Quick Hits: Highlights & Hiatus

It’s getting to be that time again, folks. After several months of frenetic reviews, I’ll be stepping away from the site. Not forever, mind you, but between my day job, life changes, and plain old gear burnout, I think a hiatus is in order.

Before I take a breather, I wanted to post quick reviews on several pieces of gear. Among these are the Tangram Orion and Spyderco Chaparral FRN knives (on loan from Nick Shabazz), the Karas Kustoms Retrakt, and the Rickshaw Bags Waldo Pen Case, along with a few thoughts on Pilot’s Varsity line of disposable fountain pens. Let’s dive in.

Tangram Orion Knife Quick Review

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This $42 knife’s full product name on Amazon appears as “Tangram Folding Pocket Knife ACUTO440 Wharncliffe Sharp Blade Liner Lock Black G10 Handle Flipper Knife,Dirk Pinkerton Orion TG3007A2.” Um… I think I’ll just call it the Orion.

Stats

Blade Length: 3.35”

Total Length: 7.42”

Weight: 2.4-ounces

Form

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I love the blade shape on this knife. The Wharncliffe styling is distinct and attractive, if a bit on the tacti-cool side. This design language continues on the ported, four-way pocket clip, as well as the ribbed texturing of the G-10 handle. The blade itself is made of ACUTO440, which looks to be a Japanese version of the more well-known 440HC steel. Stainless liners, bronze washers, and a nicely hooked flipper tab round out the package. I also really like the jimping, both atop the blade and at the upper base of the handle.

Complaints here are surprisingly minimal for a budget blade. The side scales feel a bit plastic-like, and the lockbar cutout manages to be simultaneously shallow and sharp. But overall, its outlook benefited from significant time in the field.

4 stars out of 5

Function

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The Orion offers decent flipping action, with a slightly soft detent. It also just so happened to be in my pocket for several unexpectedly rigorous days on a construction site. I cut cords, zip ties, and ropes for the better part of an hour with this guy, repeating the experience the next day. Its thin blade came away unscathed, performing beyond what I’d expected from such thin stock. On that topic, this is an excellent tool for food prep. The wharncliffe design and narrow nature are a perfect fit for onions and other grillable foodstuffs, with bronze washers repelling far more gunk than, say, the bearings on my Ruike P801.

The lone problem here is the lockbar. You really have to push your thumb down in there to disengage, and it pinches my skin against the liner with alarming regularity. Maybe it’s just my particular finger, but it’s a rather annoying tendency.

4 stars out of 5

Future

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This one is a balancing act. On the one hand, you’re getting decent materials, fit, and finish for the price point. But you’re also dealing with the nebulous sub-section of a Chinese knife brand, albeit a well-respected one. Tangram doesn’t even have its own product website, so any questions would have to go through Kizer’s warranty page. For the record, they did not answer my email about their coverage of the Tangram line.

As with all Kizer products, disassembly voids whatever warranty may have existed.

3.5 stars out of 5

Finance

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Despite my qualms, I feel that the Orion represents a pretty decent bargain. Its unique look, slicey blade, and decent material quality put it ahead of some of the several knives in the sub-$50 price range. If, for instance, you like the idea of the Kershaw Dividend but can’t stand Speedsafe Assist, the Tangram at least partially fills the same niche.

3.5 stars out of 5

Final Thoughts

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The Tangram Orion is a surprisingly excellent budget tool, with loads of function despite its financial and future limitations. I’ll be keeping an eye on the division’s future offerings.

Where to Buy

Amazon

 

Spyderco Chaparral FRN Knife Quick Review

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This is a knife I was very unsure about. I own a Dragonfly and a Native 5 – Is there really a market for a blade between these two? And yet, shortly after this loaner arrived from Nick Shabazz, I found myself asking if he’d be willing to sell it. He wasn’t, which is a loss for my collection, even if it’s a gain for my bank account.

Stats

Blade Length: 2.8”

Cutting Edge: 2.254”

Blade Thickness: “0.08”

Handle Length: 3.6”

Handle Thickness: 0.32”

Overall Length: 6.4”

Weight: 2-ounces

Form

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This is perhaps the best use of FRN I’ve ever seen. The texturing and hand-feel of the Chaparral’s siding manages to be soft and grippy while somehow avoiding the greased rubber slickness I so often find in softer scales. The blade stock is splendidly thin, and the forward finger choil is a perfect inclusion. The added weight from the stainless steel liners lends a high-quality heft to the overall package, and the wire pocket clip is a welcome inclusion. The only negative here is the back lock. Its thin steel and strong spring presses into the meat of my thumb, causing a bit of discomfort. Even the Dragonfly has a thicker lock bar. Still, a relatively minor quibble. The knife’s overall svelteness makes it a natural for summer cargo shorts.

4.5 stars out of 5

Function

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This knife cuts and cuts and cuts. Though it may not be as rugged as my Native 5, the Chaparral’s thin CTS-XHP blade will slice circles around just about anything in my collection. As mentioned above, the lock bar is a bit annoying to operate. But the benefits of the knife’s excellent ergonomics and ability outweigh this lone point of contention. If you’re looking for a small-ish tool that can cut food and cardboard for days, this is one of the best options Spyderco makes. There’s even a delightful metallic “tink” when snapping the blade shut. It’s one of those little details that makes me reach for my wallet.

4.5 stars out of 5

Future

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CTS-XHP is an excellent edge-holding metal. There are some issues with its stainlessness (think upgraded D2) and sharpenability (it’s hard), but make no mistake – This is a premium steel. And, given the relatively simple construction, the Chaparral is an easy knife to maintain. It should lead a long and happy life, so long as you steer clear of heavy duty tasks.

4 stars out of 5

Finance

Premium steel, excellent FRN, and top-flight fit and finish – That’s what you get for about $15 more than a VG-10 Spyderco Delica. This knife is a heck of a bargain.

5 stars out of 5

Final Thoughts

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Damn it, Nick, now I want one. The first time I slipped this into the pocket of my summer shorts, I knew I’d found a keeper. I’ll be hitting up BladeHQ as soon as my next check arrives.

Where to Buy

BladeHQ

KnifeCenter

 

Karas Kustoms Retrakt Pen Quick Review

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If you’ve spent more than three minutes on EDC Instagram, you’re probably familiar with the Retrakt. It’s an iconic design from Karas Kustoms, capable of taking a wide variety of rollerball refills.

Stats

Overall Length: 5.625”

Weight: 1-ounce (aluminum), 2.5-ounces (copper and brass)

Form

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The Retrakt is essentially a metal tube with a pocket clip, button activation, and interior spring. It’s thick, with about the same girth as a Sharpie. This, combined with the slickness of its aluminum construction, made it a bit of an uncomfortable writer for extended sessions. Some ridges on the grip section would alleviate this problem, and I’m not sure why they’re not present here. The Karas EDK has them, so why put a smooth surface on a bigger pen? I’m also puzzled by the lack of branding. While the style makes it immediately identifiable as a Karas, a small logo or bit of lettering would have been welcome.

3.5 stars out of 5

Function

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It’s a pen. It writes. And, given the excellent range of available refills (Parker, Schmidt, Pilot, and trimmed Mont Blancs), you can customize it to suit your preference. But, as mentioned, the smooth grip was a bit tiresome for my medium/large hands. The push-button mechanism can also be a bit tricky for side-pocket carry. It has been known to accidentally deploy, allowing the rollerball to empty its ink all over my pants. This has happened, leaving a giant ink stain on my jeans, boxers, and skin. And speaking of accidents…

3 stars out of 5

Future

… The nock mechanism started to misfire after a drop from my desk onto the floor. That’s not great. Also, Karas includes a warning in their literature, cautioning users not to engage in aggressive clicking, as it can damage the mechanism. There’s a part of me that sees where they’re coming from here: The Retrakt is designed with a smooth, hydraulic-like plunger press that is immensely satisfying. But, at the same time, it’s also the weakest point on this full-metal pen. So much so, in fact, that Karas sells replacement action kits. If you’re a compulsive clicker, stay away from the Retrakt.

3 stars out of 5

Finance

This would be a wonderful pen at $40. But, at $60 for a base aluminum model, I struggle to see the value here. That’s the same price as a brass version of the Urban Survival Gear TiScribe Bolt, which I consider to be the best EDC pen on the market. Still, if customization is your thing, Karas does offer a wide array of options. The body materials are good, but the delicate nock makes me hesitant to carry this onto the jobsite. It’s a metal pen for the desk set, which doesn’t fit into my idea of value.

2.5 stars out of 5

Final Thoughts

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Initially, I was head over heels for this pen. But, as time wore on, its limitations became more and more apparent. I wouldn’t actively steer someone away from the Retrakt, but it’s not something I see as a must-own item. I’m a little shocked at its popularity, to be honest.

Where to Buy

Karas Kustoms

 

Rickshaw Bags Waldo Pen Case Quick Review

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This is a case for pens, with a sleeve in the back for a Field Notes-size notebook. Rickshaw offers three models of the Waldo, each with a different configuration. I opted for the Model 3, with a trio of spaces for pens.

Form

You’re looking at a fold-over, Velcro closure flap hiding spots for a trio of pens. The fabric is excellent, and Rickshaw offers a wide selection of colors and patterns. They also include a small plastic backing sleeve, perfect for adding some rigidity and protection to the notebook slip. Stitching, closure, and hand-feel are all top notch.  Per Rickshaw’s product description, the “Approximate dimensions with notebook and three pens [are] 4.75 x 6.25 x 1.0 [inches].”

4.5 stars out of 5

Function

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It holds my pens, looks nice, and makes me happy every time I take it out of my pack. That’s all I’m looking for in this type of gear.

5 stars out of 5

Future

My only concern here is the Velcro. It’s not a material I trust for five-plus years of use, but I’m not sure what they’d use in its place. A button or zipper would ruin the aesthetic and could be more likely to scratch up your pens. It’s high-quality Velcro, but I’d keep it away from lint and other things that could get caught in its hooks. Otherwise, excellent overall.

4 stars out of 5

Finance

I use this every day at work, and often on the weekends. While $30 may seem like a lot for a pen case, I consider this a solid deal. Quality materials, construction, and design.

4.5 stars out of 5

Final Thoughts

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This is a great piece of gear, especially for those who like to travel with several pens in their pack.

Where to Buy

Rickshaw Bags

 

Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen Review

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I was ready to give these a chance. But, after using them for a few days, I’m struggling to understand the reason for this product’s existence.  On the positive side, these are cheap-ish writing instruments from a top-flight company, filled with decent ink. But everything else about these pens absolutely rankles me.

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Worst of all are the steel nibs. While they write fine, I don’t think I can express just how much I oppose this idea. Think about it for a second, considering the implications of these three words: Disposable Steel Nib. What does it say about our consumer culture when we’re willing to make a product that is so wasteful as to throw pinky-nail sized pieces of precision crafted metal into the trash? Isn’t their longevity and refillable nature part of the inherent allure of fountain pens? It certainly is for me.

Add in a lackluster plastic body and this strange interior condensation and… No. Just, no.

So, that’s all for now, folks. I’ll be on hiatus for a couple months, but I expect the itch to return sometime over the later part of the summer. Hit me up on Instagram (@JourneywindJunk) in the meantime to see what I’m up to. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you soon.

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