It’s not always easy to define what makes a knife great. To some, versatility is key, so they want something that will be just as useful on a fishing line as it will on a battlefield. Others want a different knife for every job, and want each blade to do what it does best.
No matter what type of knife enthusiast you are, one thing is almost always universal: reliability is of the utmost importance. A blade could be $1 or $10,000, but if it doesn’t deliver when you need it too, it might as well be a pencil.
In this article, we’re going to be looking at a knife brand that has done its best to produce those “reliable” models for over 40 years: Kershaw Blades. We’ll start with a little information on the company, and then profile our picks for the 10 best Kershaw knives.
#2 KERSHAW BRAWLER (1990) FOLDING POCKET KNIFE
#1 KERSHAW FATBACK (1935) MULTIPURPOSE KNIFE
#3 KERSHAW BUCK COMMANDER LONEROCK HUNTER
ABOUT KERSHAW KNIVES
Kershaw Knives was founded in 1974 when a salesman for Gerber Legendary Blades decided to go rogue with his own designs and ideas. Soon after, Pete Kershaw and his little company became an official subsidiary of the KAI Group, one of the largest Japanese cutlery manufacturers in the world at that time.
Just before 2000, a production facility was opened in Wilsonville, Oregon, and Kershaw officially became synonymous with KAI USA’s sporting, camping, and everyday carry division. Since then, they’ve been leading the pack in technology, procedures, and materials – producing extremely reliable, affordable knives that live up to Pete Kershaw’s standards of quality.
WHY KERSHAW STANDS OUT:
Kershaw never set out to make every type of knife there is – they knew what they did well, and they learned how to do it better. This is a big reason why their products have been racking up awards for decades now, including a win at the 2007 Blade Show “Overall Knife of the Year” victory for the Tyrade 1850 and 2010’s “American Made Knife of the Year” for the Tilt 4001.
And while the company sticks to its wheelhouse, they certainly haven’t shown a hesitancy to innovate. This includes working with renowned knife designer Ken Onion to develop their patented SpeedSafe opening mechanism and developing composite blades designs that feature edge-retaining steel on the blade and strength-retaining steel on the spine.
IS KERSHAW RIGHT FOR YOU?
Kershaw has accomplished in under 50 years what many blade manufacturers haven’t accomplished in centuries. To point, they are one of the most well-respected and esteemed blade brands on the market, yet they’ve remained humble enough to keep their products affordable for the everyday knife enthusiast, camper, hunter, or collector.
Many of the design elements we take for granted were introduced by Kershaw, including knives with interchangeable blades. They’ve remained focused on their original intentions as well, specializing mainly in every day and utility blades with small – but impressive – forays into other design types.
Reputation wise, Kershaw is up there with anything else on the market, regardless of price point. Their designs are sleek and clean, but ultimately functional. Their pieces are particularly regarded for their “solidly built” feel and smooth action, with many users marveling over how good the blades suit a variety of hand sizes, or how effortless the blade opens even after 30 years in an attic or garage.
That being said, the only way to tell if a blade is right for you is to look at it in detail. Below, we’ve selected 10 amazing knives from Kershaw’s impressive portfolio, each with its own pros, cons, and “must-have” features.
You might find interesting to read our best Case knives article.
THE TOP 10 KERSHAW KNIVES
#1 KERSHAW FATBACK (1935) MULTIPURPOSE KNIFE
(+) Hefty and solidly build, but still suited to daily use.
(+) Smooth, one-handed opening with SpeedSafe tech.
(-) Potentially too thick for EDC.
(-) Some Users have reported issues with clips breaking.
The Kershaw Fatback has become something of a legend among EDC knives, not just for its heft and reliability, but for its name. Ask any 10 blade owners, and you’ll get 10 different stories about how the term “Fatback” came to be.
Ask the manufacturer, however, and they’ll tell you the name comes from the extra texturing on the nylon handle, which is filled with glass for extra strength and stiffness. This texturing gives the handle an excellent grip in wet conditions. The 8Cr13MoV steel comes in a modified drop point shape similar to a dagger and is coated with black oxide to resist wear and corrosion.
Like many Kershaw blades, the Fatback comes with SpeedSafe, spring-assisted deployment, but this model also features a flipper and thumb stud. As a survival, fishing, or utility blade, the Fatback shines, but despite its tactical appearance, many users will find it ill-suited to self-defense unless absolutely necessary. Furthermore, some users feel the handle is just “too fat,” and makes the knife too bulky for deep carry. Others report that they fully reversible pocket clip (another Kershaw standard) either breaks too easily or impedes deployment after being modified.
All in all, the Kershaw Fatback is an excellent EDC knife provided you don’t mind the pocket bulk, but the jury is still out on how reliable it is in a life-or-death situation.
#2 KERSHAW BRAWLER (1990) FOLDING POCKET KNIFE
(+) Modified tanto blade is suitable for puncturing as well as cutting.
(+) Hefty and solidly built.
(-) SpeedSafe failures have been reported.
(-) Short blade but a fat handle – a little cumbersome for EDC.
While the name of the Kershaw Brawler may seem to imply it is designed for tactical use, this knife is actually far better suited to saving lives. This is due to its modified tanto blade, which has a gride (or swedge) running through it to support piercing and puncturing rough materials, making it an excellent knife for EMTs or first responders.
Built with reliable 8Cr13MoV steel, the 3” blade is more useful than its size would imply, and at 4.1” closed, the Brawler is stealthy, functional, and easy to carry. Like almost all modern Kershaw models, the Brawler comes equipped with SpeedSafe supported opening, a glass-filled nylon handle for maximum strength, and a black oxide finish to resist corrosion.
Still, every great knife is not without its occasional complaints, and the Brawler’s seem to largely center on its heft – some consider the handle too thick – and the occasional failure of the spring-assisted, SpeedSafe mechanism, turning the assisted folder into just a folder. Still, other users have mentioned that the 4-way adjustable pocket clip is either too tight or has needed replacement.
If you want a good, short blade utility knife that can punch through just about anything, the Brawler is an excellent choice, especially at the price. However, if the goal is to get your hands on a survival knife that will last you a lifetime and beyond, this might not be your blade.
Check out our suggested SOG knives article.
#3 KERSHAW BUCK COMMANDER LONEROCK HUNTER
(+) Excellent grip and control, perfect for field dressing.
(+) The included gut hook is very handy.
(-) Includes poor quality sheath.
(-) Low price may indicate “cheap” quality to some.
There are hunting knives and there is the Kershaw Buck Commander. Trading expensive features like antler handles for utility and reliability, this fixed blade model is the perfect companion to take with you into the woods.
Kershaw’s standard 8Cr13MoV steel gets a titanium carbo-nitride coating in this case, making the 3.75” blade extra resistant to the elements and any corrosives it may encounter while doing its duty. The nylon handle features glass filaments, which give it extra strength, as well as a rubber cover to help gloved hands keep their grip.
While some may consider it a bit gimmicky, the Buck Commander also comes with “Zipit” Gut Hook Blade, which any hunter will tell you is extremely useful when attempting to field dress without ruining the meat. Other complaints mostly fixate on the included sheath, which many consider to be of extremely low quality and not befitting the knife at all.
If you’re a hunter who wants a field dressing knife that’s more about utility than looks, this is a great option to consider.
#4 KERSHAW BLUR BLACK (1670BLK) EVERYDAY CARRY POCKET KNIFE
(+) Sharp, elegant, and solid.
(+) DLC coating on the blade resists chipping and dulling.
(-) One of Kershaw’s pricier models.
(-) Weighs nearly ½ lb.
The next knife on our list is almost a no-brainer. It provides a number of additional tools and a convenient design to fit on anyone’s checklist.
One of the main draws of the Funxion is its multipurpose tool at the base of the knife. While not “swiss army” level in utility, for a single addition, it does a surprising amount. It can serve as a cord cutter for splicing wires, a rudimentary screwdriver in a pinch, a hex wrench, and a bottle opener.
Moreover, the Funxion provides a variety of ways to carry it with a carabiner clip and a pocket clip. Unfortunately, the pocket clip is fixed in a single position which may decrease your precision when utilizing the attachment’s functions.
Still, the Funxion does feature Kershaw’s patented SpeedSafe assisted opening with an easy to use back flipper for additional convenience. The blade’s 2-step serration provides additional cutting power for fibrous material like rope.
Keep in mind, the blade itself is only 3″ which is not bad but may not be what most survivalists want out of a secondary knife–especially since the serration occupies close to half the edge. Also important to note, the liner lock is not as durable as one would prefer, especially for the attachment.
We also suggest checking out our article about the best Gerber knives by clicking here.
#5 KERSHAW SHUFFLE II MULTIFUNCTION FOLDING POCKET KNIFE
(+) Lightly build but with a thick, hardy blade.
(+) Multi-purpose tools (bottle opener, screwdriver) built in.
(-) No SpeedSafe opening mechanism.
(-) Some think it’s too lightweight, and feels cheap.
The Kershaw Shuffle II goes to great lengths to be an “outdoorsman’s knife.” That being said, it would also be well-suited to everyday uses on the job, and wouldn’t be completely useless in a self-defense situation.
The reinforced, 2.6” 8Cr13MoV stainless steel blade is wide and mean – well-suited to slashing, slicing, carving, and puncturing. The handle features an extra large lanyard hold, a bottle opener, and a flathead screwdriver tip, none of which manage to take away from the knife’s overall sleek design and feel.
One major strike against the knife, however, is that Kershaw’s patented SpeedSafe spring-assisted opening function is absent, but the blade still opens smoothly thanks to the extra large Kershaw thumb studs. Another criticism of the knife is its overall lightweight feeling, which some users think feels “cheap,” while others think makes it that much better as an EDC blade.
For users who want versatility and reliability, this blade will deliver. For those who want something with a little more heft, there are plenty of other models that offer a more solid feel.
#6 KERSHAW LINK DROP-POINT KNIFE
|Steel:||Modified 420HC Steel|
(+) Fully reversible.
(+) Blackwashed, high chromium and carbon blade.
(-) Reports of pocket clip breaking quickly and easily.
(-) Clip leaves a high carry in the pocket.
The Link is one of Kershaw’s guaranteed “Made in the USA” models, but still comes in at a price tag that will shock most users. A versatile, drop-point folder, this blade carries a number of features – some that really set it apart from the competition.
Probably the biggest “wow” feature of this knife is the blade. Made from 420HC stainless steel, it was manufactured with higher amounts of carbon and chromium to boost corrosion resistance and add strength. The blade also boasts Kershaw’s patented “Blackwash” finish, which is a blend of blade coating and stonewashing that makes the black finish impervious to fingerprints and smudges and resistant to scratching.
With the standard Kershaw attributes like SpeedSafe deployment and full reversibility, this is an extremely versatile knife for everyday use. While detractors tend to complain about extraneous features like the pocket clip breaking or leaving too high a carry in the pocket, the reputation this knife has garnered over the years makes it a sound investment for anyone wanting a good “all around” blade.
#7 KERSHAW KEN ONION RAINBOW LEEK FOLDING KNIFE
|Steel:||Rainbow 410 Stainless Steel|
(+) Beautiful collector’s item blade. Designed by Ken Onion.
(+) Ultra smooth action. SpeedSafe deployment.
(-) Extremely high price. Not meant for everyday use.
(-) Some complaints of easy rusting on this model.
The Rainbow Leek, the product of legendary knife designer Ken Onion, is easily one of the most intriguing blades on the market. As the 2002 Blade Magazine “Knife of the Year,” it has an excellent reputation – and a big price – to live up to.
A modified version of Kershaw’s Leek model, this knife is coated in titanium-oxide, which gives each one a completely unique “rainbow” appearance. Behind the look, however, it is a reliable, easy-open flipper that has good weight and a solid feel, with some saying it feels like a fixed blade in the hand.
Some users, on the other hand, don’t know much about how the Rainbow Leek functions, because they find it “too pretty to use,” or have kept it in a collectors case since taking it out of the box. Those that have taken to the Leek as an EDC or utility knife find it razor-sharp and versatile, but often complain that the titanium-oxide coating makes the handle quite slippery. A few have mentioned that the knife is dangerous to carry without the lock engaged, and may open up while in a pocket.
A truly innovative knife design – there are no rules regarding what you can use the Rainbow Leek for. Collect it, store it, or beat it up, it’s going to perform just fine. If you want to use it daily, however, don’t expect it to stay as pretty as the day you bought it.
#8 KERSHAW CQC-8K (6044TBLK) EMERSON DESIGNED POCKET KNIFE
(+) Emerson Wave for instant deployment in self-defense situations.
(+) Tanto-style blade designed to puncture as well as slice.
(-) No SpeedSafe feature, so it’s either Emerson or manual deployment.
(-) Chisel grind does not work for many cutting situations.
The CQC-8K is a collaboration design between Emerson blades and Kershaw, so it is one of only a handful of Kershaws to feature an “Emerson Wave,” a tactical-knife feature that deploys the blade as it is being removed from a pocket.
Featuring a savage-looking 3.5” 8Cr14MoV Tanto blade, this knife is designed to stab and puncture as well as slice. It’s unique design, which also includes a thumb disk, lanyard hold, and wide thumb ramp is focused on utility and offering a great grip, particularly at the index finger. This is further supported by the textured G-10 handle, which makes the knife easy to hold in all-weather conditions.
Users report that the blade has very little side-to-side play, which gives it a nice, solid feeling in the hand. However, many complain about the chisel grind, which means that only one side of the blade is beveled, as it limits the ability to cut properly in some situations. With the Emerson Wave in place, Kershaw has also skipped the SpeedSafe assisted opening on this model, which some users think is sorely missed.
As a tactical or first-responder knife, the CQC-8K is almost guaranteed to deliver. However, if you’re looking for an EDC knife that’s going to spend most of its time attacking boxes, this might now be the #1 choice.
#9 KERSHAW KNOCKOUT POCKET KNIFE
(+) Deep pocket carry knife with a large, DLC coated blade.
(+) SpeedSafe opening is well-balanced and smooth.
(-) Large for an EDC knife, but very light.
(-) Some users would like a better handle grip.
The Kershaw Knockout joins a growing number of the brand’s knives that have been racking up great reviews for years now. Praised for its versatility and ultra light carry weight, this is a serious knife that can tackle a wide variety of jobs.
The Knockout gets its name from a “knocked out” section in the handle that has been replaced with a stainless-steel plate, forming a sub-frame lock that takes up less space and uses less steel, keeping the entire knife more lightweight. Another major feature is the modified drop-point blade. Made from 3.25” of Sandvik 14C28N, it features a DLC coating for added corrosion resistance (and it doesn’t look half bad either).
The unit has a 3-position pocket clip for tip-up or tip-down carry, as well as Kershaw’s patented SpeedSafe spring-assisted opening mechanism. On the downside, however, some users have complained about the grip quality, and of the large thumb studs catching on clothing or string.
Regardless of the naysayers, those looking for a hardy but lightweight knife should have few issues with the Knockout. Those who want a little more heft for their hand, however, will be disappointed by the unit’s feather weight.
#10 KERSHAW LEEK, COMPOSITE BLADE (1660CB) POCKET KNIFE
|Steel:||D2 (edge) and Sandvik 14C28N (spine)|
(+) Two types of steel offer a superior cutting edge.
(+) Renowned Leek design with SpeedSafe opening mechanism.
(-) Stainless steel handle gets quite slippers quite quickly.
(-) Can be dangerous to open two-handed.
Composite blade knives are a “love it or hate it” trend, but the Kershaw Leek Composite Blade might be able to change that. Built upon the already much loved Leek design, this knife features a 3” blade with a wavy line of copper separating a razor-sharp D2 edge from a hardy Sandvik 14C28N spine.
The idea behind the design is to give users the best of both worlds – allowing a light, thin-bladed knife to perform in more conditions and resist higher levels of stress. Like many Kershaw models, this Leek features a SpeedSafe spring-assisted opening mechanism, as well as a flipper and pre-drilled lanyard hole.
On the other hand, some users still find the unit hard to open, and even dangerous to do so two-handed. Others have found that their composite blades rusted after a just a few years, or complained that the ultra-thin design was just a little too thin for prying or applying horizontal pressure. The most common issue, however, is with the knife’s plain stainless steel handle, which can get somewhat slippery in some conditions.
Regardless, there’s no denying this is a sharp-looking and all-around sharp knife and would be extremely useful in a wide range of situations – from EDC to utility to basic outdoorsmanship.
We feel that all ten of models are great buys, and are almost guaranteed to make a blade enthusiast’s day. As we’ve shown, Kershaw is a pioneer in affordable, high-quality knives, but they have also been extremely innovative as well, adding features that really put their models above much higher priced competition
However, many users take issue with the company’s QC, especially when it comes to the reversible pocket clips and shipping out the occasional dull blade. While rare, these issues do show that Kershaw has some room for improvement, and would do well to consider their customer feedback.
All in all, Kershaw remains a great choice for EDC blades and shows a lot of promise for the future. If you’ve come across any stand out Kershaw Knives, please e-mail us at [email protected] and let us know. We’re always happy to add a few more models to our collection.
Image credit by Brett Neilson