I hate to admit it, just hate it, but I’m a knife addict! I always have been, since I was a little kid back in Chicago. I’ve always carried some kind of folding knife in a pocket, and, to be sure, most of the kids in the neighborhood also carried pocket knives, even to school. Guess what? No one got stabbed, murdered, or expelled from school. Today, that’s a different story. In most states, it is a mandatory one year expulsion for students who have a knife at school. Instead of using good ol’ common sense and talking to the child about it or calling the parents, many administrators will simply expelled a kid for a year, placing them behind in their studies. Don’t even get me started on the Pop Tart pastry that was supposedly chewed into the shape of a pistol. I’ve studied the photos, and I can’t make that Pop Tart look like a handgun no matter how hard I might try.
I think what many people tend to forget is that a knife is a tool, first and foremost. It accomplishes certain tasks better than other similar tools. The first task that comes to my mind is cutting. While there are other tools designed for cutting, nothing beats a knife in-hand for cutting chores that require immediate attention. A knife can also be used for hunting– dressing out game plus as a weapon of last resort. However, I wouldn’t really want to bring a knife to a gunfight. I believe that most knives are used probably 90-95% of the time as a cutting tool and nothing more. Still, if you watch Hollywood movies, you’ll get the impression that a knife is second in deadliness only to a nuclear bomb. We have so much to “thank” Hollywood for, don’t we?
I go ’round and ’round with the manager at the gun shop I haunt on the quality of knives. He just doesn’t much care for knives made in Taiwan or China for some reason, and it’s not a political thing with him either. As I’ve outlined before, in my knife articles, you get as good a knife as you want from overseas, or you get one as cheaply made as you want. It depends on the company producing the knives and the price point; it’s as simple as that. I don’t especially enjoy supporting the Red Chinese government by purchasing products made in China. However, on the other hand, those jobs in China also support jobs here in the USA as well.
Zero Tolerance  is a division of Kershaw Knives in the Portland, OR area, which is my neck of the woods. I actually live about a hundred miles south and east of Portland, out in the boonies. However, every couple of years, I work my up to the Portland and surrounding areas to tour some of the knife companies in the area, since the Pacific Northwest has rapidly become the knife-making capitol of the USA, if not actually manufacturing the knives, also importing them. People are amazed when I tell them about all the knife companies we have in this area.
I was touring the Kershaw Knives plant one day, when I was shown the new Zero Tolerance line of battle hardy folding and fixed blade knives they were coming out with under the ZT banner. To be sure, these knives are designed for hard use, by military and law enforcement, and of course anyone else can also purchase these knives. Still, the major idea behind ZT Knives is brutally strong knives that can take all the abuse you can give them and continue to function as designed. It was several months before the ZT line came out that I had to sit on pictures of the prototype knives I snapped during my tour of the Kershaw plant, and it was hard. However, I believe I was the first writer to report on the ZT line-up for knives. Since that time, I’ve also been sworn to secrecy, by ZT, when I was shown some more of their new designs, while touring the plant.
One of the things I look for in any knife design is how well it is manufactured and how well it fits in my hand. I look at the knife steel and how well it holds an edge and how easy it is to re-sharpen after use. Look, if a knife isn’t sharp, it is a dangerous knife, as you have to exert more pressure to do any cutting, leaving the chance of your hand slipping and getting cut on the blade. A knife must be sharp or it is of no use to me, period! I also look at the intended purpose of any knife. Is it meant as a daily pocket knife for light cutting chores or designed like a tank for serious tasks? Also, if the knife simply doesn’t feel right in my hand, I don’t have a use for it.
Enter the Zero Tolerance Model 180, designed by custom knife maker Rick Hinderer and based on his custom FieldTac fixed blade knife. The ZT 180 comes with a Vanadis 4 Extra powder metallurgical cold worked steel. We are talking next to bullet proof, if you ask me. It’s super tough steel. The steel is designed for hard use and to resist chipping, which is something a lot of lesser blade steels tend to do, because if you do any chopping their edge will easily chip. The blade also has the DLC coating that is non-reflective and helps resist the elements even more than just the bare steel does.
Handle scales on the ZT 180 is black G10, which is some of the best material for hard use knife handles, and it is nicely textured for a sure hold under all weather conditions, too. We also have heavy and course “friction” grooves on the rear of the blade and near the front of the handle scales, so you can really get a great hold on this knife. The handle is nicely sculptured with a finger groove on the bottom of the handle scales, and it is down swept at the back of the handle on the bottom with a lanyard hole. The blade is 4.2 inches long, which is a good size for many cutting chores and tasks. While I like a longer blade for combat use, I’ve found that a blade in the 4-inch length will take care of most of my cutting chores. Overall, the ZT 180 is 9.2 inches long. There is also a nice lined ballistic nylon sheath that comes with the ZT 180, and it is designed for tip down carry (only). There is also a pocket on the front of the sheath, for carrying a sharpening stone or perhaps a multi-tool or fire starter. I’d personally carry all three– a small sharpening stone, multi-tool, and fire starter. It’s a large pocket!
We also have just enough of a finger guard on the lower front portion of the handle to prevent the finger from sliding onto the blade, causing some serious injury, when using the knife in the fencing grip, which is probably the most common grip most people take when holding a knife. That’s nice! The knife weighs in at a hefty 8.7 ounces. It is brutally strong, to be sure. This is the sharpened crow bar. It will do anything you ask of it and then some, and then it’ll do some more. Needless to say, the ZT 180 came shaving sharp out of the box, and during several weeks of testing, I never once had to touch-up the edge; I love that!
I have certain criteria I use when testing knives. One is cutting hemp and poly rope. Poly rope will readily let you know if the edge isn’t sharp. I cut cardboard, a lot of cardboard. I’ve learned over the years that cardboard will really dull a knife’s edge in short order. I also slice paper as thinly as I can, and we have all manner of chores on our small homestead that require a good knife. One is the on-going fight with blackberry vines. A super sharp knife is required to keep them cut back. I also use a knife around the kitchen as well for all kinds of cutting chores, and I used the ZT 180 to baton it through some fire wood.
Honestly, I don’t know what I could do to destroy the ZT 180. I even ran it over with my truck, and it only got the knife dirty. This is one of the toughest fixed blade knives I’ve run across in a long, long time. Any druthers? Well, yes, just one. I’d like to see ZT offer this knife with a hi-rise Kydex sheath for daily carry, instead of just the ballistic nylon sheath. While it’s great for wearing in combat or out hunting/camping, I’d like to see a lighter-weight Kydex sheath that would allow me to carry the knife on my belt for everyday use.
To say I was totally blown away with the ZT 180 is putting it lightly, and, to be sure, it is made in the USA, in Oregon. Full retail pricing is $275, and, of course, that’s not cheap, but then again this is a ZT knife, and they are as close to custom-made as you can find at prices a lot less than you’d pay for a similar custom knife. Check one out at your local sporting goods or knife shop. I think you’ll find yourself wanting one, badly!
– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio