Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lone Wolf Harsey T2 Review



My Lovely Lone Wolf T2

Introduction:

This was my dream knife, my holy grail, the white whale.  And now it's mine.  And it lived up to my expectations, and actually exceeded them.

If you want the TL;DR version:  This knife is close to ideal for me.  I love the looks, the ergos, the materials, everything about it.

The T series of knives was designed by Bill Harsey for Lone Wolf Knives.  Lone Wolf Knives was a company based out of Oregon.  Unfortunately that company is no longer around, so this knife is not being made anymore.

So the sad news is that I am reviewing a knife that you can't buy new, and in particular I am reviewing a version of a discontinued knife that was uncommon even when the knives were actually being made.  Most of the Lone Wolf T series knives were made with black FRN (Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon) handle scales, not wood; and even among the wood handles, most of the handles were done in cocobolo, not walnut.  Additionally, the T series knives came in a few different blade styles, and most of the knives were made with a center-ridged modified spear point design, rather than the full-flat ranger grind of my knife.

But let's get to the actual review.  I'll come back to the topic of availability in the summary.

Let's start with the specs:

Specifications 

Overall Length (inches): 8.80
Blade Length (inches): 3.90
Weight: 4.5 oz
Blade Material: CPM S30V
Blade Detail: Ranger
Blade Finish: Bead Blast
Handle Material: French Walnut
Lock Style: Liner Lock
Carry System: Pocket Clip
Frame: Stainless Steel


This is a big folding knife, though not ridiculously so.  When I originally purchased this knife I had thought that the almost 4 inch blade would be bigger than I would want to carry daily, but since I already had the ~3 inch Fantoni I didn't want to get the smaller T1.  My thought at the time was that I would have a very nice knife that I might use sometimes, since I really didn't think anything was going to shift the Fantoni out of my pocket long term.  As it has turned out, the T2 has moved pretty much every other knife out of my pocket (other than for specific tasks).  The 4 inch blade has proved to be an extremely useful and versatile size and shape.

The T2 is a surprisingly light knife for a steel framed large folder.  It feels satisfyingly sturdy in the hand, but at ~4.5 oz, it rides in your pocket without trouble.  Even though the T2 is a substantial knife, it doesn't drag your pants down.

The blade finish is a bead blasted finish.  A bead blasted finish serves to create a visually pleasing and uniform finish that is also pretty non-reflective.  I appreciate this finish on a "tactical" styled knife in stainless steel.  I prefer the bead-blasted finish to a blade coating because the bead-blast serves to reduce glare without noticeably increasing the friction coefficient of the blade.  I do not like the bead blast as much as stone-washed finishes for two reasons: firstly, bead-blasted finishes increase the likelihood of staining, though with CPM S30V that is not really too much of an issue; and secondly (and more importantly in my mind), the bead-blasted finish can really make any slip-ups in sharpening very obvious.  Bead-blasted finishes are not nearly as bad as mirror finishes for showing scratches, but as I recently accidentally demonstrated, one bad stroke can make a pretty glaring mar on the appearance of the blade.

The handle material for this knife is French Walnut.  Most tactical knives opt for a man-made material for the handles, as did most of the Lone Wolf T-series knives.  Wooden handles might not be as tough as Micarta, G10, or FRN, but for everyday use the Walnut has held up just fine, it feels nice in the hand, and it is pretty.

The steel on this knife is CPM S30V, which is a particle super steel.  These days S30V is not the most cutting edge super steel on the market, but it really isn't far off.  S30V is still a very premium steel, it is essentially the stainless super steel that others are judged against.  10 years ago, when this knife was being designed and manufactured, S30V was about as good as it got, and really, if you're like me, then the incremental differences between high-end steels are pretty hard to actually perceive.

A Note on the Clip:

Ususally I have a note on the sheath at this point, but this is a folding knife with a clip, rather than a sheath.  The T2 has a large stainless steel clip that is surprisingly unobtrusive in the hand.  The clip is not a deep carry clip, which means that about an inch of the handle sticks out of your pocket.  The good thing about this type of clip is that the knife is easy to access, and if you are somewhere where knives can't be "concealed" then this helps avoid trouble on that front.

I have knives with much smaller clips that are actually more obtrusive when the knife is held, I feel like the size actually helps make the clip feel more like a part of the handle and less like a tacked on addition.  In my hand the clip feels more like handle contouring than like a typical clip.  The large clip also helps keep the knife securely in place without being too difficult to pull out/put in.  For me, in terms of function and appearance, the clip is an absolute winner.

One last note on the clip, the clip is an obligatory tip-down clip.  There are no holes for making it tip-up, and the handle scale is actually milled out to accommodate the clip, so you can't flip the clip over to the other side.  Functionally, this means that for safety reasons, you are pretty much limited to right-back-pocket carry, or left front pocket (because it is a good idea to keep the blade against a seam in your pocket in case it opens in your pocket.  You don't want to reach into your pocket and encounter an open knife).  For me this is totally fine since that is what I like anyway, but for some people it is a drawback.
Handle picture showing the clip


Review:

Steel:  

The S30V steel is a very good steel.  The blade has shown good edge holding and stain resistance while I've had it.  I have nothing to complain about on that front.  My only complaint would be that, as with S35VN, I have a harder time sharpening S30V than I do with less fancy steels.  That is one of the things to bear in mind when buying knives with fancy steels.  The same features that make super-steels better performing also make them harder to sharpen.

I don't know what the precise Rockwell hardness of the S30V used for the blade is.  I have not been able to track down that info, and I do not have a tester of my own.

Blade Finish:

As I indicated above, the bead-blasted finish is not my absolute favorite finish, but it is fine.  I do prefer the bead-blast finish to a blade coating for ease of slicing.  In a perfect world, I would probably prefer a stone-washed finish on this knife, but I am happy with the bead-blast.  The bead-blast is aesthetically pleasing, though as I said, when I messed up while sharpening my knife the scratches were very obvious.

Blade:

I cannot stress enough just how overwhelmingly thrilled I am with the blade on this knife.  Size, shape, geometry, jimping, everything.  The whole nine-yards.  I like everything about the design of the blade on this knife.  This knife has proven to be the most versatile knife I have ever owned.  It handles kitchen work amazingly well for a folding knife.  It even works well as a whittling knife.  The full flat grind, combined with the drop point shape, makes for a truly effective and versatile slicer.

One of the things about the way that the blade is designed that amplifies the versatility of the knife is the the angle that the blade sits at in relation to the handle, and the fact that the knife is not a flipper.  Flipper knives have a projecting piece of metal that serves as a finger guard, but in my experience those projections can also make it a little harder to use in the kitchen or for tasks where it is helpful to be able to bring more of the blade horizontal to the cutting surface.  The lack of a flipper helps with this, but as you can see in the photo below, the angle of the blade makes it so that the pivot point of the handle actually sits above a flat surface.  This gives your fingers a little ore room when working on a table or cutting board, which is part of what makes this knife such a pleasure to use.  It is these sorts of subtle features of knife design that really make the difference in my experience.
It's a subtle feature, but very nice.


Handle:

The handle of the T2 is the most comfortable handle of any knife I own, including fixed blades.  This is pretty surprising to me considering that the T2 handle includes a large pocket clip and significant jimping.  A big part of the comfort for me is that the knife is pretty ideally sized for my hand.  In my review of the Spartan Difensa I described how I have a specific preference for knives that allow me to use my pinky to grip, and the T2 really allows me space and a shape that facilitates my grip.


Locking Mechanism:

The T2 has a sturdy liner-lock.  The lockup is early enough that I am confident that there will be many years of life in the lock.  The liner lock is my personal favorite style of folding knife lock.  Other styles like the frame-lock (which is very similar to a liner lock), or the Axis lock (mostly found only on Benchmade knives due to exclusive licensing) may be more hip at the moment, I really like the simplicity and reliability of liner-locks.  The other thing that I like about the liner lock is that it allows the handle scales to just be handle scales.

In the case of My T2, that means that the walnut handle is not just on one side.  The knife is functionally a wooden handled modern tactical folder, which I think is awfully neat.  I think that this characteristic of this particular T2 is also a part of why the knife does not seem to scare people when I pull it out to cut a string the way some other tactical folders do.

Fit and Finish:

The fit and finish of my T2 was fine, though (at risk of sounding like a broken record) not flawless like the Fantoni.  The wooden handle scales are slightly offset from the frame, oddly the offset is opposite for the two sides, but the mismatch is less than half a millimeter on either side.  The frame is also not fully smoothed on the blade side of the handle.  Neither of these issues are significant, and neither affect function at all.  At the original price that the T2's were sold at those very minor flaws would have been perfectly acceptable to my mind.  At the prices I sometimes see Walnut handled T2's selling for these days, I might be a little upset. 

Use Review:

The T2 has proven to be such a pleasure to use that I find myself using it even when I have knives available that are better suited for certain tasks, like cooking.  After having the knife for about half a year I find that I am able to resist the urge to use the T2 for everything a little bit more, but I still find myself using it simply for the pleasure of using the T2.

Chances are good that if you live in a city or town that your pocket knife is mostly going to get used to open boxes and envelopes, and boxes and envelopes don't really require anything special out of a folding knife.  But most people who carry a knife do end up finding that there are a lot of other times that pop up more occasionally where a solid and versatile knife is useful.  Emergencies happen, sometimes you need to cut a strap in a hurry.  When those kind of things happen it is good to have a solidly built and solidly locking knife with a good edge.  Since I got the T2 I have not run into any emergencies, but I feel prepared when I have it.

When it comes to knife performance, I really like to see how knives do in the kitchen.  The kitchen is one of the places where we tend to do most of our day to day cutting.  That is why I have an assortment of nice kitchen knives.  Of course having that assortment of nice knives means that most non-kitchen knives feel deficient to me in the kitchen.  Not so the T2.  I almost immediately found myself using the T2 in the kitchen more than any of my other folders, and for this review I went ahead and used the T2 as my only knife for making a meal.

The T2 really is an excellent slicer.  The blade shape and geometry make the knife comparable to my kitchen knives.


The full flat grind makes slicing vegetables of various textures easy


The Ranger blade style was intended to appropriate for hunting and outdoors uses, and it handles meat as you would expect such a knife to handle meat.


The Bead blasted finish is satisfyingly low friction which also helps with cooking tasks


It even works for cutting pizza


Though to be perfectly honest, my Ulus are better pizza cutters, but I was having fun

For a general use knife, I like a lot of belly, because that is what I tend to use most for cutting boxes and such.  In the kitchen it is usually nicer to have a somewhat straighter edge, like on a chef's knife.  The T2 is obviously not as handy as a chefs knife when it comes to chopping up a bag of carrots, but it does well.

The blade and handle shape make it easy to adjust your grip for a variety of tasks.  In particular, I find the lack of a flipper projection handy when I am whittling with the T2.  I also appreciate the un-swedged drop point when I want to choke way up to do fine work with the point.  I have found the T2 to be very good for fine tasks like cutting stencils and trimming masking tape.  

Straight up, great shape and ergos, and excellent performance.


Summary:

The Lone Wolf T2 is without a doubt, my favorite folding knife that I have used.

The only drawback to the T2, to my mind, is that there is no company to provide warranty service to the knife if I break it.  Perhaps it is silly for me to use and risk damaging a knife that is essentially a collectors item now, but I bought it to use (my intention to use the knife is probably why I was able to get a good deal on the knife from a guy who felt bad about just letting the knife sit in his safe).

So What Happened to Lone Wolf Knives?

It is hard to find complete and reliable info on Lone Wolf Knives, but here is what I have been able to gather (any inaccuracies are mine) though a combination of actual credible information and stuff-some-guy-said-on-a-forum type sources:  Lone Wolf Knives was an upstart company that made very high quality production knives using high-end materials, for a price that was much lower than most comparable knives.  Lone Wolf worked with some very distinguished custom knife makers and designers to create production versions of very nice knives.  Designers like Bob Loveless, Bill Harsey, Paul W. Poehlmann, and Brian Tighe.  They also worked with other companies like Fantoni Knives to produce some of their knives (I have a Loveless designed Lone Wolf integral hunter made by Fantoni, for example).

Apparently, Lone Wolf came up with an exciting design for an OTF (Out The Front) automatic knife (a switchblade that comes straight out rather than swinging open like a regular folding knife) around 2009.  People were very excited about this new knife, and Lone Wolf ended up agreeing to a large number of orders for the knife, but they ran into trouble during production.  They were not able to make the knives in a timely fashion, and could not get more money to cover the unexpected costs, so the company was sold to Benchmade.

Benchmade proceeded to shift the Lone Wolf brand into being an outdoors/hunting brand, and discontinued the earlier product lines.  Presumably they made this move with the brand so that they would not have two brands in direct competition.  The T-series and the D2 automatic folders designed by Harsey were casualties during this period.  Benchmade was going to move at least some of the Harsey folders over to their brand, but that fell through (and I have no idea why, any guess would be total speculation).  The new Lone Wolf knives included some very interesting knives, particularly for people in saltwater environments, but in 2014 it would seem that Benchmade quietly shut down Lone Wolf altogether.  So now there is no Lone Wolf knives being made at all.  Benchmade has launched a new line of knives called Benchmade Hunt, which fills the niche that Lone Wolf used to fill.

I don't want to invent motivations for the way that Benchmade handled the Lone Wolf brand, particularly since I think that Benchmade is an excellent company.  I'm not trying to suggest that Benchmade is bad, or Machiavellian schemers seeking to wipe out competitors.  It really seems like straight up business, if anything I would say that it seems like they did their best to keep Lone Wolf in business.  You can't blame Benchmade for not wanting to undermine their own primary brand, or for deciding to go with their own, more recognizable brand for their outdoorsy knives.

So How do I Get a T2?

You might be asking how to get your hands on a T2 knife now that I have extolled the virtues of the knife and then explained why the knives are no longer being made.  Well if you want a Lone Wolf T-series knife the easiest way to find one is on eBay.  That also tends to be a pretty expensive way to buy your knife, and you have to worry about counterfeits.  You can also do what I did and join Blade Forums and spend a year or so researching and putting out feelers until someone offers you exactly the knife you want at a price you can afford...  but it takes a pretty obsessive approach to go that route.  And you are still kind of rolling the dice hoping for the genuine article in good condition.

But all is not hopeless.

When I posted my original First Impressions Review, Bill Harsey left a comment on my Facebook page informing me that he had finished up prototyping work on a new similar knife.  He said that the new one would have a titanium frame and handle (I'm not personally a big fan of metal handles, but I am willing to reserve judgement).  So this is very exciting news to me.

Unfortunately, I have no idea when this new version might come out, or who would be producing it, or what price it might be sold at.  And there is not even really a guarantee that the knife ever will enter production.  And hopefully Bill won't be mad at me for writing about his Facebook comment here.

But, if a new version of the T2 comes to fruition, I will do everything I can to review it in a timely fashion.  I'm not a particularly well known reviewer, and I don't have much of a following, so it's not like the makers would have a strong motivation to send me a tester.  And the knife will not be cheap, and heading into grad school, money is not something I am swimming in.  So even if the knife came out tomorrow, it might be a while before I could review it.  But if a new one comes out, I will let you all know.

So to sum up, the Lone Wolf T2 is my favorite knife.  I think it is just about perfect, but it is hard to buy, and the prices that they sell for these days can make it hard to justify actually using.  But stay tuned, there may be a resurrection of this knife, and that could truly be an amazing knife. 

2 comments:

  1. Hi to every one, it’s truly a nice for me to pay a visit this site, it contains useful Information.

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  2. I am a HUGE fan of the D2 (the auto version of the T2) and the T3. Probably the closest a folding knife can come to a fixed blade IMHO. Great review!

    ReplyDelete