Zero Tolerance ZT0909 Review
Tony Sculimbrene 04.26.16
Over the last two or so years it has looked like Zero Tolerance was transitioning away from giant blades. The release of the ZT0900 and the ZT0450 were surprising from a company that made knives like the positively monstrous ZT0200. It didn’t bother me all that much, though, because I am not a fan of big knives. At all.
They are, for me, hard to justify. If I need something implacable in the face of brutal cutting tasks, I go directly for a fixed blade. If I don’t need something like that, then the weight and space savings of a smaller folder, like a Spyderco Dragonfly, are hard to pass up.
And then there is the grind. Most big knives have positively AWFUL grinds. My ZT0350 wasn’t a big knife in terms of blade length, but its chunky blade and less than slimming grind made it not that great as a cutter. So too with some of the beastly Cold Steels I have handled. Only the Spyderco Military took the right approach–use all that space on the blade to get the cutting edge as thin as possible from the starting point of a slabby stock of steel.
But the ZT0909, provided for review by the always excellent Knife Art, while beastly in all the ways that folks like, is a different in ways that matter, ways that convince me that it should be on your short list for big folders. I feel a bit like the Dos Equis pitchman–I don’t do big folders, but when I do, it’s the ZT0909. This is a really sound knife and you actually get some advantages when it comes to the size.
The ZT0909 is a large folding knife designed by custom maker Les George. Here is the product page. The blade length is 3.8 inches and the weight is 7.5 ounces.
I don’t normally bother with specs, but here they are crucial. This is a BIG knife and even those numbers don’t tell the whole story. The knife deploys via a flipper that rides on the KVT caged bearing system. The pivot is a solid pivot with a hex nut, hearkening back to the original ZTs: the ZT0300, ZT0301, and ZT0200. The handle is G10. The lock is a liner lock. The blade is a classic Les George drop point:
Fortunately for me, the ZT0909 arrived right as spring sprang and I got to thump on it outside making fires. My son has discovered the joys of pie iron sandwiches (fire + sandwich = awesome), so we made a heaping helping of fires in the backyard.
We have a wooded area just beyond our fence, so we go tromping down there a lot looking for firewood. The ZT0909 has been thumped on heartily. I have chopped down wrist-sized trees, peeled their bark, and processed them into pieces for the fire. I have also used it to do some recycling tasks and basically as a camp knife, preparing food outside.
I also decided to see if it could handle peeling grapes. I have a 1-year old (in addition to the fire-loving 5 year old) and he loves grapes, but he has a crazy school that requires them to be PEELED. I normally do this with a paring knife, but when you have a knife as big as the ZT0909, you want to see what it can do.
And… to my surprise, it did quite well.
This knife is based on George’s Talos model. You can also find traces of the ZT0909 in the VECP, George’s midtech and the previous George/ZT collab the ZT0900. Its designed to be a basic, beastly folder.
The two things that stand out the most on the ZT0909 is the simple blade shape and the incredible handles. George’s blades rarely have exotic or unusual blades. Almost all of them are drop points with swedges, and the ZT0909 follows that tradition nicely. The choice of a liner lock is not only unexpected in the ZT line, it is a trend bucking decision compared to most other knives in this price range.
The frame lock has come to dominate the market for reasons I am not sure are related to performance. The handles do feature some nice curves and cuts that add a bit of visual interest to an otherwise boring looking knife. Bling blade, this ain’t.
The ZT0909 has one of the best handles on a big knife I have ever seen. The handle has a very good shape to it, something like the Becker handle shape. The curve in the front acts as a guard and the curve on the back (the Parrot’s Beak) locks your hand in place:
The blade is also quite good. I am always afraid of these beast blades being nothing more than barely sharpened pry bars. The ZT0909 is not. It peeled grapes for goodness sake. The trick here is that the blade is very tall and the grind is very acute. Behind the actual cutting edge, the stock is surprisingly, almost shockingly thin. Only the Paramilitary 2 has thinner stock among the blades in this size.
The lock is also noteworthy. Unlike the frame locks ZT has been making recently, all of which have a weird lockbar hang up because of how the detent is made, this knife deploys smoothly regardless of where you put your fingers. I cannot, for the life of me, understand the insistence on a frame lock, other than the fact that it’s trendy. A liner lock works just as well and in some cases better. Here the lock and the pivot make for incredible flipping action. This thing is like rocket firing.
The clip is a standard KAI USA clip, borrowed from the Cryo, and like there, it is quite good. The G10 is grippy without being shreddy and the finish on the blade is a very consistent, scratch hiding stonewash. Even the milling, which adds considerable visual interest, is nice in the hand.
The only reservation I have is with the hex nut pivot. It is bound to attract gunk, and while I get that it is rugged and looks rugged, I’d prefer a normal fastener, like a torx. It’s not only easier to clean and less likely to attract gunk, it’s one less snag point/hotspot on the blade. Of course, I also have to tell you again that this knife is just massive. It is thick, heavy, and big. It carries like a trade paperback in your pocket, but you know that going in. You’re not expecting a tiny knife, and so while it is clearly a drawback, it’s one you know about even without having to pick up the knife.
In all, I really like the ZT0909. I was pleasantly surprised by its cutting ability, I liked the simple blade shape, and I adore the handles. It is very big, but unlike a lot of big knives, you are getting something for the size. I like the ZT0909 much better than the ZT0560/ZT0561. This is a knife that is designed first and foremost with performance and use in mind, and only after that are aesthetics a concern. It’s not the prettiest ZT ever made, but it is quite good. It is an excellent knife and at this price, it is a good value. Bargain Beast Blade is never something I thought I would write in reference to a ZT, but the ZT0909 is just that.