Thursday, September 20, 2012

CRKT Ripple 2 Review

As a way of opening a knife, flippers have a lot of innate appeal.  They are ambidextrous, simple, and when the knife is open they can offer a little more hand protection.  But a well-designed flipper is not easy to achieve.  Some are too loose and the knife falls out of the handle, others are too stiff and require an inordinate amount of force to deploy.  There is some degree of magic in the process.  Designers need to find the right shape, the right detent (the force that holds the knife in the closed position, usually created by a ball bearing or a bump on the blade that falls into a hole in the liner or handle), and the right pivot smoothness.  I have handled a few custom knives at local shows with amazing flippers, silken triggers that deploy a knife with silent authority.  But in the production world flippers are a tricky bit of business. Making them JUST right requires an amount of finesse that mass production usually precludes.

Enter IKBS, which stands for Ikoma Korth Bearing System.  It was designed by two knife makers, Flavio Ikoma and Rick Lala (who sells knives under the Korth trademark) for use in high end custom balisongs.  The system worked so well that they used it on regular knives and then the whole thing took off.  IKBS is often seen on high end customs for all of the reasons mentioned on their website.  It is smooth, wear resistant, easy to implement, and helps keep all of the parts of a knife aligned correctly.  Fortunately for those of us that cannot afford a custom knife once a month, IKBS and systems like it (such as the KVT system in Kershaw blades and the bearing pivot in the upcoming Southard Spyderco) are starting to pop up in production knives.  This is, in part, because they take the challenge out of making a knife quick and smooth to deploy, especially when used in flipper designs.

The Ripple, Ken Onion's first work with CRKT after a long history with Kershaw, was the first production knife on the market, along with the other Onion CRKT design, the Eros, to use the IKBS system.  It was a decidedly high end move by CRKT indicating an effort to position themselves differently in the market.  They used a premium designer, a high end custom pivot, and a new steel Acuto+.  The move was a success as the knife sold well, even at the higher than normal price point for CRKT.  That success led to a budget version designed for sale in places like Wal-Mart (where I first saw the budget version).  I was contacted by CRKT and they sent me the budget aluminum Ripple 2 (the smaller version of the original Ripple) along with a Liong Mah Eraser.

There are 10 versions of the Ripple.  Ready?  There are two sizes, the Ripple and the Ripple 2.  There are two colorations--blue and black.  There are two versions, the original stainless steel handle Acuto+ blade and the budget-friendly aluminum handle version.  Finally there are serrated versions of the large Ripple but not the small one or any of the budget versions.

1. Ripple, Acuto version black, plain edge
2. Ripple, Acuto version blue, plain edge
3. Ripple, Acuto version black, serrated edge
4. Ripple, Acuto version blue, serrated edge
5. Ripple 2, Acuto version black, plain edge
6. Ripple 2, Acuto version blue, plain edge

7. Ripple, budget version black, plain edge
8. Ripple, budget version blue, plain edge
9. Ripple 2, budget version black, plain edge
10. Ripple 2, budget version blue, plain edge

There, I think I got each of them, in all of the various permutations.  Variety is the spice of something, right?  I got #9 for review, a Ripple 2, budget version, black, plain edge.

Here is the Ripple 2 product page. Here is a video review by Nutnfancy.  Here is a really excellent written review from bladeforums.  Here is a link to Blade HQ where you can find the Ripple and proceeds benefit the site's giveaways (we have quite a bit in the Haiku coffers, BTW):

Blade HQ
Here is the Ripple I reviewed:


Design: 2

If you want to change the course of your company, this is a design to do it with.  It is odd because it is more exotic than the traditional (VERY traditional) look of many CRKT designs, but at the same time is more conventional than many Ken Onion designs.  There is, of course, still the flowing organic shapes and lines of an Onion design, but the blade itself is surprisingly, and thankfully, straightforward.  There are no crazy facets or recurves.  No clunky flippers turned into finger guards.  It is, well, a drop point blade with a swedge and decent belly.  See Mr. Onion, that wasn't so hard?  Right?

That said, it is daring in its own right.  Compared to the regular CRKT line with their uber traditional shapes and materials, a bolster here and a skinner there, this is something as exotic as its visual reference--the work of HG Giger.  Nutnfancy remarked that this knife looks like the Alien, a Giger design, and he's right.  The handle slopes and slides into pleasing shape in the hand and yet is covered with traction lines that with the buffed finish look like struts on a plane or, better yet, ribs on a bug's exoskeleton (yes, I know there aren't ribs on an exoskeleton, but you get the idea).

Striking this balance is quite hard to do--traditional yet original.  The balancing act was worth the effort though.  This is not just an interesting looking knife. It is one where the design makes it more useful.  The size of the Ripple 2 works perfectly in an EDC role.  The weight is nice as well.  The ratios are quite respectable.  The blade:handle is .72, not bad but not great either, while the blade:weight is 1.5, quite good.

Daring on CRKT's part and restraint on Ken Onion's part work well here, both needed a little of what the other had and the mixture of the two makes for an excellent design.   

Fit and Finish: 1

There are lots of nice touches to the knife that are surprising at this price point.  I love the rounded over spine.  I also liked the buffed finish to the handle scales which removes a bit of the color from the peaks of the handle's ridges creating a "pocket worn" finish straight from the factory.  I also liked the crisply cut jimping and the precision drilling of the 44 lightning or lightening holes.  There was one ding against the Ripple though.  From the factory the pivot was very loose.  Eventually the blade leaned towards the non-lock side (a common occurrence in frame and liner lock knives).  Here is the knife pre-fix:


Tightening the pivot fixed the problem instantly and had no real impact on deployment speed, but over time a very slight amount of off centering again creeped into the knife.  Nothing bad, no scissor effect like on the Cryo, but noticeable.  The blade never touched the inside liner after the adjustment, but it just always looked a bit askew.  Given the incredibly reasonable price point, even if this is a problem across the line, I don't think it is a bit deal.  Notable but not fatal, as far as flaws go. 

Grip: 2

For such a small knife you have an impressive amount of grip.  There is jimping everywhere, thanks in part to the skeletal design elements. The finger cut out for access to the liner lock is great for positioning the index finger in just the right spot for cutting chores.  I liked the gradual thumb ramp as well and the rounded spine allows for comfortable "scalpel grip" cuts (where your pointer finger is resting on the blade spine for guidance and leverage purposes).

Carry: 2

This is a featherweight of a knife, a silent and untaxing stow away, should you decide to carry it.  It is light because the handles are made of aluminum.  That said, even the aluminum has been drilled out with strategically placed holes to further lighten the load.


Steel: 1

8cr13MoV is the very epitome of meh steel.  It holds an edge okay, it is rust resistant okay, it doesn't chip or deform all that much.  But it does nothing all that well either.  I have found that there is varying quality among production knives with 8cr13MoV, with my Tenacious being a bit rust prone, and my CRKT and Kershaw versions being fine (even when bead blasted).  I find this to be like the CRKT stuff I have encountered before.  I'd love to know why there is a difference, if it is individual company heat treating or if it is just variations from batch to batch.  Something tells me that for proprietary reasons we won't find out. 

I'd upgrade to the Acuto+ steel if I could which, according to Mike Stewart of Bark River Knife and Tool (who seems to know a thing or two about knives), is like 440C with more larger carbides for more aggressive cutting.  For the price point though, this is an acceptable steel.    

Blade Shape: 2

I love it.  I went over why a bit in the design section, but I will break it down a little more here.

I have owned two Ken Onion designed knives (a Scallion and a ZT350) and each time I get one and think: ooh this is a good cutter.  And that initial thought is right.  But sharpening a recurve, while something I am capable of doing, is more trouble than it is worth.  Onion's flowing designs also tend to screw up the ricasso (the unsharpened back-most part of the blade right before the blade meets the handle).  The ricasso on most Onion knives is a problem because they mess up cutting.  In tough pull strokes you can end up with the material jamming in the ricasso.  Or, just as bad, you can lose the cutting edge at just the wrong time.  I remember a particular move of a relative where I was breaking down hundreds of boxes with my Scallion and after a while I just got fed up with having the cutting edge run out just as I was about to finish a stroke.  

None of that Onion design heritage comes over into this blade shape.  Thank--God--for--that.  It is a drop point, plain and simple.  It has a nice unobtrusive (in either way) ricasso.  It does downward cuts, it does roll cuts, and slices well.  What ever happened that got Onion to design a knife blade that is simple and effective, needs to happen again.

Grind: 2

Its one of those things--grinds typically indicate quality and price.  Good grind, good quality, high price.  The opposite is also true.  But here the grind is quite good.  The cutting bevel is nice and wide allowing for easier sharpen.  The swedge is nicely done.  And finally, the main grind is even and high.  Even plowing through cardboard boxes did little to jam the knife up.  This thing is on hell of a slicer and the grind is largely why. 

Deployment Method: 2

The flipper is so incredibly smooth, so fast, that I think we have reached a point in knife design where even an assisted opener is unnecessary to speak nothing of the actually auto knife.  A perfectly balanced detent and smooth pivot thanks to the IKBS make this knife a fast and sure pleasure to deploy.

A quick word about the flipper--it requires a bit of practice.  It always comes out, that is not the issue.  The issue is that without practice the jimping on the flipper and the knife itself can really wear out your thumb.  Part of this is breaking in the knife, which happens in every knife, but part of it is also technique.  It is a distinctly backwards pull toward the end of the flipper that gets best results.  Once you master that and the knife's parts are all broken in, it is fast and addictive.

If you want to speed up the break in process I recommend putting some graphite on the lock bar face.  I found a mechanical pencil was the best and easiest way to do this.  I am sure things would wear in eventually, but my reviews do require a bit more emphasis on timeliness than that would allow.  

Retention Method: 1

Jimping, jimping everywhere, shred my pocket, looks like hair.  Okay, so it is not SO bad to turn the edge of my pocket into fine denim color hair, but it is completely unnecessary to jimp the pocket clip.  It can make extraction a bit difficult on thin material and it is a little uncomfortable when squeezing the handle for more control.  I know why the did it, as it is probably easier to just cut the jimping all at once instead of before the knife is assembled (don't have to worry about misalignment of jimped parts), but that said, just jimp it and add the pocket clip last.  No review I have seen likes the jimping on the pocket clip and this is one case were consensus is correct.  

Lock: 2

Look, liner locks just work.  I know there are sorts of theoretical problems with them.  I know that people like other locks better.  I also know that many locks, like the Nak-Lok and Compression Lock are just BETTER versions of a liner lock, but this one works and works well.  Even on a small, slender knife, I couldn't get any real blade play.  Prior to the pivot adjustment I got some side to side play, which is one reason I adjusted the pivot.  Now, I get nothing.  

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

Nutnfancy's fixation with the SOG Flash I has focused many people on the market niche the knife occupies.  For people that don't like the wide stance even the smallest Spyderco's necessitate, the knives in this market niche--blades around 2.5 inches, thin, slight slim builds with quick deployment, all under $100--there are are a bevy of choices.  I have reviewed quite a few of them: the Flash I itself, the Twitch II, the OD-2, the Benchmade Aphid, and now the Ripple 2.  This is one of the better knives in that class.  I would put it up against any of those knives and really only the Aphid felt like it was superior.  But alas Benchmade only makes two kinds of knives now--expensive knives or big expensive knives.  The remainders here all have some drawbacks, but among that set the Ripple 2 is probably my favorite knife I have reviewed. 

It is a daring move from CRKT, one that is the herald of a more aggressive company trying to leverage its mastery low cost, high quality blades like the Drifter as a way into the high end production market.  It is also a good design from Ken Onion, something that is distinctly Onion in origin, but without many of the quirks I find annoying (::cough:: recurve ::cough::). 

Just keep an eye on the pivot.  It is my only area of long term concern and it seems fine now that I fiddled with it.   

NOTE: the steel is, in fact, 8cr14MoV. I have noticed no difference between it and 13MoV, but one arises I will let you know.


  1. Yay, Ripple! (overheard in the cheap aisle at the liquor store)

    Seriously, I like this design a lot. The flipper deployment is SO satisfying. (I use my index fingernail.) This is one of those fidget factor/carpal tunnel blades.

    I have knife #2 (blue Acuto+ framelock) and previously owned #7 (black 8Cr linerlock). The framelock has perfect pivot and blade centering. The linerlock had just a bit of the issues you report here.

    CRKT's website reports that the steel on your knife is 8Cr14MoV, not 8Cr13MoV. It ain't bad at all. I prefer the Acuto+ steel on the framelock versions. It can't take as exquisite an edge as VG10 but has better edge retention.

    One note re: Carry -- I would sadly give my framelock Ripple a 0 out of 2, because the steel handle is smooth and slick under the smooth pocket clip = poor retention in the pocket. I carry only in the back pants pocket (one reason I never seem to have the pocket fraying problems you do?) and the slippy clip makes me a little nervous I will lose my cool $75 IKBS knife when I sit down. I wish the clip and underlying frame had MORE jimping/corrugation/texture.

    The aluminum handle material under the clip on your Ripple is more matte/textured, so those knives don't have the problem. The cheap Ripples beat the pricey ones on Carry.

  2. Woooooooow what a range of knives! I have few kershaw knives in my collection which resembles this knives in appearance and really they are perfect cutting tool for me.

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