the Apex, read on...
The Princeton Tec Apex (left) and the Fenix HP25 (right)

The Petzl Tikka left and the Fenix HP25 right
Well, as I said earlier, in my "real job" in Law Enforcement, I rely on artificial light on a regular basis. The one limitation with head lamps however was that in a life or death situation, involving gunfire at night, wearing a headlamp provides your adversary with a grand, glowing target,...not good. So hand held light are a must; and I've used LOTS of them. I would imagine that I own probably 14 hand held lights / torches. Of those lights, the ones I find that I use most are my Fenix lights such as the Fenix  2 x AA L2D (now replaced by the E25) and the Fenix  CR123 powered TK30 (now replaced by the TK60), a real blaster of a flashlight! I can usually get by every shift with just these two lights; L2D for regular tasks and TK30 for search and rescue and tracking. These two lights have provided me years of reliable service. So my experience with Fenix lights made me curious about their headlamps. So along comes the Fenix HP25 Headlamp. It had both a flood light and a spot light that I liked so much with my Princeton Tec Apex. My Princeton Tec unfortunately, has had some issues as of late (bad switches and a broken pivot bracket) and I was in the market for a new headlamp and my very good experiences with Fenix made the Fenix HP25 a "no brainer". Well, it turned out Fenix was kind enough to allow me to run one through it's paces.
Left to right, the Nitecore Defender Infinity, the Nitecore EZ 123, the Fenix HP25 , the Fenix TK30, Fenix L2D and SureFire U2 Ultra

The new Fenix HP25
The back of the HP25 package with all the run time info (click to enlarge)

The Fenix comes nicely packaged with four AA's included. Upon opening the package and assembling everything, I was pleased that the HP 25's pivot point(s) are on either side of the head lamp as opposed to the Princeton Tec Apex (which eventually broke) which is centered. The Fenix's pivot points seem much sturdier and the pivot point on the right side included the insertion point of the power cable. Assembly of the straps were easy as where the provided cable guides. I was happy to see that the straps were sufficiently big enough to accommodate my big head, a minor complaint I had with the Petzl; it was always a bit tight. The HP25 is comfortable but snug where it needs to be.


The Fenix HP25 is powered by four (4) AA's and is opened and closed by a threaded tension screw. The battery compartment is protected by reverse polarity protection to protect the light from people like me putting batteries in backwards. I really like the feel of the threaded screw over the 1/4 turn closure of the Princeton Tec Apex . While I never had issues with the Apex leaking, the screw type closure of the HP25 definitely seems to close the compartment more snugly and gives one more confidence that it isn't going to leak. Also of note is that the female portion on the battery carriage is brass as opposed to plastic on the apex pictured below.
Battery carriers of the Princeton Tec Apex on top and Fenix HP25 on bottom
The battery carrier on the Fenix HP25 is well done and the batteries are not difficult to get in or out. I have to give the Princeton Tec Apex a small attaboy in this department because the carrier has holes in the opposite side of all four battery compartments allowing the batteries to be pushed out from behind instead of picking them out with fingernails (of which I have none). The Fenix only has holes in two, but this may give the carrier more strength in the long run, we'll see. All of the spring contacts on the HP25 are gold plated which was a nice touch. The carrier itself is hard plastic and the top cap is a rubberized polymer for sealing purposes. Placing them in the waterproof carrier and screwing it closed was easy with zero alignment issues. I like the over sized knob as opposed to the small coin-slot knob on the Apex. The Apex was sometimes difficult to turn closed without a coin or using the provided clip tool when my hands were sweaty. The large knob on the HP25 fixes that issue, well done Fenix.
 The question of comfort often comes up with the 4 AA battery compartments. I may be a little more tolerant than others but I've never seen it as an issue while out in the sticks with either the Apex or the HP25. Heck, my 10 year old daughter wore it the other night with no complaints. I guess if you where laying in bed reading books with this light, it might be an issue riding on the back of your head but then again, wearing this light to read while laying in bed is kinda like killing a fly with a sledge hammer. It can be done but it's kinda over kill. If laying in bed and reading books is your thing, I'd recommend a AAA head lamp like the  Petzl Tikka , Princeton Tec Fuel or even the Fenix HL10 . If you're the outdoor type, get the Fenix HP25 .

The well done battery carrier of the Fenix HP25. Note the large screw down knob
The Princeton Tec Apex on the left and the HP25 on the right

The power switches on the Fenix HP25 are separate; one for the spot light and one for the flood light.
HP25 Switches, Flood on the right, spot on the left
One of my current problems with my Princeton Tec Apex are the switches. When new, they didn't provide much feedback and were a little tough to operate but they worked well for about 4 years. During those four years however, they progressively became tougher and tougher to activate. Currently. none of my kids nor my wife can activate them. Fortunately the switches on the Fenix HP25 seem a little better made. You activate either switch my holding them for approximately one (1) second to turn them on or off and quick taps when they are on to scroll through their various power modes. A three second depression of the spot side will activate the "SOS" mode. These switches provide good clicky feedback and hopefully, years of reliable service like the rest of my Fenix lights.  The power switches on the Fenix HP25 are on the top of the light as opposed to the bottom on the Princeton Tec Apex . the Fenix also has a protruding plastic lip on top to protect the switches in the fully closed position.
Switch comparison, Princeton Tec Apex on the left and HP25 on the right. I  like the HP25 switches better. You'll note that the pivot on the Apex is broken as well so I had to torque down the pivot screw to make it usable.

Well this is where it all matters for most folks. Just how well does it work, how bright is it and how usable it it for various applications? Well, I've had it now for 2 weeks and I can report it works GREAT on all counts and brighter than any head lamp I've used or own. Thus far I've used it for night-time photography, herping and fish netting at night (sleeping fish are much easier to catch). My daughter likes to go out occasionally at night and collect fish from our local rivers for our huge aquarium and the HP25 worked great for this.

The flood light is the best I've used on ANY headlamp. It's unbelievably smooth throughout the beam and the run times are hard to believe:
Flood Turbo: 180 lumens / 4h 40min
Flood High: 90 lumens / 10h 30min
Flood Mid: 45 lumens / 24h
Flood Low: 4 lumens / 206h

In Spot Mode the Burn Times are advertised as: 
Spot High: 180 lumens / 4h 30min
Spot Mid: 90 lumens / 10h 30min
Spot Low: 45 lumens / 24h
SOS: 90 lumens

Of course using the spot and flood together will significantly shorten these times.

I'm happy to report that I used the spot and flood separately and together occasionally for almost four hours three nights ago before I had to replace the batteries. To say I was impressed with the Fenix HP25 is an understatement. The run-time beats my Princeton Tec Apex by a long shot. I would feel confident going out for a night of herping (snake hunting) with two good sets of batteries (8 AA's), one set in the headlamp and one extra in the pocket. I use the flood light option for walking and looking 90% of the time and switch on the spot temporarily to look into crevices/caves and up onto rock faces of rock ledges or road cuts. So in short, like I discovered with my Princeton Tec Apex, to make a good herping light, you need a flood AND spot light. The Fenix HP25 has both, they're both BRIGHT and they're both smooth with very little artifacts. I may have found my perfect herping light with the HP25.

While doing macro photography at night, a low level flood light is desirable for focus assist to leave your hands fee and my Princeton Tec Apex headlamp worked good for this. One variable is the power that is needed for focusing. This mainly depends on the distance from the subject to the camera sensor. Fortunately, the HP25 has four different power settings and has worked great for night-time photography. To all the photographers out there, if you haven't invested in a good headlamp yet, do it now! You'll wonder how you ever got by without one at night or in low light situations. The advantage of LED's of incandescents is that LED's provide a much "whiter" light than the yellow hue of the old incandescents. LED quality varies however, some cheaper ones giving off a blue tinge and some giving off a yellow tinge. The aim is pure white in most cases and the HP25 with it's Two Cree XP-E R4 LED's creates a very nice almost pure white with barely any perceptible yellow for photography purposes.
Equipment check for a night-time photography hike, Spyderco Gayle Bradley, Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Fenix HP25

The following are shot of spot only (on bright), flood light only and spot and flood together. All shot at 25 feet. The Camera was a Canon 40D / Canon 24-70 f/2.8L shot at f/5.6 at 2 seconds on ISO 400. There were no adjustments in the brightness or hue in post processing.

It worked great for hunting American Green Tree Frogs in central FL
Illuminating subjects for focus assist works great with the HP25. The head lamp was still illuminating during this shot.


If haven't figured it out yet, I think Fenix has a winner with the HP25. For the outdoorsman, the fisherman, the hunter, the herper (snake hunter), photographer, caver, hiker or camper, you'd be hard pressed to find a better light in this price range; heck at any price range. This is just one awesome BRIGHT headlamp with great run-time. Fenix must read the various forums and pick up on things that people have liked and disliked about headlamps because they seemed to really have nailed this one. It's spot light has a heck of a throw for a headlamp; more than sufficient for most outdoor activities. The flood light like previously stated is the best I've used. It's dang near perfect in my book for walking around, hiking, working at night, and herping. The Princeton Tec Apex (Albeit an older model) used to be my favorite. The Fenix HP25 has now taken that crown. This is one great light.... It will be getting LOTS of use. Fenix continues the tradition of being one of the best bang for your buck lights on the market.