TOPS knives


March 17, 2003, 03:11 AM
Does anyone use TOPS knives?? what are your opinions?

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Jim March
March 17, 2003, 05:17 AM
Funny you should ask, I was just looking at their site.

Designs seem to range from "cool" to "tactical gonzo".

They're doing an epoxy crinkle-coat over carbon steel. Ohhhhkay...first, that can screw up your ability to fine-cut meat, second, it leaves a lot of nooks'n'crannies to hold "old food". A knife that you might rely on in the woods shouldn't be a food poisoning risk. Hey, maybe I'm completely off on that part but...dunno, I've seen that sort of finish on other metal stuff and it's the first thing that occured to me...esp. as it gets old and the "bubbles inevitably break down".

Next, they're doing 1095 steel. OK, that's a good ol' fashioned "simple high carbon steel". Very tough, quite good for use in a fighter or woods survival look at the prices? :confused: They say they're cryo-treating 'em (dunking in liquid nitrogen) but, the simpler steels don't seem to respond nearly as well to cryo as the more complex tool steels and esp. stainlesses such as ATS-34, the CPM steels, etc.

Naw. I'd rather pay less and get a better-designed handmade in 1095 offa Newt Livesey.

(Note on the "tactical" part: one of the most difficult types of fighting knives to make is something big yet "balanced with a light agile-feeling tip". I can basically count only half a dozen vendors of same I've ever encountered. TOPS ain't one of 'em. Not that you'd want to use such a thing for wilderness survival anyways, unless you spend a LOT of get a "tip light" feel, you need a continuous taper all the way out to the tip, which makes for something (relatively) delicate unless it's made o' "supersteel". The cheapest pieces like that I'm aware of are the Ontarios designed by Bill Bagwell and produced under license...the "Gambler" in particular is an 8" blade that just feels KILLER. No good in the woods, too delicate a tip but if the problem is a streetfight, for the price (under $150) and size class it's unmatched.

If that's *not* what you want, cool, go buy a Becker and get better steel, better "utility grip", which can be unbolted so you can completely clean it or lash it to a stick. With the money you save over a TOPS, go buy a well-used-but-functional S&W model 10 :D.)

March 17, 2003, 08:51 AM
The Ontario knockoffs of Bagwells designs and authorized by him to be copied by Ontario are not very good representations of the real Bagwell Bowies.

I have two Hells Belles from Bill and had purchased the knockoff from Ontario as a training blade. Their products do not have the balance or speed that Bill builds into his knives.

I like the Ontario line and their use of 1095 is a good choice for most of their line of blades available to the general public.

I have handled the TOPS knives and they are heavyduty pieces of steel. Not that fast in the hand due to weight but rugged knives which will hold up considerably better than some other products for more money.

I won't be buying anything from them [ TOPS ] as I already have the ultimate in fighters, and some good stuff in survival knives as well.


Don Gwinn
March 17, 2003, 08:58 AM
They make pretty good daggers and prybars. I am personally turned off by the aesthetics--all the humps and holes and series of holes--it just reminds me of the old days when United Cutlery did the same thing. I'm not saying TOPS quality is anything like that junk, because a lot of people swear by them. But they aesthetics are not for me. I'll never understand the logic of advertising that you make "high-speed, low drag" tools for operators of Great Tacticality and then covering them with the kind of silly marks and decorative drilling a teenager would put on a knife to make it look "wicked."

Which all works out nicely, because I can't afford 'em anyway.

March 17, 2003, 03:28 PM
I think that TOPS is achieving current attention because they make the blade used in "The Hunted". Kinda like how "Rambo" put survival knives and fighter blades on the map for mainstream USA.

The owners are actually pretty good people, I've never gotten a knife order that included a handwritten Thank You note included in it before. They respond quickly if you have any problems.

Some of their knives are prety good and useful, lots aren't. (I like the street scalpel because it's utilarian and strong.) Most blades will get sold as utility knives, not true 'fighters'.

Remember that 19-22 year old military types and standard LEOs suffer from the same hype as gunshop commandos do, -they like doodads and cammo blades, etc.

Jim March
March 17, 2003, 04:10 PM

I have no doubt whatever that a real Bagwell is better than the Ontario pieces done under license! At what, $800 and up for a Bill Bagwell handmade, they oughta be :D.

That said, the Ontarios are still the cheapest way to get a "tip-light feel" big fighter, and they're not bad at all.

The second cheapest way to get there is with an Ernie Mayer/Black Cloud piece, running what, around $300 and up last I heard? Ernie is a stock-removal guy, Bill does heat'n'beat. Ernie does do his own heat-treats though and he's GOOD at it, he's the guy that brought the Hitachi method for ATS-34/154CM to the US. I have a piece done that way and it just *rocks*.

Don Gwinn
March 17, 2003, 07:50 PM
To be fair, Bagwell does so much stock removal on his knives that I'd classify him as a stock-removal guy most of the time. Does a beautiful job, though, and doing what he does with a hammer is next to impossible.

To be honest, having done both, I don't think forging actually results in a substantially better knife than you get from a guy who does stock removal on mill stock and sends his blades to Paul Bos once a week, assuming you make the same knife. The heat treatment is where the magic is, without doubt. But forging does allow a flexibility that a grinder just doesn't have. It also uses a whole lot less material (meaning it wastes a lot less, or in the case of people who forge to final shape, none.) and allows the use of all sorts of scrap that a grinder can't use. You can't grind a 14" camp knife out of an automotive coil spring, but you can forge one! :D

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