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Knife Review: HTM Gunhammer, Darrel Ralph Designs Pt I

This review of the HTM Gunhammer comes to you via Blade Forums. It was written by 'crimsonfalcon07' in December. HTM Gunhammer in CPM S35VN, a Darrel Ralph design Table of Contents Part I: Specifications and Pricing History and Details Unboxing The Blade—Grind, Geometry, and Performance Part II: The Handle—Ergonomics and Design The Lock Fit and Finish Odds and Ends Pros and Cons Conclusion Specifications and Pricing

The HTM Gunhammer in CPM S35VN is the standard edition. The knife is 4.25” long closed, and 8” long open, with a 3.5” blade, making it legal for carry in most states in the U.S.A., although you may want to check your specific laws. I will not be held responsible if you are not aware of the laws in your area. The blade is made from Crucible CPM S35VN stainless steel, which is commonly used by many well-respected manufacturers due to its fine performance. The blade is tempered to 62 HRC, and comes in either a satin finish, or a non-glare finish using HTM's excellent DLC (diamond-like-carbon) coating. Mine is the black DLC finish. The knife uses Darrel's torpedo shape, and comes in either combo or plain edge. This particular knife is the combo edge variation. Like many knife nuts, I usually prefer a straight edge, but I get the feeling that combo edges are by far more popular among the average knife user, and I think there's no denying that a serrated edge has its advantages in cutting some types of material. The handle is made out of 3D-machined aluminum, which has been anodized in a black Military Type III hard coat. The texturing on the handle is Darrel's ETAC (ergonomic tactical) design, which provides a solid grip and an elegant look. It weighs in at 5.2 oz (compare to 4.7 oz for a large Sebenza, or 5.8 oz for a ZT 0560), and uses a hefty .09” Titanium liner lock to secure the blade in the cutting position. The knife uses Darrel's Assisted Opening mechanism, which has more kick to it than any other AO mechanism I've ever used. More on that later... Some of you may be happy to learn that it is Made In the USA (capitalized on purpose). The knife retails for around 300 USD for the combo edge which should be available from HTM directly, as well as from authorized dealers.


Blade Steel: Crucible CPM S35VN Stainless Steel, 62HRC Handle Material: 3D Machined ergonomic ETAC GRIP Blade Style: Torpedo, Plain Edge or Combo Edge Blade Finish: DLC, Non-Glare Blade Length: 3-1/2" Open length: 8" Closed Length: 4.25" Locking Mechanism: 0.09” Titanium Liner Lock Weight: 5.2 oz.* Made in the USA Lifetime Warranty History and Details The Gunhammer was introduced in 2004, and has become one of Darrel's best selling designs over the past 8 years. During this time period, it has seen a number of changes, from new pivots, different thicknesses for the blades, changing grind heights, to new anodization techniques. Darrel and HTM (Hand Tech Made) are constantly looking for ways to improve their product. Darrel has been described as a visionary, and as a custom knifemaker whose work is so in demand that it has been described as “some of the most sought-after in history.” I admit to some bias, in that Darrel has been my favorite designer since I got into knives. I believe the Gunhammer is so-called because the styling of the flipper is reminiscent of the hammer on a Colt Commander pistol. Unboxing Like all HTM knives, the knife will arrive in HTM's attractive box:

I think packaging is often indicative of the company's philosophy. If it's a company which aims to provide cheap knives for the undiscerning company, they'll shove the knife in that clamshell plastic packaging that requires a really good knife to open. In fact, some of those knives that come in said packaging aren't even sharp enough to cut themselves out of that packaging. I've been known to say that such clamshell packaging is a good test of an EDC knife. Most decent production knives will come in a no-frills box with the company's logo on it. HTM's box, on the other hand, is sturdy cardboard, and even includes a distinctive geometric design. The box is actually sturdy enough for use as a gift box for jewelry or other things. To me, that confirms that HTM truly is a mid-tech company (a step above production knives in terms of quality, while not actually being a full-on custom). Most knives will come in a little foam nest. HTM provides a high quality cushioned case, similar to the ones they use for the full custom knives sold by DDR. In the past, the cases were identical, but the HTM cases now include the HTM logo, instead of the DDR logo. Otherwise, the cases seem to be identical.

Again, the quality of the case screams quality. It's made from durable nylon fabric with nice tight stitching with good quality thread, a nice soft liner with plenty of foam to cushion your knife, and a solid zipper. The best part is that the case is actually large enough to fit a pair of eyeglasses or sunglasses. I don't ever use the case for my knives, because my HTM knives are for every day carry. However, I've used them to protect a spare pair of glasses, and they do a fairly good job at that, despite not being a hard case. The case can also fit 2 knives in a pinch, although they'll be snuggled up close, and may scratch each other.

Open the case, and you'll get your first glimpse of the knife:

The first time I looked at a Gunhammer, I thought that it looked too small to actually house a blade as large as it was advertised as having. However, Darrel's design philosophy is renowned for minimizing handle size while maximizing blade size. If you've ever seen his Madd Maxx folding dagger, you'll realize that it takes a designer with a lot of skill to design a full-on dagger that can fold up and still be small enough to be portable in a (large) pocket. That same skill went into the Gunhammer's design. Press the flipper, hold on tight, and out pops a surprisingly large blade.

Be warned, Darrel's Assisted Opening Mechanism has a lot of oomph to it. I usually have to warn people to hang on tight when they deploy the knife, because it can actually kick itself out of your hand. The kick isn't quite as bad as it was on earlier renditions, because the blade is a bit heavier, but it still deploys with authority. Of course, once you've opened the blade, you're probably hoping to cut stuff. So, let's talk about the blade! The Blade—Grind, Geometry, and Performance The blade on this knife is 3.5” of DLC coated CPM S35VN stainless steel. I won't talk a lot about the steel because it has been out for a while (it was introduced in 2009), and I tend to think it's one of the more well-known knife steels out there. It's got solid edge retention, but the addition of Niobium is intended to increase toughness (over S30V), while retaining excellent wear resistance, etc. Many of the CPM steels do tend to be fairly hard to sharpen, however, in comparison to other types of steels. If you're bad at sharpening, I wouldn't necessarily let that stop you, as you can always send your blade back in to HTM for resharpening, if you don't want to learn how to do it yourself. There are also many expert sharpeners, who can assist you.

The geometry of the knife is excellent as well. The bowie and torpedo blade shapes have almost identical curvature, which seems to work well for a normal cutting motion: your hand will travel maybe 2.25” horizontally, while you get the full 4” length of the edge against the surface you're cutting. However, the bowie blade has a very slight recurve, so it may have slightly better cutting ability in a draw cut. I personally prefer the torpedo blade, so I was pleased to get a torpedo version for this review.

The new grind on this knife is lower than on the earlier torpedo rendition I have, which has a very high grind. It's now .75” up the blade, instead of a full inch. I generally prefer higher grinds, but I think this one makes sense for the M390, particularly since it may help provide better lateral strength (although you should still never pry with your folding knife). The blade is also thicker, at nearly 4mm thick, compared to around 3mm for earlier models.

I believe the edge angle on a stock Gunhammer is 35 degrees, which provides for a nice slicy edge. Mine came razor sharp, and even after nearly 2 months of carry and moderate use without ANY resharpening or stropping at all, is still sharp enough to shave!

The finish on the knife is excellent as well. There are no visible tooling marks, putting it ahead of most production knives that I've seen. It's possible that the DLC coating covers up any small tooling marks that may have come from the manufacturing process, but it's an incredibly clean finish, particularly for a semi-production knife. For those who have followed HTM in the past, you need not worry about quality control, from the looks of this blade. I looked long and hard, and couldn't find any flaws in the finish, as such. The grinds are perfectly even, and the tip profile from the back of the blade is perfect:

There's also jimping on the back of the blade. The jimping is fairly thin and closer together than on previous models, and gives very good grip to your thumb. However, it doesn't seem to be aggressive enough to do much abrading, so I'd say it strikes a fairly good balance, and I'd guess even someone who hates jimping wouldn't be overly offended by this rendition.

Performance is excellent. Cardboard cuts very easily, as does paper, plastic, and any number of other things that an every day carry knife might face in the city. It does fine with wood as well, and has proven to be quite durable. I haven't sharpened it yet, and have carried it as often as I can get the M390 Gun Hammer out of my pocket, and it's still shaving sharp. If I had to identify a flaw, it would be that, when cutting paper and other similar types of things, if I cut along the entire edge of the blade, when I reach the transition between the serrations and the plain edge, the material often catches, causing a tear. I suspect that could be addressed by rounding the edge at the transition somewhat, so that instead of an angle, you have more of a curve. But that's a common problem with combo edge knives, from what I've experienced, so it shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

As usual, I like to I try out the blade on some leather, so I could see how clean the cuts were. Here's the result:

I found that the serrated portion was pretty ineffective on leather, however. It kept hanging up, and didn't cut nearly as smoothly as I would have expected.

Well, cardboard, paper, and shaving are all popular city EDC tasks, but I wanted to give it a tougher test, so I tried out some tough .25” manila rope. The fibers on such a rope are a good test for an EDC knife. I was able to cut through the entire rope on a push cut, which made me happy.

How about a draw cut? The serrated edge got it nicely started but made a bit messier cut. It was pretty easy to get through, however.

I also tried a chop, using just a wrist flick to generate the power. It easily cut through 3 strands, but didn't fully penetrate the last.

My next challenge is to run the blade over the bamboo cutting board repeatedly for about an hour and a half while I watch a movie, so as to dull the blade. After that, it still did a reasonably good job at cutting paper.

I still think this blade would hold up very well to hard use, but I'm not a believer in “tests” like batoning folders, prying, and other things that generally qualify as abuse. Of course, the blade isn't the only important part of a knife. What about the handle, you ask?

We'll discuss that tomorrow.

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