Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: Timberline Tactical ECS-4

Originally, I said that I would carry the new Timberline Tactical ECS for a few weeks. It did not work out so. I do not know if I have ever been both so impressed and disappointed in a knife, but that isn't exactly correct. It is a bit of a convoluted situation.

Getting to the negatives first, the knife came unusable as a cutting device. I do know that I've never had a knife come out of the box with a worse edge. After using my Griptilian for nearly two months, did I feel the need to get the edge back into shape. This was done in about ten minutes with a set of Lanskey Croc Sticks. After nearly 20 minutes of work with the same, the improved edge still wouldn't cut the top off a tied plastic Walmart bag. I was warned by the single review on KnifeCenter, but I didn't not take it too seriously. To be perfectly honest, my sharpening skills are poor. That is my fault, but putting edges on metal is not my job. If I wanted to redo an edge into functional status I would be making my own knives and I'd have a RK mk1 subhilt on my hip and be busy selling you guys knives verses reviewing them. I have two fixed blades with not so great edges, however both are styles that are known for this very problem. One is a small double edged spear point, Fallkniven Garm, and the other is a single edged dagger point, Boker Trench. Neither broad enough to have the deep bellies that make for great cutters. The ECS-4 possess a modified spear point making this rather inexcusable when other examples like that on the Kershaw Skyline are excellent. As a result, I did not carry this but a few times just to see how it carried.

The ECS line's featured gimmick is a locking system. By pressing a springy metal bar where your index finger rests, you release the knife from its polymer sheath. I am happy to say that this works very well and I think this is a winning idea. I am very interested to see how this might apply to larger knives. There are two caveats that I cannot bring to call full negatives. The first is that you will not be able to operate this easily in other grip that a pinch between index finger and thumb. I don't see you being able to generate the pressure in a reverse grip or round hold. That may be a deal breaker for many, but I think of this to be like the retention system of a Blackhawk Serpa. Like the Serpa, the ECS is designed to be drawn with a certain grip. Doing so otherwise is impossible. That also makes this acceptable as an open carry knife. The other is that the sheath lock is a two part deal, requiring both the sheath and knife itself to be designed to work in unison. Having to deal with the locking nub, would mean that 3rd party sheaths are going to be difficult and repairs in the field useless.

The ECS does have nice deep jimping on both the spine and the unlocking bar, but the rearward ones were pretty useless, it is too short for a reverse grip. The holes in the grip did help a bit with providing more friction, but I think G10 would have been a better choice than the slicker stock polymer. The cross style guard for this seemed a poor choice for this smaller version due to the style in which the blade must be drawn. To be more in line with that, perhaps a thumb ramp instead of the top guard and then extending the bottom guard would fare better. I found that the grip was simply too short for me. I wish I could handle the larger versions to see if the grip design is only problematic in this shorter neck knife version.

Most sheath systems are the weakest part of a knife. Otherwise we wouldn't have piles of leatherworkers and kydex folders out there making a tidy profit. However, for the ECS the sheath system is a welcome surprise and in my opinion overshadows the locking system.

The polymer sheath itself is well thought out. It is two piece held to together with several screws. A most excellent feature was included by the knife's designer Brian Fellhoelter, was the indent that keeps the knife from rattling in its ABS plastic home. The ECS is mounted either belt or molle via a harness. This harness slips in the four rectangular slots in the sheath and then hook together with alligator hook and loop catches. This ambidextrous design allows for a quick switch to left or right side. The belt loop is simple and effective and very back is a solid MOLLE connection. The MOLLE design has a snap strap that thankfully keeps those hateful MALICE clips out of the equation. The strap also will easily fold back into the harness unobtrusively for belt carry. The larger version of the ECS also include a belt/boot clip. I really wish I had one of those to try out. I really want to know if it measures up to the belt/MOLLE harness.

According to Brain Fellhoelter the ECS stands for Emergency Condiment Spreader. He also comments that it was designed to be a knife for river guides. Sadly, Timberline's production take on his custom is pretty much only good for spreading peanut butter without some initial work. Rereading his site, I wish I could try one of his custom ECS models or the larger production models to compare. Even flawed the Timberline ECS-4 shows that his concept works well. If the larger one have a proper working edge, I think they'll measure up far better.

The knife aside, I find this sheath system to be so excellent that I am tempted to make a kydex sheath with harness slots cut to use it with other knives like my Boker Trench. In fact, I think that once some folks get a hold of these sheaths that folks would buy the harness alone. With wider harnesses, this could take off like the popular Tek Lock.

UPDATE: I emailed the designer, Brain Fellhoelter, and found out that the webbing harness is based on his idea, but resigned and improved by Timberline. I also found one of the custom ECS blades for sale on Arizona Custom Knives. Notice the difference in the cross guard. This one looks more like a thumb ramp. Excellent high-vis G10 scales, too! A bit pricey for my tastes. If it were a subhilt, I'd be tempted to put this bad boy on layaway.


Dan said...

Nice review RK. I had high hopes for this one when you mentioned it a few weeks ago, it's too bad that it kind a falls short here. That sheath system looks pretty neat. The harness appears similar to the sheath on the Combative Edge SALUS, but it wasn't fully ambidextrous (well, apparently was but you really gotta screw around with it).

researching hunting knives said...

@Dan - that's an interesting assessment - I got one of these for xmas though and I have to agree - took some real fanagling.