Monday, April 27, 2009

Knife Review: Spyderco Endura 4 with the Emerson opener

I’ve recently added to my knife collection and I’ll start posting knife reviews here. First off, I’d like to make clear that I always consider knives as both tools and weapons, as they have always been since our hirsute ancestors discovered sharp flint. So my reviews will touch on both uses. I realize that my readers might want to go straight to the weapon usage info but I like to present all the information and let the reader decide on what they need. Please check your local laws on knife carrying in public and blade length limitations.
I’ll start with the Spyderco Endura 4 with the Emerson opener.
To begin with, here are some numbers. At 97 mm, the blade length of an Endura 4 with the Emerson opener is just 1 mm longer than the same knife without the opener. The blade thickness for both knives is 3mm. The overall length of the Emerson opener model is 224 mm, 2mm longer than the “simpler” Endura. A 97 mm blade is in my opinion a suitable blade length for most of what people will use this knife for, including self-defense.

The VG-10 steel of the blade is excellent, and sharpens to hair shaving sharpness easily and quickly. I did a few strokes on my Spyderco Sharpmaker’s fine rods and it brought the already impressive factory edge to my preferred hair-splitting sharpness. One thing I can say about Spydercos, the edge geometry on their knives is outstanding, even out of the box. The edge retention of the VG-10 steel is also quite good; the blade keeps its sharpness more or less even after moderately heavy use such as cutting up cardboard. Cardboard is notorious for dulling blades and my experience with VG-10 is that it only requires a touch-up to get the edge back after using the blade on this material.

For my hands – which are 9.5 cm across the palm - the handle length of 125 mm offers a full and stable grip. The FRN (fiberglass reinforced nylon) handle is tough and I’m confident it can take massive amounts of abuse. The FRN makes this knife quite light and yet you feel confident that the handle can take whatever stress the blade will put it through in regular use. The Endura 4 with the Emerson opener has skeletonized stainless steel liners that further reinforces the strength of the FRN handle. The Bi-Directional Texturing on the FRN handle ensured a good grip on the knife, even with wet hands.

The well made gimping right behind the hole and opener hook on the blade gives my thumb secure purchase for thrusts or cutting actions. The gimping, coupled with the graceful curve of the handle that follows the natural arc of the palm and the base of the thumb, gives this knife great ergonomics and feels really good in the hand. It feels just as comfortable when held in reverse grip, with the edge out.

The lockback locking mechanism engages solidly, with absolutely no blade play when the blade is locked in position. I’m not thrilled about the possibility of having a folding knife accidentally close on my fingers, God forbid when I have to use it to save my life, and the lockback on this knife really inspires confidence. The Boye dent on the lock bar lever minimizes the risk of accidentally releasing the lock when gripping the handle hard. Nevertheless, the lock has to be kept clear of lint or dirt at the pivot point, which may prevent the lock from fully engaging. There’s no excuse for not maintaining critical gear like a folding knife.

As far as I know, this knife and the smaller Delica are two of the only k
nives on the market that sell for about USD 70 with the patented Emerson opener. Spyderco also offers a model of their Rescue knife with an Emerson opener. If you don’t know what the opener does, here’s a video that demonstrates it. If that's too fast to figure out, Spyderco has a set of pics that show how this useful feature works. The opener hook on the knife is larger than what you’ll find on an Emerson knife and it really grabs securely on just about every pocket I’ve tested this on – slacks, jeans, shorts, etc. – and it opens the knife smoothly coming out of the pocket. The opener was my primary reason for buying this knife and it always performs flawlessly. The opener catches so easily that I have to make an effort to put my index finger over the spine of the blade to prevent the opener from engaging when someone asks me to take it out of my pocket.Using the Emerson opener does need to be practiced for it to become an instinctive gross motor movement. The user needs to experience opening the knife from a variety of positions. It doesn’t work well while the user is seated. Unless the seat is a stool or something narrower than the user’s hips, the knife will run into the cushion of the chair if it’s deployed with the opener. Using the opener forces the user to hold the knife with the fingers away from the path of the blade’s opening, so the grip on the knife isn’t completely secure until the user adjusts his or her grip on the knife after the blade has deployed. When used properly the opener allows for very quick deployment, probably faster than a switchblade since it opens the knife as it exits the pocket. The phosphor bronze washers make the deployment of this knife silky smooth.One other drawback of the opener is that it juts out from the blade and prevents the knife from being held completely, to be used as palm stick or fist load. Either way you hold it, the opener will either smash against the inside of your index finger or the meat of your palm if you do punch with the knife unopened in your hand. The bottom of the handle isn’t pointed enough to deliver crippling blows but it will still ruin someone’s day, if applied with the right technique and power. I advocate using empty handed skills first before going for a defensive weapon and I would have wanted this knife to work well in a less-than-lethal role. But nothing’s perfect and this one disadvantage does not in any way overshadow the knife’s excellent advantages.
I really like the light weight of this knife. It’s only 1 cm thick and when I carry it as an EDC (every day carry) I almost forget it’s in my pocket. The clip is a discrete flat black and I particularly like how the tension of the clip on the handle is just right so it doesn’t damage my pants when I have to carry it daily. Some other folding knives I own have clips that are so tight it’s almost a struggle to take the knife out of my pocket. The clip is also cleverly designed to allow a lanyard to pass through it, and the clip can be position for a tip-up or tip-down carry, for either left or right hand carry.

I highly recommend this knife as an EDC. It’s light, compact, feels secure in the hand, features the Emerson opener, a very well made and sturdy lock and has an excellent blade of VG-10 steel. That pretty much covers what most people will want in an EDC knife. You can’t go wrong with this knife.