This Front Flipper Pocket Knife is Small and Weird and Good for Carrying to the Office
I’m not used to reviewing gentleman folders, but this thing is cool. I’ve always appreciated Sam Abderahman’s designs from afar, but he’s a custom maker which means that his knives have always kept me at a distance with custom knife prices.
The problem is I’m not at all used to talking about front flippers with milled pocket clips and a shallow carry. There are a lot of things that both Boker and Abderahman have done really well, especially in the blade and the action, but it’s an awkward position for someone who’s used to testing knives by cutting dirty hoses after digging up an irrigation ditch.
Not to say I couldn’t do that with the HEA Hunter. It has a mean edge and a comfortable handle. It just has the kind of vibe that makes me feel like I should use it exclusively for opening packages at my computer.
|Open System:||Front flipper/thumb hole|
|Blade Shape:||Clip point|
|Good, functional design that looks and feels original|
|Great, slicey blade|
|Easy in the pocket|
|Super smooth action|
|The action is a little rough out of the box|
|Very stiff frame lock|
Cool Design Stuff
This knife looks weird in a way that not everyone is going to like. It somehow manages to look simple and bordering on overdesigned at the same time. Something about the straight lines running just a little off kilter into the abrupt, clip point angle of the blade and butt creates a really interesting geometric visual.
Most of these design elements do actually have some kind of function one direction or another, though. The lines in the G-10 scales provide a bit of extra grip on an otherwise smooth handle, the curve at the butt matches up with the clip point blade (which is a world of function in its own right), the triangular shape sticking tastefully out of the top is a serviceable flipper tab, the elongated hole in the blade is a halfway decent thumb hole, and even the fuller extending out from that can be used as a nail nick.
None of those things are exactly serving that function in the most efficient way, which is weird considering this was designed by an engineer. But I appreciate the balance of looks and usefulness here.
The Production Adaptation
The Hunter started out as a limited release custom knife (like every HEA Design knife before this one). This new production run by Boker Plus is effectively the same in all elements except for a few minor details that might not be so minor for some people.
The biggest is that this is running D2 steel instead of 154CM. So this is going from a decent stainless steel to a decent carbon steel, which has implications about edge retention and corrosion resistance that I can’t confirm because I don’t have the original custom version. I would expect this Boker HEA Hunter to stay sharp longer and rust quicker, though, like anyone who’s remotely familiar with those steels would.
Continuing on with that, the lock side of the handle is stainless steel instead of titanium, which makes it a little more rust-prone and a little heavier. There are also a couple design elements missing: the Boker Hunter just has a plain milled gap in the lock bar relief area instead of three lines, and it doesn’t have the full back spacer which takes a little weight off, but makes the knife look a little less interesting than the original overall.
The major takeaway is that you’ll need to be a little more careful about keeping the production knife dry. I don’t know who Abdelrahman got to make the first run of Hunters (they apparently did a fine job), but the Boker Plus factory in China did great work with this one. I can’t compare them side by side, but Boker’s Hunter is good enough for me to say that it probably doesn’t matter that much.
The Smooth Action and My Not So Smooth Fingers
The action on this actually felt kind of gritty when I first started using it. It smoothed out the more I opened it, and now the action feels great. I don’t know if something just got into ball bearings in the factory or on the way to my house, but it seems to be gone now.
I only mention this as a warning to anyone else who orders this. If it feels weird opening at first, flick it open a few times before you rush to send it back.
Of course, you’ll have to figure out how to open it first, and if you’re the type to open things one handed, that might be a more difficult task than you’re used to, at least, if you’re like me and have fat thumbs and limited experience with front flippers.
My Struggle with Front Flipping
There are two ways to open this knife: the thumb hole and the front flipper tab, and they both have their problems for me. I’ve also heard you can finger flip this, but I have yet to do that successfully on this model.
It feels like they could have used just a little more real estate on the flipper tab. Either that or given it some kind of indentation so it’s easier to get better grip and leverage on it. Between the tight grip of the detent and the awkward positioning of the flipper tab it gets pretty tricky to flick the blade out.
I’ve worked with it enough to be able to engage the flipper tab pretty easily with either my thumb or my index finger, but even after fidgeting with it for a few days I’ll get a misfire from my finger slipping or just not being able to pull at just the right angle to get the blade out. Sometimes it feels like trying to get a Bic lighter to start, only in reverse.
The thumb hole provides a simpler approach, but even there the scales don’t really slope enough to let my thumb get an easy purchase on the blade. I have to really press down into the thumb hole to get enough traction to push the blade out. That also gets a little easier after working the knife a little, but it will never feel as comfortable to open as your standard Spydie hole.
The Action is Still Great and Maybe I’m Just an Idiot
I’ve seen other people’s reviews on this knife and heard that as far as front flippers go this is actually pretty nice. Based on that I have to think that I’m just not very good with front flippers yet. God knows the danger of me being bad at something is at least as high as a knife design having a genuine problem, and since the HEA Hunter is already established as a well-loved design among front-flipping aficionados, this is probably the part where I need to say that maybe my fingers are too fat and short to appreciate this design fully.
I’ll admit, though, that when I successfully flip it open, this knife feels fantastic. The pivot feels smooth as silk and I can feel and hear the lock up engage in a very satisfying way. This is a solid little knife with very low tolerances. Everything lines up perfectly from the blade centering to the way the lock bar leans into the slightly angled bottom of the tang.
The lock bar is it’s own thing that I’ll get into later, but the HEA Hunter is very much a well thought out, and well built machine.
The Practical Blade Stuff
The blade slices incredibly well. It sailed through rope cutting and the paper test as well as anyone should expect of a flat grind on a $100 knife. Certainly better than other knives I’ve tested in the same price range.
There’s also just enough of a flat edge left under the curve to allow for a strong push cut, although I did find cutting easier in general when I made use of the curved parts of the blade.
The edge retention is pretty nice too. I had to do somewhere around 20 cuts on a thin rope before I felt any change in a paper test, and even then it wasn’t a big enough to change to call the knife dull.
So the important part of the blade has been done well, but everything else about the blade is good too. The shape gives a nice, thin point for detail work, and the line of the edge borders on a wharncliffe style that lends itself well to making strong cuts with that point. Even though the grind is fairly shallow (especially under the thumb hole) it manages to slice smoothly, and the sharpening choil is just the right size to allow for sharpening the bottom of the blade without taking up too much cutting edge.
It’s a good mix of details that all lean into what this knife is supposed to be, and it looks like Boker has handled the D2 steel well enough to get that low-cost edge retention we’ve all come to expect from it.
The Practical Handle Stuff
I like most things about this handle. It looks like it has a lot of geometry going on with it, but the design stays simple enough to stay out of its own way.
It’s thin enough to slip into the pocket easily, but thick enough to have a good full grip in the hand.
The finger groove is pretty comfortable, and the corners from the boxy shape of it provide some nice spots for finding leverage when I want to adjust my grip a little. The length of it does bother me a little, because it’s roomy enough that my index finger can slip up and down some, but not big enough to fit my index and middle finger into it to secure my grip a little more. I tend to cut with my fingers canted at an angle down the handle, though, and that usually feels pretty secure.
I haven’t felt much in the way of hotspots while using this knife. A couple of times the pocket clip has pressed into my hand, but it’s usually only uncomfortable on especially hard cuts. But overall even the pocket clip is surprisingly unobtrusive in hand.
Speaking of the Pocket Clip
It turned out to be a pleasant surprise for a couple different reasons.
One big one is that it’s very easy to put in the pocket. Most of the time I can do it one handed without even looking at the thing or having to pull my pocket tight. I figured that would mean the retention is loose, but it’s been staying in my pocket without an issue. The retention feels great, and the knife never seems to move unless I’m the one moving it.
The only possible issue with the clip is that it’s a pretty shallow carry. I would argue that’s actually an upside with this design, though, because the Hunter was made to be seen. It might be conspicuous sticking out the top of your pocket (by about half an inch), but it cuts a pretty interesting profile on the pants. That profile might not be for everyone, but I’d say that if you don’t like the way this knife looks, you wouldn’t be getting it anyway.
Let the thing flaunt itself.
That said, the butt did jab me a few times when I took a knee while working in the yard. It was nothing too intrusive, but basically if you try to bring your knee up too high with the Hunter in your pocket, it’ll make itself felt. But, again, this knife was made almost as much for showing as for using. I don’t think it’s meant for situations where you might be crouching and climbing a lot. It rides just fine as long you’re walking and standing like a normal, civilized human being. Just don’t try to do lunges with the Hunter in your pocket.
The Very Safe Frame Lock
My last gripe with this knife is that that frame lock is either thicker or stiffer than it needs to be. That feels weird to say, because I’m always for strong frame locks, but this one takes a bit of grit to close, to the point that it actually hurts my thumb to do it.
I think that’s mostly because of how thick it is, because the lock bar relief is pretty generously sized. Either that, or it’s just from how difficult it is for me to keep traction on it.
They’ve chamfered the inside of the lock bar to make it more comfortable, but the outside is still smooth. As much as I hate to suggest anything that might create a hotspot, I kind of wish that added some kind of jimping-like texture to give the thumb a little more purchase for pushing the lock to the side.
As it is, I’ve actually started flipping the knife around and disengaging the lock with my index finger. It’s a lot easier that way because my index finger can actually fit down into the handle enough to get a comfortable grip from pulling the lock bar to the side, but it feels like a lot of extra steps before I get the knife back in my pocket.
Comparison and Alternatives
It says a lot about the knife for me to say that I don’t have a recommendation that’s close to being like the Hunter. I’ve reviewed small knives, and I’ve reviewed a lot of D2 steel knives, but I’ve never tested anything quite like this thing.
I’d say if you’re looking for a small, dressy folder in D2 steel, The Ohta Knives FK5 is the best alternative I’ve handled. The simple, rustic styling is completely opposite to the Hunter, but the profile of the cutting edges is similar, and it’s something you could carry around cities without causing a fuss.
If it’s a folder with a clip point blade that you want, I’d point you toward the Off Grid Caiman. Again, it’s not the same in terms of style and function. The Caiman is much more of an outdoors-y, high precision beater knife where the Hunter is a high-functioning office companion, but you get the same kind of severe tip and a mean edge.
The Vosteed Nightshade is a super slicey, but slightly more expensive alternative to the Hunter.
This is a good knife that looks neat. If that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, the HEA Hunter is a perfectly respectable knife to pick up. If you don’t absolutely love the way it looks, though, it’s worth looking around for other stuff in this price range.
This design does a lot of things well when I just look at it as an EDC knife. It cuts well, the blade shape is handy, the handle is comfortable for the size, it locks up tight, and it feels pretty great in the pocket even considering how shallow it carries. The only thing I can reasonably criticize (barring my own problems with front flippers in general) is how aggressive the frame lock is.
The look of the HEA Hunter sets it in a slightly different category from EDC or even gentleman carry, though. It’s arguably dressy, but it really feels like a collector’s knife. Carrying this thing makes me feel a little bit nerdy, and by extension that makes the knife feel somehow less threatening and more of a conversation piece.
So I would recommend it on two conditions: you need a good, small knife for carrying around town and to the office, and you just happen to be one of those people who connects with the look. Overall we liked the knife enough to give it a 2021 Drunken Hillbilly Knife Award.