|Carothers Performance Knives Light Chopper in Delta 3V with TeroTuf handle scales|
This review is a special one for me, but also a little sad because the pattern is being retired. I have been looking forward to reviewing the Light Chopper (LC) since I started following following the design process for this knife back in 2015. This knife became a dream knife for me, but it wasn't until a month and a half ago that I finally got my hands on one. Then I found out that Carothers Performance Knives (CPK) is discontinuing this pattern. There will be a similar pattern called the Medium Chopper that will be released, and I may review one for contrast, but I think it is a real shame that this pattern is being discontinued. CPK knives are tricky to get hold of already, but I had hoped that after more Light Choppers were produced it would get easier, sadly it looks like less than 500 or so will be produced in total.
One day a week I clear brush. During my undergraduate years I supported myself with landscaping and brush clearing, and I still enjoy it enough to keep clearing brush part time while I work on grad school. So I was very excited about this tool being developed because it is designed to be a chopper that can swing fast enough to handle springy materials while still being easier to carry than something like a machete without being too heavy. I don't like carrying a machete when I am walking and operating a weed-whacker or other tools all day, but the Difensa proved the value of having a fixed blade that can handle some chopping. The Light Chopper manages to combine the cutting and chopping power of a machete with a size that is just about the maximum size and weight that I find comfortable to carry on my hip. For me the LC manages a darn near magical Goldilocks ratio of chopping capability and carry-ability. The LC isn't great for a lot of other uses, but it is fantastic in its intended applications.
The knife is made by Carothers Performance Knives, which is headed by Nathan Carothers (and his wife Jo). Nathan Carothers is a very experienced machinist, with a vast materials knowledge, as well as a truly impressive capability at using CNC machining. He is also very willing to share his knowledge, I have learned a lot over the last year and a half or so paying attention to Carothers (Here is a BladeForums thread of people asking Nathan questions and him answering, it is educational and about 50 pages long). CPK is an exciting brand to pay attention to, but at the current time demand is far exceeding their production capability which makes it hard to get a lot of CPK knives. Sales for the Light Chopper (for example) are typically for 20 or so at a time, and they usually sell out in less than 5 seconds. The other option is to buy the knives on the secondary market (which is how I purchased the reviewed knife), but prices can vary dramatically, and availability is still limited.
The knife was designed in cooperation with Lorien Arnold, a talented knife designer from British Columbia, Canada. Lorien cooperates with numerous knife makers, but has been partnering extensively with CPK recently. Sadly I can't afford the custom knives he designs, but I am a fan nonetheless.
The TL;DR review summary:
I love this knife. For clearing brush and light undergrowth with a knife that isn't too big or heavy to carry on a hike this, knife is ideal. The outstanding materials and exceptional treatment of those materials makes this knife a truly impressive performer. The design and craftsmanship that goes into this knife make it well worth the trouble it takes to land one.
Let's Start With the Specs:(From Carothers Performance Knives website):
Steel: CPM 3V (With the proprietary heat treat applied to Carothers 3V this metal is known as Delta3V)
Hardness: 60.5 HRC
Thickness: .188” thick at ricasso
Total length: 15.625”
Blade length: 9.875”
Edge is sharpened 20 DPS
Weight: 17.1 oz
Handle: Grippy 3D machined scales in micarta or TeroTuf (The reviewed knife has TeroTuff handle scales)
Black oxide treated 18-8 stainless steel fasteners
The Light Chopper is only "light" for a chopper. The knife weighs more than a pound. But while 17.1 oz might seem like a lot, a Gerber Gator Machete (the machete I primarily used for significant chopping prior to the LC) is 18 oz while being almost a foot longer. So the LC is actually lighter than most regular sized machetes in a much smaller package, and if you compare the LC to fancier machetes like the Baryonyx Machete then the weigh and size savings become even more pronounced.
The handle of the LC is made out of TeroTuf. TeroTuf is a composite material somewhat similar to G10 or Micarta. All three materials are made out of layered textiles compressed with resin. The difference in TeroTuf is that both the textile and the resin are polyester, as opposed to phenolic resins with either fiberglass (G10) or a variety of materials (paper, linen, canvas) for micarta. There are a few advantages to TeroTuf: For the knife maker, TeroTuf produces less toxic gases during machining. But from a user's perspective the biggest advantage would be lateral toughness (Here is a good video demonstration by HelmGrind) and enhanced grippyness. Since G10 and Micarta already have outstanding lateral toughness and dimensional stability the only real edge from my perspective is grip. I found the TeroTuf to be a little grippier when dry than unfinished micarta. I prefer canvas micarta for the most knife applications, but I really think the TeroTuf is an excellent choice for a chopper.
In the past I have satisfied myself with the following description of CPM 3V:
The steel for this knife is CPM 3V. CPM 3V is a particle super steel, as I have said before, these steels are made with science magic. I'm not going to try to explain all of the specifics because I am not a metallurgist and blade steel is a surprisingly complicated topic. There is no one perfect steel for every knife. Each steel type has its own set of properties, and the choice of which properties are important to a knife is a key decision for knife makers. Additionally, the properties of various steels are affected by heat treatment (the ways that the metal is heated and cooled to control hardness) and heat treatment can even affect the crystalline structure of the steel and the ways that the compounds in the steel combine. So for the purposes of my reviews, science magic.But for the Delta 3V (D3V) I think a little more discussion is needed. This is really an exceptional heat treat of an already outstanding steel. Nathan Carothers (AKA Nathan The Machinist on BladeForums) developed his proprietary heat treat of 3V that provides a pretty unbeatable combination of hardness, toughness, lateral strength, resilience, edge retention, and as an added bonus the heat treat leaves a higher percentage of free chromium in the steel matrix which makes D3V almost-but-not-quite-stainless. Standard 3V is an excellent steel, D3V elevates that steel to a level that is unmatched in my experience for a heavy use knife (Busse knives uses a proprietary steel called INFI which is generally considered the industry standard for heavy use knives, but I have never used an INFI knife myself).
That said, I think it is worthwhile to discuss the characteristics of CPM 3V a little. CPM 3V is not a stainless steel, though it does contain 7.5% chromium, which provides more stain resistance than one might expect from a carbon steel. In terms of edge holding properties at the hardness used for this knife, CPM 3V is very comparable to CPM S35VN (which is the stainless particle steel the Difensa is made of). The biggest difference between 3V and S35VN (besides rust resistance) is toughness. 3V is roughly 3 times as impact resistant as S35VN. It is a very tough steel, appropriate for a knife intended for rough applications.
To sum up on the steel: CPM 3V is very, very tough, not stainless, and holds an edge well.
You can watch this video of Nathan Carothers demonstrating the performance of D3V on a prototype Light Chopper below. The video is well worth watching (This video is not mine, it is a CPK video, I wouldn't do this to a knife):
People often ask what steel is best for a knife, and the answer depends on what the intended use of the knife is. But almost as important is the heat treat used on the steel. A good heat treat can elevate a steel above its basic characteristics. For example, Buck Knives originally distinguished itself through a superior steel performance due to good heat treating. Even today Buck gets really good performance out of 420HC steel, which can be a pretty inferior steel if not well done. So it is not just the steel, but also the treatment of that steel that define the characteristics for the end user. And the Carothers heat treat of CPM 3V is really something special.
A Note on the Sheath:
|The CPK LC in its Kydex sheath|
The Tek-Lok is ideally suited to mounting the knife on a pack or other load bearing equipment, for carrying on the hip as I like to do I find the Tek-Lok leaves the sheath riding way too high, and it interferes with my freedom of movement. CPK also offers a dangler sheath, but I bought this knife second hand and didn't have a choice on sheath type. I have ordered a custom leather sheath for my Light Chopper. So I can't say I like the sheath with the Tek-Lok, but that is because it isn't suited to my preferred style of carry.
In the past I have simply referred to CPM (Crucible Particle Metallurgy) steels "science magic steels." The steel is literally made by turning the molten metal into powder and squishing it back together (if you want more info you can find it here). I would call D3V an enhanced science magic steel. The CPM magic is enhanced with Nathan Carothers' metallurgical knowledge and experimentation. I have a hard time imagining a better metal for this knife.
The blade on this knife was given a stonewashed finish, which is one of my favorite finish types. A stonewash finish is created by... tumbling the knife with pebbles. It is what it sounds like. In my experience stonewash finishes feel pretty low friction, and they are more resistant to corrosion than bead blasted finishes. Additionally the stonewash hides scratches pretty well, which helps keep the blade looking nice. The stonewash finish also keeps the blade from being too reflective if that is a concern.
The blade on the LC is very purposefully designed. The blade is about 10 inches long, so this is a big knife. The blade is not designed for stabbing or to be a kitchen knife, it is designed for chopping, and it excels at the intended function.
The handle of the reviewed knife is TeroTuf, as previously discussed, but the handle material is not nearly as important as the handle shape. The grippiest handle material in the world doesn't mean much if the handle itself doesn't work well. The handle scales are machined (just like the blade) and are definitely an example of the confluence of Lorien's design and Nathan's machining expertise. Despite being machined, the scales are ergonomically designed. They are sculpted and formed to work well with no hotspots. The scales also have fluting grooves that enhance grip in addition to the grip provided by the material and handle design. The result is a handle that fits securely in your hand without forcing you into an artificial grip.
I might have preferred a slightly greater flare at the butt of the knife to make the grip more secure when using work gloves, but the handle works very well with bare hands. Fortunately the ergonomic design prevents discomfort when used with bare hands, since extended use was certainly easier for me without gloves.
Fit and Finish:
In the past I have had knives that were primarily machined that did not display perfect symmetry, but that is certainly not the case here. There is nothing that I have found to complain about on this knife. The craftsmanship is excellent. This knife is obviously not a polished showpiece knife, it is a working knife, but the quality it apparent and excellent.
|A closeup of Lorien Arnold's Design logo|
|A closeup of the Carothers makers mark as well as the Delta 3V logo.|
One of the neat touches of the CPK knives is that the logos and marks on the blade are actually machined in, rather than being etched or stamped. This makes the marks very clear and durable.
I primarily focused on using this knife for chopping stuff at work. And the knife performed admirably as a chopper. It easily matched my machetes for chopping lighter vegetation, and the solidness of the LC seemed to translate into better performance in thicker dryer wood like oak. The LC was fantastic at slicing through greenwood of softer species like cottonwood and willow. I was truly impressed there.
The long and short of the chopping performance was that this is the first knife that I have owned that I would consider replacing a hatchet with for camping. I have long been a proponent of using a hatchet for wood processing rather than trying to make a survival knife do all the wood processing work. I will have to actually experiment with this in the future to see if the LC actually can take the place of a hatchet. It is fun to use, and a capable wood processor.
The LC is also described as a large camp knife, so I of course used it for other tasks:
The LC isn't a kitchen knife, but for a chopper it is made out of pretty thin stock. This means that it slices surprisingly well. On balance I am not really sold on this knife for an all around use knife. I really prefer it as a specialist kind of knife. You CAN cut your vegetables with it, but it isn't really well suited to such tasks. It is too big to be easily detailed with, and the handle angle and guard make it not so great for processing vegetables.
During the fourth week of working with the knife I finally had a little accident. I was chopping a branch on the ground and hit a rock pretty good. It damaged the edge, but nothing horrible:
|A closeup of the damage immediately after hitting the rock|
|The other side of the blade|
|The damaged section after honing with a butcher's steel|
|Another closeup of the damage after honing|
|A view of the edge to show the relatively minor damage after honing|
I nailed the rock pretty good, but the damage was surprisingly light. I was pleased with the knife, though I was not pleased with myself for whacking a rock.
But the final detail of the use review is the edge retention. After a month of use, with no sharpening (I did use a butcher's steel, but no whetstone or waterstone) I decided to see if the LC would still shave. I did a single swipe on my upper arm, and this was the result:
|Yeah, it still shaved. After a month of significant use with no sharpening. The D3V really is impressive|
Long story short, I love this knife. It isn't really an all purpose knife. It wouldn't be my first choice as a do everything camp knife. It's too big for detail work, and isn't ideal for food processing, but it is great for chopping. This is a knife that was truly designed for the kind of hiking and brush clearing that I do, and it is truly outstanding for that purpose. If this knife seems like it would fit your needs I would unequivocally recommend it.