CRKT has never had a problem with good design. From the venerable Halligan KISS to the Mah Eraser to the Carson M16, CRKT has consistently produced interesting designs. But their lack of high end materials and sloppy fit and finish have always held them back with the Internet Knife Community. Virtually every review of a CRKT contained a sentence that started with “Its a great design from a talented custom maker but...”. Even their first foray into high end titanium framelock flippers, the Hi Jinx, had problems. It was a $300 knife that ran a D2 variant (Sleipner) as the blade steel and there was an epidemic of lock stick that took a bit of the shine off the Hi Jinx winning Overall Knife of the Year at Blade 2014.
The CRKT Pilar seemed destined to follow that same pattern. When released it was very well received with the normal CRKT dual cavaets of materials and fit and finish (my review sample, despite those cavaets was quite well made). But something strange happened. The Pilar, named for Ernest Hemingway’s boat, sold out everywhere. It was a budget knife that sold so well that no one could keep them in stock and CRKT couldn’t get them made fast enough. They had captured lightning in a bottle with the design, similar, in many ways, to how the Burnley/Boker Kwaiken had a few years earlier. So CRKT announced that they would make an upscale version of the Pilar, the IKC was intrigued, hopeful that CRKT would really go all out. But, as had been the case for years, the IKC was disappointed when the upscale Pilar came out—it had a carbon fiber show side scale and 12C27 steel. And there were still some fit and finish issues. The Pilar story, it seemed, was not going to end differently than all the other CRKT knives before it. Nick Shabazz did an excellent review of that knife and explained why it was such a disappointment. The curtain was closing and the story was ending the same.
But then there was another surprise. In late September, without much fan fair, Blade HQ announced an even higher end Pilar, one with S35VN steel. I made a mental note, and when the knife dropped, it sold out almost instantly. I was lucky to have picked one up and it shipped quickly. I have had the knife for just over a month and given my familarity with the old design, I feel like I can put out a reliable review in that short period of time. I am going to spoil the conclusion—this is the best CRKT of all time. And unlike some folks, I do not intend that to be a backhanded complement. This is a great knife with great materials, very good fit and finish and it is an outstanding value. They aren’t readily available as I write this review, but I am confident they will be again in the future and if you like knives you should buy one.
Here is the product page. This knife is a Blade HQ exclusive. I went through the variants above. Here is a video review of the S35VN Pilar. This is the first written review. The S35VN Pilar costs $70. Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money and a knife I plan on keeping):
Twitter Review Summary: Fan service at its very best.
The original was a masterpiece of design—clean, unusual, but still, somehow, familiar. The design is what sold people on the Pilar in the first place and weeks of no stock indicate I am not the only one that thought the original was cool. In many ways this knife reminds me of the Spyderco Lava, albeit a much better version of the stainless steel original. The additions here—carbon fiber and better blade steel—don’t really alter the blueprint, but they do mean that a flawless design is now coupled with better materials. And that is a winning formula.
The performance ratios on the original weren’t stellar as it was a stainless steel sandwich. Here, they are marginally better as one of the slices of bread has been replaced with carbon fiber. Needless to say, it is still a dense little booger. Here are the new performance ratios: .78 b/w and .68 b/h. The b/h is a little off, but this is a quirky design.
Fit and Finish: 2
There were two issues with the Pilar out of the box. First, the clip was installed tip down. I am normally not fanatically about this one way or the other, but tip down on the Pilar places your fingers right on the lockbar reliefs and it is uncomfortable. That is an easy fix and not really an issue with fit and finish. Second, the place where your thumb disengages the lockbar was very sharply cut. Some folks like that. I do not. I took a rod out of my Sharpmaker and very carefully knocked down the sharp edge a bit. Its not a big deal and it is clearly a preference, but it was a bit too sharp for me.
Aside from those two very small points, neither of which I think is enough to deduct a full point, the Pilar in S35VN was immaculate—cleanly made, nicely finished, with a dead centered blade.
This is some thick blade stock, but the nearly full flat grind here is well done and reduces the thickness just behind the cutting edge to something manageable. It will slice cheese and boxes. It separates grapes and tomatos. It does get a little poppy with apples, but only the best slicers do well there. Everything is even and clean from side to side. The plunge line is crisp and the edge right up to the choil is excellent, accessible without being overly pokey.
Once the clip placement was remedied I couldn’t imagine a better knife in the pocket than this one. It worked well, lived peaceably with other pocket dwellers, and wasn’t much of a pants anchor or pendulum weight. It is a bit thick, but it is, forunately, just on the right side of the dividing line between trade paperback and Thomas Paine pamphlet.
Yep, its better. S35VN is a very good all around steel and given CRKT’s previous menu choices, it is a revelation for the company. But I am not simply grading on a curve here. S35VN is a legitimate 2 steel. Sure its not as exotic as it used to be and it doesn’t do one thing insanely well like INFI or 3V, but it is one of the better all around performers on the market.
Blade Shape: 2
The original, a modified sheepsfoot (really what point is there in the blade shape taxonomy anymore?), was an excellent performer and a beautiful shape. It had all of the visual tension and sexiness of a classic Loveless blade. Here, there is no difference (other than the materials that make up the blade).
The Pilar is quite fat, fatter than I would prefer, but thanks to a pretty darn good grind CRKT gets the thickness behind the edge down to something that is quite good at cutting. Its not an elite slicer, but it is not that far behind the Chaparral class.
Deployment Method: 2
Thanks to a smooth pivot and a well-shaped and well placed oval, the blade pops open with ease. Once you swap the clip into the proper (for this knife) position, this is a great knife to open and close despite or because of the teflon washers. Did you read that Nick? I like teflon washers...
Retention Method: 2
This clip among a few others provides ample evidence in my long-running case against sculpted clips. This clip is simple, thin, and very, very functional. I am quite pleased with its retention, holding tight but not being overly stubborn.
The lock up here is rock solid and the detent is crispy enough to give you some tactile feedback when closing. I would note that the disengagement spot on the lock was a bit rough, as I mentioned above, but few careful seconds yielded a surface that makes disengagement very, very easy.
Fidget Factor: very high: With finger friendly flicker and a perfect size, the Pilar is a siren’s song for hands. If it is in your pocket, the smooth CF and the elegant lines will make it hard not to fondle the knife.
Fett Effect: moderate:
There are some snail trails that have developed on the bead blasted steel lock side, but nothing offensive. As with most CF knives, they look better clean, but here, given this knife’s role as an ideal EDC blade, it will wear. I would have preferred a stonewashed blade, but given how many other things CRKT got right here, I am not going to complaint too much.
Value: very high:
Simply put this might be the best value on the market circa 2018. Sure there are cheaper knives that run S35VN like the LA Police Gear TBFK, but there are no knives that run this nice of a design made with these high quality materials for $70. The Pilar is an absolute steal thanks to great steel. Even the previous best value—the Gent—is undercut by the Pilar by about $15.
Overall Score: 20 out of 20
Its not a perfect knife. The sharp inside edge of the lockbar while not worth a point is enough to hold the knife back from getting a perfect score, but we are arguing about little things. The Pilar is an amazing knife and instantly dropped itself into the conversation for best knife of 2018 and best product. This year’s Gear of the Year Awards are going to be a real bear.
But more than being a great knife, the S35VN Pilar is, hopefully, a sign of things to come for CRKT. They have long been makers of some of my favorite value blades, but with the Pilar they are showing us that they can do elite materials, elite design, AND elite value. A catalog filled with some of their classic designs with better fit and finish and materials would rival or surpass anyone else in the market. Imagine a Kit Carson M4 with M4, a Homefront in 3V, a titanium Ripple with 20CV? They have always had great designs. The S35VN Pilar proves they can do great materials and fit and finish. If this is a preview of things to come, every other knife company should be very afraid.
I never thought I would see the day when my beloved Dragonfly is rivaled by a CRKT blade, but it has happened. There have been many mornings where I look at my knife drawer intending to grab the Dragonfly and somehow walk out the door with the Pilar in my pocket. Really, the Pilar is in the same class of knife as things like the Dragonfly, which is about 25% more, and the Benchmade Valet, which is 125% more. Over and over again, when I think of the best small knives I realize that the Pilar in S35VN is one of the best among them and always the cheapest. Take that for what you want, but it is clear to me this is one of the best knives on the market. Price blind, I’d still take the Dragonfly as it weighs less and has a better clip, but it is awfully close.