As a subsidiary of KAI, along with Kershaw, Zero Tolerance has been the brand of higher end Kershaw knives since its inception. For the past few years, however, ZT has been branching off in terms of designers and product line to further distinguish itself from its bigger brother. Their reputation is for overbuilt folders with thick handles, beefy blades, and tough materials.
Needless to say I was so excited seeing the videos coming out of Blade Show 2015, and specifically the Dmitry Sinkevich designed 0450 and larger 0454. Dmitry had previously designed a knife for ZT, the 0452, which was at the top end of their price range but quite hard to find. So getting his distinctive design aesthetic in two production folders was a dream come true for us knife fans. I got my hands on a ZT 0450 and here’s my review.
- Blade length: 3.25 inches
- Overall length: 7.375 inches
- Closed length: 4.125 inches
- Weight: 2.9 ounces
- Blade material: CPM S35VN
- Handle material: 6AL4V Titanium
- Locking mechanism: Frame Lock
- County of origin: USA
- Price range: About $160
Here we have a great example of ZT listening to the consumer demand. We wanted a smaller, sleeker ZT and they delivered in the 0450.
Knife fans will recognize the Dmitry Sinkevich styling as soon as they see the gorgeous drop point blade with its prominent top swedge. The same blade style was used in both the 0454 and 0452, primarily due to its excellent functionality. There’s no ZT logo here folks, just a clean blade that needs no advertising.
Drop point blades are easily the most prolific style of knife blade these days precisely because they are so incredibly useful in daily life. They excel at slicing work thanks to an enormous amount of belly, and do fairly well at piercing cuts. The 0450 sports a nice high hollow grind, starting at about 1/4 of the way down from the spine, which leaves it nice and thin behind the edge.
ZT has jumped on the bandwagon, in a good way, when it comes to blade steel, buying in to the Crucible Powder Metallurgy (“CPM”) buzz with one of their flagship steels – CPM S35VN. This blade steel has become very popular in many high end production knives, including those from Chris Reeve like the coveted Sebenza, all the way to newer kids on the block like Chinese upstarts Kizer and Reate.
Why is CPM S35VN so popular? Because it’s one of the most balanced steels on the market today, with excellent marks in edge retention, stain resistance, sharpenability and polishability (two words I invented just for you). Crucible, in partnership with Chris Reeve, basically took the immensely popular S30V and took it up slight a notch by using an even finer grain structure and made it easier to machine while annealed. While it may fall short of the uber-super steels like Elmax, ZDP-189 and CPM S90V, it’s plenty good enough for 99% of today’s consumers.
ZT heat treats the S35VN steel to 59-60 HRC, which is right at the sweet spot for this alloy when it comes to keeping a super keen edge for days. In my personal experience with this knife, both in the kitchen and at work, you can get by with just a light stropping after a day’s use and you’re ready to go for tomorrow.
Handle and Ergonomics
Handle length is rarely a perfect science when it comes to folding knives. On one hand, you need to be able to get a good secure grip when you’re using something with a super sharp edge, but you also want to be able to fit the thing in your pocket. For me personally, the 0450 has just about the perfect balance between big and small enough to be comfortable.
That’s not to say the handle is perfect, because I could pick out a few things I would change in a second. The stonewashed titanium, while perfectly serviceable, is a bit of a blank slate. I’ve seen some amazing after-market anodization done to these things, but stock plain titanium is fairly boring. The gentle curves of the handle design, from the pointed handle butt through the subtle finger choil, are artfully done, but there is a noticeable lack of any kind of milling or contouring. The sides of the handle are beautifully rounded off and chamfered for comfort, although the profile of the handle is so slim it hardly needs it. For those looking for a simple elegance then look no further.
Nitpicking aside, the handle is perfectly serviceable and slim, and the fact that they fit so much blade into so little handle is a small miracle of Dmitry’s genius.
Overall I do love the feel and ergo’s on this knife. At only 2.9 ounces it’s a far cry from the chunkier ZT’s which are more typical. The 0450 is certainly more fitting for Bond than Rambo. It sits squarely in the gentleman’s folder category…and you won’t be feeling it much in your pocket.
Deployment & Lockup
It’s fast alright. ZT must have had it’s designers locked in a room for months fine tuning the detent and pivot on this knife, because it is so damn fast! Light-switch or push button that jimped flipper tab and, before you can blink, the blade is locked open as if by magic.
In all seriousness, Zero Tolerance has made absolutely full use of their patented KVT ball-bearing system on the 0450, and they have dialed in the detent to perfection. The jimping on the flipper tab is an absolute necessity on this knife, however, because out of the box the detent is quite strong.
Over several days and probably hundreds of openings, the detent finally softened up a bit as everything wore in to place, and the action became smoother than butter on hot glass. So smooth, in fact, the blade would fall closed with the slightest shake once past the detent ball. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the knife being impossible to open with any pressure on the lock bar, and I can completely sympathize with that, because handling such a slim flipper with a strong detent takes some getting used to. Let me just say, it’s worth getting used to, believe me. Now that I’ve gushed over the absolute most fun feature of the knife, I can tell you that the lockup is equally as amazing (if not nearly as fun).
ZT has finally started putting steel inserts between their titanium lockbars and the hardened steel of the blade. As an added bonus, this steel lockbar insert on the 0450 also serves as an over-travel stop, to keep you from pushing the lockbar far enough that it ruins the lockup. After a few weeks of breaking in, lockup seemed to settle right at about 40% engagement, which is where I prefer a framelock to be. There was absolutely zero side-to-side or up and down wiggle when the blade was locked, I couldn’t even get the blade to flex at all, which is impressive in a knife as thin as it is.
Features, Fit & Finish
The reason ZT can offer this knife at a relatively low price point is largely due to the simple yet effective design. There’s not much in the way of expensive machining required to produce the 0450 – everything is clean and simple. Still, the knife I received was impeccably made, I’m happy to say. Centering was dead on, there wasn’t a scratch or mark to be found anywhere, and most importantly, the knife functioned as it should immediately. I haven’t owned many other Zero Tolerance knives in the past, largely because they were a bit too chunky and big for my tastes, but I’ve handled a few of the 0560 series, and briefly owned the 0770.
KAI seems to have the right idea when it comes to their ZT series of knives, when the customer is willing to pay premium dollar for a product they could get for much less, it pays to pay attention to the details. In fact, after the bellyaching about how hum-drum the plain handles were, I forgot to mention two glaring differences, and those would be the two beautiful ruby red standoffs between those handle slabs. They offer a dramatic splash of color to an otherwise completely grey knife.
Speaking of features, I mentioned the jimping on the flipper tab, but I neglected to mention that they put jimping quite a ways up the blade spine, and the jimping is wonderfully grippy.
The pocket clip on this knife was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I liked the length and retention, because I want this knife to stay in my pocket, yet for a knife this size the clip seemed almost comically long. Not to mention, I prefer people not see a knife sticking out of my pocket, so a deep carry option is always appreciated.
Now, they may not officially offer a deep carry clip for this knife, but if you call or go online and request a replacement clip for your 0560, lo and behold it fits perfectly on the 0450 as well. Thanks for that happy little coincidence, ZT!
The 0450 performed admirably in the kitchen, making short work of everything from apples to sandwiches, even de-boning chicken. In the field it served mostly as a carving knife for camp tasks, made a few feather sticks and opened the plastic bag of a premade meal.
At work it did well breaking down cardboard, opening boxes and letters, etc. I must admit I reprofiled the factory edge almost immediately (I like 17 degrees per side with a 20 degree micro-bevel for those interested), but not because of any defect or dullness, just personal preference. I neglected to perform the rubber mallet to the blade spine whack test, but with a blade this size I felt it would have been an unrealistic test, and mostly unneeded when considering the lockup and lack of blade play.
There aren’t many knives that can compare to the 0450 when you consider what you get for your $160, and I mean that in the best way. This is the most competitively priced Zero Tolerance flipper that I’ve seen, and they didn’t skimp on the bells and whistles. A CPM S35VN blade, KVT bearing washers, steel lockbar insert, titanium handles. It’s tough to find a knife out there that can compete with that at anywhere near that price. If you’re looking for something larger then you’ll find it in the ZT 0452 which carries a considerable size advantage (but hard to find these days).
Also, many of you may be considering the ZT 0900 which is more of a shorter, chunkier titanium folder in a slightly higher price bracket (around $190). You should know that the ZT 0900 is much heavier at 4.3 oz but has a little more personality than the 0450. It’s perhaps a little smoother in the pivot and offers a different look with the full stonewash finish. Overall I find the 0450 excels at slicing and is a classier knife than the 0900.
One knife that I found that can hang with the 0450 is another newly released offering from across the pond. Kizer’s collaboration with Tomcat knives has yielded the Splinter. Both knives have a slender profile that makes them a joy to carry, both have an S35VN blade, and both ride on ball bearings when flipping them open. The Splinter has a few things over the 0450, such as ceramic bearings and detent ball versus the steel of the ZT, and extensive milling work done to the titanium, as well as a 3D-machined clip lacking in the 0450. The ZT has a steel lockbar insert lacking in the Kizer, which is a fairly big deal, but both of these phenomenal knives come in well under $200, which is a win for knife collectors and users everywhere.
I was pretty impressed by the Zero Tolerance 0450, designed by Dmitry Sinkevich and proudly made in the USA. I feel that ZT has really gone to another level with this offering, because they easily could have priced this at over $200 and people would have paid it, but they chose to give knife fans everywhere a break in to the brand with this stellar piece. Knife experts everywhere had been predicting this would be a best seller for ZT from the moment it was shown at Blade Show, and they were right, for all the right reasons.
The Good: Slim, slick deployment, excellent blade, great value for money
The Bad: Deployment takes some practice and breaking in, aesthetics may be considered bland
Bottom Line: The sleek ‘n’ stylish 0450 is a fine gentleman’s folder oozing with quality