We’ve seen it countless times – A high-end knife becomes a market hit, prompting the maker to release a budget-minded version cast from more affordable materials. Companies such as Spyderco and Kizer have made a mint with this practice, while generally maintaining an acceptable level of quality. So when Stedemon offered to send me a budget rendition of their popular SHY tantos, I eagerly assented.
Unfortunately, this downmarket attempt seems to have come up, well, a little SHY. Read on to see where this particular knife stumbled, despite its interesting origins.
On paper, this is an attractive design. The centerpiece here is the 3.875-inch tanto blade, finished with a black stonewash over its flat grind. It’s an imposing chunk of metal, bringing the ZKC-C03’s total weight up to 4.4-ounces. Too bad it’s rendered in 440C steel, which had already begun to rust by the time it arrived at my door. Both the Stedemon logo and the text on the opposite side show signs of corrosion, subtle though they may be.
Per the knife’s BladeHQ description, the handle is made of G-10. If so, this is the most plastic-feeling G-10 I’ve encountered. Still, the knife fits well in the hand. It’s surprising just how ergonomic a basic rectangle can be. Overall length sits at 8.875-inches, with right hand, tip-up carry as the only available option.
There are some stylish touches here. The blue thumb plate and backspacer nicely offset the tan of the G-10, and the swedge atop the tanto is fairly attractive. The texturing is easy on the hand, as well.
Taking down this knife proved to be an interested experience. It comes apart easily, revealing KVT ceramic ball bearings swinging against two stainless steel inserts; one extends nearly along the entire length of the handle, while the other is nestled into a small cutout near the pivot. This smaller piece also has a hole for the stop pin, which is a small tube of hollow steel. Given the heft of the blade and the iffy-ness of its G-10, this strikes me as a poor choice. I’d much rather see a solid piece serving as a blade stop.
Overall, this strikes me as a well-intentioned concept plagued by poor execution. And things only get worse from here.
2.5 stars out of 5
Here’s the crux of things – This is a dangerous knife. Now, I’m not saying that every ZKC-C03 is the same, but mine certainly has problems. This is the only knife I’ve ever owned that is too smooth. Watch the video below to see what I mean.
See that? This blade can be shaken out with only minimal effort. Closing it is even worse, with the KVT bearings swinging that heavy blade right past the detent. I’ve tried tightening the pivot, but it simply doesn’t matter. The liner lock is fine when it’s engaged, but this is an otherwise free swinging knife. Sooner or later it’s going to bite.
As such, this one didn’t get the extensive pocket time I’ve afforded to other testers. I did perform some basic sharpness tests, but that’s about it. And for the first time in my life, I was actually thankful to find a fairly dull factory edge. It’ll cut paper, yes. Cardboard, too. But as far as outdoor tasks go, this isn’t a good choice. Its shape isn’t suited for woodwork or camp tasks, and I don’t trust it enough for other heavy duty applications.
So what is the Stedemon ZKC-C03 good for? Not much, aside from scaring people and nipping at knuckles. I’m giving it two stars – one because it can in fact cut, and another because it’s relatively comfortable in the hand during use.
2 stars out of 5
This knife doesn’t have a future with me, and I’m not sure how to deal with that. It’s too dangerous to use, but I also don’t want to sell it to some poor shmuck who’ll wind up losing a finger. This is a knife that screams “irresponsible,” so I’m hesitant to send it back out into the wild.
Look, let’s say you’re still interested. Yes, it’s a somewhat attractive design. But then you’re left with Chinese 440C steel – Not the sort of thing that inspires confidence.
Speaking of things that keep away the warm fuzzies, I’ve been unable to locate an actual website for Stedemon. They seem to operate off of a Facebook page, though their knives are available from several major outlets. I’ve also been unable to find any warranty information, which leads me to believe that there isn’t one.
In the end, this will probably join the Gerber Dime in my Drawer of Misfit Tools.
1 star out of 5
Look – I understand why this knife is a best seller. It’s a large, tacti-cool tanto with an action that’s dangerously smooth. These are huge selling points for buyers, especially among those who favor form over function. And if that’s your thing, hey, who am I to judge?
But while I may not judge you personally, I will judge this knife. That’s what I’m here for, after all. And I find this to be almost completely inadequate. Consider what else you can get for your money. Both the Steel Will Cutjack and the Ontario RAT 1 are light years ahead of the ZCK-C03, and they’re cheaper! Seriously, I can think of no reason to spend money on this knife. I’m going to give it a single star because it hasn’t fallen apart in my hand, but that’s as high as I’m willing to go.
1 star out of 5
Don’t buy this knife, guys. Maybe their upgraded models are better, but I can’t recommend the budget SHY IV. It fails to meet my expectations on almost every front, and that’s really a shame. This is an interesting design, and I’ve had good luck with Chinese knives as of late. And I feel bad, because the folks at Stedemon shipped this to me for free, all the way from the other side of the planet. But honesty is generally the best policy, so here’s the truth – The ZKC-C03 is not a good knife. You (and Stedemon) can do better.
Where to Buy
Okay, fine. You’ve been warned.