There was a period of time – a long one, in fact, stretching from 1998 until 2004 – where the McLaren F1 was the fastest production sports car in the world. It reached a two-way average of 240.1 miles per hour with the rev limiter raised to 8,300 rpm, it’s naturally-aspirated BMW M-built V12 cranking out an incredible 618 horsepower.
The pulsating brain with legs behind the McLaren F1 was Gordon Murray, a South African-born engineer with a penchant for unconventional solutions to problems. He’s remarked in the past that it’s rather easy to make a high-end supercar where money is no object – you just keep throwing funding at it until it’s the best thing in the world. The real challenge lies in creating something that’s affordable and exceptional.
This is absolutely true of knives. When you buy a Shirogorov F95, and you plunk down a thousand dollars for the privilege, of course it’s going to be damn near perfect. There’s plenty to admire about Shiro’s, the same way there’s plenty to admire about the Mclaren F1. But we see time and time again how hard it is to make an affordable knife that’s actually good at everything – it’s a game of compromise and you as the consumer get to pick what’s least important to you. Do you want good steel, good build quality, or a good action – pick one. Maybe two.
But lately there has been a new wave of budget knives that seem like they don’t require excuses. I thought the Zancudo would be the knife, but it turned out not to be. In the spirit of research, I decided to try out the Steel Will Cutjack – and I’m beginning to be convinced that this is the best of all worlds, the ideal affordable EDC knife.
Key Specs: Steel Will Cutjack Mini
The Cutjack is available in two sizes – a 3” (tested here) and a 3.5”, a variety of colors, and two “trim levels” – this entry level version in FRN and D2 that’s made in China, as well as an up-level variant with G10, M390 steel, a bearing pivot, and constructed in Italy. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at this affordable upstart that promises something to everyone.
My test sample was the smaller of the two Cutjack sizes, and I think I picked well. The more knives I use and test, the more convinced I am that 3” is the ideal length for an EDC blade. Long enough to get everything done you ever do with a pocket knife, short enough to be wieldy and non-threatening, it’s perfectly in the middle.
Blade steel, like the Zancudo I tested previously, is D2 – which is a big part of the value proposition. D2 has been around for a long time and is relatively low cost in bulk form – about half the cost of CPM S30V as bar stock – but it offers remarkably good performance. It’s got twice the carbon content of AUS-8 – and in fact, 50% more than 1095 High Carbon and a bit more than the aforementioned S30V– but the downside is the low chromium content.
It’s considered a “semi-stainless” steel in that it’s not as rust-prone as 1095 (which has none) but at 11.5% it’s fairly low. Inclusion of manganese, molybdenum and vanadium all make D2 a remarkably tough steel that’s highly resistant to chipping while still keeping a great edge. It’s a fantastic steel for an EDC provided you make sure it’s oiled and stays away from highly acidic substances.
Blade shape on the Cutjack is a drop point, slightly above the pivot axis, and it’s got some great ergonomic features. There’s a thumb ramp on the spine with a gentle slope, and a run of jimping to secure your grip. There’s also a forward finger choil that reaches deep into the blade, and the forward edge terminates cleanly on the sharpened portion without any “beard” or transition – the flat surface your finger rests on gets thinner as it approaches the edge. Blade thickness is 0.12”, and the Cutjack has a very high flat grind with a swedge on the spine that runs the entire length of the blade, along with a smoothly radiused plunge line. It has a vertical satin finish as well.
Deployment and Lockup
The Cutjack is a rare thing these days – a flipper that doesn’t use bearings. When I first received the knife I wasn’t impressed with the action at all – it had a lot of friction in the pivot and not enough detent strength to pop it open reliably without a heavy wrist flick. This is what flipper knives used to be like ten years ago, before everyone started adding bearings to the pivot and super-stiff detents.
After break in and tweaking the pivot it’s gotten considerably better. One neat feature of the Cutjack is the way the forward edge of the scale and the flipper line up when closed, creating a concave area you can press your finger into and slide back along the spine to open the knife. They also thankfully didn’t place jimping along the spine of the handle to tear your finger up, a frequent nit-pick of mine.
With the pivot loosened about an eighth of a turn the action gets much better, the blade is able to be popped open without any wrist flick depending on your technique. Once it was tweaked properly the action reminded me of the Kershaw Skyline, flipping open easily with light tension.
Lockup is via a stainless liner lock, nested in the scale, which sits just slightly inward of the lock side edge of the tang when it’s flipped open. It’s rock-solid vertically, but with the pivot tweaked so it opens smoothly there’s just barely a hair of side to side movement. You can tune this horizontal movement out by tightening the pivot down more, but as with most washer-pivot knives with liner locks, it’s just a tradeoff of how much blade play you’re willing to accept for a smooth deployment.
As far as washer pivots go this one’s pretty good, but the game has moved on. This no doubt helps hit the weight and price points aimed at for this knife, but there’s a reason the premium Cutjack uses bearings.
Features, Fit & Finish
The Cutjack is pretty interesting internally. What is at first glance an external stop pin when viewed from top down is actually just a closed stop pin, which contacts the forward choil and prevents the blade from hitting the backspacer. The open stop pin is internal, but even then it’s unconventional. Most internal stop pins are fixed to the scales and there is an arc-shaped track cut into the blade itself – the blade rotates around the pin.
On the Cutjack, the pin is fixed to the blade and it travels in a track cut into a gap between the front of the liners and the scale. In my mind, this makes for a stronger blade – as the “pass through” style internal stop pin blades can be prone to cracking at their thinnest points. It’s a very interesting system that you wouldn’t even notice at first glance.
The Cutjack does not use any proprietary fasteners, with an oversized Torx T8 pivot screw on the lock side and T6 body and clip screws. As other reviews have noted, my Cutjack was assembled with what in my opinion is far too much Loc-Tite, which made breaking the pivot screw loose the first time quite a task, almost to the point of twisting the Torx bit I was using. The pivot is a Chicago-style screw that is keyed to the liner on the show side to prevent it from turning when you’re loosening or tightening the pivot, always a nice touch.
The handles are molded FRN over fully nested stainless steel liners, which are skeletonized (on both sides) to save weight. Even the locking liner is recessed in the scale almost all the way forward, where it peeks out with a run of jimping for extra grip when you’re releasing it. The Cutjack doesn’t suffer from the same problem the Gayle Bradley Folder or the Zancudo does – the lock release isn’t occluded by the show side scale, which is cut out slightly larger allowing for smooth access to the lock bar.
The handles have a crosshatch pattern molded in for grip, and are contoured around the entire circumference for a more comfortable grip in hand. The backspacer is plastic, and stands slightly proud of the handles with a rounded, gear like texture. The lanyard hole is drilled out of the backspacer, with the scales cut away to make access easier. The Cutjack is drilled for tip-up left or right hand carry.
Fit and finish has been a hot topic for Steel Will’s knives as of late, but to be honest I couldn’t find much “off” about mine. The only thing I saw was that the primary bevel of the blade is slightly off towards the tip, favoring the show side scale by a few degrees when viewed from top down. The rest of the finish on the blade is very good, with clean laser etched logos – “Steel Will” and their logo on the show side, “Cutjack C22” and “D2” on the lock side, an evenly applied forward choil, and a decent factory edge. The handles scales are molded and don’t have any flashing left over, as well as a smooth finish to the outer edges. Overall, the FRN Cutjack feels more expensive than its $40 price point.
The first component of a field test, for me, is how well the knife carries in the pocket. The FRN Cutjack weighs in right at 3 ounces, so it’s hardly going to weigh your pocket down – and the pocket clip also helps. The clip is angled from the bottom of the handle up towards the pivot, putting the knife at an angle that pushes the mass of it more towards the corner of your pocket. The clip itself is great, too: polished stainless with a wide angle between where it contacts the scale and where it flares out to clear the seam of your pocket means that it slides easily in and out, but still has great tension. The size of the pivot and its proximity to the front of the handle precludes the knife being drilled for tip down carry, but who wants that anyway?
Ergonomics are the Cutjack’s strong suit and what ultimately lead me to pick it over the FRN Modus (see more in “Alternatives” below) and I’m glad I did. I will always be a sucker for a forward finger choil, even though I admit that it cuts into the available sharpened edge of a knife – the greater level of control it affords you is something you don’t want to go back from once you’re used to it. It gives you a choice between two grip positions, both solid – a rearward grip still leaves you with a full four fingers on the handle, and a forward grip allows you a lot of leverage on the blade for fine detail work. The curve of the handle fits nicely in the fat bit of your palm, too, and the combination of handle width and contoured edges make the whole thing feel solid in hand. No hot spots from the clip, either.
There’s not much to dislike about D2 as an EDC steel, other than that it’s a bit prone to discoloration compared to fully stainless steels – you’ve got to be mindful about wiping food or finger prints off the blade before you leave it to sit for a long time, but a little bit of patina has never made the hair on my neck stand up. Edge retention in my experience has been on par with mid-level steels like 154CM or S30V, and slightly better than VG-10, but much less likely to chip than any of those. Resharpening the Cutjack is also easy thanks to the forward choil, although more time consuming than some of the modern powered steels.
Like any really great piece of EDC gear, you end up absent-mindedly grabbing the Cutjack off your nightstand more often than you might think because it asks so little and does so much right. I’m a person that loves some variety in my carry, but I found the small Cutjack pushing other much more expensive and high-end items out of my rotation for an extended period of time because it does everything well.
To be honest, at the $40 price point (I got my Cutjack, model C22M-1OD from BladeHQ) the mini Cutjack seems like the best option, but that’s just my opinion. There’s internal competition for the Cutjack from Steel Will in the form of the FRN Modus, which retails for just over $40 and also uses D2 steel with FRN scales over stainless liners. It has a 3.25” Sheepsfoot blade but doesn’t have the forward finger choil like the Cutjack does, packing more effective cutting length into a similar footprint.
There’s also the Esee Zancudo D2 and the Ontario RAT Model II in D2, the etymology of which was discussed in my Esee review. They’re both made in the same plant, the Zancudo having a stainless framelock and a Swiss-Army-esque stonewashed D2 drop point blade, while the RAT has a liner lock and modified drop point. Quality and lock issues prevented me from falling in love with the otherwise promising Zancudo, but feedback on the RAT is overwhelmingly positive. They’re available for about $35 to $40.
It’s a little larger (3.5”) and heavier (4.25 oz) but the Ruike P801 (BladeHQ / Amazon) has been making waves lately for its value for money proposition. At only ~$30, the full-stainless framelock construction is nice, but Sandvik 14c28n steel is pretty surprising – this is a steel Kershaw has moved away from on their value models because it’s “too expensive” – maybe they know something we don’t? Also surprising: a flipper with ball bearings in the pivot. A crazy value proposition.
Kizer’s Vanguard line is slightly pricier, but at $60 retail the Vanguard V3 is a great entry into the brand. It has contoured G10 handles and VG-10 blade steel (thus explaining the higher price) and a 3” drop point that opens up via a thumb stud with a liner lock. There’s also the new Tangram line on Amazon, and the Vector model looks like a compelling choice – for ~$35 it includes a 2.9” drop point in Acuto 440, machined aluminum handles and a button lock.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Kershaw Leek: it’s been around forever, and for good reason. A 3” Wharncliffe blade with a needle-thin tip in 14c28n is an excellent slicer, and it’s probably the best application of Kershaw’s SpeedSafe assisted opening technology. It starts at $40 retail and is available in a mind-blowing array of variations.
If it’s not obvious, I’m really rather fond of the Steel Will Cutjack Mini. It’s a design that punches above its price class, hitting all the points that I consider to be important when it comes to EDC blades. The ergonomics are excellent, the flipping action is decent, it’s got good blade steel, it carries extremely well, and it’s a solid value for the money.
Brands like Steel Will are going to put a serious hurt on mainstream producers on the budget end like Kershaw (who’s knives are all running 8Cr steel and focused seemingly more on looking cool than working well) and Spyderco (who at this point wants $45 for the Tenacious!). I bought the Cutjack as an experiment out of curiosity, but it has made its way solidly into my regular rotation out of sheer excellence. I highly recommend it.
- Great value for money, excellent ergonomics, decent flipper once adjusted, light, carries well, good blade steel, solid forward choil
- Asymmetrical blade, action rough out of the box, not stainless, a washer pivot in a world of bearings