My name is John J. Rambo. You may remember me as the residency-displaced activist from the documentary motion picture First Blood, which film chronicled my advocacy for economically-challenged and domiciliary-fluid persons in a small Washington town run by law enforcement officials that had overstepped their constitutional authority.
I’ve turned over a new leaf since Hope. I have shifted my considerable focus and drive into something more profitable than activism, and that is hedge fund management in nearby Seattle. You can also contact me about private wealth management.
Although I have traded my bandana and M60 for a Zegna two button suit and a Galaxy Note 10, make no mistake; John Rambo’s guard – like his stock portfolio – is always up. Unfortunately, I had to have a conversation with HR in my first week at the new job because some anonymous pansy from accounts receivable had a problem with my KA-BAR Straight Edge fixed blade. The only thing that spared our human resources manager from my matchless wrath is my matched contribution 401k. (But God help HR manager Gerald if I retire before him and decide to HALO into his interior office with my golden parachute when I turn 65).
So I compromised. Because I can no longer carry a belt scabbard around the office, I’ve had to switch to a top tier EDC pocket blade, and that’s what I am reviewing today: the Zero Tolerance 0223.
This knife was designed by Tim Galyean. Zero Tolerance (an exemplary knife maker, if you are unfamiliar with the brand) freely states that the 0223 “takes its inspiration from a classic military knife.” And this it does well. The clip point blade, “blood groove” cutout near the spine of the blade and sawtooth-like jimping along the spine are hardly a subtle nod to the knife that I, John Rambo, tend to favor. The styling of the brown textured G10 grip scales only further the elicitation of an issued survival knife, hearkening back to the stacked leather handles of old.
And although a locking mechanism in a folding knife cannot compete with the rigidity of a full-tang fixed blade, the robust frame-locker of the 0223 is about as close as it gets. When the blade is deployed, the frame lock smoothly but affirmatively clicks into place. The frame lock actually has a hardened steel insert at the contact point with the base of the blade for additional durability and stability.
And speaking of deployment, unfolding this knife is effortless while still being deliberate. There are no springs and no true “assist” opening feature (which is good news if you are in a state that forbids open-assist knives). The 0223 has a flipper that is pronounced without being so obtrusive that it impedes pocketability. Index finger pressure alone is sufficient to get the blade to energetically leap from the grip, thanks to ZT’s KVT ball-bearing opening system. No flick of the wrist required – opening the blade is smooth and happens quicker than the dot com bust of the 1990s. I can’t over-emphasize how easy of a task it is to get this blade into action in spite of the fact that it uses no true assist to open.
According to ZT’s description of the opening system:
The KVT opening system is a manual opening system that enables smooth, easy blade opening without the use of a spring or torsion bar to “assist” the blade out of the handle. Instead, the KVT system uses a series of ball bearings that surround the pivot point of certain ZeroTolerance folding knives. As a knife user pulls back on the flipper blade protrusion or pushes outward on the thumbstud, the ball bearings rotate so that the blade glides out of the handle then locks into place, ready for use.
The blade composition of the 0223 has an…edge…over my trusty KA-BAR. While most economically priced fixed blade knives are going to use something like 1095 steel, 1095 steel is relatively brittle and soft, with a Rockwell hardness of about 55 HRC. In other words, it is suitable for fixed blades, but probably not hard enough to use in a folder.
On the other hand, the 0223 has a CPM 20CV blade – a so-called “super steel” because of its outstanding properties across the board. It has a good Rockwell hardness score of >60 HRC, but is much more corrosion resistant than 1095 steel, and it has a cutting edge retention score (CATRA) of 180, while common steels like 440C have an edge retention score of 100. 20CV also has five times the wear resistance of 440C.
The blade uses a clip point profile, similar to the traditional Bowie knife. This is a good stabbing blade (what else are knives for?) because of the very slim and sharp point, which makes it much faster and easier to puncture. However, where the 0223 excels in stabbability, it sacrifices the toughness of a drop point blade. This is a knife that is more suitable for fighting than prying or fine cutting like skinning. Speaking of fighting, the flipper forms a quillion or crossguard of sorts when the blade is extended, providing an additional point of leverage and a degree of safety if you need to plunge this knife into, say, a steel-belted radial tire on a BMW sport wagon driven by a certain human resources manager.
Additionally, ZT gives the entire knife a thick coating of DLC (“diamond like carbon”) – common in many concealed carry handguns – which all but guarantees that the blade won’t rust, and DLC adds a tough, abrasion resistance finish, unlike certain accounts receivables cowards that have a soft, easily-irritated finish.
The handle is titanium, which is an excellent choice. More durable than plastics, and lighter than steel while being corrosion resistant, titanium’s typical downfall is simply being too slick to use as a grip. But due to the aforementioned G10 scales, the 0223 has the weight savings of titanium and the traction of textured G10. This means that the 0223 weighs just 4.7 ounces even though it has a large-ish for EDC 3.5” blade and overall length of 8.6 inches. To put it into context, the excellent all-metal-construction, budget-priced Kershaw Cryo II is about an inch shorter overall than the 0223 and with a quarter-inch shorter blade, but weighs 5.5 ounces.
The pocket clip is left/right reversible and made of bent steel with a black Teflon finish. It’s positioned deep enough on the grip that this knife carries low in your pocket. Between the deep seat of the blade and the low-gloss look of the pocket clip, Gerald from human resources can’t tell that I am carrying 8.6” inches of “whoa Nelly” in my J. Crew casual Friday dress chinos. The bronze-anodized titanium tube spacer in the handle, secured by two custom screws, adds a touch of class. This knife is ready for either the POW rescue mission or a tapas business lunch in The Mission District.
As far as negatives, there are not many. I could take or leave the decorative holes drilled in the blade ricasso. I doubt the weight savings justify the additional machining and they make what should be a sexy-by-utilitarian-style blade look slightly busy. Second, and though this doesn’t apply to a man who oversees billions of dollars of pooled-fund investment portfolios and who could snap your neck like a wounded dove, the $375 MSRP (which looks like about $300 street price) is a little on the high end unless you consider what you are getting. As far as small run, premium built, titanium handled “super steel” blades of this size go, the Zero Tolerance 0223 for $300 out the door is not a losing investment, and is, in fact, comparable to similar styles of knife such as, say, the Triple Aught Design Dauntless.
Peeking around on knife nerd message boards, I’ve seen people refer to this as a “gas station knife.” This is a pejorative phrase used to label knives that have over-aggressive styling like those found in display cases at truck stops. While beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, I think Zero Tolerance took an aesthetic risk with this blade and it paid off. This knife looks even better in person than in pictures. I don’t remember seeing a blade like the 0223 in that gas station before I blew it up to distract my pursuers many moons ago. It’s something I would have noticed.
Finally, the 0223 is made proudly in the USA, just like me, John Rambo.
In conclusion, if you are looking for a blade that is a little bit unique with an “issued/survival” vibe for every day carry, then the Zero Tolerance 0223 may just be your blade. While $300 is a premium price point, this is, in fact, a premium blade, and this $300 price point is shared by other comparable premium-build frame lockers with titanium grips, G10 scales, and elite blade steels. Having an established company like Zero Tolerance behind the 0223 helps, too: Often a fear with boutique high dollar knives is the support behind the blade when you need warranty repair in ten years. This is not a concern with ZT. This knife is robustly built and will serve you well, whether it’s opening envelopes containing dividend checks or cutting parachute cord in French Indochina.
Ask me how I know.