The trend to move toward smaller knives by both manufacturers and knife enthusiasts has taken hold with almost every maker and brand. The Neon (technically known as the NeOn Lite) is Shirogorov’s take on a smaller sized piece. At 3.25 inches of beautiful CPM-S90V designed as a flat ground blade, the Neon offers everything that larger sibling models such as the Hati and F95 have to offer in terms of usability and quality, but with much less bulk.
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Key Specs: Shirogorov Neon
For those who are not familiar with the brand, Shirogorov is a Russian knife manufacturer and custom knife brand that gets commonly referenced along with Chris Reeve Knives as the benchmark for folding flipper knives. Fit and finish all scream quality with phenomenal attention to detail that can only be described as near-perfect. Sergey and Igor Shirogorov were the creators of this brand, and though Igor is no longer with us, his brother Sergey continues to carry the torch by producing some of the finest knives available. Let’s talk more on that last part of the sentence…
The only potential downside of wanting for a Shirogorov, whether it is the Neon, or any other folder they offer is availability and thus price. A few years back, trying to get a Shirogorov was as about as difficult as getting your hands on the newest iPhone on the day of release. Not impossible, but for people in North America, almost so. Demand versus supply were vastly uneven, further causing issues with rising prices and in some cases even price gouging. It was not uncommon for any model of Shirogorov knife to be considered a great deal at about 1000 dollars. Though the brand is still incredibly popular, availability seems to have become more approachable with more re-seller availability in the States.
Shirogorov has 3 levels of knives offered. They include production level knives, custom knife division and pure customs. As one might imagine, the full customs and the custom knife division are much more expensive when compared to the production level knives. Enter our production version Shirogorov Neon. Though limited in release and number, the Neon represents all that is good in a production knife manufacturer. Spoiler: As of this writing, the Shirogorov Neon may is now our favorite smaller sized EDC knife. Just looking at pics and specs will not due this knife justice.
Unboxing the Shirogorov Neon felt like Christmas come early. Presented with a classic black cardboard box with an embossed bear symbol on it was the perfect minimalist presentation. The bear symbol, also seen on the knife and the included black microfiber cloth is the logo adopted by Shirogorov. Inside the box, the aforementioned black cloth and a birth certificate (of authenticity) are included in the box with the knife itself.
As we removed the knife from the box, we were admittedly slightly underwhelmed. This is a common initial reaction when it comes to Shirogorov knives because they are not flashy or eye catching in a traditional sense. Like Chris Reeve knives, those not in the know will look at the knife and say something along the lines of “umm… okay, so it looks like a knife. Why is that so special and worth that much money?” Granted, the Shirogorov Neon is not the most eye catching of knives, but the beauty is in the details.
As we held the Neon in our hands we immediately noticed all the nuanced visual elements milled into the all titanium and lightly tumbled scales showing modern swooping lines that also allow for some grip. The titanium backspacer helps make the Neon look like a modern and slightly futuristic folder, with an integrated lanyard hole discretely placed within it. Everything felt smooth and appeared purposeful.
As we continued to hold it in hand, the lack of weight was apparent. At only 3 oz. the knife is rather light yet still maintains a very substantial feel. With a closed length of 4.25” this is not a large knife, but manages to pack a 3.25” usable blade into the package. In open position, the knife is 7.5 inches long, plenty of knife for an EDC. The true beauty of a Shorogorov knife exists in the action and the business end. Our favorite part of holding a knife for the first time is when we open the blade.
We pressed our pointer finger on the jimped flipper tab and pushed down. A quiet smile appeared that just could not be removed. The action, oh, the action! Describing the feeling of a Shirogorov knife is difficult. It has an action that is so good that it is basically unrivaled by any other brand we can think of. They have figured out how flippers need to flip, and have engineered a multi-row bearing system (MRBS) that includes 30 ball bearings intricately designed within the pivot to best accommodate this perfect feeling action. In that one flip, we understood the hype. The Neon is an unbelievable flipper.
The blade that revealed itself as we flipped the knife open is a thing of beauty. This S90V super steel blade sports a full-flat grind that is truly epic in execution. If you are a knife person, this blade will make you a Shirogorov lover at first sight. The finish on the blade is uniquely Shirogorov. It is a stonewashed full flat grind blade that appears so uniform that almost looks like titanium. The Neon with its 3.25 inch blade did not just have looks, it had the sharpness to go with it. A perfectly even semi-polished grind made it apparent to us that this knife is meant to be a user.
Shirgorov has previously offered M390 with their production run mid tech versions of the Neon. The un-confirmed story goes that Shirogorov originally put out 30 limited custom knife division versions of the Neon for extremely select and lucky purchasers willing and able to pay the coin for them. These were broadly the same as the production versions but for the more contoured and finished titanium scales, custom nature, and CPM-S90V blade steel. It was said that the S90V steel was supposed to have been reserved only for those custom knives. But in standard Shirogorov fashion, the production knife line, which first appeared with M390 blade steel, started to sprinkle out with multiple blade steel varieties.
This is just like we see with other models in the Shirogorov line-up. It is not uncommon that the same knife model which are produced in relatively small batches may have one type of steel for that run,and the next run offer a completely different steel. Shirogorov tends to favor S90V, M390 and S30V most of the time. Though the Neon has now been offered as production (mid-tech/semi-custom) variants with both M390 and S90V, the S90V version may be considered slightly more sought after given its use on the original batch of 30 custom division blades. Either way, same great knife, just a different steel. Likely if past results are a decent indicator, we will see other steels found on the Neon eventually. Shirogorov is an equal opportunity blade steel manufacturer I suppose.
But before we discuss performance, let us get one last item out of the way….the pocket clip! In short, we love the pocket clip! Not only is the pocket clip 3D designed and sculpted, it freakin’ works really well. The look of the clip makes the knife seem so much more futuristic it is almost hard to imagine the Neon without it. Shirogorov has been making 3D sculpted clips and using them on production knives for years, far earlier than most of these other companies recently jumping on the bandwagon. The pocket clip is very well executed, and feels smooth without any sharp edges, yet still works incredibly well without ripping up your pant pocket, or making it annoying difficult to use.
In hand, the knife feels a bit on the small size, but our medium sized hands just barely can get a comfortable 4 finger grip on the slightly contoured scales. For a smaller knife, it is rather comfortable, and certainly ergonomic in its design.
Real Word Usage
We try to keep things as realistic as possible. Our Shirogorov Neon is a knife that is 1 year in the making… we have been waiting about 1 year to get our hands on it. That stated, we got it as a collectible piece and as an EDC. We have carried this knife about a week now as our primary EDC, and it has proven to be one of our favorites. We can only think of 2 other knives we’d consider at this approximate size that can hold a candle to this knife in terms of ease of carry, enjoyment and appreciation, and general usage – we discuss those other knives in the Alternatives section of this review.
We know how some of you love to read about the testing aspect of our reviews. We carried the knife (and continue to carry the knife) as our EDC as much as possible within the week we designated for it but truth be told we have not subjected it to any serious cutting testing. It’s just not that kind of knife. Rest assured the S90V blade will hold it’s edge for a long time.
We carried the Neon in shorts, jeans, dress pants, and slacks. In each case the Shirogorov Neon was almost effortlessly easy to carry in the pocket. Placing in and taking out of the pocket of every type of pant we could think of was refreshingly easy.
As far as cutting applications are concerned, we did indeed cut with this knife quite a bit for an at the ready casual EDC blade. We cut up some rope and some vinyl sheathing as we prepared our deck furniture for the upcoming fall and winter weather. The Neon performed without fault. The size is reasonable and accommodates such cutting tasks without issue. Moreover, the shape of the drop-point style blade makes this knife a great stabber, and a great slicer at the same time. This is not the most common of things. The shape is very well suited for cutting at almost any task.
One gripe might be that if we had a larger blade of a similar size such as those found on the F3 or Model 95 Hati, we would we willing to consider this a defensive carry. Our Shirogorov Neon is no such beast. If you require an EDC that is also a secondary carry, look elsewhere, or consider the Neon as a secondary carry option to a primary fixed blade.
We had some fun using the Neon in the kitchen with some very positive results. Cutting fruit and veggies was made short work of with our little Russian needle. The knife was a bit slippery when we got it wet, but aside from that potentially serious issue, the knife was no slouch in the culinary cutting department.
Aside from those notable moments, we used the knife as anyone else might as an EDC. We opened letters, cut open a few boxes, and made use of it to open some pesky snack containers that just would not otherwise budge. All in all, it makes for an admirable and effortless carry.
Still, let’s be realistic. You’re unlikely to drop seven hundred dollars on a knife like this for cutting up your cardboard boxes or whittling a tent pegs. This is primarily a collectors item, a glowing example of premium knife workmanship at its best and the ultimate in bragging rights.
Shirogorov knives are not for everyone. Not to mention they are darn hard to get, even though it’s a little easier than it used to be. Some competitive offerings that may compete with the Neon are presented below.
Todd Begg Steelcraft Series Mini Bodega – The Mini Bodega is effectively the productionized miniature version of the custom and Darn Near Custom (DNC) full sized Todd Begg Bodega. We reviewed the Mini Bodega a few months back, and it was our favorite little EDC flipper prior to the Neon’s arrival. At about 450 dollars, this Reate-made production knife is a wonderful knife. If you can’t get your hands on a Shirogorov Neon, the Mini Bodega is a nice alternative with a stunning look, feel, and flipping action.
Chris Reeve Small Sebenza 21 – How can we talk about a high-end small EDC without discussing the Sebenza 21 (small). The knife is rather simple in its base form, with blasted titanium scales and the classic drop point hollow grind ~3 inch Sebenza blade. For those who need to stay old school, the thumb stud opening small Sebenza is a classy and classic choice. And in this case, comes in as a budget pick at only 350 bucks! Inlayed versions,and unique models can cost considerably more.
Zero Tolerance 0450 – For those who cringe at the idea of spending several hundred dollars on a pocket knife, behold the ZT 0450. At only about 160 bucks at most dealers, the all titanium scaled 3.25 inch stonewashed and satin S35VN blade is an easy choice. This little manual flipper was designed by Dmitry Sinkevich, an extremely accomplished knife maker and designer from Belarus. Interestingly enough, Dmitry has been known to work with and collaborate on projects with Shirogorov. If you are looking for a modern and somewhat Russian style knife with a USA made pedigree, the ZT 0450 makes for a nice inexpensive alternative to the Neon.
The Shirogorov Neon is one of those perfect knives we all dream of having in our collection. Perfect action, Perfect looks, perfect size, perfect centering… you get the idea. If the shift in the market is to move towards a smaller knife, let us all hope that the Neon is the measure in which all other EDC knives with less than 3.3 inch blade size are weighed against. The only non-perfect aspect of the Neon is the price and availability. At 650 dollars on a good day (and I mean very good), perfection comes at a rather steep price.
Might the performance-to-cost ratio tip the scale from perfection to mediocrity in the case of the Shirogorov Neon? Perhaps – but that is not really the point for some. Everyone has a different opinion and different needs. A $650+ 3 inch knife would likely not make sense to most people. But I would wager that if you are still reading this article, it makes some sense to you. And with that we can happily say that our Shirogorov Neon will be an EDC in our rotation for a very long time … that is what makes perfect sense to us. Kudos to Shirogorov for producing one of the best small knives we have ever had the privilege to use.
Buy It: BladeHQ
- Immaculate fit & finish, super smooth action, it’s a Shirogorov
- Somewhat dull visually, ridiculously expensive for a production knife