Knife Review: Boker+ Federal

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The Boker+ Federal looks like no other knife you’ve ever carried. Despite its Battlestar Galactica appearance, it’s not a design study or a movie prop. It’s a (reasonably) practical and functional knife which performs better than I’d expected for such an exotic design.

It’s got some ergonomic flaws that will probably keep it from having a warm place in your pocket, but that’s not to say it couldn’t have a place in your collection. 

History

The Boker+ Federal is all about futuristic design. Insane strength is also there, built into a titanium frame and thick blade, but use is secondary to looks; if Dave Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Commander Shepard from Mass Effect carried a folding knife, it would look like this.

Image: GTC Knives

The Boker+ Federal is a licensed and affordable interpretation of this Federal H/C from custom knifemaker Gustavo T. Cecchini. The Boker+ Federal collaboration carries through with the same design language of the custom Federal H/C, with some notable changes. The carbon fiber inlays are shaped differently, the proprietary fasteners are replaced by simple Torx screws, and the custom’s S35VN blade is swapped out for everyday 440C.

There’s a reason for these changes: the custom Federal H/C sells for about $3,000 if you can find it, and the Boker+ collaboration gives you the same feel and design at a 95% discount. You already know I’m not made out of money, but I should be clear that it’s the Boker+ version I’m reviewing, and not the GTC custom. Even so, the $150 price tag is fairly steep for a Chinese-made knife.

I’m puzzled why Boker doesn’t just make this knife in Solingen and charge an extra hundred bucks for it. German labor is expensive, but those German Messerschmitts are also incredibly productive. And their stuff sells for a premium, because (excluding Audis) you know that German manufactured goods will go like stink and last a long time.

A $250 Solingen Boker Federal would be much more collectible than a $150 Chinese Boker+ Federal, and would have a higher profit margin to boot. It might not be any better-made, however, since the Chinese factory really does a pretty good job here…

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

Fit And Finish

When the Federal is closed, your eye sees nothing but cold geometry. Your hand feels nothing but cool titanium. It’s not until you press the flipper and the prybar-thick blade swings open that you see any organic curvature. The slightly recurved, shallow hollow-ground drop point blade is the only mimicry of a living form that this coldly space-age tool betrays.

It’s all put together in a very slick and polished package. The titanium is cut and beveled very smoothly, which is no mean feat since the stuff is damned difficult to work with. The Ti is all finished in a uniform matte that has so far resisted any scratches.

The real carbon fiber inlays might not serve any functional purpose, but they are inlaid into the titanium just about perfectly. They’re not too deep or too tall, and there are no carbon fiber splinters to ruin your day.

There are a few minor imperfections, and the most noticeable is that the two edge grinds are not quite even. You can’t tell by looking at just one side of the blade, but one of the grinds  continues about 3mm further down the blade than the other.

The blade is perfectly centered in the frame as long as the pivot screw is properly tight. After all the cutting tests it loosened up, and the blade began to rub on the side opposite the frame lock. Boker is kind enough to supply a proper-size Torx driver, which is all you’ll ever need for tightening or complete disassembly.

Features

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

Hidden within the Boker+ Federal is a delightfully smooth pivot mechanism. Instead of oiled brass or Teflon-coated nylon washers, the Boker+ Federal pivot is built around a pair of exquisitely precise ball-bearing cages. This is how you can flip open a 1/5″ thick blade that weighs almost a quarter of a pound with just a flip of your index finger. These captive bearings are pricey, but they do their job well and in this respect the Federal gives you what you pay for.

The frame lock jams the blade open with a reassuringly brawny slab of honest-to-Pete Titanium. A nice feature of a frame-lock like this is that the harder you squeeze it, the stronger it locks up. Safety is a given, but the Boker+ Federal’s lock presents two practical difficulties.

The first is closure. The Boker+ Federal opens reliably and firmly, even though the heavy blade takes a bit more effort (and a bit longer to swing open) than most Kershaw fans will be accustomed to. Once it’s open, the frame lock is so strong that it’s nearly impossible to close one-handed. You can change your grip and pry open the locking bar and press the blade against your leg, but this isn’t truly one-handed.

The second is wear. Titanium is strong, nearly to the point of unbreakability, but it’s not terribly hard. When it rubs against harder steel, it slowly wears down. This is what happens at the contact points of the frame-lock. The engagement surface of the blade is always smeared with a tiny bit of gray titanium which has rubbed off the lock bar; when you clean it off, it just rubs some more on as soon as you open and close the knife a few times.

The photo above shows how deeply the lock tang already engages the blade, and this knife  is barely two months old. I’m concerned that with lengthy use, this wear may continue until the blade always wiggles when open. Because the lock bar is integral to the knife frame, there will be no simple way to repair or adjust the knife so I’m hoping this problem never materializes.

Comfort

Despite its angularity, the Boker+ Federal is more comfortable than it looks. Ordinary cutting tasks are a snap, but the hard-edged grips make this a painful knife for heavy cutting jobs. The frame and blade can handle about anything, but your hand won’t last long trying to saw through rope or chop through branches.

Carry

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The Boker+ Federal’s retractable carry clip is a nifty idea: it adds nothing to the knife’s weight or thickness, and it’s the most secure and discreet deep-carry clip I’ve ever used. If  it bends open too far, you can even remove the clip hook and bend it back tight again. It works amazingly well…

…right up until you try to draw the knife. The titanium lever functions as a very stiff clip spring, and that clip grips your pants pocket like the jaws of a pit bull. The knife is incredibly secure in your pocket, but getting it out of there is either a slow operation or a two-handed one. Or both.

Blade

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The Boker+ Federal has a 3.25″ long, 1.125″ deep drop-point blade with a slight recurve and a shallow hollow grind. The blade is a massive 0.2 inches thick, which is thicker than many 5″-6″ fixed-blade knives. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Boker+ Federal uses satin 440C stainless in the blade, instead of the unobtainium S35VN used in the original GTC custom.

I didn’t expect much in the way of performance from 440C, but as you’ll see from the test results, Boker does pretty well with such an ordinary stainless steel. It came from the factory pleasantly sharp, and got much sharper with a few minutes on the ceramics and the strop.

The drop-point blade is the knife’s only concession to organic forms, and the width of the blade and slight recurve give it more belly than most blades of similar length. The thickness of the blade require extra effort when cutting through cardboard and honeydew melons, because it has to wedge the material open so far after cutting it.

Cutting Tests

3/4″ manila rope:  Very few short, plain-edged blades do a good job of cutting tough rope neatly, and the Boker+ Federal isn’t one of them. Sawing with the blade parted it cleanly, but only after about a dozen strokes. Attempting to pull the blade through a loop of rope in a single pass was unsuccessful, and also uncomfortable in the extreme. The slab-sided frame just doesn’t have the ergos for tough cutting jobs like that. Grade: C.

Newsprint: The Boker+ Federal took a very nice edge from the Sharpmaker, and it didn’t have much trouble slicing through hanging newsprint. It had no luck on the Shotgun News newsprint. Grade: B+.

Cardboard: Boker does a good job with this 440C, because the blade didn’t dull until it had sliced through just over 100 linear feet of box cardboard. This is among the best edge retention of any any knife that we’ve tested so far.

The blade took no gross visible damage, but the previously mirror-polished edge became visibly roughened. It made a raspy sound when you gently dragged a fingernail down the edge, which showed that on a microscopic level it took a real beating.

Because of the extreme thickness of the blade, it took a lot of extra effort to slice cardboard, and the blade got very warm to the touch. Nonetheless, it still gets a solid Grade A for edge retention.

Overall cutting performance:a solid B. Rope cutting is the bane of most small knives, and I don’t hold it against them.

Ease Of Sharpening

Putting a good sharp edge on the Federal’s 440C stainless was absurdly easy. After I’d roughed up the blade with 100 feet of cardboard, it only took about 20 strokes on the fine Sharpmaker ceramic flats to tune it back up. This combination of edge retention and ease of re-sharpening is a beautiful, joyous thing.

After the strain and exhaustion of sharpening S35VN and Paul Bos 420HC, I find myself inordinately fold of plain old 440C, 8Cr14MoV and AUS 8.

Durability

I cannot contemplate anything on this knife ever simply ‘breaking.’ Titanium doesn’t break under normal Terrestrial conditions, and neither do knife blades the thickness of pry bars unless you’re really really trying to break them.

I do worry that the lock bar could wear down over time until the blade wobbles, but that’s a long-term issue that won’t show up for a while if ever.

Favorite Feature

The sci-fi looks.

Least-Favorite Feature

The unusable pocket clip and the lack of one-handed closing.

Conclusion

This knife has exclusive design and (some) premium materials which may justify its price. The frame is sturdy and the blade performs well, but it’s not a useful EDC knife because it’s too hard to draw and to close. Despite all that it still manages to work reasonably well for ordinary tasks, and it looks so cool that even non-knife guys are curious about it.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Frame-lock flipper folding knife.
Blade style: shallow hollow ground drop-point with slight recurve.
Blade dimensions: 3.25″ by 1.125″ by 0.2″.
Steel: 440C stainless, HRC unspecified.
Frame: Titanium with carbon fiber inlays.
Clip: Right-side, tip-up retractible pocket clip.
Closed Length: 4.625″.
Overall length: 7.875″.
Weight: 4.9 ounces.
Price: $230 MSRP, $150 street
Origin: China

Manufacturer’s Link Here

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Styling: * * * * *
The future is back! Stencil an N7 on it and you’re off to defeat the Reapers.

Blade: * * * 1/2
Unbreakable, sharp and easy to re-sharpen. 440C can still get the job done.

Ergonomics: * * 
Beautiful but heartless, with a poor pocket clip, no one-handed closing, and a painful grip for heavy cutting tasks.

Ruggedness/Durability * * * * 1/2
The lock bar might wear down over time. Or might not. Other than that it’s bombproof.

Overall Rating: * * * 1/2
Not an EDC, but not a bad knife in most other respects. If you buy it, it will be for the styling.

 

 

comments

  1. duroSIG556R says:

    Nice review. It’s kind of like praise, and disappointment. I appreciate the honesty.

  2. janitor says:

    i refuse to pay more than MAYBE 40 bucks for a 440 knife….sorry boker.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Knife Review: Boker+ Federal

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email