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Review of the Curtiss Knives F3 Compact

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Not long ago, I had a lunch with a knife collecting friend I met through a knife discussion forum who also happens to live near me.  Each of us brought a few examples from our respective collections to show and discuss – it was great fun.  It was during that lunch that I was introduced to the Curtiss F3 Compact.  Having the opportunity to play with it made quite an impression on me – fast forward several months as I was getting ready to attend Blade Show 2014 and I began contemplating trying to acquire my on Curtiss F3 Compact.  This came as a great surprise to me because the F3 Compact represented  something I really didn’t think I wanted – a custom knife.

Making the leap to custom knives just seemed to represent more negatives than positives, so I hadn’t really considered going that route before.  Sure – there were many examples of knives from custom knife makers that certainly looked appealing, but the pain of acquiring one seemed too great.  Besides the significant cost delta between custom and production knives, there’s also the difficulty just obtaining a custom knife.  Many of the popular custom knife makers (the guys making product that’s most desirable) have “closed books” meaning they aren’t accepting new orders because they’ve already got more orders on their books then they can fulfill in a reasonable amount of time.  In fact, some custom knife makers have back orders going back several months, if not years.  I’m not a particularly patient person, so  even if a given knife makers books were to open, waiting several months for a knife just didn’t seem appealing.  But, I decided to through caution to the wind and called up Dave Curtiss about a week before Blade Show 2014 and inquire about the possibility of acquiring an F3 Compact at the show.  Much to my surprise, Dave Curtiss actually answered the phone when I called, and he indicated that he’d be bringing a few F3 Compacts to Blade Show.  I fully expected I’d have to go though some Survivor-like lottery contest (as is the case when trying to acquire custom knives from many knife makers that attend Blade Show) just for the right to buy an F3 Compact at Blade Show.  But again, much to my surprise, Dave offered to hold one aside for me.  Here’s a photo of Dave at his table at Blade Show – he had the most product on hand of any custom knife maker I saw at Blade Show:

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I carried my new Curtiss F3 Compact for a bit over a week before putting my review together.  Here’s a photo of everything I received when I purchased the knife – it was packaged in a tin container (signed by Dave) with a cleaning cloth.  Dave also threw in neat velcro patch, but I’m honestly not certain if the patch is normally included when purchasing his knives:

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Packaging is something for which there’s never agreement on, but I personally prefer when knife makers package their knives with a zipper pouch, which I understand Curtiss used to do up until quite recently.  But the current tin is at least a more refined touch than the generic white cardboard box that so many custom and mid-tech makers use.

Given that Dave Curtiss is a custom knife maker, his knives come in a variety of optional configurations – different handle scale options, finishes, hardware, etc.  My F3 Compact has anodized titanium (Ti) handle scales, and a titanium back spacer.  Dave’s most current F3 production has blades made from Bohler N690 blade steel.  This is my first experience with N690 – a super steel by virtue of Crucible Particle Metallurgy Process (CPM).  Having only owned the knife a week, I’ve not had a need to sharpen it yet, so I can’t personally comment on sharpening or edge holding.  But my research indicates that N690 is, chemically speaking, like an enhanced VG-10.  I’ve always liked both the performance and appearance of VG-10 knives I’ve owned, so I’m eager to see how N690 truly compares.  It’s worth noting that steel performance has a lot to do with the maker – Jason Brous for example makes D2 look and perform better than expected for example.

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The anodization color of the handle scales can shift a bit in color depending lighting and angle, but can appear to be a light grey or purple.  The surface of the scales is textured in what Curtiss Knives calls their Diamond Pattern – so named because when held a certain angles you can see a repeating diamond pattern throughout the scales:

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Visually, the look of the diamond pattern is stunning.  Ergonomically speaking, the texture provides some much needed traction for a knife that isn’t the easiest to hang on to due to it’s size (I don’t get a full four finger grip on the knife when I hold it).  The only down side I can see to the diamond pattern is potential pocket damage due to repeatedly clipping the knife to your pocket and removing it.  When I carry this knife, it will be because I’m looking to down play the notion that I have a knife – I will rarely if ever clip this knife to my pocket and will instead drop it down into my pocket.  But I might think twice about getting the Diamond Pattern finish on a larger sized Curtiss F3 that I did intend to clip to the pocket.  In addition to the anodization of the diamond pattern on the handle scales, the edges are anodized bronze which looks fantastic:

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Custom knives are (to me at least) all about the little details which aren’t possible in large production run knives.  It’s the little details like the bronze anodized edges, the detail work in the pocket clip, and the diamond pattern in the scales of this F3 Compact that I just love.

The blade has a two-tone finish – stone washed with a satin/brushed finish applied to the flats.  I appreciate the functionality of a stone washed finish, but love a satin finish so the combination of the two here is very much a winner for me.  The blade shape/grind closely resembles Rick Hinderer’s “spanto” grind, which combines the functional benefits of both a drop point and tanto blade grind.  Out of the box, the blade was exceptionally sharp.

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From the back side of the knife we can see the pocket clip, which features the same reticle pattern which appears on the pivot and in the Curtiss knife logo.  In speaking with Dave, he indicates he’s a firearms enthusiast, though work keeps him from shooting as much as he’d like.  Be a firearms enthusiast and NRA Certified Instructor myself, this is just one more aspect of Curtiss  Knives which is appealing.  The pocket clip is fantastic both aesthetically and functionally – a signature component of Curtiss Knives.  So too is the patented S.P.O.T. Pivot system unique to the Curtiss Knives – the acronym S.P.O.T stands for Stop Pin Over Travel.  The cleverly designed pivot incorporates a hidden 1/8? high hardened stop pin, and is large enough so that it prevents the titanium lock bar from hyper extending.  It also provides Curtiss Knives a very visually distinctive look that helps distinguish a Curtiss knife from the sea of other titanium frame lock knives.  Contained within the pivot is an IKBS bearing system which contributes to the ultra-smooth and lightning fast deployment action the F3 is well known for possessing.  The IKBS bearing system in the Curtiss F3 isn’t captured so it’s recommended that the user not attempt to disassemble their knife – unscrew that pivot and you’ll quickly find yourself with lots of very tiny bearings bouncing on the floor.

The F3 designation stands for “form, fit, and function” – terms commonly used in the manufacturing and technology industries.  Clearly Dave has some serious manufacturing credentials under his belt – Curtiss Knivess started about 6 and a half years ago as a division of his company Great Lakes Water Jet Inc. – a company that does industrial precision parts cutting.   Dave has taken his manufacturing knowledge and capabilities and applied it to custom knife making, which gives him a tremendous edge (pun intended) in the business.  Dave is able to do nearly all steps in the knife making process (except the heat treat) in house – true custom knives.  The precision and quality of Dave’s manufacturing process is certainly evident in this example of his work – blade centering is spot on and it exhibits zero blade play.  Lock up on the carbidized lock face sits at about 25% to my eye – nice an early.

I suppose the biggest complement that I can give Dave Curtiss and his F3 Compact is that after a week of carrying it, I had to buy another F3 – this time in the 3.5″ size.  As of this writing, Dave is trying to catch up on orders otherwise I would have ordered it directly from him.  But at least I’ve got two Curtiss F3s to hold me over until Dave’s books reopen.  Just don’t take too long Dave – I’m not a patient guy.  🙂

As a supplement to this written photo review, I’ve also prepared a video review of the Curtiss F3 Compact:

 

About John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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