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I recommend purchasing the Ontario Utilitac II at Amazon or BladeHQ. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.

Freeman Outdoor Gear 451 Flipper Review

Few of us have the money to shell out hundreds of dollars for every knife we think we might like. We have to cull the herd. Maybe we splash out for a promising ‘Maybe’ every once in a while, but 80% of the time we go for the sure thing. Most of the knives I skip I forget about, with nary a second thought given them. But every so often a Maybe knife won’t be forgotten. It lingers in the memory and asks me over and over again, “What if you’re missing out on something special?”

Such was the case with the Freeman Outdoor Gear 451 Flipper. I heard good things, and admired the flipping action, unique aesthetic, and button lock mechanism from afar. My cursor would hover over the “Add to Cart” button on the Freeman website, but I never could quite commit. Thankfully, a friend and fellow gear geek offered to send his 451 my way to try out.

After wondering for years what this knife is like, I’ve had a chance to try it out, and the news is mostly very good. The Freeman 451 flipper manages to bring a unique set of features to a section of the market that is saturated with a lot of sameness. It goes deeper than a straightforward recommendation, but there’s a lot of interesting things to cover.

General Dimensions and Blade Details

The 451 has a blade length of 3 5/8”, a handle length of 5 1/8”, an overall length of 8 13/16”, and is made in the USA. There are bigger blades than the 451, but this pushes up right against the limit of what I would consider reasonable proportions for something that folds and is meant to be carried the pocket. That is strictly a function of the 451’s overall shape, however: at 5.5 oz. it’s actually quite light for its size.

Freeman 451

The market is so rife with drop points that you think I’d be sick of looking at them. However, the proportions and grind make the 451’s blade shape memorable and useful. This feels like a blade that can take a beating , with thick blade stock and a lot of material brought right up behind the edge, but the grind is masterful: a mirror-polished secondary bevel that is nice and wide without being thin or brittle. The result is a combination of toughness and slicing ability that is rare in big blades. This is probably as good a balance as you’re likely to see on a knife this size.

The striations on the blade are bound to polarizing. I actually think they’re look pretty good, and they make cutting through choky material like cardboard easier. The knife almost ‘revs up:’ the longer the pull through material, the easier it gets. They might cause issues with long-term sharpening, but other than that I can’t complain.

Freeman 451 Blade

Steel here is D2. This is a venerable tool steel that I have had very little experience with before now. The edge was very clean and very sharp. I think the thick stock and wide-but-not-narrow edge bevel really accentuate D2’s edge holding ability while minimizing its reported tendency to chip. In another smart move Jeff Freeman chose to Cerakote the blade. As a semi-stainless tool steel, rust is a concern with D2. In an uncoated blade the grooves would give me pause; I can see moisture creeping into them and wreaking havoc. Thankfully, between the coating and the mirror polish on the bare edge, I’d say you’re pretty much protected set barring grossly neglectful behavior.

Handle, Ergonomics, and Carry

The handle on the 451 looks like your average one finger groove affair, but that isn’t quite how it feels when you’re holding it. That finger groove is huge. It can accommodate two fingers, actually, but it works best with one finger in it. Holding the knife naturally, the pointer finger rests at the very bottom of the groove. This gives your knuckle some clearance so it isn’t butting up against the flipper tab – something that so many flipper knives neglect to do.

Freeman 451 Handle

In terms of control, it’s good. Your hand is situated pretty far back. You undoubtedly lose fine control, but fine cutting tasks aren’t the 451’s calling. I used to think that all big knives that couldn’t also do fine cutting were needlessly sacrificing something, but that’s not true. Just because the PM2 can function as an EDC doesn’t mean that all larger knives have to, and really the PM2 is just barely a big a knife anyway. The 451 is much more clearly meant for specific kinds of tasks, and in those tasks the ergonomics are great. There’s a sort of finger choil on the blade itself as well, but I found it a little too close to the edge for my comfort.

Freeman 451 Ergonomics

The 451 carries quite well for a big knife. You could EDC it if you wanted and not be totally displeased with the in-pocket feel. But where I think the 451 excels is in its lightness and narrow frame relative to other hard-use big blades. You aren’t going to feel like you have a paperback strapped to your thigh carrying the 451 on a hike. The aluminum frame is gentle on your pockets and the titanium clip is adequately-tensioned and beefy as hell.

Freeman 451 Pocket Clip

Deployment and Lockup

I don’t think flippers are, in any way, an improvement over thumb studs or opening holes. I tend to think that they are in fact actively worse. They often muck up the ergonomics of a knife, and they always make it a worse carry. The 451 makes its flipper as agreeable as possible.

Freeman 451 closed

It deploys surely and swiftly every time. The weight of the blade and the strength of the detent make the 451 a snappy and sure flipper. You have to try to mess up the flipping in order to get the 451 to not lock up. It’s hard to do.

The button lock is still something of a novelty in the knife world, isn’t it? Hogue has been using it with success, but other than that the only non-automatic production maker using button locks regularly is Gerber. Maybe this is a vestige of Freeman’s influence on the company (he was head designer there for many years), who knows.

Either way, the Freeman clearly believes in the button lock, and it’s easy to see why. On the 451 it is strong, secure, and easy to engage/disengage. Your fingers don’t have to be in the blade channel to disengage it – a major positive given the free-swinging blade. There is variability in the amount of play I get when I lock the 451 up, but it’s never enough play that I care. The button lock also sticks to greater or lesser degrees depending on how hard you flick it. I think these are characteristics of the lock design, and not indicative of poor fit and finish or tolerancing.

Freeman 451 vs. Spyderco Delica

In many ways this button lock reminds me of the Axis Lock. It’s probably slightly worse than the Axis, if only because it isn’t ambidextrous, but I never doubted its strength or security, and I am happy to see something in this price range without a frame lock.

Freeman 451 Flipper – Final Thoughts

I’m glad I got to try out the 451 flipper. It answers a question I’ve been asking for a long time: Is it a good knife? The answer is a definite yes. Would I buy one for myself? That’s a tougher call. When the 451 first came out, it was a little cheaper ($200 instead of $225), and the market was way less competitive. If you’re looking for a big high-end knife there are a lot of choices out there at or under the same cost, some with better features like S35VN steel – which you can get on the 451, but for a significant premium that puts the knife well outside of reasonable.

If I had bought and reviewed the 451 when I first learned about it, it would have my unreserved recommendation. What a difference a couple years and $25 can make! The 451 is still a competitive knife in a lot of respects. The materials are simple but very well-executed. It’s nice and light for its size without sacrificing any sort of durability. And personally, I think it’s a really cool-looking knife. I can’t say that the 451 is a must-buy, but definitely don’t ignore this knife when you’re looking for something big and bold.

I recommend purchasing the Freeman Outdoor Gear 451 Flipper at Amazon, KnifeArt, BladeHQ, or you can buy it direct from Freeman Outdoor Gear. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.

Spyderco Mantra 1 Review

Admittedly, the Mantra 1 had a hill of biases to climb from the start with me. It is a titanium frame lock flipper, a style of knife that I’ve never warmed up to. I find the flipper to be an inferior deployment method for knives, and while I’ve had positive experiences recently with the frame lock, unless it is done exceptionally well it’s temperamental nature make it a sub-optimal lock for daily use.

There was also the Mantra’s heritage to consider: it is more or less a retooled Delica 4. I like the Delica as it exists in knife community mythology: an affordable, ideal EDC blade, a true classic that anyone can afford. I enjoy the reality of the Delica much less: strange ergonomics, underwhelming VG-10 steel, and a just-slightly-too-high price point have made it hard for me to connect with this venerable blade.

Spyderco Mantra 1

So I picked up the Mantra 1 to see if it could prove itself worthy, both as a titanium framelock flipper, and as a reimagining of the Delica chassis.

And there are many ways in which the Mantra is a fine tool. But it has completely bounced off me. The Mantra is a safe design. Too safe. Not every knife needs to be a history-making masterpiece, but nothing about the Mantra’s design excites me. It is purely perfunctory, a competent knife, but a complacent design. Worse, there are things about it that drove me crazy from day one. The longer I carried the Mantra, the more I noticed major problems with its form, its function, and its purpose. Carrying it was never a chore, but it never distinguished itself in use, and now that it’s out of my pocket I can’t imagine why I’d ever carry it again.

General Dimensions and Blade Details

The Mantra has a handle length of 4”, a blade length of 3 1/8”, and an overall length of 7 ¼” and is made in Taiwan. It weighs 3 oz. As a modified Delica 4, it is a little bigger, and a little heavier.

The leaf shape blade is a workhorse. The additional cutting edge length and blade width over a Delica makes a difference when it comes to slicing. The Mantra’s blade is precise and efficient without being overlarge or cumbersome. The ergonomics mess with the cutting control somewhat, but the blade shape itself is pure gold.

The steel is my first big issue with the Mantra. I will never disparage CPM-M4’s sheer cutting ability. This is a knife that takes a sharp edge, holds it forever, and is tough, tough, tough. I liked its performance on my Air and I like it here on the Mantra – but when I’m not cutting with M4, I hate it.

M4 is not a stainless steel. It discolors, tarnishes, and stains with little provocation, and quite quickly. The minute I got my Mantra I wiped it down with oil, and even so every time I touched the blade my fingers left a mark. I left the Mantra out overnight on my desk in an air-conditioned apartment, and there was discoloration all over the next morning. If the Mantra was designed to be a true everyday user, M4 was a bad choice. I don’t want to have to baby and fret over my EDC knife; it should work well and virtually maintain itself.

Spyderco Mantra 1 Blade

I feel like Spyderco knows that M4 has a corrosion problem, because the Mantra’s flipper tab, ostensibly the place that will be receiving the most contact from your finger, is differently finished, almost polished, as if to counteract that additional contact – and it still discolors. If Spyderco wanted to go with M4 here, they should have coated or clad it. The sprint run HAP40 Delicas have a laminated blade to fight corrosion, and HAP40 actually has more chromium than M4, so I don’t know why they didn’t work to combat M4’s weaknesses on this more expensive knife.

M4 is a great steel for specialized applications, but its quirks preclude it from being an all-purpose folding knife steel. If it was the only steel in the world with great edge retention and toughness, that would be one thing, but we are literally spoiled for choice when it comes to super steels available on $150-200 knives. S35VN is not a ridiculous thing to ask for at $160, and it would have been perfect here. My suspicion is that we are seeing M4 on the Mantra for the same reason that we are still seeing a lot of Spyderco knives with S30V: they have a lot of the stuff lying around and need to get rid of it. But whether it was a matter of convenience or Spyderco really believes in this stuff, it just doesn’t work here.

Handle, Ergonomics, and Carry

I may not love the Delica 4, but I readily acknowledge that the design has been gone over so much that nothing feels like an accident. Even the handle, which I find too prescriptive, is more refined and considered than most knives’. If there was one thing the Mantra seemed to carry over unmodified from the Delica 4, it was its handle design.

Spyderco Mantra 1 Handle

But here’s where the flipper starts to make life difficult. The Delica 4 handle may not be my favorite, but it does work. However, it needs every last centimeter of its handle length to do so. The Mantra retains the Delica 4 handle’s overall length, but doesn’t change the size to accommodate the flipper tab, which of course works as a forward guard, perpendicular to the handle, when the knife is open. What this means is that you actually lose usable handle length over the Delica.

Thus, in hand, I found the Mantra a Delica-but-less, and thus uncomfortable. The scalloping makes your pointer finger run right up against the flipper tab. You also have to stretch your thumb a bit to actually make use of the jimped thumb ramp. Holding the knife like you’re supposed to, your hand is canted at a weird angle, and strangely distant from the start of the cutting edge. You lose a lot of control.

Spyderco Mantra Ergonomics

The titanium handle scales themselves are quite nice, well-machined and chamfered, with an attractive large grain stone wash. They’re mildly textured, but positive enough grip-wise, aided by the jimping on the thumb ramp and the lockbar insert. All details that Spyderco and its Taichung facility generally get right, but the flawed fundamentals make the execution more or less moot.

Spyderco Mantra 1 Pocket Clip

The Mantra works well in the pocket. The deep carry wire clip keeps it buried and out of the way until you need it, and the scales won’t shred your pants. I have been a longtime disparager of the Spyderco wire clip, finding it a little fragile. If there’s a positive takeaway from my time with the Mantra, it’s that I was wrong about this clip. It survived weeks of carry with no problem, and actually looks handsome in its way, so I’m a semi-convert on the wire clip.

Deployment and Lockup

Judging by any standard, the Mantra’s flipper is mediocre. Despite utilizing a ball bearing pivot, it’s laggardly. It isn’t thoughtless: you have to be deliberate with your deployment motion. It misfires every once and a while. It even fails at the more frivolous things: it isn’t particularly smooth, particularly effortless, or particularly satisfying to fidget with. Ironically, the Spyder Hole works really well here, and this is a satisfying knife to flick open in the ‘traditional’ way: fast and sure.

Spyderco Mantra 1 vs. Spyderco Delica

The frame lock is good. No play, and disengagement is easy. A very scrawny-looking lock bar, but it manages to inspire confidence with its fuss-free performance.

Spyderco Mantra 1 – Final Thoughts

I don’t like the Mantra. The steel choice isn’t right, the ergonomics are actually bad, and the main selling point, the flipper, is undercooked. It’s hard to make an unusable knife at the $160 price point, and Mantra does work, but its profound lack of spark, along with its flawed fundamental execution, scuttles what could be good here. Spyderco is famous for thinking their knives through, but the Mantra feels like it’s one or two design revisions away from where it should be. There are better blades at pretty much every price point.

List Price: $158.40
Current Price: $157.95
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If you are thinking of buying a Spyderco Mantra, please consider purchasing it at Amazon or BladeHQ. By purchasing things through any of the links on this website you support, keep the website free of annoying banner ads, and help produce future reviews. Thank you very much.

Cold Steel Pro-Lite Review

I was excited when Cold Steel announced the Pro-Lite. I like good knives, and I like cheap knives, and the Pro-Lite looked like it might check both boxes. And while there’s definitely a lot to say about Cold Steel’s behavior in the last few years, it’s nice to see a genuinely interesting budget knife from a company other than Kershaw.

People talk about the Hinderer/KAI collaborations a lot but, really, the partnership between Cold Steel and Demko is where it’s at. Cold Steel’s affordability, competent machining, and quality materials complement the utility-driven Demko style perfectly. This harmonious pairing has allowed Cold Steel to first reinvent itself as a maker of reliable tools and not just oversized Mall Ninja props, and to move upmarket with compelling offerings in the mid-priced knife bracket.

That move meant there wasn’t really an entry-level Cold Steel knife anymore. Sure, there were a few cheap knives in the lineup, but they were all a little too corner case or niche to be representative of the brand. With the Pro-Lite, Cold Steel brings out a true modern CS design, at a low price. This is the Cold Steel budget flagship we were waiting for.

General Dimensions and Blade Details

The Pro-Lite has a blade length of 3 5/16”, a handle length of 4 ½”, and an overall length of almost exactly 8”. It is very light for its size, weighing only 3.2 oz, and is made in Taiwan.

Cold Steel Pro-Lite

Andrew Demko’s style is particularly adaptable to production knives. I think this is because his design philosophy is so practical. His blades are stylish, but that style derives from a commitment to utility. Every custom maker I’ve ever spoken to says they want their knives to be used, but few make this as obvious as Demko does. It also helps that his signature design element, the Tri-Ad Lock, is easy to implement in production knives.

Generally, I prefer smaller knives. I’ve been trying to carry more larger knives to get a feel for the advantages they offer. For what it’s worth, I think the Pro-Lite’s size is part of its charm. This wouldn’t work as a smaller knife. The incredible ergonomics would be compromised, and the very nice blade shape would be altered, likely for the worse.

My Pro-Lite has a clip point blade, long and low-slung, similar to the Buck 110’s blade. I think I’m still a drop point boy at heart, but the clip point is growing on me. The Pro-Lite’s tip is just south of the pivot, and the blade is ground thin enough that you get a lot of a control. The hollow grind starts fairly low, but given the thinnish initial stock you have a good combination of sliciness and stability. This is a burly blade I can get behind.

Cold Steel Pro-Lite Blade

Steel is interesting. As much as I would have loved to see Cold Steel’s erstwhile standby, AUS-8A, on the Pro-Lite, what we have instead is Krupps 4116. A less common steel, seen on a few of Cold Steel’s previous super-budget options like the Pocket Bushman. I’ve never had a knife with 4116 before, and my experience with it on the Pro-Lite has left me ambivalent. Edge retention seems to be below AUS-8A, and while it is rust-resistant, it has a splotchy finish that just looks weird. Even in the glamour pics on retail sites it looks bad. In the end though 4116 is serviceable and easy to sharpen, which is tantamount in an ‘everyman’ blade, as the Pro-Lite is designed to be.

Handle, Ergonomics, and Carry

Word on the street is that Andrew Demko was particularly fond of the Pro-Lite’s handle, and he has every reason to be. The ergos here are excellent. The bi-level sculpting puts your fore- and middle finger at a lower level than your ring finger and pinky, letting you pinch around the pivot for superlative control. The guard is pronounced enough to keep your hand from going forward, but shallow enough not to interfere with cutting. The beak at the back keeps your rear two fingers situated. This is one of the nimblest-feeling medium-sized blades I’ve ever handled.

Cold Steel Pro-Lite Handle

Other nice things: there is a slight contour to the scales. The orange peel finish is positive-feeling, but not Cold Steel Classic abrasive. The extra-large jimping on the spine of the knife is great for indexing. Overall proportions for a medium-sized knife are spot on. The Pro-Lite feels hardy and dependable without feeling comically overbuilt, and it has a rugged, Jean Claude Van Dammian swagger that some of the more cerebral heavy-duty knives lack.

Cold Steel Pro-Lite Ergonomics

The Pro-Lite is a little wide in the pocket, but it’s nothing catastrophic. At its widest point it’s still narrower than a PM2, and it’s nice and thin compared to something like a Voyager. I also heartily approve of the clip. Angled clips are one of my pet peeves, and I’m hoping that Cold Steel is moving towards straight, unadorned clips like this one in the future. Tension is perfect, length is just right, and it seems durable. I have no complaints here. It may not be a revelation in the pocket as it was in the hand, but the Pro-Lite still carries damn good.

Deployment and Lockup

Cold Steel cheaped out big time on the washers: big plastic affairs. The pivot feels cottony, and deployment is very slow. A lockback isn’t ever going to be the fastest opener in the world, but these cheap washers really gunk it up. Once the knife is broken in they’re serviceable, and I can just about flick it open now, but really, phosphor bronze washers would be perfect here, and even at $30 that isn’t asking for the moon.

Cold Steel Pro-Lite Pocket Clip

The Tri-Ad lock is here, and completely serviceable. I get the slightest amount of vertical play if I really wrench on the Pro-Lite, but it’s nothing to get upset about. For a working knife, the Tri-Ad lock is such a good choice. It’s dead simple to operate, requires no real maintenance, and is as unfinicky as they come. Worth noting, however, is that there are degrees of quality in Tri-Ad locks. This is a workmanlike variation, less tuned than the one on my Large Espada. If I flick open the Pro-Lite really hard the lockbar travels deeper into the notch on the tang and it takes some doing to unstick it. It doesn’t feel as dialed in as on a higher-end offering, but I don’t think it affects performance in the least.

Cold Steel Pro-Lite

Cold Steel Pro-Lite – Final Thoughts

The Pro-Lite makes a lot of sense for Cold Steel 2016: when most of their line was in the $40-60 range, they would undercut themselves with something like this. Now that they’ve moved upmarket, they can introduce a blade for somebody interested in their design ethos and the Tri-Ad lock, but without the money to spend on higher-end options. And, in the budget knife world, I think the Pro-Lite can compete with the all-time greats in the price bracket: the Drifter, the Tenacious, the Cryo.

If they made a Pro-Lite with contoured G-10 scales, CTS-XHP steel, and tighter fit and finish, I would gladly pay $120 for it. And you can’t always say that you’d be interested in higher-end versions of budget knives. A Drifter wouldn’t be all that interesting against more the diverse competition in the high-end market. It’s too generic. The Tenacious fails to impress next to the Native 5, or even the Delica. But I like the Pro-Lite design better than the Voyager or the Recon 1.

There is no dearth of cheap knives in the world, but there are precious few that we will remember in five years. There are budget knives that are good budget knives, and budget knives that are good knives. The Pro-Lite falls into this second, much smaller category. This is a great design, full stop. It is quite an accomplishment, and even amongst the string of great knives Cold Steel has been releasing, it stands out. Its own flaws can’t stop the design from shining through either. For $30 this is an easy, easy recommendation.

If you are considering buying a Cold Steel Pro-Lite, I recommend purchasing it at Amazon