Time for a little word association. I say a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Italy.
When I think of Italy, my mind usually goes to exotic motor vehicles. Ferrari, Ducati, Lancia, Lamborghini–all evoke thoughts of power and a unique sense of style. In Italy, style itself seems to be an industry; there are companies that exist solely by designing the exteriors of other company’s products i.e. Pininfarina, and Bertone. Everything Italian seems to have a flair for the dramatic, from the most expensive hypercars, all the way down to lowly Fiats.
Which leads me to my latest test subject, the 392/CG Starlight folding knife by Maserin.
Headquartered in Maniago, Italy’s “City of Knives,” Maserin got their start in 1960. The Starlight was designed by local designer Salvatore Puddu, and it certainly has the style thing down. The question is, can it perform when pushed hard or is this just another pampered show car. Lets take a look under the hood and find out.
The Maserin Starlight Carbon Line is a modern formal knife, aimed at the gentleman’s knife market but equally suited to the modern woman. It is available with scales of silver or black carbon fiber with flow through construction. The blade is made of AUS8 steel, roughly 3” long, and features a high flat grind. It is polished to a satin finish, and is held in place by a liner lock. The blade shape is unique and tricky to classify, but I’m going to call it a modified wharncliffe.
The most interesting part of the Starlight is the novel approach it takes to one-hand opening. There are no thumbstuds or fingerhole, not even a fingernail nick. Instead there is a small part of the blade spine, near the pivot, which is jimped. By holding the knife backwards, you must use your thumb on this section to open the blade partway. You then turn the knife around in your hand, and finish opening by using your index finger, or by flicking it the rest of the way until the lock engages.
The kind way to describe this process is “deliberate” but really it is just “slow.” While I found it cumbersome at first, I eventually got used to the motion and it became second nature. Alternately, you can open it two handed by pinching the blade near its “hump” and proceeding in the more traditional manner.
I’m fine with this type of opening method, given this knife’s target use. This is not a tactical knife after all. In a formal setting, opening the blade in a more deliberate manner is much less likely to alarm other people whose sensibilities may, or may not, be more delicate.
The pivot is adjustable with a hex wrench, and nylon washers help the knife to open smoothly. Rounding out the list of features is a deep carry clip (a must on a formal knife as far as I’m concerned) and a lanyard hole.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS / FIT & FINISH
The silver carbon fiber on this knife certainly makes a strong visual statement. It would not look out of place in a suit pocket or when pulled out of a purse. With no finger guard or thumbstuds the knife looks clean and elegant when opened, somewhat resembling a fancy letter opener. I would not want to stab with this knife, but it should do quite well in a slicing capacity.
The pivot is ornate and adds some contrasting visual flair. As far as I can tell, the part surrounding the hex wrench hole is purely decorative and does not serve a practical purpose.
On the other side, the deep carry clip is the only aesthetic letdown. I think it looks tacky, like the cheap stick-on plasti-chrome parts you find at the auto parts store that all the tuner kids put on their whips. Exactly the opposite of bespoke, Italian design; I doubt Giugiaro would approve.
On the plus side, the screws used to attach the clip to the scales are inset, which is a detail that I see overlooked far too often on deep carry clips. Thanks to that attention to detail, this knife will not get hung up on the fabric of your pocket when deploying or stowing the knife.
Speaking of attention to detail, the fit and finish of this piece is excellent. The grind lines are even and smooth, and the laser etched logo is nice and deep, with crisp, well defined edges. The machining of the carbon fiber is perfect, with nary a rough edge to be found. Blade centering when closed is near perfect, and even after our battery of tests, there is absolutely no blade play in any direction.
My description doesn’t fully get across just how well put together this knife is. Its is one of those things you can just feel when holding it. No, it is not Sebenza level refinement, but for the price I paid (roughly $80 before shiping) I don’t know if it can get any better.
Alas, as any owner of an old Alfa Romeo will tell you, not everything can be perfect. But, whereas an old Alfa Spider may leak because its top doesn’t fit properly, my quibbles with the quality on the Maserin are minor.
Firstly, the screw that secures the liner lock to the scale sticks up slightly on the inside. Secondly, and the lanyard hole has simply been drilled through the scales, exposing unfinished carbon fiber on the inner walls of the hole. These two things are only visible on close inspection, and they don’t jump out even when you know they are there, so the impact is minimal. Taken as a whole, a slam dunk by Maserin on the construction!
Sadly, attention to detail costs money, and that is likely why the Starlight uses the decidedly entry level AUS8 for its blade steel. I admit this was a turn off as steels like VG10 and 154CM are not uncommon at this price point. Even S30V has been finding its way into knives priced this low.
In hand, a full grip feels natural, but the thin scales can cause some discomfort under heavy use. The simple shape of the handle can accommodate all four of my medium-large digits and facilitates comfortable reverse grips. Pinch grips feel natural, as does choking up on the blade for fine detail work.
The carbon fiber scales are not polished to the point where they are completely glossy. Like the blade, I would call it a satin finish. There is just a whisper of texture, enough to help with your grip. Even after I dunked the knife in water, the scales were not slippery and still offered up a bit of traction. The recessed thumb jimping also helps.
The knife carries unobtrusively in the pocket. The scales are slim and the package is supperleggera! The deep carry clip doesn’t completely hide the knife but between the inset screws and the smooth scales, you won’t be wearing a hole in your slacks either.
To avoid the aesthetic drawbacks of extra holes drilled and tapped into the scales, the clip is fixed for right-side, tip-down carry only, although the southpaws actually benefit more than the right handers because of this. Since you start opening the blade with your thumb, the perfect place from which to deploy this knife is clipped in your left pocket.
Closing the blade can present some difficulties. The cutout for releasing the liner lock is almost comically small; to disengage it I had to use the very tip of my thumb. If you are used to using the pad of your thumb to disengage this type of lock, a slight adjustment in technique will be needed.
I gave it to someone with smaller fingers in order to see how they coped with the small cutout. This person couldn’t disengage the lock as they normally would and nearly cut herself after applying too much pressure to the blade, trying to force it to close. A larger cutout for the lock would not compromise the aesthetics of the knife, and the usability would be much improved if this were the case.
And now, on to the testing! The factory edge was good. It sliced through newsprint quite effectively, but I could tell that it could use a little refining. As with most knives under $100, the edge was sharp–in this case, quite sharp–but not polished as well as it could be.
Before touching up the edge, I used the opportunity to perform some cuts on ¾” manilla rope. The rougher edge is actually an advantage in this test. It took 3 solid strokes to pull through a loop of the rope. The lack of significant belly on the blade helped, allowing me to get the most out of the tip; I didn’t have to worry about the point slipping out near the end of the stroke.
This is still a test that is hard on small knives, and my hand definitely felt it. The scales had dug into my hands from the effort, leaving me with some sore red marks for a few minutes.
As with all of my knife reviews, I touched up the blade using my Spyderco Sharpmaker, following their recommended routine, in an attempt to start from the same place before cutting any cardboard. All cuts were made across the grain.
I’ve set a new personal record with this pretty Maserin. Thin, flat ground blades tend to perform well on cardboard, and this was no exception. I got my first tear after 170 linear feet, but this was a fluke caused by a weak spot in the cardboard. In the end, the Maserin Starlight cut all the way through 335 linear feet. The cuts were getting ragged and crumples and tears were starting to happen regularly enough to call it quits. This isn’t the first time I’ve been impressed by the performance of lower end steel in this test.
Throughout the test, I would have to shift my grip occasionally to keep any hotspots from building up, but the knife was not terribly uncomfortable. The blade is only slightly worse for wear. It did pick up some fine scratches from the abrasive elements in the cardboard.
I took it back to newsprint and there was still enough usable edge left to cut my local grocery store circular, but the edges of the paper were quite rough, and I had to be careful to avoid tears.
In the kitchen, the Starlight was surprisingly at home. With the flat grind, it performed just as well as any 3” paring knife would. I had no trouble at all quartering an apple and preparing a hash by dicing some red onions and fingerling potatoes.
The blade was equally adept at taking thick slices of turkey off the breast and cubing them. Just pay attention to cleaning the etched logo as food particles can get caught in there. It would make a dandy steak knife in a pinch as well.
After putting an edge back on the knife, I decided to push it a little out of its comfort zone by whittling some tent stakes. The thin scales definitely caused some discomfort, concentrated around the forefinger and thumb area. I only made six stakes, but my hand was definitely feeling fatigued. My stop cuts were not biting as deep and push cuts were harder. A steel upgrade would have paid dividends here, although I could still shave hairs if I was careful, and the edge was still ok on newsprint.
EASE OF SHARPENING
Post cardboard, it took less than two minutes with the Sharpmaker to bring the edge back to hair splitting. A little more time and the edge could truly be described as “scary sharp.” It should not be a problem for the majority of people to keep the edge keen.
If you look outside the Carbon Line, the Starlight is also available with G-10 scales but the knife loses some of its chic. No longer a shiny Maserati, but more a Fiat Panda coated in primer. The G-10 scales also push it into an arena where it competes with true working knives and the drawbacks of its design become more of a concern.
So what are the tradeoffs in exchange for Italian style? The steel works well, but the thin scales negate use as a heavy duty tool. The opening method is complicated, and the liner lock requires care to close. The above points would be inexcusable on a tactical knife, but for a formal, lighter duty knife, they are far less of a concern. Like a wristwatch that is only worn on certain occasions, this knife is an accessory.
My only gripes are minor and mostly personal preference. The pocket clip could look classier and ride deeper. I think a stonewash finish would look great next to the carbon fiber and would have hid the scratches the blade suffered from the cardboard to keep that high end look intact. I also feel the lanyard hole is a bit of an afterthought, and I would not miss it were it removed.
Even though the Maserin Starlight Carbon Line is primarily a fashion item, it is a well thought out and functional fashion item. Numerous small touches, like the slight grippiness to the carbon fiber and the inset pocket clip screws, make me really appreciate the Maserin. The fact that the steel performs as well as it does makes it definitely worthy of consideration.
Oh, and thanks for indulging me while I talk about cars in a knife review!
Blade Length: 3” from blade tip to forward most section of scale
Sharpened Length: 2 23/32”
Closed Length: 4” including protruding portion of blade near the pivot
Open Length: 6 15/16”
Blade Thickness: 3/32”
Handle Thickness (without pocket clip): ⅜”
Weight (Oz): 1.85 ounces
Blade Material AUS-8
Scales: Carbon Fiber
Grind: High Flat
Pocket Clip: Right Side, Tip Down Only
Lanyard Hole: Yes
Country of Origin: Italy