“And now for something completely different!” The Vosteed Nightshade LT is not a knife that will go unnoticed when you open it up. It’s the brainchild of Yue Dong, who can be found at @doctor_edc on Instagram. Yue is becoming a well-known name in knife making circles, having designed the Cormorant folder for Kizer – with its slick plunge lock and funky design, and he also penned the Splint for the O’Knife brand. When Yue left Kizer at the end of last year, he helped to start up Vosteed Cutlery, who is making kitchen knives as well as a small number of modern folders with his design input.
Key Specs: Vosteed Nightshade LT
The Nightshade LT is the mid-level version of the original Nightshade, and the differences are in materials and construction rather than design. While the original Nightshade was rendered in Micarta with copper bolsters or G10 with brass bolsters with an M390 blade, the LT uses a 154CM blade and G10 scales for a lower price point while retaining the same high levels of finish. Also, the first run of Nightshades were produced by Kizer for Vosteed, while the current LT is made in Vosteed’s own shop.
If the design of the Nightshade looks funky, it’s because it’s inspired by the Shilin Cutter – a traditional Chinese and later Taiwanese slipjoint pattern made by the Kuo and Chiu families. If you want a good read on the history of the Shilin cutter, this thread at BladeForums has a lot of information as well as pictures of the original – and they’re a real beauty to look at. The internet at large has also pointed out a familial link to the Bob Lum designed Spyderco Chinese folder, which makes sense – as the Chinese folder was Lum’s take on the Shilin cutter as well.
With a $70 MSRP, the Nightshade offers an interesting alternative to traditional folders in the mid-range marketplace. How does it stack up?
The Nightshade LT uses the same blade shape as the original Nightshade, measuring 3.26” long and cut from narrow 0.118” blade stock. The blade shape is supposed to resemble the leaves of a bamboo plant, and it’s full flat ground (and 1.21” wide at the thickest part) which brings the behind-the-edge thickness way down, creating a blade made for slicing. It’s also all belly (the sharpened edge is one continuous curve) with a negative angle to the tip, meaning the blade rests lower than the handle in a natural grip, for food prep as well as pull cuts. There’s a sharpening choil at the base of the blade, intersecting the plunge line and creating the leading edge of the flipper tab, keeping the sharpened edge uniform all the way to the end.
Blade steel on the Nightshade LT is 154CM, a good mid-range stainless steel made by Crucible in the USA. It contains 1.05% carbon, 14% chromium, and 4% manganese – a pretty simple recipe, but the high carbon and high chromium mean it holds an edge well and is resistant to corrosion. It’s not going to perform as well as the M390 steel in the original Nightshade – a modern powdered-metallurgy supersteel with much higher carbon (1.9%) and chromium (20%!) as well as inclusions of copper, manganese, silicon (increases strength), tungsten and vanadium (used on a lot of newer high end steels, it increases toughness and wear resistance as well as limits the grain size to create a cleaner edge that’s less prone to chipping.) But considering the original Nightshade was nearly twice the price and is sold out, it’s a moot point – 154CM is a good blade steel at a $70 price point, able to hold a decent edge and be sharpened easily.
Deployment & Lockup
The Nightshade LT uses a flipper tab for deployment, aided by caged ceramic ball bearings in the pivot for smooth action, and Vosteed has really dialed in the action on this knife to perfection. The flipper tab has soft jimping all around for good traction, and works best lightswitch-style (pulling down on it rather than pushing in to open the blade.) The detent is perfectly set on this knife with just the right amount of tension to get a clean flip without any wrist-flick needed, but not so tight as to beat up your fingertip if you’re a compulsive fidgeter. Not only does it open perfectly, but it has true drop-shut action out of the box, the weight of the blade overcoming the drag of the detent ball with a gentle shake, dropping into place with a satisfying “thud.”
Lockup is via a stainless liner lock, located via an internal stop pin in the open and closed position. Lockup is just how I like to see it on liner locks – slightly early but still good contact, with about 40% of the tang covered with a good flip, and no blade play in either direction when open. Vosteed has also cut out a relief in the show side handle to make access to the lockbar release easier. Great deployment and lockup on this knife!
Features, Fit & Finish
It’s easy to tell Vosteed sweat the details when it comes to these knives – they’re remarkably well finished for the price point (a phrase that keeps coming up in this review.) some makers charging two or three times the price of this knife don’t put as much care into finishing details, so it’s nice to see a lot of the little things that make the knife feel special. The spine of the blade is crowned (rounded) all the way from the jimping to the tip, making it smooth to the touch. The edges of the sharpening choil are beveled, removing any burrs or sharp spots. All of the hardware on this knife is polished, including the liners – and not just the outer edges of the liners you can see, but the surfaces of the liners inside the knife. So too are the pivot screws and body screws, the backspacers, and the pocket clip. It looks and feels expensive. All the standard hallmarks of production quality are also checked off: blade perfectly centered between liners when closed, liner-to-scale gap nonexistent, blade grind totally symmetrical, that kind of thing – very well made.
Construction is two-sided, with torx screws bolting through both sides into the hourglass shaped backspacers for stability, and the decorative pivot screws are a Chicago-style (male/female) set, with the female side keyed to the liners so it doesn’t rotate when you’re removing the pivot. They feature a rounded-off triangle shape inside of a flat pivot collar. The liners themselves are stainless, milled out with a series of holes on the show side and one aft of the locking liner on the lock side for weight reduction. There’s jimping where you need it – on the aft end of the blade’s spine, the flipper tab, and the lockbar release – and nowhere you don’t. Scales on the Nightshade LT are contoured G10, smoothed down to feel more like Micarta than plastic, available in black (like our review sample) or grey. The pocket clip is a bent steel deep carry design, configured for right hand tip up carry only, located by two vertical screws and set into a channel in the scale to prevent it from rotating. Finally, there’s a lanyard hole situated between the two backspacers in the spine.
Sometimes, you approach unfamiliar things with a sense of trepidation. I have a type when it comes to knives – drop point folders, around 3” in blade length, no funny business thank you very much. I think the further you depart from the regular old drop point – preferably with a full flat grind, a tiny bit of belly, and a thumb stud – the further you go from having a useful knife. I thought the SOG Kiku XR LTE was a very cool knife, but was continually befuddled by the dramatic recurve blade shape. Ditto the Gerber Asada folding butcher knife. What do you actually do with these knives? And to be honest, I was worried the same would be true of the Nightshade’s funky down-turned leaf blade shape. It’s weird looking! Weird looking can’t do real work, right?
No. This thing is Vader’s lightsaber, and boxes are Obi-Wan Kenobi. Holy cow, the Nightshade is a cutting machine. It’s a magic zipper for dividable materials. Why is it so good? Well, they nailed the basics: a tall blade, cut from narrow steel, with a full flat grind makes it very acute. The pronounced belly of the blade also helps to “trap” material towards the rear of the blade when cutting, pulling it into the edge. The downward angle of the tip makes the Nightshade a great box opener, too – in this way it sort of feels like a wharncliffe when you’re cutting, requiring less wrist angle to slice open packaging. Not only that, but the negative blade angle and curved handle mean the Nightshade is also good at cutting up food, allowing you to do press-cuts without your fingers hitting the table or cutting board, and the wide narrow angle blade cuts cleanly through apples or tomatoes (which are Nightshades!).
It carries pretty well, too. I’ve always thought that deep carry bent steel clips are the right answer, and it works great here. Despite the solid build (full stainless liners and G10), it’s still relatively lightweight at 4.16 ounces, so the only hang-up with carry is the relatively broad profile the knife has when closed (from the high point of the spine to the back of the handle) which is due to the unique blade shape. So it takes up more pocket real estate than some regular knives, but that’s just the tradeoff you accept for the unique blade. The clip works well, having strong retention with easy ingress into the pocket thanks to a broad tip and the polished finish of the clip, and it doesn’t stick out too far creating a scraping hazard. If you’re left-handed you’ll have to keep the knife in your right pocket, as it’s not ambidextrous, so that’s a bummer. But having an extra clip slot and screw holes would make the show side of the knife less pretty, so I guess Vosteed bet on the right handers for this one.
Maintenance is easy on the Nightshade, with just standard torx fittings and a non-rotating pivot barrel only requiring one hand to disassemble, with hardware consisting of T6 screws for the body and clip and a T10 screw for the pivot, and the caged bearings are also easier to service than old school IKBS loose bearings – which are becoming more uncommon these days anyway. 154CM is a good choice for the steel, because it’s highly corrosion resistant and it also takes a very clean edge without a ton of work. Edge retention wasn’t anything to write home about, but it’s not dissimilar to other things at this price range, and certainly a step up from the steels you get on budget knives – think 8Cr13MoV, Sandvik steels, etc.
It’s pretty hard to find alternatives to the Nightshade because it’s a pretty weird knife. As mentioned earlier, it’s reminiscent of the Spyderco Lum Chinese Folder (large), which is a perennial favorite of fans of the Colorado brand. But the Lum is long out of production and unavailable, and when it still was the Large Lum Chinese offered G10 scales, a liner lock, and VG10 steel on a 3.75” blade for $110- which are metrics that the Nightshade easily beats for less money. It also didn’t have a bearing pivot or a flipper, although I still maintain that the thumb hole is the best way to open a knife. It was larger (8.56” overall versus 7.48”) and heavier (4.3 ounces) but still had the same full flat ground Shilin cutter-inspired blade shape. It’s not really a viable option since it’s out of production and secondhand prices are high, but if you’re a Spyderconnoisseur, you sort of need to own one.
Honey Badger Knives, meme-related name aside, has developed a reputation for making a really nice affordable knife, with no-nonsense grippy handles and good deployment action. They’ve recently introduced a leaf-shaped blade option as an alternative to their other shapes (drop point, claw, hook, wharncleaver and tanto) – it’s a like a modified clip point, with the spine curving down towards the tip, and a pronounced belly as well as a full sized forward finger choil for a choked-up grip. The medium Honey Badger is cheaper than the Nightshade ($41 retail currently), with a 3.25” blade and stretching 7.375” overall, so it’s similar in size to the Nightshade but a good bit lighter at 2.7 ounces. The standard model uses 8Cr13MoV, but you can upgrade to DLC-coated D2 for $75, and at that price the Vosteed seems like a lot nicer knife. Blade stock is also thicker on the Honey Badger (0.14”) and the blade is nearly a quarter inch shorter, so the geometry will be a lot thicker behind the edge- meaning the Nightshade should be much more of a slicer. The Honey Badger does offer an ambidextrous pocket clip that mounts in the butt of the knife, and is made in the USA.
Petrified Fish is another budget brand with an up-and-coming reputation. The Havrog is $53 on Amazon, featuring a K110 stainless blade (said to be an upgrade to D2 steel) and Micarta handles in either black micarta with a black stonewashed blade, or green or tan micarta with a stonewashed blade. It also features a 3D-machined pocket clip (which I’m not a huge fan of, but is a surprising addition at this price point.) Dimensions are similar to the Nightshade, with a 3.15” blade/7.48” overall length and a net weight of 4.47 ounces. The blade shape is a leaf-shaped drop point with a medium flat grind, and deployment is via oblong thumb studs and ceramic caged ball bearings.
Spyderco has invented a lot of things, and while it’s a stretch to say they invented the leaf-shaped blade, they’ve certainly brought it into the modern mainstream of knives, with things like the Sage, Chaparral, Native, and to a certain extent the Paramilitary line of knives, all featuring modified Leaf shaped blades, but none as pronounced or traditional as the profile of the Nightshade, so they’re not really direct competitors. Still, the Native 5 Lightweight is worth considering, offering a 3” leaf shaped drop-point with a full flat grind in CPM S30V. It has FRN scales with bi-directional texturing over nested stainless liners with a lockback, and only weighs 2.45 ounces. It’s pricier at $120 retail, though.
I really like the Nightshade LT. Probably a large part of the reason for that is that it isn’t just another standard-issue drop point tactical knife with an unnecessary blade coating and a bunch of gratuitous sharp angles and tacked-on jimping. It’s smooth in the hand like a river stone, the odd shape seems like a liability at first glance but is actually a benefit when you use it, the blade shape is unique but also cuts fantastically well, and the build quality is really surprising for a knife at this price from a new company.
A notion that comes up a lot in culinary culture is whether or not something is or can be an authentic take on a classic. Germans, for instance, are really picky about what is actually a beer. The Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) has been in place for 500 years, and it says beer can only contain water, barley and hops. Your chocolate stout isn’t even legally a beer in Germany. Italians are similarly sensitive about what constitutes a pizza, with legislation stating that a Neopolitan Pizza is only a real one if it meets certain criteria – it’s gotta be round, no bigger than 35cm in diameter, no thicker than 0.3cm high with a 2cm crust, and made with certain approved flour, yeast, oil and tomatoes. Among other things.
Considering how specific of a thing a Shilin Cutter is, some criticism can be leveled at Vosteed for its lack of perceived authenticity in a way. “This isn’t a pizza,” says every person from a town known for pizza about a slightly different pizza from another town, “only pizza from Cleveland is real pizza.” I’m not sure there’s still anyone around to raise up too much of a fuss about how this isn’t a real Shilin Cutter, and thus no one’s taking their ball and going home over what is a creative reimagining of an old classic pattern. It has a lot of the charm of the original but with modern improvements: pocket clip, one-handed opening via ball bearings, bolted-together construction so it can be disassembled and maintained, and an easy to use liner lock. Much like how Buck fans got real excited by the modernized Buck 110 Pro. But the usability inherent to the Shilin Cutter’s profile translated over here, the unique shape of the blade and handle making it a very adept cutting tool. I think for $70 you absolutely cannot go wrong with this knife.
- Unique shape with deep historical roots, excellent fit and finish and details, great flipping action and lock, superb cutting performance due to blade dimensions and grind.
- A hard knife to nitpick; could use an ambidextrous clip, “just okay” edge retention, takes up some pocket real estate.