Monday, July 28, 2014

Standard Bearer Blades

Almost every one of the major knife companies has a standard bearer knife in its line up.  Boker's line up is too large and unfocused and Buck seems to be unsure of what kind of knife company it is,  but for Benchmade, Cold Steel, CRKT, Kershaw, SOG, and Spyderco, there is a knife (or pair of knives) that is perhaps the perfect representative of the company, the best value, and the best seller.  Having finally reviewed all of them, I am going to summarize what I have found.  I was going to do this as a Shoot Out but it got very unwieldy very fast.

First, let me define the standard bearer--this is the blade that rests in the hallowed spot in the market--above entry level but below the expensive enthusiast only blades.  They usually have better than entry level steel, they have been in the company's line up a long time, they are frequently used in marketing campaigns, and they have roughly the same size. Often there are two models--a big and a small one (in sticking with my preference for smaller blades I systematically reviewed the smaller of the two or three standard bearer blades).  They also have step up features, usually the company's signature technology.  They are also the platform for sprint runs and variations.  Finally, they are usually the company's best seller.  These are the Honda Accord/Toyota Camries of the knife world.

Here are the standard bearer blades I have reviewed (in alphabetical order, no favorites yet):

I would have included the Gerber Instant on this list, but the week I was intending on buying one, they issued a recall because the lock failed on many models.  Boker's line is too mixed up and Buck really hasn't figured out where to go yet.  The Vantage line was good, but troubled.  The 110 is great, but not exactly in the same league as these knives, design and features-wise.  Victorinox makes a little thing called the Cadet, maybe you have heard of it, but again, not what I am looking at here.

So with no possibility of a coherent shootout here I am going to rank them from worst to best, with comment about why the knife is where it is on the list.

#6: Kershaw Leek


This Ken Onion design is long in the tooth.  The newer Hindered models, like the Cryos and the Thermite are much better, but they don't have the history that the Leek does (the Cryo 1 in G10 would rank second or third, I am not sure).  The Onion knives really put Kershaw on the map in the mid-90s.  I wish they would have kept the Random Task in the line up as that is better knife than the Leek.  I dislike the weak tension spring and the uber-thin tip.  The pocket clip is meh.  But this is still a worthy EDC.  It is super slim and slices like the Devil.  Its a bit chunkier than it needs to be thanks to the steel handles, but it is a darn good blade.  Its worst here because the other knives are so damn good.  Just like one of the Kardashian sisters has to be the smartest, one of these knives has to be the worst.  Have I ever told you about my dream for an integral Leek with the Random Task blade shape?  Oh it would be awesome.

#5: Cold Steel 3" Voyager


Its a small knife with none of the benefits of being a small knife or a big knife with none of the benefits of being a big knife.  As Anonymous A.D. pointed out in the comments on the review of this knife--it is a total afterthought in the Voyager line, which really starts at 3.5".  But even an afterthought that weighs this much and runs the fabulous Demko Tri-Ad lock is really damn good.  Its not too pricey either.  If you need a beater for an EDC, look no further.

#4: CRKT M16

More features does not equal better performance and here nothing could be truer.  The additional lock for the lock is as ridiculous as that phrase is describing it.  The grind is really ugly and awkward.  But the price is good, the handle is nice, and the flipper works like a charm.  There is a reason this thing has sold like gloves in winter.  Its the best of the "flawed" standard bearers.  The rest are amazing knives and I am just picking nits, but even here the knife is special.  

#3: Spyderco Delica


Ah, my first real knife and even now, three models later, I am still enamored with the Delica.  It is practically perfect--thin, light, easy to open.  With a full flat grind it is probably a better slicer than the standard model.  With ZDP-189 it is a world class production knife.  I don't like the VG-10 steel, but it is definitely decent.  I am not thrilled with the exposed tang in the closed position.  And the blade:handle stinks.  Other than those three things, there is nothing bad here, and those three things are like complaining about Kate Upton's lip mole.  

#2: SOG Mini Aegis


Color me shocked.  After one bad experience after another with SOG's SAT pivot I was ready to throw in the towel.  Good thing I didn't.  This is an AWESOME knife.  Complaints, hmmm, let me see, complaints....I'll let you know when I think of some. runs a merely average steel, using AUS-8, but that's about it.  Its a three inch blade that weighs two ounces.  What else do you want? How about a price at or under $50.  Pretty amazing.  And then there is the deep carry clip.  Very, very good SOG.   

#1: Benchmade Mini Griptilian 555hg


The thumb stud version would rank behind the Delica, but the 555hg, with its thumb hole opener and sheepsfoot blade is awesome.  I wish Benchmade would make their split arrow clip standard, as it would move the contact point out beyond the handle texturing and fix the only very small flaw I had with this knife.   The Mini Grip 555hg is a knife anyone--workaday guy/gal or knife knut--can be happy with for a very, very long time.  I love this knife and this is one reason why Benchmade is always in the discussion when someone asks for a recommendation.  The knife also happens to weigh 2.56 ounces.  Great, nearly perfect blade.  

Here are some other notes, left over from the potential shootout that got to complicated.

Best Steel: 14C28N (on the Kershaw Leek)

Designed as a inexpensive steel just for Kershaw, this Sandvik steel is very good.  In my use it has stacked up nicely to steels perceived as more premium, such as S30V. 

Performance Ratios: SOG Mini Aegis

Nothing is really close here.  2 ounces in a 3 inch blade is kind of ridiculous. Super, super awesome. 

Favorite Deployment: Thumb Hole (on the Mini Grip)

I like the thumb hole a lot, better than the flippers on both the M16 and the Leek and leaps and bounds better than the thumbstuds.  The smoother pivot and less friction between the tang of the blade and the locking mechanism makes the Mini Grip smoother. 

You can find all of these knives at:

Blade HQ




  1. Good idea for an article. Excellent summary: lot of gear wisdom bound up here.

    Indiv comments:

    6. I've seen some jacked up liner/frame locks on Leeks, too.

    5. Yeah, it's flawed (HATE the handle shape); brute tough and well made. SPeaking of 3.5", I wonder what you would make of the CS Code 4? Slim carry; beautiful blade; overall fit & finish of a $120 knife. I thought the clip sucked.

    4. Since both the g-word and the r-word are becoming incorrect, I am left with no adequate descriptor for the Auto-LAWKS system. The grind on these knives also bugs me. I might pay retail for an M16 if they came with a crisp twenty tucked under the clip.

    3. For EDC I prefer the actual blade on the FFG Delica to that on any other knife on this list (except #2, with which I have no experience).

    2. No experience. SOG hasn't historically given me a good vibe. But you were in the same boat and this knife won you over. I may try one.

    1. Excellent knife. Not much to add to your praise.

    I have been toting the Ontario RAT-2 lately and I gotta say, it can hang in this company. It is sort of the anti-M16. It is a plain design with no fancy "bullet list" features or gimmicks to tout on the shelf. But the fit & finish is really good and the knife was clearly designed by and for people who know and use knives. Carries great, awesome blade shape, nice budget steel, smooth deployment, feels good in hand.

    1. Maybe my statement in #4 was wrong. There is a term that could fill the gap I noted and is non-offensive.*

      Auto-LAWKS is derpy as hell.

      * except to derpy people

    2. How to remove the Auto Lawks from the CRKT Carson…: Autolawks is relatively easy to remove if you know your way 'round a folder. Doesn't make it any more useless, but if you already own one...

  2. My favorite pocket knife for Everyday Carry is A. G. Russell's FeatherLite One-Hand K93C10 because it's lightweight, sharp, and nicely shaped for carrying in a pocket. I also have Russells all-metal One-Hand knife with a partially-serrated blade, but I find it too heavy for EDC. Recently I bought the beautiful Grohmann mini Russell folder, but it's a little too bulky for EDC.

  3. I'm kind of surprised you didn't choose the Skyline as Kershaws standard bearer. The Leek is sold everywhere, but the Skyline is extremely popular too, and is an in-house Kershaw design as well. I think it's a much better knife than the Leek, and can hang with the Delica/Mini Grip top tier all day

    1. Good point. Skyline is fairly light duty knife, but if that's your intended use it is a wonderful design, well superior to the Leek.

      I will say that I don't see Skylines in every big box store any more, the way I do the Leek and the Hinderer-derived China Kershaws. I speculate that Kershaw pushed the Skyline hard in nonspecialist venues for a while, but recently pulled it back some to make room on the shelves for the Cryo et al.

  4. My list (best first):

    Spyderco Delica
    Benchmade Mini Grip
    Kershaw Skyline
    Cold Steel Mini Recon
    SOG Flash
    CRKT - never mind

  5. I like the Skyline better as well, but according to Thomas it is no where near the seller that the Leek is. In an effort to capture the "Accord/Camry" comparison to the fullest, I used the Leek as the Standard Bearer for Kershaw.

  6. Of those mentioned, I've owned an older Delica (but just ordered one of the newer models), a Leek and a Mini-Griptilian. I honestly hated both the Leek and the Mini-Grip. I gave away the Mini-Grip but still have the Leek because I hate it so much I don't want to give it to anyone I like and I can't come up with anyone I hate enough to inflict with the stupid thing. I replaced the Mini-Grip with a Mini Presidio Ultra and it's a much nicer knife (so is the regular Griptilian). The problem with both the Leek and the Mini-Grip, at least for me, is the lack of a decent sized handle that allowed me to get ahold on them and cut with them. I own smaller knives than these that have handles that are more ergonomic and allow me to hold onto the knives better. I also disliked the Kershaw Skyline although not as much. Obviously, preferences in knives are very subjective. I do enjoy your reviews despite my disagreements here.

  7. ohh, yes. very nice. i like it much.

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