Despite positioning itself as a maker of hard use tools for hardcore individuals, Zero Tolerance has always had more universal appeal than its marketing would suggest – and I don’t think the company’s appeal has ever been wider than it is today.
Unlike sister brand Kershaw, there isn’t any internal division between ZT products: there aren’t ‘cheap’ and ‘expensive’ ZTs in the sense that there are cheap and expensive Kershaws; everything they make falls within the same general bracket of impressive machining and high-end materials; the price differences just indicate which high materials you’re getting and how much impressive machining you see.
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And while ZTs may have been considered pretty pricey back in the day, as the market has shifted upwards their prices have remained relatively consistent, so that they seem more reasonable now than they did five years ago. So as the knife world has shifted into its current strata of price brackets, Zero Tolerance has found itself in a sweet spot between accessibility and quality.
All of this combines to put ZT pretty much at the center of current knife enthusiast culture. I’m sure there are soldiers, cops, and first responders who carry and use Zero Tolerence knives, but I would bet there are a lot more ZTs in the pockets of enthusiasts and on the shelves of collectors. That being said there has never been a ZT knife that really spoke to me.
I couldn’t find one that was ‘just right;’ this knife had a great design but is assisted, that one was the right size but inordinately heavy. It is this way for me with every knife ZT releases. Eventually, waiting for the Perfect Zero Tolerance became a kind of mania. Perfect design, perfect size, perfect price: I figured if I waited long enough such a ZT would come out.
But it never did, and eventually I got tired of waiting and picked up the knife that came closest to that ephemeral, unrealized Perfect ZT I have in my mind: the Dmitry Sinkevich-designed ZT 0450. It can’t possibly be perfect, but is it any good? Let’s take a look.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The 0450 has a blade length of 3 3/16”, a handle length of 4 1/8”, and an overall length of 7 3/8”. It weighs 3.04 oz. and is made in the USA. I want to mention here that this is a damn good looking knife. It comes up later and I don’t want to keep repeating myself in the interim, so just keep in mind that almost every inch of this knife is nice to look at.
The ZT 0450’s racy drop point is a good EDC cutter. It has much more straight edge than belly, which I don’t necessarily mind, and a very sharp tip. A chunky grind means two things: 1) both the tip and cutting edge are hardy enough to beat on, however 2) it isn’t as good of a slicer as you would hope for. Given the fast, futuristic, aggressive styling I was hoping for equally aggressive cutting performance but that isn’t what you get here.
However, trading some sliciness for durability isn’t exactly Faustian as long as cutting performance is still the favored attribute to some degree, and the 0450 meets this criterion. It’s best-suited for medium-duty tasks like cutting through cardboard or plastic, but you aren’t going to hate slicing food with it either. It works.
When Zero Tolerance began using Elmax a few years ago accusations of improper heat treating and burnt edges were leveled at them from the enthusiast quarter. The 0450 is made from S35VN, not Elmax, but there is a small portion near the tip of my 0450’s blade that looks burned:
From what I understand, this occurs during the edge grinding portion of manufacturing, and is localized to the burned area – in other words, if it is burned, it shouldn’t affect the performance of the edge in general – and my experience bears this out.
S35VN is great. I would almost say it’s boring, because it doesn’t have the epic abilities and tragic flaws of a steel like M4, but for the average user (and most enthusiasts are average users AT BEST) that is a good thing. I’m convinced that you could sharpen S35VN with even a rudimentary setup and some patience. The S35VN here performed just as well as I expected it to, and if there were any problems in the burned portion I didn’t notice.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip
One of my biggest ergonomic pet peeves is when a knife has a beak or a scoop at the butt end of its handle that either doesn’t accommodate all four fingers ahead of it, or that makes my fingers feel crammed because it ushers them too close together. I really want this issue to become the Too Many Finger Grooves of 2017, because it nearly ruined the Para 3 for me and designers need to stop doing it.
By all accounts it looked like the 0450 would have this problem, and even now I’m not sure that it doesn’t. I can get all my fingers between the finger groove and the beginning of the beak, but not easily, comfortably, or without premeditation; my fingers would never fall across the handle this way naturally.
But the way I think you’re supposed to hold the knife is how I ended up holding the Para 3: with my index finger in the groove, my middle and ring in the “valley,” and my pinky landing on the far side of the beak. This feels natural, but, again, it isn’t the natural way my hand wants to hold the knife.
If I just grab the knife without thinking, my pinky lands right on the tip of the beak. This doesn’t sound like it would be comfortable, but thanks to the big chamfer around the scales, the tip of the beak isn’t too pointy and it works. And even during hard cuts this wasn’t that uncomfortable because most of the pressure is focused on the portion of the knife between your thumb and forefinger.
So I don’t know where I come down on this. The way it appears the knife is designed to be held isn’t natural, and the way it seems natural to hold it doesn’t feel right, even if it isn’t intolerable. At the end of the day I guess I’m okay with this handle, because it allows for a very slim and stylish profile, and going into it you know the 0450 isn’t going to be an ergonomic masterpiece.
The 0450 itself is so very narrow that it would be a pretty decent carry regardless of what kind of clip it had. This is one of very few flipper knives whose flipper tab doesn’t annoy me in the pocket, and I think that’s a function of the knife’s extreme narrowness. The 0450 would be a great carry even with a bad pocket clip, but hey: the clip here is anguish free. The same clip seen on the Kershaw Dividend, and in that review I expressed a little anxiety about its stability over time, but I’ve had no issues here.
Deployment and Lockup
I’m going to grouse a lot in this section so I’ll say this up front: The ZT 0450’s action is fast, sure, very snappy, addicting, and fun. The flipper tab is well designed. It is a great example of why flippers are so hot right now. Okay, grousing starts now.
I was prepared for the lock bar issue, and it is definitely present: if your fingers are on anywhere on the lock bar, the detent is such that the knife will not open – it feels almost like you have a secondary safety feature engaged. When I first got the knife I had a couple attempted deployments where the blade refused to budge.
However, if you align your fingers with the clip it keeps them off the bar; now that’s where my fingers naturally goes when I flip open this knife. Still, not cool, and from what I’ve seen it’s present on newer models as well. I’d like to see ZT put this issue to bed.
I think ball bearing pivots are bad. I hope the recent issues with the Advocate will precipate a move back to traditional washers, which are more durable, have no moving parts, are easier to maintain, and don’t cause as much unnecessary wear. Ball bearings against naked titanium (as we have on the 0450) is probably asking for trouble in the long term – albeit in the long, long term that most of us won’t see, as we trade and swap knives and carry different ones on different days. But still.
I also think that the ZT 0450’s fall shut action is dangerous and not to be desired. I’ve cut myself more times on the ZT 0450 than any other knife I’ve owned, either because it rolled shut so fast I didn’t have time to get my knuckles out of the way, or I pushed it a little bit and it gained enough momentum to keep rolling when I didn’t want or expect it to. Not necessary.
Lockup via titanium frame lock with a steel insert, is good however. If you look at the knife from the side, it doesn’t seem that a lot of the blade tang actually makes contact with the lock face, and disengagement has no feedback or friction whatsoever, but there is no blade play and the lock has never been other than stable and reliable. The double over-travel stop provided by the insert and by the clip is a nice touch as well.
Zero Tolerance 0450 Review – Final Thoughts
There is no meaningful area in which the Zero Tolerance 0450 excels other than carry. It isn’t a great cutter. Ergonomically, it’s kind of a mess. The deployment is problematic. But I still like it.
As much as I hate to say it it comes down to the look. Sinkevich has one of the strongest aesthetics around and the 0450 benefits greatly from that. It isn’t my style necessarily, but we don’t see a lot of knives that are this visually confident, and I think I responded to that. If you showed me a less interesting design that had all of these quirks and problems, I would never even think of buying it.
Not exactly the resounding praise, but praise nonetheless. I can’t not like this knife, even if there are so many things about it that I don’t like. It stops just short of brilliance but looks stunning doing it.
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I recommend purchasing the Zero Tolerance 0450 at Amazon and BladeHQ. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.