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Folding Knife Reviews - The Cutting Edge

Posted in Product Reviews on March 1, 2008
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If you're reading this magazine, you're probably an off-roader who enjoys the outdoors. And if you're an outdoor enthusiast, you've probably found yourself in need of an edged tool on occasion.

Whether you're wheeling to the river for a fishing trip or deflating your tires on a rockcrawling expedition, a folder knife is a versatile tool to have in your tackle box or clipped at your hip.

So this month we're continuing our quest started in 4WD&SU's January issue to find top-quality folder knives that are trailworthy for the mudbogging, rock-hounding outdoor adventurer.

Making The Cut
A folder knife can make a fine substitute for a multitool. You can use it to push in a Schrader valve pin to get the right psi before hitting the trail and then use it to fillet a fish by the campfire after a long day of four-wheeling.

But a folder knife's primary purpose is to slice.

Therefore, we put the four below knives to three tasks: severing 1/8-inch-thick heater-core hoses 1 inch in diameter (to simulate repairing a burst hose); cutting into 1/2-inch-thick tree branches (to imitate slashing branches for firewood); and then sawing into 1/8-inch-thick cardboard tubes 2 inches in diameter (to replicate opening packages and to test edge retention).

For the most part, the results weren't surprising, considering the reputations of the manufacturers.

We performed the first test chef-style, placing the heater-core hose flat against a table and slicing down. The 520SBK Presidio from the Benchmade Knife Company cut through the rubber like a carving knife through warm sausage. Its drop-point blade allowed for a smooth forward slice, while its serration split the rest of the hose on the pull back.

Next, we used the Presidio to cut the branches and by the time we were done, splinters lay scattered about as we marveled at the Presidio's ability to hack at whole branches, carve out marshmallow skewers, or have the precision to whittle toothpick-size sticks.

During the final cutting test, the Presidio's black-coated blade showed no signs of wear, stabbing through the cardboard tube and sawing off a section without much effort. Made of 154CM stainless steel, this folder's blade has excellent edge retention and great corrosion resistance. Three words best describe the Presidio: lasting razor sharpness.

Meanwhile, the Delica 4 C11S from Spyderco and the Ultimate Hunter from Cold Steel tie for second in the cutting department.

The Delica's blade is impressive. Because the C11S version is completely serrated, the Delica naturally required more of a sawing action than a slicing motion to sever the rubber hoses and cardboard tubes. Nonetheless, there wasn't a hint of dulling in its premium-grade VG-10 stainless steel, and the knife still looked brand new after hacking through all manner of rough materials.

Likewise, the Ultimate Hunter with satin finish maintained its sharp edge despite our repeated abuse. While it's debatable where its VG-1 stainless steel stands among the other premium-grade blade alloys out there, one thing was clear to us about this knife: Its drop-point blade cuts. And quite effectively.

This Cold Steel knife sliced the heater-core hose and cardboard tube with ease. And as its name implies, the Ultimate Hunter could skin big game animals and still whittle wood without fail or fatigue.

Last but definitely not least is Halligan's Ultimate Gadget 5580, or the HUG, from CRKT.

We must admit it was almost unfair to pit this personal carry knife against the other folders, which fall in the hunting and utility categories. CRKT's illustrated instructional brochure even emphasized that this folder is for light-duty tasks - such as opening boxes or cutting fruit - and not for any job that involves torquing the handle. But we were pleasantly surprised to find its 2.3-inch blade performed admirably in our cutting tests.

Although the heater-core hose proved a bit of a task for the HUG, some continuous sawing severed the rubber. Similarly, after the folder's modified spear point smoothly punctured the cardboard tube, we just had to pull back and forth several times before cutting off a section of the tube. Meanwhile, the HUG's single-sided semiserrated blade made splinters out of the tree branches.

While it had a nick or two on its edge after our punishment, the HUG's 420J2 steel blade can easily be sharpened and is good at resisting stains.

Get A Grip
Having a super-sharp folder knife with a subpar handle is like tackling the trail in your 4x4 rig with the hubs unlocked - it just doesn't make sense.

But there were no worries here with these four folders.

The Presidio's machined aluminum handle can take a beating while supporting its blade and has bidirectional treads to prevent slippage in greasy or sweaty hands. Though its 5.62oz frame might seem a bit beefy for some four-wheelers, it felt comfortable in our palms - like holding a favorite pair of pliers.

Another knife with a great feel was the Ultimate Hunter. Its 5-inch frame is made of Thermorun, a synthetic material that's used in numerous applications, such as car bumpers, roofing sheets, and gaskets. Why such varied use? Because Thermorun is lightweight but durable, hard, and resistant to heat, water, and chemicals - making it ideal for knife handles. The Ultimate Hunter's frame can absorb shocks and is ergonomically molded with grooves for an assured grip.

Perhaps the slickest handle belongs to the Delica. Made completely of stainless steel, the 4.25-inch handle provides a stouter feel than the typical fiberglass-reinforced nylon handles. Spyderco's lack of antislip grooves or treads is actually a nice aesthetic touch - keeping the handle surface flat and smooth allows for personalized engraving. And best of all, its removable clip can be positioned tip up or tip down and for left- or right-handers.

With the HUG, less is more. Like its blade, the HUG's 3.65-inch frame is made of bead-blast high-carbon stainless steel and is compact and lightweight. There's a finger choil on the bottom and friction grooves at the thumb area to prevent slipping. Also, a single Zytel-nylon scale offers a better grip and prevents the knife from accidentally opening.

But the real attraction of the HUG's handle is the stainless steel pocket clip, which also acts as a very cool and convenient money clip and makes this folder a versatile personal carry knife.

The Folding Factor
One aspect we thoroughly examined was the knives' ability to flick open and fold efficiently - because really, what's the point of having a sharp blade if you can't access it?

As we predicted, opening the Presidio was a breeze thanks to Benchmade's patented Axis system - a smooth, safe, and ambidextrous locking mechanism. It also allows for single-handed closings as well. You just pull down on a hardened steel bar - which is on either side of the handle and machined into both steel liners - with your thumb to release the lock.

Another original locking system is CRKT's Frame Lock on the HUG. To close the blade, you simply push down on the Frame Lock with your thumb then rotate the blade down with your fingers. As the next generation of the CRKT's Keep It Super Simple knife family, the HUG's design shows that minimalist engineering can be both beautiful and innovative. Unfortunately, it only comes right-handed.

Both the Delica and the Ultimate Hunter have a rocker lock, a no-frills type of locking mechanism that is perhaps the strongest of its kind. This traditional but top-quality system ensures that once the blade is open, the knife won't collapse or fail.

The Delica features Spyderco's trademark ambidextrous thumb opening, while the Ultimate Hunter has thumb studs for both right- and left-handers. And with enough practice, opening and closing these two knives will not only be safe but swift.

The Final Cut
The CRKT's HUG has a convenient money clip, can be carried almost anywhere, and is a solid tool for all sorts of light-duty tasks on the trail.

Spyderco's Delica is a keeper. Aside from looking great, it is made out of excellent materials and ideal for four-wheeling, camping, or everyday use.

Cold Steel's Ultimate Hunter is the perfect companion for your next hunting or fishing trip. Need to skin your big-game kill? Have to gut some trout? It might look plain at first, but this folder is apt for almost any hunting or utility task.

Meanwhile, the Presidio has a rugged construction, is fun and easy to use, and handy in any environment. If money's no object, you'll be ecstatic with the Presidio whether you're a knife nut or just an off-roader looking for a versatile edged tool. Don't be scared by the Presidio's $192 price tag - you will definitely get your money's worth.

We're pleased with the performances of all four folder knives, because each one had something different to offer. Like selecting a 4x4 rig, it's just a matter of matching form with function.

PhotosView Slideshow

Sources

Spyderco
Golden, CO 80403
800-525-7770
www.spyderco.com
Columbia River Knife & Tool
Benchmade Knife Co.
800-800-7427
www.benchmade.com
Cold Steel
www.coldsteel.com

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