I got my first introduction to Viper at the 2013 Blade Show in Atlanta this past summer. A couple of my favorite reviewers, the EdgeObserver and Stefan Schmalhaus, have sampled Viper’s offerings quite extensively. It has taken me a little while longer to warm up to this interesting Italian brand.
I really enjoyed the blend of rugged utility and flowing lines in the last Viper model I reviewed, the Carnera, and the Start has caught my eye for the same reasons. Fabrizio Silvestrelli is the designer of Start, and he knows how to capture my attention while Viper knows how to take the designs’ muscular lines and pair it with a blend of modern manufacturing and old world charm. The result is an offering unlike anything else in the marketplace.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Start has an overall length of 9.25″, features a 4″ blade, and weighs 6.4 ounces. Any knife with a 4″ blade is going to be big, and the Viper is no exception. This is a serious departure from what I would consider an EDC knife. Viper has crafted a full on tactical folder, and the result is a suitably large offering.
The blade is a modified drop point design that excels at piercing and slicing. The deep belly has a slight recurve. It’s not impossible to sharpen like a serious recurve, yet it still feeds material into the edge. Given its size the Viper is still ground thinly. I found that it slices cardboard and other soft materials with ease yet it still has enough beef behind the edge to hold up under harder use. One thing to note about the blade is that the tip is extremely acute. It is great for stabbing things and detail work, but the the user needs to be careful not to damage it.
The Start is offered in 2 blade steels, PVD coated D2 and N690. I opted for the version with N690. This is steel I have heard a lot of nice things about, but haven’t had a ton of experience with. So far I am a big fan. I found that the N690 on my knife sharpens easily, takes a very nice edge, and holds onto it for a decent amount of time. I might consider it a beefed up 154CM. Certainly the thin grind has also done the knife a lot of favors. It’s a terrific slicer and is very fun to use. N690 is also a stainless steel, and despite the knife coming with a bead blasted finish (which is notorious for attracting rust) I have had zero issues with rust or staining.
Handle, Ergonomics and Pocket Clip
My Start came with black canvas micarta handle scales. I should point out that the knife is available with cocobolo or carbon fiber scales as well. Relief cuts have been placed by the finger choil, which lends itself to being held in a pinch style grip, although in practice I prefer a more conventional hold. Underneath the micarta you have thin stainless steel liners and a full stainless steel backspacer and lockbar. The pivot is hidden and the handles are put together with a series of small torx screws. I love how the edges of the spine, the lockbar, the backspacer, and even the liners have all been rounded. It’s such a nice little detail. The scales themselves are gently contoured and all the parts and pieces line up well. All in all the handle is sturdy and well executed.
In terms of ergonomics, Viper provides you with plenty of handle, and it affords a wide variety of grips. There is a finger choil, but there is also plenty of room left to choke back on the knife, providing reach that may even give some Cold Steel offerings a run for their money. The flared pommel does have a bit of a sharp corner, but overall this is a comfortable knife to use. The canvas micarta affords a sure grip in both wet and dry conditions, while a short run of jimping provides enough feedback to index the thumb without making the thumb ramp uncomfortable under hard cutting conditions.
The pocket clip of the Start is a straight forward stamped out piece of steel. It offers reasonably low right side tip up carry with no other options for placement. The clip is very secure and the knife rides well given its size and weight. Given the polarizing nature of pocket clip designs, Viper went with a safe route. I think they could have done way worse with the clip.
Deployment and Lockup
The Start makes use of stylized ambidextrous thumb studs pressed close to the back of the blade. I find them easy enough to open at my desk, but acknowledge that the knife takes some work to get open. I don’t mean to detract from the action, as it is very smooth and very purposeful, but this is not a knife I can flick open with my thumb, and it may provide some challenges if you are operating it under duress. It is also worth noting that the pivot is hidden, and you need to take off the handle scales to service it. So far I have had no need to do that, as the blade is well centered and the lock is free of play.
Here is a shot of the Viper Start next to my Spyderco Paramilitary 2:
The Start features a back lock, but this is not like your traditional back locks. It is extremely smooth and refined, and the blade falls into place with the softest click. Upon further examination you will notice that the tang of the blade and the lock face are both given a satin finish, and the two pieces of steel fit together extremely well. The result is effortless play free lockup, and a really satisfying knife to open and close. This is a durable lock design and it has held up well in all my testing.
Viper Start Review – Final Thoughts
If you are in the market for a high end large folding knife, the Viper Start could be an excellent option. The knife is beautifully executed, and that enhances the sumptuous curves of Silvestrelli’s design. But the Start isn’t a creampuff either. It is definitely built to be carried and used. The end result is an elegant knife that performs as good as it looks. The high performance blade and generous handle offer the end user plenty of performance, with the added bonus of this knife being thoughtful and unique.
I also like how Viper offers the Start in several flavors, including satin, beadblasted, and PVD coated blades, and handle materials varying from classic choices like micarta and wood, to hand-laid carbon fiber. Finally, the price is also very reasonable considering what you get. You can get into a Start for well south of $150 shipped, while the highest end versions can be currently had for $175. Not bad for a European made knife of this size with these materials.
The only potential cons I can really think of are that the knife isn’t the absolute easiest and fastest to open, and that the pocket clip is right side only. For some these gripes will matter, for many they will not. This is all assuming you are in the mood (or have the need) to carry a 6.5 ounce knife. By and large this is a very nice offering from Viper and I do recommend it if you are in the market for a unique large folding knife.
Viper Start – From $133.00
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