Issue 21 Carbon-Fiber Handles Patrick Vuong Join the Conversation Unusual Suspects We tend to think of carbon fiber as a modern marvel that has allowed for amazing human accomplishments. But the truth is that it goes way back to the late 19th century — Thomas Edison baked cotton and bamboo to make carbon-fiber filaments for his light bulb prototypes. In 1958, physicist Roger Bacon officially invented the carbon fibers we know today by heating rayon strands until they carbonized. What exactly are they? They're made of teeny strands of carbon that are tightly woven and bound with a resin. Sometimes called graphite fibers, they're super stiff and have a superior strength-to-weight ratio compared to steel while being resistant to corrosion, expansion, and temperature. Plus, they're versatile because they can have various densities and take on shapes that are limited only by their manufacturer's imagination. Oh, and their futuristic look might float your boat. But they're not without their flaws. Under intense stress, carbon fibers can crack because they're brittle. Plus, they're expensive to produce. Still, they've been used in everything from cars and spaceships to loudspeakers and rifle barrels. So, in this issue we take a stab at this Space Age material by looking at the pros and cons of having knives with carbon-fiber handles. Across the board, we found that they don't offer any practical advantages over titanium as a knife scale, yet have the potential to be damaged more easily. Plus, they're way more expensive than G-10. On a positive note, they're not as slippery as we expected — all the knives stayed in our grip even after being soaked in water. If you're a knife nut and have the cash, you might find a model or two featured in this column that catches your eye. Flip the page to find out which ones we fancied. Make: Benchmade Knife Company Model: 484-1 Nakamura Axis OAL: 7 inches Blade Length: 3.08 inches Blade Material: S90V stainless steel Weight: 3.52 ounces MSRP: $315 URL: www.benchmade.com Make: Southern Grind Model: Spider Monkey OAL: 7.38 inches Blade Length: 3.25 inches Blade Material: S35VN Weight: 3.2 ounces MSRP: $220 URL: www.southerngrind.com Make: Spyderco Inc. Model: Rubicon OAL: 7.44 inches Blade Length: 3.04 inches Blade Material: S30V stainless steel Weight: 4.3 ounces MSRP: $500 URL: www.spyderco.com Make: Zero Tolerance Model: 0770CF OAL: 7.5 inches Blade Length: 3.25 inches Blade Material: Elmax stainless steel Weight: 3 ounces MSRP: $225 URL: www.zerotoleranceknives.com Make: DPx Gear, Inc. Model: HEST/F Shred OAL: 7.63 inches Blade Length: 3.15 inches Blade Material: Sleipner tool steel Weight: 4.75 ounces MSRP: $325 URL: www.dpxgear.com Make: Boker Plus Model: Urban Trapper Carbon OAL: 7.63 inches Blade Length: 3.43 inches Blade Material: VG-10 Weight: 1.8 ounces MSRP: $160 URL: www.boker.de/us Make: Red Horse Knife Works Model: Frost Hammer OAL: 7.81 inches Blade Length: 3.25 inches Blade Material: 154CPM stainless steel Weight: 5.6 ounces MSRP: $498, $648 as shown URL: www.redhorseknifeworks.com Interrogating the Unusual Suspects Benchmade 484-1 411: The 484-1 features a contoured carbon-fiber handle, a drop-point blade, and blue anodized-aluminum spacers and pivot bushing. Benchmade's patented and ambi Axis lock keeps the blade's opening and closing smooth and safe. Pocket clip is adjustable for lefties and righties. Made in the USA. PROS: Everything about it spells elegant. The premium S90V steel makes the blade fantastic for everyday carry (EDC). Lightweight, but still feels balanced. The handle fits perfectly in hand — whether with a hammer grip, saber grip, or Filipino grip. CONS: Abuse it enough, and the carbon fiber will scuff. Unless we start sh*tting Sacagawea coins every morning, we probably won't EDC the 484-1 often for fear of damaging this $315 investment. Southern Grind Spider Monkey 411: This is the first knife by Southern Grind that we've fondled. It's safe to say it won't be the last. The craftsmanship that went into this model is evident by the titanium lock and liners and S35VN blade steel. Founded by country singer Zac Brown, Southern Grind makes all of its knives in the USA, including this one. PROS: The badass drop-point blade is tough, sharp, and versatile. The carbon-fiber's textured matte finish is surprisingly grippy. The blade's thumb ramp on the spine has a rapid decline that acts like a modified Emerson wave-shaped opener, catching on your pocket and opening the blade as you draw. CONS: The finger choil is cut a tad too deep, forcing us to modify our grip awkwardly. The carbon fiber gets scratched and flakes off easily on small impacts. We're not fans of the short-by-wide pocket clip. Spyderco Rubicon 411: Say hello to the Bugatti Veyron of this buyer's guide. The solid carbon-fiber scales have been polished to a high finish, the skeletonized titanium liners add strength to the liner-lock, and the S30V blade has a deep hollow grind on the primary bevel and flat-ground false edge to enhance blade geometry and versatility. PROS: This knife cuts like a laser. The handle is beautifully crafted and quite ergonomic. Both the trademarked thumb hole and the flipper tab open the knife smoothly. CONS: Sorry, left-handers, but the pocket clip is fixed for righties only. Did you hear something? It's the sound of your wallet screaming at the $500 price tag. Zero Tolerance 0770CF 411: Zero Tolerance (ZT) has been on a low-carb kick this year and recently released several models that are uncharacteristically slim. This is one such model. It's a more streamlined version of the beefier limited-edition 0777, but with smoother lines and a blade made of Elmax (marketed as the new “super steel”). Made in the USA. PROS: This is the Olivia Munn of the bunch: slim and sexy as hell. ZT's SpeedSafe assisted-opening flipper tab is lightning fast. Elmax blade is razor-like, tough as nails, and corrosion resistant. The handle is designed in such a way that it's comfortable regardless of your grip preference. CONS: Nitpicking here: Though quite modified from a traditional sheepsfoot shape to increase versatility, the blade isn't as effective at point utility and penetrating as other blade shapes might be. DPx Gear HEST/F Shred 411: DPx stands for “dangerous places extreme.” Sounds like marketing mumbo-jumbo? Not so when the company's founder and designer is Robert Young Pelton, an author and documentarian who has survived dozens of conflict zones and interviewed some of the most wanted men in the world. This knife is a reflection of his survival needs. PROS: <ul The tough carbon-fiber scale has a unique pattern. It's loaded with integrated features, like a bottle opener that can catch on your pocket and deploy the blade with the right draw-stroke. LionSteel RotoBlock dial turns this folder into a virtual fixed blade for heavy use. CONS: Frame-lock folders require you to adjust your grip to close the blade; otherwise your middle, ring, and pinky fingers will unwittingly fight against your thumb as it tries to push the frame-lock out of the way of the blade. The HEST/F Shred has this inconvenient factor, too. Boker Plus Urban Trapper Carbon 411: Boker Plus blades are made in China and Taiwan — Boker's line of German-engineered tools made at lower costs. This gentleman's knife is from this line yet features carbon-fiber scales on a titanium handle and a VG-10 drop-point blade that's operated with a flipper tab. Also, it's the slimmest, lightest, and cheapest of the bunch. PROS: Aesthetically pleasing — looks like an updated stiletto, but with a more low-profile, distinguished appearance. The VG-10 steel slices like a laser, holds its edge, and laughs in the face of stains. If you're looking for something light and compact, this might be your Huckleberry. CONS: Some might find this to be like Keira Knightley: attractive, but way too skinny for your liking. The pivot has too little friction so the blade could fall quickly on your thumb if you're not careful when closing it. Ask us how we know this… Red Horse Knife Works Frost Hammer 411: If all the knives in this buyer's guide were Iron Man suits, this would be the Hulkbuster model. It's a beefed-up gentleman's folder with carbon-fiber scales on chunky titanium liners and CPM 154 stainless steel for the 0.157-inch-thick blade. Made in the USA. (Note: The stock version doesn't come with carbon fiber, which comes at a premium.) PROS: Art deco style meets state-of-the-art materials and construction. The sharp stiletto-style blade has all sorts of sophisticated work. The scales from Ghost Carbon Fiber Inc. don't just look gorgeous — they feel great in hand and don't scuff or flake off like the other handles do when we bang them up. CONS: We know its bulk is intentional, but still, it's competing with the iPhone 6 Plus as the biggest thing you try to stuff in your pocket. Hide the bill — your wife will freak when she sees the price tag. 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