With a CPM 154 martensitic stainless steel blade and a titanium alloy frame, the DPx Gear HEST Framelock Urban OD knife is made of some of the highest quality knife making materials known to mankind, and is designed for a lifetime of hard use. It takes an excellent edge and holds it well, but can be difficult to re-hone once it becomes dull. Designed and manufactured in these United States, the knife offers an excellent, albeit somewhat pricey option for everyday carry ($280 at the time of writing from dpxgear.com).
As a part of my ongoing quest to seek out quality American-made knives, I ran across a reference to DPx Gear, Inc. I visited their website and examined the various knives that they offer.
I am most interested in everyday carry (EDC) knives, so I was especially drawn to their HEST Framelock Urban OD knife. I contacted DPx Gear to see if they could provide me with a sample for testing and evaluation. They kindly agreed, and about a week later a small flat-rate box arrived in my mailbox.
The shipping box contained a functional product box that was only somewhat more elaborate than absolutely necessary. I guess it is appropriate to have a box that is a little nicer than average to hold a knife that is a significant number of quality-steps better than your typical hardware store folding knife.
The gray matte finish of the blade is quite attractive, and the blade came out of the box extremely sharp. I found the saber grind blade to be an excellent compromise between the sharpness of the full grind and the strength of the Scandi grind. Thumb studs on the side of the blade assist with one-handed blade deployment. A notch on the back of the blade also functions as a forward flipper for blade deployment. The notch also serves as a bottle opener and pot lifter. Three other small notches in the back of the blade are sized to strip household, auto, and electronic wire.
The frame lock is exceptionally sturdy, providing a very solid lock-up. The lock incorporates a stainless steel cap that can be replaced in the event of wear to the lock face.
The stone-washed finish of the metal portion of the handle is quite attractive as well, while the rough finished G10 portion of the handle provides an excellent grip under a wide variety of weather conditions.
The pocket clip looks extremely durable, and works extremely well. The screw that holds the clip in place incorporates a carbide glass-breaker.
A hole in the frame accommodates a 1/4? hex driver, and can also function as a lanyard hole. This allows the Urban OD to be used as a multi-tool in conjunction with any standard 1/4? hex bit. I found this hole to be extremely snug at first, requiring a hammer in order to insert the bit and a pair of pliers to remove it. After inserting and removing the bit about ten times, I found that I could reasonably insert and remove the bit by hand.
CPM 154 Steel
The “CPM” in “CPM 154? stands for “crucible particle metallurgy”. This process involves pouring the molten metal through a small nozzle, and then bursting the resulting stream into a spray of tiny droplets using blasts of high pressure gas. The resulting powder sized particles of metal are pressed together to produce a more homogeneous steel mixture than would otherwise be possible. This elemental composition of the mixture is 79.2% iron, 13.47% chromium, 4.01% molybdenum, 1.06% carbon, 0.84% silicon, 0.51% manganese, 0.16% nickel , 0.09% copper, 0.02% phosphorus, and 0.02% sulfur.
As a martensitic steel, CPM 154 contains higher levels of carbon and lower levels of chromium and nickel as compared to austenitic steels. The higher levels of carbon allow the formation of Martensite, a very hard form of steel crystalline structure. CPM 154 has a Rockwell hardness in the 58 to 60 range.
The detent of my first sample was extremely powerful, initially making one-handed opening virtually impossible.
I opened and closed the blade hundreds of times to try to break the knife in. The knife became marginally easier to open one-handed, but it was still awkward to do so.
I contacted DPx Gear about the defect. They suggested loosening the pivot screw a bit, and promised to send a replacement if the knife did not improve with some use.
I used a TT5 bit to loosen the pivot screw as recommended, added a drop of sewing machine oil to the pivot point, and opened and closed the blade hundreds of more times. There was some improvement, but the blade was still rather difficult to deploy one-handed.
I contacted Customer Service a second time, and they readily agreed to exchange the defective knife for another.
The detent on the replacement knife was also a little stiff. Loosening the pivot screw slightly made it reasonably easy to deploy using the right hand. The position of the frame lock on the left side of the frame makes it somewhat difficult for the thumb of the left hand to get a good angle on the thumb stud in order to deploy the blade. A drop of sewing machine oil on the pivot point made left-handed opening easier.
Over the course of several weeks, I used the knife for a host of different tasks. I used it to clean the contacts of a television remote that had become corroded due to battery leakage. I used it to cut paracord to the proper length for tying a tarp down on a woodpile. I used it to cut wrapping paper for my wife’s birthday present (I found out, ironically, that a dull butter knife seems to work better for this task than a sharp knife). I used it to cut a rope to the appropriate length to hold a camper door with a defective latch shut until we could get to a place where we could undertake more extensive repairs. When we got to my daughter and son-in-law’s house, I used the knife to cut away neoprene insulation and a rubber seal in order to allow a catch plate to be moved to a better location so that the camper door could latch properly.
The biggest test was using the knife to open the cartons for my wife’s new washer and dryer. I normally recommend using a box cutter rather than an EDC knife for cutting carboard, since this task is guaranteed to dull a blade significantly. For precisely that reason, this task made an excellent torture test of the Urban OD.
As expected, this task dulled the knife significantly, but surprisingly the gray matte finish on the blade was unmarred.
Re-sharpening the blade was a task requiring much patience and perseverance. The CPM 154 steel is hard enough that it does not hone quickly or easily. Finally, after what seemed like an impossibly long time, the blade began to regain the desired edge. I definitely plan to focus on maintaining rather than regaining the edge in the future.
An Unfair Comparison
My usual EDC is a Leatherman Skeletool. As a multi-tool, the Skeletool is able to do things that the Urban OD, as a knife, is not able to do. For example, I found myself in need of a screwdriver and pliers while working to repair my camper door at my daughter and son-in-law’s home. I would normally have just pulled my Skeletool out of my pocket. Instead I had to dig in a compartment underneath a seat in the camper to access a multi-tool that I keep there.
Robert Young Pelton is a journalist, author, and documentary filmmaker, perhaps best known for his book The World’s Most Dangerous Places and as host of the Discovery Travel Channel’s series of the same name. The book is a handbook of survival tactics for high-risk regions. DPx Gear was formed to manufacture and sell the knives that Mr. Pelton designed. His designs focus on long-term use in hostile environments.
The DPx Gear HEST Framelock Urban OD knife is a high quality, American-made knife with some brilliant design features. The saber grind blade is sharp, and has an attractive finish. The titanium frame is light and tough. The G10 scales of the handle are easy to grip. Customer Service is excellent.
It is best to maintain the edge of the blade, since it can be extremely difficult to re-sharpen once it becomes dull.
At $280 from dpxgear.com, the knife is a bit pricey for people of modest means like me. But due to the durability of its materials, it may make a worthy, long-term investment for someone who is not prone to lose things.
DPx Gear was kind enough to provide me with two samples of their HEST Framelock Urban OD knife for testing and evaluation. I tried not to allow their kindness to interfere with my objectivity, and believe that I have succeeded. I did not receive any other financial or other inducement to mention any vendor, product, or service in this article.