Sometimes, as a writer, we feel the need to develop complex and verbose metaphors for the things we write about. A lot of the time, it’s to make a topic sound more interesting than it really is. Maybe it’s to make a complex topic more relatable, or maybe – as evidenced by one Sunday Times writer who talks about cars for a living seems to do – they just really like extended metaphors. Still, there’s usually some kind of creative reach to arrive at an apt metaphor for what you’re talking about. While it’s hard to write a good metaphor about how the Audi R8 drives (and saying that most other supercars are like “manhandling a cow up a back staircase”, an admittedly hilarious turn of phrase), it’s not hard to come up with a metaphor when the thing you’re writing about is called the Pyrite.
I mean, I appreciate the soft-pitch. We’re not going to have to attend Yoga classes to stretch to come up with good metaphors for the CJRB Pyrite, because if you’re not familiar, Pyrite is a mineral – composition FeS2, called Iron Pyrite or “Fool’s Gold.” Fool’s Gold is such a low hanging fruit for metaphors that I counted 142 different songs on genius.com with that title – before I got bored of counting, that is. The metaphor is simple – something that looks valuable on the surface, but actually isn’t. Why you’d name your knife that is certainly a question worth asking.
Today we’ll be taking a closer look at the CJRB Pyrite, specifically the stainless-steel variant. All Pyrites share the same basic structure – lock, blade shape, and design, but come in a variety of different handle options. They all use a button lock, which is becoming more common in this price range but is still far from the norm, and they also utilize Artisan’s proprietary AR-RPM9 steel, which makes the Pyrite more interesting than your average $50 budget EDC knife. The question is, does all that glitter really equal gold? Do I need to continue using this hackneyed metaphor to get my point across? And more important, is the CJRB Pyrite any good?
Key Specs: CJRB Pyrite
While the Pyrite lineup at CJRB is expanding (soon to include a large variant as well as a reverse-tanto blade shape option), for the time being all Pyrites share the same blade shape: a utilitarian, 3.11” drop point. Our test sample came in a stonewash finish, but other variants also come with a black PVD finish in certain configurations. The cutting edge measures 2.90” owing to a brief sharpening choil at the base of the blade, and the spine measures 0.11” across, coming down to 0.021” behind the edge, with a nearly full flat grind thinning the edge geometry out. The spine isn’t crowned but does have chamfered edges for a smoother feel, as well as a row of jimping above the thumb stud for traction. The traditional drop point shape places the tip of the blade level with the pivot, making the sharpened edge almost entirely one continuous curve, as is the profile of the spine. The sharpening choil terminates the edge of the blade cleanly without any beard or protruding irregularities in the grind. It’s simple, but flat ground drop points are popular because they work so well.
The blade steel is perhaps the most interesting thing about the Pyrite, because It’s Artisan’s proprietary steel, AR-RPM9. Artisan is the parent company of CJRB (which stands for China Jiang Ren Blade, jiang ren being Pinyin slang for “artisan” or “craftsman” – so sort of restating the original name) and they announced in 2020 they were moving most of their budget line to this new steel. A knife company developing their own steel is unusual enough, but especially the target that Artisan/CJRB is going for – the intent of AR-RPM9 is to bring the benefits of powdered metallurgy steels to the budget market. Powdered metallurgy steels have been around for approximately 50 years now, but they still tend to only be found in more expensive knives due to the costlier production process. The advantage of PM steels over traditional ingot-formed steels is the more even distribution and finer size of carbides, which form as a result of high-alloy mixtures. The larger the carbide size, generally the less tough (more likely to chip) the blade is, as well as being harder to grind and sharpen. The PM process gives a much finer grain structure which improves all these aspects.
AR-RPM9 was developed from the start as a budget steel, the intent being to provide similar edge retention to D2 but similar corrosion resistance to 9Cr18MoV – which has traditionally been the trade-off in this segment. D2 has high carbon (1.55%) but is very prone to rust, while 9Cr18MoV and its older cousin 8Cr13MoV are generally more rust-resistant but don’t hold an edge as long as D2. With 0.9% carbon and 18% chromium, AR-RPM9 should hold an edge as well as D2 thanks to its finer grain structure but also not break out in rust spots in humid climates. How true that is remains to be seen, since the steel is proprietary, but bringing powdered metallurgy steel down to the $50 price market is remarkable nonetheless.
Deployment & Lockup
The Pyrite deploys via a set of ambidextrous thumb studs, riding on caged ceramic ball bearings, and the blade locks in place with a plunge lock or button lock (depending on which name you prefer.) Plunge locks, like powdered metallurgy steels, used to be the sole domain of expensive knives, but in the past 3 years or so they’ve become increasingly common in affordable knives. Which is wild when you consider what the production expense must be versus something like a liner lock, but that’s progress for you. You can also open the blade by pressing the lock button and flipping the blade out with a wrist flick, but this is generally harder on the stop pin and the lock than just opening the knife normally.
Plunge locks have their upsides, but good detent strength has never been one of them, and it’s not here either. It’s somewhat of a moot point since the Pyrite uses a set of liquid-smooth ceramic bearings to rotate the blade out, but even for a thumb stud knife the detent strength is somewhat squishy. This is because they use a shaped ramp cutout in the tang of the blade working against the spring in the button to create detent strength – a problem which Hogue overcame using a unique detent spring plate in the X-1 Microflip, a knife that flips superlatively (without any bearings!) but also costs three times what the Pyrite does. Still, a bit of technique goes a long way – preloading the thumb stud in an outward direction gets the blade to pop open reliably. The pivot itself is very smooth, and benefits from the low friction during travel that a plunge lock provides. The blade is drop-shut smooth with the button held in owing to the weight of the blade and ball bearings.
Lockup via the button lock is very solid – while no horizontal play is par for the course these days, some button locks or bar locks can still get a touch of vertical play due to the design of the lock, but none occurs here. The stop pin is external, anchored to both stainless steel scales for solidity and only functioning in the open position. Like any lock with several moving parts, it’s important to make sure that pocket lint and dirt doesn’t build up in between the blade tang and the button, which can cause less positive engagement and wiggle. Like most other button locks I’ve experienced, there was a break-in period for the lock release to get smooth which took a couple days of carrying and flipping. For the $50 price point, there really are no complaints about the deployment or lockup – it’s quite solid.
Features, Fit & Finish
As mentioned earlier, there are several variants of the Pyrite – this is the stainless-steel handled version, which I’ll get into the pros and cons of in the Field Test section. You can also get a Pyrite with G10 scales over stainless liners, or full titanium handles. CJRB made a limited run of Pyrites with titanium scales and micarta inlays along with CPM S35VN blades, all of which have sold out. So, the steel scales here are a single piece per side, with no need for separate liners. They’ve been extensively skeletonized to reduce weight, a series of alternating triangles running their full length cutting out as much mass as possible from the dense material. The edges of the scales are chamfered around the full circumference of the handle for a more comfortable grip, and a thumb relief has been cut into the underside to allow better access to the thumb stud for deployment – notably done on both sides to allow left handers equal access.
The pocket clip here is excellent, a bent steel deep carry clip that’s held in place by two body screws arranged vertically at the tail end of the handle. The clip can be swapped between left- and right-hand carry but the scales are only tapped for tip-up carry due to the button lock. The clip has the same stonewashed finish as the blade and the handle scales, giving the whole knife a clean, uniform look. That’s aided by the near total lack of branding, with only a tiny “CJRB” logo on the ricasso of the blade lock side, and an even smaller model number (J1925) and steel designation opposite on the show side. There’s no branding on the clip or handles.
Construction is bolt-through, with Torx T8 for the pivot screw and T6 for the body/clip screws. The rearward body screw as well as the rearward clip screw thread into an hourglass-shaped standoff that supports the handles, while the front clip screw threads directly into the scales themselves. The pivot is somewhat confusing: it’s a Chicago screw style pivot, with a male screw threading into a female barrel that the blade rotates on, but while the barrel is D-shaped, the hole in the scale isn’t keyed to hold the barrel in place, allowing the barrel to rotate when you turn the screw. The lack of a backspacer means the Pyrite has flow-through construction so it can be cleaned out with compressed air.
For $50, the quality and fit/finish of the Pyrite are very good. The knife did benefit from initial disassembly to clean some grit out of the pivot area, but that’s more down to packaging and transit than a quality issue. The blade is perfectly centered on the rear standoff when closed, the factory edge is clean and consistent, and all the body screws are flush with the scales.
The Pyrite feels strange in hand and in the pocket, curiously slim (the handles measure only 0.40” thick) but also heavy – 3.7 ounces for this steel model. The G10 variant, which is dimensionally identical to the steel handled version, comes in at more than an ounce lighter at 2.65 ounces. I won’t say that 4 ounces is too heavy for a pocket knife, especially considering the overall dimensions (3.1” blade, 7.3” overall length) but it feels strangely dense and imbalanced, being notably handle-heavy.
It carries well enough, the top corner of the deep carry clip being above the handle, so the entire knife is contained inside your pocket, and its slim profile doesn’t take up a lot of space. But a steel clip on a stainless steel stonewashed scale is a very low-friction combination. This means it’s easy to get the knife into your pocket, but also too easy to get it out – on more than one occasion the Pyrite slid out of my pocket into my car seat when I sat down, or out of my pocket and onto the floor when I pulled my cell phone out. It’s no slight against the clip, which would work great if it were touching a higher-friction surface. This same slick nature doesn’t do wonders for ergonomics either, with the smooth surface of the handle becoming slippery if you have any oil on your hands – an issue I frequently come across in my full-time job as a mechanic. It also attracts fingerprints, but that’s a non-issue as they can simply be wiped off with a T shirt. Beyond the low-traction nature of smooth stainless handles, the ergonomics of the Pyrite are good – the jimping on the spine and the finger guard formed by the forward edge of the handle give you a nice grip, the pocket clip never presents a hot spot, and you can use the sharpening choil as a forward finger choil.
I’ve got nothing bad to say about the blade shape – for a $50 EDC knife you just kind of want something that does everything well, and the Pyrite’s blade hits all the high notes – flat grind, drop point, thin blade stock but not too thin, it’s useful to the core, able to pierce, slice, and roll cut with equal ability. It’s a blade shape you work with, not work around, and I never get tired of a good simple drop point knife.
AR-RPM9 is interesting. It definitely doesn’t hold an edge as long as pricier PM steels like S35VN, and in my estimation not as long as regular old D2. But the way it gets dull after use is preferable to cheaper steels like 8Cr13MoV, which tends to chip and roll and require a lot of remedial work to resharpen. This steel just loses its edge after a few weeks of daily use and needs a quick touch-up on some diamond stones to get it back into proper slicing form, being quite easy to re-sharpen back to a satisfying edge in a couple minutes. I never noticed any staining or discoloration on it even after using it to dig battery acid out of a terminal and cleaning it off, which will almost immediately stain D2. It seems like a good balance of attributes at this price point, and I appreciate that.
Less enthralling is the disassembly process, which I recommend avoiding if you don’t have to. It’s never going to be as easy to take apart and reassemble a button lock as it is a liner lock, but the Pyrite is an actual pain to work on, a combination of the spinning pivot due to the un-keyed frame and the extremely fiddly nature of the button and spring. Thankfully the knife has flow-through construction so you can probably get away with just blowing the lint and crud out of the handles periodically. Everything went back together well, and the action was good with a centered blade after reassembly, it’s just more of a hassle than I personally prefer.
While it’s not central to the functionality of the knife, I will mention that the fidget factor on the Pyrite is high, with its satisfying button lock and drop-shut closing, as well as a satisfying metallic “thwack” when you pop it open that seems to resonate through the steel handles. If you’re a heavy fidgeter you’ll enjoy the Pyrite.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.At $50 retail for this steel handled version, it’s undeniable that the Pyrite offers a lot of value for money – you’re getting very high-quality assembly and fit & finish, a unique powdered metallurgy steel, good action with ceramic ball bearings, and a button lock. It is right in the thick of the budget market at this price, with a swell of competitive offerings – mostly from other Chinese companies located in Yangjiang like Artisan/CJRB is.
The Civivi Altus offers similar dimensions and functionality, with a 3.05” drop point blade in Nitro-V steel. It’s slightly shorter at 7.12” overall, and it’s lighter at 3.1 ounces thanks to G10 scales over stainless liners. Like the Pyrite, it uses a button lock as well as thumb studs for deployment, via ceramic ball bearings in the pivot. It’s a bit more expensive at $73 retail, closer to the titanium handle option for the Pyrite line.
WE’s budget line, Sencut, sits below Civivi in the corporate hierarchy, and their Sachse model offers a button lock and both flipper and thumb stud deployment for only $47 retail. It uses 9Cr18MoV steel, which is chemically similar to AR-RPM9 (but without the benefit of powdered metallurgy) with a longer 3.47” blade and 7.81” overall length. Despite the larger dimensions it’s a little lighter in the pocket than the Pyrite thanks to G10 scales over stainless liners at 3.6 ounces. We’ve reviewed one Sencut knife here at KnifeInformer, the Acumen, and while it offered good value for money it didn’t really set our knife nut hearts on fire.
Kizer makes a fair number of button lock knives, but the simple design of the Original will probably appeal to similar buyers to the Pyrite. Offered with 154CM steel and G10 scales ($72), Micarta ($82), and anodized aluminum ($93) or in exotic Fat Carbon scales with either Elmax or 20CV steel blades ($173), the button lock and thumb stud deployment of the Original are slick and smooth. The 3” blade has a 2.88” cutting edge, and weighs a scant 2.2 ounces in G10 format.
Finally, we can’t talk about budget button locks without mentioning the upstart company that keeps knocking it out of the park with seemingly everything they make, Vosteed. The Vosteed Raccoon recently got reviewed here, and we came away from it shocked at how much quality and character the brand is able to put into a $60 pocket knife. It also uses a button lock and thumb studs for deployment, with a 3.25” drop point blade from Sandvik 14c28n. It uses micarta scales over stainless liners, coming in at 3.4 ounces. 14c28n won’t hold an edge as long as AR-RPM9, but the Raccoon is still a delightful knife and a must-have in the budget EDC category.
This is the first product from CJRB (or Artisan) that I’ve reviewed, and I’m impressed. My only real gripes with it come from the stainless steel scales, which you can simply opt not to get – the G10 handled Pyrite is the same price ($50 retail at time of writing), weighs more than an ounce less, and will have better traction in the hand, better retention in the pocket thanks to a higher friction surface for the clip, and better balance. So that’s my only recommendation. The upcoming Large Pyrite will appeal to those that like to carry a larger blade on them – according to CJRB’s website, it has a 3.63” blade with an 8.6” overall length and 5.3 ounce weight. I much prefer the more pocketable size of the regular Pyrite, which is right in the sweet spot for an EDC knife for my preferences.
As for AR-RPM9, it doesn’t seem like it will be a total game changer in the budget EDC market, but it’s certainly a great steel at this price, being highly corrosion resistant and easy to sharpen. It’s also just refreshing to see brands trying out new things especially at the $50-$100 price point where most products are more about iteration than innovation.
Ten years ago, most knives in this price range offered bad steels, questionably quality, gritty actions, and boring design. Today we’re almost spoiled for choice in excellent budget knives, and the CJRB Pyrite is another good choice if you’re looking for a decent budget everyday carry knife.
- Unique, proprietary powdered metallurgy stainless steel blade, smooth button lock and drop shut action, high quality, reasonable price, great pocket clip design, goldilocks “just right” utilitarian blade shape.
- Stainless handles are heavy, throw balance off, slippery in hand and hurt pocket clip retention, soft detent, hard to reassemble.