Depending on what type of knives you’re interested in, BRS is either a familiar household name, or one you may not have heard of at all. That’s because BRS – which is short for Blade Runners Systems – is primarily known for building Balisongs, or butterfly knives, typically releasing in small batches. Their Replicant, Alpha Beast and Barebones models are well known among the flipping community and even featured in our guide to the best balisongs. But BRS recently decided they wanted to branch out from Balisongs and produce a number of unique folding knives – the first foray into this was the short run Fragment friction folder in 2016, followed by the Warhead automatic recently. Now they’ve gone into full production with the Minuteman, the first model in the new E-Volve line of folding knives.
These are all interesting looking knives, mostly made in collaboration with other designers, and produced overseas. BRS isn’t up front with who exactly makes these knives, only that they’re made in China. The Minuteman is based on a custom from Blackstone Valley Knifeworks (BVK), who doesn’t have a website but they have a Facebook and an Instagram if you want to check out the rest of their work (hint: you should.) Here is a photo of the custom Minuteman if you’re curious; you can see the resemblance between the custom and production versions. Like many other knives on the mid-range market, it’s produced by an OEM in China with S35VN blade steel, titanium handles, and a ball bearing pivot. It’s got a 3.25” blade, 7.75” overall length, just shy of a half inch thick handle, and it weighs in at 4.3 ounces. There are a few details that set it apart though, so let’s take a look at Blade Runners System’s first effort at a regular folding knife and see if it’s a home run or swing and a miss.
Key Specs: BRS Minuteman
Blade steel on the Minuteman is Crucible CPM S35VN, a very common cutlery steel in higher end knives today. In terms of carbon (the primary element in steel that’s responsible for edge retention and hardness) it’s about 50% more than VG-10, but about 25% less than a top end steel like M390. It’s got 14% Chromium which puts it into “stainless” territory, and compared to S30V – which it was supposed to replace – it has a little less vanadium (strength, wear resistance, small grain size) and has added a small amount of niobium (strength, corrosion resistance, grain refinement) in its place. Relative to S30V, S35VN has very similar edge retention and toughness while being easier to machine and sharpen, and slightly more corrosion resistant.
It was designed primarily as a cutlery steel with collaboration from Chris Reeve Knives, so it’s no surprise S35VN is as common as it is in the knife industry. It’s a great steel for everyday carry use, doing basically everything well – edge retention, corrosion resistant, rolling and chipping resistance, and relative ease of resharpening.
The blade shape is a modified wharncliffe stretching 3.25”, with a slight curve to the belly. The spine has a sharp “corner” where it turns down about ¾ of the way to the tip, creating a nice acute angle at the end for a fairly sharp piercing tip in terms of wharncliffe blades. Blade thickness is 0.13” at the spine, so not overly thick. The Minuteman has a high flat grind and no swedge, just a totally flat spine that is devoid of any jimping. What it does have is a pretty significant “blank spot” on the edge between the end of the sharpened area and the plunge line with a bit of beard at the termination. How about sharpening this one all the way to the plunge line, guys? The blade, like the rest of the entire knife, is coated with what BRS calls a Ti Black coating which resembles a dark acid stonewash.
Deployment and Lockup
The Minuteman has a ball-bearing pivot – stainless balls in a cartridge – and utilizes an external stop pin to locate the blade in the open and closed positions for strength. Like a lot of modern knives, it uses a titanium framelock with an external relief cutout. The shape of the lockbar is interesting, angling down at a 45 degree angle as it approaches the pivot, then going vertical where it meets the blade tang. Like a lot of high end folders the Minuteman has a replaceable steel lockbar insert – which also houses the pressed in detent ball, as well as serving as an integrated over-travel stop (a small tab faces upwards towards the spin, contacting the inside of the handle when the lockbar is pressed out to prevent metal fatigue from hyper-extending the lockbar.)
What’s interesting here is deployment. Yes, the pivot is very slick – Once past the detent when closing, it will easily free-drop shut like a much more expensive knife. The sole deployment method is an oblong chamfered thumb hole that’s wider towards the pivot. It looks like it would be perfect for rolling open with your thumb, but you quickly discover that’s not doable because of the shape of the handle.
Because of the relatively narrow handle and the placement of the pocket clip, your fingers naturally rest on the lockbar – you can’t pull them further back because the pocket clip is in the way, and placing them above the pocket clip doesn’t give you nearly enough grip on the knife to open it this way. Maybe I have weird hands, but I can’t open this knife with my thumb at all, because the tension your fingers put on the lockbar (and thus the detent) is far too high.
However, it seems like this knife was purpose designed to be index finger or middle finger flicked open, like legions of Spyderco fans on Instagram have learned to do. When you grip the knife to do this, your fingers curl around the pocket clip to hold it in place, taking the tension off the lock bar. This knife is spectacular to middle finger flip open, seemingly designed for it like the Reate Baby Machine is. It’s even better to finger flick than a Paramilitary 2.
Lockup is okay. I notice no vertical blade play, and only a hair or horizontal blade play with the pivot adjusted to proper tension. Torqueing down the pivot past its natural “resting” position didn’t eliminate this blade play, only made the action feel gritty, so I left it how it came. When opened the lock bar sits at about 50% contact with the blade tang.
Features, Fit & Finish
Do you like TRON? Then you’re going to love the Minuteman, which looks like a prop from the film. It’s a bit too “mall ninja” for my tastes, but it’s well-executed Mall Ninja fashion. Black acid stonewash finishes weren’t my thing when they came out, and they certainly aren’t now, and this entire knife – blade, handles, clip, everything – is covered in black stonewash. Markings are minimal – there’s the “E-Volve” logo (an E in a small hexagon) on the clip, and “China” etched along the plunge line on the lock side of the blade – poorly, I might add, with some stray marks around the “I” and some migrating lines on the “H” and “A” – a weird harbinger of quality. Also not indicative of quality is the blade centering, which favors the lock side scale noticeably when the pivot is adjusted for proper tension. It came decently sharp from the factory, but by no means is it a Hogue factory edge.
As far as features go, the Minuteman has the cool thing everyone requires in any knife over $150 these days – a 3D machined pocket clip, made of titanium, which here is attached with two screws and sits in an oval shaped recess in the handle to prevent it from moving. It’s secured by two Torx T6 screws, which are also used on the body screws and to secure the lockbar insert. The pivot screw is a Chicago-style screw with a Torx T8 on the show side, and a hexagonal pin that’s keyed to the frame on the lock side to prevent it from spinning.
The handles have a lot of dramatic machining work done to them – a series of parallel channels cut into the spine towards the pivot, and the underside towards the butt liven up the shape, and the whole handle is chamfered around the perimeter to make it more comfortable in hand, and it does have that slick pocket-worn feel right out of the box – which is nice, but also slippery if your hands are wet. The only jimping on this whole knife is on the lockbar release – which has also had the opposite show side scale cut away slightly to allow easier access. There is a solid backspacer made of black plastic holding the knife together.
I never warmed up to the Minuteman when I carried it for testing, because we got off on the wrong foot. I know what’s to blame, of course: that blasted sculpted titanium pocket clip. It’s like a what’s-what list of everything wrong with these trendy clips: it doesn’t have much tension so it moves around in your pocket. It’s tall and wide so it creates a hot spot in your palm when you’re using it fairly quickly. It doesn’t carry particularly well, with a good chunk of the knife sticking up at an odd angle out of your pocket. And of course, within the first day of carrying it, the pocket clip caught on something and bent out at a remarkable angle.
Titanium is light, but it’s not that strong: especially when it’s thin enough to act as a spring. By leaving the center section extremely thin and the mounting point and the contact point very thick you create a weak clip that is easily bent, and the angle of the end of the clip makes matters worse. You’d also think considering the all-titanium construction it’d be lighter than 4.3 ounces, but nope.
As hinted at in the Deployment & Lockup section, this is a knife that’s heavy on blade and light on handle – the opposite of what you want for fine motor control. It feels like trying to golf with a basketball. While there’s enough length for a four-finger grip, there’s not much depth to the handle (from spine to underside) and there’s no defined forward choil to give you greater control. There’s not much in the way of traction if you’re, say, wearing gloves that are slicked with oil (guilty) and it doesn’t inspire confidence in the way that a similarly sized knife like the Manix 2 Lightweight does.
On the plus side, I like the blade shape. I’m a sucker for Wharncliffes, and this one arrived sharp and has a brilliant tip. The downward cant of the blade makes it great for scything open boxes, and the high flat grind is extremely practical here. Perhaps the advantage is theoretical but the black acid stonewash finish on the blade might give it less friction when cutting through deep materials. Also, it’s a lot of fun to open and close, but there are certainly cheaper fidget spinners out there.
At a $190 retail price, the Minuteman has a lot of competition. It’s got a common set of materials, too: titanium framelock, bearings, sculpted clip, S35VN steel.
If you’re into new products from new brands, the previously reviewed Factor Absolute folder seems like an absolute bargain at ~$130 retail now, offering M390 steel and ball bearing pivot flipper action. It did suffer from a he-man detent, awful sculpted clip, and irritating proprietary hardware – and the Minuteman beats it on 2 of 3 counts there – but it’s worth considering.
More similar both in shape and price is the Kizer Theta (BladeHQ) folder, designed by Elijah Isham. It also has a utilitarian wharncliffe blade, sculpted titanium clip, a bearing pivot, and an oblong thumb hole – but it also has a small front flipper tab as well. It’s a touch lighter at 3.9 ounces, but a bit shorter overall (7.4”, 3.125” blade). Materials are the same with S35VN steel and titanium handles, and the price is similar at $180 retail. Based on the sample size of one, you can expect better QC from the Kizer, but your mileage may vary.
Speaking of titanium handle knives with unusual blade shapes, how about the underappreciated Zero Tolerance 0456 (BladeHQ | Amazon) People probably forget about it because it doesn’t look anything at all like the rest of Dmitry Sinkevich’s slim and sleek designs. It has a fat, beefy footprint with a 7.75” overall length and a 3.25” sheepsfoot blade, a remarkable 6.56 ounce(!) weight, and matching blue anodized backspacer, decorative pivot and plain-old stamped pocket clip. It’s pricier at around $240, but it does has CPM-20CV steel.
Another knife that comes highly recommended in the knife community is the Marcin Slysz-designed Spyderco SpydieChef (BladeHQ). It’s designed to be a folding EDC-capable version of a kitchen knife, which sounds weird at first but you can see it: the curved sheepsfoot blade makes good rolling cuts, the flat grind and thin 0.11” stock make it a good slicer, and the advanced LC200N stain-proof (or basically) steel means it won’t rust. It even has a ceramic detent ball now so that won’t corrode either. Pricey at around $220 but it’s a neat and unconventional concept.
Finally, the WE Knife Co 717 Valiant (BladeHQ) is an interesting option. It’s pricey at about $240, the highest here, but it has a uniquely shaped broad clip point blade, 3” of S35VN, with sculpted titanium handles with a carbon fiber insert. Ceramic ball bearings are another bragging point, and it has a low profile sculpted titanium pocket clip as well. The hidden body hardware is a mystery, though: how do they hold these knives together?
I always want to like new knives from new brands – or brands entering new segments, at least. The Minuteman is the first effort by BRS to make a regular old folding knife – only it’s not all that regular. The knife ends up feeling, to me at least, like a triumph of form over function, a knife seemingly designed more to be shown off to Instagram followers more than it is to cut stuff. All the likable things about it – the futuristic looks, the satisfying middle finger flipping action, all that titanium – are things that make it look and feel cool, not necessarily work well. BRS bills this knife as the Ultimate EDC Knife, and clearly they haven’t ever slipped a Benchmade 940-1 in their pocket for reference.
It’s not without merit, the Minuteman: it’s creative, it’s attractive (to some people) and the rest of the upcoming E-Volve line looks if anything even more interesting, but this isn’t a knock-it-out-of-the-park home run they were probably hoping for. It BRS wants to focus on the EDC market, they need to focus more on how people use knives and less on how people look at them.
- Incredibly satisfying to middle-finger-flick open, decent materials, futuristic looks
- Ergonomic faux pas, awful pocket clip, build quality issues, difficult to open with thumb, some blade play, slippery, carries poorly