Friday, May 2, 2014

CRKT M16-01Z Review

GE The current craze of titanium framelock flippers that dominates the custom world right now (and frankly has me burned out on most custom designs) is only possible because two major innovations--the frame lock, popularized by Chris Reeve, and the flipper, popularized by...anyone?  Oh, Kit Carson.  Its strikes me as odd, or perhaps indicative of the power of marketing, that everyone in the knife world associates Chris Reeve with the frame lock but not a soul associates Kit Carson with the flipper.  In my mind, the flipper is so much more of an innovation.  The frame lock is a liner lock without the handle scale, while the flipper fundamentally alters how one makes and uses a knife.  But no one seems to remember Kit Carson (though over on Gear Geeks Live we purposely talk about Kit Carson and the flipper a lot).

The M16 is similarly important but overlooked.  As one of the first production knives with a flipper and one of the cheaper "standard bearer" blades (more on this later), it is receives a paltry amount of attention compared to the similarly sized Spyderco Delica or Benchmade Mini Griptillian (links below for a reason).  Its easy to say that has to do with the materials used, especially the blade steel.  But there is a lot of performance packed into the M16's small package.  This is an innovative knife and an important one in the development of the production knives we see and love today.  The question, though, is whether the M16 is a good knife, leaving aside its unheralded historical importance.    

Here is the product page. There are probably ten or so versions of various sized and blade shapes.  The M16 has a cousin in the CRKT line, the M21.  Note that the 01Z is a smaller than normal M16, specially designed for EDC use.  The M16 is a collab with custom maker Kit Carson, as I mentioned above. The M16-01Z costs $30 or so. There are no good written reviews I could find. Here is a video review (an old one from Nutnfancy). You can find the M16-01Z all over the place.  Here is the Amazon link and sales benefit the site:



Here is my review sample (sent to me by CRKT and to be given away in this review, comment below and in a week I will pick a winner, you know the drill):

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Twitter Review Summary: Good bones, couple of ORG dings

Design: 1

There is a reason this was the review that was pared with the post on the Occam's Razor of Gear (ORG).  The M16, as it is produced by CRKT, has a few too many features and baubles that are both unnecessary and detract from the overall performance and enjoyment of the knife.  There is, indisputably, a great design at the heart of the blade, but it is held back by a few things.  First, the AutoLAWKS system is awful.  It is not necessary at all and it makes the knife harder to use.  That is ORG violation #1.  Then there are the "lightening holes" on the handle scales.  They are lint and dirt magnets.  But more than that, they serve no real purpose as they are drilled through the very light FRN handles, but stop when they get to the very heavy (relatively speaking) steel liners.  A reverse of that design would both improve the function of the knife and not make the handle such a dirty mess (see photos below).  That is ORG violation #2.  Finally, there is the blade grind.  I'll leave that for the section below, but suffice to say, it is ORG violation #3.  An M16 with no AutoLAWKS, hole free handle scales (and lightened liners), and a simpler grind would be an amazing blade and no more expensive to make than the version we have now.  It would also be more faithful to Kit Carson's own custom blades.

This is a very slim knife.  The numbers reflect that but they fail to convey just how slim this thing is.  Here is the knife next to the Zippo:

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The blade:weight is 1.36.  The blade:handle is .78.  Both are well above average, like just under the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight and in the SOG Flash I range.  But there is the crazy thing--this doesn't truly convey just how slim this knife FEELS.  It is not wide by any means or thick.  Instead, it just sort of melts away in the pocket because of the volume of space the knife occupies.  I wish there was a way to measure this, but short of a water test, which may not work so well with pivots, I am not sure how to get at this.  Suffice to say, this is a very slim package.

Fit and Finish: 2

I know this is going to get a reaction.  Truth is, I wish I could give this knife something like a 1.5, but it would make the scale messy and really not convey what words can.  Nothing about this knife is busted.  Nothing fails or doesn't work.  The handles are nicely rounded, the blade is centered, there is no blade play (once I played around with the pivot).  There is nothing at all wrong.  But I can't shake the feeling that this knife is somehow flimsy.  When the blade is in the handle there is a significant amount of blade play, but that is not uncommon on liner locks in this price range.  And it has no impact on performance at all.  But it is the only factual thing I can point to that backs up my sense that this is a cheap knife.  Frankly, this could all be bullshit, stuff osmotically absorbed from reading complainy reviews online about the knife.  Its totally fine.  Something just feels a tad bit askew or off.  I can also see where the complainy reviews are coming from.  Its entirely possible that I got the best of the best M16 and that the next one on the line was a stinker.  I can see where problems could arise--a wobbly pivot, a wonky liner lock that walks too far over--but on this model I had none of that.  Once the super loose pivot was fixed there was not a single thing I could point to that impacted performance.  

Grip: 2

Again, this is not a perfect score 2, but a "better than 1" 2.  The little groove where the thumb stud rests on the handle is annoying and right in the middle of where your index finger goes, but that is made up for by a great "parrot beak" at the end of the knife.

In the hand:

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the knife worked surprisingly well.  During cardboard processing for our accursed recycling bin, the problematic thumb stud resting place caused a mild hotspot.  The handle scales' rounded edges and the parrot beak more than made up for that problem. 

Carry: 2

Something this slim is simply a joy to carry.  I never had any problems with the M16 hanging around in my pockets and it was a good companion on long hikes or while doing grubby yardwork (like stump removal).  Its not really a ding against how it carries, but this thing collects lint like Larry King collects wives.  Those holes on the handle scales are practically made to store gunk in.  

Steel: 1

8Cr15MoV.  Um...yeah...so...it basically performance like 8Cr14MoV which is just a hair better at retaining its edge and resisting rust than 8Cr13MoV.  I'd really love to see all of CRKT's knives get a steel upgrade.  Their "premium" steel is AUS-8 and that's not a bad steel, but it is no one's idea of a premium steel.  There is hope yet.  The special Buy Tighe Commemorative knife runs 154CM.  

Blade Shape: 2

The M16's simple spear point blade shape is quite good--enough belly to do slicing and roll cuts and enough point to do piercing cuts.  Like all of Kit Carson's designs this is a no-nonsense blade that just works.  The M4, especially the custom version, looks wonderfully utilitarian, and the M21 looks good as well (though the recurve looks less than sharpener-friendly).  

Grind: 1 

This knife would benefit tremendously from a simpler grind.  The swedge is too wide and the main bevel too narrow.  The end result is a geometry that binds quite a bit.  The cutting bevel isn't bad, but in processing cardboard the knife hitched up a few times.  In making feather sticks for a fire, again the knife got stuck in the material.  The problem comes from a simple matter of physics--you cannot have this many facets on a blade this narrow.  The narrow blade is an asset when you are carrying the knife, but it means the grind needs to be simpler than it is.  The grind works, in large part because of the appropriately-sized cutting bevel, but it is not ideal. 

Deployment Method: 2

People get carried away with flippers.  So much so that they seem to forget that the main purpose of a knife is to cut things, not flip open (well, for some people I am convinced the main purpose of a knife is to pose for pictures to post to Instagram, but that is another topic for another day...).  Here you have no bearing pivot, no rolling detent ball, or gravity-fall closing.  You just have a flipper that works every single time.

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The shape of the flipper and its size are ideal.  The speed is nice.  Even when I tightened the pivot to rid the knife of blade play, the knife still fired open.  This isn't a fancy flipper, but it is one that works incredibly well.  

Its worth noting that CRKT's flippers work flawlessly well on every knife I have owned or reviewed from them.  This is perhaps the advantage of being one of the early adopters of the flipper among production companies.  They have been at the forefront of flippers for a long time now, starting with this knife and carrying through to the Eraser and then to the Swindle.  Given my sample size, and the diversity of designs and designers, I think you can count on a CRKT flipper to work well, regardless of the model.

Retention Method: 2 

Like the flipper on the M16, the pocket clip just works:

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There is no funky shape or carved titanium, just a simple steel design.  It doesn't change positions, either for handedness or tip down, but it does work.  It also doesn't generate a hotspot during high pressure cutting tasks, though I think that has more do to with the well rounded handle scales than anything else.

Lock: 1

And here is the biggest problem I had with the M16--the AutoLAWKS.  Let me cut straight to the point--these kinds of features sell.  They do well in the marketplace.  My discussions with people in the industry over the past three years has proven to me that there is no question that assists and secondary locks boost sales.  This is not just a phenomenon confined to one brand--its industry-wide.  For folks that buy their knives at Lowes (and you can get an M16 and as well as other CRKT blades there), this is a huge selling point.  But if you are a user, a knife knut, or someone that appreciates good design, the AutoLAWKS is nothing short of a contraption.

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Its not that it doesn't work.  It does.  But what it does is 100% unnecessary.  It also makes closing the knife much more complicated than it needs to be.  In short, this is an offense against the Occam's Razor of Gear.  This is a feature that is unnecesarry, but for its ability to spike sales.  Its useful for the profit it generates but detrimental to how the knife works.  A well-made liner lock has no need for what is essentially training wheels.  Here, even with the lower price tag, I couldn't find a use for the AutoLAWKS.  The liner lock itself was just fine.  

Here is another reason why you know this "feature" is totally unnecessary--the two inventors--Ron Lake and Michael Walker--don't use it on any of their custom knives and Kit Carson, this knife's designer, doesn't have it on any of his customs either.  This is a marketing feature plan and simple.  For the impediment to closing the knife that the AutoLAWKS represents, the lock gets a 1.

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

There is no question about it--with a few minor corrections, none of which would be expensive, the M16 would be the best of the "standard bearer" knives.  I am working on an article summarizing my experiences over the years with the "standard bearer" knives from each company, the sort of sweet spot in the line up in terms of size, weight, and price.  The M16 marks the second to last blade, with only the Cold Steel Voyager remaining untested now (for the record I considered the following to be standard bearer blades: the Spyderco Delica, the Benchmade Mini Grip, the Kershaw Leek, the SOG Mini Aegis, the CRKT M16, and the Cold Steel Voyager; Boker and Buck aren't on the list because their product lines are too large and chaotic).  Imagine an M16 without the holes in the handle, without the silly AutoLAWKS, with a high hollow or full flat grind, and a blade of 154CM or Acuto + (both steels are already in the CRKT line up).  That would crush the competition.

As it is, this is a good blade.  It is certainly the best value of the standard bearer blades.  It holds up well and the flipper is excellent.  The M16's sins are not in design, fit and finish, or any of the normal issues.  It is the fact that this knife has "features" designed to sell the knife as opposed to letting the elegance of the design do the marketing work.  They don't make the knife better.  In fact, they make the knife worse.  These are sins against ORG.  But even in its "as delivered" state, this is a much better than average blade, a great EDC, and one of the better values out there.  Its not quite the value that the Drifter is, but very few knives can compete at that price point.  The M16 is very good knife after all of these years, and looking back on it, we all missed just how innovative this design was.  Now, years later, the market, especially the custom market, is positively clogged with flippers.  For all intents and purposes the production flipper started here.  Sure there were others, but none that have sold as well as the M16.  There is a reason why.   

The Competition

The M16 01Z compares very favorably to the SOG Mini Aegis.  Essentially they are the same weight and blade length.  The Mini Aegis is, however, a simpler blade and it is a better blade for it.  The grind on the Mini Aegis is vastly superior to the faceted grind here.  The lock on the Mini Aegis is not dead simple, but it is simpler than the AutoLAWKS contraption on the M16.  The steel on the Mini Aegis, AUS-8, is very decent and probably marginally better than the 8Cr found here, largely because of its superior corrosion resistance. 

16 comments:

  1. Although I don't like most M16s from CRKT, this one looks pretty good. I like that they got rid of the second handguard/thumbramp opposite the flipper. I always thought it looked a little goofy. I like how thin it is- it almost looks like they were imitating an Al Mar. Here's hoping I get to try it out in person.

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  2. It reminds me of a Kershaw Chill. Some good features but ultimately uninteresting.

    Off topic, but have you handled a Broker Jens Anso Whale? I've been trying to find a Zulu and have been unable to do so, and the Whale looks like a good alternative.

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  3. I appreciate your taking a close look at this knife. I've overlooked it for a long time because of the impression given all over the internet that it's one of those cheap, beater knives. I still think the holes in the scales are enough to keep me from buying it for aesthetic reasons, but the design changes you outline would convince me to try it.

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  4. Do you think the M16-01S would stand up better against the Z? Slightly heavier, yes, but no AutoLAWKS, L/R clip, and no liners for easier cleaning.

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    1. I'm also curious about this. I have the steel handled version, and it's one of the most solid knives I own. Love the simplicity of it. It still has the issue with the protrusion on the handle and with the blade grind though. Would love this knife in a full flat grind.

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    2. I just got one online, it seems like a much better knife than the M16-01z. With a framelock design, the holes in the handle actually make sense since they really cut the weight. The M16-01s is only 0.3 oz heavier than the M16-01z.

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  5. Tony,

    Than you for the thoughtful review. I have been put off this knife in the past by the aesthetics (holes) but have a friend who swears by his for the reasons you cited positively (flipper ease of opening, blade shape, and ease of carry). Now with your review, I'd really like to give this one a try!

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  6. Excellent, thought-provoking review. I do think you got a good M16, but that's the way the ball bounces.

    The observation "why drill out the plastic handles and not the heavy metal liners underneath?" is so apt I laughed at myself for not recognizing it until you pointed it out.

    You touched on the whole problem aficionados have with CRKT knives. So much of their design is made to be flashy and sell to non-aficionados, rather than to work well. Think not only of the AutoLAWKS (which tells me one thing: "we don't trust the main lock on this knife") but also of the fiddly, rattling & annoying Outburst thumbstud assisted opening that disfigures a lot of their recent EDC knives. That system is just awful.

    One thing that makes the Mah Eraser such a landmark CRKT is -- say what you will about the look -- that knife is designed to work well in its intended role(s). There is only one of CRKT's characteristic "sell out the function for a flashy design" quirks on the Eraser: the admittedly gorgeous back swedge thins out the top of the blade, exactly where function would demand a wide thumbshelf for comfort in saber grip.

    Your planned "standard bearer" shootout sounds awesome. I have one caveat to respectfully submit. I agree that the Voyager is Cold Steel's analog to the Delica, Mini Grip, et al. However, the CS standard bearer is the Large (4") Voyager. While for Spyderco and Benchmade the market sweet spot is circa 3", that ain't the center of Cold Steel's market, and you can tell this, when you compare the EXCELLENT ergos of the Large Voyager with the very awkward handle of the Medium Voyager, which leaves no room for your pinky. It feels like a design afterthought ("oh yeah, some dudes like 3" blades, eh, just shrink down the big one").

    So while it would normally make sense to pick the Medium Voyager for your comparison, I would urge you to give serious consideration to including the Large Voyager instead. I can vouch that it is surprisingly lightweight, functional, quite EDCable and it is a WAY better design than the Medium.

    TL;DR: In Cold Steel's mental universe, a 4" blade is what a 2.9" blade is to Spyderco: a run-of-the-mill average urban EDC. :)

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    1. I wonder if keeping the knife heavier was intentional. As Thomas from Kai USA said on the podcast, a lot of costumers who are not "knife people" equate weight with quality. I guess it's possible crkt thought making the knife too light would turn some people off of it. That's the only reason I can think of, because otherwise it's just dumb.

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  7. Nice review. The drilled frn vs solid liners seems really weird. I wonder why that decision was made? Does it cost that much more to drill stainless steel? I would think it would be about the same. Maybe it was an aesthetic thing, but it really stands out as a backwards, screwed up characteristic of this knife.

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  8. Andrew @ 555 GearMay 2, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    Great perspective piece on the M16. One of my first modern folding knives was an M16 which I got around 10 years ago. I still have it. I quit carrying it after a year or so because the lock was annoying and also because I found the clip way too flimsy. It is a knife that is hard to clean thoroughly too. But it still has sentimental value for what it is.

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  9. More more more!
    Best place on web for knife reviews. Keep up the good work and thank you so much for your detailed reviews!

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  10. Nice. I have been looking at picking one of these up for a while now.

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  11. Nice knife. Though with a few less selling "features" it would be a lot better.

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  12. Handles are slick, only small area of jimps on top. No finger grooves in handle, auto lawks is a pain, knife is way heavier than it needs to be. Flipper is ok, but not always easy. I like the knife, but would not carry it for protection. Spyderco delicia is lighter, better handle shape, & texture, more jimps on spine, & easier to keep sharp. I also think it can be opened easier, & faster.

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  13. Handles are slick, only small area of jimps on top. No finger grooves in handle, auto lawks is a pain, knife is way heavier than it needs to be. Flipper is ok, but not always easy. I like the knife, but would not carry it for protection. Spyderco delicia is lighter, better handle shape, & texture, more jimps on spine, & easier to keep sharp. I also think it can be opened easier, & faster.

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