The Balisong Collector Reviews The Microtech Tachyon
A Tachyon is a theoretical subatomic particle that travels faster than light. It's also a new balisong from famous knife manufacturer Microtech.
Microtech is perhaps best known for its exceptionally high-quality automatic knives (switchblades) such as the legendary Microtech Halo which set the industry standard for out-the-front automatic knives. Recently, Microtech raised the bar in out-the-front knives again with their new Ultratech.
Microtech has teamed up with cutlery industry impresario Mike Turber of Wow Inc. to create this exceptional new balisong knife.
When I heard that Microtech was going to produce a balisong, I was delighted. (I've secretly been a Halo fan for a long time.) I knew that a Microtech balisong would be:
So, how did I do in my predictions?
Four out of five is pretty good.
Yes, Tachyon is expensive. It's almost twice the price of a Benchmade 42, 43, or 47.
Yes, Tachyon is unlike anything else. It definitely begins with the balisong framework, a blade, two handles that counter-rotate around the tang, and a latch, but the design and construction of Tachyon are all new.
Yes, Tachyon is exciting. Everywhere you look on this knife, you can find something visually exciting. And for the balisong artist, Tachyon's exceptionally smooth action makes manipulation a new experience.
Yes, Tachyon is the highest quality. As I've handled and worked with mine, I've really come to appreciate how well-made this knife is. It every bit deserves the same logo as such legendary knives as the Halo. The term "Swiss watch" just keeps coming to my mind.
But, was Tachyon late? Yes, it was, but not very, very late. Ultratech was promised about eighteen months ago and just recently started shipping in very limited quantities. I finally got to see one just a few weeks ago. Tachyon was promised in September and actually shipped in November. That's really quite good.
Let's take a look:
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The handles on Benchmade's 42, 43, and 47 are cast out of solid titanium. Some post-machining is done; the holes for the pins and latch, for example, are drilled since casting can't make perfectly round holes. Then the blade and latch are added with screw pins, what machinists commonly call "Chicago Screws."
Monarch from Roton USA, and the Benchmade 49 have solid handles CNC machined out of solid bar stock. Blades and latches are then added either with Chicago Screw pins on the 49 or solid, press-fit pins on Monarch.
Filipino handmade balisongs often use what I call "U-channel" construction. The maker starts with pieces of sheet metal, often brass, and bends it into long, U-shaped channels. These form the structural base of the handles. The other pieces of metal, often brass, called "bolsters," are added at both ends to reinforce the handle where the blade and latch pins go through. Finally other pieces, often metal, wood, ivory, horn, or shell, are added to the outside of the channel to decorate, to give width, and to give a better grip surface.
Tachyon uses yet another construction technique. It's sometimes called "sandwich construction." It's not entirely new. Some Filipino makers have used it for decades. Frost and Parker both used it for balisongs they made in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. And some custom makers have used and still use it today. It's less common because, in some ways, it's more demanding.
For cast and machined handles, each handle really has only one major piece. Oh, yes, once you've made the handle, you have to add the latch and the pins, but that's not to difficult. Casting requires expensive, dangerous equipment and an initial investment in a mould. Machining requires expensive, complex equipment. And, even with today's high-speed machines, it's still a slow process that limits mass-production potential.
U-Channel is easier in many ways since you don't need expensive metal casting or machining equipment. In fact, many Filipino makers make fine U-channel balisongs with no power tools at all. But, U-Channel does require that the typically four bolsters fit properly. Fortunately, each bolster is independent. So, you can just file and adjust each one separately until each fits into its place.
For a sandwich-style balisong, requires at least four pieces in addition to any latch and those four pieces have to fit together perfectly.
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In this picture, you can see three of the four pieces that make up a sandwich handle. There are two bars that run down each side and then a spacer in between them at the end. The fourth piece is another spacer at the other end. Tachyon integrates the fourth spacer with the blade pivot pin. In this picture, you can also see that the spacer is held from each side by three screws, six screws total in each handle. You can also see that the latch is held by a Chicago-screw-style pin. If you want to, you can remove this pin and remove the latch. Both handles have holes for the latch. So, the owner can install the latch in either the Batangas or the Manila configuration or leave the latch off. Of course, to do so the owner will need a T6 Torx screw driver. T10 is the smallest Torx driver that's commonly available. You're probably going to have to go to a specialty tool store to find a T6.
If you decide to swap your latch, you should apply a very small drop of a thread locking adhesive such as Loctite because there have recently been reports of latch screws falling out of Tachyons. Just be careful to use a removable thread-locking adhesive. For more information about thread locking adhesives, click on this icon.
This mean that swapping the latch is not something you should plan on doing every day. I suspect that frequent swapping will probably lead to either loss of the screw or buildup of the adhesive. So, pick the configuration you want and "stick: with it. (I know, very punny.)
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In these pictures, you can also see the detents on both sides of both handles and how the latch fits into these detents. Tachyon locks up nicely both open and closed and yet it's easy to unlock either way too. Because of the detents, it's not necessary for the latch to be supper tight. So, it's easier to operate. You don't need a strong grip to compress the handles together to latch or unlatch Tachyon and yet it stays latched even in aggressive handling. This should also reduce the long-term problem of tang-pin deformation seen on many balisongs. On the other hand, I can already see some wear on mine where the latch goes over "the hump" going into that detent. I suspect that this will be the wear spot on Tachyon.
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Tachyon uses a double-tang pin system to lock the blade both open and closed. As you can see, there are pin pockets in both sides of Tachyon's Titanium handles.
Tachyon is just full of wonderful little details. If you look very closely at the base of the tang pins, you can see black circles. That's not just some trick of lighting. The holes are chamfered.
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I suspect that this was done to help with the press-fitting operation. But, I think it also speaks to extra care taken in the manufacturing process. It certainly looks cool, I think.
In this picture, you can see the Torx screws for adjusting the blade tension. Those are T10 Torx screws. You're supposed to be able to adjust them. So far, I've been unable to get mine to budge. (Fortunately, my Tachyon came right out of the box perfectly adjusted.)
According to the warranty card included with the knife, "Micro Technology will not warrant products due to loss, damage caused by..., or disassembly." But, Mr. Turber has recently clarified the policy. Tachyon owners are free to disassemble their Tachyons without voiding the warranty provided that they use good Torx drivers and are careful not to not to strip or cross-thread screws. Again, a very small drop of a removable thread-locking adhesive is probably a good idea and that means that frequent disassembly is probably not a good idea.
And, in this picture, you can also see another of Tachyon's touches, the Phosphorus Bronze washers. They look almost gold in color. Phosphorus Bronze is actually a "self-lubricating" metal. No, it doesn't have oil built into it somehow. It's just naturally a very slippery surface. I have not yet applied any lubricant to my Tachyon and it works quite smoothly. I'm actually quite excited to see just how a little bit of Militec-1 will do on it.
In my collection, you can see some of the oldest known balisong knives. And the handles always seem to have some bit of decoration on them. Skeleton holes first appeared, as far as I know, on Bali-Song Cutlery balisongs in the 1970s and have been widely copied ever since. The original purpose was just to reduce the weight of solid brass and stainless steel handles. They also allow the knife to dry out thoroughly if it gets wet and they give a good grip surface. Microtech is not known for me-too designs. So, it's not surprising that they came up with a new handle pattern design for Tachyon.
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My only reservation about Tachyon comes right here. Because of this pattern, the handle material gets just a little bit thin in a couple of places. For years, Bear balisongs have suffered from handles breaking because the skeleton pattern comes to close to the edge and the handles get to thin. But, Bear's handles are made of cast Zamak. Tachyon is made of machined Titanium. Time will tell.
Tachyon's stylish blade is made of 154CM Stainless steel. This is a very well-respected blade steel.
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The blade geometry is a good compromise between utility and combative applications. The swedge is quite thick and not suitable for sharpening. I love the choil at the base of the edge; that'll make sharpening easy.
With it's titanium handles, Tachyon tips the scales at 4.25 ounces, exactly the same as a BM42, and they certainly feel the same weight.
Tachyon is a bit shorter than the BM42/43/47. Overall, closed, a BM is 5.4 inches. Tachyon is 4.9 inches. Tachyon's slightly shorter overall length makes it just a little bit more "pocketable" than Benchmade's 4x Bali-Songs. Closed, the width of the two is virtually the same. Thickness is virtually the same too.
The shorter overall length foretells a shorter blade. From its choil to tip, the length of the blade on a BM43 is approximately 3.7 inches. Measured similarly, Tachyon's blade is about 3.2 inches, about a half inch shorter. Measured from the end of the handle to the tip, the BM43's blade is 4.3 inches. Tachyon is about 3.8 inches. In many areas, the length limitation for folding pocket knives is 4 inches. Depending on how you measure it, the Benchmade blade may or may not squeak under that bar. But, Tachyon's blade clears either way.
Of course, the two-hundred-dollar question is this: is Tachyon worth $200? It's not hard to find Benchmade's fine Bali-Songs, models 42, 43, and 47 in all of their variants, for about $110. (Please do not e-mail me asking me where. I don't keep track of who's got the best deal day-to-day.) Right now, Tachyon is only available from Wow Inc. (http://www.wowinc.com) and the price is $199.99, almost twice the price of the Benchmade Bali-Song. Furthermore, they've already announced a price hike for 2002.
In all fairness, if you go to Benchmade's website (http://www.benchmade.com) and order a BM42, you will pay $170, just $30 less than Tachyon. That is Benchmade's full, suggested retail price for the BM42. Cheaper prices for Benchmade knives can be found because of dealer competition. Right now, there is no competition for Tachyon. However, that will be changing shortly as dealers begin carrying Tachyon.
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Notice that each Tachyon is individually serial numbered. The numbers started at 0101. The one shown here is 0102 and is the first production Tachyon actually sold. (0101 was retained by Mr. Turber for his personal collection.) Low numbers always carry a special cachet among collectors. Microtech knives carry an additional little mark that collectors look for, their "birthday." The one shown here was made in the eleventh month (November) of 2001. Early dates are often seen as more valuable by collectors. So, right now, collectors are eagerly paying the full retail price for these early, low-numbered Tachyons.
Tachyon is a very nice knife. It's exceptionally well-made and I really, really like the styling. I also like the size. For me, the answer is yes. Tachyon is worth $200 and it'll be an even better buy in a few months when the price falls a little.