The Kizer Feist is a great example of not judging a book by its cover. At first glance, there’s not much to the knife – it’s quite small, and has sparse minimalistic lines. It’s matte grey titanium with just the barest of adornment, Kizer’s decorative pivot, to spice it up. People that aren’t into knives likely won’t notice the Feist or even care. Hell, even some people who are into knives might miss it.
Key Specs: NNNN
This knife was designed by American knifemaker Justin Lundquist, a relatively new maker from Chicago. I reached out to Justin to get a little insight into the Feist, and it proved to be very informative. My big question was what the general idea with the Feist design was; whether it was supposed to be a gentleman’s knife and the front flipper followed suit, or vice versa? Justin responded: “I started out with the idea that I wanted something similar in size to a traditional slipjoint but with the function of a frame lock. When I tried making a regular flipper tab I didn’t like how it sticks out perpendicular to the rest of the design. So I started playing with the front flipper tab.”
The idea of a knife the size and shape of a traditional slipjoint but with all the conveniences and upgrades of a modern folding knife makes the unusual silhouette of the Feist make a lot more sense – it’s neo-retro, perhaps.
It was announced to no small amount of hype to the knife community, and then an equal amount of controversy as the first run of knives had some “issues.” Primarily revolving around imprecise fitting of the internal stop pin and the track it in runs in creating a “gritty” action, as well as minor foibles like pivot pins working themselves loose, Kizer decided to correct the issues going forward (by cleaning up the milling for the stop pin track as well as fitting a slightly larger, tighter fitting stop pin to avoid the rattling noise) as well as agreeing to rectify any original Feist models sent back to them for warranty work. My knife was produced well past this event and didn’t suffer from any of these issues; more details below.
The Feist’s blade measures 2.875” long, putting it under the 3” limit that many jurisdictions impose for carrying a knife, making it safe to carry more places. 2.875” is plenty of blade for day to day tasks, a fact I’m realizing with the more knives I review. Not having an overly long blade, coupled with a handle that’s proportionally larger, gives you greater fine control over the movement of the blade when you’re using it. Blade thickness is a reasonable 0.12”, not quite as thin as the Spyderco Chaparral but similar to the James Brand Folsom.
The Feist’s blade is a simple, elegant drop point with a high flat grind. The plunge line is a work of art, a smooth radius running down from the spine to the ricasso. Execution of the sharpening choil leaves a little to be desired; it looks like it was cut a millimeter too far back which creates a slight “beard” at the rear of the sharpened edge, but certainly nothing to cry about. The secondary bevel opens up slightly as it approaches the tip, creating a very thin point reminiscent of the Kershaw Leek. One of the nicest details: the entire spine is rounded with no discernible step, making it smooth against your thumb when open.
Like most of Kizer’s Bladesmith series with Titanium handles, the Feist uses Crucible CPM-S35VN steel, which should be a familiar commodity to knife fanatics these days. It’s a revision of the older CPM S30V steel, both being co-developed between Crucible and Chris Reeve Knives as a cutlery steel. Compared to S30V, it actually has slightly less carbon and vanadium but additional niobium, which aids in strength as well as limits grain size – making it easier to sharpen and grind.
Compared to VG-10, the steel used on Kizer’s entry-level Vanguard line, S35VN has considerably more carbon, molybdenum and vanadium. It’s a good balance for a high-end steel – highly corrosion resistant, great edge retention but able to be sharpened on “normal” equipment unlike some higher end steels. The Feist has an attractive stonewash finish on the blade.
Deployment & Lockup
One of the most notable things about the Feist is undoubtedly the deployment method – it uses a front flipper. Front flippers are a variation of the flipper tab originating from South Africa, where it’s prevalent with knife designers in that region like Trevor Burger and Gareth Bull. Some companies have started to include front flippers on their production models like Real Steel and Boker, but it’s still hardly a mainstream thing.
The concept is similar to a “spine flipper” but the differences are obvious: while a traditional flipper requires you to use your forefinger while you pinch the handle between your thumb and middle finger, a front flipper mounts the tab on the edge of the tang, with the handle cut away exposing it – so it sits parallel with the bottom line of the handle. While holding the handle with a four-finger grip, you use the side of your thumb on the tab, rolling it backwards with a little wrist flick to open it.
Front flippers were always a curiosity to me, and I’d heard they have a learning curve. That proved to be true, as Ben from Blade HQ learned in front of their large audience. It’s tricky, and at first I thought I wasn’t going to get it. You have to totally learn new muscle memory to do it right, sort of like the similarity between driving a stick shift car and riding a motorcycle – yeah, there’s a clutch and you select gear ratios to apply power the road, but the motions aren’t even related. It took me a while to feel comfortable flipping the Feist, and even still I don’t try if I have gloves on.
I’ve found that I can deploy the Feist reliably with the side of my thumb and a wrist flick – the added momentum helps – but rolling it open slowly is a little more difficult, as once the blade’s about 70% open, the tab passes over the corner of the handle and your thumb tends to slide off of it. Like anything in life, more practice is probably needed, but for the life of me I cannot open it with my forefinger like some people are able to.
When it arrived, the pivot was overly tight and there was some grit built up in the pivot after a few openings. Disassembling the knife and cleaning the stop pin tracks out, oiling everything and setting pivot tension got the Feist flipping reliably, but I’m still not totally sold on the smoothness of the pivot, especially considering it’s on ceramic ball bearings. It doesn’t drop shut, and you can still hear a slightly rubbing noise when opening it slowly, but let’s not split hairs – it works.
Lockup on the Feist is great. Like most new high end frame locks, it uses a stainless steel insert mounted on the end of the lockbar that serves as the lock face to prevent galling that normally occurs between titanium and hardened steel. This insert also serves a dual purpose as an overtravel stop to prevent lock bar fatigue from hyper-extension, with a small tab that points upwards and contacts the inside of the handle. Lockup on my example was around 50% with no discernible blade play in any direction.
Features, Fit & Finish
Kizer certainly knows how to make knives, that’s for sure. They get all the details right, and make this feel like it’s certainly more expensive than the $168 this knife retails for in hand. The stonewash on the blade is gorgeous, with very fine detailing and quite a lot of depth to it that reflects light in peculiar ways as you change angles. The aforementioned rounded spine is a delight, as is the sole run of jimping – six shallow grooves cut into the end of the spine where your thumb flips it for added traction, but not cut so far in as to interrupt the smooth curvature.
Another neat trick is the cutout to access the lock bar: most liner/frame lock knives will have part of the handle opposite the lock cut away so you can get your thumb on the lock bar to release it. The Feist would look oddly asymmetrical with such a cutout, so instead there are scalloped cutouts on the inside of both the lock bar and the show side handle, making more room for your thumb to get between them. It’s something you would never notice if you weren’t looking for, and it makes unlocking the knife a snap.
All of the edges on the Feist are radiused, making it feel smooth like one of those artificially tumbled pebbles in your hand, and the surface of the handles themselves is slightly contoured. Even the backspacer has some Bauhaus minimalism, curving away from the surface of the scales as it moves along the spine. It’s utterly flush with the scales as it goes around the butt of the handle, of course. The clip, like almost all of Kizer’s high end products, is 3D machined titanium, and it’s beautiful. It’s only configured for right hand tip-down carry, if that’s a dealbreaker.
Upon seeing this knife, a friend of mine said: “Gorgeous. The 27-year old German fella that designed that knife has a poor relationship with his alcoholic father, shakes his mother’s hand when he sees her, and eats exactly the same breakfast every day.” And he’s the managing director of America’s Packard Museum, so he knows a thing or two about design. And generous hyperbole aside (I’m sure Mister Lundquist hugs his mother), the Feist is a knife that’s designed to the last detail in a way that a lot of tacticool folders aren’t these days.
The Feist isn’t a knife that naturally lends itself to “hard use,” although I’m sure it would perform fine in that duty thanks to the reinforced titanium frame lock and generally solid build. It’s not an ergonomic masterpiece that fills your hand with dramatic curves and choils like a Manix 2, more simple and neutral in the hand with just a gentle slope to the handle outwards towards the pivot and some contouring to make it not feel like a brick. After a break in period and a few days to get more familiar with the front-flipper deployment it becomes easy enough to open the knife without having to look at it – not as foolproof as a thumb hole but it works, and it’s a lot of fun to play with.
It cuts well, at least after resharpening on a Lansky setup – the factory edge from Kizer was sharp but not mind blowing in this day and age of mirror polished edges rolling out of Hogue. The geometry of the tip (thin, narrow angle, positioned slightly below the center section of the blade) and the thin blade stock make it well suited for “around the house” type of tasks like opening packaging and cutting strings. It’s not the type of knife you’d want to break down a stack of boxes with thanks to the thin, skinny handle, but it’s nice for cutting up an apple or busting open the mail. The world needs more “reasonable” knives like the Feist. It’s like a modern Opinel.
It carries exceptionally well, and that’s somewhat unusual considering it has a 3D machined titanium clip. The “nib” at the end of the clip is a little on the fat side in terms of fitting over the hem of a pocket, but it’s rounded on the leading edge and the relatively thin center section gives it a good amount of spring.
Considering the small size and titanium construction, the 2.7 ounce weight isn’t bad, but it’s almost an ounce heavier than a Benchmade Bugout. However, the compact shape of the Feist means it disappears in your pocket. Only 3.6” long folded and a very narrow profile means there’s still plenty of room for other things in your pocket, and the lack of a conventional flipper tab sticking out the side means it’s not “pecking away” at your phone/keys/etc as Mr. Shabazz is fond of saying.
The Feist is an easy knife to disassemble and service, with one caveat: the pivot isn’t keyed to the frame and if you put a torx bit in one side, the whole thing will spin. This is solved by holding one side with a bit and turning the other side with another bit, helpful when setting the pivot tension. A pair of T6 body screws at the butt hold the handle together, and the decorative pivot still uses a traditional T10 Torx – these are well made screws that fit the bit tightly. It uses caged bearings (unlike IKBS systems) so disassembled isn’t a giant mess/hassle and everything is simple and fits together well.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.The most obvious competitors for the Feist are two front flippers from Boos Blades: the Smoke TS-1 and TM-1. These are the same knife, with the big difference being blade steel: the $200 TS-1 uses CPM S35VN, while the $220 TM-1 uses more expensive Bohler M390 steel. They’re a little larger than the Feist with 3.5” blades and 4.5” handles, but the weight is similar at 2.8 ounces. Unlike the Feist, they also include a narrow thumb hole you can open the blade with, but are primarily designed as front flippers. Both are manufactured for Boos blades by WE Knives in China, a direct competitor to Kizer when it comes to high quality hardware.
There’s the Real Steel G5 Metamorph front flipper, another 3.5” blade with long, narrow proportions. It’s much more affordable at about $55, thanks to the use of cheaper aluminum handles and Sandvik 14c28n steel, but Real Steel’s quality isn’t quite up to par with Kizer, generally speaking. There’s also the G3 Puukko front flipper with its funky Scandi ground drop point for about $85.
Boker makes a pretty neat front flipper in this price range, the ~$130 Exskelibur I Titan. It offers a front flipper and full titanium constructed with a 3.5” drop point in S35VN, and a framelock. There’s also a cheaper version of the Exskelibur with G10 scales and a VG-10 blade for roughly $85. Quality control has been a mixed bag with these otherwise neat looking knives, so caveat emptor.
And finally, if you like the Feist but want one that’s a little more… Feisty looking, there’s an upcoming version available for preorder at time of writing with a slick reverse tanto blade shape and a series of beveled holes drilled in the handle. It uses the same materials so the price is expected to be the same as the original Feist.
I asked Justin about this upcoming version and if there was a different use profile in mind, but according to him “honestly it was just for variety. And I actually made the second blade profile at the same time as the original blade profile. I just never sent it to Kizer until recently.”
I try to be objective with reviews, but it’s hard with stuff like the Kizer Feist. This is a really cool knife, a fresh concept in a market that’s overcrowded with boring me-too products, and if it speaks to you at all you should buy one.
That’s oversimplifying what’s really a magnificent piece of EDC gear, but that’s the Cliff’s notes. The Feist is great. It packs a lot of what makes modern tactical folders great into a small, pocketable package.
Justin commented on the remarkable popularity of the Feist: “For one thing that design started before the small knife craze was at its peak. So it had a chance to get out there and get in front of people and be in the market when people really started to pay a little more attention to smaller knives. The timing was good. Also, I think perhaps the mix of easy pocket-ability plus clean modern look with framelock function just works as a great combo. My thought was literally – I want it to be the size and pocket-ability of a slipjoint but I want it to have a lock, a pocket clip, and be able to open and close with one hand.”
Modern interpretations of classic pocket knives are huge right now, and this is probably one of the best – but it’s accessible to mere mortals, unlike some of Enrique Pena’s stunning customs like this Swayback pattern that combines traditional qualities – hand-rubbed satin blade, micarta scales, the swayback shape – with modern accoutrement like the flipper, caged bearing pivot and lock. At north of a thousand dollars, few people can afford one. But a lot of people can afford and enjoy a Kizer Feist. You should too.
- Captivating design, superb fit and finish, unique opening mechanism, the qualities and convenience of a modern knife with the size of a classic slipjoint, practical and useful
- Pivot could be smoother, perhaps a little heavy for its size, I’m really splitting hairs.