I love $50 affordable folders. Why? Well, $50 will buy you a knife that’s well made enough to really last a long time and bring joy to your life, but not so expensive you feel bad actually using it. It doesn’t ruin your month if you lose it, or break the tip, or loan it to a coworker who mistakenly thought it was actually a screwdriver. I think $50 is the sweet spot for a budget EDC knife, and I say that as someone that regularly carries knives that cost several times that much. One knife I’ve been hearing recently mentioned as the true king of the budget realm is this, the Civivi Elementum.
SOG Terminus XR, Tangram Vector and Orion/Progression, Kershaw Atmos, Bareknuckle, Agile, Steel Will D2 Cutjack Mini, Esee D2 Zancudo, and probably several others I’ve forgotten about. I’ve long been of the opinion that the best affordable EDC knife you can buy is the Steel Will Mini Cutjack – it’s an extremely well balanced design that does everything well for around $40. Great ergonomics, good flipper, nice clip, superb blade shape, light, cheap – what more do you want? It makes the Spyderco Tenacious seem like a crippled dinosaur. So I was curious to see if the Elementum gave the Cutjack a run for its money.
Key Specs: Civivi Elementum
Civivi is the budget line of WE Knives (sort of like Tangram is to Kizer) and they apply the same high levels of build quality and fit and finish to cheaper knives with more pedestrian materials. This Elementum is available in 22 different configurations (at the time of writing) in two blade steels, a bunch of scale materials, and a variety of different colors – our test sample came in the standard satin finish D2 blade with blue G10 scales which makes it the most affordable variant of the Elementum, which ranges from the $50 retail of this model up to around $90 for a carbon fiber/Damascus variant.
The Elementum is designed to be a classy, inoffensive “gentleman’s knife” kind of like the massively popular Massdrop/Ferrum Forge Gent, so there’s no emphasis on hard use chopping power overbuilt tactical. The Elementum is a small pocket knife that’s handy to have around the house or office to take on small tasks – like the Mini Cutjack. The blade shape is a standard drop point with the tip pretty much level with the pivot of the handle. The blade measures just under 3” long (2.96 to be exact) which makes it legal in some restrictive jurisdictions like the state of Illinois (although Chicago has a max of 2.5”, that’s a different story.) The actual cutting edge is 2.625” owing to a sharpening choil in front of the flipper tab. The blade is 0.12” thick, putting it right in the sweet spot between “so thin you worry about snapping it” and “too thick to actually cut things well.”
The interesting thing about the Elementum’s blade is the pronounced hollow grind, which is somewhat unusual at this price point – most mass produced knives around $50 are going to have a plain flat grind, but the high hollow grind here is slick, stretching from the radiused plunge line all the way to the tip. The flats are bisected by a false swedge at the spine that narrows the blade stock towards the tip for better piercing geometry, and the whole blade has a vertical grinder satin finish that looks pretty nice for the price point.
Blade steel is, no surprise, D2 – which is also what you get on the Cutjack, Zancudo, RAT, Pilar, etc at this price point. I generally like D2 – it holds an edge better than other affordable steels (8Cr, 420HC, 12C27, that kind of thing) and isn’t prone to rolling or chipping. It’s not hard to sharpen either. The only downside is it’s quasi-stainless so care must be taken to prevent it from rusting or acquiring accidental patina. This knife came extremely sharp from the factory with a near mirror-polish edge that is really impressive for the price.
Deployment & Lockup
The Elementum is a flipper opening knife with a liner lock, and it features caged ball bearings in the pivot for smoother opening. If you’d told me I could get a bearing pivot flipper for $50 ten years ago I’d call you crazy, but here we are. The knives this competes most directly with aren’t bearing pivots, but as with some cheaper bearing knives (like the Atmos) you seem to get what you pay for. This knife flips fine but it’s not going to win any awards. Perhaps the issue is my expectations were high considering the hype surrounding this knife. The detent is pretty light and ill-defined, which leads to occasional “misfires” or half-openings, but it does flip better than the aforementioned Atmos did.
It doesn’t drop shut due to friction from the detent ball on the blade tang, but it’s silly to expect Shirogorov drop-shut action for $50. I do prefer it to the litany of assisted-opening knives around this price, because while they open about the same speed, there’s not the added difficulty of closing the blade against spring tension. I don’t think this knife flips any better than the phosphor-bronze washer equipped Mini Cutjack (once it’s been dialed in, which this knife does not require- pivot tension was perfect from the factory and I’ve never had to touch it.) I also think the Terminus XR, which is an axis-style lock with ball bearings, flips better than the Elementum.
Lockup is without fault. The knife uses a stamped steel bent liner to lock the blade in place, in conjunction with an external stop pin, and when you flip the knife normally the locking liner engages perfect – the outer edge of the lock bar lining up with the outer edge of the blade tang. Lock geometry is set up to account for gradual wear, and I didn’t find any blade play in any direction. Getting lock-up dialed in with such precision is rare in $50 knives, and it’s arguably more important than getting perfect deployment. Deployment is fun, lock stability is safe.
Features, Fit & Finish
This certainly seems like a fancy knife for $50, and I see the appeal of the fancier versions – especially with micarta or wood handles. The Civivi logo that’s embossed on the oversized pivot pin on the show side is the only branding of any sort on the knife anywhere – strange in a world where some brands print a Russian novel on their blades with a laser. The hollow grind and smooth satin finish are nice touches at this price point, and the whole knife – blade and handles – has nicely chamfered edges, including the spine of the blade. Jimping is minimal – a little on the forward edge of the flipper tab, and some on the spine in front of the pivot, only where it’s actually beneficial to the user.
The liners stand slightly proud of the scales – reminiscent of the weird but lovable Spyderco Gayle Bradley folder –and the edges of the liners are chamfered too, so the only sharp edge on this knife is the edge itself. There’s a lanyard hole in the liners that the scales are cut away from, leaving just the liners themselves – which looks strangely cheap to my eyes. Those stainless liners are skeletonized on both sides – somewhat unusual to see a skeletonized locking liner – to save weight, keeping the total down to under 3 ounces.
The knife features a bent steel deep carry clip, secured by two screws, that is configured for right hand tip up carry only. All of the screws on the Elementum are standard Torx fittings, making disassembly and maintenance easier, and the body of the knife uses hourglass-shaped standoffs which the screws thread into from both sides to hold together, giving the knife a flow through design so it’s easier to clean. The G10 scales have a fine checkered pattern to them for grip and rounded edges all the way around to make the knife more comfortable in the hand.
Fit and finish on the Elementum gives away the fact that this is a cheap knife made by a company that normally makes expensive knives. In fact, this Elementum is one of the cheapest knives that WE produces, stretching all the way up to the insane Isham-designed Arrakis in Damasteel for $680. Being the small fish in the big pond (so to speak) means the Elementum benefits from high end manufacturing but uses cheaper materials, so this knife is exceptionally well built. The grind is perfectly symmetrical, it had an impressive factory edge, all of the body screw heads are flush with the surface of the scales, blade centering is spot-on, there’s no blade play in any direction – this is a well-made knife, for sure.
The Elementum carries extremely well. The shape helps – it’s basically straight and slender so it doesn’t take up a lot of real estate. It’s very light – only 2.89 ounces for this G10 version – and it has a great deep carry clip. The clip has strong tension, but the micro-pattern G10 isn’t so grabby that it will quickly destroy your pockets like some other knives, so it stays put but doesn’t get stuck on the way in or out. The entry angle of the clip is a little steep which makes it easier to put in the pocket but more likely to scrape paint or car doors.
I like the hollow ground drop point blade – I’ve said before and I’ll say again, a drop point does everything well. Tip geometry is acute enough to be good at piercing thick plastic, and the hollow grind and satin finish means the knife doesn’t hang up while cutting through thicker plastic bags or tape. It’s a good all-purpose blade – for everything except food prep, as there’s no belly to the blade and the handle lies well below the blade when open. I think this blade didn’t hold an edge as long as I was expecting it to considering the hard-wearing reputation of D2 steel, but that depends on heat treatment and how it’s sharpened – I found the blade to be prone to flat spots in the edge fairly easily, but surprisingly it’s less rust-prone than the D2 on the Cutjack. Like the Cutjack, it’s easily sharpened – especially with the diamond stones on the Worksharp Ken Onion Angle Set kit.
Ergonomics are totally neutral; the Elementum doesn’t force your hand into any particular position. It doesn’t have finger choils or a thumb ramp, just a mild palm swell and the flipper tab acting as a finger guard to secure your grip. The clip lies low enough to not present a hot spot of any sort. I generally prefer a knife with a thumb ramp or a forward choil, but for the sort of “civilized office work” this knife is intended for (read: opening Amazon packages) it works just fine.
The only “issue” I encountered while carrying the Elementum was that one of the pocket screws had a tendency to work itself loose about once a week, leading to a wiggly clip. After tightening it down twice, I ended up putting a dab of blue (medium-yield) Loc-Tite on both clip screws and threading them back in, and the problem hasn’t popped up since. Since the clip isn’t nested in the scales (it just sits flat on the surface) and the screws are arranged vertically rather than horizontally it’s naturally more prone to this. Not a big deal of course, unless you strip or lose a screw!
All these knives available at BladeHQ.Well, there certainly are a lot of alternatives around the $50 price point this basic Elementum sells for.
My favorite is still the FRN/D2 Steel Will Cutjack Mini, which I reviewed previously. It’s about one Five Guys lunch cheaper than the Elementum, and while it lacks the ball bearing pivot, I think it feels equally well-built and it has better ergonomics, benefiting from a forward finger choil and a thumb ramp, as well as a more sculpted handle with a more textured grip. It’s not as much of a “gentleman’s knife” as the Elementum, but I found it more useful in my time carrying it when I reviewed it.
At pretty much the same price as the Elementum, you can get the standard version of the SOG Terminus XR. They don’t make the variant I tested any more – with carbon fiber and BDZ1 – but they make a more expensive carbon fiber/S35VN version – around $85 – and a standard version with G10 and D2, like the Elementum. Instead of a liner lock, it uses SOG’s XR lock – which functions similar to an Axis lock, but with ball bearings. I loved the fancy Terminus XR, and the standard one is likely just a great. It is heavier than the Elementum or Mini Cutjack (3.32 ounces) and I do still genuinely hate the pocket clip, but for a $50 it’s quite compelling.
Kizer sort of splits this market, with most of their Vanguard line knives ringing in around $70, but the cheaper Tangram sub-brand coming in closer to ~$30. We’ve reviewed the Progression and the Orion, as well as the Vector, all of which are only sold on Amazon and Aliexpress rather than traditional knife retailers. It’s shocking the kind of quality you get for the money, and the Vector has to be the best deal going on a pocket knife now. I’m not crazy about the recurved blade, but a slick button lock action and aluminum handles as well as good quality Acuto440 steel seem like a bargain for the $31 the Vector commands on Amazon Prime 2-day at time of writing. For ~$60 you could get a Vector and an Orion, my picks of the Tangram line.
For ~$50, you can get yourself a solid USA made Kershaw – the Link, with anodized aluminum handles, SpeedSafe assisted opening via a torsion bar, a nice bent steel clip, and a 3.25” drop point blade with a flipper tab. I like the Link (and the related Dividend), they’re great budget knives, but there’s a catch getting a domestically produced product at that price: they use 420HC (high-carbon) steel for the blade, which isn’t in the same universe as D2 or even 8Cr13MoV for edge retention. Kershaw makes upgraded versions of the Link/Dividend with better steel (early models with M390, later ones with CPM 20CV) but they’re more like $80, when you can even get your hands on them.
The name is hilarious, but the Honey Badger line of folding knives offers a lot of value for the money in this segment too. They’re available in three sizes (2.875”, 3.25” and 3.6”) and two steels (8Cr and D2) as well as three blade shapes (a standard drop point, an aggressive hawkbill and a funky “wharncleaver”) but the most directly comparable to the Elementum would be the small (2.875”) drop point model in D2 steel, which rings in at ~$52- so nearly identical price to the Elementum, as well as materials – G10 scales, D2 blade, ball bearing pivot, steel deep carry clip. The Honey Badger is a little lighter at 2.5 ounces, and it also offers the choice of a thumb hole in addition to the flipper tab for opening. It’s not as “classy looking” as the Elementum, but it does have a more pronounced handle swell and more jimping and grip.
Finally, I’d be remiss to not mention the Ontario Knife Company RAT Model 2. It’s still the standard bearer for budget blades, offering no-nonsense build quality and ergonomics and a solid liner lock for very little dough. ~$36 will get you a Rat 2 in AUS-8 stainless steel, or $40 to upgrade to harder-wearing D2 steel. Some people don’t like the looks but you can’t argue with the function.
This is an absurdly overcrowded market, and it’s hard to make a product stand out when it uses the same materials and general dimensions as a pile of competitors. I think what Civivi (and WE Knife) leans on here is mostly their build quality rather than any sort of functional or ergonomic advantage. The Elementum is a very well-made knife without any sort of quality miss-steps or finish faux pas to speak of. It’s also a lot classier in appearance than many budget knives, but that’s a matter of opinions – if you like the minimalist aesthetic of the knife, it’s not a bad buy. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air to see a knife that’s not just covered in marketing and tacticool baubles; the Elementum is like the knife equivalent of a sterile-faced watch. Not shouting about what you have doesn’t attract attention you weren’t looking for in the first place.
I think if the idea of this pared-down gentleman’s knife calls to you, I’d spring for one with the upgraded blade steel and a nicer scale material – the canvas micarta/S35VN combo for $80 seems like a good deal if it has the same high level build quality that my review sample exhibited. This is a classy design that would shine with better materials, rather than feeling like lipstick on a pig like the weird carbon fiber RAT 2, or some of the dealer exclusive CRKT’s.
Would I take the Elementum over other competition in the “$50, 3 inch folding knife” category? No, but it’s a matter of objective analysis and not a subjective problem. I think the knife is a little boring, and I can’t get over that. But opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has one, and yours may be different – if it lights your fire, you’ll like this knife.
- Remarkable build quality for the money, minimalist gentleman’s knife appearance, hollow ground blade slices well, deep carry clip, fairly lightweight.
- Mushy detent, clip screws come loose, doesn’t hold an edge as long as you’d think, lanyard cutout looks cheap, single position clip, kind of boring.