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Last Updated: August 3, 2019
I hope the regular readers are interested in high end knives, because the next few posts are all going to be doozies. The TM-1 is so mythical a knife, that it isn’t even out yet, although LionSteel tells me that they will be introducing it to market any day now. I was fortunate enough to snag one of the pre-release samples on display at the 2014 Blade Show.
Buy the LionSteel TM1 at BladeHQ
As a lover of knives, I had an extremely tough time putting down the TM-1 LionSteel had on display at their booth. As a lover of deals, I couldn’t resist asking whether they would be willing to part ways with one for purposes of review. Gianni, co-owner and CEO of LionSteel, was kind enough to oblige me. That said, I do need to make clear that this knife was one of the 4 or 5 display pieces sitting at the Blade Show booth, and it has been handled by hundreds of people over that weekend. As such it has a few scuffs and carry marks, and I of course have been carrying and using it myself as well.
The TM1 is another knife in LionSteel’s SOLID® line, which means that the handle has been milled out of a single block of material. In the past titanium has been LionSteel’s handle material of choice, and I examined my titanium-handled SR-1 not too long ago. This time around LionSteel has decided to use either carbon fiber or micarta. Being the material girl that I am, I of course opted for carbon fiber. The carbon fiber is handsome and makes the knife much lighter than my SR-1 (which is about the same size).
Perhaps even more interesting than the material selection is the fact that this time around LionSteel wanted to make a monolithic handled knife with a back lock and IKBS bearings; two firsts for the company. I have been admiring the knife for almost a month now and I am still unsure as to how exactly they pulled that off. Regardless of what draws you to the TM1, there is something to admire. And I feel very fortunate to share some early thoughts on this brand new knife.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The TM1 has an overall length of 8.07″, has a 3.54″ blade, and weighs 4.48 ounces. Much like when handling the Zero Tolerance 0454, another carbon fiber handled knife, one of my first remarks when picking up the TM1 was how light it felt. The knife feels deceptively light for its size, and is way lighter than a titanium handled counterpart. This is a largish EDC knife in my book. Not only is it a pretty long knife, it is thick and wide as well. That said, the TM1 was definitely built with use in mind. Construction is stout, the handle and blade are capable, and the light weight means that it is actually something that can be carried.
The TM1 has a unique reverse tanto blade. Reverse tantos are uncommon. Arguably the best known production knife to feature the reverse tanto blade shape is the Benchmade 940, which happens to be one of my favorite Benchmades. So the blade profile of the TM1 is different from most of the knives in my collection, and is a welcome divergence from all of my drop points. The reverse tanto not only looks unique, but it is quite practical too. You get all of the belly of a drop point with the fine tip of a tanto. LionSteel further enhanced the usability of this knife but giving it a full flat grind, which gets nice and thin behind the edge. This isn’t just a show piece, this is a practical tool.
LionSteel elected to equip the TM1 with a Sleipner stainless steel blade. This is my first real experience with Sliepner, and it has been fun to put this knife through its paces. I am not particularly interested in the chemistry of the steel, but here is a link to the data sheet so you can check all of that information out.
In practice I found Sliepner to perform well for daily carry tasks. Like I mentioned in the intro, this was something of a scratch and dent model, so I had no problem with beating on this knife a little (the first scratch is always the hardest). I worked with cardboard, wood, paper, and plastic, and the knife never had a problem. When the edge did start to slow down it quickly came back after stropping. My final thoughts on Sliepner are still in the works, but so far this steel seems very promising. No issues with rust or corrosion either.
My knife did come with a black blade coating. I am pretty sure it is a black oxide blade coating, and it has held up really well under use. Granted I haven’t use this knife to open up a can of Chef Boyardee, but so far there is no scratching or visible signs of wear.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip
Obviously handle construction the reason to buy this knife. Milled from a solid block of micarta or carbon fiber (shown here) handle construction is impressive, to say the least. Every corner has been masterfully chamfered (in some cases it has been so decoratively), and the handle is contoured for comfort and style. The end result is beautiful and displays the carbon fiber weave in a number of different facets. The workmanship is flawless; all the lines are crisp and clean. My satisfaction with the execution of the carbon fiber handle cannot be overstated.
The TM1 feels at home in my hand. It’s a stout knife, with plenty of handle and an abrupt finger choil. The body of the handle gently swells to fill the palm, and the absence of jimping is not a problem for me. Despite the apparent lack of a dedicated “traction plan” the knife magically manages to remain in my grasp. This is a comfortable and fully functional handle.
The TM1 features an ambidextrous deep carry pocket clip. This is the same clip found on the SR-1. Mine has been given the same black oxide coating as the blade (so far no wear), and is held in place with a carbide glass breaker. SR-1 owners will attest that this is a very nice pocket clip. It is discrete and holds the knife very securely in your pocket. The fact that it is mounted on the butt of the handle is very elegant. There are no extra holes in the handle of the knife and I love the simplicity and practicality of this clip design.
For a larger and bulkier knife the TM1 does carry well, in part because it has a well implemented and secure pocket clip, and in part because it is so lightweight for its size. This is definitely a knife that can be carried.
Deployment and Lockup
The TM1 makes use of a thumb disk to open the blade. This is probably my least favorite aspect of the knife. It works fine for slow and purposeful openings, but I have found it impossible to flick open. I guess at the end of the day that is perfectly acceptable, but this is a knife I would love to flick open given the IKBS bearing system and the massively satisfying “thwack” sound the knife makes upon deployment. It makes almost a chirping noise, kind of like the Sage 1, which also happens to feature carbon fiber. My guess is that they opted for the thumb disk so that they wouldn’t spoil the lines, and I suppose that is a worthy compromise.
My knife locks up without even a hint of bladeplay. Again, the sound this knife makes upon locking up is very unique, and very satisfying. Upon disengagement of the lock bar the blade falls about halfway closed, where it can then be shaken completely shut. I have never handled a lockback that smooth before. No doubt this is due in part to the use of an IKBS bearing system, and LionSteel definitely deserves some kudos for this. The large decorative pivot is very smooth, and the action is a lot of fun. I still have no idea how they got all of those bearings into this thing.
It is worth noting that my blade is perfectly centered.
LionSteel TM1 Review – Final Thoughts
The TM1 is the third addition to their integral line, and I think it is my favorite. I say that because in my opinion this knife is meant to be used; a vibe I don’t really get from my TiSpine or my SR1. LionSteel has managed to elevate the humble back lock to a drool worthy, collector status knife yet they have also kept it durable and functional. The lightweight handle makes this a knife that I actually want to pocket and use, while the TiSpine and SR-1 are knives that I want to enjoy while sitting on my couch. Plus, titanium scratches easily, and this carbon fiber really hides wear well. Same with the black oxide coated blade.
I think LionSteel is really doing some exciting things. While other manufacturers seem to be caught in something of a creative rut, LionSteel’s creativity and willingness to push the envelope further elevates themselves as serious contenders in the US production knife marketplace. And I don’t think I am the only one to notice this. LionSteel won the 2014 Blade Show manufacturer of the year award, and their HiJinx collaboration with CRKT and Ken Onion netted them a 2014 knife of the year award as well. As I look towards their next move, I can’t help but wonder if we will see some of this technology filter down into some budget minded products. I doubt we will see a 4-axis machined carbon fiber handled knife retail for under $200.00, but if there is one thing I have learned about LionSteel, it is to expect the unexpected.
Given the premium price tag, this knife won’t wind up in everyone’s collection, but I definitely recommend it if the TM1 is one that you want to buy. This is an amazing knife and I am very impressed by it.
Lionsteel TM1 – From $400.00
- MADE IN ITALY by LionSteel, one of the world's premier knife manufacturers
- KNIFE HANDLE is precision machined from a solid block of Micarta for extra sturdiness and strength
- BLADE is made from Sleipner steel, a chromium/molybdenum/vanadium alloy which is a variant of D2 steel
- INCLUDES tungsten carbide glass breaker and an ambidextrous pocket clip
- DIMENSIONS: Blade Length 3.54", Blade Thickness: 0.18", Total Weight: 3.5 oz.
As always, thanks for the detailed review. Well done, as usual. I’m sure LionSteel will sell a bunch of TM1s.
I’m glad to see LionSteel trying IKBS. But why pair these terrific, fast bearings with a thumb disc and back lock — even a good one?
You say LionSteel is trying to be creative, and I guess they are. As for me, I’d much prefer a frame or liner lock — and a flipper!
Thanks again for a good read.
Thanks for stopping by, Michael. I hear ya, and I am sure we will see more fun stuff from LionSteel with IKBS, flippers, etc. The CRKT HiJinx is a great example of that. There are no lack of IKBS flippers in my collection, but this is definitely the first IKBS lockback I have ever handled, let alone owned.
Man, now THAT is a beautiful knife. I haven’t seen the reverse tanto blade profile much, but I could immediately see how useful it could be. I just wish I had 400 sheckles of disposable income to drop on one. As always, a great in-depth review Dan.
Thank you for stopping by, Sahil. Great to hear from you. Yes this knife is pretty sweet and the reverse tanto is a nice diversion from the more typical blade shapes. Thanks again,
“Traction plans” are signs of one thing – poor ergonomics. Consider a Mora Classic or a Lum Chinese – old school well designed ergonomics negate the need for silly jimping or oversized guards. Granted, these knives are not made for stabbing but that is not something I’ve done a lot of on- or off duty. Here, Lionsteel seem to have integrated that most rare of ergonomic tweaks (at least in folders): a palm swell. By simply adding the contact surface between knife and hand the most marvelous control can be exercised over the blade, an added benefit is the great hand-feel it must have. Well done Lionsteel.
In regards to the addition of IKBS to a back lock, which might seem a bit odd at first, bearing systems lend strength and eliminate side/side play in any knife. I would bet this knife is solid in lock-up, much more so than most modern backlocks.
All in all – Lionsteel continues to raise the bar for what should be the gold standard for production folders. With this offering they also show that they are more than a one-trick (Ti framelock) pony. Nicely written review Dan, I’m very glad to see more of your videos.
Thanks for stopping by, Lew. I can’t help but agree with your take on traction plans. Sure jimping has its place, but I agree wholeheartedly that this knife does not need it.
I didn’t think about the bearing system adding strength – good point. You are right, not so much as a suggestion of blade play in any direction. Frankly, I don’t see a need for a bearing system in any folder, so I can’t get behind the argument that a back lock knife doesn’t need a bearing system.
I agree, it is great to see LionSteel show some versatility. I hope to see some of this trickle down into their more budget minded offerings as well.
I have never seen a reverse tanto before. I’m not sure why not because that blade shape looks incredible useful. Way more that a regular tanto, which I have never liked.
I agree, Ameer. This blade shape is much more useful for my purposes than the regular tanto. If you haven’t checked out the BM 940, it’s worth a look.
James Mackintosh says
So here’s my question. How do you maintain a knife like this? As far as pulling it apart to clean out the bearing races/grease the bearings, clean out crud of the back-lock contact surfaces, etc with a one piece handle?
Furthermore, how the heck did they actually assemble this… it’s like those glass bottles with a penny inside… baffling!
Great question, James. In the past I have always cleaned out my bearing knives with hot water and then loaded them up with Aegis Solution EDCi (a rust inhibitor) or lubricant (tuff glide in my case). I’ll be curious to see if anyone else chimes in on what they do. I will say that there should be some amount of “flex” in the carbon fiber handle, you may be able to carefully completely disassemble the knife, but personally I won’t be attempting it.
Warren Edward Levezu says
Dan, I just received my TM1 and am in love with it. My only complaint is with the pocket clip. It was almost impossible to put in my jeans pocket until I loosened it a little. Now it fits in my pocket okay but needs two hands to remove. Are there any after market clips available?
Meaningless Endeavors says
I recently purchased a Lionsteel TM1 and have very little dirt time with it, but so far I agree with Dan’s review. It will never replace the Buck 110 in my heart, but we are beginning a passionate illicit affair.
Beautiful light weight knife with a very eye catching reverse tango blade shape and continuously curved edge. I elected the micarta version due to cost and availability. Amazingly, the Lionsteel CEO did not offer me a carbon fiber version. While I have not handled the carbon fiber one I cannot imagine how from a real world practicality standpoint it would be much better.
The TM1 fits my XL glove sized hands well and is comfortable to use. Blade is relatively thick at the back, but tapers to a very efficient cutting edge. Lockbacks are my preferred type of locking knife (see comment about Buck 110 above).
For me this knife is too large for pocket carry so I have made a belt pouch for it. I detest pocket clips so that was discarded immediately. The glass breaker still works without the pocket clip, I find this feature an interesting one on this size knife and wish more manufacturers incorporated it.
Good knife, hope to increase my fondness as our affair continues.