Saturday, February 12, 2011

Miscellany: Spyderco P'Kal review

The Concept

At first glance, the Spyderco P'kal seems like something that belongs in one of those glossy, ridiculous knife magazines - the kind with double exclamation points in all the article titles ("Year's Best Street Blades!!," "Jungle Steel Goes for the Jugular!!," etc.). After all, the P'Kal's knife blade and choil look like they were put on the wrong side of the handle by mistake.

There is a theory behind the peculiar shape of the knife, though. As you can see from these two videos by Southnarc, an undercover narcotics officer and martial arts instructor, the P'Kal is designed for for reverse-grip edge-in thrusting and rapid deployment with the Emerson Wave opener. Because Spyderco is a reputable company that rarely puts out useless knives, I decided to try out the P'Kal to see if that fancy theory actually translated to a working product.

The Blade

The P'Kal blade is made of CPM S30V, a medium-to-high quality stainless steel that's pretty common on good production folding knives. S30V is a decent all-around performer, with a grain fine enough to take a good edge (out of the box, the P'Kal made confetti out of a Post-It Note) and plenty of vanadium to make it tough and chip-resistant (cutting through some staples produced no noticeable damage to the edge).

The blade's shape is sort of a cross between a Wharncliffe and a hawkbill. Unlike most other Wharncliffes, the P'Kal's cutting edge is set at an angle to the handle, which elevates the point for efficient thrusting and, perhaps more importantly, withdrawal. The P'Kal's blade also has a hawkbill-esque reverse curve to help its shearing performance. The hawkbill is pretty subtle, though, so it shouldn't be too hard to sharpen the P'Kal.

The Handle

Synthetic G10 scales are de rigueur in folding knives these days; the P'Kal sports two black slabs that are a little more grippy and textured than other G10 scales I've tried. As you can see, the scales are beveled for comfort.

The P'Kal's steel liners are very well-designed. First of all, they have had considerable portions drilled out to skeletonize them, which helps explain why the P'Kal only weighs about 3-1/2 ounces. Even more impressive are the proud liners - they are ridged to stick out from the G10 slightly, to improve your purchase on the knife.

The handle shape is intended for reverse grip edge in, and the P'Kal is really only comfortable in that grip (reverse-edge out works okay, but it's less secure since the concavity of the handle doesn't fit the hand). Slip your pinkie into the back choil near the spine of the blade, wrap your thumb over the top of the handle, and you have a pretty secure grip.

Spyderco has been putting pocket clips on its folding knives for decades now, so it's no surprise that the P'Kal's clip is pretty much perfect. It's a low-profile wire-type clip, reversible for left or right side carry. For reasons discussed below, there's no provision for tip-down carry.

The Lock

The P'Kal sports one of the later iterations of Spyderco's caged ball lock, which uses a ball bearing encased in polymer to lock the back of the blade into the handle. Designed by Eric Glesser, the lock is fast and positive. I particularly like the fact that it's difficult to actuate the ball bearing when the knife is locked open - an extra measure of safety when the P'Kal is plunged at high velocity into a material.

The Wave

Ernest Emerson's patented Wave opener receives one of its best implementations on the P'Kal. In case you're unfamiliar with the principle, the Emerson Wave opener is a small hook attached to the back of a blade that catches the edge of a pocket when a folding knife is drawn - the resulting resistance "waves open" the blade. Obviously, the Wave only works when a folder is carried tip-up.

Here, the opener is removable in case you opt not to use it, a feature which I believe is unique to the P'Kal. Carried in the right rear pocket of a pair of jeans or shorts, the P'Kal can be drawn into reverse grip fairly easily. The Wave is a little rough on your pocket; as Spyderco warns, don't try it with your $400 pair of Armani slacks.

The Conclusion

I didn't expect to like the P'Kal so much, but it's a well-thought out, well-executed design, built right here in the good old USA. Even without the martial trappings, the P'Kal remains a functional, if unique, utility knife. Though I'm certain opening up packages is the most violent thing I'll ever do with the P'Kal, it's reassuring to know that a whole team of knife experts labored over the design beforehand.


At 12:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice write up. Here's to only using this thing on packages and never having the need to use it for self defense, but it's sure nice to know it's there.

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent and thoughtful review. I just received my P'Kal today and appreciate the info. This knife is a bit intimidating though, it looks like it could walk right up to you and bite you. No wonder they sell a trainer version of it.


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