Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag Review

First, I have to confess that I wish I could have written this review before this knife had been discontinued.

But, I bought this knife, because it was sold at for $49.95, after it had been discontinued.

Before I relay my thoughts on this knife, I would like to acknowledge the conversations and discussions concerning this knife. When this knife became available for $50, there were a number of posters to the Spyderco Forums who asked about the T-Mag, and what other forum members who had bought the knife thought. When the response came, the consensus seemed to be that the T-Mag lacked a functioning lock.

So, it was with quite a bit of anticipation and maybe a bit of dread that I waited for the T-Mag to arrive at my door. It is not very often that one can buy a knife comprised of Crucible CPM S30V Steel and Carbon Fiber for $50, and alternately, I was wondering if I had made a poor choice.

Immediately, I was drawn to the T-Mag. It's state of the art materials, precision construction and innovative design are simply artful.

For instance, I have never been an amazed fan of the modern choil, especially on folding knives. With fixed blades, I grant the usefulness of the choil for reasons of balance, but on folding knives, I have often found the choil feature to be my least favorite part of the design. Alternately, with the T-Mag, I found the choil to be very natural to use, in fact, I like the choil on this knife.

Further, from the first night, I found that I opened and closed the knife over and over again, in an almost compulsive fashion. I found that I was absorbed by the action of the T-Mag, it's smoothness, the sure sound of it's retention both opened and closed, and the subtle action of the magnet. This quality of a knife, the way it operates and sounds, is described by collectors and aficionados as 'walk and talk', and among those consumers, a knife that possesses a good walk and talk, is a knife to be prized. The T-Mag has a great walk and talk.

Next, I began to examine my experience of this knife versus my experience with slip locks, the 'locking' method employed on multi-blade folders of the Case or Schrade variety. And, without a question, despite the lower retention value of the magnet, my experience of the knife was better. Why? Because I am never in fear of the the retention being suddenly released, as I am with a slip lock. I know that the magnet offers no real retention, and so I don't expect it to lock, the way some have come to expect a slip lock to lock. I immediately appreciated the subtle action of the magnet, which holds the T-Mag open, sufficiently to accomplish all sort of tasks.

Let us examine the issue of suitability. Is the T-Mag and it's retention, capable of performing work in a safe fashion? Yes, without question. The retention is sufficient to keep the blade from flopping around, and in a non-locking folder, that is all that is required.

And I have used the T-Mag for the kind of tasks that one associates with a gentleman's knife of this kind. It has cut string and cord, it has opened letters, it has cleaned my fingernails, it has opened packaging, and it has picked splinters. And it is well capable of cutting meat, carving wood and all other sort of cutting tasks.

An easy parallel is drawn in my mind between the T-Mag and the traditional puukko of Scandinavian design. To the uninitiated and novice, the puukko style of knife seems dangerous and poorly designed. But to the fan and regular user of this historic and highly developed pattern, those features that the detractor indicts, the aficionado praises as providing the function and differentiation of the design.

Does the T-Mag require a bit of mindfulness? Yes it does. But, that mindfulness is the mindfulness that should always be present. And with a moment of thought, a solution can be formulated that allows one to utilize the T-Mag in ways that might involve more force and greater work. One way that is immediately apparent is a side hold, with the thumb positioned on the side of the blade and all the fingers out of the way of the blade travel should it close. And if that is not sufficient, the T-Mag is very comfortable to hold inverted, with the thumb pushing against the blade in the choil region of the knife.

In short, this knife is not meant to assist one in combating black clad ninjas, in 'tactical' circumstances. Instead, it is meant to do the sort of everyday cutting that we often have need of accomplishing.

So, how do I square my positive experience of this knife with the discontinuation of the model?

Well, as in many things, the answer is complicated.

I think the first and most obvious thing is that the 'lock' did not meet many buyers expectation. Of course, the T-Mag was never meant to lock, but our vocabulary concerning these sort of things is limited.

Spyderco says this....

"Thank you for purchasing the Spyderco T-Mag, non locking folding knife. Please use care when using the knife, making sure that the forefinger is placed in the finger choil to prevent the knife from accidentally closing when being used."


"It houses a powerful Rare Earth (Neodymium NdFeB) Magnet, mounted internally in the knife’s spine where the blade and handle join. The magnet performs the same function as a notch- or slip- joint, holding the blade open when used and closed when pocketed by way of magnetic pull. Gunmetal gray carbon fiber handle scales, and Titanium liners, have a pronounced finger choil that places the index finger behind the cutting edge further blocking the knife blade from closing when you’re cutting. "

So, we have a clear message, about the lack of a lock, the method of retention, and a safe method of use.

What gives?

I think the T-Mag is a victim of the delicate balance between innovation and expectation.

The T-Mag represents and embodies one of those steps forward that all technology and industries make.

These steps forward are often met with resistance, simply because it takes people awhile to modify their thinking to a new reality or a new perspective. I surmise that very few of the regular knife public collect knives just for their novelty, as I do. How many collect knives for their unique operation, or their unusual assemblage of common structures, or just because they offer something that strays from the beaten path?

To summarize....

The Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag is a state of the art knife, possessing high end materials and modern precision construction that result in a lightweight and refined gentleman's folder. It's design is centrist, demonstrating cleanliness of line while boldly stating it's place in the lineage of Spyderco design.

The Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag is a new and interesting concept that will be referenced by the cutlery industry for years to come.

I do not see this as a knife that did not succeed, but as a design that is way ahead of it's time.

The Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag is a piece of cutlery history.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two Very Different Knives

The Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag and the Spyderco Warren Thomas Karambit.

How different can two knives be?

One is built with absolute focus on strength and durability in a wicked self defense knife. The Spyderco Karambit is so focused that it lacks much use for anything else. But, it shines so bright in it's purpose as a self defense knife, that you have to respect it. Stainless steel handles for strength and durability, a Reeve Integral Lock for superb lockup, and a super sharp, super acute point to pierce and rip. Ouch.

The other knife, so much different. The Spyderco Ralph Turbull T-Mag is built light, and refined, so that you barely know it is there, until you need it, then it steps in, with a deft touch, to cut some stray thread, or to clean your fingernails. Carbon fiber handles for a very lightweight handle, a magnetic lock, for a clean operation, smooth and fast, with a great walk and talk.

Anyway, I took this picture, and it got me thinking.

Not a Taoist, but there is Truth here....


Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

--Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching

Upcoming Review....

I am working on a review of the Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag...

Eye on Cutlery, Opening Post...

Good Day,

I shall be blogging here.

I will blog about cutlery, knives, their design, construction, use and whatever else I happen to have rolling around my brain....

Until then...

God Go With You as You Go,