Saturday, April 27, 2013

CRKT Swindle Review

NOTE:  This review has been very challenging.  Not only is this knife highly unconventional, I got the production prototype.  CRKT sent me the knife, that in all likelihood, was the one on screen at SHOT Show.  It gave me early access, but as with all prototypes there was a flaw.  The main pivot screw had a strong tendency to wiggle loose and effect the entire blade.  After consulting with CRKT and their engineering folks, they gave me advice on a fix (Loctite Blue 242) and it worked.  This should not happen on a true production model.  That being said, once fixed, the knife worked exactly as intended.  Given the fit and finish on other CRKT products I have had I will assume (safely, I believe) that this problem is based solely on being a prototype.

In the knife business, no one calls them "models".  They are and have been for many hundreds of years, called patterns.  This is a throwback to when knives were cut from steel sheets and the outlines of the blade and handle were, literally, patterns on the steel.  The idea of creating a knife from a solid billet of titanium was many years in the offing.  One of the most unusual patterns is an old folding knife design known as a "swayback".  Here is an archetypal swayback knife from one of the two best classic knife makers in the world, Tony Bose (the other is Ron Lake, who straddles classic and modern knifemaking):

The photo shows all of the elements that make something a swayback: the palm swell at the end of the handle, the positive angle sweep of the handle, and the wharncliffe blade shape.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful of the traditional knife patterns (after researching for this article, I might have to break my promise to avoid classic knives and go get a Bose Case of some sort...they are gorgeous).

What would a modern rendition of a swayback look like?  It would be the CRKT Swindle.  When I first saw the knife in SHOT Show 2013 videos I knew it was a modern swayback (here is that post).  The Swindle, with the heritage obvious from its name, is what happens when you take modern knives and classic knives and mix them together.  The end result is a knife like no other on the market.  Aside from the classic knife heritage there are a number of design features that make the Swindle unique.  It is, in my mind, one of the most intriguing production blades on the market and an excellent choice for a gentleman's folder.

Here is the Swindle's product page.  There are two models, an upscale model with Sandvik's 12C27 steel and striated handle scales and the model I reviewed, the budget model with plain handle scales and 8Cr14MoV.  There are no video or written reviews as this is the first. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the CRKT Swindle, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is the Swindle CRKT sent me as a review sample:


That is about as slim and as gorgeous a knife as I have seen in a long, long time.  More on that in a minute.

Design: 2

This is a Ken Onion design.  I normally dislike Ken Onion designs because of their needlessly busy appearance and hard to sharpen recurve blades (the Ripple being a partial exception, it was busy but I liked it anyway).  But this knife is different.  It is in a league all its own.  It is something of incredible beauty.  It looks so slender and organic almost like a muscle attached to the skeletal frame.  It is balanced and aesthetically graceful.  In short, nothing else in the knife world looks anything like the Swindle.  Yet, in all of its distinctive modernity there is still an unmistakable element of the swayback pattern.  Here is the knife open:

Note the swayback hallmarks--the wharncliffe blade, the palm swell at the end of the handle, and the positive handle angle.  Make no mistake, this is a swayback pattern with distinctive modern touches.

I love the spine riding pocket clip, as it both adds to the palm swell and preserves the knife's clean lines.  I also like the convex handle scales. They are slick but fill the hand well.  The flipper is discrete but effective.  The blade shape is nice with a tiny bit of belly.  On paper and in the flesh this is one of the most striking designs out there, utterly and perfectly clean when closed and stylish when open.  I like the smooth handle scale much better from an aesthetic point of view than the grooved version, but the grooved version has better steel.

The ratios are okay.  The blade:weight is decent, but no more than that, at .96.  The Chill, a very good knife in terms of ratios, is a 1.56 on blade:weight.  The blade:handle is .75.  The Chill is .81.  Here is a shot with the Zippo:


Fit and Finish: 2

If you set aside the prototype issues, which I think is only fair, this knife is really quite elegant and refined in terms of its fit and finish.  The IKBS bearing system deserves special mention here, as it makes the knife incredibly tight and rigid.  Once tightened down and locked in place, the benefits of the IKBS pivot were clear--everything on this knife is just right.  The lock walks in about 1/3 of the way across the thin blade stock, there is no movement in the blade at all, and the spring loaded, articulated clip is excellent.  The texture on the flipper is good and the texture on the pocket clip is excellent.  The best part of this blade's fit and finish though is the immaculate handle scales.  They are so well done and so uniform they really set the knife off.  A normal pocket clip would ruin the elegance of this design. 

Grip: 1

This is a gentleman's knife so don't expect something crazy here.  That said, even for a flipper this knife doesn't have a lot of traction.  The palm swell created by the spine riding clip is awfully nice, but the teeny tiny flipper and no choil means this is probably not the knife you want to take on your mountain hiking trip as a survival blade.  I will say that the positive handle angle was a huge surprise.  I loved it.  In role the grip is fine, not great not bad.  A perfect example of what gets a 1.

Carry: 2

There is nothing that really carries like this knife.  The fact that the blade completely hides in the handle and that there is nothing on the scales to cause wear or problems is great, but the spine riding clip is truly outstanding.  It allows you to rotate the knife easily in your pocket and once positioned correctly, it kind of locks into the fabric of the pocket.  I cannot say enough about how awesome this knife is in the pocket.  I'd give it a 3 if I could. 

Steel: 1

8Cr14MoV is not bad at all.  It is probably one of my favorite 1 point steels.  It is, in fact, consistently though not significantly better than good 8Cr13MoV.  I'd take nicer steel, but this is good enough here.

Blade Shape: 2

As a swayback patterned knife you know the Swindle is going to have a wharncliffe blade.  This is an excellent rendition of that blade shape, having just a little bit of belly.  It works well in slicing tasks and has enough curve to do some roll cuts (I cut some pepperoni with it and it very good). 


Running the knife through the hair-paper-cardboard-paper cut tests showed me that the blade shape is quite good.  In a weird way it reminds me of the sheepsfoot on the Mini Grip 555hg.  I like that blade too. 

Grind: 2

Do you like radiused grinds?  I don't think they work everywhere, but here, in this sinewy, curvy knife they look great.  I would note the uneven ricasso in terms of the cutting bevel, but everything else is outstanding.  CRKT's Chinese OEM does a great job with their grinds and the Swindle is no exception. 

Deployment Method: 2

Here is the tiny flipper:


But really, you don't need much more than that.  Once I fixed the prototype, the IKBS bearings and the tiny flipper popped the blade open with perfect ease--no wrist action required.  I really have come to love IKBS pivots and it is a testament to CRKT that they can get bearing-based pivot systems into their cheaper knives.  Spyderco and Kershaw seem to reserve them for their $200 plus blades.  That, my friends, is an example of good value.  How awesome would a Leek be with KVT instead of an assisted opener?

Retention Method: 2

I like every single thing about this clip.  It is a daring and unconventional design and the bravura pays off in spades.  I LOVE this clip.  It has rocketed past the Spyderco spoon clip and the Kershaw/Strider clip to become one of a four or five favorite clips of all time.  GREAT.  Oh yeah it looks good too:


Lock: 2

Once the fix was in, the lock was great.  IKBS has a huge impact not only on the deployment of a knife, but on its lock up as well.  The bearings give the entire knife a certain level of rigidity that does not occur on non-bearing pivot knives, at least on those under $200.  I will note that the lock disengagement grooves are the little shallow and the convex taper on the handle scale makes the lock edge a little tiny bit uncomfortable, but it is nothing at all concerning. 

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

Ken Onion has truly come into his own with the Swindle.  No more are we forced to endure wavy undulating blade shapes and Alien-like handle scales.  We get simplicity and elegance.   We get an update to a classic knife pattern. And we get all of this for a bargain. I love the look and feel of the Swindle. If you are looking for a unique blade, if you want to try out something a bit different, this is a good choice. So long as the pivot issue is limited to my prototype, which I have good reason to think it will be, this is a fun gentleman's folder to carry, use, and fidget with--highly recommended.


  1. Do you think the 12c27 version is worth waiting for?

    1. Tough to say. I'd obviously like better steel but I don't like the ribbed handle.

    2. Tough to say. I'd obviously like better steel but I don't like the ribbed handle.

    3. i find this design very intriguing. i believe i need to give it a go :) Following your blog as of now btw ;)

  2. That is a beautiful looking knife.

  3. tony
    Like you, I too appreciate the smaller knives for EDC. What was your feeling reguarding the blade size?

    1. The blade size is longer than what I normally carry, but the knife overall is so discrete in its size and shape I had no problem with it. Nothing looks or carries quite like the Swindle.

  4. When I saw images of this, I knew the design would hit all your artistic buttons. They should've called it the CRKT Bauhaus. A beautiful, spare design. I love how the blade is fully concealed within the handle when closed. Just elegant.

    That said, I still have some questions:

    First, the grip. Smooth scales, no choil, and no jimping...I was almost expecting a zero there. Does the swayback design really help with grip that well?

    Also, in your Chill review, you criticized the thin blade. At first glance the Swindle blade looks to be just as thin. Is the Swindle thicker or have a stronger shape?

    As always, love your reviews.

  5. I gave the knife a one in grip out of an acknowledgement that as a gents knife you won't be doing a lot of hacking. The palm swell helps a little bit.

    As for the blade play first the stock is a bit thicker, second the metal handles do help a little, and third IKBS does provide additional rigidity.

    This is a gents knife not a hacker. In that role it is fine in both respects.

  6. I picked one of these up. Neat design, very well finished. The knife looks amazing when it's folded up, everything is so snug and compact.

    The sidelong clip doesn't really work for me but I give Onion credit for boldness.

    I do find the blade just a little too long for this type of knife. Around 2.75" would have been perfect, like the small Ripple. I wonder if the small flipper needs extra blade mass to work well. Which it does: nice action, perfect detent, never misses deployment.

    So I agree with you, some nitpicks, but overall this is an interesting blade. It's exciting to see how much CRKT is stepping up its game.

    1. This is about as good as we have ever had it in the production knife world. There is something for everyone at virtually every price point. Having multiple competitive companies pushing each other to do better benefits all of us. This is proof positive of some of the benefits of capitalism. Competition breeds superior products and companies.

    2. Agreed. Both Cold Steel and CRKT are putting new pressure on Benchmade & Spyderco to stay sharp and competitive.

      (I'd add Kershaw, but IMHO they're falling behind -- I have nothing to add to your "Deluge of Bland" post. Except that I have a sneaking desire for a Knockout.)

      I cannot say enough good things about the Cold Steel 2011 Large Voyager. It has more of a defensive orientation than most of the stuff you review, but it is wonderful for a harder use, larger utility folder. The Al liners are a stroke of inspiration on the order of the Skyline's one liner -- it transforms the knife. Lightweight, tough, secure grip, perfect blade shape, killer lock, handsome blade finish. For sub-$50 it is a crazy bargain.

      It's just kind of big for some folks to EDC, and at 4" blade it's not legal everywhere. Me, I carry it a lot.

  7. Also, the Swindle has no hint of the oversafetied/overlawyered crap that CRKT imposes on some of its knives, such as the AutoLAWKS on the M16s or that weird disk on the Enticer. The minimalist lines were left blessedly alone.

  8. This looks like something out of a custom shop! It's nice to see CRKT back in the game.

  9. What size screwdriver did you need to tighten the screw? I have the same issue, with my PRODUCTION blade, and I need to go to Home Depot to get a t-screwdriver to tighten it up. Already have the Loctite.

    1. Cliff, the scres are torx, t8 for the blade axis, and t6 for the 2 screws on the handle and clip.

  10. That being said, once fixed, the knife worked exactly as intended. Given the fit and finish on other CRKT products I have had I will assume (safely, I believe) that this problem is based solely on being a prototype.Angie Nichols San Francisco

  11. I now own this knife and love it. That said, the pivot issue is present for me too. I'll add loctite myself. Even with that issue, I think the knife is a good value. Just add $5 for the price of the loctite.

    1. One more thing. The clip is a cool idea. But, in practice, I don't like it as much as tony does. Out of the box, mine would not stay clipped to a pair of jeans at all. After tightening, it stays clipped, but kind of twists the pocket. I like it for this knife, especially considering the benefits with regard to grip. But it is not as functional as a normal clip.

  12. How much lock up are you getting with yours? I'm at barely 20% on mine, not hugely confidence building.