2017 Preview: Kershaw and Zero Tolerance (KAI USA)
Tony Sculimbrene 01.23.17
KAI USA is two brands–Kershaw and Zero Tolerance (ZT). Though they are marketed most of the time as separate companies, they are more like product lines than truly different organizations. Internal talent floats between the two, the share collaborators, and the business and production side of things are shared. This will be a preview of both company’s products.
Last year Kershaw and ZT continued their separate paths. Kershaw really doubled down on the budget stuff, introducing virtually nothing new at the top of their range instead putting out a series of blades that all run 8Cr13MoV steel and are made overseas by OEMs for Kershaw. This isn’t it slight what they did. There were a lot of good solid blades in the Kershaw line, but the days of Elmax Speedforms and ZDP-189 Mini Cyclones are long gone.
ZT on the other hand, continued to at at the top end of the production market with new stuff from Les George and a new collaboration with Jens Anso. Overall, both lines were very good and I think that ZT, while consistently one of the best over the past five years, consolidated all of their achievements and really dominated the market. Everything they did in 2016 was great. That’s why I chose them as my overall company of the year.
Two years ago Kershaw announced collaborations with Emerson (strange as Emerson already makes production knives), but it has done well for both companies. So when I saw the flipper versions of the classic Al Mar knives from the raptor line, I was surprised. These are Al Mars that are completely Kershaw-ized. They have modern touches like flippers and deep carry pocket clips, but they hew close to the Al Mar original with similar blade shapes and handles. They all run 8Cr. Beware though, these are liner locks, a bit of collaboration sacrilege from the company that made the front lock famous. The AM-3 and 4 are the most tempting to me, coming in a bit shorter than the Falcon and the Eagle respectively.
The 1776 Link is given a new color of paint (which is then stripped off and called blackwash) and it is joined by the Dividend, another Made in the USA piece.
This knife runs 420HC (yawn) but it has a handle and blade shape that look like a mating of the Skyline and the Leek. Speaking of the Leek, there is a carbon fiber version for all you completists and it runs CPM154, which is a first for the Kershaw line, I believe (note: CPM154 is different from 154CM, CPM154 being the powder metal version of 154CM).
There are two beer themed collabs with Brazilian knife savant Gustavo Cecchini (GTC Knives). They are so named because of Gus’s cleverly design flipper tab/cap lifter. These knives are, like all Gus’s designs, real lookers. There is no mistaking a GTC design with anyone else’s stuff.
Then there is the Natrix, a budget version of a ZT, which was, itself a toned down version of an Triple Uber ZT. The Natrix’s grandfather, you see, was the ZT0777, a knife that almost never came out because of how complex it was and how difficult the blade (a mix of damascus and a high end powder steel) was to produce. So after a few filters we get this knife–an 8Cr13MoV blade on a G10 handle. It is a far cry from its progenitor, but the blade shape, the size (3.25 inches), and the flipper all look decent.
Given the cost of the original ZT0777 it is unlikely that anyone but the most hardcore collector could obtain one, especially now years after its release. But if you want a bit of that magic, a hint of that form factor, and you want it for less than $100, the Natrix is for you. And hey, it even runs the sub-frame lock, a crazy design only seen on a few Kershaws (like the Knockout).
They also have a small utility knife, the Pub, that looks great. It is an angular blocky design from Dmitri Sinkevich, and it is a nice piece that demonstrates that even a custom knife maker that loves high end can still make some sweet and simple.
Overall Grade: B
If the beer themed folders weren’t enough of a hint, the first page of the ZT catalog for 2017 tells you what you need to know: GTC is officially collaborating with ZT. And while the Kershaws have the look of a GTC, it’s the ZT, the S35VN-bladed ZT0055, that has the GTC tech.
They also have a Sinkevich/Rexford collaboration, which is the knife equivalent of a Ferrari/Lamborghini collaboration, in the ZT0850.
The last new ZT that interested me is the ZT0460, another Sinkevich design, this time with very Persian elements.
Overall Grade: A
Overall, KAI has a line up with something for everyone–from the guy that finds a blister pack at Lowes to snobby knife elitists like myself. 2017 looks amazing.