Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: Fandyfire STL-V2 Flashlight

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight
Product Description


The FandyFire STL-V2 is a triple emitter (XM-L T6) flashlight which takes 2 18650 Lithium-ion batteries lengthwise. It features a smooth reflector, reverse clicky switch at the tail, and a 5 mode driver.

My review sample was provided by WallBuys.


ProsCons
Only 35 Bucks!Noticeable PWM
Good Build QualityUseless Strobe/SOS Modes
Good Run TimePlastic Lens


Official Specs (From WallBuys site)

Name: FandyFire STL-V2 CREE XM-LT6 5Mode 1000LM 3LED Tactical Flashlight (2x18650)
Brand: FandyFire
Color: Black
Color BIN: White
Model: STL-V2
Type: CREE XM-LT6
Total Emitter: 3
Brightness: 1000LM (Max)
Runtime: 90 minutes at high mode
Battery: 2x18650 battery
Voltage rated: 8.4V
Current Rated: 3000mAh
Features:
Mode: 5, Hi > Mid > Lo > Strobe > SOS
Material: Aerospace Grade Aluminum Alloy?
Sturdy military grade hard-anodized
Switch Type: Clicky
Switch Location: Tailcap
Lens: Coated glass lens
Reflector: Aluminum Smooth
Waterproof


Tail Switch

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Closeup Of Tail Switch
The STL-V2 uses a "reverse clicky" tail switch, which is typical for budget flashlights. The inside of the tail uses a plunger rather than the typical spring, but other than that, it's a very typical switch for a budget light. Well, maybe a little more beefy.

The recessed design of the tail switch allows the light to do a stable tail stand.
FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Closeup Of Tail Plunger



Spacer Section?

The body of the flashlight has what looks like a spacer section to allow the light to run on one cell. But that's not the case. A single 18650 cell sits too deep to engage the switch. My next thought was maybe that it was meant for 3xCR123 batteries. No such luck there, either. The third cell sticks out too far to be able to screw on the tail cap. So what is it for? I'd be willing to take one for the team if anyone has any thoughts on what to try with that section left off the light.


User Interface / Driver

The STL-V2 uses the typical 5 mode driver you will find on just about every xFire light in existence. The mode order is L>M>H>Strobe>SOS, and the modes are accessed via half presses on the reverse clicky switch.

Because it's the typical budget driver, it has noticeable PWM on the low mode, which I'm sensitive to. It bothers some people more than others (and some not at all) so your mileage may vary.

Beam

The beam on this light has a pretty good hot spot, but also lots of spill, due to the 3 emitter design. All 3 reflectors are smooth, and the light does a good job of focusing the beam. It has decent throw, due mainly to
FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Beam Shot: High
the sheer force of lumens it puts out.

The tint leans toward neutral white, with no trace of greenish or blueish tint.

Run Time Tests

These tests were performed with TrustFire Flame 18650 batteries. I thought about using expensive batteries for my test, but decided that hey, this is a budget light, so I'm going to test it with budget batteries.

High Test
(Current Draw: 1.63 A)
The light started getting really warm at about the half hour mark, and at 1:05 I stopped the test because it was too hot to hold, and I was concerned about doing damage to the light. It hadn't dimmed noticeably in that time, so I'm guessing that the stated runtime of 90 minutes is probably accurate.

Medium Test:
(Current Draw:  .77 A)

Low Test:
(Current Draw:  .13 A)


Heat Dissipation

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Closeup Of Head
High output flashlights all contend with heat dissipation issues. I am not an electronics engineer, but the heat dissipation on this light seems more than acceptable. It was just past the hour mark where it was getting too hot to hold in my hand. That seems entirely reasonable given the fact that it has three emitters, even if they do seem slightly under-driven. 


Build Quality / Fit and Finish

The build quality on my review sample is good. The threads are well machined and the light seems to be put together well. The switch looks solid and has a good feel. The spring loaded plunger on the inside of the tail  is a nice touch. It makes the light a little more shock resistant, and it's not something I usually see on budget lights. My only complaint about the build quality is that it has a plastic lens, though note above in the specs that the manufacturer claims it is glass.

The overall fit and finish is also good. The anodizing is uniform and there's no scratches or tool marks I can see anywhere. All three XM-L emitters are well centered. There's a tiny anomaly in one of the reflectors, though it doesn't have any effect on the beam.


Usability

Since I'm not a first responder such as a fireman or policeman, and I'm unlikely to be called on for search
FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Held In Hand
and rescue. So, I'm having a hard time finding any real world use case for this light, other than pointing it down the street and hearing a bunch of people say "WOW." Make no mistake, this model does put out a "wow" amount of light. But I have no doubts that this level of output would be ideal for something like search and rescue.

In a real world scenario, this thing could probably go the full 90 minutes on high if you really needed it to. I'm not thinking this light would be your best fit if you intended to use it mostly on low. Sure, you would get great runtimes out of it on low, but it's a little heavy if that's all you're using it for, and the PWM is really noticeable on low, which really drives me nuts since I'm sensitive to it. But this isn't a light you buy to run on low.

Conclusions

This is a solid light. My few little issues with it (PWM, plastic lens, etc.) are minor considering that its next closest name brand competitor costs 4 times as much as this one. You get 3xXM-L performance for 35 bucks, which gives it an excellent cost-to-performance ratio.

It's also nice to see the xFire brands like Fandyfire grow into mature brands. It looks like they are upping their game as far as build quality goes, and they're even publishing accurate specs! The run time and lumen estimates for this light appear to be conservative, and maybe even understated.


Gallery


FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Front View

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Rear View


FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Showing All Three Reflectors

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Closeup Of Reflectors

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Shown with Sunwayman M20C, Nitecore EA4, Nitecore MT1A, Sunwayman V11R, Blackshadow EVA
Shown with Sunwayman M20C, Nitecore EA4, Nitecore MT1A, Sunwayman V11R, Blackshadow EVA for scale

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Closeup of Spacer Threads
Threads are typical budget triangular, with above average machining

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Closeup of Body Threads

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Closeup of Head: Inside
Inside of the light is pretty torn up ... wasn't me!


FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - Closeup of Components
I'm baffled as to the purpose of that extra spacer piece

FandyFire STL-V2 Flashlight - On Scale
One pound even on the digital scale

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Harvesting 18650 Cells From Old Laptop Batteries

Lithium-ion 18650 Cell, Harvested From HP Laptop Battery
Definitely Sony
I was reading somewhere that most laptop batteries use 18650 lithium-ion cells internally, and it hit me. I had a laptop sitting in a drawer that died shortly after I bought a brand new battery for it. The battery was about 4 years old, so I took it out and pried it apart. Inside the laptop battery case, as expected, were 12 green 18650 batteries. They are most likely Panasonic. Since the laptop died shortly after buying the battery, each of these cells probably only saw a couple charge cycles-they are almost new!

A quick reading on the multimeter showed that most of the cells were reading at least 3.5 volts. Not bad for sitting in a drawer for several years. The laptop manufacturers must subsidize these cells, because I have 12 cells that cost $10 each, and I know that the laptop battery didn't cost anywhere near that.

DISCLAIMER: Li-ion cells can be dangerous if handled wrong. Don't be a dumbass. I even sparked a couple of my cells because I was so impatient cutting them apart. I'm surprised natural selection hasn't claimed me already. If you have any doubts about what you are doing, stop, and visit the Battery University.

What I intend to do with these cells it to put them into a power pack as a backup/emergency charging system for my electronics. A good power pack costs close to 100 bucks and probably has cheaper cells inside than what I am putting in.

The only real downside is that they are welded together in the pack, and breaking them up leaves these little sharp burrs. I've seen it mentioned where some folks are using a Dremel tool to smooth them out, but I'll probably just use a small file.

Update: As pointed out by Chris below in the comments, these are definitely Sony 2400 mAh cells.

Gallery


12 Lithium-ion 18650 Cells, Harvested From HP Laptop
I had to cut the little plastic bars holding them in
12 Harvested Lithium-ion 18650 Cells, Partially Separated
Partially separated. Be careful cutting them out!

12 Harvested Lithium-ion 18650 Cells, Fully Separated
Fully separated, but each one has some burrs on it. Be careful not to cut yourself!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: Ka-Bar Kukri Machete

I came across this Ka-Bar Kukri when I was shopping for machetes. I have a Kukri from Nepal that my sister gave me, and it's probably the coolest piece of cutlery I own, but it's also a design that dates back
many hundreds of years. A design doesn't get more proven than that.

My review sample was purchased from Amazon, using my wife's Prime account, and arrived here in a
Ka-Bar Kukri Machetecouple of days. Prime is awesome.

This product is made in Taiwan. Most knife enthusiasts are aware that Taiwan has an excellent reputation for knives. Some of the factories there make knives that are easily on par with their American counterparts.

Product Description


This is a high quality machete, though it is made in Taiwan. It features a classic Kukri shape with 1085 high carbon, powder coated steel with a Kraton handle. The blade is a quarter inch thick and the top half of it is swedged.

When first saw this, I thought it looked more like a weapon than a machete. But the reviews on Amazon were great, and I remembered that the Kukri has also traditionally been used for farming as well. The Kukri is a well proven design. Ka-Bar does make a combat version of the Kukri.

Official Specs (From Ka-Bar's Site)

Here is the product link from Ka-Bar's site.














Blade


Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Of Blade
The blade is made of 1085 high carbon steel. Because if its high carbon content, this type of steel can rust quite easily if it's not taken care of. That is the reason you will often see knives with a high carbon content steel using some sort of powder coating, like you will find in this machete. Other than that, this type of steel is ideal for hard-use applications like machetes. It holds a good edge and it's very durable.

The shape of the blade I would describe as an exaggerated Kukri shape. It's a little more stubby, with more belly than a traditional Kukri.

In an interesting design choice, the top half the blade is swedged. I'm not sure I see the point (pun intended), though I guess it would help make it a better shovel. But for a machete?

Handle


Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Of HandleThe handle is made of Kraton (a form of rugged plastic) and is formed onto the tang. It has a grippy, rubberized feel to it. The guard is nice and wide, and there's a lanyard hole in the pommel. Why you would attach a lanyard to the machete and not the sheath is a mystery. But it's there if you want it.

The handle has a couple other nice features like a Quillion (hook shape) on the pommel side, and the same
grooves they are known for with their classic Marines knife, which dates back almost 70 years.

Overall, the handle has a superb feel to it, which it pretty much needs because of the way the machete is weighted.

Sheath


Ahh, the sheath. At least I knew what I was getting into, since most of the reviews are pretty clear that the sheath sucks. And the sheath does suck. Badly. It's not so much the design that's bad, though the "sandwich" design certainly isn't ideal.

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Of SheathIt's more of the implementation that went wrong. I know people are going to say "that's because it's made in China", but honestly, I own several Chinese knives with superb sheaths. It's more like the sheath is an afterthought every step of the way.

The sheath is basically a sandwich with leather on one side and codura on the other side. At least the rivets at the attachment points seem to be solid. It's not a great sheath, but it's not a danger to your safety either. I would at least trust it enough not to detach and injure somebody, so there is that.


Fit and Finish


Overall, good. I would rate it superb, but I'm taking into account the sheath with my overall impression. The machete itself does have a superb fit and finish, though it did come looking like somebody spilled oil all over the blade. They probably oil the edge, and didn't feel the need to clean up the excess someone spilled. Once I wiped all the oil off, the blade looked great.

There weren't really any flaws of note in the machete itself. The blade came razor sharp out of the box,
Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Of Stampthough there were a few very small glitches in the grind. There were also a couple very minor flaws in the powder coating, though in all fairness, the blade does have a huge surface area compared to most knives.

The sheath ... here we are back at the sheath. Mine has too many small flaws to count: nicks on the leather, sewing glitches, irregularities in the "sandwich" and so forth. There are a couple larger flaws in the stitching and sandwiching, too. It's already started to fall apart from light use, so I fully expect this sheath to pretty much disintegrate in the field with hard use. At least I get the impression it will give plenty of warning before it fails, so I don't see it as a safety issue.

Usability


I bought this thing in the winter, and I've been waiting for better weather to go camping and really put this machete to the test. But I do have a huge backyard with lots of trees and bushes, so my Kukri has seen enough use for me to evaluate it.

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Stuck In A Stump
As many other reviewers mention, the forward weighting and balance of this machete isn't what I would call intuitive. It definitely takes some getting used to. When I hold it in my hand, I'm not sure it feels right for a machete.

But one swing with this machete, and you will see that the weighting and balance are optimized for swinging it and connecting with things, not for holding it at a standstill. Until you swing it, it's very hard to understand how well the design works.




Conclusions



The best thing about this machete (and the reason I bought it) is that it's more than just a machete. It could easily do double duty as a camp hatchet and triple duty as a shovel. I've heard of it being used for a hammer; maybe in a pinch. As I get older, I tend to go for a lighter weight and more versatility. If I can carry something that takes the place of two things, I'm going to do it.

Ka-bar has a winner here. This machete feels a little different in the hands than what most people are used to, but when you swing it at something, all will become clear. This is just a superb design, which they adapted from an already classic Kukri design.

I wish the sheath didn't suck so bad, but in my opinion it's not a deal breaker or reason not to buy this great machete. I have already decided that if I'm still infatuated with it after a full camping season, then I'm going to find somebody to make me a custom sheath.

Other Thoughts


I read in one of the reviews where Ka-Bar's Cutlass machete is better suited to backpacking because it is lighter. Since the Kukri might be overkill in some camping/hiking scenarios, I plan to buy the Cutlass version soon.

Gallery

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - New In Box
The box was kind of beat up.

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Open Box

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Unpacking The Machete




Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - In Sheath
The sheath looks great from a distance

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Another View In Sheath

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - On Deck

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - On Deck, Other Side

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Of Pommel
I have no idea what the "1249" means

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Of Pommel
Closeup Of The Pommel

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Of Awful Stitching
Closeup Of Stitching

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Where The Spine Meets Blade

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup Of Belt Loop
Closeup of belt loop

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - On Digital Scale
On Scale: 1 pound, 10.1 ounces

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - In Medium Size Hands
Shown in my medium size hand

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Closeup In Medium Size Hand
The handle is a little big for my medium side hand, but the hooked pommel helps the grip

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - With Authentic Kukri From Nepal
Shown with a traditional Kukri from Nepal
Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Next To Sheath

From Top: Ka-Bar Kukri Machete, Cold Steel Tanto GI, Ka-Bar Becker BK14 Eskabar
From Top: Ka-Bar Kukri Machete, Cold Steel Tanto GI, Ka-Bar Becker BK14 Eskabar

From Top In Sheaths: Ka-Bar Kukri Machete, Cold Steel Tanto GI, Ka-Bar Becker BK14 Eskabar
Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Flaw in Belt Loop
A nice little flaw in the belt loop of the sheath

Ka-Bar Kukri Machete With Nitecore EA4, Sunwayman M20C, Maxpedition EDC Organizer
Let's go camping!
Ka-Bar Kukri Machete - Sandwich Sheath Falling Apart
Here you can see the sandwiching on the sheath separating after only light use