Design Different – the slogan of HEAdesigns, is perfectly epitomized in the world’s first production folding scimitar, the Equilibrium. As their second production design under the HEAdesigns brand name, the first of which was a titanium framelock comb called the Sabertooth, the Equilibrium carves a niche into the knife market that needed to be filled.
Sure, there’s some high end stuff out there in the $700+ range with sweeping curves and swooping arches, and there’s surely the $45 ‘Arabian Knife’ to buy on any given second-rate knife-selling website, but never before could you buy this design in an affordable package that both fills a fantasy, and operates like reality requires. The Equilibrium is everything you expect from a $300 titanium flipper made by the top brands, such as WE Knife, ZT, Reate, and the rest. It’s the combination of quality and capability mixed with unique design and clever creativity that renders the Equilibrium a knife with no equal.
Key Specs: HEAdesigns Equilibrium
The Equilibrium starts its life in your collection housed in a clean white box emblazoned with a starkly contrasted jet black logo reading: HEA. As we’ve grown accustomed to, the mechanism to open the box is a magnetic flap. The design of the package is inviting, modern, and big enough to satisfy. Opening the top for the first time reveals, on the reverse side, a paint splatter pattern marked with the words Design Different – a common theme with HEA and something I will touch on later.
Inside the box itself, hovering opaquely over the knife we so desire, is a glossy welcome card that begins with a joke, then invites you to sign up for all the things, and ends with a hint that there may be goodies in the depths below.
You have to breath in the profile for a moment. Nestled in it’s machine-cut, perfectly fitting foam padding, the knife has almost a two-dimensional effect at first glance. The juxtaposition of the flowing lines and shiny metals pops straight out of the soot-colored background and instantly invokes the desire to pick up the knife for the first time. The flipper tab is long and pronounced, and begs to be played with, but I delayed, opting to soak in the beauty for a moment before tainting the handle with my excitedly sweaty hands. Having delayed enough, I gave the tab a good tug and with blinding speed the blade appeared virtually out of thin air. There’s crafty mechanics at work here and I’ll touch on that soon, but it’s no surprise that the next few minutes were filled with flipping this knife in pure amazement.
Let’s Talk Shop
The Equilibrium comes in six flavors, but the most delicious one, grape, seems to be sold out everywhere. It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for the only color that doesn’t exist (look it up), so needless to say, I was bummed when I discovered this revelation. Alas, with purple out of the equation, we’re left with 5 available combinations, including gold (but fairly yellow in nature), green, bronze, plain titanium, and blue. The gold, plain, and bronze come equipped with blue hardware and clip, and the purple, green, and blue ones come with gold. There should be something for everyone, but if you ask me, I’d have paid extra for a green one with blue hardware. Personal quarrels aside, it’s clear that HEA’s Founder (Sam) designed this knife from the ground up to have the potential to wiggle its way into every knife-nut’s collection.
A word on the production process. Sam indicated that the production process (machining, assembly) is largely outsourced overseas to a variety of shops but everything is fine tuned and quality control checked at his shop in the USA before heading out the door. So, while these knives do not carry the “made in USA” stamp you can be sure the focus is very much still on quality with Sam ensuring each knife is properly dialed in.
Sam stepped out of the full-custom game and into the high-end, low-volume production world with the debut of his first HEAdesigns offering, the Sabertooth. Cleverly named, the Sabertooth is no knife, but rather, a fully functioning frame-lock flipper comb. Yes, you heard us right. It’s so well made that you could swap in a blade and hand it to a friend and they’d guess it was a midtech flipper by design. That said, Sam needed an actual knife on the market if he was going to…you know…sell knives. Thus the Equilibrium was born, and long-awaiting fans of the classic scimitar shape were finally gifted the flipper design of their dreams. Sam emphasized that he wanted his first production knife to be something out of the ordinary, something that would be instantly recognizable as the next thing that everyone’s pocket needed. Looking forward, we’ll see where he succeeded, and areas where improvement will continue to elevate his reputation.
How’s it Handle?
Concerns will undoubtedly be raised about the Equilibriums unequal handle shape. With sweeping curves and a mountainous peak smack in the middle, one must ask, can I even hold this thing? Unwaveringly, the answer is yes, of course you can! That engineering degree of Sam’s comes in handy with this aspect of the knife, as we’re able to draw a straight line along the deployment side of the handle (at least in the area where your hand actually is) which shows what the actual contour of the handle feels like when in your hand.
This is to say, the highlighted area of the handle melts correctly into your hand, and it feels effectively like a straight handle design. You might have to try this one to fully appreciate what I’m getting at here. It isn’t that it feels good in spite of its shape, like the Olamic Wayfarer 247, but rather, that it feels like a true, straight handle.
One thing that must be said is that at 9.25 inches, this thing is not small. If that sounds like it’s too big for you, it probably is, as there aren’t too many slimming effects working black magic on this knife. It’s got a gorgeous milled clip but it’s a hulk, the flipper tab is trying to get your attention from across the street, and there’s a good ¾” to an inch of the butt sticking out of your pocket when clipped.
It is also worth noting that the clip uses hidden hardware, which is both awesome and not done nearly enough in my humble opinion. While it weighs very little for its size at 4.4oz thanks to extensive skeletonizing and a thin blade, this knife is hardly a ‘light EDC.’ I wear slacks or chinos to work, and they aren’t particularly cheap, so I clip this to my pocket with two hands. The clip has a great ramp, but fairly strong tension; not too strong, but enough that it fights back enough for me to use two hands. In jeans, it’s totally fine one handed, as jeans tend to have stronger stitching, and that’s all I’m really worried about with this one.
When it’s in the pocket, it actually hides itself pretty well in terms of how much space it consumes. If you keep other stuff in your carry pocket, the flipper tab is bound to cause at least a few minor issues, but I don’t do that, so for me, the tab is perfectly manageable and it doesn’t poke out like you might expect. Unlike some of my bulkier flippers or ones that are thicker / not as smooth, I can comfortably keep my hand in the pocket with the knife and walk around, no problem.
I want to address the fantastic deployment on this knife, but before you can deploy a blade, you have to operate the flipper tab. I think the flipper tab is singularly the best and most well designed feature on this knife. To talk about why, I need to take you on a brief journey into the world of video games…
For those of you who’ve never dabbled in games at all, bear with me for a moment. Conversely, those of you who may have tried the first level or two of an old Super Mario Bros. game, or a similarly well designed title, should have an easy time following me here. The first few levels of games like these are famous for their intuitive teaching methods. How do you learn in Super Mario Bros. that you can only scroll the screen forward (or to the right), but cannot scroll it backward (or to the left)? You simply run left until you reach the invisible wall you’ve created by moving the frame. This has fundamentally taught you a critically basic function of the game without using a tutorial, words, signs, hints, suggestions, speech bubbles, or anything else. How do you learn to make Mario jump? Without jumping, a Goomba will kill you within moments into the level. It’s not until you try pressing A that you see jumping relieves you of such a treacherous foe. You’ve now been taught how to navigate enemies and traverse terrain within 10 feet into the level, and no one’s told you a gosh darn thing. You’ve intuited these features.
The same approach is applied here when looking over the Equilibrium’s flipper tab. First, you’ll notice how freaking elongated it is. This isn’t just there to annoy Nick Shabazz, it’s long because it provides extremely good leverage for deployment. Because of it’s size and shape, however, it was deeply important to design with language that taught the user how to be successful with it, instead of writing down instructions.
The first thing any flipper-enthusiast will do with a tab that offers a concave area for the finger to fit into, is go for that area head-on. It only makes sense that something that contours perfectly to your finger is where your finger belongs, right? To combat this notion on the Equilibrium’s tab, Sam has made the entire thing symmetrical. This strips the visual queue of a concave area on top, because the bottom is identical. It’s illogical to try to open a knife by pushing up on the flipper tab, and because the curves match, it becomes illogical to use any area with that profile.
Couple this with the clearly defined jimping along the far edge of the tab, and suddenly you’ve invited the user to go straight for the right spot, just on the end. In it’s entirety, about 80% of the tab’s surface area provides non-lockup leverage, as the end of the tab only accounts for about 20% and is the only area that invokes lockup. Yet, despite this awful ratio, and thanks to logical design and deeply critical thinking, there was only one way I assumed I was supposed to use the tab when I first got the knife, and I was of course, correct.
I know that’s a heck of a lot to soak-in over one tiny feature of the knife, but that’s how incredibly important and special I feel it really is. Now that we’ve intuited how to open the darn thing, we get to experience what that added leverage really brings to the table. We aren’t talking out-the-front auto speeds here, but this blade rockets to lock-up so quickly you’d be hard-pressed to notice it wasn’t just teleporting into the open position. The action is solid and announces itself audibly. Unless you slip, or have bad intuition (which of course, our readers don’t), lockup should be achieved with a 100% success rate.
The pressure from the detent helps with this too, and I will say that the lockbar tension on this knife is a little too stiff. Compared to some of the other titanium flippers I’ve handled at this price point, I feel the lockbar puts up too much disagreement with my thumb. There is a nice, wide, contoured cutout on both sides which helps the situation, but it still gets hot when you’re flipping for fun. The knife can be opened in just about any weird hand position an enthusiast could ask for. I got a chance to experience both a well-carried Equilibrium owned by a friend, as well as the brand new one I obtained, so I got a really clear picture of how the knife breaks in.
Deployment gets about 5% easier over time, but the blade dropping closed is even more affected. Out of the box, the blade doesn’t drop at all, but with firm shakes, it will close up. Once broken in, however, a light shake or two should get her home safe every time.
Speaking of ‘her,’ it’s apparent right away that this knife’s blade needs to be a topic of discussion. Out of the box it’ll slit paper as well as you’d expect, but it’s not quite razor sharp. I suppose you could call the shape a trailing point, but let’s be real, it’s much more special than that. The ‘scimitar’ cutaway treats you to a mild but gorgeous swedge, and matches the primary flat grind with a sand-blasted finish. The flats are satin with a sheen, and contrast nicely with the grinds. It’s not too often you see a sand-blasted blade, and it goes to show that thinking differently doesn’t end with the CAD design for Sam. There’s genuine knife-guy goodness oozing all over this blade, despite its total break from the norm.
The blade is very thin when compared to almost anything else in the same market, but it’s rock solid when locked, and makes for an excellent slicer. While there is some light and tiny jimping on a small section of the spine, it’s honestly the only confusing part of the knife. It doesn’t seem to provide any purchase, and frankly appears to be placed there by accident. The knife was almost an excellent piece for food prep as well, but unfortunately, the flipper tab will tap your cutting board when using a pinch-grip slicing motion. Of course the excellent CPM-S35VN steel needs no additional storytelling to knife fans. I won’t blabber on about it here but feel free to read our knife steel guide if you’re interested.
I do feel that the blade is a bit dwarfed by the handle. The overall shape of the knife when open is fluid and pleasingly symmetrical in a way, yet staring at it a while will cause you to notice the slight awkwardness. I think this has less to do with the actual size, and more to do with the blade shape. When comparing it against other knives, the ratio seems to check-out, so I’m beginning to feel convinced that it’s an optical illusion courtesy of the high trailing point. This isn’t the first blade I’d reach for to open a package, but I found it to be surprisingly useful.
Because the upswept curve in the blade is so exaggerated, it doesn’t actually get too steep until you get really close to the end. Equipped with a sharpening choil, the blade also features a place for you to choke up with your index finger, but it isn’t really shaped like a choil, so I’ll refrain from calling it that. If you are choked up on the knife, your thumb actually has a pretty good time hanging out in the area behind the swedge. This is a great way to use the knife for something ‘surgical’ in terms of scope, and instills confidence. Ultimately, this blade ended up being a much better user than I anticipated, so if the shape is scaring you, fight the fear.
I’m not sure I’d recommend the HEAdesigns Equilibrium as someone’s only knife, but the thing is, it could be your only knife, and that would be totally fine. It will do just about anything you ask of it (other than chop those tomatoes), so if you’ve only got cash for one big buy, and this one looks sweet to you, go for it. Having said that, this knife is a must-have for any collector who really wants something new and exciting. From its modest and humble roots, to its measured execution, the Equilibrium sets itself apart from the competition in both body and spirit.
The pivot, emblazoned with the HEA logo, is reminiscent of a seal of authenticity. It speaks for the knife in the way that the WE Knife Co. pivots speak for their knives. The Equilibrium yearns for a place in your pocket because it was built with that as its only purpose. In Sam’s own words: “Everything is about trying to earn space in your pocket. You deserve that – and it’s my responsibility to make something you’re proud to carry.”
As the first knife we’ve been offered by HEAdesigns, the Equilibrium shines a light on both where they can improve, and the reasons why they are where they are today. I feel the knife does enough to instantly put the spotlight on whatever they come up with next, as this level of quality isn’t a fluke. This knife is jam packed with high quality features such as the hidden hardware, milled clip, steel lockbar insert, and incredible engineering. Though a truly spectacular knife, it does require the prospective owner to enjoy its aesthetic appeal. However, if the knife is attractive to you, then the only hard part about any of this will be choosing which color to buy.
- Despite such a unique presence, the Equilibrium holds firm as a genuinely useful knife that should satisfy any light carry needs.
- Housing some quirks, such as the inability to slice well against a cutting board, and argumentative lockbar tension, this knife asks to be loved, pitfalls and all.
Review by Knife Informer contributor, Tyler Solley