1/27/13

SOG Flash II - Knife Review

The SOG Flash II was the first knife I started carrying daily.  I've had this model (a slightly older version than the one currently offered by SOG) for nearly 8 years.  It's seen a decent amount of use and has been plenty loved.

I own the aluminum handled version with a partially serrated blade.  The following review is considering it as close to new as possible; any wear that has occurred with age will not adversely affect the score.  While SOG has slightly adjusted their locking mechanism the knife hasn't changed much since this particular model was purchased; as such, I imagine this discussion is still relevant for current iterations.  Also, it appears that SOG is no longer producing an aluminum handled model; this isn't necessarily a bad thing as the glass-reinforced nylon handles drop the price to a more reasonable level.  This is the closest model SOG currently offers.

There are plenty of variations of the Flash II.  Too many to list.  They're MSRP is around $80.00 and they can be found online in the ballpark of $45.00.


Blade Material:  1/2

For some reason SOG loves its AUS-8 steel.  I would prefer that they didn't.  AUS-8 is a mid-range steel that, in my experience, requires far too much effort to keep sharp.  After opening a stack of packages it's back to the sharpener or you're struggling with a dull blade.  I've found myself sharpening it at least twice a week just to keep a decent edge.  SOG does a decent heat-treatment on it, but it's still a bit of a disappointment.  Sure, it's relatively easy to replace the edge, but it's not worth the tradeoff, in my opinion.  In the grand scheme of things, it's not a terrible steel, but it's not high-end by any stretch.

Fit of Parts:  1/2

Lateral blade play, even when closed.  It's something that I'm so frustrated with on the Flash II that I'm willing to dock it points in both this category and on its locking mechanism.  When closed, the blade can travel the width of the inner handle area.  It is, by far, one of the most irritating things that I've endured on a knife.

Blade Shape:  2/2

The Flash II sports a basic drop point blade.  It's a great everyday carry shape and is well-suited to most cutting tasks.

Blade Grind:  2/2

The full flat grind on the Flash II is executed well.  It's a robust grind that stands up to (relative) punishment well.

Mechanism:  0/2

The lock-up on this knife is sloppy.  There is plenty of lateral play in the blade.  It wiggles visibly in a manner that doesn't engender confidence whatsoever.  I can't remember if it was sloppy from day one, or if it has loosened with use, but even if the latter is the case there is no reason that it should have.  I even had the pivot bearing and locking mechanism tightened under warranty and it didn't really change much.

Sure, I haven't experienced catastrophic failure of the locking mechanism, it hasn't closed on my hand or something awful, but a decent mechanism shouldn't allow that much (or any) lateral movement in an open (or closed) blade.

Perhaps this is a problem that has been alleviated with the newer (looking) locking mechanism, but from what I've read, it's  problem with all the Flash series.

Design Concept:  1/2

I was initially drawn to the Flash II because it's a neat looking knife.  That said, after carrying it for a long while, there are a few things that bother me.  For example, the area of the blade that engages with the lock is exposed when the blade is closed; this annoys me.  The handle could have been designed in such a manner as to avoid exposing this portion of the blade. 

Grip:  1/2

I have the aluminum handled model.  The scales are nicely textured and there is adequate purchase when using the knife.


Deployment Method:  1/2

The assisted opening system on the Flash II isn't terrible.  It can be addictive to play with but I'm not buying SOG's assertion that it has "wicked-quick blade access."  The assisted opening isn't the fastest I've played with (the Kershaw Leek springs open far quicker).  Moreover, the thumb stud isn't the best out there; it seems a bit small due to its tapered design and close proximity to the handle.  A well-designed manual blade can be just as fast if not faster.

They also say that they had the "foresight to incorporate an additional safety lock" such that there would be "added security" when the blade is closed.  I'm a bit confused by this statement.  It's a knife that features an assisted opening mechanism.  As such, it can be assumed that the knife is designed for rapid deployment.  However, the additional safety lock merely adds another step in the opening process.  Sure, you can leave it off when the knife is in your pocket but why even have it there?  It just seems like a superfluous feature.

Carry Method:  2/2

If there's one thing that SOG has done right with some of their folding knives it's their deep carry pocket clips.  I do quite like the rear-mounted clip.  It allows the whole knife to sit in the pocket with only the very top of the pocket clip exposed.  It's more discrete than other clips, which can be an asset in certain pairs of pants.  I don't mind sporting a more visible knife and I doubt others often notice when I do, but it's a great feature.

Moreover, the clip design forces tip-up carry.  While choice is sometimes a good thing, there really isn't much of a reason to offer tip-down carry on most knives.  There are no good reasons to carry tip-down.

My one gripe is the size of the lanyard hole.  It's relatively small.  My go-to lanyard material is gutted paracord and the lanyard hole on the Flash II is too small to accept a piece.  This isn't something that I would consider a glaring flaw, though, just a minor inconvenience.

Carry Comfort:  1/2

This knife is thick. It's thicker than my Para-Military2, my CRKT M16-14SFG, and various other knives in my collection.  That said, it's not uncomfortable to carry.  The knife's profile, coupled with the deep carry pocket clip, makes it sit pretty well in a pocket.

Total:  12/20


Conclusions:

The SOG Flash II could make a good entry-level EDC blade.  It's not too terribly expensive and, overall, is a decent value for your money.

1/25/13

Finding the Right Pen for the Field Notes Expedition Notebook

A while back I saw the Field Notes Expedition notebooks on Uncrate.com.  Immediately, I bought a pack of three straight from Field Notes.  They just seemed too excellent to pass up.  They're made with a synthetic paper that's water-proof, tear-proof, and from what I've seen on the internet lately, near indestructible.

After receiving my set in the mail I was ecstatic; I quickly ordered more fearing that they might sell out before I could build a decent reserve (they're still available).  I now have 12 notebooks in total and I imagine I'll be set for at least the coming year.

The trick, though, is, of course, the paper.  Most pens rely on paper being porous and absorbing ink, trapping pigments within the paper's fibers and facilitating that whole writing-without-too-much-annoying-smearing thing.  Typically, inks are water-based.  This, naturally, presents a problem when trying to write on water-proof paper.  The ink simply doesn't take; it doesn't dry and it smears forever (I tested some Noodler's bulletproof black weeks ago and it still smears today).  Pencil, naturally, is an excellent alternative.  But EDCing a pencil can be troublesome.  Traditional wooden pencils require sharpening and their point can quickly dull or break.  Most lead-holders carry the same disadvantages.  Higher-end, more durable mechanical pencils often feature slender lead sleeves at the tip that aren't retractable; a feature that can be rather irritating and can be quickly damaged in a pocket.  There are some great looking drafting pencils that fulfill all my requirements (the Rotring 800 comes to mind) but at nearly $90, I can't yet justify the expense.  Retractable-point pens seem to be the best choice, short of the fact that quite a few utilize water-based inks that simply won't work with the unique synthetic paper found in the Field Notes Expedition series.

Some standard ballpoints work relatively well (standard Parker refills, for example) but leave a bit to be desired, smearing quite a bit even after reasonable drying time.  Permanent markers also work, but I'm not a fan of carrying a Sharpie around; they're simply not well-rounded for other tasks.  The Sharpie Pen, a favorite of mine, is unfortunately (and expectantly) awful in this case.

By now I'm sure you're screaming "SPACE PEN" or something along those lines.  Yes, the Fisher Space Pen cartridge works relatively well with this paper.  It's still prone to smearing, but is not as awful as other pens.  Yes, Field Notes seems to market the Space Pen as the perfect companion to the Expedition's paper, but I'm not convinced.

The best pen for this paper that I've found thus far is the Uni-Ball Power Tank.  On a whim, I picked one up thinking that it might function well with the Expedition notebooks.  I opted for the "High Grade" series simply because of the slightly slimmer body, knurling, and aluminum construction; they just look better and that's something I value.  The High Grade comes in at $16.50 for the pen while the "Smart Series" is priced far lower at $3.30.  Both varieties use the same pressurized refill, so I imagine all varieties will function rather alike (the only difference being the High Grade refill's metal construction compared to the Smart Series' plastic construction).  I was quite pleased when it arrived and I put it to use, finding that it is, as I mentioned, the best pen I've found for the Expedition's paper.


Below is a slightly-less-than-scientific comparison of the Uni-Ball Power Tank in .7mm and a Fisher Space Pen cartridge in what they call "fine."  As you can see, the Power Tank's ink dries to reasonable levels in about 15 to 20 seconds whereas the Space Pen cartridge remains easily smeared even after one minute of drying time.  Also worth noting is the fact that the Space Pen cartridge appears to skip a bit whereas the Power Tank is rather smooth.  I've always had some trouble with the Space Pen series skipping, even on traditional paper, the synthetic paper simply exacerbates the problem.  I'm sure that the drying / smearing differences have some to do with the slightly narrower point of the Power Tank.  This also allows smaller, more precise marks, an ability I tend to look for in my pens.


I almost feel compelled to pick up another couple of these, perhaps the cheaper versions, to throw in my car and have floating around for everyday use.  My only wish is that the High Grade came in a red barrel, although brown, black, and blue are rather compelling.

In short, the Uni-Ball Power Tank is the pen for the Field Notes Expedition notebooks.  It's stylish, reasonably priced (cheaper than most of Fisher's Space Pen products), and works exceptionally well with the synthetic paper.

1/18/13

1/17/13 Pocket Dump


Ordered some felt to line some drawers; a perfect opportunity to snap a photo.

This is what has been rattling around in my pockets (pants and jacket) recently:
  • Wallet w/ Fisher Bullet Space Pen;
  • Spyderco Para-military2;
  • Field Notes Expedition Notebook (excellent, thus far, despite being incompatible with water-based inks; pencil works very well and I’m beginning to prefer it, actually);
  • Staedtler 2mm Lead Holder;
  • Nitecore EX11.2;
  • Victorinox Alox Pioneer;
  • Bert’s Bees Res-Q Lip Balm;
  • Keys w/ SOG V-Cutter and Screwdriver / Bottle Opener;
  • Maratac Pilot’s Watch on DaLuca Nylon NATO.

1/16/13

The Perfect Lanyard


A lot of people throw lanyards on their knives and flashlights.  They aid in retrieval and are an easy way to customize gear.

The most common lanyard material these days is paracord.  There are plenty of weaves and knots that can be used to create a lanyard.  The trick is finding exactly what length is best.

I recently wrestled with this question.  I wanted a simple lanyard to aid in retrieval of my primary knife.  I planned to use a lanyard knot and a simple lark's head knot to attach the lanyard.  Initially, I tied on the lanyard knot at an aesthetically pleasing length.

After using the lanyard for a few days I began to realize that it wasn't performing as well as I had desired.  When I gripped the lanyard and pulled, allowing the knot to catch between my folded pinky and palm, I was presented with a problem: the handle of the knife was too far away.  Sure, I could pull the knife from my pocket, but there was a second movement required - namely grabbing at the handle - to actually use the knife.  I realized that the knot had to be closer to the body of the knife.  Then, of course, the question of "how close" arose.

The perfect lanyard, I think, is measured by pinching the top of the object as if you're retrieving it from your pocket and measuring the distance from its end to the bottom of your hand.  Essentially, the width of your middle, ring, and pinky fingers.


This length ensures that the knot catches the exterior of my closed palm when retrieving the knife.  Anything shorter and it wouldn't be as convenient and anything longer would result in the problems described above.


Of course, depending on where you're carrying the object and how you're planning to retrieve it matters.  For retrieval from a clipped position in a pocket, this method seems to work quite well.

Other lengths may work just as well, of course.  This just so happens to be the one way I measured the length of mine.  Another option could be tying the knot such that it lands between any other two fingers, a method that could work equally well as the one I'm currently employing.

Ultimately, whatever design works is the design that should stay.  There are some designs that work better than others, though; this just might be one of them.