Saturday, September 17, 2011

CRKT McGinnis Tuition Review

It's 1951 and you go to the store for some milk. You see next to the cash register a small box and in the box a series of packages. On the packages are images of baseball and players in that overexposed color tinting. You buy a package and rip it open. Inside you find what could nominally be called gum in a flat, sheet-like stick. It is pink and unappetizing. You see behind it a series of cardboard cards with images and names. One of them is:

Willie Mays

Behind the name is this image:

It's Willie Mays's rookie card (and yes it is "Mays's", I checked because I didn't know for sure).

In some respects the CRKT Tuition and Summa are like that Willie Mays rookie card--the first entry for a young, incredibly talented person. In this case the talent is Gerry McGinnis. At the time, according to his site, he was in college when he designed the custom knives that became the production Tuition and Summa. CRKT has since picked up three other knives he designed and made them production models: the Notorious, the Shrimp, and the Premonition. Here is Gerry's CRKT page.

Here is the Tuition's page. Here is a good street price. Here is a video review. Here is a very good written review. Here is the Amazon reviews page for it. It has a score of 4 stars out of 5 with 3 reviews. Just to break up the normal pattern, here is a BEAUTIFUL custom version:

And here is my Tuition:


Design: 2

There is something very animalistic about the Tuition, as if it were made of bone and muscle and claw. It looks, in profile, like a Sperm Whale, perhaps the greatest non-human apex predator of all time, but then you put it to use in your hand and you realize that this is a very pretty work knife. It is hard to classify this knife in traditional terms. It is too bulky to be a constant companion EDC knife, not dressy enough to be a gentleman's knife, not stout enough to be a tactical blade, but if you ignore trying to categorize it and just use it you realize just how inspired the young McGinnis is at making knives. Everything works, there are no excess pieces or parts, and it fits well in your hand.

Fit and Finish: 2

Well, I had mentioned it before, but it is clear to me now, having carried the Tuition for a while, that CRKT has really stepped up their game. The fit and finish on the Tuition is excellent. For a $30 knife I am simply stunned. The detent is perfect, the pivot is smooth, the handles are beautifully sculpted. It is not merely that they didn't make any mistakes, they have actually added luxurious touches like two toned Micarta handles. The green is really subtle so I had to make some seriously harsh lighting to get it to come out on camera:


Same shot without the harsh lighting:


I didn't expect that at this price level. Check out how good the centering is, something that almost always correlates with more expensive knives:


Grip: 2

This is a pudgy knife, fat and wide but short. Still all of the curves work to accentuate the knife in your hand and during use. The flipper works well as a hand guard. There is a nice finger choil. The Wharncliffe blade all but begs for harder uses and tasks, and the curves of the handle make that possible and even comfortable. The handle scales are convex and their three dimensionality works well. One small, small knock--the handle shape does not promote a comfortable reverse grip.

Carry: 0

As I said, this is a pudgy knife. It is also a staggeringly heavy knife for its size. It weighs 3.4 ounces and that seems awfully generous. It also not the most graceful knife at getting in and out of pocket. The clip is not too weird, but the whole package together is a bear in the pocket. The flipper seems to be too big and too sharply jimped (is that a word? Nutnfancy says it is...).

Steel: 1

It is 8CR14MoV. It has, in my experience, proven to be a very good steel. It is better, in terms of rust resistance specifically, than the steel used on the similarly priced Spyderco Tenacious. Nothing spectacular, like ZDP-189 or the like, but still pretty good and very good for a $30 knife.

Blade Shape: 2

If you don't like Wharncliffe blades, this is not your knife. I am not a huge fan, as the lack of belly means a lot of wear and tear on the tip. They are very sturdy and make excellent marking knives for woodworking, but it is not as generally useful as a good clip point blade (as always see the nav bar on the right for more about blade shapes). That said, this is a very good Wharncliffe blade. The front swedge is strange, stealing a bit of the strength away from the tip of the knife and thus depriving the Wharncliffe of much of its benefit, but it does work and I have never had the tip break off even when I was using it as a marking knife on tough wood (white oak, in cross grain applications).

Grind: 2

Color me surprised. Again, the craftsmanship here is really unexpected, both for the brand and the price. The model I have has a half serrated blade, which I usually dislike, but I had to try out the Veff serrations. They are fantastic. Here is a picture:


They are steeply angled serrations, like the rake on the teeth of a circular saw and thus hit the material at an aggressive angle to promote cutting. Having tried all sorts of very serration patterns, I can say these are the best I have used. Serrations seem to fall into one of two categories: sharp and fragile (i.e. Cold Steel's serrations) and gentle and durable kind. Kershaw's are very durable, but not much more aggressive than the straight edge itself. Cold Steel's are needle-like, but break like tooth picks. The Veff serrations are both durable and very aggressive. They represent, in my mind, a major innovation, the best serrations I have seen. The knife's straight edge grind is also very decent. Not SOG great, but definitely on par with Spyderco's average grinds (i.e. non-custom collaborations or sprint runs).

Deployment Method: 1

The flipper shoots out the knife very fast and smooth, but it is a little too big. The angle of the flipper is decent, too, but the jimping is extra, extra sharp and on the flipper it is not really necessary.

Retention Method: 1

The clip is fine. Nothing great, nothing bad. When combined with the already bulky handle though it makes the knife a bit of a fatty in the pocket.

Lock: 2

The liner lock is a well executed liner lock. The detent is well balanced, keeping the blade in the handle until just the right amount of force is placed on the flipper.

Overall Score: 15out of 20

The design is quite nice. It is not a home run, but there are definitely signs of real talent in this knife, something like Willie Mays's good, but not great rookie season. McGinnis is going to make a great all-time knife. Maybe he already has. Maybe it is one of his other CRKT designs or one of his customs. You don't make a knife this smooth on your first few tries without having unquestionable talent. Add to that some really nice fit and finish on the part of CRKT and this is an interesting knife. I am not sure I would have gone with a Wharncliffe blade, but even with that bit of a handicap, this is good, fun knife. In its price range I would definitely opt for a Buck Vantage of some sort or a Dragonfly, but this is not a bad choice.

By the way, I got this knife on the day I found out I was having a kid. So this knife, with its safer than average tip, is going into storage. It seems like a pretty good first knife.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Tony. I've been impressed with the quality of some CRKTs that I have recently acquired - nice to get your take on it.