Founded in 1998, TOPS Knives currently produces more than 200 different knives that are used not only by the general public, but also members of law enforcement and various branches of the military. The company’s founders—all of whom served during the Vietnam War—started the brand to produce knives that did not have the issues with durability and strength that were rampant with the blades issued to soldiers during the war.
In early 2019, TOPS Knives showed off the early version of a brand new product that the company had been working on. Designed by Leo Espinoza, TOPS president, the new creation was one product with three different and distinct functions: a friction folder Tanto-style knife, a guillotine-style cigar cutter and a bottle opener.
Fast forward 18 months to June of this year, when the final incarnation of that prototype was released. Now named 208 Clipper, the new product combines a cigar cutter with a folding knife and the aforementioned bottler opener.
WHAT IS IT?
Based on the design of the company’s first-ever creation—the Steel Eagle 107D—the 208 Clipper is a single blade guillotine cutter that also functions as a knife. According to TOPS, the 2.25-inch Tanto-style blade is made of CPM S35VN steel with black Cerakoted liners—a process that involves adding a liquid ceramic coating which is either air-dried or dried with an oven—while the exterior is constructed of OD Green G10 plastic knife handle material, which is “a high-pressure fiberglass composite laminate made by stacking layers of glass cloth, soaking them in epoxy resin, and then compressing them under high heat.”
In terms of physical specifications, the 208 Clipper weighs 4.7-ounces and measures 5 inches when it is closed, with an overall length of 6.13 inches when it is fully open. The blade on the cutter measures .09 inches thick and the knife is sold with a belt loop clip-equipped double-stitched black leather sheath.
In addition, the knife features a round opening cut out of the middle of the handle that allows the blade to act as a cigar cutter. The diameter of the cigar opening measures exactly 20mm (.79 inches), meaning that you can cut a 50 ring gauge cigar completely in half, although I was able to cut enough of the cap off of cigars up to 60 ring gauge to smoke them with no issues.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
$230 is the official price, though I was able to find it for as little as $159.95 online. The price includes a belt loop clip-equipped double-stitched black leather sheath.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
As with the vast majority of products in the cigar/knife category, you open the TOPS Knives 208 Clipper Cigar Cutter by pushing down on a lever built onto the end of the blade, which in this specific cutter’s case, also functions as the bottle opener. When the blade is fully extended, that lever disappears into a position inside the base, leaving a very thin footprint. At this point, you can use it as you would a normal knife, but because the piece of the blade that includes the bottle opener disappears when the blade is fully extended, that particular function cannot be used when the blade is open.
The process of cutting cigars when using the TOPS Knives 208 Clipper will be very familiar to fans of this specific style of cutter: after opening the blade as described above, you place the now open cutter in your right hand with your thumb on the edge of the blade while the handle is cradled in your palm. This position not only means that the blade is facing away from you, but it also puts the beveled edge facing to the right, while the “208 Clipper” logo is facing to the left.
Holding the cigar in your left hand, you then place the cigar cap into the opening—making sure that the smaller cap end that is being cut off is on the same side as the beveled edge of the blade as described above—and start cutting by pushing down on the edge of the blade with your thumb slowly, which pushes the blade through the cap where it sticks nicely when it comes to the end of its journey.
When cutting cigars, you can actually use the TOPS Knives 208 in either your right or left hand, although the process for each hand changes slightly. The key is to always have the cigar facing the same way in relation to the blade so that the cap—i.e., the end that you are cutting off—is facing away from the blade with the beveled edge.
In order to use the cutter in your left hand, the process is the same, but the tip of the blade—with your thumb still on the edge—will now be pointed towards you and you will be holding the cigar in your right hand. Making sure the cap end that is being cut is on the same side as the beveled edge of the blade when the cigar is placed in the opening, you then push down with your thumb like before until the blade cuts through the entire cap.
Interestingly, while I saw very little difference in the cuts I got when using the cutter in both my left and right hands for the Les Fines Lames Le Petit, the TOPS 208 Clipper was less awkward and performed better overall when held in my right hand, perhaps due to the amount of pressure needed to push the shorter, stubbier blade closed.
- Built Like A Tank — It is obvious whoever designed this cutter knew what they are doing when it comes to longevity: after using it for more than a month, I am unable to see any overt signs of wear or damage on the exterior.
- Triple Functionality — Not only can this knife be easily used as both a knife and cigar cutter, but it also has a bottle opener built into the lever that is used to open the blade, something that came in handy for me more than I thought it would.
- Light Enough To Not Make Carrying Around Without The Sheath A Chore — I prefer to carry my knives in my pocket instead of in a sheath, and the weight of the 208 Clipper was never a major issue in that regard.
- Included Sheath Is Extremely Good Quality — Sure, I could nitpick and say that I think the cutter protrudes too far out of the end of the sheath, but that is a minor annoyance that is easy to look past when the sheath is as well-made as this one is, especially since it is included with the price of the knife.
- Blade Shows No Obvious Signs Of Dulling — The quality of the cuts did not decrease during the time I tested this cutter, even though I did use it for various other purposes like cutting open boxes, cutting string and scraping tape off of plastic.
- Quality Of Cuts Was Better Than I Expected, But Still Far From What They Should Be — Sure, most of the damage to the caps and wrapper that resulted from using this cutter was fairly minor, but there was still significantly more issues than you would get if you cut the same cigar with a cheap, $10 double guillotine cutter. Basically, the failure rate is far below what it should be given the price and even the company’s own marketing video shows just how bad the results can be.
- Virtually Useless When Cutting Cigars With Larger Ring Gauges — While I understand the need to keep the size and bulk of the knife handle as small as possible, the cigar cutter part of this cutter will only fit cigars up to 60 ring gauge. For many, that’s not an issue. But for some, that’s a dealbreaker.
- Process Of Cutting Cigar Takes Too Long And Is Extremely Awkward — If you read back through the reviews of the various cigar knives, you will see the same comments about how long it takes to cut a cigar cap and how awkward the process is, and the TOPS version is no better in that regard. The entire process includes having to push open the blade, inserting the cap in the correct spot, repositioning your fingers and hand to get the optimum balance and pressure and pushing the blade down through the cap. In fact, the grand total of each of those actions takes about five times longer than a more traditional cutter.
- Bottle Opener Section Snags On Things — The bottle opener built into the opening lever of this cutter is useful, but the fact that it protrudes so far from the end of the base means that it catches on just about everything whenever I carry it around without the sheath, including my pants pocket, my shirt, my belt and various parts of my computer bag. This issue was somewhat alleviated when I carried it in the sheath, but since I wear all of my shirts untucked, I still had it happen more often than I would like.
- Price — While the price you will pay—assuming you don’t purchase from the company’s website—is less than most of the cutters in this style I have reviewed—and is nowhere near the $350-$500 price tag on the original Les Fines Lames—there is no doubt that $183 is still a substantial chunk of change for cigar cutter, even one that a can also be used as both a knife and a bottle opener.
Competitors in the “Knives that can also be used as a cigar cutter” range are not exactly rare, and the most obvious when comparing the TOPS 208 Clipper is the Benchmade 381 Aller Fumée, which comes in at a very similar price of $160. It also cuts up to 58 ring gauge cigars and features an exterior made of Richlite—a material made from layering recycled paper and then applying resin—but does not include a bottle opener like the TOPS 208.
- Les Fines Lames Le Petit ($149-$14,180) — The base Les Fines Lames Le Petit costs less, cuts cigars more cleanly, is easier to carry around and is capable of cutting larger ring gauge cigars thanks to its half-circle cigar opening.
- Original Les Fines Lames ($350) — Not only is the TOPS 208 significantly less expensive—about $160 compared to $350—it also features a smaller footprint, is more durable and includes both a better sheath and a built-in bottle opener.
- Swiss Army Cigar Knife ($70) — We haven’t tested the cutting abilities of the Swiss Army knife style cigar cutter. it includes both miniature cigar scissors and a punch cutter, as well as a knife.
- Havana Al-Mar ($100) — The discontinued Havana Al-Mar also only cuts cigars up to about 50 ring gauge and is fairly difficult to find on the secondary market these days.
- XIKAR Cigar Cut Knife ($60) — It only cuts smaller ring gauge cigars and we are pretty sure it has been discontinued.
- Any Other Pocket Knife — While this gets into a question of whether you need a cigar cutter at all, pretty much any sharp knife can remove a cap cleanly by just cutting around the cap area in a circular motion. It’s not as effective for belicosos, but it’s worth pointing out that most knives will work for parejos.
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
After reviewing three of them so far, I have found very little evidence that any company has perfected the cigar knife, and the TOPS Knives 208 Clipper Cigar Cutter is just the latest example of that trend. Putting aside the very functional—and surprisingly useful—bottle opener, the question about whether this knife passes the test of being able to actually cut cigars cleanly on a consistent basis without damaging them is an easy one to answer in the negative. In fact, the results of my month-long test conclude that although the rugged and durable exterior makes it an ideal candidate for being used in more rugged conditions, it is clear that this is meant to be used as a knife first while also being capable of lopping the cap off of a cigar every once in a while. Occasional outdoor-type smokers looking for a knife + cigar cutter with the most functionality could do a lot worse than the TOPS 208 Clipper, but anyone who wants to use this as their primary cutter should stay away.