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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.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder Review

A couple things drew me to the Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder.

First, Ka-Bar doesn’t release a lot of folding knives. They are a knife company best known for their classic USMC combat knife, and have a reputation for being a traditional knife company with a lot of fixed blade designs.

Second, Ka-Bar chose to collaborate with custom knifemaker Jesse Jarosz. Jesse is a maker that I have heard a lot about over the past few years. I have yet to handle any of his designs, so I was excited about the prospect of checking out this collab with Ka-Bar.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder

What’s interesting about Jesse is his unorthodox handle designs and decision to focus on non-flippers. This may not have been remarkable a few years ago, but these days most custom knifemakers are producing flippers. It has gotten to the point where someone producing a knife that is not flipper has actually become novel. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it.

His folder for Ka-Bar is based on his popular Model 75. This is a no-nonsense function-over-form design that appeared to be a great candidate for a production piece. With that in mind I bought the knife.

General Dimensions and Blade Details

The Jarosz Folder has an overall length of 8″, a 3.5″ blade, weighs 5.25 ounces, and is made in Taiwan. This is a brute of a knife, with a thick blade and full steel liners. 5.25 ounces won’t pull your pants down, but it is substantial, and the Jarosz Folder is more of a weekend carry for me. Of course if you can get away with EDCing a bigger and heavier knife then this could be a daily carry.

The Jarosz Folder comes with your choice of a drop point or tanto blade. I went with the drop point, as that is my preference, and it seemed to hold truest to Jesse’s original Model 75. The drop point blade is simple. It is ground from near 4mm thick steel, and the blade has a saber grind. The knife came surgically sharp from the factory, which is always great to see. The edge is neat, but peters out a little towards the tip. Ka-Bar finished things off with a coarse tumbled finish. This is a durable blade shape. The thick stock provides strength, while the hollow grind allows it to cut efficiently.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Blade

Ka-Bar went with Aus8 steel here, which is par for the course for a sub $50 knife. Aus-8 won’t win any edge retention awards, but is fine for a beater blade like this. You probably know as well as I do that Aus-8 is tough, easy to sharpen, and corrosion resistant. It’s a good budget steel and Ka-Bar gives you plenty of it. I have used the Jarosz Flipper to for several projects, and have broken down a fair amount of cardboard with this knife. It slices well, stands up to hard use, and has proven to be a great work knife.

Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip

The handle is comprised of fiberglass reinforced nylon (FRN) scales over full steel liners. There is a partial FRN backspacer that straddles a lanyard pin.

Handle construction is solid, but not perfectly executed. My handle scales were slightly proud of the liners in some spots, and the edges of the scales are rough. It was odd enough for me to post an inquiry about this on BladeForums to see if others shared that issue, or if I was just unlucky.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder Handle

The feedback I received suggested that I was unlucky. Jesse himself was kind enough to post in the thread and recommend that I loosen the screws holding down the scales and nudge everything in place, or send the knife in for service. Adjusting the scales worked, and the problem mostly went away. In retrospect this seems pretty obvious but I haven’t run into the issue before. That said, the edges of my scales still catch the skin of my fingers slightly; especially the scale behind the locking liner. It’s not unpleasant, and it actually provides a little traction. Also, it is not noticeable when using the knife.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder Ergonomics

Once I resolved the issue with the handle scales I began to appreciate the sensible ergonomics of Jesse’s design. This is a funky looking handle, but in practice it works well. The handle shape is comfortable, and provides plenty of space for a wide variety of grips and hand sizes. There is a row of toothy flat-top jimping on the spine of the drop point version, and the FRN handles provide traction without being abrasive. The slightly rough edges of the FRN scales provide additional grip.

The pocket clip is an adaptation from the custom knives, and is a spoon style clip with Jarosz’s geometric logo. The clip is right side only, but is allows for tip up or tip down carry. It is uncoated stainless steel, but appears to have been tumbled to make it less shiny.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder Pocket Clip

The Jarosz Folder carries OK. This is a substantial knife. I found that the combination of lightly textured scales, heavy knife, and light spring tension of the clip meant that the Jarosz Folder would continually slide down towards the base of my pocket. I mostly wear shorts with V pockets, and prefer to keep my knives higher up on my pocket for concealment and ease of accessing my wallet. This knife required regular adjustment.

Deployment and Lockup

The Jarosz Folder makes use of dual thumb studs and teflon washers. The blade is heavy and the detent is strong. You can flick open the blade, but it takes a fair amount of force. This is not a knife for the weak thumbed. The action is smooth, but I am not a fan of teflon washers, and would prefer phosphor bronze washers here. I am also not a fan of the decorative pivot on this knife. It’s nice and large, but Ka-Bar does not include a tool to adjust it. I don’t see this pivot on Jesse’s customs, so I don’t know where it came from. The good news is that the blade centering is excellent so there was no need to adjust the pivot out of box.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder Backspacer

This knife makes use of a stainless steel liner lock. The liner lock is substantial and it engages the blade about 50%. The end result is a sturdy lock free of play in any direction. Initially my lock exhibited a slight amount of stick, but it has broken in and smoothed out over time. This is a solid liner lock.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder – Final Thoughts

Although I have raised some quibbles about the Jarosz Folder I think the pros outweigh the cons and this is a great work knife. In a perfect world I’d prefer a stronger pocket clip, a pivot with “regular” hardware, and phosphor washers, but when you get this knife in hand and actually cut stuff with it the design really comes together. It’s comfortable like a good pair of leather boots. I may not care for some of the details, but can’t argue with the results.

This is also a substantial knife designed to take some punishment. This is a hard use tool, not a slim daily carry, and that is OK if you know what you are getting into. Not every knife needs to be modeled after the Spyderco Delica. The unorthodox nature of the Jarosz Folder is part of what I enjoy about it, but it has also made this a tough knife to review.

Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder vs. Cold Steel Voyager

Despite the Jarosz being unorthodox, I still want to contrast it with some other offerings that sell for around $40. Cold Steel offers the Pro-Lite and Voyager. These are 2 AUS-8 and FRN handled knives that are also tough. The Ontario RAT I is another excellent choice at this price point with similar construction and materials. You can venture into the $50 price bracket and find gems like the Blur and Aus-8 American Lawman.

While there are plenty of options to consider at the crowded ~$40 price range, I think the Jarosz Folder will appeal to the right buyer. This is especially true if you are looking for tank like construction. I don’t recommend it if you are looking for a lightweight every day carry. It is not that kind of knife.

The execution is not perfect, but the design is solid. This is a successful collaboration, and a good introduction to Jesse Jarosz if you don’t have the coin for one of his custom pieces.

Recommended if you are interested in Jesse’s designs, and want a no-nonsense work knife.

I recommend purchasing the Ka-Bar Jarosz Folder 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.

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.

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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