I review gear. I also make mistakes. Some are self-inflicted. Some are just flukes. Others are endemic to the form. Let’s look at those last ones, because they occur most often and impact all of us.
Preferences as Standards
Go watch some Metal Complex reviews. He likes big, heavy folders. If you have read some of my reviews, you will see we have very different tastes. I like to think that my tastes are the right tastes, but everyone thinks this. I am sure that Metal thinks his preferences are right. The reality is, as a reviewer, you make your position clear by emphasizing the things you like and over time this makes you conflate your preferences with actual objective standards. And there is no real way out of this trap. The more you drill down, the harder it is to separate standards and preferences. The best way to fight against this is to watch multiple good reviewers, especially those that have preferences different than your own. As a reviewer, I try to do this all the time. I try to push against my own preferences in the hope that I can break the preferences=standards problem.
We need to be honest with ourselves—reviewers are TERRIBLE at reviewing steel. There are three reasons: lack of expertise, small sample sizes (which is a problem that will recur with all knife reviews), and conflating blade geometry and heat treat with steel performance.
The vast majority of reviewers do not know enough about steel to say one way or the other whether a heat treat is good or bad. We tend to homogenize our opinions over time (“M390 is good because it was good on this knife” slowly becomes “M390 is good”).
In addition to lacking the critical expertise, we also don’t have a relevant sample size. Steel makers produce metric tons of steel. Literally. And we see a very slim slice of that entire yield. The idea that we could get some meaningful handle on a steel over an entire batch with one knife is like digging in your backyard, not finding gold and declaring that gold doesn’t exist.
But the biggest flaw reviewers have with steel, especially newer reviewers is that they conflate geometry and heat treat for blade steel…
A typically cerebral post from Anthony Sculimbrene.
Sculimbrene is taking over the legal duties at AKTI and thus will be a regular columnist in KNIFE Magazine going forward.