The ubiquitous Swiss Army Knives (SAKs), with their signature red scales, are recognizable the world over. They were something I always lusted after when I was a kid. Nowadays, I have several.
There are so many variations available, both in size and tool configuration, that nearly anyone can find something that will suit their needs. The Victorinox Compact is one that works for me. Scissors are a must have item for me, and the Compact is the thinnest of the 91mm SAKs that has a pair. The rest of its toolset lends itself well to an urban setting. After a quick overview, I’ll highlight a few of the features that set the Compact apart from the rest of the Victorinox catalog.
The full list of tools on the compact is as follows:
– Single blade with a sharpened length of roughly 2 ⅜” – I’ll touch more on the blade steel later;
– A pair of spring loaded scissors;
– “Combo Tool” that combines the usually separate Bottle Opener and Can Opener into one. The tool also features a wire stripper and flathead screwdriver;
– A “Parcel Hook” is located on the back of the knife also features a pebbled-texture nail file on its spine;
– A corkscrew, which also houses a removable flathead mini-screwdriver; and
– The Compact also sports Victorinox’s “Plus Scales”, which contain a small straight pin and a ball point pen, in addition to the standard toothpick and tweezers.
Compared to some models, the tool list of the Compact appears somewhat sparse. The beauty of this model is how smartly they have been able to include as many features as they have.
For some, including me, the Compact is not the most pocket friendly. Without any pocket clip for retention, the knife tends to come to a rest horizontally in my pocket, feeling bulky despite being only 2 layers thick. Of course, for those of you who regularly pocket a Buck 110, this might not be a problem. I chose to carry the Compact in a belt sheath.
Here is one area where SAK’s have trouble competing with many modern designs. The red cellidor (plastic) scales for which they are so well known, are not exactly grippy. They can be downright slippery when wet. Combined with the fact that the Compact’s blade is not secured by any locking device, an extra degree of caution can be required in certain circumstances.
That aside, the knife is comfortable to use. Those smooth scales pay their dividends here. The only hotspots in use came from some of the tools that stick out, a necessary evil when it comes to multitools. All of the tools are easily accessible, although the parcel hook is slightly harder to get at than the others.
One of the things that drew me to the Compact was the Combo Tool. Unlike most SAKs which have a separate bottle opener and can opener, these functions are combined into a single item on the Compact. The question of course, is how well it performs. Would this be a case where a 2-in-1 tool fails to do either of its functions very well?
The Combo Tool opens bottles well enough, but it has no sharpened edge on it, so I was unsure of how it would cope with opening a can. Unlike the standard Victorinox opener, where you cut “forward” around the can, the Combo Tool works by cutting “backwards” around the edge, akin to the tool found on the Wenger brand SAKs. I find this type easier to use, so with that in mind, I grabbed some cans of chili and set to it.
If your technique is good, the standard Victorinox opener produces a fairly clean cut edge. The Combo Tool’s edge is a bit more jagged, but it is much easier to use, requiring less time and effort to open the can. The Wenger openers, however, win handily for me, producing a cleaner edge, and requiring the least effort to use. The Combo Tool just can not match the sharpened edge of the Wenger. The internet forum chatter suggests that squaring off the edges of the tool with a sharpening stone will make it much more effective.
The screwdriver portion of the tool works well enough. There is a strong detent when the tool is opened halfway, allowing you to use it in this, or the fully opened position. The shape of the tip is versatile. I was able to use the corner of it to loosen a few Phillips head screws, although it was not the best at this. The highly polished edges of the screwdriver did, regrettably, introduce some slip at times when I was applying a lot of pressure.
This brings me to a pet peeve that I have regarding SAKs. All of the tools are polished to a mirror finish, and although this makes for a more attractive product, it has the adverse effect of rounding off the edges of the tools. This effects the usability of some of them, the Combo Tool for one, but the screwdrivers especially. Victorinox would be better off following the example of rival multitool maker Leatherman, by providing the user with a more squared off tool.
The reason I’ve lumped these two tools together relates to the way in which I personally use them. I frequently press my SAKs into service as an impromptu grooming tool. As such, a pair of scissors and a nail file are required.
Luckily, the Compact has a nail file engraved onto the back spine of the parcel hook. The best I can say about it, is that it is better than nothing. It is usable, but its narrow width does make it trickier than a standalone file.
The scissors, on the other hand, are excellent. Their larger than average size make them excellent for pruning errant facial hair and trimming fingernails. They open very wide as well, so should you ever need to resharpen them, it will be an easy task.
Of the items that I carry everyday, the only items that I use more than my knife are my smartphone, and the pen I carry. The Compact provides a handy backup–a small ballpoint cartridge measuring roughly 70mm long.
It writes well but it’s diminutive nature precludes it from being comfortable in prolonged use. On the plus side, the cartridge is pressurized, allowing it to write at any angle, including upside-down, without the ink ceasing to flow.
Now onto the meat of any knife review, the blade itself. Not knowing what type of steel it was comprised of, I checked the Victorinox website’s FAQ section. Here is what it had to say.
All Victorinox knives are high carbon, stainless, first grade, A-quality stainless steel, x 50 CrMo. They are tempered to a 55-56 HRC hardness for optimum edge retention.
I asked Jeeves about X50CrMo steel and found some information on this page.
Victorinox, makers [of] Swiss Army Knives, uses X50CrMO steel. This steel is comparable to 440A Stainless in almost every aspect. Obviously 440A and comparable type steel are ideal for everyday use in pocket knives; despite those who declare it an unsuitable blade steel.
Some of us may disagree with that last sentence, but the point is taken. Given it’s plebeian metallurgy, I was not expecting the blade to fare very well at the cutting tests.
One advantage of the relatively soft steel is that achieving a razor sharp edge is nearly effortless. After touching up the edge on my Spyderco Sharpmaker, the thin, flat ground blade breezed through newsprint as though it wasn’t even there.
Like Chris Dumm in his review of the Case Trapper, I was blown away by the results of this humble blade on cardboard. This little guy just wouldn’t quit. I finally called it after 225 linear feet of the corrugated stuff. At this point it was finally starting to struggle enough to stop the test. The edge was toast by this point; I couldn’t even cut copier paper without it ripping, and going through some paracord produced a very ragged cut.
I don’t really know what to make of that result. It certainly performed far longer than it had any right to do. Was I able to get the edge that much sharper due to its softness? Was the cardboard I used less abrasive than normal? I have experienced SAKs losing their edge much more quickly in the past, and I know it won’t hold up as well to harder activities such as whittling hardwood, but as of right now, the Victorinox Compact has cut more cardboard than any other knife I have tested.
Ease of Sharpening
The softer steel again provided an advantage when it came time to resharpen after the cardboard test. In less than two minutes on the Sharpmaker, the edge was once again fit to shave with. This makes a lot of sense for a company that caters more to the mainstream market, rather than to us enthusiasts, especially the steel snobs among us. Victorinox’s product is much more usable for their intended buyer as a result.
As we all know, any multitool is an exercise in compromise. They will never be as good as a toolbox full of dedicated tools, but for most of the time, we just need good enough.
How well does the Compact do in this regard? By cramming so many items into this slim package, the compromise doesn’t always pay off, mainly with the nail file on the parcel hook. Others I would call successful, i.e. the Combo Tool. As with all Victorinox products, the Compact is solid, the fit and finish is good, and the steel may just be better than you think!
Weight: 2.25 oz.
Blade Length (tip to scale): 2.67″
Sharpened Length: 2.375″
Blade Thickness: 0.08″
Handle Length: 3.59″
Handle Thickness: 0.58″