Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kershaw Skyline Review

The Kershaw Skyline is, like the Tenacious, one of those knives that has been reviewed and reviewed and even re-reviewed all over the internet, on knife forums, and elsewhere. So, like the Tenacious review, this is really about having a more comprehensive list of reviews than breaking news. Also, I happened to want a Skyline since I saw one at Wal-Mart on sale for a paltry $25. Here is my Skyline:

IMG_0058

The idea for the Skyline, according to Tommie Lucas, its designer was to make an EDC knife that uses a flipper but does not have an assisted opening. He hit it right on the mark.

ASIDE

I think every knife should come with its designer's name on the packaging. First, they deserve the credit (or the blame). Also, eventually you learn that there are certain people you like (Sal Glesser) and folks you don't (Brian Tighe) and this helps you evaluate new products for purchase. Its like putting the director's name on a movie.

END ASIDE

Here is the product page. Here is a good street price. Here are the Amazon reviews. The average score is 4.73 out of 5 with 73 reviews. There is also a special addition "Damascus" blade Skyline and a ACU digital camo G-10 version. The ACU camo version is much rarer than the Damascus version. There is no serrated version, thankfully. Above were three good video reviews.

Design: 2

Sit and look at the Skyline for a minute. Stare at it. Do you see it? Do you see what makes this a really competitive knife in an already overcrowded market segment? Its greatest design triumph, the thing that separates it from lesser knives, is subtle. It only has one liner. By doing that Tommie Lucas lightened the knife significantly and made it from yet another mid-sized clunker into a svelte contender. The cut of the handle is very ergonomic and the flipper does double duty as a hilt. Here is a close up of the great finger choil/cutout:

IMG_0037

The blade:handle is an impressive: .73. The curved, talon-like end of the handle makes for a great rest when holding the knife in a reverse grip.

Fit and Finish: 2

Working with a razor thin budget Lucas and Kershaw banged out a fantastic knife in terms of fit and finish. Buck should take notice because this knife is made the USA, is cheap, and has a well centered blade even in a liner lock, something the first couple batches of Vantages, at the least, did not manage to do. Lock is smooth and tight, there is no wiggle room in the blade when out, and the blade's finish is even and smooth.

Grip: 2

Second only to my ZT350, this baby really locks into your hand, again probably because of the great finger choil and flipper working in combination. The tapered tail is also nice. The handle slabs of G-10 are rounded over so there are no hotspots. I did a lot of whittling with my Skyline and even in repeated, hard pulls there was no pinching or uncomfortable places. That said the surface is still quite grippy.

Carry: 2

The knife's incredibly slim profile means that it just vanishes in the pocket and its weight means you can't feel it either. For a blade larger than three inches it is amazingly invisible. Even the flipper is okay, as unlike other flippers, it does not get in the way of retrieving the knife for some reason.

Steel: 2

The big issue with the Skyline is that Kershaw has upgraded the steel from the original release. It was originally released with Sandvik's 13c26. In 2009-2010 they upgraded the knife to the Kershaw exclusive Sandvik 14c28n. The steel's recipe is very similar to 13c26. The interesting thing is that 14c28n, and to a lesser extend 13c26, seem to be part of a wave of new knife steels that have low carbon counts and high nitrogen counts. This is, based my limited understanding, a way to keep the steel hard and add some corrosion resistance to the blade. So, for example, the 14c28n has .11% nitrogen and Spyderco's H1 has .10%. There is more carbon in the 14c28n than H1, so it will rust, but it is an interesting and new way to balance out the attributes people look for in steel. The hardness count on the Rockwell scale varies significantly depended on heat treating (55-62, according to Sandvik), but its high is really high, slightly more than S30V (which usually tops out around 60-61) but less than ZDP-189 (which can hit 66). I really punished the knife, whittling an oak tree limb and cutting cardboard and it is still decently sharp. I did touch it up on the Sharpmaker so it is not as hard as ZDP-189, but it is still very impressive; in the upper echelon of steels and at this price, probably the best steel for the money right now.

Blade Shape: 1

Okay, here is the first ding against the blade and it is not a major issue. I am not sure I understand the reason for a spear point/drop point blade. Here is a not too close macro of the blade:

IMG_0041

I like the belly, but the tip seems pretty fragile. Looking at the knife from overhead, you see that very little of the thickness of the blade is carried out to the tip. Compare this to the blade on the ZT350, for example, which I think has a great shape because of its thickness throughout, and I think you will have the same question I did: why? Why not just go with a clip point or why not get rid of the swedge and just carry the thickness all the way out? In a utility blade this thin of a tip could be a problem.

Grind: 1

As I have harped on this point all along--with lower costs comes lesser grinds. Here the grind on the blade itself is fine, but the secondary bevel, the actual cutting edge, well that is kinda messy. At the tip of the blade, the grind just seems to go off the line, as if the guy at Kershaw was dozing for a second at the grinder wheel. It is not terrible but it does weaken an already weak tip. Note how, in the picture above, the grind widens at the tip. Boo.

Deployment Method: 2

For a while I had this as a 1. The flipper here requires a very specific motion, hitting the very end of the flipper only, to deploy without a wrist snap. Then I realized, well, that could be a good thing as it requires a very specific action making accidental activation unlikely. If you need to deploy the knife fast every time, look at a different blade, but for EDC/utility use, the deployment method is very good.

Retention Method: 2

Ah yes, the simple beauty of the Strider clip. It was on loan to ZT and then it went over into the regular Kershaw line. Good thing because it is AWESOME. Here is a peek:

IMG_0063

Lock: 2

The lockup is solid and the liner lock is perfectly fine. It also disengages easily. Very good.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

For a blade made in America for under or around $30 the Skyline is an awesome choice. Nothing even comes close. But for a bit more, like 2 lunches at Subway more, you can get a Delica, which I think, is a more refined design. Not much more and maybe not even 2 lunches worth more. The Skyline certain deserves the praise it gets. It is an awesome knife. It has reset the bar for value in an EDC folder. Great job Tommie Lucas and Kershaw.

1YL: 19 out of 20

The more knives I review the more I realize that I dinged the Skyline TOO MUCH for the blade shape.  Compared to, say the Kerhsaw Leek, this thing is positively robust.  There are very few knives that I have gotten rid of that I want back.  This is at the top of the list.  It is such a solid blade and it is easily among the best values in the under $50 price range that I feel silly not giving it a higher score.  Its not perfect, but it is damn good.  

16 comments:

  1. Bravo Tony, excellent review! I am a big fan of the Skyline as well... you are absolutely right, this unassuming design definitely broke away from the pack.

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  2. My Kershaw Skyline blade is EXTREMELY hard -- it's as hard as a file. So whatever the Rockwell hardness, mine is very hard (and presumably brittle).

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  3. 14C28N is really hard--around 58-62 according to the data sheet. That is really amazing. S30V is around 56-58, sometimes as high aas 60. ZDP-189 is around 64-68.

    Rockwell hardness is interesting, but not the end all be all. Still for as $25 that kind of performance is impressive.

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  4. since I bought mine I guess kershaw saw a good way of screwing it customers and has doubled the going price. Too bad I do like the knife but would not by at the asking price now

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    1. Maybe get a better job so you don't have to be such a penny pincher?

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  5. Found many for $33-35 online as of 6:45 on July 12, 2012.

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    1. I saw it at $37 on amazon. That is a great price for this great knife.

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  6. I couldn't find it cheaper than $45 shipped. I got it in orange. It was worth it. This knife is awesome

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  7. don't know is the steel is that hard but its very very easy to sharpen... got it hair popping sharp in a few minutes using high grid sandpaper and I suck at sharpening, I have only tried sharpening 2 other cheaper blades the same way and i couldn't get them even close to that

    mine also came with different grind angles before and after the belly (higher below, lower after)... I guess they all do

    another problem is the pocket clip - not only its small but when you put it to be tip-up, half the knife sticks out of your pocket

    but its a good and affordable knife, and the review is great

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  8. I finally picked up a Skyline and wow, it is great. In use you can appreciate why the knife is so popular. Fit and finish is excellent, from the grind to the smooth pivot to the liner, flush against the G-10. How did they do that while making it in the USA, having good materials, yet keeping the price fair (though it's crept up to $40)? By ingenious design that minimizes the number of labor-intensive steps required.

    For example, the total lack of thumb jimping (which costs $$$) would suck on most knives this size. On the Skyline it proves quite acceptable because of the AWESOME choil, formed by the flipper tang and the deep cutout in the handle. Nice. The grippy G-10 handles are also helpful.

    I am also surprised by how great the 14C28N steel has been to use, matching your praise. It is SUPER easy to sharpen well, yet edge retention is high, superior to VG-10. Quite a technical achievement. I worked the Skyline fairly hard on branches and a bunch of heavy paper cutting, and the edge held up. That smidgen of nitrogen must really make a difference. 14C28N is essentially AUS-8 with 0.11% nitrogen added, yet performs noticeably better than AUS-8.

    Sandvik steel has a reputation for very pure alloy. That may contribute to the feeling of quality in using 14C28N. It is a steel worth seeking out on future Kershaws, a real selling point.

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  9. One of the knives I regret not trying out. The price is creeping up though

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  10. Nice review. I suppose I slightly(and respectfully) disagree about the tip fragility. I think you have to take the design intent into account, and this one is really "light duty" only. As such, I think the tip is ok for this use.

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  11. Kershaw seems to be phasing out the bead blast finish on the Skyline in favor of stonewashing. Lots of the limited edition runs have stonewashed blades (or other desirable finishes like the "blackwash"). And to judge from blurbs on Amazon, the standard Skyline has now joined them too.

    Excellent move. They listened to all our bitching about the bead blast!

    I have a lot of experience with 14C28N + stonewash on the Knockout and a sprint run Skyline and it makes for a GREAT all around EDC blade.

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    1. Just to add: even some very cheap Kershaws are now appearing with stonewashed blade finishes, such as the Chinese-made Freefall (8Cr13MoV). Four years ago that thing would have totally had a rust-prone bead blast.

      Kershaw is listening to the enthusiast base...

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  12. I have a skyline manufactured jan 09. It is a beautiful knife that has held up amazingly well after years of edc. It is so thin i don't notice it in my pocket. The blade steel is excellent. Idk what particular steel my knife has but it performs beautifully. Especially for the money. I don't maintain the knife particularly well although i do clean and oil it every year or so. i have never even taken it apart and it works like new. i have never tightened a torx fastener on it and it works like new. I cannot say enough good about this knife. I wish they made a larger version. Thicker blade and handle for medium- heavy use for more money. What a great design, materials and execution. Amazing knife anyway at the price i paid... Better than some knives three to four times the money imho.

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  13. Just got one. It's very nice. My only complaint is that the inner edge of the scale w/o the liner is sharp enough to slice into my fingernail when I use the flipper. I'll probably file or sand it down, but it'd be better if this edge had been beveled at the factory.

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