ZOMBIE TOOLS - Missoula, Montana
According to their website, Zombie Tools is a band of brothers formed under the auspices of the trickster god Loki, bound together by a common passion for blades, science and art. And beer. And metal music. And beer. They have been making blades as Zombie Tools since 2007. The founders are Maxon McCarter, Joey Arbour and Chris Lombardi. Since 2007, the company has grown to 10 people working full time making blades in Missoula, Montana. Zombie Tools has thousands of blades that have found homes anywhere from Alaska to Alabama, Tromsø (Norway) to Tasmania.
Joey is currently the only founding member left in the shop, but Maxon, Joey, and Chris wanted their blades to be burly, fully functional, and durable, while unique and beautifully badass, and to bear the marks of the hands that made them. Producing affordable blades is also an important aspect of their company goals. Zombie Tools are constantly changing and improving their methods to get better results and to foster creativity. Their “product line” is not standard and ever changing, like a constantly evolving menu of limited edition pieces. If you come across a blade that speaks to you, it is best to snatch it up because it may be discontinued before you know it. The folks at Zombie Tools claim to be an amazingly fortunate bunch of assholes to be doing what they do. I could not agree more!
They conceived the idea to make blades themed for the Apocalypse since it opened up many more avenues for their creativity and did not force them into one single niche market such as fantasy or tactical blades. Zombie Tools began their journey before the “zombie” craze took off, and they quickly found the market flooded with poor quality gimmick knives. It took some time for people to realize that the Zombie Tool name did not fall into this category, and that instead their products were the real deal. Lately, Zombie Tools has found that the majority of their customers tend to be much more interested in finding a top quality blade than something plastered in zombie markings – and they have come to the right place.
Methods of Blade-Smithing
So how does Zombie Tools make a blade? First, a blank piece of the appropriate steel for the blade is ground to shape using a technique called stock removal. Then it’s on to the heat treat. ZT does their own heat-treating in house to ensure a higher level of quality control. The primary bevels are ground in using angle grinders with lovely Cubitron II disks by hand. Then the bevel finishing is done with TW-90 belt grinders before the blade is handed over to the handling guys. The handle scales are made of T6 aluminum and pinned on to the tang in such a way they need to be destroyed to remove them, so rest assured, they are not going anywhere. The handles are also shaped on the TW-90 grinders and then the blade is ready to be etched, have its handle wrapped, and sharpened. Zombie Tools make their our own kydex sheaths too, and their leather upgrade sheaths are made by Warlander Leather, a top notch leather company in Montana.
Does Zakasushi translate to anything in English? It translates to “Fuck You” according to Zombie Tools. The Zakasushi is their version of the traditional Japanese sword, the Wakizashi. The Wakizashi is a companion sword to the Katana, and proved to be more effective in close quarters fighting due to its’ shorter overall length. Zombie Tools has their own offering of a traditional Katana called the Apokatana, so you can carry both just like the famed samurai Miyamoto Musashi. The most current version of the Zakasushi has a steel guard with a Zombie Tools logo cut out, and an electro-engraved splatter pattern. The Zakasushi also comes with a kydex sheath, and Zombie Tools is also beginning to offer beautiful leather sheaths with some of their blades.
As advertised form Zombie Tools, here are some of the most important specifications of the Zakasushi. The folks at Zombie Tools use 5160 steel to create the Zakasushi, and grind it down to a thickness of 0.204 inches. It measures in at an overall length of 33.5 inches, where 23 inches of that is the blade. The entire sword weighs in at 1 pound and 10 ounces, with a point of balance located 2.5 inches forward of the guard. With all of these specifications in mind, I decided it was time to perform some testing, measuring, and slicing to see what the Zakasushi was capable of.
The Zakasushi came shipped snugly in a thick cardboard box, stabilized with plenty of bubble wrap. Nestled in it’s sheath, I drew the Zakasushi out to find it having a healthy helping of oil on the entire blade to preserve it in shipment. I wiped it down with a paper towel to ensure some oil was still left on. Of course the sheath still held some oil inside too, so I am not worried about any rust or oxidation of the blade at all. Attached to the guard was a ZT sticker too! Overall, it’s simple, straightforward, and no-nonsense packaging – something I will soon learn is reflective of the blade itself.
Due to my engineering background and attention to the finest details, I decided to take some measurements of my own to see how they compared with the advertised specifications that Zombie Tools publishes. If measurements were not provided, I still chose to take a very close look at every component of the Zakasushi.
The blade came in to an average of 0.202 inches, and only came out of true a maximum of 0.024 inches in the entirety of it’s length. To put that simply, that’s damn straight. I have seen blades warp more than an inch in heat treatment alone. For my blade thickness to only be 0.002 inches off of what is advertised is incredible. Honestly, those inconsistencies are most likely from the plating and finishing than the blade making process itself. The curve is consistent and smooth, and the blade length measured in to be 23.0 inches on the nose – again exactly as Zombie Tools has advertised. The blade has two cut-aways; one on the spine and one on the edge, both near the guard. The top one allows for the sheath strap to effectively lock the Zakasushi into its sheath. The one on the edge side offers extra retention that is surprisingly positive for a sword in a kydex sheath.
I measured the bevel grind to 8.96 degrees, and ZT informed me that they grind to 9 degrees, do again they are absolutely spot on. I still find it hard to believe that they grind this in using an angle grinder, but alas there it is. The grind offers some weight saving to the blade while not sacrificing edge geometry or strength.
The edge is ground to perfection and is the same depth for the entire length of the blade. It came out of the box razor sharp, which is exactly as it should be.
The guard, or Tsuba, is unique and eye catching. I have noticed it to be not perfectly perpendicular to the handle or blade. Mine is approximately 6 degrees off of being so, however this may be a product of their handle pinning process. Regardless, it does not bother me since the guard is rock solid. It has the parenthetical components of the ZT logo machined into it, which is an awesome detail, and it sports the same electro-engraved splatter pattern that the blade does too. The guard is thick and burly, and offers plenty peace of mind that it will do its job, and do so effectively.
The blade is made to be a full tang, so from tip to end it is all one continuous piece of steel. The handle scales are made separate of the blade itself, and it is pinned on in such a way that complete blade destruction must be done to remove them. The T6 aluminum handle slabs aid in the balance, overall feel, and the incredibly easy ability to index the blade in the hand at any point while wielding it. The handle measured to be length of 10.5 inches exactly, bringing the total length of my Zakasushi to the 33.5 inches as advertised.
The handle is wrapped in an excellent quality black leather stripping. The guys at Zombie Tools take care and time to wrap the handle in such a way that the two ends of the leather are tucked and concealed completely, so the wrapping looks phenomenal and will never unravel. The leather offers plenty of grip with both bare hands and gloves on, and whether dry or wet. To me, the handle is just as important as the blade, since a top-notch blade may not be wieldable if the handle is not executed correctly. ZT has designed this handle to blow my expectations out of the water.
The last thing to measure on the blade is the balance and weight. I weighed my Zakasushi at the advertised weight of 2lb 10oz. If a blade is too front heavy, it tends to want to run away from the user and can be difficult to control. If a blade has its’ weight too far to the rear then there is not sufficient momentum and force to cut well and drive through whatever one is cutting. An ideal balance point is traditionally just forward of the guard, and ZT advertises that the balance point of the Zakasushi is 2.5 inches in front of the guard. I measured it to be 2.57 inches, but that difference is negligible. The Zakasushi is balanced perfectly, and the handle is still long enough to wield it with two hands should someone want to. The recoil and return of the blade is fast, and transitioning from cut to cut is fast. All of this is done while being able to have enough power to slash through anything you can put in front of it, and this is done by having a balanced blade as much as it is the craftsmanship, care, and quality of the materials put into it’s creation.
The electro-engraved splatter pattern is an awesome touch that in my opinion is not over done. It offers homage to the ZT past of being born into an Apocalypse theme, while still appealing to those interested in subtle or tactical style blades. It sets ZT apart in their finish, and certainly makes their blades look like the workhorses they are without being too flashy. The black handle wrap and kydex sheath compliment the pattern and overall finish to perfection.
Zombie Tools includes a top-notch kydex sheath with the Zakasushi. It is made of a kydex typical in thickness seen in handgun holsters, and is made with a taco design in which a single piece of kydex is folded over the spine on the blade and riveted on the blade end. This allows the sheath to be made of a single piece of kydex while also having a slimmer profile than a pancake sheathe design. Both the rivets and the kydex are black, and ZT has included a few small scallop cuts along the riveted edge for added flare. The Zakasushi’s spine is exposed through an opening in the sheath that is approximately 5” long. This opening allows for an angled draw from the sheath, which is much easier to manipulate, deploy, and stow the blade than a straight pull. Finally, the sheath offers retention in the form of a leather strap that engages a rise in the blades’ spine. When I first saw a photo of the Zakasushi, I initially thought this raised spine profile was simply done for style. I am pleasantly surprised that this also serves a critical function. The sheath does not come with a belt loop or any mounting hardware, however do not let this alarm you. There are plenty of rivet holes that some leather or paracord can call home. This way you can mount it and tailor it to your preferences and application. Of course you can also upgrade your sheath from kydex to leather!
Performance and Testing
I conducted a number of tests on the Zakasushi, some much more practical than others. These test included a wood chop, water bottle slice, fruit slice, burlap bag cut, and then a blade bend and twist.
I first used the Zakasushi to chop into two different types of wood, both across the grain and with the grain. The purpose of this test was to test overall strength and how the Zakasushi would hold up. I placed a block of pressure treated pine into a vice and administered 10 chops with the grain, then another 10 chops against the grain. I repeated this process with a block of oak as well. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no edge rolling or chipping, the blade did not develop any bends or twists, and the handle remained rock solid.
After I had beat the crap out of the blade on the wood blocks, I then wanted to see how sharp the edge remained, and did so by slicing fruit, then full water bottles, and finally some burlap bags filled with rice and sand. Watermelons, apples, and pears were no match for the Zakasushi as it glided through the fruit. Next up, I lined up 6 water jugs full of water and slashed through them with ease. I hung up a couple of burlap bags filled with rice and sand. The blade of the Zakasushi sliced right through the burlap and produces a completely smooth laceration, meaning that the blade is razor sharp and without any deformities.
Finally, I regrettably put the tip of the blade into a vice and attempted to bend and twist the blade to see what it could take. Of course I did not want to do this until complete failure. I am happy to report that I was able to bend the blade 15 degrees in either direction with absolutely no plastic (permanent) deformation. Additionally, I was able to twist the blade about 5 degrees in either direction with the same result. It is imperative for a blade like this to be able to bend without breaking – literally. And it does.
I am incredibly impressed with the performance of the Zakasushi. Zombie Tools makes blades that look excellent, but perform even better. The finish and splatter pattern held up great too, and I cannot find even a cosmetic anomaly or ding, even after the testing. Everything is absolutely tight and rock solid. Even with wet hands after the bottle cut, I was happy to find that the Zakasushi was easy to manipulate and control. I have encountered plenty of blades that do not perform well when wet, especially with bare hands, but the Zakasushi exceeded my expectations.
Fit and Finish
Throughout testing the Zakasushi did not yield once. The blade geometry kept the edge from deforming in any way, including rolling or chipping. The guard remained rock solid, and even the handle wrap refused to budge. The engraved splatter pattern remained crisp and clean, refusing to wear or even scratch. I have been pleasantly surprised with how it has held up, and rightly so, since it hasn’t shown any signs of loosening, bending, or deformation of any kind. I am incredibly impressed with how well the Zakasushi has held up, and I look forward to continuing with more tests in the future.
My only qualm I have is that the kydex sheath did not include a pre-made way in which to mount it or carry it. That is minor though, since I am resourceful enough to make one for myself, and tailor it specifically to my needs. Perhaps that was the intention to begin with! If you want a Zakasushi of your own, it will cost you $384.95 and can take the folks at ZT between 7 and 10 weeks to create it, but rest assured that both the price and lead time are more than worth it. It takes time and patience to craft such beautiful blades that are held to such a high standard with precise attention to detail. Please understand that a quality blade requires an incredible amount of labor and skill to produce. Zombie Tools will deliver on all accounts. Plain and simple. You can clearly trust that the blades ZT produces are just that – tools. These are not meant to be display pieces, although nobody could blame you for doing so as they are works of art. Instead, the blades made by ZT are created with the intention to be put through rigorous use and rough, abusive trials. This Zakasushi is absolutely no exception.
1909 Wyoming Street #8-9
Missoula, MT 59801