Real Steel Knives T101 Thor Special Edition Flipper
By Gary Zinn
I have not had much regard for People's Republic of China (Red China) made knives, mainly because so many of them have been--and continue to be--cheap junk. Low end blade steel, cheap handle materials and slapdash assembly add up to poor products. The buyers often feel they have not gotten good value for even the few dollars spent.
However, there are now a few Chinese knife makers marching to a different drumbeat. For instance, Kizer Knives and We Knife Company have been making high quality, premium priced knives for several years.
Real Steel, along with Ruike, cater to what I will call the working knife market segment, meaning the market for knives that are moderately priced, but which feature designs, materials and quality that will stand up to serious use in the workplace or outdoors. The latest Chinese firm to join the fray is Artisan Cutlery, which has very recently announced a line of folding knives aimed at both the working and premium knife market segments.
I decided it was time to take a close look at a Chinese made working knife and the one I chose to review is the Real Steel T101 Thor Special Edition flipper. The T-series knives (T101 and T109) are contemporary style, one-hand openers, available in a handful of variants.
The general T-series features that caught my attention include Sandvik 14C28N blade steel and a flipper activated ball bearing blade pivot system. In addition, the T101 Special Edition model comes with contoured and milled G10 handle scales for enhanced ergonomics.
My first impression of this knife was that it is large, solid and attractive. A general inspection revealed that it is well-designed and fabricated. Already the knife was well above the general run of Chinese made knives that I have come to disrespect.
The blade steel is Sandvik 14C28N, a definite step up from the inferior Chinese domestic steels (7C series and such) so often used in Chinese knives. 14C28N is the steel most used throughout the Real Steel product line.
The blade has a drop point profile and is flat ground, with an honest 3-3/4 inches of working length (sharpened edge). Maximum width of the blade is 1-1/8 inches. The blade spine is 3.5 mm (0.14 inch) thick at the base. No question that the blade is sturdy.
Three other features of the blade bear brief mention. The blade grind is not a full flat grind. The primary bevel is 3/4 inch wide at the base of the blade, while the blade is 1-1/8 inches wide, leaving 3/8 inch of blade that maintains full thickness at the base. The width of the primary bevel is maintained along the length of the blade, so that the full thickness flat on each side of the blade fades out as the blade narrows.
Next, the spine is swaged well back from the blade tip, giving a false edge effect. This gives the blade a very well-defined point, as well as being a pleasing visual detail. Finally, there is a gentle thumb rise on the base of the spine, just high enough to facilitate a comfortable thumb-on-top force grip on the knife. I am generally not a fan of thumb rises, but this one works.
The handle is built around a pair of sturdy, skeletonized, stainless steel liners. A plastic (GFN?) wedge serves as a spacer between the liners. The handle scales are G10, laminated in layers of blue and black. Everything is held together by Torx head cross-bolts and the blade pivot pin.
Concerning the handle scales, the laminated, bicolor, sculpted handle scales are interesting and aesthetically appealing. Single colored slabs of G10 are boring.
My most frequent criticism of knife designs is poor handles, handles that are too short or narrow, not ergonomically shaped, etc. This knife does not suffer from such shortcomings.
The knife is 4-3/4 inches long closed, while the handle has a generous working length of four inches, finger guard to butt. The spine of the handle is arched adequately to fit my palm nicely, while the belly of the handle has shallow grooves, which the fingers fit naturally and comfortably.
Many contemporary style knives have flat-sided handles, which are great for comfortable carry, but terrible when the knife is used for heavy or sustained cutting sessions. Handles that are somewhat oval in cross section are much more comfortable and secure in use.
Several models of Real Steel knives suffer from the slab handle malaise, but the Thor Special Edition handle is a better design. Besides its generous working length and hand fitting profile, the handle is contoured in cross-section, swelling from a nominal thickness of 1/2 inch on top to a maximum thickness of 11/16 inch, then tapering down to 7/16 inch thick at the bottom. My current benchmark of ergonomic handles on modern production knives is the Buck Open Season handle design and the handle on the Thor SE feels almost as good.
The lower front of the liners and handle scales curve downward to form a quillon-type finger guard. When the blade is open, the flipper aligns with and extends slightly below the lower front of the handle, which makes the finger guard a bit longer.
Finally, there is the IWB (pocket) clip. More often than not, I end up removing these, because they are so poorly designed that they dig into my palm or fingers, no matter where I mount them, or how I hold the knife. The good news is that this clip does not "bite" my hand; the bad news is that it has absolutely no springiness, which renders it useless.
This is another poorly designed pocket clip that will get removed and discarded. I do not understand how the maker could totally screw up something as simple as a belt clip.
Fit, finish and function
Fit between the liners and handle scales was tight and even. The milled G10 scales give great grip, plus they look sharp with the alternating blue and black layers of material.
The micro beveled cutting edge is even and uniform, side to side and base to tip. The blade is polished to a high satin luster, with vertical polishing marks visible in the right light. These are quite fine and even, so are not objectionable. Good job on the edge and finish, Real Steel!
The factory edge on the review knife made Very Sharp (VS) on my qualitative blade sharpness scale, meaning that it was ready to go to work, out of the box. (See Knife Sharpness, Sharpening Methods and Tools for more explanation of my blade acuity classifications.) The knife performed routine test cuts on a variety of materials with no strain whatever.
The blade lock spring is in the lower front of the right side liner. Both a flipper and thumb studs are provided to initiate blade opening. (I prefer the flipper.) There is no opening assist mechanism, but the blade pivots on ball bearings and fired very easily, right out of the box. Just for fun, I put a drop of Quick Release lubricant on the pivot, which turbocharged the opening action.
The lock spring engages smoothly and fits solidly against a shelf on the blade tang. There is no play whatever when the blade is deployed and the lock engaged. There is an unobtrusive slide bar on the front of the handle (top right side); sliding this bar forward jams a stop against the lock spring, so that it cannot be released. I think this is unnecessary, but it is there for anyone who wants to be doubly sure that their knife remains locked open.
The working end of the lock spring fits flush with the right side handle scale, while the front of the left side scale and liner is routed-out slightly to allow access to disengage the lock. A small functioning hiccup is there is barely enough clearance on the left side for thumb or finger access to release the lock; a 2mm deeper cutout in the left side of the handle would make unlocking easier.
A cross pin located above the blade pivot indexes the blade position, both open and closed. When the blade is opened, a notch between the tang and the end of the blade spine engages against the pin. This, along with the liner lock spring, holds the blade firmly in battery.
When the blade is closed, a notch in the shoulder of the flipper engages the opposite side of the cross pin to park the blade. There is a detent buried somewhere that holds the blade closed. It does the intended job and releases easily when one begins to open the blade.
I give the review knife high marks for fit, finish and function. Other than the pocket clip fail and the too-shallow liner lock release cutout, everything else was spot-on for a knife of this type and price point.
Real Steel makes a handful each of locking folder and fixed blade knife patterns (they call them series) with specific models in each series that differ in details, such as handle material, color and so forth. (Blade HQ, for instance, catalogs just over a hundred specific Real Steel knife models/variants.) This is not the time or place to do a detailed rundown of these, so I will just say that the knife reviewed here is broadly representative of the product line, in that it features the blade steel (14C28N), handle material (G10) and lock type (liner) most used in the Real Steel offerings.
I am encouraged that the company uses several quality blade steels, ranging from 8Cr14MoV and 440C to Elmax and M390. Similarly, in addition to G10, they use aluminum, stainless steel, carbon fiber and titanium to haft selected knife models. To me, the use of midrange to upscale materials indicates that Real Steel is making a serious effort to pack quality into value-priced products.
A single specimen of one knife model is certainly not enough to definitively judge the quality and value of the entire product line. However, I am sufficiently impressed by the T101 Thor Special Edition to feel that Real Steel knives set a standard against which other Chinese made working knives brands and models can be judged.
Copyright 2018 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.