Columbia River Knife & Tool (CRKT) was started in Tualatin, Oregon in 1994 by Paul Gillespi and Rod Bremmer, two former Kershaw employees. Over the last 23 years, CRKT has produced a long line of affordable knives with a focus on function, frequently designed in collaboration with some of the biggest names in the knife industry. They’ve earned a reputation for making inexpensive knives that don’t feel cheap, with fresh designs that (for the most part) rotate in and out quickly. Here is our list of the best CRKT knives, a mix of long term favorites and newer designs.
The Homefront is a Ken Onion design, made to resemble a WWII era knife but with a clever new trick up its sleeve. CRKT calls it “Field Strip Technology” and the idea is that the Homefront can be taken completely apart without any tools for cleaning. With the knife closed, you push the toggle switch near the pivot then turn the release wheel at the butt of the handle until the handles come apart. In a few seconds you can take the entire knife apart, clean it, and put it back together. Clever stuff.
There are four versions of the Homefront: the original “high end” version with OD Green aluminum handles and a 3.5” satin finish AUS-8 blade at around $115 retail, and three new more affordable versions introduced this year. The Homefront EDC drops a half ounce compared to the original (4.3 vs 4.8 ounces) with GRN handles over stainless liners. Blade steel is 1.4116, the same soft but easy to sharpen highly corrosion resistant steel that Victorinox uses on their Swiss Army Knives, in an EDC-friendly (see?) 3.5” stonewashed drop point shape.
The Homefront Tactical has the same GRN handle but with a half-serrated, black coated, tanto tipped blade. And the Homefront Hunter has a camouflage GRN handle (presumably to make it harder to find when you drop it?) with a modified drop point shape – a super high hollow grind with a concave spine and a higher tip give the Hunter a large belly for skinning and prepping game. All three new models share the 1.4116 steel and around $65 retail price, a full $50 cheaper than the original version. They’re usable, classically styled knives with a unique feature set that makes maintenance a breeze, perfect for if you’re always bothered by the pocket lint (or, you know, real stuff) stuck in your pocket knife.
What’s special about the M16? Oh, nothing, it’s just the knife that popularized the concept of a flipper in the mass market, no big deal. Designed by Kit Carson (who sadly passed away in 2014) the M16 series is available in a staggering array of varieties, from the basic M16-01Z, with a bead blasted 3” spear point blade in 8Cr15MoV and Zytel handles over stainless liners, up to the high end Automatic for over $200, with a plunge lock, 4” black coated tanto 154CM blade, and aluminum handles. The sweet spot is the M16-01T, with a sleek titanium handle and a 3.125” AUS-8 Spearpoint blade. All M16’s share a basic tactical-oriented design with a straight spine handle and gentle curves underneath, with holes in the handle and liners to save weight. M16’s come as either spear point or tanto blade shapes in a variety of sizes – 3”, 3.125”, 3.5”, 3.875”, and 4”, and with Zytel, Aluminum, or Titanium handles. There’s also a Rescue version with a glass breaker at the butt of the handle, and a seat belt cutter built into the flipper tab. Some models also feature double flipper tabs that function as a “hilt” when the blade is open, and Tom Veff’s unique directional serrations that make quick work of rope and cord. They’re light for their size and carry well.
The M16 has been around for a long time, and benefitted from a mid-life addition of the LAWKS system. LAWKS stands for (Ron) Lake And (Michael) Walker Knife Safety, and it’s a secondary safety device to prevent the liner lock from being accidentally released. It’s fitted in between the blade and the scale, and when the blade is open and the liner lock engaged it is rotated in between the scale and the liner lock to block it in place. In some model it’s manually engaged by pushing the switch forward, and models with AutoLAWKS use a spring to push the bar into place automatically when the knife is opened – which can be disabled if the user wants to. Some users can’t stand LAWKS but the additional peace of mind and gadget factor are a plus, even if CRKT’s description of LAWKS as “turning knives into virtual fixed blades” garnered them a frivolous lawsuit from Cold Steel in 2015. Excellence breeds jealousy, and the M16 has been delivering affordable excellence for decades.
The No Time Off is a funky knife, and funky designs are usually the ones that get remembered. There’s a lot to digest here, this isn’t another “slab handled titanium framelock flipper version 1,307,161.” The No Time Off is a Flavio Ikoma design, so of course it has his IKBS (Ikoma Korth Bearing System) frictionless pivot for a smooth action. The handle is stainless liners under GFN scales cast in a ‘waffle iron traction pattern’ (CRKT’s words) for a positive grip. Ergonomically, the No Time Off favors function over form, with deep dual finger choils and a generous palm swell. Another ergonomic abnormality is the pocket clip – the handle is cut away underneath it, so it holds the pocket well but doesn’t protrude as much from the handle when you’re gripping it to eliminate hot spots. Unfortunately it’s only right hand tip down carry, but sometimes innovation requires compromise.
Another innovation is the ILS (Ikoma Lock Safety) system that’s added onto the liner lock. Similar in function to Auto-LAWKS, ILS automatically engages when the blade is opened, putting a piece of metal between the locking liner and the handle to prevent accidental release, but unlike LAWKS system it can be disengaged in one fluid motion when you go to release the lock. The blade uses Carpenter CTS-BD1, a modern non powdered stainless steel that’s similar performance wise to 440C, AUS-8, or VG-10. It’s 3” long, classified as a drop point but closer to a wharncliffe in profile with a dramatically dropped tip and a deep swedge for utility work, and a slick satin finish. The No Time Off is available as a plain edge or with Tom Veff’s “flat top serrations,” and the utilitarian design and grippy handle make a lot sense when you realize that Ikoma designed the No Time Off as a “mechanic’s folder” – it looks like something I’d carry every day.
Who doesn’t love the Squid? We’ve featured the diminutive Squid on Knife Informer before, and there’s a lot to love. The Lucas Burnley designed Squid is the antithesis of his popular Kwaiken design that’s produced by Boker, chunky and compact instead of long and sleek. It’s an ideal EDC knife for whatever you come across, compact enough to disappear in your pocket but stout enough to do real work. A simple but effective thick stainless steel framelock will never give you pause for concern. The Squid has a 2.25” blade, small enough to not alarm anyone if you pull it out to open a box at the office, with a stout hollow grind that reaches midway up the blade. 8Cr13MoV steel isn’t anything to write home about, but this is a knife that retails for $19, so splitting hairs on the blade steel is a fairly silly exercise.
The Squid is a knife that appeals to “knife nerds” as well as budget buyers thanks to its functional design, easily pocketed size, and its ability to packs tons of usability into a small package. The standard Squid comes in two versions, a silver handle with a stonewash blade or a black stonewash. There are also G10 versions coming out with black or orange G10 on the show side and the same blades as the standard Squid, almost a full ounce lighter than the normal version. There have been several limited edition Squids include a rare Carbon Fiber/Titanium Squid as well as one with a neat hand grenade pattern in the handle. An oversized thumb stud and a right hand tip-down deep carry pocket clip round out the features. Simple, cheap, and stout: why not?
How cool is the Swindle? Another Ken Onion design, the Swindle is his modern interpretation of the classic swayback pattern that’s popular in old fashioned slipjoint blades. Like the popular GEC “Viper” Swayback, the Swindle’s handle is concave towards the underside, creating a gentle sweeping profile when the blade is open. The blade itself is great for light EDC tasks, stretching 3.25” long in a narrow wharncliffe profile with a needle-sharp tip and a high hollow grind. A flipper tab and an IKBS bearing pivot make the Swindle snap open with ease. Another interesting detail is the pocket clip: instead of being mounted to the surface of the handle, the clip is actually integral with the spine and includes a spring for tension. Lifting up on the knurled stud on the clip allows you to slide it over your pocket, giving it a flat profile when carried and no hot spot from a clip when you use it. It’s unusual but it works.
The Swindle comes in two different variations. The standard version retails for around $45 and has smooth contoured stainless steel handles and an 8Cr14MoV blade. Stepping up to the premium version is an extra $15 and swaps the steel out for Sandvik 12c27 with a unique milled handle for a more positive grip. The creative design of the Swindle was enough to earn it the award for the Most Innovative Imported Design at the 2013 Blade Show, and it’s a favorite budget carry for fans of gentleman’s knives everywhere.
The Eros is another Ken Onion design for CRKT, a sleek and slim daily carry that’s visually a combination of his Leek design for Kershaw and a touch of Esee Zancudo to my eyes. The Eros was previously available in two separate sizes (a 2” and a 3”) but the small Eros has been discontinued, so it’s the large variant only now. The Eros has a 2.84” spear point blade with a high hollow grind for supreme slicing performance, aided by super thin 0.09” blade stock. The needle sharp tip is a defining characteristic of many of Onion’s best EDC designs, able to pierce through clamshell packaging or cardboard with ease. Like the Swindle, there are two variants, but with a much greater delta in price.
The standard Eros has smooth stainless steel slab handles an AUS-8 blade, ringing in at 2.80 ounces and a $47 retail. The upgraded Eros uses ACUTO+ steel, an unfamiliar steel that Aichi designed specifically for CRKT that’s a finer grained refinement of 440C, basically. The stainless slab handle is swapped out for an intricate 3D machined titanium handle, and the price rises to $135 retail while the weight drops literally by half to 1.4 ounces – shockingly light for a 3” blade with a stout framelock. Even moreso when you consider that both Eros models use an IKBS bearing pivot for a quick deployment. Both Eros models use a unique pocket clip that splits around the pivot, textured on the titanium version to match the handle, in right hand tip down carry only. The Eros may not be around much longer, considering it’s been around for a long time already and the small models have been discontinued, so we recommend you grab one while you still can!
The Crossbones is a recent release by CRKT that we’re excited to get out hands on, because it’s destined to be a winner. It’s designed by Jeff Park, who you may not have heard of yet – but you will. He was an apprentice of Ken Onion, and Ken’s slender unorthodox styling peeks through under the surface of this minimalistic, almost filet-knife styled EDC gem. The handle is magnificently simple, styled like an old school Italian stiletto, made from anodized 6061 aluminum with a textured pattern beneath the raised “X” pattern. A polished stainless deep carry pocket clip is configured for right hand tip up carry, while at the back of the Crossbones the backspacer extends past the end of the handle to form a subtle lanyard hole. A jimped flipper tab at the extreme edge of the handle pops open the Crossbones’ blade on a frictionless IKBS bearing pivot, a hallmark of many of CRKT’s higher end knives.
The blade is an interesting departure from the (admittedly effective) norm of “full flat ground drop point” EDC knives. A trailing edge shaped blade puts the center line of the blade proportionally well above the centerline of the handle, like a filet knife. The Crossbones is designed to be equally adept at “cutting meat, open mail, and everything in between” according to CRKT, and the full flat grind and 0.12” blade stock make it both a smooth slicer and beefy enough for harder tasks, while the narrow tip is great for penetrating cuts. The Crossbones secures it’s blade with a standard liner lock sans LAWKS or other secondary safeties. The ratios on the Crossbones are impressive: despite a 3.5” blade, an 8.063” overall length, and a ball bearing pivot, the Crossbones only weighs 2.4 ounces, so it’s big enough to do real jobs but light enough to forget it’s in your pocket. AUS-8 steel strikes a good balance between edge retention and ease of sharpening while remaining pretty corrosion resistant, nothing to cough at considering the approx. $60 retail price. The Crossbones may be the first public effort of Jeff Park but it surely won’t be the last.
The Razel is a singularly unique knife, more appealing for its design than its materials or features. It’s an affordable production version of the Graham Razel, a knife that’s loved and hated in equal measure by the enthusiast knife community. At its core it’s a dual purpose knife: the forward edge is a V-ground chisel, designed to scrape things in a pushing motion. The primary edge has a shallow hollow grind and a generous belly for rolling cuts, the blade stretching out 3.125” for a usable day to day length. The Razel won’t be a slicing champion to the surprise of virtually no one, the blade being designed for hard use tasks. The handle is a construction form rarely seen these days – contoured canvas Micarta on top of stainless liners for a hand-filling grip. To make the liner lock more secure the Razel has CRKT’s patented LAWKS mechanism as a secondary safety, preventing the user from accidentally releasing the liner lock during use by physically blocking it from closing. 8Cr13MoV steel isn’t great, but at the $25 retail price these knives go for you can’t complain. It’s a heavy knife, 6.10 ounces being nearly twice what most knives its size weigh, but the heavy duty construction suits the purpose of the knife, much like the overbuilt Batum. It might not be perfect by the numbers, but for $25 you can see if the concept of the Razel appeals to you as a user before shelling out something like $650 for the midtech version of the Razel, with a titanium framelock handle. Only thing it’s lacking is the weird “over the pommel” pocket clip of the real Graham knives, and a price tag 26 times higher. Minor details!
Honorable Mentions: K.I.S.S., Pilar, Jettison, Fossil
CRKT makes a frankly staggering variety of designs, so it’s hard to narrow down a list of the best. One CRKT design that we can’t go without mentioning is the classic K.I.S.S. Designed by Ed Halligan, the K.I.S.S. is arguably the knife that put CRKT on the map in the 90’s, and it’s still going strong today. The acronym standing for “keep it super simple” makes sense, considering the K.I.S.S. has a single piece handle, a blade, and an oversized pocket clip that serves double duty as a money clip. The blade is chisel ground with the flat side towards the inside of the handle so when it’s closed it doesn’t present a sharp edge when it’s closed despite the exposed blade. A simple frame lock mechanism locks the blade open, and a thumb stud actuates the blade. Another stud serves as a “closed stop” for the blade to prevent it from swinging back around and out of the handle. There is a wide array of variants of the K.I.S.S. available, black and silver with a choice of plain or serrated blades, as well as the P.E.C.K. (Precision Engineered Compact Knife) which is a rounded off K.I.S.S. with a nifty Wharncliffe blade. Prices are in the $25 retail range.
The Pilar is another relatively recent introduction by CRKT, designed by renowned Danish designer Jesper Voxnaes. Its unconventional appearance is a result of form over function, allowing a deep four finger grip with dual finger choils and a gentle pommel swell. The 2.40” sheepsfoot blade almost doesn’t come to a point, the rounded off tip leading into a pronounced belly and a high flat grind placing the tip well below the handle’s centerline for utility tasks like opening packages. A beefy stainless framelock and 8Cr13MoV steel are to be expected at the Pilar’s $26 retail price, but the unique ergonomics and big name design expertise are a refreshing change for the affordable market. Full review here.
The Jettison comes in two sizes – the standard Jettison has a 3.25” blade and the extremely popular compact Jettison has a stubby 2” blade. Both are designed by Robert Carter, and the designs are making waves in the knife community for their unique looks and extreme functionality. The Compact Jettison makes the most of its size by including an “extended” backspacer with a lanyard hole extending past the end of the handle itself, so attaching a lanyard will effectively give you a full four-finger grip on the short 3.125” handle. The Wharncliffe blade style is well suited for utility tasks, with a flipper for one handed opening and a lockbar stabilizer to prevent over-extending the framelock. The compact Jettison only weighs 1.36 ounces, primarily due to it having Titanium handles –scarcely believable considering the $30 price tag of the compact. The full size Jettison ditches the titanium handles for stainless steel and weighs in at 4.50 ounces, but considering it’s almost twice the size of the compact and it’s only $31 it’s understandable. Both Jettison models use 8Cr13MoV steel and represent, like a lot of CRKT’s, an extremely good value for money as well as a noteworthy design.
Finally, the last CRKT we’ll touch on here is the Flavio Ikoma designed Fossil. There are multiple variants of the Fossil, with a small (3.41” blade) and a large (3.96” blade) as well as plain edged or serrated variants. The Fossil is a funky mix of modern knifemaking techniques and classic designs. The organic shape of the handle is adorned with a Japanese-style hammertone finish, and the multi colored G10 inlays add more depth. The blade is also unconventional, with an oblong thumb hole opener and a hollow ground recurved drop point shape. The Fossil opens on IKBS bearings for a snappy deployment and has an intricately cut clip with standoffs that positions the knife in a right hand tip up carry. While I’m not normally a huge fan of serrations, it’s worth noting that the Fossil uses Tom Veff’s aggressive directional serrations that are especially effective on rope. The Fossil ranges from $50-$70 retail depending on size and features, offering some “custom knife” feel for not a lot of cash.