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02/12/2005 Archived Entry: "Review: Spyderco Assist knives (and thank you to Rich Lucibella)"

SPYDERCO ASSIST KNIVES! Whoohoo! I just received quite a care package from Rich Lucibella.

After I agreed to write a column for S.W.A.T. magazine, Rich (the publisher) sent back issues for me to take a look at. I opened the first one with the attitude of Doing My Duty -- and was quickly sucked in. S.W.A.T. is a first-class 'zine with a healthy dose of irreverence, plenty of tips for real shooters in the real world, and .... ooooooh, gear reviews.

I'm (alas) a neglectful shooter and not much of a gun gearhead. I get lost when a writer delves into the complexities of gas systems, guide rods, or glass bedding. But S.W.A.T. also reviews knives. To me a great knife is a work of art. Useful knives, elegantly crafted knives, even -- I guiltily confess -- cheap little knives that are cleverly made (like my Philippine balisong) make my eyes light up.

I salute the usefulness of guns as a self-defense and freedom-defense tool. But knives appeal more to my sense of aesthetics and my imagination.

In the first back issue of S.W.A.T., two knives switched on my glow: The Spyderco Assist I and Assist II. These, I could see, shine in the usefulness category. They're clever, too. And well thought-out and well-constructed. My kinda knife.

I mentioned to Rich how I admired the Assist II ... and I learned that I'm definitely working for a man of action. Yesterday I received a Box of Mystery with no return address. When I opened it, out slid both beautiful Spyderco Assist models.

I need to menton upfront that Rich has an ironclad policy for S.W.A.T. writers. They're forbidden to accept free gear from

vendors. Rich and editor Denny Hansen hold themselves to this same rule. This integrity-loaded standard is rare in a world where "I write for such-and-such magazine" is often a thinly disguised attempt to cadge freebies (too often in exchange for favorably biased reviews). A nice lady at Spyderco, Joyce Laituri, has S.W.A.T. on her list of Industry Partners, enabling discount purchasing. Rich bought these knives as an un-looked-for signing bonus.

Now, that said, I'm going to write a review out of sheer happiness, grateful to Rich but beholden to nobody.

The Assist models (as their name implies) are designed primarily for firefighters and other rescue workers. Need to cut a seatbelt or a rope? Break glass? Whistle for help? Open a knife with one hand while your hand is slippery with sweat or blood or grease? These are your tool.

Both Assist models have:

I've owned serrated-edge pocket knives or "survival knives" before and have considered most of them a joke. Their edges are often so thick and blunt they wouldn't saw through a twig. These blades -- different story! I took them out in the woods and found that not only could I rapidly saw through small branches or nasty berry brambles, but merely by holding the half-closed knife in my hand and squeezing it in a clipping motion, I could snap through objects up to 3/8-inch thick.

And that's with fairly weak woman's hands. Big bruisers could no doubt do much better. The back of the blade has finger-fitting curves that enable you to perform this squeeze-snap without digging painfully into your skin. I can easily see a rescuer clipping swiftly through a seatbelt -- though that's not something I think I'll try on my poor old Toyota.

Both knives are the same length (4-7/8 inches closed, 8-3/8 open). Both have high-quality VG-10 steel blades and weigh a light four ounces or less.

The differences? The Assist II has a traditional pointed blade. The Assist I has a blunt, rounded edge where the point would typically be. (Do not take the Assist I to a knife fight!). However, the Assist I has an additional, very cool hidden feature. With the knife closed, squeeze the handle and blade together -- and out of the handle's end pokes a sharp carbide tip designed to break glass.

At first I wondered why Spyderco didn't make just one Assist knife with the best of both worlds, a sharp point and the carbide glass-breaker. Now that I've got my hands on the knives, I see; the carbide tip is activated by an extension on the blunt end of the blade. Only with a major redesign (and introduction of fallible complexity) could the Assist I have been made with a real knifepoint. As is, the carbide-tip operation is as simple as it is useful.

Again, this is a feature I'm not to eager to try. When I do experiment with it I'll be sure to use safety glass. The meat of your fist has to get awfully close to the glass in question, and I can easily envision potential ouwies. Nevertheless, if you were trapped in your vehicle after a rollover, or had to extricate someone else from a car or truck with locked doors, having such a device at hand could be a blessing.

The only real weakness I've seen is the whistle. You have to practice to get your mouth in exactly the right position to use it, and the sound isn't as powerful as a first-class rescue whistle produces. Nevertheless, that whistle is right there, built into the handle of a tool you can carry around every day without fuss -- while that fancy rescue whistle is likely to be home in a box somewhere when you need it.

Me, I'll carry the pointed Assist II on woods-walks, where potential "situations" could include encounters with predators or the need to drive a blade into a tree. The Assist I will live in the truck, ready to do its job in case of an accident.

Great knives. Great gift. Truly a pleasure and a delightful surprise.

Posted by Claire @ 10:19 AM CST

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