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Last Updated: August 11, 2019
The Unagi is a collaboration with boutique bag company Mission Workshop and David Rydbom of Kingdom Armory. I have long been a fan of David’s work. His Mini Samaritan is especially intriguing.
The PR team for the Unagi was kind enough to provide me with a sample to review. What follows are my thoughts on this limited edition knife.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Unagi has an overall length of 6.5″, a 3″ blade. I was unable to find a weight on this knife, but I’d put it around 3.5 ounces (just a guess). The Unagi is made in the USA by Nichols Damascus in the USA and hand tuned by David Rydom himself. The Unagi is a compact knife suited for urban EDC. Since it’s a release limited to a mere 200 pieces it could also be considered a collectible.
The blade of the Unagi is a distinctive clip point. You can tell David enjoys his work and that enthusiasm comes out clearly in all of his designs. The Unagi is no different, although I find this knife in particular to show a little more restraint. The profile does most of the talking, but it’s all backed up with beautiful execution. The blade is a good example of that. This stylized clip point is simple, but provides most of what you need and benefits from wonderful execution. There is ample blade, a sweeping belly and a fine tip. The stonewashed finish is visually pleasing, the full flat grind provides excellent slicing ability, and David put an excellent edge on this knife.
The only thing I find lacking with the blade is the absence of a sharpening choil. As a result the last quarter inch or so of the heel of the blade is unsharpened.
The steel is CPM154, excellent stuff, and capable of taking a fine edge. I found the performance on this Unagi to be impressive. Zipping through cardboard, and making easy work of apples, it certainly handled my basic daily cutting chores. This is a proven blade steel backed by years of data. It doesn’t hurt that this steel is supported by excellent blade geometry. No issues with rust or corrosion either.
Handle, Ergonomics and Pocket Clip
You typically see a lot of millwork and bolsters in Rydom’s work. By comparison the Unagi is almost completely sterile, but this allows the details in the finish work and and hardware to shine. The titanium handles have been stonewashed, save for the edge of the lanyard hole, which have been countersunk with a high polish. The two standoffs are custom made, and secured with flush mount torx bolts. The pivot is oversized, domed, and is of the bushing variety like what you would find on a Sebenza or Sage 1. The lockbar relief is cut on the inside of the handle, which provides a cleaner look and reduces the chance of your pocket material binding in the clip. It’s details like this that elevate the knife.
There are a couple deep finger grooves that provide an odd visual contrast to the sweeping open blade. These grooves are fully functional, and are the main ergonomic feature of the knife. There is no jimping, but the thumb naturally finds its way to the wide spine, and your palm meets the butt of the handle naturally. What I like about the finger grooves is that the forward groove is large enough to accommodate one or two fingers depending on your preference, and the transition between the two grooves is not sharp. For a small all metal knife, with no countouring to speak of, the Unagi feels natural in the hand.
The pocket clip is simple as can be. It’s bent titanium secured by two polished button head screws. The clip is “signed” with the Mission Workshop logo, but it’s unobtrusive and fits the minimalist theme of the Unagi. This is not a deep carry clip, and about half an inch of the knife lies exposed from the pocket for easy retrieval. Spring tension is strong, so there is little risk of the Unagi escaping. The absence of a framelock relief on the exterior of the handle makes it a cinch to insert and extract the knife from your pocket.
Deployment an Lockup
The Unagi uses a Strider-eqse oval thumb hole for deployment. In practice, I find the thumb hole impossible to use with just your thumb. Thanks to the placement of the hole and a stiff detent, you either need to pinch the knife open with thumb and forefinger, or use 2 hands to free the blade from the handle. This is my biggest criticism of the knife. It’s not an unforgivable sin, but is a feature I sorely miss on a work knife.
Here is a shot of the Unagi next to my Mini Griptilian. A good size comparison:
For lockup with have a titanium framelock. Lockup is early and secure without any blade play. There is a tiny amount of stick in my lock. Nothing crazy, and easy to resolve with a little pencil graphite or sharpie. A stainless steel lockbar insert would solve that completely, but would make the execution considerably more complicated.
Blade centering is dead perfect on my knife.
Mission Workshop x Kingdom Armory Unagi Review – Final Thoughts
The Unagi is a charming knife, beautifully constructed with many details to explore. What I most appreciate about the knife is the simplicity of it. Where some designs are liberally seasoned with decorative flourishes, the Unagi is restrained and the details are hidden in that restraint. This allows the non-traditional profile to shine.
Two points of constructive criticism are the flat spot on the heel of the edge, and the inability to flick this knife open with your thumb. The lack of easy one hand opening is unfortunate, as I’ve come to expect that on any work knife unless it is part of the design (like the Pingo or a traditional).
I think these compromises were executed for the sake of the unique design. While that may turn off some purists, I think its part of what makes knife design interesting. Not every knife needs to be classically “perfect”, and our definition of perfection varies. Otherwise we would all own one knife and leave it at that. In a way the Unagi is a blending of contemporary art with knifemaking. It’s a limited edition experiment, and won’t appeal to everyone. If you are looking for a more standard work knife from Kingdom Armory, then the Mini Samaritan is probably the way to go. But if you want something unique, then the Unagi could be the knife for you.
If you are interested in purchasing the Unagi, then I recommend buying it directly from Mission Workshop. It’s a release limited to 200 pieces so if you miss out then there is always Ebay and the forums. Generally, I recommend buying knifes at Amazon, BladeHQ, and KnifeArt. Thanks for reading.