WE Knife Double Helix S35VN/Ti
Everyone here knows about WE at this point -- if not for their prominence in the knife industry, then because they make the majority of Drop's house branded knives. And a lot of people may recognize this knife already -- it's the Double Helix, which has garnered some prestigious awards and words of praise from across the knife industry for its innovative design. WE's probably the number one knife manufacturer in China.
This knife's lock is called a 'slide lock', and in some ways it's very much like an axis lock. In other critical ways it is very unlike an axis lock -- it's in the middle of the knife, the lockbar is fitting into a notch milled into the curve of the tang, not resting against a raised section of the tang, and where an axis lock is fit with two bent pieces of wire called Omega Springs on the inside of the knife to give it its tension against the lockface, the Slide Lock springs are on the outside of the knife -- that gray metal lollipop shaped thing. There's one on either side, and to disengage the slide lock you have to pull back on both sides of the lockbar, which tensions the spring.
The spring without tension:
The good news is, it works like a precision instrument. The S35VN blade rolls like a bank vault -- I haven't taken this knife apart to verify it what the bearings are. At first I thought they must be thrust bearings because of the smoothness of the roll, but the more I fiddle with it the more I think it's regular ball bearings. It's beyond a grav drop knife in any case -- you retract the lockbar, and the blade drops free of the handle so quickly you expect there to be a ton of play in the pivot. But there isn't any.
So it's got a cool, functional, but very different design. No production American knives I know of that come with any form of axis lock are rolling on bearings like this -- every single one I have utilizes PB washers. It's got a beautifully milled blade, top grade hardware, lots of cool little touches here and there, and is the only axis-like locking knife that I've seen a premium Chinese knifemaker sell.
And I've had it for weeks, and seen no mechanical problems at all. Very well made.
But I don't pocket it. I think it's cool and well made and it indeed demonstrates serious design and manufacturing chops for WE, but it doesn't go in my pocket.
So what gives?
The Double Helix is the knife version of a concept car, and at the end of the day those are nearly always better as testbeds for new technologies than they are as daily drivers. That's the case with this knife -- it's cool, it does something in a new way, and flaunts the company's manufacturing prowess. WE probably needed to make something like this just as a demonstrator that they were going to make cool knives that didn't depend on Western patented tech. But as cool as the Double Helix is, it's a bit thick for a WE -- a millimeter or so thicker than a Griptilian, which isn't a thin knife, and the DH has no bevel to the all metal handle, and that makes it much less comfortable in the hand. And the spring tension is extremely high on the Double Helix compared to a standard axis lock -- and not by mistake. It has to be. The lockbar has to work much harder to stay in the notch of the Double Helix and hence keep the knife locked open than it does with an axis lock. The latter gains tremendous benefits in leverage from being further away from the pivot, and because the shear force can't move in the same direction the axis lock slides, and can with the Double Helix, the spring of the Double Helix needs to handle a much heavier load. All of that put together means that a knife with a sliding Double Helix lock is either going to take more force to actuate than an axis lock, or it will be less effective than one, pick your poison, and WE quite rightfully went with a safer design.
I'd love to see WE, and for that matter Reate and Rike and Real Steel and Tuya and TwoSun, making axis lock knives. But I kinda wish they just went ahead and made them actual axis locking knives and called it something else, because a) the axis lock is better than its imitators, b) the patent has expired, and so long as they don't invoke the Axis Lock trademark, they're legally free to utilize the tech, and c) the companies that have done the absolute best with the axis lock didn't try to make it terribly different. The Hogue ABLE lock is nothing more than a standard axis lock where the slot and spring are in slightly different positions, and it fidget opens like a dream. The Manix 2 ball bearing lock doesn't try to be the Axis lock at all, and while it's fine, it's much much harder on the fingers. When you compare it to the axis lock that Tonifes have, or the one that Ganzos have, or the one that Lands have, or the ones that Y-Start put on the JIN02, let alone the Hogue ABLE lock, you'd rather have the latter, even though the Manix 2 is the best knife of the lot.
If you want an easy and ergonomic EDC fidget knife this isn't it - the handle is much more stylized than it is ergonomic, and the lock springs take some grunt to bend. Like I said, it's a concept car. At over $200 it's not cheap enough for the budget minded MacGyvers among us. This is a knife to get if you collect different types of opener, or want something that'll grav drop out of the box, no questions asked, or are just interested in thinking outside the box and like cool new things, or like having things on hand to help spark creative thinking. If you're a 'one knife at a time' kinda guy, and you are willing to spend $200-250 on your pocket knife, and handfeel matters a lot to you, and you're in the Chinese Knives thread for a reason -- look at other WE models like the Deacon, or a Rike M series, or a Real Steel S class, or a Tuya Envy2, or if you can find the rare sale on them, a Reate as they otherwise start around $299.
I guess what I'm saying is that it's cool that WE did this knife, and I'm content with the purchase... but the next one they do can just have some matter of axis-lock-with-a-different-name like Hogue did, and it'll be better. Or a plunge lock like Real Steel had on the Griffin -- some call it a button lock but the majority of US sellers classified it as a plunge locking knife. Or -- and this would maybe even be best of all - start making knives with pocket deployers like Emerson's wave and Cold Steel and Krudo's thumb discs, and now Rike's hex wrench, because once you've had one of those for a bit you realize it's always going to be faster than any other open, even an automatic. There's something very, very cool about an automatic knife, but I think that even if/when switchblades and auto OTFs become legal in my state I will continue to carry pocket deployers, it's one of those things where once you get used to it you never wanna go back.
Long story short, I kinda feel like I bought a Model T Ford that's been made out of space age materials. Cool and interesting, nice to show your friends and so on -- but exhausting to drive, when compared to a modern car.