Thursday, May 5, 2011

CRKT steps it up

CRKT has long had a reputation among knife knuts as a company that, in general, produces lower quality production knives. Every once in a while they will hit a home run, loads of folks liked their CRKT S2 (see here), the Halligan KISS, and I like the McGinnis Tuition (the custom version of which is incredible), but in general, they get mediocre reviews and comments around the 'net (not that the Net is the end all be all, but...overwhelming consensus opinion means something).

For me, I think their knives fall into one of three categories: crappy knock offs of customs (usually weird customs: see any Brian Tighe designed knife), unnecessarily bulky versions of knives that don't need that bulk (see the M4 Hunting Knife), or weird experiments (see about half their line). Sometimes the experiments work, like the KISS, and other times they don't, like with their Rollock knives. The other issue is that they use really mediocre steel. I have seen AUS8 done well, like in Al Mar knives, but generally it is not a great steel and should not be the high end for any legitimate production company (again with Al Mar being the exception because of their fit and finish and the polish they put on their blades that not only makes them look nicer, but makes them more rust resistant).

So last year, when CRKT announced new knives with new features, a famous and stolen designer, and new steel it was something that caused me to sit up and take notice. They are stepping up their game. Behold the Ripple and the Eros:

The Ripple:



The Eros:



These were the first two production knives that used the IKBS pivot system. They are both designed by former Kershaw stalwart Ken Onion. And they both use a flipper. Both are available in a smaller size and the larger versions both have serrated and plain edge blades. The small Ripple is a very nice sized blade. The small Eros is too tiny for me (2 inch blade and a stunning .8 ounce carry weight). I own neither of them, but I have handled them and I can say with little reservation that the IKBS system coupled with a flipper makes for an elegant, smooth, and functional opening like no other. It is even smoother and more effortless than my Sebenza.

The problem is these knives are ugly (as is the third CKRT knife to use the IKBS system, the Sampa). The handles, in particular, look like something out of an Alien movie--thin, spindly, and covered in holes. I understand they may lighten the knife, but in the end, they are still UGLY. Both knives look like fish skeletons. The Eros, with its matte finish titanium, even feels like a fish skeleton.

Both knives are pricey. Here is a good (i.e. representative) street price for the Ripple (Large) and here is a good street price for the Eros (Large). The steel is a relatively unfamiliar steel, Acuto +. Here is a quote from Mike Stewart (who knows a thing or two about knife steel, as the founder of Bark River Knife and Tool) over on knifeforums (here is the original thread):

That Steel is in between 440C and 154CM in Performance. It has about the same amount of Carbon as the other two but has more Moly than 440C and less Moly than 154CM. It should perform fine - just as 440c and 154cm perform fine too. It has the hands down dumbest name I have ever heard for a steel and proves that the japanese will call stuff any damn thing. You should be in great shape on using the steel. It is the only steel that I have ever seen CRK&T use that would hold a real good edge. I'm sure that is because Ken insisted that they not use one of their standard 420/440A equivalents.

It sounds like a good steel to me. The clip on both knives was too funky for me to get behind, it just slipped around or, in the case of off centered clips, I find that they "roll" in the pocket and are hard to extract. These knives are also SUPER thin, like around 1/2 inch thick. It is impressive. Both use frame locks and the locks I saw were fine. The blade shape on the Ripple is really great, a nice clip point. The Eros' tip is a little too point for me and doesn't inspire confidence.

There is a lot to like in these knives, a lot, but the handles leave me cold. I would never buy an Eros, but I have come close to buying the small Ripple a few times. Again, the pocket clip and the handle make me think otherwise. But know this--CRKT is playing with the big boys now. There is an all-time great knife somewhere in the design of these two knives. Imagine this: a pillar constructed, simple metal handle, Ripple type clip point with a Spyderco-style deep carry wire clip or a Buck Vantage style clip, and the IKBS system and flipper. That, my friends, would be a world beater. Ideally it would come in at about 2.5-2.6 inches. If they could pull it off at under $100 people would flock. These knives show that CRKT can make good stuff. With a few tweaks they could have an amazing knife on their hands.

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