When it comes to budget knives Columbia River is a force to be reckoned with. Let me start by saying the CRKT Batum will cost you around $35 plus shipping online, yet every person I handed it to guessed way, way over that. Usually double. Columbia River Knife and Tool (or CRKT for short) has the formula down on how to build an inexpensive knife that somehow doesn’t feel like a “cheap” knife, and it would behoove other manufacturers to take notes. The Batum is a great example of this, and while it isn’t without its shortcomings it always feels and acts like a knife twice its price. Let’s take a closer look.
Key Specs: CRKT Batum
The Batum was designed by Denmark’s Jesper Voxnaes, and it has the hallmarks of his designs written all over it. The blade is 3.125” long, in a classic drop point shape with a small swedge atop the blade. While it’s high flat ground for cutting performance, the Batum’s .187” blade stock makes it more of a heavy duty chopper than an apple slicer. A forward choil takes up further cutting real estate at the benefit of allowing for greater control when performing precise cuts. The Batum has a slight recurve towards the tip, and the swedge helps to maximize piercing performance in spite of the ultra-thick blade stock.
Blade steel is 8Cr13MoV, which is common with Chinese-produced knives. The low price tag has to come from somewhere, and for an EDC blade 8Cr is an acceptable compromise. 8Cr just doesn’t hold an edge particularly well in my experience compared to other affordable steels like 440C, BD-1, or 1428CN, but it’s at least easy to sharpen. A beautiful, even satin finish gives the Batum some class, and the oblong round hole opener lends visual interest to the stocky blade.
Deployment and Lockup
The Batum doesn’t have a fancy IKBS bearing pivot like some other CRKT’s, instead relying on a pair of polyurethane washers for deployment. Poly can be hit or miss – it was a solid miss on the Spyderco LionSpy, but after a few day break in period they work quite well on the Batum, to my surprise. The shape of the handle curving around the thumb hole somewhat occludes the user from using their thumb to “flip” the knife open – you can with practice, but it’s not worth the effort. I’ve found that the easiest way to open the Batum is one familiar to Spyderco fans – by flicking it from the rear with your middle finger and a slight flip of the wrist.
The thumb hole itself is worth closer examination. It might not be obvious at first glance, but only part of its surface is beveled. The upper portion has been rounded off so as to not chew up your thumb, while the lower portion has been left squared off to provide better traction. The oblong shape of the thumb hole makes sense – it widens towards the pivot to “guide” the pad of your thumb into it for opening.
As with a lot of framelocks, lockup has been a case of trial and error to dial in the perfect action to blade play ratio. After using my sample for a few weeks now, I’ve found that hand-tightening the pivot pin down to just shy of completely tight yields a snappy action with barely perceptible side-to-side blade play; tightening all of the play out results in a sticky action. Some things in life are worth dealing with, and I’ll take academic levels of horizontal blade play in exchange for a good opening. The poly washers give the heavy blade a smooth hydraulic feel when opening, a surprising sensation considering – I hate to overuse this phrase – the price point of this knife
There’s no vertical blade play to speak of, and considering the knife is a stainless steel framelock one doesn’t have to worry about lock stick after flipping the knife open. Lockup is around 25% and being a giant chunk of stainless steel one doesn’t have to worry about the Batum’s lock strength even for heavy duty tasks.
Features, Fit and Finish
“F&F” is where the Batum shines. There are piles of things that just don’t hint at this being a $35 retail price knife. The lockbar stabilizer (or overtravel stop, if you prefer) is hidden – a screw on the outside of the bar is the only hint it’s there to prevent accidental damage. The stainless frame is beautifully stonewashed, feeling smooth to the touch, and the intricate machining impresses. The relief cutouts for the reversible pocket clip, the way the frame is fully contoured on the outside edge flaring out around the body screws, the chamfered cutout for the lanyard hole that’s integrated into the backspacer, all these things make the Batum feel good in hand.
The show side is textured black G-10, sans liner, and is also chamfered all the way around the circumference of the knife. An oversized satin finish decorative pivot on the show side brings some interest to the G-10 slab, and overall assembly quality is faultless. Everything lines up smoothly here – the stainless lock side, backspacer, and G-10 scale are all smooth to the touch. There are no unfinished or sharp surfaces (besides the blade, obviously.) A slightly uneven primary grind on the show side and some casting debris in one of the pocket clip screw holes – which were easily blown out with compressed air – were the only noticeable faults.
The pocket clip is a short, stubby affair which is configurable for tip up or tip down right hand carry only. It’s anchored in a square relief cut into the lock side, which allows the mount to be flush with the handle surface and eliminate a potential hot spot in hand. Despite being short, it positions the Batum well in pocket, and it’s not a paint scratcher or a pants destroyer either.
Overall, the Batum’s fit and finish are remarkable for what Columbia River is asking for this knife. If you’re looking to get your hands on a Vox design but don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for one, you aren’t likely to feel short-changed by the Batum.
The Batum is, it must be said, a heavy knife. With a thick stainless steel framelock, and blade stock that’s closer to ice pick than razor blade, even a linerless G10 show side handle can only do so much. A 3.125” blade and a weight close to 7.0 oz means the Batum is a dense piece of steel. Some people can’t stand knives this heavy; I’m a rather big fellow so the overall difference between a three ounce knife and a seven ounce knife is pretty minimal on a daily basis. Because the Batum carries so well, it’s not prone to the “pendulum” effect that some products (such as the LionSpy) are prone to, where the knife swings to and fro from your pocket as you walk, smacking your thigh. Still, if the weight bothers you, the Batum may not be for you. It’s a beefy piece of equipment.
Ergonomically, it’s right up there. I’m a sucker for a knife with a deep forward choil, and the Batum delivers. It’s a true dual position grip, forward for fine work or rearward for leverage, and feels natural in hand – as Voxnaes’ designs tend to, with their organic shapes. The flat spine doesn’t have a ramp or jimping, but the wide blade stock gives you a comfortable place to put your thumb in the forward grip for control, and the rearward grip for downward force. The handle shape also works well in a reverse grip for draw cuts, and especially well in an ice pick grip for picking at things – the trailing edge of the finger choil working as a guard for your pinky.
The Batum isn’t a slicer, but I’m not sure who expects it to be. Out of the box the factory edge was quite sharp, push cutting standard paper easily and shaving arm hair with little drama. In my job as an automotive technician, blades primarily get used for cutting through packaging – tape, cardboard, plastic, nylon straps – as well as puncturing tire sidewalls for disposal. The forward grip is great for opening things, while a full-fisted ice pick grip works wonders for punching through a sidewall.
Being 8Cr13MoV and my job being fairly cutting-heavy, I sharpened the Batum after a week of use using a pair of standard stones on the Sharpmaker (medium and fine) in approximately 5 minutes to a gleaming sharp edge. 8Cr may not hold an edge forever like modern “supersteels”, but there’s something to be said for serviceability! The steel is fairly soft on the Rockwell scale, 58-60, which means that it rolls rather than chips when you lean on it – again, an absolute godsend when sharpening. When picking a steel, you have to consider this balance – as well as the price point – so 8Cr makes sense here.
The lock itself is solid as expected, and the pivot needs the occasionally quarter turn tightening after a few days use. I rectified this by removing the pivot screw (a T8 Torx) and applying a dab of medium-yield thread locker to keep it in place, and it hasn’t been a problem since. The pocket clip is particularly unobtrusive to my hands when using, as is the lanyard hole, which looks like it might create a hot spot but doesn’t since it doesn’t protrude from the profile of the handle. All in all, a great user that’s quite serviceable thanks to an easily sharpened steel and screw together construction that you won’t feel bad about using hard.
If you don’t like the girth of the Batum, CRKT also makes a Batum Compact, which is five bucks cheaper and packs a 2.50” blade and only 3.60 ounces in weight.
Also from the CRKT line, the Pilar is another new Vox design with a stainless framelock and an 8Cr13MoV blade ringing in at 2.4”and a 4.2 ounce weight. At under $30 it’s another low-risk purchase, and for what it’s worth our fellow knife nut Tony over at Everyday Commentary seemed to like it.
There’s also the stainless framelock Amicus flipper, with a 3.4” blade for around $40 which looks decent.
As far as other Vox designs on the market go, you’re looking at considerably more money for most of them. Viper Knives in Italy offers several Jesper Voxnaes designs, including the $184 titanium and N690Co 2.9” Odino, the 3.1” Kyomi for around $190, and the 3.5” Fortis flipper that ranges from $165-$210 depending on materials. Boker also produces a few Vox designs, including the tactical oriented Vox F3 in a 3” or a 3.25” from $130 to $165, with a titanium framelock and premium S35VN steel.
As far as things functionally similar to the Batum, the Kershaw Cryo II offers similar attributes: a stainless steel framelock with a lockbar stabilizer, a 3.25” blade made from 8Cr13MoV, a two position clip and a big lanyard hole. At around $35-$45 it’s on a level playing field, and slightly lighter at 5.50 ounces. As Kershaw’s mass market cash cow it brings a solid user with Speed Safe assist to your pocket for about the same money.
The Cold Steel lineup has a handful of competitive offerings but most of them are considerably more expensive than the Batum; the Grik offers a 3” AUS-8A blade and GFN handles with Cold Steel’s odd new ramped thumb hole and the Tri-Ad lock for an MSRP of $59.99, likely to be around $40 retail when it arrives. The Working Man (a Steve Austin collab) offers colored GFN scales, a Tri-Ad lock, and a 3.5” blade made from 4116 stainless for $35, or the Pro-Lite series if you prefer something a little chunkier with the same materials.
The CRKT Batum is an interesting product. It’s definitely not for everyone, and doesn’t really fall under the “everyday carry” category owing to its 7 ounce weight – which is more than a Paramilitary 2 and a Manix 2 lightweight together. But if you’re looking for a heavy duty folder that you can rely on to do some serious work for not a lot of coin, it’s a solid choice. It’s also a legitimate piece of eye candy: every surface has been smoothed over, no corners have been cut, it’s just a pleasant piece of equipment to use and handle, which is frankly unusual for under $40.
The big draw here is that it’s clearly a Jesper Voxnaes design, with all of his visual panache and ergonomic excellence. Along with the Pilar, it brings big name designer greatness into the hands of anyone with a couple dollars. If you talk to almost anyone in the manufacturing industry, they’ll tell you that making objectively great products isn’t hard – it’s making objectively great products that are affordable that’s impressive. That’s why a Golf GTI is more of an accomplishment than a McLaren – a car that does one thing well is great, but a car that does everything well for a tenth the price actually matters.
An affordable knife that’s objectively great actually matters, and in that CRKT finds themselves head and shoulders above other makers in this market. Kershaw can certainly take notes (or maybe read some of their old notes.) It’s a great sign of things to come for a resurgence in the affordable market, as manufacturers realize that these knives don’t have to be poorly made and poorly designed to sell to the masses! We can’t wait to see what’s next from Columbia River if the Batum is any indication.
- Incredible value for money, great fit and finish, smooth action, solid as a tank, affordable eye candy for everyone
- Heavy, 8Cr13MoV requires frequent sharpening, may inevitably lead you to buy a dozen other lower-end CRKT’s
Review by Knife Informer contributor, James Mackintosh