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Review of the Zero Tolerance 0777M390

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Before I get into my review of the Zero Tolerance 0777M390, it’s important to look back at the history/saga of the 0777 or “Triple Seven” as some call it.  The knife was, I believe initially announced by Zero Tolerance in 2011 – it won Bladeshow knife of the Year that same year.  It took Zero Tolerance roughly two years to begin shipping the 0777 to those who had pre-ordered the knife (it started shipping in early 2013), and it was limited to 500 examples. Here’s a stock photo of the original ZT 0777:

zt-0777_01Many have speculated to why exactly it took so long to get the 0777 to market – cost was likely a major factor.  It is highly likely that this knife’s build cost spiraled out of control and represented a loss for each unit shipped by Kai USA (parent company of the Zero Tolerance and Kershaw brands).  The fabrication of the composite blade was likely the largest source of both time and cost – with the upper portion being Devin Thomas Herringbone Damascus which was fused to the Böhler N360 cutting edge.   Almost all of the initial 500 produced were pre-sold and those that weren’t quickly evaporated from the market, and almost instantly asking prices for the 0777 skyrocketed in the secondary market to $1000.00+.  Quite honestly, the original 0777 never interested me whatsoever.  I’m interested in knives that can be used and generally speaking anything with a Damascus blade (or other ornate finishes or treatments) is a decorative art piece and not tool to be used. Then in July, Zero Tolerance issued the following announcement on their website:

The award-winning Zero Tolerance 0777 has been officially retired. While we did get a short production run of 0777s into the marketplace, we did not meet our target goal and the number of knives we had hoped to produce.

While we understand there will be disappointment, unfortunately there were some issues with the 0777 blade material that kept us from manufacturing to our intentions. Manufacturing and technology can be a difficult challenge, and the 0777 was our most demanding knife we’ve ever produced.

As an alternative, we will be offering the 0777M390.

The 0777M390 is identical to the original 0777, except for the blade material. In place of the Composite Blade, we will incorporate a solid blade of premium M390 steel, which will be fine stonewash finished.

As with every Zero Tolerance knife, each piece will be individually serial numbered. MSRP on the 0777M390 will $450, and it will begin shipping in August, 2013. We should be finished manufacturing those by September, 2013

Now I was interested – this new ZT 0777M390 would have a blade designed to be used, and made with high-grade “super steel” M390.  I’ve been on the hunt for an ideal flipper knife that could be carried for defensive purposes, and the 0777M390 certainly looked very good on paper for this purpose.  Unfortunately, the 0777M390 would also be a limited edition model that was manufactured in numbers which were a fraction of those who wanted one.  Having tried unsuccessfully to get one from a dealer, I wrote Kai/Zero Tolerance to try and determine if and when they would be manufacturing more ZT 0777M390 examples and received the following response:

date: Mon, Oct 7, 2013 at 12:30 PM
Mr. Holbrook,

We are not making any more of the 0777-M390.  Very sorry about that.
Best regards,
Jeremy Vanroyce
Warranty Services Manager – Kai USA Ltd.
Kershaw Knives, Zero Tolerance Knives & Shun Cutlery
18600 SW Teton Ave.
Tualatin, OR 97062
Phone: 800-325-2891
Fax: 503-682-7168

At this point, if I wanted a 0777M390, I had little choice but to keep an eye on knife sales forums and look for one to come up, and pay the asking price – which was above $500.00 in most cases, and as high as $800.00 from what I saw.  Normally I wouldn’t pay a dime over retail for a production knife, but if they aren’t making any more than hopefully in this case it would be justified.  It took me about a month, but I finally found one that I was able to acquire for not much more than the $450.00 retail price of the ZT 0777M390.  Here are the manufacturer’s specifications:

Specifications

Overall Length: 8.80″
Blade Length: 3.80″
Blade Material: M390 Super Steel (Stainless)
Opening Mechanism: KVT (Kershaw Velocity Technology)
Lock: Frame Lock
Closed Length: 5.00″
Handle Material: 3-D Machined Carbon Fiber
Clip: 3-D Machined Titanium
Weight: 4.20 oz.
Country of Origin: USA

 

Here’s some photos of my ZT 077M390:

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Normally I’m not a fan of carbon fiber, both from an aesthetic and functional perspective.  In most cases, the surface of carbon fiber is slick – a less than desirable quality in a defensive blade.  In the case of the 0777M390, the 3D machining of the carbon fiber scales creates many contours, peaks, and valleys which greatly improve surface traction and largely mitigates the naturally slippery carbon fiber.  It’s also more aesthetically pleasing in appearance than I’m used to seeing in carbon fiber.  Of course the primary reason objects are constructed from carbon fiber is that it is incredibly light  It also has a very thin profile, making it a thin, light knife that you can slip into your pocket and easily carry even in dress pants.  I hadn’t even considered that I might be able to “EDC” (every day carry) this knife given its size.  But it is possible.  Here are some size comparison photos with another popular tactical folder from Zero Tolerance – the ZT 0550:

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If you can EDC a knife like that ZT 0550, chances are you can EDC a ZT 0777M390.  Where the ZT 0777M390 has a strong tactical advantage over ZT 0550 is with the flipper deployment.  I have no problem deploying the blade on the ZT 0550 right handed, but as a CCW permit holder, when I carry a firearm on my strong (right) side, I most often carry a defensive blade on my left.  If someone should grab my gun, I can hang on the gun with my right hand, then grab and deploy my knife with my left hand to aid in weapon recovery.  Thus, it is important to be able to easily deploy your folding knife blade with either hand.  As I talked about in my review of the ZT 0550, it has a very strong detent.  Can I deploy it with my left hand?  Not as easily as I can with my right hand.  Under the stress of a defensive scenario where I would likely have greatly diminished fine motor skills?  I’d give my odds at a successful deployment under stress at no better than 50-50 – a main driving factor behind my wanting to obtain a defensive flipper knife (which is far more easily deployed with my weak hand).  Of course, having some added blade length on the 0777M390 over the 0550 doesn’t hurt either in the “tactical advantage” department.

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The ZT 0550 is no doubt a more robust knife than the ZT 0777M390 by virtue of the fact that it has a titanium frame as compared to the carbon fiber frame handles.  But for defensive purposes, I have no doubt that 0777M390 is plenty strong.  To ensure a strong lockup, the 0777M390 is designed with a unique (and attractively decorated) titanium frame lock.  The 0777M390 incorporates an adjustable/removable stainless steel lock face – the only knife I’m aware of with such a design.  The advantage is having the light weight and high strength of titanium in the lock bar, but with the more wear-resistant stainless steel on the friction point of the lock face.  Here’s a photo which shows the lock up on my example of the ZT 0777M390:

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It’s right around the 50-60% mark, or what is considered “late lock up.”  If you have no wear concerns about the lock face, then a late lockup is far safer than “early lock up” where less surface of the lock bar is holding the blade in place (but provides a longer wear duration).

Here’s a nice photo of the 0777M390 with the blade open:

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So far, I’m REALLY liking M390 steel.  The knife came to me from a seller who advertised the knife as being virtually new and having not been used since it was purchased from a dealer.  Indeed the knife did appear to be brand new but had likely been used for “cutting tests” on paper or rope and had become quite dull.  I’m happy to report that the M390 blade on the 0777M390 sharpens up very well – I simply used a Spyderco Sharpmaker for the task just to try it out.  While I do plan on spending some time with my Wicked Edge sharpener to get an insane, high-polished edge, I like VERY much that it will sharpen up nicely with relatively little time/effort on my Sharpmaker.  I don’t always have the time to maintain an edge using the Wicked Edge system – my Sharpmaker is quick and easy by comparsion.  With roughly the same amount of time and effort to the S35VN blade of the ZT 0550, the 0777M390 was once again razor sharp.  Here’s an open blade shot from the back side of the knife:

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There are very few points to criticize on this knife, but as nice as the custom titanium pocket clip is on the 0777M390, it’s a bit too tight for my liking.  Again, I’m looking for quick, easy weak-hand deployment of a knife and the resistance provided by that pocket clip is considerable.  I’m hoping that with more practice and break in, it will become less of an issue.  On the plus side, it’s positioned for about as deep carry as you could get with this knife…and that sucker isn’t going anywhere when it’s clipped to your pants.  Here’s a photo of the knife in my pants pocket:

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One of the features that makes this knife so functionally desirable is the smoothness of the action/ease of deployment – largely thanks to the “KVT” (Kershaw Velocity Technology) ball bearing system used at the pivot point.  If you’ve seen any videos on the ZT 0777, you’ve likely seen owners wax poetically ad nauseam about the life-altering experience it is to deploy the 0777 blade.  With such a build up, I had high expectations when I first deployed the blade.  Was it easy and smooth?  Yes.  Was I impressed?  Not as much as I thought I could be, so I decided to go ahead and do a complete disassembly of the knife, clean it, and lubricate the friction points.  Here’s a photo of the ZT 0777M390 completely torn down:

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The only tool required for the job was my Benchmade Folding Tool Kit. For the record, I have read that some don’t recommend using lubrication of any kind with KVT ball bearings – the theory is that the lubrication will only attract dust/dirt (adding friction) to the pivot point while not reducing friction beyond what mechanical advantage/friction reduction the KVT system provides.  To this, I can tell you two things – the first being that when I disassembled the 0777M390, it was evident that some form of lubricant was present – it got on my hands.  After cleaning it, I applied my favorite knife grease Finish Line Extreme Fluoro to both the blade side friction point and the washers (which fit inside a milled grove in the carbon fiber).  After re-assembly, the knife was indeed noticeably smoother and easier to deploy – I’m quite thrilled.  I’m also quite pleased at how easily the knife tore down and went back together – only four Torx screws are involved and the blade was perfectly centered upon re-assembly:

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Surprisingly (at least to me) it’s been very difficult for me to find a defensive knife which “checked all the boxes” that I was looking for in a knife.  I’ve tried offerings at many different price points, both production and “mid-tech” from manufacturers like Spyderco, Benchmade, Kershaw, Zero Tolerance, Chris Reeve, Hinderer, Stryder, and of course Zero Tolerance.  Not only does the Zero Tolerance 0777M390 fit the bill for what I’ve been looking for better than any knife I’ve tried, it’s also the nicest.  The only problem (besides the price tag) is that Zero Tolerance isn’t making any more of them.  When I knife is a regular production model, I don’t worry about spare parts, or even replacing the knife altogether if lost or stolen.  But these issues are cause for concern with the 0777M390.  Hopefully, they’ll make different versions of the knife in the future.  Personally, I’d like to see a 0777 with 3D G10 handles.  It would be cheaper to manufacture, and not much heavier than the current carbon fiber handles.  It wouldn’t even have to have M390 blade steel (which apparently is quite a challenge to work with…machining the groove into the top of the blade is, according the Kai representatives, very difficult.  But keep the same basic design and form factor and the same pivot components and I’m sure it could be priced similarly to the 0550/0560.  Until that time, I’ll be happily carrying my ZT 0777M390 as part of my defensive gear:

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As a supplement to this written photo review, I’ve prepared a video review of the ZT 0777M390:

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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