tisdag 19 maj 2020

Knife Review Al Mar Hawk UL FRN

-  light, lighter, Hawk UL

Al Mar is really going for it and has released some of their, by now classic, models in new versions. The other day I reviewed one of them. It was the lightweight version of the Eagle and that particular version was the most exclusive with a titanium handle.

Then I said that the Ultralight knives can be had in two series and today I will present the other. A simpler knife with a handle of FRN and also, we are going down considerably in size. From a mighty eagle to a small hawk.

Al Mar AMK4122 2.75" Ultralight Hawk

The knife has the model name AMK4122 which stands for Hawk UL with FRN handle. This model aims at being a small, light, and versatile knife. Neither material nor construction stands out. A flipper knife with a blade running on ball bearings built on a steel frame with sides of plastic material is nothing revolutionary but in this context well chosen.

But providing a classic Al Mar model with these attributes is a bit more startling. The question then is how well that experiment turned out? 

Old meets new. Classic design with modern attributes


The blade shape is easily recognized as it is exactly the same on all knives included in the Ultralight series regardless of size and for that matter, version. It means a shape that Al Mar named "Talon"*. In this case, it means a slim, very pointy drop point with a distinct swedge. The finish is also the same on all models, a semi-gloss satin.

What separates the siblings are two things. The material and of course the size. This is the smallest in the family and it means a blade measuring 70 mm in length. The height is a modest 9.5 mm and the blade stock is also strikingly thin at two millimeters.

A very pointy blade with a distinct swedge

In the past, Al Mar has always used various Japanese steel, preferably AUS8 in these series of knives. Much because the knives used to be made there. Now production has been moved to China and this has also led to a shift in steels. In this somewhat simpler version, 8Cr13MoV is used. A Chinese "number steel" that we know by now. A steel I generally am not entirely fond of. My experience from several different manufacturers is that it has a tendency to rust even though it is "stainless". It also does not keep an edge for very long. Especially not as Al Mar states a hardness of  56HRC, which is low. We are now in "Swissarmyknife territory" when it comes to edge retention.

The advantage of this steel is two for the consumer and one or maybe two for the manufacturer. For us users, it is very easy to grind and actually gets really sharp. For those who make them, the material is, of course, cheap but also easy to shape and heat treat even in larger batches. It is probably in the latter the main profits are to be obtained.

But I'd much rather have seen another steel. Why not go for something Swedish like 14C28N for example?

On the display side, the logotype and name can be found and on this side model designation and country of origin

At the same time, it can be argued that such a small knife, especially in this slim format isn't aiming at more advanced jobs anyway. For everyday tasks such as cutting a string, opening a plastic package, removing a clothing label, cutting cable ties, open letters, and boxes, etc., the steel is fully adequate. So understand me correctly when I say I'm not completely fond of it.

The factory edge was more than ok and it could easily shave hair with little pressure. The advantage of this soft steel is that it is very easy to strop, which is my preferred way of maintaining edges on smaller knives. A couple of swipes on an old leather belt with Autosol and the knife is sharp again.

And it is needed after cutting just a little cardboard. Hawk, on the other hand, is really good at that. The thin blade slides easily through that kind of material. And for those who necessarily want to use folding knives in the kitchen, it can be said that this knife is an excellent paring knife. 


The shape of the handle feels very familiar as it is a smaller version of Eagle and Falcon. Here, the handle has shrunk to 89 mm in length. It might have been enough for the whole hand had it not been for one of the obvious disadvantages of flipper knives. Flipper tabs steal space and in this case, it leads to this being a three-finger knife for me. The area that remains for the fingers is only 75 mm.

The height of the handle is at most 18 mm and the thickness 8.5 mm. Small and light, anyone?

A small but well-shaped handle with FRN sides in a "dragon hyde" pattern

The steel frame is made of 410 steel and is completely hidden in the sides. It contributes to making the knife as thin as it is. The frame is also weight relieved which together with the thin blade and the FRN-material is the explanation behind the airy feeling.

FRN is, as most people may know, an abbreviation for Fiber Reinforced Nylon. A kind of superplastic in other words. Very durable, easy to shape, and really an excellent handle material for knives with the exception that it does not feel very exclusive.

The surface has got what Al Mar calls "dragon hyde" texture and that pattern gives good traction and a secure grip. 

Hawk is very thin, under a centimeter

Hawk is an open-back construction and is held together in two points in addition to the pivot screw. The screw size for the sides and the clip is tiny T4s and for the pivot screw T8. Unfortunately, the screws are not of the highest quality but have some play in them. So much so that at first attempt I was unsure if it was T4 or T6 that was used. Caution when disassembling is therefore recommended.

Thankfully, Al Mar skipped the lanyard hole in this model. In addition to being ugly, it had interfered with clip placement which is bad enough as it is.

The handle is too small to accommodate my entire hand and Hawk is most effective in a pinch grip

In hand, you notice that this is a really small but above all slim knife. For me, as mentioned, it's a three-finger knife and that basically means that hammer grip is excluded. Hawk works best when used as precision instruments either held in a pinch grip or with the index finger on top of the blade.

If some more power is required you have to place the thumb on the back of the blade in a saber- or rather "Filippino"-grip. In that grip, unfortunately, the texture of the FRN is of no use. My hand is too big to be in contact with the sides in this position. It is only when the thumb is placed on the side of the handle, as in the last picture above, that the dragon hyde texture really helps.

However, the finger guard performs its function and prevents the hand from slipping onto the blade. 

Opening and Lock

The flipper opening on this knife is surprisingly good. The reason for the surprised tone is the size of the knife. It is not easy to get good efficiency and a quick-opening knife in such a small format. Two things need to be overcome for it to work. The first is that the blade is very light and therefore does not offer much momentum even if the detent is well-tuned. The other thing is that the flipper tab itself given the size of the knife is small which gives short leverage 

An exemplary small but very effective flipper tab

What is done right here is the geometry, the flipper tab is simply correctly placed and matched with a sufficient amount of resistance from the detent ball. The action also benefits from the luxurious ceramic ball bearings Al Mar put in this knife. All in all, it provides an explosive small knife that is easy to open. It also doesn't matter which way you hit the flipper tab, it can both be pushed down and pulled back with the same good result. It's lightning-fast.

An excellent lock well suited for the model

Also, the lock is well made on this knife. A liner lock is more than adequate for this size of knife. This also happens to be very good. It locks efficiently every time without the slightest play in any direction. The lock is also easy to both access and release as the lock bar is slightly raised and provided with grooves for increased traction. Also, a lock bar in this format does not offer much resistance.

Something less good, however, is that this knife or at least this specimen is a "banana". That is, the blade is well centered when the knife is closed but unfortunately not in the open position. The blade points markedly to the right. A miss in quality control.

To Carry

This could have been the ultimate pocket knife to carry if it weren't for one detail. But for the rest it is exemplary. Hawk is small, which in addition to being relatively short means that it is extremely slim and also not very tall. And then the weight, 37 grams is light no matter how you count.

The clip is well-shaped and functions well but the placement certainly leaves some things to be desired

Then it was the one detail. I'm talking about the clip. The function itself is actually excellent. The design of the clips has always been good and this is no exception. It has a proper ramp given the size, good tension combined with enough space underneath for fabric to fit. The placement also means that it is hardly noticeable when using the knife. So far no negative remarks.

But disadvantages exist and the first is purely cosmetic. It is a painted clip and just like all other painted clips, it is easily scuffed. If you like patina on your knives, it is excellent because it comes quickly in this case.

Rarely has such a small knife been so visible

The second disadvantage is not linked to appearance however. What stops Hawk from being perfect in a pocket and almost ruins it is the clip's location. I don't think that I have had any knife that is so visible to its size. In this case, almost 2.5 cm or an inch protrudes from the pocket. The total length folded is under nine centimeters or around 3.3 inches. That is a bad ratio. And on top of that, the clip comes with both logo and text on it. Okay, that is a second remark on looks. But I'm not totally in love with jotted clips even if Al Mars logotype is rather good looking.

Something I do appreciate is the luxurious detail with a filler plate for the side that is not used at the moment.

To Conclude

Al Mar's older UL series were made in Micarta and actually even lighter than today's successors since they didn't have frames. They received very good recognition for being extremely well built but were also known for being on the expensive side. Now they make them in two different versions. One more exclusive in titanium and this simpler more budget-oriented with FRN-handle.

The question remains. How do these models stand up against the competition in today's market?

Fairly well, I dare say. In this particular knife, Al Mar has managed the feat of merging a very good flipper action and a small knife. Besides, they have maintained the style and overall lines fairly well despite adding a flipper tab to the original design.

The materials are not spectacular but well used. FRN on a steel frame paired with 8Cr13MoV-steel are not uncommon for knives in this price range, while ceramic ball bearings and cover plates for clip holes are. So what price range are we talking about? In this case, the MSRP is  $55 which is quite far from the current retail price which is more like $35 which feels competitive. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, I do not know what it will cost in Sweden and the rest of Europe. Sometimes it's a (completely) different story.

Small, light and elegant, somewhat like an espresso

When it comes to execution, I found that the titanium version could match the old Al Mars in terms of fit and finish. This knife, on the other hand, gets more mixed comments when it comes to manufacturing quality.

FRN is a type of plastic and will always remain so, but here it is well used and nicely made with well-rounded corners and edges as well as good traction. Opening mechanism and lock receive a top grade in terms of both how it feels and function. 

A couple of things are, on the other hand, less good. One detail that feels cheap is that the Al Mar logo was scuffed from the handle relatively quickly through normal use. For those who want less marking on their knives, it might be a good thing, but then maybe it should not be there in the first place.

One more serious detail that annoys my inner OCD person is that the blade does not sit straight in the handle. It points to the right when the knife is open. It does not interfere with the function of the knife but the overall impression becomes less good. Then the screws could have been of better quality. The risk of stripping them is obvious.

Family portrait -  Al Mar Hawk UL FRN with its larger siblings

Despite this, I think Al Mar has succeeded well with what they were aiming for. It was to deliver a more budget-oriented version of their classic lightweight series. And I get rather curious about how the big brother in FRN version feels. I believe that if it is as sturdy in construction as this little hawk, they can compete with knives such as the mighty Spyderco Endura.

However, the Hawk does well on its own. It is an excellent alternative for those who are looking for an ultra-light small knife that is barely noticeable in the pocket. A pocket scalpel that also delivers excellent handling as it is very quick and easy to open and close. A knife that is both good as a "fidget toy" and works well. Did I say it's nice-looking too?


Length Overall: 159 mm
Length Folded: 89 mm
Weight: 37 g ()
Blade Length: 70 mm
Blade Thickness: 2 mm
Blade Steel: 8Cr13MoV, HRC56
Handle material: FRN, steel frame
Lock: Liner lock

Produced by: Al Mar, made in China

/ J - downsizing

* Something that would otherwise denote knife blades with a downward point and concave edge

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