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Zero Tolerance Tactical Knives

Written by TR Staff

Zero Tolerance knives are among the very few “best” police blades, period. Consider this. Tactical Response Technical Editor Mick Williams picked the Zero Tolerance 0200ST as the “best” police knife in the $150 to $200 price range. (Nov-Dec 2007 TR)

Then more than a dozen Tactical Response readers conducted a four-week evaluation of eight tactical folders. These were blades the top knife companies considered their best patrol-oriented tactical folders under $200. While there was a four-way tie for second place, the clear overall winner was, again, the ZT 0200ST. (Jan-Feb 2008 TR)

What IS the ZT 0200? In a crowded knife market, why does it get such dominating reviews? In fact, who is Zero Tolerance? What other knives do they make?

Zero Tolerance, along with Kershaw Knives, is a part of KAI Corp. KAI has produced cutlery in Seki City, Japan, for the past 100 years. Seki City bladesmiths have had the same excellent reputation for samurai swords as Toledo, Spain, has for broad swords and rapiers—a legend status dating back to medieval times.

Tualatin, OR-based Kershaw Knives has been providing hunting, fishing, gentleman, sporting and outdoor knives since 1974. These general-purpose blades are made in Japan, Taiwan, China, Mexico, the U.S. and Sweden. In 2006, KAI USA introduced a new line of “Made in USA” military and police knives, the Zero Tolerance line.

That year, the company introduced several fixed and folding knives designed by KAI’s Ken Onion; Mick Strider of the military blade maker, Strider Knives; custom knife-makers Grant and Gavin Hawk of G&G Hawk; and custom knife-maker Tim Galyean.

In early-2006, Zero Tolerance introduced its first tactical folders, the ZT 0200 smooth blade and the ZT 0200ST partially serrated blade. These are Ken Onion designs. In quick succession, ZT then released the 0400 and 0400ST Onion-designed, assisted-opening liner-lock folders, and then the 0301 and 0302 Strider-designed, assisted-opening, frame-lock folders. The makers introduced their 0100 Military fixed blade, their 0150 Boot knife fixed blade, and their 0121 Rescue fixed blade. By mid-2007, the ZT was completed with the 0500 manual-opening, Hawk lock folder.

That totals to three different fixed blades and seven different tactical folders using three different lock designs and two different opening methods. All ZT knives are made in the USA. We took a close look at three of these blades, the 0200ST folder, the 0500 folder and the 0100 fixed.

Living up to its name, Zero Tolerance uses the best blade steels, not the normal, low-cost, entry-level stuff. The fixed blades use either CPM 3V tool steel or S30V stainless steel. The tactical folders use either S30V stainless steel or 154CM stainless steel. These are definitely police-grade, SWAT-grade steels.

Designed by Onion

Ken Onion has been designing and making custom knives for almost 20 years. In the mid-90s, Onion designed (and patented) an assisted-opening mechanism called “Speed Safe.” The ZT 0300 and 0400 series folders use this assist.


In the late-90s, Onion signed on with Kershaw as a designer. He now has three dozen knife-making patents and several trademarks. With Kershaw, he has won two American Made Knife of the Year awards and one European Knife of the Year award. Celebrities who own his custom shop blades including Steven Segal, Kid Rock and Nicholas Cage. As proof of his state-of-the-art thinking, the former Marine Corps F4 Phantom mechanic is currently developing Titanium Damascus blades.


0200ST Folder

In a field test sponsored by Tactical Response involving eight patrol-oriented folders and 13 tactical officers from across the U.S., the 0200ST was ranked as the clear winner. It was judged to be the best police-grade knife under $200, period.


A great police knife starts with a great blade steel. The 0200 plain edge and 0200ST partially serrated edge knives use Crucible 154CM. This is a hybrid, high carbon stainless steel first developed for jet turbine impeller blades. It is much harder than 440-C or any of the commonly used AUS steels. Virtually identical to Hitachi ATS-34, Crucible 154CM is the best police-grade steel for the money. Tougher, harder blade steels definitely exist, but these are much more expensive than 154CM.


The 0200ST uses a full 4-inch blade, measuring a robust 0.156 inches thick. Some folders marketed to the police use just a 0.125-inch thick blade. The blade is finished with black Tungsten DLC coating. The blade has a drop point with a significantly recurved blade edge shape. The recurve provides more edge contact during slicing than other blade shapes.


The 0200ST is a manually opened folder with well-placed, large diameter, ambidextrous thumb studs. The blade opening may be started with the tang flipper, which then doubles as an even more pronounced index finger groove. The 0200ST has a very unique feature: the ability to easily adjust the pivot shaft tension. A 3/8-inch hex head, lock nut allows the blade deployment force to be harder or easier. This makes sense!


The 0200ST uses a liner lock. While not the strongest lock design, the liner material does measure a thick 0.070 inches. The jimped unlocking surface is fairly close to the index finger surface to reduce the chance of an accidental unlock during twisting motions.


The 0200ST uses black G10 scales, which are heavily textured. The scale texture, handle profile, palm swell and oversize index finger groove all make for a patrol or SWAT knife with a great feel. Thumb jimping on the blade back just adds to the excellent grip. The 0200ST has one feature that is sadly missing in many folders marketed to police: a four-way pocket clip. This means the 0200ST can be in the left or right pocket and also tip up or tip down. The pocket clip is a little small, but it works.


At 7.7 ounces and with a 4-inch blade, the 0200ST is a big folder. It is certainly big enough to double as both a patrol knife and a SWAT knife. When you need a knife, you need a KNIFE. With an MSRP of $160 and Internet prices of $125, the 0200ST should be seriously considered for either your uniform pocket or tactical LBV.


0500 Folder

Grant Hawk has been making knives in Idaho since the 1990s. His first tactical folder was the DOG, an acronym for Deadbolt Over Grabstep. A description for the locking mechanism, his unique lock functions with debris in and around the lock mechanism. This same debris-tolerant knife design has carried forward to the Zero Tolerance 0500 Folder.


The 0500 folder is a larger version of the Hawk MUDD knife, designed by the father-son team of Grant and Gavin. The G&G Hawk MUDD has a 3-inch, ATS-34 blade while the ZT 0500 has a 3.6-inch 154CM blade. The 0500 blade is a stout 0.156 inches thick. Again, the blade finish is Tungsten DLC.


The 0500 saves weight by the use of 7075 aluminum handles strengthened by rough-texture G10 scales. In an age of heavily contoured handles, the 0500 has a mostly straight handle profile. However, it is surprisingly comfortable. The overall grip is improved by an angular index finger groove and a slight little finger groove. The vastly oversize pivot pin also adds to the index finger grip.


The 0500 uses a Hawk (internal tang) lock. Tang locks are the strongest locks and the least likely to be accidentally unlocked. The Hawk lock can be released by a right-hander’s thumb or by a left-hander’s index finger. The 0500 also comes with a reversible pocket clip so right-handed officers can carry the tactical folder in their left pockets.


One of the most unique features of the 0500 is its debris-tolerant design. Polyurethane seals and O-rings protect both the oversize pivot pin and the Hawk lock. The result is two-fold. The folder is simply impervious to dirt and sand. The blade also opens as smoothly as you will ever experience.


The 0500 is a manual-opening folder with a very quirky design. It uses twin thumb discs screwed to the sides of the blade back. Is that different just for the sake of being different? The twin discs actually work just fine. In fact, they serve two functions. One is an ambidextrous opening device, where the thumb engages the bottom of the disc. The other is an excellent thumb support with the blade open, where the thumb rests on the top of the discs.


While the ZT 0500 is a fairly big knife, it weighs just 4.9 ounces. The more time we spent with this tactical folder, the more we liked it. The MSRP is $180, with Internet pricing around $145. We have one suggestion…a partially serrated blade.


0100 Fixed Blade

The ZT 0100 is the first entry in KAI USA’s new Zero Tolerance line of military and police knives. The most obvious aspect of this Ken Onion design is the exaggerated, recurved blade profile. The belly is the curved part of the blade edge. Again, a knife with a large or recurved belly is best for slicing (and perhaps skinning), rather than penetration. That is because the larger the belly, the less sharp the knife point.


In this case, however, the 0100 has such a pronounced drop point that the result is almost a perfect spear point. This blade will penetrate, no problem. In fact, the profile of the blade allows very precise point control. The 0100 has both superior slicing ability and pointability.


The 5.7-inch blade measures a beefy 0.190 inches thick. It weighs a confidence-inspiring 11.4 ounces. If it only had a partially serrated blade…


The curvature of the handle is an exact match for the curvature of the blade. Pick it up one time and the 0100 immediately feels right. The palm swell. The index finger groove. The jimped thumb rest. The aggressively cut, heavily textured, 3-D-machined G10 scales. Jimping at the pommel. No matter how you hold the 0100, (tip up, tip down, blade forward, blade backward), the 0100 feels perfect. That is rare. The slightly exposed pommel is just the thing for many tactical uses.


What Is CPM 3V?

The blade steel used in the ZT 0100 may be new to tactical officers. The blade uses Crucible Particle Metallurgy (CPM) 3V tool steel. CPM 3V is both wear resistant and chip resistant. According to Crucible, CPM 3V has better impact toughness (shock resistance) than A2 or D2 tool steels. The big players in the CPM 3V steel are molybdenum (1.3%) and vanadium (2.8%), thus the “V” in the steel’s name.


Again, this is a tool steel, (7.5% chromium), not a stainless steel (more than 12% chromium), so the Tungsten DLC coating is important. Some blade edge care will be required, i.e., clean and oil every now and again. This low carbon tool steel, however, can be hardened to 58-60 HRC. So, the alloy is both hard and tough. Just what you want in a SWAT knife frequently used as a sharpened wrecking bar.


The ZT 0100 comes with an outstanding, MOLLE-compatible, nylon sheath. It has a quick-connect attachment for belt carry, an elastic leg strap and universal pouch. The ZT 0100 is held in place by a Kydex clamshell and can be double secured by a nylon strap and snap. We found it comfortable to carry during SWAT training and seldom used the secondary strap to secure the fixed blade.


At least someone on the tactical team should have a big fixed blade. The ZT 0100 is as good as any—and definitely better than most. It has an MSRP of $295 and Internet pricing of $235.


Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2008

Rating : 9.8


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