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Camillus Tactical Folders

Camillus Cutlery is well-known for its Western brand of hunting, fishing, camping and outdoor knives. They also make the wide variety of Camillus brand traditional pocket knives. Recently, Camillus introduced their CUDA line of liner lock tactical folders. CUDA is short for Camillus Ultra Design Advantage. And most recently, they reintroduced the Becker Knife & Tool line of survival knives, including the TacTool, Patrol Machete, Combat Bowie and Combat Utility.

Camillus typically uses economical grades of stainless steel like AUS-8, which is similar to 440-B. What caught our attention, however, was their new CUDA Dominator tactical folder made from Crucible’s S30V, the very latest thing in blade material.

Dominator Tactical Folder

The CUDA Dominator uses a .125-inch thick and 3.65-inch long blade made of CPM S30V hybrid stainless steel. The blade is available as either plain edge or partially serrated, and as a traditional Clip Point or a Modified Tanto Point. All of the blades are flat ground and polished, literally, to a mirror finish.

We had a chance to test the Dominator in both the Clip Point and the Modified Tanto Point. The Dominator version of the Tanto is much more curved and thin at the tip than some other makes of this blade style. We like this version because we can get the tip into tighter spots than the traditional thick Tanto tip. Those who like the other formal Tanto versions specifically due to the thick and robust blade tip may not like this version. Our blade tip preference is the Clip Point anyhow, and in the partially serrated version. That fits the police role better than almost any other combination.

The S30V alloy of stainless steel is relatively new to knife making. What S30V brings to a tactical blade is “toughness.” Compared to other hybrid stainless steels, S30V makes a real difference as the blade gets longer, as the work gets harder, or as the leverage on the blade increases. The term “leverage on the blade” pretty much defines how most patrol knives are used.

For years, the best blade material for a police knife has been Crucible’s 154 CM, which is identical to Hitachi’s ATS-34. These hybrid high-carbon stainless steel alloys remain outstanding choices. To this, however, S30V adds the genuine corrosion resistance of 440C stainless. The 154 CM and ATS-34 knives need at least a little care and attention in marine climates.

To these other hybrid stainless alloys, S30V also adds more toughness, thanks to 4% Vanadium. S30V has more Carbon (1.45%) than 154 CM for increased hardness and edge holding. It has the same Chromium and slightly less Molybdenum. But the real key to the enhanced mechanical properties is the Vanadium.

Every few years, we get another alloy with the “best overall combination” of hardness, corrosion resistance and wear resistance, i.e., edge holding. Five or 10 years ago, that “best overall combo” was from 154 CM (ATS-34). Starting about four years ago, it is now S30V and its sister alloys, S60V and S90V.

The S30V alloy is heat-treated to 59 Rc. This is the hardness close to some tool steels, and much greater than the less expensive stainless steels. The Rockwell scale for hardness is not linear, i.e., each additional point of hardness is very significant. Real and practical differences exist between each Rockwell point. A 59 Rc blade is noticeably harder and holds its edge much longer than a 58 Rc blade.

The Dominator uses titanium handles (frame) with a bead blast finish. Titanium is light compared to steel but not when compared to aluminum. If a blade blank made of stainless steel weighs 16 ounces, the same billet made of titanium would weigh 9.3 ounces and the same billet of aluminum would weigh 5.6 ounces.

Titanium is stronger than all of the common steel and stainless steel alloys. The most common titanium alloys have twice the ultimate tensile strength of the 300-series stainless steels. So in general terms, titanium is half the weight of stainless steel and twice as strong.

Titanium may be flexed, bowed or stressed to a greater degree than steel without failure. This is extremely significant. Tactical officers use knives as pry tools all the time. With half of the modulus of steel, Titanium will bend twice as far as steel before failure, i.e., it is more ductile, i.e., tougher.

Importantly, the Dominator uses a frame-lock design. This is similar to the more common liner lock with one major exception. As the flipper-actuator opens the blade, a thick portion of the frame itself slides behind the back of the blade tang, which has as angled edge to accept the angled lock edge.

The favorable exception is lock strength. The liner lock is typically the weakest of all lock designs. The lock back is stronger and the internal tang locks are stronger yet. With a thick section of titanium alloy engaging the blade tang, the lock strength of the Dominator’s frame lock rivals the internal tang locks.

The Dominator uses the ROBO Power Handle, i.e., it has a spring-assisted blade opening feature. The CUDA Dominator is designed to be opened with the flipper-actuator, which when opened, doubles as an index finger guard.

The long and flat assist spring lies in a machined groove in the handle on the opposite side of the frame lock. Closing the blade cams a detent in the tang against this leaf spring. To a great degree, this flat part of the leaf spring contour keeps the blade closed. In fact, it takes quite a bit of pressure and travel for the blade top to open, as a way to be secure from accidental openings.

After about 30 degrees of rotation, and definitely by 45 degrees, the leaf spring then exerts significant opening pressure. Index finger pressure on the flipper-actuator easily rotates the blade past this 45-degree mark and the blade snaps into the open and locked position.

The Dominator handle also has a more traditional index finger groove cut behind the pivot pin. This primary finger groove is generously relieved and tapered for excellent index finger wrap-around. When firmly gripped with the thumb on the grooved ramp, the index finger actually forces the frame lock harder into the blade tang.

While some liner lock knives can be unlocked by finger pressure during twisting, finger pressure actually keeps the frame lock locked. During our evaluation period, we never accidentally unlocked the Dominator. The index finger groove gave the Dominator a reasonable secure feel. Even the pivot pin mounted pocket clip added to the secure grip.

When locked open, the Dominator blade is quite rigid. We found zero play along the rotational axis, one of the advantages of the frame lock and liner lock designs. However, we also found zero play side-to-side. The pivot pin, the blade tang and the handle/frame fit is very tight. No give; virtually fixed. With the extreme mechanical properties of titanium and S30V, we expect this rigid blade lockup to continue for years of use.

What looks like ambidextrous thumb studs are not. According to Darrel Ralph, the knife’s designer, those are stop pins for the blade. The pins will be hard to engage with your thumb, and are in the wrong position to exert leverage against the flat spring keeping the blade closed. That will explain why the knife is hard to open and fully lock when using the thumb studs. They are not thumb studs! Learn to open the knife as the designer intended, regardless of your first tendency to try (what are not) thumb studs.

The CUDA Dominator is clearly aimed at the high-end knife market, those officers who want to buy just one knife, and have it be a great one. This BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes end of the knife market, however, is crowded with refined and highly developed tactical folders. Against this stiff competition, the Dominator needs some refinement in two areas.

First, the lockup could be more confidence-inspiring. The frame lock is a better tactical design than the cheap and easy liner lock. Even still, we want the frame lock to fully engage the blade tang. The engagement was completely reliable if the index finger flicked the ROBO Assisted flipper.

However, the frame lock in both the Tanto blade and Clip Point blade engaged just 0.030-inch of the 1.130-inch thick blade. Now, titanium (lock) and S30V (blade) are each awesome knife materials, and titanium is more chip resistant than any knife material. As we firmly gripped the handle and actually used the knife, the overlap increased to between 0.040 and 0.050-inch. Even still, we would feel more comfortable with a bit more lock to tang overlap than just the diameter of a paper clip.

Our other concerns involve the pocket clip. Carried tip-down in the right pocket of a right-handed person, the Dominator draws well. The hand location is perfect for the index finger to slide over the flipper and open the blade. This is smooth, efficient, fast and reliable. Not so for a left-hander, with a left pocket carry and not so for a right-hander with a left pocket carry, i.e., 90% of police officers. That forces an awkward and complete handle rotation for left pocket carry with right-handed officers. In an age when most tactical folders are ambidextrous and some are reversible end-to-end, a right side-only pocket clip is an oversight.

The retention strength of the pocket clip was also too low. The clip design actually allowed the knife to back out of both our 5.11 Tactical pants and our uniform duty pants enough to risk losing it. On a $260 knife, the pocket clip should keep the knife clipped to the pocket.

Heat Tactical Folder

Camillus makes a less expensive line of ROBO Assisted tactical folders in their Heat series, which goes for around $80. The blade alloy is AUS-8, which is similar to 440-B. This alloy is a relatively soft stainless steel, i.e., it is easy to sharpen but loses its edge quickly.

The Heat blade is 0.120-inch thick and 3.65-inch long. It comes either plain edge or partially serrated and with either a Clip Point or traditional Tanto Point. The blades are available with a silver polish finish or a black phosphate. We tested the plain edge Clip Point.

The handles are heavily checkered Zytel® nylon and they have both an index finger and a middle finger molded-in reliefs. The grip is excellent. Again, on all these Darrel Ralph ROBO Assisted designs, use the flipper-actuator. Trying to use the blade stop pins as thumb studs will give you the wrong impression of the knife. When the flipper-actuator is used to open the Heat, the liner lock reliably engaged a full 50% of the blade tang.

The Heat uses a special fold-over liner lock design. The part of the lock that engages the tang is bent 90 degrees, i.e., an angled lock reinforcement. This greatly increases the weakest part of the liner lock design. While it allows a larger surface area to make closing easier, it doesn’t seem to make the knife easier to close by accident. No amount of twisting, in any hand (grip) position, accidentally unlocked the knife.

The Heat blade locked up with surprising rigidity. We expect that from a liner lock or frame lock knife, where the lock simply engages more and more to take up any slack. The surprise, however, was how well the pivot pin and blade stops worked together to eliminate side-to-side play in the blade. The stop pins, by the way, come to a rest against the exposed steel liners, not the Zytel handle.

Speaking of liner, unlike some lower-end liner-lock knives with a liner on only one side, the Heat has stainless steel liners under both sides of the handle. One side of the stainless liner serves as the liner lock mechanism, while the other side of the stainless liner is the ROBO Assist mechanism. This, of course, makes for a stronger handle ... and a stronger lock due to less handle flex. Overall, this is an excellent version of the basic liner lock design.

The Camillus Heat uses a well-designed ambidextrous pocket clip to carry the knife tip down in either the right pocket or left. The clip held the knife securely in both pants and vest carrier. The Heat was easy to carry, easy to open, and easy to use. It felt comfortable doing a variety of cutting tasks, and being held in all four popular grip positions.

We know that we will end up sharpening the Heat much more frequently than the Dominator. And we also know the risk of a broken tip or chipped blade is higher with the AUS-8 blade than the S30V blade. However, after using both knives, we ended up actually preferring the $80 AUS-8/Zytel, liner lock Heat over the $260 S30V/titanium, frame-lock Dominator.

Rescue Heat Traffic Knife

An interesting variation on the Heat tactical folder is the Rescue Heat traffic safety folder. The 3.6-inch AUS-8 blade is fully serrated for cutting fabric and seat belts. The blade has a 2.6-inch long cutting surface. It has a blunt and unsharpened tip that is machined in such a way to double as a flat-point screwdriver.

The 0.125-inch thick blade is thin enough, especially with the screwdriver tip, to wedge between door glass and car doors. Yet, the knife has a thick enough blade to do a fair amount of prying and twisting. These prying motions are further bolstered by the twin-blade stop pin design. The pivot pin does not have to take all this twisting and leverage loads. Some of the forces are passed directly to the dual-steel liner handle.

Unlike the Heat tactical folder, the Rescue Heat has a hollow ground blade for maximum cutting and slicing ability. Like the Heat, the Rescue Heat uses the excellent fold-over liner lock, ROBO Assisted one-hand opening, and ambidextrous pocket clip.

The final feature, required on any true traffic safety knife, is a hardened steel, glass-shattering, center punch mounted on the pommel. The punch remains exposed during carry but, frankly, never got in the way. When it was needed, it was there. The punch is small but effective.

One caveat to the officer: The AUS-8 serrated blade comes from the factory very sharp, but the alloy will not hold that razor edge long...and serrations are extremely difficult to sharpen. Only use the Rescue Heat against the nylon and fabric it was designed to cut.

The selection of the red color for the Zytel handles is definitely wrong. Especially in law enforcement, red always means practice or training. When you don’t get enough advice from the end user, these sorts of mistakes happen.

A far better color, if a special color is really needed, would be Safety Orange or Safety Green, i.e., the traffic vest colors. Better yet, just use the black handles. As a patrol officer, I don’t want to carry a neon bright knife to draw anyone’s attention.

Apart from the dreadful color, the Rescue Heat is an excellent traffic safety knife with all the right features. Overall, Darrel Ralph and Camillus Knives have taken everything good from their Heat tactical folder and made a very functional traffic safety knife.

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2006

Rating : 8.0

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