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With so many knife manufacturers to choose from, the Chinese-made knife market is quite saturated with knife after knife of the same ingredients, style, and features. So, how does a company like Vosteed stand alone when compared to the likes of WE, Reate, Kizer and others? I’d make the argument that a knife like the Thunderbird is the answer to that question. Sure, it’s using many of the commonly found aspects of folders from across the pond, but it’s boasting some unique features and quality that allows it to stand alone, and keeps the price point feasible for knife afficionados of all walks of life. With more deployment methods than there are stars in the sky, frag pattern titanium, and a sleekly styled blade, does the Thunderbird have what it takes to compete with page after page of offerings from similar companies? Let’s thunder on through the details, and see what makes the Thunderbird appealing over many other similar offerings.
Key Specs: Vosteed Thunderbird
The Thunderbird sports quite the elegant looking blade. Elmax blade steel has long been known for it’s well rounded balance of corrosion resistance, edge retention and toughness, is sure to please just about any knife user. Whether you’re a casual box cutter, or a sharpener with years of experience, Elmax is sure to please just about any user. The blade shape on the Thunderbird is a compound tanto drop point, with a large fuller that begins at the oblong opening hole and terminates near the tip. Billboarding has been kept to a minimum; there are only two areas of text on the blade: “Vosteed”, on the show side of the blade, and “Elmax” on the opposite side. It’s nice to have minimal lettering on a knife with clean lines like the Thunderbird. A 3.25” blade length is my personal favorite for EDC use, and the Thunderbird hits that mark dead on.
The .11” thick blade is just thin enough for ease of cutting, but thick enough to not feel like it’s too dainty. There are a few different blade finishes available from Vosteed on this model, but our review example is sporting the black stonewashed finish. Along with a polished, shaving sharp edge, the compound grind is complimented further by a hollow grind on the lower portion of the blade, transitioning to the fuller, then to the spine, which is chamfered. They’ve done a good job with this blade in terms of looks, while giving it functional attributes that play out well in use.
Deployment / Lockup
The heart and soul of the Thunderbird is in the deployment and fidgetability. This knife is a fidget king, with 5 ways of deployment at the ready. Whether you’re a fan of the traditional thumb roll, reverse flick, front flipper, rear flipper, or button-lock-release deployment method, the Thunderbird’s got you covered. The oblong opening hole is chamfered and very comfortable to deploy, and is easy to reach from either side of the blade.
Using the upper portion of the hole is much easier to use to deploy than the middle or lower section, but anywhere in the opening hole can be used to flick the blade open. The front and back flipper sections have small pattern, stonewashed jimping, which is quite comfortable to use, even when opening and closing over and over. Pressing on the button lock to allow the blade to freely fly open with a wrist flick also works great, albeit with a little timing needed to perfect. The bearing pivot system aids in a quick, smooth opening of the blade to it’s locked open position.
Once locked open, the blade sits nicely in the handle, with rigidity and little to no blade play. Most bearing pivot knives have this type of lockup, and Vosteed did a great job ensuring the Thunderbird is no different. Unlocking the blade using the button lock is almost completely effortless. The button is stonewashed and has raised texturing for a little grip, and allows the blade to drop shut with the utmost ease and fidgetability. The blade will bounce off of it’s closed position if the button lock isn’t released before the blade hits it’s home position, but this is once again just a matter of timing and muscle memory to perfect. The detent is not overly strong which is nice for an easy deployment, but does also mean the blade can be shaken open with a little gusto. I seriously doubt the blade would ever open accidentally in the pocket or even in hand, but its worth noting.
Features, Fit and Finish
Vosteed has executed the Thunderbird quite well. Every possible area of the handle scales, blade and hardware have been fitted to perfection, with no snagging areas or unfinished sections to be found. Starting at the bottom of the handle scales, is a slightly hooked handle tip for ergonomics. This handle end of black stonewashed titanium scales is sandwiched with a backspacer for balance in weight, as well as providing a lanyard tie area. A single T8 screw keeps the bottom half of the knife together, and is aided with nested and skeletonized steel liners.
A full titanium folder doesn’t need liners of course, but one would be led to imagine that it’s simply easier for Vosteed to make all variants of the Thunderbird the same in terms of construction, and with the majority of the variants being G10, it makes sense as to why there are liners in the titanium folders. The deep carry pocket clip carries the Vosteed logo, albeit quite subtle, and the clip is reversible for tip up, right or left hand carry. With all the deployment methods available on this knife, and a reversible pocket clip, the only thing keeping it from being truly ambidextrous is the button lock, but that can arguably be reached just as easily from either side of the knife.
The internal stop pin and button lock are a combination that allow the knife to have a sleek style and feel in hand, but also force the pivot area of the knife to be quite large from front to back. Of course this area is not any thicker, but wider to house the parts necessary to accommodate these attributes. The ceramic bearing caged pivot is a nice touch, and is typically steel ball bearings on many other knives of this quality range. The ceramic bearings offer a slicker path of travel when opening and closing the knife, along with improved corrosion resistance, in the event moisture makes its way into the pivot area. With a weight of 4.1 ounces, the Thunderbird is arguably a bit heavy for it’s size, but it feels like quality in the hand.
The overall length of 7.73” and blade length of 3.25” is just right for the majority of EDC users, allowing the knife to be legal in many areas (always check your local laws and regulations for legalities), and even with it’s all black styling, is subtle enough for the lunch room at the office.
Many folders are obviously purpose built, with a particular set of use cases in mind. Sometimes tactical, sometimes kitchen use emphasis, and sometimes “big, bad and tough” is screaming from the knife’s styling. But the Thunderbird is understated. It’s quiet, EDC friendly, sleek, and discreet, it’s meant to be a fidgety folder with box cutting capabilities incorporated. And it does that really well.
Pulling the Thunderbird from the pocket is a great, quick experience. There is just enough of the handle butt sticking out of the pocket to grab, and if the lanyard area is utilized for paracord or leather, it would be even easier to remove. The deep carry clip has just enough retention to hold the knife in the pocket, but allow it to slide over the pocket seam without hardly an friction. This is also partially thanks to the stonewashing on the blade; even with frag pattern titanium, the scales slide over the pocket quite nicely.
Holding the knife in either hand, and making the desired deployment selection gets the blade from closed to open in an instant. It’s quick, easy, and snappy; just what you’d want on an EDC folder. Making cuts in the typical array of tape, cardboard, rope, string and food is just plain simple and effective. The blade shape, with it’s light tanto curvature and hollow grind at the edge, with the polished shaving sharp factory edge, allows the knife to breeze through anything with very little friction. Some knives with DLC coatings (or other coatings) often give the knife pause when making draw cuts in long sections of cardboard, or in light food prep. But the stonewashing on the Thunderbird keeps it out of trouble in these aspects, and glides through material akin to a satin stonewashed blade.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.
Spyderco is well known for having the biggest variety of folders around, so it’s only natural that we make a comparison for an alternative to one of their biggest known folders in the lineup: the Spyderco Smock. The Smock is just a tick more expensive than our variant of the Thunderbird ($212 on the Smock vs the $199 on the Thunderbird), and has some similarities as well. The Smock has all 4 out of 5 of the same deployment method options, omitting only the front flipper. The blade shape on the Smock is a bit different, with it’s reverse tanto, but is the same 3.2-3.3” blade length range. Spyderco’s standard blade steel is not S45VN, but the Smock is still being produced with yesteryear’s S30V (which is no slouch, but is worth noting when comparing to the Thunderbird’s Elmax). The Smock has carbon fiber overlays, over G10 scales, but also has nested liners and an internal blade stop. The Smock is more of a reverse compression lock with a button, while the Thunderbird uses a true manual button lock, but they’re similar in enough ways to make the argument for an alternative.
Protech, while known primarily for automatic out-the-side style knives, makes a slew of manual folders as well. Coming in at a full ounce lighter than the Thunderbird, the Malibu at 2.99 ounces, with a blade length of 3.3”, has a very similar footprint and style to the Thunderbird. With either a reverse tanto blade shape, or modified wharncliffe, the Malibu carries a slightly different blade profile when compared to the Thunderbird, but otherwise has some similar traits. Using aluminum handle scales, the Malibu is lighter, but carries a higher price tag ($240 vs the Thunderbird’s $199). Part of the price tag increase is likely due to the Malibu’s made-in-America status, if that’s something that you base your shopping decisions upon. The Malibu has fewer deployment methods, with just the rear flipper tab or button press to flick the blade open, but uses a bearing pivot, internal stop pin, 7.5” overall length, and deep carry pocket clip. Along with an option for a full blackout variant, the Malibu is a great alternative to the Thunderbird, albeit with a slight price hike as well.
What makes a knife worth buying? What makes it worth carrying, or choosing when comparing it to so many other similar knives? When looking for a full titanium scaled folder, with great fit and finish, off the charts fidget factor, high end blade steel, and great looks all around, the choices funnel down to fewer than one might expect.
Most titanium handled knives, with this level of fit and finish, and precision machining demand a price tag that compares with something in the Chris Reeve realm, but Vosteed has succeeded in making a great folder with all of these attributes for under $200. Along with the knife, a hard case and pouch are included, rounding out the sub-$200 titanium button lock folder with all the bells and whistles you could hope for.