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Knife innovation, especially with folding knives, has come a long way over the last twenty years. Design and safety features that push the envelope are now common on even many budgets knives. And, more and more, we see knife enthusiasts looking for the name of a certain designer, as much as the technical specs of what they are purchasing.
CRKT has really tapped into this aspect of the knife market. Over the years, they have recruited into their ranks some renowned knifemakers and given them space to test the boundaries of form and function. The result is a line-up of products that feature some bold, interesting, and, in most cases, highly functional designs. In this article, we delve into the best knives CRKT offers for those looking for a budget-friendly EDC knife.
At a Glance: Our Choices for The 8 Best CRKT Knives
Click on one of the links to go directly to our overview, opinion, and features of each knife.
About Columbia River Knife and Tool
Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) was founded in 1994. Their stated goal as a manufacturer has been to be a leader in terms of innovation and to also make knives that are rugged and durable. To that end, CRKT works with designers to test the limits of what EDC’s, tactical, hunting, and outdoor knives are capable of doing.
These knives come with a limited lifetime warranty. CRKT’s policy is in line with the industry standard in that regard, covering against defects in workmanship and materials. The warranty becomes void once the knife is re-sold, or if it is in any way altered. The company also offers a 30-day return policy for an exchange or refund if the knife fails to meet your expectations in any way (assuming it is still in the original packaging and purchased from the CRKT online store).
While not a treasure trove of information on knives in general, the CRKT website does have some interesting features for the knife enthusiast wanting to dig a little deeper. The Knife Design section of the site has profiles for all of the designers that the company works with. It can be interesting to find out a little bit more about these knifemakers and some of the inspirations behind their designs. This section also has an “Innovations” page, which gives details of the trademarked elements implemented by the designers in CRKT’s knives.
CRKT knives are generally produced in China or Taiwan. They tend to be in the low-to-medium range of the price scale. As such, certain aspects of quality can be an issue. Your mileage may vary, but many owners report that the blades need some touching up fresh out of the box. This is something to consider if you demand that your EDC’s have a precision edge.
To offset some of the shortcomings in quality, as well as middle of the road blade steels, CRKT positions their knives at very reasonable price points. Also, as was mentioned earlier, they feature some truly innovative and useful designs from well-known knifemakers. In this article, we will look at offerings by Ken Onion, Kit Carson, and Lucas Burnley.
Additionally, it should be noted that at the very low end of their price range, CRKT tends to emphasize the knife’s capacity as a promotional item, as much as its functionality. They do this by having a designated spot on the handles for logo imprinting, and also give these knives a high degree of cosmetic appeal. This is not to say that there is necessarily anything wrong with using the knives as such. In fact, business owners, sales professionals, etc. reading this review might find this to be an intriguing feature. It is only mentioned so that potential buyers will understand the intent behind each design.
The Top 8 Knives From CRKT
The M21-04G is a folder with a locking liner, marketed as a rugged tactical knife. The knife’s overall length is 9.25” (23.5cm). It has a Carson flipper mechanism, designed by retired Sgt. Major Kit Carson of Vine Grove, KY. Carson, in fact, designed the entire M21 series.
The blade length is 3.875” (9.84cm). It is a plain edge with a deep belly and a Spear Point profile that has a hollow grind. The steel is 8Cr14MoV stainless treated to 56-59 HRC. This steel can be thought of as a Chinese equivalent to AUS-8 and has a .75% carbon content. The blade also has a black Titanium Nitride finish and features ambidextrous thumb studs.
The handle on the M21 is made of G-10. It has a skeletal frame with four circular perforations cut into it to help bring the big knife’s weight down to 5.9oz (167.3g). It also features a non-reversible pocket clip for right-hand carry and a safety lock mechanism.
Even with the skeletonized handle, this knife is still somewhat hefty for an EDC, which may be a consideration for some users. Another possible critique is that the thumb studs are not highly functional by themselves and are really meant to work more as an assist to the flipper than as a method of one-hand deployment.
All in all, however, this is a very nice tactical knife that is well designed and well built. The handle, in particular, is very comfortable and has a good feel even when performing hard cutting tasks. It is also suitable for a broad range of hand sizes.
The Drifter is an economy folding knife with a liner lock mechanism. It weighs 2.40z (68g) and has an overall length of 6.5” (16.5cm).
The blade length is 2.875” (7.3cm) and has a Drop Point profile. It also features dual thumb studs for one-hand deployment, as well as a Titanium Nitride coating. The blade itself is made of 8Cr14MoV steel that is treated to a Rockwell Hardness of 56-59.
The handle on the Drifter is composed of G-10, which does tend to make for a very grippy surface in most situations. The handle also has some good, but not great, ergonomics.
One word of warning, your Drifter might come in dull out of the box, as this has been reported by a number of buyers. If you are good at sharpening a blade, this can be a fairly quick fix and it is easy enough to get a good edge on this knife. If that is not your specialty, however, you may want to look elsewhere. Also, like the M21-04G, the clip is not reversible, so lefties are put at a disadvantage if they want to use this knife.
On the positive side, the blade on this knife does maintain a degree of thickness along the spine, which makes for a strong tip. The thumb studs are well designed and make for easy opening. The liner lock also works well. It secures your blade with absolutely no wiggle.
CRKT Pazoda 2
The Pazoda 2 is a folding knife with a frame lock. Its overall length is 5.125” (13cm).
The blade length is 2.125” (5.4cm) and it is also made of 8Cr13MoV that is treated to an HRC of 56-59. The blade thickness is .1” (2.54mm) and is again coated in Titanium Nitride. It has a Spear Point profile. The blade also features a thumbhole for opening, and functional jimping that works very well when placing the thumb higher on the blade.
The Pazoda 2 has a closed length of 3” (7.6cm). It weighs 1.5oz (42.5g). The handle is stainless steel and features a lanyard hole. The carry clip is one-position, but on the positive side, the design is very comfortable for deep pocket carry.
This is another economy folder from CRKT. However, it is made more durable by the fact that it does have a fairly substantial blade thickness for a knife of this size.
Also, for such a low price point, the knife does have a lot of aesthetic appeal. This is likely due to the fact that this is one of the knives that CRKT has marketed as being suitable for branding purposes. You can have a company logo imprinted on the handle, for use as giveaways to employees, clients, customers, etc.
Like the Drifter, the Pazoda series of value folders tend to come in somewhat dull. This seems to be a consistent quality issue with CRKT’s less expensive knives. You also might find these knives to be a little on the small side, depending on what type of duties you demand out of your EDC.
(+) Solid frame lock design
(+) Thin design for easy carry
(+) Jimping and spine are comfortable for thumb placement
(-) Tip down carry
(-) Handle is a little small for those with larger hands
This EDC is a folder with a frame lock. It is designed by knifemaker Lucas Burnley of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It weighs 3.4oz (96.4g). It has a closed length of 4.490” (11.4cm) and an overall length of 5.71” (14.5cm).
The Squid has a 2.14” (5.4cm) blade. It is made of 8Cr13MoV steel, treated to 58-60HRC. The blade thickness is .11” (2.79mm). It has a deep belly Drop Point design. The blade has dual thumb studs for opening, and also features friction grooves along the spine for gripping purposes.
The handle is made of stainless steel and features a finger choil.
The Burnley black stonewash finish does give the knife a very distinctive look. And overall, it is a good value for an EDC. It fits easily into a pocket or purse and is lightweight enough to not be noticeable to the carrier. The deep belly makes it an effective and versatile slicing knife, while the tip also remains strong for jobs such as puncturing. For those who are looking to perform basic tasks and not wanting to spend a ton of money, this knife can make a lot of sense.
Again, these knives tend to not be the sharpest upon unboxing. In addition, the 8Cr13MoV stainless will not provide the greatest edge retention. For the price, however, and for what these knives are designed to do, this is going to be adequate for most purposes.
The M16-03Z is a Spear Point folder that is built strictly to be functional, unlike the economy folders that CRKT makes with the emphasis on branding. This is another Kit Carson design series, like the M21’s, and it has been very popular with CRKT enthusiasts. The M16’s feature a locking liner and a Carson flipper mechanism. The overall length of the knife is 8.25” (21cm).
The bead-blast finished blade is 3.5” (8.9cm) in length. It is made of AUS-8 and treated to an HRC of 58-59. AUS-8, it should be noted, is the Japanese version of 8Cr14MoV. In most respects, the composition of these two steels is very similar, with AUS-8 also containing a carbon content of .75%. The M-16’s, however, are treated to a higher overall Rockwell Hardness compared to the blades on the M21-04G.
The handle on this knife is GRN (Glass Reinforced Nylon) that is skeletonized for lighter weight (3.5oz/99.2g). It features an automated liner safety mechanism that sets a pin between the locking liner and the frame to act as an additional safety component.
The M16 is well designed overall for tactical use, as well as EDC. It also has a very solid lock up mechanism. When the blade is deployed, there is no movement at all. Again, however, sharpness is an issue. These blades are only okay out of the box and could certainly be improved upon.
CRKT Shenanigan Z
(+) Very good slicing knife
(+) Overall great design and suitable for more rugged tasks
(+) Good price range for all that you get
(-) Too large for an EDC
(-) Aggressive jimping on the handle spine
The Shenanigan Z is a utility folder that is designed to stand up to rugged EDC purposes. It is a design of Ken Onion from Kaneohe, HI.
The blade length is 3.25” (8.3cm) and it is made of AUS-8, treated to an HRC of 58-59 and finished with a bead blasting process. The profile is a Drop Point with a hollow grind. The weight is 4.1oz (116.2g). It features a liner lock and a flipper opening mechanism. It is the same overall length as the M16-03Z, reviewed above, at 8.25” (21cm), although it is a little over a half of an ounce heavier weighing 4.1oz (116.2g).
The knife features a flipper along with lubrous washers, and bronze bushing at the pivot for very smooth one hand opening.
The Shenanigan’s handle is GRN with knurled texturing and features a jimped finger choil and a lanyard hole. It also has a jimped thumb ramp on the spine, although you might find it to be overly aggressive when cutting through hard materials. However, it does allow the knife to grip very well, and in general, the handle has pretty good ergonomic qualities.
The Shenanigan is a healthy size for a folder, as it is both long and thick. The blade has a slight re-curve to it, which makes it a very good slicer. The series also seems to do a bit better in terms of coming from the factory with a fine edge. Overall, this is a very nice knife that will serve you well over a broad range of uses.
(+) Functional “Field Strip” design
(+) Good weight for its size
(+) Good ergonomics on the handle
(-) Blade has to remain off center to make the field strip mechanism easy to actuate
(-) Higher price point
The Taiwanese-made Homefront is another design by Ken Onion of Kaneohe, HI. It has a classic styling and an innovative “Field Strip” design, which allows the knife to be disassembled without tools, for the purposes of field cleaning.
The blade is 3.5” (8.9cm) and has a thickness of .13” (3.38mm). It is made of AUS-8 steel that is treated to an HRC of 57-58. The blade profile is a Drop Point with a hollow grind.
The handle on the Homefront is made of 6061 aluminum, which is an alloy containing magnesium and silicon for extra strength. It is a material that is sometimes used in the construction of aircraft wings and fuselages. The handle is also textured for improved grip, features a locking liner, and has a closed length of 4.748” (12cm). The overall length is 8.313” (21.1cm).
The Field Strip design is a really interesting innovation, mainly because it works very well and is not simply a gimmick. There are plenty of instances where field cleaning of a folder might be necessary when out in harsh conditions. This knife offers a unique and genuine solution to that problem. The Field Strip mechanism has two anchor points that are used in the assembly/disassembly process. The first anchor is at the pivot where there is a flip mechanism that needs to be “engaged” for disassembly. The second anchor is a dial at the back of the handle that must be turned. Using these two mechanisms, the knife can be easily taken apart. They also ensure that it will not come apart accidentally.
The Graphite is a unique, sleek-industrial design created by Glenn Klecker. The handle frame is an open build concept with an integrated Klecker Lock.
The blade has a modified Drop Point profile and a hollow grind. The length is 3.06” (7.7cm) and is made of 8Cr13MoV steel, treated to an HRC of 58-60. It features ambidextrous thumb studs for one-handed opening. The overall length of the knife is 7.5” (19.1cm). It weighs 4.4oz (124.6g).
The handle is stainless steel and has a G-10 strip along its base for improved grip. The handle has a skeletal design and also features a lanyard hole, as well as the previously mentioned Klecker Lock for safety.
This is one of the CRKT’s that typically comes very sharp out of the box. It does a good job with most slicing jobs from light to medium materials. However, you might experience some discomfort with the handle. The handle has a lot of corners in general and can cause you some hotspots when really applying pressure.
In addition, although the lock on the Graphite is solid, it is not the easiest to manipulate when closing the blade. A similar statement could be made about the flipper mechanism—it is sturdy, but it is not the smoothest deployment if you are looking for something that is extremely quick opening. As far as the ruggedness of the knife itself goes, the unusual design elements of the Graphite do not detract from the quality of the build.
In most cases, these CRKT folders have a lot to offer to those looking for an EDC. No matter if your needs are on the heavy-duty side of things, or if you are in the market for something lightweight and easy to carry. The innovative designs and low-to-medium prices make these attractive offerings.
Just be aware that there could be a few issues when it comes to the blades on these knives. They have a tendency to be dull, especially when compared to other manufacturers competing at this end of the market. They also use steel that is not known for great edge retention and corrosion resistance. If you are a proficient knife sharpener and are always working on your blades anyway, then this might not be a problem for you. You can get a knife at a very reasonable price and also one that features a unique and functional design.
Image by James Case